Sunday, 28 October 2012

Flying High... Virgin Atlantic!

35,000 ft in the air, I must had been somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, seated comfortably in the Upper Class bar on-board Virgin Atlantic's Indian Princess otherwise known as G-VGOA. My first trip home to England after nine months of working at Newark's Liberty Airport as a Passenger Services Agent took a unexpected turn. The Virgin Atlantic experience was flawless V!

Checked into my flight at Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal B, I made my way to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse for some early morning hospitality. After what seemed like a lifetime the day had finally arrived for me to fly back to England for a week! No word of a lie, I was treated like a superstar by the Lounge Concierges. I indulged in some breakfast, I had a bowl of scrumptious oatmeal with fruit and a glass of orange juice. After working with the Clubhouse team for almost one year I had made friends with the waiting staff, so I suppose it's not what you know, its definitely who you know! The Clubhouse was quite busy for the morning flight, I did my own thing and enjoyed every moment being an Upper Class passenger! I picked up my bags and headed for the TSA checkpoint to reach gate 55. Could my morning get any better? I could tell my journey home with Virgin Atlantic was going to be amazing! Yes!

The final boarding calls were made by another new gate-lead in training. Gate 55 was poised for the daily departure of their London bound VS18 flight, finally I was passenger! Being ushered to take a few minutes until I was allowed to board did plant a seed of confusion into my head but all would become clear in the end? I just wanted to board my Indian Princess aircraft bound for Mother England, but would I still be sitting in 56D? Within little under ten minutes my economy seat was changed to 12A! My new seat wasn't in the Economy cabin anymore, it was at the front of the Upper Class cabin! I would be flying high with the wealthy and possibly famous, I had witnessed some famous faces travel in Upper Class and for that reason I couldn't believe my luck! It's no secret people have differing views of Economy and other lower cabins but on that freezing morning we all shared one common destination. I'm not here for bragging rights, I want to inform and share my story! Let's buckle up VIR!

How could this be happening? After my passport was checked I made my way to my Indian Princess where I was greeted by the Flight Service Manager who was in charge of the cabin. I was welcomed on-board the aircraft with several friendly smiles and pledged to me that if there was anything that I needed, I just had to ask one of the cabin crew members throughout the course of the flight. I've always experienced top quality service during my previous Virgin Atlantic flights but this Upper Class experience would take me to new heights! I was in a state of shock, before take-off as I made my way to the Upper Class bar where I helped myself to my first glass of Champagne, a drink that I would become quite familiar with during that flight to London Heathrow Airport. I simply had to get a photo of myself stretching out on the purple fully-reclining seat. Oh, how I wanted to proclaim; "Champagne for everyone!" Yes, Newark!

Reclined, relaxed and feeling like a complete superstar I lounged in my seat and gazed at the Upper Class cabin in awe. It was time for the breakfast service to pass through the cabin, due to the layout of the Upper Class cabin there were no trolleys for everything was ordered and served to the passenger at their own table within their pod. A second breakfast? Do you really think that I was going to say no to another slice of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class hospitality? I think not! Silver service was present throughout the flight, I truly ate like a prince and enjoyed every course. I politely requested a Bacon Butty with a cup of English tea with two sugars and some milk, now if that's not a personal enough service for you then I perish the thought. I don't think I'll be travelling this way for a long time, so I wanted to enjoy every-single moment while it lasted! It was such a pleasure to see things from the other side, I am blessed to have travelled so much, but that regal experience was seamless V!

Dinner was served about three hours into the flight, a lot of the Upper Class guests had requested their Upper Class pods altered into 'bed mode' for the early morning departure meant we had to check-in at Newark Airport from 04:30 am, I was completely euphoric, so sleep wasn't possible for me no matter how hard I tried to catch a few z's. I dined from the finest bone china plates and used silver cutlery as I enjoyed a flavoursome cheese-board accompanied by a deep glass of Australian Rioja wine that complemented the Stilton and crackers perfectly. Moving through to the main course I chose a sirloin of beef which was accompanied with garden vegetables in a red wine sauce, enough red wine? No! The steak melted in my mouth, that airplane food was exquisite! It was a shock to my system, I had never dined in such a opulent setting on-board an aircraft. Yes, I was loving every moment VS!

