In episode two of Culture Trip’s Only in New York podcast, the team head to Grand Central Terminal to speak with its director, George Monasterio, architect Frank Prial, and Municipal Art Society docent tour guide Curtis Wayne. From the 1990s restoration to secret underground parties, we cover all things Grand Central.
There’s a lot more to Grand Central than its famous astrological ceiling. George Monasterio and Frank Prial both worked on the restoration project, and are hugely knowledgeable about the many details visitors may overlook. Meanwhile Curtis Wayne shares Grand Central’s secrets – from underground parties thrown by Andy Warhol to the real value of that opal clock.
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Here’s the transcript:
Jillian Anthony: This is Only in New York by Culture Trip.
Alex Shebar: Culture Trip is the go-to platform for travel, where you can go to get informed, plan and book awesome experiences and places you want to stay all over the world.
George Monasterio: My name is George Monasterio. I am the director of Grand Central Terminal and the thing that I find special in New York is the, well, it would be a few things, but one would be the energy and the attitude, the confidence that people have walking through the city. It is not lawlessness, but it is a close to it walking, crossing the street wherever they want. But, you know, it is the, uh, New York minute that they do all have. That is only in New York.
JA: New York City is the greatest city in the world. That is just a fact.
AS: We are New Yorkers and we will fight you on this.
JA: We have got 8m people and 62m visitors a year who love our world-famous entertainment.
AS: So many dining options, you could not get through them in a lifetime.
JA: The breathtaking skyline.
AS: Of course, the terrible weather.
JA: The world reviled subway system.
AS: Rats the size of your face.
JA: But it is all worth it because the city surprises you every New York minute.
AS: Okay. Want to know the best things to do in each of the cities, five boroughs?
JA: Guess what? You are in the right place.
AS: I am Alex Shebar.
JA: And I am Jillian Anthony. This is Only in New York by Culture Trip.
JA: All right. Let us go to Manhattan.
JA: Well, we, we work in Manhattan everyday. So we go there a lot.
AS: Yeah, I visit Manhattan more often than I probably want. If I could stay in other neighborhoods… You know, Manhattan is that classic iconic New York. Uh, it is the one that you always think about.
JA: Right. It is the one that you are seeing in lots of movies and pictures, um, you know, at the famous skyline, that is usually of Manhattan.
AS: Although you are in a different borough when you see that skyline, but it is fine. It is fine. That is views of New York are not Manhattan.
JA: Well, you know, the Empire State Building, Radio City, uh, Central Park.
AS: Katz’s Deli, lots of hot dog carts.
AS: One on every corner.
JA: It is delicious.
AS: They are delicious actually. I really like them. That is what I think when I came to New York. I am like “Hot dogs!” And I had one and I was like “Yep. This is what I wanted. It is perfect.”
AS: There is lots of ways to get around New York, but we think the most beautiful and iconic stop for travelers has to be Grand Central Terminal.
JA: I was just there this weekend. Um, I took a train up to let us see what was the stop? Manitou.
AS: Manitou. Where is Manitou?
JA: It is about an hour and fifteen minutes.
JA: It is not far. And, um, you know, a friend did the hike up to Anthony’s Nose, which has a beautiful view of the river, of the Hudson River. When I went there, I made sure to notice some of the things I have learned about Grand Central. Uh, I took a long look at the ceiling and looked at how beautiful it was. I looked at the symmetry of, uh, the building that has happened since the restoration occurred in the 90s. Um, and I really took the time to notice how absolutely beautiful it is and how people really do not run into each other there. It is, uh, it has been designed in such a beautiful way.
AS: See, I am jealous because I always travel at the Penn Station, which we will talk about. It is a nightmare. So the joy and the beauty, both of the, uh, the visual aspect of Grand Central Terminal and just the, the navigational aspect. Uh, I am in love with it and I am jealous you got to do that. I actually had my first oyster at Grand Central Terminal. At least the first I can remember and, um, now, I have been a snob ever since.
JA: At the, at the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar?
AS: At the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar. Where else would you have it?
