Saturday, February 18, 2017

USA Day 1-2: JFK and New York.

Suddenly in the mood of travelling - the last time we went away was to Italy in October last year and it wasn't particularly great - what with me being unwell and all.

But USA was amaaaazing. No, like really, A-MAH-ZING. Tetiba USA hahaha.

We started off the journey from Birmingham International Airport.

[KLM]
Birmingham → Amsterdam Schiphol → John F. Kennedy Airport, New York

return

[Air France]
John F. Kennedy Airport, New York → Paris Charles de Goule → Birmingham

Our tickets costed about £550pp return. We could've saved more if we flew from London but Adam was working the day before the trip, so we decided not to get too stressed out on planning and just pay extra for the convenience. And I always prefer flying out from Birmingham as it's a smaller airport (despite being international) and it's easier to get to (about 1 hour plus by train from Leicester).

And I only learnt on our trip that KLM and Air France sort of like partner together. You can manage your KLM booking on Air France website and vice versa, although I personally find KLM website more user friendly.

A little note as well, I know most overseas students are aware of this, but I'm surprised that some of my friends in Malaysia don't. Go to skyscanner.net to find and compare cheap flights. It works most of the time, and Alhamdulillah so far I had no issues with the agents/companies listed. However it's quite tricky with domestic Malaysian flights. MAS, for example, doesn't display the total amount including tax on Skyscanner (not even on their website, I believe?). So while they appear cheap on Skyscanner, the total amount changes after you're directed to MAS website. I feel this is quite deceiving, especially having become used to the UK/EU system where they're obligated to include tax in their display price - what you see is what you pay. But it's nothing too major, just something to keep in mind.

Another tip - I'm one of those who religiously key in my MH Enrich number (MAS loyalty point) in whatever airline that I fly with, especially with the long-haul ones. I don't really check if the airline that I'm flying with actually partners with MAS, but since I have the number in hand anyway, I just put it in. This proves to be a smart move as I always have some magic Enrich points appearing on my account - which means, free flights, woohoo! Not really free since you do have to pay some fee and whatnot, but it's definitely cheaper and you're more flexible to book at the last minute with Enrich points, since the points required stay the same. 

Anyways, we haven't gotten into the USA part yet, whaaatt?!??

Right, back to business.


While on this map the journey doesn't look particularly impressive, this one certainly does.


Talk about flying trans-Atlantic, woha! 

The journey itself wasn't too long, probably around 7 hours. But bearing in mind that we had to transit in Amsterdam/Paris, total travelling time one way was around 16 hours, almost the same as going back to Malaysia including transit. If you manage to bag a direct flight UK/Ireland to USA, it would be around 7 hours max.

We spent around 10 days including travelling times around The States. We only went to New York City, Niagara (Buffalo), and Washington DC before heading back to New York JFK. Considering how maaaaasssive the country is, you can imagine how much time we spent on the road driving from one place to another.

On to New York.

Day 1: JFK Arrival

We arrived at JFK quite late at night. Having foreseen this, I decided to book a room via AirBnB nearby the airport. The host also offered pick-up for a little extra cost so that was a bonus. Unfortunately I didn't take any picture as we were super tired and the place wasn't very exciting either. It did the job for both of us - a double bed with shared bathroom. The pick-up was straightforward, I can highly recommend this place for a short night or quick transfer to/from JFK.

Link to AirBnB: Room with wifi near JFK

Day 2: New Yoooorrkkkk

Took the train into NYC rather early in the morning and started the day with this.


HAHAHA true New Yorker I tell you.

Not sure what got into Adam's mind when he ordered a dozen donuts.

Since we were staying at New Jersey (NJ), ie not in Manhattan, we had to carry our rucksacks around us. We found a place to leave our luggages, I think it cost around $10 per bag for the whole day. Google, and you shall find.

So onto NYC.


New Yoooorrrrrrk, country jungle wet dreams tomaaahhtoooo. There's nothing you can't doooooo.

I. Could. Not. Get. That. Song. Out. Off. My. Head. (I made up the first part)

But really, there we were, in the middle of the busy Times Square, and mind you, it's The New York Times Square, NOT Berjaya Times Square *scoffs HAHAHA. I can still feel the excitement in my bones right now, honestly.

Being the city girl that I am, the experience was thrilling. Exhilarating. Growing up with American movies and dramas, everything felt so surreal. People (by that I mean, the Brits) used to comment on my American accent when I first came to England - THIS WAS IT, people. I grew up watching/listening to THIS. 

Btw I sound more British now. *scoff some more

That day was basically spent walking around with our heads tilted up all day. 


Like this, the Empire State Building. Now now, how could I get Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind our of my head, you tell me. New Yoooooorrkkkkk ---

Okay I should probably stop now.

But this building truly reminded me of Sleepless in Seattle movie, hopeless romantic I know.


A picture in front of Sephora because I promised Nadd I would take one, just because. And no, I did not get a single thing there.

Grand Central Terminal.



Inside Grand Central Terminal. 

I grew up listening to it being called The Grand Central Station (blame the movies!). So imagine my disappointment (and rather, embarrassment of my own ignorance) when I found out that it is now called Grand Central Terminal. Again, there are few movies that were filmed here, but one that I remember most is from Step Up 3D. 

Ahh my life in movies.


The Rockefeller Center. Notice Malaysian flag waving up there?!

