A visit to my favorite city – New York
First of two parts about a memorable trip to New York City.
It wasn’t love at first sight, or even the second (being there when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve). It was after several visits. Move over Paris, the city of lights, and San Francisco, the city on seven hills; New York is now my favorite city to visit.
When did I discover this? On a two-week visit last year. How did this happen? It took a two-week visit to really get to know this diverse city. 2003 was an interesting time to be there, with so much going on.
Greater New York is made up of five boroughs, home to more than 8 million people. Manhattan is what most people think of as New York City. This borough is made up of many small, distinct neighborhoods. Within these neighborhoods the locals divide their loyalties to still smaller areas.
I found this out by reading a little book written by E. B. White about his beloved city, which he proclaimed to be “the greatest city in the world.” The people produce a flavorful ingredient, a pre-eminent melting pot. New York is a cosmopolitan city where many immigrants have left their mark.
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Central Park, located in mid-Manhattan, extends from 59th to 110th streets and from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West. The park was having its 150th birthday party – a party that would last the whole year. This 843-acre, large-wooded oasis and landscaped grounds located in the center of a great, bustling city started out as a dream. In 1858, the city fathers wanted to build a park over what was a mosquito-ridden marsh, so they held a competition to see who could come up with the best plan.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s designers, took it one step further and thought of it as a grand social experiment. Could they build an area that would be a haven used by a mixture of both the rich and the poor alike? At that time the “classes” were much more conscious. It took them 16 years, but they did it. A place with green grass and space – space in an overcrowded city, that all the locals would use and enjoy and visitors would love.
We were two of those visitors that spent several days exploring the park. There are lakes, ponds, fishing, boat rowing, winter ice skating, hiking, skating rinks, biking trails and beautiful gardens. The Bronx Zoo may be one of the country’s greatest zoos but the one in Central Park is the oldest, built in 1864.
When you get hungry, food can be found at all prices, including the famous Tavern on the Green Restaurant, where we had lunch. Narrated buggy rides offer an overview of the park and surrounding areas, available year round.
The Great Lawn has a concert area where, in the summer, there are free performances by the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. At the south end is the mock medieval Belvedere Castle that serves as a background prop for performances of “Shakespeare in the Park” at the open air Delacorte Theater. These performances are also free.
Not being in some sections of the park at night is the rule, but an exception was the 24 hours during the Central Park BioBlitz. This was when 350 scientists and volunteers searched the park from noon Friday to noon Saturday. They recorded the kinds of creatures that share the park with all those humans who come each day.
Using lightweight computer notebooks, nearly 850 species were recorded, not including the thousands of micro-organisms collected by the scuba divers in the lakes. This was a first-time attempt to survey the park’s critters. A nice birthday present for New Yorkers, they discovered their park had nocturnal flying squirrels that live up in the trees and actually glide.
On the Fifth Avenue side of the park there are so many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, called Museum Mile.
However, the museum I liked the best is the American Museum of Natural History, located on the opposite side of the park. It is cheaper to buy a combination ticket for this museum, which includes the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium.
At the Planetarium, the space show took us on a virtual trip through the Milky Way to the edge of the universe. Check the time and days to see this show; it is well worth the time and money.
Plan on spending a lot of time at the museums. In fact, I would recommend you get a floor plan of the buildings and see what interests you the most. As we went down a hall to enter one exhibit, there, in a glass case, was a cape and walking stick that brought back memories. I remembered seeing them when I attended a lecture by Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist, many years ago. This is what makes travel so interesting.
The Metropolitan Museum is one of the great museums, with a collection from all over the world. With a floor plan you can more readily find your interests. I had already decided I would see the painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” painted by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), an American painter. Guided tours of the museum are available in 10 languages and free with your admission.
At the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, for me it wasn’t what was on special display (Picasso to Pollock – Classics of Modern Art, July 4 – Sept. 28), it was the building itself. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was his ingenious inverted pyramid design. Recognized as one of New York’s most significant landmark buildings, it was opened to the public on Oct. 21, 1959.
The clever design moves art admirers leisurely up and down a spiraling ramp wrapped around an open rotunda. Paintings are hung along one wall of the spiraled walkway. The other side looks down on the main floor and what is going on there. The domed circular section of the building creates an interesting visual effect.
The building has six rotunda levels and an annex on each where various galleries and exhibits are located. If walking is a problem, there are two elevators.
Jan Postell lives in Nevada City and enjoys traveling. Part 2 will appearSaturday, June 12 with more to see and do in New York City.
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