A short summary
Like most others we felt that we knew the city a bit even if we hadn’t been there before. After all, the city is portrayed in so many movies and TV series, it sort of feels like you are going back to a place you have been to before. When I was young I remember seeing TV shows about how kids grew up in NYC and it felt very distant from my own upbringing. I also remember seeing movies like “The Warriors” and of course I wondered if this gave a true impression of the city. Well, as I have gotten older I have of course come to learn and understand that there are a lot more to NYC than the negative things the press often focus on. We started planning our trip by buying a DK Eyewitness guide for the city from Amazon but there is also an amazing amount of stuff to be found on the web. The problem is of course trying to find which information that can be of use to you. It is possible to buy books which focus on certain stuff, e.g. if you just want to visit locations used in movies. So it should be possible to find all the information suitable for your needs.
Finding a hotel in New York
Before the trip we had searched the net and called travel agencies here in the area and the cheapest tickets that we could find for our trip (round trip from Stavanger to Columbus (Ohio) with a stop in NYC) was with KLM and Continental and we had to pay 7400 kroner per ticket (about 1050 US dollars with an exchange rate of 1$=7 kr).
The trip begins
We flew Continental from Amsterdam to Newark Liberty Airport and this is the first time I have used them. It is always hard to rate an airline based on just one flight (after all the experience varies with the crew, mood of the crew etc) but I was not very impressed with Continental. When we checked out their website it said that they had little TV screens in each seat and you could even play games on these screens. But when we came onboard the plane this didn’t work. And when I asked one of the flight attendants about this she looked like she was really fed up with getting just that question. She mumbled that she would try and reset the system for the rows that we were in to see if she could get it to work but it never did. One of the flight attendants also got into a big loud argument with a passenger that was complaining about the delay in take off. I guess passengers can be quite a challenge from time to time and I guess the flight attendant had a bad day because she got into a loud argument with the passenger saying that she would have the police waiting for him in Newark if he didn’t stop. I think that the flight lasted for about 7 hours and we got two meals during this time. When we got the last snack they also started handing out the forms for US immigrations and customs. But this was done rather late so before we had more or less finished filling out the forms we were told that we had to fold our tables etc. Why couldn’t these forms have been handed out in the middle of the flight?
We did reach Columbus, Ohio in the end and after visiting my sister in the period from June 26th to July 5th Nikki and I moved on to New York City.
Arriving in New York City
The flight to Newark only took 1 ½ hours and soon we had all our luggage with us and ready to go into the city. It seems like there are various ways to get to the city. We went for the cheaper alternative and took the Airlink. This is a service from Amtrak and I think the ticket costs about 11$ per person for a one way ticket. To catch the train to NYC we took the airtrain at Newark Airport. The airtrain is the little train the links the terminals and train station together. We had already picked up train tickets from a machine in one of the terminals but I don’t think we would have known about this unless we had read about this in the guidebook. The tickets we bought were to Penn Station….the only problem is that there is one Penn Station in Newark and one Penn Station in New York. We managed to get tickets to the wrong Penn Station of course but it was not a big problem. But I can’t imagine that we are the first that have made this mistake.
I guess the air con on the train was out of order because it felt like we were in a sauna. And the train isn’t really made for travellers with big suitcases so we had to stand with our bags on the trip to Penn Station. The trip doesn’t take that long…I would guess it takes about 30 minutes. All of sudden we were standing on the street outside Penn Station and Madison Square Garden and the first impression was I guess just like we had expected it to be: lots of yellow cabs, skyscrapers, big billboards etc. We got in the taxi line and we got a cab pretty fast. The ride over to Hotel Thirty Thirty only took five minutes and cost us about 5 dollars including tip. Please check out this page for a review of the hotel itself.
Getting around in the city -
The subway is only a part of the transportation network covered by Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). You will find a pretty good subway map on their homepage . If you don’t by a MetroCard I think that the fare is about 2 $.
The subway felt like a pretty safe transportation method even late in the evening. We saw quite a lot of MTA personnel on the subway trains and there was quite a lot of police around. From time to time we met people who were trying to make a living by performing (dancing, singing, playing an instrument) in the subway system. One night we met this guy who played a fiddle while he was singing…it was such a sad song. And the even sadder fact was that no one was really paying attention to his song. We saw all kinds of people on the subway…a homeless guy that were stinking so bad that no one wanted to sit around the guy, the young generation, people in suites going back from work etc. Some of the subway stations are quite small. And unlike Paris where you get down to the Metro station and then you deal with the question of which direction you are going, you have to make a decision if you are going uptown or downtown already on street level. On our first day we went down in one subway station and we were looking for a way to get to the other sides of the tracks. In the end we had to ask and the lady told us that we had to go back out of the station, cross the street and enter the subway there. I guess we should have thought about that :-) Granted it would have been easier to distinguish up from downtown if there were routing maps at the platform entrance – like in London.
