Jan and I went to LA and New York from Jan 18 to 29th. We spent 5 days in LA and 5 days in New York. Here's how our New York trip went...
Getting In/Out of JFK
New York City is big. The last thing you want to do is to be seen lugging your suitcases all around the subway looking for directions. Arriving at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport at eight in the morning, our yellow cab took a half-hour to get us to our hotel in midtown Manhattan. We paid a flat fare of US$45 (excluding tips) as the State of New York has instituted a flat fare of US$45 for passengers boarding a cab from JFK to Manhattan. (There’s no flat fare for cabs going to JFK from Manhattan. To avoid paying a hundred-dollar cab fare on our return trip, we took a coach ferry service from our hotel for US$22 per person. )
Having booked a hotel room online, we arrived at the Red Roof Inn at West 32nd Street and 5th Avenue for check-in. Located along Korean Way right in midtown Manhattan, the Red Roof Inn is literally a block away from the Empire State Building on a street lined with Korean restaurants. We deposited our bags at the hotel and decided to visit the number one stop on everyone’s list - the Empire State Building.
The Empire Strikes Back
Since 9-11, security has been stepped up at the Empire State Building and other major buildings all across New York. After passing through the security check queue at the hall of the building, we took a lift up to the ticketing station where we paid an admission fee of US$20 per person and a little extra to get a souvenir map of the city. From there, we walked to another lift leading directly to the observatory deck.
The New York skyline beckoned us as the lift doors opened. There, through the gleaming clear glass and steel façade of the observatory room, was a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Stepping through the heavy steel doors to the observatory deck, we could see the Chrysler Building, Times Square, the Metlife building, Hudson River - the whole of New York. We had to run back indoors to the observatory room periodically to keep warm throughout our time on the deck (it was -8 ˚C) but the incredible vistas of New York we saw that day are memories we’ll cherish for a long time to come.
Hotdogs, Pretzels & Pizzas
Food stands are everywhere in Manhattan and they are a must-try. You can get pretzels, knishes, and Danish pastries in the morning and hotdogs by lunchtime. Jan and I shared a pretzel at the pretzel stand right across our hotel. We also had a hot dog each, stuffing our New York dogs with sauerkraut, relish, mustard and ketchup. They were fantastic!
Next up on our list was pizza. From the New York thin slice to Chicago deep dish, pizzas with eggplant, broccoli and mushrooms to the classic pepperoni, we weren’t let down by the mind-blowing spread at Bravo’s Pizza (at midtown Manhattan between 36th and 37th Street). My wife and I shared a deep dish with everything on top and an eggplant pizza. They were heavenly. We didn’t manage to get to the most famous pizza place in the Big Apple but for those of you who want to go to the pizza place featured in Seinfeld, the Simpsons, and Sex in the City, Famous Ray’s Pizza of Greenwich Village at 11th Street and Sixth Avenue is the ticket.
Shopping in the Big Apple
Sex In The City fans know that Manhattan is a shopping Mecca. After lunch, we took a short walk to the biggest departmental store in the world – Macy’s. Located at 151 West 34th Street in Manhattan, Macy’s takes up an entire city block and is so big it’s divided into Men’s and Women’s with different entrances to boot! We found great bargains at the cosmetics counters and Macy’s own Charter Club clothing line. We spent the better part of an afternoon at Macy’s and it was worth every minute.
We also dropped in at Conway’s, a bargain store. Located right across the street from Macy’s, Conway sells clothing at ridiculously low prices. Although not your latest top of the line fashion, there are great bargains to be had. I bought two virtual knock-offs of Gap pullovers at only US$10 each. They almost made me regret shopping at Gap!
We spent the bulk of our fourth day in New York at the famed Century 21 departmental store. Located right across from Ground Zero (at 22 Cortlandt Street between Church and Broadway), Century 21 is the place to go if you’re looking for brand name clothes at a deep discounted rate. Filled with Armani suits and countless designer brands, there are bargains galore here. An Armani suit at Century 21 costs less than US$300.
