As we sat in our air-conditioned truck in a line so long we could barely see the Ferris wheel over the trees, my husband and I decided the last time we’d been to the Oregon State Fair was in 2012. Neither of us recalled a line of traffic from three directions converging onto a single street.
Of course, we went later in the afternoon on Friday (we think). This was the Saturday of a holiday weekend, and the final weekend for the fair.
If this isn’t the last time we attend the fair, it will be the last time we go on Labor Day weekend.
I wanted to see the horses, see the quilts and eat some fair food. That’s where my expectations ended.
I asked my husband, “What are you hoping to see at the fair?”
Nothing? Why bother then?
So I asked him. His response should have been romantic, but it rubbed me the wrong way. “I’m going to be with you. I have no expectations.”
Apparently, being married to ME for three decades makes a man lose all sense of expectation.
What I Loved
After the LONG wait in traffic and a shorter wait in the admissions line, we made it just in time to see a draft horse event at the Historic Horse Arena.
Then we walked through the pig barns to get to the horse barns. Item one from my list was complete.
I didn’t take photos in the exhibition hall, but my sister and I walked through all the hanging quilts. Some of them were amazing pieces of artwork. Some of them used patterns and colors better suited for a warning sign, but all of them had me in awe.
Then we ate roasted corn on the cob and hand-dipped corn dogs. After walking through the aisles of vendor booths and not buying a single thing, we purchased an elephant ear the size of a paper plate.
Five hours later, we were fighting traffic to get out of the dusty field and back home.
What I Could Have Left Behind
Well, it goes without saying that I could have left all that traffic behind. But it wouldn’t have been a holiday weekend Saturday at the fair without it.
Here’s what else, I could have done without:
People who stopped in the aisles to chat with long-lost friends
So many sales booths
Lines of people at the ride ticket booths
The placement of the horse barns at the back of everything
The line of people waiting for Dole whip (and keeping me from having any)
Wads of toilet paper all over the bathroom floor
But it was nice that people shared their table with us so I didn’t have to drip butter all over myself while standing to eat my delicious corn on the cob.
Are you a fair-goer? What do you like about the fair?
April has come and gone. Which means so has another girls’ weekend with my high school BFF, Laurel. This year we tackled the “Take the Stairs” adage.
Not sure what I’m talking about? Oh sure, you’ve heard the saying, but you’re still wondering what it means for weekend plans.
Obviously, you need to get this book.
Yes, Portland, Oregon (close to home for me) was our destination of choice this year. My friend adores Portland, and her mother got her this book years ago. Since then, she’s wanted to discover all these hidden stairways.
And you know I’m all about helping people tackle their bucket lists.
It all started on a Friday afternoon. Laurel picked Hardy up and they drove to nearby Beaverton. There they used Hardy’s Hubby’s Hilton Honors points to nab a cheap room at the Embassy Suites. (Yes, I do love my alliteration.)
Once we determined that the author of The Portland Stairs Book was an authority, and picked out our FIRST hike for the next day, we walked to nearby Washington Square. Might as well get the tootsies prepped for the big outing, right?
Here is the first hike we settled on.
Yes, that really does say 3.5 miles. And yes, we really did ascend 169 steps and descend 364. All of that before LUNCH on Saturday.
One of the things Laurel does NOT love about Portland, Oregon is the rain.
Joke’s on her. And maybe me because I was walking beside her all day.
But that didn’t stop us. We reenacted some photos of stairs from the book. Like this one near a school in our first walk.
We walked up a ton of stairs.
We walked down some MORE stairs.
And it rained. But it didn’t pour. And like good Oregonians, we put our hats on and sloshed through it all.
Laurel got some great photos. I’m barely skimming the surface of them here.
And it wouldn’t be Portland if we didn’t see a weird thing or two.
It’s the goal of folks to “Keep Portland Weird” after all.
We enjoyed a great lunch at a small sandwich shop in NW and still made it back to our car before our four-hour parking limit expired.
We drove a few miles. And set out to conquer another hike. It looked like this.
Although we’d exceeded our 10,000 steps before lunch, we were determined to follow the path of this next hike. Yes, that would mean 5.25 more miles. And we ended the day with more than 24,000 steps.
In fact the 279 steps we climbed? They all were almost from ONE set of very creaky, creepy stairs that required 13 platforms to twist up the hillside in SW Portland near the VA Hospital. Crazy!
You’d think going DOWN 252 stairs would be relaxing, right? Not when people are camped on them. I only wish I was kidding.
This second hike was SO crazy. We walked up steep inclines to an old cable car platform on top of the Sunset Tunnel. And the guidebook promised our burning legs would be erased by the amazing views.
Maybe for a moment.
Still it was an excellent adventure, and if you live near Portland, OR, you should consider checking out this book.
We ruled the stairs. We climbed the heights. We conquered. We saw amazing sights.
We are woman. Hear us roar!
And our feet were screaming too. Things like, “Get me out of these shoes” and “Are you done yet?”
Needless to say, our feet would have been up for a pedicure after this big adventure. But, who could walk that far? Instead, we had snacks at the hotel, devoured out leftover cheesecake and watched old movies in our room.
