Round Up

Here’s a bit of a round up of my travels – what I liked, what I didn’t, what worked well, what I’d do differently next time and just other general bits and pieces.

London

London in late June (early summer) is light.  It’s light at around 3.30/4.00am in the morning until around 10pm at night.  I found this a little difficult to get used to, especially coming from winter in Australia.  My advice if you like your sleep, make sure your windows are closed, blinds pulled down and perhaps invest in some earplugs and an eye mask.

Find a Waitrose, M&S or local fruit stall to stock up on fresh fruit.  Pret a Manger is a great cheap place to find breakfast or a sandwich and they are everywhere.

The underground was really easy to use.  I would suggest getting an Oyster card before you arrive in London.

I would definitely stay at the Rydges Hotel Kensington again.  It wasn’t really walking distance to all the action, but it was a few underground stops away and there was definitely enough in the area to not need to be.  It was close to the underground, supermarkets, plenty of restaurants etc.  I ate at the Hotel restaurant, the Jam Cupboard and was really impressed with the meal.  And of course, Kensington Palace and Hyde Park were just down the road.

There are people out late on the streets, but a lot of stuff doesn’t open til later in the morning.  So use it to sleep in or explore the streets while its quiet or go for a walk through Hyde Park.

Grand Cayman Island

The Caribbean Ocean is stunning.  However, it is very salty.  It played havoc with my hair, hats and clothes.  My suggestions would be to travel with a small container of hair treatment or at least wash your hair after every beach visit.  Rinse anything that you wear into or around the water so that the salt doesn’t ruin it.  Don’t pack overly good clothes.  Make sure it’s beach friendly, because truly that is where you will spend half of your time.  I reckon I didn’t use 1/4 of the clothes I packed for this very reason.

Sunscreen is a MUST.  I can’t stress this enough.  Even coming from Australia, the sun was so bitey.  Please be careful or you will end up very, very burnt.  And make sure you drink enough water.  Dehydration can happen rapidly.

Take an underwater camera, disposable or otherwise.  Schools of fish, stingrays and starfish can all be found in stunning clear water less than 1/2 meter deep.  So even if you aren’t into snorkelling or scuba diving, you can be assured to see sealife somewhere!

This is the place for water sports.  And because the waters are so calm and warm, it’s the best place to give them a try for the first time too.  Snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving – just give it a bash.

Despite the fact that Cayman is not huge, it is not really that easy to get from one part of the island to the other.  A lot of the attractions are spread across different parts of the island.  My advice would be to either hire a car, or if you want to hit up numerous attractions pick up a tour.  Generally the tours visit the same locations, so choose between what you will see on the tour and what you can get to by local bus or taxi easily.

I would definitely stay along 7-Mile beach again.  A self-contained room, like what you’ll find at Sunshine Suites is perfect.  That way you can prepare the majority of your meals and then just splash out on the odd one.  There are some great value buffet meals around – like XQ’s and the Marriott’s Buckaneer’s feast.  But don’t forget to try some local specialties.

New York

If you are happy with a not so close up snapshot of the Statue of Liberty, just catch the free Staten Island Ferry.  If you want a better close up, I would suggest taking one of the paid ferries, which travel closer to the statue.  Of course, if you actually want to access Ellis Island and climb the statue, then that’s another option again.

The museums are huge.  Central Park is huge.  A lot of the time, you will need to decide whether you have time to dedicate a whole day or whether you want to fit more into your day.  I chose to do a little of each thing, rather than one or two things, but that’s just me.

New York is an easy city to walk around.  I walked most places, but I found that cabs were affordable and used them on occasions such as late at night or for further trips.  Bring good walking shoes.

New York is a noisy city.  Earplugs did not work for me.  Get yourself good and tired during the day and then have a few glasses of wine before bed, perhaps go to bed with the TV on snooze and hopefully that will give you a few good hours before daylight.

