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Seiler World Tour

The Land of Opportunity

USA | Monday, 12 January 2009 | Views [1465] | Comments [4]

The American leg of our adventure, whilst on paper was the least exotic part of our travels, actually constituted our longest stay in any one continent and consequently a lot happened. Whilst not all of it may be of interest to you there may be bits and pieces you might like to fast-forward to, so we have arranged this part of our blog into sections. They are:

Los Angeles

San Francisco

New York

Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village

Election Night

Parent's Visits - Thanksgiving and Woody Allen

Christmas Day / Hanukkah

New Year’s Day

Home

 

Los Angeles

Despite leaving the sun kissed Cook Islands for autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, we were pleasantly surprised to find the sun was still burning brightly in LA on our arrival on October 12th.

No sooner had we exited the airport but we were exposed to our first blast of American hospitality as a young guy called David offered to share a cab with us. He was a music producer, in town to strike a big deal with a major label for his band. We never found out the band's name or whether they "cut the deal" but his enthusiasm and helpful tips about life in the States helped put us in the right frame of mind for two and half months living Stateside.

As far as accommodation in LA was concerned it was somewhat a case of sticking a pin in the map of city and hoping for the best. We ended up in a hostel called Orbitz which sold itself as a funky boutique hostel with art nouveau upholstery and decor but was in fact a slightly over-priced dump with a room that came complete with a faintly rancid stench. Despite this it became our base for the next 3 days. We spent this period of time doing exactly what LA is not designed for and that is walking. Basically if you walk in LA you are regarded with suspicion. Nobody in their right mind would ever use their feet when you could burn some fossil fuel instead. Despite this we managed to visit the outside of Paramount Studios, the shops of Melrose Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and all the tourist hotspots of this area of LA.

On our second night there we met up with an old family friend of Bobby's called Ben Carver who is a Hollywood producer. He's produced films like the kid's movie "Bratz", a computer game adaptation called "Tekken" and is working on the forth-coming Richard Branson biopic "Losing My Virginity". Ben kindly picked us up from our hostel and whisked us off to the legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel for a glass of red wine. The hotel is part of historic Hollywood as it is the place where everyone from James Dean to Britney Spears has checked in whilst actor John Belushi liked it so much he decided to check out there permanently when he died of a massive drugs overdose in 1982. From there we went to a restaurant called "Kate Matalini" which was used in the movie Heat as the diner where Robert De Niro and Al Pacino share the screen for the first time. After dinner Ben took us on a whistle stop tour of the Hollywood Hills showing us some of the incredible homes owned by the rich and famous whilst also surveying the view across the valley where the raging forest fires glowed like molten lava flows in the distance. It was an amazing 4 hours and a real window into the world of La-La land.

San Francisco

After another day eating up the pavement around our hostel, we made our way back out to LAX Airport and picked up a hire car in order to drive to San Francisco. As we passed Venice Beach we took a few minutes to walk on the sand that inspired Baywatch but were a little surprised to find that rather than being populated with bronzed beauties the only people present appeared to be of the beached whale variety. We headed on up the coast road in a bid to make it to Monterey, a pretty coastal town two hours outside of San Francisco, before nightfall. After a promising start viewing beautiful coastal road on the Pacific Highway and listening to the final Presidential debate on the radio, we took a wrong turning somewhere and lost the coastline and eventually winding up in a one horse town. There we got chatting to a guy riding his Harley back up to Oregon and he gave us a good taste of why Americans love "Easy Riding" on the back of a "hog". Eventually after travelling through the dusk of a Californian autumn evening we finally made it to Monterey at about 10pm tired and hungry. After checking out several motels we eventually settled on a gorgeous little place for $50 that came complete with a fireplace and a grumpy old codger on the front desk. After dinner in a diner populated by a weird hippy dressed head to toe in Thai-dye and a couple of boorish racists we settled in for the night before heading on to San Francisco the next morning.

