Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things I learned from 54.5 hours in New York City

The skyline of lower Manhattan.
Taken from the "Top of the Rock."
Empire State Bldg., Freedom Tower and
a very tiny Statue of Liberty.
In a recent post, I mentioned that I would be taking the week after (Canadian) Thanksgiving off -- and hinted that part of the week's agenda would involve some travel. I also said I would tell you about it afterwards.

So now I'm telling you. : )

I went to New York City for a weekend.

With EIGHT other women -- my SIL & our husbands' female cousins & cousins' wives.

We had a blast. : )

We touched down at LaGuardia around noon last Friday, & left around suppertime on Sunday night - about 54.5 hours. (Of course we had to sleep for some of those...!)

New York has been both a source of fascination & fear for me over the years. As I recently wrote in a review of Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids:
New York City back then was a dark, forbidding, foreign, seedy, dangerous place -- especially in the eyes of a sheltered teenaged girl from a small town on the Canadian Prairies. It was the city of Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, and Saturday Night Fever.
Growing up at the time & place that I did, I didn't know too many people who had been to New York. Those who did invariably got (a) lost (b) mugged or (c) both. Eventually, the city cleaned up its streets & its act and by the 1990s, I was reading articles that raved about how safe New York had become.

Then along came September 11, 2001. It took awhile before I started thinking that I might like to visit New York again -- but eventually the travel itch returned. 

New York is close enough to Toronto that a lot of people go there for business, pleasure or both. SIL had been on a bus trip with some cousins a few years ago, mostly to shop. I'm the third or fourth person in my office to visit New York this fall (including one mother-daughter weekend & one pre-nuptial bachelorette weekend).

A couple of dh's cousins went a few years ago, and they got talking about it at the family get-together in August that we hosted in our backyard. Someone said, "why don't we...?" & then "are you in?" 

"Absolutely!" I said, not really sure that anything would come out of it.

But the next day, the e-mails starting flying. One of dh's cousins' husbands travels a lot for work, & was able to get us a great deal using his frequent flyer points. Round-trip flights and two nights in a four-star hotel near Times Square (three rooms with three people each in them) = $550 (Canadian) each. Not bad!! 

