Posts Tagged With: New York

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Times Square (on 8th ave, between 38th and 39th st), 30 October 2015

View from my 32th floor room at Holiday Inn Times Square

I’d initially booked the Holiday Inn Express Times Square South for my second night in NYC, but a week ago, I checked again for 2 double bed availability. As it turns out, the IHG group opened up another new property in Times Square, and this newly-opened had 2 double-bed availability, and got some incredible value out of it. I booked a 2 double-bed view room, which was retailing at close to ~$600 this weekend (whoa!). This property is better than its sister property round the corner, because at the 32nd level, I had great views of the New York City skyline.

Check In/Check Out

I was allowed to check in early at around noon. There was a couple in front of me, but once it was my turn, it probably took all of two minutes. I was thanked for my Platinum loyalty (ha! If only they knew!). I am not sure if it is a platinum benefit, or as the receptionist claimed, “you are only staying one night”, but I was given a complimentary breakfast for two. Check out was also quick, once we managed to take the elevator (more on that later), and was a 30 second affair. Holiday Inn Times Square Bedroom

Room

The decor is significantly more modern than the older Holiday Inn Express from the previous night. The size of the room is fairly similar to the previous room, and the two double beds pretty much took up all the space. There are many USB outlets in the room for charging your regular USB devices, e.g. phones, tablets. I appreciated having some power by the bedside, as I had to charge my electronics on the table the last night.

The coffee machine is not a real coffee machine. It is more like a hot water boiler thing, and they put out two tea bags, and two sachets of coffee. The compact room also has everything you could need – hair dryer, safe, mini refrigerator, iron, ironing board. I didn’t use the closet, but wow, was it narrow! The bed was also very comfortable.

The bathroom just has a shower stall, a pseudo-rain shower, and apparently, they stock Bath and BodyWorks products, but from the signature collection, which I shall characterize as coconut-y. On a random note, the different hotel chains and their different tie-ups with different amenities really lets me experiment – I am not a fan of Bath and BodyWorks.

Now to the main selling point of this room – it was on 8th Ave, and offered amazing views of New York City’s skyline. We could see the Empire State Building from our room, and so, we did spend quite a bit of time simply staring out of our room window.

Holiday Inn Times Square Bathroom

Breakfast

As this Holiday Inn is still new, their in-house breakfast was not available yet (I assumed). We were given vouchers to head towards Beer Authority round the corner for our breakfast. Breakfast was simple. We could choose one item from a menu, and were given coffee/tea and juice. Items ranged from a breakfast bar of muesli, yoghurt, and fruits, to an English breakfast of omelette, fried tomato, tatter tots, bacon and ham. I got the lox bagel, which had a very generous helping of salmon. Holiday Inn Times Square

Overall

I felt I got good value out of this stay with my points, and the view really made this one-night stay amazing. But the hotel is still a work-in-progress. In the morning, during the rush hour for hotel guests traffic, one of the elevators broke down. It probably took us more than 5 mins to get from our room on the 32nd floor to the ground level. This was certainly a cause for angst amongst the hotel guests.

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Categories: IHG, Lodgings, USA | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Express Times Square (39th st & 8th Ave)

IHG Express Times Square

New York hotels are outrageously expensive for what you are getting. Thankfully, I had some (make that a lot) IHG points lying around. Holiday Inn Express Times Square is pretty narrow and tall. It has 36 levels, with 6 rooms on each level. Generally, it is a very efficient operation, but don’t be expecting too much for all the benjamins that you have to shell out to stay here.

Check In

I actually got in at 8 am, and left my bag at the luggage storage. The official check-in time is 4 pm, but after some enquiries, the kind receptionist told me that I probably could check back at 1 pm for availability (which I did). I was also offered a complimentary breakfast when I dropped my bags. Check in was pretty quick – after getting my last name, they just asked me for a credit card as security, and we were good to go. It took all of 2 mins.

