North America, Travellers, United States of America

#Explorers Experience – New York City & Woodstock

In October 2017, me and my friend Nicolas spent just a bit over 2 weeks in Washington State and New Yor State, in the USA. As you could read in Explorers Experience – Seattle & Olympia, Washington State, USA, we spent the first week in Washington State. Here we attended a real American wedding, we paid a visit to EF Seattle and the beautiful college campus it is situated on, we saw the Space Needle, but we also visited Mt Rainier National Park. A perfect combination of city life and nature. After 8 days in the Evergreen state, we moved on to the Empire state: New York! We flew from the far West to the far East of the USA, experiencing two very different sides of the US. In both the literal and figurative way. We went from the evergreen nature to the empire city, from overly friendly people to train employees that couldn’t even sell us a train ticket without being rude, but on the upside, we went a few degrees up in temperature.

Day 1 – Like New York locals

After a peaceful plane ride, however so full we couldn’t sit next to each other, and experiencing the rudest employee ever on the train station that connects the airport to the city, we made it to the city where dreams are made. For neither of us this was our first visit to the big apple. I had already been here about 10 years ago, and Nicolas 5 years back. Luckily for us, Nicolas has a second cousin that lives in Williamsburg, and he was kind enough to let us stay with him and his husband.

We arrived in the late afternoon in a sunny New York. We were greeted by a bright yellow door and two people that totally made up our bad experience with New Yorkers earlier that day: our hosts Pim and Gert-Jan. After catching up over home-cooked food, we had a true New Yorker experience. We walked their dog Sophie through a nearby park, where people were playing basketball, running, or also walking their dog.

“Is that what I think it is…?”

“Wow for a second I thought I saw the Empire State Building over there, but that cannot be possible,” I said to Nicolas. He looked away from Sophie trying to play with the other dogs, up into the night sky in the direction where I pointed. “No, wait. I think it really is the Empire State Building!” That was probably the best start of a visit to a city – ever.

New York City NYC Brooklyn Yellow Door Explorer Melissa hashtagexplorers
Williamsburg, NYC

Day 2 – The Pim Philip Experience in Brooklyn

We woke up late due to the jetlag and decided to stay close to home on our first day in the city that never sleeps. Luckily for us, our host Pim organises experience tours throughout New York. Mostly for Dutch and Belgian visitors, but as he is fluent in both Dutch and English, he is open to any nationality. For his own company, Pim Philip, he designed city maps with cool walking tours in Williamsburg and the whole of Brooklyn. Honestly, we were so surprised by the cool things we saw. From a bagel shop to a small, independent bookstore, from street art to gems of restaurants (with a tree in the centre of the restaurant): They are all on this map. I will write a full review of our day in Brooklyn later on, so keep an eye out for the Pim Philips Experience blog!

House of Small Wonders Pim Philip Experience Explorer Melissa hashtagexplorers Japanese Brooklyn NYC New York City Williamsburg

Day 3 – Manhattan

Finally, we managed to get to the other side of the bridge: Manhattan! We took the subway to Union Square and walked all the way to Grand Central. While exploring the city, we passed by the Flatiron building, the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, we went to the ginormous bookstore Barnes & Nobles, and strolled Fifth Avenue.

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Outside the New York Public Library
New York Public Library inside Explorer Melissa
Inside the New York Public Library

Day 4 – EF New York & Lama party

EF New York

Just as in Seattle, we wanted to pay a visit to the EF school in New York. EF New York is the largest language school in the entire world and is situated on a former college campus. EF bought the campus as a whole and turned it into a school with adjacent student housing. This international English language school is located in Tarrytown, a small town upstate about 40 minutes from Grand Central. Tarrytown is a popular spot for celebrities, and EF students are known to socialize with famous Americans such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, and also Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel recently bought a house close to the school.

We didn’t see anyone that has ever been on the cover of People Magazine, but we did however meet with the Activities Manager and the School Director of EF New York. For EF the Netherlands (@efnederland) we did a live tour of the school on Facebook and asked some Dutch students about their experiences with EF New York. In short, they had an amazing time. Which is not very difficult to imagine, if you know that they have access to a gym, basketball court, swimming pool, beach volleyball court, canteen, Starbucks, and activities organised for them every single day of the year. And then I haven’t even talked about the recently renovated student housing, let alone the English classes. If you have been to EF New York, you will know what I am talking about when I say that you basically never have to leave campus to have fun.

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The main building on the campus of EF New York

Meet Pierre the lama

After gathering recommendations on what to do in NYC from the Activities Manager, we returned to Williamsburg. The train ride that took us past the Hudson River showed stunning views of the sunset. Once home, we joined Pim and Gert-Jan to a lama party. A lama party? Yes, you read it correctly. We went to a photo studio-turned-club, that hosted a lama party once a year, where they invited a real-life, very photogenic lama that everyone can take pictures with. You do have to stand in line for at least an hour, but with the free drinks and free snacks this was absolutely no problem. See the result below.

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Pierre the lama, at the lama party

Day 5 – Upstate: Woodstock & Athens

Pim and Gert-Jan recently bought and renovated a house in Athens, a small town in upstate New York. Gert-Jan wanted to pick up a table he had seen online and bring it to their home. We of course wanted to see more of New York State, so we quickly decided to join. We went by car; however, Gert-Jan needed a bigger van to pick up the table. Therefore, we dropped him off at a car rental, which gave us the time to pay a visit to a neighbouring town.

