Oct 14

I Heart America – Five days in New York



Lady Liberty_foodflurries



New York! New York!

It is September 2016. Oh my goodness, I am still pinching myself. Did this trip really happen?? Did I really just take a month off work to travel around America on a roadtrip that would see us cross fourteen state lines plus a border crossing over into Canada? Long have I dreamed of seeing the shores of America, to walk on the streets of New York and to experience the leaf season of New England. And now I have.


This all came about roughly in March when our beloved dog died from cancer. Yes, the big goof is no more; we had to put him down and it broke our hearts. We thought about replacing him fairly quickly with another Bernese but could not bring ourselves to do it. Replacing Doopey so quickly just did not feel right for us and we needed a bit more time to deal with the loss. Three months later we moved out of the house we were in and moved to an apartment building which has a ‘no pets’ policy so that basically put a stop to any more dog replacing schemes we had at least for the next 12-months. But now that we couldn’t get a dog we realized it also freed us up for more extended travels abroad without worrying about kenneling and leaving him to be looked after by strangers for too long.


Since we got Doopey 4-years ago he always came with us on all our holidays on the continent when we were able to take the car, except that one time when we went to Croatia and had to fly there. But when that happens he always went to our friend’s house and she had a Poodle which got on very well with Doopey – it was like a mini vacation for him as well (when the cats don’t steal his bed). Four years seems like a very short time to have and lose a beloved dog, but thus is the life of a Bernese and we knew it right from the start when we got him. This will in no way discourage us from getting another tho, because we are in love with the breed and it suits us as a family unit perfectly.



Doopey Bernese Mountain Dog RIP



After we got Doopey cremated we very quickly started planning for the trip; something to keep R. occupied and his mind off his best friend whom he just lost. R. pretty much planned the entire trip, taking into consideration what I wanted to see as it was my first time visiting USA, whilst also planning out the route that would maximize his ability to meet up with his EVE Online gamer buddies. Once planning was done and we had sorted out the route and who we were going to meet up with everything else just kinda fell into place. Getting the visas sorted for me was a bit of a pain in the a** but we got there eventually (after spending close to EUR 500 to obtain visas for both the US and Canada).


After months and months of monotonous work, the day finally arrived and we were off on our much anticipated American adventure. I was doubly excited and being a smarty pants, did not sleep a wink the night before. A 7 hr 30 min flight lay before me, not counting the journey to the airport and the time it took to clear US customs, I said I could handle a bit of sleepiness. Heh.


If you have been following my posts you will already be up to scratch with the plan. If you don’t, you can check it out in my previous post – United States of America! All in all we traveled to 14 states in America and 2 provinces in Canada. We drove just over 4,500 miles and did it all in 29 days.










First stop : NEW YORK –  NEW JERSEY.

We flew in to Newark airport since we would be staying with my friend on the Jersey-side. Did not take us long to get out of the airport as we had already gone through pre-clearance in Ireland. Once outside a wall of heat struck me in the face. Good grief, it was close to 40C! Huge temperature change from when we took off just across the pond; I believe it was a mere 9°C when we boarded. Walked to the taxi rank, hopped in a cab (the classic yellow kind) and crawled our way thru rush hour traffic as the plane got delayed by an hour, so we landed only at 4 p.m -.and headed towards Edgewater.





Once at the apartment Bill was there to welcome us to his and Sam’s gorgeous new home, right on the waters edge with unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline. My freakin jaw hit the floor! We literally had less than an hour to chill and take a load off before Sam got home then we all jumped in the car and headed to our first all American experience – a Yankee’s game at Yankee Stadium. I was supremely tired by now and my eyes felt like they were on fire, but I was still pretty darn excited about watching my first baseball game. Please bear with me, there is going to be a LOT of firsts for me throughout this post.





Yankees Game



There we dined on fine American hotdogs and krinkle cut cheese fries … haha. Did I mention my eyes were starting to fall out of my head at this point?? I could barely blink back the tears, I was that tired. But the game must go on! We saw a pretty awesome home run and a grand slam. The weather was erratic and the game had to be stopped three times due to rain. I think the boys enjoyed the game more; Sam and I just sat and chatted away catching up on old times – I haven’t seen Sam in close to ten years. I was just happy to be there at the iconic stadium soaking it all in – the atmosphere, the smell, the food and the people – I really am here on American soil and loving every second of it.


On the way home we drove through Harlem and the Bronx, which was pretty interesting especially given the time of night it was. I would have taken pictures but I was slowly losing consciousness in the backseat. Once home I passed out entirely.


The next morning dawned bright and early. I had already picked out a breakfast place well in advance of our arrival (go figure) – it was a pancake place not far from where we were and it looked good; having already perused their menu online. What I was after was a waffle breakfast. Period.





