Thursday, August 27, 2009

Results Day

This morning, across the United Kingdom, students who wrote their GCSE exams last May and June will be receiving their results at their schools. One after another they will open their envelopes and read the news. The results will determine where they go from here. Are their results good enough for their chosen Sixth Form College? Or do they have to make other plans, perhaps even pursue other career paths - or even abandon education altogether and go out to work in a job that does not require much formal education?

Of course, exams have to be taken. You have to measure academic progress and skill somehow. And of course there will always be those students who do well, and those who do not; it’s the way of the world. What I find incredible is the culture surrounding these exam results, and how they further reinforce a message to our young people that it is what you achieve, do or have that measures your worth. This message is utterly erroneous, and I think it is very sad indeed.

You can opt to receive your results by mail, but this means a delay, so in order to receive their results at the earliest possible opportunity, most young people attend their schools around 11am on the morning of results day. The reactions vary wildly from incredible joy to heartrending sorrow, all in a very, very public arena. It seems almost gladiatorial in its cruelty. Added to this is pressure from family and friends to know your results. Of course, it is lovely that they are interested in you, but it further exacerbates the pressure. Will they be proud of you or disappointed in you? At sixteen years old, it’s a huge question.

Exam results are even discussed in the news on results day. Often it will be reported that results are improving across the board, only for some bright spark to suggest that perhaps this means the exams were too easy. This leaves all those students who did well feeling somehow chastened, when actually they should be feeling happy and proud.

I’ve been at dinner parties on the eve of results day in the past where results were actually telephoned or texted through, in an almost bizarre parental competition. “My friend Sarah’s daughter has all A’s” or “John Smith’s son got all D’s” meant that somehow Sarah was special and lauded, whereas John was relegated to the lower echelons, and was greatly to be pitied.

I guess there are some cultural things that will never translate for me, despite the fact that I have been British now for almost longer than I was Canadian before my naturalization. I cannot see the value of these rituals surrounding examinations, any more than I can accept that it is a good idea to encourage young people to see their value as human beings more in the light of what they achieve or do than in the simple act of being. We are all precious in God’s sight, and we should all feel loved and valued by society, our families and most importantly, ourselves, regardless of what we accomplish, or in particular, what our GCSE grades are.

Incidentally, my son did well in his GCSEs, and has the marks he needs for the sixth form college he wishes to attend. It is not him I’m worried about; it’s the young people who are not walking home with smiles on their faces this lunchtime to face disappointment and upset in their homes and hearts. Yet on another level, I do worry about our son. What message has he got from today, especially as there is another “results day” to fact next year for AS levels and yet another the next for A levels? State standardized, centrally marked exams to determine your future? It sounds Orwellian, but here it is reality. Where is the optimism and hope that comes from realizing that not everyone is good at exams, and that there are all sorts of paths to a successful career, not just the more conventional, well trodden ones? Albert Einstein was not considered a good student, nor was Winston Churchill, but the world without their contributions would be a very different world indeed. Even Richard Branson was not considered a good student, yet no one could argue with his success today.

Maybe it is time to reconsider how we think about exam results. Perhaps more importantly, maybe we need to start considering how to get the message across to our young people (and in some cases older ones too) that your sense of your own or anyone else’s worth should never come from something outside yourself or them, nor should it come from anything that you or they are, have or do. One’s sense of self should be based on the fact that each one of us is a very important part of our incredibly diverse and amazing world. Nothing can change that, no matter what our exam results are.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Family (and Friend!) Ties

I’ve just had two lovely days in a row visiting with my cousins. This comes almost immediately after a really super weekend with our friend and her two sons. This is the way I most like to spend my time - visiting with people who are important to me.

On the weekend our dear friend Yvonne came to visit with her two sons, and we all had a wonderful time together. On Saturday, the weather co-operated and we walked all the way into Pangbourne through the fields on the beautiful Thames Path, and after a brief stop to refresh ourselves in Pangbourne and a spot of shopping, walked all the way home. We spent the rest of the time relaxing and visiting. It was really nice to get together.