We’d tackled two of five “guided stair tours” and our legs wouldn’t let us forget it. So we slept in and lounged at the complimentary breakfast table.
Then it was time to meet with my husband. The perfect way to end an exceptional adventure? Black Bear Diner. Of course, plenty of other people thought so too, and we had to wait.
And then my order was wrong. And it was the worst experience I’d ever had at a place I generally LOVE to eat.
Okay, I’m actually only going for a week, but since it’s Hawaii, it’s a week in Paradise. Which is almost the same a migrating for winter.
If I can’t hibernate in winter, I should get to migrate. Maybe someday.
At least my husband understands my need for Vitamin D infusions. (So does my primary care giver, but she’s not invited on this vacation with us.)
As I mentioned last week, Mr. Wonderful took me to Hawaii for my 50th birthday. Well, I wasn’t actually THERE on my birth date, but it was close enough to count.
This time I’ll actually be there on my birthday.
I have to admit, this is a PERFECT gift for someone who:
Comes to life in the sunshine
Suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder
Has been feeling claustrophobic beneath the Oregon gray skies
(Of course, as I wrote this post, it was all blue skies and sunshine outside my office window. The weather man had predicted the same for the entire week. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it’s harder to recall how bland those cloudy skies make me feel when God paints them baby blue and brilliant.)
This is what I’m looking forward to waking up to every day.
Here’s what I expect to see on a nightly basis.
Best of all, I plan to do a couple things I haven’t done yet:
Horseback riding with my oldest daughter
Stepping as close to a live lava flow as allowed
What’s strange about Hawaii in December is the Christmas trees and other decorations. I’m used to snow and cold being associated with those things, but that won’t be part of my birth month on the island.
Also, Hawaiian Christmas music isn’t the same-old same-old that’s been playing on the radio in Oregon since WAY TOO EARLY in November.
All those ukelele-accompanied songs remind me I’m enjoying a tropical holiday…during the Christmas holiday season.
Have you been to the tropics in December? What stood out to you?
Ten days from now, I will arrive on Hawaii’s Big Island.
There will be sunshine and palm trees. A volcano will spew lava every day.
Since I grew up in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens and survived the 1980 eruption, I’m excited about all that. It will be neat to see lava flow rather than the mud flow that decimated Washington all those years ago.
I’ve been to Hawaii before.
My first trip was to Honolulu in 1999. I went with a friend who had two aunts that lived on the island. We stayed in Waikiki. Very commercial, still we had a good time.
My second trip was for my 25th anniversary. Kind of.
Hubs and I went to Maui in October of 2013. I wrote some blogs from that visit.
A visit to the Big Apple ranks prominently on many a bucket list. This author had never considered it because she’s a country girl at heart.
But when her older brother invited her and her sister to visit the city, the creative must perked up its head.
“Lots of stories in the big city,” it said.
The planning for the trip began more than a year in advance. This was because the calendars of three busy adults can be hard to coordinate.
What had been imagined as a springtime visit morphed into an end-of-summer visit. And boy did the difference in humidity make itself known. As soon as the travelers exited the air-conditioned airport and waited for New Jersey Transit.
Two sisters traveling the city with their older brother and his spouse should have the same experiences to share. Or not.
Enjoy the informal interview with these ladies about their six-day visit to New York City.
What were you most looking forward to?
Shari says: “In recent years, I’ve been traveling more, and I’ve decided that the place is about the people more than the scenery. In this case, I was most looking forward to spending time with my brother, who I hadn’t seen in five years and getting to know his husband better, but also hanging out with my sister who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.”
Connie Says: “What I most looked forward to was spending 6 days with my sister and seeing our brother. I was excited to be going to a Broadway show or two and seeing the Statue of Liberty in person!”
Shari Responds: Uh-oh! Since our answers on this question are pretty similar, this might not be the discourse on diversity of opinion that I imagined. Whoops!
What food impressed you most?
Shari says: “I knew my brother was a food snob, so I was expecting the best of the best. So I was a little surprised to enjoy the Napoli salad at Stella 34 (on an upper floor in Macy’s) as much as any of the other fancy meals. The best food? The lobster roll and extra crispy fries at Ed’s Lobster Bar, a literal hole-in-the-wall local joint.”
Connie says: “The food that impressed me the most – most memorable the luscious New York Cheese cake from Jimmy’s (I think she might mean Juniors).The Greek Dinner at Loi’s – it was tasty and beautifully plated! Brunch at the Met was a great experience, but my sister had the best item with her french toast. I did enjoy my eggs Benedict. I also really enjoyed the Spanish Tapas at Tia Pol (?) We ate a lot of new things so it was hard to decide between a few.”
Shari snorts. “I said FOOD. Not dessert. *Rolls her eyes.
What restaurant experience impressed you most?
Shari says: “I expected high class dining at these pricey establishments. The meal that offered what meets my definition of that was the brunch we had in the dining room on the fourth floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). They offered a simple menu of three courses with gourmet dishes, amazing presentation and well-dressed staff waiting to whisk away your dirty dishes, refill your drinks and deliver the next course with a flourish.”
