I flew on one of Air Canada‘s Embraer 175 regional jets for the scheduled 58-minute flight to La Guardia. Unfortunately, it was really windy in New York, and while we circled around waiting for clearance to land at the congested airport, pretty much everyone felt sick to their stomachs because the plane was bouncing around. It was cool to learn that Air Canada has individual entertainment monitors in all seat backs, but it sucked that it was so turbulent that most passengers had to turn off the TV and stare at the horizon to avoid getting sick.
LA GUARDIA TO NEW YORK CITY
To get to Manhattan the easiest thing would’ve been to just jump in a taxi (costs around $30), but I wasn’t in a hurry and there was a long line. So instead of waiting or calling one of the inexpensive limo services for the same price (Dial 7: 212-777-7777 or Carmel: 212-666-6666), I jumped on the M60 Bus to 125th Street. It cost $2.25 and came with a free subway transfer, which I used to get to 51st Street. The whole trip took under an hour and was an excellent way to save money.
NEED A METRO CARD
On the bus I met a nice Russian girl (who now lives inGermany) who got on in front of me. She didn’t know you needed a metro card to pay (the machines are located inside LGA across from the bus stop). So she wouldn’t have to wait for the next bus (every 5-10 minutes), I paid for her. She was appreciative and tried to give me U.S. dollars to cover her fare, but I declined since I wanted to give her a good first impression ofNew York. It was her first time inAmerica and she was headed to a hostel on 116th. I felt like giving her my room at the Waldorf, but I’m not that welcoming.
I was in New York for a conference, and the organizers put the travel writers up in the host hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria. Not too shabby, right? There was no line to check in around 1:30 p.m. and the friendly Polish clerk named Anya said it was no problem to change my reservation from Monday to Wednesday to Sunday to Tuesday. (I showed up a day early.) Directly behind me the hotel’s famous Sunday brunch was taking place. I was hungry, but I wasn’t going to fork over $95 ($65 for kids) for lunch.
What’s nice is that the Waldorf collection is part of Hilton Honors, and because I’m a Gold member I was able to get free Internet (normally $15.95 a day), one free drink a day in one of the hotel’s three lounges (Bar at Bull & Bear, Oscar’s Bar, Peacock Alley bar), and two small bottles of water from the evil in-room minibar (it’s one of those smart electronic ones that charges you the moment you remove something, except I couldn’t open mine because it was broken–I had to call the attendant, who said the front desk had forgotten to release it when I checked in. I didn’t know they could even do that, did you?). I also was given a daily “breakfast” coupon to be used in the hotel’s very own Starbucks below the lobby. It was good for a medium-size drink, juice, and choice of pastry. The final perk I received was a room upgrade. This is a good example of why it’s important to always sign up for rewards programs.
The hotel has 42 floors, and I was on the 7th. Getting to the room, I marveled at the extra-wide hallways and the historic photos on the wall of past guests including celebrities and heads of state. My room was large by New York standards and was recently renovated except for the tub, which desperately needed a new glazing. But the room was clean, had a comfortable bed, a flat-screen TV, a good view, a work desk, lovely clove-smelling soap, and a huge closet. Not that I care about the latter, but I know a lot of ladies that do.
RANDOM HOTEL AND ROOM OBSERVATIONS
On the night table sat a sadistic clock radio with an iPod holder. I couldn’t get its bright lights to dim, so I covered it with my underwear when I went to bed. The alarm I never set went off at 7 a.m. I know it was a rookie mistake–before going to bed one should always check to see if the alarm is off, and if you can’t figure it out just unplug it, which I eventually did in this case. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep that well for a few reasons. First, the Waldorf curtains aren’t blackout, and the windows aren’t that soundproof. Second, I couldn’t get the air-conditioning to get cool enough to counter the heavy duvet. Other notables included: The tap water tasted better than the hotel’s bottled water. The showerhead was on the opposite wall from the temperature handle, and the Waldorf elevators get temperamental after 6 p.m., when guests need to slide their room card in, but it doesn’t always read it. I bet I wasn’t the only one to go for a joy ride to the top floor with a guest already in the elevator, making me look like a stalker.
After I checked my emails I was hungry, so I decided to go for a quick walk around to see if I could find something good to eat. Although it was chilly, on this day there were signs of spring as trees were beginning to bud and daffodils were coming out for their first appearance of the year. I came across a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint and got something I rarely ever eat–pizza with baked ziti. It was pretty good, and it cost just $3.95.
Not that I needed to eat after that carb overload, but I made plans with a few colleagues to have dinner. I met up with Spud Hilton, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; Gary Arndt, perpetual traveler and founder of Everything-Everywhere.com; and David Farley, Author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town (Penguin, 2009) and contributing editor at Afar magazine. We agreed on walking twenty-something blocks from the hotel to “Curry Hill.” It’s really Murray Hill, but it’s earned that nickname because there are so many Indian restaurants there. We went to Curry in a Hurry (119 Lexington Ave., Tel.: 212-683-0900) and had a good old time sharing travel stories and food. Note: Many of these restaurants don’t have a liquor license, so if you want to drink booze you need to bring it in.