Here are some of the things I learned in 54.5 fun-filled hours in New York City:
  • While the trip by train from Union Station to Grand Central Station is about 12 hours (!), by plane (once you're in the air), it's less than an hour & a half.
  • LaGuardia Airport is ancient. If any of you ever visited the "old" Terminal One in Toronto before it was torn down and replaced, it's like that, but probably even older.
  • There isn't much there in the way of shopping or restaurants, so eat before you leave!
  • It's also nail-bitingly close to water. "Are we going to land in the water??" SIL hissed at me as we swooped down over the waves and clutched the armrests.
  • Riding in a stretch limo for the first time was as fun as I thought it would be (particularly when the driver is a natural tour guide, pointing out all the landmarks along the way & regaling you with tales of all the people he's driven, including the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills...!). 
  • The crystal ball that gets dropped in Times Square every year on New Years Eve stays there year round until the next Dec. 31st, until it gets hoisted & dropped again. Who knew?? (This was one of the things the limo driver pointed out to us as he drove us through Times Square.) 
  • A stretch limo is also not that terribly expensive when it's split 9 ways. ; )
  • Riding in a New York cab is also everything I thought it would be -- and feared. Thank goodness for seatbelts and grab bars in the back. I was hanging on for dear life and praying the door wouldn't pop open as we rounded a corner, because I was sure I was going to go flying.
  • I really can be a hick sometimes. Three of us shared a cab to LaGuardia for the flight home... our driver was a speed demon & we were hanging on for dear life... and yet I still let out an "ooohhh, look! It's the United Nations building!"  as we went flying by. The cousin I was with said she thought she was going to pee her pants.
  • On the positive side, cabs were plentiful -- although, trying to hail one on Broadway near Macy's, we did have to get over our Canadian politeness and fight to get into one before it got picked off by an aggressive New Yorker. 
  • Never assume there will be another opportunity to take the photo. I should have taken a picture of the limo as we were loading up at LaGuardia. I figured I could do so when we go to the hotel. What I didn't realize was that very few hotels in New York (that I saw, anyway) have official driveways or loading zones. Our driver basically stopped in the middle of the (one-way) street & let us off there as horns honked all around us. Welcome to New York!
  • Chicks weekends can be lots of fun. It's been waaaayyyyyy too long since I've had one.
  • You CAN visit too many shoe stores -- particularly if, like me, you have extra-wide feet that are extremely difficult to fit and can only look on while the others try on pair after pair.  (For the record, I lost track after about the fifth store.)
  • Clarks shoes may not be the height of fashion, but they're extremely comfortable, especially when you're doing as much walking as we were.
  • It's great to go to NYC for the first time with people who have been there before & know their way around.
  • You won't go far in New York without passing by a Starbucks.
  • One cousin in particular must have a Starbucks habit, because she was rarely seen during the trip without a cup in hand.
  • My SIL is seriously one of the nicest people in the world. :)
  • It's possible for nine women to get up early in the morning, shower, dress and do makeup, and get going without being too late.
  • "Kinky Boots," the play we went to see on Friday night, deserved all the Tonys it won. The number of theatres around Times Square  (sometimes two or three in the same block), featuring plays that you've heard about and read about but never dreamed of seeing, is mind-blowing.
  • It's also mindblowing that everywhere you turn, there is a historical or cultural or retail or architectural landmark -- sometimes side by side by side.
  • Rockefeller Center is right across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue, which is right across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral.  
  • St. Patrick's is under renovation at the moment, but even with the scaffolding, it was awe inspiring.
  • I'm not even Catholic, but I had tears in my eyes as I walked down the aisle. (I'm not sure if my jaw was hanging open, but I think it would have been understandable if it was.)
  • The lineup to buy tickets to go to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is much shorter if you use your credit card to buy at an automated kiosk.
  • It's $27 but the view is worth it. (See the photo at the top for proof.)
  • The skating rink at Rockefeller Center is already open!
  • The gold statue overlooking the rink is of Promethesus (sp?). (This factoid came from our bus tour guide.)
  • Many of the stores we were in -- Nine West across from Radio City Music Hall, Swarovski at the Rockefeller Center, Aritzia in SoHo -- had lounge areas where we could sit while others in our party shopped. I don't know if that's a New York thing, or just a tourist-area thing, but it was much appreciated!
  • It's possible to bargain down a $57 double-decker bus tour ticket to $50 if you (a) pay in cash and (b) have nine people in your party.
  • Do NOT stand up when you are sitting on the top level of an open-air double-decker tour bus. We passed directly below street signs and stop lights that were so close, I could have reached up & touched them, and we actually had to duck to avoid tree branches on some streets.
  • It pays to be a movie fan:  we were walking from our hotel to Macy's when I exclaimed, "Hey!  I know EXACTLY where we're going! 'Miracle on 34th Street'!!"  lol
  • Macy's on a Saturday afternoon in October is like the Bay on Queen Street in Toronto on the Saturday before Christmas, times about five. The crowds were unbelievable.  
  • It is extremely easy to meet or exceed the $800 duty-free shopping limit Canadians are allowed after spending 48 hours or more in the States.
  • Even though we have a Tiffany's store in Toronto, there is nothing like walking into the one on Fifth Avenue.
  • You simply CANNOT leave Tiffany's without one of those little blue bags in hand. (And I didn't, lol.)
  • The cheap stuff (i.e., "cheap" for Tiffany's...!)(= silver) is on the third floor. (You're welcome.)
  • The doorman at Tiffany's is very cute. He's also very nice and willing to take your photo. Or pose with you in a photo, if you prefer. ; ) 
  • Contrary to the popular opinion of New Yorkers as rude, we were impressed by how friendly and helpful all the store clerks and waiters we encountered were.
  • If you're looking for a great place to eat in SoHo, try the Spring Street Natural Restaurant. A store clerk recommended it to us and we had a lovely meal there.
  • The Plaza Hotel is simply stunning. (We had breakfast there on Sunday morning.) Even the bathrooms are opulent.
  • Even the doggy bags at the Plaza are elegant.
  • Do NOT stop to talk to the street vendors or people hawking CDs in exchange for "donations" in Times Square. One of the cousins found that out the hard way. Thankfully, she managed to extract herself without any harm to herself or her wallet.
  • You never know who you're going to see on the flight to or from New York. George Stromboulopoulos (and if you're Canadian, you'll know who I'm talking about -- although he did have a show on CNN this past summer) was sitting across the aisle and one row behind me, (I almost dropped my suitcase on his head while trying to load it into the overhead bin above his seat, erk!! -- not sure the CBC would have appreciated that!)  A couple of the cousins had their photos taken with him.  
  • 54.5 hours is most definitely nowhere NEAR enough time to see & do everything you'd like to do in New York. Like, not even REMOTELY close.  
  • But -- it's still enough time to have some fun.
  • And enough time to know you want to return someday. :)


  1. I ADORE New York City! Years ago, I went to acting school there and fell in love! (And yes, one of my fellow students was mugged, and he begged to get his ballet shoes back!) I would love to return there to see the Broadway shows, go shopping and take cabs! Glad you got away, I can't remember when I had a getaway with the girls!

  2. Sounds fantastic. Though like you I'm not sure about waiting around in shoe shops all the time.

    And glad you had Clarks shoes to wear comfortably! (My Clarks sandals did me proud for three months in Italy!)

    I've always thought it would be a fun place to be with a bunch of other women. Some girlfriends and I dream of a long weekend in NYC. But it's so close for you. We can't even get to Sydney or Melbourne in that time. Sigh.

  3. Sounds fantastic. Though like you I'm not sure about waiting around in shoe shops all the time.

    And glad you had Clarks shoes to wear comfortably! (My Clarks sandals did me proud for three months in Italy!)

    I've always thought it would be a fun place to be with a bunch of other women. Some girlfriends and I dream of a long weekend in NYC. But it's so close for you. We can't even get to Sydney or Melbourne in that time. Sigh.