New York

New York Vs Washington DC

I guess New York City is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the USA, apparently it gets 50 million visitors a year.   Washington DC was also full of visitors when I was there recently, but it seemed like most of those were domestic tourists and kids on school trips.  They are both incredible cities and worth a visit, but they had very different vibes. Manhattan is densely populated, and the constant bustle of people gives a sense of excitement but also a feeling that the city is moving around you.  There’s definitely a lot to see and do.   Washington Dc on the other hand is much more laid back affair.  The people here are an odd mixture of suit-wearing officials heading to work, and t-shirt wearing families heading to the museums.

Incredible Architecture

New York                                                                     Washington DC

Both cities have incredible architecture and buildings.  In Manhattan, the Empire State Building is a real landmark, but one you could easily walk past on ground level.  It’s only impressive from far away or high up.  A trip up to the top of the Rockerfeller Centre is a great way to see it.  In New York it’s all about height, One World Trade Centre is the tallest in New York mainly due to it’s spire.  It’s the main structure in the rebuilt World Trade Centre, it’s height of 1,776ft is a reference to the year that the US signed the Declaration of Independence.  In Washington DC, these are buildings of governance.  The Library of Congress was founded in 1800, and is the largest library in the world.  The library has three buildings, the oldest is the Thomas Jefferson building.  The main stairs have figures of little boys representing the different occupations like musician, astronomer, student etc.  The frescos on the ceiling and walls represented the arts and sciences.

The Suburbs

New York Washington DC

New York                                                                       Washington DC

Obviously, most people heading to New York visit Manhattan, for good reason.  But I was pleased that we could get out to Brooklyn and see something different.  There was greenery in Prospect Park, and sand and sea at Coney Island.  There’s space to breathe in Brooklyn when the city gets a little too much for you.  In Washington, we took a trip to Georgetown which is a nice, slightly gentrified, centre.  Both Brooklyn and Georgetown are pretty hipstery.

The Landscape

New York                                                                       Washington DC

In Manhattan, a lack of vertical space meant people very quickly started building upwards. Even the apartment blocks loom over you, and the city constantly impresses it’s grandeur and reputation on you.  There’s a real mixture of the old and new.  New skyscrapers are constantly being built and now there are many areas where the buildings all crowd each other.  In DC, the landscape is much more open.  Here the government buildings are the tourist attractions. Each one is still a working building but they seem to have to lot more breathing room so you really get a good look at each one.  Really shots of Washington make more sense in landscape rather than portrait.

Food

New York                                                                   Washington DC

Well these pictures are pretty similar!  These are both big cities, full of lots of different immigrant groups meaning lots of different foods. Obviously, if you wanted to just eat MacDonald’s you can, but we were looking for something a bit different.  I don’t eat meat so in Europe that can just straight away rule out entire restaurants.  In the US, veggie food was easy to come by, but it was still nice to visit places that specifically cater for us types.  New York has more deli places where they sell food by weight I would guess, and just has more of everything generally because it’s much more densely packed.

Street Art

New York                                                                  Washington DC

You could call this street are or just weird stuff you find on the street…New York definitely had more of that.  For no reason there were some dog photographers in the middle of Chelsea.  Of course they have the bull on Wall Street, and now the little girl opposite.  Around Times Square there are a bunch of odd colourful animal statues.  In Washington DC, there was one or two colourful additions but lacking some of the mad whimsy of their NYC cousins.

 

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New York- JFK Airport/American Airlines

After my week in USA I wasn’t thrilled about returning to the real world and going back to work, although I was looking forward to a night in my own bed.  Anyway, the second half of our trip was in Washington DC, but we got the train back to New York to fly home.  So we had an early start, then a 3.5hr train ride to NYC, then we had a few hours in Manhattan before getting the train back to the airport.  And had the silliest most stressful 2hrs in an airport I’ve ever had.

We had purchased our tickets through British Airways, but they were selling on behalf of American Airlines.  Apparently, this is a common practise but seems a bit weird to me.  It meant I checked in through BA for our outbound flight but couldn’t change our seats because it was an AA plane.  It also meant that out boarding passes said we were ‘Class M’, and yet they allowed people on the plane in groups 1-8.  A bit confusing on the outbound journey but not too bad.

Anyway, we couldn’t check in on our return journey so we had to do it at the airport.  We entered a queue with a sign at the front which said ‘Check In’, naively thinking that was where you checked in.  After getting to the front we were told we had to use the ‘kiosks’, which were the computers next to us.  So we got into another queue to use the ‘kiosks’, which didn’t work.  It couldn’t find my reservation, then refused to scan my passport, then printed out a ticket telling I needed to speak to an AA agent instead.