And in the photos above you see me with my cousins Brenda and Holly. We had a wonderful time yesterday exploring Reading. Although I have lived near Reading for almost two years now, I have continually gone to the same places and not been very courageous about checking out any of the side streets. Yesterday, I saw more of my “home town” than I ever have, and had loads of fun doing it. Forbury Gardens was a wonderful surprise, tucked in behind the post office, down a road I had never bothered to walk down! We also managed a bit of shopping as you can see from the photograph! In the evening Holly joined my husband, son and I for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, The Boathouse at The Beetle and Wedge. It was a really super evening.

Today Holly and I went to Basildon Hall, a National Trust property in Lower Basildon. It’s a beautiful eighteenth century Palladian mansion set in acres of parkland. The house itself was restored by a very dedicated couple, Lord and Lady Iliffe, in the 1950’s and then donated to the National Trust. It is really lovely, beautifully decorated and full of interesting antiquities. It’s interesting to see some of the bedrooms which are decorated in the style of the 1950’s, with dressing tables decorated with ruffled skirts, juxtaposed against centuries old canopied beds and Regency silk curtains. Some of the bed canopies and curtains in the more modern rooms were actually sewn by Lady Iliffe. It’s also one of the only National Trust houses where the bathrooms are so on display. It’s quite wonderful to see, as it makes you realise this is a house that was actually lived in. So often stately homes seem like museums, but this is one in which you can picture yourself curling up on the sofa with a pot of tea and a good book - albeit the sofa may well be Chippendale!

It’s been a wonderful couple of days. One of the greatest pleasures in life is spending time with family and friends, and I’ve been really lucky to be able to do that this week. And guess what? We’ve got more friends arriving on Friday. I’m really looking forward to another nice weekend.

“These are things that matter most -
Friends and laughter,
words of praise,
Family ties that warm our hearts
and keep us close through all our days.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Being at Home

We have not been at home much since last Wednesday. We lead a pretty busy life, and if something untoward happens as it did last week, it can really knock us for six. You see, I already had a pretty full schedule. We had tickets to the wonderful show Peter Pan on Friday, Saturday we were heading up to Burton-on-Trent to see our hairdresser and Monday we were due to head back up there to the optician. (Yes, there are opticians where we live now(!) but we have been seeing this particular one since my son was tiny.) Of course, when my husband’s mum ended up in hospital we wanted to be with her as much as possible so spent Friday and Sunday in Kent. We had a lovely time on Sunday as she was at home then and it was so nice to have a good visit, and also to be able to cook for her and help her out a bit.

However, with the exception of last Thursday afternoon, the only time we were home over the last week was to sleep. So when things finally settled down yesterday, I really appreciated the chance to just be here. Today I am waiting in for a delivery, something I normally loathe, but actually, on this occasion I’m quite enjoying it. I’m just pottering around home doing some things that needed doing, along with writing and catching up on correspondence.

All this got me thinking about how full we all make our schedules these days. There never seems to be enough time to do everything we would like to, and we fill every moment with activity in an attempt to accomplish all the things we wish we could. Then when something does come along that either urgently requires our attention or we would really like to do at the last minute, it makes it almost impossible to accomplish - impossible, in fact, “to fit in”.

Most of us are practically genetically programmed not to say “no”. (Actually, I’m sure that is behavioral conditioning, but it feels like it is genetic!) So even if we are not over-scheduling ourselves, we allow others to over-schedule us. My husband’s work diary is so full it makes me exhausted just to look at it. I exhort him to try to balance his workload, and then find myself over-scheduling my own diary yet again. There are things I need or want to do, people I want to visit with and places I either want or need to go. I often feel like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

The late Eric Butterworth, a well known teacher, minister and author said, “One of the best things to do sometimes is simply to be.” I’m going to think about that more, and try to allow myself a bit more time to do just that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Visit To Neverland

Friday afternoon, after a visiting my husband’s mother in hospital and taking her back home when she was discharged, we headed back into London to see the new production of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. I booked the tickets months ago and I’m so glad I did. The show is doing so well they have added extra shows, but it does finish on 13th September. This is mainly due to weather as the show is held in a giant tented theatre pavilion in the heart of Kensington Gardens, the place where J M Barrie first imagined Peter Pan.