Everyone has definitely heard of it, although probably not everyone knows exactly where it is: Woodstock. Yes indeed, famous for the hippy festival organised in this town in the sixties. A full review of what we did in Woodstock will be posted soon! After lunch in Woodstock, we continued our journey towards the beautifully renovated house in Athens, and before night fell we returned to NYC.

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Exploring the little wonders at the Woodstock market

Day 6 – Washington Square Park, Ground Zero, Wall Street, Staten Island Ferry

Washington Square Park

We started this Sunday having a great brunch in Williamsburg. As you might know from series such as Gossip Girl, brunch is a big thing in NYC. This lazy Sunday also gave us ample time to revisit some tourist highlights in NYC. Therefore, we used this day to do some more sightseeing. On the Pim Philip Instagram (@pimphilip) we saw a video of a gigantic piece of art: A bird cage inside the arch in Washington Square Park. We decided to pass by the “Good Fences Make Good Neighbours” piece before we went to Ground Zero and Wall Street.

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Picture of the “Good Fences Make Good Neighbours” art in Washington Square Park by @ayindestevens

Ground Zero

After the bird cage, we walked to Ground Zero, the 9/11 memorial, where you can also find the Freedom Tower. When I visited NYC 10 years ago, the memorial was not finished yet, and the Freedom Tower was not even planned to be build. Seeing the enormous black squares with all the names of the people that passed away in that same spot, gave me chills. Some people still put roses in the memorial, but it attracts a lot of foreign visitors – like us.

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Ground Zero

Wall Street & Staten Island Ferry

We decided not to enter the Ground Zero museum, but instead to go to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. After touching the bull’s balls, we went to the Staten Island ferry. Not because Staten Island is that interesting. Or actually, we wouldn’t know because we didn’t even leave the ferry terminal.

So why would we take a ferry to a small island just below Manhattan? Well, my dear friend Annabel, who lived in New York for 6 months when she was 18 years old, had told us that this free ferry shows a magnificent view of the Statue of Liberty. Magnificent was an understatement. While going to the island that houses Lady Liberty is expensive and only offers a view from below, the Staten Island ferry takes off delivering a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline, and goes right past the Statue of Liberty.

#Explorers Tip: Take the free Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty for free from the best angle. We took the ferry just before sunset, so on the way to Staten Island we saw the statue by daylight, and on the way back we saw it in the dark. The Manhattan skyline, which lights up in the dark, is almost even more beautiful after sunset.

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View on the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry at night

Day 7 – Central Park, Strawberry Fields & Broadway

Seven days in New York, and we had not made it to Central Park yet. This beautiful park in the middle of the city is so big that most people conquer it by bike. As we had plans for later that day, we decided to walk to Strawberry Fields. Afterwards, we went straight back to Times Square.

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Strawberry Fields

The plans we had for later? Waiting in line for an hour on Times Square. Regardless of the fact that waiting on Times Square is not that bad, why on earth would you do that? Well, if you are travelling New York City on a budget like us, but you do want to live as if you’re rich, you can go to Times Square and get Broadway tickets with 50% discount. We got tickets for Miss Saigon, where we went that evening. Our show took place inside the beautiful Broadway Theatre, where dozens of Broadway stars have risen to fame.

#Explorers Tip: TKTS, located on the southern end of Times Square, is where you can get these discounted Broadway tickets. Generally, between 3 in the afternoon and 8 in the evening you can queue here but check out the up-to-date time schedule here.

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The queue for Tkts is always long, so make sure to be on time!
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The inside of the Broadway Theatre

Day 8 – High Line & Top of the Rock

High line

Our last day in New York: Time for the ultimate highlights of the trip. So, we decided to go to two all-time highs! We started on the High Line, an old train track taking you all the way from 12th street to 30th street. The High Line offers a great view of the city from a different angle.

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Walking the High Line

Lunch at Citizens of Chelsea

After –accidentally- walking the whole high line, we had lunch at Citizens of Chelsea. This is an Australian café in the middle of Chelsea, NYC. If you know us just a little bit, you will know how excited we were when we were greeted with an Aussie accent and discovered lemon, lime & bitters on the menu.

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Delicious lunch at Citizens of Chelsea

Top of the Rock

Earlier in the week we reserved tickets for Top of the Rock, the observation platform on top of Rockefeller Centre. From here you have a great view of the city. We decided to go just before sunset, so we could take pictures from NYC by day and by night. Bonus: You get to take pictures during Golden Hour (the hour before sunset, where light is most beautiful)!

#Explorers Tip: Cannot decide whether to go to Top of the Rock or the top of Empire State Building? We have done both, because the first time we visited NYC we both went to the Empire State Building. In our experience, Top of the Rock is the better of the two to visit. This is because from here you can see the Empire State Building. Plus, you also have better views of Central Park. Bonus: The Empire State Building has a fence all around, while Top of the Rock only has glass and in some parts no blockage at all. Great pictures guaranteed!

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Top of the Rock


And just like that, the two weeks in the USA were over. I can look back on two amazing weeks in the US of A. And of course, plenty to blog about for you! Have you been to New York? What was your experience like?

Did you like what you read? Curious to read more? Here you can read about my experience in Seattle:

Explorers Experience – Seattle & Olympia, Washington State

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Melissa is the founder of Hashtag Explorers. She is a Dutch, enthusiastic, and open-minded world traveller. Melissa enjoys her time researching new travel destinations, kickboxing, singing or horse back riding. Her strong desire to experience new cultures and meet new people has led to creating #Explorers. If you cannot find her in The Hague, where she is working as a civil servant, she is probably exploring the rest of the world, where she is reliving memories from the times she lived in Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Singapore, and Malta.

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