“MEET me at the entrance of the Grand Central,” said Nuhma T., Dabawenya, chef, and my host for my stay in the Big Apple. The spot would be perfect, easy to get directions to and find from the bus stop I was getting off from. The thought of not getting lost comforted me. It’s a tourist spot after all and everybody from the city can lead me to the place.
Found it. The building is at Park Avenue and 42nd Street, I spotted the building long before I saw the street sign. Thanks to the comprehensive grid work of Manhattan (or should I thank the massive edifice with a very distinct façade where Hercules, Minerva and Mercury -- the largest sculptural group at its time -- atop the clock ticking on the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass?), it makes it easy to find everything. I guess it’s even harder to get lost in Lady Liberty’s realm, in these parts at least.
I’ve visited the city once -- in the dead of winter -- and missed seeing this part of town (and many others). Arriving minutes earlier than the appointed time, I decided to have a quick solo tour of the landmark that’s been called “the loveliest train station in the world’ (by Travel + Leisure).
First, let’s get things right. The famous train stop is called the Grand Central Terminal and not Grand Central Station, as it if often mistakenly referred to as, or Grand Central will do. It’s grand alright, it the largest train station in the world by number of platforms, 44, with a total of 67 tracks along them on the upper and lower levels of the terminal.
Inside the building is the Main Concourse, the cavernous central part of the terminal, where there were more tourists than passengers (or so I thought, since the place receives more than 21 million visitors yearly puts it to the number six spot of the world’s most visited tourist attraction), an American flag, hung after 9/11, suspends from the elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling painted in reverse (read: it’s God’s view from outside the celestial sphere) by artists Paul Helleu and Charles Basing. In the eyes of a non-stargazing mortal like me, I wouldn’t have noticed anything off about the zodiac artwork until I read about the terminal’s history.
Maybe the terminal’s most popular meeting spot inside the terminal is at the center of the concourse -- the information booth with the brass four-faced clock resting on top of it. It’s perhaps the most recognizable icon of Grand Central. (I wonder why didn’t Nuhma decide to meet here instead?)
I fell in love with the chandeliers at the Vanderbilt Hall just off the Main Concourse. Named for the Vanderbilt’s who built and owned the station, the former main waiting room for the terminal is now used for special events and exhibitions.
There goes the tone of an incoming message, Nuhma was waiting for by the entrance. I have to cut my tour short and revisit the terminal some other time to check out a few more areas -- the Campbell Apartment, the former office of tycoon John Campbell now a cocktail lounge, the Oyster Bar, the terminal’s oldest business, and for heaven’s sake, I haven’t even seen the ramps and trains!
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