Phew! You know it’s been a hectic year of travel when it’s the middle of January and you’re only just posting about a trip that happened in October. Sorry folks… I guess there’s just been too much travel to talk about!
But for the next few posts, I’m going to be chatting a bit about NYC.
I love New York. I first went there 2 years ago, and despite the fact it was the middle of winter and absolute freezing, I couldn’t get enough of it. I got off the train back at my home station in England and the first thing I said to my parents was that I couldn’t wait to go back.
Then, when I received an invitation to my friend Sarah’s wedding, my excuse to return had arrived. I sent her an excited YES! and instantly booked my ticket. I was buzzing with the thought of returning to Manhattan, of seeing Sarah again, and of rediscovering the city she’d shown me around 2 years before.
Full to the brim with anticipation, I started searching online for accommodation.
Which was when my excitement started to dwindle.
Accommodation in the middle of Manhattan isn’t cheap. Ok, I know that isn’t really a surprise to anyone, but really: if you want something half-way decent, you have to pay for it. I did turn down a couple of places because they had really bad reviews (like the one where the shower doors were apparently see-through – um, no thanks). I also decided I wanted a hostel where I could have my own room, since I was taking my iPad so I could get plenty of work done, and didn’t really want to take any chances.
In the end, I tried to balance budget with not-too-shabby, and I think I did mostly ok.
ONE: THE BOWERY HOUSE (HOSTEL)
The Bowery House is a stylish hostel on the edge of Little Italy in Downtown Manhattan. It’s super convenient for all kinds of little boutiquey shops, restaurants & coffee places. Cake for dinner from the cute little cake shop a block over? Yes please! The area is great fun to wander around, with loads of street art to discover, and plenty of window-shopping. (I say window-shopping, because no way could I afford a lot of the items those shops were selling. But it’s still always fun to look.)
As for the hostel itself? Well it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into its appearance. The place looks a bit like it stepped off Pinterest. Forget scratty hostel rooms with a chipped basin and hideous-coloured peeling wall paint. The rooms here are wood-walled and painted white, with Mason-jar light fittings and quirky art on the walls. Upstairs there’s a roof garden with festoons of lights and a view of the New World Trade Center.
The hostel wasn’t great. It was as if whoever designed the place had made a conscious decision to sacrifice practicality for aesthetics.
- The beds were less than full length. I’m not exactly massively tall, and yet my feet were hanging off the end slightly.
- There wasn’t a proper ceiling. The whole floor was basically one big room, with the rooms created by wooden partitions, which didn’t go all the way to the high ceiling – meaning the ceiling of the individual room was just slatted wood with gaps in. Which meant you could hear everyone else, and everyone else could hear you. Luckily they did provide ear plugs, but still…
- This ceiling thing also meant that, to allow people relative darkness in their rooms, the corridors had to be kept fairly dark, so the light wouldn’t filter in through the ‘ceiling’. If you’re not great with moving about in very little light, this definitely isn’t the hostel for you.
- There are a lot of steep stairs. This isn’t an aesthetic issue, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re booking a room here & you’re not good with stairs.
- The wifi was ok, but it wouldn’t let me stay logged in – I had to keep re-entering the password every now and again, and not just when I’d left the hostel
- There’s no kitchen, and a no-food-in-the-rooms rule, which means your only choice is eating out, which can be expensive.
I’m aware that’s a bullet point of negatives there, but overall the hostel was ok. It didn’t the job at any rate, and after all, with somewhere like Manhattan, the room is really only for sleeping in.
TWO: MANNY’S PLACE (AIRBNB)
I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: I love Airbnb. Sure, it’s not foolproof, but with savvy usage and a little bit of luck, it can be a great way of finding accommodation.
For a few days in the middle of my trip, I needed to be out of the city, so I could be closer to the venue for Sarah’s wedding. So I stayed in White Plains.
Manny’s place was comfortable and pleasant to stay in. It was about a mile from the station, which looked totally fine on the map. It was kind of fine in real life, too – except that it was up a very very (very) steep hill. Let’s just say I could feel my calves burning by the time I arrived – and my nice-and-light carry-on-size backpack suddenly wasn’t feeling quite so light any more.
Luckily, I only had to make this trek twice (though both times it was uphill), because Manny kindly gave me a lift to the station.
Despite my mum’s terrors that every Airbnb host is secretly an axe murderer with a basement full of dead girls, Manny was a lovely host, fascinating to chat to, and always willing to help with anything (the coffee machine, a lift into town, letting me arrive a couple of hours early…)
The room was great too – it even had a desk space, which I took as a sign that I ought to do some work. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I spent most of the time I was there out at my friend’s wedding or at her rehearsal dinner, so very little work actually happened at that desk. Oops.
THREE: CHELSEA INTERNATIONAL HOSTEL (HOSTEL)
My 3rd and final stay was in the Chelsea International Hostel, back in Manhattan, just a couple of blocks up from the Village.
You know what I was saying earlier about the hostels with a chipped sink & hideous coloured peeling wall paint? Well that was the Chelsea International Hostel.
On the plus side, the bed was the right length so whole body could fit on it, and the room was fairly quiet – at least, it was once I realised the window was open and I could actually close it to shut out some of the traffic noise, and the noise of the construction going on in the street outside. But at least I could listen to music without disturbing the entire floor.
At least, I could listen to some music. The stuff already on my phone. Anything that required internet was a no-go, as the wifi was only available in the communal areas, which were in the next building – and even then it was patchy. Luckily, this is New York, and there’s a Starbucks every couple of blocks with as much free wifi as I could want.
Location-wise, this hostel made up for all its poor aesthetic value. It was super handy for the subway to get anywhere in Mahattan, and just a couple of blocks from all the wonderful food places & coffee shops of the Village. I guess I was paying for location rather than design and wifi quality here.
If I had reason to go to White Plains again, I’d definitely stay at Manny’s, though I’m not sure I’d stay at either of the two hostels again – but I guess that’s the thing about New York: it’s always changing, and there’s always someplace new to discover. And as hostels go, it could have been a lot lot worse.
What things do you look for in a hostel? Any recommendations for places to stay in New York?