Journey Journal Online Episode Six – New York City
Welcome to show number 6 of the Journey Journal Online Travel Podcast. My name is Lee Wiegman and I’m here to tell you about traveling, vacations and to share my experiences. Hopefully, I can bring you something you didn’t know before and might give you that little push to go visit someplace new. Today I’ll be talking about New York City. I’ve been there several times each in a different capacity. I know that someone from the east coast or someone who’s lived there for a while might be more qualified to give you all the nitty gritty details, but my perspective is that of a visitor for a short time. I just wanted to be upfront with all of you because New York is so densely packed with things to see and do that you can probably go a dozen times and not even begin to scratch the surface. Well here goes…
First Adventure Trip to NYC
The first trip I ever took to New York was not a pleasure trip, but it was an adventure. I was in college and a friend’s family business needed some goods driven to NY on short notice. My friend was sent on the trip and I was paid $50 to ride along to keep my friend company and make sure the van didn’t get vandalized in the city. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about that since I was a college kid who had never been to New York and I didn’t know if I was going to be fending off street gangs with spray paint or what. While we were there we were to pick up some Persian rugs for his Uncle’s business. Our vehicle was a large cube van and we drove straight there and straight back from Cleveland, OH. After the 10 hour drive to the East Coast we had a quick introduction to New York traffic. From the passenger seat, I remember going past the large metal globe structure in the Bronx from the world’s fair and seeing the jumbled Manhattan skyline from the freeway, all things I recognized from pictures, but had never seen in real life. We dropped off our cargo in Brooklyn at a flooded loading dock where I dutifully stayed in the truck. After that we navigated the maze of thruways to Manhattan. Here was the real driving challenge. I’m glad I was a passenger in the 24 foot box van as we triple parked it on the street in a section of the city that seemed to be dedicated just to selling Persian rugs. I don’t remember now exactly where we were I just knew I was supposed to stay in the truck in case… well I don’t know in case of what. After some time passed my friend came to get me and we both went inside. One of the things I’ll never forget was the Jamaican freight elevator operator who had his own side business selling colognes and perfumes out of the elevator. We went up a few floors to a dark room filled to the ceiling with rolled up Persian rugs. Several middle eastern looking guys in fancy shirts open at the chest were trying to work out what we were supposed to be taking. Eventually we got whatever it was we were supposed to get, because we left and drove straight back home. It think the whole trip from Cleveland to New York and back was done in one shot with no overnight stop. I didn’t get to be a tourist but it was definitely an introduction to the multiculturalism of the city.
Going to a Convention in New York City
My second trip to New York I got to wander and see a little more of the city. I went to a convention for the Audio Engineering Society while I was still a student. A group of us from my college program road tripped and stayed on both Long Island and Staten Island with the families of some of the students. This was my intro to all of the transportation options in the area including commuter trains like the Long Island Railroad, the Subway and the bus system. While the convention was on we stayed on Staten Island with a fellow student and took the ferry over to Manhattan every day. I’m sure locals are used to it, but I think it was a pretty scenic commute sailing past the Statue of Liberty each day. From the ferry terminal we took the subway up to midtown Manhattan. At first the map and routes were confusing and I couldn’t tell which way was up or down, but after a few trips it got to be old hand pretty quick. Growing up as a kid I had always heard about how the subway was dangerous and I had this image of criminals and gangs I suppose, but I think by the early 90′s it was OK and once you learn to read the map and recognize the subway entrances it’s not so bad. The convention was held at the Javitz center near the garment district. It’s a huge glass and steel complex of a convention center. On breaks from the conference we ate at delis and pizza places nearby for lunch. Unlike my city back home there seemed to be a little place around every corner. It was good that we had a local along with us, because he grew up knowing the layout of the streets so we were much less likely to wander up and down looking for something. One evening we went to Greenwich Village to go find the famous music club CBGB’s where famous punk acts got their start. We did find it but I don’t think there was anything going on that night so we ended up in a small blues bar somewhere in the Village. It was some of the coolest sounding blues in the most intimate small place I’ve ever been and I have still never been able to find that experience again even though I’ve looked for that bar on other trips. This was one of the first trips to a large city I had ever taken on my own as a young adult and it proved to me that I could go out and explore and come back to tell the tale.