Connie says: “The restaurant experience that I enjoyed the most was the brunch at the Met. The food service was not rushed. There was plenty of space in the restaurant, a nice view, excellent service and the food was good and wonderfully plated.I loved that we ALL ordered different items and tasted each others!”
Shari GAPES. “Wait a minute! We talked about this on the plane, and you said Loi’s was your favorite restaurant experience!”
What surprised you most?
Connie says: “The things that surprised me the most was the smell of New York and how HOT the Subway Stations were!Even tho I expected the city to be big, when you view the skyline and travel to the various parts of the city it can be overwhelming to a small town girl like me!
I expected the crowds, noise and rushing from one place to another.”
Shari says: “I expected stinky everything and everyone to be rude and self-involved. Not at all what happened. We got caught behind a few sanitation trucks and THAT was super-smelly, and there were a few token obnoxious people in many of the places we went (not as many as I expected on the subway and bus), but overall, it was just a city.”
What was your favorite show?
Shari says: “I’d seen WICKED before at the Keller in Portland, OR, but it seemed like a different story here. Still, THE PLAY THAT WENT WRONG was full of antics and endless laughs. It was exactly the sort of thing I needed that night, and it made everything else bearable.”
Connie says: “My favorite show was “Wicked” – I love musicals. The play that we saw was HILARIOUS! We had two great experiences on Broadway! “My Fair Lady” could have been my favorite, but I was voted down…”
Shari shakes her head. “No. Chris was willing to see it. He even told me whatever my experience, it wouldn’t compare to Broadway. You AGREED the play none of us had soon was a good second choice. You even agreed to “Phantom” as the third choice if Sunday turned rainy.”
What was your favorite site?
Shari says: “I wanted more of Central Park. I wanted to see everything. Even this morning, I saw a spot on the Today show with the anchors meeting Jimmy Fallon by the amphitheater (which we did see) and blowing bubbles by the fountain (which we also saw). I was just so over-stimulated from the MET, that I didn’t get to enjoy the park like I’d hoped.”
Connie says: “ONE really? View from the Top of the Empire State Building at night – just amazing. 360* view of the skyline, bridges, river, all of the lights. Quite memorable! Well worth the price for a once in a lifetime event! Broadway, the set at Wicked – walking on Broadway, lining up to see a show, thrilling!
I also looked forward to seeing Times Square at night – the lights, billboards, signs are amazing. A city of lights! Maybe I was thrilled with the view of the skyline and lights, because I am a small town girl and don’t enjoy being in the big city typically!”
Shari says: HA! There’s the diversity I’m looking forward to. And I managed to pick ONE thing! This post would be a million words long if I didn’t draw the line somewhere.
What do you wish you could have seen/done?
Shari says: “I really wish our tour of the UN building would have worked out. It’s an important place for the fabric of international and cultural relationships. I plan to make sure to see it when I return with my husband in 2020.”
Connie says: “What I wish that I could have done was see at least one more Broadway Show! There were many great ones playing!!! I would like to see a ballet or go to a concert at the Lincoln Center, I wished that we could have toured the UN and seen the 9/11 Memorial. I understood why we weren’t going to the memorial, as our brother was showing us a good time in his city!”
What three things are a must see in NYC?
Connie says: “3 things!! WHAT???? Must see: at least one Broadway show!!! I believe that everyone should see the skyline from the top of the Empire State Building, plus the history is very interesting. Get views of the skyline from different vantage points – The Brooklyn Bridge, The Staten Island Ferry, The rooftop garden at the MET. I found Grand Central Station awe inspiring, I could have spent more time there definitely. I enjoyed walking across the Brooklyn Bridge after seeing it from the Ferry, walking over the traffic was neat. I would add the Statue of Liberty, but I think that goes with the next question.”
Shari says: “I think you can get the same overall perspective offered by the Empire State Building if you fly into the city in the day time. But you HAVE to see the Statue of Liberty. It’s an icon. You MUST see a show on Broadway. I would like to say make it a musical because no one knows how to make a musical shine (and I’ve seen MANY of them on MANY large stages) like Broadway. You also need to go through Grand Central Station and Central Park.”
What three things are a must DO in NYC?
Connie says: “Ride the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue and another view of the city skyline. Definitely eat New York Cheesecake! Ride the Subway – interesting experience, plus the quickest way to get around!” Shari says: “You have to take the subway. Everywhere! Really. To really “know” a place, you’ve got to immerse yourself in the culture, and there’s nothing that says New York City like the subway. Hail a cab. Really. It may feel foolish, but if I can do it, so can you. I really didn’t care about Times Square as we were planning the trip, but after going through it a couple times, you MUST walk through it. In the daytime to do some shopping and see the performers. At nighttime to be amazed (possibly made dizzy or even given a migraine) by the lights. Incredible!”
Any additional advice for those wishing to travel to NYC?
