When summer comes to Gotham and the weather turns hot and sticky, even the most devout New Yorker makes a B-line for the cool beach water of The Hamptons or the cleaner country air of the Connecticut Litchfield Hills. Another subway ride dripping in gritty summer sweat fails to match up. But if exiting the city isn't in your plans much this summer or you're venturing in for a few days and seeking a temporary reprieve… REMEMBER YOUR PARK PEOPLE! Central Park hosts loads of activities all season long to beat the heat and help us rediscover why we love this city so much! - Andrea Muller
I recently took advantage of one of these activities, the Central Park Walking Tours, offered by the Central Park Conservancy free of charge. I arrived at Belvedere Castle promptly at 12:30pm on a Thursday afternoon for the Castle and Its Kingdom Tour. Questioning if I'd be one of only a handful of people, I was delighted when 25 others showed up. Two guides, Marge and Bob, looking official in green Central Park Conservancy tees and clip boards in hand, greeted guests, had us sign the log, and asked how many of us were New Yorkers. At least half raised their hands.
Bob began the tour talking about the castle itself and how Belvedere in Italian means beautiful view. While the castle currently looks out on to the Great Lawn of the park, years back a large reservoir occupied that same spot and the view from the castle was quite different.
We continued our walk stopping next at Turtle Pond, one of at least seven more points of interest on the tour. The pond's namesake at that moment decided to crawl across the pavement in front of us and welcomed us to his world. Quite a few of us, especially the kids, got excited over this unexpected diversion. Eventually, Bob redirected the little show stopper back to his habitat and informed us that while many believe the pond is part of the natural landscape of the park, it was actually manmade and only created after the reservoir was replaced with the lawn. And, the water within the pond was none other than good old New York City tap water.
We meandered further down the shaded path to the Jagiello Statue. I've passed by here dozens of times and always wondered what on earth was a statue of a Polish king doing in the middle of Central Park? As it turns out, back in 1939 when New York City hosted the World's Fair, the Polish government gave it to the exhibit to represent their country. Shortly after the fair, Germany invaded Poland to start World War II. Seeing that Poland had more pressing matters on their hands, the statue got left behind, and then gifted to the park. How cool is that! So from now on when passing through, I decided I'd give a knowing curtsy to the king and be on my way.
Next stop… Cleopatra's Needle. Again, why in the United States of America, in New York City, in the middle of Central Park, stands a 3500 year old, 250 ton Egyptian obelisk? The story goes that back in 1839 the Egyptian leader at the time wanted to start trade relations with the United States and gave it as a gift to get the ball rolling. Many of the great cities of Europe like Rome, Paris, and London, all had their own obelisk, so why not New York City, too? Of course, we graciously accepted it. Although I'm not too sure what happened on the trade relations front.
The tour continued, stopping at a few other spots before wrapping up an hour later. It was just enough time to relax, get a brief history lesson and greater appreciation of the park, and a break from the noise and hot summer cement of the city. Some of us chatted with each other for a while longer and asked the guides more questions before eventually going our separate ways.
The Central Park Conservancy offers New Yorkers and travelers to the city other walking tours as well such as The Art of the Park, Amble Through the Ramble, and West Side Stories. And don't forget to visit centralparknyc.org to learn more about other summer activities and events in the park to stay cool this summer.
79th Street and Central Park West
New York, NY 10024