I found it easy to eat relatively healthy in New York.  There are plenty of shops such as Pret a Manger, Fresh & Co, Hale & Hearty where you can get fresh salads, sandwiches and fruit and they are open all day serving breakfast through to dinners.

New York is literally the city that never sleeps, but the city doesn’t sleep in either, so if you are into getting out there and seeing all the sights you can stuff into your visit, plan on some long, long days.  There are people out on the streets until late at night, and you can dine at any time of the day.

I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time.  I stayed at the Affinia Manhattan in Midtown, across the road from Madison Square Gardens and a 10-15 minute walk from Times Square.  I felt this was a perfect location.  The hotel, whilst old, had been recently renovated.  The rooms were large and funky, if not still showing some signs of age.  Niles Restaurant had great meals and hotel guests were entitled to a 20% discount on dining in.  There were a load of restaurants around the area in any case.

Seattle

I stayed in Belltown and I don’t reckon I could have chosen a better place.  Walking distance to the Space Needle/EMP, Pike Place Market, the shopping district and the waterfront, loads and loads of restaurants and bars to choose from – what more could you want.  Seattle is an easy city to walk around, and its such a pretty place, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to.

Get out and visit Mt Rainier – it’s worth it.  I chose Mt Rainier over Yosemite, as Mt Rainier is only a 2hour trip each way.  I chose Evergreen Escapes and although I probably paid a little more, the service and quality of the day was well and truly worth it.

Things don’t get going that early in the morning, so go for a walk around the markets, sleep in or do breakfast somewhere nice.

I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time.  And I would definitely stay at the Ace Hotel again (I had a private room, but you can book otherwise).  The free breakfast was awesome.  The place smelt so clean and fresh and the staff were awesome.  The bed was the most comfortable I stayed in the whole time I was away.  FYI – Ace also have a hotel in New York.

San Francisco

San Francisco is not really an easy city to walk around.  A lot of the streets are actually at a 45 degree angle.  Obviously if that’s what you’re into, then go for it.

There are homeless people everywhere, as with all cities, but I didn’t feel threatened anywhere else.   I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough and ended up on the edge of Tenderloin (well I knew there were homeless people around, but just not quite the extent).  In saying that, Macys, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Hilton and the Westin were all about two blocks away and they weren’t immune either.  I probably would have felt more comfortable staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, seeing as that’s where I spent most of my time. There’s loads of restaurants here and most of the tourist attractions are here or leave from here.  Because I didn’t feel safe here by myself, I would suggest the city sightseeing buses or guided tours with hotel pickup/dropoff.

I chose to stay at the Best Western Hotel California.   The vegan restaurant at the hotel, Millenium was fabulous.  Don’t let the fact that its vegan put you off – the meals are so hearty that you probably won’t even notice.  But I wouldn’t stay here again.

If you want to go to Alcatraz, book in advance if possible.

Pack warm.  Even in ‘summer’.  July (summer) is the foggiest month.  I would say it was more akin to winter in Perth.

Singapore

Let’s face it, I don’t think there’s many parts of Singapore that you could go wrong for accommodation.  But that said, I like indulging in everything that Singapore has to offer.  The only thing that would determine my accommodation is this – if you want to relax by the water, have kids or want to indulge in water sports – head to Sentosa.  If you are keen for shopping – stay on Orchard Road.  If you are into luxury – head to Marina Bay.  If you like Museums and great food, perhaps head for Chinatown or the Raffles area.  If you want a quieter, greener area, try around Cuscaden Road.  Keep in mind, nowhere on the island is more than a 10-20 minute taxi ride and Singapore’s MRT system is fantastic.  So you really can’t go wrong.

There is always something new to do in Singapore.  Keep an eye out on www.yoursingapore.com, www.timeoutsingapore.com or even just make sure you pick up the tourist brochures at the airport like Where and you will find out all you need to know about where to go and what to do.  I can recommend any tours by Tour East (www.toureast.net), especially the Night Safari with dinner, which I find to be the best value.

