This is a great town ranking way up there in the top five American cities to visit, according to most recent travel magazine polls. We will be there at the peak of Fall Color season, with the leaves blazing red, yellow, orange, pink, green and all colors in-between. The ten million tourists who arrive each year experience a wide variety of delights, including history, modern attractions, wonderful neighborhoods for walking, shops, restaurants, culture and the arts. Boston has a quaint European atmosphere, with abundant old brick buildings strung along narrow lanes, and yet it is the most American of places, where our nation began and continues to thrive with modern multi-cultural vigor.
Boston is a city of neighborhoods, with a mosaic of ancient and modern as you move from one part of town into another. The Financial Center is packed with new skyscrapers; yet the historic, charming streets of Beacon Hill and Back Bay date back hundreds of years; and the rest of the city offers much for the visitor to discover. This is a great town for walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and carry your map. Everything is amazingly compact in Boston, but the traffic's a mess, so don't even think about driving in town. Your feet and public transportation will get you everywhere quickly. The economy has taken off in the last decade, as seen in glittery shop fronts, crowds of sharply-dressed young professionals, an explosion of gourmet restaurants, large numbers of skyscrapers, and high rents.
By the time skyscraper development began in earnest during the booming 90s, the historic preservation movement had taken a firm hold -- so we have the best of the old and new together. A fine example of this mix is Downtown, one of our first stops. No other city has this many 18th century sites directly associated with the American Revolution and the origins of our nation. The 19th century is represented by Beacon Hill and Back Bay while the modern era is found all around the city, made lively by innovative contemporary architecture.
With America's most universities per-capita, Boston is a young, hip town bursting with high-tech companies that give Silicon Valley a run for the money. Boston ushered in the digital era with numerous research companies that sprung up around the city in the fifties and sixties. And yet, with the fast pace, Boston still enjoys a very high quality of life: the education levels are good, the cost of living is reasonable for a big city, and there are many cultural attractions for the residents and visitors alike. Here is a summary of our visit:
DAY ONE: Downtown; Fanueil Hall Marketplace; Freedom Trail; North End.
DAY TWO: Beacon Hill; Boston Common; Back Bay; Museum of Fine Art; Gardner Museum.
DAY THREE: Lexington; Concord; Cambridge; Harvard.
STARTING OUT: Park Street subway station, located between Boston Common and Downtown, is an excellent place to begin our visit. This original station of America's first subway line is still functioning, and easy to find. Look around to see Boston summarized in a glance -- the pretty Commons, America's first public park; busy Tremont Street funneling traffic into the impossible urban gridlock; Park St. Church, where Hawaii's missionaries came from; and looking in the direction we are heading, narrow Winter Street leading into the pedestrian zone of the city center. Have another quick glimpse at the Common for the breath of fresh air, but save that greenery plunge for tomorrow. We have a city to explore.
Downtown Crossing is one of the busy crossroads of Boston, where the two biggest department stores, Macy's and Filene's, face each other on a five-block pedestrian mall along Washington Street. At lunch hour the local workers really come out into the fresh air, offering a prime target for your people-watching. This is the place to be if you want to see Bostonians in their element.
Filene's Basement is world-famous for marked-down clothing, where the items get cheaper every day until they are cleared out. It acquires unsold merchandise from other stores in town and moves items out at a big discount. The scene gets a little wild down on the basement floor, with clothes strewn in piles on the counters and shoppers reaching over each other to get the best deals. Their success has spawned a chain of shops across the country, but there is only one real basement with the action, right here at the crossing of downtown.
The busy Financial District has many modern bank skyscrapers and insurance towers clustered in a tight zone downtown that makes an easy quick walk-through. We can reach the center of it by walking five blocks along Franklin Street to Post Office Square, a peaceful patch of green, with benches, fountains, a café, flowers, and wonderful buildings all around. Le Meridien, one of the city's top hotels, is Florentine Renaissance Revival palace that used to be the Federal Reserve Bank -- worth having a look inside, especially if you need some refreshment. Several of Boston's notable Art Deco buildings are on the square, including the Bell Atlantic Building, which has a lobby museum that recreates the laboratory of Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone here in 1875.
Meander from Post Office Square in an easterly direction along Franklin and Milk Streets, heading towards the Custom House Tower, which is easy to find if you look up because it once was New England's tallest building at 495 feet. First constructed in 1847 at what was then the water's edge, it has classical columns going around all four sides of the foundation, making it look like an ancient Greek temple on the bottom. The skyscraper tower was added in 1915, rising like an obelisk, with more columns at the top. Originally a Roman dome, like the Pantheon, covered this building. You can still see the interior of this sphere by going into the public lobby, which houses a small, maritime museum, and you could go up to the public observation deck.
FANEUIL HALL MARKETPLACE
Right in the middle of downtown you will find Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston's liveliest gathering place, with food markets and shops, set in a restored brick complex of Colonial buildings. Inside Quincy Market, with its neo-Classical façade, and in the two other flanking brick pavilions, we can count 50 different shops, 40 food stalls and 14 restaurants. When the weather is fair, people sit outside at one of the many cafes for a complete meal, or just enjoy a light snack. This area has been an important market center since the beginnings of Boston, located next to the docks where all the goods changed hands, but it had fallen on hard times by the mid 20th century. Abandoned and dilapidated, it was rebuilt during the 1970s to completely renovate this complex into a lively shopping and dining mall.
The renovation worked beyond their wildest imagination, and Faneuil Marketplace became the new center of town, for both locals and visitors. This was the first urban market in modern America to be rebuilt, and it set the tone for many others to follow, including our own Aloha Tower complex. The government still operates nearby, across the street in the ultramodern City Hall, but as you might guess from the massive building, town meetings have been replaced by a typical bureaucracy controlled by the political game — a patronage system that has been perfected in Boston over the years and launched many colorful politicians onto the national scene. Don't bother trying to get a closer look at the Federal Government Center beyond, which may be an efficient place to accommodate workers but is an example of 1960s wind-swept barren plazas surrounded by massive sterile towers — urban renewal at its worst.
After another rest break, we join the Freedom Trail tour, conducted by National Park Service Rangers. This is one of the premier activities we will take advantage of, for the walk with a knowledgeable Park Ranger visits many of the sites important to the beginning of the Revolutionary War and our independence from Great Britain. You might be surprised to find a National Park here in the middle of downtown, but you will be delighted with the service, which include a Visitor Center that has free maps and information, a bookstore, restrooms, and Rangers to talk with. The Rangers are here to protect our history and explain it to visitors, particularly Boston's role in the American Revolution. The entire length is three miles, but we will opt for the middle 1 1/2 mile section that contains most of the interesting sights covered by the Park Rangers, so this will take two hours.
The Freedom Trail is a collection of sites related to the troubles that would lead eventually to the foundation of the United States of America. These places are important not only to Boston but to the entire country, so Congress created the Boston National Historical Park in 1974. The principal sites on the Trail include the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, Boston Massacre site, Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House and statue, and finally, Old North Church.
The Old State House, where the Ranger walk begins, is a classic example of Colonial architectural style, with a Georgian brick design, dormered windows, topped by a multi-level wooden tower. It was the headquarters of the British government from 1713 until they were kicked out in 1776, and it later went through a variety of uses, including fire station, wine cellar, offices and men's clothing store. Now it is a private museum with a restored interior and a subway station in the basement. The Boston Massacre occurred on the corner in front of this building in 1770, when a rowdy group of Colonists taunted some British soldiers, who fired on the mob, killing five citizens. Not much of a massacre, but it was the first bloodshed leading to war.
