Hear about travel to New York City as the Amateur Traveler talks to Pauline Frommer about her hometown. Pauline was born in New York City and never moved away. She is the author of “Frommer’s Easy Guide to New York City“.
“New Yorkers have never been known for our humility. You haven’t lived until you come to New York City. As I say in the book I wrote, we just have more here. We have the western hemisphere’s best museums, the Metropolitan Museum is the largest in this hemisphere. We have extraordinary chefs from all corners of the globe. We’re the center for culture: dance, theater, many types of music. New York has more outdoor green spaces than any city in the United States. The people here, we get a bad rap, people think that we’re not friendly and I have always found that to be the opposite of the truth. None of us drive. I have never owned a car in my life. So we are out on the streets. We are used to talking to people. People who I have met who have come here are really surprised at how friendly we are.”
In less than an hour, Pauline takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Big Apple including some of the newer sites, like the 9/11 Museum and The High Line, as well as some of the iconic sites like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Empire State Building. We learn why the #7 subway line has become a national landmark, why there used to be a dairy in Central Park and where you can find good Icelandic food or fusion Jewish Japanese cuisine.
Pauline gives us her list of favorite museums in the city including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. We debate whether The Guggenheim is worth the entrance fee or whether The Cloisters are worth the trip. We talk about great museums like the American Museum of Natural History and lesser-known gems like the Museum of the Moving Image and the Tenement Museum.
We talk about visiting New York City in Winter or Summer. New York is never cheap but there are cheaper times to visit. Whether you are hanging out in Central Park, exploring the history of the city or meeting one of the Rockettes, New York City has more to see than you can possibly experience on one trip.
For a great way to save money on a trip to New York City, check out the New York Pass which can get you into 100+ different attractions.
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City of New York
9/11 Memorial & Museum
The 10 Best BBQ Spots in NYC
NY Waterway Terminals
Statue of Liberty Tickets
Shakespeare in the Park
Messiah in NYC 2014
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Empire State Building
New York Pass
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Modern Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
Visit the Cloisters
Radio City Music Hall
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
American Museum of Natural History
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Museum of the Moving Image
Big Apple Greeter
The High Line
Dirty Water Dogs
Frommer’s EasyGuide to NYC 2015
Chris Bogdon wrote:
It was interesting we did Poland back to back with Slovakia. When she was talking about the Tatra Mts in Slovakia it was the exact same range that I was referring to when I talked about Zakopane which is on the Polish Side.
Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 443. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about the city that never sleeps; the Big Apple, the city is so nice they named it twice, the New York City. Join us while travel and New York City expert Pauline Frommer tells us about her hometown.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler I’m your host Chris Christensen. We have two new sponsorships, I think, starting both next week but this episode of the Amateur Traveler is again sponsored by Blogger Bridge. If you’re a company that’s looking to connect with content creators like bloggers, videographers and of course podcasters, Blogger Bridge can help you out, check out bloggerbridge.com.
Chris: It is my great pleasure to welcome back to the show Pauline Frommer, the editorial director of Frommer’s who has come to talk to us about her beloved New York City. Pauline, welcome back to the show.
Pauline: Oh, well thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here and it is my beloved New York City. I’m one of the few who was born here and who never left.
Chris: I thought you were born there. That was interesting that was one of the questions I was going to ask. Congratulations now on being back in charge of Frommer’s I know that it has belonged to other people or the name got sold years ago and it’s now again controlled again by the Frommer’s family, so that’s exciting we’ll talk about that a little more at the end.
Chris: But let’s talk about New York. I normally ask the question why should somebody go to New York City. I feel silly asking that about New York City but what would your answer be to that question?
Pauline: Well, we New Yorkers have never been known for our humility, so I guess the answer would be that you haven’t lived until you’ve come to New York City. As I say in the book I wrote which is Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City, we just have more and more here. We have the western hemisphere’s best museums. The Metropolitan Museum is the largest in this hemisphere. We have extra ordinary chefs from all corners of the globe, we’re the center for culture, where dance, theatre, many types of music. I won’t try and get into a debate about jazz or pop music, other cities may hold that crown but for many types of music I think we are still king.
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Outdoor spaces, New York has more green space than any other city in the United States, a lot of people don’t realize that. The people here, we get a bad rap; people think that we are not friendly, and I’ve always found out that to be the opposite of the truth. None of us drive, a very few drive, I’ve never owned a car in my life and so we are out on the streets, we’re used to talking to people. I found out that people who I’ve met who have come here I’ve been very surprised at how friendly we are. Plus when you overhear things in restaurants here, it’s guaranteed to be fascinating because they have such a mix of people from all over the world, people who are really ambitious and often at the top of their careers so it’s the best place in the world to eavesdrop.
Chris: Well and not a bad place for a celebrity setting either, I should say, based on my personal experience in New York. Probably there and Hollywood would be the two places.
