30 May 2015

NEW YORK CITY TRAVEL GUIDE

I was lucky enough to have spent the last week in this amazing city. Both the times I have been before involved freezing temperatures and snow so the thrill of being there in sunshine was huge. The last time I walked through Greenwich Village and Soho it was a wasteland of white and most business were closed or snowed in. In fact we thought we were completely lost despite matching the map to the street signs. This time it was crowded with people spilling onto the streets and lunching on the pavements. The entire city oozes life in this weather and I fell in love with it in a whole new way.

As an Australian I am preconditioned to travel long distances. It makes me laugh when I read guides about travelling long haul-say 7 hours. We gear up to fly for 24hours to get somewhere exciting and there is simply no way around it. Because I was having such a short time in the city I was really concerned about losing the first few days to jet lag which I suffer from horribly if I travel to the UK. Thankfully I booked a flight that had me arriving in the evening so if I had stayed awake the entire flight (which I tend to do and so arrive red eyed, dehydrated and looking somewhat mad ) I could collapse into the hotel bed and wake up to start the day in real time.

This was actually my first solo international trip despite a life full of travel and I was worried about all the small things I'd never had to think about before. Changing planes in LA had me panicked but it is incredibly straightforward with staff and signs everywhere. They aren't going to leave you behind and most likely at least half your flight from Australia is doing the same thing.

I spent a fair amount of time on the internet researching how to minimise jetlag. From wearing sunglasses on the plane to medicating myself I was considering everything. In the end I splurged on a funny little blow up pillow that seriously changed my flight experience. I slept. Not very much on the way there as I was bouncy with excitement but on the return flight I slept for ten hours on the second leg. There is nothing quite as exciting as waking up and realising you only have three hours left!

On board I kept it simple with an eye mask that has raised sections that sit over your eyes and allow REM/ eye drops / a miniature bottle of my everyday moisturiser / lip balm / touché éclat / ginger roll on and a hand sanitiser. I also took some melatonin but didn't take any on the flight instead using that once I arrived so I could have a deep sleep.


Before I left Sydney I looked up all the places I knew I wanted to go to on a map and screen grabbed them so when I was out I could easily check where I was going. Google maps are excellent for this as surrounding business pop up when you zoom in so having the photos of each section was really helpful. There is also a great app that works offline which I have used in other cities too-city maps 2go.

I downloaded lots of podcasts for the plane and made sure my noise cancelling headphones were charged. Flying without these headphones is unpleasant and you can't hear the inflight entertainment. I highly recommend them.

I also had a manicure for the first time in ten years. Shellac is the best way to go when travelling and wanting pretty nails. Its the little things.......

My first night was spent in Soho at the Soho Grand which is a stunning hotel. This also meant the taxi driver brought me into Manhattan over the Williamsburg bridge so I got to see the city from a different angle to before. I chose this hotel for its location and I had read somewhere about its sweet potato fries. After I booked it I discovered that my sisters friend stays there for fashion week twice a year and a good friend had stayed there several years ago. Both love it.
Everything about the Soho Grand is gorgeous. The entrance to lobby can be by lift or up these glamourpuss lit up stairs.


The staff are all superbly friendly and helpful and the decor is stunning. A lot of reviews mention the tiny rooms but I found the room perfect in size. The bed was amazingly comfortable ( so much so that I woke with ten minutes until I had to checkout!) and the wallpaper in the bathroom is delightful. The mini bar is on another level- from delicious snacks to condoms and hangover cures it had everything you might need including Marvis toothpaste and an adaptor.


I checked out, leaving my case at the hotel for the day, and left to explore Soho. First stop was a smoothie fix to wake me up as I hadn't had any breakfast. I raced straight up to Prince street and Juice Press. It was delicious but I tried to pay with cash and they told me I had to pay by card. This is because they want you to fill in the tip section on the printout. Pretty naughty I felt and when I didn't leave a tip the woman told the guy making my smoothie to "ice it up". That was a lesson. After that I found lots of places want you to pay by card for this reason. Another thing to get used to is the tax rule which can be very confusing especially when we are used to the tax being a flat rate and included in the price when applicable. Fresh juices are taxed and added to the price we discovered. Coffee is too but its buried in the price. Clothes are taxed once you reach $100 and shoes are taxed no matter what the price. Go figure.
There are juice bars all over the city but Juice Press and Juice Generation were my favourite.