Singapore is not just about tourist attractions though, so if like me, you had no idea how much history Singapore had particularly in relation to World War II, make sure you check out Fort Siloso (on Sentosa), Changi Prison & Chapel, Fort Canning or the Old Ford Factory for starters.

Culture vultures will not want to miss the Chinatown Heritage Museum and the Peranakan Museum.  There are also numerous walking tours through Chinatown and Little India.  And for art lovers – you must stop by SAM or the Art Science Museum.  But sometimes, the best thing about Singapore is that even if you just stroll around the streets, you will get a really good picture of the country, its food and its people.  And don’t be afraid to try anything here – the food is amazing.

Again, things don’t get going until around 10/11am in the morning, so use the time to enjoy brunch, sleep in or just explore the streets or Botanic Gardens while it’s quiet.

Hotel 1929’s terrace rooms are the best.  That said, I would only chose one of these if I were by myself or with a boyfriend etc, simply because the rooms are on the small side and the toilet is situated in with the shower, surrounded by glass.  The hotel itself is in a great location, the staff were amazing.  Free wifi, good coffee, free breakfast, free cookies and drinks.  Well worth the price, which was much less than a lot of the other big name hotels

Don’t bother with a transfer here, just grab a cab from outside the airport.

Overall

Whilst there’s lots of conjecture over what works and what doesn’t when trying to combat jet lag, what worked for me was a) following the time clock of the city I arrived in (ie. even if you are tired, make yourself go out for dinner or even just sit on a city sightseeing bus and go to sleep when the sun goes down) and b) try Jet Ease (or No Jet Lag), they may be called something different in your country, but I found this homeopathic remedy to work a treat.

Book transfers.  I know you can catch taxis, but I prefer to know that I don’t have to bothered thinking about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there after a long flight.

I booked a lot of tickets on line which saved time queuing up.

When you are budgeting, make sure you include for tipping – I found this added incredibly to my bills in Cayman and the US.

Everyone will tell you this – but don’t over pack.  You won’t use it all.  And if there’s something  you need while you are there, if you need it bad enough, you can buy it.

Buy a second battery for your camera.  I take lots of photos and the best investment I made was in a second battery.  I find there are lots of days where I spend all day snapping away and not having to worry that I’m running out of battery is a relief.  Obviously make sure you have lots of spare cards if you are also this way inclined.

My best flights were with Emirates, Jet Blue and Singapore Airlines.  I was surprised that you had to buy food on the six hour Virgin flight from New York to Seattle.

Order a low fat meal for the flight home!

Any questions?  Please drop me a line and I’ll be more than happy to share my point of view!

A Big Day of Sights in the Big Apple

Day 19:  New York

They are right when they say that New York is the city that never sleeps.  It’s a cacophony of horns and sirens all night long.  But it serves to remind me that I am in Nu Yawk!  So I jump out of bed and head off eager to explore the city which everyone is so sure I will love.

Walking through the streets, I pass the Empire State Building, the Avenue of the Americas, Bryant Park, Magnolia Bakery, Trump Tower – all things I have heard about, but can now visualise.  The streets of New York are easy to navigate, like a huge grid, and there’s so much to see at every turn.  Yellow cabs weaving into and out of traffic, New York police directing traffic, steam rising from the sidewalk grids above the subway….and people everywhere.

It’s a warm day, with quite a sticky tinge to it, but it no less makes for a nice day to explore.  First stop is Rockefeller Centre.

Rockefeller Centre / Top of The Rock Observation Deck

With the country facing economic catastrophe and the world between two wars, John D. Rockefeller’s vision for his centre never wavered.  Rockefeller Center and the observation deck were his gifts to Manhattan- a place for locals and visitors to marvel at the city he loved.