Enter the Brownstone Pancake Factory –  860 River Rd, Edgewater, NJ 07020, USA – it had everything I ever wanted for my first breakfast on American soil. I looked at the menu and wanted pretty much everything. I barely ate the day before apart from that one hotdog and some cheese fries at the game and R.ate all my dinner on board the plane during the flight over. This breakfast experience was pretty fantastic and I was happy the food lived up to the expectation – my waffles were perfection on a plate. My friends loved it too (whew!). Funnily enough, I found out much later on that this place was actually featured on the Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives programme. I kid you not, this place was a real find. Just be aware that if you come here on a weekend you will be hard pressed locating a spot to park, although they do have complimentary valet parking service.


My friends, Sam and Bill, now tell me they take all their other visitors to the Brownstone Pancake Factory for brunch. Definitely a good find and worth the visit if you are in the Edgewater area.


After breakfast we decided to head over the river on a river taxi and begin our official visit of downtown Manhattan. Bill dropped us off at Port Imperial ferry terminal and we boarded a ferry headed towards midtown/ West 39th street, practically at the Lincoln Tunnel. A one-way ticket cost us $9.00 each, which seems pretty pricey but it had to be done. It was a brilliant day, the skies were blue and conditions were perfect for a ferry crossing over the Hudson with splendid first-time views of the city just ahead. Port Imperial has other river taxi services that take you to Wall Street and the World Financial District on the other side of the island. For more info just look up NY Waterway® Hudson River Ferries website.


Once we arrived on the other side we basically had to walk in a straight line and we found ourselves smack bang in the middle of Times Square. I simply walked around following R. since he has been to NY before and I hadn’t. He also has a better sense of direction and I … plus I was always caught up taking photos and not really paying attention.





I was in bits, I was excited and in awe of the city – my very first visual of the Big Apple, and it was everything I had hoped for and more. It was a city of contrasts for me. First of all I was confronted by just how filthy the streets and pavements were. It was a boiling hot day and the stench of rotting garbage was everywhere, there was no escaping it. Secondly, one gets the feeling of being totally swamped by a sea of PEOPLE … they too are everywhere. It has been a long time since I last set foot in a city as buzzing as this one. The crush of people was astounding yet familiar; it reminded me of Singapore and Hong Kong. The high rise buildings were an actual comfort to me and I realized how much I missed seeing them and just how much time I have spent in Europe away from vastly tall buildings that soar 80 – 90 storeys up in the air. Did I mention it was a hot day??


The air was like an oven and I felt weighed down by the heat. Unbelievable since it was September and I expected temperatures to be on their way down by now. We even had to stop by a street vendor and buy hats to save us from facial burns. I felt totally under equipped to deal with the blistering sunshine which is rather ironic considering I am Malaysian and I used to live in a hot humid climate my entire life. Here in New York I find myself moaning about the temperatures and we had to duck into shops and cafes throughout the day to cool off and rehydrate. Along the way I had to locate the pharmacy and pick up some painkillers as well because a headache was brewing.





Eventually all that food we ate for breakfast wore off and at about 2 pm we were beginning to feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. We had walked a considerable distance by now and all I wanted to do was to get off my feet and chill in the shade somewhere. We had done Times Square and Broadway and the Theatre district, now we just wanted to find some food and I knew just what I wanted – a pastrami sandwich from Katz Deli.


R. has never even heard of Katz Delicatessan so it took some convincing to get him there. Basically I said there was no other option available … we were going to get a pastrami sandwich from Katz and that was that. He patiently obliged and so we plodded on towards the nearest Metro station that would take us south. From there we used our paper map to guide us towards E.Houston and Ludlow.



Katz Deli – selling iconic Jewish fare since 1888 – 205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002, USA



For those of you who do not yet know, I traveled to America armed with a food list. It was a very detailed food list that listed down all the American things I wanted to eat and experience during my time here – things like NY bagels & lox, a pastrami sandwich, a NY hotdog from a cart, the cronut, chicken and waffles … etc. You get the idea. So pastrami on rye was on this list, therefore I was justified in wanting to visit Katz.


On the outside the deli did not look like much. It looked like one of those places that has been around for forever and hasn’t really changed in anyway. Inside however was mayhem. Oh my god, this place was buzzin’. People were everywhere and the queue was out the door. There was not a seat available as far as I could see and the queue at the hot sandwich counter was 5-deep at least. We got in the front door and my heart silently sank at the sight of the crowd – surely R. will not be standing in line for food AND a table; he hates lines with a passion. I prepared myself to grab two sandwiches and walk out to have as a takeaway meal, but he surprised me by saying we should stay. I should order the sandwiches and he’d stand in line to get a table.





