New York Part 1: Sex and the City tour hotpsots, cheap Marc Jacobs bags, Empire State Building and much more
225 days, 9 countries, and 65 cities, towns, villages and islands later, we are now reaching the end of our eight month tour of the world.
With only two weeks left, our final stop was New York City. What a perfect way to our trip of a lifetime!
We had been let down at the last minute by a guy I know who offered us a bed at his for the time we were there, so we were left with having to find two weeks accommodation in New York two days before we were arriving there.
That set us back about £350, meaning we couldn't afford to go to Boston for a couple of days during that time, which we had originally planned to do.
Nevertheless, we didn't allow it to dampen our final two weeks, and we booked ourselves into a hostel for the first nine nights on the west side of the city, before moving over to the east side for our final six nights.
Our first hostel was the Broadway Hotel and Hostel, on 101 street. It seemed a nice place when we arrived, although we got quite a shock when checking in. We had paid a deposit online, which then told us our remaining balance to pay would be $399. We had planned to split this equally on our credit cards. However, after tax that final amount came to $521! The lady on reception simply said, "Welcome to New York!" Anything over $120 has a huge amount of tax added on to it.
She then informed us that we had to pay cash only, but neither of us had enough cash on us to pay that amount. The lady ended up accepting just one credit card.
We were then shown to our six-bed dorm. There was just one other guy in there and didn't we know it! We could smell his body odour from the corridor and when we walked into the room it was actually hard to breathe!
As he had just arrived and was there for 11 nights, and we had to endure nine nights there, I went back down to reception and asked if we could change rooms, preferable all female!
They only had mixed dorms but the room they changed us to was far more pleasant! Having said that, one thing I will definitely not miss about travelling is hostels!
After quickly freshening up and changing, we took a subway to Times Square. It was everything I had imagined it to be. The streets were heaving and the atmosphere was incredible. I had a very good feeling I was going to love New York.
We wandered around and walked to the Rockefeller Centre. Great place, but way out of our price range! We had planned to eat and drink there, but having looked at the menu, we quickly took a few photos and moved on!
We stumbled across the Magnolia Bakery, featured in Sex and the City, in our quest to find a reasonable priced restaurant. There was a queue about a mile long of people wanting to buy there cup cakes. Sarah and I had been meaning to get one, but whenever we passed it the queue was huge, so we always said we would go next time, which never came!
My friend Lucy, who had been to New York for a holiday a few weeks before, texted me and recommended a bar called The Mean Fiddler, on 47th Street. We headed there and had a few cheap drinks and some food. By the time we had eaten, the bar was still pretty quiet, so we left and walked to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink. It was a really good atmosphere in there, clearly full of tourists, so we stayed for a couple of cocktails, before heading back to The Mean Fiddler, which was heaving by this time. It was definitely a good choice by Lucy, and we stumbled back to the hostel at around 3am. It did worry me the next morning when I realised I had no recollection of the subway journey back home!
Despite our sore heads, we had a busy day ahead of us, so we forced ourselves out of bed and headed out. Besides, I hate staying in dormitory rooms for longer than I have to!
We jumped on the subway to 72nd street and walked to the Dakota Building where John Lennon was shot. I was half expecting there to be some kind of memorial plaque for him but there was nothing, so that was a little disappointing. I think the only tribute to him is at Strawberry Fields in Central Park.
We moved on then and walked quite a few blocks to Columbus Circle, which is another Sex and the City hotspot! For any S&TC fans, it is where Carrie and Aiden break up! We also later found out that Bruce Willis, Janet Jackson, Madonna, and Renee Zellwegger also have apartments overlooking that area.
Our next stop was Studio 54, on 54th Street. Of course, it has been closed for years now, but as big disco fans it was still great to see where disco began. It has now been transformed into a theatre where Carrie Fisher is currently performing. Judging by films I have seen and pictures from its days as a nightclub, I thought it actually looked pretty similar from the outside.
We then walked on to 5th Avenue and had a look in Jimmy Choo, Saks, and Tiffany's. In Tiffany's Sarah and I couldn't resist looking at engagement rings, and we immediately picked out our future diamonds. Mine was at a reasonable price of just £5,000. It was so beautiful!