Our first hostel in San Francisco was a real spit 'n' sawdust affair full of transient Europeans constantly making toast in the rec room. It was however a central location and a perfect place for us to make our first exploration of San Fran - still one of the most elegant and liveable cities in the States. Over the course of the next three days, we once again let the feet hit the street and walked ever peak and trough of this amazingly hilly city. Amongst the great views and sights we saw included the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, the Pink Ladies and Haight Ashbury. After three days in the city we hopped on the BART (Bay Area Transit System) and made our way over to the attractive neighbouring city of Berkeley - home to Bobby's parent's friends Pate and Judy Thomson. After the dismal hostels we'd stayed in, we lapped up to the elegant charm of their French Farmhouse-style home that came complete with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There, we were fed and watered to our hearts content by Mr and Mrs Thomson and discussed the forth-coming election with two of the loveliest Americans you are likely to meet. The next day we toured round Berkeley enjoying the vibe of the University Campus and lazing on the lawns in the warm sunshine. Pate and Judy's incredible generosity extended to giving us a lift at 4.30 in the morning the next day to catch our flight to New York - our home for the next 2 months.

New York

You can spot a tourist in New York a mile off - they’re the ones who walk around looking up. It's not really surprising because unless you've spent your working life amongst the canyons of skyscrapers then it’s hard not to be constantly amazed by their monolithic presence. Everything ever written about them is true, whilst they are both incredible symbols of machismo and arrogance they are genuinely awe-inspiring and beautiful at the same time and even though Kate spent nearly three months working amongst them on 57th Avenue, 2 blocks south of Central Park, we never really got over being tourists in New York. Our orientation to the city was aided by one friendly local who stopped us, thrust a map in our hands and commented in a strong New York accent that Manhattan was “shaped like a water melon and no matter which you go,  you gonna hit water.” Whilst being obviously true his mantra stays with us today.

Home for us however, was another no-less-colourful corner of the five boroughs that make up New York City. The full list is Manhattan, Staten Island, The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. We made our home in the latter in an area called Park Slope. Park Slope is nicknamed Pram Slopes as it is awash with yummy mummies jostling with their MacLaren pushchairs and talking about how little Cassidy or Liberty is on a new mung bean rusk diet. Despite this, it really is a pretty area with tree-lined streets set amongst the "brownstones" that lie in a grid pattern round the splendour of the massive Prospect Park - designed by Robert Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who also created Central Park. Despite the pretty environs, our apartment turned out to be “the flat of death”. Having arranged our accommodation in a stress from the Cook Islands we had taken a bit of a gamble on our selection and whilst our landlady had been honest about it lacking a lot of natural light and being “utilitarian”, when we arrived we were more worried about the vague honk of eggy gas from the wonky stove and the equally putrid smell from the alleyway next to us. It didn’t help that a large doe-eyed Alsatian dog called 'Legend' spent his days pacing around forlornly and excreting at regular intervals. None-the-less, it had a large lounge/kitchen with a day bed, constant hot water and a nice bedroom complete with a computer and internet access and for the last couple of months it has been our happy NYC home. What added to the experience of living in Park Slope was the proximity of three of Bobby's old BBC contacts. Andrew Purcell is a correspondent who provides a lot of content from New York for Bobby's programmes back in London and he was largely instrumental in encouraging us to come to Brooklyn. As it is, we ended up moving in to a place literally two blocks from the house he shares with his pregnant Brazilian wife Yula. Five minutes in the other direction was our friend Dan, who used to work for the BBC radio station 6 Music in London and is currently studying audio design in New York and lives with his movie producing fiancée Annie. They kindly took us under their wing and invited us to this party or that party and helped introduce us to many of the people we now count as friends. Our final BBC buddy was Bobby's old boss Louise Swan who works for the great American philanthropist George Soros as a lobbyist. She was always there for us throughout our trip to offer wise words of advice on our impending return to the UK and our plans for the bigger future ahead of us whilst also treating us to all the tea, coffee and muffins we could consume. These three people are largely responsible for making sure that our New York experience was as memorable as it was.

