My next adventure: Valletta (Malta) – May 2024

America – February/March 2018

Day 4 – The JFK Airport Experience

The prospect of spending another seven hours on a plane dawned on me as soon as I woke at 5:45 am this morning. Before I go any further, I will quickly give you a low down on the hotel that we stayed at…

We stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania which you have probably gathered by now is across the street from Penn Station. When I booked it on, it was rated as 2 stars so I wasn’t expecting anything fancy. I was quite surprised when I entered my room as it had a large space between the bed and the wetroom so plenty of room for Superbunny to play. The wetroom was accessible with a roll-in shower and a bench-like shower seat. It was perhaps one of the biggest rooms that I have stayed in thus far despite it being 2 star!! The best way to describe the hotel floors would be to liken it to the scene of Ghostbusters with long corridors with white walls in need of a lick of paint!!

Anyway, where was I, oh yeah JFK! So despite it being 6:30 am it took all of 5 minutes to flag down a wheelchair accessible cab to take us to the airport. Over the past couple of days, I have noticed the amount of wheelchair accessible yellow taxis seems to be on the rise which is a good sign. We had a slight problem at JFK as the woman had quite poor English so explaining the concept of checking in a wheelchair was difficult but luckily a guy came to the rescue! One thing to note about terminal 1 of JFK is that there’s little in the way of breakfast food bar some wraps. Nonetheless we reached the gate around an hour before boarding, and then we waited and waited and waited… the crew were about an hour late on top of delaying the flight for about an hour and a quarter! Although we booked with Norwegian Air, we flew back with a Spanish airline called Womas Air (which Norwegian Air subcontracted) and we soon found out that there were no TV’s or anything on the plane. However, probably to counteract this, we were fed lunch and tea. Spanish airlines means a Spanish pilot and it seemed that he was making it up as he went along as one minute we were meant to land at London in Gatwick in 40 minutes and then the next the plane started its approach!

The UK has been experiencing a polar vortex all week with a red warning not to travel upon our return and as a result it took 4 hours to return to Bristol at around 5:30 am!

As I said, my next adventure consists of cruising around the Baltics from the 2nd to the 16th June visiting Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia and Poland so see you then 🙂

Day 3 – Rolling Around New York

Just as my body clock is adjusting to New York time (5 hours behind GMT) it will be time to go home tomorrow!! Anyway, this morning was slightly better waking up at 6:15 am… I guess that’s two hours more sleep!

We headed back to Penn Station after grabbing breakfast with a vision of catching subway line E directly down to the World Trade Centre or Freedom Tower. Now, I was unaware that the Long Island Railroad is separate from the conventional subway network thus I mistakenly bought said tickets and then realised when the barrier declined the tickets and someone shouted that you need a subway ticket and not a Railroad ticket!! It needs to be noted that most ticket barriers in New York do not have disabled gates unlike the London Underground, instead you either need to scan your ticket and then open the fire exit gate or ask someone to open it from the other side which would probably be a little bit tricky if you were on your own. Down on the platform,  I saw that they have installed platform humps since my last visit which raises the platform to the level of the train making it flush.

Once on the train. I had a mild panic as the display said that the World Trade Centre subway was not accessible even though the website said that it was! As a result we decided to disembark at the closest accessible station and walk the rest of the way which was about 30 minutes.

The observation deck in the Freedom Tower is pretty new and therefore quite touristy. You would expect from a conventional observation deck to simply enter a lift up to the top, observe the view and come back down, no, not the World Trade Centre. Before you were allowed to enter the observation deck you are subject to a short talk about how use your iPad to find out more information whilst you are up there and then a five minute video about how New York has changed over the years eventually revealing the New York skyline behind it.

