May 12, 2013 1 Comment
Hello Melbourne! I had originally planned to do a massive post detailing our first few days in New York, but the iPad gods of Blogging thought it was too beautiful and insightful to share and the draft was mysteriously lost. Instead, here are a few quick thoughts from our trip so far, and hopefully a few tips as well.
Our flight path was Melbourne > Sydney > LA > New York. When we booked the flights it wasn't clear where we would be going thorough the customs process, but it turned out to be at the point you both leave and exit the country. Seems obvious in retrospect, but I would recommend giving yourself a bit of time in Sydney to do what needs to be done, instead of feeling rushed.
We flew Qantas, and I think it's safe to say we can leave the airplane food jokes in the 90's where they belong. Sure, the above meal isn't the height of culinary excellence, but it's a whole lot better than I could plate up for that many people, plus the James Squire beer was very welcome.
Going through the entry process of the US is pretty full on, but quick. It seems a bit xenophobic to me that every single person entering the country needs to be photographed and fingerprinted, but there's debate about giving someone a background check when they buy a gun.
Once you land in NY there's a few options to get to Manhattan, but the two easiest are the Airtrain to a subway station and a $52 flat-fee taxi. Despite having booked a hostel room close to a subway we opted for the cab option. Now most cabs have a touch screen in the back with local news, weather and events, a nice little touch I'd love to see in Melbourne, and it ended up being a really smooth ride.
We had arranged to spend most of our stay in an apartment through Air BnB, however we spent the fiirst night recovering from jet lag at the Royal Park Hostel. Air BnB is a great service where people rent out spare rooms and apartments for a cheaper rate than a normal hotel. It's mostly good for short stays but some apartments will be available for longer. The hostel room we stayed in for our first night was tiny, but we had our own small space and free wifi and after such a long flight it was all we needed. Mind you it's the only place I've found where I could use the toilet, sink and shower simultaneously.
The apartment, however, was a different story. We're staying in the Lower East Side, a mostly migrant area with some great food options while still remaining relatively cheap. One thing to keep in mind with NY apartments though is that not many have lifts, so you may need to be prepared for five flights of stairs after crossing all over Manhattan. While we were here we were told about Hot Wire, a slightly unusual website where you pick the area and how many stars you want the hotel to be for a discounted rate, but you don't know the name of the hotel till you've finalised your booking. We've made a few bookings for some of our shorter stays that look great on paper, but will have to see how they pan out
New York coffee is a pretty mix bag. While we were at the hostel I asked if there was a local cafe they would recommend for coffee, and the guy could only suggest Starbucks. Incidentally, there is almost literally a Starbucks on every block, to the point where they could be used as a unit of measurement for distance. Generally it seems New York coffee focuses more on being piping hot than strong, and The closest I've been able to come to describing a flat white easily is a double shot latte with 3/4 milk. It is almost impossible to order that without sounding like a foreign wanker however. Also, always ask for a small, portion control is a bit out of control here.
I usually ask locals where to eat, although Yelp can be a semi-reliable guide. I say semi-reliable since what will get 4 stars in one neighbourhood is completely different in another neighbourhood. Daisy likes to plan where we'll eat ahead of time, and found New York Magazine to be a great site for places to eat. One odd thing we've found is a lot of places refer to mains as “entrees”, so keep that in mind. Again, portion sizes tend to be large enough to defeat even this dedicated blogger to the point where Daisy and I are starting to share diner meals. Finally, tipping is how most hospitality workers earn their income so don't be stingy. The rule of thumb I've been given has been to leave a tip twice the amount of the tax on your bill, which so far has worked fine. Oh, and a burger is a burger, a sandwich is a burger and everything comes with enough chips and salad to feed a family of four.
I was given a Citypass for Christmas before our trip, and I can't recommend it enough. It's a bit like a three-park super pass for the Gold Coast, in that for $106 you get passes to the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, and then your choice of either the Guggenheim Museum or the Top of the Rock observatory, and the choice of a Statue of Liberty or Circle Line Cruise. You get 9 days to see all these sights, and it has been a great way to see everything and have a sense of urgency about it. I'll write about each one once we've completed our pass, but the early front runner for favourite has been the Empire State Building. It's a bit cold once you're up top so rug up, but the view is amazing.
The subway system has been a great way to get around, and it only costs $30 for a weekly pass. Each station is manned, and with no more than one or two interchanges you can go anywhere in Manhattan quickly and easily. Grand Central station especially is a sight to behold, however it's a bit confusing initially. Just remember that the subway platforms are away from the interstate ones and keep an eye out. It's not a centralised web like Melbourne, but after a few trips you'll be moving around like a local.
Speaking of moving around, not only do Americans drive on the opposite side of the road to Australia, but they also walk on the opposite side of the footpath. It took me a few near misses before I finally worked out why I was getting so many dirty looks.
Money wise they have dollars and cents like Australia, with slightly different values for coins. Most people would know a quarter is 25c, but I had to ask to find out a dime is 10c. It's called a dime since it's a decimal of one dollar. WHY THE SUDDEN INTEREST IN DECIMALS, AMERICA?
Finally, with mobiles I'd recommend getting your own prepaid simcard rather than using roaming on your own carrier. The roaming rates for Australian carriers is ludicrous, meanwhile for $86 we've gotten one month of unlimited local calls and text, unlimited international calls to landline and texts, and 2gig of data.