I recently had a friend visit me.
Yes, I have friends. Moving on.
No, Erin came to New York having been here a handful of times before, even lived here for a while, though the details of where and when seem to have escaped her. I've learned it's better not to ask.
Anyway, we did a bunch of what would normally be called "touristy" things -- went to the Met (saw an Ingres), took a boat ride in Central Park (saw a goose), wandered around H&M (saw my friend Deb), nearly walked off the subway at the wrong stop (saw her just in time), etc. And as we meandered through New York, I realized how often I forget to stop and see the city with fresh eyes.
I really need to clean my contacts more often.
In all seriousness, I live (and have lived) in a few great places, and something I've noticed over the years is how little the residents tend to do those things that attract the tourists.
Of course you'll hear that part of the reason is, in point of fact, those selfsame tourists: creating long lines, saying stupid things (I once overheard a man ask his wife what they had in the Philadelphia Art Museum. Her answer: "Art."), just generally being annoyingly unavoidable.
I'm here to say that, after sampling the sights in my respective cities of residence, it's worth it. Worth it, worth it, worth it. So deal with the tourists for a day. Stand in line as though you don't live ten minutes away. Purchase overpriced tickets to something you'd normally scoff at. Realize that there's usually some truth to the stereotype of Japanese people with cameras.
And, in an odd show of generosity, here's a very abbreviated list of some of the touristy things I've done in Philly, Boston, and New York and, well, why you should do them, too:
Philadelphia: I have to admit here that I don't visit Philly as often as I probably should. Or, more to the point, when I do visit, it's in the suburbs where my parents are. That said, a few things I enjoy when I'm downtown, aside from the drunken young women in Old City, are:
1) The Franklin Institute. Okay, I admit I'm a big dork. But this place is sooooo cool. So cool. It's nominally a science museum, but so much more interactive than, say, the Museum of Natural History in NYC. If nothing else, they have a gigantic human heart that you can walk through as though you were part of the circulatory system. Did I mention that I'm a big dork?
They also have an old-time steam train, a Boeing 747 (or part of it, anyway), a hall of holography, and a bunch of pulleys and things where balls run through a series of metal frames and whatnot. No, really. I'm probably not describing that well. I did mention I'm a big dork, right? (Note: I haven't been in a while. There's a slim chance that everything I've mentioned is gone. Just a heads up.)
2) Headhouse Market/The Riverfront. Heck, might as well throw in South Street, too. I love the Philadelphia waterfront. It's a) full of people to watch and b) full of sights to see. They have a battleship and submarine you can tour. There's bands playing. Some sort of Maritime Museum, I think, maybe. You can get a soft pretzel with mustard and a water ice (it's sort of like a gelato, but more redundant.) You can look at bad art, often. It's just touristy and fun.
And South Street's nearby. I'm not sure if South Street's considered "touristy" per se, but totally worth checking out. If you've been there before, you know what I mean. If not, well, you're in for a freaky treat. I'm of the mind that every city has an area where the counterculture can congregate (how's that for alliteration?) -- D.C. has Georgetown, New York has the Lower East Side, Boston has (or had) Harvard Square, and Philadelphia has South Street. If you're not afraid of people with more piercings in their faces than teeth in their mouths, I highly recommend a stroll. Who knows? You might find that velvet painting of cartoon characters engaging in S&M that you've been looking for.
3) The Italian Market. Okay, I admit, I haven't been here in ages. But it was fun when we went there for school trips. And I'm pretty sure you can get yourself an excellent cheesesteak. Just remember: Amoroso rolls, Cheez Whiz.
Boston: Well, the thing about Boston is that nearly everything one does on a normal basis there is sort of touristy. I mean, people regularly wander around Harvard or Faneuil Hall. Residents stroll down Newbury Street as much as anyone else. And every now and then, we'll even wander into the basement of Filene's department store. That said, there are a few things that a local wouldn't be caught dead doing:
1) Duck Tours. Ever have the desire to drive through a city and then suddenly have your vehicle plunge into the water? Me neither, but apparently someone is making a killing with this concept. Rather than the usual trolley tours or double-decker buses, Duck Tours owns a fleet of amphibious Army surplus vehicles. They drive on land, they float on the river. I've never, honestly, been on one, but I've seen them, and I can tell you that if you want to spend a day being a tourist in Boston, this is 100% the way to go.
(Note: I was recently informed that some people died on a Duck Tour in Hot Springs, Arkansas. My recommendation still stands. But just to be on the safe side, learn to swim.)
2) Durgin Park restaurant. Okay, to be fair, Bostonians don't really turn their anti-tourist noses up at this place, but mainly because it's authentic Boston. The food is total comfort ribs-that-stick-to-your-ribs stuff, and the baked beans are actually cooked like they should be. Back in the day, the waitstaff was known for their enviable ability to be as rude as possible and still keep their jobs, but that has apparently been replaced by, well, good service. That said, still my call for touristy place to eat. Go for it.
3) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I don't know anyone who's been here who doesn't count it as one of their favorite places in Boston. Of course, you have to like art museums, so I'm sure there are some people out there who don't feel the same, but they're uncultured and uncouth and we needn't bother ourselves with their kind.
In addition to a wonderful collection in a beautiful setting, the Gardner Museum offers something that no other art museum I know can boast -- my friend Katherine spent a couple hours there in labor before going to the hospital. Beat that, Guggenheim.