Although Rockefeller spent most of his life engaged in philanthropy, his biggest venture was the creation of the “city within a city” – constructed during the Great Depression’s worst years, the project gainfully employed over 40,000 people.  The Rockefeller Center officially opened in May 1933, and during its first decade, the complex bustled with exciting tenants.  Throughout the 1930’s, Rockefeller Center steadily improved, including some accidental innovations like the Christmas Tree tradition in 1931 and the skating rink in 1936. By 1939, more than 125,000 people were visiting Rockefeller Center daily; on its own, it would have been the 51st largest city in the U.S.

Part of the Rockefeller Center is Radio City Music Hall.  I was surprised to see the line up for Radio City on October 10, because on my flight to the UK, I had watched a documentary called ‘Searching for the Sugar Man”, which was basically about a musician named Rodriguez, who some say was better than Bob Dylan, but whom never achieved any fame in the US at the time, but became a huge star in South Africa.  He was surrounded in mythology until a couple of fans tracked him down.  It was quite a remarkable story, and good to see that American audiences will now get to see what all the fuss was about.

Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall
View from the Top of the Rock
View from the Top of the Rock

30 Rock

30 Rock was a television comedy created by Tina Fey.  The series’ name refers to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in which the NBC Studios are located.  I became a fan of the show after being introduced to it by my sister and brother-in-law (thank you Leigh & Mike) – so here you go guys – a couple of snaps from the real life place….

Ta da...
Ta da…
...

By the way – Tracy Jordan advertises water on TV.

Central Park

Central Park was the first landscaped public park in the United States.  Advocates of creating the park–primarily wealthy merchants and landowners–admired the public grounds of London and Paris and urged that New York needed a comparable facility to establish its international reputation.  A public park would offer their own families an attractive setting for carriage rides and provide working-class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to the saloon.  After three years of debate over the park site and cost, in 1853 the state legislature authorized the City of New York to use the power of eminent domain to acquire more than 700 acres of land in the centre of Manhattan.

The people's park
The people’s park
Central Park backdrop
Central Park backdrop

The park is massive.  It goes for miles and include a castle, a zoo, a lake and boathouse and lots and lots of other things.  There are people using every square inch of it – quick sketch stalls, pramercise (not to be confused with prancersize – this one consists of mothers exercising with their prams and not middle aged ladies dancing around with camel toes), kids activity groups, bubble blowers, dancers, cyclists, joggers, musicians…there’s no way I will get to see even half of it.  And I need to get to the Met.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The MET as it’s known more commonly is currently running an exhibition entitled Punk: Chaos to Couture, which showcases the emergence of punk fashion from its beginnings onto the high end fashion runways in the 1970’s.  It was an interesting exhibition, outlining the different types of punk fashion and displaying outfits by designers like Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Junya Watanabe, Helmut Lang, Yohji Yamamoto and Malcolm McLaren to name a few.  There were also t-shirts that were worn by Adam Ant.

The imposing façade of the MET
The imposing façade of the MET
Punk Chaos to Couture
Punk Chaos to Couture

It explored the do-it-yourself, born out of necessity approach that made punk fashion an exciting movement.  It was all about anti-establishment, politics and of course sex.  Throughout, the exhibit referred to back to its most commonly known retrobates, namely Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Patti Smith and even Blondie.  I hadn’t actually realised myself just how much punk fashion had made it to the runways.  All those safety pins, staples, rips and tears created an inspiring movement and who would have thought it just started because someone’s clothes were torn and they needed a cheap, quick fix!

Tiffany & Co.

Leaving behind my inner punk and now channelling my inner Holly Golightly, I arrive at Tiffany & Co. located at 727 Fifth Avenue, the very store featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Stepping inside, you enter a magical world of glimmering display cabinets filled with coloured previous stones and dripping diamonds.  I would hate to think what some of these pieces sell for, but I buy myself a small gift to commemorate the trip, because let’s face it – it’s just one of those things you have to do in New York.