Pauline: I lived on the same block as Alec Baldwin, of all people.
Chris: I’ve had breakfast with Alec although, well, he was on the next table but yes.
Pauline: So whenever there is a news crew on my block, I think, “Oh, gosh what did he do now?”
Chris: Now let’s take a one-week itinerary in New York. You can’t see everything in a week obviously, but what would you recommend for someone who is coming let’s say for the first time to New York City?
Pauline: Well, the thing that people don’t realize about New York is that it is spread out if you take to account the boroughs and the in a week you definitely should. You’ve got to create an itinerary that makes sense geographically. You just don’t want to spend all your time getting from place to place. You really want to use the subway. I know a lot of people are scared of it but it makes a lot of sense. The great thing about New York for visitors is, almost all of the main part of the city where tourist go Manhattan is on a grid system so it’s actually really easy to find out where you are going. I mean, the uptown trains go uptown, the downtown ones go downtown, it’s not that difficult.
Chris: Well it’s even easy to tell just from the street numbers as you go north and south how far it is.
Pauline: Yeah, absolutely. That’s because not only is it a grid system but each block is exactly the same in lengths. When they created the city they were worried that this would make the city stayed and boring and the opposite has happened. Each block, even though it’s exactly the same size as the next one has such a different character one to the next. Somehow imposing this rigid system on the city allowed creativity to flourish in other ways.
Chris: And, I’m going to sound like not a New Yorker when I say this, but I want to say that north and south from the streets not the avenues then it is 10 blocks to the mile?
Pauline: Twenty blocks to the mile.
Chris: Twenty blocks to the mile, that’s what I couldn’t remember whether it was 10 or 20, okay.
Pauline: Yes, it’s 20 blocks to the mile. In fact, my rule of thumb is if anything is less than 20 blocks I just walk because it’s going to be faster than taking a subway or the bus or taxi. But anyway back to your first question, how should you plan an itinerary if you are a first time visitor? Well, you could want to see one of the top sites and I think you should. There are reasons why these are iconic sites. The site that is getting the most play right now, is the 9/11 museum. I have to say that it is a wonder; it took a heck of a long time for them to create it.
A lot of us who lived here never thought it would get built and I think because they had so many interest groups that they had to deal with, that I was very surprised when I went to see that it wasn’t at all watered down. You walk into this museum and you go down, down, down into underground but as you go underground you actually see the steps that the survivors walked down to escape the burning building and you are brought immediately back to that day. They have voices and radio broadcasts going. You just see so many artifacts from the time you learn about these individual acts of heroism and of course infamous acts as well.
You see bizarre things like a brick from the Abbottabad complex where they killed Bin Laden. I mean they tell 20 different stories in really compelling ways. When I went there I walked in thinking, “Okay I’ll review this, I’ll be out in two hours,” I left five hours later.
Chris: Well the whole project was a complicated one too because it’s both the memorial and prime New York real estate that the wanted to redevelop and trying to balance the two was a tricky thing to do. I mean I certainly understand why it took so long in some way.
Pauline: Yeah, No. the whole thing was a very tricky enterprise. The one mistake I think they made is we Americans when we go some place we turn right automatically, because that’s the side of the road we drive on, but really the museum starts on the left and that’s where the story is told and then on the right is more of the memorial section.
Pauline: So you really need to get the story before you get the full impact of the memorial and unfortunately most people are seeing it backwards. That’s my big piece of advice; go left even though everything in your heart is telling you to go right. You want to do that in the morning…
Chris: Okay, I was going to say are there logistics we need for that, okay.
Pauline: You need to get advance reservations. That’s one of the things you really do need to get advance tickets for because it does sell out. First of all you want to run and run across the street there is a really good food mall that has only New York restaurants in it, so no chains and the best barbecue in New York City is there. You dash over, you grab some ribs and then you head over to the ferry dock terminal so that you can spend the day downtown in the financial district.
Pauline: You head to either the Statue of Liberty; you do that if you have gotten tickets to go all the way up to the crown. Those too are really, really limited but it’s a great thing to do because you get to see the inside structure which was built by Gustave Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower. It’s just an amazing thing to see. If you don’t get those tickets I would say, see the statue from a far. You don’t get that much by going on to the island and instead stay on the ferry so that you can go to the Ellis Island which is where everybody who came into the United States through New York for a good what, 30 years had to pass, in fact.
Chris: I think it was a little longer than that even from when they replaced Castle Clinton which is I think where my family came through if I have the dates right.
Pauline: Historians say that it is the place of the largest human migration in history, this one small spot. The museum there is remarkable and also very moving and I think it tells you a lot about what made New York great, which is our immigrants. You’re going to probably spend the afternoon there and then if you have any energy left get a great dinner and see a show or go to a comedy club or go out for some music. Then on the second day I guess you go back downtown.
