3# Throwback Travel- New York: Lady Liberty to Uptown (day 3)

On day three in New York, we continued our Big Bus tours, cruising to the Statue of Liberty and exploring the fancy side of town. We lunched on the Upper East Side, at one of the most amazing and elegant vegan restaurants, saw a Broadways show and had a cheeky late-night premium burger in Hell’s Kitchen. All in all, a pretty great day.

River Cruise to Lady Liberty

We had to get up pretty early this morning for the NYC Sightseeing River Cruise, which was part of our 2 day Big Bus pass. For breakfast, I went to a little hole in the wall bagel store near our apartment, which I can’t remember well and didn’t photograph. From memory, it was a pretty average. After, that we took a car down to the South Street Seaport in the Two Bridge area, where we took the Hornblower Cruise. It appears that this has been changed to a port off Hell’s Kitchen now.

The cruise went for about an hour and took us along the East River, passed the end of the Hudson River and into the Upper New York Bay. We got amazing views of the Financial District, Brooklyn, Governors Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. During the cruise, there was a recorded commentary and we could explore the top deck and the inside cabin. There wasn’t anything very exciting to eat or drink, just snacks. So I happy we had breakfast first.

This cruise didn’t get too close to the Statue of Liberty, but it did provide a great opportunity to take photographs of the entire island. It was pretty surreal seeing the lady of liberty in person. I did see many people exploring the island and I don’t regret not visiting it. I think we got a better view of the statue from the cruise than we would have below the statue.

Uptown and Harlem loop tour

Next, we took the Big Bus Uptown loop, which we got on from Bryant Park (20). It took us up through Time Square and the Broadway district, where we could see the outskirts of the Rockefeller centre. Then up to the Columbus Circle (southern left point of Central Park). From here we got off and onto the Harlem loop, which took us through the Upper West Side and up to Harlem. Harlem is a pretty hip area, with an amazing history, particularly for African Americans. As we passed through the Upper West Side, our guide pointed out the celebrities residents of the massive apartment building and important churches. The bus then took us back down to Columbus Circle, where we took the Uptown loop again up as far as the MET Museum. Here we got off to explore and have lunch. We didn’t have time to see the MET today, but I did return a couple of days later on my own.

Upper East Side

The streets on the Upper East Side as exactly how I imagined this fancy New York neighborhood to be. The buildings were all perfectly maintained with trees lining the narrow streets. It was much less crowded and very private, so I can see why it would be an ideal place to live in this bustling city. There are plenty of places to eat at this end of town closer to Central Park and in between the quieter streets.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Candle 79, which is a seriously great vegan restaurant on the Upper East side. It was top of my must-eat list for New York and it was highly recommended by Alicia Silverstone. It is a high-end vegan restaurant, serving organic, local and seasonal food. The menu items are well thought out and there was a small army of chefs in the kitchen producing all the amazing food that was coming out. It doesn’t matter if your not vegan or vegetarian and I guarantee the food will still wow you.

We sampled a few different dishes and I can say it was all really great and everyone was very happy. I had the Wild Mushroom Crepe with summer vegetables, tempeh, spinach, garlic truffle aioli. Marco had the Burrito with chilli-herb grilled seitan, caramelized onions, sautéed greens, chipotle black beans, brown rice and ‘mozzarella’. And Sally had the Spaghetti & White balls with truffled tomato sauce, roasted garlic, spinach, cashew parmesan. O just sampled what she liked. We also ordered a couple of desserts, including the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bliss (chocolate & peanut butter mousse, salted peanut-caramel crust, berry coulis) and the Cannoli (chocolate chip-vanilla cream filling, coconut ice cream, chocolate drizzle). If you didn’t know the deserts were vegan, you wouldn’t off been able to detect a different. They were just fantastic.

Broadway show

After such a big day we took a break in the hotel and prepared for our big Broadway show. I bought the tickets to Aladdin months before for Sally and I. They were pretty expensive, I think about $200 AUD. This is the only show we booked in advance. However, we did put our names down in the Broadway lottery every day, so we all got to see another show each, at a discounted rate. At the time, many of the shows prices were being driven up by bots buying tickets and then reselling them on other sites for four times the price. This was very unfair because many of the shows were quite empty.

