A good read is my The Prep Up entry to give you an idea what to do and bring prior to your trip. To refresh you with some info, here are some useful websites that may help you plan your trip:
You may notice while reading through my blog that I missed out trying many things. Yes, those are my wishful thinking. If you have the opportunity, please do try it for me and let me know if the experience is good.
I purchased a domestic flight with Delta Airlines as they had the cheapest ticket for the holidays (Thank you Kayak for finding alternatives routes I never knew). I did find it unfair that checked in luggage are chargeable for domestic flights so I had to content with stuffing my winter clothes in my carry on luggage (thank goodness for vacuum packs) and made sure I was not carrying bottles of liquid.
Total flight cost is 403.20USD. The reason why it is cheap (at that point in time) is because I land in different airports (not convenient) and I had to stopover in Utah for both ways. The layover time was supposedly 2 hours max if they hadn’t change my flight times. Now, it is 4 hours to and 1 hour back (grr). Overall, for the duration of my US trip, I managed to drop by in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, John Kennedy and La Guardia airports (lol)
On top of the multiple airport hopping, my flight lands at 6am in NY City. Since my relatives will be working and my cousin, unfortunately for the bad timing, will be heading on a trip hours from my arrival, I need to travel using public transportation. For me, I wouldn’t mind but to ease my aunt’s paranoia, I had to take a taxi to her office. I actually planned to take a shuttle like SSupershuttle or Airlink NYC since its cheaper but, unfortunately, none drops off in Queens, where my aunt’s office is at. They do drop passengers off in the city proper so check them out as taxi fare is not cheap! I know convenience is preferred as it saves time and less stressful travelling but I am in a pinch on the expense. I do believe this trip is the most expensive I have been on.
I also need to depart from NY at 6am so I need to find accommodations for 1 night near La Guardia airport. I chose Clarion Hotel as there were good reviews for one of the hotel managers, Vanessa Penson. True enough, when I inquired about the hotel, her response was faster than the hotel’s customer service. The hotel hallway is weird since it slopes down and it felt like walking on a ramp to my room. The room is alright. The heater couldn’t pass through the bathroom though so your feet will have to content with cold tiles at night. The night rate was 149.24SGD. I booked it at Hotels.com since my credit card had 10% discount. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for the accommodations on the rest of my stay as rooms are expensive at that time of the year. I don’t mind taking 1-2 hour train rides everyday for this vacation trip since my relatives live in Long Island.
Weather was cold. It was 4 to zero degrees Celsius plus windchill factor and the wind in New York, I tell you, is ruthless. Be sure to have ear muffs, hat and gloves since touring NY means walking. I bought heat pads just in case I find it too cold. It gets dark quicker during this time of the year. By 5pm, it is dark and I had to plan how much time I can spend touring before heading back home.
The streets are easy to navigate as they are in grid lines pattern with numbers for avenues and streets. My bad sense of direction actually failed me here as somehow my instincts to figure out the places were working. I try not to ask for directions to avoid asking for trouble. Singapore is easy to navigate because of GPS and internet but I cannot find places without working up a sweat and involving walking around. If you prefer to have a tour of the city, check this Hop On Hop Off Bus tour. I did plan to try it out but I didn’t want the windchill if I take the open air bus type nor let the enclosed vehicle ruin my pictures with glares and reflections. So walking it is.
Subway is also easy to navigate once you figure out which direction you are going (very important). Always carry a subway map with you. I got confused 1st time when transferring to Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) as they do have separate trains with different tickets but interlinked stations. Yes, you can eat in the train 🙂 Singapore has a rule of no eating or drinking at the stations and inside the train or bus so this non rule is a breath of freedom when travelling. You can also travel to New Jersey but I will not include it here as I have not tried it out.
In subway, you need to get the Metrocard with certain amount of fare stored inside. You can choose the amount but I suggest you get the unlimited rides for 7 days at the price of $30. You can use that in buses as well but you need to be familiar where it will be heading. You tap the card at the entrance and tap it again when you exit. Train usually comes every 5-10 minutes so it is not too bad. There wont be any light indicator or voice announcement to tell you what stop it lands so you need to look at the station wall so the station name.
In LIRR, you purchase a ticket at the station per ride or you buy a monthly card if you travel back and forth at the same stops. Ticket is $7 one way. The LIRR trains are not as frequent as subway trains so you need to check the timing. The frequency is around 30 to an hour difference. The stations are open air but they have heated waiting shelters for major stops. The train is also old-fashioned built with the conductor stamping your ticket and travelling on railroads. I like it. I try not to stay too late since I travel alone and most stations get deserted after 11pm, especially my station near the house.
Food and Drinks
Food staples are pizza, sandwich and soup. I am sorry to say but I cannot live if it is just sandwich for the whole week. I need my meat and starch. I tried 5 Guys Burgers based on recommendations. It is not a bad burger place but I prefer Carl’s JR or In n Out.
I tried the oldest (as claimed) pizza establishment in New York, Grimaldi’s Pizza at Garden City. The pizza is amazing. It is so simple but full of flavor. Cheesecake is good as well. I also tried the Jewish Pastrami sandwich in Ben’s Kosher Deli. Different take on sandwich and I like the meat. I wanted to try the big lobster lunch at Chelsea Market but the place lacks seating areas and lunch looked to be the busiest time of the day.
