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Charity begins in New York City


Have you ever been to a city around the world and wished you knew some locals who could take you places tourists don’t get to see, someone to show you something or somewhere different to where your friends have all been.  If so, next time you are in New York City, contact “The Big Apple Greeter” organisation.

Like many people who are visiting somewhere they have never been before, I was searching website after website of New York City, trying to put together a list of places to visit.  Trying to squeeze so much into a 5 day itinerary for one of the most exciting cities in the world was proving to be difficult.

I was thinking back over travel programs that I had seen on television, dragging bits of information out of my memory when I remembered an organisation that had been featured.  All I could remember about it was locals who acted as tour guides.

After more “Googling” I came across http://www.bigapplegreeter.org/ . The organisation has 300 volunteer Greeters who take visitors on tours of the neighbourhoods of New York City that they know best.  It can be entirely the choice of the visitor to where they would like to see, or you can opt for a Greeter’s choice.  Our Greeter told us that she even took a couple on a shopping tour of New York.  Wherever or whatever, you can choose.

My husband and I opted for a Greeter’s choice tour as we had never been to New York and anywhere to us would be new and exciting.  Before we left the UK for New York we had been in touch with our Greeter via email and had organised a time to meet her.  Most Greeters will meet you in the Lobby of your hotel.  Tours usually last from 2 – 4 hours, depending on the requirements.  Our tour guide was Jo.  From the moment we met her, it was obvious we were going to have a great day.

Brooklyn Bridge

Jo gave a couple of choices of where we could go, we decided that catching the underground to the Borough of Brooklyn and then walking back to Manhattan over the famous Brooklyn Bridge appealed to us.  We were staying Mid-Town, so we caught the underground from Grand Central Station.  It was great to have a local with us the first time on the Underground “to show us the ropes”.

Once in Brooklyn Jo walked with us through the suburban streets, showing us the traditional Brownstones.  The Brownstones are the local terrace homes.  Some have now been converted into apartments but many are still the original one family home.  Unfortunately for the average person in New York, the prices of buying a Brownstone in Brooklyn is beyond their budget, with even the apartments being out of reach.  We walked down streets that took us past old stables that have been converted in apartments, which have also rocketed in value due to their history.

Heading towards the Brooklyn Bridge for our walk back across to Manhattan, Jo showed us the place to get the perfect photographs of Manhattan and our first sighting of the great lady herself “The Statue of Liberty”. We were only an hour into our tour with Jo, but we knew this tour was going to be a highlight of our visit to New York.

Our walk across the Brooklyn Bridge was fantastic, we were on an icon that we had only heard about or seen in pictures.  Jo was able to point out different areas of the city, that if we had been by ourselves we wouldn’t have had any idea what was there.  She also explained the local etiquette on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians to exist in harmony.  If you have walked across the bridge you may have noticed how fast the cyclists ride and that they can get annoyed and verbally abusive with pedestrians who walk in their way.  Having a local explain little things like this, makes a stay in any city a much more enjoyable experience.

Downtown Manhattan

Once we were back in Manhattan we headed towards Chinatown and Little Italy. Jo’s parents emigrated to the USA from China before she was born.  Because of her cultural background she had spent a little time in Chinatown as a child and was able to give a bit of history to the area.  The information she gave us allowed us an insight into an area we would not have gained by ourselves.  She also gave us a tip for a great ice cream shop to visit. “The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory”. This shop was opened in 1978 and is a family run business that serves quality home-made ice cream.  If you love ice cream you must visit and devour at least one of these delicious desserts.  The flavours are extremely unusual, although there are the traditional flavours of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla for those who like to play it safe.  For the more daring, why don’t you try, flavours such as green tea, lychee, avocado or red bean.  Or for middle of road, try yummy flavours such as blueberry cheesecake, Oreo cookie or pumpkin pie.  Whatever you choose, you will not be disappointed.

To finish off our tour, Jo took us towards Downtown New York, through Little Italy, which over time has shrunk as Chinatown has expanded.  Many Italians have moved onto the suburbs as they have seen the American Dream of owning a family home and they too wanted to achieve this.  From here we walked through SoHo and the Meat Packing district.  Jo explained how originally poor artists lived in this area as this was all they could afford.  Unfortunately as time went on the hotshots from Wall Street saw the potential and started converting places into Loft Apartments which of course pushed the real estate prices through the roof and made the area a very trendy place to live.

After about 5 hours with Jo our tour came to an end.  It was one of the best guided tours of a city we had ever been on, as it was personalised for us and we didn’t have a group to work with, we got so much out of a tour with a true New Yorker.

First sighting of the Statue of Liberty

Jo was a born and bred New Yorker.  She loved the city and the people, she new so much.  As with all the Greeters they are volunteers and do the job out of their love for the home city.  Jo worked full-time in another job and did one tour a month.  She also regularly walked different routes around the city to keep herself up-to-date with any new developments in the city so that all the information she gave out was current.  Big Apple Greeters has a strict policy on payment.  It is totally a volunteer organisation and payment and tips for the tour are unacceptable.  If you are happy with your guide and tour, donations can be made to the organisation to help keep this wonderful organisation up and running.

To organise a tour with Big Apple Greeters, it is necessary to contact them at least 3-4 weeks before your proposed visit to New York.  The tours are intended for small independent groups of up to 6 people including children.  For more information on Big Apple Greeters and to make contact with the organisation, visit http://www.bigapplegreeter.org/.

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