So when I left the apartment, O was fast asleep on the bed with Marco. I prayed everything would be well because this would be the first time I ever left her. Sally and I walked up to the theatre. The show was held in the gorgeous New Amsterdam Theatre and we had pretty great seats. There was a bar with Aladdin inspired drinks and shop with merchandise, but it was all pretty pricey. When the show began I was blown away, it was spectacular. Remember this was back before the film came out. The show was very close to the original movie and was a true live-action rendition stage. Then, halfway through the show, I began getting messages from Marco. O had woken up and freaked out that Mama wasn’t there. He could not calm her down and was begging me to just come outside the theatre for a quick hug. There was no way I was going to leave this amazing show and jeopardise my first few hours of freedom. I said no way, deal with it. In the end, he gave her a shower and she fell back asleep from exhaustion. They managed, which was the most important thing.

Late night burger

After the show, Marco wanted to get some dinner, so we all took a walk to Hell’s Kitchen to try the famous Five Napkins Burger. I believe this is one of the only places Marco had on his must-eat list. Five Napkins is a high-end burger joint, with four locations across NYC, and are renown for their original 5 Napkins Burger. It contains 10oz Angus beef from Aspen Ridge, Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aioli on a soft white potato bun. We all got the original with fries, I just omitted the cheese. These burgers were pretty amazing and tasted exactly how you want a juicy beef burger to taste. All the ingredients were high quality, but I think it was the caramelized onions that won me over.

Now all of our tours were completed, we had the freedom to explore some of the places we saw on the bus and explore a few new things that weren’t covered. Tomorrow we head to Lower East Side, the West Village and catch up with a friend.

2# Throwback Travel- New York: Big Bus from Midtown to Brooklyn (day 2)

On day two in New York, we did the most touristy thing you can do, the Big Bus tours. I usually prefer walking tours, but when you have a baby and the weather is a bit drizzly this was easier. We got to see so much more than we would have on foot since the city is just so massive. The Big Bus tours are only offered for 1-3 days. Of course, we wanted to save money so we went tried to do four bus tours and a cruise two day. We still did shopping, dining and sightseeing on foot on the same days, so its definitely doable. Today we did the Downtown, Brooklyn and Night tour loops. We also visited the Financial District, Battery Park and 9/11 Memorial.

Since we had a big day ahead of us we need a big breakfast. My hotel did have complimentary breakfast, but I preferred not to dine there since the food was very processed. The healthiest option they had was Quaker Oats, but I was aware there was a class action against them. I preferred to explore some healthier breakfast options near my hotel. I found Le Pain Quotidien (Bryant Park location). They offer pastries, artisan breads, jams, eggs, steel-cut oats and more healthy breakfast options. Their bread is made traditionally with organic stone-ground flour and most of the other breakfast menu options are also organic. They have a large selection of organic jams and other condiments that are also free to use. Octavia and I had boiled eggs with a selection of breads and jams and soy cappuccino. The staff were so lovely and brought Octavia some extra bread to chew on.

Downtown Loop Bus tour

We began with the Downtown Loop, which we did in two parts that day. We took it from the 5th Avenue Midtown (3), all the way to City Hall Park (10), which covered Midtown to Lower Manhattan. The bus goes right through the middle of the island, so we saw districts of Nomad and Greenwich Village, Spring and Canal shopping strips and all the important law buildings in the Lower Manhattan. From the second level of the bus, I was able to get better views and photos of buildings. I listened to all the commentary from the guide with the earphones. The guy on this part of our tour was pretty entertaining and one of my favourite guides.

We got off the bus at City Hall Park, where we saw our first squirrel. It was so cute and much tiny than I imagined. We also saw Black Lives Matters activists, but it was pretty quiet at that time of the morning. We did some retail therapy at Century 21, which had great deals on designer apparel. I found some great bargains for O and myself in our short visit. What I really loved is that they had a petite section for short people like me, so I found a couple of great dresses that were cut correctly for my height.

World Trade Centre

Next, we made our way to the World Trade Centre district to see the 9/11 Memorial. One of the most noticeable buildings we saw as we were walking up was the Oculus. It is actually the World Trade Centre train station, designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. Next, we saw the sky-high buildings that were adjacent to the twin towers. To think that twin towers had been taller and then to see the space for the memorial was amazing. The memorial does have an eerie feeling, despite the crowds of people. It makes you remember how crazy that day was and reflect on the tragedy and where we were at the time of the event. I was actually in Athens on my first trip to Europe with my parents. We were in shock and weren’t sure if we would finish the bus tour and be stuck in Europe for months. It seems silly now to think that, but that feeling that we weren’t safe from such a distance was very real. I regret not going to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I wasn’t that interest to visit it on this trip, since celebrating my birthday. Next time, I hope to go see the museum.