Chris: Before we do the second day you had us seeing a show, I suspect you know some tips there that I don’t. I mean, we all know about the half price ticket booth but that takes some time to wait in or we’ve done advance tickets or are there any other suggestions in terms of obviously the hottest show is going to be tough to see, the older shows are going to be easier to get a ticket? What do you recommend for people?
Pauline: The dirty little secret about Broadway is that 70% of the shows are always discounted.
Chris: Sure, yeah.
Pauline: Unless you want to see the Book of Mormon or Beautiful, which are I think the two hottest shows right now you’re probably going to be able to do it at a discount and you don’t have to wait in that darn line and waste valuable time. You go to such websites as playbill.com, as broadwaybox.com, as theatermania.com and they all have discount codes.
Pauline: But you want to see a good show and this advice is controversial but I think that shows should have an expiration date on them like milk because if you see a show that has been running 10 years and a lot of the same people are in it you’re going to be seeing night of the living dead a lot. I saw Chicago, my niece was in town, desperately wanted to see it, it was so clear that the chorus people in it had been doing it for so long, they were like zombies. They were like so obviously bored and everything that made the show great was gone. I hate to hate just Chicago cause it is a problem with many shows, I just don’t go back to them and it is partially because the first cast gets to rehearse with the director. I used to be an actor so I know this.
Chris: I recall you were in musical theatres as I recall.
Pauline: Yeah I did Lilly Mays on the road for a long time. The second cast gets put in by the director but the third cast is told, basically they are trying to save money at that point, and they are told to simply copy everything that the last cast did. There are very talented people up there but that’s a rough thing to be asked to do as a creative person and I think it leads to very wooden performances. So you want to see newer things and you don’t want to go to Broadway, there are amazing shows off Broadway, off, off Broadway so look and see what the good reviews are.
Chris: Well, we should also say that depending on what time of year there, there are other opportunities maybe available. For instance, I did Shakespeare on the Park when I was there last time. Now it was on a very hot muggy day so standing in line for tickets was not the highlight of my day but it was a wonderful performance.
Pauline: Do you know there is lottery?
Chris: I did not know there is a lottery.
Pauline: Yeah there is a lottery online for Shakespeare on the Park, so next time if you are going to be here for a couple of days, before you wait on that line, just enter every morning and if you don’t get it for the first three days and you are leaving on the 5th day, then wait on that line the 4th day.
Chris: Excellent. Any other seasonal things like that that would replace or augment our night out experience?
Pauline: Oh, so many. I mean if you are here around Christmas which is of course a top time to be in New York, it’s also very pricey, there is the sing along Messiah.
Chris: Oh sure.
Pauline: Which everybody grabs their books and sings with their feel harmonic orchestra and incredible opera singers, there is the nut cracker, of course. In the summer there is all kinds of festivals, there is the New York French Theatre festival, there are movie festivals, you just pick up any local paper and you will see two dozen happenings, pretty much and there is always talks going on here, that’s the thing about New York.
We’re the centre of media, so people know if they have an idea they want to push or a book they want to get some traction for, they have to push it in New York and they do it with talks and so you are going to see the most incredible of things. Like at the recent New Yorker talks, they got Edward Snowden by Skype, I believe, to talk to the crowd in an auditorium in New York City. Yeah, I know that and then they’ll get Hillary Clinton, they’ll get all kinds of bold face names are speaking every single week in New York City and that can be as exciting as going to the theater or the ballet.
Chris: Excellent. And then you were hitting us off on our second day here.
Pauline: Okay, since you have a whole week, I’m going to keep you downtown for the second day.
Pauline: Because you have to remember when you look at Manhattan the city grew uptown. It started in the financial district. You’re going to see the most remarkable sites down there. In my book Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City, I have a walking tour that takes you past the spot where George Washington took the first oath as the first president of the United States and another spot where the Puerto Rican liberation army tried to blow up what had been Frances’ tavern. Why did they hit that? Because Frances who was a big figure in the colonial war and the revolutionary war was from the Caribbean.
I’ll take you past the Federal Reserve which is actually the spot in the United States where the most gold is, much more than Fort Knox. This is another one; it’s actually fascinating to see that you have to apply six weeks in advance because they do a background check.
Chris: I think they would.
Pauline: I think they were in there but it’s really worth seeing and they let you touch a gold bar. They don’t let you bring anything in, not even a pad of paper or a pencil. They have their own shooting range where the guards practice inside this building. But the most gold in the world is there and it’s an absolutely fascinating thing to see.
You’re going to spend the morning wandering around the financial district. You can zip up to Chinatown for a dim sum lunch.
Chris: Okay, and not everybody may know dim sum but we’re talking about where you sit there while the waiters bring around all the trays and you order things, I was going to say in courses but it’s even a little less than that, little plates at a time. The last time I did dim sum they were in Chinatown none of the waiters spoke English and I didn’t know how much I was paying.
Pauline: But it was probably less than $15, right?
