Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Location in New York City

After living in New York for a few months I have really started to notice how many movies are shot on location here.  I was always able to recognise the most famous buildings and landmarks when watching films based in New York, but now I can often tell exactly where they have been filming and in which neighbourhood. 

On a recent trip back to the UK all of the films I ended up watching were shot on location in New York. 'The Switch', 'Going the Distance' and 'Morning Glory' are all based here and it made me feel like a local when I recognised locations and landmarks. 

When walking around the city you can often spot TV shows and movies being filmed.  I stepped outside my building today and the street was full of film crew trucks and vans and although I haven't seen any filming yet, I am keeping an eye out.  I have seen a TV show being filmed at Columbus Circle, but unfortunately I didn't see any big screen names in action. 

You never know when you might stumble across live filming in New York, so keep your eyes peeled just in case!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tipping in New York Restaurants

The expected gratuity in New York restaurants, and across the United States generally, is much higher than in the UK.  In the US you are expected to leave a 15-20% tip, where as in the UK 10% is considered more than acceptable. 

When I first arrived in New York it took me a while to get used to leaving such large tips, especially if the service wasn't that great!  However, after a few months I got used to it and just allow for gratuity in the cost of a night out. 

Restaurants often put a recommended service charge on the bottom of the bill, telling you what 15 % and 20% of the total bill amount would be.  Personally, to make it easy for myself, I just double the tax which is in between 15% and 20% of the bill.

Make sure you read the bill carefully though as I have come across places where they add the service charge to the bill and then leave you room to put 'additional gratuity'.  I think this is really cheeky, if they suggest a tip amount and you happily pay it they shouldn't really ask for more.

However, if the service is terrible don't feel like you have to leave a tip, but you may want to leave quickly and quietly and never go back there again ;-)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Skiing in the Catskills

After the snow flurry this week it might be worth checking out the snow conditions at some of the ski areas in the Catskills. Although it is almost the end of the season there is still some good skiing to be had.  Many of the Catskill ski resorts are still open and are offering really great deals on lift passes and rentals. 

The Catskill Mountains are a 2 1/2-3 hour drive outside of Manhattan at the end of which you are in a stunning National Park.  It is a great drive and you really get to see some of the beauty of the rest of New York State.

We went skiing at Belleayre Mountain a couple of weeks ago and had a great day.  It wasn't that busy and we didn't have to queue for lifts, which was a surprise for a Saturday.  It is a bit manic during the rental process, but once we had our gear it was fine.  Belleayre is great place for beginners and families as they have plenty of green runs on a separate part of the mountain.  There are more runs for advanced and intermediate skiers at the top of the mountain, but beware that the majority start off as black runs with only one or two staying blue whole way down.  The mountain could do with a bit of modernisation and updating, but it was still worth the trip.  Visit http://www.belleayre.com/ for snow conditions and further information.

Next season I really want to try some of the other mountains in the area.  Hunter Mountain, Windham Mountain and Plattekill Mountain have all been recommended to me as good places to ski, so it might be worthwhile checking them out if you are looking to go before the end of the season.  Check out http://www.catskillguide.com/links-34.htm for mountain guides.

Although you can do the trip in a day, there are lots of nice little hotels and B&B's to stay in in the local area.  We went to a lovely village called Roxbury and stayed in the most fantastic hotel called 'The Roxbury Motel'.  I want to dedicate a separate post to this place as it is just brilliant, but wanted to mention it in case you wanted to stay there this weekend.  They can also get their guests great deals on lift passes and ski rentals.  Visit http://www.http//www.theroxburymotel.com/ for more information.  I promise you won't be disappointed!

If you do go skiing this weekend I hope you get some great snow and have a wonderful time!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Abraco-The best coffee in New York City

Abraco was recommended to me as the place to go for the best coffee in New York,  so I ventured to the East Village to find out for myself.  Now, I should probably tell you that I'm not a big coffee drinker and wouldn't really know a good cup of coffee from a bad one, so I took my husband (who loves the stuff) to try it out with me.

Finding Abraco was easy, go to 7th Street bewtween 1st and 2nd Avenue and look for the long queue of people lining up on the street.  Although we did have to wait for about 10 minutes for our coffee, we were entertained by the barrister who called everyone 'baby' and made coffee like Tom Cruise made cocktails. 

