The Grand Tours brings New York City to life
Brooklyn Bridge on a snowy day
By Stacy Angarola
Program Director, Hostelling International - New York
Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels volunteer Jerry Balch loves New York! And, what's more, he loves to show off his city to visitors. Every year, thousands of Hostelling International-New York guests join in on Jerry's "Grand Tour", a sometimes sixteen hour walking tour of the city that explores all of its major sites from Battery Park to Columbus Circle.
A retired high school science teacher from Brooklyn, Balch designed the tour himself with a desire to serve as a good host to visitors of his hometown. Having travelled overseas himself, Jerry was often without a guide or someone to show him the true essence of the place he was visiting. He felt inspired to volunteer at HI-New York with the hope of providing visitors with the very experience he craved during his own travels.
With this endeavor in mind, every Saturday at 8:30am, Jerry leads his travellers from Hostelling International-New York's Amsterdam Avenue address onto the streets of New York City. Never the same tour twice, his group will wind its way through Manhattan, including familiar sights such as the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, South Street Seaport, Battery Park, the Staten Island Ferry, and Wall Street.
By the time the day is done, Jerry's group will have walked, ridden the subway, hopped a ferry, and gotten to know the city in ways many tourists never do - and for little more than the cost of a few subway tokens and a bite to eat along the way!
Jerry makes sure to try and swing his group through every section and attraction in the city his visitors have heard they have to visit. Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho, Greenwich Village, Little India, The Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Saint Patrick's Cathedral and 5th Avenue all serve as stops in the "Grand Tour".
As the tour hits the homestretch along 59th Street to 6th Avenue, Balch is confident, as he bids his group farewell, that he has shared his city with the people of the world, secure in the knowledge that he's given the visitors a deep and intimate knowledge of New York.
After September 11, Jerry felt it was more important than ever that the Grand Tour continue its regular schedule. One of the tour's past highlights was when members of the group would walk up and place their hands on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and look straight up to the sky. Now visiting this part of the city has become even more meaningful to participants. For many, it's their first opportunity to see with their own eyes the full impact of that terrible day. Past tour participants have flooded Jerry with letters of concern, expressing their sympathy and support, and thanking him again for the day he spent sharing his love for his city.
Jerry Balch is one of hundreds of dedicated volunteers who give their time and creativity to the programs and events at Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels across the U.S. Hostel-based programs are a popular feature at many HI-AYH hostels as they allow guests to meet and mingle with fellow travellers along with local residents eager to share the life and culture of where they live. Offering programs like these is just one of the ways the organization fulfills its mission to help all, specially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people.
Hostelling International - New York
891 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10025-4403
Hi New York is a renovated heritage building in the vibrant Upper West Side. It has over 600 beds including some private rooms. Along with local programs, you'll also find: an information desk staffed by neighbourhood volunteers, a travel shop selling airiest transfers and sightseeing activities, a coffee bar, laundry facilities and a spacious private outdoor courtyard.
Hostelling International has over 120 hostels throughout the U.S.A. in popular urban destinations, as well as rural towns and national parks. For more information on hostels in the U.S.A., visit www.hiayh.org
Jerry's Grand Tour
NEA YOPKH - NEW YORK