Monday, March 31, 2014

Through the Eyes of a New Yorker

image from Big Apple Greeter
I've been to Paris a few times, but the best trip I ever had was while my brother was living there. Having already done all the major tourist checklist items on previous trips, we were able to take advantage of my brother's knowledge of the city, and spend time as he did. It was really wonderful to get to know a couple of the neighborhoods better than before, and he showed us places I don't think we would ever have found on our own. One of my favorite memories from that trip is going to a hidden bar with a beautiful brick cellar where the arches were covered in strings of lights, and everyone was dancing. I would never have found that place if he hadn't been living there.

Having a friend show a visitor around town is such a fun way to get to know a city, but often that isn't an option. Luckily, there's a non-profit called Big Apple Greeter, which seeks to create a similar experience.

Big Apple Greeter connects tourists with a New York City volunteer who will show visitors around a neighborhood. The volunteer isn't a licensed tour guide, and the idea is a bit more relaxed than with a professional tour -- the New Yorker shows the tourists around in the same way a friend might. And, as with a friend, there is no cost to be shown around (although donations are appreciated).

The casual style of the program is purposeful. The founder, Lynn Brooks, wanted to show visitors who might otherwise be intimidated by New York how all the neighborhoods feel like small towns to those who live in them.

I've been familiar with Big Apple Greeter for a while because I know a few people who volunteer for them, but I recently found out that similar programs now exist in many other cities. According to Wikipedia, one can find greeters in all of these cities:

image from Big Apple Greeter
Adelaide, Australia - Athens, Greece - Belgian Coast, Belgium - Belgrade, Serbia - Berlin, Germany - Bilbao, Spain - Brighton, England - Brisbane, Australia - Bruxelles, Belgique - Buenos Aires, Argentina - Bourgogne, France - Chicago, USA - Côte d'Ivoire - Dublin, Ireland - The Hague, Netherlands - Hamburg, Germany - Heidelberg, Germany - Houston, USA - Kent, England - Kragujevac, Serbia - London, England - Lyon, France - Mannheim, Germany - Marseille, France - Melbourne, Australia - Moscow, Russia - Mulhouse, France - Munich, Germany - Nantes, France - Niš, Serbia - Novi Sad, Serbia - New Delhi, India - New York, USA - Paris, France - Pas-de-Calais, France - Rhine and Ahr region and Bonn, Germany - Sélestat, France - Saint Petersburg, Russia - Tel Aviv, Israel - Toronto, Canada

Now that I know these programs exist outside of New York, I plan to look into them for future travels. It sounds like a great addition to a trip to meet someone who lives there. I may not end up at an underground bar, but I'm sure I would get to see some great spots that travel books miss.

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