What a first timer in the US think about it?
I spent almost a month and a half in the US mostly in New York, Boston, and Texas. US has never been in my travel list because for some reason it didn’t attract me as much as Europe. Growing up in the Philippines, which is predominantly an English-speaking country and heavily influenced by American culture from movies and food to way of living, a part of me felt, “I’ve seen most of it”. Last May, as part of my MBA Spring program, I was given a chance to get to know different companies in New York and stay for a month in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston to learn from different MIT professors. This gave me the opportunity to see US, at least parts of it, in a different light.
After spending more than a week in the bright city called New York, I admit it is everything I’ve seen on TV and so much more. It is all consuming— people with earphones walking fast all the time, high rise buildings all around you, 24/7 shops and restaurants, sound of police cars and fire trucks at 2am, this city never sleeps. I have to admit, Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind painted an accurate picture of New York. It made me feel I can be whoever I want to be. It made me feel so small and yet so inspired. Turned out, I loved New York. It’s now my second most favorite city, first is Paris.
Why New York City?
New York City is the most populous city in the US with 8.3M population in 2018 according to Wikipedia and has been considered as the cultural and financial capital of the world (though now that is debatable with the rise of China). It has 5 boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island. New York has played big roles in the international arena, from international diplomacy housing the headquarters of United Nations to entertainment as one of the most used location for Hollywood movies. Personally, it is probably one of the first international cities I’ve seen on TV when I was a kid. Of course, I also grew up with American TV series such as Sex in the City, How I Met your Mother, CSI:NY and many more. Seeing all these locations in person was in a way, surreal. I was literally on the other side of my world.
On another note, since I was also here to learn about the business landscape of New York as part of my MBA program, it was interesting to see and talk to different companies such as WeWork, New York Doberman, Neuberger Berman, and Refinitiv. Knowing how these companies operate and learning from their market insights put a lot of things in perspective, specifically how technology has changed economies in the US and how that ripples into Asia. But this is a topic for another day.
With that, I would like to share the places that you should visit and food you need to try, especially if it’s your first time in New York! This is quite a long post because of the photos so you can see what it looks like. My next articles will be about Boston and Cape Cod and my road trip in Texas.
*If you want to enlarge the photos in thumbnails, just click on it and it will lead you to a different tab with the enlarged photo. 🙂
JFK Airport to New York City
I arrived at 10pm and it took me around 2 hours to finish immigration. This was the same experience for a few more others in our group so best to keep this in mind when planning your transportation.
I tried the GoAirlinkNYC for my airport pick-up, unfortunately I wasn’t happy with their service. The pick-up was late for more than 30 minutes and when I got in the van the driver went around the other two terminals and came back to my terminal where I landed to pick up another passenger. In total, it took us more than an hour just going around the terminals to pick up passengers who landed at different times which I feel was inefficient. This was not clearly communicated and I could have saved my time by getting my own taxi with almost the same price or used the train. You can still check their website and book online, other people had good reviews about it.
Accommodation: I rented an AirBnB located in Central Manhattan, three minutes away (by walking) from Times Square. Whenever it’s my first time to travel I try to stay in the city center to be close to the transportation system and to landmarks I want to visit.
Going Around: It is easy to go around just buy the New York Pass (7days). Uber is expensive but if you are traveling within a group then it can save you some money. Also, do a lot of walking since there are a lot of places to see along the way.
Places to visit:
5th Avenue- is just near Central Park, Manhattan. It is considered one of the most expensive and elegant streets in the world. Luxury hotels and shops are located in this area. I accidentally found it while trying to find my way out of Central Park.
9/11 Memorial- it’s interesting how they re-constructed and re-designed the space to commemorate the 9/11 attack. According to Wiki, the project was awarded to Architect Michael Arad and Peter Walker who turned it into the “largest man-made waterfalls in the US using the footprints of the Twin Towers to symbolize the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls are intended to mute the sounds of the city, making the site a contemplative sanctuary.” You will see that the names of the fallen are inscribed around the bronze parapets of the pools.
1501 Broadway- this is also known as the Paramount Building in between West 43rd and 44th streets. It is considered a New York City Landmark. I came across it while trying to find the Halal Guys. If you notice, I took photos of different buildings that looked familiar to me, probably because I saw them it in different movies. Also, we had Bubba Gump in the Philippines before and I used to eat there a lot.
Central Park- is an urban park in Manhattan and is the fifth largest park in New York City. I wasn’t able to cover all but I saw a few iconic spots that reminded me of the movies, John Wick 2 and 3 and Friends with Benefits. Allot half a day to go around at least to cover the areas you are interested in. There are hotdog stands and areas where you can rest in between your itinerary.
Chelsea Market- is a food and shopping hall located in the Chelsea neighborhood. It used to the original site of Nabisco where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced. I personally liked strolling in the area and then go to the High Line pass, an abandoned railroad turned into a walking lane with a good view of the city. My favorite restaurant was the Mexican stall, but I wasn’t able to get its name! See photo below.
Ed Sullivan Theater- the location where CBS is taped and produced. The Ed Sullivan show made this building famous, where celebrities like Elvis Presley, and the Beatles did some memorable appearances and is home to the famous, The Late Show.
Flat Iron Building- derived from its similar look to a clothing iron. It is one of the world’s most iconic skyscrapers and one of the symbols of New York City.
