New York, Niagara Falls, Montreal and San Francisco

(I want to add photos, but don’t have time yet, so read the boring text if you want.)

21 December 2009: Fifth Avenue

So finally here’s the first post of one of the many trips that I had. On 21 December, I left on my long journey to the United States. It was a teary departure from my family at Changi in the wee hours of the morning. I never knew what it truly means to be alone with Jesus until now. It’s quite sad to think that I will not be seeing my loved ones and friends for the next 6 months. 6 hours later, I was in Narita. “The stars were brightly shining” during the night of the flight. Very many stars. The 6 hours flight to Tokyo was quite fast, and I watched 500 days of summer and a night at the museum 2, taking naps in between. The 12 hour flight to JFK needed more patience. I was alternating between eating, sleeping, and going to the toilet (duh). The lady sitting beside me has weird habits of stretching her legs up in the air lol. Although I was tired since i didn’t sleep the previous night, it is not easily to sleep in such a crammed space. I watche inglorious basterds, land of yh lost, shorts and a little bit of GI Joe, before falling asleep in between. I think next time should sit at aisele seat or emergency exit although the window seat gave me pretty good views of the snowly manhattan as we landed. Seeing bulldozers pushing snow around the runway is an interesting sight! There’s like snow everywhere, on top of the roofs and beside the Tarmac etc. So very cool.

Landing on snow capped roofs and grounds was very surreal. Stepping out into the coldness of 0-5 deg was double surreal. However, entering the airport wasn’t a very pleasant experience. I’m typing this now waiting for the luggage for like 20mins plus already and they say it was due to snow hence delay 🙁 and changi airport isn’t no.1 for no reason. The lighting at JFK was moody, the ceilings are low, the baggage conveyor belts are old and making a lot of noise. And I’m still waiting for the luggage 1.5 hours after landing. Grrr.

Taking the NYC Subway was even more interesting. First impressions of the NYC subway as compared to Singapore’s MRT: it’s older, darker and dirtier. But of course, it’s more extensive and complicated than ours. They have multiple lines running on multiple parallel tracks into the same station. And no platform screen doors and the platform gap is quite unevenly high.j Actually it seems and sounds more like a traditional locomotive train than a modern subway. You can’t cross train cars within the train. The information systems are quite adequate – telling you  where the train goes with announcements and LED screens, but no estimated time info.

Upon reaching 96th St, I lugged my luguage out of the traditional turnstile gate, through a dark mine-like underpass and pulled out into the snowly cold night. It was only 5pm but the sun had already set. Walked to the Fresh hostel, ah, they say they are at another hostel at Candy. Walk to another one, can’t find Joshua and Vanessa. I used the computer for a while and fortunately they arrived soon after. We went to a nearby supermarket and bought dinner and ate in our room. Budget mah.

We went to Fifth Avenue, had a look at Apple Store, and walked down the streets of shops and shops, like GAP, H&M and all the big name brands. H&M looked pretty nice, if I had all the money, I’ll buy my whole wardrobe from there. lol. We strolled towards Grand Central Terminal, took a quick look, before heading back.

22 December 2009: Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge

Day 2 morning we went to queue for tickets for broadway at Pier 17. There was a long queue of people at 10am and we bought tickets for West Side Story the next day. After that, we walked down Wall St towards Trinity Church, then down towards Battery Park. Fortunately we bought our tickets online and hence we can cut the queue for the ferry to Liberty Island. The security check was a bit strict and long though. The ferry ride was pretty cool and cold, and the Statue of Liberty looked smaller than I thought. When we wanted to inside the Statue’s Pedestal, there was security checks again! Quite troublesome. We didn’t manage to get the crown tickets to go all the way up though. After that, we decided to skip Ellis Island and went back to Manhanttan. We took a train down to Brooklyn and started our leisurely walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. By then, it was just nice sun set time and the colours and views were awesomely beautiful. The lights from the skyline were very nice with the sky colours.

After that, we went down to Times Square to meet some of josh’s friends and parents. We decided to eat at Planet Hollywood, slightly exorbitant, but the food was interesting. The restroom even had a server to pass you soap, towel, and there are like moisturising cream for you to use. Initially, I didn’t give any tips. The second time I went, the guy ask, where you from? Singapore don’t give tips? Haha, then I was obliged to give some. After dinner, we walked around Times Square and we decided to eat cheesecakes at Junior’s. They said to be the best in the world! The funny thing was, we didn’t want to eat inside the restaurant, so we set outside and eat instead, in sub-zero temperature. lol. People must think we are crazy to do that.