I used Broome street as my anchor point and most places I visited that day were in streets that fed off it. It also meant that when I walked over to the Clare Vivier store on Elizabeth Street I didn't have to navigate the streets that weren't in a grid. On the walk up to Clare Vivier there is an amazing community garden and, unlike here where they are locked, this one had a welcome sign and people were able to go inside and sit down enjoying their take away coffee or a moment of peace before work. It was really lovely. On the corner of Kenmare and Elizabeth streets is The Butchers Daughter which is a picturesque cafe with yellow stools and flowers in jars serving good food and coffee. They also have amazing juices and the avocado toast was delicious. There are also lots of Aussie owned and run cafes in New York now and good coffee is much easier to find.
Back along Broome you'll get to Mott Street with a cool children's gift shop. Piccoliny has a great range of goodies including owner Alex's own range of prints some of which we stock at Alfie Wild.

Nothing opens before 11 or midday and everyone seems to be out for breakfast everywhere you go. Strange at first but then everything is open much later than here and its nice to spend your morning relaxing. A cute little cafe down the street called Egg Shop had people queued outside to get a table.
Back along Broome Street is a favourite of mine-Purl Soho. Its hard not to go broke in there but I did my best.



Anthropologie has a gorgeous store on West Broadway just a short walk from the hotel. I wouldn't go crazy here though as their big store is next to Rockerfeller Centre and worth the wait.
All the streets feeding off Broome Street are peppered with designer stores such as Isabel Marant and Golden Goose deluxe. They are also filled with unique little stores and its worth venturing up and down them exploring. If you need a department store Bloomingdales is smack in the middle of this area on Broadway. If you need a vintage Chanel fix then What Goes Around Comes Around is doors down from Anthropologie on West Broadway.

On Wooster Street you will find Momofuku MilkBar. This one is literally a hole in the wall but there are other locations in the city where you can sit down. I was eager to try some of these delicious sugar hits as I have tried to make a few from the cookbook here at home.


Between 3 and 4 in the afternoon is not when you want to try and find a yellow cab. The big black SUV private cabs know this and circle like sharks. Ignore them-they are much more expensive than a yellow cab. I seriously stood on the corner of 6th and Spring after being abandoned by my yellow cabbie due to a broken meter. Within seconds a black SUV pulled up and tried to get me to get in the car. I was firm and then I ignored him trying to hail a cab. It was ten minutes before he gave up.
Thankfully the yellow cab came back and drove me uptown for a flat rate. When its busy a cab from Soho to 57th will cost you $30 USD. When its late at night and no traffic it will cost you $12. The traffic in the city is crazy.

For the rest of the trip I stayed at The Quin Hotel on W57th near 6th. This was a stark contrast to the dark glamour of Soho Grand and quite corporate in feel and decor. It is however perfectly located for exploring Central Park, galleries and the Upper West or East Side. As mum had never been to New York before this made perfect sense for our holiday. I don't think it matters too much which area you stay in as it is a city made for walking and we walked all day every day without giving it any thought. 50 blocks go almost unnoticed unless you find you're in a hurry.

Once I'd moved myself up to The Quin I decided I wanted a burger. Hotels/ department stores and even the United Nations building have free wifi so always check incase you get lucky. Goop recommended a burger place around the corner from the hotel and, after checking with the concierge, I walked around the block to Burger Joint. Tucked in the back of the lobby of the Le Meridien Hotel on 56th street you queue up in a dark little corridor with a neon burger sign on the wall. You can't see anything until you get to the entrance which can take a while such is the popularity of the place. Once you get to the door you get it. This place is no frills no fluff no time for thinking. The menus are written on randomly cut pieces of cardboard and if you don't know what you want when you get to the register you get sent to the end of the line. There is graffiti on the walls and a mix of booths, a communal raised table and bench seats and the crowd is mixed too. College kids, tourists, young couples and families all jostling for a place to sit after they've ordered so they can dig into the bag of fries and delicious burger washed down with a jug of beer. I found myself really missing my boys while I stood here waiting for my burger. They would have loved this place.