Before I tell you about the conference, another restaurant worth mentioning is OBAO (222 E. 53rd St., Tel.: 212-308-5588), which I hit with Spud, David, and a couple other friends. It was just a few blocks away from the Waldorf and served really delicious Southeast Asian delights. I had amazing Pad Kee Mao (chicken, flat rice noodle, egg, onion, pepper, and basil in chili sauce) for $11. It’s well worth the walk.
CANADIAN MEDIA MARKETPLACE
This was my second time attending the Canadian Media Marketplace; the last time was their 2008 annual conference in Beverly Hills. What’s nice is that the CTTC really knows how to put on quite a show by flying in all of their major tourism players (Air Canada, Via Rail, hotels, and city and provincial tourism boards) and U.S. travel media. It’s a two-day event; the first day had a couple panels (not too interesting for the travel writers) and an open marketplace where writers can sit down and meet the different tourism partners to learn about their product, destination, or service. The following day is when you meet the same people but in a speed-dating format where everyone makes 10-minute appointments with up to 20 Canadian companies . Before, after, and in between the meetings they served all kinds of good food. You have to love a conference that serves chocolate-covered bananas at break time.
CONFERENCE CLOSING PARTY
One of the other conference highlights for me, besides meeting all the cool Canadians, was seeing a Mountie in the streets of NYC directing the attendees to the shuttle bus to the closing reception. The party was at Bowlmor, which is housed in the old New York Times printing room in Times Square. Pretty fitting place to have a travel party, right? The Canadians didn’t skimp on the food, drinks, or fun at this shindig.
DID YOU KNOW: They are still ice skating in Rockefeller Center? The rink is open through April 24.
On Thursday I left the Upper East Side and took a 15- or 20-minute taxi ride to Penn Station (trip cost $11.20). There were porters waiting outside and lots of cops inside, so it must be considered a high-risk terrorist target. Anxious passengers gather around the departure board to see what track their train will be leaving from. It doesn’t usually show up until a few minutes before departure, then it’s a mad rush to train. We left from track 8W, and the big, unorganized crowd heading to the escalator down to the track made India’s lines look sane.
FOOD IN PENN
There’s a bunch of places to get food, but not all the prices are the same, so shop around. I bought a yogurt parfait for $4.50, and the deli next to it had basically the same one for $1 more. The best thing I found was a french toast bagel from Zaro’s Bakery. Umm Umm!
I was heading to Providence to give a talk to all the employees of InsureMyTrip.com (they are an excellent travel insurance broker). The trip to Providence was just under three hours, and this is what I learned about taking the Acela for the first time.
-There are no assigned seats.
-There are two types of seating: a four-top with a table in between, and two regular seats side by side facing either forward or backward.
-There is lots of overhead space.
-The Quiet Car was really quiet (and full).
-There are electrical outlets on the floorboard below each window.
-They have free Wi-Fi, but I didn’t use it out of fear that people might snatch my info (see this article). Instead I used my Sprint wireless card, which can be rented short term from RovAir.com. It worked but wasn’t lightning fast.
-The train makes just two stops before Providence (Stamford and New Haven) and spends two minutes at each stop.
-When the sun came out the ride really showed how beautiful coastal New England is.
-Tickets cost $110 each way.
-The conductor made an announcement that the café car located in center of train was open then he said Sit back, relax, and let’s have a positive day.
THREE STATES, THREE MEALS
Instead of going back to the city, on the return I got off in Stamford and visited with my brother and nephew before spending the night at my sister’s. The marathon day enabled me to have breakfast in New York, lunch in Rhode Island, and dinner in Connecticut. Too cool!
CONNECTICUT TO LGA
Instead of taking an expensive limo ($120+), a shuttle ($60+), or asking one of my friends to drive me (tolls $14 R/T) to the airport (45 minutes without traffic), I took the Metro North train from Rowayton to 125th Street ($9.25) and then walked across the street and jumped on the M60 Bus ($2.25). The total time was 1 hour, 20 minutes. So easy and cheap!
BACK TO CANADA
My journey to La Guardia airport was so quick, and there was no line at all at security, so I made it to the gate early. The Air Canada agent informed me that my flight was going to be delayed 15 minutes, and when I noticed a plane to Toronto was boarding right then, I asked if I could get on the earlier flight. She said not unless I paid $75. Ooh, did that piss me off. This nickel and diming that many airlines do just doesn’t make any sense to me. It doesn’t cost them anything to switch a ticket to an earlier flight, and in fact it helps them, because as we all know the later flights (especially on a Friday afternoon) get oversold and the airports get more and more congested. To make a long story short, I got into Toronto three hours later than I could have. Yes, the next flight did board only 15 minutes late, but we sat on the runway for 45 minutes waiting our turn to take off. There was no line for the earlier fight. As I posted on Twitter, that was a real #Fail by Air Canada. They are a good airline but won’t be great in my book until they remove this asinine fee. Don’t you agree?
TORONTO‘S TERMINAL 1
So I don’t end on a negative note, I’ll finish by saying that this is the first time I remember flying into Pearson’s Terminal 1. Boy, it makes flying intoToronto so much more of a joy compared to arriving at their other terminal (T3). Everything is so bright, airy, and clean, and for the first time the customs officer did not give me 20 questions with attitude.