The Freedom Trail continues a few blocks along Washington Street to the Old South Meeting House, built in 1729. It is most famous as the place where the Colonists gathered on December 16, 1773 to discuss the problems of the Tea Tax, which led later that night to the Boston Tea Party, the first major act of insurrection against the British. Old South was built originally to be a Puritan Church for that strict religious group of people who founded Boston.
The Old Corner Bookstore, one block away in the heart of downtown on Washington Street, began life as a pharmacy in 1718 and became a bookstore and publisher in the 1830s, where many literary giants like Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville and Longfellow gathered to shoot the breeze. Currently operated by the Boston Globe as a historic bookshop, it is one of America's oldest stores.
A few blocks away we are back at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, first built in 1742 by a wealthy merchant, who had the brilliant idea to finance a public meetinghouse upstairs by renting out shops on the ground floor. This was such a good plan that it is still working today, with a nice collection of excellent tourist shops downstairs that you will want to browse through later.
Important town meetings were held at Faneuil Hall, going back to Revolutionary days when the citizens could assemble to freely speak their minds, vote on the issues, make speeches protesting British rule, and plan how things should change. There were such fiery speeches here by Samuel Adams and other rebel leaders, the hall became known as the "Cradle of Liberty." Today the hall is still used for political gatherings, literary readings and civic functions, such as swearing in new citizens -- which is most appropriate, considering this is where the Colonists took their first steps towards becoming citizens of a new nation.
The Freedom Trail now continues a few blocks into the North End, through a lovely new landscaped park connecting downtown and the historic, Italian-flavored zone to the north. The Paul Revere House is the oldest wooden dwelling in Boston, built in 1680 in an early residential neighborhood of the city, North Square, which is still a charming cobbled street. A century later Paul Revere moved in and raised 14 children here, while pursuing his craft as a silversmith. The house was later used as a cigar factory, general store, candy factory, and tenement, but early in the 20th century it was restored and is today a museum with many original furnishings.
Three blocks further north along Hanover Street we reach the Paul Revere statue, which commemorates his "Midnight Ride" of April 18, 1775, when he galloped off to shout out, "the British are coming." Just behind the Revere statue is the Old North Church, the oldest surviving church in town, which hung those lanterns to warn about the arrival of the British -- "One if by land, two if by sea." The Ranger will leave us here, so let's take a stroll through the colorful North End, where we are now standing.
Mama mia! Bostonians don't ever call it Little Italy, but that's what it is today -- a most colorful neighborhood. This is one of the oldest parts of town, with quaint cobbled streets, historic old buildings and delectable Italian food. It was the financial and social center of Boston in the earliest Colonial days, and then was taken over by various waves of immigrants: English, Irish, then the Jewish, and finally, during the 19th century the Italian immigrants created a community that is still thriving today, filled with the aromas and romance of the Old Country.
Narrow side streets lead off from the main roads, making for more enjoyable wanderings. This is the kind of neighborhood that National Geographic writes feature articles about, for it is bursting with charm and filled with friendly people who are comfortable talking with their neighbors on the street. This Old World earthiness is hard to find in cities today, so take advantage and dive in for some exploring. We have had a full day, so this would be a good place to wrap it up with a leisurely stroll, or taxi ride, back to the hotel.
Day Two, BEACON HILL:
We'll start with a short walk in the very elegant neighborhood of Beacon Hill, a peaceful residential section consisting mostly of old brick townhouses, along with a nice shopping area on Charles Street, famous for little grocery stores, antique shops, furniture restorers, restaurants and community shops of various kinds. It is the kind of neighborhood that is so pleasant, and indispensable to understand what this town has to offer, that it would be most unfortunate to come all the way to Boston and not find time to visit Beacon Hill. Here is another example of why there is little point coming to an important and interesting place like Boston for only one day, thinking that you have seen the town, but missing out on great sights like this — which is why we stay for three days, to help you cover the place in-depth and not miss out on the good sights.
Located just across the Boston Common from Downtown, Beacon Hill is a vital living neighborhood today, with a noble history that goes back 200 years to when the State Capitol was constructed here, in 1795. These streets are reminiscent of some older parts of London — small brick buildings, beautiful trees planted for street landscaping, old-fashioned lamps to light the way, in a quiet, peaceful, protected neighborhood.
Stroll a few blocks along Chestnut and Mt. Vernon Streets, between Charles and Joy, passing many quaint townhouses, mostly built of brick in the Early American style, on charming lanes lined with leafy trees. Two blocks worth a closer look here are impossibly picturesque Acorn Street, with its narrow cobbled look, and Louisburg Square, a small private park surrounded by brick mansions and row houses built in the early 19th century, forming the most beautiful residential complex in Boston and home to some of the leading citizens.
BOSTON COMMON and PUBLIC GARDEN:
The Common is the oldest public park in America, set aside in the mid-17th century for public use, and it has been open every day since. Walk through the Common, heading west to the adjacent Public Garden — a real oasis in the middle of the city. This park is beautifully landscaped, with 24 acres of ponds, lawns, trees, flowerbeds and walking paths, and benches so we can sit and relax and take it easy for a little while. There are a lot of geese, swans, ducks and squirrels -- always a hit with Hawaii travelers. The idea for the park was first suggested back in 1824, and in 1859 the designs began, creating America's first public botanical garden. We walk across the little suspension bridge with its decorative hanging chains, and keep on going past the statue of George Washington.
BACK BAY: We arrive at Newbury Street, one of the trendiest places to be, with its collection of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, offering a lovely experience in our visit, and it is only two blocks from our hotel. The Victorian townhouse architecture in this formerly residential street has been embellished and gentrified into the upscale shopping district we find today. This is the heart of the Back Bay, which also includes a large elegant residential section covering an area eight blocks long and five blocks wide, with the grand boulevard of Commonwealth Avenue running through the middle.
We will find plenty of attractive shops to browse in the eight blocks of Newbury Street between Massachusetts Avenue and the Public Garden, including Armani, DKNY, Louis Boston, Laura Ashley, Max Mara, Anthropologie, Gap, Banana Republic, and many little specialty boutiques. There is a greater concentration of art galleries on Newbury Street than any place else in the city.
COPLEY SQUARE: Surrounded on all sides by fascinating buildings, with a pleasant little urban oasis in the center, this piazza is a fine place to soak up some architectural history, starting with the Neo-Romanesque Trinity Church, opened in 1877, one of the finest buildings in Boston. Facing Trinity across the square is another of the city's most celebrated buildings, the Public Library, built in the style of an Italian Renaissance palace and completed in 1895 as the first major Beaux Arts structure in America. Inside the building is even more beautiful, with a serene inner courtyard cloister, multi-colored marble ornamentation throughout, dozens of important statues, and numerous spectacular murals, including the supreme artistic achievement of John Singer Sargent, which he worked on for 30 years. The library needed more space to grow, so Phillip Johnson was commissioned to built an annex, which has become another one of the city's most wonderful buildings. It is adjacent to our hotel, so don't miss out on this treasure.
The most spectacular of landmark buildings at Copley Square, in stark modern contrast to the others, is the Hancock Tower — at 740 feet, the tallest building in New England. Designed by I. M. Pei in his bold style of sharply angled steel and glass, the building features the most dramatic observation deck in town, giving you a breathtaking sensation of flying over the city.
The other giant tower in this neighborhood, three blocks away on the other side of our hotel, is The Prudential Center, which contains another one of the town's biggest shopping malls, and a 360-degree panoramic viewing deck. The mall has some good places to eat, including a food court for quick meals, or better yet, try the busy branch of Boston's most popular chain of restaurants, Legal Seafood. A sky bridge connects the mall across busy Huntington Avenue, to the Copley Place Shopping Center, anchored by Nieman Marcus and the Marriott Hotel, with many more upscale shops to explore, and a wonderful atrium cocktail lounge. After lunch and a rest stop at our hotel, the second half of the day proceeds with a trip to two excellent museums. Or if you would rather have the afternoon free for rest or other activities, do as you wish.
