Four days. Three total newbies in Manhattan. Here’s some of what we learned.
- DO spring for a cab for the trip to and from the airport. LaGuardia is a very nice airport, but only an expert could get you there. It is surrounded by a morass of construction and barricades and one-way narrow ramps and not that much helpful signage. I feel bad for the people who are there when the Rapture happens. They will be left behind because Jesus will not be able to find them. I was told it would cost about $40 for the ride into Midtown, and it was just about that, with moderate traffic.
- DON’T be disturbed by all the horn blowing. They’re not mad, it’s just something they do, like geese honking as they fly from one lake to another. “Here I come! ::HONK:: This is my space! ::HONK:: Don’t come in it! ::HONK::”
- DO walk, as much as you can. It’s free, and you get the hang of getting around so much more quickly. I took one pair of shoes; dark colored, supportive walking shoes. I wore them everywhere, even to the theater, and no one cared, and my feet felt great. There is definitely an etiquette to walking in Manhattan. Don’t make sudden stops, don’t walk three abreast, don’t weave around. Be alert at pedestrian crossings. Watch the locals. They are super efficient at getting around without being hit by cars.
- DON’T eat McDonald’s, or Burger King, or Subway. I think that needs no elaboration. McDonald’s is for emergency bathroom stops. More on that later.
- DO use Google and Google Maps, plus your own reconnaissance while you are walking around to find local places to eat that have character, and food you like at the right price. The choices are endless. Food is expensive, but it is part of the experience and you can save money by grabbing lunch at a pizza counter. They are everywhere, and the pizza is delicious. As for the ubiquitous food carts that serve hot dogs and pretzels and various meats on sticks – we didn’t, but I would not judge if you like that sort of thing. People obviously eat it and don’t die.
- DON’T spend too much time in Times Square. Of course, you need to see it, but it is super touristy, super crowded, and over-stimulating. It was also the only place we ran into pushy panhandlers. There are guys who approach, loudly asking for “donations for the homeless.” Ignore. If you want to help someone in need, there are actual homeless men sitting huddled against walls on some of the side streets. Also, don’t accept anything that someone thrusts at you, even from the sweet little Buddhist monks. They expect money.
- DO go up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I know some people say it is not worth the wait, but we went on a Thursday afternoon, and there was hardly any line at all. It is a beautiful building, and the views are amazing. It was cold and windy up there – take a jacket.
- DON’T be intimidated by the Subway. That being said, DO study up a little before you go, and make sure you have a good app on your phone. The app I had was crappy and didn’t work at all, but Ben had a good one. Also, he had spent time in Paris and is used to a big, complicated subway system. We each bought a Metro Card and put about $10 on it a day, and only once ran out of fare before the day was over. The card machines are agents of Satan, but be patient. Also have some cash in small bills because they only give change in coins.
- DO buy a CityPass online before you go. We bought the one that gave us access to any three attractions, out of a list of about 12. It saves you money, but just as important, lets you bypass the long line to buy tickets. We walked straight in to the 9/11 Museum on a Saturday morning, bypassing a huge line.
- DON’T try to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on a Saturday afternoon. It is a sea of humanity, plus part of it is taken up by souvenir stands – and we had to pee. This is where McDonald’s comes in. There are few public restrooms in Manhattan. Make sure you can locate a McDonald’s in case of emergency. Their sign says for customers only, but they never threw us out.
- DO tour the United Nations. Buy tickets online before you go, and make sure you read up on security procedures. This was one of the most interesting things we did. I was so impressed with the knowledge of our lovely, multilingual guide. The artwork and sculptures in the UN are impressive, and the UN Bookstore is well worth a visit. There is a snack area and a public restroom in the building. Our tour was small, but they are equipped to take large school groups, too. You can get a tour in English, or in several other languages.
- DON’T expect the bars to have college football on TV. We went to a lovely small restaurant for dinner on Saturday about the time the Alabama game was starting, and asked for a booth in the bar area. They had BOXING on all three TVs. Gary said, “What is wrong with these people?”
- DO see at least part of Central Park, but also enjoy the smaller parks around the city. Central Park is amazing and lovely, but it is also the outdoor space for millions of people, and a good part of them are there on a nice Saturday. (Also, the Trump Tower is just as tacky as you would expect.) It was a little disconcerting that these places, particularly Central Park, are just like you see them in the movies, except with hoards of people. When Harry and Sally were strolling through Central Park on that fall afternoon, you only saw a few other people. In reality, on a nice fall afternoon, there are throngs.
- DON’T grieve over the things you don’t have time to see. You can never see it all. Enjoy the things you do see, and especially enjoy the little unexpected treasures you happen upon by accident, like a neighborhood street fair in the South Seaport neighborhood, and a delicious and cheap hot food bar in the Amish Grocery.
- DO visit the main branch of the New York Public Library . See the lions, and watch the men playing backgammon and chess in the park. Do have your bags open when you go in, because the security lady is TERRIFYING. Once you make it past her, if you aren’t too traumatized, you can go upstairs and wander through the amazing reading rooms. Note that there are areas for gawkers, like us, and areas for the actual library users. Try not to disturb. See how many movie and TV references you can make (Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow, Carrie and Mr. Big’s wedding that didn’t happen.)
- Also DO spend time in Bryant Park, which is essentially the back yard of the Library. It is lovely. I read that in the 80’s it was referred to as Needle Park because of the crime and drug use that happened there, but there is no trace of that now. If you are interested in historical public spaces, read about Bryant Park. It is old. George Washington’s troops camped there during the Revolutionary War. It was a potter’s field for a time, until the city undertook to exhume and move the remains elsewhere. It was, for many years, surrounded by an iron fence and tall hedges, and was therefore a dangerous area where things could happen unseen. When the park was renovated, it was excavated down to be more nearly at street level, and the fence and hedges were removed. That, combined with movable park furniture that visitors could arrange as they liked, transformed it into a place where people felt safe to gather and spend time.
- DON’T try to get your picture taken with the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl in the Financial District. Seriously, there were a million people on that tiny sliver of pavement between two streets. We stood across the street and stared in amazement. You know the Biblical story of Moses coming back with the Ten Commandments and finding the people worshiping a golden calf? I’m just saying.
- DO see the 9/11 Memorial pools. I was never all that impressed with the design, until I saw it in person. It is really beautiful and moving, and the symbolism is so clear. The names of all those lost in the attack are around the edge, and they aren’t just engraved into the stone, they are pierced through it, so that you can look right through the letters and see the water underneath. The water flows over the edge between hundreds (thousands?) of evenly spaced stone projections that are reminiscent of the outside of the towers. I got the impression of individual lives merging into a great fall of water that travels downward and then flows toward the center, where it falls again, into a place we can’t see. It is moving. We went to see the pools twice. The Museum itself is another post.
There is so much more I could say, but I’ll end here by saying that New York is amazing. I can’t wait to go back. I found New Yorkers to be nice and polite. They hold doors, they give up their seats on the subway to old folks, and they are very efficient in getting around and very aware of personal space.
I will note that I saw more penises in New York than on any other trip – two – One onstage at the theater, and one in Central Park. The one in Central Park was my fault for choosing to sit on a bench that happened to have a direct sight line into the open door of the very busy men’s restroom. Don’t do that.
***I wrote this post before the attack on citizens that happened in lower Manhattan on Halloween. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and also to the witnesses and first responders who were forced to face the incomprehensible yesterday. I love you, New York.