Shari says: “I hope you read the series of posts I wrote. There’s lots of tidbits for better travel hidden there. Plan for your plan to go awry. Get the Metro Pass and enjoy the microscopic cultural study on the trains and buses. If you can get a local guide, that’s the way to have an authentic experience, but decide what’s non-negotiable before you go, and create an itinerary with plenty of leeway for travel delays and time snags.”
Connie Says: “Buy a 7-day Subway pass and use it! Rent a bike if you are going to visit Central Park – you will be able to see more. If visiting the UN besides getting your tickets beforehand, arrive there at least an hour before your appointed tour time to get your ID picture taken and group’s bracelets. This happens across the street from the UN Building and doesn’t seem to be very well-known. Travel with someone and get a tour guide or travel with someone that is very familiar with New York. It makes the visit more enjoyable”!
Have you been to New York City? What advice would you offer?
New York City offers a unique snapshot of what it means to be American. After all, Ellis Island recalls the historical arrival of many of our ancestors to “the land where dreams come true.”
Snapshots give a glimpse at something. And many people choose to only share the happy and positive peeks at their world. Such a one-sided view could be the root of much of the selective ignorance that abounds in our country.
My guides in New York reminded me that New Yorkers repeat everything three times. Basically because no one is listening to the announcements. Or each other. That simple fact could preach its own sermon.
One of my guides was quick to point out all the examples of mediocrity. In the four years he’s lived there, he’s found that most of New York is a study in mediocrity. There’s no, “If you’re going to do it, do it to the best of your ability.” It’s more like, “Just get it done already.”
Sadly, I think that’s becoming the American way.
The National Debt Clock
I might have walked by the clock without paying attention. From a distance, it’s just a stream of digital numbers that change in a random pattern.
Our guide pulled on my arm and pointed it out. I had to snap a few pictures because…the number kept going up.
The National Debt Clock is a billboard-sized running total display which constantly updates to show the current United States gross national debtand each American family’s share of the debt. It is currently installed on the western side of One Bryant Park, west of Sixth Avenue between 42ndand 43rd Streets in Manhattan, New York City. It was the first debt clock installed anywhere.
The idea for the clock came from New York real estate developer Seymour Durst, who wanted to highlight the rising national debt. In 1989, he sponsored the installation of the first clock, which was originally placed on Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, one block away from Times Square. In 2004, the original clock was dismantled and replaced by a newer clock near 44th Street and Sixth Avenue. In 2008, as the U.S. national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time, it was reported that the value of the debt may have exceeded the number of digits in the clock. The lit dollar-sign in the clock’s leftmost digit position was later changed to the “1” digit to represent the ten-trillionth place. In 2017, the clock was moved again to One Bryant Park, near its original location.
***Inquiring minds want to know HOW MUCH the deficit increased in that short lapse. $4,726,692,000 (nearly 4.75 BILLION in a couple minutes). I wish I was kidding.
Our government is a poor example of living within its means. Seriously, as much as they tax everyone and everything, there shouldn’t be a problem meeting their expenses.
It’s not like they hand out free healthcare on the corner. Or offer up free college educations to anyone and everyone.
And if you’ve spent any time inside a public school (believe me, I have), you know that the money isn’t being spent there to improve the education of one of our best resources: children.
But, what should we expect? Most people don’t even know what a budget is. Or if they do, they don’t have one. A Gallup poll says only 32 percent of Americans maintain a household budget. That’s only one-third of the millions in our great (if highly indebted) nation.
For more information on this, read the article I reference on debt.com.
There weren’t any statistics on how many of the Americans who had a household budget actually lived by it every month. Based on the free-spending mentality in Washington (DC), I’m thinking it might be another low percentage.
If we want to shake our head at the government’s poor planning, we need to take a closer look at ourselves.
As goes the citizen, so goes its government.
Externals or Internals
The problem isn’t just about budgeting. It’s about priorities.
We’ve become a society fixated on the next new gadget and making everything ultra convenient.
Ten years ago, no one would know what I meant if I said, “Looking for a dog sitter? There’s an app for that.”
Because phones were still NOT all that smart, and not everyone had access to the Internet in their pocket (or purse).
But these days, we don’t even wonder or ponder questions. We just Google it. And Heaven forbid if Google is wrong. It might take a million signatures to verify that inaccuracy.
This mindset makes all the external niceties in life the focus. Where we’re going to eat dinner takes precedence over if we can afford to eat dinner. Or better yet, if we SHOULD go out to eat because it might not be the best for our health.
Internal things like deep relationships are exchanged for fleeting interactions on the latest social media application. Oh, I sent my dad a SnapChat photo on Father’s Day. He knows I love him.
Is that really how we express our internal emotions? Or have we become so shallow that we don’t appreciate the years, and work, and emotion, and sacrifice our parents contributed to our lives.
Really, a phone call only takes a second. And it even uses fewer keystrokes than sending a text message.
Putting Numbers In Perspective
Let’s face it, our mind cannot even comprehend a billion dollars. Most of us believe a million would solve all our financial woes.
Our biggest personal debt is probably a home mortgage. I choke at my nearly $200K one, but my oldest son owes closer to $450K. In that case, a million dollars wouldn’t even pay off that bank once Uncle Sam took his cut.
