Reader mail: Megabus, cheap NYC lodging, Quebec travels

county-clareSummer must be here because more of you are asking for and sharing vacation advice. Here is a sampling from the reader mailbag.

Since writing about Megabus (, 877-462-6342) transportation last winter, I’ve ridden the low-cost and limited-stop bus service to Louisville and Toronto. The Chicago-Louisville trip went off without a hitch, but Toronto-Buffalo was another story.

I booked that latter trip because flying to Buffalo, N.Y., was at least $250 cheaper than flying to Toronto, my final destination. Long story short: Megabus arrived in Toronto almost three hours later than scheduled, and the return trip was almost two hours late – leaving barely enough time to catch my flight home.

Customer service at Megabus was unsympathetic and said high traffic caused the delays, but we passengers also waited 90 minutes for a bus driver because of a change in work shifts. Crossing the U.S.-Canada border wasn’t a problem (the bus schedule allows extra time for this), but I’m told this process also can require excessive time.

Lesson learned: I’ll ride Megabus again, but not if a flight connection has anything to do with it.

Kathy Brand of Kenosha writes that she has experienced late departures “quite often” when taking Megabus from Milwaukee to Minneapolis. “I tolerated it since the fare was low” but had a change of heart after a 90-minute delay meant arriving in the Twin Cities at 12:30 a.m.

“I then discovered that Greyhound has an express bus from Milwaukee to Minneapolis,” she notes. “The bus pickup point is the Amtrak station in Milwaukee. If you make your reservations online, I can get a fare similar to Megabus. They leave exactly on time, arrive on time, and the drivers look and act more professional.”

We’ll stay tuned for her report about another bus company with a Milwaukee-Kenosha senior fare of $3.25. She knows about it but hasn’t tried it yet.

I’m a fan of low-cost lodging that is locally owned, especially in big cities, and sometimes mention this on Facebook. “You stayed at a YMCA in New York City, and used the money saved on Broadway plays,” notes Barbara Gibbs Ostmann of St. Louis, Mo. “Exactly my preferred method!”

She asked about the neighborhood and my comfort level there as a solo traveler. I can’t say the Vanderbilt YMCA in Midtown Manhattan was my favorite cheap place to stay, but it worked fine and I’d use it again.

What I liked: price, convenient location, helpful staff, $72 for a one-hour massage, free access to fitness equipment and a swimming pool, 24-hour security next to the elevators.

Weaknesses: cell-like rooms, noise (from traffic, not people), three toilets and three shower stalls for women occupying at least two dozen rooms (but, oddly, I never had to wait!) and a mix of men and women on my floor (my room was a long walk to the women’s shower).

Only one acceptable restaurant (the Aussie-owned Connolly’s) was in the immediate area, although a convenience store with buffet – right across the street – worked OK, too.

I was glad to have packed a light robe. Bring your own shampoo, bar soap and washcloth. I walked alone in the neighborhood, getting in as late as 11-11:30 p.m., and didn’t feel unsafe – but I always try to stay on guard at any time and place in the city.

More at, 212-912-2504.

Better options are The Pod Hotel (, 800-742-5945) and Leo House (, 212-929-1010). My previous observations about both places are archived here and here.

Lloyd Arndt of Madison wants to visit Quebec City with an English-speaking tour group. Old Quebec is a superb destination – quaint shops, cobblestone streets, many sites within a walk and it’s a little like going to France without paying for a flight abroad.

I have several friends who rave about the Road Scholar program (, 800-454-5768), formerly known as Elderhostel), which includes group trips to Quebec.

For independent travelers, it’s just a matter of booking a flight and booking a ride to Old Quebec. The best-known hotel there is Le Chateau Frontenac (, 800-257-7544) but less-expensive options can be found at

Pam Brown of Fond du Lac asked for Milwaukee restaurant recommendations: “a nice, but not too expensive place to go for Sunday lunch” and a place that serves good seafood.

So much about what’s good depends upon personal food preferences and budget. For fans of German food, Mader’s (, 414-271-3377) and Karl Ratzsch’s (, 414-276-2720) are rich culinary experiences.

