There are as many different travel styles are there are people who travel. At one extreme there are the people who research everything, who plan for every eventuality and leave nothing to chance. At the other end of the spectrum are those people who jet off to a new place with nothing but a fresh change of underwear and a hearty sense of adventure.
I am neither of those. I like to know where I’m going, and a bit about local sights and customs and cultures. But I also like to explore.
If you tell someone you’re going to New York, you’re probably going to get a whole host of recommendations and expectations of places to visit. Probably places like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge… The list is pretty long. These places are all great, but for me there’s something extra special about discovering the smaller places – the ones that you don’t go out of your way to visit, but you just happen upon by chance.
Here are some of the places I stumbled on in New York:
1 // DOOMED MERCHANT MARINERS MEMORIAL
The Doomed Merchant Mariners Memorial is a sculpture in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. We spotted it while queuing for the Liberty Island Ferry, and I couldn’t get over the sadness of how it was positioned: three figures on the jetty, and one reaching up from the waterline, the tide lapping at his face. It’s a hard-hitting reminder of all those who’ve been drowned at sea, and something that kept haunting me throughout my trip.
2 // THE BOWERY SAVINGS BANK
You know when it’s so cold out that you just want to be indoors, even if it’s only for a minute or two, just to take the edge of the chill? On the morning we were wandering around Midtown, it was so bitterly cold that our hands and noses felt as if they were about to fall off.
So we spent the morning dipping in and out of the lobbies of all the art deco buildings. They aren’t strictly speaking tourist sites, but a lot of the lobbies are open, and it’s a great way to get a feel for the beautiful art deco buildings around the city.
The Bowery Savings Bank has an incredible deep blue vaulted ceiling fretted with golden stars. It reminded me of the ceiling at Sainte Chapelle in Paris – maybe that’s why the building felt more like a chapel than a bank.
3 // GANSEVOORT MARKET
I stumbled upon Gansevoort Market while walking from the historic Meatpacking District towards Greenwich Village. Packed with boutique food stalls, with a sit-down area for eating, the market is a masterclass in shabby chic design.
I didn’t eat here (though I did buy my host a tin of fancy loose-leaf tea), but even without eating, it was still a great place to wander round, soaking up the smells of all the delicious food on offer.
NB: Since taking these photos, Gansevoort Market has moved home to a building just around the corner – but it’s still just as awesome.
4 // CADMAN PLAZA PARK, BROOKLYN
I admit, I probably haven’t spent nearly enough time in Brooklyn. From what I’ve heard from New York locals, Brooklyn is becoming the new Greenwich Village, now that Greenwich Village is so expensive. In other words, it’s the new cool.
But what I did see was Brooklyn Bridge – and just across the bridge on the Brooklyn side is Cadman Plaza Park. Cadman Plaza Park is a wide open space with avenues of trees. (I love a good avenue of trees – it always feels as though there’ll be something magical at the other end.) It’s also the site of the 24 foot high Brooklyn War Memorial.
5 // AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND
The African Burial Ground is evidence of a darker part of New York’s history.
It is estimated that about 10,000 men, women and children of African heritage were buried in the original cemetery.
These are the words engraved on a metal disc, set in the pavement close to the Supreme Court. The plaque alludes only mildly to the reason that this burial ground was so unceremonially covered with earth and built over: that the people buried there were slaves:
The surviving remnant of the burial ground is dedicated to the people who are buried there and to all who were enslaved in the city’s early history from 1625 until July 4, 1827, Emancipation Day in New York.
6 // TRINITY CHURCH
This was another place we went inside to get out of the bitter New York winter.
Nestled between the giddy skyscrapers of Broadway and Wall St, Trinity Church provides a welcome retreat from the bustle of Lower Manhattan life.
Stepping across the threshold was like walking into continental Europe: the elegant columns reaching up towards a vaulted ceiling, the pale tiled floor, the sense of age tingling in the air all around me. It was hard to believe that just outside was a world of glass and steel and deals and finance and the stock exchange.
7 // NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN
We stumbled upon this place after a full day of wandering around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and to be honest we didn’t really have the stamina to explore another museum. But a sign at the entrance said ‘Free Entry’, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a look.
In my tired and slightly befuddled state, the museum seemed to assume a lot of prior knowledge about Native American beliefs and customs, none of which I had. So although the exhibits and artefacts were probably really interesting, I didn’t find them all that enlightening.
The building itself, however, really caught my attention: huge, grand and ornate without being flowery – it’s a building that is definitely worth a look inside, whatever you think of the exhibits.
Been to New York? Stumbled across any fascinating places?