We arrived on the 21st October and Kate began her internship at the PR firm Ruder Finn (no relation to Bobby Finn) on Monday the 27th October, so after some cursory acclimatizing, we soon developed a routine. Kate would take the 45 min subway journey on the F train into work every morning from Monday to Thursday having Friday off to explore the city and have quality time with Mr. S.  As well as working on accounts for the New York City Opera, Guggenheim and MoMA, Kate was assigned a crucial role on a new exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center - the Greek contribution to cultural life in Manhattan. The exhibition was called “Worshipping Women” and brought together classic pieces of art and sculpture from ancient Greece that cast new light on the role that women played in Greek society. Her working days included liaising with magazines, newspapers and TV stations like the New Yorker, The New York Times and CBS as well as attending client meetings when she got to meet the Greek Ambassador at the Onassis center. The press launch opened to much fanfare and after stresses regarding invite lists and errant attendees, the event was deemed a massive success garnering high profile coverage both nationally and internationally as well as getting Kate one of the most over-enthusiastic reference letter she's ever received!

Whilst Kate was hard at the grind-stone downtown, Bobby played house back in Park Slope spending most of his days either trawling the 99 cents shops for cheap toasters and TV cables or doing the weekly shop at a variety of low-cost supermarkets dotted around 5th and 7th Avenue. In between the domestic bliss there was the serious business of writing the odd novel or four. There was the one about 5 misfits who went on the trek from hell in northern Thailand, there was the one about the misguided youth struggling to make sense of life in modern day London, the one about a young boy called Manh growing up in countryside in Laos and "The Ballad of Coop Raglin", the story of an aging guitarist for the likes of Van Morrison and Neil Young with a penchant for detective work - a cross between the Big Lebowski and the Rockford Files. Whilst they vary wildly in subject matter they are united in the fact they will probably never be published despite the pleasure they brought their author.

Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village

The two and a half months in New York can be largely divided into a number of major cultural events in the city's life, the first of which was the Greenwich Village Parade. There's nothing American's love more than dressing up and putting on a parade and the Halloween Parade through Greenwich Village is the most outlandish and bewildering example of this. From Elvis to Wonder Woman to more traditional ghoulish fair everybody goes way over the top and the whole occasion is utterly spectacular. Unfortunately due to our budget, our costumes were restricted to Kate dressing up in cat ears, whilst Bobby donned his Indiana Jones hat procured free from a TV show in LA and donned a power cable bull whip to go as the great archaeologist himself. As luck would have it, one of Kate's old friend's from University Nonnie had noticed that Kate was in New York from her Facebook profile and had got in touch to say she was over in NYC with her husband Mark and a few friends, so we all met up and enjoyed the carnival atmosphere together. They were a bit more experienced at the Halloween parade lark and had gone to town as Batman villains such as The joker, Two-face, Poison and the like. They looked amazing each and everyone and certainly helped us blend in with the rest of the weird and wonderful characters on show. They even treated us to dinner at one of New York's oldest and most famous pizza establishments "John's Pizzeria" on Bleeker Street in the West Village where the pizza pie was as good as mama would have expected. We ended up having a great night which was topped off by heading home to a party at our friend Dan's house in Park Slope. 

Election Night

Dan was again our party planner for one of the greatest nights of our trip and one of the most historic nights in American history. We had been following the election closely on our arrival in the States and as most of the people we had met had been strong Obama-believers we were convinced that America would vote in the first African-American president in their history. We were not wrong and when we went down to Times Square in the early part of the evening we can be glad to say we were part of the carnival atmosphere that greeted every state that Obama won on his march to victory. We then met up with Dan and Annie for dinner in a bar on the Lower East Side where we heard the election result called and the victory and concessionary speeches broadcast and then we proceeded to Union Square amidst crowds of people of all races and descriptions hooting and hollering whilst massive trucks sounded their horns in a clarion call. The sense of jubilation and re-affirmation of the American promise was palpable and even us cynical Brits couldn't help but feel proud of America and the fulfillment in some way of what the country stands for. As one reveller said "After 8 terrible years of Bush, I think we got our Mojo back". It was a night we won't ever forget and we privileged to have been there.

