Our Big Apple Greeter, Sami the Transylvanian Jew, was hell bent on proving to two Brisbane Greeters why he had been named Big Apple Greeter of the Year. Consequently he walked us off our feet from 9am to 6.30pm, showing us that New York was "an open city", and dispensing invaluable tourism tips for our next five days flying solo in this unfamiliar (and a little daunting) city.
So you are interested in birds? Then you should do the bird watching tour of Governor's Island with Annie." Governor's Island? Never heard of it. Ellis Island, Manhattan Island? Yes. They were familiar. But Governor's?
The goose bumps only began that evening when this long forgotten song popped into my head:
In 1842 we went to Governor's Isle To learn to shoot the cannon in the military style. The captain's name was Murphy, Of decent French descent. Sure he knew all the holy words In the Hebrew Testament. We were captured by the Indians
And brought before the chief.
Said he, "We'll have an Irish Stew,
The dirty heathen thief."
So my dad taught us in our car sing-alongs before automobiles had wireless radios. Could it be the same Governor's Isle? I would have to wait until I set foot on this historic battleground and spoke with someone who was familiar with its history.
Annie the Bird Lady was not available that day, but our disappointment disappeared when we met up with Hilary, our National Parks Guide for the morning. Impatiently I waited until she had given us the grand tour of Castle Williams, part of a network of forts protecting New York Harbour from British invasion. I then uninhibitedly sang my song. She was very excited to hear it, and said that it certainly fitted the history of the island. Many Irishmen enlisted in that period, not only to "learn to shoot the cannon", but to learn fife and drum, the major way of communicating on the battlefield. The beat of the music certainly lent itself to be accompanied by those instruments, played by youngsters of twelve to eighteen years. How did a Greek-Anglo Australian born in 1910 come across this ditty? Google it all you like. I have not been able to uncover its origins and would appreciate any information to that effect.
Apart from its fascinating history, Governor's Island also turned out to be an oasis away from the hubbub of New York City. I didn't feel the need to clutch my personal belongings for grim death, nor was I accosted at every turn with requests for money. "God Bless."
To cap it off, the ferry from Battery Park is free, as are the guided tours. Governor's Island is a cornucopia of "freebies" for the frugal traveller. Several folk wheeled their bicycles on board although an assortment of velocipedes was available for hire on the island. We brought a picnic lunch, as we are familiar with prices charged for food in isolated settings, and we were thankful we did. My husband did however succumb to the charms of the ice cream vendor, or was it really just her wares?
It is certainly a great place for families, with all ages catered for. The local library had set up an open-air book and game fest, with parents reading to their progeny or constructing fantastic edifices. However, the piece de resistance for children of all ages was the Fete Paradiso, a celebration of working vintage carnival rides and carousels from the 1850s to the 1950s. They are from the private collections of two Frenchmen whose families restore and keep these timeless pieces of entertainment in working order.
Fete Paradiso opened on July 14 and will continue entertaining the crowds at weekends from 10.30am to 6.30pm until September 29. The plan then is to take these marvellous pieces of entertainment further south for the winter. The whole Fete Paradiso package consists of "music, beer and wine garden, and family refreshments". For further information, check out the website.
So if you want to take a breather from the usual attractions of New York such as The Met, Macy's or the Statue of Liberty, catch the free ferry to Governor's Island and escape to an island paradise. You may even fluke that one day of the year in July when you can overnight with the bird life and New Yorkers who can't believe their luck.