NYC Day 7 – A Circle Island Boat Cruise and reflections on a week in New York

Well, it had to happen sometime, but our stay in New York is coming to an end.

But first, we had a bit more shopping to do. I must admit, after going on a Round-The-World trip late last year, the novelty of the stores has been greatly reduced for me. Last time I brought back about 20 kg of novelty food and snacks interesting to me. This time a bunch of chewing gum, and that’s it. Kathryn’s been the same, pretty much no makeup purchases. I think with the internet, it’s not so much of a hassle ordering stuff over the internet, and there’s nearly nothing that can’t be ordered off the internet these days. Except makeup so it seems.

I ended up going to the Uniqlo 34st Street Flagship building, and was served by perhaps the worst service I’ve seen in America. With service that poor I figured I could have been in Oslo. Seriously, I’ve never seen a guy less interested in serving a customer. It was truly a chore to him that I was there. He tossed down the receipt on the table, didn’t say anything, and flicked it at me with his finger. Truly amazing.

We then went to 42nd Street and 12th Avenue and caught the Circle Island Ferry Tour. This was $35 USD per person, and lasted about a couple of hours. Manhattan is truly an island, and we proved it by catching a ferry all the way around it. Kathryn has a fairly sceptical view towards tours like this – they’re both long, boring, and you’re stuck in not the most comfortable seat ever. It was cool to see the parts of Manhattan that we hadn’t ventured towards, like the Bronx. There’s a lot more to Manhattan than Midtown, and I’m happy we got to explore Downtown, but next time I think we should spend a bit less time on Manhattan, and more time exploring Brooklyn, and heck, even New Jersey.

Overall, New York has been amazing to us. The weather when we arrived was beautiful and sunny, and though it rained torrentially last night, because it had been sunnier earlier in the stay, we knew what New York was like on a sunny day, and a clear night. We spent enough time in New York to not feel rushed – a feeling we didn’t have anywhere on our round the world trip, except for maybe Tokyo. When you’re in one place for a week, you start to get a feel for the directions of the place, where the coffee place is, the bus station, where to avoid (White Castle). And since it’s all in English, we could understand helpful directions like, only the first five cars of this Subway train stop at the South Ferry station. That was something that caught us out in Osaka.

NYC Day 6 – Fashion shopping in Chelsea, Magnolia Bakery, and Broadway

Today we went Fashion shopping, walking back along the High Line Park to Chelsea, on our way to around Soho for some shopping. We stopped by the Chelsea Food Market, and I succumbed to temptation and bought a whole freshly-steamed Lobster. Sure, it cost $33 USD, but how many times in your life do you get a chance to eat a lobster? I did eat it like a white person, which means just the claw and tail meat, and didn’t eat all the weird stuff inside the body. Growing up, we would have Crayfish occasionally, and Dad and I would eat all the normal meat, and Mum would eat all the weird extras, such as the eyes, or the weird brown liquid coming out of it. That’s not for me. I think I accidentally ate some of the lung. It was weird. Not recommend.

From here we continued on walking towards Soho, and went past the original Magnolia Bakery. The name rings a bell, but I couldn’t figure out why the name was famous – turns out they started the whole cupcake craze back in the day. I bought a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing which was nice. Not like change-the-game delicious, but fine. Kathryn went for a salted caramel cookie which was delicious, and a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting which was average.

Walking past all the fancy stores around Soho is nice. They’re all the stores you’d expect to see in a luxury mall, except they’re in quaint storefronts in normal one storey shops. We walked into Kathryn’s favourite Danish designer, Henrik Vibskov. The design is all a bit eclectic for me, but Kathryn loves it. They have an exhibit on the wall, which this season is hundreds of massive pencil tips. Kathryn’s  been to both the Henrik Vibskov stores, Soho, and Copenhagen, making her a fancier shopper than I. I was just excited to see a 7-Eleven.