My entire flight could only be classed as mindblowing, I couldn't have asked for anything more than what I received on-board my London bound flight. I was comfortable and extremely well catered for, I made use of the Upper Class bar but always remained classy because nobody wants to be trashy at 36,000ft in the skies! My Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew were extremely attentive and polite, nothing was ever too much trouble. From that point of view it has only made me want to pursue my dream to be a flight attendant. From the moment I arrived at Newark Airport right through to my express disembarkation I could not of faulted the high level of customer service and professionalism made by the Virgin Atlantic Airways Ground Crew and Cabin Crew! I was reclined all the way from Newark Liberty to London Heathrow with several intervals at the Upper Class bar, where I chatted with the Upper Class Cabin Crew. I could not ask for a more relaxing and comfortable flight! Oh, home!

Britain's True Flag Carrier!

Joseph Harrison

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Totally Toronto!

Crossing the U.S/Canada border had to be done, making a weekend of it I took off to Toronto! I was still a thousand or something miles away from home, so I adored certain similarities during my trip. I was ready to experience a new country, a country that still has my Queen on their money! From the top of the CN Tower to the mighty Niagara Falls, I totally loved it!

Arriving in the heart of the Habourfront area set the tone for my Ontario adventure. As I gazed up at the formidable CN Tower I thought to myself what an opportunity stood before me, I felt like such a fortunate soul as I gazed at the Ontario Lake. I took the lift to the top of the tower to see Toronto from a higher platform, the view was still astonishingly high considering the dreary weather. More about the weather, Toronto was so cold and the rain only made things worst. I was out of the United States of America, might I add the immigration officer that cleared me into Canada actually wished me a pleasant stay! I was practically in a state of shock because in the U.S it's not like that at all! I asked another officer for directions and she was more than happy to tell me where I needed to head for. It was like a breath of fresh air, it gave me confidence and because of that Toronto looked mighty fine to me! TO, I felt so relieved!

Descending back down from the towering heights of the CN Tower I thought to myself how extremely lucky I was to be in Toronto at the time! To my peril I had woken up at the same time my original flight was scheduled to depart from Newark Airport, it was probably taxing down the runway as I scrambled for my 'Gold Lincoln' taxi? Thankfully, Porter Airlines had their check-in desks close to Virgin Atlantic, calling in a favour to help me out big time during my situational panic! Before I knew I was up in the air and on my way to Toronto's Billy Bishop City Airport on my way to my first Canadian experience! The flight from Newark was short and being such a small aircraft there was no stress during the embarkation and disembarkation processes. Regardless of what happened during that early morning hour I had made it to my destination in one piece, I even ticked something off my travel list! With my feet on Canadian soil, it was go! Yes, Toronto, I was only getting started Canada!

Everything happens for a reason so I knew that my trip to Toronto, Canada would be a success no doubt. I have a habit of not printing any maps unless its attached to my accommodation papers so my first steps around Toronto were completely unplanned and navigated simply by the slightest hint of a Wi-Fi connection. Moving away from the CN Tower after my meeting with the clouds I ventured towards Toronto's Downtown district, by mistake I ended up checking out the Chinatown and the University of Toronto, but only at a glance. I attempted to take the underground metro but decided that my morning didn't need any more disruption so walking in the rain seemed like something that would bring more randomness to my already crazy day! The architecture in places did remind me of England, with some of the older buildings and the townhouses representing something familiar! Phew, I was back on track!

After checking-in to my Downtown Holiday Inn hotel I met with my friend Alexandra for some dinner with her and her flatmates, I had worked with Alexandra during my Walt Disney World internship during the summer of 2011. Jack Astor's was our dining choice and might I add it was lovely. I was beyond excited to find a can of Strongbow Cider on the menu, something that I had not found in America at all! With our stomachs satisfied I was introduced to the LCBO, for alcohol was only sold from there and let me say it was like walking into a sweet shop but for alcoholic drinks! Going back to Alex's we got our drink on and showed Toronto's Gay Village what we were made of! I remember going to several bars but we ended up at Fly for the rest of the night, I had an absolutely amazing night and whatever happened I know that it got down right scandalous for all the right reasons! Up until that point I honestly couldn't believe how totally crazy my day had been in Toronto, Canada! No T!

