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New York Travelogue – (Part 2): Brooklyn Bridge, Charging Bull, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Washington Square, Times Square and Bryant Park

Our stay in New York City – Club Quarters Hotel at the World Trade Center. Beautiful view of the city’s skyscrapers at the skydeck. The hotel’s snack bar has unlimited flow of canned soft drinks, coffee, nuts and snacks for guests.

The hotel was located near to the 9/11 Memorial and the vicinity was not as congested with human crowds as Times Square. The skydeck overlooking the reflecting pools.

And so we took a 3km walk to the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge in New York City. It connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, spanning the East River.

Popular pop-up food stalls in New York City.

The kids soaking themselves in the sights and culture on each stop.

Travelling to New York on a budget. It doesn’t have to be an expensive trip if you kno whow to avoid paying too much money. Avoid pop up stalls selling simple food we thought it was expensive. Instead of signing up for guided walking tours, we thought it would be better to explore by ourselves using google maps.

At the start of the bridge walk. The bridge is a quite popular tourist attraction the best time to be here is early in the morning so that we can avoid the crowds later in the day.

There was a bike lane at the bridge in which a steady steam of cyclists never fails to utilise that lane. We were blessed that the weather was about 15 degrees else we would be sweating by the time we finished our walk.

This is the best place to catch sunrise and sunset. Photo-taking was a challenge as the crowds began to build. We chanced upon a camera team recording MTV.

Just to note that the pedestrain walk is made of wood. Reality is often different from what you see from social media where tourists dressed in tip-top costumes and high heels just for sake of taking the insta-worthy pictures. Hope the heels did not get stuck! We would suggest to forgo vanity for practicality when walking the Brooklyn Bridge.

Charging Bull, which is sometimes referred to as the Wall Street Bull or the Bowling Green Bull, is a bronze sculpture that stands in Bowling Green in the Financial District in Manhattan, New York City. It is the symbol of the US Stock Market.

The jetty was a short walk from the Charging Bull. With the tickets we purchased from 9/11 Museum, we would be taking ferry to the Liberty Island.

It was freezing cold! Visitors could opt to sit at the balcony or the sheltered basement.

Getting closer to the Statue of Liberty..

It was not a wasted trip. We thought of the possiblity of viewing Statue of Liberty from the mainland but decided to pay a visit to the island. It wasn’t expensive and by getting near here would mean we could take decent pictures.

It was also a perfect place to view the Big Apple from another angle.

To our pleasant surprise, we did not know that our tickets also included a visit to the Ellis Island. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration is located in the Main Building of the former immigration station complex and tells the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island. Today, the descendants of those immigrants account for almost half of the American people.

We learned about the history of early immigrants. Actually we were not big fans of museums.

Once we returned to the mainland, we hopped onto the subway to Washington Park.

This place was basically an outskirt from the busyness of the city. Not much attractions but it would be a charming place to immerse ourselves with the life of locals.

And we were being interviewed by the college students who were doing a social experiment.

We tried McDonald’s 🙂

Some said NYC is a city of endless possibilities. We were amazed upon reaching Times Square. It was so beautiful!

Located in the heart of New York City, Times Square is home to some of the most famous attractions New York has to offer.

We were just trying to find sweet spots for photo-taking.

Exploring the stores.

Macy’s Herald Square is the flagship of the Macy’s department store chain; it is located on Herald Square in Manhattan, New York City.

Big M got what she has been looking forward to.

Amazon Books located on 34th Street (Manhattan).

The prices were not cheaper than online. In fact they were priced the same.

The Empire State Building is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. We did not go up as that would mean paying for expensive tickets.

Located in Midtown Manhattan between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd Streets, the Madison Square Garden is situated atop Pennsylvania Station. If one were to wonder why it is so famous, this is the home ground of the famous New York Knicks.

Up next is the Bryant Park. Surrounded by skyscrappers, Bryant Park is Bryant Park is visited many people each year and is one of the busiest public spaces in NYC.

The ice skating rink would come to life during Christmas. What an atmosphere!

There’s no better place to chill out other than Bryant Park.

Next to the Bryant Park was the Whole Foods Market which offered a full range of high-quality and natural food. It is overlooking the beautiful Bryant Park and the New York Public Library.

At 43,000 square feet, the store has two levels of retail space that will host a full range of high-quality natural and organic goods, as well as the “News Agency,” a coffee and juice bar, which will pay homage to the look and feel of the city’s classic newsstands. Here’s our order. Microwave ovens were provided for diners to warm up their food.