We then made our way to the Empire State Building, stopping off at the New York Public Library; another Sex and the City hotspot! The library is featured in the film and is where Carrie and Big are supposed to get married, but Big stands her up at the altar! We finally got to the Empire State Building and took some pictures from the outside. It's a pretty impressive building. Unfortunately, we didn't go to the top as we had been recommended by a friend to go to the Marriott Marquis hotel bar in Times Square. The bar is on the hotel's top floor and is revolving, so we assumed we would be able to get good pictures of New York from there, similar to the ones we took in Chicago. Unfortunately, this was not the case, but by the time we actually went to the bar, we didn't get chance to go back to the Empire State Building. Next time I go to New York, that will be my first stop!
Anyway, here is one of my best photos taken from the street......
We jumped back on the nearest subway and got off at Canal Street, which is in Chinatown. I thought I had arrived back on Koh San Road in Bangkok, it was crazy! Lots of people selling knock-off bags from suitcases! It was definitely an experience, but with a hangover, not what I needed; it was too much! We walked to a department store which had been recommended for discount clothes and bags, called Century 21. It is good and worth going to but we quickly discovered you need a lot of time and patience to actually find a bargain. The store reminded me a lot of TK Maxx, or even Primark, but with designer clothes. Half of the clothes were on the floor, or you had to search through rails after rails of clothing to find what you wanted. Admittedly, I am sure you can find great bargains but we neither had the patience nor the energy to search through the store, so we left empty handed.
We jumped on the subway back to 96th Street, and settled in for an early night.
After breakfast and our final laundry stop of the whole trip, we headed into Times Square hoping to get cheap Broadway tickets at the Ticket Office. This requires a good couple of hours queuing in the baking heat. As we had arrived pretty, we killed an hour or so wandering around aimlessly and stumbled across Manolo Blahnik's. That small boutique by 5th Avenue quite possibly has the most amazing shoes I have ever seen in my life. I still dream about them! The ones I fell in love with would've set me back about £500, and as I had just extended my credit card by a few hundred pounds, it took all my will power to resist! Luckily, the sensible voice in my head took over, and I left with them just being a dream. I have told myself though that one day I will go back to New York and buy a pair of Manolo Blahnik's!
We headed back towards Times Square, and happened to walk by the Ed Sullivan studio where The Late Show with David Letterman is filmed and also P.Diddy's Bad Boy Entertainment record Label.
What was to come next I think made our entire trip in New York City. We were walking by the London Hotel, where Gordon Ramsay has a restaurant, and who was outside? None other than ASHTON KUTCHER!! He was having his photo taken with some Chinese tourists. I didn't care if I left my dignity behind at Manolo Blahnik's, it was Ashton Kutcher, and so worth it! So we stood there hoping to get a picture with him after the Chinese girls, but unlucky for us, he said 'Thankyou' and walked straight into the hotel! Gutting! We didn't have it in us to shout after him! Anyway, Sarah still managed to get a picture of him, and as he was the first and only celebrity we had seen, we were happy.....
The afternoon was spent queuing for Broadway tickets. I had my heart set on seeing Chicago, unfortunately however, the show wasn't playing that evening. When you queue for cheap tickets it is only possible to buy tickets for shows playing that evening. We decided that if another show playing that evening was considerably cheaper than Chicago, we would go see that. After two hours of queuing we found that they weren't cheaper at all, so we headed to the Chicago Box Office. We decided we would go on the Friday evening and were asked how much we would like to pay. We chose the two cheapest options at either $69 or $89, which would inevitably mean the worst seats. As there were no $69 seats left, the guy asked us if we would be happy to pay $99 and in return he would give us two seats worth $135. We took him up on the offer, and he gave us two seats five rows from the stage.
As we felt we had pretty much exhausted Times Square, we got on the subway to Greenwich Village. This is quite an exclusive and expensive part of New York City. Carrie Bradshaw lived there in Sex and the City, and is actually where Sarah Jessica Parker lives. We found a lovely restaurant where we had dinner and a half price frozen margarita! The weather was stiflingly hot, we did sit out but it was almost too hot!
We then had another short walk to 66 Perry Street, which is where Carrie lived in Sex and the City, it was so exciting! We each had our pictures taken outside the apartment.
After the excitement of finding Carrie Bradshaw's apartment, we found a lovely Mexican bar selling $3 margaritas. It was really lively and a great atmosphere, but unfortunately, we could only enjoy one, as some annoying guys decided to sit next to us and talk rubbish to us. They wouldn't go away, despite our obvious hints! In the end, we decided we would have to be the ones to leave. Sometimes I feel Sarah and I are too polite!
