It was finally time to head to NYC, after over a week in sunny Orlando. We woke up at an unearthly hour, checked out of our hotel and Ubered to the airport to catch our 8am flight.
When we disembarked the plane, we were hit by the chilly air, which reminded us we were no longer in Florida.
After collecting our luggage, we hopped on the AirTrain to Jamaica Station, transferring from the airport railway to the gritty
and smelly NYC subway system.
We eventually reached Penn Station and lugged our suitcases for half a mile before finally reaching our hotel…if you could call The Grand NYC Apartments a hotel, but more on that later.
It took us a while to find the hotel’s entrance since it was an unlabelled, dingy doorway, and there was no receptionist (turns out the security guard was the receptionist). Our room wasn’t ready for checking in until the late afternoon (4pm), so we paid $7 for each piece of left luggage, and went out in search of lunch.
Koreatown was just a street away from our hotel, and I was suffering from Korean food withdrawal, so we darted into Woo Ri Jip, a Korean cafeteria. They had a buffet spread (the food was sold by weight, a huge difference from Singapore’s buffets!) as well as pre-packed lunches. It was crowded with Korean and non-Korean New Yorkers alike, but we fortunately managed to find a table.
Koreatown had a whole street of Korean restaurants and K-beauty shops, and it almost felt like we were back in Singapore, since we have all the same shops back home.
We then walked another block down and stumbled upon the Empire State Building. With the observatory tickets being overpriced, and Central Park having nonexistent greenery at this time of the year, we decided to save ourselves some money instead.
The world’s largest Macy’s was also just a street away on 34th & Broadway, with other huge stores like H&M, Foot Locker and Urban Outfitters in the vicinity.
Macy’s had 10 storeys of shopping, with each floor stocking a sprawling array of products.
After shopping through a few floors and still being empty-handed, we went to the McDonalds inside Macy’s to rest, since our hotel room was going to be ready for checking in within the hour. Fun fact: All sizes of soda cost $1 in American McDonalds…which explains their health issues.
Soon, it was 4pm, and we returned to the hotel to check in officially. We were only given 1 key, and told to just dump it in the key box when we were checking out…To preface this, the Grand NYC Apartments has not-so-great (5 out of 10 stars) reviews on numerous travel websites, but it’s always fully booked because of its excellent location (a street away from the Empire State Building) and proximity to a train station (34th Herald Square Stn), which is the only reason we booked it.
It’s more of a hostel than a hotel, since some of the cheaper rooms didn’t come with ensuite bathrooms. Our triple room cost around USD$200 per night, which is really reasonable given NYC prices, and it came with a mini kitchenette which we found really useful. The corridors smelled like garbage, since there was a garbage room on our floor, but the room itself was thankfully very clean and okay-smelling.
After freshening up, we headed to Times Square, but I wanted to make a stop by the famous Midtown Comics store (nearest station: Times Square 42nd St). I browsed through the comics and checked out the collectibles for a while, and then we were on our way to Times Square.
Times Square was an overwhelming and excessively bright visual spectacle, and it felt surreal just standing in the middle of the place I had seen thousands of times in movies.
It was teeming with actors in cheap costumes, from creepy Mickey & Minnie knockoffs, to Trump, to a slightly overweight Black Panther.
And my gosh, seeing all the Broadway posters filled me with excitement; I’m a huge fan of musicals, and upon realising that I was finally near the birthplace of so many musicals, it truly hit me that I was in the heart of New York.
After gaping at the sights for a while and taking touristy photos (tbh it was just my parents taking pictures of me), we continued exploring the shops around Times Square.
We stumbled upon the LINE FRIENDS store, and imagine my delight when I saw the BT21 products on sale! I took so many photos inside, so I’ve included a few below for any ARMYs that might see this post. 🙂
There were restrictions on the quantity of merchandise each person could buy, but I didn’t buy anything anyway, since everything was insanely overpriced. It’s cheaper in Seoul’s Itaewon store, so my friend helped me buy an RJ passport cover from Korea instead.
After gaping at the merchandise and internally crying at the unreasonable prices, we left to look for dinner. I had wanted to try the Bubba Gump restaurant since we first saw it in Orlando, so we decided to eat there. It was overlooking Times Square, and I have to admit that the neon lights and billboards were uncomfortably bright after a while.
It’s a Forrest Gump themed restaurant, so our friendly server came over to test our trivia knowledge of the movie while we were waiting for our order.
The price range for this restaurant is around $20-35/pax, including tips, but the portion size was huge, so overall it’s pretty good value for money.
We took the metro 2 stops back to our hotel and called it a night. The next morning, rain was in the forecast, and it was absolutely freezing outside; I had to wear my padded winter jacket, and I could still feel the chill. I was grateful for the cold weather; I mean, what’s a few days of freezing when I would be returning to Singapore, an actual oven??
It was drizzling for most of the morning, so a dense layer of fog had settled over the skyscrapers. It was so beautiful and grey. Of course the weather wasn’t ideal, since we had to take a subway and walk outside for 10 minutes to reach Grand Central Station.
There was a curious group of people standing around the police buggy inside the station, so we went over to have a look. Turns out the police were letting tourists take photos with them, so I just had to join in and get a picture too!
As we walked further into the station, we found the iconic part of the station, with its stunning high ceiling (with constellation murals) and the famous clock (smack in the middle of the station).
After taking some pictures and helping a few groups of tourists take pictures, we hopped on the train to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal (Whitehall Station).
The wind and rain was beating down on us, but we made it to the ferry terminal and boarded the free ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island, which runs every 30 minutes and predominantly serves New Yorkers commuting to/from work.
On a clear and sunny day, you would have an unparalleled view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, but these were the best pictures from the day we went….
We had a delicious lunch at a seafood restaurant on Staten Island before heading back to Manhattan.
If you squint, you can see the lovely Statue of Liberty in the picture below.
Our next stop was the Museum of Jewish Heritage, so we explored Battery Park while walking there.
The entire Hudson Bay was thick with fog, so we were just staring out at an endless expanse of grey water and greyer skies.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage was observing the Yom HaShoah / Holocaust Remembrance period, so entry was on a ‘pay what you want’ basis. We donated $20 to gain entry to the serene 3-storey museum. I didn’t take any pictures inside the museum out of respect.
We headed up to SoHo after spending around 2 hours in the museum, since it was just a few subway stops away.
SoHo is a shopping area for the rich, with luxury brands like LV, YSL, Gucci and Tiffany dotting the streets. We were window shopping, and passed by the Dominique Ansel Bakery, the birthplace of the cronut. Of course it was sold out by the time we arrived (people order it weeks in advance), so I had to stare enviously
and drool at a couple eating their cronuts.
I had wanted to visit the Supreme shop just to see what the hype is all about, but after getting shouted at by their security guard for simply taking photos outside the store, I decided not to even enter.
After walking around aimlessly and not buying anything, we located the famous Halal Guys (supposedly the best food truck in Manhattan) and ordered takeout from there, before returning to our hotel.
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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, musings, doctoring), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series