Hidden Treasures of Roosevelt Island: Smallpox Hospital and Four Freedoms Park

In the middle of the East River between Manhattan and Queens is Roosevelt Island, with the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge stretching overhead. Most people never visit Roosevelt Island, unless they happen to take a trip on the Roosevelt Island Tram. (Riding the F train when it stops at the Roosevelt Island station doesn’t count!) But it’s definitely worth taking the time to explore Roosevelt Island further. Today, I thought I’d focus on the hidden treasures found on the south end of the island: the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital and Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.

The Smallpox Hospital ruins capture the imagination. The original building was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. and completed in 1856, when Roosevelt Island was still known as Blackwell’s Island. It is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. Renwick is more commonly known for other Gothic Revival designs in New York City, including Grace Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The building had a short life treating smallpox patients before becoming part of the City Hospital complex on the island. In the 1950s, City Hospital moved to Queens, and the Smallpox Hospital, which also became known as the Renwick Ruins, was abandoned. It’s continued to deteriorate since.

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In 1972, the Smallpox Hospital was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has also been designated a New York City landmark. Because the building is in poor condition, there are fences preventing public access. In places, you can see the steel scaffolding that has been used to stabilize the remaining walls.

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Just past the Smallpox Hospital ruins you will spy Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which was designed by famous architect Louis I. Kahn. The park’s name comes from President Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, where he identified four key freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Here is what the park looks like from the entry.

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Continue walking along the path on either side of the elevated portion of the park, towards the southern tip of the island.

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If looking west, towards Manhattan, here is your view.

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On the other hand, if looking east, towards Queens, you have this view of Long Island City and the iconic neon Pepsi sign.

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Looking back from the other end of the elevated park, there is this perspective. The shaded grass makes a relaxing location for a break or enjoying a picnic.

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At the very tip of the park is a giant block of granite. One side hosts this giant bronze bust of President Roosevelt, while the opposite has the relevant words from his Four Freedoms address.

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Finally, far off in the distance, you will also have a (usually hazy) view of the Williamsburg Bridge.

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There are two main ways to get to Roosevelt Island by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the F train to the Roosevelt Island station. You can also travel from Manhattan using the Roosevelt Island Tram, which I previously wrote about here. Once you get off of the tram, face towards Manhattan. You will be walking to the end of the island on your left (the south end of the island). It’s about a 15 minute walk to the Smallpox Hospital ruins and Four Freedoms Park, with plenty of scenic views of New York City along the way. There’s a paved walkway along the river, and you will also pass through Southpoint Park along the way.

Madison Square Park

If you are ever in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, it is worth taking the time to visit Madison Square Park. Surrounded by tall buildings on every side, including the iconic Flatiron Building, the park offers different experiences depending on the day and time: large, leafy shade trees and flowers; bronze monuments; a dog park; public art, concerts, and festivals; and one of the most popular Shake Shack locations in the city.

Currently, this is one of the big attractions in the park. Created by sculptor Martin Puryear, this impressive work is titled “Big Bling.” As the park website explains, “Big Bling is part animal form, part abstract sculpture, and part intellectual meditation.” I learned that the mesh-like substance covering the immense sculpture is chain link fencing, not something I normally expect to see used in a work of art. It’s fascinating to view the piece from different angles throughout the park.

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There’s this statue of William H. Seward, a former governor and senator of New York, who served as U.S. Secretary of State during a critical time in U.S. history, from 1861 to 1869. The tall building behind him, with its distinctive clock tower, is the landmark Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower.

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The park has a lovely fountain, surrounded by large planters with flowers.

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This statue of David Glasgow Farragut seems to be a favorite gathering spot in the park. On one occasion, visitors to the recent Pakistani Festival congregated next to the statue. Most recently, I found a couple of people practicing martial arts.

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Here are some more photos from my explorations of Madison Square Park and nearby Worth Square, which is also managed by the park’s conservancy.

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Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the U.S.
Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the U.S.

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Flatiron Building
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Monument to Major General William Jenkins Worth
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Major General William Jenkins Worth

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It’s easy to get to Madison Square Park. The R and N trains’ 23rd Street Station exits right at the edge of the park. Other 23rd Street Stations are also within a couple of blocks, and are accessible from the 4, 6, F, M, and 1 trains. The park is bordered on the south by 23rd Street and on the north by 26th Street, on the east by Madison Avenue and on the west by 5th Avenue.

