Travelling The United States of America: New York

 New York

The big apple, A concrete jungle is the city that never sleeps.

It turned dark super quick, by the time we got our bags and got outside it was black, and around 5pm! We waited for our transport, the driver was a bit psycho. Amelia sat in the front with him and I kept thinking she was driving – this opposite road driving thing was confusing!

We finally saw the amazing skyline of Manhattan, we had made it! Our first hotel for New York was the Row NYC. It was so central, one block from Time Square! It was very modern and the staff were amazing, so friendly ad it was such a good price, I highly recommend it!

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Desperate for a shower, Amelia went first and broke it, the tap accidentally fell off when she went to turn it on! We called maintenance and he came to fix it for us, we had been there for 5 minutes.

It was around 9.30pm and we were starving, so we headed for some American pizza to get us started! We asked the door man at Row NYC where we should go and he suggested Famous Famiglia Pizzeria!

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Being so warm inside the hotel room we were shocked by the cold outside! Even though we have cold winters in Melbourne, this was a different kind of cold, it went straight through your bones! So if you’re heading to New York in winter, pack extremely warm clothes.

It was only a short walk to the pizza place from the hotel. I ordered the Pepperoni and Sausage, the slice was massive with a super thin base, so good though! Exactly what you picture when you think of New York style pizza it was floppy, cheesy pizza! On the wall of the pizzeria was pictures famous people who had visited the shop, Donald Trump loved this place – maybe not a good thing.

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We didn’t have the best introduction to New York I will admit, after the crazy transport driver, there was a lady in the toilets of the pizza place doing something very suspicious and people kept yelling at her to get out! I assumed they were friends of hers, but they weren’t, they were randoms yelling at her to get out! You don’t really see that in Australia – well not usually.

After dinner we headed to Time Square for a look. Wow, it was unbelievable, so much to take in! I was so overwhelmed, I had seen so many photographs of Time Square, but nothing can compare! As Jay Z says in Empire State of Mind, ‘lights are blinding’!

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We walked around, headed into Hershey’s World, a whole shop filled with Hershey’s products and it was actually huge, especially for a chocolate shop. The shopping in Time Square is amazing, but we would be back to explore that more on a different day! We had a look in M&M’s World, which was three stories high, that is a lot of M&M’s!

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After experiencing the hustle and bustle of NYC and almost getting kissed by a random guy in the street – yes welcome to New York – we headed back to our room.

Our hotel room was so warm so we opened the window just a crack, the heater was on so the maintenance guy said it will balance out. Bad idea, sirens, horns and city noise came through our room like a freight train. However,  I did have a great sleep after the no sleep on the plane or the night before we left.

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2

Our first full day! We got up and headed for breakfast, we found this traditional American diner just up the road. We started walking in the direction, of what I thought, was Central Park, only to realised we were going down not up! After that the streets were very easy to follow. Left to right is the numbered streets, like 39th street, and the avenues go up and down! So when someone says on the corner of 5th and 39th street, they mean 5th Avenue and then the street.

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On our way to Central Park, heading back where we came from, we passed The New York Times, an aspiring Journalist’s dream.

We finally made it to Central Park, it was really incredible! The leaves on the ground from autumn and the squirrels running around, it was the most beautiful park I had ever seen! We followed my trip advisor app – amazing for maps without wifi – to the ice skating rink. It wasn’t badly priced and you got money back for the locker. So, we had a go! I was the first to fall, with no gloves on the ice really burns!

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Anyway, Amelia and I weren’t too bad, it felt like we were back roller skating! Nicole on the other hand, sorry if you are reading this Nicole, was terrible! She definitely improved though. We skated for a while and were never really told to get off, so it was value for money. Chatting to some people about the Central Park ice rink it is a lot cheaper than Rockefeller and the view of the park, can you really beat that?

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After ice skating we headed to the Central Park Zoo, it was around $12USD to go in, so it was also a good price. In the zoo they had Grizzly Bears, Seals, Birds, Snow Monkeys, Snow Leopards, Red Pandas and Penguins. The Grizzly Bears were massive, very inactive, but the claws, wow they were huge! The Snow Leopards were the most entertaining, they were fighting and were super active.

