NYC with 4 Old Friends: a Cautionary Tale

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Sep 21st, 2009, 04:33 AM
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NYC with 4 Old Friends: a Cautionary Tale

Four of us old friends have been taking an annual weekend trip together for many years so we are now OLD old friends. We live in New England and have been to NYC a few times. We used to take turns planning the weekend but recently decided to let J do most of the planning and all of the driving. Big mistake. C and M do not like to help plan but retain veto powers. This post is about what happens when a trip to NYC is not well planned.

Thanks to Fodorites I had made the suggestion of staying at the Best Western Hanbee in the Bowery on Grand St. This was a great location since we planned a tour at the Tenement Museum and the Foods of NY tour: Chelsea Market/Meat Packing District. Both tours were recommended by Fodorites and my suggestions were accepted by the other three. J's planning consisted of making the hotel and tour reservations and stopping at the AAA office as we left CT to get maps of NYC. She had programmed her GPS unit and printed out Mapquest directions to the hotel. The hotel is in Chinatown but in a block or two you are in Little Italy. I noted the Feast of St Gennaro would be celebrated during our visit and emailed the info to my three friends asking if they wanted to visit the festival. No response. More research on Chowhound indicated that the food at the festival concession stands was below average so I told me friends that it was a good thing they weren't interested since it wasn't recommended.

Best Western Hanbee: the world traveler in the bunch insisted we first check our room for bed bugs. We didn't see any evidence plus C was delighted with the beautiful bamboo floors instead of carpet in the rooms. She did not have to worry about the cleanliness of the carpet. The room was good size with two queen beds and a small sitting area. Internet service and a continental breakfast were included. J was unable to connect with the internet and couldn't call the front desk because the phones didn't work. The front desk came to investigate and made a second visit with a phone they knew to be working before they called the phone company. No other rooms had reported a problem. Fortunately the problem was soon diagnosed. A previous guest had switched the phone plugs around. Easy fix is a reasonable amount of time. We were pleased about everything else. The continental breakfast was among the better of 'hotel free breakfasts' since the popular waffler maker and hard boiled eggs were provided in addition to the usual cereals, bagels, etc. Note to future hotel guests: there is adequate seating until around 7:30 when everyone in the hotel decides it is time to get up. J heard another guest complain to the front desk that some tables were occupied by people who were just drinking coffee and conversing. The other guest wanted the front desk to tell these folks to clear out because other people were waiting for seats.

The only real problem with this hotel is the lack of adequate unloading area. There are 4 or 5 parking spaces in front of the area that are marked hotel loading. When we first arrived there was no open space at all. On our trip around the blocks we decided on the strategy of parking illegally while J checked us in and got directions to the parking garage. I would sit in the driver seat if the car needed to be moved. I have to admit that J is quick thinking. She decided the back seat passengers could now make themselves useful by standing in an unloading space as soon as one became available. This worked out well because I was able to move the car before the policeman walking toward us reached the car.

Car parked. Bed inspected. Phone fixed. It was now time to visit the Tenement Museum and hope tickets would be available. M had suggested the Moore's Tour about an Irish family. There were plenty of tickets and choices available at 2:45 pm on a Friday. We got our tickets and proceeded to choose where to eat. I have to admit that the other three outfoxed me with their strategy to let me choose the restaurant. We all enjoyed The Sticky Rice little hole in the wall Thai restaurant on the same street as the museum. M and C loved the pumpkin curry. I enjoyed a lunch special. But we barely had enough time to eat. Lack of planning is just beginning to plague us. But, my choice of restaurant had used up 'my turn' to pick what we were going to do.

The tour was great but required walking up several flights of stairs. I imagine there are many who have enjoyed more than one tour since each is different. This is really a NYC gem since much of the building is original to circa 1935 when due to city laws the landlord decided not to rent out the apartments any longer.

Back to the hotel to decide what to do next. Since Little Italy was so close, it was decided we would walk around and choose a restaurant that looked good. Most of the streets were lined with either concession stands or tents that extended restaurant seating to outdoors. J said as long as we didn't have to sit in a tent, she would be happy. She was even happier to find a restaurant with a family menu. This required the four of us to agree on what to order since we would share everything. The chopped salad was great. The cold antipasto plate was nice. We skipped pasta. The two main dishes were decent. The sangri was too dry for my taste but drinkable. All in all, not too bad for an unplanned visit. The streets were extremely crowded.