From here we caught the R Subway line back to Midtown to get some tickets to a Broadway show. In Times Square at 2.30pm, the Ticket Development Fund runs the TKTS stand which sells half price Broadway tickets. We ended up going to the Carole King musical – $90 USD each (the half price cost). It was great, the set design was amazing, the singing was fantastic, and it really was a very polished musical. I don’t even love the music of Carole King, but it was interesting to hear her story, and I did recognise some of the songs. Definitely recommended!

NYC Day 5 – Staten Island, One World Trade Center, and Manhattan Shopping

Today we decided to head to the financial district. So we caught the R Subway Line from Times Square down to the South Ferry station, and it turns out that the free Staten Island Ferry was just about the leave, so we sprinted onboard, we were just about the last passenger.

We then cruised towards Staten Island, going past the Statue of Liberty. It’s nice to cruise along the harbour and see a bit more of Manhattan, especially the skyline from a different angle. We went past Ellis Island which was where they used to do immigration processing back in the old days. The Statue of Liberty was crowded with people – you can pay $20 for a cruise that allows you to climb the crown of the statue, but I wasn’t too obsessed about that.

We spent about say, 2 minutes on Staten Island, before sprinting for the next ferry that was just about to leave. Good timing, we ended up doing a round trip in about an hour, rather than spending half a day doing it. We were then back on Manhattan in an area called Battery Park.

We then walked up towards Wall Street. Obviously, Wall Street is a bit of a financial capital of the world. But from a tourist’s perspective, there’s not too much to see there, mostly very big old financial buildings. Imagine looking at buildings full of lawyers and accountants. That’s pretty much Wall Street. There is a Charging Bull statue down the road that is pretty synonymous will Wall Street.

A couple of blocks over is One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower as Kathryn tells me. You have to walk past a bunch of street hawkers selling you liber-tee-shirts. Liberty-tshirts? Get it? They made that up, not me. Then, you see the 9/11 Memorial Pools. There’s a lot of construction going on so it’s quite a noisy environment, but even still, the sound of the rushing water tries its best to drown out the other noises. As you peer over the edge you can see the water falling into the edge of the pool, but you can’t quite see the bottom of the pool. It’s a very nice design. Towering above the two memorial pools is One World Trade Center. Simply massive in height, it dwarfs all other buildings nearby, and dominates the skyline.

We then tried to catch the subway back uptown. Weirdly my subway card didn’t work, leaving me stranded on one side of the barrier, and Kathryn on the other side. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one affected, this Norwegian couple also suffered the same fate. This was my chance to use my only line of Norwegian that I knew. She understood my greeting, and responded appropriately. I was stoked.

Anyways, we made it back to the shopping district, and headed to the largest store in the world, Macy’s. Kathryn found some Nike clothing she’d been searching all of Manhattan for.

We headed back to the hotel for free beers and nibbles and then retired early for the night. Sometimes it’s nice to relax while on holiday!

NYC Day 4 – Central Park + Zoo, and the NHL at Madison Square Gardens

Today was a day of exploring the area north of Times Square. First off was the walk east towards East River along 40th Street. The walk was fairly uneventful, but nice just to get out of the hotel and enjoy some sun and fresh(ish) air.

The United Nations building is on 1st Avenue, and is right next to a fenced off empty lot full of rubbish. It’s just weird that there’s this dump right by the river, oh, and right next door, here’s the UN. They could have turned it into a temporary park. Or a car park. Or just put up hoardings with paintings on it. But no, just rubbish.

We then walked up 42nd Street and checked out Grand Central Station, one of two Apple Stores we saw today. There’s military guards stationed at the entrances fully armed. I guess it makes sense, always a bit weird to see though. The station itself is well, grand, and central, so meets the promise of the name. There’s also a neat little bar tucked around the side called Campbell’s Apartment that was recommended to us by a friend, however, we arrived too early, and it was closed.

So we moved on up 42nd Street past the Chrysler Building, or Kathryn’s obsession. It really is a classic art deco building, and both the top and the entrance look grand. I wonder why modern buildings don’t have more style. Most of them are just big boxes. It’s boring. The Empire State Building isn’t famous because its just a big box.