Chris: Yeah, it turned out to be very cheap.
Pauline: You don’t have to worry about how much you’re paying. Each plate is usually about $1.50 or $2; it’s hard to overspend in Chinatown. Then from Chinatown you go to the lower East Side so you can continue the story you started the day before when you went to Ellis Island.
Chris: And you’re taking us to the Tenement Museum.
Pauline: I’m taking you to the Tenement museum.
Chris: I’ve not made it yet.
Pauline: Oh, you have to. So many museums around the world tell us about the lives of the rich and famous, this is a much more moving story, I think. It’s a tenement through which tens of thousands of new immigrants moved through the century and a half that it was in use as a tenement building and then through a quark of fate it got shut down and perfectly preserved for a good 40 years before the museum took it over. They take you into; you get to choose which family you’re going to follow. For example, there was one family that lived on the lower East Side, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who made their living doing tailoring work in their homes. We all know about the sweat shops.
Pauline: But as common was peace work, people who had to turn their own homes into sweat shops and do a hell of a lot of sewing to stay afloat. You learn the story of this man who one day walked out of this tenement and never returned and it’s a mystery. His family was left bereft; they don’t know what happened to him. Then two generations later, his great grandson went to work in the World Trade Centre and never returned. You hear these incredible stories, that’s just one. You can follow other families; I hope I didn’t give away too much.
Then stay downtown that night because quite honestly the best food is downtown.
Chris: Oh really? Interesting.
Chris: Away from the touristy places in the centre, in midtown for instance especially.
Pauline: Oh yeah, yeah.
Pauline: Midtown has a smattering of very good but very pricey places to eat and the cheap food in midtown is really usually just geared towards tourists.
Chris: I would have thought maybe Hell’s Kitchen, for instance or one of those more collection of…
Chris: Okay, excellent. You’re on here because you know more about the city than I do, so excellent. So downtown?
Pauline: Stay downtown; you can have a fascinating and really delicious meal. The thing about downtown; the East Village, the Lower East Side, Granite village, these are the areas, and Brooklyn to be frank; Brooklyn has become a hotbed for fine cuisine. These are the places where the sous chefs of all the famous New York chefs start their first restaurants and so you pay less than you would at a place helmed by somebody who is constantly on the Cooking Channel or the Food Network but you get food that is as creative and as lovingly created, I guess.
Chris: Do you have a new favorite or two in that area?
Pauline: Oh my goodness, there are so many. I went to a place recently called Skal, s-k-a-l, it was Icelandic cuisine. It was absolutely, spectacularly delicious. Some things that might scare people, like there was a salad with a dressing of pig’s blood, it was really delicious. They also had less frightening food but very interesting herby tastes, a very unique cuisine that unless you’ve been to Iceland you probably haven’t tried.
Chris: I would say I was just in Iceland and I did not have a salad with pig’s blood.
Pauline: Well, you haven’t lived then. You’ve got to come back to New York, in Brooklyn there is this great little restaurant called Shalom Japan. It’s a Japanese chef and a Jewish chef who got together and mixed their two cuisines and the results are amazing; like the best ramen soup with matzo balls, really delicious sushi that also has smoked salmon and horseradish. Just really interesting flavor combinations that are perfectly done. Just so many interesting places to see and eat.
You stay downtown for dinner and then maybe you go to one of our iconic jazz clubs if you like jazz. There are so many great places downtown to hear music. Or if you’re more into rock and roll and you want to see a new band it’s also a great area for that.
Chris: Any recommendations for a jazz club?
Pauline: The Village Vanguard.
Pauline: It’s cramped but it looks exactly like it did in the 1950s and that’s where the real aficionados go. They have a really expert person curating the lineup and he knows who all the up and coming talents are. It also gets some big names too who play there just because it’s just a historic place.
Pauline: Third day, make it your midtown day. Start the morning at the Empire State building. You want to get there as quickly as you can first thing in the morning because the lines there can be atrocious. This may be the case, there is something called the city pass, which I like it better than the other passes that are out there because a lot of passes will say you can go to these 42 places and you’re going to save $150 if you do that. Well, who is going to go to 42 places? The city pass only gets you into seven places but if you go to all seven and you likely will, because they’re the places everybody wants to go, like the Empire State building, and you get to jump the line with the pass, which is really great. Like the Metropolitan Museum, like the Museum of Modern Art, these are the places that are on everybody’s list.
Pauline: So as opposed to there are some passes that you buy them and then you think, “Okay I’ve got to make this payoff, I guess I’ll go to the museum of torture, I wasn’t flagged on it.” Actually there isn’t a museum of torture in New York but that’s, you get the point. You go to the Empire State building because looking down from there I think gives you the best idea of what the city looks like and will really help you figure out your way around, it’s just a fascinating place to be.
I know other people prefer Top of the Rock, which is better because you get timed tickets so you don’t have to deal with lines but there is something nostalgic about the Empire State building.