Unexpected Treasures at Prospect Park Zoo

The Wildlife Conservation Society has 5 zoos and aquariums (Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium), and each one has its own strengths and personality. The Prospect Park Zoo, located in Brooklyn, has some interesting animal exhibits, but the animals are not its only draw. The zoo has other delightful features as well, which I’m excited to introduce you too today.

First, let’s explore the animal exhibits. The Prospect Park Zoo is not the largest zoo in New York City, but I found some great animals. Here are photos of some of my favorites. As you come through the zoo’s main entrance, one of the first things you will see is the Sea Lion Court, where California sea lions are swimming. I always love sea lions, as they have such personalities!

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As you continue through the zoo, you’ll discover the Farm, with the usual variety of farm animals. Visitors can purchase food pellets to feed some of the animals. My favorites were the goats and alpacas, who generally were much more interested to see the children who offered food rather than pay any attention to me!

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I think this goat was laughing at me – but what about the turkey photobombing him?
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This alpaca gave me the death stare once it realized I had no food to offer!

There are multiple indoor exhibits, which were very welcome on a hot day. The mongooses were particularly photogenic.

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I also found this dart frog hanging out on the glass of its exhibit space.

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I loved this fennec fox, although it seemed a bit grumpy!

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This group of Golden Lion Tamarins was snuggled close together up in the trees.

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There were a number of other animals as well, but what really intrigued me on this visit were the less expected parts of the zoo, like this peaceful, beautiful path, surrounded by flowers and other plants meant to attract migrating birds, bees, and butterflies.

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I also enjoyed the Discovery Trail, which combined a walk through the woods with animals and interactive opportunities for children. The first animal I came across on the Discovery Trail was this prairie dog.

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A nearby sign invites visitors to “Tunnel like a prairie dog.” When you go through the tunnels (a little low for adults, but doable), you pop up in the bubbles next to the prairie dogs!

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On the way to see the ducks and turtles in the ponds, you can hop across a few “lily pads” like a frog, if you like!

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There were more animals and interactive activities (such as a rope “spider web” to climb on and a child-sized “nest,” complete with cracked “eggs” to pose in) on the Discovery Trail, but the one animal that I hoped to see on the Discovery Trail was the red panda, one of my favorite of all animals. Unfortunately they were being shy when I visited. The closest I came was this sighting as I exited the zoo!

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Finally, I discovered this delightful path, host to whimsical metal animal sculptures. I think this may have been my favorite part of the entire zoo, especially the octopus! I hope you enjoy the photos of the  sculptures as much as I enjoyed them.

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Interesting in visiting the Prospect Park Zoo? If traveling by subway, take the B or Q trains to the Prospect Park Station. Make sure that you leave the station using the Flatbush Avenue/Ocean Avenue exit. The zoo is located on Flatbush Avenue on the edge of Prospect Park. For other transportation options or if traveling by car, the Prospect Park Zoo’s website has more information here.

Meandering through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Most visitors to New York City associate the city with hustle and bustle – honking yellow taxis, millions of people crowding sidewalks and tourist attractions, an overload of sensory experiences. Those things certainly exist here, but New Yorkers also know that there are places to get some sunshine and take a relaxing, quiet walk. One favorite is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, located on the edge of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Wanting to get outside and do some walking after several days of sitting at my desk, I recently explored the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s outdoor gardens. Of course, I chose one of the hottest days of the summer, over 90° F (almost 33° C). It was definitely quite warm, but the nice thing about going to a botanical garden is there is plenty of shade scattered throughout the grounds. And it was still a lovely day, with much to see and photograph throughout the gardens.

I found a variety of flowers blooming during my walk.

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Nearby was this interesting insect house, constructed from sections of tree limbs and twigs.

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There were also the delicate lilies at the Lily Pool Terrace.

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The pond also hosts these lovely lotus flowers.

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At the middle of the Lily Pool Terrace is the fountain seen in the corner of this photo.

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Visitors will also find the conservatory building nearby, as well as the beautiful glass Palm House, which now functions as a special event venue.

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One of the things I love about the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is its invitation to interact with the plants, as this photo demonstrates.

