Where do most visitors to a major city go? Guidebooks, websites and travel agents are quick to suggest lists of “must see” places. I am not pooh poohing those lists or those places. But I want to suggest that not every place listed is going to be of interest to every tourist or traveler.
For example, when my sister, daughter and I planned a short visit to Paris, my sister said she wanted to see the Louvre. She had no idea of its size nor what it really offered but she knew EVERYONE goes there. I had to be pretty blunt and she finally got it when I asked “But do YOU ever go to art museums?” So, then she countered with an important consideration, “But it is Paris, and Paris IS art.” So I promised her another smaller museum or art galleries and her need for a Parisian art fix was addressed.
When I visit a large city, even a place where I have been before, I like to see how the people living there actually go on with their day to day life. Seeing the customs and habits of the residents is a tremendous way to get a flavor of a place. Perhaps this developed out of my job assignment back in 1981-1982 when I lived in Germany, traveling in a circuit of four cities over six months. I could not truly play tourist, since I had to work (darn it!) and I was living in hotels, and then pensiones and privat zimmers. This gave me a feeling of living with the people and I found it was an easy way to learn the language and the lifestyle.
On that trip to Paris a few years ago I identified a private guide who provided two half-days tours of two neighborhoods. The man grew up in New York so I knew he not only would understand us in terms of our speaking language, but since my sister and I grew up in New Jersey, we would also speak a similar cultural language. His experience living in Paris provided the local language as well as numerous contacts that made our time with him enriched.
He has expanded his service back into New York and I knew for the past several years that Laurence Waltman offered similar tours in New York but until this recent trip I didn’t have the time to arrange to take one of his walks. EyePreferNewYork is a way to see an area of the Big Apple that most visitors never see and even most residents never discover.
Although Laurence usually arranges to meet later in the morning, he was amenable to adjust to fit my early bird attitude. I gave myself enough time to maneuver on the subway down to 34th Street and then walk a few blocks towards the Hudson River. He was waiting at the access point to the High Line. I posted about the High Line a few days ago, so I won’t explain it again, but say it was obvious that Laurence knew the history of the original rail system, knew how the area had been reclaimed and gave us a lot of information about the surrounding neighborhood both in its historic use as well as development in recent years. This was not the boring when who what we often heard in high school history classes. Laurence’s technique brought the place to life and it was easy to envision the people involved.
When we came back down to street level we passed through the old meat packing area where redevelopment is ongoing. The City is encouraging that food related industries stay in the area to keep the historic theme. Gansevoort Street, originally named by Dutch settlers for their geese and poultry, now is a place of renovated meat processing plants into new shops and restaurants. The Chelsea Market, which once was the original home of the cookie company that grew to become Nabisco, now is home to a multitude of boutiques, shops and restaurants, all providing niche markets for food Upper levels hold offices, including Food Network’s studios. Some nearby restaurants are managed by top chefs from the Network.
Graham needed to leave then for his meeting, but Laurence and I continued for another hour, walking through West Greenwich Village. I walked streets my parents made me promise to avoid in the 1970s when I was an impressionable (and disobedient) teenager such as Bleeker Street. There are numerous interesting shops there and the side streets have now well maintained and expensive renovated brownstone residences.
We walked through the edge of NYU into Washington Square and started up 5th Avenue. All the time Laurence was explaining the history of the area, its original use and how changes had been made that made improvements in the lifestyle of the area. One of my sisters lived near Washington Square for several years in the 1980s and I can attest that it seemed a lot cleaner now.
We ended our walk at Union Square where Laurence left me to explore the Wednesday Farmers’ Market. You can read about that on my WVFarm2u blog that I write for the Farm2u Collaborative here in West Virginia. It is heartening to see how people are eager to get good fresh farm food even in the city. More about it on the other blog!
So, basically, my morning was a tremendous introduction to a part of New York City that I had wandered a bit but had had NO idea of its history. Even reading in a tour guide does not give the essence of being in the spot and hearing the stories that a personal guide can give. Laurence and I communicated several times before my visit so he had an idea of my interests and tailored the tour to them. I feel very sure if you hired him and stated that you had a strong interest in some other area, he would be able to give you a customized tour of high quality also.