Standing outside Tiffany & Co
Standing outside Tiffany & Co

Times Square

Times Square is only a few blocks, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in punch.  Whilst, not in its full glory by day, you can see all sorts here.  Superheroes and giant Elmo’s wander the streets, tackling tourists for photos.  Tour bus touts ply you for business on every corner, I even heard an NYPD officer yell at someone in the exact same voice as the officer from the Simpsons!

The Naked Cowboy
The Naked Cowboy

By 1928, some 264 shows were produced in 76 theaters in Times Square, showcasing the new popular culture born of America’s immigrant stew – vaudeville and musicals, jazz and the movies.  Today it remains the busiest theater district in the world, and is also home to MTV, Hard Rock Cafe and Madame Tussaud’s.  But I would say the best things about Times Square are free.

Discovery Times Square

DTS plays host to a number of special exhibitions.  Currently running are The Art of the Brick and Bodies: Pulse, and I want to see both.  Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside Bodies, which is a real shame, because that stuff is amazing.  These are real bodies, left to science to show the inner workings of, well, your body.  Apart from full body models, there are all sorts of body parts, blood, muscle systems and slices of brain and other parts.  Particularly shocking is the cross section of two legs – one from a smoker and the other a non-smoker – the smoker’s lower leg was just black.  This was repeated in the lungs on display, where the smoker’s lung was soaked in tar all the way through.  It was disgusting.

This is (was) a real body!
This is (was) a real body!

I was luckier with the lego exhibition though and took a heap of photos.  These were absolutely amazing.  This guy has down the rounds of all the talk-show, late night show and news-shows around, showcasing his lego talents.  It’s extremely hard to believe this is all done by normal lego bricks.

Amazing...
Amazing…
This one's for you Leigh!
This one’s for you Leigh!

After lunch at Hard Rock (of course) and a spot of shopping at Macy’s I’m heading home for a nap before heading out tonight (only 20 minutes kip though – don’t worry).

Everyone asks you what show you are going to see on Broadway when you come to New York.  I’m not that huge a fan of all those musicals out there.  I really wanted to see a rock show or some WWE.  But there was nothing of interest until…I logged onto an entertainment guide whilst in Cayman for one last check and came up with something I really wanted to see, and was lucky enough to be able to get a ticket for.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a documentary about the making of a new musical, which was being composed by Damon Albarn (from Blur) and his fellow bandmate Jamie Hewlett (whom together formed part of Gorillaz).  It was a reproduction of Monkey:  Journey to the West and it looked amazing.  But that was years ago and I’d never heard anything about it since, it was obviously a UK thing.  But now, here it was debuting in New York, right during my visit.

I hailed a New York cab in peak hour (thank you very much, not that he had much choice because he was technically dropping off other passengers and hadn’t pulled away from the curb yet) and headed off to the David H Koch Theatre.

Monkey:  Journey to the West

It’s the story about a monkey born from a stone who grows up to realise that he is not immortal and decides he doesn’t like that.  After being encased under a mountain by Buddha for 500 years, the mischievious monkey is released into the protection of a monk in order to guide him on his journey towards enlightenment.

It’s part theatre, part acrobatics, part audio visual light show and the result is fairly amazing.  The entire show is done in Chinese with English subtitles.  Scene 3, which is the Heavenly Peach Banquet is ethereal.  Chinese maidens fly across the stage, their beautifully coloured, flowing gowns flapping gently after them.  The acrobatics in the show is amazing and reminiscent of the acrobatic troupe I saw in Shanghai many years ago.

Entry to the Theatre
Entry to the Theatre
My view for the show
My view for the show

The music was all composed by Damon (who actually went off and studied Chinese music) and Jamie bought the set and costumes to life.  It was the best kind of show to see in New York.

It’s been a long day and my feet are so sore from so much walking.  After a cab ride home, I’m thinking a late night slice of pizza with a couple of glasses of red would top this night off perfectly…