Sunday, July 31, 2011

Streetwise New York: A New Spin on NYC Tours

Double decker busses, groups of 40, Japanese tourists, matching yellow t-shirts, a leader holding a flag. These are the images I think of when I hear the word tour.

I recently took a tour with Streetwise New York Tours and it was unlike any tour I have taken before. Gone were the iconic images of the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. Instead, the particular tour I took, the Immigrant NY, Old and New tour started off in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and ended up in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Family owned Economy Candy store since 1937

New York City is rich with history. As a tourist, most people who visit want to see the sights, famous landmarks, and all things glorified in the movies. As a resident, many go on with their daily lives taking their surroundings for granted and never question how things came to be.

Imagine NYC in the 1930's. How about the turn of the century? Difficult? Streetwise helps you envision it. In fact, the tour is like stepping into a time machine. It is easy to picture what life was like back then through the tour guide's vivid storytelling and descriptive facts about the different NYC neighborhoods. It is even more fascinating as connections are made to current events and the state of the city today. Everything is built on a foundation and is a reflection of the past. 

Jarmulowsky Bank Building at Canal and Orchard Street
The tour consists of a lot of walking and is offered in two versions. My group of friends opted for a full day tour. Approximately six hours, our tour stretched even longer as we incorporated an authentic Henan cuisine lunch break at Uncle Zhou in Elmhurst, Queens. Elmhurst is famous for Asian cuisine and since our group consisted of food bloggers and world travelers, we took the opportunity to soak in the neighborhood even more so.

The immigrant tour is meant to take you on a journey of decades and explore the trials and evolvement of life of immigrants in New York. The tour is tailored to each group based on group knowledge of immigrant history and New York urban beginnings. Our group, especially talkative and inquisitive, pushed the envelope further by telling our own stories and personal experiences in regards to family history, living in Queens, and finding our way through New York.

From the Lower East Side tenements, places of worship and the Essex Street Market to street vendors in Corona, housing units in Elmhurst and the Indian demographic in Jackson Heights, the tour explores landmarks, secrets of the city, and all that is relevant in regards to immigrant historical context. I was enlightened to learn about the synagogue on Eldridge Street I always wondered about, intrigued by the underground tunnels in Chinatown, and excited to try a raspado from a street vendor on Roosevelt Avenue.

Museum at Eldridge Street
The immigrant tour was informative, insightful, thought provoking, and interactive. It definitely is of a different pace from a typical NYC tour geared towards tourists. Those familiar with the books "Not For Tourists" would agree this is a tour that is so much more than an all inclusive pass to museums and buildings. This is a tour of the real New York. Don't believe me? I'll ask you how you feel when Streetwise takes you on the Chinatown van into Queens. Those who hang in there until the final hour of the tour will definitely leave with a little more street credibility.

Streetwise Logo Credit:

Streetwise New York
(347) 327-6063

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