Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Central Park Tours

…the one in which we crawl through Central Park and discover a gem in the concrete jungle…

Our first tour this morning was a walking tour of Central Park…we were to meet our guide at 58th and Broadway, which was a “mere” 1.5 miles away from the hotel. We decided to have a quick breakfast at the hotel (it was FREE!), and then walk to our meeting place (a decision we would later regret).

It was a beautiful day…and before we knew it, we were at Columbus Circle, which was very near our meeting place.

However, we were certainly not alone at Columbus Circle – there were dozens of emergency vehicles conglomerated at this spot, with lights flashing and sirens blazing:

We’re talking several hook-and-ladder trucks, command cars, police cars, and ambulances…it was a bit startling, as we weren’t sure what we had exactly walked into. We later found out that there had been an apartment fire – on the 14th floor – that had started in an apartment of a “hoarder.” In fact, five people were injured – including three firemen – due to hoarded debris stacks falling over on them as they tried to put out the fire. A scary situation for all involved, and because we don’t really have too many high rises at the lake, where I live, it was interesting to see how the emergency responders responded.

Columbus Circle is an EXTREMELY busy intersection located at the southwest corner of Central Park. Being a huge movie buff, I pointed out to Daughter that Columbus Circle is where the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man – in Ghostbusters – begins his famous march on the city…however, since I’ve been an awful mother and have obviously neglected in my motherly duties by never letting her SEE this classic movie, she had no idea what I was talking about. Gah! Where did I go amiss? How can my kid NOT know about the greatest movie monster of all time, the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man??!!

Such a classic....

I should also point out that Columbus Circle is pretty much dominated by at LEAST 2,673,252 guys (or gals) all trying to sell you something….You will be bombarded with offers of buying a bike tour, rickshaw tour, pedicab, horse ride, bus ride, etc…and fending these guys off is worse than fending off a swarm of mosquitoes in an Amazon jungle. When they see a tourist, they swarm like sharks around fresh meat – so be prepared to firmly say “No!” and keep walking. Once you engage with one of them – you’re doomed.

Our tour was with a company called Central Park Tours – whose information can be found HERE. As of this posting, they are ranked #40 out of 413 activities in NYC on TripAdvisor, and had received predominantly very positive reviews, as well as a Certificate of Excellence in 2013. Based on this, I had made reservations for a private walking tour, for a total of $143.10 for the three of us.

Theodore, our guide, met us promptly at 9:00 am. He is from Bulgaria, and it was interesting to hear a bit about his culture and homeland during the tour.

He initially tried to talk us into switching from a walking tour to a biking tour, promising that we would be able to cover more ground in Central Park.


Biking tour? As if.

Obviously, he has never seen me ride a bike. Actually, even my Hubby and kids have never seen me ride a bike…because…I can’t. Ride a bike. Don’t laugh. I’m being totally serious here.

Oh, when I was a kid, riding a bike was my absolute favorite thing to do – when I wasn’t singing along to David Cassidy records, that is. I rode my bike EVERYWHERE. However, once I…um…matured…into a snotty, teenaged girl with attitude – I decided that riding a bike wasn’t cool anymore, so I climbed off my bike and never got back on. Until about four years ago – when I made a valiant effort to ride a bike through the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

I failed miserably.

So…that old adage, “It’s like riding a bicycle! You never forget!” ???

So untrue. Take it from me. You CAN forget.

So, when Theodore tried to convince me to climb back on a bike, I laughed. And laughed again. (It didn’t help that it was a Saturday morning – so Central Park, which is crowded on a NORMAL day, was absolutely packed THIS morning with bikers, joggers, dog walkers, and tourists. They would all be potential targets for me to crash into, and seeing liability lawsuits flashing in front of my eyes, I politely declined the bike tour.)

So…off we went on our walking tour…we predominantly did the Lower Loop of Central Park, in a counter-clockwise direction.

