A Princeton walkabout

I am always on the lookout for ways to incorporate technology into my everyday life. It seems a bit odd to say that these days, knowing that most folks have the complete opposite problem of trying to disconnect from their electronic lives. As I look out at the sea of customers in the library or at eateries such as Small World, I notice that all eyes are riveted on the screens in front of them. People on the street walk along, looking down at the phones in their hands, stumbling off curbs and out into traffic, paying no attention at all to the world around them. I often wonder what they are viewing. What is so absorbing that it makes them oblivious to their surroundings, able to ignore the noise and conversation in a busy coffee shop or street noise and other distractions out in public? Maybe I should try to find something that would encourage me to interact with my phone, doing more than just checking email and sending texts. It took a bit on pondering but finally, an idea came to me.

Long ago, before the dawn of cell phones and electronic devices, we, at the library, had a number of walking tour maps that we handed out to visitors to Princeton, featuring highlights of the area surrounding the library. At one point, we even had a narrated walking tour on cassette that, along with a walkman, could be borrowed for the afternoon. Surely this idea has by now been modernized and I could hopefully find the equivalent of these on-paper tours on a website or through an app.  And maybe discover a few other places of interest during my search.

Full disclosure here: For the research phase, I also used my laptop so I was not using my phone exclusively to search. I wanted to compare the look and usability of the sites between the two devices. I am very pleased to say that all of what I found can be easily used on a phone, which in my case, is an iPhone.

On my chosen touring day, with the sun finally shining, phone in hand, websites open and easily accessible, one app and one podcast downloaded and ready to go, I set out to explore.

First stop was the Princeton University campus. I remembered reading an article about the mobile friendly site for the art on Princeton’s campus. I began checking out all of the links, opening various windows on my phone before realizing that Campus Art was one of the seven tours found on the Princeton Mobile app that I had downloaded but not yet explored. Everything became much easier once I made this discovery and started using the app on my phone instead of the website. Browse the Collections lets you search the artists in alphabetical order with a small thumbnail photo of the art in question. Selecting one gives more information about the artist, to read or hear using the audio feature. It also includes other related images and a map location for each piece. Explore the Neighborhoods shows an interactive map so you can figure out where you are and what you are viewing.  Downloadable maps are also available.

I tried two other tours on the Princeton Mobile app, the Self-Guided tour and the Gargoyles tour. If you have the time to do only one or you have kids with you, I would opt for the Gargoyles. Even with the picture and a rough idea of where on the building to find a particular gargoyle, they are sometimes not all that easy to spot.

Back on Nassau Street, in front of Bainbridge House, the previous location of the Historical Society of Princeton (and before that, the Princeton Public Library), there is a sign advertising the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour: African American Life in Princeton. I called the number on the sign, 609-436-4092, and began listening to the narration by Shirley Satterfield.

The phone tour is a bit tricky to follow without a map because you are asked to key in the number of the site. You are also instructed to go to the Society’s website to find the map but once there, it is not obvious where to go next. In fact, the existence of this tour is difficult to find. You might think it would be under Plan a Visit/Walking Tours but no. It’s found either under Programs and Events/Adult Programs or Collections/Albert E. Hinds. Either location gives the link to the map.

There is also a digital version of this tour, which includes images, a list of sites, and an interactive map.  I highly recommend choosing this option. Regardless of which method you use, the downloadable map is extremely handy to have on hand, whether in print or on the phone. I found it easier to use than the interactive map, giving a better overall view of the touring area.

Since I was running out of time and it is quite a hike from the center of town to the Princeton Battlefield, I chose not to make the trek at this time.  However, if I were going and wanted to learn more about the battle, there are quite a number of narrated accounts on the web to listen to while walking around and exploring the park. Searching the podcasts feature on my phone, I discovered and downloaded Episode 29 of the American Military History podcast, the Battle of Princeton.  I also listened to 10 Days That Changed the World by Jim Wyler on YouTube.

Princeton has a number of places of interest that are notable, though not necessarily historical, and so did not show up on any of the tours. Try as I might, one such place turned out to be undiscoverable on the Internet. Earlier in the spring, a library customer told me there was a monarch butterfly waystation nearby, on William Street, complete with the official plaque and plenty of food for the beasties, so I wandered over there to pay a visit. I believe this is private property but the sign is visible from the public sidewalk. After the fact, the friend who accompanied me did manage to find a blogpost that mentioned it.

To finish off your day, be sure to visit two unique Princeton businesses that were recently in the news. The Bent Spoon made it on the list of the top 10 ice cream shops in the state and also The Best Ice Cream Shops in the US list in Food and Wine magazine PLUS it’s the top choice for ice cream in central Jersey in New Jersey Monthly’s 2016 Jersey Choice Restaurant Poll.  Definitely worth a visit. Then head over to the Princeton Record Exchange which recently made the list of 10 great places in the country for vinyl by USA Today.

And don’t forget to stop in and visit us at 65 Witherspoon Street. We are #4 of 46 things to do in Princeton according to Tripadvisor.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Blog post by Gayle Stratton.

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