Being lovers of video, photographic equipment and gadgets, we also stopped by the B&H Video store on 9th Avenue on our fifth and last day in New York. One of the world’s leading retailers of imaging products, B&H has the best prices on professional photographic equipment worldwide. If you’re shopping for that elusive camera light that you can’t seem to find in Singapore, this is the place to head to.
Manhattan Transfer & The Liberty Trail
New York has one of the best public transport systems in the world and taking the subway is the best way to get around New York. We got a 7-day Metro Pass for US$24 at the subway ticketing booth which got us unlimited rides on the subway and bus. Be sure to get a copy of the subway map guide of New York too as taking the wrong train could lead you to Harlem or the Bronx instead of Brooklyn or Manhattan.
From 1892 to 1954, nearly 12 million immigrants passed through the immigration depot at Ellis Island. Now a museum, no trip to New York is complete without a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. Taking the train to the Bowling Green subway station, we got a ferry ticket to both the islands. We also paid a little extra for a tape-recorder audio tour of the Statue of Liberty Park along with our ferry tickets. We dedicated our second day in New York to this trip, starting really early in the morning as the last ferry back from the islands was 4.30pm.
On the island itself, the tape recorder tour took us through the various spots on the park and the museum exhibits on the history of the Statue of Liberty. Although the stairs to the top of the statue’s crown has been closed off since 2001, we were able to climb to the top of the base of the Statue for a bird’s eye view of the harbour. It was a beautiful sight indeed.
At Ellis Island, the ranger guide tour of the facility treated us to a history lesson on the procedures that immigrants had to go through back in the old days. Walking through the historical exhibits in the cavernous halls of the building, it was one photo-op after another as we tried to take in all the history around us.
Little Boat Quay & the Land of Yatta
From the Bowling Green station, we took the subway to Canal Street, walking to Little Italy on Mulberry street, intent on finding our way to those charming Italian restaurants we had seen in so many Woody Allen and Godfather films. Unfortunately, the whole area was a bit too touristy for our liking. We had a hard time choosing a restaurant but eventually settled on the Amici’s II restaurant. We ordered the squid ink pasta with prawns and the (Goat’s cheese spagetthi?). The squid ink pasta tasted ok but we were missing the much touted ‘American portions’ that we had heard so much about from our friends and somehow we kept thinking of how Pasta Brava (back home in Singapore) would’ve whipped this restaurant’s ass.
After dinner, it was on to Times Square. Stepping out of the Times Square subway station, we were instantly wowed by the neon signs of Virgin Megastore, Hard Rock Café and multitude others. Looking around, we immediately spotted a curious sight. Right smack at that famous road divider on Times Square were a bunch of young men lining up to take photographs. Their arms outstretched, heads looking up, they took their turns yelling “Yatta”, mimicking a trademark scene from the American hit television series “Heroes". Hiro Nakamura would’ve been proud!
Headlined by a huge Neon sign of its name, the Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square is a must-see. The store is so huge it actually has a full-sized ferris wheel within it! There was also a snarling, full-sized, mechanised tyrannosaurus-rex, a life-sized Superman figurine protecting you from a falling 14-wheeler truck and a giant Spider-man spraying a gigantic glop of web over your head. A surreal experience indeed.
The Table Where Sally Came
No trip to New York is complete without a trip to a delicatessen. On our third day in New York, we visited Katz’s Delicatessen - reportedly the best deli in New York. Located at 205 East Houston Street, Katz’s Deli is the delicatessen where Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in the movie When Harry Met Sally. Famous for its pastrami sandwich, we made our way to Katz’s by subway, taking the train to Washington Square station, a five minute walk away from the restaurant.
Essentially a self-service deli with full service booth seats at the side of the restaurant, the pastrami sandwich was heavenly - moist and flavourful as only a New York pastrami sandwich could be. My wife’s corned beef sandwich was equally tender but the piece de resistance has to be the chopped liver. Soft and flavourful like chilled foie gras, the liver was sweet and brilliantly textured.
Several doors down, we visited Russ & Daughters Appetizers, a shop reputed for its smoked fish, caviar and specialty foods. Established since 1914, Russ & Daughters is the best place for caviar in New York. We also bought the Super Heeb bagel sandwich – a smoked salmon salad bagel sandwich with horse radish cream cheese and wasabi flying fish roe – a must have for lovers of fish roe!