Chris: I will have to say, speaking of nostalgia; I also love the Empire State building at twilight.
Pauline: Yes, yes.
Chris: The sun is setting and the whole city is colored gold below you, it’s just a beautiful, beautiful sight.
Pauline: But it’s also, that’s probably a pretty crowded time to go.
Chris: I actually find that a lot of the crowds have lessened a little bit by that time of day but I’m not sure, I wouldn’t swear to that.
Pauline: You might have been lucky.
Chris: I might have been lucky, that’s why I say, as I have less experience.
Chris: You mentioned two of my favorite New York museums with the city pass. You mentioned the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is probably my favorite art museum in the world.
Pauline: Mine too, absolutely.
Chris: I don’t know that anybody realizes that, I would compare it with the Prado; I would compare it with the Louvre. I think it is not just a great collection but it’s just a wonderfully presented museum and of course as you said huge, but it is just a wonderful museum that I would definitely say don’t miss. I also do enjoy the Modern Art museum.
Pauline: I don’t enjoy it as much.
Chris: I don’t enjoy it as much but I like the design center and I was there when one of their rotating collections was a very wonderful collection by photographers post world war two, that of course has got to be hit and miss. But yeah, I would rank those very specifically and I would rank them higher than the Guggenheim for instance.
Pauline: Well, yeah the Guggenheim is hit or miss. The Guggenheim…
Chris: Wonderful building, wasn’t impressed with the collection.
Pauline: The collection is pretty small. It really depends on what they’re programming and they’ve had some wonderful shows. They had a show about the Mayans, with Mayan art that was really spectacular. They had another show about Harley Davidson and the art it’s inspired. I know that sounds silly but it was a great show, but I really think it depends on what is showing because its collection is fairly small. The Whitney too can be really great but it’s moving. It’s going to be near the High Line.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Pauline: It’s actually closed right now. It’s closed I think. They’re saying a new one will reopen in late spring. Fingers crossed it will, it will be very interesting to see what happens with that.
Chris: Well, since we’re talking art museums I have to ask you if you’re only there for a week, would you recommend somebody make the trek all the way up to see the Cloisters Museum?
Pauline: Yeah, if you have a full week and by a full week I mean seven days.
Chris: Okay, so we’re talking about a portion of the method is located in Canada is what it feels like, it’s way the heck north in the city.
Pauline: Yeah, it’s pretty far, it’s in upper Manhattan but especially for people who have never been to Europe, the myth is that it was airlifted, it looks like a cloister, it’s called the cloisters. It looks like part of the monastery actually it’s pieces from different cloisters all over Europe but so seamlessly and perfectly combined with such exquisite works of art like the famous Unicorn tapestries, that I think it’s definitely worth seeing. Especially if you’ve never been to Europe this is really a way where you can pretend that you’ve crossed the pond, you would done effectively.
Chris: I would recommend if you do it, if you don’t do what I do, you check to see the days that it’s open before you travel all the way up there.
Pauline: Yeah. Well, luckily the Metropolitan is now open seven days a week. The Cloisters is not but the Met is.
Chris: So you were at the Empire State building with our city pass?
Pauline: The Empire State building, you walk uptown and you see all the fun shops on Fifth Avenue, you visit Rockefeller center which is a marvel of architecture. There is an incredible book about how it came to be built during the depression, at the height of the treason is when it was under construction and I think it kept something like 5% of New York City’s population had jobs at Rockefeller center building during the height of the depression.
Chris: And you can tour the TV studios there if you are so inclined?
Pauline: They are actually closed right now.
Chris: Oh, is that right? Okay, interesting.
Pauline: Yeah, they are reconstructing a lot of NBC so you can’t do that. I’ve done that tour, I find it kind of big commercial for NBC.
Chris: What a surprise.
Pauline: Sometimes it’s interesting, it really depends on what you see and that varies in terms of what’s being taped. I prefer the radio city musical too, because it’s a great work of architecture and you get to take your picture taken on with the rock cats, and you get to quiz her about her life, and maybe I got a really good rock cats on my tour but it was fascinating.
Chris: I am assuming that almost everybody who is listening knows what a rock cat is, but describe a rocket to those who may not.
Pauline: Well, in the famous Christmas show, these are the women who are all between the heights of 5″5 and 5″7 who dance together in perfect unison and have done so since the 1930s when a guy named something rock, I can’t remember his name but that’s where they got the name from, was the founder of the rock cats.
Chris: We should say these are not the same dancers from the 1930s because I don’t think they can do those high kicks anymore.
Pauline: And they’re probably no longer 5″5 to 5″7, they will have shrunk by now. So you walk along Fifth Avenue see all the shops, you deep into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, you tour Rockefeller Center and then you just go and hang out in Central Park unless it’s crazy cold. Central Park was created in an area that looks nothing like the park does today. Basically every inch of dirt was trucked in from New Jersey, every hill was created. It’s a totally created manufactured space and the point of it was to create an outlet. They were worried that there was going to be class warfare in New York. There were some riots big ones especially around the civil war before the park was built and so it was supposed to be a pressure valve for the city, and I think it worked.
