Friday, 27 February 2015

New York 35th Anniversary trip.

I usually look back on the past year to see what geeked me out and what didn't, well 2014 was the year of our 35th wedding anniversary so as far as geeking me out nothing could top that.
Below is an overall review on the things we did on our anniversary trip as I'm not good at taking notes or remembering what happened on what day, so the report will be a broad reflection on the places we visited during our time in Washington, Las Vegas and New York.

New York

We stayed at the Distrikt Hotel on 342W 40th Street at the side of the Port Authority, the hotel is not much to look at from the outside and only has 5 rooms per floor so its small or boutique to give it the modern term. What its lacking in size it more than makes up for in quality as its the best New York hotel we have ever stayed in, the staff are pleasant, very helpful and more than happy to help in any way they could. Before we left the UK I had emailed the hotel to ask if they had a preferred transfer airport service, not only did they came back with an answer they took all our flight details and booked the transfer for us and emailed me all the confirmations. Even when we were there they were happy to highlight maps to areas we wanted to visit but were unsure how to get there, and on one evening they rang a comic shop I was looking for to check opening times I was very impressed.

Our room on the 32 floor and had a view from the window of the Hudson to the right and the Empire State Building to the left, Helen was absolutely delighted with the view especially at night when the Empire State was lit up in all its glory. Our room was large, clean and the bed was comfortable, no bath but a big shower and bathroom area so we had no complaints about the room what so ever. Access to each floor via the lifts was only a possible by using your room key, it was a security feature I liked with the only down side been is if you forgot to swipe the key card once in the lift. 

You would just go past your floor to the top and back down again, something that happened more than once when we had drank one or two shandy’s in the bar. Having said that it is fun lift surfing when you are a bit drunk, well it did seem so at the time.

Food / Drink:
We paid a couple of visits to Famiglia Pizza as they do some great pizzas and we have never been disappointed when eating there, we also paid a visit to The Olive Garden in Times Sq a place we had never been before. We picked a meal off their set menu and to my surprise the meal was excellent, when Helen suggested going there I wasn't sure but I have to hold my hands up and say she was right again, so the next time you visit NY give The Olive Garden a try, you never know it may surprise you.

For our anniversary meal and after lots of debate on where we should or shouldn't go, we finally decided on the Hartland Brewery and the meal and service was everything we hoped it would be. We both had a starter and a steak meal with Helen also finding room for a sweet along with a few glasses of wine, plus a cosmopolitan cocktail while I played it safe with a few pints of larger. We wanted our anniversary meal to be one we would not forget and the Hartland Brewery certainly ensured that we weren't disappointed, an excellent meal and drinks with great staff and service we cannot recommend it highly enough. 

The Hartland Brewery was just round the corner from our hotel, so it quickly became our local watering hole as we wandered back at the end of the night. I recommend trying their beer sampling platter if you ever visit them, 6 different beers on one tray all of them very good in my humble opinion.

As is always the case when we go to NY a visit to Juniors is a must, not only do they sell great cheesecake they make the best burgers you can get your teeth into. This visit we both had the pastrami burger with fries (chips) and it didn't disappoint, Helen also had a large wedge of chocolate cheese cake which she had to get a doggy bag for. As she couldn't finish it off in the restaurant, it was however devoured later that night as she watched late night TV back at the hotel.

The Sights:

Despite having been to New York before we still hit all the usual sights as we love spending time in places like Times Sq and Central Park, Helen also loves riding carousels so the one in Central Park is always a must for us. It is only $2 to ride and must be one of the top bargains in New York, we also had the obligatory photo taken which was a bit more than $2 but what the hell we were on holiday. 

While we were in Central Park the geek in me couldn't resist visiting the places where the New York episode of Doctor Who was filmed, and Helen was happy to take photos of me sat on various rocks that the Doctor may or may not have sat on, well maybe happy is too strong a word.