23 December 2009: Central Park, Times Square

The next day, we took a train up north to try Absolute Bagels, recommended by some guidebooks. One of the best bagels in NYC supposedly. It’s pretty good, with bacon and cream cheese in it. After that, we went to Cathedral of St. John The Divine, one of the largest and oldest church buildings in NYC. It’s really really really huge and grand and old, one of the largest long nave/sanctuary I’ve ever been into. Very nice and peaceful place. After that, we went to Central Park, and it was beautiful with all the snow. We stopped by the American Natural Musuem of History, but we didn’t have time to go in, so we just took photos with Roosevelt. Haha. After that, we had to rush down to Broadway in Times Square to catch our musical. The musical was good, but the bad thing was I was falling asleep in the afternoon so I couldn’t pay attention to some parts. Cannot watch matinee shows in future! After that, we walked around Times Square again, before we went to Penn Station to meet a friend. But we couldn’t contact him, so we decided to go down Little Italy/Chinatown and see what food we can get. Chinatown seemed pretty quiet at night, so we ate at some French/Italian restaurant instead. It was pretty good pasta.

24 December 2009: Allentown

Today marks the first day of our road trip. We lugged our luggage unto a Greyhound bus to Allentown, and we were left stranded at the bus terminal before we found a cab to take us to the car rental at the airport. Josh found a good offer for National car rental there, and we got free upgraded from a full-size sedan to a huge SUV. It was a surprise – a huge, spacious, sparkling new Chevrolet Traverse. It seats 7, although we have only 3, so there was plenty of space for all our luggages. Hurray. I was slightly worried we would have trouble squeezing them in the boot. But we could put them all flat down! Amazing. I bought a T-mobile data plan there so we could start using Google Maps and Gas Buddy. And so, we started our long and treacherous drive to Niagara Falls. Going past the Canadian border was pretty smooth, and Niagara Falls was a little disappointing at night. There were some lights but it was still too dark. So we went to Glengate Hotel and stayed for one night, and that was one of our best hotel stays ever. Very spacious with 2 queen beds, nice and cheap.

25 December 2009: Niagara Falls

We woke up early and drove down to pump petrol, before heading to the falls. We drove from the source of the falls, where there were many nice birds and a small little park, before going to the actual falls itself. It was humongous, and the sprays make it seemed like it was raining. And the most interesting part was, everything around was FROZEN. It is not snow, but literally ice on all the surfaces: the railings, the trees and even the lamppost. The place was like a giant freezer. Really cool. In the process of trying to take excellent photos, I got my camera wet 🙁 In the end, while trying to clean it, there’s some black spots in the viewfinder. Fortunately, the sensor is still working well.

After that, we drove down to Toronto, and drove around. Nothing much for a Sunday afternoon, pretty quiet. We dropped Vanessa off at the airport and began our long 10 hour drive back to Woodbury at about 4pm.  It was longer than expected, and it was a really tiring drive, and I didn’t dare to drive yet so Josh drove all the way. We checked in at our America’s Best Inn at 2.30am. Phew!

26 December 2009: Woodbury

It’s Boxing Day shopping time! We checked out and went straight to Woodbury Premium Outlets and we shopped for about 6 hours! There were quite a lot of things to see and buy, but I didn’t want to spend to much money at the beginning of the trip. At night, we decided to start our drive northwards towards Adirondack as I wanted to ski. We met a policecar along the way, but he was just checking and making sure we are safe. Haha. At night, we decided to park somewhere and sleep, save hotel costs. Haha. However, it got really really cold in the middle of the night, and I had to reach behind for a blanket. Too cold to sleep in the car, it was probably about 0-10 degrees!

27 December 2009: Adirondack, Montreal

The next day, we drove further upwards to Lake George, and then down on the road to Whiteface Mountain and Lake Placid. It was a clear day and the weather was nice. Later on, I tried to drive a bit, and I drove up the mountains. We stopped by a few places to take photos of the snow mountains and lakes. When we reached Whiteface, the skiing place, it looks really cool. It was expensive, and Josh suggested we go Canada instead. So we drove to Lake Placid, took some photos and left the mountains and continued up the interstate towards Montreal. We crossed the border again, and reached Montreal after sunset. Old Montreal is pretty nice, old and European looking. Too bad we can’t see it in daytime. We then went to search for the ski place – Owl’s Nest. It’s so far away and so deep inside, it was really scary driving in a dark deserted road. Once there, it was cold and empty, and we couldn’t find any lodging. So we decided to go Bromont instead. We drove around to try to search for a cheap hotel, but to no avail. There were many Bed&Breakfast in the guide magazines but all seemed to be closed. The hotels were too expensive – more than $100 for a night. After going to many places and routes, we decided to sleep in the car – again – relunctantly. No choice bah. >.< coldddd