The production is performed in the round, on a round stage in the centre of circles of seats. There are only about nine rows of seats, all graduated upwards so there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. In the top of the tent is a large space to facilitate the flying action, and all round the edges are screens. During the show, computer graphic images are projected on to the screens, giving the audience the impression they are right in the centre of the action. When the Darling children fly with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell over the London rooftops to Neverland, it feels like you are flying with them too. Similarly, when they visit with the mermaids under the sea, it feels like you are swimming through a magical ocean. It is like nothing I have ever experienced before in a theatre.

The flying was quite amazing; there is nothing like seeing people fly over your heads, and although you can see the flying apparatus, it is quite easy to pretend it is not there. The set is very clever as well, with more trap doors than I have ever seen before, allowing changes of scene without having to draw a curtain. Pieces of the set appear and disappear through the floor, along with (from time to time!) members of the cast. The cast also move through the audience, making you really feel a part of things. Any animals are portrayed through puppetry on the grandest of scales - the crocodile is a sight to behold and Nana, the dog, is just incredible.

The cast and crew are all amazing, and the production is nothing short of spectacular. We spent a magical evening in Neverland, and as we walked back through Kensington Gardens in the darkness on our way to the underground station, we all reflected on what a wonderful adventure it had been. I highly, highly recommend this show, for children and adults alike.

To find out more, please click here .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Important Things In Life

Yesterday I was going to write about my frustrations with modern appliances, how obsolescence seems to be built in and how even brand new machines go wrong before you have even had them a few months. I was going to expound on how angry I was with Hotpoint because my broken six month old tumble dryer still is not fixed, due to the fact that the second repairman showed up yesterday with the wrong part. I would have explained my irritation at their complete lack of regard for my time, and for their refusal to provide me with a machine that actually works. In short, I was going to rant about something that seemed terribly important to me at the time. And don’t get me wrong, I still have a bone to pick with Hotpoint, but it will wait.

You see, yesterday afternoon I had one of those phone calls - the ones that make your heart plummet right to the bottom of your gut. My husband rang and said his mother had had a stroke. She has not been terribly well for some time, but it was still a shock.

Now, aside from being a really lovely person, my husband’s mum is something of a force of nature. She is the kind of person who carries on regardless, the sort who can be very ill indeed, but you would have absolutely no idea. So it came as no surprise to me that almost immediately after he spoke to me, my husband was speaking to the lady herself from her hospital bed. There she was, reassuring everyone else when she herself must be feeling very worried indeed.

And when we did arrive at the hospital, we found her sitting up, looking totally together and absolutely well, despite the fact that she is still experiencing symptoms and undergoing tests. She did not once complain - in fact had only praise for every medical person she had met that day - and seemed more concerned with the fact it was late and we had not eaten than that she was in hospital.

As we drove home late yesterday evening, my husband and I talked about lots of things. And eventually, after all talk of family had been exhausted and we sat in silence, he asked about the tumble dryer. I found myself telling him of my experience that day and he offered to phone Hotpoint and try to sort them out. It was at that point I had a bit of an epiphany. I looked at him and said - “I really appreciate the offer , but on second thought, it just isn’t important enough to waste energy getting upset about.”

And do you know what? It isn’t. We have more important things -people in particular - to worry about.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Busy...But Lovely

My husband and I were on our own this weekend, with our son at West End Stage. The house seemed really empty without him, but it was nice to have a weekend just the two of us.

