Themed city strolls can lead to all sorts of discoveries, from the perfect spot for a bargain buy or a culinary delight, to the one-time haunt of an infamous murderer
YOU’D walk a long way before encountering a tour guide as energetic as Susan Rosenbaum. This New Yorker is passionate about the food of the Big Apple. ‘‘ New Yorkers like to eat and they like to keep things simple,’’ she says. But there are lovely layers of complexity to her food-themed strolls as she leads small groups through the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy.
Rosenbaum calls her company Enthusiastic Gourmet, and it’s an apt description. I join her on a three-hour excursion that moves at a cracking pace across culinary experiences as disparate as Vietnamese, Hispanic, kosher, Chinese and Italian.
Highlights include Kossar’s Bialy Bakery at 367 Grand St: a bialy is a saucer-sized piece of flat bread with a mushy onion-filled centre. Rosenbaum reminds me that in Mel Brooks’s stage hit TheProducers, the central character, Max Bialystock, hails from the Polish city that gave the bialy its name.
Around the corner at 49 Essex St are the Pickle Guys, who display their vinegary wares in giant barrels, like Ali Baba jars. As we continue along Grand Street, ethnic neighbourhoods blur and soon there’s the pungent smell of jasmine incense in the air as we eye the shiny fish at Chinese-run seafood shops. Next is Little Italy, decked with red, white and green bunting. Ferrara’s Bakery (195 Grand St) bills itself as ‘‘ America’s first espresso bar’’ and the ricotta-stuffed cannoli is divinely good. We have been happily sated on a tour across myriad borders in just half a day.
www.enthusiasticgourmet.com Susan Kurosawa
Old India hand: ‘‘ And this,’’ says Satish Jacob, ‘‘ is the street where the British paraded the palanquin of Bahadur Shah Zafar II after they captured him, the last king of Delhi, last of the Mughal emperors.’’ We are standing in Chandi Chowk, the main artery of Old Delhi. It’s a full frontal assault on the senses: a battery of noise, smells, colour and the crush of bodies in a place where personal space is measured in mere centimetres.
Jacob sighs. ‘‘ This street has seen so much, you know. The sack of Delhi when Tamerlane left behind pyramids of skulls, the golden age under Shah Jahan, the carnage of 1857 when the British slaughtered women and children. Care for another coconut puff?’’
A former BBC India correspondent, Jacob now leads perambulations of Old Delhi, provided you have the right contacts. He grew up here in the 1950s, in the years following partition and Indian independence, whacking a cricket ball around the courtyard of one of the havelis at a time when wealthy Muslim merchants still maintained these extravagant and cloistered family compounds.
Anecdote follows anecdote as Jacob leads us through the alleys of the spice bazaar, past jewellers’ shops and the wedding sari bazaar, but the tour demands imagination. He takes us up to the top floor of a ramshackle building, dodging panting skeletons with gunny sacks full of spices on their backs.
‘‘ This was once a zenana, a harem. There were fountains down here, and gardens full of roses.’’ Just then a peacock appears on a balustrade and screeches mightily, puffing out its feathers for an extravagant moment that leaves even Jacob smiling and silent.
www.abercrombiekent.com.au Michael Gebicki
Ripper tour: I feel a little fearful traipsing London’s dimly lit sidestreets and alleys where Jack the Ripper went about his bloody business. It’s not the shadow of the infamous Victorian killer of prostitutes that raises the hackles but the goings-on of the locals, who at times like to have a bit of fun at guide Donald Rumbelow’s expense, miming stabbings behind his back or adding a little unwelcome detail to his gory stories.
Rumbelow, an ex-policeman and Ripper expert, carries his blue plastic stool aloft as we head from Tower Hill Tube station at 7.30pm sharp on the popular Jack the Ripper walk. He doesn’t spare the details as we stroll from one crime scene to another. In Goulston Street we study the archway where the Ripper left a bloody apron and a message until Rumbelow’s talk is interrupted by a loud clatter that sounds like a metal dustbin on the march. ‘‘ The locals are getting a little restless,’’ he says, picking up his stool and heading for safer territory.
Commercial Street, where the Ripper’s fifth and final victim, Mary Kelly, was last seen alive on the evening of November 9, 1888, is dim and suitably spooky.
