NYC: Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!

Alright, time to move on to the next part of this NYC series (June 2016). Last time out on the blog I was talking about all things Manhattan but there was one noticeable absentee from that particular post: the Empire State building.

“Whatt!!? How can you blog about Manhattan and not include the Empire State Jason? You’re a terrible travel blogger!!”

You’re right! The Empire State is perhaps the most iconic piece of Manhattan’s famous skyline but there was good reason for excluding it last time round so stick with me!

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One of the debates people have when visiting NYC is whether to visit the Empire State or the Top of the Rock? Don’t get me wrong, if you can visit both then they’re both great and offer fantastic views of the city but if you’re looking to save some money somewhere and can only do one I’d personally recommend skipping the Empire State and visiting the Top of the Rock. Surprised? Let me tell you why!

The view from the top of the Empire State is fantastic but as we clarified above, it is the iconic standout of Manhattan’s skyline. Whilst you can certainly admire the view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State, you can’t see the Empire State itself!

Much like my post on Florence (here), the Duomo is the standout piece of architecture in Florence which makes the views from Piazzale Michelangelo the best in the city because you can see the Duomo in all its glory. It’s exactly the same here. One of the reasons that the top of the rock is better is because you can see the Empire State!

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The Empire State shining brightly!

 

By contrast the Rockefeller centre is nothing special, a bog standard skyscraper among many in the city. If you’re at the top of it you’re not missing out by not seeing it.

Additionally the Rockefeller centre is closer to Central Park so you get better views from here of it than you do at the Empire State. Lastly it’s actually cheaper! In my opinion you’re getting a better view at a better price. It’s a no brainer which you should visit if you can only do one!

Nevertheless, myself and Kelly decided to get tickets for both.

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View from the Empire State!

The Empire State!
Of the two, we visited the Empire State first. We went quite early in the week too so it was a great first chance to explore the city without Pran (the friend we’d gone to visit). I think we got off at Union Square and decided to walk it from there so we could have a stroll along 5th avenue and do a little window shopping on route.

Soon enough we’d arrived at the impressive empire state building and I was a bit in awe. Say what you like about which view is better, you don’t get the same “pinch me” moment at the Rockefeller centre. Perhaps that is one thing that tips the scale back in favour of the Empire State. Seeing it and experiencing it in the flesh does feel a little more special.

We made our way in, followed the signs as appropriate and a little ahead of us was an escalator. Nothing too unordinary but on the escalator was a familiar looking back of the head – surely not?

My grandparents were spending a month in the USA visiting the likes of Boston, DC, New York City, Dallas, Las Vegas and more. I knew our time in NYC would overlap but as they were only in the city for a couple of days we didn’t make plans to meet up.
They went to the US a few days before we went to New York and they’d gone AWOL and had yet to make contact with anyone back home so I’d been given instructions, jokingly, to “go and find your grandad”.

As we’d walked up 5th avenue I’d been looking out on the unlikely chance that they’d be whizzing by on one of the sightseeing buses, thinking it’d be funny if I actually spotted them but it’s a big city full of millions of people on any given day, what are the odds of actually seeing somebody you know?

So back to the empire state building – “I think I’ve just seen my grandad” I said to Kelly. As we followed up the escalator we then entered the queuing system and as the queue began to zig-zag left and right I confirmed my suspicions! That was my (sunburnt) grandad! Unbelievable! A few moments later we were embracing eachother in disbelief at the situation before sadly going our separate ways.

We’d booked our tickets in advance so skipped to the fast lane, whereas they were booking on the day and had a bit of a longer wait to buy tickets. “Maybe see you up there!”

On our way up I had to make use of the building’s Wi-Fi to message home to my mum. “Guess who I’ve just seen!?” – that’s right, I found your father! All it needed was for me to hop on a plane and I’d found him within 48 hours of being in the “little apple”.

Sadly we didn’t see each-other at the top. We did wait around for a bit, probably longer than we’d originally intended to but either they hadn’t come up yet or we just missed them. It was a little unfortunate as it would have been cool to have got a photo of us there given the opportunity.

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Company aside, the Empire State is cool. You can visit the 86th floor and the 102nd floor, I think my grandparents only did the former and might have been where we missed eachother.

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of the Empire State but given the choice again I wouldn’t go to the 102nd floor. The 86th is an outdoor viewing platform and gives you great views over the city. The 102nd is in this tiny cramped, poorly lit room which wasn’t great for photos. The view isn’t really any better, just higher and isn’t worth the extra fee to go that high. It’s worth going up but I’d personally recommend sticking to the 86th if you do.

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Central Park views from top of the rock!

