About to board the Delta Air Lines A319 for the flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport from Havana.
After my trip to Cuba I had a few days before I had to travel back to Dubai. I had briefly contemplated visiting another country in the Caribbean such as the Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. As it would have likely involved transiting via a third country and then returning back to the US to catch my flight back home, it would have only been enough time for a quick 'tick the box' visit though.
New York had been on my travel wish list for quite a while, but with the travel distance from Dubai, my obsession with country counting and as well as my recent VWF ineligbility, I had being put it off for other destinations instead. With my newly acquired B-1/B-2 US visa though and the frequent EK flights back to Dubai, it seemed that it was a perfect time to make my first visit to to the Big Apple.
My flights for the trip were:
Day 1: Flying Delta Air Lines (DL) from Havana to New York (HAV-JFK).
Day 4: Flying Emirates (EK) from New York to Dubai (JFK-DXB).
Boarding started 45 minutes before departure and soon almost everyone was on board, ready for the 12:50pm departure. I was given a middle seat when I bought my ticket online. An aisle seat was an additional $40 but I decided I was too cheap to pay extra for it. Luckily the seat next to me was empty though so I swapped to the aisle seat when the aircraft doors closed.
Wifi was available soon after departure and for a very reasonable $4.95 for the 3 hour flight, I checked my emails, skimmed Facebook and caught up on the news websites for the first time in five days.
As I hadn't had lunch I had a snack box from the cart for $8.95.
Watching La La Land on the IFE. I was abit apprehensive flying one of the US3 airlines with the often reported reputation for mediocre customer service and numerous add-on fees, but the FA's on the flight were very friendly and professional and the initial ticket price of only $142 was all I ended up paying.
After arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, U.S. immigration was quick and efficient and I was soon at the luggage belt to collect my suitcase.
Welcome to New York. It was quite a bit cooler than Cuba, so I pulled my fleece jacket out of my suitcase before heading off to find the AirTrain.
After a bit of confusion where to buy tickets (at the end of the journey), I was on the AirTrain, heading through Queens to Jamaica Station.
Transferring to the New York City Subway.
And on to Manhattan.
After just over an hour after leaving JFK, I climbed the stairs at 7th Avenue Station and into the streets of bustling Midtown Manhattan.
Walking past the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and home to the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
And only a short walk away was my hotel for my stay in New York City, the Moderne Hotel. On 55th Street, just off Broadway and only ~300 metres south of Columbus Circle and Central Park.
After a quick and efficient check-in, I took the elevator up to the 4th floor and to my room for the next three nights. I was really surprised by the room size, about double what I was expecting!
At $185 (including tax) per night, it was quite reasonable, especially considering the $300 per night I had paid in San Diego the previous week.
Looking out my window, looking east along 55th Street.
I then went out to look for something to eat for dinner. At Ray's Pizza on Seventh Avenue.
After the carb-heavy lunch, I wanted something with a bit more protein than pizza, so I had their special pizza burger instead. A decent sized burger filled with a big chunk of meat so it was just what I needed!
I then walked down to Times Square and took in all the amazing array of Broadway show signs and electronic billboards. Times Square is the most visited place globally and tonight was no exception with lots of other people out and about.
Looking north from 45th Street. I then started making my way back along Broadway.
A 'School of Rock' billboard on Broadway. I then headed back to my hotel to get some rest before a full day of exploring the city tomorrow.
For breakfast I headed across the road to Le Pain Quotidien for some Greek Yoghurt, pain au chocolat and warm coffee.
I then went out to explore the streets of Midtown Manhattan.
Looking up at Trump Tower (right) on Fifth Avenue, the current residence of Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States.
There were numerous members of the NYPD around the tower providing security.
The main entrance of the tower. The additional security costs of the NYPD with the First Lady in residence have been estimated at $1 million per week.
Looking down on the lobby from the Starbucks on the mezzanine. The tower's lobby and five-story atrium are designed as a public space, and allowed the Trump Organization to build the tower 20 stories higher under city codes at the time of its construction.
Coca Cola. I then walked down Fifth Avenue.
Inside the magnificent Grand Central Terminal.
Unlike the nearby Penn Station, the station survived proposals to demolish and replace it in the 1960's, and instead was subsequently was restored in the 1970's.
Looking up at the Art Deco Chrysler Building. It was briefly the world's tallest building and the first man-made structure to stand taller than 1,000 feet (305 m).