We love the Big Apple!

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New York Travelogue – (Part 1): 9/11 Tribute Museum and Memorial, Manhattan Chinatown and Little Italy

An experience like no other, we took an 8 hour flight and headed to the Big Apple. We were looking forward to bunches of cool attractions at the amazing NYC!

We heard it would cost about $70 to take taxi from JFK International Airport to World Trade Center. It was the peak hour when we arrived and it took us about 1.5 hr just to clear the customs which everyone had to undergo stringent checks. Nonetheless, we opt to take the airtrain.

Strangers to NYC, we were trying to figure out how to buy the airtrain tickets.

Using our Traveler Wifi Router, we googled how to make our way to World Trade Center.

Our stay in New York City – Club Quarters Hotel at the World Trade Center.

This was the Standard Room that we booked which was rather squeezy but we had to manage our expectations as hotel lodging did not come cheap.

One of the most important stops in NYC was none other than the 9/11 Tribute Museum. Before this trip, we had educated Big and Small M on the history of 911 and why it was such a big thing to visit NYC.

The 911 Tribute Museum was near to our hotel and it became our first stop naturally. Visitors could get to experience the events of 911 from artifacts to personal stories. A big plus over here was that we could also purchase ferry tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty.

The Museum offers visitors the ability to learn factual information about the events of 9/11, the unprecedented rescue and recovery operation and the rebuilding of both Lower Manhattan and of people’s lives.

Video clips of the terrorist attacks.

The day when the whole NYC come to a standstill. Many stories were left untold.

Down the streets was the National September 11 Memorial Museum. The Museum occupied about 110,000 square feet of exhibition space, telling the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. The ticket prices were $26/Adults and $20/Young Adult. We did not enter though as we thought the exhibits were more or less the same.

The 9/11 Memorial is free of charge and open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Honoring the lives of those who were lost. Occupying eight of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center, the Memorial is a tribute to the past and a place of hope for the future.

The two reflecting pools are the center piece of the 9/11 Memorial’s design, a work titled “Reflecting Absence” by Michael Arad. The pools cover the exact footprints of the original Twin Towers. Each is about an acre in size and together they make the largest man-made waterfall in North America.

The names of every person who died in the terrorist attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001 are inscribed in bronze around the twin memorial pools.

We took a stroll down the streets of New York City.

This was our first day at the Big Apple and we seemed to have lost way.

We spent the evening visiting Manhattan Chinatown. This was the neighbourhood where Chinese immigrants brought their traditions and culture to the lower east side of New York City.

Manhattan Chinatown is a densely populated neighborhood that draws foodies and tourists to its many Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants for dumplings, pork buns and hand-pulled noodles.

We really loved the peanut dumplings and soya bean milk here that we patronised twice.

Passed by this noodle house and we gave it a try.

Clearly, their noodles wasn’t disappointing. The bone broth soup filled with dumplings. Every dumping was meaty and packed with salty goodness to make it a homey meal in this winter day.

Always remember to include tips when dining in the States.

After our dinner, we headed down to explore Little Italy. Little Italy’s streets are lined with restaurants serving Italian staples on red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

It was pretty small and we covered the place within 15 mins. It was a long day but our hearts were full!

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London Travelogue – (Part 5): Stevenage and Emirates Stadium

We were greeted with light rain on our final day in London. The sky was cloudy but we were determined to end the day fruitfully.

With most of the main attractions covered, we took it easy today and googled for nearby places to explore.

The rain started to pelt and we took shelter at a train station.

Hopping onto the train with our Oyster cards, we had no idea where to go. Since we were not driving, taking a train ride to see the surroundings might be a good idea.

Thanks to the rain, the weather were freezingly cold and we were loving it!

The train took us into the countryside and we passed by hills, seen cattle grazing and lovely houses.

We were kind of lost and didn’t know where to alight. The train captain was surprised we had no destination in mind and recommended that we visit a little town by the name of Stevenage. Stevenage is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England, 28 miles north of London.

Alas, oyster card is not valid here and we had to pay a fine of about $50. The staff was friendly and chatted with us while he prepared tickets for us to exit.

A lovely little town to explore. Maybe not that fantastic for sightseeing but it was an ideal place to buy cheap loots.

Stevenage was pretty much like Bedok neighbourhood where you could find rows of shophouses.

Delicious germany sausages..nice to try in such a cold weather.

Yes, everything’s $1!

A haven for shopping.

The Iceland store. Wait till we see how cheap the items were.