My Platinum status was acknowledged, and I was told that I would be given 500 points (??) as a benefit, and was also offered a late check-out to 2 pm (regular check-out is 11 am).

IHG Express Times Square

Room

It is small, and packed two double beds. The bathroom is just adequate, and has a tub. This hotel looks oldish, so the furniture is oldish as well. But they did pack quite a lot of stuff – coffee maker, iron, safe, luggage bench.

I did really like the bed – it was super comfortable, and the linens were really soft. The four pillows are divided into two types – firm and soft, as indicated by the pillow covers.

The bathroom did the job. They stock it with Bath and Body Works products, and I did like the citrus flavors of their shower products. The hot water shower was slightly weird – it tended to get hotter and hotter as I showered. But it was manageable.

Despite being given a room on the 34th floor, there are no views. Well, there is a great view of the building across the street.

Pillow Selection at Holiday Inn

Breakfast

Holiday Inn Express offers complimentary breakfast. My best description of it is deconstructed McDonald’s Big Breakfast and it tasted a lot like McDonald’s. They have pancake machines, bagels, fruits, cereals, pans of sausages, muffins, juices, and omelettes. But the breakfast area is very small, and tended to be crowded. Don’t plan on having a leisurely holiday breakfast here, but if you are just looking to grab some food, it does get the job done.

Overall

It is quite hard for me to judge. This was my first time staying at a NYC hotel. It is an efficient outfit, but if I were paying some 400 USD anywhere else in the world, I would have expected a lot more. I slept really well, the location is great, the staff are efficient, and the room did its job.

Categories: IHG, Lodgings, USA | Tags: , | Leave a comment

USA: New York City, 30 October 2015

6th Ave at duskI only had one goal today – visit the MoMA. My pal wanted to watch a Filipino movie, Insiang, which was screening at 4 pm, and we had to also work out the logistics of switching hotels, so we decided that MoMA will be an afternoon thing.

We spent our morning in midtown, where I looked for a cafe to do some work before lunch. After using the iPhone’s feature of locating cafes nearby, I wound up at Caffe Bene in Koreatown, which is quite a Korean cafe, with a bakery attached. It has quite a lot of seating, and if you like window seats like I do, there are some little tables by the window, and a big co-working table near the window as well. The cafe au lait was ~$2.50. I thought it was a bit too acidic, but drinkable. Caffe BeneIn the late morning, we headed to Wholefoods to grab some of their pre-packaged food for lunch, and enjoyed our early lunch on the steps of the New York Post Office facing the Madison Square Garden, as it was another glorious, sunny, crisp New York fall day, after which, I decided to try my luck checking in early (~noon, regular check in time: 3 pm) at the newly-opened Holiday Inn Times Square. We lucked out, so we got checked in early, and rolled round the corner to check out of Holiday Inn Express Times Square, making the hotel transition seamless.

In the afternoon, we started the trek on foot to MoMA on 6th ave and W 53rd st. MoMA entrance costs $14 for students (with valid ID) and $25 for adults, but they also offer free entrance on Fridays, from 4 pm – 8 pm. My friend strongly advised against us taking up on the free deal, but if you don’t mind the Fall crowds (it’s worse in summer) in MoMA, that could be a way to save some money. I ponied up $25.

MoMAI actually enjoyed the temporary exhibition on Joaquin Torres-Garcia the most. Joaquin Torres-Garcia is an Uruguayan artist, who uses a lot of symbols in his paintings. They involve a lot of color blocks, and global symbols, e.g. shapes, numbers, letters. Some of the labels/explanations are strangely placed, e.g. you only read about that period, after you see the paintings, but otherwise, the MoMA app/complimentary audio guide is actually a good way to enjoy the experience. We also visited the more famous works of the modern art on the 5th story (Ganguin, Monet, Van Gogh, etc) before we ran out of time, and had to catch Insiang (as an aside, Insiang is one disturbing movie). Joaquin Torres GarciaAfter rolling out of MoMA in the evening, we decided to try one of the food trucks, a variation of the Halal Guys. There are like four of them around that junction, two of which have a long line. Apparently, a couple of them are knock offs, but according to this article, the difference isn’t that great. We went with the one with no line, and got ourselves a ridiculously generous portion chicken and gyros over a bed of rice for $7. We walked to Central Park with our take out, and enjoyed our dinner at Central Park, with some fireworks in the background, before taking a leisurely stroll back to our hotel.

