NYC walk

 

David Whitley puts his guidebook away and prepares for a sensual bombardment as he ambles through the parks and streets of Manhattan.

 

There are many cities where attempting to drive is an extremely bad idea. And, providing that the public transport is vaguely decent, the usual advice will be to stick to the buses and the train network.

 

This is especially the case with New York. You’d have to be a complete mentalist to think about getting behind the wheel here, and the Subway system is both generally excellent and available 24 hours a day. But is it the best way to get around? Heck no – providing you’ve got a bit of time on your hands and don’t mind waiting at the odd pedestrian crossing on a fairly regular basis, by far the best way to explore New York is on foot.

 

With a rigid grid system, it is virtually impossible to get lost in Manhattan. And, if you’ve got the free time, you’d be well advised to stick your guidebook/ map/ iPhone app in your bag and just see where you end up. There’s so much going on here that it doesn’t really matter if you skirt within ten blocks of a popular sight – you’ll spot plenty that intrigues or makes you try to suppress a belly laugh.

 

Central Park is a fabulous place to start, as it is rammed to the gills with New York stereotypes. Joggers really do pound around the Reservoir, people continually try to sell you hot dawgs from shabby-looking carts and there’s a crazy man who seems to think he’s Michael Jackson and likes dancing in the road. The park really is something special – the skyscrapers ring it, but it seems far removed. Squirrels scamper about, people pootle around the lake in boats and self-parodic personal trainers make middle-aged women leap about like kangaroos with flailing arms. Interestingly, there are also signs warning people to leave the wildlife alone. Apparently a few Central Park raccoons have been diagnosed with rabies. I think the Michael Jackson man has been consorting with the raccoons.

 

Once the relative peace of the park has been abandoned, it’s time to embrace the madness. Personally, I could happily spend hours looking up, cooing at skyscrapers, although I do concede that this would probably lead to me being called an “asshole” by a taxi driver. Yes, that stereotype’s true. And there is a deli on just about every corner too. Most of them sell bagels. And their owners probably like Woody Allen films.

 

Encounters range from the poignant – the gaping hole where the World Trade Center once stood, now filled with all manner of construction vehicles – to the comic. Within a period of twenty minutes, I managed to walk past a vociferous man selling ‘Barack Obama’ condoms, a busker trying to earn money by hammering away on a drum kit next to a deserted car park and a shop staffed entirely by men wearing just jeans and no shirts.

 

A particular highlight was watching a chap clad in streetwear finally conceding defeat. His trousers were hanging so low beneath his arse (at least 85% of boxer shorts on display) that he had to pull them up because he was tripping over. At last, a victory for moral rectitude and common sense. 

 

It’s a non-stop bombardment in which the little details (ice cream stands with calorie counts displayed as prominently as the prices) hit home as much as the stirring set-pieces (armies of suits pouring across Broadway as rush hour strikes). And it’s a reel or memories that you’ll not get by shutting yourself away for quick flits between sights on the Subway.

 

 

Disclosure: David was a guest of Nycgo.com. He stayed at the Hilton Gardens Staten Island (Hiltongardeninn.Hilton.com) and the Affinia Dumont (Affinia.com) in Manhattan.

 

 

 

Highline

 

 


New York City has seen every walk of life in its short history - pros, pushers, poets and pirates; Mad Men, rappers, beatniks and punks. Then there's the cowboys. 2,000 miles from the outlands of Texas and New Mexico, they didn't wrestle heads of cattle and weren't too hot with a lasso.

 

The West Side Cowboys first moseyed into town in the mid-nineteenth century. They were railway employees that rode horseback in front of the street-level freight trains on Manhattan's 10th Avenue, clearing the way of pedestrians. Manhattan’s West Side was the city’s largest industrial neighbourhood, and freight trains were a necessity in transporting heavy goods in and out. Many New Yorkers lost their lives to the relentless engines that powered through the streets – to the point where locals cheerily referred to the thoroughfare as 'Death Avenue'. 

In the early 20th century the city announced a raft of improvements to the West Side, which included the construction of an elevated freight system, known today as The High Line. The rail track was built through the centre of city blocks rather than above and along the avenues, allowing factories and warehouses to load goods directly onto the trains. But as road infrastructure improved and heavy industry petered out in New York, so did the need for a dedicated freight line. The service ended in the 1980s and the tracks were left to rust, wild grasses and graffiti ran its length. 

