Monday, 25 May 2015

Trip Report: A long weekend in The Big Apple - New York City



What can be more exciting than a long weekend in New York City ("NYC")? How about a FREE weekend in NYC? Yes, you heard correctly, FREE!!!

I am hugely lucky to have just returned from an all expenses paid trip to NYC, courtesy of a competition win by my lovely husband (and thanks to the generosity of Motorola). The prize included flights & transfers, a 3 night stay in a boutique hotel, dinner for 3 nights, an activity and some spending money.

I've been to NYC on 2 previous occasions and I have always loved the city, however my husband had never been before and I was hugely excited to introduce him to the delights and experiences of NYC.


I must apologise at this stage for the lengthy review, however there was just so much to see and do that I couldn't miss anything out!! I also apologise for the huge amount of photographs!

Our trip began at London Heathrow Terminal 3 (actually it began when we applied online to ESTA for our visas). We booked the Official Long Stay car park. I booked this through Quidco via Holiday Extras. This worked out to be approximately £50 for 4 days, a big saving on the £87.50 that we would have paid if we hadn't pre-booked. There are cheaper alternatives off site, however the transfer times and location suited us best.

Once inside the airport, check-in at the American Airlines desk was very quick and we had over 2 hours to spare until our flight. As such, we decided to make use of our Priority Pass and visited the No.1 Lounge which is located upstairs on the way to gates 1-13. The No 1 Lounge is conveniently placed with comfortable chairs, a relaxed ambiance and free WiFi. It also has a cold buffet, hot food to order and both hot and cold drinks, all included in the entrance price. Champagne and prosecco cost extra, from £6 per glass.

Once we got onto the plane (American Airlines) which, amazingly, set off virtually on time, we were impressed by the amenities. The individual screens on the back of the seats were large, there was a large selection of current films and TV shows and the food was surprisingly good. It also helped that wine and beer were free of charge! ;)

Once we arrived at JFK Airport in NYC, there seemed to be queues for everything! We queued for passport control, then for our luggage, and then onto the next queue for customs. Once we finally got to the exit, we looked to find a money exchange booth however the one available only takes cash. We therefore queued once more to get cash out of the ATM machine (fortunately the exchange rate proved to be better this way). After all of this, we had to get into the city. The prize organisers had booked us on a shared shuttle via GO Airlink NYC. There was a 30 minute wait for the shuttle to arrive, followed by a rush hour trek into Manhattan. We considered getting a yellow taxi as they have a set fee of $52 + tolls +$10 tip, however we didn't want to waste any of our spending money. Alternatives would have been the $16 bus or the subway.

The prize organisers had booked us into the Nolitan Hotel situated at 30 Kenmare in Nolita (North Little Italy). It is a small-ish modern hotel with an industrial theme running throughout. We were pleased to find the staff helpful and the rooms to be a decent size and very clean. The shower is slightly unusual in that it has glass panels instead of walls, so anyone in the room can watch you shower. Fortunately, there is a curtain that you can pull across to hide your modesty. The toilet is in a separate room. The rooms include a mini-fridge, hair dryer, iron and ironing board, bath robes, slippers, an umbrella, free WiFi and a large TV. Our room did not have a balcony but I know that several of them do. In addition, there is a roof top terrace with a seating area. One nice touch is that the hotel serves cheese, crackers, olives and wine (red, white & cava) between 5pm until 7pm on weekday and Saturday evenings. We found that we were coming back to the hotel within that time to change for dinner and it was nice to be able to rest our feet and relax for half an hour with a glass of wine and a light snack.

The hotel lobby


Our deluxe room


That first evening, the prize organisers had booked us a table at the hotel's restaurant, Cantine Parisienne. We were exhausted from our flight and chose a simply meal of burgers and chips, accompanied by a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and followed by a crème brulee. This cost $99 in total, including tip and was delicious. We then hauled our tired bodies off to bed.

Due largely to jet lag, we were both wide awake by 6am on Friday morning. We were booked onto a graffiti tour at 11am, so didn't want to venture too far from the hotel. We decided to take a walk around the area and find breakfast. We walked for miles around Little Italy (Mott Street and Mulberry Street), China Town (Canal Street), Greenwich, SoHo and Tribecca. It was lovely to watch the city waking up and people starting to take to the streets on their journeys to work. We both loved the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhoods in this area and would definitely stay in this area again if we ever return to NYC. We stopped for breakfast at The Grey Dog for a delicious breakfast of fruit and French toast, including homemade tea bags for my daily dose of green tea! The café was busy with a flow of people constantly coming in and out of the door. It had a great feel and was perfect for a bit of early morning people-watching!


The husband!