Seven counters dedicated themselves to serving just the famous hot sandwiches. On the very right handside of the counter you get the hotdogs and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and soups. At the other end you get bagels, latkes, soft drinks and the like. Upon entering the establishment you are required to take a ticket and this ticket will be marked with all your food purchases. Pay at the till upon leaving. I think Katz opens everyday at 08:00 – 23:00 hrs on most days but on special days they open til much later, and this place if ALWAYS full of customers.


I had only two things on my mind when I walked in here and that was to order the pastrami on rye and the brisket sandwich even though all the other things looked good and I wanted to try them all. I have to say that the sandwiches aren’t exactly cheap – on average each sandwich costs about $20 but so so worth it. Each sandwich is served simply … two slices of bread filled with a tower of hand-sliced meat. The end. There will be no lettuce or tomato or onion rings to much up the flavour of their specialty cured meats, oh no sir. There really is nothing you need on these babies except if you want a drizzle of mustard. You get pickled cucumbers on the side but that’s it. The flavour in these sandwiches are unreal and the meat just melts in your mouth like butter.


R and I swapped half a sandwich each but I think I made the better choice that afternoon. Between the pair of us we concluded that our favourite was the brisket, hands down. The pastrami was a very oily cut of meat that was just too much to swallow. It felt heavy and a few big bites was all I could manage. Flavour was amazing but I just could not finish the entire thing. The brisket had a milder flavour and was easier to take in. Beautiful, moist and tender … I was amazed at the pure magic of the sandwich with each bite. Even R. said he was impressed and enjoyed his $20 lunch sandwich, haha.





Katz Deli is of course famous for another reason other than their awesome sandwiches and Jewish specialties. It is the site where the famous ‘fake orgasm’ scene was filmed for the movie When Harry Met Sally, and to prove it they even have a sign above the very booth where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal sat in when the shot was taken.





Outside the heat blazed on. We walked along the pavement not quite sure where we needed to go from there. We were both tired and full of bread, the heat was making it really hard to stay awake at that point. We ducked into a market place for a bit but most were shutting up shop for the day so we left. Eventually we decided to take a Metro back up to the upper east side and climbed onto a F-train on the orange line. We did this mainly to cool off more than anything else coz I had had enough of the heat and my face was burning by now. In order to do this we decided to stay on the train for as long as possible and to just enjoy the ride to wherever it took us to the end of the line. We knew the train would take us east towards Brooklyn but what we did not know was that this very train would take us directly to Coney Island … yaaay!





By the time we arrived at the Coney island station it was about 6 p.m which was perfect. We had cooled off sufficiently by the Metro’s super duper A/C unit and the sun was going down.


Initially, before we started this USA trip we had decided not to visit Coney Island for various reasons. But lucky us, all that changed and we found ourselves at this iconic stretch of theme park heaven at the right time. It rained a bit during the late afternoon and now the sky had cleared up somewhat and revealed the most spectacular sunset sky I had seen in a very long time. After the rain stopped a double-rainbow appeared in the sky, adding to the beauty of the sky.




We walked hand in hand along the boardwalk and just took in the atmosphere; I felt like I was in a movie. All the while I could not believe I was actually walking along the waters edge and on the pier of Coney Island. I know I keep saying this but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see this place in person. The sun made the sky all kinds of pink and purple with amber rays beaming down in streaks from behind the clouds. Kids and pet dogs played in the surf in the shadow of fading sunlight. The lights on the fun rides were beginning to become more vibrant and all the strobing effects made the scene magical. I stood at the very end of that pier looking back at the theme park and I felt a feeling of contentment and happiness that made me want to laugh and cry all at the same time ~ I was here, in AMERICA!


I wish I was more forward thinking and prepared for this trip and took video shots of my time here coz sometimes a photo just doesn’t cut it, know what I mean?


R. and I walked hand in hand through the theme park gazing at all the bright lights and crazy colours of the games stalls. So many cheap and tacky prizes, the smell of cotton candy and toasty caramel popcorn, the screams of delight of the people on rides … it was totally an amazing feeling. When we got hungry we bought Nathan’s hotdogs, of course. I really wanted a Coney dog seeing as which we were on Coney Island after all but sadly no one sold the darn thing!





