Get ready for a mammoth post. I took my first solo trip to New York City in April and I’m going to tell you all about it. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably, have a snack and some uninterrupted reading time because this post is going to be full of detail. I’ll try to include some advice for vacationing solo as a woman and how to eat cheaply – good stuff like that.
It had been 3 years since my last holiday, which was Geneva, Switzerland. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit New York City. In particular, Manhattan. If you were an avid viewer of SATC and Gossip Girl you’d understand why I’m obsessed with the place. The glitz, glamour and class that seems to ooze from the Upper East Side. The hipster paradise of the East Village, the capitalist metropolis that is Midtown. No small detail but I also went on my own. I deliberately didn’t share this information with anyone as I imagined people would try to dissuade me from going (which some did). My mind was already set. I was going on holiday and my enjoyment would be in my control and no one else’s.
My mom was a little worried about me going alone but I reassured her that I would be extra cautious and not act like an idiot just because I’m abroad. The great thing about New York City is even when it is late at night, the streets are never deserted. I booked my hotel and flights through lastminute.com (not a sponsored mention obviously) and that way my taxes and transfers were sorted. I was hoping to do the Airbnb thing but it was proving much too stressful.
I flew from Birmingham Airport and my mom was kind enough to drop me off. I had a really nice lady at the airport check me in. She complimented my name, smile and wished me a safe journey. The duty free at Birmingham Airport is really good, but I couldn’t afford to take full advantage as I knew I’d need money to eat!
Instead of chilling out near duty free I walked all the way to my gate, a whole hour before it opened. I guess you could say I was eager. I spoke to my mom for a good half hour and then said goodbye. The gate opened little after 5am. The flight was 5:50am. I was mega tired as I hadn’t slept and did most of my packing just before leaving. I say I, but my sister did the majority. She is a badass at packing and made sure I didn’t overpack. The limit was 23kg for my hold luggage, and mine was only 17kg! I could take a cabin case and a bag with me which was very good. I brought my laptop with me, intending to blog day by day but that did NOT happen. I was much too tired every day/night getting back to the hotel after exploring.
I flew from Birmingham to Frankfurt, Germany which was a short layover of about 2 hours. From Frankfurt we flew to JFK Airport. Now since I haven’t been on a long flight since 2009 (Orlando, Florida) I had no idea how much planes had changed.
We have TVs in the seats now?! We have a choice of what movies we can watch?! This is awesome!
I decided to fly with Lufthansa who my mom recommended as she’s flown with them more than once before. The cabin crew were nice. The airplane food wasn’t great and if you’re a pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan or have any other dietary requirements, dear God make sure you tell them before you fly. I did not do this and suffered the consequences. We shall say no more about that.
I kept taking photos of the screen in front of me that showed how far we had flown and how soon before we arrived in New York. I slept on and off. Before you know it we would arrive in less than 40 minutes. I set my watch and phone to NYC time. We arrived in NYC and it was warm. I joined the line for those with first time ESTA forms. I remember US Customs being rude as hell the last time I was in the States.
Customs were no different this time. Once they got my finger prints, for some irritating reason I was forced to go to the agriculture section in the airport. I’d already filled in my Customs form and checked ”no” for possessing any agriculture (meat, plants, fruit, vegetables and live animals). The man monitoring it asked me what I had to declare. My irritation was undisguised in my tone. Gone was my desire to project the stereotype of the polite Brit.
”I have nothing to declare but your colleague made me come here.”
I put my hold luggage on the belt and it was scanned. Then I took my luggage and went on my way. JFK is a huge airport and funnily enough the same day I arrived (19 April) they arrested two men from Dominica who tried to smuggle 23 pounds of cocaine into the country.
I followed the signs to where I could order my shuttle to my hotel. My shuttle came in about 20 minutes, it picked up a few more passengers from different terminals and then we were finally off to Manhattan. As we were just about to leave the airport I SWEAR I saw Amber Rose.
Anyway, the journey took nearly 2 hours with the drop offs and traffic. I was dying of tiredness and needed a coffee the size of my head. Once we hit Times Square my eyes were like saucers. Seeing all the people, lights and yellow cabs woke me up.
