Outside the Home Range: Buzzing Down to “The City” (that’s New York, Folks)

Little Island, cloudy day.

While many folks think of summer as escape to Maine and the Cape time, now may be the best time for a roadtrip to New York City. Summer means many New Yorkers have left, and tourism to the city has not fully recovered so one can actually find a nice hotel for less than your mortgage. It is true that Broadway has not yet opened up, but you really don’t need it while the days are long and the city blocks are longer…it’s just a wonderful place to walk, walk, walk. Then eat, eat, eat.

The Owl family swooped in on a nice small hotel on the edge of Mulberry Street and Little Italy called NobleDEN — which was under $200/night. True story. And no noise. Also no real room to turn around, but unless you’re a Four Seasons-level traveler, you will understand that walking space in your hotel room is not mandatory in New York. They really want you to leave it and go spend some time and money around the city.

New York is filled with engineering marvels–the first was how a parking lot guy drove our medium-sized SUV into a car elevator roughly two inches wider than the mirrors at 35 mph. My suggestion: never watch the “valet” park your car. Walk away quickly; it will be fine. We got the car back on Sunday still with the black duct tape on the side view mirror–yeah, that was me on my garage entrance which is a whole lot wider.

Not the Owl’s car, but seriously, the car elevators are skeery. Photo credit here.

Friday nights in Soho and Little Italy in the summer are all about outdoor eating and strolling–yet we had stopped on the way down in Bridgeport for dinner. Yes, I said Bridgeport. Have you ever stopped in Bridgeport? I thought not. Me neither and I grew up four towns away. Ola Latin Kitchen makes a mean paella, I must say, so consider a detour when next stuck in central coastal Connecticut. It could happen.

On the Owl’s bucket list for the weekend was Little Island, a new $260 million park on the west side. Now, “new” to the Owl can be anything in the last 30 years, having left the Tri-state area in 1998. I do want to register a complaint that hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t even buy a cool name for the park. Little Island? Really? Tulip Island would have been the least that could have been done there. New Amsterdam? North Aruba? Or maybe for Barry Diller and the Diller-von Furstenberg Foundation that heavily funded it? Hmm. Hang on, I’m not there yet anyway.

We didn’t go here but it is lovely and absolutely packed at lunch time.

Before I get there, let’s take the slow route. What a wonderful long walk it is from Soho up to Little Island–we passed by small concrete parks filled with basketball players and confused city dogs, greened-up pocket parks, and ubiquitous Joe and the Juice places to get your fix of ginger, turmeric and passionfruit smoothies. Bike lanes are now everywhere in New York–causing just a little stress a la London, where you never know which way to look right before you get mowed over.

You can walk the Hudson River Park up the west side, filled with runners and joggers and people huffing their good mornings by airpods to whoever they call at 9 am on a Saturday. It is incredible the changes this west side has undergone–and will continue to undergo. It used to be the place to duck the windshield washing guys, and now you can play club soccer on the water or wander gardens and soon there will be a science playground and other amazing outdoor spots. I am looking forward to watching its continuing transformation over the years.

Then hoving into view were the giant tulip shapes of Little Island, floating up like some really annoyed invasive plant starting to take over New York. It was everything I had hoped for–winding little trails to views, flowers, an amphitheatre for summer concerts, a food courtyard, and some strangely-placed benches to stare at concrete tulips. It was getting busy at 11 am–after 12 pm and until 1 am when it closes there are timed entry tickets. Free, and they are usually booked solid on the weekends days in advance. In my limited experience, it is also home to the cleanest and nicest public bathrooms in the city.

A view from the High Line

Next up was the High Line. It’s hard to believe this linear park is now 12 years old–the birches have fully grown in around the remaining railroad tracks, the plants are all maturing, and it’s completely natural to walk through this elevated space as if it has been here forever. On weekends, the entrances are being volume-controlled (and some are enter or exit only) so book in advance, or at least get ready to point your phone at the little sign and book on the spot. It’s a great place for people-watching, and the wooden lounge chairs near the water features are where I would hang out for maximum kids splashing fun.

Julie Mehretu, Black City, 2007. Photo credit: whitney.org

On a recommendation from a work colleague, the next stop (and conveniently at the southern terminus of the High Line) was the Whitney Museum of American Art where I have not been since it moved southside in 2015. Things to like about the Whitney: terrace views in all directions, small enough that the teenagers only complain for 30% of the time, and well, where else will you find yourself confused by the majority of the art? Okay I did really enjoy parts of the Julie Mehretu show with the architectural drawings and layered commentary on contemporary events, but as I said to my parents, I worry that she has some very bad nightmares. Also, it is difficult for us literal Dutch types to figure out if that’s an eyeball or a phallic symbol or whatever: abstract art is confusing. I much enjoyed the Dawoud Bey photography on the eighth floor but well, if impressionists and still life apples are your thing, this is not your place.