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There is also a lovely children’s garden, more than 100 years old, where thousands of city children have learned how to grow flowers and vegetables over the years. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden still offers classes for children from 2 to 17 years old. This photo shows the Frances M. Miner Children’s House, which holds children’s garden tools. The building’s namesake taught children’s gardening classes for more than 40 years, from 1930 to 1973.

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There are a number of other delightful gardens as well. I discovered the Fragrance Garden, which the sign described as the first garden in the United States to be designed specifically for visually impaired visitors. The flowers and herbs in this garden were chosen for their scents, textures, and the shapes of the leaves. Many plants have small identification signs in braille, and visitors are encouraged to gently touch the plants to fully enjoy them. The flowers’ scents were heavenly.

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Next door, I found the Shakespeare Garden, home to various plants, herbs, flowers, and trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. Periodically, visitors may spy small signs with Shakespearean quotes about the plants.

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The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden was a lovely, peaceful place to spend some time. The sign at its entrance stated that the garden was designed by landscape designer Takeo Shiota and first opened to the public in 1915.

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In the Spring, these Japanese cherry trees plays host to the popular Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri, but mid-summer it’s a quiet grove, lined with shaded benches perfect for reading a book, eating a picnic lunch, or just enjoying the leaves waving in the breeze.

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Finally, I toured the Cranford Rose Garden, with more than 1,000 different varieties of roses. (The sign states it is one of the largest rose collections in North America.) Although the rose garden’s peak season is in May and June, I still found some gorgeous flowers.

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Want to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden yourself? The garden is lovely all year long, with new things to see as the seasons pass. The garden’s website even has a section showing what plants are currently in bloom, if you are interested in checking it out before your visit. You can find the “Plants in Bloom” here.

To get to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by public transportation, take the B train (only on weekdays) or Q train to the Prospect Park station, the 2 or 3 train to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop (I’ve previously written about the art at that station here), or the 4 or 5 train to Franklin Avenue. Those who wish to drive to the garden can find pay parking at 900 Washington Avenue. (Be aware that parking lots may fill to capacity when special events are going on in the area.) The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has three entrances: 455 Flatbush Avenue, 990 Washington Avenue, or 150 Eastern Parkway.

(Although it isn’t Monday, I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. If you haven’t checked out her blog before, I recommend it!)

The High Line: NYC’s Elevated Park

If you are looking for something to do outdoors in New York City, a walk on the High Line may be just the thing. Built upon long-abandoned elevated freight rail lines, this park gives visitors a new perspective of the city. The High Line’s southern tip is in the Meatpacking District at Gransevoort Street; the northern end terminates at West 34th Street, not far from the Hudson Yards subway station.

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The park is just under a mile and a half long, and it is accessible at numerous points. You can make your walk as long as you wish. I usually walk the full length and back, making it almost a three mile walk in all. Because the High Line can get pretty crowded, I recommend going earlier in the day and on weekdays – the weekends can be particularly busy.

The landscaping is interesting – I would even call it a bit rugged. Inspired by the plants that grew wild on the abandoned railroad tracks, the park has incorporated some of these plants as well as other native, sustainable plants into the High Line’s landscape. There are a variety of flowering plants too, with different colors dominating during the changing seasons. Soft purples, shown in the photos below, were the ones that caught my attention in my most recent visit.

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There’s a two-block long stretch of the High Line that is more heavily wooded, giving you the sensation of walking in a forest. This area is particularly welcome on hot, sunny days, as it is cooler than many other areas of the park. As you can see from the photo below, this portion of the park has integrated the original train rails into the walkway, reminding visitors of the park’s original purpose.

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As you walk along the High Line, you will find other architectural and design features as well. Here is a another photo of a partial set of tracks that has been incorporated into the walkway’s surface. (When I walked the High Line a couple of weeks ago, this set of tracks had been temporarily covered up with boards to protect it as some nearby construction was completed.)

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There are also plenty of places to sit and relax for a while – maybe eating a snack, reading a book, or people-watching. In this portion of the High Line, shallow running water flows below benches on the one side during the warm months (I’ve seen people take off their shoes and rest their feet in the water, actually!), while additional seating and loungers are located on the other side.

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I always enjoy this area of the High Line, where steps descend to windows that overlook the street below. It makes a great place to sit and have a snack or lunch (which you can get nearby at the Chelsea Market.)

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The High Line is an excellent vantage point for observing interesting examples of New York City architecture. Here are a few buildings I’ve seen on my walks.

