Friday, 12 October 2018

The Beginner's Guide to New York City


Times Square at night and trying to get a shot where a million people aren't walking in front of the camera

After what seemed like a lifetime of counting down to D-day, we finally made it to The City That Never Sleeps, and they weren't exaggerating - it really doesn’t. I have also decided that I won’t be going anywhere cold ever again for a holiday because, despite the deceivingly blue skies and blinding sunshine, it really was traumatically cold.

Our 10-day vacay comprised of all the usual tourist attractions, hunts for blogged-about food spots, nights out, constantly getting lost, and shopping until our feet felt broken. We stayed at the New York Hilton Midtown situated on Sixth Avenue, aka Avenue of the Americas. It was slightly sub-par for a Hilton hotel, but we got upgraded to a huge room with 2 queens, and it was a nice, central location only a few blocks away from Times Square, and down the road from Central Park and the Upper East Side. Residing on the same avenue are Radio City Music Hall, HBO and The Jimmy Fallon Show (had we known earlier, we would have attempted to get tickets). Granted that 10 days is a long time and you can definitely do NY in half of that, we wanted a long, leisurely, un-rushed holiday for our first time ever in America.

The Sights


Top of the Rock and Empire State

Equipped with our heavily researched and planned-out itinerary and City Passes, we were very prepared for all the sightseeing. We also bought a 7-day subway card for travel and skipped out on hailing a yellow cab. Warning: NYC Subway is confusing AF.
Of course we didn’t miss out on the daytime and night views of the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock. Perks of going in March is that it isn't peak holiday month, and both places had basically zero queuing times. Woo. (And downside of going in March is that it is very, very, very cold)

Without saying, the New York skyline is obviously incredible because it is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of after all. We were also lucky that there were clear skies (on the days when there wasn’t a blizzard). Our Statue of Liberty visit ended up being a semi-fail as when we arrived to get the ferry tickets, they'd sold out for the entire day. On our last day there. But we did see it from a faraway distance though, if that counts. Note to everyone: get there when it opens.

NYC skyline from Empire State

Times Square

Times Square is picture perfect - a spectrum of bright colours and dazzling lights at night, and still vibrant against a blue sky, or even a bleak clouds, during the day. London Piccadilly Circus and HK Times Square cannot compare - it is photogenic from every angle. We visited and passed by so many times just because of our hotel's proximity. 

Times Square, again

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met steps is where all my 16 year old Gossip Girl dreams came true. Of course, home to famous art and history, and the annual Met Gala, but I was just stoked to sit outside and pretend to be Blair Waldorf for 10 minutes. xoxo.

Ground Zero

The 9/11 Museum is one of the most haunting and emotional experiences. Even here in person, seeing all the surviving remnants and photos, and hearing all the stories, we cannot fathom the magnitude of suffering that occurred that day.

Broadway

Broadway is a compulsory part of the NY bucket list, so we got tickets for The Lion King at Minksoff Theatre. Apparently, there's some lottery system there where you can get cheap tickets, usually unbeknownst to tourists. As expected, it was a grand production with world class vocals - shoutout to Mufasa and Rafiki. Not a cheap experience, but gotta do everything at least once, aye.

More Times Square

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

One of my favourite spots (aka Chuck and Blair's wedding venue of choice) because it's so pretty, and the 'Friends fountain' also makes for a nice photo. We underestimated the size of Central Park and kept getting lost trying to find Bethesda Terrace, but well worth the trek! If money were no object, I'd probably want to get married here too.

Koreatown

Taking a break from the typical tourist-y escapades, Koreatown was our little escape for night life because we didn't want to be too far from our hotel. To adhere to our holiday traditions, we booked a two-man karaoke room at Karaoke Duet 35 because we like to pierce each other's ears for two hours straight. Sadly, we ended up skipping out on the 230 Fifth rooftop bar from our itinerary because I caught a horrendous one-day cold and 0° also isn't exactly rooftop weather. We then had to wait until the following weekend to go out and spontaneously chose the On Now bar which ended up being the land of our people. In a turn of events, we ended up making friends at said bar with randomers who introduced us to the R&B Korean hangout club that is Maru. Here we partied until close, then feasted on Korean hotpot and watermelon soju next door at Pocha 32, at 4am, before bidding farewell and parting ways forever. Interesting night.

My Blair Waldorf moment on The Met steps | The Oculus | Central Park in the snow

Shopping


One thing I definitely miss the most about NYC is the shopping. Sorry to my bank account.

Make-Up

Cosmetic shopping at Macy's did not disappoint. There was 15% off on all things beauty, which was the perfect time to stock up on Kiehl's and NARS. In fact, I think I was too sensible and didn't buy enough, in contrary to Izzy who splashed over £xxx (yes, 3 digits) on make-up. Also, no introduction needed for Sephora - it's a beauty paradise and makes you want to buy something just to tote around a black and white striped bag. Stocked up on First Aid Beauty too here because it's my Winter holy grail. Again, I didn't buy too much - namely because I prefer Korean products (that are not at extortionate prices).