The Grey Dog Cafe


China Town in the morning - before the crowds arrive!

Chalait - Where to go for your first green matcha tea latte experience - Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan!!

After breakfast, we slowly returned to the hotel in order to meet Gabriel Schoenberg, the owner of Graff Tours and our guide for the 3 hour private graffiti tour. He first showed us the area around the hotel, including work from Shepard Fairey, Ron English and, my favourite, Tristan Eaton. We then drove to Brooklyn to view the Bushwick Collective street art. Gabe was a great tour guide and is obviously knowledgeable about the techniques used in graffiti and street art. Whilst I'm still not a fan of graffiti, I do have a new outlook on some aspects of it, although I prefer the pieces that Gabe referred to as 'street art' rather than the typical graffiti tags.









After the tour, Gabe returned us to the hotel where we freshened up before heading out to find some lunch. We ended up at Balzem, a charming Mediterranean restaurant on Mott Street, where I had a delicious grilled chicken and pesto sandwich, accompanied by very tasty chips and a lovely glass of chilled Marsanne (white wine). My husband had a steak sandwich and a pint of Stella. The meal set us back $40 in total, including tip. Not bad for a truly delicious lunch.







The afternoon was spent walking further downtown to the 9/11 memorial. When I last visited NYC, the area was still Ground Zero, completely destroyed by the 9/11 atrocities. I did not like the idea of creating a tourist attraction from such a tragic event, however on visiting the new One World Trade Centre and seeing the fountains, I will admit that it has been very tastefully done. There was an air of respect and solemnness around the area, despite tourists taking photographs.




One World Trade Centre


Memorial Fountain

One World Trade Centre

After this sobering visit, the sun was shining and we decided to take a stroll down to Wall Street before heading back to the hotel.



Trinity Church - marking the entrance to Wall Street

The New York Stock Exchange



That evening, we were booked into Buddakan near Chelsea Market. I had been warned by a friend that this is a 'hip and happening' restaurant and, as such, we made sure to dress up nicely for the evening. I'm glad we did because it felt as though we had walked into a scene from 'Sex & The City'. It certainly was a very stylish restaurant. Fortunately the cocktails were incredible and the food was equally as good.


Inside Buddakan


Me
The husband



After dinner, we had a 1.8 mile walk back to the hotel. It was fun to see the hustle and bustle of the city at night.

The following morning, we were up early again and decided to walk up to the Empire State Building. It was a bit of a walk, but we were early enough to beat the crowds and not get caught up in the queues we had been warned about. We were half way there, around 20 minutes into our walk, when the heavens opened and we had about 15 minutes of fairly torrential rain. Fortunately we both saw the funny side and continued our walk, hiding under canopies and in doorways to stay as dry as possible.






The views from the Empire State Building are impressive. We paid extra to go to the top observation deck, although I'm not convinced it is really worth the extra money to do so. The views are slightly better but they are still very good from the lower deck. I would definitely recommend going early to avoid the queues.










Our visit to the Empire State Building was followed by a traditional New York breakfast of jalapeño and cheddar bagels at Panera Bread on 5th Avenue (at the crossroads with East 39 Street). It was easy, cheap and tasty, plus I liked the choice of coffee.




After breakfast, my husband treated me to an hour at the famous Macy's department store, with the old-fashioned wooden escalators. I had broken the zip on my handbag during the flight and decided to splurge a bit and purchase a replacement. I had been told that I could go to the Customer Service desk with my UK drivers licence and that would get me a visitors card with a 10% discount. In addition, on the date in question, the store were giving out 25% vouchers for charity in return for a $3 donation. This made my new Guess bag an absolute bargain!




Rickety wooden escalators!

My purchase :)


Macy's was followed by a quick stop at Starbucks to rest our weary legs and then a walk over to Time Square for lunch. Time Square is a sight that cannot be missed. Since my last visit, it has been pedestrianised but it is still as busy as I remembered. My husband loved the screens and the lights! There were some fantastic food stalls and seats around the square which we were initially keen to try for lunch, however the rain started up again and we didn't want to risk sitting outside, so we decided to go to Planet Hollywood instead, where I had a roast beef sandwich and the husband had a chicken sandwich and a Sam Adams beer, which he enjoyed more than the sweeter US largers that he had tried up to that point.










After lunch, we took a stroll over to Grand Central Station for a quick look at the ceiling (it is supposed to be a reverse of the night sky), part the incredible Barnes & Noble and then walked on up to Central Park. The weather had improved by this point and it had become really rather hot, so we treated ourselves to some ice lollies whilst walking around the park.










We then had the long walk home, past a number of well-known landmarks, and with a short pitstop at Randolph Beer, a lovely Belgian beer bar/pub, to keep us going along the way.