As the cafe is so small you can't actually drink your coffee in the shop.  They have a small make-shift bench outside you can sit on, but we decided to stroll around the East Village drinking ours as it was such a lovely day.

As I said, I'm not a big coffee drinker, but I did enjoy my cup from Abraco.  My coffee expert said it was a great cup of coffee, great taste, aroma and temperature, and was glad that we had made the effort to come and try it.  However, as we don't live locally to Abraco we won't become regular customers, but will definitely go back if we are in the area.

If you love coffee it is well worth going to Abraco, but if you are like me, and can't tell the difference between coffee from Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, it probably wouldn't be worth the trip!

For menus, opening hours and further information visit http://abraconyc.com/#home

Monday, March 21, 2011

5 Things To Do When It's Raining in New York City

On a miserable day like today when it is pouring with rain, there are still lots of things you can do in The Big Apple. 

Here are my 5 favourite things to do when it's raining outside:

1. Visit one of NYC's many museums or galleries.  There are so many to choose from, pick one nearest to you, run to the subway or hop in cab (if you can get one!) and enjoy some amazing exhibits in the warm and dry.  Visit http://www.ny.com/museums/all.museums.html for more information.

2.  Visit your local cinema and watch a movie.  Check out http://www.fandango.com/ for your closest theatre, movie listings and schedules.

3.  Do a bit of window/actual shopping, grab a coffee, admire an art exhibit and watch the world go by at 'The Shops at Columbus Circle' in the Time Warner Centre.  For shop and restaurant information, opening hours and special events, visit http://www.shopsatcolumbuscircle.com/.

4.  Go to the gym or take a Zumba class.  If you don't have a gym membership have a quick look online as many gyms offer a free day or week pass.  'Golds Gym' are currently offering a free 7-day pass, check it out at http://www.goldsgym.com/

5.  Run to you nearest 'Blockbuster Kiosk' (http://www.blockbusterexpress.com/find-kiosk/), rent some movies for a $1 each, get a takeaway (http://www.seamlessweb.com/) and chill out on the sofa!

I hope I have given you a few good ideas, and whatever you decide to do I hope you make the best of this rainy Monday!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Trip to the Movies

I love going to the cinema and would happily see every movie that came out if I had the time.  There are lots of cinemas in New York City, and this week I saw Battle: Los Angeles at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 Cinema, located on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Street.  The film wasn't that good, but I really liked the cinema.

They have lots of screens and each theatre has it's own name, style and decor.  It is a really interesting cinema to visit and is like being on a movie set.  They have an IMAX screen as well, which means you can come here to see the big 3D movies.

I am often put off going to the cinema by how busy it can be, but Lincoln 13 was pretty quiet and there was no queue for tickets or treats, although I am sure it gets busier at the weekends. The seats in the theatre were comfortable and there was plenty of leg room compared to cinema seats in the UK. 

I booked my tickets online at http://www.fandango.com/ and printed them out at home which meant I could go straight to the theatre without having to queue for tickets (not that there was one).  It is a great website, you can find your nearest cinema, what's showing and book tickets.  It is much easier than having to wait in long queues to buy tickets when you get there, especially if you are running late!

This a great neighbourhood cinema and I will definitely be going there again, hopefully to see a better film!  For more information and film times visit http://www.amctheatres.com/LincolnSquare/.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Celeb Spot-Parker Posey!

Today,whilst enjoying ice-cream in a sunny Union Square, I spotted the actress Parker Posey, star of many TV shows and films including 'Scream 3' and 'Blade Trinity'. She was playing with her dog and enjoying the sunshine like the rest of New York on this beautiful day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Abitino's-A good place to get lunch

'Abitino's Pizza and Cafe' has six locations across New York City and when one opened up near me I thought I would give it a try.

It is an Italian style cafe/deli that serves pizza, pasta, soups and sandwiches.  They do great unlimited salads for $6.99, where you get to choose 1 main protein, 2 smaller proteins and as many other toppings as you like.  The portions are generous and a piece of bread included in the price.  I think this is really good value as so many places charge you for every topping you have and before you know you've spent $10 on a salad! 

They also do pasta dishes on the same basis, you pick you pasta, sauce and main ingredient and then add as many of the other toppings as you like.  Again, for $6.99 it is really good value and the portions are a good size.