The Top of the Rock
A few days later we went to the Rockefeller centre, home to much more than just the viewing platform at the top. You’ll find a host of shops, restaurants and even TV networks broadcasting your chat-show favourites in the Rockefeller Centre. We grabbed dinner at one of the restaurants before making our way up, intentionally timed to coincide with NY’s sunset.

I was interested to see how the view compared to the Empire State and wasn’t disappointed. For the most part you’re outside and have the luxury of 360 degree views of the city.  As I suggested above, the highlights for me are the close vicinity to Central Park and then the luxury of seeing the Empire State in all its glory too.

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Sun down, lights on in Manhattan!

The timing perhaps also made this better. We’d visited the Empire State around lunchtime, whereas we visited the top of the rock just before sunset. There’s no limit as to how long you can stay up there (at either attraction) so we got the bonus of seeing NYC before and after dark which was quite nice and we ended up getting plenty of photos before calling it a night.

I have to say I enjoyed both so if you can do both I’d certainly recommend doing so. They were memorable moments of our time in NYC and surprisingly gave me a unique story to tell of “that time I saw my grandad at the Empire State..”

Anyway that truly wraps up Manhattan. Next up on the blog? Exploring Brooklyn!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Introducing New York City!

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, be it on the blog or other social media, then you should know by now that London is my favourite city in the world. I was very fortunate to have been born in the city, spending a chunk of my childhood there and I still very much think of it as home.

I had the luxury of hosting Haleigh in England recently and I was particularly keen to show off London. It was nice to be the host rather than the traveler for once.

I moved out of London in 1997 so I’ve spent most of my life in Peterborough but whenever I’m asked where I’m from I always throw in a little disclaimer – “I live in Peterborough but..”

“I’m from London..”

“You haven’t lived there in 21 years Jason – stop saying that!”

It’s true though. It isn’t meant as disrespectful of Peterborough but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that same pride that I do for London. I’ll always think of London as home and the reality is I’ll probably never even live in the city again (although if you’ve got a few million spare give me a heads up).

The interesting thing is as a traveler, you’re regularly asked where your favourite place is and as tough as that can be to answer genuinely, it does often lead to me throwing in another disclaimer.
“Excluding London my favourite..”

“Excluding London? So your favourite place is home?”. It does somewhat make a mockery of the question. I’ve visited several places now and perhaps that’s one of the motivations and reasons I travel so much. London sets the standard so keep traveling until I find better, right? I’ve never said London would always be my favourite place in the world and I’m happy to be proven wrong: enter New York City!

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New York City!

I love big cities and if there was anywhere that could challenge my love of London, surely this was the one? A city full of culture, history, diversity and a city that supposedly never sleeps – NYC was my dream destination to visit and one I had high hopes for.

Come June 2016 I was finally visiting for the first time with my friend Kelly. Kelly is my fellow travel-obsessed friend and the chance to go and visit a mutual friend (Pran) who lives over there was as good a reason as any to travel, not that either of us need much excuse. So off we went to NYC for a week!

At this point in time I’d been to the likes of Sydney, Berlin and Amsterdam and whilst worthy challengers I’d yet to be convinced on a London successor to earn the title of “best place in the world”. Could NYC finally surpass London’s high standards?

Stay tuned to find out. NYC part one is next on the blog!

Jason

The big 3-0!

1988 – a year of many historic moments. Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, Liverpool were the champions of English football, Celine Dion won the Eurovision song contest, George Bush won the 88 US presidential election but most importantly was the birth of an English baby boy on the 7th of August. I was always a bit of an early riser as a kid so typically I was two hours early to deny myself the perfect birth date of 8/8/88.

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Even as a baby I was thinking about holidays!

 

Fast forward 29 years and that little baby is quickly approaching his 30th birthday! Thirty!
Those 30 years have taken me to some incredible places. For starters I was born and grew up in London so life began in one of the best cities in the world, certainly my favourite anyway. I’ve since been to the likes of New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and many many more destinations. I can’t deny I’ve done a lot of traveling but it would be easy to forget I didn’t really start taking traveling seriously until 2013.

I was lucky growing up that I had been on family trips, the odd school trip and then had annual one week holidays of my own in 2011 and 2012 but going into 2013 I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see on this planet.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I really started focusing my efforts in to traveling more. So barely five years! People often suggest traveling is for your 20’s, if that was the case I’d arrived pretty late to the party! I’ll let you in on a little secret though – you can keep traveling at 30 and beyond! I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Apparently they don’t confiscate your passport on your 30th birthday!

So with that shocking revelation in mind, the planning for my own 30th is underway. On the 3rd of August I’m due to attend a wedding on the West coast of the USA, with a 30th birthday four days later how could I not spend it in the US? The timing was perfect and there’s so much of the US I still want to see – particularly down that West coast! A big adventure was on the cards.

