There is nothing more magical than watching the world below from the window of a plane. When I set off for New York from Heathrow back in late October 2016, it was a grey miserable day. But fly high enough, and you feel like you’re above it all, and all thats there is endless billowing folds of white, and the deepest purest blue. It was this view that mesmerised me (as it always seems to) for the first part of my transatlantic flight.
Soon enough it was dark, and my view from the plane consisted of an ethereal glow from below in differing shades of blue, and impenetrable darkness above it. I thought about all the sea life swimming away in the Ocean beneath us, getting on with their day to day business while we strange humans flew over them in the big metal bird.
For an Economy Class flight, I felt very well looked after by Virgin Atlantic. Every two hours at least, if not more, we were fed and watered. The food wasn’t bad either! I had been curious as to what it would be like, and I hoped that the hard earned cash I’d parted with to buy my plane ticket would be put to good use. And I think it was. I was too excited to focus on any of the films for more than ten minutes or so, and I ended up just brainstorming about what I wanted to do when I got there. It was while on this train of thought that I discovered this really great resource provided by Virgin, which were little informational films about their various destinations. Only 30 or so minutes long, I watched with eagerness their film on NYC; what to see, where to eat, travel info and some facts about the city. I was so glad I came across it, it really got me ready and in the mindset to think ahead and make the most of my trip. I don’t know if other airlines do this, but it was a really nice little touch I thought. I also had to indulge in the feature where you can track the plane’s progress; watching the icon flying closer and closer, over New England, onward to New York. It really is the little things that make a long journey like that more enjoyable.
The time seemed to pass really quickly. Suddenly, I could see the ground laced with a web of golden streaks and sparkles; we were flying over solid ground, and starting to make our descent! It really was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and quite surreal actually. I tried to capture it on my camera; the golden spiderwebs. As we descended further I saw these random patches of green dotted about and realised what they were; they were baseball and football grounds. How comically teeny tiny they looked, yet at ground level they held thousands and those playing on those fields headed out on to them feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. I could see cars and back gardens… it was all very surreal and wonderful.
And then came the final descent, and the horrible ear popping; I felt so bad for the young parents in front of me; their boys seemed really effected by the changing altitude; the ear-popping sensation is weird and uncomfortable enough for adults who understand why it’s happening, it must be quite distressing for children and their young ears. Finally with a thud we were officially on American soil. Local time, 8:30pm. I’d travelled back in time 5 hours!
What came next I would describe as pretty chaotic. I’d been travelling for over 12 hours already. I still had to get from Newark in New Jersey to Brooklyn, NYC. But first was security. Which was, if I’m honest, pretty poorly organised and quite unpleasant. Gone were the British niceties “the queue is this way, madam” “thank you for waiting” and so on. It was “move” and “queue here” and “don’t stand there” “go somewhere else we are closing”. After a long flight, it made me a little antsy. Luckily as a well-spoken British white girl I didn’t get grilled too badly. But I wouldn’t say courtesy was a strong point. “Why are you here?” “You been before?” “Where you staying” “Ok you can go”. Gulp. Okay. Glad that was over.
And then I encountered the first major difference (other than the politeness thing) between the UK and the US. Poor Signage. In order to get to New York I was told I had to get the Air Train. I looked around for signs to the Air Train and followed one but reached a dead end. I couldn’t see a single sign anywhere. What’s more, the place was totally deserted. I ended up asking a cleaner, who very obligingly told me where to buy a ticket and took me down in the elevator to my platform. I was so grateful to him. It really wasn’t easy. I was asked several times by other travellers who were also in doubt. In the UK, certainly in London EVERYTHING is pretty well signposted. It is hard to miss a sign telling you which way to go for anything. I was shocked at how bad it was at Newark Liberty and later in New York. No idea why it is that way, but it was noticeable.
Finally on the AirTrain – this rickety old carriage I thought looked well past good use, I was on my way to Penn Station in Manhattan. Penn Station was a lot easier to navigate, but it took a good while to get there and by the time I ascended the stairs at Penn Station I was well and truly ready for bed. But I still had to reach Brooklyn.
I looked frantically round and saw a taxi rank, and a guy near a sheltered booth gesturing for cabs to pull up. I assumed this was the guys job, and approached him as he hailed me a taxi and reached for my things. “Here, ma’am let me take that for you”. I went to climb in to the back of the taxi but the man stood in front of me barring my way. “Come on lady, I’ve got a family to feed”. Ah yes, the tips thing. I looked at the man, frazzled and handed him some coins, the value of which must’ve been a quarter or something, just so he would go and jumped hastily into the taxi. As I did, I noticed the driver was shouting at the guy who had blocked my way:
“Hey! Go away!… You shouldn’t take that shit.” He said to me. “Tell him no next time, Lady! Who he think he is?!… Where you going, Lady?”
“Uhmmm… Park Slope, Brooklyn…?”
“Ok! Where you from? You no have to take that shit, you know!”
“England.” I felt very aware of my accent all of a sudden.
“Oh, really?!” He said, surprised, looking at me via his rear view mirror, “I thought you Southern Belle!”. I giggled inside. “Ok welcome to NYC, lets go!”.
And so I had my first and only encounter with an authentic New York Taxi driver. From Hong Kong, he told me, he’d lived in NYC for 17 years and thought it the best city on earth. Watching the city from the inside of a taxi was pretty surreal. I was finally here. I’d made it! It was hard to really locate where I was or what I saw, but it was NYC alright!
The view from Brooklyn Bridge in the dark was spectacular. Finally we approached Park Slope and my lovely cabbie said “And this is Brooklyn! Park Slope, very nice place…. Used to be not so nice but now, nice!”. I finally noticed those beautiful brownstones, as we pulled up in front of where I was staying. The lovely cabbie man carried my luggage to the door, wished me a nice stay and waited till I was seen inside. What a sweet guy, I was so grateful to him for looking after me. What an adventure.
Finally, at 11pm EST, I was shown to my room. I was both exhausted and absolutely buzzing. I felt strangely at home. Overwhelmed by my day, I fell asleep pretty much as soon as I hit the pillow. My plan for tomorrow could wait till morning.
Night night, New York.