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After the zoo we continued to walk around Central Park, found some iconic places from movies and TV shows, including the long pathway seen in Big Daddy, Gossip Girl and almost everything based in New York. We also found the arches from Gossip Girl. We had a tourist take a photo of us in them, only to realise there were homeless people sleeping in it. So maybe don’t walk through!

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We started to get lost and hungry, but a park ranger gave us a map and directed us to the Boathouse. At the Boathouse there was a really fancy half and then the other half was a Cafe. We got a hotdog and a drink to get out of the cold for a bit, it had been raining on and off all day and was freezing!

On our way back to the hotel it poured down! Lucky we bought two umbrellas at the souvenir shop that morning. We stopped at McGee’s Irish Pub, which is based on the pub McLaren’s from How I Met Your Mother.

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They had a booth, which was dedicated to the HIMYM booth so we sat there. They also had cocktails based on episodes and moments from the show. I had the Slutty Pumpkin, which was a pumpkin based cocktail, very nice and very different! Amelia and I also shared a New York style baked cheesecake, yum! If you are a cheesecake fan you have to try cheesecake in New York.

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We headed back and got ready to go for dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, the franchise based from the movie Forest Gump. I had the Prawn and Fish corn balls, they were delicious and of course, cocktails!

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After dinner, Amelia and I headed to Matilda on Broadway! An experience of a lifetime. When we got there we were seated in the front row. We were seated with family members! The show was spectacular, one of the best shows I had seen!

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The actor who played Trunchbull was hilarious and did such a good job, and the actress who play Miss Honey actually looked like her from the movie, to top it off Matilda was so gorgeous! We had such good tickets that one of the cast members almost head butted me when he flew off the stage. On the way back to the hotel, which was just around the corner, we were walking with the boy who played Brucey! We were thinking, he probably has school the next day. Wow, what a day. New York, you are amazing!

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3

The day our Contiki begun! It didn’t start until 4pm, so we had the whole day free. First we headed for breakfast to Junior’s Restaurant, which also had a diner interior, located just off Time Square. The food was good, I had an omelette with cheese and bacon, the cheese is not like in Australia, so by the time we had finished our trip, I was so over it!

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We headed back to the Row NYC and packed up our things and checked out. In the foyer they had a photo booth! So, of course we used that before leaving. At the hotel the key card to get into the room is a luggage tag so we all got to keep one, I thought that was a great idea. They held our bags for the afternoon so we could go explore some more!

We decided to get on the Hop on Hop off bus, stay on and got a feel for NYC. The whole route would get us near our hotel around 2pm, leaving us time to get to our new hotel for the Contiki.

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With the audio guide it was good to hear about the history, and they even play Empire State of Mind by Jay Z, which I loved. We were told that on September 11, 1949 hundreds of birds flew into the Empire State building, it was like an attack on the building, all the birds killing themselves on impact, the date was very ironic.

We had quite an experience with pouring rain and ponchos, but it was worth it. Hop on Hop off buses are a great way to get around in any city, like a tourist form of public transport and we saw all the sights, the Brooklyn Bridge, World Trade Center, Times Square, Central Park, Wall Street, Madison Square Gardens, SoHo, really worth it!

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We got off near our hotel and picked up our bags to head to our new place and start Contiki! Hotel Beacon is a little further uptown, but was in a very nice area and a really beautiful hotel. We met everyone and organised the extra MeTime options we wanted to do. It was great because we picked what we wanted to do and our Contiki Manager, Kiran, organised when we could fit them all in.

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So we met all the people on the Contiki…Josh, Hayley and Gareth from New Zealand, Zac and Jess from South Australia, Jasmine from Perth, Rachel and Beccy, from New South Wales, Carl from South Africa who now lives in Scotland, Erin and Natalie, from South Africa, Sam and Dylan, from Queensland and our Contiki Manger, Kiran from California. So majority of us were from Australia.

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After the meeting we got ready to go to Rockefeller Center to see the annual lighting of the tree for Christmas. But before that we walked to get some dinner at Shake Shack, a takeaway burger place, it was packed in there! Apparently it is really popular, I know why though!

The food was so good! I got a cheese burger, cheese fries and a caramel shake, very American, fatty but delicious.

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We got the subway to Rockefeller, which was surprisingly easy! Once you know the line you need to be on it is great! So much easier than Melbourne transport! Security was high at Rockefeller and we couldn’t even see the tree with the amount of people there, so we headed to Time Square to see it on the big screen.