I floated the idea with my boss at work about taking a longer trip and asked how much time I’d be able to take off in one go. I optimistically put forward the idea of four weeks and I’ve had the OK this week!

If it comes to fruition this will be the biggest trip I’ve ever taken and is therefore going to require a lot of planning! I’ve done a couple of multi city breaks before, including in the US, so I’m not a complete novice in this area but it’s a little daunting nonetheless.
Here’s an insight in to the early stages of planning a trip like this.

Itinerary
One of the most important decisions of a trip like this is obviously deciding where you want to go!  You don’t necessarily need a finalised list but a draft list of destinations so you can start planning everything else out is helpful. The more flexible you can be the better but it’s also always good to have some set destinations in mind to help map out a route.
So stick a little pin in Seattle. That’s locked in to the itinerary for the wedding and gives me somewhere to either start my trip or aim to get to later on in the trip. Having other “must visits” will help plan out a route. Portland and San Francisco tick that box on the West coast and from there I’m pretty flexible. If everything goes to plan I’ll have 30 days in the country so the possible destinations can spread right across the country. Seeing more of California is certainly one option I’ll explore but similarly I have a number of friends in the US and I feel like that could dictate some of the destinations I choose to visit.

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USA, I’m coming back for you! 

Getting around! 
Thirty days in the USA very much screams “ROADTRIP!!!” – what a perfect opportunity for that bucketlist item many people dream of. Road-tripping across the USA definitely has its temptations. Travel the famous Route 66? Maybe! I’ll just rent a car and see where the road takes me!

However there is one tiny little flaw to this almost perfect plan – I can’t drive. Unlike in Europe, traveling the US without a car is a little more challenging but I’ll be making good use of what available transport there is. The AMTRAK train line, greyhound buses and potentially even domestic flights dependent on the distance should get me so far and will still help me reach some incredible destinations.

Personally I love this part of the planning process as you have to weigh up the cost and convenience of getting from destination to destination. Do I go from A to B or B to A? B’s actually too expensive so what if I go to D? Well if I’m going to D maybe stop at C on the way? Oh, flying to D is actually cheaper. Or you could get an overnight bus to E which would mean one less night’s accommodation to pay for. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

 

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Flying might be an option to get around the US!

Accommodation
This will likely play some factor in which destinations I visit too. Hotel prices in the US are quite expensive. Some cities are of course worse than others but it could be a factor between visiting one place rather than another. This is the area of the trip I’ll certainly be looking to cut costs. Aside from the occasional ‘treat’ I’ll probably be steering clear of hotels and exploring hostel and AirBnB options instead.

I’m also hopeful that I might have some US based friends I can stay with along the way, if I’ve got somewhere I can stay then the probability is I’m going to make more effort to visit!

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I love New York City but accommodation prices are crazy!

Objective
Something else to think about is what I actually want from this trip. The USA is huge which also makes it incredibly diverse. On previous trips I’ve been to Disneyland, I’ve been to small college towns and I’ve been to crazy cities like New York City. They’re all completely different type of trips. The US is so diverse as a holiday destination and has so much to offer, just deciding what type of holiday you want is a dilemma in itself. Do I want to concentrate on visiting cities? Could I squeeze in some beach time or visit one of the US’ many national parks? Is a Disney / Universal trip a possibility? I’m often attracted to big cities but with a much longer trip in mind perhaps mixing it up a bit is the better way to go!

Company
My last big thing to think about at this early stage is who is joining me on the adventure. I enjoy solo travel but I’m also thinking about who I’ll be spending time with whilst in the US. Would anyone come with me? Which US based friends do I try to visit? Do I see them in their hometown or might they meet me somewhere? Even if it only ends up being for a portion of the trip opposed to the entirety, it’s an important aspect to think about and plan for.

On a related note – that road trip I joked about? If there are any willing drives / adventurers then step right up, I’m more than happy contributing towards “gas” costs.

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At the baseball with my Washington favourites in September

Budget
I didn’t want to completely omit a mention of this but at the same time it’s a little early to accurately budget at this stage. It’s an important part of the trip but probably comes in the next part of the planning stage. You can budget an estimated amount based on accommodation per night, spending per day plus return flights to the US but really it’s very much guesswork at this stage.

The budget really overlaps with some of the above stages once I’ve started “connecting the dots”.
At the minute my only definitive “dot” is Seattle with much more planning to do!

Anyway that rounds up the early planning stages of the big 3-0 celebrations. Stay tuned for updates on how the planning goes and hopefully I’ll soon have a final itinerary!

I’d love to hear your input. How did you celebrate your 30th? Where should I be looking to visit? If you’ve planned a longer-term trip of your own I’d appreciate any tips you have.

Or maybe you’re just tempted to tag along? Get in touch!

All the best!

Jason