Titirangi Storyteller

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Posts Tagged ‘Shopping

Planning for New York on the Cheap

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xmas-07-usa-0144I’ll be leaving for New York in just a few days now. Hard to believe it’s already here! When I booked the tickets back in January, it seemed like March was an aeon away. But I’m leaving Thursday night New Zealand time. It’s a 12-hour flight to Los Angeles, but I will be arriving in the morning before I left. In fact, I’ll make it to New York in time for a late dinner – right around the time I left Auckland. I love that – it’s like I get a whole extra day. Except that coming back, it takes two full days to get home, which I really hate.

Since this was an impromptu trip and I am going with my friend, Bindi, instead of my darling spouse – we’ve decided to do it as cheaply as possible.

loftHooray for Roomorama! I found a gorgeous loft down by the Brooklyn Bridge for $200 a night ($100 for each of us). My sisters are organising a welcoming party for us in our own home on Saturday night! Take that Hotel Club, etc and your deep-discount Manhattan hotel rooms starting at $250/night each! Actually, booking it was a tiny bit nerve-racking. We booked for eight nights and had to pay up front. $1600 US is nearly a month’s wages with the shrinking kiwi dollar – what if the place was a scam? A couple of apartments I inquired about did feel a little ‘scammish’ but this one didn’t. Fortunately my sister was able to check it out for me and confirm I’d made a good choice.

brooklyn_bridgeBut what will we do there? While the choices are endless, we want to do as many cheap and free things as possible. I got very organised – tracked down a couple hundred websites, cross referencing the ones that wanted me to pay for addresses with Google. Everything has gone into a spreadsheet – so much we couldn’t possibly do it all, but I like the idea of waking up in the morning with a menu of things to pick and choose from.

If I’m in the mood for a boat ride – there’s the free Staten Island Ferry – and we get to see the Statue of Liberty along the way. Feeling like a healthy walk to burn off some of the NY cheesecake? The Brooklyn Bristaten-island-ferrydge is a couple blocks away. Check out local culture – how about a doggy fashion show or a watching a basketball game at the West 4th St basketball courts. For a little classical music, there’s free Opera at the New Yorker hotel, Bach at noon at Grace Church and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a to-die for ensemble in the atrium for the price of a glass of wine.

met-of-artI hear some of the finest gospel in the US can be heard in any of a half dozen churches in Harlem and Brooklyn – they’re happy to have you and it’s free – but when the plate is passed I also hear they expect you to be generous.

upright-citizens-brigade-theater_v1_460x285Every museum has a free day and they’re not all on the same day, so we can go to as many as we want. And of course there are dozens of gallery openings – where the art is fabulous and if the wine isn’t properly cellared – there’s no charge. The Upright Citizens Brigade has two nights of free comedy, hundreds of clubs have live jazz or blues with no cover charge. There’s so much to do in the Big Apple that doesn’t cost a cent, I’m wondering why I haven’t done this before?

circle_line_12june04This will leave us money for a Broadway show (1/2 price at TKTS), a trip around Manhattan on the Circle Line (and maybe a discount limo ride home after.) Bindi wants to shop at Henri Bendel and I am looking forward to Macy’s on Herald Square. Fortunately we agree on Saks and street vendors – we love them both.

Algonquin Hotel

Algonquin Hotel

I’m looking forward to a slightly posh lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, where Bindi and I will bask in the lingering glow of Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle. We’ll gossip and say terrible things about the passersby. And we’ll also make a stop at The Chelsea Hotel, just because I’ve always wanted to go there, and considered staying there this trip – but it’s gotten a bit pricier than the days when Leonard Cohen and Sid Vicious stayed there (not at the same time…) I wonder if it’s it’s still cool.

We considered making a booking at a Michelin restaurant to have one ultra fabulous dinner – but nah – it would be out of place. This is about having fun and doing it in style, without breaking the bank. I figure our biggest expense will taxis and pizza. Mmmm New York pizza…  Just a few more days and I’m there!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

10/03/2009 at 11:38 pm

New York, New York!

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Just last week I had a bit of a whinge about not having any travel plans for 2009. Apparently the airlines are reading this blog, because three of them trees1came up with irresistible fares. I’d been bantering with a friend who’s never been to the Big Apple, that not only did she have to go – we should go together – just the two of us and tear up the town. Mind you, we adore our husbands and love travelling with them – but this would be something different!

Yes? No? Yes! Two tickets bought and paid for for the middle of March. We’re going.

Time for a little madness. New York always brings out a little madness in me, plays to my hypothalamic urges. Feed me pizza and buttered hard rolls and jelly doughnuts. Let me breathe the hustle and the frenzy and the fountains and the taxis.  Give me street theatre and designer knock-offs, Calvin Klein clad pooches and street divas. Ni hao Chinatown, Bergdorf’s and Macy’s. A trip to TKTS for cheap tickets to a Broadway show. Friday night is free at MOMA.

fluffysFirst thing, of course is to research places to stay. Since I’m travelling with a friend and we will need separate rooms, I can’t stay with family. I can’t remember the last time I paid to stay in New York. I think it was New Year’s Eve when I was 19 and my boyfriend and I stayed in some dodgy 2 star in Times Square. Had the time of our lives.

