Tuesday, December 9, 2008

NYC's "Other Gondolas"

By now, most of you know plenty about the gondola on the Lake in Central Park.

Historic gondolas in New York City can be seen in posts from March 19th, May 6th, and May 23rd of 2008.

But there are "other gondolas" on the island of Manhattan: some literal, some figurative, and some legendary.

The figurative ones are on wheels, and come in two forms.

The first can be seen almost anywhere there are people needing a quick lift somewhere. They are the pedicabs, and before you scoff, consider how similar they are to gondolas on many levels. One of the biggest being the practice of negotiating with folks, right then and there. This is not too common in the American gondola world - most gondola operations here in the US run pre-boked cruises almost exclusively. Your typical pedicab driver has few or no passengers calling in or booking on-line. They get to haggle with their passengers like the gondoliers in Venice do.

The other figurative gondolas are the horse-drawn carriages that center in and around Central Park. Many travelers feel that their visit to Venice isn't cmplete unless they've taken a ride in a gondola. I've heard similar statements made about the carriages in Central Park.

Now, a literal gondola.
On 59th Street, rising above 2nd Avenue, is a gondola that looks like it was plucked off the slopes of the Colorado Rockies.

Yes, it is literally a gondola,

although most of us Venetian gondola operators wish someone would change the name of this contraption to minimize the confusion.

I saw this ski-lift for the first time last week and couldn't believe my eyes. We were in a hurry to get somewhere so I couldn't take photos or take time to get a closer look. I honestly thought it was a temporary setup for a movie or TV commercial - you know, the type where someone is having a fantasy or halucination.

The next day I set out to investigate and it turned out to be the real deal.

It takes people to Roosevelt Island.

Here's a link to their website: http://www.rioc.com/

You never know what you might encounter walking the streets of New York.

And now for the legendary gondola.

I first heard about it over a decade ago from Joe Munday and at some point I began calling it "The Penthouse Gondola".

According to the story, an eccentric and wealthy old woman lives in her Manhattan penthouse with a gondola in her dining room.

As it is at the top of a tall building, I suppose it could also be called "the gondola with the best or most sweeping view".

It is reported to be a true Venice-built gondola, which is now used as a sort of "restaurant booth", with a table and seating in the passenger area, and one hull-side and rail removed to allow access to that area.

Several questions abound, including the obvious:

"how the heck did she get a 36-foot boat into a New York penthouse?"

Who knows if the legend is true?
After my encounter the other day with a giant ski-lift gondola in Manhattan, I'm inclined to believe that it's possible.

When I first heard about the fabled "Penthouse Gondola", I was certain that if I just went to New York and asked around, I'd surely find it.

I had never been to New York.

When I finally experienced the place, I realized that even if the legend were true, it was such a needle-in-a-haystack, that I have yet to ask around.

I'm pretty sure I'd get laughed at.

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