Planes, Trains and Automobiles… and more!

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Sounds like the title of an old American movie? Yes. But it’s also what we lived through on our recent East Coast trip with our German Exchange Student and our Daughter. Just getting to where we were going was an adventure in itself. In fact, I kept telling Lara and Brittany, “It’s all about the Adventure!”

PLANES…AND FLYING STANDBY

Arriving in DC

Our plane tickets were passes from our friend, Troy, who’s a pilot. We also stayed with Troy and Anna in Virginia. When you use someone’s passes, you pay the taxes and fees. On past flights, it’s been about half of what tickets actually cost. For four of us, that’s quite a savings to fly to Washington DC and then home from New York. But… it’s also a challenge. Getting a seat on a flight depends on how many other stand-bys are registered, their seniority according to the employee they’re getting tickets from, how many people are on the flight, is the flight overbooked, etc, etc. For our Saturday morning flight to DC, Troy said it was a little risky. There were about 12 seats empty but just as many stand-bys. Troy said if we didn’t get on Saturday, odds of getting on Sunday were really good with about 20 open seats. The girls were prepared. We packed our bags knowing we could get to the airport and come right back home again. Luckily, we got on. Two seats were together so I put the girls there. Terry and I sat separately. Our trip back to Phoenix is a whole different story! Keep reading!!!

AUTOMOBILES….AND HORRIBLE HIGHWAYS IN DC!

Thanks for the car, Troy!

Troy insisted we borrow his car while in DC. Not sure if that was a blessing or a curse! It was a 4-speed so I left the driving to Terry. Not sure if THAT was a blessing or a curse either! Ha! We had a GPS but it didn’t help! I think we got lost at least once every day! It became funny after awhile! And only one time did it turn into an argument where Terry and I didn’t talk for a few hours afterwards! Oh boy…. the joys of traveling!!!

The biggest problem… the highways in the DC area. Troy warned us. He said, “You’ll be driving along and all of a sudden the exit you want is immediately there and the exit sign is hidden.” Yep…that’s EXACTLY the way it was. And then, when we missed the exit, that little voice in the GPS would tell us to get off at the next exit, just to take us on side streets all the way into DC! We certainly saw our share of neighborhoods! The girls enjoyed seeing all the different houses! Again…they never complained!

EVERYONE warned us to stay off the 495, also known as the Capital Beltway. The 64-mile (103 km) Interstate surrounds Washington, D.C., and its inner suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. To give you an idea of the reputation it has, two intersections on the Beltway are ranked in the top 20 on a study of the “worst bottlenecks in the nation.” Luckily, they’re in Maryland and we didn’t drive them… but we definitely saw a mess! Most of the time we took the Dulles Toll Road 267 but at almost $7.00 each way, it added up fast!

To give you an idea of what locals REALLY think about the 495 Beltway, I found these quotes on Yelp.com, which are pretty funny:

“It goes in a circle. If you don’t get off at your exit you could wind up circling for days. Or at least you run out of gas.”

“I can’t stand it but I need it. I hate it but I like it. I try to avoid it but I can’t. It’s the Beltway people we all know love it hate it. I must commute everyday on this to get to my office and everyday there is always some crap that occurs on it.”

“In theory, the beltway is a good idea. In practice it fails miserably. I remember in driver’s ed we learned that interstate highways are the fastest and most efficient way to get to and from the place. Obviously they forgot to mention that I-495, the Capital Beltway, is an exemption to that rule.”

A BUS FROM DC TO NEW YORK CITY???

Union Station, DC

New York City is about 4 hours from DC. So … how would we get there? Fly? Nope. Drive? Maybe… but everyone said it would take longer than 4 hours fighting traffic. Amtrak? We thought about it at $60 per person. Bus? Never considered it until Troy and Anna suggested http://www.BoltBus.com. What a deal! Highly recommend it! At $19 per person, only one rest stop for 15-minutes, WI-FI and plug-ins to keep our phones charged…. we were SOLD! It leaves from Union Station in DC and goes to three different stops in Manhattan in 4-1/2 hours. The biggest challenge was getting to Union Station by 8:30am in DC rush hour traffic. Yes, we ended up on that horrific 495 and crawled all the way. And YES, we missed the first bus! Luckily, there’s another one every two hours. The only difference is you’re dropped you off in a different location. We figured…”What the heck! Manhattan is Manhattan!” We Googled the end location on our phones and with no hesitation, we hopped on and would figure it out when we got there! Brave souls, aren’t we?! The route took us through a couple more states…so Lara gets to mark a few more off her list…although she and Brittany slept through most of it!