We were walking with Carl and Gareth from our Contiki group and lost everyone else! So instead we decided to find a pub and get some drinks, that escalated, when we headed into O’Donoghue’s, an Irish pub just off Time Square – so it turned out later we weren’t that far.

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We stayed there for the rest of the night and even met a celebrity chef, Barry Sexton, who is on the Food Network and had recently done work with Gordon Ramsey. So what do we do naturally do as Australian’s? Call him Baz and get him so drunk he falls asleep at our booth.

Anyway, during the course of the night, a few others, Josh, Jess and Zac met up with us. So as three girls from Australia what do we do? Make everyone do shots.

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I couldn’t even say what time we left, all I know is a turtle neck sweater is ideal for a New York winter, but it is not when you are inside drinking.

On our adventure home we walked to Time Square and got photos with the sign holder from O’Donoghue’s and people dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, oh and Goofy, of course they wanted money. Note to everyone, don’t get photos with them, they ask for too much money. We walked for a little before getting the subway home. When we got home the red bull kicked in, so guess who didn’t sleep much?!

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4

Running off about two hours sleep, we were very seedy that morning so we were late. With no time to find a place for breakfast we ran over the road to the supermarket to grab something to eat. I got an apple and a bottle of water, healthy option, good job. We got on the bus to start our tour, we had a guide who took us around New York and we stopped at some really iconic places and were told so really interesting stories.

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We stopped at the Seinfeld Diner first and went to a famous bakery, I got one of the best croissant I have ever had! It didn’t even need butter or a filling but I can’t remember the name!

We drove down Fifth Avenue, past Tiffany & Co, and stopped at Rockefeller Center to actually look at the Christmas tree and all the decorations. The tree was huge and real! They grow it especially for this purpose. We also saw the NBC studios, where they shoot the Today Show, Jimmy Fallon and heaps more!

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We continued to drive around Manhattan, around the beautiful Central Park, passed Columba University. Our second stop was at Grand Central Station for lunch. The station was so beautiful, the detail was incredible. In one of the corridors heading to the food court you can whisper from one side, into the corner, and the person on the other side, diagonally to you, can hear what you said, it was amazing!

For lunch  I had American famous buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks, so greasy! The wings were very spicy, but both were quite nice! Not something you could eat all the time.

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We headed off on the bus and past some famous movie locations, Ghostbusters, When Harry met Sally and into SoHo. I will admit due to lack of sleep I did nod off a little bit.We continued past Wall Street, the famous bull and stopped to head to the World Trade Center Memorial site, even the roads surrounding the site were still damaged 14 years after it had happened.

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The feeling I had when I got there was indescribable, the silence was so moving and the tribute to the site with the water flowing down into the ground where the north and south towers once stood was just the perfect tribute with all the names of those who lost their lives around the side. In year 12 we did a novel regarding the aftermath of 9/11, the Reluctant Fundamentalist, we watched a lot of documentaries on the day of 9/11 so it was a very moving experience.

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Standing out from all the trees surrounding the site was a tree with fiery red leaves. This tree was found in the rubble after 9/11, it was still alive and was nursed back to health in Brooklyn and planted back at the site, how incredible is that?

The new World Trade Center was huge, it stood so tall in the Manhattan skyline and when you look at it from the base, it looks like it never ends and flows straight into the sky.

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For Carl, Jasmine, Nicole, Amelia and I our next stop was the helicopter ride over NYC. When we got the helicopter, we got our photo and headed on board and I was lucky enough to sit up front.

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It was quite a windy day so I felt a little sick during the ride, but the views, oh my god! Highly recommend spending the money on this. We saw parts of Brooklyn, the bridge, parts of New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the skyline of Manhattan with the Chrysler building in the distance, the Empire State and everything in between. The photos were amazing!

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We got the subway back to the hotel and looked for Ice Hockey tickets to see the New York Rangers playing the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Gardens. For $100USD we got our tickets and took the subway to the game.

Security was crazy! Metal detectors, bag searches, nothing like in Australia. We bought some popcorn and headed to our seats. For $100 the seats were great! Right in the middle of the rink on the first level. The venue had cup holders and people who came around to take your food order so you didn’t even have to leave your seat!

