USA - New York

· Travel

A flying visit to New York made me question why I'd never visited America's most iconic city before.

Set up at the last minute principally to attend two meetings, I flew from HK on Sunday at noon, arrived at 3pm on the same day in New York and returned on Wednesday morning. Thirty-two hours in the air, experienced a jet lag double-header in a timezone +/- 13 hours. Ugh.

New York is a great city. My short time there was made better by experiencing for the very first time, proper customer service in an American hotel. Every time I've stayed in America no matter if it was a motel or hotel, the service has been rubbish. Treated like a dollar sign and not a person.

This was the first time I've ever been greeted by enthusiastic front desk staff who fell over themselves with eagerness. They were happy to see me. Well, that's what it felt like. I've only once before experienced customer service like that and it was at Heathrow at Alamo car rental.

Embassy Suites by Hilton New York Midtown Manhattan - if I ever return to New York, that's going to be my first choice for a hotel.

Rather than loll about trying to beat the timezone and travel nightmare, after showering (that's the other thing about the hotel - superb shower. These things matter.) and wrapping up to combat the 3 degree C, I headed straight out.

One thing I've wanted to do is visit the World Trade Center memorial. I took the subway which is relatively easy and cheap to Cortland Street and walked through The Occulus (spectacular shopping centre) and to the site.

New York subway - Buy a MetroCard at any station for US$1 and then load with dollars.
The Occulus - staggering architecture. It's actually a mall on top of a subway station.

Where both towers stood now have large square 'reflecting pools'. I only found out later that each is nearly an acre in size. On panels around the edge are the names of all those who died in both the 1993 and 2001 attacks are inscribed in big letters. It's extremely moving.

Map showing the 911 Memorial
One reflective pool at WTC Memorial
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Nearby is Liberty Park overlooking the memorial site and here can be found a relic from one of the towers.

Iconic relic that survived the 911 attacks

New York is a very walkable city and I felt safe wherever I went. I ended up in Times Square twice; it's hard to actually get lost due to how the streets are named. I was able to see steam rising out of the street; a common feature in nearly every New York-based show I've watched.

Steam envelopes a kiosk

Nearby where I was staying was Bradley Park and for the winter, there was an ice rink. First time in my life to see bumper cars on ice.

Bumper cars on ice

Overall the buildings are impressive and from my hotel room on the 37th floor, it was amazing to see such a variance in styles. Glass to giant concrete steps, Gothic to modern marvels, New York has it all.

Stunning buildings in New York
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I found New York food and drink pricey yet there is an abundance of choice. Cuban, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Japanese, Korean restaurants and holes-in-the-wall were all within a five minute walking radius of the hotel. There were diners, delis, Starbucks, and fast food all close by. The deli nearest to me had a full blown buffet for takeaway.

I did go into a diner next to Times Square but the menu was limited so I opted for a taste of Brooklyn Lager (it wasn't a wine sort of place). That went down very well. I ate a couple of pizza slices from a kosher pizzeria; perhaps the best I've ever eaten. I had a bagel and cream cheese one morning. Again, impressive. Humus bowl with shredded chicken from across the road. A stacked healthy salad from Chipolte.

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Chipolte salad - just think you've got to try this stuff. Tasted good.
Presentation poor, taste good. That is all.
Bagel with cream cheese.

The Whole Food supermarket (owned by Amazon) had beautiful fresh produce, hot and cold takeaway ready-made food. All looked delicious, Didn't see any of the fabled American-sized portions during my trip.

But I didn't have an actual proper meal (apart from breakfast at the hotel). My stomach was on a timezone maelstrom since the difference was -13 hours. There's no way to maintain sensible eating when your body says it should have some fuel but it's not had sufficient time to adjust. The eating thing was made worse by the plane journey. I couldn't bring myself to work out the best time to eat but just ate when I felt like it.

Because cheese is so expensive in Hong Kong, whenever I go to the UK, Australia or other countries, I try to bring back a good stack. It was for this reason that, for a three-day trip, I took a large suitcase. However, although plentiful in supply, cheese prices in New York are as high as Hong Kong so a hunt was required to find bargains.

Far too quickly my journey came to an end. I enjoyed the city although it was pricey. Plenty to see and experience. I left from JFK airport and a newish Terminal 8 that served - guess how many? - eight airlines. I flew on Cathay Pacific in cattle class. Not bad. Felt they were a bit mean on meals (two for the entire flight) and the entertainment choice wasn't as extensive as found with Singapore Airlines.