Playing Tourist In My Hometown – NYC

When NYC is your home, one rarely sees it as a tourist.

As an avid traveler, I’m embarrassed to say that my passport is extremely dusty. It hasn’t seen the light of day since February of 2008. But in my defense, I’ve been spending the past year and a half helping to inspire others to travel through my website, Briefcase to Backpack.

The ironic thing in all of this is that I live in a place where most people from around the world would love to visit – New York City. Yet I spend most of my time in my home office, in front of a computer screen, preaching the wonders of exploring the world. Why not explore my own world?

I saw an opportunity to escape from my 8’x8’ space when a friend from Australia, Lauren, came to visit. This was a great time to embrace the tourist in me and see parts of the city in a new way – beyond the typical tourist attractions.

One of my favorite activities actually took me to a place that I commuted in and out of for a year – Grand Central Terminal (often referred to as Station, which is in fact the name of the post office). As I raced to and from work, I rarely took the opportunity to really take in the beauty of the terminal. And to think, it was nearly demolished in the 1970’s to make room for some non-descript towers until Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stepped in to intervene. With her help and a Supreme Court ruling (the first on a matter of historic preservation), the Terminal was saved. A plaque in her honor is in Vanderbilt Hall, a place I had often visited for its holiday craft fair, but this I never noticed before.

The current beauty of the Terminal is due to a restoration project that began in 1998. At the time, the gorgeous celestial ceiling and marble was completely covered in black, which was believed to be from coal and diesel smoke. It was later discovered to be 80% tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A small patch still remains to remind visitors what it was like. I personally think that alone would make a great anti-smoking campaign!

These facts, and many more, were unveiled during a very entertaining and enlightening 90-minute walking tour sponsored free by The Municipal Arts Society (suggested donation of $10). The tour meets every Wednesday at 12:30pm at the center information booth on the Main Concourse.

While we were in the area, we decided to stop by the New York Public Library, an area I’ve been to countless times visiting Bryant Park, but had never been inside. It was like a journey back in time to see hundreds of people actually using the library for research and study purposes, though a bit ironic that just about everyone had a laptop in front of them. It was, however, a pleasant surprise to see some tables reserved for “non-computer” purposes.

It was great to take the opportunity to revisit places I’ve been to countless times but see them as if it were the very first time. And one place that I did visit for the first time with Lauren was Governor’s Island. The island served as a military base for British and American forces for over 200 years and was transferred to the Coast Guard in 1966. And on January 31, 2003 was transferred to the people of New York through the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation.

The future of the island is still in development but current plans have it serving as a great public open space – and it does. Open Friday-Sunday, access to the island is just a short 5 minute free ferry ride from Downtown. Once on land, there are a variety of activities to do, including car-free biking (rentals are $10 an hour, free on Fridays), running paths, picnic areas, mini-golf, historic walking tours, and art & cultural activities. There is even a beach area with picnic tables, concessions, and concerts. Or if you prefer, you can just relax on the grassy hills or hammocks.

For our part, we decided to take advantage of the free bikes and thoroughly enjoyed being on two-wheels for the first time in many years. (Note, I love biking, but I think bikers in NYC are really gutsy. Being able to do it without worries of a car door opening on me or a taxi side-swiping me was a delight.)

These were just a few highlights for me during Lauren’s visit. In addition, it’s one of my greatest pleasures sharing what I love about the city with visitors like Lauren. NYC is so inspiring in so many ways, so I plan to share more of what I love about it on my Inspiration Blog.

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