I ended my night with the usual horrible, White Castle, which was just one street from our hotel. It is nasty, but I had to do it, just because. 🙂 That sums up my perfect weekend at NYC.

White Castle - so disgusting, but I had to do it

Costs:

Coffee: $2.50

Food: $19 (Lunch: $8, Dinner: $7, White Castle: $4)

MoMA Entry fee: $25

Hotel: $70 + 25000 IHG points

Total: $116.50 + 25000 IHG points

Categories: Museums, USA | Tags: , | Leave a comment

USA: New York City, 29 October 2015

Times Square

I decided on an unplanned trip to New York City, because of a fare sale by JetBlue (damn you, JetBlue!), which sold tickets flying on 31 Oct for $31, including my ~2500 mile trip from NYC to Seattle.

I took a red-eye on Alaska, and arrived in JFK around 7 am. In a prior trip, I took the Airport Shuttle, but this time, I used the public transport system. The AirTran and the New York subway system set me back by $8.75 ($5 for AirTran, $2.75 for subway fare, $1 for metro-card). It took me an hour to get into the city. #Seinfeld #NYC

Love the NYC Fruit StandsAfter dropping my bags at the Holiday Inn Express Times Square, and grabbing a quick complimentary breakfast at the hotel, I headed uptown. I am a huge Seinfeld fan, and one of the things I wanted to check out, was Tom’s Restaurant, the facade for Monk’s Diner on Seinfeld. Google maps screwed me over a little, and after taking the 3 train ($2.75) from Port Authority/42nd st, and popping out at 96, I walked some 20 streets to get up to Tom’s Restaurant around ~110st street and Broadway. It is mostly just a facade, but the walk around the neighborhood was really nice. I enjoyed taking in New York street life, its fruit stands, food cards, and the little shops. I took the 1 train back to mid-town to meet my friend at Grand Central, who came in from Peekskill.

I had no real plans, but I did have some work to do, so there’s probably no better place than the iconic New York Public Library. Unfortunately, the Rose Reading Room was under restoration (argh! second time for me!), so we went to the one across from it, and we both worked on our individual projects for an hour or so. View of Work Today - New York Public Library

After hearing about all the hype about Shake Shack, I wanted to try it for lunch. The line at the Theater District outlet was longish, though the wait probably just took 20 min. I had the Roadhouse Single, and Fries (~$10 total), and well, I’d say, it’s not worth it. It was kinda nice to sit at the tables and cars that they have now scattered around Broadway and Times Square, and just soak in the hustle and bustle of New York City though.

#Graffiti from the HighlineFrom the Highline

After checking in at the hotel, and a quick nap (I didn’t get much sleep on the red eye), we set off for one end of the High Line, at 11th ave and W 30th st. Fully opened in 2014, it used to be the train tracks. Now it is a pedestrian park that is above street level, and offers an interesting view of New York City. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the greenery, the seating spread out on the High Line sure offers a nice respite, and I really enjoyed the graffiti I saw along the way. Our leisurely stroll took about 1 hr (we stopped to watch traffic on 10th ave, and chat), and we finished it off on the other end, which deposited us at the meatpacking district.