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This building is next to the only grass on the High Line – although it’s a park, there is almost no lawn. You can also see how modern architecture and older, red brick buildings coexist side by side in this neighborhood.

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You’ll certainly see plenty of water towers on the roofs of nearby buildings.

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You may notice the back of a small brick church right next to the park. This church is the Church of the Guardian Angel, a Roman Catholic Church founded in 1887 that originally ministered to seamen and dockworkers. If you look closely, you will see the top of another New York landmark in the distance – the Empire State Building.

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And at the far southern end of the High Line you will see the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved into this new building in 2015. The Museum has some great outdoor space on its upper levels, as you can see here.

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The High Line hosts a number of art installations, which change each year. Currently, there is a group exhibition called Wanderlust, which will be on display on the High Line through March 2017. (If you would like more information about any of the art installations, you can find it here.) I’ve chosen just a few to feature here, but there are more to explore if you visit the High Line yourself.

First, here is Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth’s The Red Inside, a set of cast concrete watermelons.

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There’s Nari Ward’s Smart Tree – and it really has a tree growing out of its roof!

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This next one, by Barbara Krueger, is Untitled (Blind Idealism Is …).

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There is this one by Kathryn Andrews, titled Sunbathers I. I enjoyed watching people’s reaction to this one, like they were afraid that they would actually go around the corner and see nude sunbathers!

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And finally, Tony Matelli’s Sleepwalker. This one is both fun and disturbing. And, as you can see from the second photo, its location invites passersby to interact with it!

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If you like street art, I encourage you to keep an eye out for murals and graffiti on buildings beside the High Line as well. There’s plenty out there to discover!

How can you get to the High Line? You can actually access the park from a number of different points, both by stairs and elevators. The High Line’s website provides the best information about transportation and access, as well as a great map of the entire park, on its website here.

(I thought that this post might be a good one for Jo’s Monday Walk as well. If you’ve never checked out her blog, I recommend it!)

Shakespeare in Central Park

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One of the hottest tickets in New York City each summer is not a Broadway show and is absolutely free: the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. Although the performances are free, the tickets are not easy to come by. There are only two ways to get them – (1) showing up early in the morning and waiting in line for hours at either the Public Theater’s box office at Astor Place or the Delacorte Theater box office in Central Park; or (2) entering the ticket lottery on the TodayTix cellphone app. (You can also get tickets by making a large donation to the Public Theater to support its programs – I didn’t count that option since it isn’t free.)

Because I’m not excited about waiting in line for hours at a time, we have relied on the ticket lottery instead. Last summer, we entered the lottery every day, but with no luck. This summer, we once again began entering every day, even though I had basically given up all hope after last year’s failure. Imagine my surprise when I learned that we won two tickets to last night’s performance of The Taming of the Shrew!

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Performances start at 8:00 pm, and we were told we could pick up our tickets from the Delacorte Theater box office between 5:30 and 7:30 pm. We were warned not to be late – after 7:30 pm any remaining tickets are handed out to people waiting in the standby line. We arrived in plenty of time and, after receiving our tickets found a park bench near the theater to wait and watch people. Many people bring picnic dinners, which they eat while sitting on the nearby lawn. There are also plenty of snacks and drinks (including wine and beer) for sale at the theater. The staff will even let you bring your own food and drink into the theater, although glass is prohibited.

While we waiting for the play to begin, I noticed these two bronze sculptures located next to the theater. The first is titled Romeo and Juliet, and the second is The Tempest.

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We also listened to this saxophonist play for a while.

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Soon, it was time to enter the theater! The Delacourte Theater is perfectly sized – I really don’t think that there’s a bad seat in the house. It’s open air, and we watched the sun begin to set as we waited for the play to begin. Our own seats were excellent. We were only six rows back from the stage, right at stage center. We took in the stage set with interest.

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Unfortunately, no photos are permitted during performances, so that’s the last photo I have for this adventure. But The Taming of the Shrew was amazing! While I’ve always found the play entertaining, at the same time the misogynistic plot often makes me cringe, even taking into account the fact that it is from an entirely different era in history. This version put a new twist on the original story line, however – the entire cast was made up of women! Some of the best-performed roles were those of the male characters, including the role of Petruchio, played by Tony and Olivier award winner Janet McTeer. (The comedy’s director, Phyllida Lloyd, has also been nominated for a Tony award.) The entire performance was thoughtfully, artfully done.

