It’s a Small World, Right?

New York City, Radio City Music Hall, March 2024
New York City, March 2024

What do New York City and San Antonio, TX, have in common? Besides being on Travel & Leisure’s top 15 cities to see in the US for multiple years, I visited them both last month. The Ryerson’s took on NYC for Spring Break and did not disappoint. I tagged along for a conference with the hubs in San Antonio and took in some of the iconic sights there.

Anytime I travel, I’m looking for hidden gems, places of interest, and, of course, the iconic places to see in NYC. A ton of research goes into each trip, and planning a family trip of six to New York was no different. (Though I did use a cool app called Wanderlog. Have you used it?) Similarly to our time scouting out Knoxville and staying downtown, I wanted to stay in the city’s heart when we were in New York.

New York City, Hotel Edison, March 2024

We stayed at the Edison Hotel, just off Times Square. Thomas Edison himself turned the lights on to open the hotel for business in 1931. He died later that year. The hotel boasts the charm of the time and has fascinating murals. The Edison Ballroom is adjacent to the hotel area, with a red carpet runner and art deco lights and décor on the exterior. This ballroom was a Broadway theater and then a supper club with big band music after it opened in the 30’s. It was closed for renovations and reopened in 2008 as an opulent ballroom and venue. 

New York City, Edison Hotel Mural, March 2024
New York City, Edison Hotel Mural, March 2024

Some of the highlights of our trip for me were a behind-the-scenes tour of Radio City Music Hall, a tour of Central Park and the two shows we saw: Aladdin and Back to the Future: The Musical.

New York City, Radio City Music Hall, March 2024
New York City, Radio City Music Hall, March 2024

Our tour guide for Radio City Music Hall was Tim. While chatting with him, we learned he spent about 30 years in Knoxville. He worked at Tomato Head and McKays while he was here. That’s just one example of our small world. (The other example was running into a Knoxville friend as we crossed the street in Times Square.) Learning the history behind Radio City Music Hall and just sitting in those seats facing the stage was magical to me. Going up on the stage and looking out on the empty seats was next level. It tapped into my little girl dreams of becoming a famous singer one day. At the end of the tour, we met one of the Rockettes and had a little Q&A with her. Did you know that when they are standing in that straight line doing high kicks(up to 160 per show), they are not touching each other?

New York City, Radio City Music Hall, March 2024
New York City, Radio City Music Hall, March 2024

The Empire State Building was another adventure. To be honest, I was looking for the experience from Sleepless in Seattle, where the elevator doors open to the observation deck, and you see the city just beyond the railing (And also Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan waiting on you). Instead, we got long lines and hordes of people. We had to climb 6 floors to get to the observation deck since there was only 1 elevator, and the wait was around 45 minutes. The view was incredible, and the history of the building was fascinating. Still, we would definitely choose a different observation deck for future visits.

New York City, Empire State Building, March 2024
New York City, Drawing on stairwell wall of Empire State Building, March 2024

Our tour of Central Park was outstanding from beginning to end. We reserved a pedicab tour, and the guides were full of great anecdotes and points of interest for our ride. Their green spaces in the city are thoughtfully done and maintained. The creation of Central Park itself dates back to 1858. “Workers moved nearly 5 million cubic yards of stone, earth, and topsoil, built 36 bridges and arches, and constructed 11 overpasses over the transverse roads. They also planted 500,000 trees, shrubs, and vines. The landscapes were artificial and all built by hand.” However, the park was left to fend for itself for a time, which didn’t go well. In the late 70s, a push was made to revive the park and a conservancy was created in partnership with the city. It is now maintained adequately for locals, tourists and Hollywood. Countless movies and TV series have used Central Park as its backdrop. Our family prepared for the trip and watched “Enchanted,” a Disney film, for some of the iconic NYC/Central Park views.

