Another free summer event worth lining up for on our last night – el salsa superstar Ruben Blades, in an outdoors concert at the Lincoln Centre full of New York Latinos. The music was so salsa and Ruben was charming the audience with his empathetic and poetic words, also offering songs for the disadvantaged, for the hard working, for carers of the ill, for the mothers. He had lived in Harlem when he was younger and was discovered by a record company while he was working there.The crowd cheered and danced continuously. They loved him! Some even brought their own instruments, maracas, to play along. We met a very nice couple, Carrollan and Jaimie, who live on Staten Island. He’s originally from Puerto Rico and she’s Caribbean. Quotes from Carollan: on subways – “I know underground better than above.”; on child rearing in New York -“It’s like trying to grow a tree in an apartment.”; on hearing I’m multi-lingual – “You’re a New Yorker then.” The city that never sleeps sent us to bed tired but happy with our last warehouse window view of the Empire State Building lit up in blue and pink to farewell our summer crossing here. Adios New York!
Mad moment: Taking the subway, only to find out that it’s an express train so you have to back track at the next stop to get to to your final destination while listening to the announcement “Be alert. Have a safe trip.” Or the train has been cancelled due to repairs and you have to run up or down to another connection hoping that the crowd you’re following will get you there.
Breathe: Get off at the next stop and have a coffee and study the subway paper map or NYC subway app. Take note of the colour of the line, the street, the letters A,B, C etc and the difference between a Local and Express marked train! At the station check if you need to go upstairs or downstairs too. Plus check the morning news in case of problems that day.
Mad moment: Wondering whether and who to ask someone for directions and or risk it on your own.
Breathe: Take out your map and ponder upon it until someone takes pity on you or have another coffee.
Mad moment: Sick of subways.
Breathe: Take a ferry to Staten Island or take a ferry to and from the Brooklyn piers at Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg or Greenpoint. There’s even a ferry to Hoboken, New Jersey from which you can see Manhattan lit up in the evening.
Mad moment: Long queues put you off visiting museums. New York is full of queues.
Breathe: It is true that a New York pass saves you from waiting in queues but make a booking for events that you truly want to see before you come. Many free summer events mean that you have to wait in queue but some of them are really worth it if you can manage it.
Mad moment: Coming across the NYPD arresting angry people or cordoning off a crime murder scene or walking the beat or watching from their watch tower at the corner of an intersection.
Breathe: Continue walking. Some New Yorkers take photos of these events but I wouldn’t. Seems that’s the only time New Yorkers like photos. Most of them are so camera fatigued.
Mad moment: Too hot. Too wet. Bad weather moment.
Breathe: Visit a museum or library. Apparently New Yorkers like to say the weather is unusually hot or unusually cool. It’s unusual. Carrying a small spray water bottle infused with lavender helped us many times.
Mad moment: Doing a walking tour in the afternoon sun trying not to crowd the sidewalk for other passersbys and navigating around other tour groups.
Breathe: Research and create your own walking tour at the hour of your choosing. We found freetoursbyfoot to be a fantastic one when we did a historical walking tour of Greenwich Village though. In the past, if you wanted to be famous you lived in Greenwich but now only the famous can afford to live there
Mad moment: Haven’t found a good pizza slice and don’t want to wait in queue for an eatery recommended for tourists.
Breathe: Have a real pizza and notice the difference in a restaurant the locals go to such as at Kestas pizzeria restaurant. Susan who volunteers for a great meet and greet service, Big Apple Greeter, took us there after a tour. You can book to meet a New Yorker with them three weeks in advance. Such a good idea! We shared a delicious meal in interesting company. It’s these surprising moments that make the day and keep you going.
Mad moment: Maneovering around shoppers in Macy’s or Bloomingdales up and down the building.
Breather: More pleasant to shop around Nolita and Soho boutiques and stop at cafes, galleries and bookshops inbetween. Housing Works bookshop had a couple of Australian authors on a bottom shelf categorised under Oceania. Not much knowledge about us here at all.
Mad moment: Want a totally different shopping experience.
Breather: Go to the B & H store and feel like you’ve stepped into another time that is half futuristic with conveyer belts of goods running to the counters run by Hasidic Jewish men speaking in Hebrew with each other.
Mad moment: Feeling dejected by the sullen customer service even after you say your please and thank you’s with a smile. Expect “Whaddauwant?” Expect surly people when asking for information at train stations. They just sell tickets. Information booths are not always open.
Breather: Get friendly service at the Anthropologie shops instead.They even write your name on the fitting room door. Or go to the Brooklyn markets for a leisurely, friendly chat with stall holders. Visitor Centre’s are friendly and very helpful too. Most of all they are friendly at theatres, museums and concerts when New Yorkers are at their happiest!
