Squeeze Wheatgrass Went to New York

The excitement started on the 7th November when Product Guru announced that we had won a trip to New York.

We had received a couple of emails from Product Guru introducing their concept and asking us to become part of it.  What they do is match products and buyers – aiming to take the stress out of getting your products in front of the right and interested buyers.  Described by a buyer from a well-known supermarket chain as “Tinder for retail buyers and product suppliers”!  We’ll let you know how that goes.

Anyway, the concept seemed interesting and in a “nothing ventured nothing gained” frame of mind, I signed up and added some of our Wild Power Wheatgrass branded products, totally unaware of the competition to win a trip for 2 to New York.

Well, we won the competition and it was a totally surreal moment when Simon, CEO of Product Guru, called to deliver the good news.  As December and January are two of our busiest months, we agreed to take the trip in February so that I could spend my birthday in New York.

The trip planning started in earnest during the Christmas holidays.  This is what we actually did!

Day One.  

One of the huge benefits of flying from Dublin Airport is US pre-clearance which allows you to be treated as a domestic passenger on arrival in USA.  We treated ourselves to a stop off at 51st and Green lounge for some pre-flight drinks and something to eat.  And then we were off.

We arrived in USA at 5.30pm their time and the journey by coach from airport to central New York was uneventful.  We took an Uber from the bus station to the hotel in order to allow us to get our bearings.  We stayed at the Arthouse Hotel on W77th street and would definitely stay there again.  The hotel bar and lobby area were very funky and the rooms were bright and relaxing.  One of the downsides was that we spent very little time in the actual hotel. 

We were given vouchers for Welcome drinks at the bar on check-in so after we went for Pizza (when in New York!) at Oath Pizza across the street from the hotel to appease the Vegan with us, we headed to the bar for a couple of drinks.  By this time, I was beat.  Awake for over 18 hours, I decided to call it a day after arranging to meet at 8 am the next day for some adventuring.

Jet lag hit so we were all awake super early and decided to bring the adventuring forward by an hour.  We walked from W77th street down into Times Square.  The cold was unreal, nothing and no-one can prepare you for it.  Times Square is a weird place, with so much going on around it, I wasn’t so keen to spend a great deal of time in it, though good to see the famous “red steps”.

Day Two

Walk to Times Square

Breakfast at Applebee's (pancakes of course)

M&M store tour, where I have never seen so many M&Ms under one roof and merchandising like you wouldn’t believe!

Hop On-Hop Off bus.  We had purchased Travel Republic Explorer passes before we went and were able to use them on this tour.  We did the Downtown tour and stayed on the bus for the whole tour to get our bearings.  The tour guide was very informative and had some interesting facts to add to the tour.  We got off at the end and headed for our $1 pizza slices to warm up.  Amazing pizza.

By this time the sun had come out, fooling us into thinking it had got warmer (it hadn’t).  We got back on the bus and this time got off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop.  A quick pit-stop for a Starbucks and then we walked across Brooklyn Bridge with the sun shining down.  There are some cool artists along the bridge and some fabulous photo opportunities.  Given that two of us are afraid of heights it was quite an achievement to walk over the bridge and back.  On the way back we bought some New York prints and keyrings etc.

We had tickets for the 911 Museum that evening (Tuesdays are free between 5-7pm but you have to go online on Monday to try and secure the tickets which we were lucky enough to be able to do).  We exchanged our free tickets for Entry tickets and then went to O’Hara’s pub for some hot whiskeys.  This is a great pub with lots of 911 memorabilia and stories.  Both son and his wife were asked for ID which caused much merriment! 

Then we went back to the 911 Memorial which is truly beautiful.  The tour guide earlier had told us that on the birthday of those named on the Memorial a white rose was placed beside their name.  It was lovely to see.  The Museum itself is something you have to see. It is emotionally exhausting but a true testament to the American people on how they managed to rebuild and move on while still holding the memories of those who died close.  We were in the museum for approximately 2 ½ hours – you could stay there even longer.

Then we headed over the Staten Island Ferry to see Lady Liberty lit up at night.  The ferry is free and is a commuter ferry and as we weren’t able to get tickets to go inside the crown we decided that just going past would be enough for us.

We ended our evening in the Dead Rabbit – owned by two guys from Belfast, with a world famous cocktail list, food to die for and amazing hospitality.  I had the famous Corned Beef sandwich which was so good but huge portions and I could only eat half of it, much to the waiter’s disappointment Compounded by the fact I didn’t want to take the other half home with me!  The cocktails were truly amazing.

Completely dead on our feet by this time, we took another Uber back to the hotel and crashed.

Day Three

That dreaded jet lag struck again so it was another early start and also my birthday.

We walked back to the bus station complete with hats, scarves, gloves and hand-warmers and hopped on a bus to Jersey Mills shopping centre (outlet centre). An easy journey to make.  We arrived before the shops opened so headed to IHOP (international house of pancakes) for breakfast which was amazing.  We took our lives in our hands crossing roads back to the shopping centre.  We had allocated ourselves 3 hours for shopping and were very strict with that time but in truthfulness this is a full day experience if you want to get round all the shops.  We came out to snow.  Yes, snowing in New York on my birthday.  We took an Uber from the bus station to the hotel to drop off our shopping bags and get ourselves snow-proofed!

