As my taxi barrelled down the highway to the airport, I couldn't help but think how incredibly lucky I am.
I was leaving on another holiday, having completed my second year of teaching in China and I was going to America for the first time ever!
So far, in the last 2 years, I've travelled around China where I'm inordinately lucky to live, I've been to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and America, and over the next year I'm going to Japan and India!
The first flight from Zhengzhou to Seoul was ok, Korean Air is comfortable enough and even though the trip was only 2 hours, I got a pretty good meal.
The issues began once I reached South Korea...
I had no money, so I asked where I could find an ATM and was informed that I had to go outside - on the plus side, I now have a south Korea stamp in my passport ^_^
After several attempts to withdraw some money, without success, I realised that once again, my bank had frozen my account.
Normally, this happens when I already have some money to pay for the international call to my bank, however on this occasion, I only had 50 yuan which, when converted, wasn't enough to even buy a phone card!
I painfully inserted coin after coin into the pay phone, got connected to my bank for a whole 10 seconds before the money ran out.
This happened a further 3 or 4 times before the cashier refused to give me any more coins.
I used what little change I had left to buy a pretzel and a bottle of water before giving up entirely.
I did get a free foot massage though which was nice!
5 hours later, I got onto my connecting flight and began my trip the wrong way around the world to the USA.
After a tediously long 13 hour flight with very little sleep and poorly edited films done and dusted, I topped up my UK phone online which now had signal and called my bank.
They unfroze my card while I was on the tarmac at JFK and by the time I'd discussed how short my little fingers are in comparison to my other fingers with the nice immigration officers, I found an ATM, hailed a cab and began my USA trip!
Now those of you who now me well enough will know, probably from personal experience, that I'm a natural mimic, especially of other people's accents... needless to say, when I asked where the ATM was, the NYC accent seeped into my brain, so much so, that when I told the taxi driver where I was going he said, "welcome back"...
Hanna Mantle: Citizen of the World!
I finally arrived at Shelly's house in Queens (after a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with my Bangledeshian driver about how much he hates his wife) to Shelly's mum, a hot shower and an air-conditioned room.
Over 24 hours later and 3 different time zones, I had arrived in New York! Boom!
I stayed awake until 1am to see Shelly when she got in from work and we had a little catch-up before going to bed.
By the time I'd woken up, Shelly had already left for work again and I had a hair appointment to get to!
I ordered a taxi and made my way to "Touch of Brazil" where another Michelle was waiting for me!
She was lovely and really looked after me.
I got highlights and a cut and it felt nice being able to actually discuss my hair with the person cutting it, unlike in China!
I desperately needed to buy some new clothes so I went down Steinway to the street of shops...
With my hair cut and that damn street, I must have spent at least $300!
I made my way back to Shelly's to await the arrival of Matt who arrived safe and sound around 3.30pm.
We had a brief catch-up, got ready and headed into Manhattan on the subway to meet Shelly at work.
We went to Pier 81 and got on the restaurant boat where Shelly works, went for a 30 minute cruise and had some dinner before heading to Union Square to meet Tanya for drinks.
Union Square is a strange, eclectic mix of types of people - hipsters and street performers, students and working people enjoying a break in the setting sun, and people eagerly awaiting an opponent for their chess game, set up with crates and stools and even office chairs to sit on and enjoy a game.
We went to the oldest pub in NYC where they only sold light and dark ales and I managed to go to the toilet in the men’s...!
We walked around a little more until we went into a seemingly innocuous hot-dog shop until Mish stepped inside a phone booth in the shop, picked up the receiver and pressed a button when all of a sudden, the back of the phone booth opened, revealing a speak-easy from the prohibition era!
We waited for a few minutes before being seated in a booth in the living-room sized bar, hidden away from the rest of society.
The drinks were so strong we could only sip them and then moved on to the next place.
We stopped at the Sin Palace to check out the decor, only to be accosted by a drunk man who insisted he was from Liverpool and liked kissing strangers on the neck apparently...!
(I can still feel his stubble!)
We ended up in a Dominican and Mexican restaurant, Matt and I being the only Caucasians in there and had midnight nachos before clambouring into a cab and heading home.
The next day we woke up late but early enough to enjoy pancakes, crispy bacon and eggs over easy for breakfast and then went to Metro PCS to get me an American phone for my travels.
We bought some snacks and then made our way to Chinatown to get the bus to Washington D.C.
After 5 or 6 hours we arrived in D.C, went to our hotel, and then made our way to the White House.
D.C. is so different to New York, a third of the people and so clean it was almost like nobody went outside.
We walked around the lit up monuments surrounding the White House until pangs of hunger overwhelmed us, so we made our way to Adams Morgan to get some food and drinks.
We went to a soul food bar called Madam's Organ and it was amazing.
The decor looked like the inside of my wildest imagination; dark reds and blacks, random items handing from the ceiling and the walls, dark, shadowy corners with little tea-lights providing minimal light and crooked staircases leading to tiny balconies.
We order dinner and enjoyed cocktail and the live band before admitting defeat and heading back to our comfy hotel beds for some much needed rest.