JA: I still have it in there.
AS: You have to come over. It is so good.
JA: Uh, I mean I have taken lots of trips from there, um, but I, you know, I have definitely, uh, stopped in for a Magnolia Bakery cupcake down there and the Shake Shack burger.
AS: Both national chains, but somehow still feel very New York at the same time.
AS: I love that. You know, we are both big fans of travel and want to know more about this legendary transportation hub.
JA: So we had a chance to chat with a few, uh, very knowledgeable people about everything you need to know about Grand Central, uh, including that Andy Warhol threw secret parties there, uh, that the ceiling was possibly painted backwards and a few myths you may believe, uh, that are absolutely not true.
AS: Just remember, don’t call it Grand Central Station or they will get real mad at you.
JA: It is Grand Central Terminal, because trains stop there.
AS: More all about it right now.
AS: We are not the only ones with thoughts about Grand Central Terminal. We caught up with a few people on the street and got their opinion, too.
Man 1: I think it is the perfect Manhattan. It is a melting pot of everybody coming through the city everyday, all walks of life. Pretty, pretty cool place. Probably a lot of history here that I do not know about. Aside from work, when I am in Grand Central, I like to hit the shops and stop, grab a cold beer.
Curtis Wayne, Docent (D): Hi. I am Curtis B Wayne. I have lived in New York on and off since I was 18 years old. Only in New York, on one block, you can get Ukrainian pierogies and have your shirts dry-cleaned at a Chinese laundry, and then at the other end of the block, find a Korean kimchi restaurant. Only in New York. I am a docent with the Municipal Art Society of the City of New York, which was founded in 1893, in the midst of what’s known as the City Beautiful Movement.
AS: Let us talk about some secrets of Grand Central. There are some pretty incredible features locations. We can start with the Whispering Gallery. I am going to whisper this, “What is the Whispering Gallery?”
D: Just in front of the Oyster Bar, which has always been the main dining room of Grand Central, there is a domed intersection. If you stand in opposite corners, you can talk to your friend in the other corner with a whisper.
AS: That is fascinating.
D: Now, in 1974…
D: Charles Mingus, who was arguably the greatest jazz…
AS: Jazz player.
D: …player, took his girlfriend and stood her in the opposite corner. Now, the myth is that he proposed marriage. The reality, as Ruth Graham Mingus said to one of my friends, who is also a docent, was, I know it was the first time that Charlie whispered, “I love you.”
AS: Ah! I think that is even nicer.
D: I think that is even better, do you not?
AS: Right. That is such an intimate moment.
D: Sure. Right.
AS: It is beautiful.
D: If you are coming to New York for the first time and you really want to enjoy Grand Central, know that there is a hidden staircase in the center of the main concourse information booth. It connects with its sister down below.
AS: Oh! Okay.
D: If you go down below, you can see little glimpses through the glass. Lot of people want to know about Track 61.
JA: So, on Track 61, I have heard that that is the train that FDR came into to make a famous speech.
JA: Can you tell us about that?
D: Yeah, well, over the last decade or more, there, there was a spokesman for the MTA and he made up a lot of stories.
AS: Is that not true?
D: As far as we know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did arrive at Track 61 and was taken up into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. There used to be an old abandoned, uh, freight car, mail car that was sitting on the siding there.
D: So the myth is that Franklin Roosevelt arrived in an armored limousine that was in an armored rail car and they, and they drove him into the elevator and lifted him up into the hotel. That elevator does not go into the hotel. It goes to the garage level. So this notion that he was taken directly up into the elevator and into the hotel is not true.
AS: All right, but what about Andy Warhol?
D: He did hold a happening.
AS: Oh, okay. Yes.
D: At, at, at platform… So if you were here in 1965, our younger listeners may ask what was a happening?
AS: Yes. I think that is the next question.
D: A lot of people having a party in various states of intoxication telling each other how marvelous they are.
AS: And it was a marvelous happening.
JA: It is like today’s warehouse parties.
JA: Or the… I guess he did have his own warehouse, too.