FINE ART MUSEUM: We can conveniently get from Copley Square to the museum by public transportation — either with the frequent bus service along Huntington Avenue, or take the "E" train, from the Copley Square T station, that becomes a surface trolley on the way out to the Museum station.
The Museum of Fine Arts is housed in a lovely neo-Classical structure with marble columns, triangular pediments and bronze statues, supplemented with a new wing designed by I. M. Pei. Inside the museum is a collection of over one million objects, including the largest collection of paintings by Monet outside of France, with 38 works, and a few more rooms of Impressionism. The museum also has a strong group of Italian Renaissance paintings, Egyptian mummies, Picasso, El Greco, many classical statues, Pre-Columbian, and other ethnic arts from throughout the world.
Day Three: Morning optional trip to Concord, Lexington and New Hampshire These historic towns and beautiful landscapes are less than 15 miles from Boston, and are where the American Revolution began. The "shot heard 'round the world" was fired here back in April, 1775 when the British marched on Lexington and Concord and the Colonials fought back for the first time. The National Park Service and local historical societies have preserved the sites of these important events, so we will get a vivid feeling about those long-ago clashes by walking across the battlefields, into the old taverns, across the bridge and through the towns. Informative displays and guides bring the events back to life, and the towns of Concord and Lexington have preserved an authentic Colonial feeling in much of their architecture, which further heightens the historic atmosphere. Minute Man National Historical Park operates a Visitor Center in Lexington, and another center at the North Bridge in Concord, presenting color films and other exhibits that help us understand these events. There is some very pleasant countryside between these two towns and then we continue into southern New Hampshire to enjoy more of the fall colors.
CAMBRIDGE and HARVARD Later, we can visit Cambridge, the home of America's oldest and most prestigious university, Harvard, founded in 1636. The Harvard campus is a beautiful place, sprinkled with wonderful buildings from the 18th century. The Harvard Yard is the central lawn of the magnificent campus, surrounded by freshman dormitories built, like many of the structures on campus, in a very pleasant Colonial brick style, covered in ivy, exuding a rich intellectual history. This wraps up our three days in Boston.
New York is the most interesting destination in the world to visit! As the most important city in the world, New York has a tremendous collection of amazing buildings, people, attractions and landmarks, which now await your discovery. Be prepared for an intensity of life and density of parts that fit together in an urban miracle -- a place where you can find nearly anything you want, if you know where to look.
We offer some help in this brochure by explaining how we will spend our time, with plenty of specific tips on getting the most out of the experience. We shall stay at a Midtown hotel to maximize our ability to get around and not waste any of our precious time. Our comprehensive visit will be for five nights, giving us lots of time filled with many interesting things to do, and some free time for your independent activities. Here is the New York schedule, summarized:
Day one: Afternoon walk through Midtown; Day two: Walk through Central Park, Metropolitan Museum, Bus Tour. Day three: Walk through Lower Manhattan; Greenwich Village and Soho Day four: Madison Ave., Lexington, Chrysler Building, Grand Central, 42nd St., Empire State Day five: more walking tours and museums, optional Circle-Isle boat ride.
After arriving from Boston by train in the afternoon we begin our New York experience with a walking tour through Midtown, covering the famous sights of the world's most interesting square mile. New York is an ideal walking town, so wear comfortable shoes, but sit down to rest for ten minutes every hour. It has many different neighborhoods packed with things to see, but the most exciting zone is from 40th Street up to Central Park South, between Lexington and Broadway, eight blocks wide by twenty blocks high -- a grand total of 160 city blocks. We'll show you the highlights.
TIMES SQUARE: We walk a few blocks from our hotel to the epicenter where Broadway, 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue come together at Times Square: The electric heart and conceptual node, packed with honking taxis, pedestrians mobs, neon fires lighting the sky, memories of sleazy ghosts from the past now purged by private sanitation and security with the Disney stamp of family approval. No longer home to the Times, and not even a square, things are not what you might expect at this magical intersection. Times Square has become very safe and clean, the antithesis of what it once was, yet still bursting with raw urban energy. The merchants got together to form an association that restored this area as one of the major commercial and entertainment districts of the world. You also want to come back here at night to appreciate the blazing lights, which are especially wonderful just after the rain when everything is reflected in the wet streets — if you are lucky enough to be in town during a gentle evening shower, head right over to Times Square to soak it in. Stroll through the neon gulch at night to feel the electric pulse of the city. Don't worry - it has become one of the safest neighborhoods in town. This is the heart of the Theater District and you should take in a play or two while here. You can pick up tickets at half-price for the day of performance at the TKTS booth here at 48th St. There is normally a long line of bargain-hunters — but you may not see them at this slack time in the season - or you can avoid them by coming back later in the day, right up until show time.
ROCKEFELLER CENTER: Next we walk along 48th Street heading east to Rockefeller Center, an amazing urban development that is the world's largest private commercial complex, with one quarter million people passing through its 19 buildings daily. Constructed mostly during the 1930s in the Art Deco style, and then expanded across 6th Avenue with a row of giant glass-box skyscrapers built in what is called the "International Style" during the 1960s, these massive corporate headquarters for Time-Warner, Celanese, Exxon and McGraw Hill stand shoulder to shoulder in the city's most impressive urban line-up, expressing raw corporation power. Across 6th Avenue is Radio City Music Hall, with the world's largest movie theater, holding 6,000.
Next door is the G.E. Building, formerly called the R.C.A. Building, the main tower of the center whose 70 stories soar 850 feet high in a perfect Art Deco style. At the top is the Rainbow Room, where you could return later for a drink or dinner and enjoy one of the most spectacular views in town. In the main lobby you can join the NBC tour, an hour studio tour that gives you a close look at some of the famed stages and sets that are used for their popular TV shows, as well as the everyday workings of the television network. A new tour departs every 15 minutes from the NBC Experience store. The interior of this landmark structure is pure Art Deco, from its black marble floors to the streamlined stairwell banisters, throughout the 2 miles of public corridors. The two-level concourse is lined with shops and food courts. Look for the wall and ceiling murals in the main lobby as you exit the east end to emerge into another one of New York's greatest spaces, the Lower Plaza, with its ice skating rink and great bronze statue of Prometheus.
FIFTH AVENUE: We continue our walk out the 5th Avenue side of the plaza through the Channel Gardens, so-called because it separates the British and French buildings. At the street end you are now facing the main headquarters of Saks 5th Avenue — in business since 1924, this high-fashion department store is famous for top quality and excellent service. One block north we will find St. Patrick's Cathedral, a grand neo-gothic structure that looks like it is 800 years old, with stone buttresses, pointed arches, soaring spires, stained glass and medieval interior. Built 150 years ago, it is America's largest Catholic cathedral, 350 feet high, 300 feet long, with a seating capacity of 2,500 people. Walking north along 5th Avenue past the Olympic Tower and Cartier, we are experiencing America's most glamorous shopping strip. We are in Fifth Avenue's commercial heartland, looking at one of the world's great urban vistas, lined with exclusive department stores, boutiques and office towers. In the next few blocks we will pass Guy Laroche, Fortunoff, Gucci, Stuben, Armani, Bulgari, Tiffany and many more classy establishments.
