Monday, February 13, 2012

GET LOST: A New York Tour Guide's Guide to New York #7


If a tour director from New York has planned your itinerary for you, I would certainly hope you wouldn't have this problem. For most out-of-town groups I suspect the use of a city guide is unrealistic, because it precludes any face-to-face contact with the person in whom you're entrusting your entire vacation.

I think the reason so many groups have this problem is that the map of Manhattan is dangerously deceptive in scale. The following is an exaggeration, but I encounter so many people who look at the map and decide it's a good idea to go to Ground Zero and then plan to be at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine a half hour later. On the map, the two sites are only about eight miles (12km) apart. In many parts of the world, it's a distance that could easily be traversed in about ten minutes or less. In a big chartered bus or two, meeting any unusual traffic situation, the trip from Ground Zero to the cathedral could literally take three or four hours.

That's only one extreme example, but I talk to many groups whose entire itinerary seems to be planned out this way. This added to the "too many destinations" issue I'll cover in the next installment makes it even worse. It leaves them harried, scattered, and exhausted day after day. They have practically no free time to wander or explore, or are consistently disappointed by whatever they had too little time to see or see adequately.

Related to this is traffic. Pretty much anyone reading this will have dealt with traffic, so feel free to skip this. It's a bit of a different animal in a city as densely packed as this one, however. Innumerable circumstances can disrupt traffic flows for nearly a mile radius from their center, and they happen on an almost weekly basis and often with little warning. Oddly enough, traffic seldom moves fast enough to result in accidents much more serious than a fender-bender. Things that can affect traffic include visiting politicians or dignitaries, conventions, parades, street fairs, marathons, unusually awful weather on a weekday or unusually beautiful weather on a weekend. A great resource for a lot of this information is the NYC 311 website.

The woman who took me to see the Marx Brothers house had had a guide book arranged by neighborhood. Unfortunately, I didn't think to make a mental note of its title. I think it might be this one. In any case, that's for sure the way you want a guide book to be organized, if you can find one. If you can't, we're lucky these days to have tools like Google Maps, where you can mark down all the various sites you want to see. I do it myself. Then, each day you can visit things that are truly close to one another. The added benefit of this, if your group is larger, is that if half the group wants to head off to the next destination, you'll be close enough for this to be realistic.

Plan for everything to take twice as long as you expect, and honestly, I don't think that's an overestimation. If you get lucky with lines/ queues, quickly find a nice spot for lunch, and end up with a lot of free time left over, then that's all the better. That gives you time to wander around and explore. I can guarantee that in your wanderings, you'll find something interesting on one level or another.

The other thing you can do with extra time is just...sit. For people who don't live in a walking city, you may very well need it. Because of my job, I probably walk more than even a lot of other New Yorkers. Even for me, being out and about all day really does require stops to rest. Don't feel like you're wasting time, either, especially if you can find a restaurant with outdoor seating. True, you're not moving through the city, but the city is still moving past you. People-watching is a great New York tradition that allows you to experience it while sedentary.

©2012, Ryan Witte

8. Pick One Thing a Day and Forget It

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