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Why me? Welcome to America!

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View QM2, Westbound Apr-May 2012 on Gelli's travel map.

I guess I should not really be surprised that the QM2 is in reality nothing more than a glorified ikea shuttle but it was still a tad surreal. With nothing more to be gained on deck I headed down to my cabin, shivering in the cold and soaked through : Fog, after all, is nothing more than a cloud which is too lazy to fly, and clouds are just water. I had a hot shower, and then went upstairs to join the queues for breakfast. I stocked up as much as I could and 2nd cup of tea in hand returned to the deck to survey the scene. After a week of essentially doing nothing except avoiding any rogue icebergs and shaking hands with rich passengers, the captain and crew had definitely earned their wages this morning. Daylight had by now fully broken, and though the fog was clearing, it was not an immediate process. Parts of Manhatten and it's skyline were now visible, though muted as opposed to gloriously lit up. The view including the top of 1 WTC which only 2 days earlier had become the tallest building in New York, and although the top was visible the middle section was still hidden by fog. The Statue was more obvious, though detail still not clear. Brooklyn Bridge was visible, and the fog was definitely clearing up, though slowly. This morning would not be a good time for anybody who planned a trip up the Empire State Building.

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That is the world famous vista of the Manhattan skyline. Yes, exactly. It mean's i'll have to come back and do it all again in order to get a good view! Note the top of the under construction 1 WTC just appearing out of the fog, with lower reaches still hidden

Standing on deck, It all felt quite surreal and I had one of those “I can't quite believe I am really here” moments that I occasionally have. It felt quite strange but I also felt pretty good, especially in comparison with how I have been for the last few months. I muttered a phrase that I never expected to say: 'Good morning New York City', shivered in the still early morning cold and started pondering the next few weeks.

I had packed the night before – slightly disconcertingly my bag felt both lighter and emptier than when I boarded despite having gained a bottle of bubbly – and after checking my stuff, I paid up and closed my on-board account (previous voyages have all been well into hundreds of dollars. This trip was the princely sum of $13.58) and was back on deck, yet more tea in hand and marvelling as New York City slowly woke up and began to appear, whilst simultaneously being happy to be here and wishing I was still in bed.

I had chosen early self check-out, which basically meant that I was amongst those allowed off first providing I was happy to carry all of my own luggage and accept that there would be no assistance available. As I had little stuff, that was no problem. Immigration took a bit of time, but I was eventually stamped in, welcomed and kicked out on to the streets of a dodgy part of Brooklyn at 07.05 am. For a few short minutes, I just stood and surveyed the scene idly wondering if a taxi might, indeed, be cleverer than a walk. Foolish talk; I was aching for a good walk, and the taxi queue was already over 100deep with not a taxi in sight. And so I took my first steps on my fourth continent - still no planes although I suspect that the remaining 3 will be beyond me. Sooner or later I will have to fly, and I guess that it will probably be this year – mentally visualised my route to the nearest subway and started trudging through Red Hook.

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No, I don't know why I always look so miserable in self portrait shots either

In such a rush before I had left England, I had not looked into arrival at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and had only discovered whilst at sea that virtually no map or tourist guide on-board bothers to map that part of Brooklyn. It took me three days to find somebody who could even tell me where the dock is, and the only map of the area I could find was in a fellow passengers 1999 Lonely Planet that I had had a quick perusal of. From that I had gleaned that it was quite a rough old industrial area and the subway was about a mile/20minute walk away.

That, indeed, proved to be the case. Well done LP! What it didn't tell me was that the station – Smith & 9th – was shut for 9months for reconstruction. It also didn't tell me that all hell was breaking loose, as just as I came up to the station all the sirens I could hear around me simultaneously converged on the shop 50metres ahead, and the owner came running out waving a huge carving knife and shouting at all the police (who were running around like headless chickens with guns pointed at everything and everyone anywhere nearby, including me) “They went that way! They went that way!” whilst pointing off ahead of me.

Something about the scene told me that now was not the time to ask which the closest open station was. Happily, at this point the subway is elevated, so easy to follow, which I did. At the next stop, Carroll Street, I put my brand new US Dollar prepay debit card (I had thought I was being clever getting such a thing) into the machine to buy a ticket, whereupon it promptly got stuck. Completely stuck. 30Minutes, 7 people taking turns at trying to grasp the card and pull, lots of laughing and frustration and very, very careful use of a pair of scissors borrowed from the security office and I had prised it out. But the transaction had long since cancelled itself and I still had no ticket. I wasn't going to put another card in, so tried cash. I only had 50's. The price was $29. The maximum change given was $4. ****. So out I went, to find a shop and buy something – anything – in order to get change. That should also have been easier, but 20minutes later I had a bottle of coke and a subway ticket and was on a train going in the correct direction.

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Brooklyn Bridge. Another glorious view hidden by the fog!

By this point, I just wanted to sit down, have a coffee and decompress slightly – gather my thoughts again. So I got off in central Brooklyn, assuming that finding a starbucks, coffeebucks, mcdonalds or something – anything – would not be that hard. I had reckoned without downtown Brooklyn being mostly closed, despite the number of people wandering around, and when I eventually found a coffee shop it had nowhere to sit. So I gave up, found another subway station, and headed to the hostel I had booked. What should have been a 45minute-ish trip from boat to front door had taken over 3hours, but I had made it, they had my reservation and even bed available at that early stage, and their was coffee brewing. I was finally there.

In the following few hours I witnessed 3 accidents, saw/heard more emergency sirens than in an average few months in London and saw a building on fire. America was going to welcome me in the way it saw fit. Later that afternoon it culminated when I went into a phone store to buy a SIM card. The transaction was going fine until the door opened and a drunk &/or insane &/or homeless guy burst through shouting incoherently, his hands full of shit – literally, handfulls of shit – which he dumped on the counted before promptly vomiting over himself and everything nearby.

That night, I had an early one and was just dozing off when 3 people came in a few minutes apart. They started whispering to each other in English, which was ok. What wasn't was that after about 10minutes, one suddenly asked another if they were French. Upon discovery that they were all, indeed, French, the dorm light was switched on and a discussion suddenly commenced at a great rate of decibels. Why you whisper in English and shout in French, I don't know, but this persisted with increased levels of excitement until I decided to utilise my best French and told them all to shut the f*** up so I could sleep.

To be fair, it was probably the best first day I could have got, as it meant that my levels of expectation were near rock bottom. From here, things could only get better.

Posted by Gelli 23:17 Archived in USA Tagged arriving

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