Continue north a few blocks on Fifth to Trump Tower, covered with glittering bronze mirror windows that make it look like a prismatic jewel in the sky, but characterized in the Cadogan guidebook as "the most catastrophically ugly building in the world." The visual pyrotechnics continue inside The Donald's five-story atrium mall, which many like, but some find terribly overdone in excessively pink marble walls, waterfalls and over-priced shops. We probably won't buy anything here, but it is worth a ten-minute ride up and down the golden escalators. Also nearby are Tiffany's, Rizzoli's Bookstore and Bergdorf Goodman.
Day Two: This morning we can have a pleasant stroll through Central Park, enjoying the many fall colors spread across the beautiful landscape. Our route will take us past The Pond, over a few pedestrian bridges, and along side the small zoo, which we could visit. We walk north, and then continue along Fifth Avenue for a few blocks before arriving at the museum.
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM: In a nutshell, this is the world's finest art museum! It is New York's most popular attraction, with 5 million visitors each year. Dennis will lead you through it so that you can see all the highlights. The Met simply has the best of everything, the entire span of the world's art history. It is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, so we cannot see it all in one visit, but we can establish priorities. We will start with the favorites while we are fresh, which in this case is the enormous Impressionist collection, then look for the Vermeers, the Van Eyck and the Italian Renaissance masters. Take a breather on the rooftop sculpture garden with a fabulous view out over Central Park.
Today we take an afternoon bus tour, which will show us some of the places we have already walked past, and many new sights, which we can enjoy from the comfort of our seats. This evening you are free.
Day Three: Statue of Liberty & Lower Manhattan: We take the subway down to the south tip of the island to Battery Park, and then take a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty, the greatest monument to freedom and hospitality ever created. It was a gift in the late 1860s from the government of France to America, designed by Frederic Bartholdi, with the support framework built by Gustave Eiffel. The trip through New York Harbor gives a fine view of the city skyline and then brings us to Ellis Island, the arrival point for millions of immigrants from Europe over the last century. The facilities have been restored and turned into an inspiring museum, where we can learn from the many informative displays.
The boat takes us back to Manhattan's south tip, where we cross the busy street to an excellent free attraction, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, in the former Custom House, a Beaux Arts masterpiece first opened in 1907. Across the way is Bowling Green, New York's first public park, opened in 1733. As you walk along Beaver Street towards Broad Street, look down New Street for a glimpse of the narrowest of urban canyons.
FINANCIAL DISTRICT: A left turn on Broad Street will bring you to the New York Stock Exchange, with its Greek classic temple facade. Broad was the main street of 18th century New York and ever since it has been the financial center, with the first stock exchange founded in 1792. About 800 million shares are traded daily. Across the street is one of New York's finest neo-classical buildings, Federal Hall, constructed in the 1830s to look like an ancient temple. It is built on the site of America's first Capitol Building, and the statue of George Washington out front marks the spot where he was sworn in as our first president . Around the corner is Trinity Church, built in 1846 in the neo-gothic style, with its high steeple that was the city's tallest structure for fifty years. Now it is dwarfed by all the highrises around it. The interior looks like a graceful medieval church. Its cemetery is a small oasis, the resting place of some famous Americans, including Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamship, and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury. As you walk along Broadway we reach Ground Zero of the World Trade Center. We can join the crowd lined up at the police barriers and pay our respects. From here we can see the tragic site that was the Twin Towers, so we'll stop and reflect upon this scene of renewed construction and re-birth.
CHINATOWN: Now we take a short subway ride into the heart of Chinatown. Bursting at the seams, this has grown into the largest Chinatown in North America, with a constantly expanding population estimated now at 300,000 Chinese. There are about 400 restaurants, countless Asian antique shops, and souvenir stores sprawling over many blocks that stretch all the way to the East River. The two main employers here are the restaurants and sweatshops — lots of clothing is manufactured here in Chinatown, so we might be tempted to look for cheap goods in the little shops.
We are going to simplify the walk and stick to Mott Street, which is the most interesting and colorful choice for the Chinese atmosphere. If we are ready for lunch we have many choices here. If we can wait, there are many good restaurants ahead on our walk. Turn left on Canal Street and take a look down this huge busy truck-filled artery, lined with hundreds of Chinese signs and a thousand pedestrians. Just go one block and then escape to Italy with a right onto Mulberry Street.
LITTLE ITALY: There used to be nearly 200,000 Italians living in Lower Manhattan at the end of the 19th century, but now all that is left is one street that goes for two little blocks, and a few scattered bakeries and cheese shops. Mulberry Street between Canal and Grand still has many wonderful Italian restaurants lined up side by side, so this would be another fine place to take care of lunch, at a very low price. Walk left along Grand St. to Broadway, where we enter SoHo, the city's fine arts center.
SOHO: (which means South of Houston St.) SoHo had been a run-down industrial neighborhood with factories, warehouses and truck-loading ramps, but in the last twenty years has become New York's supreme cutting-edge art neighborhood. SoHo has the largest collection of cast-iron buildings in America, constructed mostly in the last half of the 19th century. The facades look like neo-classical buildings made of fancy marble columns and walls, but it is just an illusion in cast iron, which had many advantages in those days. The art galleries came in, and then restaurants and shops followed.
GREENWICH VILLAGE: Entering the Village from SoHo, we walk up Broadway across Houston, past Tower Records, and take a left on 4th St. to Washington Square Park. Certainly one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world, the Village was the birthplace of the Beat movement, and before that a literary haven in the 1920s — there is a rich tradition of non-conformity and creativity to explore here. The best walking route will take us through Washington Square Park and out the southwest corner to Macdougal Street, then down two blocks to Bleeker Street. This intersection is one of the great crossroads of the Village, with the landmark Figaro Cafe on the corner. Bleeker Street makes a perfect route to take through the Village. We follow it past 7th Ave., and then turn right on Christopher St. to Waverly Place; then walk along the north edge of the park passing a row of glorious Greek-revival townhouses. The streets do get pretty twisted here in the Village, which is a big part of the charm of this area, so a good way to deal with directions is just play it by ear and improvise, in the spirit of the many jazz clubs that still survive here. Finally, we end up along West 10th Street, a lively commercial strip near the edge of the Village, and then leave. By now it is late in the afternoon, so we are done. We head back to the hotel for a brief rest before dinner and your evening optional activities -- perhaps take in a hit Broadway show.
Day Four: MADISON AVENUE: We walk a few blocks over to Madison Avenue and continue south to view some of the most spectacular skyscrapers on the planet, starting with the Sony Building. Be sure to look way up to the roofline to find the Chippendale top designed by Phillip Johnson, who built this in 1984 as the AT&T Building, the city's first Postmodern structure. Across the street enter the IBM atrium indoor garden to see a bamboo forest while relaxing on their comfortable seats. We are in a very worthwhile neighborhood, which can be quickly enjoyed with serious window-shopping, people watching and looking up at the buildings peaks (three main techniques for getting the most out of your time here). Down Madison, we take a left at 54th over to Park Avenue with its manicured medial, where we will be rewarded with another of those famous views, looking south to the towering Met Life Building. On the corner you will see two of the first glass box skyscrapers ever constructed, Lever House, built by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in1952, and the Seagram Tower, designed by Mies van der Rowe and Phillip Johnson in 1958. These created the modern style of architecture that has been copied in thousands of buildings all over the world.