At a pub break, Rumbelow takes the chance to sign a few of his Ripper books. It’s a sell-out. More than 100 years after the crimes, the fascination with Jack lives on.
www.jacktheripperwalk.com Barry Oliver
City snoop: Passion: Sydney’s Wild Side — part of the City of Sydney’s self-guided historical walking tour series — takes the walker rather coquettishly by the hand through Kings Cross and into the adjoining locales of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. The idea is to snoop, referring to a densely crosshatched map, guided by serendipity.
The meandering tour explores the anthropology of the Cross, its architecture and social history, its many cultural transformations and integrations. The lascivious painter Donald Friend was attracted to the Cross in the 1940s, looking for its ‘‘ genuine Berlin air . . . where everybody is wicked’’. These days artists return to live here, attracted by the City of Sydney’s $30 million renovation, which transformed parts of the area into a precinct of stylish apartments.
These areas now run to gold credit cards, capped teeth and brand-name handbags, a long way from the single rooms with a gas ring in the corner and girls who leaned out ‘‘ from heaven over light wells, thumping mops’’, immortalised by poet Kenneth Slessor in the ’ 40s. But parts of the Cross are still scruffy and the risque lurks, sucking the suburbs dry of the young and not-so-young, the single and notso-single. And you can still see pasty faces and hotpants backed into doorways.
‘‘ It’s where vulgarity, lower class, taste and prostitution meet,’’ local writer Louis Nowra once commented, adding that it was a wonderful thing.
‘‘ You can be anybody as long as you’re interesting.’’
www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/history Graeme Blundell
Shop and stop: Slipping through Melbourne’s ornate arcades, backstreets and obscure laneways is the vintage connoisseur’s idea of browsing heaven, and if you’re very fast (as I am) there’s even the possibility of a purchase.
Fiona Sweetman, queen of Hidden Secrets Tours, leads me through this enchanted domain on her Lanes and Arcades Tour (Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am for about 31/
2 hours, with two to eight strollers). Campbell Arcade is the underground vestibule to a railway station built for the 1956 Olympics and decorated with Italian marble columns and salmon-pink wall tiles (the barber at the Touch of Paris Men’s Hairdresser sings as he works; cuts, $12). Next door is The Cat’s Meow, an outlet for student design artists. We’re off to a good start.
We visit Campbell, Block and Cathedral arcades, Nicholas Building and Centre Place; vintage clothes, Italian shoe shops, cafes (including the sumptuous Koko Black chocolate maker), a louche lingerie boutique, bags, designer label outlets, bespoke stationery. We slip into Basement Discs, a warren of cellar spaces secreting the rarest of finds (I spot a CD of women artists singing jazz in Paris; the plastic card is in my pocket). And the iron lace, mosaic floors, leadlights and painted ceilings are priceless.
www.hiddensecretstours.com Judith Elen
Added bite: Think San Francisco and you think food. Or Chinatown. Perhaps both. Enter the irrepressible Shirley Fong-Torres, chef, author, television personality and committed bon vivant whose Wok Wiz walking tours, conducted by a team of local guides also fluent in Cantonese, bring Chinatown to life in a way no casual amble ever could.
As we walk the busy lanes of this compact city precinct, the sound of clicking mahjong tiles can be heard through open windows and the spicy waft of cooking food is everywhere.
This is a tour that, like an army, marches on its stomach. There might be the odd cultural stop here and there for a brief calligraphy lesson, or to light incense in a temple rebuilt after the great earthquake, perhaps to stock up on herbs at Wan Hua Co, where bills are still calculated on an abacus, but essentially it’s all about the food, with those tempting street smells luring walkers deeper into the city. At the charming Red Blossom Tea Company, proprietors Peter and Alice Luong whip up pots of milk-infused oolong formosa for the weary trekkers.
The three-hour tour ends with lunch at one of several popular dim sum restaurants. If you’re lucky enough to have Fong-Torres as your guide, every dish comes with another food tale from the rich stores of her family’s immigrant experience.
www.wokwiz.com Christine McCabe
Step by step: Top left and below, a taste of New York; centre, an Old Delhi market; right, from top, one of Melbourne’s secrets; Jack the Ripper; approaching Sydney’s Kings Cross in 1966