Each place in NYC has its own story to tell, but you can do that from your own reading I guess. But anyways, this Rockefeller Center has a viewing deck where you can see New York from up above, including the Empire State Building. It doesn't come cheap though, although I couldn't really remember how much you'd have to pay to go in.

And here's the best part of New York City..


The Halal Guys!

I read about them A LOT before travelling to The States. And A LOT of the comments involved  QUEUES. And they weren't joking about it either. The queue extended to the corner of the block, so imagine how we felt when we first saw them. But fret not, once you're in the queue, it was only for 10 minutes top. They only take cash, so have your 10 bucks notes ready. Meals are around $7 each, and the portions are huge. It's a simple menu, I think with 5-6 options depending whether you want rice or kebab with either lamb or chicken, or both. But man, the food was heavenly.

We had our food at the side walk like a true New Yorker (haha I doubt!), partly because we were starving and the smell was too tempting.


The you-think-I'm-gonna-share? look.

We walked around for a bit more before heading bag to the luggage storage as they closed at around 6pm.



Times Square in panoramic view.

Since we were staying in New Jersey, we had to take the bus from Port Authority Bus Station. Round trip was $3 pp if I remember correctly, but you could also purchase 10-tickets for better price. The journey itself took around 15-20 minutes one way from Port Authority to NJ.

And this was what greeted us once we got off the bus at NJ.


New York skyline!

To be completely honest, part of the reasons why I chose this AirBnb (click for link) was honestly for the view. It wasn't the cheapest option if I wanted to be truly calculative, but I thought it was worth the journey and view. And the whole stay was amazing! We stayed for 4d3n and honestly, I couldn't fault the host at all. We had pastries and freshly brewed coffee every morning - and THE Hazelnut Coffeemate - I blame them for introducing that to me!

I initially considered staying somewhere in Manhattan to save on transport cost, and some of them worked out pretty much the same as staying in NJ. You pay more for the accommodation, but less on transport. Problem is, these accommodations are usually the dingy ones - shared bathrooms, no breakfast etc. Nowhere near what we got with the AirBnB. Highly recommended.

Arrived here to the magic padlock with a secret code, ha!



And somehow I became Anabel during that stay. 




They had 2 cats, which Adam wasn't particularly excited about. But me? CATS! Okay I can be quite scared of them but still, CATS!


So that sums up our first day around NYC. Hoping that I could keep up with this USA series as God knows how many pictures I have to scroll through, and the brain exercise to remember the details is just, bleghhh. But hey, it's NEW YORK!

Okay excitement over. Later.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Stonehenge - just, rocks.

Ayah has been wanting to visit Stonehenge since his last UK trip some time in July last year. But we were short of time and Adam was working so logistics were quite difficult. We went around Wales - which deserves a post on on its own (as usual), but not quite Stonehenge. So this time we had a weekend off with the family so I thought, why not.

The journey itself took about 2 hours according to Google map, but we had to detour for a very good reason (will share later!), so it felt like a very long never-ending drive. You know it's a long drive when there's this.


Road trip selfie.

After what felt like an eternal journey into nothing-ness, we finally caught a glimpse of the magnificent..


Rocks.

My first thought, "I expect you to be bigger?!"

And now is the time that I bore you with this legendary Windows 97 screensaver/wallpaper.


But our photo, first.


While this looks pretty majestic, it actually isn't. It's not even as big as I thought it would be. I mean, you look at Kaabah pictures and when you got there you're like, wow, I just cannot, like wow. But this one..

Obviously comparing it to our qiblat isn't the most appropriate thing, but just to tell you how disappointed I was..

I was properly disappointed. Heartbroken. Gutted. Dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. The list goes on.


Putting a grainy picture of us from my cousin's phone - one for the memory.

Apart from the rocks, there's also other areas to explore. Like this,


Tiny huts which are just about my height.


And this - where you can find out how many people of the same strength you need to recruit to build your own Stonehenge. I thought Adam did pretty great although the scale only lasted a few micro seconds. 

Grow up strong ok Seed buddy.

I personally feel that our biggest mistake was not exploring the Information Centre first (didn't take any pictures inside because I was already too disappointed, ha!). We went straight to see the rocks despite the staff recommendation to start with the Information Centre first, which of course didn't make a lot of sense. 

Once we've been inside the Info Centre only then things started to be more interesting. I mean, I now know that no one can actually be sure on why Stonehenge was built in the first place - it was thought to be a sacred burial place for the dead - but no one could truly confirm this.

Great.

But really, start with Info Centre first.


This is how the entrance looks like, btw. 

The actual site itself is about 1.5miles from the entrance, but they do provide free shuttles back and forth.


Not sure why I end this post with a picture of their shuttle, but there you go.

Some tips.

1. Book online to save money. The ticket itself is about £15.50 pp online but a quid or two more at the entrance. And you'd have to queue if you buy at the gate.

2. Bring snacks. Unless you want to be trapped in the overpriced cafe with very limited selections, bring some snacks with you. There's no eateries elsewhere within 3 miles radius (I made that one up) either.

3. If you're not a big fan of history, maybe give Stonehenge a miss. Unless you live nearby or going towards that direction anyway. Nothing personal, just not sure it was worth the long drive in our case.

4. Last but not least, if you do decide to go just because, go with an open mind!