LEXINGTON AVENUE: Walk for a few blocks along Lexington Avenue, which is less glamorous but in some ways a more authentic New York experience with shops that will not ask you to take out a second mortgage. We are here to see the slant-topped Citicorp Building, a miracle of architecture that stands on just four pillars and a central column, which make it look like this white aluminum tower is floating in mid-air, suspended above yet another atrium and food court. Four blocks south we will come upon one of the city's most elegant and expensive hotels, the famous Waldorf-Astoria. It has a beautiful plush lobby with elaborate floral displays, crystal chandeliers and many comfortable sofas, so we may want to rest another ten minutes. In a few blocks we arrive at another gem, the Chrysler Building, in its day the world's tallest, at 1048 feet. It's Art Deco spire symbolizes the power of the automobile age, the flash of the jazz age, and the special beauty of New York construction, topping what is one of the world's great buildings. There is no public observation tower, but step into the public lobby to admire the Art Deco styling, right down to the elevator doors and air vents.
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL: Across the street we are in for a major treat. New York's grandest interior space is without a doubt Grand Central Terminal. Nearly destroyed by the wrecker's ball in the 1960s, it has recently been restored to its original grandeur. This glorious Beaux Arts masterpiece opened in 1913 and has been the transportation hub of mid-town ever since, with commuter and subway trains carrying a half million people every day. You'll recall the phrase "busy as Grand Central" when we walk through here, hopefully not at rush hour. There are some fine restaurants, including the Oyster Bar, that have made this a destination in itself.
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY: Crossing a block back over to 5th Avenue, we have reached a great intellectual landmark, the largest public library in the country with some 9 million books. It is a grand temple to knowledge, built of marble in 1911 with lavish attention to detail. The vaulted lobby is a breathtaking place to stop and admire for a moment before proceeding to the Main Reading Room, a remarkable space that runs the full block-wide length of the building, always busy with scholars and students utilizing its quiet dignified atmosphere. The hallways, stairs, side rooms and rotundas of this structure are worth exploring, with elaborate ceiling murals to appreciate. Down below are the stacks with 88 miles of shelves, some of them extending under adjacent Bryant Park. This charming park is another urban renewal success story, transformed from a notorious druggie hangout to one of Midtown's most peaceful spots.
This evening, if you are not going to a play you should consider a musical event. Carnegie Hall is one of the most famous concert halls in the world, right across the street from our hotel; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is the home of the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the New York City Ballet, or check the cabaret listings in New York Magazine to see who is performing in the hundreds of Manhattan nightclubs.
Day Five: EMPIRE STATE BUILDING We continue several blocks south to the Empire State Building for a spectacular experience. This is the ideal skyscraper with its spire rising 1250 feet, or 1,454 feet to the top of the TV tower. It has the best observation deck because you are in the middle of the densest concentrations of skyscrapers in the world, making this the most exciting urban viewpoint you can find. Arriving in the morning, we can be up and down in one hour. The observatory is on the 86th floor of this 102-story building. Built between 1929-1931at a top speed of one floor a day, when completed it was dubbed the "Empty State Building" because the Great Depression had begun and very few tenants moved in. Revenue from the observation deck was all that kept it afloat until the economy bounced back after World War II. MACY'S: One block away, at 34th Street and Broadway in the area known as Herald Square, the world's largest store occupies an entire city block and offers 8 floors of exciting shopping. We'll have some time to visit this great department store. After this shopping break, we take the subway north to another great museum and interesting Upper West Side residential neighborhood. If you would rather skip the museum option, you are free to follow your own interests.
An optional activity for the afternoon is the Circle Isle boat ride around Manhattan. It is relaxing to see the city skyline drift by from the perspective of the river, and usually the tour guide is quite good at filling the time with descriptions and odd historical stories. That wraps up our detailed look at New York!
We continue our East Coast journey with a train trip back to our historic roots where American independence was declared. It is the second biggest city on the East Coast - and you know that Philadelphia is filled with American history, but do you realize how much fun it is? Here are some of the great places to explore that will keep us busy: Center City, Society Hill, Independence Park, Old Town, South Street, Lancaster County and Atlantic City. It is an eminently walkable city, so wear comfortable shoes. We will efficiently lead you to these sights in our three-day visit. This is an ambitious program but our real-world experiences show that it can be done.
INDEPENDENCE PARK We start with the most important activity — the main attraction here is Independence National Historical Park, established in 1956 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It contains Independence Hall, with the nearby Liberty Bell Pavilion, and many other buildings used by the Revolutionaries and the early Federal Government. America ripped itself away from England here in that long summer of 1776, with the great minds of our Revolution coming together to declare our independence.
The park rangers really put on quite a free show, with seven different talks offered all day plus six more on weekends, telling the dramatic stories in the actual locations where these rebellious actions happened. This is the best free history show in America. The rangers are walking encyclopedias and most of them love to ham it up and get you all excited about our Founding Fathers. That's right, it is free, but there is one catch — the park can get crowded, but since we are here during the Fall, the crowds are at a minimum and we can generally just walk right into the various sights, and have a delightful experience with the very talented and friendly rangers. In these less-hurried times of year the rangers are more relaxed and will chat with us in casual conversations.
The centerpiece is Independence Hall, where the great debates leading up to our Revolutionary War took place. The rooms have been brilliantly restored to their original style in a mix of Georgian and Colonial architecture. This is where the two founding documents of our nation were adopted, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Then we'll go next door to Congress Hall, which was the capitol of our country from 1790-1800. Congress met here for the first time and created the Bill of Rights, in the original House and Senate Chambers, which are preserved exactly as they were 200 years ago. Amazing to think that these few small buildings contained the totality of our national government offices — quite a difference from today's vast bureaucratic expansion across the land. There are a few more historic sites we shall see — especially the most popular of all, the Liberty Bell, housed in its own glass pavilion. A new Liberty Bell Complex, houses a bell chamber and an interpretive exhibit area.
Then we'll visit Carpenters' Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774 in the earliest defiance of England, laying the groundwork for the battles to come. The carpenters were among the town's most important people, for this was the largest and fastest growing city in the Colonies. The small historic building is still owned by the Carpenters' Company. If you like money, go have a look at the Franklin Mint.
Finally, we'll have a brief look in the Second National Bank, which is now the National Portrait Gallery, putting us face to face with the great men who made it all happen. Then take a walk over the Visitor Center to collect a pile of free handouts on the various sites and have any questions answered. They can also steer us to some of the remaining sites on this first day, including Franklin Court and Christ Church. Philosophical Hall, City Tavern, The First Bank, the Betsy Ross House, and the Philadelphia Exchange are some of the other sites to see. Nearby, Elfreth's Alley, dating from 1690, contains 33 houses that make up the oldest inhabited street in the country.
The grounds of the National Park are a delightful series of small gardens and squares that further enhance the experience as we stroll from one site to the next. Everything is contained within a five-block area so it is very easy to walk around. America's most historic square mile is looking great for it recently finished a major revitalization.
For a different look, we can come back at night for a special new event, the Lights of Liberty Sound and Light show, starting at 6th and Chestnut, directly across from Independence Hall, for $18, at 8:15pm. We walk along as this sound and light show transports us back in time to experience the American Revolution as it happened, where it happened. Five-story images light up Independence National Historical Park, while headsets provide dramatic sound with the voices of Walter Cronkite, Ossie Davis, Charlton Heston, Claire Bloom, Frank Langella, and others, with recorded music performed by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Nearly everywhere are dignified reminders of the colonial and Revolutionary city and of Benjamin Franklin, a Philadelphian by adoption, who left his imprint on innumerable ongoing institutions in the city.
SOCIETY HILL: A delightful way to end the day is with a walk through Society Hill, the best-preserved Colonial neighborhood in America, just a few blocks south of the park. The hill was leveled 200 years ago, so it is now an easy, level walk through a charming residential neighborhood of old brick low-rise townhouses. The district was reborn in an urban renewal project during the 1960s that transformed this into one of the nicest parts of town. Just twelve square blocks comprise the area, so it is very easy to meander and see it all.
