A birthday trip to NYC

A quick post for a quick (but busy) trip.

What was this trip home all about? A wedding, a birthday, and a visit with family and friends. All jam-packed into five days.

After a gruelling 28-hour flight through Abu Dhabi, I landed at 9AM Friday the 11th of May and headed to the hotel in Chelsea. José had some work to do at his company’s New York office, capping off a busy week for him. This gave me the opportunity to transform myself from the gargoyle I turn into during long-haul flights into a fresh and revitalised swan (read: shower). After sending some emails and catching up on missed messages, I headed to Chelsea Nails for a quick manicure ($12 USD versus over $50 SGD in Singapore, insanity), ran a few small errands and headed uptown to meet José at his office in Midtown. It was crazy to see him coming out of work in my home city—worlds colliding! It was a bit mind melting.

It felt strangely comfortable grabbing lunch in the city with him, like we were both working in the city just meeting up during our lunch hour. I was in the mood for good sushi, so my friend AJ recommended we try Sushi on Jones for some omakase (chef’s choice) dining. After experiencing that meal, let’s just say—AJ has been levelled up from a good friend to a great friend.

Following lunch, we walked around the NoHo/SoHo area, got coffee to combat my severe jetlag, and headed back to our hotel to get ready for what would be quite a social evening: drinks with Natalie and Tim (fiancé), then dinner with the two of them plus Berger and Mitch, and then more drinks with the rest of the New York City crew. The rest of the night was party time with some of my favorite people in the world.

After a (very) slow start to the morning, it was time to get moving. We were set to meet Larissa and Jason at the car rental pickup in Queens at 11AM, but of course I was running late (due in part to my urgent and necessary desire for one of those famous NYC breakfast sandwiches, maybe). We were there around 11:30 (with bellies full and happy, which is all that matters, right?), and hopped in the car for the ride to our destination: Vernon, New Jersey, for the wedding of none other than cousins Tim and Sue! Being an event planner and offbeat site buff, Larissa had us stop along the way at a few different “weird New Jersey” sites, including Victor Victori’s Multiplism Statues outside the city, in Rutherford. We also *had* to give José a taste of real New Jersey, so we stopped at a very classic diner en route to the wedding. If you know, you know, but if you haven’t been lucky enough to visit the great diners of the Garden State, let me fill you in on why they’re so special:

New Jersey is the diner capital of the world, boasting approximately 525 in total. In fact, they make New Jersey a travel destination for their distinct vintage and retro-styled décor, and are absolute shrines to all things greasy and delicious (think: juicy American burgers, milkshakes and fries). Traditionally, they’ve served as havens for late-night post-bar gatherings and comfort food for the weary (or too lazy to cook). In short, they’re amazing and perfect in every way.

José seemed equal parts entertained and appalled by the massive helpings of food that came our way, and (I think) loved the experience overall (but it was our waitress observing the whole experience that probably loved it most). There is absolutely no better value-for-money establishment than a New Jersey diner, where one order gets you a meal and often two oversized side sides, plus a drink. (On a more cynical note, are we really shocked America has an obesity problem…?) During the course of this meal, Larissa and I repurposed our menus as drawing boards for a family tree chart: mapping out the aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends that would be present at the wedding that evening. As we’re a group of 50+ on Dad’s side, that all look the same or similar, it’s a hard lot to memorise.

Following our 2-hour stay at the diner, we got back on the road for the remaining 30 minutes to the wedding venue. There, we unpacked our things, and I got to say hi to Mom and Dad, finally!! The only thing I don’t like about living abroad (besides the void of breakfast sandwiches) is the length of time I have to go without seeing them. It had been since Christmas, so we spent a long while hugging and catching up.

