New York - New York

May Swan-Easton on 11 June 2009
This was a 21st birthday celebration for my stepson Chris and his girlfriend Rachel, along with my husband for 4 nights, staying at the 4* Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Manhattan. An all-suite hotel with separate bedroom and living room area and offers complimentary daily breakfast and nightly Managers cocktail reception.

We flew into JFK airport with a taxi transfer time of 50 minutes

Chris and Rachel went off to do their own exploring of the ‘must see’ sights like Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Rockafeller Centre, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, Radio City Music hall etc. Whilst my husband and I went in search of new sights to see. This wasn’t our first trip to New York so we wanted to experience things we missed out last time around. Like these lesser known gems.

This included the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Station. This unmarked archway, located in front of the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, possesses a mystifying acoustic property: when two people stand at diagonal arches and whisper, they can hear each other's voices "telegraphed" from across the way. So be careful what you say!

The Berlin Wall Remnants in Paley Park is nestled in a small Midtown plaza at 520 Madison Avenue and is an unexpected piece of history. Five sections of the Berlin Wall, in total measuring 12 feet high and 20 feet long, have been on display here since 1990.

Our first time visit to Ellis Island was very moving. Opened on January 1, 1892, Ellis Island became the nation's premier federal immigration station. In operation until 1954, the station processed over 12 million immigrant steamship passengers, including the UK. It's also worth mentioning that as of July 2009 visitors can now walk the 354 steps up to the 'crown' of the Statue of Liberty but reservations must be made in advance.

We visited Ground Zero to witness the progress of the World Trade Centre rebuilding efforts. The base of the new Number One World Trade Centre ‘The Freedom Tower’ has been laid and measured 105 ft above street level and is due for completion in 2012. The whole 16 acre site which includes a Memorial and Museum is due to be fully completed mid 2013.

We also rented bikes in Central Park. Beware - the brakes are located using the pedals not the handbrakes! There are designated cycle lanes around the perimeter of the park and it's not as flat as you think!

Eating out in New York is a delight and every type of food is available to meet even the most discerning palate. We dined at 2 new restaurants a tried and tested one. We spent our first night at The Rodeo bar (27th st & 3rd Av), where you can eat the best cheese burger with grilled onions ever whilst you listen to live music (country, alt-country, rockabilly, and bluegrass) that rocks the joint. There is a real ‘road-house’ feel to this place. The 2nd night we had dinner with friends at Jordan’s Steak House in Grand Central Station, where we opted for the 3 course Prix-fixe menu a for a mere $35, which included a smoked Salmon appetiser, Filet Mignon Entrée and cheese cake dessert. Expect a bottle of wine to be in the region of $25 upwards. It is in a lovely location where you can watch the commuters arriving / departing Grand Central Station. We chose an old favourite for Chris’s birthday – The Garage in Greenwich Village, which offers an international menu and live jazz music. Tip: Ask for a table downstairs and make dinner reservations to avoid disappointment.

Time for shopping on the last day, my favourite haunts are Century 21 - four floors of designer clothes, perfume & homeware plus a separate building for shoes (if you like a bargain but hate chaos this is not the place for you). Burlington Coat Factory is less chaotic and you’ll find great bargains here but like TJ Maxx & Filenes basement, a disappointment if they don’t have your size as they don’t hold stock, but do have regular deliveries. There’s always Macy’s or Bloomingdales for great choice. Visit ‘Customer Services’ on arrival with photo ID to collect a 10-11% savings card on purchases.

A quick subway ride back to the hotel which is the quickest and cheapest way to get around Manhattan and a mad panic to pack those last minute purchases and we’re in a taxi to Newark Airport which takes 25 minutes. Do pre-arrange a return transfer as a taxi will cost approximately $80 plus toll and tip.