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In the first few minutes of the game there was a fight and gloves off meant it was one on one – so Carl told me. The atmosphere was unreal with the music, the crowd and the camera even landed on Nicole, Amelia and I! We weren’t quick enough to get out phone out to get a picture.

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At half time they showed all the celebrities who were at the game, it turned out they were sitting in the next stand to us! Lots of athletes were at the game and Laura Prepon from Orange is the New Black was there, or as most know her, Donna from That 70’s Show! Unfortunately the Rangers didn’t win, but the experience was amazing!

America sport is so good to watch live! The away team never get cheered and the crowd just love chanting!

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After the game Amelia and I wanted to check out an American Kmart that was near by, both having worked at Kmart in Australia. It was very old compared to our Kmart, but still looked similar. I told the lady at the check out that I worked at Kmart in Australia and she wanted me to try my staff discount on my phone – didn’t work though.

Before heading on the subway we looked in the Macy Christmas window, they had a Snoopy theme and it reminded me of the Myer Christmas window in Melbourne, so detailed and very quirky!

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5

We were running late again – what we were known for by the end of the Contiki – we skipped breakfast, again, and headed on the subway to board the ferry to the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island.

More security gates first and we got on the ferry from Battery Park to the statue, it did however look fairly small in comparison to how it looks in the movies and on T.V.

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Unlike a lot of boats and ferries in Australia, America had food on board that you can purchase, thank the lord. So for breakfast I tried a pretzel, healthy I know! It was very doughy, but nice! I liked it, maybe with a sauce next time.

Once we arrived on Liberty Island the statue was just beautiful, I was impressed! The view of Brooklyn and the Manhattan skyline was stunning. I know some say it isn’t worth it, but if you think about this statue of a woman representing America’s freedom that overlooks New York it is just incredible, I mean it has its own Island!

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As part of our ticket we got to go to the first level of the statue, you can go to the top! Again, more security, but can you blame them? You weren’t allowed food, drinks or even chewy and all bags had to be placed in a locker.

Walking up a few flights of stairs and a lot of whinging by me, we made it!

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Walking up more stairs onto the second level reminded me of the T.V show Blindspot, filmed in New York, because one of the first episodes was filmed in that stairwell, pretty cool!

The view of Manhattan from the first level was again, amazing! If you pay to go to the top I believe that would be even better! Of course before we left we had to visit the gift shop, we love a good gift shop. I bought some souvenir coins that had different designs on them, these weren’t the smashed pennies, but bigger coins – I also collected a lot of those smashed pennies along the way.

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On our way back to the ferry we noticed the flag was at half mast to pay respects to those who lost their lives in an L.A. shooting the day before. One key thing I learnt in America is that they are very patriotic and care a lot about one another, well most anyway.

Once we got back to Manhattan a guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty signalled us in for photos, he even made me kiss him on the cheek and pose for so many photos, then only to of course, make us tip him $5, cheeky.

We headed to the subway to go to out next tour, the Food Cart tour. On our way Nicole, Josh, Amelia and I stopped at a stall to buy some NYPD merchandise and missed the subway everyone was catching so we had to take the next one.

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When we got off at Time Square we weren’t sure what direction the tour started, got a little lost but finally got there and of course, everyone was waiting for us.

Our first stop was a cart that served middle eastern food. The tour guide gave us a lot of facts and interesting stories about the food cart industry. He said it was a huge business in NYC and it was extremely hard and expensive to get a license to have a food cart, a 20 year waiting list.

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He also said New Yorkers never get food from hot dog stands or pretzel vans. Most of the tourists did thinking it was a thing New Yorkers did. Our first dish was a little spicy, but very tasty! The rice and chicken was beautiful with a creamy spicy sauce! Next stop across the road was the Mexican food cart.

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Our guide was explaining the rules in the food cart industry and how no one can stay at the same spot all day everyday so at night they have to take their carts back to the lot to get cleaned and prepared, then the next day they take them back to start again. Maria at the Mexican cart, El Reydel Sabour, served us delicious pork quesadillas, yum! My favourite of the tour!

Walking down past all the beautiful christmas decorations and Rockefeller Center we ended up at our next food cart, Bapcha, Korean BBQ! It was very very spicy, but had so much flavour and was so good!