The Taming of the Shrew continues through June 26, but that will not be the end of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park series. From July 19 to August 14, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, a rarely performed play, will be offered.

For those traveling to the Delacorte Theater, the website provides directions here.

(Note: TodayTix is a great app – you can get last-minute discounted tickets to Broadway shows without waiting in long lines. You have to be flexible, as not every show is available every day. And you must also be realistic. The musical Hamilton is the hottest ticket in town right now, and you aren’t going to find discounted tickets on TodayTix for it at this point.)

Brooklyn Bridge Park

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Whether you’re exploring the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo, as we did here in my last post, or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, you should include a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge Park as part of your adventure. Stretching along the Brooklyn waterfront along the East River, the park offers amazing views of Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge. If you look further north, you may even catch a glimpse of the Williamsburg Bridge. (Trying to remember what the various New York City bridges look like? There are photos of the major ones here.)

One of the features of Brooklyn Bridge Park is Jane’s Carousel, built in 1922. The carousel once resided in Youngstown, Ohio, but after restoration came to rest here in Brooklyn, in a beautiful glass box. The carousel has 48 hand-carved wooden horses in all.

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There’s a walkway stretching along the waterfront that provides great views of the bridges and Manhattan skyline.

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You’ll find areas to sit and take a break for a while.

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There’s even a small beach area called Pebble Beach.

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You can also find temporary art installations, such as Brooklyn artist Deborah Kass’s sculpture, OY/YO. If you look at the sculture from the Brooklyn side, it reads “Oy.” From the Manhattan side, it reads “Yo.” This sculpture will be on exhibit in the park through August 2016.

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How can you get to Brooklyn Bridge Park? If you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, the path across the bridge basically ends in Dumbo. Once you leave the bridge, walk back towards the riverfront and you will see the park. If traveling by subway, take the A or C trains to High Street or the F train to York Street, and then walk back towards the bridges to the park.

This post is also part of Jo’s Monday Walks. If you haven’t had the chance to explore Jo’s blog, I recommend it! In addition to writing about her own walks and other adventures, Jo also links to other bloggers’ walks – I’ve found many other great bloggers by reading her Monday Walks posts each week. Jo’s blog is found here, and her explanation of the Monday Walks is found here.

Exploring Brooklyn’s Dumbo Neighborhood

Across the East River from the lower part of Manhattan, roughly between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, you will find Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood. Dumbo actually gets its name from the phrase Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. With its proximity to Manhattan, it is a popular place to live and visit, and there’s a lot to do regardless of your interests. I especially recommend going on the weekend, when the Brooklyn Flea is set up in the streets almost underneath the Manhattan Bridge.

With that in mind, let’s start with the Brooklyn Flea. During warmer months, the Brooklyn Flea sets up an outdoor location in Dumbo, including approximately 75 vendors. There are quite a number of food vendors, if you are looking for a snack or lunch while you are out and about.

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You can find everything from handmade clothing to furniture, records to vintage knickknacks. There are numerous vendors who sell items handcrafted in Brooklyn. I was very intrigued by this vendor, who had a collection of old globes (most from the Cold War era).

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If you buy something to eat while you’re at the Brooklyn Flea, there’s even seating underneath the bridge! (The Brooklyn Bridge Park is also close by, and you may also choose to take your food and sit down by the water to watch the boats go by and admire the city skyline and bridge views.)

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And also keep an eye out for this sculpture by Australian husband and wife artist team Gillie and Marc, called Paparazzi Dogs. I think this one is really fun!

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In this same area there is an interesting temporary public art project, sponsored by the New York City Department of Transportation, called Personal Mythologies. The art is by a number of different artists, and it stretches across a long expanse of fencing.  Although it is impossible to include all in this post, the exhibition includes 6 artists and approximately 40-50 different images. There’s really quite a variety of styles as well.

Here are photos of a few of my favorites. (Because the images are printed on long banners, they occasionally have wrinkles in them that make photography a little difficult.) This first one is by Viktor Koen, and is called D.P. Toy No. 22.

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This one, by Judith Haberl, is Untitled I from the series A Decadent World Topiary Garden.

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And this piece by Klaus Enrique is titled Diana. I really liked Enrique’s work. He creates portraits using organic materials and then photographs the result.

