27 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - One World Trade Center

Visiting the One World Trade Center was not part of our original itinerary. We thought it might be depressing to visit the site where the twin towers once stood. I was up late watching CNN when it happened. Saw it live on cable TV when the second plane hit. When I woke up the next day, the world has changed.
One World Trade Center

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Lower Manhattan

Half a day remains before we leave New York. Next in the itinerary was Wall Street and The World Trade Center. I thought that wall street would be the place with the least tourists in all Manhattan. But I was wrong. So wrong.

Wall Street Station

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Ellis Island

A seemingly uninviting island compared to Liberty Island, it would be a crime not to visit Ellis Island and miss the opportunity to appreciate how this small island changed the landscape of the United States.
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
We stopped here on our way to Liberty Island but didn't go inside. On our way to Battery Park, Ellis Island was again a stop and we gave in.

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Lady Liberty's Pedestal

With Crown access not possible, the next best thing was Liberty's Pedestal access. Rerouting to New Jersey just to gain entry to the pedestal, we finally arrived at Liberty Island.
The Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline
The island was small, small enough that even with picture stops, you can circle the entire island in half an hour. You have a great view of the Manhattan skyline from the island and an up-close view of Lady Liberty.

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Lady Liberty

Our last day in New York and we saved the best for last. Nothing screams U.S.A. louder than the Statue of Liberty.
The Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World)
We were supposed to visit Lady Liberty with the hopes of going up the crown. We waited in vain for our White House tour confirmation that never was before we booked our Liberty tickets and we ran out of Crown access tickets. The next best thing was the Pedestal access but that too ran out. There was still a chance to at least reach the Pedestal but for that we needed to go to New Jersey.

Our Journey To The White House - Race to the Greyhound

Less than an hour remains before our bus back to New York leaves. Union Station is just around 5 kilometers from the MLK Memorial and should take just about 15 minutes. But with a wrong turn and some heavy traffic, we were doomed to miss the bus.
Inside Union Station in DC
It's already 3:40PM and we're still a few blocks away from the station. From a distance you could see that some stupid errant drivers plus traffic lights were causing our delay. Just a block away we decided to get off and make a run for it. We only had 15 minutes left and we still need to find where the buses are.

26 November 2017

Our Journey To The White House - Chasing Abe II

Seeing The Washington Monument was both a thrill and a relief. A thrill because I just recently saw Spiderman Homecoming and a relief because after an hour of walking, we can finally start the tour.

The Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
Before we started the tour as suggested by the app, we took a detour to The White House. And since we did not secure a tour inside the residence of the US President we were forced to just look from the outside. 

Our Journey To The White House - Chasing Abe

More than The White House, it's the statue of a sitting Abraham Lincoln I'm most excited to see. I've downloaded an app called the NPS National Mall from Google Play which features sites around DC with suggested itineraries, maps, and estimated walking times between sites. It has a Four-Hour Tour which I thought was perfect for us. I was wrong.

Columbus Circle in front of Washington Union Station

25 November 2017

Our Journey To The White House - NY to DC on Amtrak

We arrived at New York Penn Station by 7:30AM and still had some time to grab a quick breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts. For a first time Amtrak traveler, it wasn't that hard to figure things out. We just followed the crowd. After spending a few more minutes in the waiting area, we saw people lining up on our assigned track. That was our cue.
Penn Station Amtrak Waiting Area 

24 November 2017

Our Journey To The White House - Getting There

Washington, D.C. is accessible through a number of transportation options. I've always been fascinated with trains and wanted to experience a long distance train ride so we planned on taking the Amtrak to and from Washington.

Our Journey To The White House - The Final Strike

With two White House tour rejections on our belt, one from a congresswoman and another from a senator, our final hope was at the hands of The Philippine Embassy. A day before we left for the US, we sent all details, our passports, our US address, our marriage certificates, everything. I would've even sent some "oil" for our request to "slide through" if that's what it takes for us to go inside The White House or just to have a final answer. It was messing up our New York plans.

Our Journey To The White House - Taking Chances

Our initial White House tour rejection did not discourage us from taking another shot at getting in. Aside from Congresswoman Norton, we also emailed the Philippine Embassy but it took them more than 2 weeks to respond. While waiting for the embassy's response, if any, we also requested a tour through New York Senator Chuck Schumer's website. We still had 2 strikes left.

23 November 2017

Our Journey To The White House

Philippine Airlines flights from Manila to New York fly only 4 times a week. While we initially wanted to go back to Manila by Friday, PAL's schedule would not allow it and we were forced to stay another day in the US. Making most of the situation, we looked into the possibility of squeezing in a DC side trip to our NY side trip.

The White House
With a little googling research, I found out that the famous landmarks of DC are within walking distance from each other making it perfect for a day trip. My wife found out that it's even possible to go inside The White House. And so our journey to The White House begins.

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Top of The Rock

The view from The Empire State Building was breathtaking but it seems like there's something missing. You can see The Chrysler Building, The One World Trade Center, and even a tiny dot that is The Statue of Liberty. You can't see The Empire State Building if you're standing on the building itself. Enter the Top of the Rock.

View from the Top of The Rock

22 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - From Central Perk to Central Park

We didn't have enough time to take in our F.R.I.E.N.D.S. circle. It's already 3PM and we still have museums and Central Park to conquer. We found ourselves on the subway again this time travelling uptown to the Museum of Modern Art.
Gapstow Bridge at Central Park

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

No question, it was the TV sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S. who ingrained New York City on my mind at an early age. I believe it was on channel 5, then known as ABC 5, that I started to follow the Ross and Rachel story. Back in the day when TV shows only air a week at a time, I found a cable TV channel that played a FRIENDS marathon from midnight til dawn. It was my first ever case of binge watching and the consequential sleeping in class the next morning was worth it!