We decided to just take it easy on Saturday as we were looking forward to our son’s performance with West End Stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket on Sunday night. It’s the theatre that has been home to Phantom of the Opera for many years. Our son has performed there several times already but I still get a thrill sitting in the audience knowing it will be him and his cohorts on stage.

Anyway, back to Saturday! The Purley-on-Thames market takes place on the second Saturday of every month. It’s a lovely little market with some great bakers, fruit and vegetable sellers, an egg lady and even a wonderful stall with homemade curry sauces, samosa and onion bhajis. My husband and I spent a very pleasant hour making purchases, and enjoyed delicious fresh croissants for breakfast on our return home. In pursuit of some relaxation, we then headed to the Clarins spa at John Lewis for some pampering and followed that up with a bit of light shopping. We found some super candles for the garden, and my husband helped me choose two evening dresses for the autumn and winter season. He’s wonderful at shopping - incredibly patient with a fantastic eye for things that not only fit well but really suit me. In fact, it is much nicer shopping with him than a personal shopper. Sales ladies can never get over how he’ll keep bringing more things for me to try, and if I am confronted with a choice of two outfits, he’ll urge me to get them both. (Yes, I do know how lucky I am and I am very grateful!)

We got home in the very late afternoon, and as the weather was wonderful, we decided to barbeque some steaks for dinner. It turned into a lovely romantic evening as we sat in the garden watching the sun go down. There is a bat barn just near to where we live, and after dark the little bats go soaring across our garden at great speed. It sounds spooky, but actually they are quite interesting creatures. Their “radar” ensures they come nowhere near us so I can relax and enjoy watching them. We sat sipping wine late into the evening. It’s not often we get a chance to relax like that!

We had booked an early pre-theatre dinner in London on Sunday evening at The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus, but decided to go into town early, just after lunch. It meant that we could have a wander round, and I could do some research for my food blog. I write about food, cooking, restaurants, anything even remotely to do with eating really! (If you’d like to see it, please click here.) I wanted to take some photographs in the food hall at Harrods, and also at Fortnum and Mason. Although it was crowded I got some great shots; we had a very successful afternoon. I also bought some goodies (couldn’t resist) including some wonderful tea, strawberry jam with champagne and three small jars of honey in a cute little set (Scottish heather, Borage and Shropshire honey).

Dinner at the Criterion was lovely as always. It is a beautiful restaurant, full of marble and mosaics. It opened in 1873, and has been the site of many a historic event in its time. It’s said that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first imagined the meeting between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in the Criterion Long Bar, and it has seen the likes of Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, H G Wells, Sir Hugh Walpole and G K Chesterton dine at its tables. I love the Criterion for its decor and atmosphere, as well as the wonderful food and service. We had a lovely meal, finishing just in time to head over to Her Majesty’s Theatre.

What a lot of talented young people there were and of course, we were so proud of our son. It was a great show. They had all had a fantastic week, studying with actors, singers and dancers who actually work in the West End. West End Stage is a great program young people who are interested in performing, giving them the opportunity not just to learn skills, but also to hear what it is like to be a working actor/singer/dancer from people who actually are. I have to admit, I could not wait to see our son as we waited for him in the crowd at the Stage Door after the show. No matter how grown up he gets (or how tall!), somehow he’ll always be my “little boy” - even though he absolutely towers over me !

Although we packed a lot in, it was a very relaxing weekend, and I’m still basking in the glow of it really. I love weekends like that. Hope you had a good one too!

Friday, August 07, 2009

One of Those Mornings...

I’m having one of those mornings where I sit, clutching my cup of tea, reading my email and other people’s blogs, trying to get up the motivation to do one of the following:

a) reply to my emails
b) actually write something
c) do anything at all

My cleaning lady is due to arrive in a couple of hours, and if I don’t start picking some stuff up she is not going to be able to fight her way through the clutter. (Yes, I do have a cleaning lady. You can be a housewife and still get outside help. It is allowed – definitely.)