The Brooklyn Bridge has always been a sticking point with Helen as she could not cross it on our first visit due scarred to death, the first time we went over she just froze when she realised you can see the river through the wooden slats that make-up the bridge. I of cause was very understanding and never tormented her or mentioned it once, so on this visit she was determined to conquer her fears and my tormenting and walk across the bridge.
So after buying 1 week subway passes for $31 each we took the tube to Brooklyn, and made our way to the bridge were this time she walked all the way across from Brooklyn to Manhattan. 

Now I use the term walk loosely, as in one of my photos Helen is clearly walking in what can only be described as in an Olympic style. Lord help anyone who may have got in her way as she strode over the bridge, I must add that a few days later Helen walked the bridge again in a much calmer fashion this time from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and I'm very proud of her for facing her fear in the way that she did.

On the day of our anniversary visited the Top of the Rock and we both agreed that it’s a better view than the one from the Empire State, partly because your looking at the Empire State so you get that iconic view of Manhattan. We took loads of photos while we were up there and again bought the obligatory photo of us on the steel girder, as we don’t tend to have many holiday photos of us both together and you only live once so why not. Helen is not a big fan of heights but nothing was going to stop her on this trip, and she went to the highest section of the Rockefeller she’s quite a brave lady when she puts her mind to it.

During one of our many visits to Times Sq we were asked if we wanted to have our photo taken, having had it taken we were then told it would be put up on the Sony screen in Times Sq. So we stood camera poised and sure enough there we were on the big screen, for all Times Sq to see we were well chuffed and had special memory on what was a special holiday.

Helen also managed to bump into the naked cowboy on one of our visits to Times Sq, and as it would be rude not to she had her photo taken with him.

We spent a good part of one morning walking on the Highline, we had planned to do it on an earlier trip but Helen had taken ill so we had to postpone. When I say ill it was self inflicted too many vodka sours but I am moving off the point, the Highline is fantastic and you get views of New York that you would not normally see, it was a great way to spend the morning. It took us around 2 hours to walk the whole line, one tip take plenty of water and wear a hat as there is little to no cover while you are waking on the High Line. I learnt a harsh lesson that say gagging for a drink, and a head as red as a tomato. 

Century 21, Disney Store and Macey’s were all visited as Helen loves a good shop when we are away, find Macey’s overpriced and believe that it's living on its past name a bit like Harrods in London. I would also like to add that the men’s toilets in Macey’s were the worst I have ever visited and given that Macey’s promotes its self as a premier brand they should provide better and cleaner facilities. Century 21 has something for everyone and if you love shoes (what woman doesn't), you will love that section of the shop its that big we got lost in it.  While this didn't seem to bother Helen too much, I was starting to panic as I could feel my will to live slowly slip away. 

As a comic geek a visit to a comic shop is always on the cards when were away and this trip was no exception, after going to Midtown Comics in Times Sq I decided to spend my money In Jim Hanley’s Universe now known as JHU. After a particular trying day where we couldn't find the shop (I was on the wrong street number) we finally found it and I bought 3 rather nice Batman statues, along with the 4th Doctors sonic screwdriver to add to my collection.

As this was our 35th anniversary trip it just wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Tiffany’s, I told Helen that if she saw anything she liked she could have it (within reason). After visiting different floors she settled on a silver bracelet with a Tiffany heart on it, her face was a picture as she posed outside the store with her blue Tiffany bag in hand, and after 35 years living with me she deserved to be. The whole Tiffany experience was fantastic and the staff that we saw treated everybody the same, regardless if they were spending money in the store or not. The lady who served us was very patient as Helen browsed various items, she made us feel like we were the only people in the store which made our experience all the more special.

Wrap Up:
Then before we knew it the adventure was over and we were waiting for the bus to take us to the airport, our trip had been around 3 years in the planning and proved at times to be physically tiring especially when we walked around Washington. However, we loved every minute of the trip and it was everything we hoped it would be, we have fantastic memories and meet some really great people it was a fitting way to celebrate our 35th anniversary. 

Las Vegas 2014 35th Anniversary trip

I usually look back on the past year to see what geeked me out and what didn't, well 2014 was the year of our 35th wedding anniversary so as far as geeking me out nothing could top that.
Below is an overall review on the things we did on our anniversary trip as I'm not good at taking notes or remembering what happened on what day, so the report will be a broad reflection on the places we visited during our time in Washington, Las Vegas and New York.