It was the last of Manhattan’s elevated train lines, however, and felt by the immediate community to be of historic significance. The Friends of the High Line came together, and slowly found support within the City Council for the line to be saved rather than scrapped - over a dozen blocks of track had already been demolished in the 1960s. A decade later, the High Line reopened – not as a railway, but as the city’s most original and splendid park.

Above the sidewalks and horns of the city, the wooden decks replace rusted steel amid blooms and shrubs, with views rolling out across the west of broken piers drowning in the Hudson River, and the chatter of Chelsea to the east. Visitors sprawl over loungers and enjoy the calm as the High Line gently ducks and swerves around buildings and under hotels, curls and cups its brick brethren. 

The traffic below and azure above, stretching from the Meatpacking District to Hell's Kitchen, the High Line is a pathway of urban tranquility borne out of cowboys and freight trains, and a true must-visit destination when visiting the city. So unique. So very New York.

 

 

 

   
"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
 
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in November 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.

 

Manhattan Parks

 

10 Manhattan Parks You've Never Visited

Name a park in New York. No, not that one. Central Park makes its way onto the itineraries of most visitors, and rightly so. It offers wide-eyed scale and diversity - glacial outcrops, fountains, statues, lakes and lost trails - and that quietly surreal juxtaposition of calm open fields framed by the metropolis beyond.
 

If you're on a second or third visit to the city and want to explore other green spaces, then take your pick of these ten Manhattan parks:


Columbus Park, Chinatown 

A favourite spot of mine for so many reasons. A century ago this was the territory of the Dead Rabbits; the southern end of the park marks where the infamous Five Points neighbourhood was located. Now you're in the heart of Chinatown, so you'll see countless games of Mahjong and elderly ladies singing singing Chinese opera. Fried Dumpling is on Mosco Street (five freshly-cooked dumplings in hot sauce for a dollar) and the location is a great springboard to explore the restaurants of Chinatown. If you're here in the evening, check whether Winnie's Bar is open at the park's northern end, a dive well known among locals for its karaoke. 

Septuagesimo Uno, Upper West Side 
From Central Park, the largest in Manhattan, it's only a couple of blocks west to the smallest. Septuagesimo Uno is a 'pocket park' squeezed between buildings on 71st St, between Broadway and West End Avenue.

Southpoint Park, Roosevelt Island 

Most New Yorkers have never visited this neighbourhood in the swells of the East River; fewer still have even heard of Southpoint Park. It only opened in August 2011, so don't be surprised to find yourself alone with postcard views of Midtown Manhattan. There's more to come, too; the FDR Four Freedoms Park opens just beyond Southpoint Park in 2012. While you're there, you can explore Roosevelt Island's other sights.

Lighthouse Park,
 Roosevelt Island 
Sticking with Roosevelt Island, head to its northern tip to find Lighthouse Park, with cracking views of Manhattan's Upper East Side and the gothic Blackwell Island Lighthouse.

Highbridge Park, Washington Heights

Manhattan is over 13 miles long; most tourists travel less than seven miles along that length, from Battery Park to Central Park. You'll have to venture a little further to find Highbridge Park. The main point of interest is New York's oldest bridge, the High Bridge (not The High Line, which is a park in its own right). It's a footbridge across the Harlem River that links Manhattan and the Bronx. Although closed in the 1970s, there are plans to open it again in 2013.

Gramercy Park
 
Plenty of people have seen this immaculate park tucked away behind Park Avenue, but only through the iron rails that surrounds it. Gramercy Park is the most exclusive, and only private park in Manhattan, with keys to the gates held by residents. The only realistic way for a visitor to gain access is to book a night at the Gramercy Park Hotel for $500. Historically the hotel has always held 12 keys, and 'key to private park' is listed as standard when booking a room - but then some say your face has to 'fit' too.

John Jay Park, Upper East Side

As you pick your way through the herds of tourists, it's easy to forget that parks are built and maintained for the communities around them, not for camera-packing foreigners. So here's a neighbourhood park adored by the locals during the summer months - on account of its full-length outdoor swimming pool. 