A row of NYPD Smart cars, which recently replaced their three-wheeled scooters.
Looking up at the iconic Empire State Building from Fifth Avenue.
Coffee & cigarette.
I then walked across to the B&H store on Ninth Avenue.
I have spent over $20k on camera gear over the years at B&H, including my old Canon 5D MkIII which I had taken to 100 countries, so it was great to finally to check out their New York City store in real life.
I then headed below street-level to catch the Subway south at 34th - Penn Station.
After arriving at the Financial District, I headed to the 9/11 Memorial. Looking over the North Pool, where the North tower of the World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood.
And looking up at One World Trade Center. I remember vividly the shock and destruction during that fateful day back in 2001, and the incredulity and surrealness of the sudden death of so many innocent people from such a callous and unnecessary act.
The memorial seemed to be a great example however of the ability of the city and of the country to rebuild, heal and remember from this devastating event.
A white rose placed on one of the victims names along the edge of the North Pool.
After buying my ticket I went inside to see the museum.
In the main hall of the museum, looking down on the last standing column and the "bathtub" retaining wall around the foundation on the left.
A photo of Lower Manhattan taken from Brooklyn, taken only 16 minutes before the World Trade Center's North Tower was struck.
A plaque from the World Trade Center to commemorate the construction of the Twin Towers in 1973.
A section of steel facade from the North Tower that was at the point where Flight 11 pierced from the 93rd through to the 99th floors.
Contrasting photo's of the World Trade Center Towers before and shortly after the attacks.
Photographs of some of the 2,977 victims of the September 11 attacks. Seeing all the faces on the wall really helped to get a sense of scale of the tragedy.
A fire engine from New York City Fire Department Ladder Company 3. The truck was parked on West Street and was damaged by the collapse of the Twin Towers. Ladder Company 3 lost 11 men on the day of the attack.
Memorials on the last standing column. The museum and memorial were quite a moving experience and were a chance to reflect on the terrible event that happened only 16 years ago.
The sculpture Double Check in nearby Zuccotti Park which famously became a symbol of the World Trade Tower victims when it was damaged and covered in debris when the Twin Towers collapsed.
It was about 1:30pm so I grabbed a piece of pepperoni and cheese pizza for lunch.
Wall Street. I then walked around the Financial District.
I then walked down to Bowling Green Park to see the famous Wall Street Charging Bull. Two days prior another sculpture, Fearless Girl, had been placed directly in front of the bull for International Women's Day. There were masses of people surrounding both sculptures so I decided to come back another time when it was a bit less crowded.
My next stop on my walking tour, the Brooklyn Bridge. Over 133 years old, it was amazing that the bridge was still serving the city well into the 21st century with over 120,000 cars crossing over it every day.
I had read alot about the bridge's construction as an engineering student many years ago, and was great to finally walk over this historic, beautiful structure and great engineering feat.
Looking over to Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan.
It was a mixture of both tourists and locals crossing the bridge out on the sunny but cool winter day.
Underground again at Fulton Street Subway Station.
And heading north on the Eighth Avenue Line.
Back on street level again with a protest at Columbus Circle.
I then headed back to my hotel after a great day of sightseeing in New York City.
At about 4:30pm I headed out for a walk around Midtown Manhattan again. Looking south down Sixth Avenue.
I had booked a ticket for 6pm for the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or more commonly known as "Top of the Rock".
There was a bit of a queue, but I managed to get to the top just right when I wanted, with the sun just below the horizon and the lights of the city starting to light up for the evening.
Looking north with Central Park in the middle distance and the very tall and very skinny 432 Park Avenue just to the right. The building is the second tallest in New York City (after One World Trade Center) and also the tallest residential building in the world.
Looking south with the Empire State Building to the left in the last few moments of dusk.
For dinner I grabbed a sandwich at the Concourse at Rockefeller Center.
Looking over the famous ice rink the at Rockefeller Center.
And walking past Radio City Music Hall on my way back to the hotel after a great first day in New York City.
I got up before 7am on the morning of day 2 for a run around Central Park.
There were alot of people out running through the park, getting their morning dose of exercise, perspiration and endorphins.
Looking across Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to the Upper West Side.
With the clear blue skies and bright warm sun it was hard to believe that the forecast for tomorrow was for snow!
I had a food tour booked for today, so just grabbed a coffee from the hotel lounge for breakfast.