You can eat in or take-away and the seating area always looks clean and tidy.  The staff are friendly and have always greeted me when I enter the cafe and say goodbye when I leave.

If you don't want to leave your apartment or office, Abitino's deliver from some of their locations and you can also place orders for collection.  For their full menu and more information visit http://www.abitinospizza.com/.

I really like the food from Abitino's and recommend you give them a try.  Happy Eating!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Z Club NY

ZClubNY offers Zumba classes at two locations in Manhattan, one on East 57th Street and one on West 19th Street.  They have classes every morning, lunchtime and evening, so there is a time to suit everybody.  They also offer an Aqua Zumba class, which is a first for NYC!  I have yet to try it but I hear it's a great workout and fun too.  It is especially good for those with injuries that prevent them joining in with regular classes as the water takes the pressure off of weak muscles and joints.

ZClubNY has a variety of instructors, each offering different routines and dance styles.  I have tried classes with three different instructors so far and have really enjoyed each workout.  All of instructors are very approachable and friendly, making everyone feel relaxed and comfortable throughout the class.  They make you feel like you can dance as if no one is watching!

Class sizes are not too big, which is great as you actually have the space to dance and move around rather than tripping over people or treading on toes. 

Single classes start at $20 and new comers can take advantage of the two classes for $30 deal.  Also, as they are a new company, they are offering free Zumba classes in order to showcase their instructors.  For more information, details of free classes and regular schedules visit http://zclubny.com/.

I always have a great time at Zumba dance classes and burn loads of calories in the process.  You are so busy learning the routines and having fun that you almost forget you are working out. 
I hope to see you in a class soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

American Museum of Natural History

A rainy day, like today, offers the perfect opportunity to visit one New York's many museums or galleries.  A few weeks ago I visited the American Museum of Natural History and found it really interesting.  The museum is located on Central Park West at 79th Street and is open daily from 10am to 5.45pm.

They have some great exhibits, I especially enjoyed the 'Milstein Hall of Ocean Life', 'The Fossil Halls' and the 'Stout Hall of Asian Peoples'.  They also have special exhibitions which change every few months and can be viewed at an extra charge.  They currently have 'The Butterfly Conservatory' which houses over 500 live butterflies, and an exhibit called 'Brain:The Inside Story'. 

There is an IMAX theatre which boasts a forty-foot-high, sixty-six-foot-wide screen and amazing sound system.  Currently showing is 'Sea Rex: Journey to a Prehistoric World'.

We ate lunch in the large food court in the basement which offers a wide variety of food stations to suit most tastes.  Although quite expensive the food was of a good quality and we enjoyed our meal.  If you didn't fancy the food court there are three other eateries where you can get lunch, coffee and snacks.

The museum offers various admission packages depending on which exhibits you want to see and you get special discounts if you plan to visit other museums as well.  However, standard admission is $16 for adults and $9 for children under 12.

The American Museum of Natural History is a fun day out and is great for the kiddies as well as adults.  For more information visit http://www.amnh.org/

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Time Warner Centre at Columbus Circle

The Time Warner Centre is a great looking building located at Columbus Circle and 59th Street.  It is home to numerous shops, bars and restaurants as well as the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the 'Jazz at the Lincoln Centre' theatre.  Many businesses are located within the building and it is the headquarters of 'Time Warner World', the cable company.

The shopping and dining areas are located on the first few floors of the building.  It isn't a very big shopping centre, more of a mini mall, but they do have about 50 stores, including Armani Exchange, Borders, Sephora, J Crew and Bebe.  It isn't overwhelming like some giant malls and is a good place to window shop, especially in bad weather!

In the basement they have a 'Wholefoods Market' which is my favourite supermarket for fresh and healthy produce.  They have a great selection of fruit, vegetables and meat as well as one of the best hot and cold buffet bars I have found in the city.  You can't get many named brands here though, so you will have to go to another store to get your other groceries. 

There are lots of famous restaurants in the Time Warner Centre including Per Se and Masa.  I haven't eaten in either of these restaurants as it is almost impossible to get a reservation and they are super expensive.  Masa is $500 per head (that isn't a typo!), making it the most expensive restaurant in New York (and probably the world!)  I have tried A Voce, a lovely Italian restaurant (review coming shortly), and the Bouchon Bakery which is a great Parisian style cafe.