The observation deck itself is a conventional 360 degree circular walkway…

The Freedom Tower is now connected to the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub which is where we found ourselves when reached the base of the tower. The Transportation Hub connects many subway lines from all over Manhattan and the surrounding areas so as you can imagine it’s rather confusing to say the least! The signage does not help one bit as it tells you to go one way and then vanishes, however, there was the sign for subway line E so we followed that as my theory was that because it is a pretty new building then surely the subway would be accessible? After many elevator rides, we discovered that there was a flight of steps up rendering it useless, however, on the way out we passed another subway entrance with a symbol for line E and some helpful American explained to us that they have recently opened a passageway from one of the other subway lines to where we wanted to go… god knows how you’re meant to know that if you’re not local!! It then dawned on us that this subway station has not been fitted with any platforms humps as yet resulting in quite a step up to the train but, of course, Superbunny is used to this so it merely took a wheelie and it was all fine!

To celebrate our last night in America, we decided to head down to Times Square and Ellen’s Stardust diner, if you haven’t read my American blog from 2014, this diner isn’t any old diner in the sense that all of the waiters are either training to be on Broadway of have actually been on Broadway. Each waiter takes in turn to sing perhaps a famous song or a song from a musical, I highly recommend it if you are ever in New York City!

Tomorrow is a 5:45 am start to take a cab back to JFK International Airport to catch the flight back to London Gatwick, how fun 🙂

Day 2 – Rolling Around Philadelphia

You would of thought by now that my body clock would be used to different time zones considering the places I have travelled to, clearly not as I woke around 4:15am this morning!

Anyway, when I booked our cheap hotel (which I will give you the low down on tomorrow), I conveniently paid for breakfast so we could simply get up and go, however, we all know by now, nothing is ever simple when your with me! We searched around the hotel for breakfast but to no avail so resorted to a diner just around the corner which serves typically American breakfast foods, pancakes etc.

It was then time to begin our American train experience as we crossed the road entering Penn station. New York Penn station has multiple levels, however, the signs are pretty simple directing you where to go, failing that there is good old information desks! If your catching the Acela, you are entitled to enter the designated seating area which is also where the ‘The Red Cap’ desk is located. The ‘Red Caps’ provide the usual assistance getting on and off trains as in any other country. You may remember that I caught a VIA Canadian train a few years back and a lift was used to get me and Superbunny on and off so I was a little surprised when they brought out a tiny little ramp. It became clear as the Acela Express came in that the train was almost flush with the platform (even lower than the new IET’s that have just been introduced in the UK) thus the ramp was merely to bridge the gap…

Now when I booked the train a few weeks ago, I’m pretty sure that I requested all 3 of us to be sat together, however, something must of got lost in translation as it transpired that I was in First Class on my own and my 2 PAs were down the other end in Business Class (that will teach me for not checking the E-ticket prior!). No matter though as it was just like my weekly train trip to Oxford! As usual, I made friends with some of the train crew as we approached Philadelphia chatting about how I’m from England, the current weather situation etc.

After a swift exit from 34th Street station, we headed towards our first port of call, The Eastern State Penitentiary making a slight diversion to visit the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the famous ‘Rocky Steps’…

The use of Google Maps always comes in handy whilst I’m on my travels and non more so to get us to the Eastern State Penitentiary, it also gave us an insight into the Philadelphia way of life as we made our way through housing estates…

It’s hard not to miss the high walls of the Penitentiary as you get closer to the entrance. Usually visitors have to enter through a side entrance, however, as it contains a flight of steps, I was fortunate enough to enter the Penitentiary through the iron gates and get a view of what the first thing that a prisoner would have seen…

The Penitentiary itself has been left as it was when the last prisoner left with paint falling off the walls and bits of rubble falling down from the ceiling (of course these areas are blocked off from the public!), bar some ramps to make most of the attraction accessible. You may ask why they haven’t tidied it up, the answer to that lies on a display board which explains that they wish to keep it as it is for an authentic feel…

Even though we spent around 2 hours there, you could easily spend a whole day just walking around each corridor.

As I said in the itinerary I wanted to experience a genuine Philly Cheesesteak  and Google strikes again in finding a restaurant close to the Penitentiary. When I looked at it on street view, it didn’t look a dodgy area but in reality it was, I guess it could be worse, it could’ve been in Chicago. Also the restaurant was more like a takeaway where the seating area had picnic tables attached to it but it did not detract from the overall food experience.