Empire State Building- used to be tallest building in New York until the World Trade Center in late 1970. It is also one of the icons of New York.
Staten Island- You can get here for free and see the Statue of Liberty on the way. There are ferries going to and leaving from New York City every 30 minutes. It’s the least popular among the 5 boroughs but still worth seeing. You can walk around the island and see theaters, public library, and shops and cafes.
Statue of Liberty- Liberty Enlightening the World is a neoclassical sculpture. I saw it from the ferry going to Staten Island. I purposefully did not try to go the island and see it up close cause it’s very tourist for me. It symbolizes the freedom of the United States and a commemoration of the abolition of slavery.
Grand Central– Known to be one of the busiest stations in North America and one of the most visited because of its architecture and intricate design.
Museum of Modern Art- also known as MOMA, an art museum located in Midtown Manhattan. This was probably the only museum I went to in New York and I’m glad I did. Some say MOMA is the largest and most influential museums of modern art in the world. It features different artists but still has the classics like The Starry Night of Vincent van Gogh and At Work of Pablo Picasso to name a few.
New York City Library- it’s a public library and has 92 other locations. I saw the other one in Staten Island. Aside from being a tourist site, you can view art exhibitions or just hang out and read a book.
Time Square- some say it’s the crossroads of the world, lined up with tall buildings, surrounded with colorful and bright advertisements, and one the busiest pedestrians and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. Personally, if capitalism and consumerism is a place, this will be it, that doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad or a good thing just that all the scenarios happening in this area is a summary of what the concepts are all about. Anyway, interestingly, it’s not also square-shaped but more like a bowtie. Try going in the morning and at night as the vibe changes! Be careful with tourist traps like taking photos with people in costume. That’s not for free, they will ask you for money after, even just watching the dance crew in the middle of the road.
Watch Broadway in one of the theaters- There are 41 professional theaters in Broadway. You can get discounted tickets in TKTS booth in Time Square but I advise you to book in advance via online to get cheaper prices for the more popular ones like Chicago. In my two weeks in New York, I watched 2 musical plays—Book of Mormon and Chicago.
Book of Mormon– it’s a satirical musical comedy about two Latter-Day Saints missionaries who attempted to spread the religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day to the Ugandan villagers. They had a hard time converting the locals because the Ugandans were more concerned about other issues such as HIV/AIDS, famine, oppression and many other societal problems. Book of Mormon is considered to be one of the most successful musicals of all time. I personally found most parts funny and insightful especially in the first part but felt slightly sleepy on some parts in the second half, might have been because of my jetlag.
Chicago- I’ve always listened to the soundtrack but never saw the movie or the play but have always wanted to. Chicago is an American satirical musical on corruption in the administration of criminal justice especially for celebrities. I was entertained the whole time.
Bushwick Collective-is a group of artists whose artworks are featured in Brooklyn, East New York. Brooklyn is one of the boroughs and is known to be the center of the Hispanic community. Artists from all over the world are allowed to paint their masterpiece on the walls of Bushwick. You can spend a half day just walking around and finding them, and stop by local cafes and restaurants for quick bites if you want. Some say you
Brooklyn Bridge- is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Fire Exits in New York- I collected some photos of fire exits in New York as they are quite popular for having them. It gives me the same feeling as when I see Paris apartments with balconies where you can just go out, look at the street and people watch or read a book while drinking wine and eating cheese.
What food to try in New York?
Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken (BRFC)- it’s known for its tasty chicken with a special spicy blend sauce by the Bromberg Brothers served with fries and salad. The owners are chefs who wanted to offer good tasty affordable food. They claim that BRFC has attracted presidents, celebrities and well-known chefs. I personally think it’s nothing to rave about but the chicken was good and tasty. I personally liked that they have different sauces that you can try for your chicken. If you are looking for a fast food restaurant with good chicken then try this!
Levain Bakery– This is cookie heaven. It’s located at 167 West 74th Street, Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was worth the wait. You can choose from different cookie flavors but it’s famous for the 6-ounce chocolate chip walnut cookies (which you need to really try!). I loved it and another personal favorite is the double chocolate chip cookie. I wasn’t able to eat the whole cookie in one sitting so it’s perfect as a snack while you are exploring the city.
Magnolia Bakery– It’s a chain of bakeries in New York City, I also found one in Boston. They are known for their cupcakes and banana pudding! My favorites are vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. I finished both on the same day and wanted more! Some say they contributed to the “cupcake craze” that started in 1990s. They also appeared in Sex and the City, Devil Wears Prada and other Hollywood movies.
Halal Guys– a halal food truck you will find all over the streets of Manhattan. We have it in the Philippines so I wanted to try if it has the same taste. I loved the one in New York better because of the savory spicy sauce but it was too spicy like what I tried in Manila. You can get a platter of chicken or gyro with rice or wrap. Perfect either for a meal or a snack!
Also, if you are craving for a midnight snack or just a snack at anytime of the day there are a lot of .99cents to $1 Pizza around Manhattan which you should also try.
That’s more or less a good itinerary for 3-4 days in New York. I hope you have fun and remember to get lost! Next stop: Boston and Cape Cod! Ciao!
P.S Follow me in @travelanyway for some random trips and musings.
You can also get Travel Anyway Book/Ebook, a compilation of my travels captured in photos and words at https://travel-anyway.com/shop/. Enjoy!