With many of the streets of Manhattan being logically numbered and split into west side and east side, it was also quite easy to walk around in NYC. We did use the map in our guidebook because it also had indication on where the subway stations could be found. And I guess that if you do get totally lost, just get in a yellow cab :-) NYC may consider having larger subway signs – like the the big UNDERGROUND signs in London. And maybe also have electronically updated schedules on the platform – as a new comer to the city it’s kinda reassuring to know when the next train will be arriving.
Sightseeing in New York City
Empire State building - the
We followed the queue and had a bit of a wait to get into the elevators and on the 80th floor. On the 80th floor you change elevators to get to the 86th floor and they used the opportunity to take pictures of everyone hoping that someone would buy the pictures later on and you could also rent an audio guide there. I was just thrilled to see the views that were starting to appear from the windows on the 80th floor. As mentioned the building seems to have been well kept at least seen from outside and in the lobby. On the 80th floor it is possible to see that this is an aging beauty. Finally we were at the top of the building and could get out on the observatory deck. There were quite a few people up there so it was not always easy to get to see the view. But the view was great even if it was a bit hazy that afternoon. From the various sides we had view to lower Manhattan, the rivers surrounding the island, the bridges, other famous buildings like the Chrysler building, Central Park etc. It was a great experience indeed :-)
After we had been on the top for a while we made our way down to ground level to take the New York Skyride since this was apart of the New York CityPass that we bought. The Skyride is simulated flight around New York City and the whole thing was narrated by Kevin Bacon. I don’t really think that it was worth the money and if you have been to larger amusement parks I’m sure that you have tried out better simulators. Well, you can get more details and info on the Skyride homepage.
Sea-Air-Space Museum - all hands on deck for a Top Gun feeling
We started on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier where we found lots and lots of planes including F-14 Tomcat, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Harrier and the amazing Blackbird. Most of the planes and helicopters can be found on the flight deck but some are also displayed in the hangar inside the ship. In the hangar there are also displays about space, the technology behind an aircraft carrier, some simulators and some hands on exhibits. It is also possible to check out the bridge of the Intrepid (although Nikki was pretty peeved when she was told to keep her hands off all the buttons :-) and the mess deck…conveniently turned into a McDonald’s restaurant.
We also lined up for a bit to get inside the Concorde. The Concorde is located on a barge and they let on board small groups at the time. We came in a door in the back and walked through the plane and out the front door. The seats in the plane were protected from curious visitors with plexi glass which runs all the length of the plane from where we entered to where we went out. One of the engines were also taken out of the plane and displayed under the aircraft itself. Walking though the plane was not really a big happening for me. On the other hand it would have been an amazing experience to have been on a Concorde when they where operative and in the air.
The last thing we visited was the USS Growler. After waiting for 20-30 minutes we got to see the inside of what they claim is the only intact strategic nuclear missile sub open people in the world. We were taken through the sub by a guide that told us a little bit about the different rooms. It is always fascinating to walk through submarines and see how much stuff they can squeeze into them. It must have been pretty challenging to serve onboard a tiny ship like this for weeks and weeks at sea.
The museum was fun at least if you are into history, planes etc. Check out their website on intrepidmuseum.org. It is pretty good and has lots of information. The general admission to the museum is 14.5 $ but once again we used the New York CityPass that we bought at the Empire State building.
Times Square - Play that funky
music white boy
Be sure to visit the Times Square Information Center as they can provide you with access to mail (maybe only Yahoo mail), information on where and how to get cheaper tickets to Broadway shows and free walking tours. If you want to get cheaper tickets to show you should also check out the Tkts booth on Times Square (www.tkts.com). Apparently you can show up here and get tickets for the evening shows to a reduced price…but remember to bring cash :-). We didn’t go to see any shows so I can’t really give much info about the subject. But we did go to the movies a couple of times in the Times Square area. We tried out both AMC25 and Loews Cineplex and they were both excellent movie theaters with great sound. The movie tickets cost about 10$ per person by the way.
We went for one free walking tour arranged by the Times Square Alliance. The tour lasted about 2 hours and the lady that took us around also did other tours that she informed us about during the walk. In this walk we were taken around in the Times Square area and we got information on how the theatre district has developed to what it is today, how Longacre Square has turned into Times Square, how the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin fits into the Times Square area etc. It was a pretty good tour but maybe a bit long (it lasted a bit more than 2 hours). It was at least clear to see that our guide enjoyed what she was doing and she was knowledgeable.
