Tag: tourists

How NOT to Tour the UN Building: Tripping through New York City Part Three

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?

Wrong.

And in the spirit of bureaucratic failure everywhere, the United Nations makes purchasing tickets simple but understanding the process for admission complex.

Our Non-tour

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.

Unique tiling make sweltering on the various subway platforms bearable

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.

  1. If you sell vouchers for actual tickets, this should be clearly stated on the non-tickets
  2. 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
  3. 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)
  4. Lines for redeeming vouchers should be clearly marked at the ticketing office
  5. 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)
  6. 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.

An iPhone camera is NOT equipped for the scope of the UN flags

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.

Playing Tour Guide to a couple of Okies

Nothing like two tourists pretending to be tour guides. Seriously, doesn’t the Bible say something about the blind leading the blind and both of them falling in the ditch?

The good news is that no one ended up in the ditch on the recent jaunt north to Seattle. In fact, thanks to modern technology, we didn’t even get lost. Not in the dark. Not when streets were closed in the direction we were heading.

Why Seattle

My cousin was visiting for the dreaded family reunion I wrote about last week. His new wife hadn’t been to the West Coast in many years. She wanted to see three things: Mt. Hood, the Pacific Ocean and Seattle.

Like the good hostess I am, I delivered her wishes. (What does that look mean, Darrin?)

I’ve been to Seattle exactly three times in my life (after this trip). Both times it was an overnight venture to attend a company Christmas party. I worked in the Portland office of a brokerage and the main office was in Seattle.

I ate breakfast in the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle (only because the salesman I worked with was buying – otherwise OUCH). We had a fancy dinner at Canlis.

Seattle has an interesting culture. The marketplace along the waterfront (it abuts the Puget Sound) has been included in popular novels and movies.

I walked its streets after dark and didn’t feel threatened. Of course, I was in the ten blocks between the Space Needle and the Hilton hotel. And I had two men with me.

Where in Seattle

We arrived on Sunday night. After we checked into the hotel, the handy GPS mapping app told us we could walk to the Space Needle in 23 minutes.

So we did. It may have taken more than 23 minutes. We had to stop along the way for selfies. There were a few closed sidewalks, causing us to weave across the street like headless chickens.

And there was a crush of people going up the Space Needle.

Fortunately, we’d purchased our tickets online so we didn’t have to wait in the Disney-esque line of tourists.

Have you noticed that everywhere you go they take pictures of you? “Care to have a free photograph taken?” was the line used during the Space Needle trip.

No charge to take it, sure. If we wanted to leave with a copy in our hands? A different price tag applied.

It takes 41 seconds to get to the viewing deck of the needle in the elevator. The elevator man told us this.

The views as the sun sank on the horizon improved as the city lit beneath us. It was worth the walk, wait and money.

Afterward we headed to a nearby pizza place and ate a wonderful Greek salad and delicious pizza. It was handcrafted and the sauce was the perfect amount of sweet and spicy.

Hubby and Me with the peninsula in the background
Hubby and Me with the peninsula in the background

On Monday morning, our handy mapping app informed us it was an eleven minute walk to Pikes Place Market. So off we went.

First, we headed onto the waterfront for a ride on the Seattle Wheel (think London Eye). Nice views and some good photo ops here.

We wandered through some shops, burning time. My cousin’s wife had heard Ivar’s had the best seafood in Seattle, and it was located near the wheel.

Truthfully, I’ve had better fish and chips on the Oregon coast. Since our server got sidetracked, we got free dessert. Chocolate cake and cheesecake – both get As.

It was an uphill trek to the alley where we witnessed a disgusting landmark – the Gum Wall. My artistic side appreciated the finesse with which some people had left their mark there. The rest of me? Shivered in revulsion at the thought of all that chewed gum in one location.

We spent time at the fish market. It’s here that whole fish are tossed around when they’re purchased. It’s pretty entertaining. Those guys have to be showmen – as well as strong enough to heft a sizable sturgeon.

More shop browsing. A casual walk back to our hotel, where we’d left our car safely ensconced in the $42 overnight parking garage (gotta love those downtown parking rates).

Have you been to Seattle? What sites would you recommend for our next round of tourist-as-tour-guide?