Anyways, we then had some street food, where Kathryn bought a Philly Cheese Steak, and I went for a Hot Dog. Really, street food is quite delicious, and reasonably priced. I doubt it’s particularly good for you, and in fact, it’s quite hard to find healthy food, but maybe people prefer delicious cheesy salty food, rather than say fresh juices.

We checked out the Sony Wonder Experience Lab, or as I like to think of it, the Sony Propaganda Center. Sony make lots of fancy technology, oh, and a Playstation 4. That’s about the gist of the place.

Finally, we made it to Central Park. It’s a nice park, both trying to appear full of nature, yet, quite fenced off so you can’t actually touch that nature. It’s like a zoo, where the exhibits are soil, trees, and plants. I did enjoy it though, it was interesting to see the ice on the lakes, the squirrels running around, and the street food vendors selling various crappy food. I bought a cheese pretzel, it was disgusting. Also at Central Park is a zoo, which is relatively expensive for its size ($18 USD per person), but has two start attractions, three Snow Leopards, and two Grizzly Bears. They were awesome as you can imagine!

We then headed back to the hotel for a pit stop, and then it was time to walk down the road to Madison Square Gardens to watch the ice hockey. Tonight’s NHL game was the New York Rangers vs. the Los Angeles Kings. The tickets were $200 NZD each, and we were just about in the last row. However, the atmosphere was good in the cheap seats, and Kathryn made two friends. First was a woman who sounded straight out of Jersey Shore. Someone called her sweetie, and she was pissed about it. The second was a guy who taunted the New York Rangers as they slowly lost the game 4-2. Even though the local team lost, it was still fun to experience once in life.

NYC Day 3 – Soho, Chinatown, Brooklyn Bridge, and a marriage proposal

Today was our long haul journey to Brooklyn,  via the Brooklyn Bridge. But first, we needed to walk down Manhattan. We walked down Broadway and saw quite a few fancy stores, weirdly, none of which appear to be in New Zealand. Also walked past the New York University Stern School of Business, one of the oldest business schools in the world (only 115 years old). Little did they know that I was considering doing an Online Masters degree from the University of Waikato, in Hamilton, New Zealand! Take that New Yorkers.

On the way, we stopped at Washington Square, where we saw a marriage proposal. It was pretty cute. He had put together a hand made sign, a bit like those used to present a science experiment. She said yes, so it must have worked!

We then continued towards Soho. Kathryn tried on some clothes at one of her favourite designers, Henrik Vibskov. Unfortunately, nothing really suited her, so then we headed further into Soho, to Pi Bakerie, a Greek bakery. Kathryn went for the Frittata and Coffee, while I went for the Lasagne and Soup. The lasagne was great, though the corn and and chicken soup was weirdly sour, which I don’t understand. Neither of those ingredients themselves are sour, so where does the sour flavour come from? Kathryn’s frittata was good, but she said the coffee was undrinkable. I guess she was too used to Starbucks!

We then walked through Chinatown towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Chinatown reminded me a lot of Shanghai, lots of hawkers, and it really is like a little China. There wasn’t that much English being spoken, mostly just to tourists asking them if they wanted to buy Gucci or Chanel. Which was weird, because they didn’t look like the same stores by Times Square selling that stuff as well.

Finally, we made it to the start of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s nice to walk across bridges, there’s one outside of Taumarunui I’ve walked, the Sydney Harbour Bridge (sans-Kathryn), and now, the Brooklyn Bridge. The walking area is on wooden boards elevated above the roads. It’s quite a majestic bridge, and with the day beautiful and clear, it was just amazing.

We then walked around the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and headed to Dumbo Kitchen. This was a nice place to get a fresh squeezed juice, a delicious Banana Cake cupcake (with a peanut butter-butter icing). Kathryn bought a Pesto Pasta takeaway which was delicious (I’ve been told, she didn’t share any. Just like the Frittata).