Las Vegas

It was an early rise 4am so we could catch our 8:00 flight to Las Vegas, after a coffee and a sandwich at the airport it was time to board the fight and off we went. 5 hours later we landed in Vegas at around 10am due to the time difference, and after a quick transfer we were at our hotel and all checked in for 11:00.

We stayed at the MGM Grand which is a fabulous hotel you cannot fault it for the entertainment, varied food on offer and the vast array of ways provided for you to lose your money. However we just found the hotel to be too big and noisy for us, I want to stress that its not a knock on the hotel it’s just a personal preference. 

We were there for 6 nights and even towards the end of our stay there, we were still getting lost as we walked around the casino and food court areas. Then there's the music that seems to be playing where ever you go, in the casino, bars, food court and the lifts there was no escape from it. When music isn't playing there are various announcements of upcoming events blasting over the system, letting you know about upcoming and present events.
I now know that Lady Gagga the biggest star on the planet (their words not mine) was performing there, Aerosmith with special guest Slash, yes Slash (again their words) making an appearance alongside them. As I said it’s a great hotel and I'm sure as a younger man I would have loved it, unfortunately I am a grumpy older man and the hotel just wasn't for me. I do however have to give a special shout out to the MGM food court which serves some great food, and was a morning life saver for Helen providing her with a much needed morning cup of tea.

Our room was large as you would expect and was clean again as you would expect from a hotel of this standard, I particularly liked the small TV that was in the bathroom area mirror but that’s just the geek in me. There was no bath but there was a very large shower which was big enough for two, just in case we needed to shower at the same time to save a bit of water (doing my bit for the environment). Unfortunately we did find out that our room had been double booked, when a Japanese couple tried to get into our room at 5:30 one morning. We were offered a room upgrade which I declined as I didn't want to repack all our clothes up again, so we were given $75 to spend in any MGM owned hotel as long as we charged it to our room so happy days.

Despite my bravado prior to our holiday about hitting the Black Jack and Roulette tables, the Yorkshire man in me wasn't 
willing to risk the $25 minimum bet most of the tables were asking. 
So we happily played the slots while we drank our free beer and cocktails, that we ordered from the waitresses who came around as you played. Helen was the biggest winner cashing out $78 on her first night not big bucks but we were happy, one of the disappointments on playing the slots is that you don't get money when you win or cash out. You are paid with a money slip that you can exchange for money at a vendor machine at a later time, perhaps I've seen too many films where the money just jingles into the payment cups of the machine but that's what I wanted to hear. Over the 6 days we saved up any money slips we won until the day we were leaving, and found we had over $300 when we cashed them out so not too bad.


We ate a various places during our stay and had some great meals, with the stand out meal for me been The MadOnion, it was across the road from the MGM  and I had a steak to die for. We both had a starter and a main meal with a drink and it only came to $55, if you’re visiting Las Vegas I strongly suggest you visit this restaurant. Other places we ate in were Hooters which was standard burger and fast food, however I don’t think people are drawn to Hooters due to the standard of the food but I could be wrong. Continuing with the fast food theme we visited Denney’s and Panda Express both of which were better than I thought they would be, and if you’re looking for good tasting fast food you could do worse than giving these places a try especially Panda Express. The RainForest Café in the MGM was a bit hit and miss for us, the food was good as was the cost of the meal but unfortunately our server forgot to order our starters. So after sat waiting for around 30 minutes our main meal turned up, the poor man who brought it had no idea what had happened to our starter and didn't know what to do. When our server turned up she said that she had forgot to order it as she had been very busy, she apologised then walked away so we ate our meal and left a little disappointed to say the least.

During the day we kept fuelled up with plenty of coffee and cakes which kept us going, we also made visits to The Earl of Sandwich, Ben & Jerry’s, Subway and The Sugar Factory, all them helped keep our energy levels up.