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I can’t resist, so here is another of Enrique’s creations: Ghandi. I find it interesting to try to figure out all the materials he has used to create his portraits.

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As you continue to walk, make sure that you head over to Washington Street. As you walk down Washington Street towards the Manhattan Bridge, you will have the opportunity to take this iconic New York City photograph. If you look closely, you will see that the bridge’s lower supports frame the Empire State Building in the distance.

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Make sure that you keep your eyes open as you wander around Dumbo, especially once you get a few blocks away from the river – look under overpasses and around corners as well. There is a lot of street art, including some really beautiful and interesting murals. Most of the murals are a few years old, so the paint has faded some, but they are impressive nonetheless. There are 8 official murals in all, but a lot of other street art out there as well.

Here’s a few examples of the street art you will find in Dumbo. This first one is by artist, graphic designer, and activist Shepard Fairey, whose Instagram feed is @obeygiant. I really like Fairey’s art. His murals are in numerous places, and for those who follow presidential election politics, Fairey was the person who designed the 2008 Barack Obama “Hope” campaign poster. This piece is located in a parking lot around the corner from the F train’s York Street Station, near the underpass.

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This mural was designed by Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu (currently living in New York City), and painted by Coby Kennedy. This mural (and another one as well), are located in the underpass right up the street from the York Street station.

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There is a long, colorful mural by local artist Craig Anthony Miller, also known as “CAM,” that is visible through the trees. Somehow, even thought this mural is partially obscured, it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t see it fully, as it seemed like the owls were peering through the trees at me!

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Craig Anthony Miller and Tron Warren painted this Aztec-themed mural for Pedro’s, a Spanish and Mexican restaurant in Dumbo.

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There are also other interesting smaller art pieces, many of them illicit wheat paste pieces (where flour paste is used to adhere artwork to buildings), or stenciled work. This skateboarder is by WK, also known as WK Interact. Supposedly he has 7 different pieces up around Dumbo, and I was able to find two in my walk.

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I also liked this doorway.

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And here’s a little bit of interesting graffiti on the side of a garbage dumpster cover – showing that you never know when you may find something interesting or provocative. Here’s the stick bug:

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There’s one more place you’ll want to go during your visit to Dumbo – Brooklyn Bridge Park. Learn more about Brooklyn Bridge Park in this post.

How can you get to Dumbo? If you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, the path across the bridge basically ends in Dumbo. If traveling by subway, take the A or C trains to High Street or the F train to York Street.

Public Art at the First Street Green Cultural Park

You can find a lot of street art on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and more is going up all the time. Much of that street art is painted on the side of buildings, but there is also a public park that hosts street artists. It is known as the First Street Green Cultural Park, but is also sometimes called the First Street Garden.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite pieces that are on exhibit at the park right now, but keep in mind that the street art here is considered temporary. Periodically, artists come in and paint new murals over the old ones, so you may not find all of these murals there if you don’t visit for a while. You are likely to discover new intriguing work though, which is an added bonus. Here are my choices, illustrating the wide range of artistic styles. Enjoy! (I took these photos just before the plants started getting really green this Spring – makes it look a bit like a desert landscape, unfortunately, but at least it was easier to see the murals that way! It’s much greener now.)

This first colorful mural is a collaboration by Brazilian and American artists Opni, Panmela Castro, and Maidu.

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Here’s a close-up view of the face from the previous mural.

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There is also a fun mural by Ramiro Davaro-Comas (@ramirostudios).

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Here’s a close-up view of a few of his characters – I love how whimsical his work is.

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There is this piece by Huetek, a graphic designer, artist, and musician. I really like the dove hidden in the lettering in this mural.

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There’s this geometric mural by Allysa Steiger.

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Artist Key Detail painted this brightly colored and slightly ominous looking mural.

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And street artist Topaz painted this mural of the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen. (The traditional Jewish deli is just a few blocks away from the park, at 205 E. Houston Street.)

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There are two really interesting murals by Hektad, both incorporating mixed media. First, this one includes two of Hektad’s signatures, the stenciled heart and the little graffiti character.

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This second one is a collaboration between Hektad, Pictoform, and possibly another artist. I love the astronaut!

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Even the chain link fencing became a canvas for mixed-media installations by unnamed artists. If you look closely, this one spells out “Love.”

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And this one is also fun.