New York Public Library

The Flatiron Building

Taking a break at Randolp Beer

Street Art Project


We reached the hotel in time to have a couple of glassses of wine in the lobby area before getting ready for dinner. The competition organisers had booked us into The Red Cat restaurant in Chelsea, however we were very tired and my feet were swollen from all of the walking. As such, we decided to give the booking a miss and eat at Grotta Azzura Ristoranto on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, only a 2 minute walk from our hotel. I had a lovely pizza whilst my husband had a huge bowl of carbonara. We chose this restaurant as my husband thought he recognised it from The Mafia with Trevor McDonald programme on ITV a few months ago.  After dinner it was back to the hotel for a final night's sleep.





On the Sunday morning we woke early again and packed our suitcases. We took a quick trip up to the hotel's roof terrace to see the view and then checked out, asking the hotel to look after our suitcases for the day.

First on our itinerary for the day was a walk down to the Brookly Bridge. I had been advised to take the subway to Brookly and then walk back to Manhattan, however the walk really isn't that far so we decided to walk there and back. It turned out to be the hottest day of our holiday, hitting 27C, so after walking across the bridge we were desperate for a drink and some breakfast. We walked off the bridge to the left, towards DUMBO and, after stopping to look at a map in a shop window, were fortunate to run into the creator of the map and author of Guide to the Legends & Mystery of Brooklyn, Richard Anthony Mauro. I asked him for a breakfast recommendation and he took us to Almondine Patisserie on Water Street. We had a coffee each and a pain au chocolat which was incredible! I would thoroughly recommend this cafe for breakfast. If you find yourself in the area later in the day, there is the famous Grimaldi's pizza restaurant just around the corner and also Smorgasboard which I understand to be a food market containing a mix of stalls from different restaurants. I would have liked to try both places if we had the time.











After the walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge, including stopping to take photographs, we headed down to Battery Park. We had been unable to get tickets into the Statue of Liberty as they seem to sell out several months beforehand. As such, we were intending to take the Staten Island Ferry to see the statue. This is a commuter ferry that runs every half an hour. It travels between Battery Park and Staten Island, past the Statue of Liberty and is completely free. As such, it is often used by tourists to view the statue. We arrived at the terminal, however we did not take the ferry in the end as we had a bit of spending money left over from the competition organisers and my husband (who is scared of flying) decided that he wanted to spent the rest of that money on a helicopter tour of Manhattan. I love helicopters, so I was happy to agree to this suggestion. The helicopter ride itself was with Liberty Helicopter and Captain K. Being in a helicopter is always great fun and the views were incredible.









The iconic Lady Liberty!





Upon landing, we walked back towards the hotel, stopping in Little Italy for a bite of lunch. It was very busy both in the restaurant and on the streets. We then stopped at a convenience store to buy some US candy (sweets) before heading back to the hotel to collect our bags.

Unfortunately, our trip back to the airport was as long-winded as our trip from the airport. GO Airlink NYC turned up 40 minutes late (thank goodness we booked a shuttle earlier than necessary!) and had a few stops to make in the city before depositing us at JFK Terminal 8. There's not a lot to do at the airport but at least there was a few food outlets and a Starbucks, so we managed to spend our left over dollars on a few drinks etc...

The flight back was with British Airways and not quite as new and nice as the American Airlines plane that we arrived on. We had an early dinner following which the lights went out and, whilst I tried to watch a film, I found myself very tired and spent the rest of the flight trying unsuccessfully to sleep.

On arrival back at London Heathrow, it was 7am and we were exhausted! Unfortunately I didn't realise that we had flown back into terminal 5 rather than terminal 3, so I managed to get us on the courtesy bus to the wrong long stay car park. This caused us to lose some time as we had to travel back to another terminal and wait for the bus to the correct car park - my husband was not overly pleased with me by this point, a fact made worse by my poor directions which led to us taking the wrong turn twice to try to leave the airport!! I can only blame jetlag and general tiredness for our disasterous attempt to get on our way home!

Overall, we had an absolutely fantastic holiday, thanks to the incredible generosity of Motorola. We both agree that we would definitely consider visiting NYC again in a few years time as it is such an incredible city and there is still so much left that we have not yet seen. 3 nights/4 days was a good length of time to spend in the city. I would have liked one more day, but anymore and my feet would have hurt too much from all of the walking!!

Have you been to NYC or do you want to go? If so, what is your favourite thing about the city or what do you want to see/experience most?
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2 comments:

  1. This sounds and looks incredible! I so want to see New York, it looks like the most amazing place. Xxx


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  2. It's an amazing city Bekka! I'd thoroughly recommend it. You'll never run out of things to do & see there :) xx

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