Inwood Hill Park, Inwood 
One of the more surreal experiences I've had in New York City involved emerging from the subway at 207th and Broadway to be surrounded by the expected traffic, horns and hubbub of the city - to then walk two blocks west and discover a wall of rock ten storeys high. 

Inwood Hill Park is one of my favourite places in Manhattan. Before the Dutch arrived in the 17th Century, Manhattan was all swamps and forests, rivers and marshland. The park is a time capsule preserving that chapter of island life; a low cut meadow looks out across Spuyten Duyvil Creek at the northern point of Manhattan Island, sweeping up into the last its forests; a natural wilderness of marshes, valleys and woodland. 


Robert F Wagner Jr Park, Battery Park City 
If the packs of tourists at Battery Park are too much, this is another sprawling park on the riverfront just around the corner, offering views across to the Statue of Liberty but without the crowds.

Carl Schurz Park, Upper East Side 
The Upper East Side is poorly served by the subway, meaning Carl Schurz Park is still 15 minutes walk from the nearest station at 86 Street and Lexington Avenue. It's worth the wear on your soles because you'll find Gracie Mansion, a Federal-style home built in the embers of the 18th century. It's the official residence of the city's mayor (although current mayor Michael Bloomberg lives elsewhere in the Upper East Side) and there's a tour and a museum for visitors.

 

 

   
"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
 
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.

Roosevelt Island

 

 

As a fan of live comedy I used to trawl the acts that appeared in my hometown. One local compere from Newcastle would always tell the same joke about Gateshead, where I lived. He would explain how he enjoyed visiting Gateshead, but only because of the view of Newcastle across the river Tyne. Meanwhile, the rest of Newcastle only had Gateshead to look across at, which at the time was as impressive as a disused quarry. 

I'm always reminded of that joke when I visit New York City, and wonder whether a comedian in one of its countless comedy clubs has ever poked fun at New Jersey or Roosevelt Island in the same way. Both enjoy views across the sky-scraping skyline of Manhattan but are hardly in the same league themselves. 

Roosevelt Island is worth a second look, though. It's the other island in Manhattan where New Yorkers live, aside from Manhattan Island itself - a fillet of land barely two miles long that stretches down New York's East River inbetween Manhattan and Queens. Its history is as lively and bizarre as anywhere else in the city - in the 19th century, it was home to lepers, lunatics and prisoners, tantalisingly close to civilisation but stranded by the deep currents of the river.

Reaching Roosevelt Island is so easy it's surprising more tourists don't stray there. There's a single stop on the Subway's F Line, but far more exciting is the Roosevelt Island tramway which runs from Manhattan's 2nd Avenue at 60th St, just a block from Bloomingdales. Built by the Swiss in 1976, two huge cable cars sail back and forth through the sky, alongside the Queensboro bridge which connects Manhattan to Queens.The tramway runs every 15 minutes, the journey between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island takes just four. As with the subway and buses, the journey is free if you have a Metrocard pass. 

Once you reach the island? It'll only take a couple of hours to walk its perimeter (although the island has its own bus service) and there's plenty to see; tucked in amongst the condominium homes of 10,000 New Yorkers are plenty of landmarks. Blackwell House dates back to the late 18th Century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It's a modestly-sized manor house that was typical of the period but now rarer than hen's teeth in the city, and named after the island's former owner - as is Blackwell Island Lighthouse at the northern tip of the island, with views beyond to Ward's Island and the Hell Gate Bridge. Before you reach the lighthouse, you'll spot a magnificent octagonal building; this is unsurprisingly known as The Octagon, and it served as the main entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum, a vast L shaped structure that at one time held over 3,000 inmates. 

The south of the island is dominated by Goldwater Specialty Hospital; beyond that is a stretch of broad, flat land and the Renwick Ruin, the neo-gothic remains of the island's smallpox hospital. This area will soon turn Roosevelt Island from a neighbourhood considered off-the-beaten-path into a must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike, when in 2012 the FDR Four Freedoms Park opens at the southern point of the island.

Like the recently extended Brooklyn Bridge Park, Four Freedoms will be popular not only for the sensation of freedom from the airless metropolis, but because of the views it affords. But the views are there already - Manhattan's jostling, jigsawed skyline across the East River is up-close and magnificent. From the United Nations to the Upper East Side, you can very easily spend half a day snapping away and taking it all in. 