AS: That is true. Did he have permission…
D: You know…
AS: …or he just did this?
D: He just did it.
AS: I love that.
D: But back then, you could do that. I am talking 1965. You could…
JA: Do you have any idea of who was there at that happening?
D: Well, Edie Sedgwick, for sure.
AS: Sure, of course.
D: I am a little too young to have hung out with them although Andy did try to pick me up after a Fiorucci store opening in Chicago once.
D: He said, “Nice tie.” And he said, “Why don’t you come to the after party?”
AS: And did you go?
D: I said, “I do not know that my wife would like that.” And he said, “Bring her along.”
AS: Yeah, I am sure he did.
D: Thanks, Andy.
AS: You and your wife and Andy hanging out.
Man 2: I also got engaged here. We are almost standing on the spot where I got engaged. I had my wife meet me here, well, my girlfriend at the time, and I… She was not expecting it and by about 20ft away from me, I pop down on my knee and I ask her to marry me. Uh, I have seen a lot of people meeting their friends and family here, saying hello, saying goodbye, stuff like that. Sort of felt like it is a little bit magical.
JA: We hope you are loving the Only in New York podcast as much as we are. Head to the Culture Trip website to find every episode on our website. That is the culturetrip.com/onlyinnewyork. We would not want you to miss a single episode as we explore the five boroughs of New York City. So please make sure you subscribe and follow us along on this journey. And while you are there, we would love to hear what you think about the podcast. Leave us a review and five stars is a great way to show the love.
AS: There is another thing in the ceiling. Talk about the uncleaned patch that is, uh, up there on the ceiling.
JA: So the ceiling is, of course, what most people are coming to Grand Central Terminal to see and are looking at.
D: So the notion is that the design of the ceiling has something to do with the astrological aspect of the stars when Cornelius Vanderbilt, who organized the New York Central railroad, when he was born. It was not long after Grand Central opened in 1913 that an amateur astronomer from New Rochelle was walking through and said, “Wait a second. There is Pisces. Should be in the west.”
AS: Is it wrong?
D: It is upside down and backwards.
AS: Wow, I had no idea.
D: And so he wrote… Of course, we did not have bloggers 1913, but he wrote to the newspapers with his observation and the Vanderbilts said, “Oh no, no. This is what God sees looking down from heaven above the constellation.”
AS: No ego there at all. We have painted God’s eye view.
D: No whatsoever and um… So if you look towards the northwest corner, you will see a 9in x 12in patch of dark brown on the ceiling. When the main concourse ceiling was cleaned during the renovations of 1988 to ’98, the conservators removed all this filth, but they left that one patch, which is a thing that conservators will do, you know, for future research. And so there are two conflicting stories. The architects believe that it was all nicotine smoke because they are part of the anti-smoking, you know group but the…
AS: Yeah, feel like that is life right now.
D: But the people who did the cleaning said, “No. It was just plain old New York City smog that accumulated over 60 years.” Air quality in New York City until the, uh, Clean Air Act was like there was a house on fire on your block, on every block. And we would say to each other, “I smell sulfur today,” and you can imagine how bad it was and, uh, even today we have agreed that it accumulates on our window sills from diesel engines. But anyway, the conservators cleaned the ceiling with just actually soap and towels. They just blotted it away.
JA: There is a lot of security at Grand Central and that is interesting to me because everybody talks about how valuable the Grand Central clock is. And I had always kind of thought, but if it is just sitting out there in the middle. It seems like that is that seems counterintuitive.
D: This goes back to a tall tale that the guy who used to work for the MTA thought up because he, he liked the idea that school children should come away with a sense of awe. So he made up all kinds of stuff like the armored car for FDR. So…
JA: So what is the truth about the clock?
AS: Yes, tell us about the clock.
D: It is a bronze clock. It has opalescent glass vases. In the days of rage in ’68, there were a bunch of protesting college kids who occupied Grand Central. They, they climbed up. They smashed a couple of the faces of the clock. They all got arrested and it got restored. It is not worth $10m.
JA: How much is it worth?