I don’t know if it is because we were away for longer this time or if I was just tired to start with, but for some reason my jet lag is clinging to me with a tenacity I find quite disturbing. I’ve even been napping this week – something I rarely, if ever, do. I’m not someone who likes to nap; frankly the whole idea of it makes me uncomfortable. It’s kind of like ditching school; it somehow feels like I’m being naughty, and not in a good way.

The lack of sunshine might not be helping either. What the devil has happened to the weather? Most of the world seems to be having too much rain – except for those bits that are experiencing drought. We really do seem to have created a terrible imbalance in our climate – but that is a discussion for another day. Meanwhile, the birds stare at me reproachfully from outside my window, picking temperamentally over the now very wet birdseed I put out between showers yesterday. It’s like they somehow think it is my fault.

Speaking of birds, I’ve got a serious case of empty nest syndrome with my son away at a week-long residential drama workshop this week. On one hand I am loving having some quality time with my husband, and on the other I am beginning to panic. It’s not that a week is a long time – although I miss my son I’m not in the least bit upset he is away. I am pleased he is enjoying himself (and frankly so am I). It’s just that it is making me think about the fact that it is only a couple of years now until he will probably actually leave the nest. On one hand that is an exciting new dimension to my life, giving me more freedom to pursue my own dreams. On the other, it’s quite terrifying. After all, I’ve spent most of the last sixteen years being a stay-at-home mum – and while I’ll still be a housewife after he has left, a whole dimension of my role will have disappeared. There’s an identity crisis just waiting to happen.

In the middle of all this I am trying to make up for two weeks of absolutely amazing food on our holiday. Everyone I know swears I have not put on an ounce, but, however kind they may be, they are not the ones doing up my jeans in the morning! So I’ve been working out like crazy, going to the gym and walking in addition to my usual personal training, yoga and Pilates. It’s exhausting.

Let’s see, so far now I’ve read my word for the day from, booked theatre tickets to Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in September and caught up with the latest entries on all the blogs I like to read.
That, my friends, is absolutely enough procrastination on my part. I’m off to actually do some actual work now. Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Home Again

We flew out of an overcast sky and landed at Heathrow on Saturday morning. It was, rather unsurprisingly, raining. I don’t know why I am always so tired after New York and Toronto flights - perhaps it is because it is such a short flight there is little time to sleep. (Whoever would have thought that I - the girl who never set foot on a plane until she was eleven years old - would ever refer to a six hour flight as “short”?!) I find myself much less tired after flights from the West Coast of North America. It is always easier for me - not just the day we land, but also in the days that follow. As it is, it is only just today I am beginning to feel my body is in the same time zone as I am.

I had to hit the ground running as my son was due in London Sunday afternoon for his week long residential drama workshop West End Stage. This meant I had to get the washer running immediately we arrived home in order to turn his clothes round. It made for a very busy Saturday, and we did not actually get to bed until nearly ten o’clock. (Although I have to confess to a brief nap between four and five in the afternoon!)

It’s really quiet around here with our son away. I’m getting a lot more writing done, and it is great to have time with my husband, but I do miss him. I think it is made a bit worse by the sense of bittersweet regret I feel as I realize that it won’t be long till our son is leaving home to make his own life. It’s the sort of thing you have to look at as a new beginning - because without the right attitude that kind of life change could be very upsetting indeed. Let’s just say no one is allowed to use the words “empty” and “nest” in the same sentence around here this week!

I’ve been going through our holiday photos and we sure do have some great memories from our time away. I think it may be one of the best holidays we have had. Here’s a couple of photos I have not posted before.

The one on the top is of my husband and son at The Bull and Finch pub in Boston, otherwise known as Cheers. We ended up going there twice we liked the atmosphere and the food so much. The photo below the first one is of our son and I on the Maid of the Mist, the boat that takes you right up close to the American Falls, and right into the horseshoe of the Canadian Falls. It’s awe-inspiring and so beautiful. It’s also incredibly damp. Despite the very fashionable complementary blue raincoats, you get totally and completely soaked.

