Don’t take the bus, take Central Park!

Are you a walker?

I like to tell the story of my visit to friends in Beverly Glen near Los Angeles, about 25 years ago. After a few days of being driven around on a sightseeing tour of Southern California, I felt my legs aching from lack of use. I’m a New Yorker, and that means I walk everywhere — to the market, to the post office, to the hardware store, to the movies, to … everywhere! So I walked out of my friends’ driveway and strolled down a few streets, admiring the lovely houses and desert gardens whose succulent plants were so unfamiliar to me. Suddenly a police car appeared, and two Beverly Hills police officers asked to see my identification. What was I doing, they asked. When I replied, just taking a walk, they seemed at once perplexed — as if they were pondering why anyone would want to walk when she could drive — and suspicious — as if I were “casing” houses to rob.

But, in my opinion, what could be more fun, more invigorating, and more interesting than strolling through a neighborhood, checking out the landscape, the architecture, the people, the street life. And what better place to do it than in New York …

When my guests ask me, “How do I get to the Metropolitan Museum?” or “I’d like to see Rockefeller Center; what train do I take?” they are surprised when I answer, “Walk there!” What they don’t realize is that from our West 80th Street bed and breakfast on the Upper West Side, they can walk through Central Park to Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile in 20 minutes and to Rockefeller Center in about 40 minutes. No noisy, crowded subways, no taxi rides in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just the most beautiful backyard one could wish for, and the satisfaction that comes from gentle exercise.

(Here’s a secret: find and walk the old bridle path. In a future post, I’ll talk about some of my favorite Central Park spots, including this old horseback riders’ trail, but for now, just ask someone, or hug the western edge of the Park and look for the dirt and ash road, sometimes hidden by stone walls and lush greenery. You’ll be rewarded….)

Walk through the Park, and you will feel both removed from the City and embraced by it. You’ll experience the beauty of one of the world’s largest and most original gardens, but you’ll never lose sight of the other landscape of masonry, glass and iron. And you’ll be safe, surrounded by runners, cyclists, parents and nannies pushing baby strollers, women and men striding to work, and lots of people just like you — visitors with map in hand, guidebooks in every language, and quizzical expressions. And finally, you’ll see people like me, New Yorkers ready to snap a photo of you in front of the John Lennon Strawberry Fields memorial, or to help you find your way.

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