FIRST NEW YORK CITY TAXI EXPERIENCE

Port Authority

We arrived in the Port Authority….the main hub for transportation in New York and New Jersey. It was crazy! The Port Authority conceives, builds, operates and maintains the infrastructure critical to the New York/New Jersey region’s trade and transportation network. This includes America’s busiest airport system, marine terminals and ports, the PATH rail transit system, six tunnels and bridges between New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, and the World Trade Center. It serves more than 17 million people who live and work in New York and New Jersey! And THAT was our welcome to NYC??? I guess we jumped in with both feet!!! http://www.panynj.gov/

We followed signs to the street level and flagged down a cab… or two…or three… or maybe it was four or five! What did we know!? We’re Desert Dwellers in a city of traffic!!! One cabbie said he’d take us to our Hotel in New Jersey for $60. One we couldn’t understand. One said $70. Another one we couldn’t understand. One said $50 plus toll. Finally, a “nice” cabbie looked in his “rate book” and said it should be about $40 plus our toll. JACKPOT! LUCKY HIM!!! He won a ride with the Schreiner’s and the German kid!!!

FIRST SUBWAY EXPERIENCE

I already mentioned in previous Blog Posts that we stayed next to the PATH Subway that travels from New Jersey to Manhattan. We walked into the station and had that “deer in the headlights” look…. staring at what was going on…not knowing where to start. A Port Authority worker approached us and said, “First time here?”  Wow! Was it THAT obvious? We were quick to answer, “YES”. She asked us how long we would be in town, where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see. She said the best deal was to buy a multiple trip card across the street. Then she said, “Oh heck, I’ll just walk over there with you.” We must have REALLY looked out-of-place, huh? We ended up with a 20-trip pass for $30… $1.50 a trip. So $3.00 roundtrip per person to get to NYC! Deal!

Directions were easy enough for simple Dessert Rats like us to figure out. Hop on the train at Newport, New Jersey, take it to the end and walk a few blocks to Times Square, Rockefellar Center, etc. When we come back…just reverse it. You’ll be happy to know… we never missed a stop and never got lost! Yay for the first-timers!!!!

By the way… despite the horror stories about how dirty and scary the subway was for some people…we had no complaints. It was pretty clean…at least our stops were. There were no shady characters lingering around. Just commuters going to and from NYC to work. If anything… I’m glad the girls experienced all the different people and cultures observing everyone on the subway! I think they were scared once when a man started preaching from his Bible — very loudly — and eye-balling different people on the train! The funniest part about it… no one stopped talking to their friend, listening to their music, texting on their phone or reading their book. It’s like the man wasn’t talking loudly… or even there! We all laughed about it afterwards!

LIGHT RAIL IN NEW JERSEY

Ok, this was a little trickier than the Subway, believe it or not! The Light Rail was across the street from our hotel, next to the Shopping Mall. Figuring out tickets took a little longer until someone kindly helped us. We took it only once to catch the Ferry to the Statue of Liberty. It had several stops before we got to our stop…more stops than the subway… and then we walked about a mile to the Ferry along a beautiful grassy park.

UNEXPECTED AUTOMOBILE RIDE — 12 HOURS WORTH!!!

Arriving in Denver!

This is probably the funniest part of our trip… or adventure! The one problem we knew we would have by flying stand-by was going to be getting into Phoenix. Troy told us flights from Newark, NJ to Chicago or to Denver were open. But the ride could end there. Every flight to Phoenix was overbooked by 5-to-10 people AND they all had Stand-By passengers. Odds were slim of us getting on a flight! So, we chose to go to Denver… the closer to home the better! When we got to the gate for the Denver to Phoenix flight, we already knew it was the ONLY flight we were able to take because of the kind of passes we had…and we clearly saw we were NOT getting on the flight.

Denver Airport behind us!

So, I started to search our options… buying a last-minute one-way ticket, taking Amtrak, a Bus or renting a car. The cheapest option was a 12-hour drive home! With no complaints… and a lot of laughs… we rented a car for $122 for 24 hours, one way! The girls kept saying, “Remember… It’s all part of the Adventure”!

We decided to take advantage of the situation and stop at Terry’s sister’s house in a suburb of Denver, visit for an hour and begin our road trip!

What’s funny is… just before our trip… Lara said she wanted to see other parts of Arizona! Well.. be careful what you wish for! First, a cruise through New Mexico… yes… another state to mark off Lara’s list of places she’s been! Since we had been up since 3:00am Denver time, we spent the night in Albuquerque, the halfway point of our road trip. Then we drove through Northern Arizona and into Phoenix…so Lara got to see the Forest, Mountains and the Desert all in one day! We got to home with one to spare to return the rental car!

A trip of a lifetime? Indeed! A trip including every mode of transportation? Definitely!

Brit learns what an ice scraper is when we get Rental car in Denver!

Statue of Liberty Ferry

Subway by World Trade Center

Chilling on the subway

Having fun on the subway!

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