We got back last last evening from our week in New York City. It was a fascinating experience, but not for the faint of heart! (or body)
Here are a few things I learned from my first trip to The City That Never Sleeps. If you have never been there and hope to go some time, here are some helpful hints to make your trip more enjoyable:
--you MUST understand that the city is aptly monikered! Take earplugs if you want to get any sleep during the nighttime hours!
--you MUST be either sufficiently financially sound to afford taking cabs, Uber, Lyft or Jupiter Car Service everywhere you want to go, OR you must be sufficiently physically fit to walk, bus and subway yourself for many miles and many hours around the city every day in sometimes intense heat and humidity.
--you MUST realize that if you are riding the subway you will see the world's most interesting pan handlers making their way from car to car: elderly male gospel quartets, drummers, singers and even pole dancers (a particularly difficult task in a moving subway car), all bearing small cloth bags in which you can dump some of the dollar bills I will mention later, although actually giving them money instead of acting like they are not really there will definitely mark you as a gullible tourist, rather than a cynical local.
--if you are riding buses and subways, you MUST pick up a weekly or month long Metro pass for sheer convenience. At only $32 per week it is an incredible savings. Public transportation rates are $2.75 per trip and we racked up sufficient trips during the course of 7 days to more than make up the cost of our weekly cards.
--you MUST have a US cell phone plan that allows you to download city street maps, subway and bus routes in order to find your way around in any reasonable amount of time. Attempting to wander about the city juggling paper maps of same is an exercise in frustration and incredibly time consuming. It also makes you a sitting duck for Hop 'n' Ride tour bus operators looking for passengers for touring about all the "usual" tourist traps like Times Square and the Empire State Building, although the places you might enjoy seeing more than these are never on their daily routes. Mind you, it is kind of interesting to listen to their sales patter...for the first three minutes or so of the spiel, after that it becomes incredibly annoying and distracting!
--you MUST plan on travel to anywhere in the city taking at least an hour in each direction. Even if the trip should only take twenty minutes, subway and bus breakdowns, and other delays for accidents or unscheduled route or track maintenance happen on a regular basis, creating the need to find new routes to your destination at the last minute.
--you MUST have proper, comfortable, walking shoes. Leave the sandals at home, even in the hottest months of the year. The streets, unless you are planning to spend your entire vacation within the confines of the hosed off Avenues Park, 5th and Madison, in downtown Manhattan, are simply too dirty and filled with garbage for bare feet to be safe.
--you MUST carry a pocket filled with one dollar US bills for tipping buskers, street vendors, hotel housekeeping staff and just about any one else in any service industry you come into contact with. It is all about the dollar bills.
--you MUST learn to speak loudly and clearly to the store clerks, wait staff etc. that you are dealing with. Know what you want before you begin talking to them and don't do the good old Canadian hemming and hawing routine. They don't have time for you to be all blushing and humble and apologetic for existing in their space. Get to the point and get there in a hurry. It is the best way to enjoy any sort of shopping or eating experience.
--you MUST train yourself in advance not to freak out if and when you see rats, particularly in the subway stations. NYC has rats in their subway system. Deal with it!
--you MUST follow the rules of each neighbourhood population when out walking when it comes to crossing streets against the lights and popping in and out around and between moving cars. Don't stand on the corner like a ninny, waiting for the light to change from DON'T WALK to WALK. You will look incompetent and silly and chances are that about the time you get a WALK light in your favour, it will be at the same time a moving vehicle will be forced to go speeding through the crosswalk in front of you anyway, in order to clear the driving lanes around it before the lights change again.
--you MUST realize, should you decide (foolishly) that you want to rent a car and drive in NYC that you need to have prior experience in big city driving, perhaps somewhere like Mumbai, where leaning on the horn for hours at a time, driving into the oncoming traffic lane, full speed ahead and horn blasting, in order to get around delivery vehicles parked in the middle of the street, or circling the same city block for a couple of hours waiting for a parking space to open up is the norm. No, there aren't public parking lots, or business provided parking spaces, for the most part. The same rules for speaking apply to driving: decide where you are going and then get there as quickly as possible and don't let any of the other cars and drivers get in your way.
--you MUST realize, if you are taking a bus, that most of the time, particularly in the business areas of the Burroughs, there are other vehicles parked in the bus lane right by the designated stop and so you will likely have to run out into the street while the bus is still moving toward you and jump on through the fast opening door at the first opportunity. Do not expect the bus to come to a full stop unless it is obvious you are not physically capable of jumping onto a moving bus while its driver is honking the horn to let the traffic around him or her know the bus is slowing down for the sake of some pesky passenger. Expect to be dropped off the same way, SOMEWHERE in the general vicinity of the marked stop, often finding yourself stepping out the bus door onto the road, less than one foot away from a parked car, requiring your to squeeze yourself out like sausage from a casing, hoping there is no driver in that parked car attempting at that exact moment to force his car away from the curb and into the bus lane you are entering on foot.
--you MUST realize that garbage collection is rather sporadic in the Borroughs and there will be many unpleasant sights and smells as you walk along the streets, particularly after some of the bags have either been ripped open or have leaked liquids all over the sidewalks. Such is life. There are no back alleys, so all garbage goes to the front curb and sometimes, if you are lucky, most of it actually stays there for a few days before it starts blowing around and leaking who knows what all over the place.
--you MUST realize in advance that while the idea of travelling to NYC may not be that appealing if you are unused to large international cities, once you are there you WILL fall in love with NYC and find it very difficult to return home at the end of your vacation.