A trip to New York and America in general is definitely not a trip you do “every day”. For many it is an elusive dream, for others a life trip. If you say you’re doing it yourself it’s not that outrageous. But if you calculate everything X3 like we did, then yes it comes out to be a pretty serious amount.
The idea started in the distant 2011, when this big city stuck in my mind. It was so intense that I also created this website with information about New York. After several years, the fullness of time has given me the opportunity to make this trip in August 2022, with my wife and 18-year-old son. It all started in August 2021.
We booked the tickets exactly one year before (while America was “closed” due to covid) at the price of €420 with hand luggage and a personal item with Austria Airlines and return with Swiss with the same benefits. We also added a 23 kg suitcase at a cost of €80.
Departure date and time: 30/07/2022-07:55
Return date and time: 11/08/2022-16:30
We had booked a year earlier (while America was “closed” due to covid), at the incredible price of €1300 per triple for 11 nights at the DoubleTree by Hilton New York Downtown 4*, located in Lower Manhattan, about 300 meters from the Stock Exchange . We stayed on the 10th floor in a very comfortable room with all amenities.
Bathroom with daily changes of cleaning supplies and towels, safe, TV, desk, iron, ironing board, hair dryer, refrigerator, espresso machine with capsules and some dream beds. Oh those beds!!! The pluses of the hotel include free wifi, free use of a PC, free storage of luggage on the last day of departure until 5 pm and ample coffee from the machine (you don’t find that easily either). Among the cons is the wait in the elevator because of people. At check-in we gave a mandatory $350 with credit as a guarantee. They also accepted cash. The release of the amount was immediate, about 2 days after our return.
Tickets for attractions
Throughout the year of preparation, we searched, found, booked tickets for activities and shows, so that they wouldn’t all fall on our heads. The biggest investment on this trip was the Sightseeing Passes which saved us around €1200. We found a super offer on viator for only $250 each with a duration of 7 days. The rest that we will see below were booked either by viator or directly from their websites. Almost all the activities/sights we entered were by appointment. Those that did not have an online process, we closed them on the spot for later or for the next day.
After collecting all the necessary paperwork (passports, ESTA, vaccination certificates), we exchanged currency, packed our bags, set off for the airport and the long-awaited trip. After an adventurous journey of about 20 hours (with stopovers in Istanbul and Vienna) we set foot in New World and JFK airport.
Although the shock had started from the night of arrival with the skyscrapers and bridges lit up, the first morning when we hit the streets our “jaws dropped”. All these buildings, streets, parks, people were so familiar that it was as if we had visited the city again. And we hadn’t seen anything yet. We got a metro card ($33 for one week) and started exploring.
Vaccination certificates were requested against passport controls in America. In the summer of 2022, there was an obligation, as in Greece, to wear a mask in mass media. Of course, most of the passengers were not wearing any, but there was no reaction either. At first, as fishy tourists, we also wore them but along the way we threw them away. After all, all three of us had gotten sick 20 days before we left, so we were not in danger of getting infected again. During our stay in New York, the only places we were asked for a vaccination certificate to enter were St Patrick’s in Midtown and St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side. However, if you haven’t been sick recently and you’re walking around without a mask, you have 99.999 covid in your pocket. There are so many people that it is very difficult to avoid it.
Metro – Buses
The subway is filthy in most of the stations we entered and exited, with the exception of some shiny new ones. The trains inside were spotlessly clean and even at the terminating stations, a cleaning crew came in and wiped and mopped all the carriages. In the metro was also our first experience with the “polar cold” that prevailed in all, but all, the inner spaces of the city. From hotels, shops, museums to churches, restaurants, subways and buses the temperature was around 22 degrees. In subway stations we also saw live the famous and infamous rats-mice of New York, who live in the basements.
Most trains run vertically through Manhattan, parallel to the avenues, and for horizontal travel there were buses, parallel to the streets. In both vehicles we entered there was no crowding anywhere since the routes were very frequent. Of course, in some busy stations there was chaos.
At the beginning it was a bit difficult to find the right train and bus, but a little google and a little signs, got us out of the difficult situation.
Since we’ve touched on the issue of temperature, it’s worth mentioning that at the beginning of August the temperature was 32-34 degrees Celsius, which with the humidity and the backpacks we were carrying felt like at least 38 degrees Celsius. When you entered a shadow area things changed for the better. As you can see, this also increased the need for more water. And water wasn’t the cheapest in New York either. Two days out of the ten that we stayed in New York it was cloudy with a few minutes of rain.
If you go to New York in July or August you will need water. A lot of water. The cheapest bottle (500ml) we found was $1 (from local kiosks) and the most expensive $4. We bought 24 from a super market, which luckily was next to the hotel, for $7 ($0.30 each) and put them in the fridge for the next day. We filled the isothermal bottles and took another one with us. By about noon it was over. But luckily there were coolers almost everywhere. Indoors and outdoors. Next to every toilet, (shops, restaurants, museums, skyscrapers) there were coolers for refills.
