3 Nights in New York on a Budget

On my way to Cayman Islands from my visit in the province of Québec, it was inevitable that I stop in New York, at least for a quick glance at this famous ”City That Never Sleeps.”

Like many of us, I always dreamt of walking the streets of the Big City. Flights in and out of New York are so affordable and it was just a few hours and a few bucks to get me in the Big Apple.


I met up with my friend Lisa, with whom I volunteered with a year ago in Morocco. She flew from Michigan, also a very short and affordable flight.


There was many AirbNb options, but the best deal I found for our short stay was at the Savoy Hotel, located only a few footsteps from Times Squares. We shared a small room double occupancy in the heart of the action. For New York, it seemed like a pretty sweet deal (and cheaper than most AirbNb and YMCA).

Hotel in Times Square: Park Savoy Hotel: $120/night= $60/night/pp


I met Lisa at the airport. We took a shuttle that drove us through the cluttered roads, all the way to the doors of our hotel. We quickly unpacked and walked to Times Square.

Transportation from JFK to Manhattan: Super Shuttle Roundtrip Ticket= $40/pp

The illuminating signs took over dawn. The square was hustling, as expected, and we quickly learnt how to walk firmly through the people maze. No wonder why they call it the Crossroads of the World, with some 360,000 people walking through each day.


As we were on the lookout for a nice place to eat, a policeman allowed himself to suggest us the way to Restaurant Row. “There you’ll find 16 privately-owned restaurants, for every taste, ” he said. “It is only a couple of blocks this way.”We thanked him for his genuine help and followed his directions. Located on West 46th, between 8th and 9th Ave in the Theatre District of Manhattan, and only a few minutes walking distance from Times Square, Restaurant Row is a one block stretch that offers cuisines from all around the world. Here you can sample foods from celebrity chefs and glimpse at Broadway Stars enjoying their favourite meals. Our ears were attracted by music notes flowing through the bustle. At the entrance of an illuminated door, a man in a black tuxedo hosted our way inside. Past a bar, we entered a room where a large band played in the back. He sat us at the best table.


Jazz, food and wine. I’m the happiest girl!

At the entr’acte, they invited patrons to hit the dance floor for some swing lessons. I instantly regretted I wore my hunter gum boots. We were definitely the youngest ”couple” in the place, but the energy was young and frivoulous and everyone tapped their feet, head wobbling, hips twisting on the sounds of jazz music.

Dinner in Manhattan:  Swing 46 (appetizer, 2 meals, 1 bottle of wine, 1 show)= $60/pp.

On our walk back to Times Square, we stopped and played paparrazi at the exit of Richard Rogers Theatre, waiting on actress Idina Menzal (?) to walk the red carpet back to her limousine. 10352977_10154873473400721_8648620460816031866_n

We finished our first night at a pub, for a couple. This is when our unplanned trip got planned by the bartender.

Drinks in Times Square: Rosie O’Grady’s= $20/each


It’s a chilly day of October, but the sun arches across the blue sky, making it the ideal day to explore Manhattan. After a quick breakfast in Times Square, we took the subway, line 2, and got off on Fulton St. We walked through the World Trade Center, encounting the sad truths of 9/11.

Breakfast in Times Square:(can’t remember the place, wasn’t worth it)=$15/pp Get around:MTA Subway Train Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard= $5/pp

It wouldn’t be a trip to NYC without having a glimpse at the Statue of Liberty. We trotted a few blocks and reached the water. We jumped aboard a vessel and cruised along Manhattan, marveling at world-famous landmarks such as the Brooklyn bridge, the Empire State Building, Governors Island, and of course, the Statue of Liberty.

Cruise Manhattan: NY WaterTaxi Cruise= $30/pp

Once we jumped off the boat, and with the help of two friendly policemen, we walked towards the district of Chinatown, right on time for happy hour.

Happy Hour in Chinatown:  Asia Roma (appies, 3 drinks each)= $20/pp

Since Little Italy was just around the corner, we decided to go there for dinner.

Dinner in Little Italy: Da Gennaro (appies, 2 homemade pasta meals, 1 bottle of wine, 2 espresso martinis)= $70/pp

My friend DJ from Cayman now manages a lounge in lower Manhattan. We walked a few blocks and arrived at the Grey Lady where we patronized the bar and socialized with New Yorkers. IMG_5690 We continued the night at the Avenue Club where we danced until 4am. And since we haven’t walked enough, we ventured through Times Square in the early hours of the AM, assisting a morning TV show broadcasting live at the red steps of TKTS booth. Drinks and night out with friends= priceless (it also helps when you have friends that work in the industry).


I was sore. My whole lower body was so sore. But it was Halloween day and we needed to get back outside. We grabbed a tea and walked to Central Park, just steps away from our hotel.

We walked the entire park, through the magical colours of fall. Sometimes a zombie would limp on the path, moaning death and spitting blood.

