Jerry’s Tour

On my very first day, and based on a recommendation from a friend I took Jerry’s Grand Tour, which is very well named! The tour departed from the Hostelling International hostel at 11am, and when Jerry arrived he chatted with everyone and sent people back to get hats and coats if they weren’t properly dressed for the cold! It was snowing as we set off. We were given a thorough run-down of all we would be seeing and doing, and the meal schedule. We were also advised what subway tickets we would need. The tour itself only cost $10, but you did need to pay for food and subway tickets.

The first thing we did was to get the subway out to Brooklyn Heights, a neighbourhood across the water from Manhattan. We were all guided through the process of getting a subway ticket (we were advised just to get a week pass if we were going to be in NY for a couple of days, and it was certainly worth it). On the platform, Jerry chatted with us and pointed out the interesting features of 103rd St Station. We were promised a great deli to get our lunch from. We’d be carrying our lunches to the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge on foot!

We took in a few local landmarks, as well a street that has maintained its turn-of-the-century looks for movie-making. When we got to the deli, Garden of Eden, there was a huge amount on offer. Jerry recommended getting a sandwich from the back counter with a free drink. He put forward the veggie sandwich with a bit of turkey as the best choice, so that’s what I went for. Sandwiches packed, we headed off (via a heated toilet!) to the edge of the river for a fantastic view of the skyline. It might have been more spectacular if it weren’t for the snow, but I liked seeing the tops of the buildings disappearing off into the clouds.

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Next, we headed to the Brooklyn Bridge, and walked back across into Manhattan. On the way across the slippery bridge Jerry regaled us with facts and figures regarding the bridge’s construction, as well as telling us about the other architecture on view. It was a fantastic (if cold!) experience to walk over the bridge and see its construction up close.

As we got back to Manhattan, we took in some more landmarks before jumping into a Starbucks and eating our sandwiches – I assume the staff didn’t mind as Jerry does this twice a week and most of the group bought coffees… either way, we were left in peace.

The next stop was the financial district, which included a visit to the memorial at Ground Zero. Jerry stopped and spoke to the group about that day in NY history, and though sad, it was definitely an experience to have it brought to life by him. After telling us about the new construction on the site, including the 1776ft One World Trade Ccenter skyscraper, Jerry took us to the nearby St Paul’s Chapel. We sat in the pews and listened as he talked more about the days following the attack, and the New York spirit. The chapel was used in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of September 11th 2001.

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We then headed up to Wall Street, where jerry told us about the origins of the name. He also spent some time taking pictures of some of the group for a personal project of his – he would tell us more about this later on. Throughout the tour, Jerry would stop people in the street to take their photograph, and I didn’t see a single person say no! We headed towards the (free!) Staten Island Ferry as the light started to fade, and were taken to the spot with the best view of the island as we chugged away from it. We saw the statue of Liberty from the boat too. We took the ferry straight back over, which was a nice sit-down after a good chunk of walking.

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So, are you tired yet? By this point in the tour, lots of new friendships had been formed, and Jerry had sung us songs, told us stories about his life in New York, and had snapped pictures of plenty of people. We explored Little Italy, Chinatown and places in between with Jerry, who once again told us lots of interesting facts and figures about the area and its history. We also went into Evolution, a very unique shop specialising in “natural” curiosities such as shells, bones and preserved insects. It certainly was an interesting stop. There was also a photography gallery showcasing landscapes from around the world. As promised, at 8pm we got to an Indian restaurant and had a meal for $12 including taxes and tips! Everyone was served the same thing, and some drinks were included.

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The next stop after our meal was Grand Central Station, which is a seriously beautiful place. The main terminal inside was spectacular. Jerry told us that the building was nearly demolished to build a skyscraper (another one!) and was saved by popular vote. The building celebrated its centenary this year, and has retained a lot of its charm. The thing I couldn’t put my finger on was explained by Jerry – there are very strict regulations concerning the interior appearance of the building, and as such only very minimal advertising and seasonal decorations are allowed. This definitely adds to the timeless atmosphere – where so many people are hurrying to and fro! On the way out we were treated to a beautiful full moon above the Chrysler Building – definitely my favourite NYC skyscraper.

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Next stop, the Rockefeller Center with its giant Christmas tree and ice rink. This was really when I felt the Christmassy feeling properly – it’s not always the same spending the run-up to Christmas in a different country. I also felt that this particular part of the city was really working hard to put on a bit of a spectacle for locals and tourists alike, and despite the lateness of the hour, there were still lots of people out and about.

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We made it to Times Square at around 11:30pm, and the sight that met us was quite incredible! I was amazed by the sheer number of advertisements and lights and people still crowding around so late into the evening. Still, we were all feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for sticking with the tour for so long. We had lost a couple of people in the first hour, but the other 15 or so had hung on for the whole day. Jerry called us “the walking group”. We finished up the tour with a ride in the Hilton Hotel’s impressive lifts, which were just big enough to fit us all in. Flying up inside the glass lifts between all the floors was a truly bizarre and New York experience, and I never would have found it without Jerry.

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This tour was sort of extreme, but so worth the time and money ($10!!!). Jerry is a fantastic guide, and yes, you maybe could do it faster if you weren’t waiting for others every so often, but you would miss out on meeting new friends on the tour, not to mention Jerry’s facts and stories, and his great personality and laugh. I did this tour on my first day in New York, and I felt very comfortable in the city after being shown around by Jerry. Although we didn’t go inside many of the “big” attractions, I think the tour gave me food for thought about where to visit on the next days, and gave me a good background of the history of New York and its people. I spent the rest of my time in New York with people I had met on this tour. Thanks Jerry!

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