The Sights:
Well what can I say that hasn't been already said about Vegas you either love it or hate it and we love it, we visited every hotel & casino on the strip and some off it as well all have their own plus and minus points and I could go on forever about them. 
My favourite hotel was the Bellagio not only does it have the fantastic fountains but there is an air of opulence about the place. I loved sitting near the reception area listening to the piano player go through his repertoire. 

Helens favourite hotel was the Wynn she fell in love with the flowed carousel and gardens, which I have to admit were very impressive and shows what you can do with a bit of imagination and a few million dollars in your pocket.

 A mention also has to go to the Tropicana where we spent a few nights gambling in the bright music free casino, based on the casino area and bars alone the Tropicana is a hotel we would consider if we ever go back to Vegas.

We paid a visit to Freemont Street as we never made it there the first time we visited Vegas, we took the Deuce bus after buying a 3 day pass for $20 each. After a bit of breakfast in Denny’s at the entrance to Freemont Street we wondered around the casinos and had a bit of a gamble. It was quite busy and there were a lot of street sellers who were trying to get your attention along with several people with cardboard signs, a scantily dressed devil lady asked if I wanted a photo with her. She was clearly topless under the large fans hiding her modesty so I thought it was safer to decline, especially as Helen was walking alongside me not looking too impressed. Along with the devil lady there were a couple of show girls again topless, and it was only mid-morning as they say only in Las Vegas.

We visited the Fashion Mall on the strip but nothing really caught our eye so came out empty handed, however that wasn't the case when we caught the Deuce bus to the Premium Outlet where we found loads of stuff to flex our prepaid $ Card on. I was particularly pleased with my purchase of the War Doctor’s sonic screwdriver for half the price you pay in the UK, along with the Doctor Who and Batman wallets and the shopping trip was a successes as far as I was concerned. Helen bought some earrings and bangles as well as a few other bits and bats, so a good shopping trip was had by all.

The Hard Rock Café on the main strip was a must visit despite the rather worrying KISS lookalikes in thongs stood outside, how those guys didn't get sunburnt is beyond me and from the looks of things the sock shop did well out of them as well but I digress. I picked up a Las Vegas Hard Rock T-shirt and baseball hat so I was sorted, then it was off to Ross Outlet on the main strip where Helen picked up 3 bottles of Elizabeth Taylor perfume for $16 each, which she believes is the bargain of the century and who am I to argue.

Las Vegas Show:
We went to see KA which is a Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand, I had heard good things about it but nothing could prepare us for the spectacular show we saw. Those acrobats did things I didn't think possible and to be honest I still don’t, the tickets were $86 each and well worth the money. We were sat at the back of the theatre and didn't have any viewing restrictions what so ever, its a great show and one that I would recommend to anyone who was thinking of seeing it.

Washington DC 2014 35th Anniversary Trip

I usually look back on the past year to see what geeked me out and what didn't, well 2014 was the year of our 35th wedding anniversary so as far as geeking me out nothing could top that.
Below is an overall review on the things we did on our anniversary trip as I'm not good at taking notes or remembering what happened on what day, so the report will be a broad reflection on the places we visited during our time in Washington, Las Vegas and New York.

Washington DC

We stayed in the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Rodao Drive, the location was perfect as you could see the White House at the end of the main road, and you were only a 15 minute walk to the Washington monument. The hotel was clean and the staff were mostly friendly (I will explain later), our room was of an average size but it was clean and that is the most important thing to us. The bar area was small but there were places to sit either outside, or in the restaurant area so we were never stood up looking for seats. The only issue I had with the Hotel was with one member of the bar staff, who I believed then and still do made up the drink prices on a day to day basis. Where it came to a head was when were given two complementary drinks vouches for a value of up to $10, one of which we used on our first night at the bar buying 1 bottle of beer and a glass of wine came to around $8. We handed over the drinks voucher as payment with no problems, on the second day the barman wanted $11 plus the voucher for the same drinks. His reasoning was the voucher was only valid for the bottle of beer and the wine was $11 a glass. I went to talk to the manager and while we were talking the barman came up with the drinks in hand, wanting to know if I still wanted them and if so could he have the $11. To cut a long story short I finally got the drinks for the price of the voucher, and the barman was rebuked by the management for his aggressive behaviour or so we were told. Later that night we went to the bar on two separate occasions and ordered the same drinks, and were charged two differing prices one $7 the other $11 by the same barman. Having said all that due to the friendliness of the staff on the main desk I would stay at this hotel again, as barman aside we had no complaints. Helen was also a big fan of the free warm chocolate cookies, that we were given every day by the front desk staff.