Walk in the park= free Snacks: Tea= $2 /Pretzel= $2

As we were too exhausted from the night before, we skipped our plans for a Halloween ball party. We chose to take the subway back to lower Manhattan and experience the haunted house everyone talked about. We ate cheap but delicious food in Chinatown, and waited in line for our haunted experience.


Scary. Spooky. Screamy. I hope this was the first and last time I get lock in a dark closet with a corpulent dead man, then get my hair pulled by 2 mentally-challenged girls and have a black sac over my head, screaming for my dear life. Dinner in Chinatown:  Pho Vietnam= $15/pp Haunted House: Nightmare Haunted House= $30/pp We took the subway back to Times Square, along with ninjas, assassins and zombie princesses.


We only had a few hours sleep until our shuttle picked us up from our hotel, back to the airport. It was a very short stay, yet we managed to explore some of Manhattan’s best spots, without suffering our wallet (only our feet and legs).

CONCLUSION During my 3 night stay in New York City, I spent approximately $550, excluding airfares. I stayed in a hotel in Times Square, and at the entrance of Central Park. Sometimes I ate cheap, but I did splurge on 2 nice meals (it’s New York after all). I watched a jazz show, encountered a celebrity and watched a live morning TV show. I explored Manhattan, mostly by foot, and all Central Park for free. I saw some of the world-famous landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty. I drank at great establishments, and danced the night away at a famous club. I didn’t do any shopping, but I am very satisfied with all I did, and happy with the money I spent. Despite being known as one of the most expensive cities in the world, I believe anyone can visit New York on a budget, without sacrificing enjoyment. I know I did.

Wine Holiday: A Road Trip Through Napa Valley

We drove north on highway 29, through scenic switchbacks of lush green grass overlooking fields of wild mustard sprouting under the trellised grapevines. At times, the route wound through open spaces sparkled with grazing livestock and where remarkable old oak trees filled the emptiness and characterized the landscape. We were on our way to Napa Valley, on the open road of Northern California’s wine country: 2 girls, 1 car, 1 tent, 2 days, 312km and a lot of wine in the forecast.

My friend Ashley moved to San Francisco a couple years ago to advance in her career of sommelier. At only 26 years old, she has an impressive and extended knowledge of wine, making her a curious oenophile with a hungry mind. She planned the itinerary, booked visits and tastings at the wineries and pleased me with a tent and sleeping bags consenting on spending the night under the stars. I couldn’t have a better host. IMG_0654   DAY 1: US 101-N/ CA-37 E/ CA-29 N 


It was a mild, breezy and sunny morning of early March. Summer dresses, tweeting birds and blooming cherry blossoms filled the streets of San Francisco as spring took over the last days of a cool winter. It was surprisingly a fogless day in the city, leaving the sky bright and clear. Freshly baked bagels wrapped in a paper bag rested in the backseat of the SUV between cheeses, wine and camping gear. We traversed the impressive Golden Gate Bridge and stopped at a secret local’s spot. After snapping some photographs of the scenic sight and snaking on delicious bagels, we jumped back in the car and embarked on our journey.

Withing an hour, we arrived to the Legendary Napa Valley, where rows of grapevines and blankets of yellow buds welcomed us under a radiant sun.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is considered one of the premium wine growing regions in the world, ranking first along with France. The valley is located between the Mayacamas Mountain Range and the Vaca Mountains, with the floor of the main valley progressively rising from sea level to 362 feet above sea level. Its geography, Mediterannean climate, and geology blend together to grow quality wine grapes. The rich wine making industry of Napa Valley started well before the Californian gold rush. The first commercial vines planted in the valley was in 1839 by George Yount. Since then, European pioneers came to test their hands at making wine to compete and outrun the ones of their homeland. The industry boomed in the 1860’s and 1870’s as more than 140 wineries blossomed in the valley. However, the arrival of the vine disease phylloxera louse, the Prohibition and the Great Depression affected the wine industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After 14 years of abandon, the viticulture slowly recovered and, thanks to the great results of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, Napa Valley was recognized as capable of producing the best quality wines. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoS7oxxZR4Y Wine Tastings Tours Napa Valley is home to world-acclaimed wineries. A wine tasting experience is a must. Whether you choose to join a wine tour group, follow a winery cycling circuit, hire a personal chauffeur or opt for a self-guiding visit, this slice of heaven will be sure to give you the ultimate sensory experience. Our first tasting was at Joseph Phelps Vineyards, where we had a very educative private tasting on the terrace. Today, the winery is known as producing important estate-grown wines from the 80 acres of Pinot Noir and 20 acres of Chardonnay. Joseph Phelps’ flagship wine Insignia is recognized as one of the world’s great wines. IMG_0639 Our next stop was at Far Niente, where Ashley booked an early afternoon visit and tasting. We entered a tunnel of Autumn Gold ginkgo trees before arriving to the wrought-iron gate entrance.