Financial District

We visited the Financial District for lunch and take our next tour bus. It was nothing like I imagined. The roads seemed so narrow with this sky-high buildings and it was also pretty quiet. I did see the Charging Bull of Wall Street, which was in a peculiar position, on a bit land between two roads. I could not get near it, there was way too many tourists taking photos. I have a photo of it below, from the Bus tour, it was still busy.

For lunch, we made a stop for one of the best lobster rolls in New York. This was very exciting because in Australia, lobster is super expensive and usually served in a fine dining restaurant alongside vegetables. Luke’s Lobster has various locations in NYC, across the US and Japan and Taiwan. They offer Maine-style seafood rolls, chowder and bisques using fresh sustainable seafood. They also have vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options. On the day we visited, it was pretty busy, with local workers stopping in for a quite bite. We ordered a few different seafood rolls to share, including crab, lobster and prawn, which came with a crab claw and a large pickle. Considering I was dining with people who don’t like seafood, they all loved it as much as I did. Even little O, who was excited to try all the new flavours.

Brooklyn Loop tour

From the Financial District we took the Brooklyn Loop at the Battery Park stop (29). By this stage the heat had finally broken and it was quite drizzly. Luckily the bus offered plastic coats for those like me who wanted to still sit on the top deck.

The tour took us along the southern shore, which runs along the East River and through China Town. We then took the Manhattan Bridge, which gave us great views of the Two Bridge area, as well as the East River and Dumbo, Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, we saw one of the few fuel stations as well as a strange suspended car park. Brooklyn wasn’t exactly what I expected. However, we only saw a little snippet of it, since we only went as far as the Grand Army Plaza, and then turned around and went back over the Manhattan Bridge. It did take a slightly different route on the way to Battery Park, past Seaport and the Charging Bull.

Battery Park

After that tour we were eager to have a break, so we got some cold drinks from Starbucks and relaxed at the Battery Park. This green space is 37 hectares and sits on the southern-most top of Manhattan. There are quite a few monuments in the park, as well as the Pier A Harbor and an abundance of street food vendors.

Downtown Loop tour

We then took our third bus tour, which is actually the second half of the first bus we took that morning. We got on at the Battery Park stop (29) and travelled along the west coast, all the way through Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Time Square. By this stage, we were all toured out, but it wouldn’t be our last bus for the day.

Urbanspace Vanderbilt

For dinner, we wanted to go somewhere near our hotel for a quick bite before the night tour. So, we stopped in at Urbanspace Vanderbilt. This is an amazing food hall, with rotating concepts and diverse cuisines. I really needed to eat some vegetables and wanted to make sure Octavia had someone healthy as well. It was so hard to choose, but I settled with Two Tablespoons, who offer vegan and vegetarian veggie bowls and rice paper rolls. They use mostly organic and locally sourced ingredients and avoid using any heavily processed ingredients. I ordered the Shanti Express, which included a chickpea stew, quinoa, curried Cauliflower and a  kale and Lentils salad. It tasted fresh and fragrant, it was healthy and it was satisfying.

Discover NYC by Night tour

The very last tour of our day was the complimentary evening tour. It began at M&M’s World Stop (37), just a block from Time Square. It was so crowded and hot. I felt like I could barely breathe. Since they were doing construction under the road, there were large pipes pumpkin hot air to the road level, making the streets even warmer. After quite a wait we got the last bus off the night. This bus took us through Time Square, Midtown, China Town, Little Italy, Lower Manhattan, across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, Soho, Greenwich Village and back up to Midtown. Although we saw a lot of we had already seen today, it was definitely different by night. The stories were different and so was the city.

So reflecting back on a big day of Big Bus tours, I think it was totally worth it. I love tours that talk about the history and culture of a city. I normally prefer to do my tour by foot, but this bus tour allowed us to see so much in short amount of time and get to know some of the places we would be visiting. Was three bus tours in one day too much? Well as you can see it was a pretty cruisy day. We still have the Uptown loop and Circle Line Liberty Cruise on day three, which we did on day 3.

