As immense as it is, Manhattan is a city made for walking. Wherever you find yourself there are options to get somewhere else. In midtown near Times Square? Take the subway, a taxi or an executive car to the East side. Compare parks. Walking through Battery Park? Hop on the subway and end the day with a stroll through Central Park and shopping, galleries, museums or a little culinary exploration. The options are endless.
It’s also a great place to wander solo. People move fast, everyone seems to be headed somewhere else. That gives the solo traveler a bit of cover. I can imagine it might also be part of the reason it’s hard to connect with strangers beyond a short greeting sometimes, but I enjoyed the anonymity while there for a few days on a business trip.
This is part two. Read part one here.
The New York Travel Festival was held in Bohemia Hall on the East side and a healthy walk from my AirBnB room. While one track helped travelers discover new destinations and local travel options, the travel industry track was a whirl of networking, editors, marketers and world travelers. It was exhilarating but I gladly retreated early after the happy hour reception to rest and prepare for the next day.
On Sunday, before heading towards Central Park West /Harlem, and an afternoon of sessions at the Hosteling International location, I stretched my legs over two hours while exploring the architectural wonders of the area with Cindy Ladopoulos, the founder of NY Cindy Tours and a licensed Guides of New York (GANYC) member. Cindy knows and loves her hometown and loves sharing that enthusiasm with visitors. While still working with several major tour operators, she happily fills her time with small, tailored walking tours.
Her expertise opened my eyes to things I would never have known otherwise:
- Look to the rooftops. Water towers are required on most buildings over 5 stories high. The system must be one reason most ‘smaller’ apartments have such great water pressure.
- Fire escapes are often featured in movies and TV as escape circuits for characters. In reality, fire escapes are often the best maintained parts of many buildings. It could be the rumor that Fire Dept. officials arrive unannounced and test that the jack-knifed systems are accessible, safe and free from rust.
- Gargoyles still exist but take a craned neck to locate. My guide, Cindy, suggested that I look beyond the street and front facades. Check out sides and tops of buildings to find the best architectural details.
- Many of the parks dotting the lower Harlem area were once filled with drugs and crime. Today they’ve transformed into centers for baseball, picnics and playgrounds. Check out Morningside Park on a ridge named for the light that once filled it throughout the day, before the rise of new buildings dimmed the vision. It’s still a lovely spot and if you walk north you’ll still find great views of the city.
- Some street signs are green and others are brown. Why? The brown and white signs are clues that there’s a landmark nearby. Look up and across the street to find the source.
- The neighborhood has memorialized respect for the poets, artists and politicians that once called it home. Look for the Ellington Café and the statue dedicated to the Duke’s music. Pigeons spare the piano. Unbeknownst to passersby, there’s a threatening, owl sculpture deep inside and other birds stay clear of the perceived danger. Not far from there a statue of Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln’s peer, is next to a low wall dotted with stars that ‘twinkle’ after dark.
- Central Park has 21 playgrounds near the edges. The locations are easy for families to get to and out of rather than walk further into the park to play.
That’s only a bit of the rich local lore that Cindy shared with me in the scant two hours we walked together. I left her reluctantly to finish my meetings and hope to return one day and see more of the area with her.
One more trek:
On the final morning of my stay I packed and arranged to leave my luggage for a few hours, then ran down to the subway for a final walking tour before catching my flight home that evening.
The tour began with a rendezvous at the entrance to Central Park. I spotted Madeleine, of On Location Tours, by her blue umbrella just across the street from the historical luxury of the Plaza Hotel. Immediately she had me turn to glance at the large, round fountain in front of the lobby and asked if I was a fan of ‘Friends?’ I was looking at the original fountain from the opening scenes. Turns out it was re-created on a smaller scale in LA for the opening sequence in order to keep the actors from being dwarfed.
That was just one of the many, many hidden facts about New York that the On Location Tour Company shares on their tours. I saw the bridge where Gossip Girl, Blair, goes to recharge after a bad day; where the movies, The Devil Wears Prada, Independence Day, the Fisher King and dozens of other films or television shows have shot pivotal scenes.
I also learned a bit more history. Did you know that the city of Naples, Italy donated the tile work for the Imagine, John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields? That there is only one straight street in the entire Park? In the 1800’s, Landscape Architects, Vaux and Olmstead, created a tree-lined Promenade for the aristocracy to stroll and meet. Today it’s one of the most photographed lanes and horse-drawn carriages still pull up nearby.
As Madeleine pointed out the Dakota Hotel where John Lennon once lived and the corner balcony that his wife, Yoko Ono still owns, she turned and asked if I’d seen the original Ghostbusters? Of course. She motioned to look down the block to a pale, Art Deco hotel where the penthouse became the devil’s lair in the original movie.
That was a thrill but once again, I had to say goodbye to Madeleine and the tour before heading back to the subway and my journey home. With so much history, rich architecture, art and new friends, I hope to return one day soon to do more walking tours in New York.
Find out more about these and other tours online at:
Disclosure: In order to bring this story to you, I was a guest on the Urban Oyster, NY Cindy Tour and On Location tours. As always, all opinions and rave reviews are entirely my own.