I can't recall a trip on which I have heaped so much expectation. Yes, I've certainly looked forward to holidays and spent plenty of time researching travel options and hotels, but ordinarily, once that's done and dusted, I would sit back and forget about it for a bit, intending to pick up the guide books again a little closer to our departure date. Not so with our next adventure however. From the day we decided to take the plunge and buy the tickets which, several days earlier had been ridiculously cheap but were now climbing higher with every hour, I have been immersing myself in every piece of information I can lay my hands on. I have read books, downloaded articles, browsed the "best of" this and the "ten greatest" that, I have spent hours viewing YouTube videos exploring every area and aspect we might hope to visit... but still I feel hopelessly unprepared.
The question is, can one ever really be prepared for New York City? Does there come a time when it is better to close the books and swipe away from the videos in order that we can experience the city with our own eyes and ears, rather than endlessly relying on the interpretations of others? Whilst it's probably sensible to find somewhere for Saturday night dinner, shouldn't we also leave space for culinary happenchance? And whilst a pre booked ticket for Top of the Rock will surely save us some queuing, often the best discoveries occur spontaneously.
So, it is with that thought that I sit here on a train winding its way through countryside on the Kent - East Sussex border, having just parted with guide dog Gio,. I'm anticipating what's to come with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, but without the fervent rush impatience that has characterized my research and planning to date.
In truth, after months thinking about the trip I have now entered my usual pre departure state of apathy. It reminds me of exams all those years ago, and the point one reached when cramming in information served only to remind me how little I thought I knew, rather than rectifying any apparent deficiency. That change in mindset is usually exacerbated by the ceremonial dropping off of the guide dog and my return to swinging the cane. Suddenly there are more pressing things to think about than how to navigate Central Park or which harbour boat trip to take, like how do I get myself home without tripping up half of Waterloo station, and can I manage to pack for a long weekend without bringing the kitchen sink or spending the whole night pondering how many shirts to take? I'm certainly excited that, within twenty four hours I'll be heading west across the Atlantic for the first time in my life, but I'm also nervous, thinking about the places I will have to navigate with my least favourite mobility aid.
The plan is to take it fairly steadily. To count on making it to the subway only after queuing at immigration for umpteen hours, and then to focus on finding the hotel and a nearby bite to eat. Somehow staying at a European chain hotel feels like an opportunity missed, but what is authenticity anyway in a city of the world? The CitizenM is located on Bowery, a road which was more coming than up for a good portion of its existence, but which benefits from not being in the madness of Midtown but rather closer to China Town, including, hopefully, a restaurant with our name on it for Friday evening. Of course we've done the research and have in our possession a shortlist of establishments, each claiming to be the best place for noodle soup or dumplings, but settling on the right one feels like tracking down that proverbial needle in a haystack.
The problem is that New York sounds much like London in terms of its restaurant scene, with literally thousands of options to choose from, and no end of opinions on which should benefit from our hard earned and converted dollars. And much like in London. If one strides always to find the best one possible one is surely to be disappointed. So, perhaps a different approach is required, forgetting about authenticity or that perfect New York experience, but focusing instead on what we really want. Indeed, perhaps that is a sensible mantra for the whole trip, helping us to find the sights and sounds that will interest or engage us rather than those which everyone else thinks we should enjoy.