New Year’s Eve in Time’s Square
New Year’s Eve in Times square is one of those trips that a lot of people have on their bucket list. When I decided to go in 1996 it sounded like a great idea at the time, but the trip was poorly planned and executed. Becky and I were newly married and we decided to visit a friend working at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. We figured we might as well go see the ball drop in Time’s Square just like we had seen it on TV our whole lives since we had an offer of a free place to stay. We started off the day of December 31st sightseeing. We took public transit in and were hitting the typical NY landmarks. We tried to go to the Statue of Liberty, but a government shutdown due to a budget crisis had closed all National Parks. This is something that could easily happen in 2013, so keep that in mind for your trip plans. Always have an alternate! Almost as a consolation we went to the World Trade Center to ride up to the observation deck of the towers and take in the city from above. I know now that I will keep that memory with me for the rest of my life since it is an experience that can never be repeated after the 9/11 tragedy. Afterward we zig-zagged through the city to visit St Patrick’s Cathedral which is a great free attraction. The Gothic architecture is impressive and in stark contrast to the modern buildings that now surround it. There are 7 masses a day during the week and 8 on Sunday, and there was a mass on when we visited. We just quietly watched from the back of the nave and walked along the side with our friend who lit a candle in one of the small side chapels. In the early evening a group of people with us were going to see Blue Man Group in Tubes which was this strange thing off-Broadway at the time. This was before they got really big, but we thought it seemed too weird so we ended up wandering Greenwich Village while our friends went to the show. Little did we know that weird little show would become a world-wide franchise. I don’t remember exactly what we ate while wandering around, but I’m sure some pizza was involved since it’s Becky’s favorite food, even though she complains that she doesn’t like New York style pizza. We met up again with our friend and decided it was time to start finding a spot to stand and watch the ball drop. The packed masses were already back to 53rd street, if I’m remembering right and we joined the crowd there on Seventh Ave which was not even the main strip on Broadway! Becky and her friend were both not feeling that well and we had been sightseeing around the city all day which can make you really tired. We had nothing to eat or drink for the next four hours while we stood around with a bunch of strangers. We were all packed in like sardines and could barely see the ball in Times Square. I do remember some nice people sharing some cinnamon schnapps with us, but those couple of sips were all we had. Then the ball dropped and we rushed off to try and get back to NJ. The ball dropping was, by the way a non event from as far away as we were. We could barely see the thing because it seemed tiny and I remember doing a countdown but that was it. We couldn’t hear music and we weren’t on the right street for confetti. It seemed like at that point everyone in the entire celebration tried to crowd onto the same train. Becky was terrified, but eventually we ended up navigating back across the river to New Jersey. We then had to find a bus back to Seton Hall and our beds for the night. We were waiting at the bus stop but the bus never came. Then all the people at the stop started vying for taxis. All the taxis passing by were either already in service or not stopping, and with a crowd of a couple dozen people it would take a lot of taxis. We finally found one around the corner from the bus stop. It seemed to be the worst taxi in New Jersey. It had holes in the floor and cracks in the windows, we asked the driver who’s first language was obviously not English to get us to Seton Hall University. He sped off and stopped in from of Seton Hall Law School, which was not in the same part of town. Our friend Amy argued a little bit, and gave him some cross streets and we ended up back at her residence hall, eventually. I think the whole experience soured New York for both Becky and I for a little while, but eventually we each took individual trips back there for work that made up for it. I may be making it sound pretty horrible here but in retrospect if you want to experience Time’s Square for New Year’s Eve I think a little planning would go a long way to making sure you had a fun time. Don’t make my mistake and try to see the whole city and party in Times Square both in the same day. Bring some water or a beverage you can sneak past the NYPD and don’t forget to eat! For me it is one of those things that I can say I have done, but I probably won’t go out of my way to do it again.
Visiting New York City on Business
One of my most productive sightseeing trips was when I went to New York for work. The company I work for sent us to New Jersey to practice recovering our computer systems in case we would ever have a disaster. When we weren’t doing our portion of the work we had free time to spend and several of us spent the day in the City. Once again, the buses and subway got us everywhere we wanted to go. We wandered around to different parts of the city doing the typical tourist things like going up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I also met up with a friend who lived somewhere nearby at the time. We had a good meal at a bar, walked it off with some aimless wandering and ended up at Paddy Reilly’s for a show by one of my favorite bands that are based in New York, The Prodigal’s. At Paddy’s they served nothing but Guinness on tap. They had seven taps and each tap had a letter to spell out the word Guinness but if that doesn’t suit you taste I think they serve other beer in bottles. There are some other fragments of memory that I have like a corner bookstore that had books of all kinds seemingly haphazardly arranged and stacked up to the ceiling. This was in stark contrast to the Virgin mega-store that had books, and music (all new, of course) in a multi-floor, well organized and well lit store. It was also almost comical how many Starbucks there were. Sometimes more than one on opposite corners of an intersection. From the memories of my trips it always seems like New York is randomness to me. I end up going there and just wandering and I always find something that turns into a story or that just makes the quintessential New York moment for me. Like any big city New York has museums and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was place blew me away in size, scale, and the number of exhibits. I was a little star struck from the outside facade and areas inside which I had seen from movies. Wandering through the Egyptian wing was most impressive. A huge glass atrium houses the reconstruction of a giant stone temple. Getting through just a few rooms of this museum tires you out and kind of sends you into a little bit of an overload. I haven’t been back there yet, but I really want to take a trip just for the museums, and this one in particular.