Guggenheim - let me see those
Central Park - A break from
We also stopped by some other parks on our walks around NYC. Union Square Park, Washington Park, Columbus Park etc. In all the places the kids were playing and people were relaxing in the sun or cooling down in the fountains. If I’m not mistaken, Columbus Park sits on the place where Leonard DiCaprio fights in “Gangs of New York”. According to the guidebook this park used to be the home of the Five Points slum in the early 1800s. It is hard to imagine that it was once like that when we walked past the park and saw kids playing.
American museum of Natural
history - past meets future
We started out optimistic strolling slowly through the section of Asian mammals and hall of Asian people. I think we soon realized that this museum was HUGE :-). So we had to increase the pace a little bit if we were to cover it all in a day. Let me tell you that you need to plan your visit if you go there because it is more or less impossible to cover everything in a short period of time. I think you could spend a full day in the museum just looking at minerals for instant. Check out their homepage and check out the floor plan and try to make up your mind of what you want to see. The Rose Center for Earth and Space was nice and it was interesting the way the scales of the universe was explained, the planetarium was also nice but the show was so short…not sure it was worth the extra 12 dollars we paid for it. But I think it was great that they had students in Rose Center that had some hands on experiments where they tried to explain different stuff to kids (and adults for that matter :-). The blue whale in the hall of ocean life was also an amazing sight. It is incredible to think that there are animals that big on our planet. The dinosaur section is of course also an interesting section :-). It is always great fun to look at the big eyes of children when they see the teeth on a skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
walked around there for a few hours and in the end we had to get some new
energy. Don’t worry..there are several places where you can eat and drink in
the museum. We went to the food court and there was lots of stuff to choose
from there. I think that our conclusion is that this is one of the best and
extensive museums that we have been to. The problem is that it gets a bit
much and you are in danger of exhausting yourself if you try to cover
everything. Get a floor plan and plan your visit and be prepared by the fact
that you might have to skip some of the sections of the place.
Brooklyn Bridge - walk all over
We went there one afternoon and it looked like it was going to rain for sure. But as we were walking on the pathway the dark clouds blew away and we could walk across with the sun shining from a blue sky. It wasn’t hard to find the way to the bridge by the way. We took the subway to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and from there it was easy to find the access to the pathway. The bridge seems to be popular both amongst the tourist and the locals. Lots of people were biking, jogging and walking over the bridge. I kept staring up on the towers and Nikki had to keep reminding me to keep out of the bike lane :-). We only walked half way over and that gave us a great view of East River, buildings on lower Manhattan etc.
After we had walked on the bridge we walked back and over to the South Street Seaport area. This area has been turned in to quite a nice place and apart from the incredible stench of fish *grin* the area also offers a nice combinations of museums, shopping, restaurants etc. We stopped at Pier 17 to take a look at the bridge from there and we also stopped at Häagen-Dazs to grab some ice cream :-)
Staten Island ferry - the free
Grey Line tours - a bus tour
with linguistic problems
UN building - peace in our
The UN is an international area and they even have their own postal service. So if you go into the post office you can buy UN stamps but remember that you have to send the postcards from the UN building. We did get to take a look at the general assembly hall but we didn’t get to take any pictures. This was due to the shooting of a new film by the name of “The Interpreter” which stars Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. We were hoping to see some of the stars of course but we never ran into them :-)
Wall Street and
Buildings of New York
On our way to the UN building, we also walked by New York Public Library. It was last seen as a refugee camp in “The day after tomorrow) :-). We only stopped to look at the façade of the building and it is impressive. Another building with a striking uniqueness is of course the Flatiron building on Fifth Avenue. This building was the tallest in the world when it was completed in 1902 and even if it is old it stands out due to the strange shape and due to the amazing decorations on the building. On our walks around NYC we also stopped by Rockefeller Plaza. I guess this is most famous for the Christmas tree and the ice skating rink in the winter time. In the summer time there is a outside restaurant where the ice rink is normally located at the place is used as a venue for concerts and stuff.
A walk in the Village
We didn’t spend that much time in Chinatown and Little Italy either but we had to walk through the area of course. We started out by Columbus Park and we walked through parts of Mulberry Street. It was strange to come from the financial district with all the tall buildings to all of a sudden come into Chinatown. Here you’ll find lots of restaurants and shops and all the signs were in Chinese of course. It was also quite easy to see when we reached Little Italy. Many things (like parking meters etc) were painted in the colors of the Italian flag and there were of course lots of Italian restaurants. It is pretty cool to live in a city where you can “travel” through two countries just by walking for a few minutes.
A big city journey is not complete without a visit to a church :-) Well, we didn’t really have any intention of looking for a church but one day when we were walking around we came across Saint Patrick’s cathedral. It looks out of place located on Fifth Avenue next to skyscrapers and shops. It sure does stand out when you walk past it because it is huge. It is supposed to be the largest Catholic church in the USA and we took a closer look inside. When we got inside we ran into the usual problem…how do you browse around a church without interfering with the people that are there to worship? Well, it was possible for tourists to walk around in more or less the entire church and it was a nice looking church. I do find it a bit strange to find the American flag inside the church but that’s just me I guess. Our “problem” is that we have been to some pretty magnificent churches during our travels…like the Duomo in Milan and it is of course hard to surpass place like that. But Saint Patrick’s is nice and it has some very impressive bronze doors and a huge organ.
