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Everything I Need to Know (re Taking Mama to Manhattan) I Learned on Fodors

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Aug 25th, 2011, 06:29 PM
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Everything I Need to Know (re Taking Mama to Manhattan) I Learned on Fodors

Tip #1: Buy your Metro Card in the terminal or at the Hudson News Stand before you leave the airport.

I meant to follow this one, I did, but the ease of getting out of LGA threw me off. Seriously, we stepped off the plane, crossed a corridor, took a down escalator, marched a few more steps to the already waiting luggage, then it was out the door.

Stunned and with no Metro Card in hand, I followed Tip #2: Don’t bother hiring a car service; take a taxi. It’s easier and possibly cheaper.

I’m not sure it could have been any simpler to get to our hotel. The taxi stand was within shouting distance of our exit door. We snagged an SUV style cab with plenty of room for our luggage and we were off. The trip cost $41 (including tip) which I thought was a bargain since it also served the purpose of a thrill ride for Mom and Gladys. They’d been in cabs before but, in most other cities, taxi riding is a kinder, gentler sport than it is in New York. Their eyes were as big as saucers as our driver wove through the afternoon traffic and they were grateful for the handholds. The driver was friendly, courteous and smart too. He even knew how many flags fly outside the United Nations building.

On to Tip #3: Public transportation in New York is so plentiful and so efficient that it doesn’t really matter what area of town you stay in.

And Tip #4: Times Square is a zoo. Don’t stay there.

I was disappointed when I won Priceline rooms at the Hilton Manhattan East near the corner of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue. I worried that we were too far away from the action to really enjoy our stay. I was wrong. The M42 Crosstown bus stopped right outside our door. The M15 select was less than a block away and the M103 was only a little farther than that. We never waited longer than a minute or two for a cab to pull up right outside either.

You were right about Times Square as well. As promised, we were glad to get away from the noise and crush of people at the end of the day and the Hilton was the perfect spot for that. Our rooms were small but not impossibly so. They were impeccably clean (as was the rest of the hotel). The beds were comfy. The staff, from the door man to the desk clerk to the bartender were nice to the point of doting. All this for $171/night per room.

We’d barely checked in when Mom and Gladys announced they were raring to go, so …

Time for Tip #5: If you’ll be in the city for more than three days, get a 7 day unlimited transit card. The money you save will more than pay for the $29 ticket.

Tip # 6: The city’s seniors rely on the bus service. It stops every block or two, is air conditioned and, most of the time, younger people will give up their seats for the elderly or disabled.

And Tip #7: As long as you avoid rush hour, you’ll be fine.

If only I’d remembered Tip #1 about purchasing the transit cards at the airport, we would have been great. Alas, I did not, and I couldn’t remember the address of the spot within a block of our hotel where we could buy them either. We hiked a couple of long blocks down 42nd Street to Grand Central Station to pick up our tickets.

That wasn’t really a problem. Actually, it was a nice intro to the city. We entered through the Market doors on Lexington and Mom and Gladys were wowed by the variety of foods available there. “This is a train station?” they asked as they vowed to return for fresh fruit and bakery items. They were impressed by the structure too. Who wouldn’t be? That building is gorgeous! It’s also a little confusing. We wandered for a bit before we spotted a Hudson News Stand where we bought our tickets, then headed out to catch a bus on 42nd Street …

… at 5:15 PM. Oops. We boarded the bus and it was packed. A young woman quickly stood up to offer Gladys her seat, but the girl sitting next to her was too engrossed in her iPad to notice us right away. That left Mom hanging from the rail. The girl did look up at the next stop and offer her seat to Mom – but Mom was feeling spunky and refused the seat. By the time the girl got off at the next stop she would have been glad to take it, but an older and weaker looking woman got on there so Mom hung on all the way to 8th Avenue. Lesson learned: Take a seat if it’s offered.

This was our worst bus experience. From here on in, we avoided busier times and Mom and Gladys only had to stand for less than one stop during the entire rest of the week. I didn’t even have to give anyone the evil eye. New Yorkers are not the cold, heartless, self centered beings that their image sometimes portrays. They were kind and respectful to the elderly, the disabled and to families with young children too.

Tip #8: Try John’s Pizza on 44th.
Tip #9: In certain situations, the HOHO buses can be a good idea.