FukuWe made our way across Manhattan, from West to East, because I really wanted to eat the Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Fuku, by Momofuku. It was a nice (if somewhat punishing on my feet) walk, as we went by brownstones, and saw a variety of shops, and some ethnic neighborhoods in the walk. It was a crisp fall early evening as well. So no complaints. Fuku is rather small, and easy to miss, so be sure to look at the store numbers if you are trying to locate it. Fuku Spicy Fried Chicken

Fuku by Momofuku only sells one thing – spicy fried chicken sandwich. It is really a simple thing done perfectly. We showed up just as they opened for dinner service (6 pm). There are no seats in this shop, just counters for you to stand, and enjoy your sandwich, and five people running this small, efficient operation. The kitchen basically consists of two fryers, and the tender breaded chicken pieces are fried there, along with fries, if you care for some. It was an excellent chicken sandwich ($8), and along with the fries ($3), this simple dinner won’t break the bank. I probably won’t sell my first-born, or take a special trip down here if I’m in NYC, but I’d still recommend it if you’re in the area.

Bites on BroadwayFollowing dinner, we made the journey back to our hotel. My friend wanted to show me Times Square at night, so we headed in that direction. There are some nice developments (for pedestrians, in any case) in NYC around the main tourist district at the Theater District, around Broadway Ave between 35-45th streets. They reduced lanes for vehicular traffic, and in its place, they placed many tables and chairs for pedestrians to take a break, get a coffee, or eat their meals from the different food trucks. I am not sure if this is permanent, but around 35th st and Broadway Ave, they also have Bites on Broadway, where they have little food stands, serving quite a wide array of cuisines, and you can sit around there and eat your food.

After taking in some of the night scenes in NYC, we retired for the night. I passed out from the lack of sleep. Broadway at night

Costs:

Transport: $14.25 ($8.75/airport + 5.50/uptown)

Food: $21 ($10 lunch, $11 dinner)

Accommodation: 35000 IHG points

Total: $35 +35000 IHG points

Categories: Food, Miles&Points, USA | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Itinerary: Hello Again, Big Apple!, 29 – 31 October 2015

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I am currently on the Asian side of the Pacific, but happened to be awake, when Jetblue had their Halloween fare sale (a lot of flights were going for $31, with taxes all-in). Seattle has direct flights on JetBlue to three cities: Long Beach CA, Boston MA, and New York City NY. I was debating between a same day turn at Long Beach (impossible on JetBlue from Seattle) to visit a friend who moved to SoCal, or short weekend getaway to Boston or NYC. In the end, I settled on NYC. With the amount of traffic they got, it did take a while for me to finally book a flight from NYC to Seattle, but I did it, eventually!

Jetblue

Same day turns to NYC aren’t exactly possible from Seattle, so challenge #2: finding a ticket from Seattle to NYC. This quarter, I got lucky, and have a pretty light and flexible schedule, so, I can leave by Wednesday evening. I plugged in a couple of dates on Google Flights (if you have never used Google Flights, you really should start using it – it’s awesome), and voila! The cheapest is American Airlines at $135, but I do vaguely recall Alaska Airlines having a double miles promotion for its new route to JFK. With some luck, it ends on 28 October – the evening I am planning on departing! While it is slightly more pricey than American Airlines at $159, I still have $58 left in my Alaska wallet, so this brings my out-of-pocket cost down to $100.

So, for $131 USD, I will be flying round trip from Seattle to NYC for a Halloween weekend, and catching up with my dear friend, who I haven’t seen in more than two years!

NYC hotels are incredibly spendy. So far, I have used my IHG points to make redemptions to keep out-of-pocket expenses to $70 for two nights in Times Square hotels. But if anyone has any suggestions on how else to cut costs and saves some points, let me know!

Miles & Points

Accrual

JetBlue is a KrisFlyer partner. While I do have TrueBlue account, JetBlue uses a revenue system, so at $31, I won’t be getting a lot of frequent flyer miles out of this. From what I understand, KrisFlyer will credit 50% of the mileage flown, so getting 1204 miles for $31 seems like better than nothing (and definitely multiples above 186 miles). I am not sure if this is what I will really be getting, but at $31, it is hard to complain.

I recently signed up for Alaska Airlines’ MileagePlan, and credited my SEA-TPA trip to it. With the Double Miles promotion, my MileagePlan will get a nice bump with 4816 miles.