They specifically chose different parts of the park to serve different functions. One part is supposed to be for the high and mighty to parade in their finery and it’s filled with statuary and these incredible big trees. Another part, the dairy was an actual dairy when it first opened where poor children were supposed to get their milk. Another part was a parade ground for the military to parade on. Another part was meant to look like a forest and you go in and the trees are all crowded together and you feel like you are in the forest, you can’t see the buildings around you anymore. It was the United States’ first great park, and many parks around the US were based on it.
If you come from another city with a big in the middle I think it might be fascinating for you to see where the landscape architecture planned yours probably got a lot of their ideas.
Chris: Excellent, you mentioned the big riots during the civil war and as I recall that was largely because the rich people didn’t have to be drafted. If you paid a certain amount of money you could hire somebody to take your place, so that is the sort of thing that can led to class warfare some.
Pauline: That’s correct. Gosh I can’t believe we are still on day number three, okay. Day number four you spend the entire morning at the Metropolitan Museum and maybe the entire afternoon too if you have the stamina. You do a docent tour; they really are very well trained and erudite and fun. Then you either do another museum, perhaps the museum of natural history is a very different museum.
Chris: Especially if you have kids I would say.
Pauline: Oh yes absolutely. Or you go to the Cathedral of St. John the divine which is the largest cathedral in the world, that’s because St. Paul’s in Rome is not actually a cathedral and it’s not yet finished. They are trying to build it using medieval techniques. Not only do you have to see this great work of architecture but you also get to see it being built, and learn about that which is fascinating. Then you head out to Harlem for a great dinner to see the sites of Harlem. Harlem is a fascinating place, a place of a lot history; I have a good walking tour in my book The Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City for that.
Chris: Well and this is probably an appropriate place to ask, some people don’t go to New York City because they still think of it from back in the ’80s especially as being unsafe and you just told us to go to Harlem and so there are people wondering why they should do that.
Pauline: Well, New York City was ranked by the FBI as the safest large city in the United States.
Chris: I wanted you to have a chance say that.
Pauline: Yeah, so you really don’t have to be worried about being in New York. I’ve been much more nervous in other cities. I grew up here in the 1970s and back then yeah, I would carry mugger money to school just so I would have something to give him but you don’t have to do that anymore. It’s a very safe city and Harlem is very safe. In fact when I was renovating my apartment I lived there for eight months and it’s an incredibly friendly, open interesting place. What I loved about living up there is I was constantly surrounded by music because there were all these little store front churches up there and they have services everyday of the week. You hear the music pouring forth and it’s really a very special experience to see Harlem.
Chris: Well when we talk of neighborhood I gathered you lived from, you were mentioning Alec Baldwin and I was gathering you were in the Upper West Side.
Chris: Oh okay, so he’s moved.
Pauline: I live in Granite village.
Chris: Oh okay for the south, okay.
Pauline: Yeah I’m very lucky. After all this time in Manhattan you hit the boroughs. Or you go to Brooklyn, there are as I said earlier, incredible restaurants in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn museum has probably the best Egyptology collection in the world.
Pauline: Yeah, In fact when a new peace of Egyptian artifacts come up for sale they’re often asked if they are Brooklyn museum quality. The Brooklyn museum is a wonder and also has some spectacular modern art, they have Judy Chicago’s dinner party, they have Rhodes Sculptures they have a lot to see and do. Right nearby is the beautiful botanical gardens so you can spend some time indoors and sometime out. There is the Brooklyn Promenade, there is just lots to see and do in Brooklyn also a very historical area. It was the first area of the city to be landmarked by the historic landmark commission.
You spend that day in Brooklyn and then maybe your last day, I think we are on our last in Queens, because Queens get overlooked. It too has some remarkable sites. If you are traveling with kids, you’ve got to take them to the museum of the moving image. This is a museum all about TV and film and video games from a point of view of how they’re created. It’s incredibly interactive, you go from booth to booth and you can say, you can dub your voice over Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady and you can re-edit a famous piece of tape and you can learn how video games are made and play classic video games like miss park man and paper boy and all those ones from our youth.
Chris: Yes, well I remember those.
Pauline: Yeah, and it’s just an amazing place and nearby. Queens has I think the only metro system that has been declared a national landmark. It’s the number seven train, and because it goes through something like, I think it’s 53 ethnic communities, the federal government declared it a national landmark. You can wander through neighborhoods where for five blocks everything is from India, and you see sari shops and Indian restaurants and Hindu newspaper stands and then two blocks later everything is from Czech republic. Then four blocks later everything is from Senegal. You can literally see the world by wandering around Queens.