We then walked through the Meatpacking District. I sort of think they missed on a cute acronym like Nolita and Tribeca and Soho. MeDis? Mepadi? I don’t know–not a fan of thinking about meatpacking. Things have changed a lot here–now it’s full of outdoor cafes and skinny pretty people and boutiques. We found lunch at a lovely Italian place called Olio e Piu in the West Village, which I can’t recommend more highly–outdoor garden cafe setting, wonderful service from the attentive Van (a theatre major, who would guess?) and I may or may not have finished off a pizza and a garganelli pasta.

And because we still had under 20,000 steps and needed to work off the pasta, why not a walk down to the 9/11 Memorial? It is really hard to believe but it will be 20 years since those planes crashed into the towers, and I still cannot go in the Museum there. I hear it’s really good but I just can’t–certain images still are imprinted on my brain and do not need to be re-awakened. The memorial is gorgeous and restful with the sounds of water and the respectful low conversations of many tourists. The trees have grown and so have many new buildings. I had forgotten that giant-spined Oculus there. Another place I find mis-named–that is a whale skeleton if I ever saw one.

Dinner was in another Italian cafe in Little Italy–it was not nearly as good as lunch so I’ll skip that recommendation. And then we were off to find a place to watch the final of the Copa Americas Brazil vs. Argentina. ONieals had a nice beer or two (the Bronx World Cup IPA seemed to bode well) but the good guys lost and I cannot forgive the tavern for that. Yes, I am happy for Messi, the greatest soccer player ever, but still.

ONieals where an owlet is feeling sad, or not. Favorite team lost, but favorite player won.

Sunday found us on our way to another childhood favorite: Zabar’s on the upper west side. This is a place my family visited even after moving out of the city when I was 3–Sundays were bagels and nova in Central Park if we weren’t hiking up Storm King or Breakneck Ridge. I’m not the only one with the obsession–I had a nice friendly chat with an New Yorker emeritus who currently lives in San Francisco, but comes home every year. First stop: Zabar’s. The place must be three times the size now, but smells deliciously the same.

Give me ALL the nova salmon. All.

With bagels, prosciutto, french bread, nova, four types of cheeses, rugelach and honeycomb in hand, we found the closest entrance to the park at 81st Street and spread out the treasures on the flat rocks overlooking exercise classes, a triathlon water station and dog walking mecca. One really doesn’t need to move very far to enjoy a show in New York. We then walked through Belvedere Castle where a single cellist played, along the reservoir and the playing fields, across the backyard of the Met (no teenager could be convinced to go inside) and the morning was complete.

Belvedere Castle, Central Park

Some of the group then enjoyed a last-minute timed entrance to the American Museum of Natural History (the museum goers recommend the rainforest exhibit) and then yes, another soccer game. This time it was the Euro Cup final between England and Italy. We watched this one in the back room of the Amsterdam Ale House where the fish and chips and shepherd’s pie were brilliant, as was the draft beer (Pride & Joy). Can anyone guess which team the Owl was cheering for? Yes, they lost too.

If the Owl had to live in the City, and let’s be honest, Owls do not like cities, it would be along the Upper West Side, where life is good, and parking abundant on a Sunday afternoon. Alas, every weekend does come to an end, and soon enough the Westonians were on their way up the West Side Highway, past the Owl’s first neighborhood in Riverdale, and then out to the leafy green of Westchester County. So much to do in New York, so much to see… until next time.

2 comments

  • What a lovely journal about NYC! I always miss the energy and fun of it. It’s the first city -the suburb of which- that we lived in the US. I’m jealous of your walk, walk, walk and eat, eat, eat. It used to be that if I say, “Hey I’m back to Manhattan now,” I was able to find a friend – there were always someone in NJ or NYC. But in the recent years, I’ve found many left. It could be due to the mass exist of telecom, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, even before Covid. Sad 🙂

    BTW, a “bug” report: I believe I’ve clicked “save my name, email, etc. before so that I don’t have to reenter them. It seems they didn’t get saved…

    Continue to enjoy the summer!

  • we are going to NYC in Oct. I’m saving this post to serve as our tour guide.

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