But what about tens of trillions of dollars? Or HUNDREDS of trillions of dollars? That’s how much money the United States of America owes to its debtors.
And we can’t fathom how much that is or where that money will come from or how it will ever be paid off.
Here’s a little comparison in something we might understand better: Time
113,052,009,072,912 seconds would be 1,308,472,327 days. Which translates into 3,584,855.69 years. Still can’t fathom it?
Using the worldwide average life expectancy of 70.5 years, this 3.5 million is equivalent to the lifetimes of 50,849 people.
Makes me wonder if it will take that many lifetimes before our country can pay off this debt.
And still, the national debt counter continues to rise.
Ah, New York, New York. So much to see in the City that Never Sleeps. But where should a tourist start?
No need for this tourist to wonder. Instead, she booked the best tour guides a girl (or guy) can get: two New York City Natives.
Okay, not-natives, but that sounds snappier than “residents.” Neither resident was BORN in NYC (which would make them true natives), but they’ve been living and traversing the city for four years (and visited it multiple times before that).
On this trip, these almost-natives showed us the best way to experience all the city has to offer. In return, we helped them check a few “touristy” items from their bucket list.
Travel by Subway
There are maps. There are diagrams on every platform and in every station. The underground stops are marked above ground with green orbs.
I still would have gotten confused, turned around and ended up in the Bronx without my native guides.
New Yorkers take public transportation. And no matter how many mugging or murder scenes you’ve seen in movies, the subway is a safe, efficient, economical (and somewhat) simple way to get around the Biggest Apple in the World.
Taking A Ferry (or three)
New York City is on an island. So are the many neighborhoods which comprise it.
Traveling via water is the ONLY way you’ll be able to navigate to some destinations on your “must see” list for the trip.
We took a ferry to Staten Island and from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
If you want to go to Long Island, you’ll probably take one. You can take one to Jersey City or Queens.
These are walk-on ferries. Most of the ferries I’ve ridden before are for cars (or walk-on). You can bring your bike or long board on the ferries, but no motorized vehicles allowed.
Tickets at Lincoln Center
Tourists want to see a show or two on Broadway. According to one of my tour guides, “New York is a city of mediocrity. Except for on Broadway. There, New York is World Class.”
See a show on Broadway. But don’t pay full-price for your tickets.
There is a well-known TKTS booth in Times Square. The line is crazy long. If you go to the Lincoln Center, there is no line and if there happens to be one, you can wait in air conditioning for your turn to purchase show tickets discounted at least fifty percent.
Eating in the “Shady” Places
Like all cities who capitalize on tourism, there are restaurants galore that cater to tourist traffic.
Some of them are even worth eating at.
However, a big advantage of tripping around a city with a native is that they know the difference between a sketchy place and a hole-in-the-wall worth visiting.
Our first night, the hole-in the-wall was John’s on Bleaker Street. There we sampled New York pizza (an institution, and you haven’t had pizza until you’ve eaten it in New York City).
Our third day, we dropped into a little place I would have deemed sketchy and passed right by. Beside it, there was a restaurant with a long line-up. I would have went with it had I been touring without the benefit of a native.
But Ed’s Lobster Bar offered up the best hand-cut French fries I’ve had in months and months. And the lobster roll was a buttery delight.
I would have missed out on what my brother feels is the best lobster roll in New York (forget about Luke’s) if the native hadn’t been leading my exploration.
Friday Night in Little Italy (or Chinatown)
Friday night we ate with a small part of ten in the back room of an authentic Italian restaurant in Little Italy. Earlier in the day, we’d walked through a small portion of Chinatown (which borders it).
But when the lights go out, things get a little strange in New York City.
The restaurant employed “two Long Island girls” (my tour guides words are in quotations here) to “entertain” us in “true Italian” underworld style. This meant a keyboard and modified karaoke singing. Meaning we were all supposed to sing along on the chorus…or lead out if the musician didn’t know the song well enough.
It wasn’t a quiet evening. There wasn’t a way to hold a conversation with the six people I didn’t know at the table without yelling.
My head and throat felt like they’d been overexposed to the strep virus by the time the multi-course dinner (with all-you-can-drink wine and beer–for those who drank it) ended.
The best part? My sister and I managed to close out our souvenir shopping while walking from the restaurant to the dessert place.
Well, it isn’t NoHo, Dumbo.
If you’re still clueless about this, it could be because this is all New York City-Speak for three very different neighborhoods in the metropolitan area. Because having a bunch of boroughs isn’t enough for New Yorkers.
SoHo is short for South of Houston (in Manhattan). It follows then that NoHo means North of Houston. And Dumbo? Well that’ll all about being Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass in the borough of Brooklyn.
Don’t shop in these districts unless money is no object. However, you’ll want to check them out because they each have a distinct “flavor” of architecture, businesses and foot traffic.
Have you ever toured a city with a native guide? How did it compare to a self-guided tour?