The next day, we checked out of our swanky apartment and headed for the open-top bus tour. My bag was so heavy, still not sure why, so the bus was a welcome break from carrying it around.
We travelled around D.C. learning interesting information and hopping off and back on again whenever we felt like exploring things a bit closer.
We even got a free ticket to Madam Tussauds with our bus ticket, so we went to have a look and took some pictures with our new friends.
We stopped for a bagel and to see Mr. Lincoln before heading to Chinatown for sushi and Chinese food (of which I ate only Sushi as Chinese food is my normal food every day!)
We waited for the bus back to NYC and all 3 of us pretty much passed out until the bus got to Philadelphia and we perked up a bit until reaching NYC.
On Sunday, Michelle had to work a double so Matt and I ventured our alone.
We stopped at a cafe on 52nd st near the subway and had Philly Cheesesteaks for lunch - oh my yummy!
We then hopped on the subway into Manhattan and up to the National History Museum.
We got a little confused with the express trains but eventually got to the museum 2.5 hours before it closed.
The most confusing layout of a museum, ever!
We gave up trying to use the map and just walked around until we found something of interest.
When we left the museum, we were opposite Central Park, so we grabbed a hot-dog and a giant pretzel and entered the most beautiful inner-city park I've ever seen.
Green and water as far as the eye could see, the tops of building only just visible overhead.
We found the Angel fountain and the Home Alone bridge and Matt got selected to participate in a street performance act - so good!
After walking around Central Park for hours, we got on the nearest subway and headed to Times Square.
Holy moly, that was a busy area!
We bought some postcards and souvenirs, including some very fetching "I love NYC" jammies for me before attempting dinner at the Olive Garden.
It was so busy that we gave up and decided instead to try and get to Little Italy, which also proved too difficult without Michelle to guide us, so we stopped in "Hoomoos" and had a quick bite for dinner before heading back to Queens.
I had the most mouth-watering falafel and humus pita, I can't even describe how tasty it was!
Everyone deserves to eat this food at some point in their lives.
Monday came and went without much to report.
We had a lie-in, then Mish went to work so Matt and I had bagels and cannolies then chilled out.
We all went for pizza at an Italian place near Mish's house and had an early night.
The next day we ventured out to the Bronx to visit the zoo - it is truly incredible that there is so much green and land not occupied by buildings in New York.
The zoo was great, quite a trek as you walk around the whole place (and it's huge!).
All of the enclosures are big, green and open and the animals look healthy and well-cared for.
As zoos go, I was really impressed with the treatment of the animals, less so with the prices of food and drink, but it's to be expected.
Overall, a definite trip for all ages.
In the evening, we met up with Shelly's friend Gallie at Caracas in Williamsburg and had the best plantains I've ever eaten and these amazing arepas which were like goodness stuffed corn bread pouches! mmmmmmm! So good.
We then went to a rooftop bar in the Wythe Hotel and took in the fantastic views of Manhattan at night, before walking around Williamsburg, taking in the hipster collective that has gentrified Williamsburg and created a hipster ghetto!
We went to a gay bar with barely anyone in it before heading back to the main street to enjoy our first ever tacos from a taco truck and a disgracefully chocolaty milkshake (which I later regurgitated..... stupid lactose intolerance!)
We had a sleepy taxi ride home and crawled into bed.
We’d pre-booked tickets to the Statue of Liberty online, so after a quick breakfast, we jumped on the 7 train to Times Square, transferred to the 1 train to South Ferry and walked the short distance to the cruise ships.
We passed through security with ease and made our way onto the top deck of the boat.
As we approached Liberty Island we snapped away, taking in the glory of Lady Liberty before docking and collecting our free audio tours for a closer, more in-depth experience.
I love audio tours, you can do everything at your own pace, skip things and choose extra options to listen to.
I found it particularly interesting that women were not allowed to attend the unveiling ceremony of this magnificent structure, despite the fact that this 93 metre high statue signified freedom and liberty and is of course, a woman…
After admiring Lady Liberty, we got back on the ferry and headed to Ellis Island to try and find any ancestors who came to America – I found a potential family member, but it probably isn’t!
I enjoy the idea that we could have relatives all over the world and none of us know about each other; keeps things interesting!
We stopped for food before getting on the ferry one last time to go back to Manhattan.
We hopped back on the 1 train and went to the 9/11 memorial, Wall Street and the Stock Exchange.
I like to think that the giant, perpetually revolving water of the 9/11 memorial signifies the constant movement but ultimate reincarnation of life and that people can never truly be gone or forgotten as they are reborn and re-join our lives over and over again.
That might just be me, but I take comfort in that notion.
Once again, we headed to the waterfront, this time to get on the Staten Island Ferry as we went to watch the Yankees play baseball!
It seemed fitting that we partake in this American pastime, plus we got a free cap, bobble head, Yankee Stadium figurine, a hot dog and a drink with the ticket AND I got a baseball from the game!
BASEBALL! USA! ETC…!
About half way through the game, the heavens opened and a killer thunderstorm was unleashed above us, effectively ending the game, and forcing us to wearily make our way back to Shelly’s where we promptly crawled into bed and went to sleep!