Toronto seriously kept me on my toes during my weekend away from the USA! After my monumental mishaps from the previous day I had another set of surprises. I had originally planned to land in Toronto and then go straight to see the Niagara Falls but fate led me along a different path! Booking another coach online for the next day I managed to miss that one too, but thankfully enough the representatives from Coach Canada were excellent and helped me get on the next departing coach to Niagara! I had finally had enough of the crazy and quite frankly I just wanted to see the epic Niagara Falls! Pulling into the coach-stand close to the Niagara Falls I found out I had to get a bus from there to the central area by the falls, was Toronto trying to trick me or was I still too messed up from the night before? I soon after met with the mighty Falls and it was all worth it, everything had been building up till that moment. Everything was OK!

Watching the 'Maiden of the Mist' sail close to the falls made the power of the water look like nothing like I had ever seen before! The area near to the falls looked like Blackpool's Pleasure Beach with the many fast-food restaurants, casinos and entertainment arcades. I chose not to indulge in that area because it wasn't what I set out to visit. I did have to take a few moments whilst I was taking the photos of the Falls because it was a once in a lifetime moment, almost like going to Disney World for the first time? This trip was turning into a complete whirlwind, from that moment when I thought I wasn't even going to make my flight and the rest of the mayhem! Visiting the Falls was definitely worth it, as I mentioned before I didn't pay much attention to the brash entertainment complex that sat next to the Niagara Falls. What was I to do next? After catching a glimpse of the American side of the Falls it was time to get the coach back to Toronto for tea and to take it easy.

The Yonge-Dundas Square looked very modern and cutting edge throughout the morning and night, it was almost like a chilled out Times Square. Downtown Toronto was a pleasure to experience because the crowds of tourists didn't make any difference, I found that I could get on with my sightseeing quite nicely. My Holiday Inn Express was located right across from the action of this area, it was a premier choice for a budget price! Being such a short trip I wanted to get as much in as possible, I was fortunate meeting up with Alexandra because our meal was around the Yonge-Dundas Square area, within one of the flagship shopping centres. My shoes got wrecked from the weather after I landed into Toronto so I found some Toms from this Downtown centre, I was very thankful for Toronto having some chill! I loved that Queen Elizabeth remains a figure in Canada, she's still on their money! TOR felt homely!

Concluding my epic weekend in Toronto after checking-out of my hotel I stopped by the Historic Distellery District to see what remained of that former brewing site. A lively network of shops, restaurants and cultural venues fronted me as I walked through Toronto's Distillery District that dated back to 1832. Making my way closer to the airport for my flight back to Newark, NJ, I had a nice walk close to Lake Ontario that finished my manic Ontario weekend perfectly. As a precautionary measure I checked into my Porter Airlines flight early to avoid any of the mistakes that I made before. The dedicated terminal and departures lounge was really slick with personal power outlets in all directions, I enjoyed complimentary snacks and soft drinks whilst I waited for my flight to be called. Let's just say the return flight wasn't so smooth, bad weather contributed to that factor but I got back to New Jersey in one piece! Yes, my weekend in Toronto was sensational! It was totally Toronto, C!

O' Canada! 

Joseph Harrison

Thursday, 11 October 2012

NYC: Queen of Queens!

Taking a break from the tourist map I trusted the New York City Subway system to the Borough of Queens. Manhattan gets too much sometimes and with a surprise day off work I mixed things up for a change! Trading my usual Brazilian cuisine for something from Jackson Heights, it was going to be a spicy day without a doubt! Was it the Q, N or R train? Go go Queen Bee!

Take the N, R or Q train direct to the New York City Borough of Queens. I took the R train and got a little lost but eventually, I made my way to Queens. What's Queens known for? It's home to John F. Kennedy International Airport, which happens to be one of New York City's largest and busiest airports. The comedy "Ugly Betty" was focused around this part of New York City too! But let's get one thing completely clear, crystal clear! I didn't go to Queens for those reasons, no but to see the neighbourhoods of Jackson Heights and Astoria. I would say that the areas of Queens that I saw appeared to be safe and didn't pose to bring me into any dangerous situations. I would definitely recommend this corner of New York City because it doesn't serve what the predictable places do within Manhattan, for me its all about taking a leap into the unknown! My Subway ride from Newark was long, I need Jackson Heights!

Arriving in Jackson Heights was like arriving in no other place that I'd previously been to in NYC before, walking onto 73rd street transported me to a colourful Indian neighbourhood! Before my eyes the streets were lined with countless Indian restaurants, Indian bridal wear stores and Bollywood DVD stores. Honestly, I felt like I wasn't in America for a few minutes as this street felt as if it could be of been in Southall, London or Pleck, Walsall. It was a definite relief to hear people speaking Hindi and other Indian languages as most people in New Jersey and New York speak Spanish and Portuguese but that's not a criticism, I would say it was a nice change for I hear the same sort of languages so it was nice to have a change! My Industrial Placement isn't just about work, trading my afternoon shift after my morning shift got cancelled I wanted to make the best of the day! I had been hesitate to explore The Bronx so Queens had to be done before I would miss the chance! Oh yes, NY City!