D: Probably about $35,000 to replace.
JA: Okay, I mean still worthwhile.
D: Well, there is also a dark hole in the ceiling straight up just under the fish in the ceiling of the main concourse. So in 1957, in anticipation of the Russians doing something, the United States…
AS: Mischief in general…
D: I think our spies were pretty good. This is before Sputnik, the first satellite was launched. In anticipation of that, the United States Army brought a s67ft Redstone Rocket onto the main floor.
D: They brought it on a rail car through Track 16 and they stood it up and to keep it upright, they made a hole in the ceiling and let down a cable. Now, another of the myths is that when they brought it in, it was too tall. Okay, the ceiling is 120ft high.
AS: That is quite a rocket.
D: The rocket was 67ft. We have photographs. It did not poke a hole through the ceiling. That was made intentionally for the cable to keep it upright and it was on display there, uh, which is kind of a cool thing.
Woman: So something people might not know is if you have few hours away from your train, you can actually play tennis in Grand Central.
D: If you are entering in the center entrance under the Pershing Viaduct on 42nd Street, you will enter what was the main waiting room. And above it is a whole space from avenue to avenue and there is a tennis court and then there are a couple of additional sub floors that have been inserted for practice court, half courts. So it is the Vanderbilt Tennis Club. Now, before that, it had been reconfigured as an indoor ski slope that was operated by this obscure New York real estate developer by the name of Donald John Trump.
AS: Oh. Was there fake snow like the whole group?
D: No, it was Astroturf. You could, you could, you could ski on the Astroturf.
AS: That is crazy.
D: And before, it was the indoor ski slope, it was the original television studios of the CBS television network. So it is said that occasionally, the rumble of trains below would interrupt their broadcasts, but what we do know is that when Jack Kennedy was assassinated and everyone was watching Walter Cronkite narrate what was going on in Washington over that horrible Thanksgiving weekend, he was at Grand Central in that studio.
AS: Wherever you are off to, Culture Trip can help with things to do, spots to eat and drink and places to stay in hundreds of cities around the world. And it is free. Download the Culture Trip app wherever you get your apps and travel like a pro.
Frank Prial: My name is Frank Prial. I am an architect and a principal with Beyer Blinder Belle architects. And I have worked on Grand Central Terminal for almost 25 years. I began when the building was being restored in the late 1990s and have worked in and around the building ever since.
George Monasterio: Uh, my name is George Monasterio. I am the director of Grand Central Terminal.
JA: Um, how long have, have you been working on Grand Central?
GM: I have been with Metro-North Railroad for 21 years. Um, I was the chief architect for Metro-North for eight years. And now, I am the director of Grand Central for the past three years.
JA: So both of you have very directly affected the lives of many, many, many New Yorkers.
JA: Which is fascinating.
AS: So, you know big broad question to begin with, why is Grand Central Terminal iconic?
GM: I think it is iconic for a few reasons. One is the fact that it is a public building. It is a hub of, of transportation. It is a terminal which we, at the railroad, like to emphasize – it is not a station. Because trains go through stations; the terminal is where the trains terminate.
AS: Does that drive you crazy when they call it Grand Central Station?
GM: Um, a little bit. But it is sort of a, a cathedral for the soul, so to speak. When people walk into Grand Central, just the vastness of the terminal interior, people always gasp and they say, “Ah, look at this. It is beautiful.” They look up right away. This tall ceiling, the light coming through the windows, it makes you feel good. I think the materials in the building that were, were chosen, uh, over 100 years ago, were meant to last. They were also natural materials. So the natural brings it back down to earth and, uh, it, it grounds you, so to speak. And it is our jobs to maintain the grand in Grand Central and keep it a landmark and a beautiful building.
AS: It is lovely. I mean, talk about that because you… those are really nice sentiment of kind of this tourist feeling or this commuter feeling going through it. When I compare Grand Central, which I love going through, to let us say Penn Station, which is a nightmare.
JA: I was going to say the exact same thing.
AS: Why is that?