Much of the residential architecture of Philadelphia is comprised of three-story red-brick buildings based on this colonial style, fronting directly on the street. About 7,500 buildings have been certified by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which provides some protection from demolition. The city knows the value of restoration and rebuilding so determined efforts were made to protect its architectural history. This low-rise medium density urban pattern makes for a very livable city, with a village atmosphere of nearby shops in walking distance. The numerous little parks and tree-lined streets enhance this peaceful small-town atmosphere within the big city. It is great for the residents and a delight for the visitor who has the interest in strolling, especially in Society Hill.
There is a brilliant modern housing development on the edge of this colonial enclave by our renowned architect I. M. Pei, with two deluxe highrise towers placed on the east side of the district so as not to disturb things. This mix could be a model for rejuvenation of many other cities, and for wise suburban new developments that would use land efficiently while creating residential neighborhoods with urban amenities.
Walking along, we will soon come to South Street, "the hippest street in town" that jumps all day and night. Mostly for the young crowd, its six main blocks are lined with busy shops offering lots of fun, unique items. Here we'll find clothing, furnishings, antiques, novelty items, candles, records, books, fixtures and porn in a wild counterculture commercial mix. Look around and we'll find many dinner choices, ranging from the fast take-out to the charming sidewalk café. A good place to eat, or if it is early enough, just have a snack and keep walking.
For a hotel convenient to all these historic sights we stay at the Holiday Inn-Independence Mall at 4th and Arch St. It is just one block from the Liberty Bell. The hotel is also convenient to the Old Town, just 2 blocks away, so it's a quick walk home after dinner. There are many alternatives.
Day Two: Downtown and some museums. Then, take an optional side-trip to Atlantic City.
We start out our day with a walking tour of downtown, the prime business and shopping district. The modern downtown offers much to the visitor in the way of shops, parks, cafes, skyscrapers, and charming residential neighborhoods. The heart of town is known as Center City, marked by the intersection of Broad and Market streets, the city's two main thoroughfares. The massive French Renaissance-style City Hall is situated at this junction. This largest city hall in the country looks like a giant palace, and for many years was the tallest building in town under a gentlemen's zoning agreement that was finally pierced by the post-modern One Liberty Place, a glass needle 60 stories high with a 58-story twin forming a vast mixed-use complex that includes the tony Ritz-Carlton Hotel. These glass skyscrapers are on Chestnut Street, the major east-west shopping street so we want to be sure to stroll along for a little while.
Then walk south for two blocks to Rittenhouse Square, the most elegant residential neighborhood, with some lovely shops and cafes around. From the square turn east on Locust a few more blocks into the very epicenter of the urban core - all this is where it's at in Philly. Passing Broad Street across the central axis of town to the east side, we are heading for one of the most fun places in town, The Reading Terminal Market, which has been in business for 109 years. At last count there were 23 places to eat inside this vast building, and twice that many shops for browsing. It's a good place to try Philadelphia's culinary gift to the world, the cheese-steak sandwich, a gooey conglomeration of fried beef and onions smothered in Cheez-Wiz. Rick's is a third-generation deli that will lather it on. Or try Delilah's for a Southern platter, or tacos, pizza, Chinese, Thai, veggie, sushi, or we can go for the Amish delights.
Philadelphia was a pioneer in museums of all kinds. We can spend our second afternoon in most important — the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which the art-lover will definitely worship for its extensive international collection. One of the world's great museums, certainly in America's Top Five, it houses priceless collections of art from the West and from the Orient spanning 2,000 years. Enjoy Impressionists, Early American, ceramics, reconstructed Spanish courtyards, Japanese teahouses, Indian temples and free lectures in an oasis of beauty minutes from downtown by taxi or city bus.
Other museums to consider include the Rodin Museum, featuring the largest collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of Paris. The newest museum to consider is the Barnes Collection. Franklin Institute Science Museum and Planetarium is full of marvelous things that move and can be moved, while the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is a major feature of the University of Pennsylvania with a large collection from the ancient world. If you are seeking a special art thrill, take a day-trip to the Barnes Collection, one of the country's greatest private collections of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.
ATLANTIC CITY: This evening we take an optional bus trip to Atlantic City (37 million visitors each year). It is about 90 minutes away, so we arrive in time for dinner. We suggest you enjoy a stroll on the famous boardwalk (the world's first) to get your bearings and enjoy some fresh air and the gray waters of the Atlantic. Vegas it ain't, but some of the glitzy names include Caesar's Palace, Bally's, Sands, Harrrah's, and many Trumps to choose from. Good luck.
Day Three: Going Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch that is. Come along on our optional visit to the Amish in Lancaster County. Devote the day and be transported back 100 years to a simpler life when there were no cars, telephones, TV or electricity. The Amish are a special people, still living in the traditional way, with horse-drawn carriages, plain clothing, traditional farming, humility, modesty and simplicity as some of their traits.
Above all, the Amish are a religious group with origins in 17th century Switzerland, first immigrating to America in the 1700s to escape persecution. Amazingly the Amish have retained their distinctive culture during this long history, and are growing stronger than ever today. They resist the trappings of modern society because they value personal interactions within the family above all, and feel that television, automobiles and higher education will tear their families apart. It is a fascinating and mysterious culture.
They are primarily diary and tobacco farmers. Land ownership is becoming difficult with the growing population and rising prices. Telephones are creeping into the farm, but are restricted to separate outhouses in the back yard. Like any culture, they are coping with these challenges and making adjustments. The rural setting is a supremely beautiful experience, with endless miles of rolling farmland dotted with barns, well-kept homes, one-room schools, and no power lines. It is a comforting delight to witness a team of horses pulling a plow in America's heartland in the 21st century.
Our modern world could learn some important lessons from these plain people. They are content with their place in life. Their simple lifestyle is a stark contrast to our endless pursuit of massive energy consumption, materialistic competition, status rivalry, high-stress agendas, endless progress and the rest of our preoccupation with the new and improved. The Amish have shaped a community that defies these values of our modern world, and suggests some quiet alternatives that could lend us some peace and serenity. You don't have to grow a beard and drive a horse-wagon to get there, but the simple things in life are waiting for you, in Lancaster County. Go have a look and think about it.
When we get back to Philadelphia, the perfect way to re-enter the modern urban world after this trip to the past is pay a visit to Old Town for dinner, just north of Independence Park. The old brick buildings have been magically transformed into art galleries, shops and trendy restaurants, so you are welcome to take an evening stroll and pick from a fine selection of eateries. Centered along 2nd and 3rd Streets between Arch St. and Race St., the place is safe and delightful. A great place to end our visit to one of America's great cities.
Washington is not only the political center of America, but the showcase for the greatest museum complex in the world — the Smithsonian. This city also has the largest collection of neo-classical buildings in America, with pillars, domes, statues, monuments, and plazas that emulate a modern version of ancient Greece. The sheer bulk of white marble will dazzle you, from Capitol Hill to the Jefferson Memorial. Washington also holds the nation's most sacred monuments and the most meaningful artifacts of its history, the embassies of foreign nations, and an impressive collection of the national art treasures.
We arrive from Philadelphia by train at Union Station, the restored beaux-arts structure that serves as Washington's main train station. Completely refurbished in 1988, Union Station has modern facilities in a beautiful building modeled after the Roman Baths of Diocletian, so we'll have a quick look, and you might want to return here later in your free time. Underneath its gilded ceiling are five restaurants, 125 stores, traveler services, a nine-screen movie complex and the biggest food court you've ever seen (there are almost 50 vendors in the food court). Union Station is a fine place to have lunch, shop around, then return to sightseeing. After a brief rest at our Holiday Inn Capitol, conveniently located one block from the Mall, we begin our tour with a couple of museum visits. The Smithsonian Institution is spread out along the Mall and includes 14 museums, making this the largest collections of museums in the world. Since it is impossible to see all of them in a single visit, we shall pick the best and have a good look at them.
