Recently I headed where thousands go every day but I’d never thought to venture in all my travels to New York – across the bridge from Manhattan into Brooklyn.
I travel frequently into the city, often for a taste of the world’s best cold drink, the bubble tea of Chinatown. Also, of course, I delve into areas previously unexplored by me, my last such foray being to the world famous (yet rarely touched by my feet), Central Park.
On the day I decided I must at last check out the Brooklyn Bridge, the sun shone bright and the air held just the right amount of breeze to make for a perfect walk from Grand Central Terminal down toward this landmark. Crossing the bridge is actually a fairly popular activity for some visitors to New York, I’d read. About 2,000 people a day traverse the over 6,000-foot bridge. As I started my walk, it became apparent that what I had read was probably wrong. There must be 2,000 people at any given time on that bridge.
The world’s longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is still a mammoth structure even by today’s standards. I was slowed by the mass of people – and by the desire to stop and take a photo every couple of minutes – so it took a good half hour to cross. Its presence in the lower Manhattan skyline is an impressive sight, but when walking right on its wooden planks, alongside its collosal structural weave of steel cables and ropes and gazing up at its stone towers, its attraction for so many people becomes evident.
People who have journeyed to the Brooklyn Bridge to fill their memory cards with photos of steel, stone and skyline were not the only traffic on this bridge, though. Others clearly on their way to their routine lives on one side or the other were crossing along with us, some on bicycles with their riders ringing bells to warn us out of they way, some jogging, others walking with purposeful strides past us, not stopping to soak up the sights they see every day.
My own purposeful but slow stride was set to take me to DUMBO, a veritable wonderland of shops, galleries and restaurants, so I have read. Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, long for DUMBO, lies beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and the close-by Manhattan Bridge, just several blocks away. Once I hit this area, I found old railroad tracks embedded in cobblestone streets lined with the upscale shops, restaurants, etc. which I had come to see. This 19th Century meets 21st Century was the primary appeal of this much-ballyhooed area, though, in my eyes, so I moved on to the waterfront.
Since this was a clear day, from the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park on the banks of the East River I was able to see the Statue of Liberty to the left, lower Manhattan staight across the river, and the Empire State Building standing above the rest of the city stretched out on its own island to the right. The park itself, although filled with children playing, was large enough to absorb their noise.
I finally had my fill of the water and the skyline and headed up the hill to see what neighborhoods I could see. I’d always thought of Brooklyn as a city with brownstone-lined streets, somewhat dirty, somewhat dangerous. Now I walked the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, indeed filled with brownstones, as far as my eyes could see, down every street I ventured. Dirty and dangerous? Each and every one of these streets was strikingly peaceful, calm and quiet. Perhaps a movie or a book I’d read when I was a kid had given me the negative impression. Surely not all of Brooklyn is so nice, but these streets were charming.
By now it was way past lunchtime, so I headed to Henry Street, where I could get a Mediterranean food fix. Heights Falafel, on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, I’d read, was good and cheap, so I stopped in. This was a tidy, clean little place with two really sweet people behind the counter. My falafel sandwich was the best I’ve ever had in the U.S. and, at $3.50, impressively inexpensive.
I’d been walking several hours by now and decided to head back. One more stop, though, at the Fulton Ferry Landing, where water taxis speed around and people mill about, gazing at the views across the river. I discovered that an old barge docks at the landing, where several times a week you can buy tickets for about $35 to come aboard and listen to live chamber music inside. This was too unique to miss. I vowed to hear this music, and sealed a promise to myself to return to Brooklyn.