Next station was a cart called Biryani. This cart served Indian dishes. We tried a chicken and sweet chilli wrap, so fantastic, but I was getting so full that this point! Note to everyone, you don’t need to eat beforehand!

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Our  last savoury cart, Kwik Meal was owned by a chef. The guide explained that rent for building space in NYC was so expensive that chefs who wanted to own their own restaurant would buy a food cart instead. So our last savoury dish was a middle eastern cart and we had falafel. This was probably my least favourite dish, but it was still nice.

Last stop, dessert, the best bit! This was over at Bryant Park, which is beautiful in the holiday season, they have these cute markets and heaps of people around the park with dogs. So dessert was, WAFFLES and what American’s call dinges. It was so yum!

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Once the tour ended we got on the nearest subway to head to SoHo to go to Macy’s and DASH. Whilst in SoHo we headed to the Guess shop where both Amelia and I got christmas presents for our Mum’s, it was so much cheaper! Macy’s as a department store was very similar to Myer and David Jones in Australia but everything is much cheaper.

Heading to Time Square we shopped for hours! I bought so much in H&M, got my Hard Rock Cafe NYC glass – only $9, so cheap, bought all new makeup at Sephora and MAC. The MAC makeup was over half the price compared to Australia, for a foundation powder, liquid and a concealer it cost me $70USD!

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After finishing at Time Square we headed on the subway to Tiffany & Co, my excitement level was unattainable. When we got to the beautiful building that was lit up so pretty for Christmas, we were told they were shutting. Nine o’clock on a Friday night in the ‘city that never sleeps’ in the festive season?! At least we had time to go back!

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So we got a taxi back to our hotel to get ready to go out with the Contiki group. People were already there so we quickly got ready and jumped in a taxi to The Mean Fiddler bar. When we arrived Amelia shelf appointed herself to ordering the drinks. A $20USD drink order got us 3 drinks each.

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Firstly a Jägerbomb, secondly a shot and to chase a Midori and lemonade. Little to Nicole and my knowledge the shot was whiskey! It was our second drink of the night and it was a shot of whiskey, Amelia asked the bartender for her strongest shot.

We ran a bit of a muck, I tried to control the DJ, Amelia and Nicole made friends, which ended in Amelia skipping with a scarf and doing the figure eight with one of their iPad’s, which she dropped and put a crack in the screen. Not sure why he had an iPad, but he said it was already partly cracked.img_6180

We ended up on the bar dancing to the song shots for free shots – a Fiddlers tradition – which come to think of it we never got and just ended up with sore heads from hitting them on the roof! Everyone started to leave but Nicole, Amelia and I stayed. After the night we headed for the nearest McDonald’s.

After trying to make some sort of music video? In the street to Empire State of Mind, we had no idea where we were so we got a taxi to Maccas, it turns out it was just around the corner, awesome work. While we ate we made more friends and had a sing off. Then we got a taxi back to our hotel to get ‘some’ sleep before another big day.

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6

Running off minimal sleep, again, we all woke up fairly seedy. But, we got ready, skipping breakfast again, and headed off to start our Gossip Girl Tour. It started at the hotel Serena and her family lived in at the start of the show, The Bass family’s Plaza Hotel.

During the tour we were shown clips of the show and the locations as we were driving past them. Including the Vera Wang shop Blair bought her wedding dress and the back of the school, which was actually the back of the church.

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Our first stop was the New York Museum, which was the front of St. Jude’s and Constance, the schools on the show. They actually had to CGI the signs out in post production.

We then headed past the Archibald town house and got out at our next location, the MET steps, which was the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Blair and her minions sat. This was based on school girls who actually did and do sit on the MET steps in their lunch break. Nicole was so seedy at this point that she had a hotdog for breakfast that she bought at a food cart, great form!

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Driving around Central Park and past the Palace Hotel, which many films including Home Alone 2 have used, we headed towards Dylan’s Candy Bar. This is where Vanessa bought Nate a present from in the show. We also bought bulk lollies, it was huge, three levels of lollies. After that our next stop on the tour and very close to our hotel, was the Empire Hotel that Chuck Bass owned later in the show.