Mad moment: Sugar levels are low after walking around a lot.
Breathe: Scrumptious food can be found if you look around for a patisserie and bakery. We found delicious sweet treats at the Harlem Cafe, Roccos in Greenwich, Marquet Patisserie in Cobble Hill, Peter Pan’s Doughnut and Pastry Shop at Greenpoint.
Mad moment: Hungry and don’t know where to eat.
Breathe: Look for an A blue letter sign posted on the window of a deli, diner or restaurant. These have passed inspections. The food trucks are a good bet too. We liked the Middle Eastern ones for all the food groups in a jumbo combo to share.
Mad moment: Don’t want to do any touring but don’t want to be inside all day either.
Breathe: Find a spot in the park to read, have a bite or people watch. Mike made a new friend, Gunter, also a bicycle enthusiast at Hoboken. I watched Hasidic Jews with their family in Prospect Park and wondered how come all the women have such perfect, glossy, cloned looking hair. Then it dawned on me that they were all wearing wigs! I’m fascinated by them and found this article and this article, both fascinating to read.
Crossing the Hudson River by ferry is one of the most pleasant activities to do on a summer day and the ride to Staten Island is the best way to see the Statue of Liberty for free. Staten Island is bigger than what we expected, more built up than what we expected, friendlier than what we expected. It has a more relaxed feel in general. We only ended up having time to visit the local museum and two historical houses, the Garibaldi-Meucci house for my Dad and the Alice Austen house for Mike. The house named “Clear Comfort” is in a picturesque spot overlooking the river. She was one of the first female photographers, photographing immigrants arriving on the ships and New Yorkers in the 1890’s. I thought she was also Mike’s twin in another life, enjoying sailing, biking and photography too!
We discovered that Coney Island actually is not an island after they landfilled the creek and that you get there with the subway. It’s a long, long stretch of beach with a wide boardwalk between the beach and a stretch of land housing Luna Park, the aquarium, parks and basketball courts and restaurants. No public swimming pools? No shady trees. Also the sand is white when you first see it but then it’s black at the water’s edge with some pieces of plastic and paper rubbish strewn about which the locals don’t seem to mind. I didn’t feel like swimming there. You’re not allowed to swim far out either because of sudden drop offs and rips. We liked the Brighton Beach end the most where we ended up at the local Russian markets and with a spinach pastry from a food stall. All the deli’s had the women selling pastry’s at the front. Overall we kinda thought it was a strange area. Hard to satisfy Australians with just any beach isn’t it?! An area where you hear another language is not unfamiliar to us though.
As for the other islands, Ellis Island was still closed for repairs after Hurricane Sandy and Grosvernor Island is only open on the weekends so would have needed to plan for that one.
We started the day with yummy blueberry pancakes in Nostrand Av., Crown Heights, a strange street that seems on the cusp of things. A couple of subway stops later we were at the Brooklyn Flea Markets in Fort Greene, not far from Downtown Brooklyn. We liked these markets very much. It had a wide variety of stalls to browse through. The grocery market is held on the same day at Fort Greene park which was a nice park to sit and relax in too.
We liked Fort Greene very much. I thought it was more diverse and interesting than Williamsburg and just as hip. The plaza has a great choice of eateries and bars. Mike dutifully stopped at the cosy bike shop and had a friendly chat with the owner. We chatted with an 84yr old African-American retired dancer who was hanging about on his local sidewalk dressed smartly in his hat. Waldo Howell’s stage name was Sabu Gus. He had started dancing in 1939 in Harlem and had been living in Brooklyn for 50 years. He said he loved New York and would never leave it. What stories he could tell!
People seem friendlier on this side of town. In Manhattan you have to be looking at your map and wait for someone to help you as most people seem bothered if you approach them for directions. Manhattanites have mastered the blank steely face look.
We ended up eating at Black Iris, a middle eastern cuisine which mainly looked like the Lebanese food we would get at home. They were so nice that they even gave us a free dessert cake, a basbousa, after we polished off our plates!
We walked to Barclays Centre to discover queues of Beyonce fans lining up for the sold out concert so then we went to the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) theatre to see “Blue Jasmine”. We were pleasantly surprised by the theatre, built in 1904, as the interior has been left as is whilst converting it to a cinema. The faded paint and the crumbling columns have left a fascinating impression of it’s grand past. We viewed the movie on a state-of-the-art wide screen called a Steinberg screen. Our talented Cate Blanchet was absolutely believable in her role and it reminded me of her playing Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Sydney Theatre but this review and this review offer other interesting insights into the contemporary nature of the film. In the beginning of the film, the whole audience erupted in laughter when Jasmine said “Can you believe I had to live in Brooklyn?”.