The subway stop is only two short blocks from the hotel. On Saturday we had tickets for the Chelsea Market tour and plenty of time to get there. We decided to buy an all day subway pass but since I wasn't careful reading the ticket descriptions I accidentally purchased a 4 trip pass for $8. The unlimited one day pass is only $8.25. A kind New Yorker helped us get on the right subway. It is very important to understand the difference between uptown and downtown. We got on at Canal street on a D train and decided to get off in Greenwich Village just because. Since it was before 10am not much was open except food markets but we enjoyed exploring one and noting the wonderful prepared foods, imported cheeses, etc that we can't get back home. We arrived at the Chelsea Market building in plenty of time. The building is not clearly marked so it is important that addresses are noted and one carries a street map at all times.

Bob was our tour guide and I don't think there is a better one. We were surprised that most of the others on the tour were from different countries. One person from NC and us from New England represented the US. Lucky us, the tour included a walk across the High Line which only opened 6 (or was it 9) weeks ago. What a great, imaginative outdoor space. We salute the private citizens and fundraisers who made this happen. The tour ended with a short visit to the residential area of the West Village and a pasta tasting. Next decision: find discounted tickets for a Saturday show. Bob told us we would probably have better luck at the South Street Seaport TCKTS booth since it would be much less crowded than the other one. All we had to do was get on the A or C train. We had directed some lovely Japanese ladies from the tour to follow us when it appeared they were having trouble finding the subway station. They wanted to go Up Town and we were headed Down. I thought they would be fine once they were at the station but it looked like they were going to continue to follow us. Since their English was very limited they had trouble understanding me but finally understood "You, Up Town" - Us, Down town". Unfortunately they disappeared so I think they thought we had led them to the wrong station and didn't understand that they had to head to a different platform.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:07 AM
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At this point the rest of the trip disintegrates due to lack of planning. Bob was right, there was hardly any line at the TCKTS booth. But we had decided to see Altar Boyz until J realized she was scheduled to see it later this week back home. Spur of the moment choice was Mamma Mia but with a limit of $50. Bingo, even discounted Mamma Mia tickets are more expensive than that - $91.50. Since we had done no research about any other shows we walked away from the booth empty handed. J's next idea was a tour of the NBC studios. I was tired and surly at this point because my suggestion of an evening or Sunday morning at the Metropolitan Museum was rejected despite the glowing recommendations I read from a Fodorite posting about particular exhibits. I had some shopping I wanted to do in Chinatown so I decided to revolt. The friendly New Yorker we had met in the morning said there was wonderful shopping on Canal St right near the subway shop. Since we all had cell phones and I insisted I was very comfortable in the city so close to the hotel, we agreed to meet later at the hotel. We got back on the A or C train intending for me to get off at Canal. The other three realize they really don't have enough time to get to NBC for the last tour of the day even if tickets are available so they will all get off the train with me at Canal.

A New Yorker may have noticed that we have not paid attention to the fact that we had got on the D train at Canal and were departing a C train at Canal. NOTHING looked familiar but we didn't understand why. A busy policeman directing traffic pointed us in the direction of Grand Street. We soon realize that we are on the other side of Little Italy from the hotel but no idea how. On we trudged thru the late afternoon St Genarro festival. Once back at the hotel I left my friends while I did my shopping. Despite the numerous food stands there might have been only one that sold purple yams and I was foolish enough to continue walking and tired enough not to remember where I had seen them. Still, I made some purchases and returned to the hotel to find out what the other 3 had decided to do about dinner.

J has decided that Friday night dinner was so nice we should find another restaurant in Little Italy to try. After resting it is about 7pm when we venture out where millions of other people are trying to walk and eat. J thinks she has found the perfect restaurant and doesn't complain when, after waiting, we are seated in the outside tent right on the edge where pedestrians can check out our meals. We are also opposite one of the carnival stands making conversation almost impossible. I don't think it is fair to complain about a restaurant doing its best to feed the festival throngs so I'll just say that the sangria was too sweet, the salads below mediocre, and the rest pretty average.