We set aside today for a day of shopping. To be honest, our shopping experience in New York couldn't possibly be what we had hoped for when we started out on our trip. I think maybe we were a bit naïve in thinking it could have been this great shopping spree. After all, New York was our final stop of an eight-month trip and we were almost £15,000 poorer than before we started. Nevertheless, we put a small amount to one side to enjoy a little bit of shopping.
We headed for a shopping outlet called Woodbury Common, which is a lot like Cheshire Oaks, and is about an hour bus ride away from New York City. I think it is actually in New Jersey.
I had my heart set on buying a nice bag, so I spent most of the afternoon debating on which Marc Jacobs bag I should buy. That was until I came across a Michael Kors store, so I had a sneaky peek in there. I settled on a gorgeous green bag, which I now take everywhere with me. I love it. It was slightly cheaper than the Marc Jacobs bags too at just $274. I later looked at a Michael Kors bag in Bloomingdale's and the price was a very hefty $1,400, so I felt like I had found a bargain!
August 12th - Visit to the World Trade Centre Site:
We had originally planned to rest our feet and sunbathe, but the weather laid those plans to rest as it was cloudy and rainy. Instead, we headed towards Battery Park to book our tickets for the Statue of Liberty tour. We could see the Statue of Liberty from the park but as the weather was bad, the pictures didn't come out too well, so we were hoping we would be able to get nice pictures on the tour. Also at Battery Park stands the sphere that once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Centre. Although it was badly damaged during the events of 9/11, it remained in one piece and now stands at Battery Park in memory of all those who died. The eternal flame that stands by it was lit on the year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
We then made our way to Ground Zero, which of course is near Wall Street, in the financial district of Manhattan. Where the seven buildings of the World Trade Centre once stood, is now just a construction site, but there is a museum right beside it, which explains the events of 9/11. It is really quite harrowing, as it also features phone calls and voice recordings from those who were in the towers at the time of the attack, and also those who perished on the hijacked planes. It also has recovered items from firefighters, including their jackets, hats, and radios.
As we were queuing to go in we were asked if we would like to have a guided tour of the site. One thing all the tour guides have in common is that they all have a personal connection to 9/11. The guides are made up of a group who named themselves Tribute, and it now has over 200 members.
Our tour guide was called Geri, and she is truly an inspirational woman. She began the tour by taking us outside to a long plaque that commemorated all 343 fire fighters killed as they fought to save all the trapped civilians. The plaque was commissioned by a New York Law Firm, whose employee was a volunteer fire-fighter and one of the 343 men killed. The plaque told the story of the days events in the eyes of the fire fighters, with the inscription 'Dedicated to those who fell and to those who carry on.' It was incredibly moving, and very hard to hear.
We then moved inside where we had great views of the World Trade Center site and where the twin towers once stood. The WTC occupied 16 acres of land, and all seven WTC buildings had to be demolished after the 9/11 attacks. Following the collapse of Towers 1 and 2, Tower 7 collapsed at 5pm that night. With 16 acres of land now cleared, they have excavated down 70ft to start the foundations for a new site.
Over 2,700 people died on 9/11, but considering there were 17,000 people in the buildings at the time, it is actually regarded as one of the most successful rescue operations in history. This is partly due to the lessons learnt after the 1993 terrorist attack, when a car ploughed into the basement of the north tower with a bomb. Six people died in that attack, and a lot of evacuation mistakes were made. Luckily, these were learnt from, and although many people died on the morning on September 11, a lot more lives were saved because of the 1993 tragedy.
Each of the twin towers were 110 storeys high. The seventh building which they have since rebuilt is just 55 storeys high, so it really puts into perspective just how high they were.
Geri then began to tell us the story of how she is connected to the events of 9/11. She had been working at an insurance company called Aon for 19 years at the time of the attacks.
Her office was based on the 96th floor of the south tower. The day before September 11 2001 she flew to San Francisco for a meeting she had been called to on the morning of September 11. She heard on the news that a plane had hit the north tower, but at this point everybody thought it was a tragic accident, so her colleagues in the south tower, and everybody else working in that second tower were told it would be safer to stay where they were. Shortly afterwards, as we all know, a second plane hit the south tower. It hit between the 78th and 85th floors, meaning Geri's colleagues on the 96th floor had no way out. That day, Geri lost 180 of her co-workers, some of whom she had been working with for almost two decades. It was heartbreaking to hear her telling us this and clearly very difficult for her. She was obviously very close to them.