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The last stop for us, because we had already been to Grand Central Station, was Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue, where Serena and Blair shopped all the time in the show. One tip if you go there, use the toilets. It sounds weird but they are so fancy! I liked the Gossip Girl tour because it is nice to see where scene of the show was filmed, but it is a long time in a bus. If you are a Gossip Girl fan it is worth a look. If you can do a self tour, that would be better.

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We had a few hours before the Sex in the City tour, so we headed to Tiffany & Co! The first level of the shop was so expensive, so we headed to the 3rd level to get something in our price range, the silver floor. All the stuff was a lot cheaper than in Australia, so I purchased a pair of the Heart ‘Return to Tiffany & Co’ earrings, Merry Christmas to me!

We then headed up the beautifully decorated stairs, to the gift ware section thinking I could get mum something little, ummm no, everything was very expensive up there! The decorations in the store looked amazing though. The Christmas trees were decorated in the Tiffany blue and silver, it is beautiful.

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Still with time to kill we looked for something to eat, starving from no breakfast, we searched on the Trip Advisor App – best app ever – to find something. We found this fancy looking restaurant near Central Park, we looked at the menu and the prices weren’t bad so we went inside.

We did feel a little out of place, thank god for the Tiffany bags to make us look rich. I ordered some lamb sausage sliders, which were quite nice a little spicy though. The girls had a mushroom consommé, which I tried and it was actually had a lot of flavour.

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After our fancy lunch, trust us to do that, we headed to the Plaza Hotel, which was the meeting point of the Sex in the City tour.

We started the bus tour heading down fifth avenue and past Tiffany & Co, again, where Charlotte picked her engagement ring, then past the public library where Big and Carrie were to be married before she was stood up. We then had out first stop at Pleasure Chest, the sex shop where Charlotte bought her ‘rabbit’.

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As a joke I bought Mum some penis shaped pasta. We drove past Miranda’s gym and watched some clips to match the locations. The guide on the bus was so funny and entertaining, her jokes were the best, all the older ladies on the tour loved it.

As daylight faded we headed to Carrie’s stoop, but were only allowed to get pictures from across the street, we still got some good ones. We also went past boutiques on our way back to the bus that were on the show. Then we headed to the Meat Packing district where Samantha lived in later seasons.

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We stopped at the restaurant Carrie and Big had their rehearsal dinner, then we continued to our last stop, Aidan and Steve’s bar, Scout. Here we got cheap cosmos, they were amazing! Back on the bus and past a few coffee shops and locations from the show we had definitely had enough and were ready to get off.

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Nicole did win a t-shirt! We were dropped back at Battery Park and got a taxi to our hotel to get ready for dinner, we were cutting it fine for time again! I liked both of the tours, but spending all day on a bus was bit too much!

We headed as a group to dinner and got a really awesome group shot in Times Square. Our included dinner was at Tonic, the waitress was definitely on something and stuffed up our drink orders and meals, she had no idea! But, my salmon was very nice, as well as my Pina Colada! We stayed for a while and it was a good atmosphere.

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After dinner we all headed to the Empire State Building. At the start of the line to the top, Amelia, Nicole and I stopped for photos on the beam, like the famous photo of the workers eating lunch during the creation of the Empire State, except ours was a painted background! We got to the top and the view was incredible, the lights of New York just went on for miles and miles, it really is the city that never sleeps!

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During the day would also be great because you could see Central Park. However, I think the Rockefeller building would be better because you would be able to get pictures of the Empire State Building. It was very difficult to get photos due to the lighting, especially if you wanted yourself in the shot. Heading out, of course the exit is through the gift shop, I found a ‘MARIAH’ keyring! Something with my name on it, finally!

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We all headed off as a group but Nicole and I decided to go to Carlo’s Bakery from Cake Boss on our last night in New York. So we got a taxi and headed to the shop just off Times Square. When we got there it was packed! We got a ticket and waited trying to look at all the cakes and pastries. The stuff looked to die for, so amazing and incredibly decorated!

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Waiting we overheard a lady say she has been waiting over an hour! So instead we bought the already packaged biscuits and left. When we got to the hotel we had a cup of tea and packed our bags whilst eating our biscuits, they were, wow! So good. Trying to have an early night it was still after midnight! Next stop, VEGAS!

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Things I would have liked to do in New York: 

Click here for Las Vegas post

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