How to afford the Big Apple

NEW YORK, New York Spend a little or spend a lot, this city is hot. All the songs you’ve heard about New York or the movies you’ve seen…

NEW YORK, New York

Spend a little or spend a lot, this city is hot.

All the songs you’ve heard about New York or the movies you’ve seen set in Manhattan – they only hint at the excitement you experience when you actually visit here.

It’s easy to believe the saying that New York’s a great place if you have money.

For example, you can pay $350 for a premium seat at a top Broadway show. A room at a reasonable hotel in the city’s central area typically costs you $200-$300 a night. And at one of New York’s top restaurants, the tip alone for dinner for one can run to $75.

However, you can also eat quite well for $30 a day: $5 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, $15 for dinner. And if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom and walking up stairs, you can find rooms for less than $100 a night. (See some examples at www.tripadviser.com/Hotels-g60763-zfp1-New_York_City_New_York-Hotels.html)

You can also see shows for as little as $25 with last-minute tickets to those on Broadway (if you don’t mind lining or standing up) or regular prices for off- and off-off-Broadway productions, some of which are even free. (For more details, see www.budgettravel.com/bt-dyn/content/article/2005/06/04/AR2005060400487.html)

You can buy 10 postcards for $1, seven “I love NY” (and other) T-shirts for $10. You can find hot dog and other food stands on almost every corner, and almost as many delicatessens that make fresh salads and hot and cold sandwiches, as well as providing a variety of prepared meals. These stores often have displays outside of an amazing variety of flowers for sale.

Many of the delis, along with drugstores and some restaurants, are open 24 hours. The occasional bank is even open on Sundays.

You go shopping at Macy’s department store (show some Yukon ID and ask for the Visitor’s Card which gives you 11 per cent off your purchases), walk along 34th Street, glance up … and there’s the Empire State Building.

High-rises dominate most of Manhattan, both office and residential buildings where 40 to 50 floors is the norm.

Stroll along Fifth Avenue and you see Tiffany’s (at 57th Street), or for chocolate lovers, the Lindt store (367 Madison and 45th, in the Roosevelt Hotel) where they usually have free samples.

New York is a shopper’s heaven. All the brand names are here, often in multi-storey shops. With Canada’s dollar so much stronger against the US greenback, you can find some real bargains — especially with sales that often offer discounts of more than 50 per cent.

Weekend markets spring up in different areas around the city, like Hell’s Kitchen. Vendors of jewelry, handbags and many other items populate street corners.

There’s the Ground Zero memorial to commemorate the 9/11 World Trade Centre attack.

You will find the most full-on action and energy in Times Square, which has so much neon it practically lights up even a sunny day, let alone the night.

Under Grand Central (railway) Station, which has its own food hall, you find the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, which typically offers about three dozen different types of oysters.

In New York the bizarre is normal. One panhandler appealed to passers-by with a collection of his animals on display on a street corner: two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs.

“They’re my family and we have to support each other,” he told me.

Every time I visit New York I like it more. A policeman even stopped to let me go first across a street — something that might not have happened a few years ago. Clearly he was living the NYPD motto of “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect.”

Parking space is at such a premium that some of the downtown parking lots have elevators that lift up the cars to store them vertically. Parking in Manhattan in an unreserved spot can top $600 a month, the highest in the US.

Food-lovers love New York. You can easily fill up at an Asian restaurant for well under $10 (like the Kun Jip Korean restaurant, 9 West 32nd Street) — or you can spend several hundred dollars for gourmet dining. 

Be sure to pick up the current Zagat Guide to New York City Restaurants, which ranks restaurants by kind of food, cost, location, etc. The 2008 guide reviews 2,069 places with input from 34,678 frequent diners.

Top picks include Le Bernardin (155 West 51st), which features an eight-course tasting menu with wine pairing (a glass of a different wine for each course) for $325.

Add $9 for a bottle of Pelligrino, $6 for a cup of tea, $28.48 tax and a $75 tip and your total bill comes to $443.48.  And remember, that’s for one person.

The regular four-course menu is $109. Wine by the glass ranges from $10 to $70; a glass of The Macallan 25-year-old single malt scotch is $170.

As the Zagat guide says about Le Bernardin: “To get around the sky-high price fixe-only prices, try the $64 lunch — or go for broke and chalk it up to a ‘must-do’ experience.”

While the average dinner price is $39.46, again the highest in the US, the Zagat guide lists 697 restaurants offering dinner for less than $30, and quite a few of those are under $20.

Before you go, see if you can find a copy of the weekly New Yorker magazine, which has an extensive “what’s on” list of New York’s attractions including reviews of the various live shows. See the summary at www.newyorker.com/arts/events/

Check websites like http://nycvisit.com/ and www.nyctourist.com/ and when you are in the city, buy the Friday New York Times which contains a comprehensive “what’s on this weekend” section.

Concerts (popular and classical — including many free performances), museums, art galleries (the Frick Collection is a delightful and manageable combination of museum and art gallery in a fashionable house at 10 East 71st Street, across from Central Park) — whatever your taste, you’ll find places and events to more than fill your time in the city.

You can take an airporter bus or super-shuttle for $10 to $20 from the airport into Manhattan. If you take a taxi from JFK, the fare is fixed at $45, so you don’t have to worry about the driver taking the long way around to your destination; from La Guardia the fare should be about $30.

Bring along some earplugs. Even if your hotel room windows don’t open, you might still hear quite a few sirens during the night.

Travel writer Mike Grenby teaches journalism at Bond University, on Australia’s Gold Coast —mike_grenby@bond.edu.au

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