I met up with Sarah from Coachsurfing.com and she took me to her local spots to eat, drink and be merry. They were quite good but, unfortunately, I was not able to catch their names. The stores are not flashy and you will not find a queue outside, which is quite the opposite in Singapore. In Singapore, you know its good when people queue for it. In NY, you can never tell unless you research beforehand or let a local show you where. Service is good and of course, tip is mandatory.
Oh yes, I have to add: NY looks more a bit of America. I still consider San Francisco as Asia with a twist 😀
Outside NY city:
I met up with John who gave me a quick tour in Long Island Beach. I had to laugh as it is the 1st time on a nice beach but dressed in Eskimo outfit. It was also my 1st time seeing sea gulls and they are bigger compared to the birds back home. Windchill is stronger since there were no buildings to block it. I got to explore Queens for a short while when I was lost trying to find the subway connection to LIRR. Let’s say its better to explore that area with a companion. The streets were deserted with few people strolling by. Not a good place to be stranded.
The City That Never Sleeps
Times Square was crowded over the holidays. It felt like being in a rush hour walking pace. I made sure my belongings are secured while moving with and against the crowd. Nope, I am definitely not planning to spend my New Year Eve here. I am not ready to stand for hours on the cold just to see the Ball fall. Little did I know, I was to queue out in the cold for my NYE party ticket, but I’ll get to that later. I wanted to purchase my Phantom of the Opera tickets at TDF counter as they have daily discounts. Unfortunately, there was a long queue for it and I refused to waste my vacation time queuing for 1 Broadway ticket so I went to find the theater and purchase it directly. The price was cheaper than purchasing online, $72 for center back row.
Watching Phantom of the Opera live is (how to we say it) magical. It is better watching it live. The acting and effects were lovely. I am sure I would get better impact if I chose a seat closer to the stage. One thing to note is that the place is hot, so dress in layers for easy slip on and off. To top it off was that it started to snow after the show. My 1st snow 🙂 Later, I found out it is called flurry. I wanted to watch more shows but lacked the time. I will make sure to watch more shows in Singapore.
I wanted to shop but most items are meant for winter. I won’t be able to use them in the hot Singapore weather and I cannot add a lot of things inside my 1 carry on luggage so I content myself with cosmetics. I had a quick car tour with my relatives of the Midtown section where Radio City and Central Park are located and the downtown section for the Financial area and soon to be new Twin Towers. I wasn’t able to tour inside Central Park due to the time constraint 😦
I took the free Staten Ferry to view the Statue of Liberty. To get to the terminal, head to St. George station and walk to the ferry terminal outside. The ferry departs from every 30 minutes. You also need to visit Grand Central Station. It is one of the beautiful stations I have seen. The trains connect to different areas of New York.
There are 2 museums that I visited and I loved every minute of it: American Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art . My camera had with more pictures of museum artifacts than pictures of San Francisco and New York combined 😀
American History Museum features animals from the Dinosaur era up to today. Entrance is $25, with entry to one featured exhibition. I chose the Creatures of the Night. The featured exhibition was alright but I wish I took the Planetarium Space show as I wanted to see the interactions with the stars and planets. There is an option to pay $33 with access to all exhibits but I didn’t take it. Next time planetarium! I enjoyed seeing actual Dinosaur fossils, prehistoric animals, American and African animal replicas reconstructed to their size. Animals that I will probably not have the chance to see live.
Metropolitan Museum MET features art from different era and culture. My main reason for visiting was to see the Greek and Egyptian exhibits. I didn’t expect to be amazed by the South African and Oceania exhibits. I enjoyed looking at the Old World European interiors. They look fancy and grand for my taste. I have never seen this large collection of armors, guns and swords, some of them having interesting designs. I missed out seeing the Modern Art exhibit as the museum closes at 6pm. Recommended entrance fee is $25 but you can shell out the amount you prefer. Pretty cool.
New Year Eve Experience
I had the chance to meet up with Emil just in time for the NYE party. He hooked me up for a party near Penn Station. Since we only bought the tickets on the last-minute, we had to collect the ticket during the eve itself. We figured it would be a piece of cake. Boy, were we wrong. The ticket redemption queue was massive. It literally snaked around the building and waiting time totaled to 3 hours. I was dressed for the weather but he was ready to party. So were most people with girls dressed only with tight dress and heels and guys with tux. I would understand why once we hit on the dance floor. The party place would be hot after the crowd heat and enclosed room. For now, suffer under the cold, while I will get to have my turn at the party since I had on a wool dress.
Lesson learned: book the party event in advance and wear nice clothes over warm coat.
After waiting in line for ages, we finally got our tickets and head to the place. It was a different concept as the party is actually held in a movie theater with the concession stand converted to the drinks section. Dinner was alright. Movies were featured in each theater rooms while waiting for the clock to strike midnight. After shouting Happy New Year, that’s when the night started to be more fun. After crazy dancing, we went out and tried looking for the after party. Oddly enough, the place was barred by police and bouncers. Finding another place to crash wasn’t feasible as we didn’t plan to walk NY streets at night in the cold. So, we settled to have street food (after watching some drama and crazy drunk people parading the station). We said our goodbyes and I waited till the sky looked bright before starting my journey back home.
Overall, I love New York with its gritty city walls and would like to visit it again sometime, maybe during Autumn for a not-freezing trip 🙂