GM: It is easy answer for me, but Frank you want to…
FP: Well, Penn Station was great. But Penn Station was a victim of changing times and those changing times almost affected Grand Central in the same way. Grand Central was almost lost in the late 1960s or early 1970s to the same forces of change and development and economic pressures that, unfortunately, irrevocably changed and demolished most of, uh, Penn Station. Penn Station, if you remember – most people do not – was built by a railroad company that was privately owned.
Grand Central also was built by a rival railroad company. They, they were basically competing with one another to take people almost the same places. And how do you do that? You do that by showing how powerful you are, how quickly you can do it, how successful you have done it, and how well you can treat your customers.
But as railroads began to decline and as people found other ways of getting to Chicago or Albany or Cleveland, by a car or by airplane, the train suffered. So the trains went into… became publicly owned and the buildings just became more and more difficult to support. Penn Station was lost. Many people do not even realize that it is underneath Madison Square Garden.
AS: Yeah, definitely.
FP: And so, I mean, we gained Madison Square Garden. Some people would argue that was not such a great bargain at the end of the day, but many people do go there and many exciting things have happened there and it is historic in its own way. But the train station was compromised forever. Well, one way of optimistically looking at it is that we lost Penn Station so that we can save Grand Central.
FP: And so that has kind of been George’s and my responsibility, along with many, many other people, to make sure that Grand Central is never lost. And part of the way of doing that is keeping it current, making sure that people are able to come to it and that when they get to it, it is as magnificent as they expect it to be.
GM: We have been keeping it clean. It is very easy to, you know, sell advertising where 750,000 people go through the building.
JA: Every day?
GM: Every day.
GM: You know, if Nike wants to put up an ad and keep it there and they will pay us whatever, that that can be done in a tasteful way and there is places for that and it is our job is to make sure that we are conscious of where those places are.
AS: Beautiful intersection of art and commerce.
JA: So, are, are you saying that there could be a world in which the walls of Grand Central were, were plastered with ads?
FP: Oh, yeah, very easily.
GM: There was or is…
FP: Yeah, you do not have to look very long back into history and some photographs. Twenty years, really, uh, not long before the restoration project began. Grand Central was a place that, you know, was dangerous, was dirty, was a place that people avoided or rushed through very quickly.
JA: What are some of the most important things that you made sure happened during that restoration so that people would continue to love Grand Central?
AS: A little bit of history of it, as well, for those who are not quite aware of what is going on like myself.
FP: Sure. Well, I can without nerding out too much. The building is the third on the site and that began just after the Civil War by a company that was formed by a very famous man named Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who was a self-made man and had made a fortune in steamboat travel in and around the New York Harbor, and he decided that the future of transportation was in this relatively recent invention called the railroads.
And I am oversimplifying tremendously, but he was able to consolidate essentially three separate railroad lines, each of which was in various stages of economic distress. He consolidated them into what would become the New York Central Railroad and he needed a place to service those trains, bring passengers on and handle freight, which was the source of the revenue for the trains. And he selected an area that was relatively remote in and around 42nd Street. At that time, it was still very, very far away from downtown New York, almost four miles to downtown. As transportation grew, as the city grew, as the nation grew and began to spread across, you know, the West Railroads grew along with it and contributed to that growth. So the first station that he built was undersized.
By the time he finished, it was upgraded in the 1890s by his descendants. They were still owners of the railroad, the members of the Vanderbilt family. But by the early 1900s, there was an entirely new introduction to railroad travel and it was, it was electricity. Grand Central Terminal came as a result of the introduction of electricity to the trains and the chief electrician, the chief electrical engineer for the railroad was a great champion. He went to the owners of the railroad and said “We have this extraordinary opportunity. We can put all the railroads, all the trains underground and in doing so we can deck over and take control of all of the land over what had been previously the storage areas for the trains. And all of those areas can become building lots for apartment buildings, for other buildings that could be developed on top of it. And all of that space that was wasted and a big shed that housed the trains can be brought into the public realm and turned into this extraordinary interior space.”