Chris: Excellent although I would have to correct you. I believe there are at least two other national landmarks that are calling systems, one is the cable cars in San Francisco and the other is the St. Charles train line in New Orleans.
Pauline: Okay, all right but the different reasons.
Chris: But you got me on the other one.
Pauline: Right, right so you have a great ethnic dinner down there, maybe go to a Greek restaurant in a place where they still break dishes. Or you can go to Bohemian beer garden which is amazing Czech food served out doors with oompah bands playing.
Chris: We mentioned a little, that we are talking about the Upper-west side, the Lower East side, Granite Village. We mentioned all these different neighborhoods and for me I didn’t fall in love with New York until I realized it was a city of neighborhoods. Do you have some neighborhoods that you really think people ought to see, that they maybe have never even heard of?
Pauline: I’m a downtowner so I love the lower east side, I love the East Village. A lot of people don’t think about of the East Village. But if you want to go shopping, that’s where all of the …
Chris: That’s where you can really afford things, you’re saying, versus Fifth Avenue.
Pauline: But it’s also not going to be chain stores, it’s going to be designers who have come to New York to try and make it big and evolve in their little store front. You can find unique clothing that you are not going to find anywhere else in the East Village especially on seventh, ninth and tenth streets going as far east of second avenue. Those are areas as I said before, hanging out in Queens many parts of Queens are just fascinating not necessarily beautiful architecture but the people who live there, one of the best ways to explore Queens is with the Big Apple Greeters program. That’s a program where native New Yorkers who just love to meet visitors give free tours.
I took a tour of one are of Queens with a young man who was of a Dominican decent, and he took into shops where all that was sold were different saint statues and medallions and portions and it was half folk medicine and half catholic icons. Then he showed me a house where he knew that 12 families were living in this tiny house, and told me about what was going on behind the doors of places that I have never would have known otherwise.
Chris: Excellent. In terms of when to go to New York my understanding of the busiest times would be Thanks Giving, Christmas, New Year and summer. What do you recommend?
Pauline: The worst times in terms of hotel rates are September, October, November somewhat and December.
Pauline: Yeah, people come so much for Thanks Giving. Actually the worst weekend of the year is when the New York marathon happens.
Chris: Oh sure.
Pauline: That’s when prices go crazy; they also go crazy during comic con, the convention. You’ve got to look at when the conventions are and that’s the down side to visiting New York. I have to say as a guide book writer wanting to share my love of the city and wanting to find ways for people to do it. I’m disheartened by how crazy hotel rates are. They look highly insane.
Chris: Has that changed at all? When you were last on we talked about budget travel options and I know some of the ones you recommended then aren’t as good options any more but what are your tricks these days?
Pauline: It’s gotten worse and worse and worse. My tricks are make a reservation at a place that will allow you to cancel without a penalty, and then try and remake the reservation the night before. Or if you can do it, if it’s a place that will let you cancel the day of. There is a really good app called hotel tonight, and you can sometimes get great prices through that. Consider staying in Queens. The nice thing about staying in Queens is you’re right at the subway line. There are interesting ethnic communities there as I said and the prices are much lower, usually than they normally are at Manhattan.
The thing about Manhattan is you can spend $400 a night for a hovel or a place that is just crazy tiny, not well maintained and it’s because I think this year we are on track to get 54 million visitors which means that the hotels of Manhattan have something like a 90% average occupancy rate. In other parts of the country is doing really, really well when it has a 65% occupancy rate. So hotels here charge whatever they can and they get away with it. That’s the negative.
Chris: Right, so basically make friends who live in New York and have a spare room is really what we’re recommending.
Pauline: Yeah, I mean and unfortunately Airbnb is illegal here and I haven’t heard of anybody getting caught except for some apartment owners. I haven’t heard of any tourist getting stung but there is always the chance you could.
Chris: You mentioned one other park that we just cleansed over, because we said something about that one of the museum was located near the High Line.
Chris: I love the High Line but I don’t think everybody has had of it.
Pauline: The High Line was an abandoned elevated railway track that only very intrepid people used to climb up the trestles to. It was covered with weeds and wild flowers. They decided to make a park of it and like Central Park it too was influencing park building all over the world. They created this glorious park, up three stories up and you get to see the city from a different angle when you are up there. They based a lot of its looks on what it looked like when it was wild. They kept some of the same weeds and they just opened up the last section of it.
Chris: Oh did they? The northern section?
Pauline: Yeah that happened about two weeks ago, so it’s a great time to go.
Chris: That takes it up as far as what, let’s say 40th or thereabouts?
Pauline: It’s in the upper ’30s now.
Chris: Okay, I knew it was south of 42nd street but I wasn’t sure exactly how far it got close to there.