Founded in 1885, Far Niente is a magnificent historic stone construction built against a hillside in western Oakville. We took a walk through the beautiful and serene landscaped gardens flourished by bloomed tulips. We finished at the Carriage House, home to a collection of classic automobiles.

Then, we visited the impressive 40,000 square foot wine-aging cave.

The tour followed by tastings featuring current releases of Far Niente estate wines each paired with seasonal cheeses. The best part was kept for the end: a taste of Dolce, a liquid gold, late harvest wine.

Last stop was at Nickel & Nickel where we were welcomed with a glass of their signature 2012 Truchard Chardonnay. We had a very educative visit, as we walked through the historic farmstead.

We were then invited to sit and relax on the porch of the Sullenger House, a restored 1884 Queen Anne-style home. A glass of their 2010 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was poured in front of us. As we enjoyed every taste and every sip, we watched the hummingbirds feeding on the Rhododendrons and, as the sun slowly made its way towards the hills, we admired its setting rays filtering through the Canary Palm trees.

Bubbles Paired With Sunset As we wanted to catch the last sunrays, we drove up to Auberge du Soleil for a glass of bubbles. Sitting on the beautiful terrace overlooking panoramic views of spectacular vistas, we watched the sunlight dim across the vineyards as it tinted the valley of a golden glow and blushed the sky of a purple light. We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed a glass of their sparkling ‘Auberge du Soleil “Reserve” North Coast’. Perfect setting, pleasant company and palate well pleased.

Fine Dining and Camping Napa Valley is North America’s food and wine premier destination. Over 125 exciting restaurants offer outstanding dining by some of the world’s best chefs. With a farm-to-table culinary scene, the region is sure to take you through a remarkable culinary adventure. We chose to go to Bouchon, a fine dining French bistro located in Yountville. Its relaxed and bold atmosphere put us at ease in our Napa-Casual clothing. We sat at the bar amongst wine connoisseurs and aspiring sommelier masters. The wine was beautiful, the food pleasant, the atmosphere vibrant.

While fellow patrons impressed me with their wine and food knowledge, I piqued their curiosity when I informed them of our camping accommodation. “You girls are in one of the wealthiest communities in all of America, drinking fine wine in a world-class restaurant, and you’re telling me you’ll be sleeping in a tent tonight?” And why not? We arrived at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park where we cracked a bottle of wine and, in our long summer dresses, set up the tent in the protected forest. Delicious wines, fine food, pristine sceneries and a night under the stars. Bliss. photo(7)   DAY 2: CA-29 S / CA-12 W/ CA-116 W/ CA-1 S photo The chilly night turned into a beautiful and sunny morning. The scent of fresh dew balancing on grass and the rays of the rising sun warming up the tent nicely awoke us. We packed the tent, rolled the sleeping bags and hit the road. Breakfast of Bubbles Founded in 1987 by Champage Taittinger, Domaine Carneros is considered a regional landmark.

We sat on the terrace overlooking views of hills covered of endless vineyards. Different tastings are available on the menu, as well as wine and food pairings. We began with the tasting of their sparkling wine trio sampler: Brut Cuvee, Brut Rose and Vermeil Demi-Sec. Other wines were served. At this point, I disconnected myself from the connoisseurs’ exchanges and started a love affair with the bubbles. All of them. Because at the end of the day, I’m not a grape nut. I’m just a wine lover. A big wine lover.

Fresh Oysters, Sparkling Wine and Delicious Cheeses: A Picnic Treat on the Coastal Beach We headed west towards the Pacific coastline. The scenic highway 116 curved through farms, vineyards and tunnels of Redwoods before making its way to the coast.We stopped at the Hog’s Oyster Farm and picked up a tray of fresh oysters and clams from the bar. Along with our bubbles, cheeses and bagels, we rented a picnic table in the beautiful surrounding of Tomales Bay and ventured into a shucking session. It took some effort, but the reward was worth the sweat.

Picturesque Big Sur Coast: The End of the Journey The exhilarating highway 1 is world-known as the best scenic drive. The road, hugging the seaside cliffs, twists and turns as mountains plunge into the Pacific ocean. I admired the astonishing views of Big Sur on my right side, as we drove South back to San Francisco. California’s Pacific Coast highway is a breathtaking drive, the kind that makes you feel alive.

Ashley had one more surprise. She turned left onto Panoramic Highway, and here we were driving up through a forest of Redwood groves and Oak woodlands. We arrived at a spectacular and panoramic view point, a 2,571ft peak in the Mount Tamalpais State Park. I admired the city of San Francisco bustling and hustling down below and marveled at the stunning views of the ocean with a setting sun.

There was no wine here this time, just 2 girls, breathtaking views and blissful smiles. IMG_0772 PS: Don’t drink and drive. Have a designated driver or hire a chauffeur. If you decide to drive, avoid afternoon inebriation by spitting the wine. You can still have a good taste of it, just be responsible and wise. Obviously if you are a wine lover like me, don’t drive. Then you can finish the glasses of your driver 😉