Living in Brooklyn is living well. Today felt like a normal day and it was great, not having to manage the mad mayhem of Manhattan that New York sometimes is.
Our first forays into Central Park was to have our lunch in the Conservatory Garden and walk through Harlem Meer lake and the North Woods. I felt peaceful there. It’s an oasis in the middle of a noisy, busy city and only a couple of blocks from East Harlem. It’s not as wide as it is long so it was just a few minutes walk across to the subway for the blue line. We passed by a guy who looked like a rocker in a famous band walking his pet pooches who were wearing soft padded red shoes to protect their pretty paws from the hot pavement. He probably was!
Mike also spent a couple of hours cycling in the park and around while I went off to a tour before we met at Le Pain Quotidien near Columbus Square for a yummy organic tart lunch.
On the weekend we spent a day exploring the Belvedere Castle, the turtle lakes, the Shakespeare Garden, John Lennon’s Imagine memorial, the carousel, the Chess House, the Mall and more. The Central Park app helps you navigate but the paper map suffices for a day too. The app also has a nifty calender of events. This time it was not exactly relaxing. I’ve never seen such a busy park with all sorts of activities going on. Residents walking dogs that must always be on a leash (NYC must be hard for pooches), cycling, boating, busking musicians and dancers, painters and artists selling their work. It’s more of a playground than a park the way that we know it but it’s lovely to see that there is something offered for all age groups not just children’s playgrounds. I feel that this is what is sometimes lacking in Australian parks.
At Strawberry Fields, there was a protest to free Bradley Manning. We chatted to Tom, a greenie hoping to become a candidate for the next local council election. He lives in the same area as Yoko Ono but unlike Yoko he’s on rent control which was introduced for returning G.I’s in the seventies. As soon as these premises are empty the rents will go up to the same level as the other apartments and affordable housing will no longer exist. With the population said to increase what kind of expensive micro-living will regular New Yorkers end up living? The divide in this city is easy to see across a few streets this way or that way and it may be increasing according to this article on income inequality.
Yesterday evening we went to Shakespeare in the Park to see a musical of Love’s Labours Lost. It’s very popular as we waited in a queue for an hour. Some people even start to line up at 6 a.m. We were lucky to get tickets! It was a wonderful and entertaining performance and it was all free! So professional in the Delacorte Theatre. It does not compare to our little one at all and we have to pay for it in Glebe geez! NYC believes in making art and culture accessible to all.
The famous park of protests and revolutions, Washington Park is in Greenwich Village and it is smaller and more arty but just as crowded. Musicians of every genre – classical, blues, jazz – a young actor reciting Shakespeare for anyone who asks for a monologue or sonnet busk here in the early evening. One elderly African-American spoke with the Shakespearean about disturbing his peace and ended up getting up and walking away talking aggressively at him. Must be hard to find a quiet space in these Manhattan parks! This is something that we do have.
The High Line could also be elevated to a park status somewhat and it is the most peaceful one. No buskers. Just a sunny walk and a rest stop above the noisy road.
One rainy day we went to the Brooklyn Museum in Prospect Park where I loved the Feminist Art, Egyptian and the amazing El Anatsui exhibitions. It seems that their major museums are always located around the park but on account of the rain we didn’t see it in it’s full glory. One sunny day we’ll see the carousel, theatre, zoo, playgrounds and the Botanic Garden. Some of the trees here are apparently the original native trees.
So the New York City park, rooted in the Victorian ideal of the park, is very different from our open, green spaces.
No need for a bus tour or an iPad. Just grab a paper map at the Visitors Centre at Borough Hall where friendly local volunteers give you information for free – the old fashioned way! Look for the historical buildings and homes of real people and then add your fictional characters along the way.
Start at Montague St., the main street full of shops, diners and restaurants including one called “Happy Days”(not the original one) on the way to the Brooklyn Promenade where you get another view of the Manhattan skyline.
Along the way stop to see the former home of Truman Capote where “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was written at 70 Willow St and Arthur Miller where “The Crucible” was written at 155 Willow St. You can imagine them walking the streets and wonder what they would think of last years’ hurricane damage they are still cleaning up.
Take a walk down Willow St. and you’ll come across the very first wooden home built in the 1830’s, the Eugene Boisselet residence at the corner of 24 Middogh St. and the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims where runaway slaves found refuge. They would be shocked at how much this area has changed.
You could walk down Henry St and you’ll find the cafe from “Moonstruck” named Maybelles or continue forward to Front St and Water St in the Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area where you’ll find the queue for Grimaldi’s, a Frank Sinatra favourite and actually the second restaurant from the family who owned the first pizzeria in East Harlem. The River Cafe under Brooklyn Bridge was also in a “Sopranos” episode.