So we got back in the first queue to speak to the agent, only to be told ‘over there’ or something else equally unhelpful.  And we had to go the other side of the walkway to join another queue.  This queue was getting longer and longer.  All the kiosks were breaking, and there was only three staff members dealing with us (after 30mins there was just one person).  They were taking 15-45mins to process people.  We queued in this queue for an hour and got roughly 1/3 down the line.

American Airlines is obviously a huge airline, that runs lots of domestic US flights.  The people queuing in our line were taking all different flights, in the olden days different flights would have different lines so if there was a problem the plane would probably wait because it would be missing half it’s passengers. These days they didn’t seem to put a call out for anyone.

For domestic flights you only have to arrive 1hr early, we had to get there 3hrs early.  With the crazy (broken kiosk) system I don’t know why there are different timescales as we were all in the same queue.  And in the queue we were surrounded by people who had missed their flights as a result of the chaos.  After an hour boyfriend decided to try again at the kiosks and thankfully it worked for him.  The stressed out young woman in front of us went to try again too but it rejected her again, this time though it was because her flight had already taken off.

We got through security and still had 30mins before boarding so we were ok really.  But my experience of American Airlines is that the system is dumb and the staff were really unhelpful.

 

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New York- Brooklyn and Coney Island

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Brooklyn Bridge from the Subway Carriage

Day two in New York and we decided to leave Manhattan and head out to Brooklyn.  This was my first trip to NYC but I’d never been to any of the other boroughs before, Brooklyn seems huge by comparison.  There were a few places I had starred on my map to visit but trekking back and forth around Brooklyn was too much.  It was about 4 celsius (google says that’s 39.2 F), and I had a terrible migraine but other than that it was a fun day out!

Day 23

We took the subway to Prospect Park, we passed the carousel but it was closed.   So we headed into the zoo.  It was $8 each which seemed reasonable given how expensive it must be to house animals (bit suspicious of cheap zoos and roller coasters).  It’s not very big but was nice to look around, and thankfully most of the animals were inside where it was nice and warm!

Day 24We walked across the park to find somewhere for lunch.  There were some other things in the area like the Brooklyn Public Library, and a fair at the Grand Army Plaza but I was dying of jetlag so we had to give these a miss.

On 7th Ave we found a burger place to get lunch, Bareburger, which is a hippy eco-friendly hipstery place that did a pretty yummy milkshake.  7th Avenue had some cute shops, a lot of which had anti-Islamophobia signs up, something of a theme of the trip as a whole.

We headed up to the top of the street to get the subway again, this time further South to Coney Island.

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Coney Island isn’t really an island, more a little man-made sticky out bit.  Unfortunately, the theme park, Luna Park, was closed.   I think the snowstorm they had delayed the Spring opening but there were people cleaning the park, presumably in preparation for opening.  This meant most of the shops and stands along the water front were also closed.  This Brighton Beach area has a lot of Russian-speaking immigrants, and there are a lot of Russian shops and signage.

Manhatan is so built up it’s easy to forget it’s an island surrounded by water.  And even in Brooklyn it seemed weird, to me at least, to be walking along an actual beach.  Like I said it was a little (a lot) chilly, but in the summer I can imagine it would be fun down here.

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New York- The Lego Store

Day 12

We wandered out on day one in New York in the drizzle to get breakfast at the Argo Tea Cafe in the Flat Iron Building, which I recommend.  And just around the corner was the Lego Store.  It’s not actually that big but it quite fun because of the models they have made out of the Lego.

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Day 13There are a few Loge stores in NYC, this is just the one we visited, I definitely recommend a visit if you have kids or are a big kids.  Lego is pretty expensive these days though, so I settled with a key ring.

 

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New York- The High Line

We spent our 3.5 days in Manhattan entirely South of Central Park.  I found, you can, very quickly, get used the steel and stone jungle that is New York, and sort of forget that grass and nature exists. There are little parks and squares dotted around, but I’m not sure they’re the reason people travel to NYC.  Not to burst your bubble, but it turns out Madison Square Garden is neither square or a garden…some kind of entertainment venue…

Day 31

Anyway, the weather turned much nicer (it jumped from 4 celsius to 18 the next day).  So we, and everyone else in Manhattan, decided to walk The High Line.  The High Line is an old railroad that runs about 20 blocks (1.5miles) that has been turned into a kind of park.  It runs from 34th street to Gansevoort street on the West side.  I would say it’s mostly a raised walkway with plants along it.  It was quite pleasant but at times we were trudging along behind people we couldn’t get around.  It was, however, a much quicker way to move through the streets of New York than on street level!Day 32

Above and below are some views from The High Line.  It’s a little hit or miss with what you see, Manhattan is so built up that at various points you’re just surrounded by sky scrapers.  But there is some interesting street art dotted around. In between the buildings though you do get a few good views along the long straight streets.   It’s a free activity in a city that can get quite pricey.