We then decided we were in no mood to walk the 12km back to the hotel, so we caught the Subway, F Line. Pretty straight forward, about as clean and reliable as the London Underground. The guy next to Kathryn looked fine, but smelt like stale body odour (amongst other things). Classic subway. There was also a mentally ill guy asking people for money. It was pretty weird, but I remember that there’s a guy like that in Wellington, so these things aren’t solely exclusive to massive cities. However, I did notice a sign saying if you’ve been sexually or physically assaulted, then you should tell the conductor. I’m glad there aren’t those signs on the Wellington Train network.

NYC Day 2 – Waylon gettin’ some

Today was a massive exhausting day. I got up at 8am and was full of energy, however, Sleeping Beauty, was still, well, sleeping, so I decided to check out the hotel’s gym. An hour and 280 cals later, I reminded myself that I’m probably not as fit as I used to be.

The hotel we’re staying at does a breakfast included in the price, and it was like watching piranha feed. A new batch of omelettes or McMuffins would be put out, and about say, 2 seconds later, gone. I enjoyed some people grabbing five or six, heck, not all of us have shame I suppose.

We then walked towards High Line Park. Manhattan’s streets are on a grid system, which makes it pretty easy to work out where you are, and where you’re going. We’re on West 39th and 8th Ave, and we wanted to go to 23rd and 10th Ave. So basically, walk 16 blocks one way, and 2 blocks across. Sorted.

High Line Park was an old elevated railway, that people called an eyesore, and wanted to be demolished. Instead, a group of people turned it into a park floating above the roads of New York. It really is amazing. And on a beautiful sunny chilly Spring day like today, it was fantastic. There was still a little bit of snow in the grass, and a slight chill in the air, but other than that, going for a stroll high above the city was delightful.

At the end of the High Line Park we headed to the Chelsea Food Market. This was a nice packed food market full of really quality food. I thought about getting a full Lobster, but at $30 USD each, that’s a lot to spend on a lunch! Kathryn and I decided to go to an Italian place, she enjoying Bruschetta and Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, and I going for the Truffle Pasta and a Cannoli. They were delicious!

We then walked the whole length of the High Line again back towards the hotel. Along the way we saw the Empire State Building in the distance, and decided to walk towards it. And well, when you’re in the neighborhood, it makes sense to go up it! $32 USD each later, we caught a lift up 80 floors, and then took the stairs for the last 6 floors to check out the view. The inside of the Empire State Building is grand, in that 1930’s Art Deco style, opulent with clean lines. The view from the top was just as good as the interior, with great views of the Statute of Liberty, the new One World Trade Center, and seeing how the Hudson River and the East River turn Manhattan into an island.

From here, we had a wee pit stop at the hotel, and then headed back out to Times Square. We swung by an Irish Pub, and a few beers and Buffalo Wings later, we then headed into the M&M store. About $50 later, I realised I spent $50 too much at the M&M store. And with that, it was bed time, so we retreated back to the hotel.

NYC Day 1 – Wellington to New York in 28 hours

While drinking one day last year, we decided on a whim to book a flight to New York during an amazing special of $1200 NZD return. The price was sharp, but the routing was a bit tortuous. Wellington to Brisbane, 4 hours. Brisbane to Los Angeles, 12 hours. Los Angeles to New York, 5 hours. Adding in transfers at airports, and there’s 28 hours.

I had an idea to try and reduce jet lag. We decided to set our watches to New York time in Wellington, which meant going to bed at like 7pm, and getting up at midnight.

Wellington to Brisbane was fairly uneventful. I’d never flown Virgin Australia before, and this flight was a pleasant experience. They don’t include any in-flight entertainment in the seats, but you can download their entertainment app (before you fly), and then connect to their in-flight WiFi to watch TV shows etc. Turns out fare included getting two Samsung Galaxy tablets to use during the flight. Nice!

We arrived at Brisbane around 8am, or dinner New York time. Kathryn wanted to ask for a beer, which makes sense for dinner, but not so much for breakfast.

Then it was the long haul flight to Los Angeles. Towards the end of the plane the aisles narrow, and they go from a 3-3-3 seat to a 2-3-2 seat. We booked one of the 2 person seats, meaning we didn’t have anyone next to us. Pros – there’s no one next to us. Cons – you don’t get your choice for dinner. We had the leftovers – vegetable stew with polenta. Gross. Really wasn’t delightful. Also, it’s a bit more bumpier on the flight. Virgin Australia do have in-flight entertainment on the seat back for these long haul flights, though the entertainment options weren’t that much. They did have more variety than Air New Zealand.

