Tag: traffic

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.

Tripping through New York City Part Two: Like a Tourist

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.

Central Park

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?

Tripping through New York City Part One: Getting Around

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.

Newark.

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.

Navigating Newark

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?

Lessons from a Parking Lot

It’s going on 6:00 pm. I’ve got a date in a room with a dozen other writers for something called Late Night Write, a specific brand of National Novel Writing Month torture. And I promised them chocolate.

Fred Meyer is only a couple blocks from my house. On the way to the next town over where the librarian who is also the organizer of the write-ins reserved a room at the library after closing hours. I’ll stop by the store, rush into the Christmas candy section, snag a bag of Hershey’s Miniatures (something for everybody in there) and be on my way in a snap.

Or not.

Instead, everyone will choose to drive down the row where I parked. The man next to me will pull out at the same time I stick my vehicle in reverse without so much as a glance behind him. Good thing the guy in the pickup truck was respectfully waiting for me.

The armored vehicle is parked along the curb across from the exit from my row. All traffic is squished into a single line.
Here are the things I learned that night:

  • Trucks pulling trailers should not squeeze by in a single lane
  • There are polite drivers who will let you into the congested stream of unmoving traffic
  • Plenty of drivers are myopic. Watch out for them because they don’t see anyone else
  • The traffic flow from the gas pumps stymies the regular pattern
  • If someone lets you in, you need to pay it forward and let someone in
  • If you let too many someones in, the seemingly-polite driver who showed you favor might morph into a Gremlin who lays on the horn
  • People don’t walk and talk on the cell phone at the same time very effectively if it requires dodging a snaking snarl of slow-moving vehicles

All in all, I’ve determined that unless there is an emergency, I won’t be returning to Fred Meyer or any other grocery store with a gas station in its parking lot on a Friday in the vicinity of 6:00pm.

On a positive note, it gave me something fresh to write about when I got to the room powered by creative energy.

What lessons have you learned from a parking lot?