The Time Warner Centre is definitely worth a look and is a great place to spend a few hours, either shopping, eating or both!  For more information visit http://www.shopsatcolumbuscircle.com/

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blockbuster Express

One of the great things about living in NYC is how convenient it is, everything you need is either at your fingertips or on your doorstep. 

On a day like yesterday, when it didn't stop raining, I didn't feel like venturing out far so decided I would rent some movies, get a pizza and chill out!  I rent my DVD's from the 'Blockbuster Express' kiosk's which are located in supermarkets and drug stores across the city.  They are really cheap and easy to use, with each DVD only costing a $1 per night. 

They have quite a good range of movies to choose from and stock new releases as well as older films.  You can check online before you go to see what movies they have at each kiosk and if they are available to rent.  It is possible to reserve and pay for your movies online and just collect them from your chosen location, or you can pop in and rent a movie using your credit card. 

To find your nearest kiosk and for more information visit http://www.blockbusterexpress.com/

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Facials at Mario Badescu

Looking after your skin in very important, especially when living in a city where the weather can be very cold and dry.  There are an abundance of spa's in New York, most of which offer some sort of facial treatment.  I really didn't know where to go for a facial, so I had a look on the internet.  Mario Badescu kept coming up as the best place to get a facial in the city, and at $65 I thought they were worth a try.  The website includes many celebrity testimonials and reviews so I was very optimistic when I booked.

The building in which Mario Badescu is housed doesn't look much like a spa from the outside and you have to follow the signs through the building to find the reception.  When I arrived there were only a couple of people in the waiting area, but by the time I was due for my appointment there were about 20 women squashed in the tiny room.  They then call your name and take you to your treatment room with your therapist.  The treatment room was very small with walls as thin as paper, I could hear everything going on around me, the therapists chatting with each other, doors banging, it was not very relaxing!

The facial itself was very basic and the therapist spent more time out of the room than she did in it.  She put a mask on and left me for 10 minutes, came back, put another mask on and left again.  She moisturised my hands and put them in heated gloves for the duration of the treatment which was nice, but I felt as if I was left in room with a mask on for 45 minutes.  I think that the therapists treat more than one client at a time to maximise their turnover.

The therapist was in the room long enough to insult me though!  She said that my eyebrows were awful, too low on my face and made me look sad!  She offered to 'fix' them for $35 and her suggestion was to pluck them and add height with a pencil-I was not convinced so politely declined her kind offer!  Just for the record my eyebrows are fine and don't need plucking to within a inch of their life.

However, that said, my skin did look and feel great after the facial so the products must be good.  They gave me some generous samples which I have used and really like.  Their products are very reasonable and I might use them again in the future, but I won't be rushing back for a facial anytime soon.

For more information about Mario Badescu visit their website at  http://www.mariobadescu.com/Skin-Care

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

$300 off Gucci shoes at DSW!

I recently went shopping at the Designer Shoe Warehouse at Union Square and picked up some gorgeous Gucci pumps for $150, which were originally $450!  They also have a selection of kitten heels at $199 and flip flops at $100.  They are available in different colours and they had a good range of sizes. I was surprised that they had such high end designers as such good prices.

DSW has a great selection of discounted designer shoes and stock styles by many designers including Steve Madden, Betsey Johnson, Bebe, DKNY and Guess.  They have a small selection of high end designers that include Prada, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu.  I have been in the store a few times and this is the first time I seen Gucci stocked, so it is worth popping in when you can to catch the best deals.

For more information and online shopping visit their website at http://www.dsw.com/.

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ailey II New York April 2011

Ailey II is the junior company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.  They are currently on tour across North America and the UK but will be coming back to New York for a two week season in April.  The company is made up of 12 dancers hand-picked from the school and offers them the opportunity and experience of performing in professional capacity.  They are receiving great reviews and I have heard that the dancers are extremely talented.

Performances run from Wednesday 6th to Sunday 17th April and take place at the Ailey Citigroup Theater on 405 West 55th Street at 9th Avenue.  The company will be performing two programs during the season and more information can be found on their website.

Tickets have just gone on sale, and at $45 they are great value so are bound to go quickly.  I booked mine online, which was quick and easy, especially as you could book tickets using a seating chart.

For more information and to book tickets visit http://www.alvinailey.org/.

I am really looking forward to the performance and hope to see you there!