The first night we had a quick burger meal in the hotel which was fine but a standard bar meal, the cost was $61 for the two meals and two drinks which I didn't think it was too bad.

On our second night we went to Bertuccis Restaurant next to the Shake Shack in down town DC where we had the first of many great pizza meals, a freshly made 18” half and half mixed meat and pepperoni for $18 you could not go wrong. With drinks the whole bill came to $28 given the fact that there was live music in the form of a saxophone player this was one of the bargains of the holiday.
The next night we went to the Daily Grill on the same street as Bertuccis, where we both had a steak meal which was very good, it was around $85 for starters and a main plus two drinks a great restaurant that's worth checking out.

The Sights:
After arriving at our hotel at around 3:30 it was a quick change then out for a look around to get our baring’s, turning left outside our hotel we walked straight down to Lafayette Park which is just in front of the Whitehouse. We spent quite a while looking round the park and taking photos of the Whitehouse, I think we both found it hard to believe we were stood outside one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Helen also couldn't believe how close you could get to the Whitehouse, and was in total awe of the place and its surroundings. We later walked round to the park at the back of the White House, where there seemed to be a lot of construction work going on. We were later told that the White House fence was been repaired, and that the White House Visitors and Information Centre was been refurbished. We sat in the park for a while taking in the sights, then began to make our way back to our hotel as it was getting dark it had been a long day.

On the Saturday we visited the White House again then on to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Hill all of which took up most of the day. One tip to share is that although the monuments look close to each other they are not, and the walk between them can be quite long and tiresome particularly if it’s a red hot day. It was memorial weekend so there was a lot going on at the memorials around the reflecting pool, they were both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. The service for the fallen of the Korean war was particularly moving, as there were a lot of Veterans and their family’s paying their respects.

Later visits to the Smithsonian museum the US Botanic Gardens and lunch in Lafayette Park, topped of with a visit to see the spectacular sight of the White House all lit up at night. Brought our first visit to Washington DC to an end, there is still so much more to see and do in Washington and we barely scratched the surface. We did however leave DC with great memories, and it is a place we both want to visit again in the near future.

Not too much shopping was done on this visit to DC it was mainly sightseeing, however we did pay a visit to the White House shop and the White House information centre. The shop has a vast selection of great and not so great souvenirs for sale, so whatever taste you have in souvenirs it is catered for. I found it strange that bobble head figures of the President and First Lady were for sale, but they did seem popular and we saw more than one person buy them while we looked around. For the life of me I can’t understand why someone would want one, and I don’t think a Prime minister or Queen bobble head would sell well in the UK but I could be wrong but I could be wrong. We did buy a few souvenirs ourselves (not bobble heads) a Washington Baseball cap, t-shirt and some White House coins for the Grand Kids. All of which enabled us to have our photo taken for free in the mock ups of the White House interior, given that we cannot go on the White House tour we figured it was the closest we would get.

On the Sunday we visited George Town and went to the fleamarket that is held there every week, we love rummaging around car boots at home so we were in our element as we rummaged around the stalls. I managed to pick up a few old Batman comics from one vendor (I always find comics), and in truth there was so much we both wanted to buy but couldn't due to the cost of getting it home. It was however for us a great way to spend a Sunday morning, we loved talking to the vendors and people we met and we would do it again if the chance arose. Across the road from the flea market was a Spar supermarket with a Starbucks in it, so we went there to refuel with coffee and cakes, before a look round George Town then back on the bus back to DC for the princely sum of $1 each.