How we wished we were living over here. It’s near impossible to find such prices over in Singapore. These items were not junk qualities either.

At the other end of the town, there were restaurants and a large Cineplex.

Had our dinner here. The chicken looked kind of dry.

We headed back to our Airbnb but before that we suddenly realised our place was near to Emirates Stadium! And so we alighted from the train and followed the signs to Arsenal.

It took about 15 mins to walk from the train stadium. Along the way, we came across houses and they were so beautifully lighted and decorated with Christmas props.

The residents living in these houses were probably the most blessed of all. Just 20m in front of the Emirates Stadium, they could attend EPL match at their convenience every week!

They might not appreciate soccer but it was a worthwhile visit to the famous soccer club.

This capped off our London trip and we booked a Blackberry Car to the airport at 1am. No hidden cost and the driver was professional. The next time we visit London, we will definitely book with them again. Next up, we will travel over 3500 miles or 8 hours of flight time to New York City!

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London Travelogue – (Part 4): Camden Market, Stables Market, Oxford Street, Hamleys and Harrods

When searching for quality markets to visit in London, the name of Camden Market will inevitably appear in the most recommended places to explore. We heard there were few hundred stores here and thought it would be a nice place to have our breakfast in the morning.

We walked about 15 mins from the London Tube to reach Camden Market.

Anything that is colourful and bright will capture the kids’ attention. Camden High Street is lined with shoe stores, leather shops and vintage clothing and vintage vinyl.

Being a tourist attraction, do not expect to find cheap stuff here.

Finally reached the market!

The labyrinth of shops led us to various food vendors.

Craving for Asian food, Thai delicacies were just so yummy.

It didn’t take long before these furry friends were in front of us yearning for little treats. Bad idea to toss some crumbs, only to invite more of them to come.

Next to Camden Market lies the Stables Market. Over here, there were many boutiques and pop up shops.

Venturing into the narrow alleys was fun in itself as we browse through the apparels and home goods.

An interesting spot for photo-taking. We had a hard time waiting for the right moment to take pictures 🙂

The popular Pret A Manger sandwich chain that are scattered all over London. This time trying it and we ended up dining there for at least three times during our stay.

We found ourselves at Oxford Street, a major road in the City of Westminster in the West End of London, running from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch via Oxford Circus. It is the Ochard Road of Singapore and jam-packed with people everywhere we went.

Where you can find the sleek lines of Apple’s products here.

Hamleys is the oldest and largest toy shop in the world and one of the world’s best-known retailers of toys. With Christmas round the corner, they were showcasing all performance to bring in the crowds.

The streets were awashed with buskers singing or playing musical instruments.

Finally we had the opportunity to take a photo here at the main Oxford street.

As night fell, we were treated to a magnificent Christmas lights extravaganza with a dazzling array of fairy lights and decorations. Everyone was soaked in the joyous mood, holiday spirit of London.

London underground station Marble ArchBond Street & Oxford Circus, Central Line, Zone 1
At Oxford Circus station you can also use Bakerloo Line and Victoria Line.

Next, we explored the Harrods. This is a department store located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, London. It is owned by the state of Qatar and no wonder everything here was so, so expensive!

Our favourite section was the food halls on the ground floor which were the most popular departments at Harrods. This is where you can find a wide range of fine delicacies is offered in 4 huge halls.

Although items were way too expensive, the effects of Brexit weren’t felt at all. The mall was filled with so many shoppers that one would not see any spirit of recession.

To get here, look out for London underground station Knightsbridge, Piccadilly Line, Zone 1.

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London Travelogue – (Part 3): Big Ben, Westminter Abbey, London Eye, St James Park, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

A visit to London is never complete without sighting the Big Ben. Well, we knew that London’s Big Ben has stop chiming as it is undergoing major renovations from now till 2021. But still, it is a mandatory stop for every tourist.

 A brief walk down appears the Westminster Abbey, London church that is the site of coronations and other ceremonies of national significance. It stands just west of the Houses of Parliament in the Greater London borough of Westminster.

We did not enter though as sunset was nearing and we had a fair bit of itinerary to cover for the day.

Caught the view of London Eye from the other side of the river. London is fairly concentrated and there are many visitors at these major attractions. When taking pictures or pausing by, it is best to find a ‘safer’ spot as you never know when pickpockets will appear.

It was an never ending stroll to Hyde Park to immerse ourselves in the christmas market and amusement park. Stopping by along the way of interesting sights.

