By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

new_york_1Next week I am off on an adventure – New York City!  Yep – the Big Apple, Gotham, The City that Never Sleeps.  I’ll be joining my niece Shelley and her two daughters, Katie and Abby, in taking the city by storm.  Literally – the projected forecast indicates it’s going to rain our entire trip.  However, we remain undeterred and confident that we will have a great time.  For you long-time subscribers, you may remember that two years ago we went to Washington DC.  That was a fabulous trip not only for the historic sites we saw but because we found ourselves to be very compatible travel companions.  For me, it was not only the delight in spending time with such fun people but I also lost five pounds in the process.  Have I mentioned that the two girls are elite athletes?  Katie will attend St. Mary’s College this fall on a track scholarship and Abby is the state tennis champion in doubles.    And then there’s me, their “old Aunt Sue”, the operative word in that name being “old”. I try not to be a “drag” on their ability to see all the sites so I make an attempt to keep pace, which on the face of it is utterly ridiculous.  This trip I have already done my prep – I bought the giant size bottle of ibuprofen at Costco.

As with any adventure, anticipation is half the fun so I have been studying what to see and where to go.  I’ve been to NYC three times but always on business so my “play” time was somewhat limited.  This trip is not about rate of return, it’s about the fun factor, so I’m reading loads of travel sites for advice.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

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Don’t be afraid to wander.  Usually it’s my mind that does the wandering but all of the travel writers suggest getting out of the tourist spots and venturing into unusual neighborhoods, strolling the streets to gaze at the fascinating people.  I worked in downtown San Francisco for over 20 years so I know about “fascinating” people.  Many times they have purple hair or are urinating on the side of a building.  Since we will be there during what is Spring break for many schools, I have a feeling that I’m going to see a lot of families from Iowa with cameras around their necks taking pictures with the nude body artists in Times Square.  But I know the secret to spotting the true New Yorkers – they’ll all be dressed in black.

Eat dinner early.  New Yorkers apparently are a lot like Europeans – they prefer to dine between 8-10 pm.  Thus, many of the guide books suggest dining before 8.  No problem!  First of all, with the prices in New York I’m not sure we’re going to be “dining” anywhere.  My goal is to find some out of the way joints where we can enjoy real Italian food and maybe a good nosh.  Secondly, on most nights, when New Yorkers are chowing down on their escargot and Lobster Osso Bucco, I am happily ensconced in bed reading a book.  Sometimes I am even able to read three pages before falling asleep, which means I’ll be deep in slumber before New Yorkers have begun to dip into their crème Brule.  Maybe.  Read on.

times square

Don’t crowd yourself.  Of course, all of the experts suggest staying away from the usual tourist traps – Macy’s, Rockefeller Center, Times Square.  Oops.  We’re staying right near Times Square – 48th and 8th – so it’s going to hard to avoid.  I read that sleep in a hotel anywhere near the lights and frivolity of Times Square is hard to come by.  After all, it is the City That Never Sleeps for a reason.  And, again, it is Spring break so I anticipate lots of college kids whooping it up.  I’m brining ear plugs and lots of Tylenol P.M.  But I’m realistic enough to know that I will probably be awake at 2 a.m. most nights wondering how college kids can afford hotel rooms in NYC.

Mind your etiquette.  My coffee blew out my nose when I read this piece of advice.  The writers in each case went out of their way to talk about how NICE New Yorkers are.  Perhaps they run in different circles, but my experience as a born and bred, laid back Californian is that a “typical” New Yorker will push you down a flight of escalators if you are not moving fast enough.  In fact, the guidelines for being a respectful tourist caution that we not take up the entire sidewalk so that other walkers can’t pass, don’t stop on the sidewalk to consult a map, or (I knew I was right about this) do not stand still on an escalator.  I’m planning on minding my manners but I’ll venture a guess that the nicest people we meet will be those tourists from Iowa.

With all that advice under my hat, I’m ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple.  We only have two things planned so far – tickets to the 9/11 Memorial and An American in Paris – so we’ll be footloose and fancy-free.  I take that back.  Nothing is free in New York except the experience of watching all those fascinating people.