But back to reality....

It’s always nice to come home - and I am grateful to have such a lovely home to come home to. It’s been a nice week so far. Yesterday I met my husband in London for dinner after he finished work. It was nice to go out just the two of us. In America, they call it a “date night” even if you are married - and based on how much we enjoyed last night, I highly recommend incorporating “date nights” into your marriage. Of course we love going out as a family - and we were in a bit of trouble with our son for going to one of his favourite restaurants - Piccolino in Heddon Street - but it is our favourite too so we decided to risk it. As usual, it was wonderful. Funnily enough, a couple from Toronto and their little girl were sitting at the table beside us. We got to talking and they couldn’t believe I was originally from Kitchener, only 60 miles from where they live. It really is a small world after all.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ending the Holiday on a High Note

After two weeks, two countries, over 2,000 miles (by road) through five states and one province, our holiday came to an end this evening - but I have to say the last day of this holiday was definitely one of the best.

I had always wanted to dine at the iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park West. Since it first opened in 1934, Tavern on the Green has been an integral part of the social history of New York City. It closed briefly in the 1970’s, only to re-open in 1976, transformed into a glittering palace of glass and mirrors. Since then it has been at the heart of New York social life, and has hosted many celebrities, Broadway and film premiere parties. We decided that an early lunch there would be a fitting end to a wonderful family holiday.

Both inside and out, this venue is stunning. Surrounded by gardens filled with colorful lanterns and topiary, this miniature crystal palace is an homage to the over the top glamour of old New York and Hollywood. As you enter the restaurant, you walk through halls lined with hundreds of tiny mirrors into the beautiful dining room. The walls are painted with murals of birds and gardens and crystal chandeliers sparkle overhead.

The menu is incredibly diverse and offers plenty of choice and price points. There was a set lunch of three courses at around twenty-five dollars and another at thirty nine dollars, in addition to an excellent a la carte menu. The wine list also had selections at every price point, from the very reasonable Rose Row house wines priced at thirty-six dollars a bottle through to mid priced wines and of course, the extremely expensive. It’s the most accessible iconic restaurant I have ever visited. We tasted all ends of the menu - my son ordered from the twenty-five dollar set menu, my husband from the thirty-nine dollar menu and I ordered from the a la carte selection. We chose a Merlot from the Rose Row selection. I like to try a restaurant’s house wines as I believe it is integral for every restaurant to have good, reasonably priced red and white wine on their list. It’s easy to choose a good expensive wine, but not necessarily as easy to choose one that suits most pockets. It’s worth pointing out here that Tavern on the Green actually offered a choice of not one, but two house reds and two house whites.

We all enjoyed our lunches. My husband and I both started with a delightful lobster bisque which was beautifully presented and full of good size pieces of lobster. My son had the iceberg lettuce wedge which he found unremarkable, but frankly there is not much you can do with a wedge of lettuce so it is hard to fault them for that! For main course, I had a tender and delicious grilled filet mignon flat iron steak served with a basil balsamic chimichurri. It was accompanied by tempting garlic butter French fries and a light salad of cucumber, tomato and Bermuda onion. It all tasted just as good as it sounds! Both my husband and son had Porterhouse burgers served with bacon and cheese, and both said they were wonderful. There were lots of tempting desserts on offer (although I had more choice as I had ordered a la carte). Once again, my husband and son chose the same thing - crème brulée served with an almond tuile. I was allowed to taste - in fact my husband gave me his whole almond tuile - and both the biscuit and the crème brulée were utterly scrumptious. I had chosen Strawberry Shortcake, which I also shared, and which was equally delicious. What a wonderful place!