The plan was to catch the subway into town however as we were running out of time we thought it would be easier just to walk to the downtown area and visit the observation deck at One Liberty Place or see Philly From The Top as it’s sometimes referred to.  As with many towers, it offered spectacular views across Philadelphia and, in particular, the Comcast tower which is the tallest in the city… Fun fact for the day!

No trip to America would be complete for me without visiting a Cheesecake Factory so this is exactly what we did before catching the train back, oh, and purchasing some Philadelphia Eagles merchandise.

As at Penn Station, the Red Cap assisted me onto the train. I have just realised that I haven’t wrote about the actual on-board experience for a wheelchair. The trains in American and Canada are on a wider gauge meaning that the train has extra space in the corridor so it’s easier to move about, however the wheelchair space is situated opposite another seat and table so effectively you’re backing onto the seat behind you. As on the Beijing subway, there are floor restraints available but Superbunny is able to hold its own. As it was dark on the way back to New York, it felt like my weekly train trip back from Oxford and a perfect time to do Mindfulness. However, my PA’s were having a totally different experience with one of the train crew hassling them to check up on me even though they repeatedly said that I was fine!!

Tomorrow we stay in New York City and the plan is to catch the subway from Penn Station down to the tallest building in the western hemisphere, the World Trade Centre or The Freedom Tower as it’s commonly referred to before heading to Ellen’s Stardust diner because, let’s face it, no trip to New York will be complete without a visit 🙂

Day 1 – The London Gatwick Experience

Flying to America usually means one thing for me, HEATHROW! No, not this time, away from the norm, we decided (well had to!) to fly from London Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport or epicentre as I like to call it. I had previously heard negative things about Gatwick so was a little weary of the whole experience, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

The guy came down during check-in to take the usual dimensions etc of Superbunny (my electric wheelchair if you are wondering) then proceeded through security without a hitch. One thing to note about the airside part of the terminal is that not every toilet has a disabled cubicle but luckily the toilets are not that far apart from each other.

We flew with Norwegian Air which, over the past few years, has been dubbed ‘the worlds low cost long-haul airline’ so I wasn’t expecting anything fancy, especially as I decided to fly Economy class! Again, I was pleasantly amazed to discover a Dreamliner aircraft at the end of the airway. Now, if you don’t know what a Dreamliner is, it’s the latest invention by Boeing and is definitely a far cry from the 747’s of this world with features such as windows fitted with dimmer switches etc. As usual, JKF airport took their time to come and fetch us from the aircraft and then escorted me in one of their own wheelchairs through immigration to the baggage hall where there was no sign of Superbunny. I recalled from last time that there was a disabled toilet nearby but no, it has been turned into a janitors office (what is it with toilets today!!!).

At this point, I was dying for the toilet (as you can imagine after a 7 hour flight!) so it was fortunate that there was a wheelchair accessible yellow taxi waiting outside the terminal so it was a quick transfer to the hotel. It needs to be said that, unlike last time, the driver was quite sensible in his driving manner so no kittens were made!

It’s a early start for us tomorrow as we head over the road to Penn station to catch the high-speed Acela Express down to Philadelphia 🙂

New York City/Philadelphia Itinerary

A cheap deal to NYC at the end of February was one that I could not afford to miss! You maybe thinking why NYC once again? The answer is that we are merely basing ourselves there (literally the hotel is one block away from Penn train station!) spending just one day in the Big Apple. The other full day that we have in the US will be spent catching the Acela Express train (running on the only high speed railway in America until the Brightline opens connecting Miami to Orlando…can’t say that you don’t learn something on here) about 90 minutes south to Philadelphia.

If you have had a gander at my Bucket List, you will know that a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is a must so that’s the day sorted! Of course, we also aim to sample the infamous ‘Philly Steak’ and hop on the subway (I know…can’t help it honestly!!) before speeding back to NYC!!

As this will be a whistle stop tour (4 days…2 of which are travelling), my Traveller Diary will most likely be written upon my return, however, be sure to follow us on social media to see what is occurring 🙂

Oh and it is also a chance for Superbunny to return to the site of its leg injury in 2014!!

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