Coming from a bit of a rough time in Nepal, arriving in New York felt like arriving on a different planet.
Suddenly, for the first time in 5 months, we spoke the language. Sure, USA isn't exactly 'home', but it was the closest we'd been culturally since December. And it was a welcome relief!
Zev's uncle and aunt, Loren and Carol, graciously opened their home to us, and looked after us unbelievably during our stay. Without their hospitality, our New York experience would have been a very different beast!
Here are some of the 'highlights' of our stay:
Catching up with friends and family
What felt like a very brief time in New York City was a veritable whirlwind of catch ups with long lost friends and family.
First and foremost, of course, was Zev's uncle and aunt, Loren and Carol. We had a great time hanging out with them and their lovely dog Manny (more on him later!) during our stay.
We also managed to do some intesive cousin catch ups during our stay! We saw Rachel, who Zev hadn't seen since he moved to New Zealand 18 years ago; Josh, who we last saw when Zev's niece Simone was born nearly 6 years ago; and Jacob, who we last saw when he was visiting New Zealand not long after that. It was great to see Zev reconnecting with his family - when you live so far away, you don't get to catch up very often!
In addition to mini-family reunions, we also got to see some old school friends. One of Zev's friends from grade school is now living and working in New York, so we met him and his girlfriend for a fun night at a fried chicken restaurant with a very friendly waitress who gave us lots of free wine, but also sat down and joined us for a while to tell us about how much she hated French people!
We also saw a friend of mine from school who is now living in New York with her husband, and had a great meal at a BBQ restaurant. It's really fun to be so far from home, but still feel like you have friends and family around!
We had so many amazing meals in New York, that we couldn't possibly fill you in on all of them. After months and months of curry and rice, the food options were staggering - and we made the most of them. Delis, diners, fried chicken, BBQ, burgers... The list goes on. As do the pounds...
As well as the excellent restaurant meals we enjoyed, it was SO NICE to have access to a kitchen again! Zev got to cook some meals, and just little things like being able to have cereal for breakfast and make a cup of tea whenever we wanted was such a luxury!
Sorting out cellphones
This turned into a bit of a nightmare! We decided to sort phones out on our first day in New York so that we could get in touch with everyone we wanted to see while we were in the US.
Sprint was the closest shop to us, so we went in, explained that we were tourists looking for SIM cards to use for the 3 months that we were here, and asked what our options were. It seemed that the best deal for us was $65 per phone per month, which got us unlimited calls, texts, and data (NZ telcos, you NEED to up your game). We signed up and got our SIM cards.
Mine immediately started working, but Zev's wasn't activating. We spent the better part of 2 hours in the shop, trying to sort out the bloody phone. They sent us home, telling us that if we did a factory reset of the phone, it should sort itself out.
Except it didn't. Two hours later, Zev went back to Sprint to tell them that it wasn't working. After another hour of tinkering, they sent him home again, assuring him that the problem was the phone, not the network. They recommended that we call Apple.
Of course, when we rang Apple, they told us that the problem was with the network. The next morning, we were back at Sprint. They spent ANOTHER hour trying to get it going, until they admitted defeat, and sent us to the tech support department at another store.
We walked 50ish blocks to Flatiron to see the tech support. The news was not good. Somehow, Zev's phone was locked to another network (despite the fact that phones sold in NZ aren't locked, so we had no idea what he was talking about). This was getting ridiculous. The Sprint man told us that the only way to unlock it was to get in touch with the carrier who'd locked it - except that we had no idea which carrier had locked it! We've used our phones in dozens of countries around the world, and we wouldn't even know how to start figuring out which one it was, or how to get in touch with them.
As a last ditch effort, we went into an Apple store. Thankfully, the amazing staff member there explained that the phone doesn't get locked to a network, rather it gets locked to a 'frequency' (or at least that was how she described it to us laymen). Different service providers operate on different frequencies, so if Sprint didn't work, it was likely that AT&T or T Mobile would. Hooray!
10 minutes later, we were at AT&T, and sure enough, it worked. Their plan was the same, and the same price, so we signed Zev up and were out of there in no time!