We only had to walk a couple of short blocks to get to John’s from the bus stop. I dropped Mom, Gladys and my friend off there to get a table while I walked up the street to buy our bus tour tickets. Here’s something that wasn’t a tip but should have been: “New Yorkers don’t look up.” I think I read this either in Aduchamp’s Rules of the Sidewalk or on a discussion of HOHO buses but I didn’t understand its importance at the time. I learned it pretty quick though. I was walking back to John’s when something caught my eye. I looked up. And missed the spot where a grate had pushed the concrete of the sidewalk up at an awkward angle. I fell. Splat. Everyone around me stopped. A couple people shouted, “Is she okay?!” A very nice gentleman reached down to help me up and told me, “You’re the second person I’ve seen almost do that.” My response? “I wish I really was the second person to _almost_ do it, instead of the first to really do it.”
Nothing was hurt too much (besides my pride –which took a huge blow). I dusted myself off and continued on my way.

By the time I got back to John’s, Mom and crew were already seated and enjoying cold sodas. Our pizza came soon after. It was good! Really good. Not the best I’ve ever eaten (I’m looking at you Monical’s in Danville, IL, Pizza King throughout Indiana and Pitch in Omaha.) but really very good. It’s cavernous in John’s and they do a terrific job of feeding the masses, of which there are, well, masses. It was cheap too. Our group’s only minor complaint was the volume. Wow, is it loud in there!

Fueled by sausage pizza and Diet Coke, we headed off again. Here, I’ll add a tip of my own: If you plan on walking around, use the ladies room before leaving the restaurant. We found this out when Gladys’ water pill kicked in less than a block later and we had to find a restroom, pronto. Luckily, the giant Toys R Us store with its indoor ferris wheel loomed ahead. That place may be nirvana for tiny tots but the sensory overload kind of made my eyelid twitch. I am grateful for its public bathroom though.

From there it was just a couple more blocks to the HOHO. A lot of folks on here seem to hate those things but, for two ladies in their 70s who had already spent a long day traveling, it was an excellent activity. Our tour guide was pleasant and knowledgeable. The weather was lovely, with a nice breeze blowing on top. We got a good overview of the city with landmarks that helped orient us throughout the week. And the ladies were able to both sit and be entertained for an hour and a half. At $44 each, I wouldn’t say it was a bargain but you can save five bucks if you order your tickets in advance.

After the tour bus, we started walking again. That may have been a mistake as it was longer than we’d thought and the ladies were tired, especially after we made a stop for hair spray at the frenetic Walgreens in Times Square. They were flat out exhausted by the time we waited 40 minutes for a bus that was supposed to arrive every 15. We did have a nice conversation with a lady from Missouri that helped to pass the time before we gave up and hailed a taxi.

Back at the hotel, Mom went in search of a soda machine. There was none so we asked the door man where we might find a can of Diet Pepsi. He advised us that there was an all night deli “just around the corner”. I’m adding another of my own tips here: If you ask a New Yorker how far something is, double the distance. They do not judge space in the same way Midwesterners do. “Just around the corner” turned out to be around the corner, down two blocks and across the street. If I’d known that I would have shlepped off for the soda on my own instead of walking the ladies over there. Once at the deli though, Mom picked up enough Diet Pepsi to see her through a few days. She and Gladys got bananas and a cookie too, making the trek worthwhile.

Finally, we tucked the golden girls into their hotel room after everyone agreed – It had been a near perfect first night in the city.
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Aug 25th, 2011, 06:41 PM
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Great report - I feel like I was right there with you all! You must be a writer?

And falling down - I have fallen UP the stairs coming out of a subway station and there is no stupider feeling in the world - glad you weren't hurt!

AND I can't want for the next installment!
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Aug 25th, 2011, 07:07 PM
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I'm enjoying your report. That's so nice that you were able to take your mother and her friend to NYC.
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Aug 25th, 2011, 07:44 PM
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Great so far! Looking forward to reading the rest!
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Aug 25th, 2011, 08:18 PM
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I have been waiting for this report! So glad that even your first day reports that you can ride a city bus in NYC and actually get someplace. Waiting for more!
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Aug 26th, 2011, 04:19 AM
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Heartily agree w/other posters...your report is so good
folks who have trepidations about visiting our city should
read this!
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Aug 26th, 2011, 04:38 AM
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Thanks all!

mztery - Actually, I am a writer. My first novel came out a couple of years ago and if I can get you to cross your fingers, I might get a second novel published. It's with my agent now. Also, I don't know why more folks don't fall in New York. There's so much competing for your attention all the time, it's hard to concentrate on where you're going. And, be careful what you wish for re next installments. I have a feeling this trip report is going to be verrry loooong.

ellenem - That we could ride a bus in the city and actually get somewhere should totally be credited to you. I owe you a thousand thanks for your patient instruction!
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Aug 26th, 2011, 04:45 AM
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DAY TWO, Part One

Tip #10 Check out small, neighborhood restaurants. They often serve great food and are a good value.