New York City, Central Park pedicab tour, March 2024
New York City, Central Park pedicab tour, March 2024

Knoxville has been doing its own look at the revitalization of greenspaces and improving tree canopy for the city. “In 2020, the City of Knoxville partnered with Trees Knoxville and other community organizations to conduct a comprehensive Urban Tree Canopy Study. The study examined tree canopy cover across Knox County between 2008 and 2018. Many areas within the county saw a dramatic change in those ten years. To ensure protection and growth in our tree canopy over the coming decades, Trees Knoxville initiated this effort in the summer 2022 to create this long-term strategic plan is needed to effectively care for and manage this important community asset. Upon hiring Urban Canopy Works as a project consultant, Trees Knoxville officially started the project in November 2022, and completed in February 2024.” You can read more about HERE.

All in all, the trip was great. But there is so much truth in the old movie saying, “There’s no place like home.” New York may have all the lights, glam, shows and be the city that never sleeps, but this woman needs her sleep. I’ll take the touring shows at the Tennessee Theatre, the Bijou and the Civic Auditorium and rest well in my own bed at the end of the night. Will we be back to NYC? Absolutely. But in the meantime, good ole Rocky Top is where we want to be.

New York City, Flat Stanley at the Statue of Liberty, March 2024
New York City, DUMBO, March 2024

On to San Antonio. I’ve visited the city a few times over the years, but this was the first with the hubs. I went for the first time when I was 14 with my family to visit other family living there. I have these fuzzy memories of visiting the Alamo and Fiesta Texas (a theme park). In my early 30s, I went back and did the River Walk. It was beautiful, but I don’t remember learning much about it or its history. I made sure to pay attention this go around.

The points of interest were the Alamo, the River Walk and Hemisfair Park.

San Antonio, TX, Tower of the Americas, March 2024

Fourteen years before Knoxville became the site of the World’s Fair, San Antonio had the honor. They built hotels in record time and constructed a 96-acre park, with the centerpiece being the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas that now hosts a rotating restaurant, lounge and outdoor observation deck. The area was redeveloped in 1986 into what it is today, HemisFair Park. It boasts fountains, playgrounds, green space, and several pavilions initially built for the World’s Fair. On a side note, when telling Urban Guy about my adventures, he told me he was there in 1968 with his family to see the Tower of the Americas and experience his second World’s Fair.

While Knoxville has always valued the Sunsphere and World’s Fair Park, it has not embraced and celebrated the jewel that it is for too long. I’m excited to see what else can be done to make our piece of World history come to life in new ways. Urban Guy told you last week about renovations to add a visitor’s center that are beginning any day now. This follows the base being painted back to its original blue in the fall.

San Antonio, TX, Riverwalk, March 2024
San Antonio, TX March 2024

Next up was the Alamo and the Riverwalk area. The Battle of the Alamo is one we all likely learned in school. The building we typically think of when considering the Alamo is the church. It was a mission with the fort being around it. There is a visitor center now, but they are developing a new one. They are doing several other renovations on the property to bring the story to life. East TN has its own connection to the Alamo through famed frontiersman Davy Crockett. The location of the Alamo is in a strange juxtaposition to the city as it is surrounded by modern city life, buildings and streets. This historic monument has been built around over the years and seems quite small amongst the towering buildings around it. We enjoyed our visit there and would love to see the advancements as they continue to make it a memorable tourist destination.

San Antonio, TX, The Alamo Mission, March 2024
San Antonio, TX, Alamo Monument to those who died there, March 2024

The Riverwalk was packed. We were there on St. Patrick’s Day weekend and got to the Riverwalk just in time to watch them tint the water a deeper green. We wandered around a little but ultimately decided to take a boat tour to get a better feel for the area. The Riverwalk was built around an already existing river in the city. Their website states, “Robert H. H. Hugman was a young architect with a vision. His concept of winding pathways and bridges flanking the river was his beautiful solution to harnessing the river running through downtown. It also managed heavy seasonal rains, saving both lives and dollars. It wasn’t until much later that the full vision of the Father of the River Walk realized its’ full potential.” It was a neat experience, and now we can say, “We did it!”

Exploring other cities to see how they utilize their historic spaces to honor the past and look forward to the future never gets old. (Pun mostly intended.)