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New York- Places to Eat

Argo Tea Cafe

It’s a tea place- duh! We went for breakfast here on our first day in New York (I got croissants and straight up green tea).  When we came back to New York to fly home we stopped off for an afternoon drink and I got hot apple cider (in USA cider is non-alcoholic unless specified).  All the drinks can be hot or cold, and they also sell lose leaf tea.

They have some seasonal tea that you can sample as well.  I tried to the iced strawberry green tea which was rather nice.  I wanted to buy a bottle of it but we were heading to the airport and I wouldn’t be able to take it through security.  These are the type of places I wish we had in the UK.

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Argo Tea Cafe                                                                                  Hangawi

Hangawi

I had never eaten Korean food before, and this was a veggie Korean place next door to our hotel.  On entry we were asked to remove our shoes, as that’s Korean style.  The staff were very friendly. We ate at lunchtime and still spent about $60!  I had a jasmine green tea, and I got a tofu soup, with rice cakes.  I was expecting the rice cakes to be the crunchy kind but they were gelatinous white blobs in the soup.  They didn’t taste like much so I’m not complaining. Boyfriend got a spicy,  We also got given some kimchee which is unpleasant fermented cabbage.

Pronto Pizza

We tried Famous Original Ray’s Pizza, but the staff was so rude to boyfriend we left.  So we wandered in the rain for a few blocks and found Pronto Pizza.  It’s another pizza place where you buy by the slice for $3, although the slices are the size of a small house.  Inside it’s not very exciting, the staff were not native Americans, or Italians but they obviously knew how to make pizza.

It’s simple, cheap, and yummy.  It was very good.

Day 3

Pronto Pizza                                                                   Andrew’s Coffee Shop

Andrew’s Coffee Shop

We went here for breakfast on Sunday morning, around 9:30am and there was a queue. I don’t know if that’s just a Sunday thing but I took it as a good sign.

Outside it’s not particularly glamorous and inside the orange/beige decor had been jazzed up with Easter bunnies.  It was only a few minutes before we were seated by a friendly waitress. New York service staff are never gonna be the chatty types especially on a busy day but she was polite and helpful.  I got a green tea, oatmeal, and a croissant.  Boyfriend got an omelette, but in America omelettes come with potatoes and toast.  It tasted good, it wasn’t cheap but didn’t break the bank.

Umi Sushi

Umi Sushi was boyfriend’s find, when I was feeling rough and we needed somewhere to eat nearby.  It was pretty small, more like someones living room (although I think there were more seats in the back).  It’s a sushi place so there weren’t tonnes of veggie options but I got a decent vegetable tempura and green tea (do you see a theme in my drink choices?).  Boyfriend got a fairly huge plate of Sashimi.

Day 22

Umi Sushi

 

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New York- MOMA

One of the things I did not get to do last time in New York was visit the Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA.  I can’t say it was actually very high on my list of places to visit but boyfriend thought it was worth a look so we went.  But MOMA costs $25 each which is a lot!  However, they have a free Friday night offer which, strangely, is sponsored by Uniqlo.  I was hoping that meant we would get given free clothes, but obviously not.

Day 11It was pouring with rain when we arrived and we were pretty soaked and added to the general chaos of the foyer. There were groups of people loitering around inside, presumably sheltering from the rain, and a giant queue.  Thankfully the queue was for the cloak room and we were just handed a free ticket straight away. And, after the customary bag check, we headed upstairs to see the art.

Or rather look at the backs of people’s heads!  It was extremely busy, to the point where we wondered if they were breaking fire safety rules! It definitely undermined my enjoyment of the gallery. It was hot and loud and hard to see things.

Day 1

The free Friday night starts at 4pm (until 8pm) and I think you would be pretty pissed off if you paid the $25 at 3:30pm and then the place still got overrun with soggy tourists.

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Packing For USA

We set off for New York tomorrow, it’s gonna be a pretty epic trek to get there.  Leaving home at about 10:30am, to catch a 10:57am train to Leeds, then a nice 30 min wait at the exciting Leeds train station before catching the train to Manchester.  We’ll have about 2.5hrs in Manchester Airport before setting of at 15:45pm.  We land in London, and have about 1.5 hrs before finally getting on the plane to America.  We land at 10:30pm local time, which is 3:30am UK time so about 17hrs after setting off.

Oh working that our has just depressed me!