New York: Even more so than in Philadelphia or Boston, New Yorkers pride themselves on not going to the places that the visitors, well, visit. If it weren't for houseguests, I would likely still have never made it to the Empire State Building, the MoMA, the Statue of Liberty, or even Ground Zero. That said, a few modest suggestions for places you can go and still feel like you reserve the right to tell taxi drivers to take Third instead of Park:
1) South Street Seaport. Honestly, one of my favorite places in New York. For starters, it's probably the only remaining vestige of what I hear was a colonial city. Unlike Boston and Philly, New York seems content to pave over its history and erect high-rises where important landmarks once stood. It's easy to forget that key battles of the American Revolution were fought literally on Manhattan -- that Fort Washington really once was a fort. The first time I visited South Street Seaport, I was thrilled to see cobblestone streets, short colonial-style maritime buildings, and a pub. I have yet to stand in another part of New York and feel a connection to any history prior to the last century.
Also, it has a mall.
2) Chinatown. Okay, this is touristy. Oh, boy is this touristy. You will find yourself fighting for sidewalk space with a virtual UN's worth of cultures. That said, it also might be the only place in the world where you can get a Movado watch, RayBan sunglasses, Juicy Couture pants, Gaultier perfume, and a Chloe purse all for under $100. The perfume may have turned, of course, and the watch might only run for two days, and there's no way the sunglasses are actually made by RayBan, but your friends don't need to know that. Ever.
Also, it has Chinese food.
3) Coney Island. I had a small debate with a friend over whether this is a tourist thing or a local thing. I mean, most tourists are afraid to venture above 59th Street, let alone travel to another borough, so he might be right. However, I felt like a visitor when I was there, so I'm putting it in, dammit.
Coney Island has just a slew of things to do and see. For starters, there's an aquarium. Really. I had no idea. Turns out sea lions are big. Really big. If that's not your cup of tea, there's also the beach, an amusement park with a world-famous roller coaster (for the record, it's scary as hell; not because it's particularly tall or fast, but because it literally feels like the car might fly off the track at any time), a boardwalk, and -- get this -- "Shoot the Freak." You actually get an air rifle and the opportunity to take pot shots at some guy in a costume with what I hope was a lot of padding. If that's not a reason to make the trip, I don't know what is.
Also, it has hot dogs.
So there you go. A few places right on the beaten path. There are others in other cities, of course. My friend Becky and I once discovered that Washington, D.C., houses the National Aquarium, for example. It's in the basement of the Treasury building. I'm not making that up. It's terrible, of course, as you might expect an aquarium that no one's ever heard of in the basement of the Treasury building to be (Martin's Aquarium in Jenkintown, PA was better), but there you have it. The point is, there's no good reason why the only time you go sightseeing is when you're away from home.
The upshot is that for those of you in these cities who are looking for something different to do, who are tired of going to the same bars, seeing the same neighborhoods, eating the same food, spending your weekends in a constant holding pattern, well, now you have an alternative. And for those of you who plan on visiting these cities, well, now you have a few suggestions about where to go and what to do -- without all those annoying locals bothering you.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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5.10.06 @ 11:00a
Also, it has hot dogs.
I think forgetting what's in your city is easy to do. Maybe not so much in NYC as Des Moines, but still. I can say I don't often go to the art museums unless there's a new installation or people staying with me. I know the restaurants people should go to that I don't frequent, but delight in taking them to someplace they weren't expecting, too. You know, where the locals hang out.
5.10.06 @ 11:20a
The National Aquarium is indeed a travesty. It's really dark and small. Like a regular old basement, only with a couple sharks.
My new favorite museum in DC is the Renwick, which I went to for the first time this weekend. Gorgeous building, and of course, as part of the Smithsonian, totally free.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner is definitely a fantastic museum, and generally not too crowded, since it's much smaller and more eccentric than the MFA. Love the mismatched stone lions and empty frames.
5.10.06 @ 11:44a
Duck Boats are the devil. My mother really wants to go on one. I keep telling her: "No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits."
5.10.06 @ 11:55a
Hee! We nearly took a Duck Boat in Philly last fall, but somehow never got around to it. I think we were getting something pierced on South Street.
5.10.06 @ 12:31p
My family and I, for no good reason, once took a horse-drawn carriage around historical Philly. We'd lived there for years, but never really got a guided tour so much. It was pretty cool. So there's something else.
5.10.06 @ 3:11p
"Touristy" things are fun. A friend visited me recently as well (yay, I have friends too) and we had planned to take a cruise on the Circle Line, but because she got super drunk and was really hungover, we opted for the Museum of Sex down at 27th and 5th instead. It doesn't have hot dogs. But it does have an exhibit about four centuries of Japanese porn!
5.10.06 @ 3:39p
I've always been a bit of a tourist in my own town. I think I simply just must be doing STUFF most of my free time and there really is a lot of stuff to do. And I think it gives you a deeper appreciation of the place you live. When I was in LA, I touristed it UP! Although I never hit the Tar Pits, and when Mike and I visit next month, we're considering it.
BofA is actually doing a promo in May called "Museum Month" and there's free admission to the Stewart Gardner museum. I just may check it out. What I cannot bring myself to do yet is the duckboats, but I may take Mike's parents. It just gets really old... I work off the Common and I can't TELL you how many times I've been quacked at.
5.11.06 @ 7:58a
Only a few years ago I did a walking thing in Boston, but it was over 100 degrees....I went from one 'cold one' to another.
With your writing ability think about doing "A Mensch's Guide...." series. (A view of a city from a fellow tourist.)
I only wish I could go back and visit the parts of a city that are no longer - Houston St. in New York that became the site of the World Trade Centers which also is no longer.....or the 'Ole East Village where McSorly's was for 'men only'.
The nostalgia of your reminiscences allowed me to sit back and day dream about about what was, and what just might be again. Thanks.
5.11.06 @ 12:39p
Well, McSorley's is still there, though co-ed these days. You can still get two mugs of light or dark for $3.50, I think. And of course, a plate of cheese.