Suzie and I were in Brighton when I said: "Will you marry me?" She said, Yes! So I bought her the best ring I could afford, saying: "One day, we’ll go to New York to buy you one from Tiffany’s"
It was some 30 years later that we saw a newspaper advert offering the chance to travel across America by rail and coach. This would give Suzie the chance to shop in New York; not forgetting, of course, a visit to Tiffany’s while we were there. And for me, the opportunity to visit a city I had dreamt of seeing since the 60s' Flower Power Revolution - San Francisco!
We flew into JFK Airport and confirmed our booking at the Wellington Hotel (www.wellingtonhotel.com) Ideally situated on the corner of Seventh Ave and 55th Street for world famous shops, such as Tiffany & Co. and Bloomingdales on Fifth Avenue, it was also near the famous Carnegie Hall with Central Park close by.
The first store we visited, not surprisingly, was Tiffany’s (www.tiffanysnewyork.com). This was to fulfil my commitment all those years ago to buy Suzie a proper engagement ring. As a tribute to one of my all time great movie stars, Audrey Hepburn, we arranged to be on the steps of Tiffany’s just before they opened. This was so that I could be photographed eating a sandwich as my Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the film made famous by this super-star). In the end, Suzie decided she would prefer to have a necklace rather than a replacement for her original engagement ring (which, incidentally, she still wears).
Later, as well as a walk in Central Park and Times Square, plus a look round the Metropolitan Art Museum, we dined at the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant (www.oysterbarny.com). The restaurant is in the beautifully restored red-brick roofed underground cellar beneath New York’s Grand Central Station, just off Times Square, where we enjoyed a superb meal.
The next morning we were off on the start of a magical 4,750 odd mile train and coach journey across America from New York to San Francisco, travelling across five time zones, and through 14 states. In a travel guide such as this, it would be impossible to record all the ‘happenings’ during almost a month’s duration without running into the ‘boring’ mode. The full itinerary can be viewed on Great Rail Journey’s website: www.greatrail.com.
Our first stop-off was Washington DC, where we stayed at the well appointed, Irish-themed Phoenix Park Hotel for two nights. This gave us enough time to explore some of the interesting sights in the capital city. First off we visited The Capitol Building itself, seat of the US Government. Surprisingly, as tourists, we were given priority in getting entry tickets over the queuing Americans. We also did the ‘must do’ walk along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Constitution Gardens was next on our itinerary. Here the names of over 58,000 US troops, who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, are recorded. They are listed on The Wall, made up of 140 black polished marble slabs, a metre wide and butted together stretching forever. The horror and utter waste of human life to achieve what appears to have been absolutely nothing, is vividly brought home by just looking at some of the names and ages of the personnel listed on these beautifully polished marble stones.
It was soon time to board the Amtrak double-decker overnight sleeper train, Capitol Limited, connecting Washington to Chicago (www.amtrak.com). We enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner on board the train, while travelling at speeds of over 90 miles an hour. Arriving mid-morning at Chicago’s Union Station, this was to be a short stopover as we were due leave again that afternoon. We boarded another double-decker overnight sleeper train, the California Zephyr, for the 17 hour 1,038 mile journey to Denver.
While in Denver, we stayed at the Warwick Denver Hotel which was a very nice, comfortable hotel, with large rooms and plenty of facilities - a real ‘home from home’. It was also very conveniently situated as a stopover before tackling the Rockies, with its wide range of wildlife from butterflies and eagles, to black bears (which unfortunately, we didn’t see).
We rejoined the California Zephyr train to Grand Junction where we were booked into the Hampton Inn, Grand Junction Hilton Garden Inn. This was much more of a ‘cosy’ hotel, expressed through its thoughtfully laid-out lounge and bedrooms, all en suite.
At Williams, situated on the Route 66 Highway, we joined Grand Canyon Railway vintage steam train to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (www.thetrain.com). Walnut Canyon with its cave houses lived in by people over 700 years ago and the Petrified Forest National Park (www.nps.gov/PEFO) are also well worth visiting. We boarded the Southwest Chief train at Gallup for our overnight journey to Los Angeles, where we were transferred to Long Beach to board the moored hotel/ship Queen Mary. This was a unique experience, staying in cabins used by many of yesteryear’s stars of stage and screen. A day at Universal Film Studios followed by a drive along Beverley Hills and Sunset Strip were also memorable experiences. It was then time to transfer to Los Angeles Union Station for our journey to San Francisco - the part of our expedition that I was most looking forward to. I wasn’t disappointed.
Our accommodation at the well-equipped but laidback Canterbury Hotel & Whitehall Inn, conveniently situated on Sutter Street, was within walking distance to most things. The list of ‘must-dos’ is endless, but we most enjoyed riding on the back of the world-famous cable cars (www.sfcanlrcar.com), crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, browsing the many record and book shops, and seeing the Painted Ladies. Not forgetting, of course, spending some time, 'Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay' as Otis Redding suggested!