Parent's Visits - Thanksgiving and Woody Allen

After a month of New York life we were gifted with subsequent visits from our parents. Bobby's parents arrived first at the end of November in time for another American institution - Thanksgiving. We had managed to find them a nice one bedroom apartment at a reasonable price overlooking Grand Army Plaza which stands at the head of Prospect Park, literally fifteen minutes walk from our apartment. In return they had brought a haggis, some turnips and a Christmas pudding in order to celebrate both Thanksgiving and St Andrew's Day on the 30th November. Thanksgiving falls on the final Thursday of every November and is four days of celebrating what is good in life with your family. We fulfilled this remit by spending a few hours in town watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade which consists of numerous massive floats with large inflatables of anything from Shrek to Kermit The Frog paraded through the centre of Manhattan and then returning to Park Slope for a turkey dinner. Also during their stay in NYC, Bobby's parents treated us to a trip to the Carnegie hall to hear the New York Youth orchestra play, a "snack" at the Carnegie Deli which involved a mound of corn beef between two slices of rye bread and a cheese cake that was a heart attack with a strawberry topping, we watched a stage production of Catch 22 in a theatre off-Broadway in Greenwich Village which was largely impenetrable but did feature 5 minutes of full frontal male nudity and a St Andrew's night which was almost completely ignored by the good citizens of New York but was celebrated with whisky, haggis and bagpipes courtesy of Bobby's dad!

Kate's mum landed a couple of weeks later and bravely accepted the day bed in our front room with all the attendant smells and lack of light. It was great to see her and suitably emotional for Kate as she had missed her family a lot in the previous five months. Parents visits were a great way for us to get out and see the city and we certainly took full advantage whilst Kate’s mum was in town with visits to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, a carol concert at St Patrick's Cathedral, a trip to the top of the Empire State building, caught the ferry to Staten island with great views of the statue of Liberty and on her final night we went see Woody Allen play Jazz at the Carlyle Hotel. This was a special treat for Bobby and something of a lifetime's ambition. Woody used to play clarinet with a New Orleans Jazz band in a place called Michael's Pub but lately he has had a residency every Monday night with the Eddy Davis Jazz band at a very swanky hotel called The Carlyle. As a special treat Bobby's mum and dad gifted us tickets to see the show, and as Kate's mum was in town she also came along. So, dressing up in the smartest togs we had in our global travel bag we swanned down to see one of New York's most famous sons in his element. He did not disappoint despite being not the most proficient clarinetist in the world and it's something none of us will ever forget.

Christmas Day / Hanukkah

Considering the multi-cultural make-up of New York it's not surprising that there is a great deal of sensitivity to everyone's cultural background in the city and this couldn't be truer than around Christmas time. Obviously not everyone regards themselves as belonging to the traditions of a Christian society so round the end of December it is simply The Holiday Season rather than anything more specific. Obviously there's plenty of carol concerts on and we made sure we had our fill of The First Noël and O Come All Ye Faithful but Christmas Day was more of a non-specific celebration day with a rolling lunch/dinner occasion round at Dan and Annie's. Among the guests were D & A's Iranian friend Fereste, Annie's brother Sollie, a young Vietnamese guy confusingly called Thai and a guy from Haiti called Pierre. The food served was Asian, the entertainment was watching Mickey Rourke’s latest film The Wrestler on DVD and the evening was topped off with a Jewish prayer and the lighting of a Hanukkah candle – all definitely a bit different from our standard Christmas back home but none-the-less a refreshing change from the norm and a whole lot of fun to boot!