Only one block from our hotel, the Air & Space Museum is the most visited museum in the world for good reason, as exhibits like the Wright Brothers' plane, the Apollo 11 command module and IMAX movies never fail to captivate young and old alike. It maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. It is also a vital center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight. The Museum has hundreds of artifacts on display including the "Spirit of St. Louis," and a Lunar rock sample that visitors can touch. The museum continues to develop new exhibits to examine the impact of air and space technology on science and society.
Just across the Mall we find The National Gallery of Art, one of the world's best art museums. It has a superb collection of American and European paintings, sculptures and graphic arts, in a wonderful setting that can be enjoyed in a single visit. The West Building has a collection of paintings and sculptures from the 13th - 19th century including works from Titian, Renoir and others, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the western hemisphere. In the East Building, famous for its knife-edge design by I.M. Pei, we can see modern works by artists like Picasso, Calder, Matisse and Jackson Pollack. These two museums will keep us busy this first afternoon, so perhaps tonight would be a good time for dinner and rest. There are evening options to keep us busy in the coming nights.
Day Two: We start out with a 3-block walk to the Smithsonian's Visitor Information Center at The Castle, a Norman-style red sandstone building, where we can view an informative short film about the various museums, and learn all about the many exhibits. It's a great way to get our orientation, and it is the only building on the Mall open before 10:00 am. It is the first Smithsonian building ever built, and has a beautiful garden in the back yard.
MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS: Then we can proceed with a major activity: visiting the monuments and memorials. They are all located quite close to each other, and we have special routes that easily connect them for our visit. The first landmark you cannot help but see is the Washington Monument. It is the tallest freestanding masonry structure in the world — a 555-ft obelisk that dominates the Washington skyline.
We then proceed to the Jefferson Memorial. As author of the Declaration of Independence, President, Secretary of State, and designer of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson proved himself an accomplished architect of both buildings and nations. The Jefferson Memorial pays tribute to him by having a 19-foot bronze statue of our third president in the center of a colonnaded monument that resembles Rome's Pantheon, with excerpts of his writings engraved on the walls. Since it overlooks the Tidal Basin, one of the best views of the White House can be seen from the Jefferson Memorial. We follow the tidal basin around to the FDR Memorial, consisting of four outdoor "gallery" rooms featuring ten bronze sculptures, depicting the life and times of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is one of Washington's newest memorials. The only memorial dedicated to a 20th century president, the FDR Memorial is comprised of huge slabs of red granite, inscribe with Roosevelt's inspiring quotes like " We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Inside the "outdoor rooms," there are waterfalls and reflecting pools that remind us of his days as Secretary of the Navy. Scenes from his four terms also adorn the gallery.
Next we can walk over to the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most inspiring monuments in Washington. Inside the Greek-styled structure is Daniel Chester French's statue of Lincoln overlooking the reflecting pool, with The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural speech inscribed on the walls. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a moving tribute to the almost sixty thousand soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam. The names of these soldiers are etched into the black granite of the memorial, where family and friends often leave behind tributes and mementos.
Those who are interested can cross the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery. Site of 250,000-war dead, this sacred, 500-acre site contains the graves of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert and wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, as well as the hilltop mansion of revered Southern hero Robert E. Lee.
CAPITOL We shall visit the grandest building in the city, The U. S. Capitol, seat of the legislative branch of the United States' government. The Capitol Guide Service offers a 45-minute guided tour, which includes the current chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, when these bodies are not in session. Depart the Capitol and stroll across the street to the U.S. Supreme Court, home of the judicial branch of the government. On the ground floor visitors can view changing exhibits which depict the history of the Court. Just a block away is the Library of Congress, the world's largest library with 26 million books, films, documents and photographs.
DUPONT CIRCLE Later in the day we can visit Dupont Circle for dinner. In this vibrant, cosmopolitan neighborhood you will find many ethnic restaurants, bookstores, and the city's largest concentration of private galleries. For a break, relax and enjoy the park and fountain at Dupont Circle. The wooden benches that surround the entire park provide the best vantage point for some of Washington's finest people-watching, because it attracts picnicking visitors, office workers, sunbathers, mothers with strollers, bicycle messengers, chess players, and assorted passersby. The centerpiece of this busy, urban space is the magnificent, white marble Dupont Memorial Fountain, designed by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.
The surrounding blocks are a wonderful mix of grand mansions, art galleries, sidewalk cafes and unique museums, including the Textile Museum, Woodrow Wilson House and the Phillips Collection, which has the distinction of being "America's first museum of modern art." On the side streets, the 19th-century Washington brick row house took on special grandeur. Although some of Dupont Circle's grandest mansions are gone and embassies and institutions now occupy others, we can still enjoy the special ambiance of a neighborhood created when the nation was in love with its capital city.
Day Three: Although it might sound depressing, we really should not miss the Holocaust Museum, and if we go right after breakfast we can beat the crowds and really absorb the profound experience. Formed by a unanimous act of Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the only national memorial dedicated to the Holocaust. It recounts the plight of over 11 million Jews and political prisoners that were killed by Nazis between 1933 and 1945. We need to get there early to pick up free tickets, because the daily allotment of 2,000 tickets is usually gone before noon.
Next door, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing tour is one of the more popular attractions in Washington. All of the paper currency in America originated in this building, so visitors can see the presses that print over $450 million a day. Security is tight and there are no interactive displays, but he tour is still fun. Where else can you see a $1 million stack of $10 bills, or see how much your height is worth in $100 bills?
We have time for a couple of more museums today, so let's go check up on Nature and History. The National Museum of Natural History chronicles the development of man, animals and nature from prehistoric times to the present. Exhibits include fossils, a living coral reef and writhing insects. Besides the home of the famous Hope Diamond, the Gem Hall contains educational displays on geology and Earth science. Visitors can learn about plate tectonics, volcanology and the importance of mining. Another new addition is the Whole Earth Theater, a multi-media presentation on Earth science.
The National Museum of American History helps the Smithsonian earn the nickname of "the nation's attic." One can view the mementos of a nation ranging from the flag that inspired " The Star Spangled Banner" to Fonzie's leather jacket. This is probably the most interesting museum for visitors, so be sure to spend a few hours enjoying it.
Tonight we can ride the Metro to the Pentagon Shopping Mall, the nicest indoor mall in the area. The Metro station is conveniently located across the street from our hotel, and a ten-minute train ride gets us there. It's a fun mall to browse in, and we can have a simple dinner in their food court.
Day Four: Our final day, and we have many fun things left to do. We can start out this morning with a little more culture, and then take a closer look at the city. Or, on the other hand, an optional half-day trip this morning is an interesting ride to historic Mount Vernon, "America's most visited historic house."
For those who stay in town, we could start with a quick look at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, devoted to the art of Asia, including cultures from the shores of the Mediterranean to Japan, from ancient times to the present. It is especially strong in Chinese art, such as bronzes and jades, some as old as 4,000 years. Several imposing rooms of sculpture represent the rich artistic traditions of South and Southeast Asia.
If you are a big fan of 20th century art, the Hirshhorn Museum houses the Smithsonian's collection of modern and contemporary art. The drum-shaped building is located next to the Air and Space Museum and has a fascinating sculpture garden across the street. On the other side of the Mall, the National Archives displays America's most treasured documents which define our government and national philosophy: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The National Archives also has some historically significant items on display like the rifle Lee Harvey Oswald used to assassinate President Kennedy.