The next day was literally 9/11 Memorial Day and the city was buzzing. There were black limos parked everywhere and security was TIGHT! We stayed away from lower Manhattan for a reason and chose to do brunch instead with a few of R’s online gamer friends on the Upper Westside, directly across from Central Park. He chose to eat at Sarabeth’s where we ended up queuing for 40 mins for a table and I legit spent $30 for a salad. #Manhattanprices





Rest of the afternoon we just took a walk about the city drinking in more of the atmosphere and getting over my culture shock. NYC is a lot to take in on your first trip and it is a city of absolute paradoxes where the ultra rich and the dirt poor co-exist on this one island. Where fancy apartments that cost multi-millions open out onto a pavement littered with trash and last nights puke. Some of America’s most powerful people, celebrity icons and influencers call this city home.



Speaking of celebrity icons, how could I come to NYC and not visit No. 66 Perry Street?
If you don’t already know that famous address it is the TV home of none other than Ms. Carrie Bradshaw – Sex & the City star and as New York as you can get!
I made it a a point to list this excursion on the itinerary and I was so in love with the brownstone houses there. Oh the streets were so iconic, it’s like I have been here before and lived here with all the movie stars in films like You’ve Got Mail and Big.

Oh my God, speaking of BIG … when we were on Coney Island we found the fortune telling machine Zoltan! I died.


Anyway, we continued walking about and found ourselves down in the financial district of Manhattan en route to the Staten Island Ferry. Man, this part of town is swanky. Tall buildings everywhere that block out all the sun, men in suits talking on their phones, rushing people. I managed to take in some more iconic buildings and as I said before security was as tight as a water drum. We were not allowed to approach the Stock Exchange buildings entrance to take pictures, the building was barricaded and guarded by New York’s finest men in blue.





We did not linger too much here as we had a ferry to catch. We hopped a Metro and headed down to the ferry terminal where we were mobbed by people touting tickets and tours to the Statue of Liberty. We did our best to ignore them and we finally made it to the terminal and boarded our ferry – another iconic journey ticked off my list. Remember watching all those 1990’s movies where the actor takes the late night ferry to Staten Island and commutes to Manhatten for work? I think it was Working Girl.

We didn’t really go anywhere or do anything on Staten Island – we just did it for the ferry ride and for the free pictures of Lady Liberty since the ferry passes right by her both ways. I did get a chilli cheese dog while waiting for the return ferry to Manhattan and some freshly made Aunty Anne’s preztels (sour cream and onion of course).

Once home we ordered some amazing pizza and shared them with our gracious hosts, Sam and Bill. Took awesome pictures of Manhattan in the sunset from their balcony once again and had to pinch myself for the one-thousandth time as I stood there gazing at the two spotlights shooting up into the night sky, marking where the twin towers once stood. It was the 11th of September 2016 … and here I am.





The next day we hopped a ferry directly from New Jersey to Pier 11 – Wall Street. We took in the famous buildings in the financial district once again but this time we also ventured to Ground Zero … what a sobering experience that was. It was a busy, noisy day like any other but once we got the the place everything just seemed a bit more sedate and sombre. We came up to the fire station first and I was already choking up; all those brave men who responded first and scrambled into the burning towers. To see all the flowers laid out and all the photographs lining the monument, it was a lot to take in. It’s been 15 years yet the memories linger like it was yesterday. I was still in college studying for my nursing qualifictions when this tragedy happened. My roomies and I could not believe what was being shown on the TV screen and at first I just thought it was a horrible fire that broke out on the upper floors.


The memorial fountains were amazingly pretty and peaceful, serene in their existence surrounded by other tall office buildings, a reminder of the deaths of almost 3,000 souls. I had a lump in my throat the entire time.





It was a pretty filled up day and we managed to get to other areas of Manhattan and see more things like Grand Central Station (yay!), Carrie Bradshaw’s house (double yay!!), Dominique Ansel’s bakery, had my first cronut and we took in the vibes of SOHO. We were pretty beat and we ended the day with a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant where we tucked in to amazing food washed down with ice cold strawberry margaritas.



Grand Central Station’s iconic constellation ceiling.

The lovely, movie-like sidewalks of Greenwich Village.

66, Perry Street – home of Carrie Bradshaw, Sex & the City.



The next day we simply got up early and packed up all our things in preparation for the actual roadtrip. We took a bus into the city and walked to Broadway and picked up the SUV. Minor hiccup as R’s bank blocked his credit card payment and we had to make several calls to sort the issue, but eventually we were on the road driving thru downtown Manhattan traffic onward to our next adventure. We decided to leave immediately (we were already delayed due to credit card debacle) and to lunch down in Philadelphia coz I insisted we NEED to eat a Philly cheesesteak sandwich as part of the American Tour … but that’s another story for another post. Be sure to tune in to the other stories from the road which I will link down below when they get published. Until next time.



America – On the Road for 30 Days (Part I) New York to Raleigh, N.C.

America – On the Road for 30 Days (Part II) Raleigh N.C to Nashville, TN

Team Pizza Weekend 2016






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