Further afield go down Court St. for the Bookcourt bookshop in “Eat, Pray, Love” or the St. George Hotel where “The Godfather” was filmed. Then there’s 86th Street near Bay 23rd Street in Bensonhurst for “Saturday Night Pizza” Lenny’s or the Brooklyn Supreme Court Building, 360 Adams Street where Carrie and Big got married.
Here is what we really did. We had a good chat with the volunteer lady at the Visitors Centre who warned us that you had to buy a whole pizza at Grimaldis not a slice. We said that suited Australians just fine! Anyone would think that they had invented pizza?! She also talked about the gentrification of Brooklyn from it’s early days.
On the promenade, we watched the locals while drinking a cool soy berry smoothie. They come here for their lunch break, their jog, their dog walking, the children’s playground and for the pop up swimming pool. It had a pleasant and relaxing vibe. We thought the development of the piers was a good idea.They are becoming playgrounds, sportsfields, gardens, outdoors cinemas and pop up swimming pools.
We bought lunch to go from Cranberries foodie shop and ate it at the park. Then walked down to the pier over a bouncy boardwalk, along an outdoors photography exhibition to the ferry stop. For dessert we stopped for an icecream at the cute Brooklyn Icecream Factory and a had a chat with the guys from the NYC pop up water stalls for free water.
We walked under Brooklyn Bridge into Dumbo and found a couple of books in Powerhouse Books store for which the salesman nearly overcharged me for. We watched smiling and crying children on the carousel, a beautifuly restored original 1930’s merry-go-round. Then we walked across Brooklyn Bridge, a character itself featured in so many films, watching the traffic through the cracks of the wooden walkway, sighting the Manhattan bridge across on the right, keeping out of the cyclists path and listening to “ice cold water one dollar one dollar one dollar” at several points.
There are film references everywhere you turn and you could spend days or even weeks going to film locations of fictional characters compiled from lists you can easily find online without having to pay for a tour.
Or you can just let the street take you where it wills.
The first thing we did in Brooklyn was to go to the Sunday Flea Market at 90 Kent St. East River Side in Williamsburg. There were foodie stalls, second hand furniture stalls, clothes and knick knacks. I found a nice wide head band to cover my creeping grey hair. We then had a bagel and drink at the Verb Cafe on Bedford Av, the main swishy street, from which we watched young trendy things as we relaxed. It’s a hipster hood because of the well-to-do youth (mainly hmmm white) who hang out in bars and cafes, even in the Australian cafe, Toby’s Estate. Very different from East Harlem. No police beat here though East Harlem was always safe. It’s kind of a small upmarket Newtown or Fitzroy but with a view of the Manhattan skyline. Mike thought it was like “Fitzroy on steroids.” He did manage to find someone over thirty though.
So we’ve done as much as we possibly can on our 7 day New York pass. Mike wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth!
- MET museum for everything in the world!
- The Guggeinham space is a beauty of it’s own.
- MOMA for art, art, art, sculptures and photography
- EL Museo del Barrio for East Harlem
- New York City Museum for the history of protest movements
- The Cloisters at the green, peaceful Fort Tyrone Park
- Museum of Art and Design costume jewellery and wood design exhibitions
- The gothic Top of the Rock to imagine Batman from
- The grand Empire State Building to imagine King Kong from
- Radio City Hall opulent art deco interiors
- Rent a bicycle around Central Park and surrounds
- Hudson River Cruise from which you see long queues for the Statue of Liberty
- Evening Cruise when the city is all lit up
- 9/11 Memorial is a huge deep fountain which represents tears.
- Harlem walking tour with a couple of local African-Americans
- Downtown Tour with a boring guide
- Uptown Tour with an informative guide
- Harlem Tour with a comic African-American guide
- Bronx Tour with Aida the Latino lady
- Brooklyn Tour with Tom, the Italian tough guy act
Phew! Are you tired yet?
Wait there’s more!
Plus our own walking tours of El barrio, of Chinatown and Little Italy, of Central Park and more to do on our list. Mike especially liked Chinatown where we had a late lunch. We didn’t think much of Little Italy although the home made sorbet was good. I loved Central Park although it’s odd to have a rectangular park but that was the Victorian times for ya.
Sometimes we’d set out with an intention in mind but then end up doing something else because of the area we find ourselves in and the amount of time it takes to get from subway to subway. It’s a big city with a lot to do!
Our next stay is at Brooklyn where we’ll slow down a bit and if there are other exhibitions we want to see we’ll do it on Wednesdays when all the museums are free.
Wait for more!