22 August 2012

Destinations - East River Ferry (New York)

This is the last post inspired by the trip that Keith and I took to New York at the end of June/beginning of July.

Originally I was going to title it with something involving Brooklyn, but the more I thought of that, the more I was inclined to focus on the East River Ferry since we really saw so little of Brooklyn.

On the same day that we went to the High Line park, we met a friend for lunch in Chelsea (at a fun, inexpensive, delicious, Cuban restaurant called Coppelia), and from there we set out to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn.

The walk was pleasant, but quite crowded, and at times the views were blocked entirely by plywood sheeting on either side of the walkway due to a large-scale renovation taking place.

Here's a view of Keith (Brooklyn in the background) in an unobstructed part of the walk.  (His Cubs cab earned him friendly jibes from several folks in New York.)

Below you see another view of Brooklyn taken from the bridge.  Brooklyn very much has its own skyline and this photo does not do it justice.

Once we landed in Brooklyn we walked around a little bit of the area referred to as "DUMBO" - "down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass".  (Read here to find out how it got its nickname.)  Note that the Manhattan Bridge is not the same as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The two bridges come to earth in Brooklyn close to each other (like spokes in a wheel) but the landing spot of the Manhattan Bridge in Manhattan is considerably north of where the Brooklyn Bridge is anchored.  The DUMBO area is a mostly former industrial zone similar to the area around Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco or Jack London Square in Oakland consisting of brick industrial warehouses being redeveloped for residential, offices, and retail.

Keith had heard somewhere about a great place for chocolate called Jacques Torres in DUMBO, which we sought and found.  For me the weather was too hot and muggy for anything other than an iced coffee and a phenomenal chocolate chip cookie.  Keith would not be deterred by the weather, and ordered a hot chocolate, which he declared the best he had ever had.

Now fueled by caffeine and sugar, we walked away from DUMBO toward a dock and a park I'd spotted from the Brooklyn Bridge.  The dock turned out be where the East River Ferry lands near downtown Brooklyn.  If it's on water and it moves people (meant for residents that is, not for tourists) then I want to ride it.  This would be way more fun than taking a subway or simply walking back across the bridge.

The ferry operates every 20-30 minutes daily and actually begins and ends on Manhattan: on the lower east side at Wall Street/Pier 11 and then at East 34th Street/Midown.  The rest of the stops are on the East River in Brooklyn and Long Island City (Queens).  A summer season extension also operates from Pier 11 to Governors Island.  What's more, a free Midtown shuttle bus connects from the East 34th Street terminal and covers a big chunk of Midtown.

From the ferry dock looking north - Brookly Bridge
in the foreground, Manhattan Bridge behind it
The fare - hold on, this is going to be expensive - was a whopping....four dollars per person.  A bargain for what would turn out to be a wonderful ride.

Even if you don't care to visit Brooklyn, you can ride between Wall Street and Midtown on the water and get some great views of the Manhattan skyline and the entire East River.  And even on a hot humid day like the day we rode it, the fast moving ferry makes for a pleasant, breezy ride.

Here are some photos taken while on the quick ride from the Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO terminal to East 34th Street/Midtown.

Vroom!  Looking south toward the Brooklyn Bridge
at lower Manhattan.  Freedom Towers rising to the right.

Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge

The United Nations.  East 34th Street/Midtown
terminal is slightly to the left (south) from the U.N.

14 August 2012

Destinations - a quick look at Staten Island (New York)

On the second full day of our trip to New York, Keith and I rendezvoused with an old college friend of his, Karen, and her husband Michael.  (Karen and Michael live near Philadelphia.)  We met them at the Staten Island ferry terminal, at the southernmost end of Manhattan.

At one time a nominal fare of 25¢ applied on the ferry, but no longer.  Perhaps it became more expensive to collect that small amount, than the revenue it actually generated.  At any rate it's one of the best free rides you can enjoy anywhere as you sail across New York harbor.  Though on the map Staten Island looks like it ought to be part of New Jersey, in fact the large island with 470,000 residents is part of New York state and one of the five boroughs of New York City.

You head south from Manhattan to Staten Island with Ellis Island and Liberty Island (home of the Statue of Liberty) to the west, and the much larger but less known Governors Island to the east.  (Google Map of route.)

These photos aren't good, but they are of Ellis and Liberty islands along the way.

Karen had thoughtfully arranged for her friend Marian, who lives on Staten Island, to pick us up at the ferry terminal and provide a tour of the island.  Marian proved to be an excellent ambassador for the island.

Here are some of the things we saw.

A short distance from the ferry terminal is Staten Island's own memorial to the 9/11 attacks.  (Many Staten Islanders were among the victims, including a large number of firefighters and police officers.)

The memorial looks north across the harbor toward Manhattan, with the new Freedom Towers visible.

Between the 9/11 memorial and the ferry terminal is the stadium for Staten Island's very own minor league baseball team, the Staten Island Yankees.  The photo below shows the back side of the stadium, with the crown like structure on the left in the distance being part of the ferry terminal.

From there Marian drove us to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.  Snug Harbor was originally built as a retirement home for sailors in the first half of the 19th century.  By the 1970s it was no longer viable for its original purpose and (severely telescoping the story) it became what it is today: a cultural center and garden.  (For a better, yet still concise treatment of its history, take a look at this page from the New York City Parks Department.)

Below are a few photos from our stroll around Snug Harbor.

Chinese Scholar's Garden

Tuscan Garden

Michael, Marian, and Karen seeking refuge from the heat
in a shady arboreal tunnel

As Marian was taking us back to the ferry terminal, she stopped by the Alice Austen House on the north side of Staten Island.  Alice Austen is a now famous photographer who lived between 1866 and 1952.  Marian explained that she was a renowned photographer, who really was discovered only near the end of her life.  Doing research for this post and reading about her life, I discovered what a singular individual she was.  The Alice Austen House could easily be an all-day destination on a future visit to New York.

Below is a picture I took looking across the lawn of the Alice Austen House toward the Verrazano Narrows bridge that connects Staten Island with Queens.  Runners who have run the New York Marathon are well-acquainted with this bridge, as the race begins on the Staten Island side of the bridge as it loops through all five boroughts (Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan) to finish in Central Park.

Time to return to Manhattan.  Thanks for the fine tour of your island, Marian.  You left us wanting to come back.  Tell the borough president that!

As we headed back to Manhattan on the ferry, the not quite yet finished Freedom Towers of the World Trade Center come into view.