The F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Apartment

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - The Brooklyn Bridge

After covering a lot of track a day before, we rewarded ourselves with a late start for the day. And when a say a lot, I mean A LOT! I was thinking of covering our first full day of New York City travelling in 1 post but later on it I found myself writing 6 entries (SoHo, the subway, Midtown Manhattan, The NY Public Library, Broadway, and The Empire State Building)  just to cover that day!
The Brooklyn Bridge
It's past 10AM and we're on the subway again, this time to go to the Brooklyn Bridge. One of the nearest subway station from our AirBnB was 34th St. - Penn station which is located just beside the world famous Madison Square Garden. So before we hopped on the train, I forced kindly asked my wife to circle the block to look for the familiar entry gate I saw on tv every time Reggie was killing the Knicks back in the 90s.

20 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Empire State of Mind

Of all the towering skyscrapers of New York, nothing beats the charm of the Empire State Building. A hazy recollection of Sleepless In Seattle scenes cemented the icon building on my mind and I wanted to go up that observation deck ever since.
View from The Empire State Building at Night

18 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Miss Saigon's Final Broadway Performance

Of all Broadway shows, why Miss Saigon? Well it started about 3 years ago on a trip to Cambodia. On our flight home, an American beside me started some small talk which after a few minutes ended up with him wondering why I haven't seen Miss Saigon yet or at least know the story. I'm also wondering why people find it easy to talk to me randomly. First of all it's a Vietnamese story and I'm Filipino and the only link we have back then to Miss Saigon was Lea Salonga. The guy insisted that I watch the show and now I'm glad I did.
Miss Saigon at The Broadway Theater

17 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Waldorf and Winnie

Just a month before our US trip, I went to Davao for an event. I was sitting next to a guy who can't seem to keep himself from noticing what I was watching on my mobile. I was being entertained by the cast of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia at that time and he said that his son watches the same show back home. A couple more small talk topics and next thing you know we were talking about New York and the Waldorf Astoria.
The Waldorf Astoria

16 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Midtown Manhattan

Start spreading the news... I want to be a part of it, New York, New York! I hear that song and I can already imagine the skyscrapers all around me. Most of the famous New York buildings and landmarks are mostly found in Midtown Manhattan and we felt it would be best to book a free walking tour again in the afternoon.

From the confirmation email we received, the tour starts 2PM. This time we won't be late! The email has everything you need to know on how to get to the meeting point complete with maps and a picture of the place and a picture of your guide. We took the F train and got off at 42 St. - Bryant Park station.

15 November 2017

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - The NYC Subway

From Canal Street we were en route to Union Square to meet my uncle for lunch. Again we used the subway which is the most efficient transport system in NYC! Some people might be overwhelmed by the complicated lines labeled with numbers and letters but fortunately, technology saves the day!

Screenshot from Google Play
I highly recommend downloading the MyTransit NYC Subway app. I consider myself good with maps and subway lines but this app was a lifesaver. Unlike other subway systems in Asia, the NYC subway have trains that have overlapping routes. Being aware of the train numbers/letters is important! But with this app, navigating New York was a breeze thanks to its built-in trip planner where you just plot start and end points and the app will tell you which train to catch.

If you check the reviews on Google Play, if you see some negative comments, it's almost always from locals complaining of the supposed not so accurate updates such as service disruptions. But for first time visitors and tourists this is definitely a must download.

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown

For the days ahead, since we will be using the subway a lot, we purchased an MTA MetroCard with unlimited rides for 7 days. Metrocard machines are available in all stations where you just pick the card type, pay, and you'll have a Metrocard in an instant. The 7-day unlimited MetroCard costs $33 or Php1,750 (as reflected in my credit card bill).

NYC subway
While touring New York City on your own is good, it is definitely better with some information on what you're looking at. For this reason, plus the great tripadvisor reviews, we decided to join a FREE walking tour of NYC. This service is a great choice as you only pay what you want or what you can. If you're not happy with the guide or don't have plans of paying at all, it's ok! One guy left the group midway and did not pay for his tour! We booked the 9:45AM walking tour of SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown.

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget - Touchdown

After all the preparations, it's time to BE in New York City! Arriving past 5PM at JFK, we booked a Lyft to our AirBnB. Now I usually book Uber in the US but Lyft was having a 5 dollar off promo for my first 3 rides so Lyft it is!

at JFK Airport
But even with the promo, the ride cost us USD72.19 or roughly Php3,700 for a more than an hour trip to West 37th Street.

The Big Apple On A Not So Big Budget

Show of hands who doesn't want to go to New York?! Yeah, I thought so. An opportunity to see the sights and sounds of the city that you only see in movies and tv shows does not come very often, if at all. So when the company I work with rewarded us with a trip to LA and San Francisco, my wife and I didn't hesitate to fly to New York for an extended trip!
The City That Never Sleeps (view from Top of the Rock)
Travelling to the US is very expensive by Philippine standards! Like a Big Mac meal which is less than Php200 here is around Php500 in the US! Planning would be crucial to cut on costs. First on the list is the flight from San Francisco to New York.

There are a lot of flights from SFO to NY to choose from. But thanks to the ThankYou Rewards website of Citibank, we were able to check which flights we can get using my credit card miles. We got the Delta 412 flight leaving SFO 8:40AM and arriving at JFK 5:15PM. While we got this flight for free using miles, checking the Delta App on my phone shows a USD214.20 per person receipt. That's Php21,000 savings! There are cheaper flights but these are the flights that are scheduled in the wee hours of the night.