And then caught the Subway again at Columbus Circle for the ride south.
The food tour today was in Chelsea Market, located in the West Side neighborhood of Chelsea. The market was built in the old National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) factory and also where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced.
After meeting up with our guide, Darrel, we headed to our first stop of the tour, Creamline.
Darrel was originally from Austin, Texas but had lived in New York City for the past 20 years. His main profession was as an actor on Broadway, and had some roles coming up in the summer. Being an actor with his honed oratory skills it was a real delight to hear him talk, cajole and joke with us about today's offerings.
And our first tasting of today, profiteroles with lashings of farm fresh whipped cream. A great way to kick off the tour.
We then moved on to our next stop, Cappone’s Salumeria.
Where we got to try a classic Italian sandwich.
An example of Italian-American cuisine, it was invented in Portland, Maine in 1903 by baker Giovanni Amato. There were a few extra's and I couldn't resist the offer for seconds!
Darrel outside the place for our third tasting, Dickson's Farmstand meats.
Sampling the very tasty beef tartare.
Outside buonItalia for our fourth stop.
Darrel dishing out the Spinach frittata. It was great to be able to sample so many different types and varieties of food under one roof, a foodie's heaven!
We then moved on to the Filling Station.
And tried the cinnamon pear balsimic vinegar. A strong and really interesting taste, not quite 'Christmas in your mouth' but pretty close!
Ready for our sixth tasting at the Tuck Shop.
And an Australian meat pie to tease the taste buds. I suspect the generous side of kale was more New York rather than Aussie cuisine though.
About to go inside the Lobster Place, a retail shop and also the largest wholesale supplier of lobsters in New York.
Trying the sublimely rich and creamy lobster bisque.
For our eighth tasting we enjoyed some salted caramels and some interesting flavoured sea salts from the UK with cucumber at Chelsea Market Baskets.
Started by New Yorker Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth's began in 1981 as a tiny bakery that also sold homemade preserves. There are now 20 Sarabeth's restaurants around the world, including one that opened recently in Dubai.
And about to try some oven-fresh scones with some very sweet and tasty strawberry jam and marmalade.
For our tenth and final tasting at L'Arte del Gelato.
After some tough deliberation I finally settled on trying the pistachio gelato.
Although it was the end of the food tasting, the tour had not quite finished yet, and Darrel took us outside for a walk along the High Line.
Opening in 2009, the High Line is a 2.3 kilometre long park, built on an elevated section of the former New York railroad.
An eerily lifelike scuplture on the High Line of a sleep walking man in his Y-fronts by artist Tony Matelli.
Darrel then took us on a brief walking tour of the nearby Meatpacking District. Although very much gentrified, as it is on the National Registers of Historic Places, both new and old buildings are required to have the metal awnings over the pavement, where sides of beef and other meats many years ago used to hang on hooks.
Looking up at The Standard, a luxury boutique hotel where Darrel pointed out was where Beyonce's sister infamously beat up hip-hop mogul Jay-Z in the elevator.
After thanking Darrel for the amazing and sumptuous tour, I started the walk back north on Seventh Avenue.
With the clear blue skies, I decided it would be a good time to head up the Empire State Building.
Looking out to the east to the Hudson river and Jersey City on the other side. There were some strong winds that were unfortunately generating a massive dust cloud over the lower part of Manhattan.
Looking to the north with the shadow of the Empire State Building just below. There is a higher observation deck on the 102nd but as it is clompletely enclosed, I opted for the slightly lower 86th-floor observation deck with its impressive 360-degree views of the city below.
After waiting ~30 minutes the dust cloud that had blown over from New Jersey had finally dispersed, and I was able to take a photo of the city to the south.
Back down at ground level outside the flagship store of Macy's.
Stopping for a venti latte at Starbucks. I was amazed with the number of Starbucks in Manhattan with one seemingly on every second block. There is even a blog of someone who visited all 212 of them in one year!
After crashing out at the hotel for a bit, I ventured out in the late afternoon back down to Times Square. Some people getting a photo with the (almost) Naked Cowboy.
And enjoyed the bright billboards and theatre signs again as dusk fell.
Souvenir Donald Trump condoms at a shop on Times Square.
And his adorable face on one of their t-shirts.
Despite all the food earlier at Chelsea Market, I was still hungry for dinner and had a Shake Shack burger at the end of my second day in New York City.