For Sunday lunch, I like the cozy feel at County Clare Irish Inn (, 414-272-5273), and it’s especially convenient if you stay overnight.

For seafood, Harbor House (, 414-395-4900) is the most raved about because of the wide selection of seafood, meal meal and waterfront views.

When I asked readers to share ideas about their favorite unincorporated towns, Margaret Brubaker of Stratford offered this:

“Our local unincorporated area is Rozellville in Marathon County, northeast of Marshfield (Highway 97 north, then east on County C). It is pronounced ‘Rose-ZEL-ville,’ and they have the most marvelous restaurant named the Buck-A-Neer. The same family has owned it for years, and there is a German hospitality and atmosphere.

We also love Rudolph (, southeast of Marshfield. We love the marvelous grotto there, the magnificent cheese factory, a tiny Moravian church and the post office with a special cancellation stamp for holiday greeting cards (because of the famous reindeer).

“Two more amazing places, each with a rich history, is the Heartwood Conference Center and Retreat near Trego (, 800-577-4848) and the Four Seasons Resort near Pembine (, 877-324-5244).”

Becky Otto of Stevens Point grew up in the town of Spirit in Price County. “This community has a number of events throughout the year along with permanent sights of interest,” she writes. These include an active American Legion Post which hosts an April pancake supper, a community Christmas program with local talent and an August 4-H Fair.

“The German Settlement History group (, 715-564-3299) hosts a barn dance each year, a Yesterday House Museum and Machine Shed displays farming and logging equipment, and the restored Liberty School contains one-room school artifacts.”

“You wrote about a bed and breakfast along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin and stated that you would pick up the key on a table when arriving and leave it somewhere when you leave,” noted Terri Fonk of Kenosha, who asked for a refresher about the property. It is the Laue House (608-685-4923) in Alma. Overnight guests simply drive up unannounced and see if a room is available (based upon which doors are open and have room keys). Hallway signage explains rules of the house and how to pay; you might not see the innkeeper.

Floyd Hockman of Brandon notes that I mistakenly referred to St. Josaphat’s in Milwaukee (, 414-645-5623) as the only basilica in Wisconsin. Wrong: the National Shrine of Mary at Holy Hill in Hubertus (, 262-628-1838) earned the same status a few years ago. “As a former Dunkard and, currently, a Lutheran, this matter is unlikely to cause me much bitterness,” he jokes.

Harley Green of DePere writes to clarify a detail about Green Bay Packer history:

“The Packer offices were on the corner of Crooks and Washington, but they were on the second floor, not the first floor. I remember well. As the last living member of the Stiller film crew, I walked up the stairs to the offices on Tuesdays to deliver the game films that we shot on the previous Sundays. Otto Stiller and his crews filmed the Packer games from the days of Hagemeister Park up until Lombardi’s early days.”

Glen Patzwald of Eau Claire is doing research on a stagecoach line that traveled in the 1860s between Sparta, Black River Falls, Fall Creek and Eau Claire. He seeks info about the villages on this route and businesses (such as hotels and taverns) at the stagecoach stops. If you can help, send your name and a way to be in contact; I’ll forward this to Glen.

Donna Metz, who with her husband has lived on Fort Myers Beach since 1994, writes: “we appreciated all your kind words about our little island. If you live here long enough, you learn how to get around and plan for the influx of visitors from all over.”

Bob Johnson of Aspen, Colo., shares fond memories of Telemark Resort, near Cable, which was the subject of a “Hotel Impossible” episode on television this year.

“For years, I and a bunch of other Midwest skiers traveled every weekend to Telemark to ski. We were from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan, and called ourselves the Telemark Hardcore,” Bob writes. When they reunited at the lodge two years ago, “I noticed the old lift towers were still there. Why not start downhill skiing again? Before the old lodge burned down, both the airplane and auto parking lots were full every weekend. I have good memories of old Telemark and would like to see it succeed and add employment to the area.”