And that is the genius of Grand Central. I mean, it still works today, almost exactly the way it was designed over 100 years ago. The goal of the restoration project was to return Grand Central to the efficiency, essentially to respect and revitalize the original intent of those architects.
AS: It is so cool. Every time a train is late, you should show them a giant diagram of all the moving pieces working together, because people might complain less, or at least a little less.
GM: I do not think any trains trains are never late and Grand Central.
AS: Never, not once, not ever.
GM: Not that I am aware of. But also there is so much that the public does not see.
GM: And maybe not, or maybe they appreciate because if things are working fine, you know, you go and you do not even notice that anything wrong. It is only the problem was when IF a train is late, they will notice that the train was late and they will complain but, uh…
JA: That is, that is our favorite thing, complaining about late trains.
AS: That is only New York right there.
Woman: This feels like a piece of history and, uh, that, that is actually why I want to come here, because I love all the historic things about the city. And in general, I like places with culture and that have, like a rich history behind it. What… It is a gigantic station, which it makes sense. Everything here is big. Everything is over the top and impressive, and this is a very impressive, historic place to be. You come in here and you’re just, like, impressed by its current size, how beautiful it is done, like, how clean it is, the, how many people there are, how much travel there is. It, it makes sense. It makes sense to be in Manhattan.
AS: Now, as someone who is kind of in love with this, you know, historic, iconic New York, uh, not to put all architects on blast, but why do they not make buildings like this any more? It is so beautiful and you just do not see it in a modern age.
GM: Architects do not make buildings. Architects design buildings for clients. And the nature of the economy, and the motivating factor, uh, in New York City, which has always been a place, uh, where people came to make money, a generator of wealth, has changed.
GM: And railroads, of course, have changed along with it. And I mentioned a moment ago that when Grand Central was built, it was built by a private company. It was built 100 years ago at a time when the city was still developing, when the railroad company and private ownership shared in a kind of collective spirit about what a city should look like and what the experience of coming into and going out of that city should be like. Grand Central was designed as a triumphal arch and it refers to the great Roman arches that you would encounter as you entered into Rome. And they celebrated great victories or a great civic event and the people who were involved in them. Grand Central was very much the same way, but that spirit is not that it does not exist. It does, it’s just it has shifted.
GM: And we see it in different places. We do not see it today in the architecture so much. People build monuments. Maybe they build luxury housing or they build big houses. They are building it for themselves. I walked the terminal a lot, uh, and I like to hear complaints because if I do not know what is wrong, I cannot fix it.
AS: Sure, and that is one thing about New Yorkers.
JA: They will tell you.
AS: They are not afraid.
JA: We would love to hear your thoughts about the podcast. Find us @culturetrip on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and tell us your thoughts.
AS: So Jillian, what else do you love about Manhattan?
JA: I love the High Line. I definitely always take my visitors there. I think, um, it is a, it is a tourist site that is definitely busy a lot of the time, but it is so beautiful. And if you go at off times, you can have a really lovely walk there along the west side, and then you can end up on the, um, Hudson River Park area and walk along the water over there, as well. One of my favorite restaurants is Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village, Korean fusion.
AS: So good.
JA: And also in the Momofuku family, um, is the milk bar and that is another place I take every visitor there, to get cereal milk self-serve.
JA: It is delicious.
AS: It is a, it is a, it is a treat at any time of the year. Do not tell me you cannot have that in, you know, the middle of winter when it is negative ten, you absolutely can.
AS: Um, I love Bryant Park. Um, I have had some amazing days out just sitting there, picnicking, watching people. If you are ever looking for really good people watching, Bryant Park is a phenomenal place to do it. Um, the MoMA, uh, which, you know, to get a little culture in your life, I feel like once a quarter, I have to get a little culture in my life where I just sit there watching Netflix all day long. And well, that is not bad. It is not great for me either. So try a little bit of that. I honestly just love walking through Manhattan. You know, as we talked about at the start of the episode, that is where all the iconic buildings are. It’s got that unbelievable architecture. On a nice sunny day, I will just walk for an hour and just see streets and neighborhoods I have never seen before. It is just so much fun to do.
