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My Travellin' Shoes We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T. S. Eliot

New York the hotel-less way

USA | Tuesday, 23 June 2015 | Views [434]

I’d not been to New York before and wondered how it could outdo Chicago for the drama of its urban landscape. Well (and mercifully), Chicago didn’t have a Ground Zero to give it the edge. Expect more hustle and bustle, noise and crowds though. And to plan for delays. With street works blocking the pavements (sidewalks, sorry), and no shortage of hustlers pulling stunts to empty your pockets of cash, it took ages to find our way through Times Square. Here are some pointers for anyone going with less than a week to explore the Big Apple.

Flying into LaGuardia airport, my advice is to buy a Metro card in the shop by the exit, then use it to purchase tickets at the bus stop outside. You pay $2.50 for the journey on the M60 bus to Lexington/125 street then metro lines 4 or 5 downtown. Alternatively you let the grumpy man at the airport exit boss you into taking the Airport shuttle to Penn Street station in Midtown for $14.

Fulton Street was the nearest station to where we were staying downtown and our departure point for JFK when we left. For that journey, take the A-train and disembark at Howard Beach for JFK airport. Although we were told at Fulton Street we had to wait till we got to Howard Beach before buying a ticket for the airtrain to JFK, this was not the case. You need only top up your Metro card with an extra $8 and you can travel to JFK without stopping at a ticket machine. There is no office at Howard Beach to enquire or purchase tickets.

The benefit of staying downtown is its proximity to Battery Park (currently closed for renovation), where you catch the ferries to Staten, Liberty and Ellis islands but the restaurants in the Financial District close early, mostly at 8.30-9pm. We booked an apartment through Airbnb in a block with 52 storeys including a solarium, pool and gym, thinking the price at two-thirds of a hotel would be good value. Wrong. After 24 hours, the period after which Airbnb won’t accept any complaints about the accommodation, we found we were sharing the place with a stranger who was asleep on the sofa when we got back from town, so we couldn’t use the common areas of the apartment for our leisure and convenience. Nor had the host told the lobby personnel that he had let his apartment through Airbnb so he asked us to give false information about ourselves if we were challenged at Reception. We were uncomfortable using the apartment after this so it’s unlikely I will be using Airbnb again if it is so open to abuse by a host.

When taking the ferry to Liberty and Ellis islands, be prepared for queues, security checks and being one of 800 passengers herded onboard for the trip leaving every 20 minutes. Book through Statue Cruises run by National Parks if you don’t want to pay a markup on top to an entrepreneur. The same applies to the Empire State building where you are approached on 5th Avenue with offers 30% higher than the price available in the lobby ($32 which compares unfavourably with $17 for the Willis Tower in Chicago). You can get good pictures of the Statue of Liberty by taking the free Staten Island ferry which sails close but the Statue Cruises trip is worth the money as you get so much information with an audio receiver provided in the cost of the trip. If you want to climb the pedestal and up into the statue’s crown though, you should book these extra tickets weeks in advance of the day you go because numbers are limited.

If you want to see some theatre on Broadway, you might have heard of TKTS, a kiosk on 47th Street/Broadway. They sell discounted tickets for the day’s performances but expect big queues after 3pm. Other agents may stop you in the street offering discounts too and tempt you with a service that cuts out the time wasted queueing. If you know what you want to see, the best advice is to go directly to the theatre after 3pm. This way we got seats cheaper than buying online or prices the agents in the street offered us, in a box close to the stage to see Phantom of the Opera for $67 and paid $40 for top seller An American in Paris. That’s good value for Broadway! 

As New York City apparently relies on volunteers and donations to maintain its parks, we happily bought our gifts to take home at the retail and community outlets in Central Park and the Highline. This walkway is a great way to see New York City. It is a disused railway line, imaginatively redeveloped as public park, that runs 30 feet above the Meatpacking district near 10th Avenue and provides good views including the Statue of Liberty while you walk above the street noise and avoid having to dodge the traffic. Take the escalator down to Chelsea Market at 16th street for lunch, then if it’s Saturday, leave the Highline at 14th Street and walk through Greenwich Village to Bleecker Street which is pedestrianised for a street market with goods and food to suit all tastes.

Things I want to do on my next visit include Staten Island where we spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the streets of St George with its Victorian wood-fronted houses overlooking New York harbour. The man in the museum (visible from the ferry terminal which has no useful information about the island) was very helpful and suggested places to visit that would require a full day e.g the Botanical Gardens & Snug Harbor Cultural Centre, and the best hiking trails in any NY borough.  And the Chelsea hotel, famous for a roster of famous writers who lived there, but which was closed for renovation when I visited. There are several plaques dedicated to its illustrious patrons visible through the scaffolding at the front. I have put one of my favourites in the photo gallery attached to this travel story and you can find the others at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sherill-tippins-/famous-authors-who-lived-_b_4378691.html


Hopefully there will be affordable rooms I can book there and shelve memories of my poor Airbnb experience this month.



Tags: airbnb, airport, chelsea, ferry, highline, staten, statue, theater

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