DOWNTOWN Washington's downtown is just across the street from the Archives, running between the White House and the Capitol. Downtown Washington's historic streetscapes showcase the city's newest arts, dining, sports, and entertainment scene along with world-renown theaters, museums, and memorials. This is where the old and new blend in a lively rhythm of sights and sounds. One of the highlights here is the Old Post Office Building, with an observation post on top of its Romanesque tower. Stunning commercial buildings reinforce the historic significance of Washington's downtown. On almost every block you'll discover fine examples of diverse architectural styles: Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Beaux Arts, and Classical Revival, with facades made from brick, stone, cast iron, terra cotta, and cast stone. Approximately 200 buildings within the Downtown Historic District carry an historic registry designation.
GEORGETOWN Our final evening adventure takes us to Georgetown, a neighborhood that actually pre-dates the city of Washington! Once a thriving Colonial port, Georgetown is a historic area and a "shopoholic's" dream, with its boutiques, national brand stores, and a Victorian-style shopping mall. Visitors and Washingtonians alike flock to Wisconsin Avenue and M Street to dine at the many fine restaurants or the pleasant outdoor cafes.
An architectural feast awaits as we stroll brick sidewalks in this 18th century port town. We can walk the tree-lined banks of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and feel like we are in the countryside. On the way, we can savor the exquisite variety of architectural styles that distinguish Georgetown's charming homes, including Georgian mansions, Federal and Classical Revival houses. Back to the hotel for a good rest, and the next day we fly home, satisfied that we have experienced the very best of the East Coast!
The train is comfortable, smooth, quiet, relaxing, and so fast it gets you there in half the time. On the train you are free to walk around, have a meal in the dining car or enjoy a picnic lunch, and talk with some of the other travelers on board. First class trains are air-conditioned, so they are cool and quiet. The spacious seats are like sofas, and can recline to make you very comfortable -- you might even take a nap. You can use the clean, convenient bathrooms anytime you want. The rail routing is through scenic countryside, and you can move around to enjoy the views on both sides through picture windows.
Centrally located hotels
We have made a great effort to select fine hotels in the historic centers of the places we visit. This is extremely important, for it enables you to experience much more by just stepping out your front door. In such an advantageous location there are many nearby restaurants, monuments, shops, historic sights, important buildings, landmarks, and other features that you have come on vacation to see. Most European cities have a historic central district dedicated to the pedestrian, filled with these attractions, and this is where we like to stay. Our central hotel locations enable you to walk freely and safely through interesting neighborhoods, which is the best way to get to know a place. We want you to get the most out of your precious time, and really get a feeling for each destination. Nothing enhances that better than a good hotel in a central location. This is probably our biggest difference in approach.
Shopping like a local
With us you always have time for shopping in local stores, or, if you are not a shopper, use your precious time for other activities, instead of being led by the nose into tourist traps. The historic centers of town are filled with fascinating and unique little shops that are fun to browse through, and we will point you to those neighborhoods and set you loose. Your Hawaii escort is not getting any commissions, but instead will help you find the best deals.
In-depth city tours
We include several tours in each city, to give you a well-rounded look at the place. In the large cities we offer panoramic tours are on a motorcoach, and we always provide in-depth walking tours with your Hawaii escort. Our guided walks really make you familiar with a place, and prepare you for some exploring on your own. Because we are staying for two or three days, you have enough time for this, with time left over for your independent activities. We put a special emphasis on history and fine arts. The trips are educational, cultural experiences, and they are also a lot of fun. Our walking tours will take you through historic neighborhoods filled with architectural treasures, and you have time for museums and other cultural attractions.
Leisurely pace -- quality time
We stay for two or three nights in each place. This gives us enough time to show you around with our tours, and then you actually have free time so you can do some exploring on your own. This approach gives you the “best of both worlds” for the guidance we provide on our included tours helps you get the most out of your free time as well. With a proper orientation to a city, you can make the best choices for your independent activities, and we are always there to help. You will have some time to relax and enjoy the sights instead of being constantly on the go. This is how you really get a sense of place, and gain a feeling for the character of each of the cultures on the itinerary.
Small groups, from Hawaii
We limit our group size to 20 or 28 people, which we have found is quite important, for when you get above that size the group becomes very impersonal. Nearly every one of us is from Hawaii, so we become a friendly ohana on the road, looking out for each other, and showing a lot of courtesy. For example, it is very unusual for anyone to be late, so we do not waste time waiting. New friendships are made that last well beyond the length of the tour, and after returning home we have a reunion party to celebrate the trip!
Sitting on a crowded bus for up to eight hours on a long journey can be very tiring. You are confined to a small space, and cannot move around at all. There is no dining car, and often when you pull into a roadside cafeteria, long lines are waiting ahead of you. Restroom stops also slow down the journey and waste your precious time, and they might not stop when you need it the most. The “scenic view” is dominated by the highway filled with trucks and cars. Buses often get stuck in heavy traffic jams with many other vehicles competing for your road space, which can produce a lot of stress.
Hotels on the edge, or beyond...
You finally arrive at your hotel after an all-day bus ride, and find that you are still far away from the main attractions of town. Your tour operator is saving money by putting you in a nondescript hotel on the fringe of the city. There will be very little to see in your immediate vicinity, so you have to spend money and time on a taxi ride into town, or you just don’t bother, and miss out. You are practically held hostage in these remote locations, so your tour guide can sell you optional tours. These hidden expenses quickly increase the price you pay for the trip. Sometimes these big operators even put you in a hotel that is not in town at all, so you are really out of the picture. All you are going to see is what the tour operator shows you on a brief bus tour, and that is usually a quick view of highlights through the window, and then off to the next city for more of the same treatment.
Shopping in tourist traps
With the bus tour, during the brief time you have in a place, you are often herded into tourist-trap “factories” and “showrooms” for “bargain” shopping. You are stuck on the bus, so you are at their mercy. If the tour bus stops at a souvenir mill, you stop too, and there is usually no other shop nearby except the one they have chosen for you. Your guide and driver are getting a commission for taking you there, so that’s the place they want you to shop.
Quick city tour
At best they might give you a three-hour bus tour, and that’s all. You are usually in town for only one night, and then leave the next morning, so there is little time for anything else. If there is any extra time, you will find the tour guide wants to sell you options that take you away from town, and if you don’t buy the option, they set you loose with very little preparation, so you are on your own. Without proper guidance you might end up wasting time and being unable to find the important sights on your own. But there is no time, since you are already heading for the next city. If you get lucky you might have a quick look in one museum, and the little bit of history that you hear is probably delivered in dry lectures on the long bus rides that just might...lull...you...to...sleep.
Most bus tours keep you moving all the time. You arrive in a city late in the day, after driving for many hours, and then you leave in the morning for your next destination. The standard bus tour operators have devised exhausting itineraries that appear to show you all of Europe in 17 days, but when you analyze them, you are sitting on the bus most of that time! Unpacking every night, and repacking every morning, you don’t have much time left for sightseeing. With a bus tour you have precious little free time for you are on the go all the time. If it’s Tuesday, where are we now? All too often the quick stream of cities becomes a fuzzy forgettable blur.
Big groups, from everywhere
You really don’t know whom you are going to be traveling with, or how full the bus is going to be. The bus has up to 55 seats, and they are usually full, with everyone jockeying for position, so you are part of a very big group, with most of the people from every place but Hawaii. A big anonymous group like that creates a less friendly environment in which people do not care much about each other. In this case you are just a face lost in the crowd -- and you probably will not get to know many people in the group by name, or ever see them again.