Then before we knew it our visit to DC was over and it was an early call 4am for a 5am pick up to the airport, to catch the 8:30 am plan to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Spider-Man swings into Marvel films

The article below is taken from the BBC website:

British actor Andrew Garfield has been the most recent actor to play the arachnid super-hero
Sony Pictures and the Walt Disney company have agreed to share custody of Spider-Man, in a deal that means the web-slinging superhero could appear in a future Avengers movie.

The deal comes after Sony's Amazing Spider-Man 2 under-performed at the box office last year.

Despite a respectable $709m (£465m) box office haul, it was the lowest-grossing of Sony's five Spider-Man films so far.

The character could now appear Marvel films such as Iron Man and Thor.

However, the timing of the deal makes it likely his first outing will be in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. The character already appears in the comic book version of the story.

Marvel will then co-produce the next solo Spider-Man outing, financed by Sony Pictures, which will be released in 2017.

Spider-Man with Captain America, Thor and Iron Man
Spider-Man could be seen with Captain America, Thor and Iron Man in a future Avengers film

Kevin Feige, the Marvel boss who has overseen 10 consecutive box office blockbusters, including Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy, will be involved in all future creative decisions about Spider-Man.

He will work alongside Amy Pascal, the Sony executive who recently stood down following a cyber-attack that saw her private emails leaked.
Doubts for Garfield
Fans have been clamouring for Spider-Man to join Marvel's roster on the big screen for more than a decade.

Spider-Man comic book
Spider-Man has teamed up with Marvel's other superheroes in print

The character is part of the Marvel's comic book empire, but Sony has owned the film rights since 1999, when it paid a reported $7m (£4.6m).

Evil Dead director Sam Raimi first brought the character to the big screen, with Tobey Maguire in the lead role.

More recently, the series was rebooted, with British actor Andrew Garfield inside the iconic red and blue suit and Marc Webb directing.

But the new deal effectively spells the end for Garfield's portrayal of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego, reported the LA Times.

Sony had been casting around for ways to re-invigorate the franchise after his second outing failed to break the $1 billion (£657 million) mark at the box office last May.

A third Amazing Spider-Man film was postponed to 2018, while a spin-off film, The Sinister Six, focusing on Spider-Man's most notorious enemies, was slated for 2016.

There was also discussion of introducing a female set of heroes in their own films; and a potential film based around Peter Parker's Aunt May.

But, at the same time, Sony was holding discussions with Marvel - as revealed in emails leaked as a result of last year's cyber-attack.

Those emails showed that Marvel was pushing for Spider-Man to appear in the next Captain America movie; while Sony Pictures president Doug Belgrad wanted a Marvel-produced Spider-Man movie in which Sony retained "creative control, marketing and distribution."

Although those talks were said to have stalled in December, the new announcement effectively fulfils all of those criteria.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Featuring largely unknown characters, Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a risk for Marvel but went on to make $774.2m (£509m) worldwide

It has also led to Marvel reshuffling the release dates of its upcoming movies.

The next Thor movie would have gone head-to-head with a new Spider-Man movie in the summer of 2017. It will now move to November of that year, shunting a film based on the Black Panther character into the following year.

The two-part Avengers: Infinity War movies, however, will not budge.

"The deal comes at a time when Sony needs not only hits at the box office but major franchises," wrote Marc Graser in Variety magazine.

"It's why Ghostbusters is being revived, this time with a female cast, and why properties like Uncharted, based on Sony's hit videogame franchise are finally getting a greenlight."

"This is the right decision for the franchise, for our business, for Marvel, and for the fans," said Sony chairman Michael Lynton.

"I am thrilled to team with my friends at Sony Pictures along with Amy Pascal to produce the next Spider-Man movie," said Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige in a statement.

"Amy has been deeply involved in the realisation on film of one of the world's most beloved characters. Marvel's involvement will hopefully deliver the creative continuity and authenticity that fans demand from the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe].

"I am equally excited for the opportunity to have Spider-Man appear in the MCU, something which both we at Marvel, and fans alike, have been looking forward to for years."