New York and the Near-Death Experience: A Review of the Affinia Shelburne Hotel

The first day in New York was ridiculously hectic.  I had recommended the Affinia Shelburne Hotel to my travel buddies, after my fabulous stay there in 2010. “It’s really clean and they give you free nail polish remover towelettes!” I said.

(Photo is from the Affinia website, but other than that tray of fruit, it’s pretty true to life)

It was unfortunate, however, that their first impression was of this gooey thing in the shower which looked like it was either alive, or would come to life while we were sleeping:

But they give you free nail polish remover towelettes!” I was thinking.

Potential unwanted roommates aside though, we actually had a very busy schedule for that afternoon so we quickly asked reception for a new room and then split like a banana.

While my travel buddies went to the Rockefeller Center to pick up our New York Explorer Pass (which I totally recommend if you’re planning to check out a lot of the tourist attractions), I headed to the Banana Republic store in SoHo, where the lovely international man from Boston had arranged for my collarless red coat to be put on hold for me:

After regrouping (a.k.a. a bit of pre-Woodbury scouting/research), we all returned to the hotel where the receptionist was very apologetic about the bathroom goo, and said that they would need to shut that room down for cleaning but could offer us an upgrade, which was very exciting.

But wait, what was that machine in our new room which looked like it could be an explosive? Bombs don’t usually plug into the wall, right??  Was it really safe to take a photo, and was there some type of bomb waves causing this blurry photo?  I don’t know.

Travel buddy 1:  Wait, let’s all stay calm, it’s ok as long as there isn’t a timer on it.

Travel buddy 2: ….but there’s a timer on it!!! And it’s on!!!

Me: (as we are in the lift) Should we have moved our bags? I don’t want that thing to blow up and damage our stuff.

Random lady in lift: (concerned, after eavesdropping) Er, what’s in your room?  And you’re on which level?

Receptionist: Oh, that’s just a machine we use to dry the carpet after cleaning. We’ll send someone to remove it right away.

…And so that concluded the brief drama we had at the Affinia Shelburne, which for the record I still say is an amazing boutique hotel that is value for money.

Quick review:  4 stars.

As well as being modern/clean/safe (these are my prerequisites), there were a couple of things I really appreciated from my 2 stays there:

  • Friendly service and quick to solve problems (see long winded story above)
  • Great value for money in comparison to other similar hotels, plus they have extended stay discounts
  • Fantastic views from the rooftop bar
  • You could get online shopping delivered to your room!
  • Staff don’t bat an eyelid if you return after every day (or after every breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack) with gigantic shopping bags
  • Great Thanksgiving dinner in the Rare Bar & Grill downstairs
  • Choose your pillow from the Dream Pillow Menu
  • Coin laundry located in the basement

I only wish they were closer to the subway — it’s about a 5-10 minute walk from Grand Central, which is nothing until you factor in the many many trips to drop off shopping bags. But given the amount of food we ate, this was probably a blessing in disguise…

And yes, they did still give free nail polish remover towelettes.

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Manhattanhenge?

I read this post about 3 times but I still don’t get the science behind it (something about the sun setting, east/west alignment, and equinoxes?).  Honestly, I just like this photo of Manhattan (by John Makely of msnbc.com):

Also, it brought back some very good memories of the Joe Fresh store which is just down the street on the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.  Joe Fresh is a Canadian brand, where I bought this silk shirt for the amazing price of $39!  The price was so amazing I bought the shirt in 3 different colors, and am now wishing I just got one in every color!

Unfortunately, there’s no online store so there’s no quick fix… I guess the only logical thing to do now is to plan another trip overseas!!

A suitcase full of heaven

I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe my first full day in NYC, but this little family portrait of goodies from Woodbury Commons pretty much sums it up:

Best finds of the day were definitely the $300 red Miu Miu cross-body bag and the $75 Sam Edelman suede/leather ankle boots from Saks Off 5th.

The lack of food pictures is because to offset my spending, I ate McDonalds for breakfast (before arriving) and dinner (after shops closed).  I could not afford that third meal in the middle of the day.  Cheapest (food) day ever.

The Shopparama approach

If you are in New York, you must go to Woodbury.  No excuses.  Go early.  Set aside an entire day and bring an empty suitcase, unless you plan to buy one at Samsonite (shop no. 642).