St James’s Park includes The Mall and Horse Guards Parade, and is surrounded by landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Whitehall.. It is a beautiful place to take a breather and for kids to get up close and personal with nature and creatures.

Big and Small M are growing up and akin to their peers, they are thrilled to achieve the insta-worthy shots.

The animals were so tamed, making the experience so surreal. When did we see birds and squrriels coming up to you for treats in Singapore?

The key takeaway for us about Buckingham Palace is that it is recognised around the world as the focus of national and royal celebrations as well as the backdrop to the regular Changing the Guard ceremony.

The Buckingham Palace flower beds, also known as the Memorial Gardens, were created in 1901 as part of Sir Aston Webb’s overall design for a memorial to Queen Victoria after her death that year.

Situated in London’s Hyde Park, which spreads over 630 acres in the centre of the capital, entry to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is free. It is located in close proximity to London underground tube stations including Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch and Green Park.

We did a lot of walking just to reach here and did not go away disappointed. This place was really, really huge and it would be wise to remember prominent spots in case you get lost.

The weather wasn’t that cold but the firepit did add to the christmas atmosphere.

The kids were just like “WOW” everywhere we went and they did had their share of fun in riding the roller-coaster. On a fair note, while the park was huge many of the entertainment and rides were actually replicates.

Visiting this free-to-enter event in winter, you will have lots of fun and you can do many activities there, including ice skating, ice bar, circus shows, an observation wheel and a traditional German Christmas market. Check out this place when you drop by London during winter.

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London Travelogue – (Part 2): London Bridge, Borough Market and Tower Bridge

We were on the road for about 17 hours and jet lag made us woke up on and off. Not to mention our Airbnb was next to the main road and we heard at least 7 ambulance or police sirens the whole night, causing us to wonder about the safety of the neighbourhood. Taking a breather before hitting the streets.

A quiet park near our Airbnb. Will remember to collect some dry sycamore leaves back home next time to use as bookmarks.

The florists were getting already for Christmas – unboarding fresh Christmas trees.

London has an efficient bus transportation system where we could use the oyster card to hop on a straight bus to the London Bridge, our first stop of the day. Each trip is based on flat rate of $1.50. The weather was cooling at around 10 degrees but our visit to London was marred by drizzle almost everyday.

London Bridge & Tower Bridge

Both bridges are situated next to each other. A stop here would mean hitting two birds with a stone. To reach London Bridge, you should take the Tube to either London Bridge or Monument Tube Stations. Our bus ride stopped at the London Bridge terminal.

A random pop-up cafe serving brekkie.

London Bridge has actually been replaced numerous times during the history of the crossing. It doesn’t just refer to the current bridge over the River Thames joining the City of London with Southwark, it refers to all of the bridges throughout history that have spanned the Thames in this location.

The weather was erratic and we were praying that it wouldn’t rain today!

Borough Market

Borough Market is diagionally located from the London Bridge. A walk across the junction brought us to this popular market where its layout reflects its rich history, with a warren of passageways and open spaces providing atmosphere and offering shoppers some of the best bites in London.

It would be more convenient to visit Borough Market before Tower Bridge.

From Monday 4th December to the New Year, Borough Market is open seven days a week. For the rest of the year we’re open Monday to Saturday. The Market is located next to London Bridge station, which is serviced by the Jubilee and Northern lines on the London Underground and by mainline trains from all over London and the south of England.

We were surprised that the market was pretty huge. There were so many stalls and we couldn’t help but to pause now and then to try the pastries and local delicacies.

Three Crown Square, the Market’s largest trading area, is devoted to produce, including fruit and veg, meat, fish and cheese, while the spaces around the periphery offer a colourful and eclectic blend of foodstuffs from all over the world.

And so we gave in to temptation, trying out their delectable beef piled on some tasty bread. A delicious treat? Maybe. But we were cautious not to indulge too much, lest we come across other selections.

Surprising cheap finds in UK.

There’s a good argument to head over here for fish and chip. This award winning outlet has been revered for serving classic fish and chip dishes.

Just the way it should be – good, fresh ‘fish and chips food’ done right.

Who says busking is a pursuit of the down and out? This busker challenged the notion as he sang his heart out. A small tip would be well appreciated. Your trip to London will not be complete without a gluttonous trip to Borough Market.

Address: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL, UK

Tower Bridge

The iconic Tower Bridge and River Thames at the backdrop. The sight of the majestic Victorian Gothic style towers made Small M such a happy girl.