But the drama doesn't end there! We went back to Sprint to explain what the issue was, and to ask if we needed to do anything to cancel the line that wouldn't work. They assured us we did not. 2 days ago, we got the bill for it! Cue another hour on the phone, getting it cancelled and refunded. Then yesterday, when I tried to pay the bill online, we discovered that they don't accept international credit cards (although we were assured in store that they do), and if you pay in a shop, it costs and extra $12 per month.
Loren and Carol live three blocks from Central Park, so we spent a lot of time walking through it. At more than 750 acres, this oasis of green is an incredible sanctuary in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world.
We couldn't believe how many people were in the park, regardless of the time of day, or day of the week that we were there. It was constantly packed with people walking dogs, picnicking, and playing sports (including a lot of frisbee!).
One of our first stops in New York was the High Line, a 2.33km long, elevated linear park, created on an unused railway track on the Lower West side of Manhattan. The park is an incredible example of cities repurposing unused areas into fantastic public spaces. Much like Central Park, even mid-morning on a weekday, the park was bustling.
The park is filled with beautiful plants, arranged in a way that is reminiscent of the way plants grew over the abandoned tracks. Sculptures and murals line the walkway, and even though the park is only three storeys above street level, the elevated view of the city is pretty remarkable.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
This was definitely a must do for both of us in New York. We took advantage of their free Friday evenings, and headed in to spend a few hours wandering the galleries, taking in Van Gogh's Starry Night (over the tops of lots of people's heads), Monet's Water Lillies, and Jasper Johns' Flag among the many other treasures, and generally pretending to be far more cultured than we really are.
We could easily have spent our entire time in New York going to show after show, but sadly, they're pretty expensive.
Luckily, shortly after we arrived, Loren and Carol were generous enough to take us to see Waitress, a musical based on the 2007 film of the same name. It was fantastic! The music and set were great, and ex-American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee was excellent in the lead role.
We also managed to get some last minute tickets to see Book of Mormon, which I saw in London in 2012, and had been desperate to take Zev to see since. It was just as good as I remembered, and Zev and I left with stomachs sore from laughing at this wonderfully irreverent and universally offensive show!
Trying to buy a car
This took up the bulk of our time in New York, and really cut into our sightseeing time, which was a bummer. We arrived with the idea that we'd buy some kind of vehicle, ideally a van, to travel the country in and live out of for the three months. We knew it would be difficult, but we also know people who have done it, so we knew it was possible.
The whole process was a little overwhelming, so we spent a couple of days researching what we needed to do to get it sorted. We figured out that the most important, and probably most difficult, step was to try to get insurance. We spent a great deal of time online and on the phone, talking to insurance companies to get quotes. Lots of companies won't even insure you if you're not a resident, and still more don't offer insurance policies for less than 6 months. FInally we found a company that would agree to insure us, but rather than the $500ish for 3 months that others we'd spoken to had paid (buying vans on the west coast), we were being quoted upwards of $800. Ouch...
While we were sorting out insurance, we were also looking at vans online. We found one that looked PERFECT. At $3600, it was more than we were planning to spend, but on the other hand, it was already converted. The owner had installed a bed and lots of storage, and she was including lots of gear like a gas stove, pots and pans, utensils etc. We headed to Brooklyn to check it out and test drive it, and loved it. We told her that we wanted to get a machanic to check it out, and arranged for one to get in touch with her to book a time to come to her place to give it a look.
Two days later, the mechanic called to say that she wasn't answering or returning his calls. We spoke to her and she said she'd been 'working', but would get in touch that night. The next morning, she text to tell us she'd sold it - bummer!
By then, we'd spent close to a week trying to find a car and had come up empty handed. The pros of buying a van rather than renting were that we would be able to 'live' in it a lot of the time, and that we would hopefully be able to recoup some of our costs by selling it when we were done with it. The cons were that it was a huge risk - if the van blew up, or we had an accident (even while insured), the responsibility was all ours.
Given the time it was taking to organise buying, we decided that it was going to be easier to just rent. While that meant renting a car rather than a van (so we'd have to buy a tent etc to camp, and that limited our ability to 'live' in the car), and that we wouldn't be able to recoup any of the costs of renting, the ease and peace of mind of knowing that if the car blows up, it's not our problem have made us feel a lot better about driving across the country.