Tip #11 John’s café is a good, affordable breakfast spot.

As tired as they were the night before, those old ladies sure did get up early the next morning. Mom was calling our room by 8 AM, ready to start the first full day of our trip. My friend opted to sleep in so I met the ladies in the lobby and we strolled two short blocks to John’s Café.

There we lucked into the last open table and sat down to a meal including eggs, potatoes, breakfast meat, (Mom and I had sausage. Gladys tried the ham.) toast and coffee for around $7 each. We liked everything but the ham, which appeared to be two slices of deli meat, warmed up. We weren’t sure if that was a New York thing (?) so we avoided ham the rest of the week.

On the walk back we spotted a burger joint, a donut shop, a Mexican restaurant and an Irish pub. That’s equal to the total number of restaurants in Mom and Gladys’ little town – unless you count the American Legion and its monthly steak fry, lol.

After breakfast we picked up my friend and caught the M15 Select bus.

Tip #12: The Select Bus runs in its own designated lane (most of the time) and makes fewer stops so you get to your destination quicker. You can tell it from the local by the blue lights that flash on the front.

Tip #13: Just be sure to swipe your Metro Card in the machine outside by the bus stop BEFORE trying to board the bus.

We rode the Select all the way to the South Ferry Terminal. There we joined the hoards who had all been let in on Tip #14: The Staten Island Ferry is the best bargain in New York.

It’s FREE. You may have to stand in line with a few hundred other bargain hunters for up to thirty minutes but its worth it for the view of the Statue of Liberty. Especially if you follow Tip #15: Grab seats on the right side of the boat.

You can even buy beer and snacks on board but my friend offers Tip#16: The beers are large so be sure you really want one and – the hot dogs are not as good as they used to be.

We underestimated the time it would take for us to get to the ferry, board it, ride, disembark, re-embark, ride, get off and catch our bus to our next stop. We were a group of slow movers so your mileage may vary but from catching the bus in midtown through the return ferry trip took us 2 hours and 45 minutes.

That put us behind schedule for lunch and the walking tour we’d booked for the afternoon. When we got off the bus at the wrong stop and promptly turned in the wrong direction, that made us even later but it does bring me to the next two tips.

Tip #16: Almost everywhere in the city is safe these days, within reason.

Our wrong turn took us down the street that houses the New York headquarters for the Hell’s Angels. My friend recalled the time, years ago, when her ex-husband was involved with a media project for the group. This meant visiting said headquarters. At the time, doing so meant meeting a biker at a designated location, then being escorted onto the street and back off of it when the meeting finished. Times have certainly changed – or maybe the Hell’s Angels have? Anyway, four older ladies strolled down this street a couple of weeks ago without fear – though I’m not sure we would have felt as confident at night.

Tip #16: New Yorkers are usually happy to give directions.

Thank God for this one because -- we were lost. Once you get south of the grid streets, things get a little more confusing and harder to navigate. Luckily, a very sweet young woman saw us standing around staring up at street signs and generally looking clueless. She asked if she could help then whipped out her smart phone, punched in our destination and sent us off in the right direction.

It was still a few blocks away though, and we’d already missed the time in our schedule allotted for lunch, and the day was warm, and Mom and Gladys were fading fast. By the time we made it to the meet up point for our tour it was clear that heading out on a two hour long walk would be akin to sending the ladies on a death march.

Good thing you guys had armed me with Tip #17: Don’t be a slave to your itinerary.

I really (really, really) wanted to go on the LES food tour but it wasn’t worth risking Mom and Gladys’ health so we stopped at the tour spot, told our guide we were sorry but we’d have to pass (She was very understanding.) then slowly made our way to

Tip # 18: Don’t miss Katz’ Deli.

