Made in Manhattan
So where do you start? Try a tour. Here's a quick guide to some of the hip-hopping tours.
Rockefeller Center Tour
Some call it "New York's most ambitious and breathtaking architectural feat." Others rave that the Rockefeller Center is the largest private building enterprise ever. One thing is certain; this modern acropolis situated in the heart of New York would have made even the ancient Greeks swoon.
Built during the height of the Great Depression (1931-1939), amid spiraling financial doom, John D. Rockefeller Junior, heir of the Standard Oil tycoon, was determined to construct a plaza representing the strength of modern man, a remarkable plan of urban design in the twentieth century. The critics blasted him. They called him mad.
Undoubtedly, a must-see for any architecture or history buff, the Rockefeller Center conducts guided group tours daily with 10 stops. History hounds are outfitted with high-tech wireless headsets transmitting the guide's narration, a modern device Junior might have applauded. "This feature is what sets us apart. It keeps the group together," says Jenney Plaza Valverde, PR rep of the tour.
Loaded with trivia on the over 100 artifacts displayed throughout the 14 buildings, the tour starts at "30 The Rock," the GE building. The 70-story limestone structure is best viewed at the Outdoor Plaza and has one of the most dramatic entrances in Manhattan. A limestone carving of Zeus called "Wisdom" looms above with a stark message: "Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times." My guide Jonathan Rattner rhymed off how the first Pyrex glass produced by Corning appears below the Greek god, another feat accomplished by Junior's vision. As it turns out, the Rockefeller Center garners a list of many firsts.
"The idea of television hadn't even caught on then and here is J.D. Junior building a headquarters for them," comments Jonathan about the GE building's first tenants, RCA, RKO and NBC. Then, there is the skating rink. "Who would have thought this real estate would hold a rink?" Jonathan remarks. The world's first underground shopping plaza, a maze of catacombs, awaits us beneath the crop of skyscrapers. Prior to construction, the location was flanked with speakeasies and gambling holes, not the sort of place to root some of America's largest corporate offices. Today, the six city-block complex is considered one of the chichi-est spots in Manhattan.
Ticket reservations are done at the NBC Store. Prices are $10 Adults, $8 Children (6-16), Seniors $8. Tour Length: 1 hour 15 minutes
Circle Line Cruise
Billed as "America's favorite boat ride," the 57-year-old cruise operator takes visitors sightseeing, passing over 20 landmarks circling Manhattan's 35 mile coastline in one, two or three hour cruises. So far, the company claims 55 million patrons have sat on deck, marveling at the city skyline.
On my tour, guide Jim dazzled us with a plethora of knowledge as this walking encyclopedia rhymed off historical tidbits on the many buildings dotting the horizon. We cruised down the Hudson River, past Battery Park and got a close-up look of Lady Liberty. When we approached the skyline to the void that was the World Trade Center, Jim started a tape recording of "Amazing Grace" as we stood in a moment of silence. Continuing up the East River, it's under the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge toward Roosevelt Island and back to our base, Pier 83.
Cooler on this side of Manhattan, the trip is highly recommended.
Circle Line Cruises is located at Pier 83 at the west end of 42nd Street. For more information, visit www.circleline.com
Big Apple Greeter (BAG)
Interested visitors should contact the service that's run by an army of volunteers, three weeks prior to the big visit, stating preferred neighborhoods. Don't worry, if you don't know a spot. A Big Apple Greeter will steer you in the right direction.
Contact: 212.669.8159 email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bigapplegreeter.org
Lower East Side Tenement Museum Tour (LESTM)
A place void of the heavy commercialism that runs rampant throughout Manhattan, this neighborhood brims with discount shops, restaurants and art galleries.
LESTM is located on 90 Orchard Street. For ticket reservations call TicketWeb at toll-free 1.800.965.4827.
Getting there: Take the F Train to Delancey Street over to the Lower East Side.
Staten Island Ferry
Metro Fun Pass
Getting to City Island: Take the #6 train north to Pelham Bay Park the last stop in the Bronx. Transfer to City Bus BX 29 towards City Island.
For more information call 212/360-2726 or visit www.centralparknyc.org.
Where to eat:
Tavern on the Green (Central Park at West 67th St) - If you haven't already dined at this schmaltzy restaurant, try it. The historic restaurant resides on a former sheep farm at a time when this part of Manhattan was still agricultural. Although the menu is pricey with main courses starting at $20, the setting immersed in tall cedars and sculpted shrubs courtesy of the Hollywood wizards of the movie "Edward Scissorhands," is a beacon on its own.
North Square (103 Waverly Place) - On the northwest corner of Washington Square is North Square, a quaint restaurant offering American fare with a zest. Frequented by the locals, this is an undiscovered gem for tourists and can be easily missed. The premise is nestled by the historic Washington Square Hotel.
photos: Stephen Smith
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