The next morning my sister and mum had arrived and we went around the corner to Sarabeths for breakfast. Everything is so much closer than you expect when planning your routes on a map I found. This place is lovely and just across the road from central Park and the lineup of horse drawn carriages. It is also next to The Plaza.
We started our holiday together with good old fashioned Bellinis. As you do. The have eggs benedict every which way and the place was bursting with a queue out the door.

Something we discovered that is very different from here is that some places-large restaurants for example-will sometimes only have one unisex toilet. The Plaza has an entire food court downstairs and bathrooms for all happily.

Everywhere in the city you can hire bicycles. Some are available like this and others are tucked inside bike shops catering to the central park riders and city explorers. We didn't do it but next time it would be fun especially around the park. I could not get over the beauty and size of Central Park. Last time it was white. It is simply the most glorious place to wonder amidst this busy city.

Lunch at The Boathouse is a must and on a sunny day it is busy and beautiful and the food was delicious. You need to book ahead. If you can't get a table you can always get drinks from the bar and grab a seat inside of outside by the water if you're lucky. Its quite spacious and relaxed. And the bread basket-get the pretzel bread. Then the walnut bread......



After lunch it's a short walk to Conservatory Water where you can hire a remote control sailboat for 30 minutes of Stuart Little fun. With take away coffees from Kerbs Boathouse and a band of buskers it was a fun afternoon just hanging out in the sunshine.



Of course if you are in this spot you can't help notice the statures of Hans Christian Andersen and Alice In Wonderland. You simply have to have your photo taken with them.

Its a nice walk back through the archway and part of the zoo on your way back out to 5th Avenue. Sleeping seals not very far from where you walk past. It really is the best setting for a zoo. The Met is  not far up once you are back on the street but be warned they won't let you use the bathrooms unless you pay entry and at $25USD that is an expensive pee. When we were there last there was one red cart selling pretzels out the front. This time there would have been thirty all lined up with their umbrellas catering to the thousands of tourist milling around.
On the far side of the gallery is a beautiful children's playground called Ancient Playground and also public bathrooms. Playgrounds in the city are quite unlike ours which are all filled with softfall and anti lawsuit designs. These were all designed to blend in with the surroundings and classic in design. So lovely to see.


The Guggenheim is not much further up on the other side of the street. It always amazes me to see it tucked in amongst the surrounding buildings seemingly in its own world. They have an excellent gallery shop even if you don't pay to enter. In that case it is worth leaning over the inside railing and looking up at the spiral staircase and the ceiling. Amazing. From here a wonder around the Upper East Side is easy and its quite a change from the bustle of midtown. The Upper West Side is where I really wanted to wonder but it has remained on my list for now.

Back over to the park we strolled through the centre and were treated to an impromptu concert by a band promoting their cd. Rollerskaters and kids on scooters and music blaring -its such a good vibe here.

Take a stroll to Sheeps Meadow. Its an amazing view of the city and sets the scene for many a movie moment.
 Walk back over Gapstow Bridge for a gorgeous view of The Plaza before making your way back to reality.

The food court on the lower floor of The Plaza became a pitstop for us. They have everything you could feel like but we would go for a Green Monster juice with mint and one of the best palmiers I've ever eaten. Coffee topped us off then we would venture back out. If you feel the need then the Eloise At The Plaza boutique is also on this level.


A dinner you will never forget is waiting for you at Babbo. You MUST book ahead-one month to the day to be precise. Its worth the wait and they show no favouritism having recently turned away George Clooney who wanted a last minute table. Love that. Its dark and moody and music blares which strangely works. The same setting here would feel perhaps stuffy with a heavy North Shore clientele but here its not at all. ACDC blasting out of the speakers once it hit 10.30pm was a hilarious contrast to the perfect wait staff and impeccably served food. I can't tell you what my favourite dish was because honestly everything was heavenly and we all agreed that once we had finished we could have ordered more and more. The staff were wonderful with suggestions and we had a prefect meal. Some dishes were shared and they would present them to us then take the dish to a side table to portion it for us. Let me just say make sure you order the coconut cheesecake for dessert and a glass or three of the Vin Santo.