As I had a problem with Asos while ordering dresses for the wedding, I only received them the day before and had to bring several to the wedding for last-minute trying on. Also, I am the worst at getting ready for events, so we were a bit late in arriving at the reception, and missed both our shoutout (“…all the way from Singapore!”) and the entire ceremony (to be fair, it was just five minutes!). We arrived at the tail-end, after Tim and Sue had exited, but got to say hello to my entire extended family and introduce them to José. I think this is something Tim and Sue knew already, but in case you didn’t: Sorry. I love you both.

Next up was the reception, the best part! It was a super nice evening of delicious food and dancing. But most of all, it was time I was able to spend with my whole family, together with my boyfriend, that made me happiest. I was so caught up in the thrill of the evening that I barely took any photos—what I have is below. But the memories are there, and they’re happy, long lasting and filled with champagne.

After checking out of our hotel in the morning, Mom, Dad, Larissa, Matt, José and I headed to lunch. I had already started losing my voice a bit from being sick in Singapore, but the long-haul flight and evening of shouting along to a live band didn’t help, so I was chugging tea with honey and squeaking throughout the meal. Not the best way to spend a day with your family! Following lunch, Larissa and Jason headed back to the city, while the rest of us headed to good old Branchburg to spend the rest of the day. We mostly spent the time talking (for me, squeaking), but we also did birthday cake and presents together: a new skirt, and new work bag to bring back with me to Singapore, woo hoo! Though I wasn’t feeling the best, it was so special to be able to spend my birthday at home with my family.

The next day, Monday, my sickness really kicked in. Coupled with the jet lag and fatigue from the weekend, I mainly spent the day sleeping. José had to take care of some work and went to see a friend for lunch, returning to the hotel around 3PM. I was feeling up for a bit of a walk, so we headed to the High Line, a cool, elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail on the west side of NYC. We walked around and chatted, which is always my favorite part of being together with loved ones; the candid moments where you get to catch up in person. We had a dinner reservation at my favorite restaurant in the world, Gramercy Tavern, that evening, so we headed back to the hotel to change into our fancy gear and walked over to the restaurant in NY’s Flatiron District. What followed was one of the most delicious tasting menu and wine pairing dinners I have ever had. Plus birthday dessert from the chef (which was actually our favorite dish, surprising from two people that don’t typically go for dessert), served just before the clock struck midnight.

Jetlag can be your worst enemy, but at times, it can also be your best friend, like that evening when I got a huge second wind of energy just as midnight on my birthday hit. And luckily, NY is a place for night owls. For an after-dinner drink, we went to Lillie’s, a casual pub with an atmospheric setting with Victorian details that I used to frequent quite often (too often) in my NYC life. José had some friends celebrating graduation from Columbia Business School at MEGU, a posh club nearby, so we walked over to meet them and finish off our night in style.

The next day was our final one together for the week (and also my actual birthday!), so we spent it doing exactly what we love: simply walking around. After grabbing some pizza for an aggressive late breakfast (yes, I went in for the cheesy stuff, because it’s New York, let me live!), we grabbed coffees and walked from the Chelsea area down to Pier A Harbour House at Battery Park. It was quite a walk, but it was also a beautiful day and we were both happy to be outside. Located where Battery Park meets the Hudson River, Pier A gave us some very nice water (and Statue of Liberty) views that afternoon. Neither of us were very much in the mood for drinks after that thirst-quenching walk, so we used it as a hydration station for good, old-fashioned water.

Then the sad part came—time for José to fly back to South America. It’s always the worst when of us has to leave, and I don’t like acknowledging it until right before one of us walks out the door. It was super sad saying goodbye, but we were both consoled knowing we had a trip to Portugal already in the books.

After he left, I was set to have dinner with Larissa and Matt, but a CRAZY lightning storm set us back about 90 minutes (seriously, it caused major damage in NYC and the surrounding area, and five people died from falling debris!). I had luggage but did not have an umbrella, so my two superstar siblings came to meet me at my hotel in Chelsea for dinner. It was quite abbreviated, but it was still a great way to end my trip. I headed out around 8PM to brave the traffic on the way to JFK with a heart full and a head happy. Until next time!

Some photos from my trip to NYC:

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