Have you heard the story of the cobbler's children? You know, the one about a cobbler who's always so focused on making shoes for his customers he never has time to make any for his own children?
Well, in a way, that's sort of how I treat New York City. I'm so busy tending to my day-to-day life I never have time, or make time, to enjoy the unique experiences people from all over the world flock here to see. I'm ashamed to admit I've lived here over 22 years, and still haven't been to the Statue of Liberty, and it's not like I haven't had a few hours to spare sometime during the past 8,030 weekends.
Sure, I occasionally make my way to Broadway (or off Broadway) to see a show, and go to museums, but like most proud New Yorkers I'm way too quick to dismiss most of our city's attractions as too touristy and too crowded to bother, which in some cases is... too true. But there are a number of other spots - often overlooked by tourists and locals alike - that are well worth the visit. And believe me, if I've managed to hoof it to these, and liked them enough to go back more than once, anyone can, and should.
Here are five of my favorite shoes:
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is the stuff of fairy tales: quiet pathways that wind through specialty gardens and dreamy landscapes. You turn a corner and practically expect to see princesses, or fairies, or other mythical creatures joyfully laughing and dancing in magical circles. At just over 50 acres, the BBG is a manageably sized sanctuary, and easily reached by train from Manhattan - and of great importance to me, by bike from my house. It's the perfect place to take a walk away from the noise and congestion of the city. And in my opinion, the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is one of the loveliest spots in all of NYC, and the gift shop is worth a visit too.
Contrary to how it may sound, spending an afternoon in this cemetery is the antithesis of weird and depressing. Founded in 1838, Green-Wood is a national historic landmark and a Revolutionary War site, and is spectacularly beautiful. With 478 acres of nature - hills, valleys, flora, ponds, birds - and a massive collection of 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums, Green-Wood will blow you away. On one hill, you can even see a view of the city in the distance. In addition, many of its 560,000 permanent residents are famous, including Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Boss Tweed, and a host of baseball legends, artists, politicians, entertainers, inventors, and Civil War generals. I found, perhaps inappropriately, the row of pond-side mausoleums particularly amusing; one is more giant and elaborate than the next, and each, of course, has a perfect, unobstructed waterfront view. Some people really know how to live. Ba-dum-dum.
The Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Temple of Dendur - commissioned by Emperor Augustus of Rome around 10 B.C. - was gifted to the United States by Egypt in 1965. It was disassembled, moved across the ocean in 661 crates, and reconstructed at the Met, where it has been on display since 1978. The temple is completely open to the public, meaning you can walk all around it and through it, and see the intricate carvings on its walls up close. The wing housing the Temple of Dendur is among my favorite rooms in all of New York City, and if I'm being completely straight with you, is more the reason I go see the temple than is the temple itself. It's a giant, light-filled space with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Central Park, and manages to feel peaceful, intimate, sacred, romantic, and otherworldly all at the same time. I love it during the day, but also at night when the Temple is lit up. And of course it all sits inside the Metropolitan Museum, which has more than two million works of art representing 5,000 years of history.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Yes, the Brooklyn Bridge is a complete nightmare of tourists and cyclists during peak hours and on weekends, but you can beat the crowds if you traverse it early in the morning or later in the evening. The views from it are simply spectacular, and the bridge itself a marvel: its wood planks remind me of walking on a beach boardwalk as a kid; thick, sturdy steel cables impossibly manage to hold the enormous bridge together (yes, I'm simplifying); and its soaring, majestic towers are a sight to behold. I've walked across the bridge at least 75 times and it never gets old. In fact, crossing it from Manhattan home to Brooklyn late on a hot summer night, when I have the bridge more or less to myself, remains one of my favorite things to do, and I've been all over the world.
At the real risk of ruining Red Hook, don't go to Red Hook. Read about it here, and think to yourself (maybe even say to your mate), "Wow, that sounds like a cool way to spend an afternoon... we should do that," and then don't. And particularly don't go to Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook, which is one of my favorite spots on Earth, because if you ruin that place for me, I will be super sad. I'm already pretty upset about how popular and crowded it's become, and I'm pretty bummed it got rid of the mini-golf course to make room for more tables so rowdy 20-year-old boys can drink beer (boo). Red Hook is not easy to reach since there is no public transportation (though I can walk there - yay, me), and it's a neighborhood, not a "place" place. But it's this very isolation that's made it remain so interesting. Red Hook is an eclectic, artistic, industrial, sexy-ugly, seafaring, seaside community that time left behind, full of dilapidated buildings, warehouses, and factories that are slowly gentrifying into restaurants, shops, bars, and art spaces - but all without becoming too cool for school. I love wandering around on foot or by bike, taking photos of the beautiful disrepair and old maritime and factory stuff I couldn't identify even if you offered to pay me a million dollars. And the views of the city, Statue of Liberty and the Red Hook Container Terminal are outstanding to boot.
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