Many cities tempt the historian or patriot or citizen within you. New York City is an international destination which invites residents of the world to peek inside the headquarters of the United Nations.
As you approach the complex, the semi-circle of diverse flags flap and sway in the constant stream of cabs, commercial and private vehicles and dignitary transports sporting a single flag.
How many countries can you identify by their flags (without the help of an outside source)? My own knowledge was tested and fell short.
Touring the UN Headquarters requires a ticket. Tickets are available online ($20 plus a $4 processing fee).
Most people assume purchasing tickets in advance simplifies the process. One less line to wait in at the point of interest. Right?
And in the spirit of bureaucratic failure everywhere, the United Nations makes purchasing tickets simple but understanding the process for admission complex.
Mr. Native NewYorker planned a complex itinerary for our five-day visit to the city (and we were beyond thankful he did this). He purchased tickets online and in advance for the Empire State Building and the UN Building. In fact these were the ONLY tickets he purchased in advance.
The Empire State tour went off without a problem. The UN? Anything associated with the government should have been suspect, I guess.
The morning of our scheduled and pre-paid tour, we rode the subway to a station a few blocks away. Our guide works in a building not far from the world peace organization, so he showed us his office and introduced us to his co-workers. When we finished that, we had more than an hour until our tour time and were only a few blocks away.
No problem. There are plenty of things to see in New York City.
The walk toward the UN Headquarters takes you past several embassies and a number of international hotels. Cars flying foreign flags and black SUV’s with even blacker windows swept past on the street.
A guarded entrance at one end is clearly marked for delegates. The passes we had told us the cross street where we could find our entrance, which was also guarded. We hadn’t expected less.
As we walked, we quizzed each other about the different flags. Some we knew easily. Several we speculated about. Mostly we felt under-educated about these symbolic representations of diverse cultures who understood the importance of working together in our ever-shrinking global community.
That’s when a group of tourists rushed away from the marked visitor’s entrance.
As we speculated about our own passes, a man crossed the street and informed us, “You have to get actual tickets from the office over there.” He pointed to a nondescript brick building with large blue signs screwed to a few of its walls. “Only one of your group has to check in.”
Ah, check-in. No problem. We still had nearly twenty minutes until our tour time.
Except the line wrapped around the block. And a person about twenty individuals back had a 10:15 tour time and had been standing in line since that time.
A sign we had to search out said people who purchased tickets and had assigned tour times should move to the head of the line. Except…the number of people who fit this bill stretched nearly to the corner.
In the fifteen minutes we searched for a way to make our tour appointment, exactly TWO people emerged from the building with tickets in hand (and ID bracelets for all members of their groups). If the line moved, I didn’t notice.
And the guard at the door was both unsympathetic and unwavering.
Our prepaid tickets might have funded his paycheck, but he wasn’t moved by our plight.
Advice for the UN Website Designers
Our native guide was furious, but that didn’t stop him from wadding up the worthless paper our non-tickets were printed on and dropping them into the nearest trash can.
Nor did it get us inside the United Nations Headquarters.
We have a little advice for whoever decided to join the digital age and pre-sell “tickets” for this tourist stop.
If you sell vouchersfor actual tickets, this should be clearly stated on the non-tickets
Important information, such as arriving an hour before your tour time and the process for redeeming vouchers for tickets should be in bold print at the top of the vouchers
An address and a name for the office where you need to report should be included (rather than the vague cross-streets and “across from the entrance” verbiage used on our worthless non-tickets)
Lines for redeeming vouchers should be clearly marked at the ticketing office
In fact, an external booth clearly marked “Redeem your tour vouchers here” would be expedient (and yes, you can take pictures there and tie it into criminal databases; even Disneyland uses cameras at their entrance now)
A helpful person should man the doorway
Seriously, the world is a disappointing place. The UN is a symbol of hope. Attempting to tour it should not provoke native New Yorkers toward violence.
These small steps would smooth the process and alleviate the influx of frustrated people who paid money to support world peace only to be shoved toward an emotional outburst that could lead to something quite contrary.
This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You
It isn’t impossible to find the office – IF you know you need to look for it.
The most frustrating part for us was that we were early enough to have made our tour. We bought coffee and traversed the opposite side of the street on the end away from the entrance looking for the perfect photo spot to get a shot of as many flags as possible.
Then we went to find the entrance. And learned the passes we had paid for didn’t admit us.
And the line we needed to stand in moved slower than sleeping slugs and included people with tour reservations for 45 minutes earlier than ours (and they wouldn’t be able to go back in time to make that appointment).
Things you need to know if you want to tour the UN:
Read the fine print
Arrive an hour early (this is in the fine print)
Have identification and your tickets ready
Find the not-so-clearly-marked Visitor’s Information Center (it’s across the street from the Visitor’s entrance but is in a plain and not well-marked office).
Plan to stand in line to get “actual” tickets for your scheduled tour time
Everyone deserves to see the headquarters of this organization with a mission for world peace.
Have you been to the UN Headquarters? What was the best part of the tour? Share your recommendations in the comments.
New York City beckons with bright lights and incredible historical significance. It’s a tourist destination…with plenty of traps to snare the unwary.