We then arrived at LAX. After going through security, we collected our bags, then deposited our bags as we were transferring to New York. International flights arrive at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, while Delta flights (Virgin Australia’s codeshare partner) depart from Terminal 5. It’s only a 10 minute walk between terminals, and after 12 hours sitting, it’s nice to go for a wee walk. We have a Priority Pass, which allows us access to selected Airport Lounges, the one we selected was the Alaska Airlines Board Room Lounge in Terminal 6. It was fine, the highlight being not crowded, WiFi, and nice views of the airport. You can also buy a day pass for $45.

Our Delta flight from Los Angeles to New York was packed. The person I sat next to was a Documentary Executive Producer, and she paid $574 USD for just that flight. We paid about $1000 USD for six flights. Then again, she probably didn’t book like six months in advance. This was a tiring flight, though Delta’s in-flight entertainment was really really nice! Just a shame they charge so much for it, $1 for some TV shows, $7 for some movies.

We then landed at JFK, and waited about an hour for our luggage, and a taxi. The taxi from JFK to Manhattan is a flat rate of $52.80 + tolls + tips, I ended up giving the guy $80 USD.

We then reached our hotel, the Element Times Square West. It was $1200 USD for seven nights, and has a wee kitchenette. It’s nice, and a good location. We hit up Times Square, grabbed some food, then went to bed. Hey, it was a long day!

RTW Day 55 – RTW Season Finale in Vancouver at the aquarium and Christmas Market

In our season finale of Two Minute Travel Round The World edition, we spent our last full day in Vancouver, as well as Christmas Eve, at the Vancouver Aquarium, and the Vancouver Christmas Market.

10479910_544453865125_7070970952708660711_oChristmas Eve Vancouver time is Christmas Day New Zealand time, so we spent our morning in bed, calling our parents, and just relaxing generally. After 50-odd days of travel, you tend to start taking it easy towards the end. Since it was such a sunny and gorgeous day, we decided to walk along the waterfront from the Pan Pacific Hotel to the aquarium, which is located in Stanley Park. In years gone past, the weather in Vancouver has been super cold around Christmas, including lots of snow, but this year we were blessed with no snow, just clear skies.

Kathryn and I have done a lot of taking about what our favourite cities have been on the trip, and for me, Vancouver really was very nice. I think of it as a nicer Auckland. There’s the harbour just there, all the people are terribly polite and friendly, the price of stuff is about the same as New Zealand, and you’re close to cities such as Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Kathryn’s favourite city has been Portland in America, I really think she enjoyed the vibe of the place.

Walking along the waterfront to the aquarium in the sun was delightful. The aquarium itself was also pretty nice, though packed with Jellyfish. Jellyfish are the filler of aquariums. Got some empty space to fill in your aquarium? Can’t put in a toilet or coin locker since you’ve already got one? Jellyfish.

One attraction that was nice was the Beluga Whales. There are two at the aquarium, and were the highlights of the show. They actually do a show, that was all about their behaviours and good animal husbandry, rather than just make them jump into the air, like I’m guessing Seaworld does.

We then walked to the Vancouver Christmas Markets on their final night open. They’re like a mini version of the Berlin Christmas Markets, though they charge $4 CAD to enter, and were about an eighth of the size. THis means there were massive lines to all food stalls. Of course, being Canadian people, everyone was quite friendly and patient in the line, but still, no one likes waiting in line for 20 minutes for a potato-on-a-stick. I did get some Maple Taffy on a stick which was delicious! There was quite a lot of maple-infused items, it’s was like being in one of those New Zealand tourist stores that are full of Manuka Honey products.

Kathryn paid to get a gingerbread decorated, which turned out to be an event designed for little kids. That cracked me up to see her next to a six year old, both decorating their gingerbread men, though only one of them had to put down their beer first.

