'New York, New York': flying and the Chelsea District01 Jun 2016
Just over a month ago, Dave and I travelled to New York City for a five day break - it was his first trip and my third, so I showed him the sights and we found a few new interesting places on our travels, too. I’ve written up what we did during our time there; it’s done by district as a (mostly) day by day account. We fit in so much each day that there’s quite a lot to cover. I’ll probably have five or so ‘episodes’, if you will, about what we got up to so that it’s not one massively long post!
I’ve also tried to include some helpful tips and links to cool places to see and eat that we visited whilst we were there. If you’re planning a trip in the near future, you might find something that piques your interest, so sit back, grab a cup of tea and have a read.
Having woken up at 4:30am, we made a sleepy journey (fuelled by nervous energy and excitement) to Heathrow for our flights to JFK. I’m a bit of a nervous flyer and like to have plenty of time to get through security and wander around the terminal before boarding the plane. Whilst I thought I’d left ages for us to get there and get checked in etc, the time actually went really quickly. Thankfully, all we had to do was hand our bags over as I’d checked into the flight online. Very grateful for Apple Wallet - we found out a few days before leaving that you can use it to store your boarding passes for flights. Security wasn’t busy either, which was a plus.
We flew with Virgin Atlantic. Given the choice, I would do all the time. It’s not amazingly luxurious, especially in Economy class, but they seem much better equipped than other airlines I’ve travelled on. The in-flight entertainment is really good, too. Because of the airline and times of flights I’d chosen, it meant we were flying into and out of two different airports: coming in to JFK and leaving from Newark. It’s not a massive deal; it just means you have to remember to go to the right airport at the end of the holiday! However, there is a huge difference between the quality of the two airports. The gate we departed from at Newark was ridiculously small and we’d annoyingly left way more time than we eventually needed. Security at that end took us less than 10 minutes to get through. This left us with over three hours at a departure lounge that had a convenience store, some duty free and a crappy bar. It did have free charging stations for your phone, though.
Newark is about 20 minutes further from Manhattan than JFK (and across state lines). I’ve experienced traffic from each of them to the city and both are usually pretty bad, depending on the time, so keep that in mind. When we arrived into JFK, we discovered the taxi companies had set up a system that means you only have to pay a flat rate (around $52 plus tax and tolls, as well as a tip). To Newark, it ended up costing us twice that much, in part because we were paying by card. Tipping is a BIG DEAL in America and you won’t get away with not doing it. Using the debit/credit card option in the taxi meant that we had to tip and not the usual $2-3 I would normally give a cab driver - the tip alone cost $20. A silly mistake on our part, but expect to pay around $90-100 to and from Newark if you’re getting a cab.
On the way into Manhattan, the traffic was heavy, but flowing. Our driver apparently knew some shortcuts, as he weaved his way through the more residential areas, pushing back into the throng of cars on the Midtown Expressway. Both of us were exhausted by this point, but seeing the buildings looming up ahead made it all worth it.
On the Friday, around lunch time, we took a lazy walk from near Macy’s down to Chelsea. It was a greyish, hazy day, but warm. The area was quite residential, with a few people walking their dogs or riding bikes, making it seem pretty quiet by Manhattan standards. Lots of places to stop for a bite to eat or a coffee, but we already had plans.
I’d heard of the Chelsea Market, something akin to Borough Market in London or St Nicks in Bristol. It boasted some interesting places for food, both to eat in and to shop. There are also some designer stores that have set up, as well. There was so much to see - it extends back a few blocks and goes up about three floors - that we didn’t have time to check it all out. If you get to live in Manhattan for any length of time, I bet it would be a good place to try all the different options on the weekends.
After wandering around for a while, we decided to stop at the Creamline - an old school diner/creamery type pop up. I guess it’s named after the High Line not far from there. Despite the milkshakes and burgers on offer, my eyes went straight to the fried chicken sandwich. Presented in a pretty crappy burger bun, the actual chicken was delicious. Dave and I shared one of their vanilla milkshakes and the most sour fresh lemonade I’ve ever tried, both of which were very tasty. Near the back of the place is an open market for vintage and independent seller stalls. I found an unusual style galaxy print top that I decided to buy. Still not used to the currency exchange, it was actually quite expensive, but it looked really nice on, so I guess it was worth it .
By that point, the jet lag had caught up with us somewhat. As it was twenty or so blocks walk, we decided to head back to the hotel and rest before going out again later. Lots of people had suggested we check out the High Line walkway. Despite almost dismissing it, I saw it about a block away from Chelsea Market, and we decided to take advantage of the proximity. It turned out that it took us almost all the way back to 38th, so we ended up following most of it. I can see why people like it. A green space elevated above the busy streets, it’s a peaceful place to wander or just sit for a while. A fair few tourists, but that didn’t matter. There were lots of opportunities for photos. All of the architecture that’s been built nearby have taken the old ‘el’ tracks into account, with new buildings designed around the structure, which makes it all blend together. I could’ve stayed up there for ages, but time is at a premium when you’re not staying for very long.
We met up with some really cool people that evening: Zach (@zachinglis), a Twitter friend of Dave’s, and his business partner, Laura (@teawithlemon) - they’re the organisers of the Hybrid conference (@hybridconf) that’s going to be in Berlin this year. I’d looked up a restaurant called Tavern on Jane that’s actually on the border between Chelsea and Greenwich Village as it seemed like it did good food. It turned out to be a really great evening. The food was good and the company even better. Zach and Laura, both working out of Brooklyn at the minute, were incredibly kind and obliged us with every question about New York culture that we could fire at them. I had roasted chicken with creamy mash and spinach in a ‘pan jus’ - pretty much my favourite meal ever. Would definitely go back again as it was very reasonable and had a nice atmosphere to the place. Restaurants in America have some subtle differences that would be great if we adopted them over here: in almost every one we went to, we were given chilled tap water, which was refreshed at multiple opportunities. They’re also super keen on letting you take your meal home if you can’t finish it, something which is almost frowned upon here. Calling it an early night, we said goodbye to Zach and Laura, and got a cab back to the hotel (heels and walking over ten miles a day don’t really mix).
A few nights later, we tried the Standard Grill at the Standard Hotel. One that I’d seen on Ina Garten’s Barefoot in the City programme, I really wanted to go for their “Million Dollar Chicken” (you can see, there’s a chicken theme going on here). It was a bit more upscale than anywhere else we’d been, which gave us a chance to dress up. Unable to work out the booking app that they used (damn US phone numbers), we took a chance and just turned up on the recommendation of our hotel concierge. They were able to accommodate us with a 45 minute wait - something you probably wouldn’t stand for in the UK! Long waiting times for a table appears to be the norm in New York. Whilst we were at the bar, I asked for a soft drink and the bartender offered us the only thing they did without alcohol - a seasonal mocktail that I couldn’t have due to allergies, so instead he made me a strawberry lemonade from scratch. It was delicious. I downed two of them before we were seated, then we ordered the roast chicken for two. It didn’t disappoint. A large skillet with a whole chicken cut into pieces and large chunks of sourdough doused in a ‘pan jus’ (again), served with brasserie style french fries. If it weren’t for the somewhat snooty waitress and an incredibly disruptive party that came in about 10pm, it would’ve been a perfect date night; something we’ve not done in a while and really enjoyed. Even so, it was a good experience. I’d love to go back to Chelsea and spend the day exploring. It reminded me a little of Soho, only slightly cleaner. Cobbled streets, boutique style shops and lots of coffee shops, there is a lot on offer.