I stepped out to let some passengers off. They were staying at Trump Hotel on the Upper West Side. The first smell that greeted me was wee. And I better get used to it because I’d be smelling a lot of wee and rubbish for my entire holiday! No matter where I was, even on the Upper East Side, I would notice the smell of wee. Ew. That’s another thing about New York City. They have NO public restrooms. Yes, you heard me. So you can’t just roll up into a Starbucks and relieve yourself, because guess what? If that Starbucks seats less than 20 people in there, you won’t find a bathroom to use! More on that later.
The Marrakech Hotel NYC
The Marrakech Hotel is located on the Upper West Side. It’s right next door to Starbucks which was perfect! Not to mention the Subway. All rooms come with free WiFi and a private bathroom. The only downside was the hotel didn’t have a lift. It was a fifth floor walk-up. I knew this before hand, but seeing stairs behind the entrance door was still a shock! For a tip you can have the busboys carry your luggage for you and there was no way I was gonna risk mashing up my back by tackling my luggage myself.
My bed was soft like a marshmallow so to combat this I slept on the side, much like I do at home. There was a little aircon machine which I used a lot as getting ready in the mornings whilst planning where to go made me sweat! I was grateful for the little 24 hour deli shop just across the road. I stocked up on tonic water, Evian, juice and snacks as you do. I also got some dollars out at an indoor ATM. Apparently, changing your money whilst in the country, rather than using an Exchange service is much cheaper.
So now I had water, snacks and money which meant I was ready for tomorrow which meant my first time on the New York City Subway!
Now, the NYC Subway is the fastest way to get round the city without a doubt. It’s really cheap, too. I paid only $32 for a week’s worth of travel including the bus. However, down in the Subway isn’t very pleasant. It smells like wee (here we go again); sometimes you may find a poor homeless person sleeping on the stairs as you descend and it is crow-ded. Unfortunately, I don’t come from old money, so I wouldn’t get to channel Blair Waldorf in a yellow taxi cruising the city streets. The Subway would be my primary mode of transportation, bar my feet.
The one thing I noticed was it’s impossible to change subway cars once you’re on. This is a problem if you find yourself in a carriage full of weirdos. I distinctly remember making my way back to the hotel one evening and instead of rushing to get on a carriage, letting the train carriages pass me by slowly. I surveyed the carriages and honed in on a man who was blowing into a long metal pipe as he sat in his seat. I don’t know if he mistook his long metal pipe for a musical instrument but I could tell by the bemused expressions and vacant seats on either side of him that it wasn’t appreciated.
They have local and express lines and I never understood the difference so can’t comment on that!
The seats are proper tiny and the average person will find themselves spilling into the next seat. Also the carriage walls on one particular journey legit smelled like tramp. Not lying to you. I could smell something frowsy and thought: ‘’I know that’s not me’’. I discreetly sniffed the wall and was shocked to discover this was the source. A woman sitting across from me noticed what I did and was chuckling to herself.
A word of warning: Not all subway entrances are open 24 hours a day. I didn’t realise that some subway entrances close by 10pm! This was a crucial detail of which I was not aware and was the primary reason I got lost for the second time. More on that later!
Day One – Getting a bit lost
I had a shower, got dressed, did my makeup and researched where I wanted to go and how the hell to get there. Thankfully, there’s an entrance to the subway only a few yards away from my hotel which was very convenient. I went underground, greeted by the smell of wee once again and bought a metro ticket for a week from the machine.
I didn’t have a clue which entry way to walk through so asked the assistants behind the desk. They were really helpful and told me how best to get to 50th Street. I wanted to do a dummy run to the Palace Hotel as I had my Gossip Girl tour booked for Saturday. I made my way down the steps and took note it was Downtown, South Ferry. This would be my first subway ride in Manhattan!
I was excited but nervous as I’d read horror stories of women being molested and worse on packed subway cars. I made damn sure not to stand near any men if the car was packed and to watch my bag/pockets. I was all prepared to stay alert and get off at 50th Street. However, I did not account for the amazing undiscovered musicians who frequent the Subway!