Eating and drinking in NYC - Super size me?
If I were to select a winner in the junk food category I would have to go for Burger King (the Whopper is great). KFC is also one of my favorites and I guess it is because we don’t have it here at home so I only eat it 2-3 times a year.
But we didn’t only eat junk food of course. We tried a couple of restaurants while we were there. On my birthday we went to Il Bagatto on 192 East 2nd in East Village. This is an Italian place which was recommended by our guidebook and by forums on the net. When we first got there we were not sure if we had found the right place. It was a pretty dark place with lots of little lights strapped to the ceilings of the rooms. It was so dark that I had to use the candle on the table to read the menu :-) We went for both an appetizers and a main course by the way and it was a bit much because we got really full. I had a gnocchi starter with gorgonzola sauce and that was dish full of taste and it was great while Nikki had a bruschetta that was OK. The main course was veal with shavings of parmesan and spinach for me while Nikki went for the sea food tomato based penne. Both these main courses were OK but it is nothing that I will remember for a long time. The tiramisu that we shared for dessert was pretty good. I think we had to pay about 120$ and that included tipping and a bottle of wine.
We also wanted to try out a steak house and we went to a place called Strip house located on 13 E. 12th St. in Greenwich Village. When we first walked in there they didn’t think that they had any tables available but they managed to squeeze us in. This place was a bit more..eh..classy then we thought it would be but we decided to try it anyway. In fact it was so classy that we decided to not get out the camera and start taking pictures of everything like we normally do :-) The service was great in this place. Before the meal we got some great fresh bread on the table and we even got a small cocktail. I had a sirloin which was OK while Nikki had a lamb rack which was sooo tender and good. You can order different side dishes to go with the main meals but they cost extra of course. For dessert we had two cups of cappuccino (they tasted great) together with a piece of chocolate cake which was a little piece of art. Well, I’m not sure I can say “little” because we got a HUGE piece that we were going to share and we only managed to eat half of it. It was a pretty good meal and it cost us 170$. But you know you are in a classy place when a bottle of water cost 10$ :-)
We also wanted to try out a place called Otto Enoteca Pizzeria located on 1 Fifth Avenue. But when we got there it was crowded and we had to wait for 1 hour to get a table since we didn’t have a reservation and we were starving…so we ended up at Domino’s Pizza instead. But Otto might be worth checking out. The reviews have been good both when it comes to the pizza and the gelato dessert :-) If you want a cheaper meal you can go to an Applebee’s restaurant. I guess it is something in between a fast food joint and a…eh..proper restaurant. We went to one near Times Square before we went to a movie and the food tasted good, it came pretty fast and the meal cost us about 75 dollars.
We had breakfast a various places around the hotel. We went to a place called Pax a few times. They served different sandwiches, eggs, salads etc and was a pretty good place. We also went to a place called Suzi’s kitchen a few times. They had lots of different stuff on the menu and we had to try the bagel of course. The bagel was good but I got so much cream cheese on it and it was just amazing. But most places we had to pay 10-15$ for a small breakfast for both of us.
The hunt continues
Shopping - get out your credit
We walked over to the famous toy store F.A.O Schwartz but it looked a bit closed. On the bus tour they did mention something about the store having economic difficulties. We did go into Toys’R’Us on Times Square and that was open and full of entertainment. They had even squeezed in a Ferris wheel into the shop! They had a pretty good selection of lots of stuff…they even had a big Tyrannosaurus Rex that were moving and making some scary noises :-)
Head on home
Foreigners who come to Norway often complain about how expensive stuff is here. Well, I think my standard comment from now on will be: go to New York and see if that is any cheaper :-) Yes, NYC is pricy. The hotel will cost you a pretty penny and eating out will cost you.
So will we go back to New York City? Yes, if we get a chance I think that we would go there again because there are still lots to see and do. There are a few things that were on our list that we weren’t able to squeeze in. I would have liked to take a tour with Big Apple Greeter because I think that the concept is great. We enjoy our food and I think that it would have been great to take a food tasting tour. And I guess if we go there again we will try to catch a Broadway show, a baseball game etc. I think that the list could go on forever. One thing I do regret is not finding a place where I could have a proper New York cheesecake. Well, I do make a pretty excellent cheesecake myself (honestly) but it would have been great to taste New York’s best cheesecake :-)
I hope that this trip report will be of some use to other people that are going to New York City for the first time. Please get in touch with me if you have any questions and I'll do my very best to answer :-)