Total:

Krisflyer: 1204 miles

MileagePlan: 4816 miles

Cost: $131 (+ $58 in my Alaska wallet)

Expenditure

I am still trying to make my peace with using up 60000 IHG points, but am slowly coming round to it, after researching on various hotel websites, and checking out Airbnb. There are few ways I can get a better deal. So, what did I redeem with 60000 IHG points?

First night:

I’m looking for rooms with two beds, because my friend is rolling down from Peekskill to join me. This was quite a challenge, and I split up the search into two individual nights. I had success getting an IHG property with two beds for night #1, and was quite amazed by the value I got:

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This is how much the hotel would have cost – $451.03!!! I just redeemed it with 35000 IHG points.

Second night:

The search for a room with two beds was rather futile, so I decided to see what is the best value that I can get for a King bed. I was happy to find an IHG at a great location, and they offer their view rooms (as opposed to standard rooms) at standard redemption rates. A girl can always do with a view! I also got pretty good value out of it.

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Cost: $375.29. I shelled out 25000 IHG points, and $70.

The cheapest place I could find in NYC was $100 per night, at Flushing YMCA. My brother stayed there for a month when he worked in NYC, and said it was dreadful. I am getting about 2 hotel nights worth $825 for 60000 IHG points and $70. I think I’ll live.

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USA – New York City, 15 November 2010

Another late start, no thanks to my inability to wake up in the morning!

It was quite a short itinerary. I mainly wanted to go to the Top of the Rock, and get a bird’s eye view of Manhattan. Being on the ground in Manhattan was a serious strain on my neck – so many skyscrapers.

The view certainly did not disappoint, although the weather was not so kind for photo-taking. Manhattan was certainly a city of skyscrapers. The pedestrians and cars on the ground looked like little ants from the Top of the Rock. It was inspiring just standing there. I do wonder if I will ever live in this vibrant city.

Lunch followed. I bought lunch at Bubba Gump (think this is my fourth!) for M, who was an excellent guide! Then I took another express bus for Newark Airport.

Side note on travelling:

While waiting for the flight, which was overbooked, the flight attendant asked for volunteers to give up their seats, with compensation (400 USD, hotel stay, and food vouchers, guaranteed seat on next flight out). If I did not have a tutorial the next day, I would have taken it. Note to self: build in some flexibility in future trips, so that if the opportunity arises, I can take it.

Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is up, but hidden!

Lower Manhattan from Top of the Rock

Upper Manhattan from Top of the Rock

NYC from Top of the Rock

 

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USA – New York City, 14 November 2010

Another late start today, and we were aiming to get back to Cortlandt Manor by 4 pm, so that M can catch his Giants game, and we can have dinner at his place (I can’t resist steak!)

After arriving at Grand Central, at my behest, we took a subway (M is confused by the subway despite growing up in New York) to the southern tip of Manhattan, emerging at Wall Street, to see the financial center of the US. He also pointed out some old administrative buildings, and told me that New York was also the administrative capital before it moved to Washington D.C. For that reason, there are old administrative buildings to be found in New York.

We headed further south towards Battery Park, as I wanted to take a look at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Thankfully, I didn’t feel particularly compelled to take the boat trip out – there sure as hell was a long queue for that! We walked past several other landmarks/memorials, like the Korean War Memorial, and Fort Clinton.

Then, we headed north towards the Ground Zero Memorial site. It is a shame that it was covered, but M did tell me about what happened to some of the buildings around it.

Next stop, we went to Chinatown, and Little Italy (which was really little). I thought it was quite interesting that some of the shops have both Chinese and Vietnamese signs. I do wonder why. Hopefully I will find out some day. We also stopped for lunch in one of the restaurants, which was ok, and had a massive portion. Neither of us could finish our food. Along the way, we also saw the NYU campus, which was kinda scattered across town.