Any chance of visiting the Metropolitan Museum on Sunday is dashed when the other three decide we need to get an early start so we have time to visit the Ikea store that may or may not be on Rt 95 in CT. I followed instructions to write down the exit number and other directions but J never told me whether it was on Rt 95 or 91.

But, I get ahead of my story. We still had to retrieve the car from the pre-paid parking garage where on Sundays the only employees have a limited understanding of English. J has our validated stamped parking garage ticket. C and M have been instructed to stand in the only space available in the hotel unloading area. We get to the garage where we are informed that since we stayed two nights we were supposed to have two stamps. We are pretty sure the garage attendant understood our sputtering. Attendant #2 who speaks a different foreign language but not English arrives and as we are stomping away, calls us back and says he will take care of it. (The stamps are merely a red-inked 'paid' stapled to print outs from the hotel with information about how long we stayed, etc) A call is made to the mgr and the attendants decide they can give us the car and keys after all.

Meanwhile, C and M are faithfully standing in the only open space. We load up and are on our way. J gave up on her GPS unit in CT and we relied on Mapquest directions which were hard to follow. This time she has printed out new Mapquest directions for our return trip plus a second website's directions. I have decided at this point that she is nuts and I refuse to navigate with two different sets of directions. She chooses Mapquest not because they are better but because she is pretty sure we will also get to the Ikea store with these directions. We do really well heading for FDR drive until we see the signs that N/B traffic is detoured. We soon realize from the road barrier what N/B means but fortunately the city of NY has clearly marked the detour route to First Ave.

We make it across the Robert Kennedy Bridge with a different name in the AAA guide with only paying one toll this time and not circling the area. We find the Ikea store after only a little bit of complaints about my navigation help. J, C and M are thrilled to see Sunday is $1 Swedish Meatball lunch day. It is only after shopping and having lunch at Ikea that we realize we have no idea where the car is but by then, we have a lot of experience wandering around not quite completely lost.

We found the car. We made it home but NEXT year I'm doing the trip planning.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 08:01 AM
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Your post gave me a good laugh, and I needed it this morning!

This is why I only travel w/one friend at a time. One of those friends is a planner like I am, and the other one lets me do all the planning. Perfect travel companions.

Glad you enjoyed the Chelsea market tour. I am thinking of taking that tour next week.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 08:48 AM
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Sorry for your disappointing time . . . but it was very educational about group dynamics and trip planning. It's good for us to hear a first-hand report on the Best Western Hanbee. Many people are interested in this prorperty and now we have a good recommendation. Glad you enjoyed your two tours.

When you are planner, avoid some of the group agony by watching for tickets deals at broadwaybox.com or theatermania.com so you can all make a group choice well before you hit the city and avoid wasting time bickering.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 09:49 AM
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Enjoying your report! This reminds me of a NYC trip where one of the 4 wanted to "play it by ear" instead of booking things ahead of time. We spent hours getting from one end of the island to the other in haphazard fashion and stayed tired, hungry and surly. It was a mess! We did get GREAT seats to the Radio City Music Christmas Spectacular - by booking at the last minute with VIP tix.

Can't wait to read more.

ps - any reason you didn't take the ferry to the Brooklyn IKEA?
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Sep 21st, 2009, 10:07 AM
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Starrs, I thought my report was long enough, actually too long compared to the usual trip reports. I think the reason why we didn't take the ferry to the Brooklyn IKEA is because we didn't realize it existed. We never would have gone to the CT one if we hadn't happened to see it as we drove by. I'm glad we stopped since I bought a few things but I started laughing as soon as I saw all the free twine dispensers along the covered walkway. I'm sure IKEA had to put those out for people who didn't plan to purchase as much as they did and had to tie things to their cars.

I'm glad we're not the only ones who wasted so much time but next year we decided we would go to Martha's Vineyard to relax. We have to pick a book none of us has already read, preferably set in the area, to read before the trip so we can have a 'book club discussion'. One said she would bring cards and games.

