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Personal log: Star Date 21.2.10

Just got back from Washington and New York and I have to say it was pretty amazing all round. In "DC" we stayed at the stunningly civilised Willard hotel ("where the presidents stay"), just close by the White House. Elspeth did her conference thing for a couple of days, whilst I did some sight-seeing and there was plenty to do. Washington was still under the snow and was pretty beautiful for it.

First day proper we did an open top bus ride, along with Elspeth's Australian colleague Betty. That was a lot of fun, if a tad chilly. We stopped off in Georgetown with its hill-top cathedral and rather bohemian streets - quite European. Elsp and I went to a jazz club one night to listen to Heidi Martin. Nice.

I walked a lot: Capitol Hill, Union Station, the Air and Space Museum. Betty, Elspeth and "did" the Washington monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. It's all rather grand, slightly austere, pristine and full of America's short, but proud history. I enjoyed walking the streets. It's pretty low rise and feels sophisticated, multicultural and surprsingly small. Washington only has a population of 550 000 - about the same as Leeds.

New York City is another matter. Where do you start? Our hotel room was on the 37th floor of the Millenium Plaza hotel, next to the UN building. Unbelieveble views south to the Empire State and Brooklyn Bridge, most spectacular at night. Anyway, in brief, we took in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Times square, Grand Union Station, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Greenwich Village, Wall Street, Ground Zero, Maceys, Zabar's (an astonishing deli  and cookware shop), late night drink at the top of the art-deco Beekman Tower, the "Top of the Rock" (Rockefeller Centre). We saw two movies (as we aren't into shows) - go and see Precious; it is a quite breathtakingly good movie, hard to watch at times.

Our flight home was interesting because KLM had a three hour delay to Amsterdam so they re-routed us via Paris and Newcastle. It was touch and go whether we would make it back to work tomorrow. Air France was nice - they served champagne as an aperitif before the night meal. It doesn't take much to impress me.

Oh, and we took the train from Washington to NY. Isn't it interesting how railways lines always reveal poverty. I was struck by the large number of tiny, quite run-down, terraced, flat-roofed houses, set amongst scruffy industrial zones - Baltimore looked particularly ugly from the train.

But it's true what they say. The service in the US is nearly always very good. Our accents went down well enough, especially with the gay waiter in the Mexican restaurant.

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