As I walked through the Asian infused streets of Jackson Heights I was attracted to this film poster, a beautiful Indian actress headlined a new film called "Heroine!" I chose to visit one of the many Bollywood DVD stores and found out that the beautiful actress went by the name of "Kareena Kapoor". I bought the DVD without hesitation as I don't watch many Bollywood films, it's only right to have a respect for world cinema. I started to become really hungry, so I realised pretty quickly that I would have been a fool not to have some authentic Indian cuisine in Jackson Heights for the streets were full of pungent aromas of the many curry restaurants. I finally decided to chose a modern looking restaurant called "Delhi Heights". I ate well at 'Delhi Heights', the open buffet had many tasty Indian dishes that suited my taste buds very much, I also indulged by having a cup of Masala chai. Better still it was all for $16.00! So good!

My Guyanese friends from the airport were of Indian heritage and they would always harp on about how Jersey City had the best Indian food, maybe they'll take me to one of their favourite places soon? Nevertheless, the feel of Jackson Heights took on a third personality, as I walked beneath the tracks of the overground Subway train I had been on earlier that day I sensed a Latino vibe going on! I didn't have anything to eat but I sure intrigued, catching a sign I could tell I was close to LaGuardia Airport! My Delta flight wasn't faraway! Since being in New Jersey and New York City I have been relishing the chance to see these culturally infused neighbourhoods, yet more sights and smells fronted me as I moved away from Jackson Heights' Asian corner. I had even done one better than my American colleagues, some of them hadn't even been to Queens yet and they had lived in the NY/NJ area since they were born or when they emigrated from their birth country! I wasn't doing too badly! Sure!

Moving on from the Desi infusions of Jackson Heights I took the N train towards Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard to have a nose around another side of the Queens neighbourhood. I wondered if this next part of Queens would be fit for a Queen like myself!? The subway journey into Astoria showed me that this section of Queens is undergoing a huge change, something of a revival that's keeping the buildings of yesterday looking in good health for today's modern and fast-paced generation. I loved Astoria, for it firstly posed to be a very Greek and Turkish part of town with its tavernas and specialised butchers but the further I walked into the maze of tightly-knitted streets the vibe changed to a Middle Eastern vibe. From the Greek and other Eastern European charms these new streets that stood before me oozed several Arabic cultures from Yemeni, Egyptian and Lebanese influences. Queens, NYC had everything for me! Always Q!

From the Hookah lounges to the Halal meat suppliers and spice traders I felt like I was walking along a road of International relation and adventure! The shear change in cultures gave me life, those tavernas and grocery stores had said goodbye, it was refreshing to see that Middle Eastern vibe for sure! I wish I had time for a bite to eat but that wasn't so! Feeling contented with my Queens outing I needed to get my tricking self back Newark, New Jersey for I was probably on the early shift, connecting to the Wi-Fi at a McDonald's I found the nearest Subway station to make the journey back over the Hudson River. Taking the risk paid on in the end, it pays to be spontaneous from time to time! Who knows next year when I go to Turkey I might see some stores that remain me of the Arabic themed hookah lounges and barber shops from Astoria? I'm so glad I traded my shifts away so I could have a stolen opportunity to see another side of NYC! Yes, I made all those dollars back!

She's Royal! So Royal! 

Joseph Harrison

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Spirit of Boston!

Breaking away from NJ, I boarded my Amtrak train to Boston, Mass! From the 'Freedom Trail' to Harvard University, the great city of Boston had many different charms that make this city so individual compared to its Northeastern cousins, D.C. and New York. Boston showed me something familiar with its many British towns names, a sense of colonial charm was present. Yes, B!

Taking a stroll through 'Boston Common' to capture a quintessential view of Boston, it was one of those places where I stood still and visualised the what the colonial British way of life would have looked like back in the 1600's. I tried my best to block out the gloomy weather as I walked through this spectacular park. Boston possesses all the key ingredients to be a perfectly balanced city with a small-scale feel, unlike its cousin New York City that doesn't have a second to think about anything else. I must admit the weather in Boston was identical compared to a drizzly and unsettled winters day back in England, needless to say the similarities will never end! You could say Boston was not quintessentially American! This trip was a quick escape from Newark, NJ for being in the current concrete surroundings of Newark's Ironbound it did feel good to be surrounded by some green park space for a change! O, Boston had spirit!

