THE NEIGHBORHOOD SHOWS OFF FOR THE TOURISTS

By Maria Gorshin

Living in a boredom-free zone is one of the perks of city living that I’m especially grateful for when friends and relatives come to visit. In a quieter setting I have to rely on my iffy skills as a hostess and activity planner to keep my guests entertained – the pressure! In New York, all I have to do is lead the way outdoors toward fantastic venues, events and sights and watch my city expertly take over to ensure that every guest has an unforgettable time.

Recently, one of my best friends from Orlando came to spend a week with me. She made only two requests – don’t take me to Times Square (joy!) and surprise me (yes!). So on her first afternoon in the city I devised a plan to make the short walk from our starting point on the Upper West Side toward our sunset destination near Columbus Circle, one filled with the unusual and the unexpected. I initiated our little adventure with a walk up creepy stairs to an ominous-looking metal door in a classic Pre-war building – not a typical start to the average city tour.

In a moment the door swung open onto an Upper West Side rooftop where afternoon light gilded surrounding buildings. Before us were the elegant profiles of two landmarks, the Ansonia and the Apple Bank for Savings. All around us were captivating sights – the pink dome of the American Museum of Natural History peering over stouter buildings, row houses topped with humble gardens; a sliver of the Hudson River, streams of traffic traveling north to infinity along Amsterdam Avenue. Blue skies and puffy clouds framed each Upper West Side image that my friend captured in a flurry of photos. I dare say she was impressed!

Back at street level my friend wasn’t too interested when I suggested she take a look at the interior of the Apple Bank for Savings we had admired moments before, but I encouraged just a quick peek. When we stepped inside, into the bank’s massive and soaring Florentine Renaissance interior, she was instantly in awe. We began speaking in hushed tones, as if we had entered a church – the Cathedral of St. Cash perhaps – and we stared up at the bank’s ornate ceiling with reverence. Once outside again we crossed Broadway toward the Ansonia, laughing to see a FedEx man expertly maneuvering a box-stacked trolley through traffic while riding it like a scooter. Off to the right I pointed out another favorite landmark, the Beacon Theater, while on the left, the sight of Verdi Square led to a few hurried words about how “Needle Park” had been transformed into “The Gateway to the Upper West Side.”

At the Ansonia, we were allowed to take a few vertigo-inducing photos of the 12-story grand Victorian staircase at the center of the building. We pressed on toward The Dakota for photos of the building’s architectural details and a bit of Rosemary’s Baby film history. Next was a bit of window shopping, for the luxurious the silly and most of all, the gourmet, then it was onto Lincoln Center for a look at its spraying fountain and the Metropolitan Opera House with its Austrian chandeliers. I pointed out a Central Park West building, its limestone visible from Broadway, where, according to Curbed, a penthouse had sold only days earlier for $27 million.

The restaurant atop The Museum of Art and Design seemed like the ideal place to cool down after our scenic speed walk on that hot afternoon. The elevator doors opened on every floor on the way to the pink and purple venue. Each stop offered a glimpse of MAD’s unique installations and, on one floor, an artist welcomed visitors into a glass-walled studio. We finally reached the restaurant and my friend’s eyes widened at the sight of floor-to-ceiling views of Columbus Circle, the Time Warner Center, Central Park and the long stretch of Broadway and Central Park West that we had walked. I pointed out the Ansonia far in the distance to show how much distance we had covered and how much of Manhattan she had seen in the first few hours of her visit.

Newly energized by good conversation and champagne we left the museum, crossed 59th Street and rented bicycles to take a quick tour of Central Park’s key sights. Delicate sandals and summer whites be damned – a bicycle ride rather than longish explaining seemed like the most fun way to answer my friend’s question, “So what exactly is inside of Central Park…” Mercifully, temperatures dropped and a gentle breeze kicked up as we made our way around the park at an easygoing pace, pausing for photos at Bethesda Fountain, The Boathouse, and Sheep’s Meadow.

Before long it was time to return the bikes…and purchase a change of clothes at a nearby boutique before our scheduled sunset activity. It turns out, summer whites and oily bicycle chains really don’t mix.

We rushed to the Hudson Hotel to meet friends on the roof terrace in time for sunset and refreshing cucumber and lemon cocktails. They laughed at how much we had managed to pack into one short afternoon. It was a mirror ending to an eventful day that had started on a rooftop only 14 blocks away.

Consider me proud and grateful for an amazing city and especially for my neighborhood, the Upper West Side.

Photos by Sean Davis and Ed Yourdon via flickr.

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