28 December 2009: Skiing, Vermont

It was a snowy morning! Finally I experienced falling snow. The ski lesson was pretty interesting. I was thought by two female instructors, and though they speak mainly French, they could speak English too. They were very friendly and nice. And the best thing was I was the only student! They thought me the v-shaped stuff on the Bunny hill, and after a few rounds, they brought me up the higher hill on the easy route. The easy route was still pretty steep though. I was trying to do my S-curves, but I fell 2 or 3 times and my skis came out. It was a slight struggle to stand back up on the slope, but the instructors were very helpful. When I came down, it was like, phew! I went up again 2 times with Josh, and at the 3rd time, I finally got the hang of it and managed to ski down pretty smoothly, doing my S-curves. However, I do not have poles to support myself, since I wasn’t taught with them. So I was skiing freehand. Pretty fun, but tiring! And sweating in snow is rare! lol. After that, we drove out in the snow, quite hard to drive on sandy snowy roads, and the snow is quite distracting and the traffic is moving quite slowly. We crossed back the border into Vermont. We wanted to try to find the Ben and Jerry’s outlet, but it was hard to find. In the end, we decided to try to look for a hotel to stay instead. We decided to drive all the way to Albany. I drove in some long route, and we almost got lost lol. The best part was my iPhone ran out of batt, so we couldn’t use Maps. We had to rely on our instincts, and the road seemed to be going back to where we came from. In the end, we decided to change our turn. Afterwards, we saw a Chinese restaurant, and it was like a Godsend. We grabbed nice dinner and drove all the way to Albany.

29 December 2009: Allentown

It’s the last day of our car rental. We drove back to Allentown and returned the car an hour late. We lagged our luggage up a public bus and ate dinner in some ulu shopping place in Allentown. Should have just alighted at the metro center. After that, we called for a cab to the bus terminal. Just then, we realised the counter is closed and we haven’t printed our Greyhound tickets! luckily, the person was still inside the office and we asked for a favour to print the tickets even though it was after office hours. Luckily he was quite helpful, although he was complaining, everytime he’s leaving and something happens. The Greyhound arrived in NYC at about 10.30pm, and we took the subway Jamaica, and changed to a metro bus to Howard Johnsons Hotel near JFK, lugging our luggage everywhere. It was our last night in NY.

30 December 2009: NYC to SFO

I woke up early to take a free shuttle to the airport to catch my domestic flight at 9am. There was some technical delays and the flight only departed about an hour later >.< Waste my time. I reached SFO at about 2pm, after 6 plus hours of flight and I gained time again! SF’s weather was really good. Stepping out into the outdoors feels like nothing – 15 degrees compared to 0 degrees is a lot of difference. Finally, I do not need to wear 3 layers and shiver! It felt really really refreshing! Took the skytrain to the BART and took a 30min ride to Powell Station. Walked down some blocks before reaching Adelaide Hostel. The streets were quite a refreshing change from NYC, without all the snow. HA. They directed me to another building – Dakota hostel, where I waited a while for Kep and Law to return from their jog. It was so interesting as it was my first time meeting them. So strange. Haha. I checked into our 5-person room, pretty good for a downtown cheap price. I went for a walk to Citibank before dinner, and JK came soon after too. We then decided to take an evening stroll to the ferry terminal after dinner at Westfield food court. Saw the bay bridge and the sea. Nothing much, and we went back and rest.

31 December 2009: Countdown

It was a nice day, and we took a walk down to Golden Gate Park. Quite nice huge park, but no snow makes the trees pretty much similar to Singapore. We ate lunch at an Indian buffet restaurant – $8.99 for all you can eat Indian curry was the best deal ever! We still like it ever since. We continued our walk towards the Windmill and finally we saw the Pacific Ocean. The waves were huge, and the horizon seems never ending. Too bad it was too cloudy and we couldn’t catch the sun set. We decided to travel back to meet the girls who are arriving today. It was a cat-and-mouse game before we finally managed to find them. We gave a surprise birthday cake to steph – it was pretty funny as it was our first time meeting her too and we are celebrating her birthday! so funny and awkward! We then walked down to find some place to watch the fireworks near the bay bridge. It got crowded soon after and there was a group of dancers/buskers with portable sound systems dancing in front of us. Pretty cool! The fireworks came at midnight and it was longer, nicer than any ever.

1 January 2009: Golden Gate Bridge
It was new year’s day, and since most places will be closed, we decided to go cycling today. We rented bikes from somewhere nearby and cycled along all the piers. The best part was there’s bike paths virtually on every road and priority is given to bikes. It was really cool and nice of them to plan in such a way. We stopped over at Fisherman’s Wharf for some shopping and lunch – the best Fish and Chips. Just then, it started to drizzle. I prayed for the rain to stop, but we continued cycling anyway, past Fort Mason and towards the GG bridge. It drizzled all the way, pretty lightly, but fortunately, when we reached the bridge, it stopped drizzling for a while. Otherwise, it was all covered in fog and rain!