A completely different feel and somewhere else you need to eat is Momofuku Noodle Bar. We had walked over to the United Nations building and from there it was a short cab ride down to the east village. They don't take bookings and the dinner queues can be long but lunchtime isn't too bad. If you like they will take your number and call your mobile when its close to your turn. You sit at the bar or at communal tables and its very relaxed and the smells are amazing. I highly recommend the shitake mushroom bao buns. They are somehow soft and crispy all at the same time. Get the sake. Its a bigger serve than you've ever had here but its perfect with the food. The momofuku ramen is finger licking delicious.


They have their own edit of sweet treats at the noodle bar so don't be shy. Sweet tooths rejoice.

The High Line is incredible and as green and lush as I had imagined. It is also incredibly busy. We walked it mid afternoon so we could finish at The Standard. Its really interesting looking back from up there and a great view of the neighbourhood below.


Once you get to the end you need a drink at The Standard rooftop bar Le Bain. The entrance is around the corner from the hotel entrance and you will asked to show photo id to the bouncers who then stamp your wrist and let you inside. You check your bag and coat and get in a lift to the top. The bar when you get out of the lift is stunning with a city backdrop. This level has a plunge pool and I imagine goes off a night. You then take a flight of stairs to the rooftop where everyone is chilling out on astroturf and sun lounges with the most incredible view all around them.



You need to get cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. You just do.

And take your photo in front of the LOVE statue on the corner of 6th Ave and 55th.
These markets looked amazing and are at the end of The High Line walk.

and afterwards you can walk through Greenwich village then down Bleeker street and come out at Soho.

Have an Espresso Martini at the Soho Grand and eat their sweet potato fries. To die for.

Order a lobster roll and a Bloody Mary at The Wayfarer


Stand on the street and get a shot of yellow cabs. Your kids will be thrilled.

You can queue for hours (even when pre booked your tickets) for The Empire State building so the top of Rockerfeller Centre is a great idea. No barbed wire in your photos either-it was perfect up there. Book your tickets online-no waiting and pick a sunset timeslot.


Eat pancakes. Really.

Champagne at The Plaza is a nice way to finish a girls short break so we did. The actual Champagne bar was off limits to non guests of the hotel though so we sat in the foyer bar which is stunning. Chandeliers everywhere in this hotel and we didn't mind not being in the champagne bar as there was a very casual feel from the guests who were sitting in there. We were a little more frocked up for our bubbles than they were!



More-

Dean and Deluca sell fresh boiled eggs in the fridge. The eggs were a really good option when we wanted some fast breakfast.

Shake Shack for a burger and fries fix. We didn't make it as the queue was crazy but apparently its really good.

If you brave Times Square and a photo with a dress up character have your tip ready. They are fast and furious and whip that mask off after one snap.

The Chrysler building is absolutely stunning. When you walk down Lexington for a peek you will find yourself near an entrance to Grand Central Station. Go inside. The ceiling is simply beautiful and the space has an incredible feel to it. Also as you enter this was you pass a little cafe called Joes. Good coffee, nice guys and the best granola cookies Ive had. Let me say they didn't taste too healthy : ) Also their peanut butter cookies.......

Duane Pharmacy's are everywhere and open 24/7 so you can always get toiletries or snacks and many other things if you need them. A cheaper option than late night hunger and raiding the mini bar.

Embrace the metro. We didn't use it but next time we will certainly.

Airbnb is frowned on by the city apparently- I would say thats a tax issue as they have so many- but its certainly what we will look at doing next time. There are some amazing places to rent.

Brooklyn. Next time.

We were there over Memorial Day and can I just say sales sales sales. Most stores had specials on over that weekend but others such as Saks weren't going to be on sale until later in the week. I think this is a really great time to be in the city if you want to shop and the weather was perfect. We were told New york is hot or cold and there are only a couple of weeks when it its pleasant. End of May to mid June is perfect but honestly I would go in the middle of summer and still be thrilled to be there so don't be restricted by local advice too much.

Department stores will give you a discount pass as a foreigner so take your passport with you. Always ask to have the tax removed as many are happy to do this for you if you can show id. It takes the hassle out of doing it at the airport.


Wear sneakers. They are trendy and comfortable and you will be walking walking walking.

Everyone is super friendly. We had wonderful interactions with some great people and not one unpleasant moment was had.

Have fun!

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