Walking tour, exploring and Grand Central station

Today Julie and Azuo were heading to the factory outlets to do some shopping. I didn’t really feel like spending the day shopping, so booked a free waking tour for the morning and made plans to do some exploring on my own in the afternoon. I stopped at a cafe near our apartment for a quick breaky (cinnamon bagel with cream cheese 🙂 ) then made my way to Soho (South of Houston) where the tour was starting.

The tour covered Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, all located in the lower part of Manhattan. It was organised by Free Tours by Foot, where the tour is free but you’re expected to tip the tour guide based on how much you enjoyed the tour. Soho’s quite a nice area with pretty old buildings, cafes and some interesting street art.

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A subway map built into the footpath
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A face painted on the footpath using tar

The tour guide pointed out some of the art, and told some history on the area. Initially Soho was industrial, but as Manhattan grew the industry moved further north leaving behind massive warehouse buildings. Over time artists started to move into these buildings because of the good natural lighting through big windows and the large spaces they provided for working. A later change in zoning meant people could also live in the buildings and so smaller shops and cafes started to pop up. Many of the buildings are cast iron, meaning they were built from iron frames which were structural but also formed the outer, visible part of the building as well. This meant the windows could be larger because there are less smaller supports needed. Some of them, like the one below, had goods lifts built into them for transporting things to upper levels. Now these are marked from the outside as a shaftway so if fire fighters are trying to get into the building they won’t smash that particular window and then fall down the open shaft.

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A cast iron building in Soho

From Soho we moved to Little Italy. The area was mostly filled with Italian restaurants and cafes. Our guide explained that the area is shrinking as the neighbouring Chinatown expands. There were a number of Asian shops and restaurants scattered throughout the Italian stores. According to the last census, only 3% of residents in Little Italy actually have Italian origins!

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Restaurants in Little Italy

From Little Italy we moved into Chinatown. This is right beside Little Italy and the two blend together near the boarder. Chinatown is quite similar in appearance to Little Bourke Street in Melbourne, but is much larger. Covering several blocks including major roads, there are restaurants, fresh food markets and various other shops. In one of the markets they were selling fresh fish, and live frogs!

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Chinatown

Columbus Park is located in Chinatown. Five main roads intersect at a roundabout near the park, and our guide explained that this was to be the centre of gang warfare in the past. For that reason, police headquarters was built just down the road. Now, the park has been taken over by an underground gambling ring! The people there aren’t at all discrete and all the park tables have been taken over by games of poker, blackjack and backgammon. It was quite a sight!

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Gambling in Columbus Park

Our guide pointed out a place for cheap dumplings (5 for $1!!) so I went back there after the tour for lunch and ate them just on the edge of Columbus Park. After that I jumped on the subway to Washington Square, a large park near New York University. It’s a pretty big park and there were a other of people there. There is a massive fountain in the middle, and a big archway over one of the entrances where a man was playing a grand piano out in the open. The sun was out and it was a nice place to stop for a little while to enjoy the sights and unusual people (check out the bird man below…).

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A jazz band playing in Washington Square
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Bird man in the park

I spent some time walking around the area, following a short walking tour from the Lonely Planet guide. From there I went to the Converse store to design some custom Chucks, which was quite a difficult task! There are so many different parts of the shoe you can customise, from the base shoe colour, to patterns and prints, the colours of the prints, text, and which parts of the shoes to print on. I found a couple of patterns and prints I liked, then asked the lady there for advice because I couldn’t narrow it down to a single design. It takes 24 hours to process, so I went back the next day to pick them up.

After that I went to Herald Square to check out the huge Macy’s department store there, then on to Bryant park where there were heaps of people enjoying the sun. There were a couple of cafes there, a carousel, and books and board games you could borrow and enjoy in the park. I also popped in to the public library next to the square – a beautiful old building, with high painted ceilings and intricate marble carvings.

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Carousel and board games at Bryant Park

Not far from there is Grand Central station so I figured I might as well catch the subway home from there. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was massive! From the outside it’s an impressive stone building with a golden clock and statue above the main entrance. Once inside there is a huge concourse with a maze of tunnels underneath leading to a food court, subway platforms and other railway lines. It was very impressive.

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The clock above the entrance to Grand Central Station
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The concourse inside Grand Central Station

Once I was home I caught up with the girls, who had had a successful day shopping, then we had Mexican for dinner with Stephen and his friend Warren. We went to a couple of bars after that and found a place with good music for a dance. It was an action packed day covering a lot of miles! I had a great time just wandering and the streets.

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