Sephora

Clothes

We took a bus to the Woodbury Common Outlet at $33 return from Port Authority Bus Station and the ticket counter is a mission to find, but hello $38 Levi's and cheap Calvins. There was also 80% off Kate Spade so I naturally ended up getting two purses that I didn't need. They also had eye-watering discounts at Michael Kors, and I kind of regret not getting anything there just because 80% basically means it's like, free. We were lucky because it was practically void of shoppers that day, but it was also possibly the coldest day my existence has ever experienced. There is also everything from J Crew and Stuart Weitzman to Steve Madden and AEO, but everything else was cut short because we spent about 3 hours trying to find our perfect jeans in Levi's.

An NYC trip also wouldn't be complete without a visit to Fifth Avenue. Again, I didn't buy too much because I had my shopping fix at the outlet, but also because I went to the Apple Store which is casually open 24/7, and got new phone since it was around £300 cheaper than the UK. BARGAIN. Although unfortunately for me, New York has one of the highest tax rates in the US and the exchange rate has not been in GBP's favour. Thanks, Brexit. Soho is also a cute place to visit - lots of 'American' apartments and stores like Brandy Melville and Glossier.



Food


Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of typical American food and we had a good mix of hits and misses. I must hang my head in shame for having at least 4 days of McDonald's breakfast. Only because we were always behind schedule and it happened to be a few blocks away. Plus it had Wi-Fi. But actually, McDonald's in NYC is even more expensive than in England. Even our Groupon 'deal' for Kikoo Sushi's sushi buffet wasn't cheap. NYC overall is pretty expensive for food, unless you hunt for cheap eats like Vanessa's Dumplings. We also tried the dumplings at Mandoo Bar in Koreatown, but Vanessa's is essentially the same - just cheaper (and less clean).

The Egg Shop | Cha An Teahouse | Sweet Green

I think the Matcha Lava Cake at Spot Dessert Bar was the best dessert I've ever had. Where can I get that in London?! Also had a pretty nice poached egg and quinoa bowl with avocado and goji berries at The Egg Shop, but the portion wasn't huge and I was starving an hour later. Managed to get a table straight away, as opposed to the over-hyped Jack's Wife Freda. We had to wait 50 minutes for brunch there, and the eggs benedict was just average considering we waited so long. Ramen at Momofuku was also another place I found overrated!

I tend to prefer Asian food so Cha An Teahouse was another restaurant we were drawn to from reviews. We were surrounded by oriental interiors and the smell of incense; they also have the prettiest gourmet desserts which we didn't end up trying as we opted for the Japanese lunch set instead which was probably my healthiest meal all week, along with the warm bowls at Sweet Green - went on a whim and it ended up being the best salad I've probably ever had. But my favourite American restaurant of them all probably had to be IHOP. Went to the East Village branch twice for a fry-up and pancakes because we liked it so much. American pancakes with whipped butter are the tastiest and fluffiest clouds of unhealthy goodness that I would let myself succumb to everyday if I could.

Instagrammable Spots


The entire city is photogenic. All you need is a skyscraper and yellow cab in your photo (which isn't hard because they're everywhere) and it already looks good for the gram. Besides all the main landmarks and attractions, the city is riddled with other pretty places.

Broadway looking vibrant even in the rain | Sprinkles Cupcake ATM before a massive queue pressured us | Radio City Music Hall

There are lots of cute eateries and ice cream places riddled around NYC, although unfortunately we couldn't bear to face ice cream in minus degrees weather. Sprinkles on Lexington Avenue for it's Cupcake ATM. It's overpriced for what is essentially just a cupcake, but makes for a cute Boomerang if you're extra like us. Cha Cha Matcha is really insta-worthy - decked out in pink everything. And Sweet Moment in Chinatown has a combination of wooden tables, neon signs and matcha milk teas with cute latte art. eat by Chloe. is another very Instagrammable fast food joint.

Latte art at Sweet Moment | Trying not to get run over in Soho | Cha Cha Matcha interiors

Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO - Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass are also popular and busy. The views on the bridge from Brooklyn direction facing towards Manhattan are also pretty iconic. We also tried to navigate to Brooklyn Bridge Park, but Google Maps failed us and it was so cold that we had to abort mission. We just about managed to find the overly-crowded DUMBO in the afternoon for a few shots before we retreated from the bitter cold. Even in the winter, you'll find girls stripping down to just a tank top in freezing winds for the gram.

Brooklyn Bridge | Bethesda Terrace | DUMBO

Other honourable mentions include The Oculus in Financial District for its architecture, Radio City Music Hall at night and the Flat Iron building.

As I sit here digging out my NY photos, I feel so nostalgic for the Big Apple, despite spending the majority of our time freezing our toes off and hating on the confusingly-designed subway. But there's nothing like shopping and seeing pretty city sights with your best gal. Our next 'shopping' holiday is scheduled for Seoul 2k20, woo.
Bethesda Terrace