There are probably guide books. With the dawn of the digital age, information on the Internet could bury the unsuspecting in a maze without cheese at it’s center.
Now that I’ve toured the city, I can share a few tips to make the trip a tad less painful…although perhaps not less confusing.
The Largest Department Store in the World
Fifth Avenue is the shopping Mecca of New York City. And everyone in the world has heard of the Macy’s Parade.
Which centers around the largest department store in the world: Macy’s New York.
It’s ten floors tall and spans an entire city block. Yes, the short block (between 5th and 6th Avenue) and the LONG one between whatever streets it borders. I could Google that for you…but why rob you of the pleasure?
We were planning to shop here. Instead, we ate at Stella 34 for lunch and rode the lovely wooden escalators. Yes, I said wooden. Some of them even have the original wooden planks on the steps.
This place is a New York institution and you’ll walk past it on your way to the next destination.
The Empire State Building
No, it’s no longer the tallest building in the city, but it’s still one of the major landmarks. And it can become a tourist trap, but no need to get snagged.
Tickets to ride the elevator to the top can be purchased online. I recommend the express pass. It’s only $20 more and it kept us from waiting 45 minutes to ride the elevator up…and again to ride it down.
The best time for views is after dark. I know that seems contradictory, but there are so many lights. Many of the most prominent buildings have distinguishing lights, and you can appreciate all the bridges and the scope of the expanse.
Swooning over Miss Liberty
Life and Liberty, thank you France for donating this statuesque icon to our country.
Flying in to Newark Airport, you can easily pick out the Statue of Liberty, as well as the Empire State Building and other landmarks. For this reason, plan to arrive in the day time.
There’s a ferry to Liberty Island. We didn’t take it.
You can climb stairs. We didn’t do it.
Instead, we took the Staten Island Ferry (free) and took some great shots of Lady Liberty. I might have liked to set foot beside the icon and appreciate her immensity, but given our short time frame, driving by, er sailing past, worked well.
Trekking the Broadway Bridge
Maybe a hot and humid day isn’t best for this tour, but the trek is worth every dime it costs to get to Brooklyn Bridge.
Traffic hums beneath your feet. Wind buffets away the stifling stickiness. Steel cables confine on every side, and the skyline beckons.
There is both a pedestrian and bike path across the bridge. In fact, biking is an ideal way to see the bridges and the next destination.
The park transports you from the bustle and rush of traffic into a green space worthy of the staunchest nature addict.
We visited on Sunday, and the park teemed with people. Lines for the rowing pond wrapped around the enclosure, but even with the crowds it didn’t feel crowded.
Yes, you could take a horse drawn carriage ride. That’s a real thing. The way so many of them had ribs showing, though? I wasn’t a fan. In fact, there was a group of people protesting the practice when we exited the park near the Plaza Hotel.
And if you wanted to have someone else’s pedal power get you from one side of the expanse to another, that will cost you $5 per minute. Yes, as in $50 for a 10-minute ride. No, that is not a typo.
Extortion? Surely. Exorbitant? Definitely.
The Museum Mile
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) takes up an entire city block, too. Apparently, this doesn’t make it as large as the Louvre. Someday, I’ll be able to compare that for myself.
The dining room on the fourth floor offers a pricey, three-course Sunday brunch. The food was great, and it was nice to sit and take a break from the eyeball stimulation for 90 minutes and sit in a comfortable chair.
Lines for the women’s restroom are a half-mile long. Admission lines can stretch around the lovely fountain outside. I recommend going at opening (which we did) and still plan to stand in line (albeit a MUCH shorter one).
The collection of impressionist paintings is expansive. The Italian Renaissance masters I wanted to see were sorely underrepresented.
You could spend an entire day here and still not see it all. Choose your collections wisely, and plan to take a few breaks to spare yourself from the inevitable sensory overload.
What other must-see tourist attractions have you enjoyed in the Big Apple?
Cities can be a beast to navigate. New York City can be especially beastly, and I’m thankful I didn’t have to stumble around like a blind person in a foreign country.
Because believe me, the Big Apple is foreign soil for a West Coast country girl like me.
I intended this post to share the different methods of transportation used while in the city. But before you can trip through New York City, you have to get there.
Choosing which Airport (of Three) is Your Best Bet
You would expect the largest city in the United States to have several airports. The three international airports we considered for our trip to the Big Apple: LaGuardia, JFK and Newark.
Since my brother is the “native” New Yorker referred to in this series of posts, my sister and I checked with him about this issue. His answer was quick and succinct.
For native New Yorkers, there’s a general disdain for “Jersey.” Thus, it seemed more than a tad surprising that he directed us to fly into New Jersey without any fore-prompting.
The airport is the east coast hub for United Airlines (one of two airlines I frequently fly). It has three terminals, and they’re laid out in an egg-shaped pattern and connected by AirTrain.
We texted Mr. Native when the plane touched down on Jersey soil. This was after an airborne “flyover tour” (quote from the pilot of our aircraft) of the scenic state of New Jersey. And it was pretty, with dozens of pockets of deciduous trees spotted with neatly laid out subdivisions and at least five high schools whose mascots and colors could be enjoyed from our lofty vantage point.