After some three hours of walking, we did finally managed to cover the forty blocks from Grand Central to the southern tip of Manhattan. With some time to spare for our train back to Peekskill, we ventured into the New York Public Library. It was a shame we never quite managed to find the reading room. Would have been cool to take a cook at the collection!

(The Giants lost that game)

Endless Skyscrapers of New York City

Chinese restaurant with Vietnamese signs in Chinatown, NYC

Old trade of clothes mending still available in Chinatown, NYC

Chinatown

Skybridge

New York Public Library

Categories: Architecture, Sights, USA | Tags: , | Leave a comment

USA – Brooklyn, 12 November 2010

I decided to explore Brooklyn today, particularly Coney Island, as it is one of the first theme parks of its kind. Although it was off season, and the carnival is gone, and the town was semi-dead with lots of shutters down, I still enjoyed the trip!

The boardwalk and the beach was very tranquil, and a nice escape from the bustle of the city. And it being off season, I got the enjoy it without too many people. It was a pretty nice walk, and figuring out the subway to get there was also an adventure for me. Metro cards cost about 2 or 2.50 USD a trip, and are good for 2 hours. A day ticket is about 8 USD. So, unless you are going to be travelling for more than 8 hours straight on the subway, there is no reason to get a day ticket. The maps on the subway are pretty self-explanatory.

After a stroll in Coney Island, I turned back to Brooklyn, to walk across the Brooklyn bridge, and see Manhattan light up at night. It was a pretty nice walk. The pedestrian part of the bridge is somewhat above the part for cars, and as I walked towards Manhattan, I could see the skyline of east Manhattan, and all the shimmering lights. That’s pretty cool for a free experience.

Following the walk, at the suggestion of C, I decided to check out Katz’s deli of When Harry met Sally fame. Thankfully, it was pretty easy to locate, and there wasn’t a crazy queue. If this were Singapore, I’d never get to the entrance. I took away some pastrami and beef brisket to share with the kind D family, who was hosting me for this trip.

Nathan’s – an institution in Coney Island

RIP Ruby’s at Coney Island

Wonder Wheel

Beach

Brooklyn Bridge by night

Manhattan by night

Katz’s

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USA – New York City, 11 November 2010

I took the opportunity of the Veterans’ Day weekend to take my first trip to the East Coast of the US. First stop? Big Apple.

Flying into Newark was a breeze. I took the Newark Airport Express , which was about 25 USD for a return ticket. That brought me to the Grand Central Station in Manhattan in about 45 min.

As it was the Veterans’ Day parade, M and I spent time trying to avoid getting caught in it, so much of our time was spent with him trying to show me the sights, while dodging the parade. We managed to see the Rockefeller Center, the ice rink in front of it (I started this trip with grand plans to skate in it), and took a long walk in Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum.

We spent a fair amount of time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has quite a broad definition of art. Interesting, my favourite gallery is not of the paintings (there are quite a few Van Goghs), but the one of weapons, and armour, and how ornate they were. It tickles me to imagine a macho man holding a pistol that has elaborate flower designs. 😛

They have a pay as much as you want (recommended price: 20USD) system for entry. I paid 10 USD, since I am a student, and that is the recommended price. Ok, if M didn’t pay, I think I might have just like paid 5 USD or something. But in any case, it is worth your every buck, and well, it takes a while.

After the Met, I was dead beat, as I barely got any sleep on the plane to New York. We eventually ended up at White Castle, as I had to try it after watching Harrod and Kumar go to White Castle. The burgers were tiny, and not spectacular, but I can imagine how it would be good party food. When I was placing my order, a couple of guys came in to get like 300 sliders to go.

Grand Central

Inside Grand Central

30 Rock

Ice Rink in front of Rockefeller

Skating rink in Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Beautiful Pistol

Van Gogh

White Castle

Horse Patrol

Times Square at night

Nautical theme

Categories: Architecture, Food, Museums, USA | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Upcoming Trip: USA – New York, 11-15 November 2010

11-15 November: New York

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