I would have really liked to try

Tip #19 too: Order at the counter and make sure the guy sees you put a dollar in the tip jar – he’ll give you more meat.

But even after taking a seat and watching the process for a few minutes, Mom and Gladys were too intimidated by the throngs calling out their orders, so we found a table in the Waiter Service Only section by the wall, and it was still great.

Tip #20: The sandwiches at Katz’s are HUGE. Split one.

Ohmigosh, I don’t know what we would have done with the MORE MEAT promised by giving the tip at the counter. The two sandwiches (Reubens, not pastrami, sorry) we split between the four of us could have fed at least four more people. Somehow we managed to devour every delicious bite though, plus share a knish and fries. We washed it all down with cold beers (my friend and me) and sodas (the ladies). MmmmMmmmMmmmMmmm.

Tip #21: Look at the lighted display above the front window of your bus to make sure it is headed in the right direction.

We knew this. Still, when we spotted a stop for the M15 close by, and a bus pulled up to it moments later, we must have all been in some kind of corned beef coma. We boarded a bus that was traveling the wrong way. Eh. We didn’t care. We digested as we rode back down to the South Ferry Terminal again, then had to get off and walk around a small semi-circle of sidewalk to get back on a bus heading uptown. The ride back to the hotel was a mostly pleasant one although we were getting dangerously close to rush hour and the bus filled up fast.

Tip #22: If you stay in Manhattan, you can go back to your room for a rest in the afternoon.

This is exactly what we did. And it was lovely.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 04:48 AM
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Yay! Can't wait to read more

"but Mom was feeling spunky" LOL I think all three of you are pretty spunky!

So glad you liked the HOHO. You perfectly described why it can be such a great way to get an overview of a city, a bit of a rest for tired legs AND some entertainment if you are lucky!

I agree with ellenem - kudos for navigating the bus on Day 1. And I also agree with you - ellenem's kind patience is one of the best things about Fodors.

Okay...ready for Day 2....
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Aug 26th, 2011, 09:19 AM
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Fantastic read!
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Aug 26th, 2011, 09:34 AM
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Wonderful trip report edeevee! Thanks so much for sharing.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 10:07 AM
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Great trip report, filing bits away for a trip next summer.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 10:10 AM
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Our wrong turn took us down the street that houses the New York headquarters for the Hell’s Angels
______
It is the safest block in the neighborhood. Just don't knock over one of their bikes.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 10:29 AM
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Fantastic report - more, please!
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Aug 26th, 2011, 10:36 AM
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Love your report. I notice your first stop was to buy hair spray.... is that because it's not allowed in carry ons? (I haven't flown in awhile.)
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Aug 26th, 2011, 10:52 AM
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edeevee..I love your report and enthusiam. Your format using the tips you used is terrific. Now you understand why so many said the Hilton's location would be much better than Times Square. You are all real troopers.. Eager for next installment! Thanks.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 01:52 PM
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Great report! Looking forward to the rest of it.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 01:55 PM
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edeevee, I'm enjoying your trip report very much! And thank you for pointing that New Yorkers are generally much kinder than they are given credit for.
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Aug 26th, 2011, 04:23 PM
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I am heading to NYC in November so I am taking your travel tips to heart. I will certainly enjoy reading your future installments. I'm going with my daughter, DIL and 12 year old granddaughter so since i will be the elder one on this trip I better start practicing my "spunky attitude" right now. Your mom and Gladys sound like real hoots. What a nice trip.
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Aug 27th, 2011, 03:47 AM
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Don't y'all know that some people shouldn't be encouraged? Keep this up and, before you know it, I'll have a 90 page missive posted. I do appreciate the kind words.

starrs, I am so glad I listened to you (and others) about the HOHO. Mom and G loved it and surprisingly, I enjoyed it quite a bit too.

Aduchamp, "Just don't knock over one of their bikes." Ha! I nearly snorted my coffee on that one. Too funny!

Gwendolynn, I don't know if the ladies forgot their hairspray or figured they wouldn't be able to carry it on the plane. I just know it was an extreme priority to find some, lol.

HappyTvlr, You are SO right about Times Square v the Hilton. It was so nice to come "home" to our quiet little neighborhood each day.

321go, No, thank YOU (NYers) for being such wholly decent people.

barbrn, I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time, especially if you listen to the wise folks on here when planning your trip.
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