There can be no better time than to luck out at Tower Bridge in the chilly, crisp December period. Just as I was meddling with the focus, this friendly seagull hopped right up in front of my lens, clamouring for a shot!

We meandered our way past Tower Bridge and there were quirky cafes serving some of the best all-day English Breakfast with avacado and scrambled eggs on toast.

Often, we remind ourselves that we can feel a pair of sturdy reins in our hands, but at some point the horses dragging us along will scatter. We appreciate what we have while we have it. This is our first trip to London and we are loving it.

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London Travelogue – (Part 1): Gatwick Airport, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown Gate and Trafalgar Square

This is our first trip to London and we were told that it is an extremely expensive city for vacation. All this while, we thought it wouldn’t be possible until we discover some London hacks that made our trip a reality.

For once, we realised apart from travelling with the usual prominent airlines there are actually options to travel with budget airline to London for an affordable price of $1.1K in total for 2 adults / 2 childs (one way) – Norwegian airline.

Journey to London

Norwegian airline offers a direct flight from Singapore to London without any stopovers. To ensure further comfort, inflight entertainment are available. Ear phones were not provided.

The inflight meals were simple and nothing fanciful.

As we booked the flight early, we managed to get the best seats which gave us more room.

The 14-hour flight was surprising smooth without any turbulence and we arrived at London Gatwick airport by 5:40am.

If you are travelling to London Zone 1 or 2, we would recommend you not to take the express train which cost about $20 per adult. Our travel from Gatwick to Islington/Highbury was horrid as we needed to change platforms during the morning peak hours.

Towing 4 big luggages with us up and down the subway stairs without elevators and waiting for multiple trains before squeezing in was no joke. The weather was about 10 degrees but we were already perspiring. We would recommend booking the airport transfer (Blackberry cars) instead as the price was almost the same with no hidden charges.

The train ride brought us to the Victoria station where we would need to buy Oyster cards to travel in the London Underground, or the “Tube”. In simple terms, this is a version of our MRT. London is segmented by 9 zones with the touristy areas being in Zone 1 and 2.

Image result for london map zones
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_fare_zones

The morning crowd at Victoria station were beginning to build up.

We had our breakfast here before continuing our journey to the Airbnb.

This was already the third train ride. We were tired.

Finally arrived at Highbury & Islington station.

But not before taking a 5 min bus ride and another 2 min walk to our Airbnb apartment. For all the hassle, it would be wiser to take Blackberry cars next time.

Covent Gardens

Covent Gardens is one of the ultimate Instagram spots in London. An iconic area with thriving street arts, we heard that it is usually crowded with tourists. However, it was not that bad.

The streets were easy to explore and it was not uncommon to take a pause every now and then to soak ourselves in the historic architectures. Covent Garden is a popular tourist spot such that Din Tai Fung has recently established an outlet here.

Something similar we have seen back home.

The locals love coffee so much and very often cafes would be packed with people. The scent of fresh coffee permeated the cafe and we couldn’t help but to order a cup.

Address: 13 Floral St, London WC2E 9DH, UK

Leicester Square / Piccadilly Circus

As Covent Garden is located centrally, it is near to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Google maps may not be reliable. Having these street directories made it easier for us to find our way around.

We were in for a treat during winter as Leicester Square Christmas Markets was up and running.

Not a fan of shopping but food tasting was our theme during this trip. Unlike the States, Christmas markets are common throughout Europe and UK.

Didn’t stay too long in the Christmas markets as some strangers kept looking at our belongings. We decided to leave and go into M&Ms World for safety reasons.

Address: 1 Leicester Square, London WC2H 7DE, UK

Have you been to M&M’s World? It is situated directly opposite Leicester Square Christmas Markets.

The bright, colorful storefront would inevitably draw anyone in. The staff were friendly and helpful, even if you are not buying anything.

Abbreviation familiar to a tween.

Address: Leicester Square, 1 Swiss Ct, London W1D 6AP, United Kingdom

London Chinatown is close to Leicester Square. The nearest underground stations to Chinatown are Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Bus available are 14 / 24 / 27 / 29 / 134 / 168 / C2.

Eat all you can for $10.50.

We dined here over the next 2 days as the price was cheaper compared to other restaurants. Some restaurants open till 3am.

Address: 10 Wardour St, London W1D 6BZ, UK

Our jet-leg started to kick in. One final stop at Trafalgar Square before we ended the day. The attraction here is surrounded by museums, galleries, cultural spaces and historic buildings.

Trafalgar Square is a public square in the City of Westminster, Central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar.

Address: Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN, UK

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