And that was it for Vancouver, we retreated back to our hotel to relax, and wake up on Christmas day.

RTW Day 54 – Seattle to Vancouver

We got up pretty early, and caught the Amtrak Cascades train from Seattle’s King Street Station to Vancouver. I suggested to Kathryn that it might be more fun catching trains between distant cities and then driving around, since the views from the train really were awesome. You certainly don’t see much of a country when you’re driving in the rain, in fact, most of my views were towards the brake lights of the car ahead.

Anyways, we eventually made it to Canada. Getting through customs was a breeze, though the Customs Officer did wonder why we came all the way to Canada just to hang out for 3 days, so we had to explain that we were at the end of our Round The World journey. Turns out the Customs Officer was born in Hamilton New Zealand, so small world.

From the train station, it’s a brief walk to the Skytrain, which is the Metro in Vancouver. A few stops later, and we were at the Pac Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, which we purchased with Airpoints. It’s a five star hotel on the waterfront of Vancouver. It’s really nice. We paid $30 CAD more a night to upgrade to a waterfront room, and it was totally worth it. We have this massive view of the Vancouver waterfront, watching the seaplanes take off and land, and great views of North Vancouver.

From the hotel we checked out some of the downtown Vancouver area, like the main shopping street, Granville Street. Unfortunately, I had a little accident, and ripped a hole in my pants right around where my bum was, so we were in urgent need of replacement pants. I wouldn’t suggest this is because of my tough bum, but when you wear the same pair of pants day in and day out for 50-odd days, then it’s no surprise they started giving up the ghost.

We went for a walk further down Granville Street, as it transitioned from high end department stores more towards bars and cheaper hotels. We saw more and more homeless people on the street, though there were still lots of families out and about with their kids, which helped me to feel safe in the area.

Then I saw one homeless looking guy who was looking for change in a parking meter, and was carrying around a hammer. That freaked out Kathryn, though the next time we saw him he was carrying an ice cream, so who knows. It was like 9pm at night, so a weird time for a hammer.

RTW Day 53 – DUKWs and Daleks in Seattle

It was a tourist day for us in Seattle, where we did a Seattle Duck Tour, and checked out the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum.

IMG_3718The Duck Tour is named after the vehicles on the tour, the DUKW. These are amphibious vehicles that are slow on land, but, can work on the water. Sure, a Ferrari is fast on land, but on water, it just kinda sits there.

Anyways, it was good to see a bit more of Seattle. I didn’t realise that Seattle was a smelly swamp back in the day, and they built over the top, so there’s a big underground in Seattle. There’s a tunnel being constructed but the Japanese tunnelling machine has broken down, and is costing a lot of time and money to get back up and running, so people are angry at the city. I thought this was amusing since we’re also doing some tunneling in New Zealand, and I figured the difference between China, America, and New Zealand is clear when it comes to tunnels. In China, they’d just do it. If anyone had a problem, they’d be moved along, with force if required. If a mistake was made, they’d build another tunnel. In America, it’s a bit slower, but at least they’re doing something. In New Zealand we’d talk about building a tunnel for about, 40 years, but once we start, it’d go relatively smoothly.

IMG_3727We saw more of Seattle, and then we headed onto Lake Union. It’s pretty nice going out onto the water, Seattle is a water focused city. Because it’s just about Christmas, there’s heaps of boats with Christmas lights which make for an interviewing view. There’s also truckloads of houseboats and floating houses. What’s the difference you may ask? You probably didn’t really ask, but the difference is that the floating houses own the land under the lake, while the houseboats just float on the surface.

After floating on the lake for a bit, we then headed to Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum. If you’re a music fan, this place is pretty awesome. I’m not super into music museums, but this is also a pop culture museum, so there’s a good Indie Game section I really enjoyed. But the highlight for me, was having a turn on the Oculus Rift. This is a virtual reality headset which gives you a 360 degree immersive view. The view I saw was of the Ice Wall, and with a fan set up blowing on your face as you climb it, it was super realistic. So much so that Kathryn got motion sickness using it, and wasn’t so much of a fan.