(Yes, your inexperienced fellow passengers on the bus may laugh at you when they first see your suitcase, but you will laugh last by the end of the night when your suitcase is overflowing and those poor novices have been limited by what they can carry in their two bare hands… mwahahah!)

Bring water.  I don’t want to advocate starving yourself, but perhaps some barley sugar is not a bad idea.  And maybe bandaids.  Wear comfortable but still fashionable shoes that are easy to put on and take off (e.g. flats).  Use the same principle for what you wear.  Download the center directory and memorize your plan of attack, because there is no time to look up shop locations while you’re on the move!

Or, you could just have a nice stroll around the outdoorsy outlet village, but you may suffer non-shopping remorse.  As a survivor, I am here to tell you that this is a serious condition.  It’s best not to risk it.

Some practical information

There’s some information on the Woodbury Commons website about how to get there, but it’s basically a one-hour bus ride from Manhattan.  You will even see some highway scenery along the way — talk about multi-tasking!

I used the New York Explorer pass to get to Woodbury (the bus is the best included “attraction”, in my opinion), but the return trip is usually $42.  Either way, this includes a voucher for a booklet of discount vouchers which usually gives you an extra 10% off most stores excluding designer brands, to be picked up at the Information Desk in the tower building near the bus stop.

You can buy the bus tickets inside Madame Tussard in Times Square (fun fact: this is very close to the Forever 21 which opens til 2am), but there are probably other bus operators and ticket outlets as well.

Even more practical information

And in case you’re worried that Woodbury will ruin all other shopping experiences because, oh em gee, will everything else be full price??

Never fear.

  • Macy’s and Bloomingdales both have a 10% discount for international visitors.  You’ll need to show your passport or driver’s licence at the Visitor Center to pick up the pass.
  • Lord & Taylor has a 15% discount for international visitors, which is matched by the Bloomingdales on 59th Street if you have the New York Explorer pass.
  • Other department stores might agree to give some type of similar discount if you ask, but I don’t think they officially offer it.  Choose your sales assistant wisely.  I’d say the likelihood of getting this is proportional to how much you bring to the table.  (This is not code for negotiating tactics, I just mean how much you are buying.)
  • It’s also worth knowing that these discounts usually exclude designer brands and cosmetics, but I know for a fact that the Bloomingdales discount works on Ferragamo shoes. 😉

In conclusion: I think it’s time to book another trip!

P.S. In case anyone is wondering, I bought the Mini Elsie bag from Chloe in skylight blue and I just want to pinch its cheeks every time I see it!

I Love Boston in their Springtime!

I thought Boston would be the coldest of all the cities, but it’s actually been the warmest so far! Time to break out the summer dresses.

To save time, I took the red eye from San Francisco, arrived in Boston at 7am, and had to wander around the city because the hotel didn’t have our room ready yet. Oh well, I guess the only thing to do was to walk over to the shops and wait for them to open? After stocking up on some skincare and makeup from Sephora, I fell in love with this mini shoulder bag by Reed Krakoff.

But like with any good ol’ fashioned romance, I was riddled with doubt and confusion. Was it really love or just sleep deprivation? How could I tell if the feelings were genuine? I didn’t know, so I put the bag on hold and went back to the hotel to take a quick shower before heading back out.

After a whole day of walking around, I couldn’t get my mind off the bag so I went back to Saks and bought it.

(As it turns out, true love came around again the very next day, at another department store… Aren’t I fickle? But that’s a story for another day.)

During the trip, I also bought a pair of block heels from Banana Republic, before calling it a day because we were supposed to spend the day sightseeing in Harvard and the North End.

(Still managed to buy another pair of flats from Nine West and blush coloured Sanctuary jeans though. Totally unplanned — it just happened to be on the way to the Fanueil Marketplace… and ok, in the Marketplace. Whatever.)

Speaking of Banana Republic, though, the store on Newbury Street has The Nicest SA named Alan, who helped me track down a coat that I wanted in New York. Actually he kind of reminded me of Bryan Brown, the Australian actor, international man accent and all.

Memorable food was probably at the Atlantic Fish, where I tried some clam chowder in a bread bowl and Maine lobster, which is dipped in a pot of melted butter. The waiter accidentally spilled some of the butter on my bag, but that spot is now buttery soft so I might try rubbing some butter onto the rest of the bag when I get home!

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Oh yeah, and Harvard is coming up to a big anniversary, but my favourite part was a cute cupcake shop nearby with a cupcake ferris wheel!