The following day, we enjoyed another American pastime – going to the Laundromat! ^_^
Everyone should go to the Laundromat! $3 to do all your washing and drying?
We waited for Mish to get her nails done and then we rented a car for a few hours with Zipcars – you can rent a car from them hourly and it’s not very expensive at all, we went for Greek food and then went to Roosevelt Island between Queens and Manhattan.
We walked from one end to the other, saw the northern lighthouse and the abandoned smallpox hospital at the southern point.
From Roosevelt Island we could see the PepsiCola sign in the distance and decided to try to get to it.
We found it in Long Island City and walked around there for a while before heading back.
Mish let me practise driving an automatic on the let (which I’d never done) in preparation for when I would rent a car here later on and it was breeze.
I’ve missed driving!
We gave the car back and then went with Mish’s mum to a Colombian restaurant in Jackson Heights where we all shared 2 plates as they were so huge!
Portion size here is out of control!
We walked back to Mish’s and say on the front porch for an hour just talking and enjoying the cool night air before bed.
Friday morning, Matt and I put on our walking shoes, grabbed a bagel and got on the 7 train to Manhattan.
We got off at Grand Central to take some photos and then went down to 33rd street to get to the Empire State building.
We knew to get there early and it’s lucky that we did!
We arrived around 10am and it was already quite busy but when we left around 11.30, people were queueing out the door!
We got tickets for both the 86th and 102nd observatories and the views were truly spectacular.
Matt and I are now members of the 102 elite; or so the elevator informed us, not like some weird sex thing.
Unfortunately, there was no King Kong but we later found him chilling in the gift shop.
After we left the Empire State building, we made the arduous trek up 5th Avenue…!
So. Many. Pretties…!
We had 2 missions – find the Apple Store for Matt and Tiffanys for me!
I bought a beautiful little necklace with the Tiffanys lock on it and squealed like a little girl when she handed me that turquoise gift bag with the turquoise box and white ribbon inside.
I’ve never been very girly, but when I had that gift bag in my and, I felt like Audrey Hepburn!
It was love at first sparkle!
We went to the Apple Store so Matt could buy an IPad and had to swiftly leave before I did the same!
We grabbed a sandwich in this narrow but amazing coffee shop where I bought a man his coffee as it was cash only and he only had his card, hopefully he paid it forward like he promised!
We sat in Central Park and ate our lunch then began the trek to Macy’s, past the Plaza hotel and some dandelion fountains until we saw it; Macy’s!
I just wanted something from Macy’s so I bought a scarf in the sale which I got a further 10% off just for being a tourist and some make-up from the Benefit counter before running away from the expensive pretties!
Matt wanted to go to the highline which is a disused railway line that has been converted into a walkway garden.
So we went there and walked along this natural overpass above the city bustle below, blissfully enjoying the shade that buildings and plants provided before heading back to Shelly’s for a rest.
We chilled at home for a few hours or so before getting ready and heading back into Manhattan to Theatre Row to watch Naked Boys Singing.
We were thoroughly impressed – it was excellent!
7 beautiful guys in all their natural beauty singing a mix of heartfelt ballads and comical gems. Fun was had by all!
The next day was a chilled day, I went to the shop to buy a hung-over Mish some ice tea and ginger ale and then we had a big BBQ on the porch with Sangria and just relaxed into the evening with a new, furry friend.
In the morning, we met up with Gallie for IHOP breakfast…… oh my pancakes!
They really shouldn’t write the calories for each dish on the menu…!
Your whole daily allowance in one meal!
After breakfast, we went to the cinema to watch Maleficent – so good!
Mish went to work so Matt and I headed to Bushwick for a free music festival only to arrive and find there was nothing happening. Sad face.
Monday came around again with Matt and I venturing to Brooklyn to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
We walked up through Chinatown and into Little Italy for lunch.
After spaghetti meatballs and cocktails, we ventured uptown a little further to Central Park and stopped into Eve’s Garden to buy some toys unavailable (without embarrassment in China) then went into Central Park to try and find the zoo… which was closing in half and hour…! Boo!
We admitted defeat and headed back to Michel’s, ordered some sushi and vegged out for the evening.
On Tuesday, we went for breakfast, then got on the subway for the long journey to Coney Island.
Now I know why it took the Warriors from the seminal 1979 movie so long to get home, and we weren’t even being chased by rival gangs!
We arrived in Coney Island and were greeted by the most classic Theme Park I’ve ever seen; Wonderwheel, a ghost train, games to win toys (competed in successfully by us, I might add!) and seconds away from the boardwalk and beach.
We stayed and played for hours, had Nathan’s famous hot dogs for lunch and continued playing until around 5pm.
We stopped in a cool artsy store and bought some things before getting back on the subway and napping until we got to downtown Brooklyn, changed trains, hopped in a transfer shuttle bus and got back on the train into Queens. Matt and I got off one stop early for Wendy’s (an apparent ‘must-have’ dining experience!) then walked back to Shelly’s to find Gary (Shelly’s now husband, but fiancé at the time!) had arrived safely from Ireland!
Matt left the following day, so Mish, Gary and I went to the Cinema and then I left early the next morning…