THE BIG APPLE ON A BUDGET (1ST OF 3 PARTS) (FROM HILTON TO HARLEM)

I was a New Yorker for twelve days, did two city tours, six museums and two churches. My total bill? USD$700 – actually less.

2 manhattan-skyline

However, that doesn’t include the cost of my Manila-New York round trip ticket and my all-expenses paid first two days in the Big Apple. I was doing an official coverage of Philippine Airlines’ launch of its Manila to New York service. So, only in the next ten days after the event did I foot my bills.

1 ME NY-1-1

Still, I averaged $70 daily without cutting meals and creature comforts. New York happens to be one of the most expensive cities on earth, so it’s nothing to sneeze at. The lowest you can get by in most cities is over $100 per day.

Of course, for my first couple of nights, I bedded down at Midtown Manhattan Hilton, a favorite of American Presidents – not just for its five-star service and strategic location smack in the midst of hundreds of skyscrapers but because of a secret tunnel in its bowels that makes for ideal presidential getaways.

3 HILTON MIDTOWN MANHATTAN

4  HILTON ROOM

5 WINDOW HILTON-1

I had two days of restaurant and hotel dining too – brunch at the Rue 75 – Lox, eggs and sweet red onions with Atlantic salmon and crisp bagel, plus two sumptuous buffet breakfasts and a fillet mignon dinner at Hilton.

6 rue 57

7 LOK

I sampled fine dining (about $100 per plate) at one of America’s top restaurants, Fogo De Chao (fire on the ground) – all-you-can-eat carnivore’s delight, Brazilian-style. After the over 30-item gourmet salad bar, the waiters serve 16 different cuts of meat skewered in long steel sticks. I loved their Picanha (sirloin) and Lombo (pork loin rolled in Parmesan cheese).

9 POGO D CHAO

FOGO D CHAO

When my sponsored stay ended, I moved Uptown to a $30 per person per night single room (off-peak rates, exclusive of the 14.5 per cent hostel tax plus NY city tax) at Lexington Central Studios in East Side, Harlem, six subway stops from the Hilton.

14 HARLEM2

The guesthouse was ultra-convenient – just two blocks from the subway station. I didn’t mind the round-the-clock clickety-clack of trains racing underground. It lulled me to sleep each night. A big grocery stood at the corner, open from 9 AM to midnight, next to flower shops, specialty stores, parlors, Chinese and Mexican restaurants.

The Big Apple is a city for singles like me though dating here is ultra-expensive. Half of its population – that is, 12 million daytime workers and 8 million night residents, are bachelors and bachelorettes, the walk-anywhere, to-hell-with the-red-lights, alien-in-the-kitchen, eat -in-the-park-and-church-pews, devil-may-care crowd.

But I never considered staying in the boroughs, which could have been much cheaper, because if I run out of money – a not so remote possibility – I’ve to be sure I can just walk from my place to Museum Row, 20 city blocks away. Also, I don’t want the daily commute to devour all of my time – the subways run notoriously late, especially on weekends.

15  HARLEM3

Aside from having a king-sized bed, tv and an en suite bath, my Harlem basement den has a gas range, huge ref, toaster, microwave and coffeemaker. So, I cooked for myself – bacon and eggs, corned beef with steamed rice, nothing fancy.

Anyway, all I needed was two square meals a day to keep up my energy in the bone-numbing chill. My food bill for 10 days totalled less than $40. A kilo of rice  costs $3, same as a pack of bacon  and a tin of corned beef.

13 HARLEM1

To travel around the city, I bought a $30 seven-day unlimited metro card good for both subways and buses. From day eight to ten, I just topped up my card ($2.75 per trip) because the metro has no unlimited day passes. The rest of the time, I simply walked like a New Yorker.

To avoid hassles on my airport transfer coming back to Manila, I took the subway to the Grand Terminal, 7 stops from my place, and a block from there, boarded the Airporter bus to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) for $16. (Taxis charge a flat rate of $45 from anywhere in Manhattan to JFK, plus at least 15 per cent tip.) For the bus, it’s pay as you board, no reservations needed.

I concentrated on museums because NYC has some of the best and except for the Met, I haven’t seen any other in my first two trips. Add to that, I came at the end of winter and it was freezing – raining and snowing, all day, most days. I have no choice but to keep indoors. Museum-hopping was the perfect choice.

Most museums charge $25 recommended admission fees and they are open daily, from 10:30 AM to 5:20 PM though some extend their hours for one day each week, up to 9PM, and some don’t charge on certain days and certain time slots. You have to look up each museum’s website for particulars.

As I mentioned earlier, this was my third time in NYC. During my first two trips, I hanged out at Times Square, climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, took a cruise to Staten Island and visited the Statue of Liberty, window-shopped at Macy’s, watched Broadway shows, sampled the pasta at Little Italy, Chinese food at China Town and Korean food in Brooklyn, did every must-do for first timers in the Big Apple.

17  5TH AVE

Now, I just wanted to walk around and  play in the city.

18  ROCKEFELLER

19 ST PATRICK

(To be continued)

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