Cable cars, lunatics, lighthouses and postcard views - most New Yorkers will disagree, but Roosevelt Island is worth more than a glance from Manhattan
.

 

 

   
"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
 
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.

NYC itineraries

 

 

NYC 101 - how to plan your sightseeing in New York City

I'm stupidly fortunate in that I've visited New York City so often in the past six years that I've lost count. Sometimes for a few days, at other times for a fortnight or longer. There's so much more of the world I haven't seen, but my heart absolutely belongs to this city. So a small part of my soul withers away when I see 'guides' to exploring NYC in a weekend or travel writers churning out the same braindead lists of must-see attractions. There are thousands of them and whether they're written for the sake of a pay cheque, hipster credibility or linkbait, very few are helpful to the first time tourist. If you're planning your first visit to New York City, all you really need is to chat with friends who have visited, a decent guidebook (I'd recommend Time Out in this instance) and the few words of friendly advice below. 

You won't see everything worth seeing in one visit

New Yorkers can't keep up with everything going on in their city, so you stand no chance. Just accept this and don't pressure yourself to see everything in one go. You can't.

Don't be a slave to an itinerary

New York City isn't like other cities; Manhattan in particular compels you to explore it on foot. The grid system makes it easy to get your bearings and navigate through the streets - because of that, you're always likely to stumble across something interesting - a store, a show, a shoot for a movie. In fact this will always happen, so a tightly packed itinerary will fall apart very quickly. That, or ignore all these impromptu experiences that make a trip unique and special to you - in which case, go back and read previous point. 

Choose two points and explore the in between

My favourite tip for experiencing New York City is to simply pick two attractions that you're comfortable walking between, check the maps to see what else there is along the way or nearby - and start walking. I took a friend to NYC for his first visit recently. On the third day, we chose two attractions on his list as our start and end points - we began the day at the Empire State Building (8am til 9am is best during daylight hours for this; queues are non-existent) and planned to end up at The High Line (a wonderful stretch of grasses, plants and pathway along a former elevated railway). Importantly, we didn't care much about how long it would take. If we finished early, we could always do something else.

We spent six hours walking just four miles, but our day took in the Empire State Building, Madison Square Park, The Flatiron building, Gramercy Park, lunch at Pete's Tavern, Union Square, the Strand bookstore, Washington Square Park, Bleeker Street and the West Village, the Meatpacking District and finally the High Line. Picking pairs of attractions can work really well; hit the Statue of Liberty or the Staten Island ferry in the morning, and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the afternoon - in between you have the WTC site, Wall Street, City Hall and South Street Seaport, as well as Brooklyn Bridge Park for afters. 

Don't be afraid to be a tourist

There’s an odd snobbery that sets in once a person visits New York City. Watch for it when you ask for advice about visiting the Empire State Building. 'It’s not as good as Top of the Rock', they’ll invariably tell the New York newbie. They're not telling you this because they've necessarily compared the two, but because they were told the same and followed the advice, or because they don't want to feel like a tourist and appear to have some New York smarts. 

Both offer impressive views - how can they fail to? The Top of the Rock has the advantage of the Empire State Building in your photos, but you'll have to take them through glass panels. Both experiences have pros and cons - but only one of them is the Empire State Building. I love the ESB because of its place in New York history, the art deco fixture and fittings, the 102nd observation platform that began life as an airship terminal. You might want to visit because of Sleepless in Seattle. In fact you don't have to choose - whisper it, but you're allowed to visit both.

In other words, don't worry about being a tourist.


Choose your own adventure

Some guidebooks and travel writers also feel the need to spurn popular attractions to maintain their ego and credibility among other writers. In other cases, it's a matter of perspective. For example, Concierge.com will advise you to skip Times Square but can't recommend London's Big Ben highly enough. Why rubbish an iconic location in one city and not the other? It might be because the offices for Concierge overlook Times Square - they see it every day.

Have in mind the sights you want to see and tick off your list, but otherwise enjoy the city at your own pace, in your own time. So you don't get to that specific cupcake store or the Jewish bakery that the guidebook writer obsessed about - it doesn't matter. Go another day if it matters, but don't there's no mad rush. The Big Apple will always be around for you to take a bite the next time. 

 

 

   
"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
 
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.