1# Throwback Travel- New York: Midtown (day 1)

Back when I began this blog, I had only travelled to the USA for the first time a couple months before. At the time I was still figuring out what I wanted to write about and I only really covered the food and Florida Diseny Parks on this trip. Our travel stops included New York, Washington, Boston, New Orleans and Orlando (Disney). Since then I have written extensively about my travels to Europe, Japan, Singapore and Scandinavia. So I thought it was time to revisit my travel adventure in the USA, since I am planning to go back in the next couple of years. I have found so much family across different states, so my next trip will be focused on places like Connecticut, Detriot, Colorado, LA, Miami, Ohio etc. I would also love to revisit some of the cities I have already seen and do some of the things that I have missed.

Today I will start with our first stop, New York City. This was the place I was most excited to visit and was the perfect place to celebrate my 30th. We spent 7 days in New York and out itinerary was full to the brim with tourist attractions, shopping and yummy food experiences. As I mentioned, I only wrote about the food in New York, so you can read my previous posts Eating through NYC and review of By Chef Chloe restaurant.

Midtown

Marco, Octavia, Sally and I arrived on a warm summer afternoon in August. First thing we did was check into our hotel, without our suitcases. Since we had flown from Brisbane to LA to New York, there was some mixup and didn’t receive our suitcases until the next afternoon. We looked a little dishevled but were so excited to be in the most amazing city in the world.

We stayed at the SpringHill Suites, in Midtown Manhattan, which was quite a good location. Its a short walk from Bryant Park and 34th Street shopping strip and had a great view of the Empire State building. It is also within walking distance from Time Square and Central Park. As soon as we were finished checking in we set off to explore. We made our way towards Bryant Park and found the large streets to be pretty calm. I was expecting to feel like a sardine, but it really wasn’t that crowded.

Our first stop was the beautiful Bryant Park, which was just as I imagined a green space in New York would be. It is 38,860m square space between 40th and 42nd Street in the heart of Midown. On the day of our visit the lawn was closed, but there were plenty of chairs to sit and take in the greenery against the backdrop of sparkling towers and blue sky. Bryant Park hosts lively programs through out the year, including cultural events, classes, kids programs and winter activities. There is also plenty of food kiosks and cafes here. So matter what time of year you visit, its worth making a stop at Bryant Park.

We continued through Midtown, down 41st St and 7th Avenue towards Time Square. Now we were passing through bustling streets with flashy billboards that I was expecting. Along the way we met a friendly police man on horseback, which was very exciting for the kids.

Theater District

Eating in the US was a bit of a worry to me, as I was still breastfeeding at the time. So I tried to look for as many organic, minimally processed and GMO free food options that I could find. Marco’s biggest priority was finding the best American burger he could consume. So I was able to comprismise with this great little organic burger joint, which is only a short walk from Time Square, in the Midtown Theater District. Smokey Burger Organic offers organic, natural burgers, with gluten free, vegetarian, wild game and seafood options. Besides burgers, they also offer fried sides, salads, soups, shakes, sodas, juices, and smoothies.

I ordered the Young, Wild & Free Deluxe Burger which had a ground salmon patty, mango, citrus aioli, caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato. Marco and Sally had the Smokey Burger with ground double beef patties, yellow cheddar, chipotle sauce, caramelized onions, wild mushroom, lettuce, tomato. We also had a side of Sweet Potato Fries and Onion Rings. Everything was really delicious and satifying. The perfect meal for our first night in New York.

After dinner we checked out the famous pedetarian intersection, Time Square. It was so light up with bright billboards of products, brands and broadway show, and bustling with so many tourists. We were just so overwhelmed that we nearly missed the famous Red Stairs, which sits upon the TKTS ticket booth. In the heart of Time Square there are lots of costumed characters, who offer to take photos with you for a tip. They were a bit pushing and we only got photos with them because my mother-in-law happy agreed to get photos, thinking they were free.

Time Square is pretty amazing to see as a first time visiter, but as the days went on I found it to be a tourist vortex. It was very hard to get out of when you are passing through, because it was so crowded. Its extremelly touristy, but it also has plenty of entertainment, shopping, dining options, and of course Broadway. So any first-timer or tourist need to make a stop in Time Square and see at least one show on Broadway. We saw a few shows, which I will explain further in a future post.

That bring us to the end of our first night in New York City. On day two we did the tourist buses and Finanical District, to see 9/11 Memorial.

Have you been to New York? What did you think of Midtown and Time Square?