After disembarking the Boeing 737-800, we searched for a restroom. Those in Terminal A nearest our gate were under construction (or being remodeled), so we employed those in the baggage claim area.
The AirTrain took us to the New Jersey Transit stop, where we waited in sultry nine-five degree sunshine for about fifteen minutes.
The reason Mr. Native prefers Newark for air travel is because it is two train rides with one simple transfer away from his apartment. To keep us from having to lug our suitcases through the stifling New York subway, we hailed a taxi after getting off New Jersey Transit at Penn Station.
(Normally, he would grab the 1 line at Penn and ride it out to 145th Street. We did this multiple times during our five-day tour). It can be a tight fit at peak travel times, so we were thankful not to have to navigate it with luggage in tow.
Cab or Uber
In front of Penn Station the iconic yellow taxis lined up waiting for fares.
So our guide didn’t take us out the front exit. My directionally-challenged memory can’t say which of the four exits we used. Wherever it was, we had to pass a lineup of Ubers to reach a place where he could hail a cab.
I got the opportunity to hail a cab for myself. At 11:30 PM at night on Mott Blvd. Half-a-dozen went by in those few minutes. Zero of them had their “magic lights” on.
So, I didn’t wave them down.
Although the wine-encourage crowd were sure I just didn’t know what I was doing.
I was instructed to get two cabs (one for my party and one for another couple).
A cab dropped a fare across the street from us. He saw me and waved me over. I tried to give him to the other couple (since I still hadn’t “officially” hailed a ride yet), but they’d decided on an Uber.
Ah, Uber. They were everywhere in the city, but my brother is “old school” so he declared we would hail cabs the “old-fashioned” way, while his 20-something friends were all using the Uber app to get rides without raising their arms.
The cost is fairly similar, if you have a cabbie who knows the best routes and isn’t trying to take you for a ride. (Yes, I mean that in the idiomic sense.)
I experimented with my Uber app, though. It was easy enough to book an Uber for our return to Newark airport. And cost about $20 less than a cab would have. Better yet, I scheduled it in advance and it showed up in front of our building.
No arm waving required.
Buy the Metro Pass
Although we were only using it for six days, my sister and I purchased the Metro Pass.
Our brother brought us two old cards and we recharged them. For a measly $32, we had a seven-day unlimited pass to ride the Metropolitan Transit System.
This meant we used the card a time or two for buses and multiple times daily to ride the nine different subway lines throughout his the city and boroughs.
Since it would have been $2.75 EACH time we re-entered the turnstile, by the second day, we’d used those 11.64 trips. Translation: even if you’re only spending a weekend in the city, if you’re going to use public transportation, purchase the seven-day unlimited pass.
Waterways ARE Roadways
Manhattan is an island. I think everyone knows this. It’s surrounded by tons of other islands.
The East River and Hudson River divided Manhattan from the Burroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. New York Harbor (home of Lady Liberty) divides the city from Staten Island and Long Island (among others).
There are bridges (too many to name). There are tunnels (not naming those either).
But there are also ferries and water taxis.
Our first day, we rode the Staten Island Ferry. This was our second big look at New York City. (The first look is discussed here.)
Thousands of people use this ferry to commute from the island into the city. No exaggeration here.
We’d planned to catch the 8:30 ferry (it departs every fifteen minutes from the island or the Manhattan terminal during weekday commuting hours).
We left the apartment ahead of schedule. Because who can sleep in a strange place? And who wants to sleep when there’s an amazing city to see?
But…once you’re over 50, you start to second-guess yourself. Our hosts could not recall if they’d turned off the gas beneath the tea kettle. And since they’d. Shown us the burned out shell of an apartment building that had caught fire a few months before, their minds were plagued with images of their flaming apartment devouring their beloved kitty.
One of them returned to verify the state of the kettle while the other continued with us. We waited through an hour’s worth of Staten Island commuters, and each ferry disgorged hundreds of them. The teeming lemming hordes flooded down the ramp, through the air-conditioned terminal and into the subway, onto a nearby bus or up into the nearby financial district.
It’s a fifteen-minute ride across the harbor to the island. The boat passes reasonably close to Liberty Island. We had photographic opportunities.
On Staten Island, we jogged through the (much nicer and more expansive) ferry terminal to catch the return ferry and avoid a fifteen-minute wait since we were already an hour behind our planned itinerary.
After traversing the Brooklyn Bridge (read more about that touristy trek tomorrow), we walked a few blocks through Dumbo (where? Read the answer in a couple weeks) and paid $2.75 each to catch a water taxi back up to 34th Street in Manhattan. We had lunch reservations at Stella 34 (details on that) inside Macy’s.
There was a bit of a walk for the Select bus that took us to 6th Avenue, but we made it within fifteen minutes of our reservation. And what a lovely window seat we had to enjoy our delightful Napoli salads and iced tea. Have you traveled to and within New York City? What tips or advice would you add?