Pauline: Yeah and it’s dotted with cute little outlets of other New York restaurants where you can grab food, a drink wander around. I remember one of my most magical nights was a friend was visiting me from out of town. We decided to walk on the High Line and in a building opposite the High Line, three jazz musicians just decided to stand on their fire escape and play for the crowd. They couldn’t make any money because there was no way we could get the money to them, they just did it for the joy of the music and it was absolutely magical and that’s what so great about New York. That type of the casement happens all the time.
Chris: Excellent. Now, we talked a little bit about food and I still haven’t gotten over the pig’s blood salad dressing, but if we want to have more of a quintessential New York experience is there one thing that we ought to eat before we go back to where we were from?
Pauline: Not anymore.
Chris: Really? Interesting.
Pauline: Everybody comes here thinking Deli food is the big thing. The problem is almost all of the quintessential delis have closed. Katz’s is still open and the pastrami sandwich there is I think the best I’ve ever had because they make it the old fashioned way. I think it takes them about 18 days, they don’t pressure cook it, they let it cook slow. Hot dogs they’re dirty water dogs; there is a reason they are called dirty water dogs. Bagels are great here because we have great water and that’s the trick to having great bread, so you should have a bagel and cream with a schmear, as they call it. That means you don’t get too much cream cheese just a smear of it. But other than that I don’t know if there is quintessential food in New York anymore.
I mean there is steak, but many places in the US you can get great steak. Quite honestly this is going to sound weird but we have expat Japanese community here in New York and you can try Japanese food that you wouldn’t try anywhere else in the United States. Things that are often just sold on the street in Japan, like octopus balls which are kind of dewy balls with a Worcester sauce like thing on top of it, dried bonito flakes and bits of octopus are absolutely delicious. There is another place where you get burgers but they’re not actually burgers they are fish with buns made of rice pressed together.
Pauline: Really unusual Japanese food that you won’t find elsewhere in the US.
Chris: Excellent. Well we need to wrap this up before it becomes a two part episode. Before I get to my last three questions anything else we should know before we go to New York?
Pauline: If you are not a person who gets chilled too easily come in January and February, that’s when our hotel prices are at their lowest that’s when all the new Broadway shows are debuting, that’s when often the museum are debuting their new shows and so it’s a very culturally rich and affordable time to come but it can be chilly.
Chris: Excellent. Last three questions, one thing that makes you laugh and say, only in New York?
Pauline: I guess a tourist on every single block. You just see so many thousands of people with maps and I guess because it’s my personal mission to make the rest of the world think that we are nice people I always stop and ask, “Do you need any help?” if you know where you are going.
Chris: Do you introduce yourself when you do that?
Chris: I suspected you didn’t. I should say do you count how many people are holding a Frommer’s guide when you do that?
Pauline: No, but the few times I have seen it I’ve gone running up to them and say I wrote that. Once I went running up to a woman and said that’s my book and she said, “No, I bought this book,” and I said, “No, I wrote, I wrote it.”
Chris: Finish this sentence, “You really know that you are in New York when what.”
Pauline: When you are eavesdropping on a person next to you and you realize that you are seated to the most brilliant person in the world. And it happens all the time. As I said I’m a big eavesdropper and I just learn the most fascinating things when I listen in on other people’s conversations, just because we have so many insanely smart people here.
Chris: Excellent, and if you had to summarize the big apple, New York in just three words what three words would you use?
Pauline: Electric, friendly and fun.
Chris: Excellent. Point for us, before we talk about where else they can read your travels the name of the guide book you just finished on New York?
Pauline: My guide book is called Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City 2015 and I’m telling you 2015 because the 2014 version is sold out but people are still trying to buy it online and I’m trying to push them to buy the 2015.
Chris: Well, and we did schedule this show, we waited until the 2015 book came out to get Pauline on so that we could have fresh information here. Where else can people read about your travels Pauline?
Pauline: Well, if you go to frommers.com I’m constantly blogging there. I also have an internationally syndicated newspaper column, you can hear my father and I argue on the radio. We have a nationally syndicated program I think people listen to it to hear us disagree but it’s great working with my father both on the guide books and on that radio show and on the website.
Chris: Well, and for those people who don’t know who are outside the New York area which is where the show is produced you can listen to that as a podcast also. Congratulations because you just won gold in the low Thomas award in the category that I won an honorable mention in. One of the people who beat me was Pauline and if you have to beat me in a category being beaten by you and your father who’s been this for quite a long time he isn’t too shabby.
Pauline: Oh, thank you that is very kind of you.
Chris: Our guest gain has been Pauline Frommer and thank you for sharing with us your love for New York City.
Pauline: Thank you.
In news of the community I just heard from Chris Bandon who pointed out that we had just done a show on Slovakia back to back and he said it was interesting that we did Pauline back to back with Slovakia because when the guest who was talking about Slovakia was talking about the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, it was the same mountain range that he was talking about when he was talking about Zakopani on the Polish side. Chris, thank you for pointing that out.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, feel free to send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @Chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.