Washington Square Park & NYU
After a glorious lunch at Katz’s we visited another landmark - the Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Flanked by New York University, the Washington Square Park is home to the Washington Square Arch – a mini version of the Arc de Triumph found in Paris. This was the place Meg Ryan dropped off Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally and the home and laboratory of Will Smith in the film I am Legend. The trees and the arch are incredibly beautiful and the in-built chess boards in the southwest corner of the park are also home to chess players from all across New York. Stanley Kubrick was known to be a frequent chess player here in his youth too. Featured in the 1994 film Searching for Bobby Fischer, the chess tables also form the cornerstone of Manhattan’s “chess district” as the area around the park has a number of chess shops.
Museums, Art & Trains
Taking the subway back from the Washington Square station, we headed to another fa mous site in New York – Grand Central Station. Featured in the cl imax sequence in The Untouchables, Grand Central Stati on is the place where you can purchase tickets for Greyhound bus rides and out-of-city trains. A grand building with wall-to-wall marble, the beautiful architecture of Grand Central Station is a sight to behold.
After browsing through the Grand Central Station mall, we walked through Pershing Square on our way to 5th Avenue and the New York Public Library. A grand, imposing building with Greek-Roman architecture, moviegoers will remember the library as the place where Peter Parker got Uncle Ben killed in the film version of Spiderman.
From the Public Library we walked along scenic 5th Avenue and the Museum Mile - a lovely stretch of 5th Avenue - and visited the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Mueseum of Art (Met) and the American Museum of National History. Fridays are a good day to visit as you get in free at the Museum of National History whilst the Met allows you to decide how much admission fees you want to pay on that day too.
(Above: The Papua New Guinea exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This section of the museum was featured in When Harry Met Sally too.)
Retreating back to our hotel, we finished our third day in New York with dinner at one of the many Korean BBQ restaurants next to our hotel. We treated ourselves to some Bulgogi (BBQ beef), BBQ pork, BBQ shrimps and spicy kimchi cod soup. With the order of more than one BBQ dish, we got to have the Barbie right at the grill at our table, grilled and served to us by a waiting staff. The meal came with a free flow of tasty authentic kimchi too! Our BBQ orders actually came with crab and squid kimchi, which was a rare treat indeed.
Chinatown and More Shopping
We explored Chinatown on our fourth day in New York. Located around the Canal Street area, Chinatown is easily accessible by subway. We had lunch at Hong Kong Station, a Chinese eatery along Hester Street selling Rickshaw Noodles - a Hong Kong noodle dish which lets you to choose the type of noodles you want, the soup base you prefer and the ingredients you want in your noodle soup. From garlic soup bases, mushrooms, stewed beef, tripe, fish balls to vegetables and tofu, we got a nice, hearty meal at under US$5 here.
We spent the rest of the day shopping at Century 21 before heading to the flagship Apple Store at Fifth Avenue. Located underground, this Apple Store is renowned for its gigantic, transparent glass cube exterior, adorned only by a solitary glowing white apple icon. We also stopped by FAO Schwarz next door. A high-end toy store filled with exotic stuffed animals, FAO Schwarz is perhaps best known for being the toy store where Tom Hanks played an actual, working, life-sized piano keyboard with his feet in the feature film Big. Kids will love the life-sized keyboard which has now been turned into a central store attraction – manned by two enthusiastic store employees with happy feet.
By dinnertime, though, we were seriously missing Singaporean food. Thankfully, we were able to find the next best thing in Chinatown – a restaurant serving great Malaysian food! We had Roti Chanai (prata done Malaysian style), Satay, Bak Kut Teh, sambal stingray, Sambal Kang Kong and Ipoh beansprouts at Nonya Restaurant along Grand Street (near Mulberr Street). It really hit the spot!
We spent our last day in New York shopping. We picked up some bargains at the Old Navy store along Broadway and got some great stuff at B&H too. The next morning, we took a coach to the airport and flew back to Singapore.
Labels: New York, Travel