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Finally, I wanted to include this piece, titled “Signpost,” by artist Stuart Ringholt. In the background, several other murals are visible.

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How do you get here? First Street Green Cultural Park is located on the north side of E. Houston Street (pronounced How-stun, not Hoo-stun – it’s one way to tell locals from the tourists!), between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue. The closest subway station is the 2nd Avenue Station, located just across the street from the park, and accessible on the F train.

Battery Park: More Than Just the Portal for the Statue of Liberty

When most people head to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, they are looking for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But Battery Park is also a destination in its own right. If you take the time to explore it, you will find numerous treasures to reward your efforts.

As you wander around the paths at the south end of Battery Park, not far from the Staten Island Ferry’s Whitehall Terminal, you will find the Seaglass Carousel. Personally, I think there is something magical about any carousel – they bring us back to those innocent childhood years. But I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the Seaglass Carousel is in a class by itself. First, the building is reminiscent of the spiral of those extra-special shells you might find on an exotic beach, with the shape of a nautilus.

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Then, once you peer into the glass windows, the form of the carousel is even more captivating. Imagine riding along on softly colored, sea glass-inspired fish and other sea creatures – in fact, you are almost cacooned within the the ride. I could watch the carousel figures go around for hours, but it is even more special to ride it and be in the midst of it. The tickets are $5 each, but for a return to childhood they are entirely worth the price. (Or, if you are still a child, it’s also worth it!) I have to say, there were more adults than children riding it on the day that I visited, and I was one of those riders.

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After riding the carousel, you should explore the rest of the park as well. There’s a nice walk along the Hudson River, where you will likely see a seagull (or two, or three, or more …), as well as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance.

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Near this part of the park is the East Coast Memorial. The Memorial consists of 8 towering granite walls, inscribed with the names of the American servicemen who lost their lives in battle in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.

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At the far end of the East Coast Memorial is this powerful bronze statue of an eagle, created by sculptor Albino Manca.

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Between the East Coast Memorial and Castle Clinton is my favorite of all the monuments in Battery Park, titled “The Immigrants,” by sculptor Luis Sanguino. This monument includes portrayals of several representative immigrants to the United States. Every time I see this monument, I am struck by its power. If you visit the park, make sure that you explore the monument from all angles, as it is truly an amazing work of art. The monument was donated by Samuel Rudin, in honor of his parents who came to the United States in the late 19th century.

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The heart of the park is Castle Clinton. Castle Clinton has served many roles since its construction in the early 1800s, ranging from military fort to entertainment center, immigration station (prior to the opening of Ellis Island) to an early home to the New York City Aquarium. Today, Castle Clinton is a National Monument and the place from which ferries travel to the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island.

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There are many other memorials located throughout Battery Park, and I won’t discuss all because I don’t want to spoil all surprises. But here are a few more of my favorites, just to give you a sense of the variety of themes and styles. I really like the uniqueness of the New York Korean War Memorial. The concrete surrounding the memorial is stamped with the names of the countries that fought together during the Korean War, along with each nation’s casualty numbers.

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There is also Fritz Koenig’s sculpture, titled “The Sphere,” which spent more than 30 years in the plaza outside of the World Trade Center until being moved to its current site as a temporary memorial to the 9/11 victims in 2002. Nearby, an eternal flame burns in memorial to those whose lives were lost on 9/11.

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There is something very compelling about the American Merchant Mariners Memorial, designed by Marisol Escobar. If you look closely, you will see that the one man is rescuing another from the water.

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Nearby is Pier A, originally built in the 1880s, but now hosting a restaurant and visitor’s center.

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Outside of Pier A is an interesting collection of globes with an environmental message.

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Don’t forget to look down in this part of the park. One of the interesting aspects is that you can see previous locations of the shoreline and piers in the 19th century, before landfill extended the parameters of Manhattan.

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Finally, if you look north from Battery Park at this point, you will see One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower. It’s a beautiful view, but also a poignant one after viewing the 9/11 Memorial, “The Sphere,” only a short time before.

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How do you get to Battery Park? You can take the 4 or 5 train to the Bowling Green station, the J or Z trains to the Broad Street station, the R train to Whitehall Street station, or the 1 train to South Ferry (make sure you are on one of the first five cars for the 1 train). (Here’s the entrance to the Bowling Green station, on the edge of Battery Park, below – isn’t it cute?)

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