We continued our journey up the bridge, and it started to rain again. And it was getting dark. We cycled quickly across the bridge unto the other side in the pouring rain, into Sausalito, hoping to catch a ferry back. The last ferry was supposedly at 6.30pm, and we cycled as fast as we could, but there were some uphills. The worst part was the bike path was poorly labelled in the dark and we do not know if we are going in the correct direction. One section of the uphill was in total darkness and I had to rely on my instincts and my torch and our phone’s backlight. lol. and with the rain, it was pretty scary. Finally, we saw signs leading to Sausalito and some signs of civilisation and we were relieved. We found the ferry terminal, and we hoped that it will arrive. I went to the website and I realised, it doesn’t operate on New Year’s Day. Oh my. And we waited for nothing, we hoped for nothing! There was another couple waiting too. We then realised that there was a sign pasted at the info counter, but it was too small and inconspicuous to be seen! We then have to find an alternative way back. We called back the bike rental guy but he had no clue. We asked around and we found a bus stop. Fortunately, there was a public bus to go back and the good thing about buses is that they carry bikes too! They have bike racks in front, if only Singapore has that! (The BART had space for bikes too). When the bus came, we could only put 3 bikes on the rack, and the bus driver was kind enough to let the other bikes up onto the back where the wheelchair space is. Otherwise, have to wait for another hour for the bus! When we reached back Post St, we were very relieved and happy to return the bikes and return to our hostel to rest as we were all drenched!

2 January 2009: Lombard, Chinatown

The next day, I went with the girls to take the famous touristy Powell St cable car to Lombard St. The nice thing about SF is that there are so many different cool kinds of transport systems: Cable cars (which are not like the cable cars overhead at mount faber. rather, they are like trains on roads, pulled by cables underneath.), streetcars (single carriage trains that run on roads), trolley buses (buses with electric wires overhead), MUNI (something like LRT), BART (something like MRT but nicer and more spacious), and normal buses. The cable car is one of the oldest and longest surviving one in the world, and it was a pretty fun ride to stand on the side. We reached Lombard St, which is the famous crooked street that runs downhill. After that, we went to Chinatown for Dim Sum, we ate some buffet version which wasn’t very authentic. Should have ate at a proper restaurant. Chinatown makes you feel at home, with all the shops selling soya sauces, chilli and stuff like that lol. We walked down to North Beach and towards Fisherman’s Wharf, where we have Crabs for dinner. Steamed crabs, they are really huge and yummy with Crab Chowder. Great stuff. (we should introduce chilli crab to them!) We took the streetcars back.

3 January 2009: To UCSC

Finally, it’s our last day in SF, and the last day of my long long tour. We woke up, had a quick bite and run some errands, before catching our booked shuttle van which took us directly from our hostel to UCSC. It was a economical, quick, comfortable ride. Reaching UCSC in the afternoon at about 3pm, it was pretty beautiful in the mountains. Really amazing with all the trees and we were very excited to check into our rooms….

to be continued…

Wazzup 2010

This is way overdue as it is already 10 days into 2010. The last 2-3 weeks have been a blast with flying over to USA for a tour in New York and San Francisco and now settling down in UC Santa Cruz for my exchange programme (more on those in another post).

Reflecting back on 2009, thank God for…

  • Bringing me into New Creation Church and CAP5 care group, which I believe is by no coincidence, and allowing me to grow more spiritually there and get to know many great friends. I am very thankful for all the fellowship and support they have given me, and I am greatly blessed. And I’m sure everyone else is greatly blessed too.
  • Allowing me to embark on a tour in the USA and this SEP journey in the USA for the next 6 months
  • Granting me favour and wisdom in my exams. The last semester was probably the best so far, with most of the subjects which I took, I liked them (except for Math). Even so, Math was a miracle, and the CS and NM were great. The three projects which I had to do – A Wii Game for CS3249, a shuttle bus website for CS3240, and an advertising campaign for NM3215, all turned out to be awesome by His grace! He is ever so faithful! Also thanks to the wonderful groupmates which I had.
  • Allowing me to experience to be the VP of nuSTUDIOS for a year. It has been a long and challenging time to juggle administrative stuff and the passion for film. Often, the admin stuff sucks your energy away from the passion, but it has been good times with Choices filming and the Durian Complex just before I leave. Even though it was tiring, it was a fulfilling experience!
  • Granting me extra time and time more abundantly. It was almost a constant prayer last semester, and God never fails to expand my time to do all the things that I need to do
  • For the scubacam website – it was probably one of the most challenging projects that I have done, and finally it is finished.
  • For my new dSLR! To take wonderful photos! I should so start a photo blog.
  • And lastly, 7 wonderful years of walking with Jesus.