We still have dreams of doing a cross country van trip one day, but when we attempt it again, it will be with much more time, and a much higher budget!
During our stay with them, Zev's uncle and aunt went away for a long weekend and left us in charge of their dog, Manny. Our first night went great - he was a happy camper, and even slept on the bed with us overnight. The next morning, we took him for his walk, and he had a great time, other than the fact that he kept trying to eat grass.
When we got home, he wasn't that interested in his breakfast, and he moped around a bit, but we put that down to the fact that his Mum and Dad were away. He was still behaving normally on his walks, but he didn't eat his dinner, and he got more and more mopey as the day wore on.
That night, he threw up on the bed. After a quick clean up, we let him stay on the bed and sleep on a towel and a mattress protector. We weren't sure whether he wasn't eating because he was sick, or if he was sick because he wasn't eating. We decided to keep an eye on him overnight, and see how he was doing in the morning.
He threw up a few more times overnight, so we agreed that we'd call the vet when they opened at 8am. In the meantime, we took him out for his morning walk so that he could go to the toilet. About 50m out the front door, the other end exploded - he had violent bloody diarrhea. Things were now serious! We rang Carol to let her know what was going on, and went straight to the vet as soon as they opened.
The vet seemed pretty unconcerned - she was sure it was something viral that had been going around (she'd treated a few other dogs with the same problem over the last couple of weeks), but she wanted to keep him overnight to keep an eye on him.
We felt terrible!! We'd been left in charge of the dog for less than 36 hours, and he'd ended up in hospital! We were the worst dog sitters ever!
On a positive note, Manny was home the next day, looking chipper as ever. He has now made a full recovery, and it doesn't look like he'll need counselling from having the worst dog sitters in history. And he still seems to like us.
9/11 Memorial and around
Last time I was in New York, the 9/11 Memorial wasn't yet built, so we decided to head down and check it out. The memorial is really beautiful. Set in a peaceful park, two huge pools with man made waterfalls mark the spots where the towers once stood. Around the pools, bronze plaques contain the names of the 2977 people killed in the September 11 attacks, and the 6 killed in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. A white rose is placed in the inscribed names on their birthdays.
From there, we wandered down to the Financial District to check out the Charging Bull, and the more recent addition, the Fearless Girl.
Next, a short stroll took us to the waterfront, where we could see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. We had decided not to bother going out to see it, as we'd read that the security checks and lines make it a complete nightmare, so instead settled for a distant view. As always, she's much smaller than you expect!
We walked along the waterfront to take in a view of beautiful Brooklyn Bridge too - one of my favourite bridges in the world!
Picking up the rental car and getting out of town!
It was with much sadness that we waved goodbye to Loren, Carol and Manny in New York, even though we knew we'd be seeing them again soon at the family reunion. And it was with a great deal of trepidation that we went to pick up the rental car!
This is Zev's first time driving on the right hand side of the road, and the left hand side of the car. It took a little time to adjust, but as we headed down the Philadelphia, he got the hang of it.
The car itself is great. As they always do, they upgraded us, so we're driving a Nissan Rogue - much bigger than the Peugeot 206 we're used to piloting! So far though, she's been a trusty steed, and we're looking forward to many more hours of adventures in her!
Stocking up in Walmart
Our first stop outside of New York was Walmart to get ourselves kitted out for camping. For almost exactly $300USD, we got:
- a tent
- an air mattress
- a quilt
- two pillows
- sheets and pillow cases
- two camping chairs
- a two burner propane camping stove, and some propane
- a picnic blanket
- a frying pan and a pot
- a mixing bowl/jug and collander
- plates and bowls
- a spatula
- a wooden spoon
- two tea towels
- a scrubbing brush
- dishwashing liquid
- a chilly bin/cooler
- a set of plastic drawers to help keep the boot organised
- chewing gum & M&Ms
Not bad Walmart, not bad! With all that loaded into the back of the car, we hit the road to Philadelphia - Zev's hometown!!
Lots of love,
S & Z