Urban Parks

Capoeira in Central Park

Each year, I discover more and more urban parks throughout the city.  From large to small, you can’t go far without encountering another fabulous green space.  I lived across the street from Central Park for 3 years and was lucky enough to wake up to the largest Urban Playground I’ve ever seen, every day.

Since moving away, I’ve sincerely missed Central Park.  For a while I thought I wasn’t going to be able to handle living in a real urban neighborhood.  I missed the trees, running the Central Park loop, and most of the all – the peace and quiet that living on the north west side of the Park brought me.  After Morningside Heights, I moved to Brooklyn for a year and began to explore Prospect Park.  Sadly I was still a mile away from the Park itself and didn’t spend nearly as much time in it as I would have liked to.

Zeh & Lola, playdate in Prospect Park

Since I no longer lived at the doorstep of a massive green space, I set out to explore the rest of the parks New York had to offer – something I had never really carved out time to do while living so close to Central Park. Sometimes this meant traveling a bit further than anticipated, for example to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.  The Bronx Botanical Gardens has new exhibits all the time, and over 50 gardens & plant collections.  Its grounds are beautiful and worth the trek.

Brazilian Orchid Exhibit, Bronx Botanical Gardens

Not all of the city’s parks are green.  One of my favorite spots in New York is Washington Square Park.  Its pretty iconic and seen in films all over, but that’s not why I love it.  I’ve always appreciated how circular the park is, it sends everyone to the same spot as several entrances funnel visitors down the radius of the park to its lively center.  I think part of the allure is how hidden it is among such a bustling part of the city.  As you stumble upon it, it grabs your attention and literally screams, “hey you, its time for a break! Come sit on the steps of my fountain and look at my arch for a while.” And you always do…. as if it appears at precisely the right moment.  Its one of my favorite places for people watching, and lovely at any time of day.

Evening at Washing Square Park

After Washington Square Park, I love The Highline, New York’s newest Urban Park. The Highline sits on an abandoned elevated train line and runs parallel to the Hudson River crossing the neighborhoods of Chelsea & The Meatpacking district.  Its high enough, and so close to the river, that the breeze is light but fresh.  Zeh and I spent one of our very first dates on the Highline and since, I’ve returned multiple times. Over the summer months they tend to have free live music, as I recently learned while dancing Forro on the Highline with the forrozeiros in NYC!  Here’s a map of how to get there, and where to enter: http://www.thehighline.org/about/maps.

Forro at the Highline, (pic taken by Forrozeiros)

Close to my new home is McCarren Park, which is nothing in comparison to the Green space of Central or Prospect Park, but I am always charmed by its amusing dog park.  Yep, parks for everyone here in this city!

Saturday Morning at the Dog Run, McCarren Park

Some other gems:

The thing is, I could keep listing them.  They are simply all over this city.  So if you live in New York and you’re feeling nature-withdrawal, remind yourself of all New York has to offer.  Take advantage of the playgrounds and gardens and those random benches on a triangular patch of green.  It’s all around you, if you just look for it.  Happy Urban Park Hunting!

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Cycling the city

I went on my first bike ride in NYC in June of 2009.  I borrowed my roommates rusty, vintage 10 speed.  I biked from 107th and Central Park West all the way to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and back.  I feel in LOVE with cycling through the city.

On this day I was able to ride through Central Park, over the Queensboro Bridge, through Williamsburg, and all the way to Prospect Park.  On my return trip I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain, drove up through the East Village and raced the cars up the East of the city.  It was night time by then.  I felt like I was living a video game.  Along the East Side, as you cross midtown, you pass an array of highrises – all the office buildings that are essentially vacant on the weekends and at night – but still light up.  I biked past the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and many more.  It was pretty fantastic.  I made it back to Central Park.  By now it was after 11 PM, and the park was technically closed.   I wasn’t alone, so I felt safe to venture through it.  I rode through the park in the middle of night – it was black and completely deserted, but absolutely thrilling!  Its a rare thing to see the park so empty.

I’ve since obtained my own fancy road bike (thanks Mom!), a proper helmet, bike lights and cycling gloves.  I’ve braved the traffic and made commuting to work by bike a regular activity.

But one of the most exciting moments I’ve experience as a cyclist in the city was the Annual 5 Borough Bike Tour.  Along with my boyfriend and my parents, I signed up in February 2011 for the 42 mile challenge in May.

We biked through all 5 boroughs of the city (Map of the Route), starting by Wall Street and finishing in Staten Island.  On the ferry ride back, we got a great view of the Statute of Liberty – for free!  Over 30,000 bikers showed up on May 1, 2011 to take on the city.  It wasn’t a race – just a nicely paced day-long adventure.  Its rare that cyclists are given priority in such a busy city.  Although at times the crowds of bikers became obstacles, we were all pretty psyched to finish the ride!

To anyone coming to visit the city, I totally recommend renting a bike for a few hours and exploring New York above ground.  Its a great way to tour all of Central Park within just a couple of hours.  The loop around the park is 6 miles – totally doable by bike, even if you’re not a consistent peddler!

If you’re looking for a bike event in the city, I recommend checking out Bike New York’s website, or signing up for their mailing list: http://www.bikenewyork.org/.  There is always something going on (unless it is winter time, of course)!

If you feel like venturing outside the city, try crossing one of the many bridges into Brooklyn!   The Queensboro, Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges all have individual bike lanes (i.e. closed to pedestrians).  The Brooklyn Bridge is beautiful, but full of strolling pedestrians and at times slightly complicated by bike.  In general, much of Brooklyn has designated & well marked bike lanes.

Check out some of the biking maps of NYC here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemaps.shtml, or download the PDF to print before your trip.  Whatever you choose to do – please wear a helmet 🙂  I used to be an anti-helmet cyclist until I witnessed a terrible bike accident first hand.  That was enough to remind me that any bad hair day was better than a damaged body – or worse.

Happy Cycling!