We walked back down to 34th Street to the Apple Store where some tech retail therapy took place.  Walked past Trump Tower which is a cool looking building and then we went onto Bryant Park where we were booked to go on Bumper Cars on Ice as part of the Winter Garden event.  By this time, there was a blizzard blowing and visibility was pretty poor and I can’t begin to describe how cold it was.  After a very long wait while they cleared the rink of snow, we eventually got onto the bumper cars.  It was wet and extremely cold but good fun.

bryantpark bumper cars

Another pit-stop in Starbucks to try and defrost slightly with coffee and hot chocolates.  After another retail stop to purchase some coffee beans, we headed towards the Empire State Building.  Another retail stop at Target to buy a promised gift.  Target was amazing and lots of American sweets and goodies were also purchased.  We did go to the top of the Empire State Building but the visibility was so poor we couldn’t see anything and the wind and cold were something I have never experienced in my life.

From Empire State Building we headed towards the Rockafeller Centre but on arrival we were told we would be wasting our tickets as the visibility was so poor.  So we watched the ice skaters for a while and then hailed another Uber back to the hotel.

Our plan was to go to Chinatown for a birthday dinner but then discovered that there was a Chinese restaurant connected to the hotel and made the decision to go there instead.  What an excellent decision that was.  The food at the Red Farm was so good, in fact I am still dreaming about the Crispy Beef, and the place was packed with locals which is always good to see.  We ended the night with some drinks back at the hotel and then crashed, planning another early start.

Day Four

Up bright and early again and the snow had gone.  We walked down Broadway to the Rockafeller Centre and were one of the first in the queue.  It was a lovely bright morning and we headed straight to the top and were able to get out and take pictures of the New York skyline including the Empire State Building.  We had timed it perfectly as they closed the outside area shortly after as the snow was melting on the roof and the area was becoming very wet.

From there we headed to one of the many street food carts around the city for hot dogs for breakfast which were delicious.  We walked back to the hotel and checked out, leaving our bags in storage.

We then headed to the American Natural History Museum which was very close to the hotel and is enormous.  As it was half term there also, it was crowded and very warm.  We spent about 1 ½ hours there (there is no entry free but you pay a donation to the museum in lieu of entrance fee).

Once outside in the sunshine (it really was a contrast in weather), we had some more hot dogs and headed over to Central Park.  Walking through the park was beautiful.  My son had gone jogging there a couple of the mornings to sort out his jet lag and said it was busy with joggers and walkers at 6.00 am.  We wandered over to Strawberry Fields area of the park, to the John Lennon memorial which is a very popular and busy tourist spot.  There were buskers singing Beatles songs (very badly) but the atmosphere was lovely.

Strawberry Fields Central Park

And then suddenly it was time to go collect our bags and head to bus station for our journey home.

We flew Norwegian Airlines from Dublin to Stewart. It is what it says on the tin.  It is a budget airline with no frills.  There was no entertainment on the flight, and no WIFI.  They use small planes from Dublin although I believe the service from Gatwick is better.  You have to weigh up the benefit of pre-clearance at Dublin.

Luckily we had downloaded quite a few programmes to watch so we were prepared.  We had pre-booked meals which were typical airline meals -not much you can say about those other than they passed the time!  The airline staff were friendly and helpful but the flight was cramped and uncomfortable both ways.  Stewart Airport is tiny but importantly the luggage arrived promptly.  Shortline Coaches offer a great service from New York to Stewart Airport.  There is no Duty Free to speak of at Stewart and the food choices are limited, although there is a bar!  (Son was asked for ID again!!).

We had an amazing time and would definitely go back to do some of the things we didn’t get a chance to do.   We were amazed at the amount of “green” space in New York, dog parks and roof gardens.  Disappointed we didn’t get to walk the High Line although with the weather on the Wednesday it is probably just as well we didn’t.

The hospitality and general gratefulness when visiting attractions was lovely to experience.  We didn’t have any bad service experience.  Where there were queues, they moved quickly and efficiently.

The amount of homeless people sleeping rough in those weather conditions was heart-breaking (donated my unused hand and feet warmers).  They are checked on regularly by the Police who have a greater presence than I had expected.  The streets are very clean and when it snowed an army of people appeared to clear the pavements and the roads.  The next morning it was like the snow never happened.

We downloaded the Uber app so that we could price and order taxis when we needed them.  We were given the driver’s name and car make and registration.  We were able to locate car and driver easily each time we used them.

We pre-booked our coach tickets to and from Stewart airport which is $20 each way per person.

We pre-booked a Travel Republic Explorer pass with entrance to three tourist attractions.  As stated previously we managed to get free Tuesday evening tickets to 911 and we took the free Staten Island ferry past the Statue of Liberty.

A huge thanks to Product Guru team, we had an absolute ball and loved every minute of it.  It was definitely a birthday to remember!