New Year’s Day

Once again Dan and Annie came up trumps with a plan for New Year and saved us from the grim reality of Times Square on the 1st December.  Whilst we thought it would be a hoot to stand around amongst the revelers and see the famous ball drop at midnight we were warned that it would involve queuing from about 4pm in the afternoon, with nowhere to sit down, freezing conditions and the chance that you would get stuck next to some nightmare mid-Western housewife who can’t stop screaming in your ear. In addition to this there is also a suitable fear that if you suffer a call of nature at any point you will lose your hot spot in the crowd and may not even be admitted back in to the festive zone when you return. With this in mind, the invite to a house party in Sunset park – a couple of stops down the subway from us in park Slope – seemed more than appealing despite the fact that we had never actually met the hosts and our link to the party was tenuous to say the least. Annie’s brother had been invited to the party and was encouraged to bring friends so D & A dutifully accepted this as an open invite and we somehow managed to Tag along. As it was Annie’s brother Sollie didn’t even turn up so we were left to play the role of novelty Brits with those weird accents.

The night turned out to be a fantastic way to see in the New Year with loads of posh food and Manhattan cocktails on tap and the evening finished up with a sing-song round the piano as various talented guests performed renditions of the old American standards, a young up-and-coming singer/songwriter performing her own material and a sister duo who stunned us with a powerful collection of Georgian choral tunes. While Kate kept a low profile, Bobby helped out on a version of Waltzing Matilda made famous by the American singer Tom Waits. We eventually collapsed into bed at about 4am drunk on a memorable New York New Year.

Home

As the period spent in the States actually took up nearly half of our complete trip, it’s impossible to mention everything that happened to us – good and bad. If however, you’ve still got a stomach for more of our tales and would like to hear about Bobby’s unfortunate brush with the American Healthcare system please visit www.Bobbyshealth.com/facialscars whilst our encounter with four burly fireman crashing into our apartment at 6am one Sunday morning can be found at www.CarbonMonoxidePoisoning.com/deathflat

As it is, we are now back in the UK in a chilly flat with roughly thirty unpacked bin bags around us and already looking back on a our trip with dewy eyes. Ten countries, twelve flights, one hundred and ninety-three anti-malarial tablets and even more fantastic memories – it’s genuinely been the trip of our lifetimes and something we will never forget. With this in mind we want to thank you all once again if you contributed to our travels as without you we could never have done it.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed occasionally browsing through our musings and we want to with you a happy 2009 – although for us it’s going to have to go some to beat 2008!

Comments

1

First off - welcome home you have been missed! And in regards to yummy mummies pushing MacLarens...are you sure??? Possibly yummy nannies and more likely Bugaboos. haha. Your adventures have been a delight to read, and I am so glad you had a fabulous time. You have definitely put San Fran and New York on my list! xx xx

  Kim Jan 12, 2009 6:01 AM

2

I cannot believe you are home! Welcome back - hope it hasn't been too difficult returning to reality. Your travel blog has been brilliant and utterly entertaining to read and each time I have logged on I have come off feeling completely envious. Cannot wait to meet up in person and hear more first hand. Will give you time to catch your breath, but call us soon please. We would love to see you
The Devs xxxxx

  Ciara Devlin Jan 12, 2009 6:34 AM

3

Welcome back Seilers!

Bob, good news - we re putting the Couch back together! Drop me a line when you're ready to face the world again!

Phil

  Phil McGarvey Jan 12, 2009 8:23 AM

4

Hia Kate & Bobs,
Welcome home,

I have far too much time on my hands this month due to being on sick leave with a broken knee, so i am well gutted , but i pleased to have been given the time to finally get around to reading properly all your fab blogs and insights of your trip and guess what ? i really enjoyed it. yeah. I So happy for you guys.

I back in the Uk too due to being robbed at Xmas ,ski accident ,hense lost my job in Lugano and home with huge medical bills to pay. Not the best starts to 09 i have to say. Ha hah. So Paula not a Happy bunny.xx
p.s
When your bored Kate do call me on the landline above. I have lost your number due to phone robbed. be good to hear your voice, it would mean alot.

  paula sheldon Jan 12, 2009 10:20 AM

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