I like the spirit of adventure and accidental discoveries but my next visit to NYC is going to be carefully planned.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 10:20 AM
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Oh, the IKEA store was on the way home! Duh! Sorry
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Sep 21st, 2009, 10:43 AM
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Hi dfrostnh, your actual TR doesn't sound as horrible as your title and intro suggests. Perhaps you were more frustrated during your trip than when you sat down to write this. In any case, this is a good reminder why I'd much rather travel SOLO than to travel with other people (exception: my parents & my husband).

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a future trip to a place with *less* to do like Martha's Vineyard will work much better.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 11:14 AM
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How funny!

I realize this is stating the obvious but do you realize you gave up the Metropolitan Museum of Art and brunch in NYC for IKEA????
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Sep 21st, 2009, 11:25 AM
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<<>>

And not only that, but IKEA in New Haven (or close....trust me, I've been there!)

Well, at least you were in NY, which is pretty fabulous even if it didn't go so smoothly.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 11:38 AM
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. . . not to mention eating in Little Italy twice . . . and in exactly the environment one of her companions spoke against the day before. Sounds to me like some were tired and frustrated after their day and wanted to do something easy.

The first day of the trip sounded fine. The OP's frustrations come from the unfortunate amounts of aimless time in the second half of a brief trip. This is not so much of a problem when you have more days to regroup and make better choices, but with so short a visit I share her frustration.

And now she has a definite agenda in the works for the next visit.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 12:17 PM
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Yes, sf7307, I reminded my friends the Metropolitan is one of the finest museums in the world and that we would spend just a couple of hours focused on some exhibits a Fodorite recommended like the Studio Gubblio (sp). I was very disappointed that they didn't share my interest in trompe l'oeil work. Two years ago they hated a dim sum meal in Boston's Chinatown. I am convinced they are getting old and finicky but they insist that the first dim sum meal we had about 20 years ago was good and the Boston one wasn't. OTH if it weren't for them I would never have visited the John F. Kennedy library in Boston. Yes, we went to IKEA and two nights in a row drank crappy sangria.

yk, since I'm married to someone who hates cities, I'm usually lucky with my annual fall weekend trip with my friends. Next year should work out better. I've never been to Martha's Vineyard.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 12:21 PM
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Gubbio Studiolo--too bad you missed it--good reason for a "next time"
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Sep 21st, 2009, 01:21 PM
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Nice report. Just returned from my third recent visit to NYC, and I agree that you must have a plan. The three of us wanted variously to see the Tenement Museum, take the Radio City Music Hall tour, go to the Metropolitan Museum, see a couple of shows, and explore the Village, and we managed to do it all. We got up early to go to the theater box offices for rush tickets on two mornings...scored on "Hair" but were too late for "Next to Normal". My main complaint is that it was the end of July and very hot (when it wasn't raining), and I don't think I'll venture into the city at that time of year again. Too sticky and crowded.

Sorry you missed Altar Boyz...a really cute show (and a family friend is in it!).
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Sep 21st, 2009, 01:44 PM
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This is EXACTLY why I don't travel with my oldest friends. One gracefully just tried to do a 3 day wine tasting tour in MI (and she did a FABULOUS 5 winery plan with 2 meals on two different days combined with at least 3 lighthouses on the lighthouse tour)with 4 friends with have in common. The result was that Diane drove and guided, but because of others' "ideas" and various crisis's- half of the wineries, and 1 of the lodging/meal nights and all of the relaxation to boot, was missed.

Glad I opted out.

Big city trips I absolutely limit to 3 and prefer two- and only if they aren't shoppers. LOL!
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Sep 21st, 2009, 01:48 PM
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Oh, btw, my SO/mate is also an intense city hater. So most of my city trips are either combined with nature (3 to 2 days or 2 to 4 days)or I go solo or with a son or a friend. But they are all intensely planned and it sure pays in effect and outcomes.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 02:15 PM
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NYC is great on your own. Just do it.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 02:22 PM
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<<>>

We opted out of an invitation to travel with two other couples to Australia last year for the same reason. We might travel with one other couple, where you know you'll make compromises. But add in a third couple, and the dynamics just change so drastically. Especially when one of the other couples is willing to do whatever the other of the other couples says (yup, like sheep). Love them both, but I'd rather travel just with me and DH!
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