Anyway, I have the day off today to do some laundry, cleaning, and finish packing.  So I thought I would show you what I’ve packed.  I still have a few essentials missing like toothbrush, phone, keys, etc.

P1040499Obviously, the main suitcase is mainly clothes. That part of America has had some changeable weather recently, and I expect it’ll be nice when we’re there but a bit chilly in New York and a bit rainy in Washington.  There’s also the chance for sunny days, and that we might go to nice places for dinner, so I had to pack a variety of outfit options.  So I’m taking:

  • Bottoms- black jeans, blue jeans, green trousers, blue skirt, black skirt, green shorts
  • Tops- green t-shirt, grey flower top, pink top, star wars top, tie-dye t-shirt, black shirt (and vest to wear underneath)
  • Knitwear- L’amour jumper, pink cardigan, black hoody, dinosaur jumper, coat
  • Sportswear- running top, running leggings, sports socks, sports bra, headband, bikini
  • Also- black and white dress, PJ t-shirt, tights, socks, underwear

As you can see in the photo I’ve taken some of those clothes and put them in a pile next to my suitcase, these are my travel clothes.  I even have my underwear for traveling picked out so I don’t wake up and find there’s nothing clean in my drawer.

In my suitcase I also have my toiletries and hair things, my rain coat, a hat, emergency tea bags, some analogue cameras and film, and a plug adapter.  I’m using my backpack as my carry on luggage, and I have a plastic wallet with my passport, money, and travel insurance in it.  I have three books to pretend to read on the plane, my purse, and two small bags (one for day, one for evening for day-to-day use).  I also have spare underwear, socks, and a t-shirt in case my suitcase gets lost.

And most importantly, I have the birthday card my mum gave me to open on my birthday!

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USA Trip Prep

So, our USA trip is fast approaching and I thought I’d fill you in on where I’m with my preparations. Also I can use this to figure out what I still have left to do.  I work shifts so I have sort of more time to get stuff done, but sort of less (it’s what happens when you don’t have regular days off like week ends but you do get the odd week day off to go shopping).

We leave at the end of March and will have an annoying trip from home to Manchester Airport, before we even get on a plane to go to New York.  So we obviously have our tickets by now but we’ll need to check in and I need to get boyfriend to print them at work.  Along with that we need print out our train tickets, to get from New York to San Francisco.

I’m not totally crazy, and I haven’t started packing yet but I will soon start planning my outfits.  I do this with plenty of time so I can make sure everything is washed before I need to pack it.  I used to live in a house share and I couldn’t rely on the washing machine being free so I had to give myself an extra week.  I now have a house (technically it’s boyfriend house but still) and a tumble dryer so that makes life easier.  I do want to buy a new suitcase.  My one is really heavy, it’s pink which is the reason I bought it (!), but a pain to drag around.

I’m going to get some little toiletries, boyfriend tells me not to because I can use the hotel ones, but in Italy the hotels only had shampoo and not conditioner which was annoying.  I need to get my dollars (exchange rate sucks right now), and I’ll need some little snacks for the airport.  But I shouldn’t need to get to much more.

 

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ESTA Visa Waiver for USA

Well we mulled over our America trip a little after Donald Trump took over like some mad travel agent and enacted his crazy travel ban.  Boyfriend and I were not going to be affected directly, but it was quite off putting. We were also concerned about extra queues, more security checks, and protests.  But I wanted to go somewhere special for my birthday so boyfriend relented and has given his permission!

Being from the UK we can take advantage of the ESTA Visa Waiver scheme.  It costs $14 each, and they do a little background check on you and make sure you’re planning terrorist crimes and other mischief.  In fact one of the questions directly asks you if you’re planning terrorism or genocide.  Boyfriend asked why they would leave that question in there as it’s so dumb, but it’s clearly there to amuse you 45hrs into a 47hr long application.

Ok, that’s a little exaggeration.  But its does take a while, and you have to do a separate application for each traveler although you can pay for them altogether.  Obviously, you have to provide your name, address, nationality, and passport details.  But also you employer and their address, your parents names, and an emergency contact (with their email address).   You also need the address of where you’re staying in the US so you have to book your accommodation first, which is a bit annoying because if they reject your application you can’t travel and probably can’t get your hotel money back.  The it asks the silly questions about whether you’re going to commit genocide or if you have yellow fever. The for some reason you have to put your name, dob, and passport number in again.  And then you send it off and wait for them to tell you if you’re allowed in the country.

So we did ours on Sunday and are still waiting, but it’s only Tuesday (for me…I schedule posts).  They aim for 72hrs so hopefully we’ll know soon if we’re going to America or if we’ve wasted loads of money…

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