JA: I, I also do a ton of city walking and I do find that it gives me a new appreciation of Manhattan, because I do get tired of Manhattan. It is so busy and noisy all the time. Um, but I do find that when you walk the city for an hour or two, which I have done a lot this year, you stumble upon so many things that you never knew were there. There is always something going on. The scenes that you run into as you walk around the city that are unbelievable, and it makes you feel lucky to live here all over again.
AS: Yeah. Each of these episode is based around a borough, so you, guys, are obviously Manhattan. And we just want to know what are your other favorite things to do throughout the borough that are not terminal-related.
GM: Explore restaurants, bars, uh, just know what type of different French food and wine. But also, um, I just love the city, all seasons, just going through, walking or taking a cab and looking out the window. And, again, seeing the energy that the city has all throughout the day or evening.
FP: Well, I have been very fortunate to work on a number of significant historic buildings, um, in addition to Grand Central. And my great pleasure is to visit them when I am not on the job. Probably my favorite would be the Empire State Building. I have worked there for about 15 years now and, and I like to go there when I can just be amongst other people who are visiting and see it through their eyes for the first time, listen.
AS: Very serious question. When renovating the Empire State Building, have you made it giant monkey proof?
FP: Well, I will not put a plug in for them, but maybe I will. They have just finished their new observatory entrance and experience and, um, part of it is a museum to the building itself and they have, uh, from what I have seen some really wonderful exhibits that include references to a very large ape that…
AS: It is a problem.
FP: … in popular culture, did climb up the outside of it.
FP: Good to know. Guys, if we have a listener who is traveling through Grand Central right now – Yes, you hurried traveler – and they have 5 minutes to see something before they catch a train, what should they go see?
GM: One thing?
AS: One thing. You have 5 minutes, what are you going to see?
FP: Well, I have to jump down and while you are thinking about it and say the sky ceiling, of course. I think is probably the single most important and most obvious. I mean there is like everything else and there are secrets about Grand Central and, and one of them… You know, most of those are myths really and we are not, and they add to the allure and the historical interest of Grand Central.
The sky ceiling was never intended to be an astronomical map. There were artistic licenses that were taken by the original artists. But what it is is this is extraordinary composition of zodiac signs along the, um, sky, painted in this Cerulean blue and green. Originally, it was, it is not… What you see is not the original mural. The one that was painted in 1910, which originally was a replacement for what had a going to be a, uh, series of skylights with a tower that was never built.
The sky ceiling that you see was actually a more cost-effective. Like the elimination of the stair they built this ceiling and painted the mural instead. Became very dirty and water-damaged over time and was replaced in the 1940s, so they painted the same ceiling, the same composition artistically again, but in a slightly different mural style.
GM: But… So what you are saying is that they repainted the ceiling, but they also installed a new material.
FP: That is correct. So the original ceiling is underneath new panels that were stapled and glued to the surface of the original mural. And then literally repainted the entire mural again in a more modern painting style that was current at that time or more WPA kind of a Thomas Hart Benton style rather than a… Then, there were some technical reasons. The panels, in fact, were made out of an asbestos materials, so to remove those would have exposed the main concourse and the public to perhaps some unsafe circumstances. But it also makes sense from…
AS: Thank you for not doing that.
FP: From a preservation point of view, in terms of in respecting the development of the building in, in preservation philosophy, we like to acknowledge steps that have been taken and changes that have occurred over time in ceiling.
GM: Which is still up there with the existing mural, which is a cerulean blue.
JA: For even more to do in Manhattan, head to the culture trip.com. We have got insider guides, great tips and surprising finds all over the borough. Cannot wait to hear more Only in New York? Great news. There is another episode coming your way this Monday. Come along with us to explore another amazing borough of New York City. See you then.
AS: The Culture Trip podcast is presented by Culture Trip, copyright 2020, produced by MouthMedia Network. Read more about New York at the culturetrip.com and follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Culture Trip. Thanks for listening and happy travels.
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