Fast forward a few years and I’m looking for something a little different. An apartment – a place to chill and a place to wander the pizzaneighbourhood. Someplace with cafes around the corner and an all-night diner a block away. I want to flip for who goes out to get bagels and biales in the morning. An Irish pub would be nice. And a Chinese take-out. Don’t forget the pizza… And of course not too far from the subway. Near Central Park would be nice. Oh, and it’s gotta be cheap. -ish…

Back to the food… New York has the best food in the world. No contest, though I will allow I have had some amazing meals in pretty much every corner of the planet, none compares to New York in the consistency of oyster-useamazing quality and use of fresh ingredients. Singapore comes a good second. Strangely, and this was entirely influenced by a dear friend who really showed me the town and spared me the experience of the legendary deep-fried frozen pizza – I have to give third place to Glasgow.

Whenever I am in the city I discover or am brought to a new crop of incredible eateries, but I rarely get back to them as there is another bunch open by the time I return. We will have to choose carefully and choose often.

Then there’s the shopping. Shopping in New York isn’t necessarily about bendelbuying, though trundling through the streets with parcels and packages is a pleasure I will never tire of. But the shops themselves are so often breathtaking objects of beauty, colour, light and sound – otherworlds where my imagination trips into other lives I might have had, someone else I might have been – deliriously playful moments. Which isn’t to say I don’t equally love the op-shops and bargain basement discount stores, where I’m happy to pay $10 for a pair of perfect purple pumps that I will only wear once. I’m also partial to street vendors, and there like everywhere, can haggle them down to cost. Damn! I need a salted pretzel or a knish right now.

I’m looking to see what’s on while we’re there. St Paddy’s Day – we’ll have to catch the parade. The Allman Brothers and Fleetwood Mac are in town, but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for nostalgia… I think I’ll wait until closer to the time before making those decisions. I stick with exploring my accommodation options for the time being.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

17/01/2009 at 3:11 pm

Purchasing personal products in Hangzhou, China!

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We were at the tail end of a month long trip to China, having made it to Shanghai, via the entire eastern half of the country and were exhausted. I was sick of Chinese gardens and seemingly endless bus trips to explore yet another one. (I do not recommend Suzhou, the Garden City, at the end of a Chinese adventure!)

But a side trip to Hangzhou for a couple of days was on the itinerary. Rather than pack up all our luggage and a month’s worth of souvenirs (most of which we could have purchased at home for less than what we paid there), we  packed lightly for a two-night stay in this idyllic little city a couple of hours south of Shanghai.

Glorious West Lake

Glorious West Lake

With a mere six million inhabitants, Suzhou has maintained its culture and history, despite recent development as a resort getaway for Shanghai’s expanding middle class. There is gorgeous West Lake and more temples, palaces and exquisite relics to explore than one could possibly see in two days. But this is not a travelogue about Hangzhou.

You see, when I was packing my minimum requirements, I didn’t think about that little silver pouch containing my girly products. Sure enough, nature pulled one of her surprises. I browsed in the hotel shop, but whilst they were well stocked on mysterious snack foods, ‘authentic’ jade ornaments and Chairman Mao waving watches, personal care items were not catered for. Oh well, the hotel was in a mostly residential area and I had seen quite a few shops during the day.

I was several blocks away when I realised I had left my phrase book behind. Mind you, I had no intention of trying to verbally ask for anything. My previous attempts had the Chinese busting a gut, so I had taken to finding what I wanted to say and showing it to them – which worked just fine. I considered returning to get it, but these sorts of things are surely universal.

The late May night was warm, perfect for walking. Though it was getting dark, there were hundreds of people on the streets arm in arm, enjoying the night air, indifferent to a single western woman wandering. I soon found a chemist shop. Though there were no other customers, there were six people on staff.

It looked similar to a western chemist, austere white walls and shelves with boxes of various sizes and colours neatly stacked; some with Chinese characters, others also in English. I browsed around and couldn’t find anything resembling what I was looking for. Uh oh.

I went to the counter, where the entire staff greeted me, eager to help – five women and one man. I picked up a piece of paper and drew a picture of what I hoped looked like a tampon and gestured to my belly. The man was struck with a look of horror and disappeared into a back room. The women looked at it and one went to fetch something. A box of condoms. Uh, no.

I gestured a bit lower. Another went and fetched a box of strange white pellets, the size of robin eggs. I looked at the accompanying diagram and they were meant to be inserted, but whatever they were for was not what I needed. I shook my head.

I’m drawing more pictures – playing charades – or is it pictionary? We were all laughing so hard at the absurdity of it all. Next came some weight loss pills. Not right now, thank you.

A bottle of something to drink, but the writing was Chinese, so I had no idea what it was. More head shaking.

A diaphragm. (Aren’t these measured to fit?)

An IUD! (My lord! How on earth would you put that in yourself?)

I drew a uterus with drops coming down and pull something red out of my bag. A woman handed me a blue box containing a tall slim bottle that said ‘to stop excessive bleeding’ in English. At least we were on the right track.

Finally, I pulled some tissues out of my bag and folded them into the shape of a sanitary pad and gestured between my legs. Eureka! But with a series of gestures they let me know they didn’t sell them. A woman gently guided me to the door and pointed to a supermarket two blocks further. Feeling extremely foolish, I headed down the street.

Once there, I was overwhelmed by the selection. I thought we had too much choice here – there must have been a hundred brands on offer. I spotted the familiar Libra logo, snatched up a packet and paid.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped into the chemist and happily showed the ladies there that I had succeeded in my mission. They cheered. Back in the room, I immediately went to use my prized purchase. I opened it up – and they were tiny! Itty bitty, full thickness pads about half the length of a western pad!  I quietly used two and hoped for the best.

For a look at photos of Hangzhou, along with commentary, click here.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

12/01/2009 at 11:18 pm

Posted in holiday, travel

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