New York City Impressions

November 25, 2013

Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

No one is really a stranger to New York City.  Its iconic buildings and neighborhoods feel familiar even to visitors whose only previous experience of the city is through images in movies, magazines, and photographs.  This was just my second time in NYC, and for me it is a city of multi-level row houses, water tanks atop tall buildings, fire escapes, piles of garbage accumulating relentlessly, and of course, people.  Crowded streets and subways, yellow taxis, and blue Citibikes.  Jaywalkers. Long lines.

I spent one morning on a loop walk that took me down some streets that Frommer’s identified as “The Best Walks” in New York City.  From my niece’s apartment in the East Village, I walked south to Prince Street.  There I stopped in the original Dean and Deluca’s, wandered up Sullivan to Greenwich Village, and then strolled down West 4th Street to Gansevoort.  From there I walked the High Line to West 28th Street, then east past the flower district to Broadway.  Heading south, I passed the Flatiron Building and then walked east again to Irving Place where I had a clear view of the Chrysler Building and enjoyed the squirrels frolicking in Gramercy Park.  The walk confirmed my impressions of this great city.  Here are some photos:

East Village apartment

East Village apartment

Fire escapes

Fire escapes

Water tank atop building near Cooper Square

Water tank atop building near Cooper Square

Row houses of West 4th St in Greenwich Village

Row houses off West 4th St in Greenwich Village

Row house off West 4th St

Row house off West 4th St

One of many docking station for NY's Citibikes seen from the High Line

One of many docking stations for NY’s Citibikes seen from the High Line

More Citibikes in Chelsea

More Citibikes in Chelsea

Edward Steichen's famous photo of the Flatiron Building, 1904

Edward Steichen’s famous photo of the Flatiron Building, 1904

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Steichen_flatiron.jpg)

My photo of the Flatiron Building, manipulated with special effects

My photo of the Flatiron Building, manipulated with special effects

Clear view of Chrysler Building from Irving Place

Clear view of Chrysler Building from Irving Place

These images seemed to repeat themselves regardless of where I walked.

Water tank amidst skyscrapers near MoMa

Water tank amidst skyscrapers near MOMA

Row houses in Brooklyn

Row houses in Brooklyn

Surprisingly, I was not discomfited by the crowds.  They made me feel safe walking by myself, as I knew there were always people nearby to help with directions or in the event of a problem.  I was alone, but never alone.  The movement of so many people around this city is impressive.

Looking into the next subway (train) car

Looking into the next subway (train) car

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

Reading room at the New York Public Library

Reading room at the New York Public Library

And finally, a word of thanks to Starbucks, whose ubiquitous coffee shops were always welcome beacons when I was seeking a clean bathroom or wi-fi connections.

Watercolor sketch of Starbucks' red holiday cup

Watercolor sketch of Starbucks’ red holiday cup

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

“The art of drifting was an antimapping experience and the idea was to wander, to meander around a city, at every moment being alive to whatever drew you.  You were in thrall to the spirit of place, rather than having place under your thumb, on a map, on a plan.”
— Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Planning vs. anti-mapping

Planning vs. anti-mapping

New York City is a walker’s paradise.  And although we did walk a lot, and sometimes even meander, I was glad that I had taken the time to do some trip planning before arrival.  My research resulted in a list of things I wanted to see and do during our short, first visit to this metropolis, and by plotting their locations on my AAA map of Manhattan, I was able to get a better sense for planning our days so as not to miss anything.  Perhaps if we had more time, we would have been able to practice the art of drifting.

New York is a city of skyscrapers, bridges, benches, garbage, eateries, distinct neighborhoods . . . Today’s post is about first impressions.

Looking up -- one way to appreciate NYC's skyscrapers

Looking up — one way to appreciate NYC’s skyscrapers

Street viewed from the Roosevelt Island tram

Street viewed from the Roosevelt Island tram

The skyscrapers formed deep canyons.  Depending on the light, they threw interesting reflections on neighboring buildings and traffic.

“It is by all odds the loftiest of cities . . . Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow.  This, more than any other thing, is responsible for its physical majesty.”
— E. B. White, Here is New York

The traffic was nonstop, but we quickly learned to jaywalk like native New Yorkers.  (In Seattle we are not used to jaywalking!)

Reflections on the windows of cars and taxis

Reflections on the windows of cars and taxis

Skyscraper reflections

Skyscraper reflections

The city’s inhabitants create a prodigious amount of garbage, as you can imagine.  There was quite a bit of litter, and every day piles of garbage bags and garbage containers lined the streets — in every neighborhood.

Garbage lining the street in the Upper East Side

Garbage lining the street in the Upper East Side

We expected to see fire escapes in the multi-story buildings — an iconic NY architectural feature.  But we were surprised to see wooden water tanks on the roof tops of tall buildings.  We could see a dozen or more water tanks just from the 17th story window of our Mid-town hotel.  New York is a mix of old and new — sometimes a shorter (older) building survived between tall high rises.

Fire escapes -- interesting patterns of dark and light

Fire escapes — interesting patterns of dark and light

Two round, wooden water tanks on the rooftops

Two round, wooden water tanks on the rooftops

Shoulder to shoulder with its taller neighbors, this "little" building survives!

Shoulder to shoulder with its taller neighbors, this “little” building survives!

Often, in the narrow spaces between tall buildings, we’d find gated community gardens and “pocket” parks.  They looked scraggly in winter, but I could imagine them as vibrant, green spaces in summer.

Folk-art sculpture in a tiny community space

Folk-art sculpture in a tiny community space

Another little fenced in park in a small space between buildings

Another little fenced in park in a small space between buildings

We loved seeing the old row houses on the side streets leading off West 4th between 7th Avenue and West 12th in Greenwich Village.  Frommer’s named this “the most beautiful street” in New York City.

Historic row houses

Historic row houses

Mason's Row

Mason’s Row

We tried (twice, on two different evenings) to win discount tickets to The Book of Mormon play, but alas, our names were not drawn.  The lottery awards about 20 deeply discounted tickets to each sold-out performance about 2 hours before showtime.  Despite the cold, there were about 200 – 300 intrepid souls vying for the few tickets.

Crowd awaiting lottery for Book of Mormon tickets

Crowd awaiting lottery for Book of Mormon tickets

“If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought.  And of the two thousand who do, about one thousand will be standing in line waiting to do it.”
— E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller, 1967

So, of all of the things on our list of things to experience in NYC, we did not make it to a Broadway or off-Broadway play on this trip.  I guess we will have to return someday.