I promise you, I was totally ready to get off at 50th Street, but these musicians hopped on and played some great music. They sang and pounded on their drums. After their short performance they went around with their ”magic bag” asking for donations. I was too shy on the first day in NYC, so didn’t film them. I was so transfixed that I missed my darn stop. It wasn’t a disaster as I got off at 42nd Street which I didn’t realise was Times Square.
There’s numerous exits out of 42nd Street but the one I happened to pick led me to nirvana, otherwise known as Sephora!
I couldn’t stop chuckling to myself as I rode up the escalator. Being inside Sephora was like being in a magical candy land, surrounded by high-end beauty and skincare. Inside I was screaming: ”I’m in Sephora!” I didn’t betray how excited I was and instead calmly asked for a basket and walked around making sure to soak up the atmosphere.
I quickly found some matte liquid lipsticks. I chose two from the Sephora Collection. One for mom and one for me. For ages, my mom has been whinging that she doesn’t have a pigmented orange lipstick (how awesome is my mom? She’s not afraid of colour) so I made sure to get one. I chose Mandarin Muse after swatching it on my hand. One of the MUAs was wearing a badass dark green one. I asked her which one it was and she told me it was Dark Forest. I picked one up. I LOVE it.
Did you know their liquid lipsticks (they call them lip stains) smell like toffee?! I have NEVER owned a cosmetic that smelled so good. It smells even better than my Too Faced Chocolate Bar palette. Such a pleasant surprise. This post is turning into a beauty review but I’m going to go with it. This is now my favourite matte liquid lipstick. It was so easy to apply. The applicator is nice and small (smaller than my Coloured Raine doefoot) and I was stunned at how quickly I had a dark neat green lip. I also picked up Crimson Crush and Black Cherry. I loved Dark Forest so much I bought two.
Attraction 1- Madame Tussauds NYC
After leaving Sephora I walked around Times Square and found Madame Tussauds. Funnily enough, it was never on my agenda, but seeing how my NYC Explorer Pass was valid for 7 attractions I decided to go in. The queue was no where near as ridiculous as London’s Madame Tussauds on the bank holiday Monday. I was able to join the VIP queue with my pass. I made my way up the stairs and the first waxwork was PINK hanging from cable wires.
Staff stop you and put you next to a huge Statue of Liberty head and give you props and take 3 photos of you. I took my time walking around. I took loads of photos and people politely offered to take photos of me which was really nice. I returned the favour to this really nice lady who spoke a language I didn’t understand. She offered to take my photo with Barack and Michelle Obama 🙂 Another lady took a photo of me with E.T. 🙂
I really enjoyed Madame Tussauds. The waxworks are amazing and there’s loads of facts and history on the walls so you know how much work goes into each one. The Johnny Depp one was rubbish, though. This looks nothing like him!
My favourite photos were my professional ones taken by the staff in front of the green screens. I remember standing in front of my second green screen and the guy asked me if I do acting. I said no and he said I seem very comfortable in front of the green screen 😀 That produced my favourite photo, me looking scared of dinosaurs chasing me! 😀 I bought 3 of the 6 photos I took which cost me $30 dollars, $45 if I bought digital copies. One photo was $25 so I’m chuffed I ended up really liking 3 of them. I wish I did buy digital copies now so I could have blown them up. It was my first day out, though and I was trying to watch how much I spent.
Eating on a Budget
After Madame Tussauds I realised I was hungry and needed the loo. At this point, I didn’t realise how dire the bathroom situation was and it must have been through instinct that I decided to hop back on the subway to eat and use the loo. There was a great bagel shop two blocks from my hotel. I had a 20% discount code and used it loads. I had a salmon bagel which was nice but expensive. I realised how thirsty I was so drank loads of orange juice and water I’d bought from the 24 grocery shop just across the road.
Aside from the bagel shop, the awesome food trucks would keep me nourished for 8 days. My favourite meals were the falafel gyros and the chicken with rice. I did not get sick of them and they were so cheap. Only $4!!!
Now, I realise I’ve written nearly 3000 words and this is only my first day in NYC. So come back and I will post all about day 2, the Gossip Girl Tour!
Love blackpistachio x