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The Woes of Credit Cards (while in San Francisco)

Before I left for my trip, I joked that I was only bringing $200 in cash and 3 credit cards. I ended up bringing 2 credit cards (packing light, you see), with heavy reliance on my 28 Degrees card. Which is why I was so distraught when, while trying to buy a Chloe Aurore satchel, that card was declined.

The pretty culprit:

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Me: What?? We haven’t even reached the shopping destinations yet!!

(As part of the trip research, it was decided that LA and SF would not involve designated shopping time because the sales tax is relatively high. It was also inwardly agreed that shopping would occur everywhere despite this official plan.)

Apparently, my card had been sent to fraud protection because they had picked up a suspicious pattern of spending. (There was no actual fraud, I’d just bought a pair of Ferragamo flats about 20 mins earlier.)

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So that’s how I spent about half an hour standing inside the Bloomingdales in Westfield, being transferred from one MasterCard representative to another, until I was told that my card would be cleared in 3 hours. For the record, I still think they just needed to press a button.

Unfortunately, when I tried to buy the bag again 3 hours later, it was still declined. Apparently the person who needed to press the button was “on lunch break” so the delay was taking longer than usual. I took this as a sign that I shouldn’t buy the bag, especially since it was seasonal and might go on sale, or at least to sleep on it until NYC (where there is 6 in stock) or on the Harrods website (where I’m sure it would be cheaper).

So I bought these Marc by Marc Jacobs rose gold heels instead, before quickly heading back to the hotel and stuffing it into my luggage and heading to the airport. You can’t see the heel, but they’re almost a cylinder or tear drop block heel.

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Shoe tally = 4

Also bought some clothes and accessories, my favourite of which is this jacket and bangle:

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All in all, I give San Francisco a 7 out of 10 for shopping. Their sales tax may be relatively high, but their Bloomies applies the 10% visitors discount to Ferragamo shoes.

Sightseeing

As for the sightseeing, I also visited the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Bridge (from a distance, at various distances), Lombard St, Alcatraz, made the long walk up to Coit Tower, and ate lots of food including this shrimp/prawn in amazing Worcester sauce at Town Hall, which is an American restaurant with southern influences…. Yum. Also ate what seemed like a family bucket in fried chicken.

Here is the proof:

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This is the hill we climbed to get to the base of the Coit Tower (where we were met with… the stairs).

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Next stop: Boston

The Sights of LA (and Floral Pumps)

Day 2 in LA was… eventful. Scary at times, especially when I forgot that people drive on the right side of the road here! (And the passengers in my car can definitely testify to that… Whoops!) The slight heart attack and terrible 11 point turn which required assistance by a friendly dude standing by his van was worth it though, since that little drive up Mulholland Drive got us a nice view of the Hollywood sign.

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We even drove out to Universal Studios and did the tour of the studio lot.

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Sightseeing: Check.

Trip to Hollywood

Some of my friends make fun of me for being a huge George Clooney fan — and I am, but for the record, I’m not as big of a fan as they make me out to be… And, no, I don’t have a giant poster of him from The Ides of March in the back of my closet!

But every overseas trip I’ve taken in the last 2 years has involved George in some way, so I knew I had to continue the tradition. This time I found his handprints and footprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

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George Clooney quota? Check.

And most importantly…

And what’s a day on this shopping trip without another purchase? My new favourite shoes:

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Shoe tally = 2

Shopping in Not-so-sunny LA

Day 1 in LA and it is freezing cold and rainy – I wasn’t prepared for this kind of weather until Toronto and Niagara Falls! Surely the wet weather from Sydney didn’t follow us here? Hopefully it will warm up tomorrow when I go searching for George Clooney’s handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

In the meantime I tried to warm up with a Spanish coffee from Urth Caffe in Santa Monica – yummmm…. This is the mild but I might try the strong version tomorrow.

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On the way to Santa Monica Place and the 3rd Street Promenade shopping spots, there was a quick pit stop at Santa Monica Pier to fulfil the requisite 5% quota for sightseeing. Taking this picture totally counts.

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The rest of the day was dedicated to shopping, although it was mostly cataloging for later purchases in Boston (which has much lower sales taxes). However, I couldn’t resist this skirt from Forever 21, since at $17.26 I’d probably only save, like…. 40c.

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Skirt tally = 1