A Visit to New York with Friends and My Tips to the City
My last trip was a few years ago while visiting my college roommate who was living in upstate New York. His girlfriend (now his wife) grew up in the area and we were talking about our plans to go into the city for the day. We were trying to figure out the logistics of getting to a train station to take a train into the city to do a little sightseeing and see a Broadway show we had tickets for. She announced, “I’ll drive you into the city.” We didn’t want her to go to the trouble and we were thinking that driving into the city was something nuts akin to suicide by automobile. She assured us it was no big deal and that she actually enjoyed the challenge of driving in the city. When we got through the tunnel and into Manhattan this mild mannered woman turned into a caricature of a New York cabby, honking and swooping into the traffic with the best of them. She was even a whiz at finding street parking so we could find a spot to have dinner and a drink. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to find street parking before that. It was yet another way to experience the city, but not something I’d recommend a first-timer do. If you’ve never been there and you don’t have someone who loves the aggressive NY driving… take the train. The show we saw was Monty Python’s Spam-a-lot and we got tickets kind of at the last minute. This means we didn’t have the best seats ever, but what the heck, it was exciting and funny to me and we were in the theater. There are so many theaters here that I could see myself going to a lot of different plays off Broadway if I lived here.
Besides going to Museums and Broadway shows here is my quick list of things to know about visiting New York City
Take trains and buses into the city if you can. The public transit system here is one of the best in the country. The major hubs of Penn Station and Grand Central Station will be your starting points in Manhattan, and if you follow the signage, its not that hard.
I’ve never been able to do it on my multiple trips, but take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty.
See the tourist sights, but don’t get burned out. If you have never been here before, go to the top of the Empire State building. The view of the buildings below you will really give you a sense of the size and density of the city.
Visit the different sections like Lower Manhattan, So Ho, Greenwich Village, Midtown. Walk within the areas, but don’t get fooled into thinking you can just walk everywhere and not take the subway. The distances can be deceiving.
Take a cab if you’ve got a few people to split the fare. Just don’t be afraid to ask the cab driver how much it will cost to get to your destination. He can tell you approximately, and that way you won’t be surprised.
Eat some food. You can get
- Asian food
- Street food if you’re brave
- Bagels in just about any place with a food counter
- Go to a New York deli in New York
- Fancy dining in restaurants owned by celebrity chefs
- Just about anything you want.
To get here and stay here you can fly into one of the three airports that serve the area. Laguardia, JFK, and Newark, NJ. Pack light and take train or a cab to your hotel or lodging. If you are driving plan to park or stay outside the city to save money or park at your hotel, but expect to pay at least $50 per day to park. Alternatively, you can find a lot through iconparkingsystems.com for maybe $15 to $18 per day. If you can find a local that you may know to help you out. Use that social media network you’ve built to find someone to give you advice and help if it’s your first trip to NY. Good hotel deals can be found on the weekends when business travelers are heading home. Please check out my affiliate link at www.journeyjournalonline.com/hotels. I can sometimes get some promotional deals through my affiliation and you would be helping me out because I get a small commission if you book through my link which will help me pay the hosting cost for my podcast.
My closing thoughts on New York are just to tell you to wander. On my trips I have wandered Central Park, Wandered the Village, or wandered by museums and attractions and I’ve always felt pretty safe. I think if you keep your eyes open for who is around you, and walk like you know where you’re going even if you don’t always know you can experience in a day or two the character of the city almost like a local. New Yorkers seem to be portrayed in TV and Movies as a bit rough and callous, and maybe intimidating to a meek mid-westerner, but I think that’s more played up for the movies. There are so many people here from so many different cultures, I think it would be hard to characterize them collectively. I have seen some funny scenes that make me think “typical New York”, like a guy crossing the street at a busy cross walk when a slightly beat up and dirty car pulled halfway into the crossing. The walker shouts something in a thick NY accent, bangs his fist on the fender and spits on the windshield. The driver with the window only half open shouts back waving his arms wildly from inside the car. Everyone crosses the street, and the car lurches away through the busy city traffic. No harm was done, just a communication made in its own way, with bravado.
Elsewhere around the city I’ve seen brownstone walk-ups one after the other on streets with small trees lining the sidewalk. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the images from Sesame Street when I was growing up. There is celebrity architecture here. Buildings like the flatiron building Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler building have been in the Movies and TV and are literally famous. Businesses and restaurants seem to be hidden and scattered around with streets of apartments and offices. Some of the most hidden are down at “garden level” These are where you kind of have to know they are there and walk down from the street level sidewalk to someplace with a low ceiling and questionable ambiance. Could be good, could be not so good but that is part of the adventure, isn’t it?
There are definitely times when I visit that I could see myself living there for a short time, but then after some reflection I don’t know if I could take the closeness of everything, the noise, and the constant slew of options. It does make for a fun place to visit.
That’s it for this episode, Thanks for listening to the podcast. I hope you learned one thing you didn’t know before or maybe just enjoyed my stories. As always, I welcome any feedback you can give me. If you want to help me out in some way all I ask is that you leave a review in iTunes. Also, you can always contact me at the blog, www.journeyjournalonline.com or through the facebook page facebook.com/journeyjournalonline. Also check out the new resources page on the blog with links to other places where you can book hotels, vacation homes and more. I hope you are looking forward to planning your own trips so until next time, Enjoy Your Journey.