Geri continued working for Aon until 2008, when she retired. She now dedicates her time carrying out volunteer work for Tribute.
Geri then took us through to the 'Winter Gardens' in a building overlooking the WTC site. The blast actually completely demolished the Winter Garden, but it has since been rebuilt with the same marble taken from the same quarries to make it look identical to what it was before the attacks.
Our final stop of the tour was by the American Express office. On the morning of 9/11, 11 AMEX workers were called to a meeting in the north tower. They all perished. In memory of those 11 workers , AMEX commissioned a memorial plaque to honour them all. It is called the 11 Tears and is an 11-sided pool. On each side is a person's name and a small eulogy about them written by loved ones. In the middle is a huge 11-faced quartz crystal which is held up by 11 poles, with water dripping into the pool which looks like tears. Altogether, a very fitting and moving memorial place.
Sarah and I then went back into the museum. Like I said earlier, it has artefacts from the site, recordings of radio transmissions between fire-fighters, and videos about the days events.
A group of retired fireman set up an organisation called Dad's Band. All their sons were then fire-fighters in New York and they were missing. Everyday in the weeks after the tragic events, they would go down to the site, sifting through all the rubble in search of their lost son's. Only one father was lucky enough to find his son's body and lay him to rest. His son was called Jonathan and a few days later they found his fire-fighter jacket. This is now placed in the museum.
The museum also had a wall with a picture of all those who died on September 11.
A new building called the "Freedom Tower", is now currently in the process of being built and will be finished in 2012.
We spent hours at the WTC site and by the end of it we were both ready to leave. As amazing as it was it had completely taken it out of us.
I actually found the whole day a lot harder to take in than what I imagined. Obviously, I remember watching it all unfold on the television, but it doesn't seem as real when you are watching it from thousands of miles away. But being there, even though it is now eight years on, and hearing from those who lost loved ones, was incredibly upsetting.
Despite our great desire to chill out and sunbathe at Central Park, the weather didn't hold out for us, so we decided to finish off the rest of our sight-seeing. We took the subway to Madison Square Garden, and took a few pictures there although there was nothing really much to see. It was a little disappointing.
We then headed to the Flatiron Building, which is on the corner of 23rd Street and 5th Avenue, and is on the east side of Manhattan. It is apparently considered as one of the first skyscrapers ever built, and was the tallest building in New York upon completion in 1902. I actually think it is pretty ugly. You definitely can't miss it! That part of Manhattan has been named after the building and is called The Flatiron District.
We walked on then to Union Square and to another Sex and the City hotspot. This time, the garden behind Jefferson Park Library, where Miranda and Steve got married.
We then walked back into Times Square to a Mexican restaurant for $2 tacos, before going next door to the cinema to watch Funny People!
Finally...the sun was shining again. Taking full advantage, we headed straight to Central Park. The Park runs from 57th street to 110th street, and with Sarah and I staying on 101st street, we were just a 10 minute walk from the park.
We spent the day doing what we do best - topping up our tans! Once again, a horrible, annoying man took it upon himself to sunbathe next to me and ask me completely inappropriate questions. Despite me putting my Ipod in and completely ignoring him, he persisted with the inappropriateness, so we ended up having to ask him to leave, at which point he asked me to go with him! You can imagine my response!
Anyway, other than that it was lovely to chill out and we left about four-ish to get ready for our night out at the theatre.
Chicago didn't start until 8pm, so once we were ready we jumped off the subway at Times Square and had dinner at a lovely restaurant close to the Theatre.
The show was absolutely incredible, and our seats were just as good as we had thought, if not better. We were so close to the stage, it was great.
Chicago, which is all about corruption, greed, murder, and adultery, is absolutely hilarious. Samantha Harris, a former host of America's Dancing With The Stars, plays the part of Roxie Hart, who murders her lover. The music and dancing is amazing. We had a such a great evening.
After the show we then went for a drink at the Marriott Marquis Hotel bar. It has a viewing rotating restaurant, which we had decided on instead of going up the Empire State Building, simply because we thought it would be a lot cheaper. How wrong we were.
The cost of visiting the Empire State Building would be $35, a glass of champagne each at the Marquis, which we ordered because it was pretty much the cheapest thing on the menu, set us back $26 each!
The drink itself cost $14, but we had to pay $7 for a table and the waiter gave himself one hell of a tip!
We couldn't even get decent pictures either, so we were left kind of wishing we had paid to go up the Empire State Building.
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