One of our first stops was at the ice-skating rink. It was obviously closed, but in its place, there is a little amusement park, which afforded a great view of the skyline behind us:

Dodging zooming bikers, as well as joggers, we eventually found ourselves strolling down “The Mall”, a promenade that runs down the middle of the Park from 66th to 72nd Streets. It’s one of the widest areas in the Park, built initially to accommodate carriages and buggies...and it's also been in so many movies, I couldn't even begin to list them all here.

Considering that Hurricane Sandy did extensive damage to Central Park – most notably, it’s trees – the park looked amazing. Along the ground in the southern end of the Mall, you’ll find these unique plaques:

One of my favorite actresses...just watched her in "Maid in Manhattan" the other day...

Theodore explained the “Endow A Tree” program – where a monetary donation helps ensure that the trees in the park are well-maintained. We spent a few moments finding some notable plaques:

Ironic that we found this we later had an encounter with the REAL Donald Trump - but that story later!

You will also find the Literary Walk at the southern end of the Mall, containing statues of some famous writers…maybe my statue will be up there one day…??!!

Strolling down the mall, we eventually came to Bethesda Terrace – one of the very first structures to ever be built at the Park, completed in 1863.

This is a VERY popular place with the barbarians – I mean, tourists – so trying to get a photo in front of the famous Bethesda Fountain is a technological marvel:

If you’d tried to visit this fountain in the 1970’s, you would have found the place swarming with drug dealers…but NYC has considerably cleaned up its image and public areas since then, and we felt quite safe in ALL areas of the park.

At this point, we were at the beautiful lake…an 18-acre body of water that began its existence in the 1800’s as a swamp:

By now, we were up to 73rd Street…and here, we discovered a hidden oasis that not too many barbarians – oops, I mean “tourists” – know about…the Ramble. It’s off the main path, and is more woodsy – and hence, wild – than the rest of Central Park. We soon discovered that we were the only people to be strolling along it’s narrow paths – and when you find that you are the ONLY PEOPLE ON A PATH IN NEW YORK CITY – that is a bit of heaven on Earth.

If you ever visit Central Park – you MUST visit The Ramble. Absolutely beautiful.

We eventually stumbled out of The Ramble, and back into civilization, where we encountered some beautiful flowers…which we learned are part of Shakespeare Gardens:

The Gardens will lead you up to Belvedere Castle:

Named for the Italian meaning “beautiful view”, there are some awesome panoramic views here that can be found if you’re willing to climb the castle steps:

We were now heading back south (to where we had originally started from), and when we saw the crowds getting larger, we knew we had come upon Strawberry Fields, a site that pays tribute to John Lennon:

The Dakota Building...where John Lennon lived, and was murdered....

Even with the crowds, there’s a peaceful feeling here…it’s been designated a “quiet zone” - and again, when you can find quiet in the heart of New York City – it’s a beautiful thing.

Upon leaving the Strawberry Fields area, we encountered a guy with a sign: “$1 for a Joke”. Hubby couldn’t resist, so here he is, getting his joke for a buck:

Eventually, we were back at Columbus Circle...two hours – and thousands of steps – later. My feet were already beginning to grumble at this point, but we still had two more tours to knock out…no rest for the weary!

Theodore was a GREAT tour guide…he kept us informed of the history and trivia of the park, pointing out things that we would have never found on our own. He also prevented us from getting lost in the Park, which is what the original designers actually INTENDED for park-goers to do…get lost. Actually, there’s no excuse for getting lost now…if you pay attention to the lamp posts in the park, you’ll find them embossed with numbered plaques…which will indicate what cross street you are near in the city.

This tells you that you're at 72nd Street....

We enjoyed this tour…my suggestions would be to have bottled water, and good walking shoes.

Or opt for the bike tour...which, in hindsight, was sounding better and better....!

We had about an hour to meet up with our next tour - and for some ridiculous reason - we decided to walk - WALK - to midtown to our meeting place. Remember - this was our first day in the city, and I guess we were apprehensive at this point to use the Subway.

Boy, were we dumb.



Fisherlady48 said...

Great pictures. What was the joke?

Sherri O said...

The joke was pretty awful - but I can't remember what it was! It was a groaner, though...I'll have to see if Hubby remembers! :)