All the toilets we visited were spotlessly clean. Even in public places where the boys of the group entered, they were clean at very tolerable levels. We had procured from Athens the papers you put in the basin before you sit down but they remained unused. They were in all the toilets in abundance. He gave the impression that there was no wastebasket anywhere, since all papers are thrown into the basin. From there and with the air system that airplanes have, it sucked everything up. Liquid soap, hand towels and drying machines, everywhere.
As for the hot coffee (American, espresso, cappuccino) there was no problem. But with 35 degrees Celsius how to drink hot coffee? So in a canteen on the street it said Ice Coffee. I order, pay $3 and he pours it into a glass of Americano he had in the fridge with ice cubes. First and last time I had coffee in New York. Too bad we didn’t get to go to Astoria for a Greek Frappe or a Freddo.
Throughout our stay in New York, we did not feel unsafe for a single moment. Even inside the subway, late at night there were people. Of course there were incidents with annoyances (mainly for money) but they were not persistent. All over the streets you found scattered policemen, either on foot or in parked patrol cars, who were also very polite. Of course, in the place where we were staying (Financial District) the evening was a bit scary, due to few people, but still we had no problem.
Wherever you sat down to eat or drink something, you had to calculate a 10-20% tip in the total bill. Luckily they asked us before they put it how much we want to give because I had read that they put whatever they want on the final bill without telling you. There wasn’t a store where we sat down and weren’t served by polite and smiling employees. Also in taxis tipping is mandatory but since we used it once it didn’t bother us that much.
Shops and shopping
What is there to say about this area? The paradise of consumerism and infinite choices for all tastes. All brands had a presence on 5th Avenue and beyond. Prices? Almost at the levels you buy them in Greece. The only difference was that they had pieces that you would never see in Greece because they would be really unreachable. He or she who would have the ability to acquire these pieces would also have the ability to fly a SC to New York to purchase them. For discounts, we visited the Upper West Side outlet of the famous Bloomingdale’s where we found some real bargains. We also went to The Mills at Jersey Gardens which is half an hour from Manhattan, New Jersey. It is not exactly a discount village but a giant mall that also has an outlet of well-known brands and stores with normal prices. We shopped there….
Although all VISA or Mastercard cards are accepted in most places in New York (hotels, restaurants, museums, etc.) you will always need to have some cash with you for some canteens or street food. Prefer to do the exchange in Greece and not in America, since the fees there are higher. Also prefer a service like Revolut to avoid additional charges from your bank (I was informed by Ethniki that it charges €1 per transaction). With Revolut you can make transactions using your mobile phone (if it supports the NFC function) or order a physical card through the services App. We ordered it, it came to us, we tested it and it worked everywhere, except for the metro card machine. There for some reason they didn’t take any debit cards, only credit and cash.
In New York there are many Hotspots that offer free wifi. These points can be found in metro stations, parks, restaurants, museums, attractions, tourist buses and many public places. However, since the free wifi may come with very low speeds, there is the option to buy a SimCard with a duration of about one month, at a fairly low price. Because there are so many articles out there, many of which are very old and may give you the wrong information, during our visit in August 2022 we bought a $70 SIM card from the airport with unlimited international calls and 12GB Internet for a month. Possibly the same card costs less in the city. Caution! Before traveling, check your mobile phone at Phone Compatibility in USA | SIM USA to see if it is compatible with US SIMs. Alternatively, you can now use the company and program you have in Greece at a relatively small cost. We at Vodafone who asked were told for €13 per day.
Arriving in America
The culture shock started from the beginning, since from the moment the plane touched its wheels on the runway to the moment it opened its doors, it took 1 hour of wandering through the corridors of the vast airport until it found a place to “park”. After getting off the plane and walking a few meters, we found ourselves in a huge hall with a huge line of people. It was the document control room for entering the US. From the time we arrived at this room at 10pm, 2 hours passed until we arrived in front of the employee for the check. After seeing the passports, ESTAs, vaccination certificates and doing a mini-interview, he gave us the OK to officially cross into US territory.
Since it was past 12 midnight, the taxi was a one way for our commute from JFK to Manhattan. We found the relevant queue which also had a person in charge to put you in a taxi. After about 45 minutes we were outside the hotel. Throughout the ride, the crazy driving, the honking horns, the approaching evening city skyline and the crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge were notable. The truth is that we were a little scared, but then we realized that this is the normal way to drive. Taxi cost from airport $67 including tips. Check in, quickly arrange things and sleep. The next few days will be exciting.
It is worth mentioning here that we took about 30000 steps daily, took about 9000 photos with camera and cell phone and 60 hours of video.