My trip to Boston was quite a spur of the moment thing, before taking my stroll through Boston Common I arrived into the city's own South Station by an Amtrak train from Newark, NJ. I didn't want to take the coach, leaving Megabus for the return leg of my trip I enjoyed the coastal route as the states of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island before arriving in Massachusetts. That Mass trip was the first where I stayed in a hostel, not feeling as plush as my D.C. Marriott splurge I saw nothing wrong with that Hostelling International Boston dorm room. The area around my hostel was crazy, it was slightly unnerving at points but I had become accustomed to the streets of Newark and its Ironbound District. Forgetting about my 4 am alarm I had a great walk around the cosy city streets of Boston's Beacon Hill side of town, a familiar sense of an English city came to me as the dusk fell over Boston. Concluding my first evening I decided to see 'Pitch Perfect' at the movies! Yes!

I wanted to seek something different, something regal whilst I was in the city of Boston! On my second day I decided to take on the historical 'Freedom Trail'. It was a must to do in Boston. The 'Freedom Trail' was a really easy way to see the top historical buildings that this city boasts and to see others sides of the wider city centre area too. Some of the top picks include; Massachusetts State House, Boston Common, Park Street Church and the 'sensational' Fanueil Hall. Captured to the right is 'Fanueil Hall' a place that oozed a colonial edge! Navigating the trail was somewhat complicated at certain stages as the red line on the pavement disappeared every once in awhile. I took this challenge very seriously for I hadn't gone to Boston to sleep! Nevertheless, I soldiered on through the trail aiming to see as much as possible. I got stopped by two students who asked me if I was voting for Obama! No! I'm British! Sorry America!

Even though my working hours at the airport get crazy I wanted my trip in Boston to be full packed, making sure of that I wanted to see more of the Freedom Trail. By chance,I found the charming preserved neighbourhood of Bunker Hill, loosing the red line somewhere along the way I found the historic war ship the USS Constitution docked in front of me. Finding myself along a normal residential street I must of taken a wrong turn, trusting Boston for that moment I came across a serene colonial maze of pastel coloured houses, the area felt like I was back in the days of the first British settlers in the New World. Looking up I saw a grey tower, the Bunker Hill Monument took me an age to climb to the top but the misty view of Boston I got from the top was well worth those stone steps. The Freedom Trail had showed me heaps, I now understand why I didn't entertain any of Boston's nightlife because I was constantly on the move. Yes MASS, Boston had me living but exhausted! Go!

Leaving a quiet corner of the city near the USS Constitution I got onto the metro to Harvard. Yes, the world famous Harvard University.' I wanted to see the American University that everyone talks about when they visit Boston, I have to say that I wasn't disappointed! What a formidable looking place this educational institution fared to be. The small Harvard Square oozed perfect student environment with a difference, I would say its gave a sense of borderline kitsch, for it was still a student town after all. I decided to take a break from my military style sight-seeing antics by having some really tasty Chinese food at a local Harvard town restaurant, I must say that the price was very kind to my wallet. Peering through into a courtyard with many coloured chairs I knew I there was going to be limits. Of course the student halls looked just like they did in the movies, well the dorms! I had UCB not Harvard! I must have loyalty!

Stepping back into time I took the commuter rail to Salem in search of a witch hunt. Choosing to take a rail journey that I no clue about, departing from Boston South Station I set out for Salem. No, the Sanderson Sisters weren't going to be making an appearance, with that being said I had high expectations of Salem but saw a town that heavily relies on the distant witch trials of 1692. On the whole I tried my best to look past the tourist haunts to find an original grave memorial for the women who were hanged, all believed to be witches. Now that's mad! Making the most of my last hours in the 'Bay State' of Massachusetts I stumbled upon 'Pioneer Village' a modified village that resembled British life in the 1692 era. Making for a great end to my Bostonian trip I got real, rushing back to South Station in just the nick of time for my Megabus back to New York City! From the feelings of home to the bizarre tourist traps of Salem, my weekend up north was well worth the fast pace!

Get Me Back To Boston!

Joseph Harrison