As we wandered back out in to the sunshine, the doorman met us and asked us if we needed a lift. There was a horse and carriage standing by, and also a taxi, so my husband jokingly said, “What kind?”. Without batting an eyelid the doorman said, “Horse and carriage, taxi, limousine or helicopter transfer?” That sure answered our question!! In the end, we decided we had enough time to take a horse and carriage ride through the west side of Central Park, past Strawberry Fields and through the wonderful old trees. It was idyllic, a fantastic end to a wonderful holiday.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Another Day and Night in the Big Apple

We had another day left on our Grey Line “hop on hop off” bus tour ticket today. As well as the “downtown loop” and the Brooklyn tour we had done yesterday, our ticket also included an “uptown loop”, all round Central Park and up into Harlem. We were excited to take this tour as we had never really been much beyond the top of 5th Avenue and Central Park South before.

We also wanted to get to the “The Top of the Rock” - the observation platforms at the top of Rockefeller Center. The other thing I really wanted to do was to see the filming of NBC’s “Today Show” at the Rockefeller Center studios. For years, the Today show has been filmed both outside and inside - and a crowd gathers every morning without fail to watch and participate.

We had a later start than planned, so headed straight to the NBC studio. They have roped off areas for you to stand in, and as it was a bit later some of the crowd had dispersed so we headed straight to the front. There was a television broadcasting what was going on inside (and we had seen the studios through the window the day before). Later on, Al Roker, their weatherman and feature reporter came outside to film a spot. He asked the lady next to me a trivia question about weather, and my husband and I were part of the shot. (I was very glad he did not ask me the question as I had no idea of the answer!) It was very cool to be tiny part of the action on a show I watched for years growing up, and that I still enjoy watching when in the States.

From there we headed to the ticket office for Top of the Rock. We went up the Empire State building on our first visit to New York about five years ago, so we wanted to get another bird’s eye perspective of this famous city. You can get what they call “Sunrise/Sunset” tickets for Top of the Rock, so you can go up twice in one day and see the city by day and night, so we decided to do that. The queues were not too bad, and before we knew it we found ourselves in the elevator on our way up sixty-seven floors. They project a film on to the ceiling of the elevator and it is amazing - you can see the elevator shaft which is all lit up, but the movie distracts you and frankly it is the best elevator ride I have ever had - and I say that as someone who is not a fan of elevators!) As we expected, the view was stunning - and as there are several floors of both indoor and outdoor viewing platforms, you can see New York from all sides - even as far out as the Statue of Liberty. Amazing. The elevator ride down does not disappoint either, with another film on the ceiling and the elevator shaft all lit up as you go down it.

From here we headed the corner of 53rd and 7th Avenues, where we hopped on the Grey Line tour and headed uptown. What a gorgeous side of New York “uptown” is. Central Park is just incredible - an 843 acre green paradise in the center of one of the busiest cities in the world. All round it are beautiful apartments, beautiful museums (which I still have not managed to get inside despite four visits to this wonderful city!), lovely churches and more. We liked it so much we resolved to stay in a hotel “uptown” next time we visit - or at the very least spend more time there!

The tour even takes you up in to Harlem - a place I had been brought up to fear - but which is actually quite fascinating. It was great to see the iconic Apollo Theatre.

As the bus travelled back towards 5th Avenue, it was getting to mid- afternoon. It was incredibly hot, and we still had not had lunch. As I wanted to taste the Waldorf Salad at Sarabeth’s Restaurant on the fifth floor of Lord & Taylor again, we hopped off the bus near there. A short walk took us to our destination and we enjoyed a super lunch and some great shopping.

In the evening, we had a delicious meal at Nicos, the restaurant in our hotel (The Muse on West 46th Street). Afterwards we headed back to “The Rock” (Rockefeller Centre) and went up to the top once more time. New York truly is gorgeous at night, and the view was breathtaking. It is well worth getting the Sunrise/Sunset ticket to experience this incredible city at both ends of the day.

As we wandered back to the hotel we were all sorry to be leaving New York the next day, but resolved to fit as much as possible into the few hours we had before our evening flight. I have already started my list of things to do the next time we return to this incredible city!