Friday, April 22, 2011
Thanks to the Ric Burns documentary I'm working though, I have a new interest in New York Revolutionary War history along with some explicit feelings towards Alexander Hamilton, who is basically the James Bond of the Founding Fathers.
Lower Manhattan is the epicenter of our nation's birth and you can hit up three monuments in a five block radius. So if its a Sunday afternoon and you have finished brunching and are wondering what to do next, take the 6 Train to Bowling Green and get ready to have your mind blown.
In the picture above, The New York Stock Exchange is on the left and at the end of the block you can see Federal Hall peeking out from the right. The NY Stock Exchange building houses the room where the bell rings every day and where companies go public. When it was originally built, it was the biggest room in the country!
Next up is Federal Hall:
Surprise! The first capitol of the United States was in Manhattan! Embarrassingly, I didn't know that until recently - thanks public school education! Federal Hall was built in 1700 and was originally our city hall, but then became the capitol building. It was destroyed when the capitol moved to Virginia and in its place this building sprang up and was used as the customs house. When you go inside, there is a groove worn into the marble floor where immigrants used to stand in line to go through customs.
Today in Federal Hall there are small exhibits on prominent New Yorkers, including the aforementioned Alexander Hamilton. Did you know that people were so enamoured with him that at one point they considered re-naming New York ''Hamiltonia''?
Next make your way down Wall Street to Trinity Church:
The Trinity Church you see today is actually its third rendition. The first Trinity Church was built in 1698 and destroyed by fire. It was poorly rebuilt so its second version was soon torn down and replaced by the third church which is a beautiful, towering brownstone structure.
I found the cemetery surrounding Trinity Church to be an extremely special place. Some of the oldest graves in the United States are there, which means there are some really unique head stones. This one below has a coded message on it that took experts eighty years to decode:
Spoiler alert! The coded message reads ''remember death,'' which in my opinion, is a little redundant when read in a cemetery.
You will also find Alexander Hamilton's grave here:
Buried next to him is his wife Eliza, who was by many accounts an extremely patient woman (Hamilton had several very public affairs). Recently I learned most of our Founding Fathers were not wealthy until they married into money. Maybe the phrase should be revised to ''behind every good man is a rich woman.''
So there you have it, three monuments: The NY Stock Exchange, Federal Hall and Trinity Church, all in one afternoon. If you find it hard one morning to motivate to get out of town, give yourself a history lesson instead.
Everything is free! Take the 6 Train downtown to Bowling Green.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Last fall I encountered a burned-out, abandoned house in the Catskills that left me spooked but more so, intrigued. Who lived there? What had happened? Why did they leave? Since then ruins and abandoned homes have been a source of fascination for me and yesterday I came across this website, 100 Abandoned Houses:
Its Detroit resident Kevin Bauman's photo project capturing the ghost homes of the Motor City. His pictures make you wish walls really could talk:
I think he should come to New York and photograph one hundred abandoned houses in the Hudson Valley/Catskill region.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Old Croton Aqueduct is somewhat of an Internet sensation. Google it and you will find pages of hits, most from recreational and hiking websites. Despite its online popularity, its hard to tell exactly what it is, where it goes and what its for, so let me break it down for you.
The Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) was the way water was brought to the city in the mid-1800's from upstate via the Croton River. Today its a long path that runs from Greystone to Ossining on the Hudson and is used for walking, running, biking, bird watching - basically the works as far as enjoying the outdoors goes.
The segment I chose to walk on Monday started at Hastings-On-Hudson and moved south:
I want to start from the top of my day and mention Hastings-On-Hudson. This town is thirty minutes north of the city on the Metro North Hudson Line. For being so close to the city, its surprisingly quaint which, in my opinion, makes it a little more special then some of the other suburbs in the area.
There is plenty of shopping to do here, though I abstained on my visit. Instead I just peered in windows, had lunch and walked around taking pictures looking like a total tourist in a town without tourist attractions. I wondered to myself if the local business owners were going to talk about me, the alien, later over a happy hour drink, "Did you see the girl in the leggings with the camera?!?!"
The other thing about Hastings was no one knew about the OCA, which was my first inkling that this trail might be a little over hyped on the Internet. After having no luck with the locals, I decided to use my Iphone and find it. This took mere seconds compared to my rambling conversations with several store owners. It actually happened to be well marked and trafficked - maybe I was just asking the wrong people?
I can't speak for the entire OCA, as again, I only walked a segment, but it was a very interesting stroll where I encountered mysterious things, like staircases that lead to tiny parks or abandoned homes:
Hidden fences covered in vines that lead to clearings:
And bizarrely, this graveyard in some one's backyard. I got some serious Pet Cemetery shivers:
The trail is flat, easy to walk and has lots of wonders along the way. When you aren't distracted by all the man-made features you can look out to the Hudson and take in the view. Hastings also is filled with historic homes and buildings that are well marked, so as you walk, you can read all about who built what and when.
If there is someone you have been meaning to catch up with, bring them on this trip and walk the OCA. Its near the city, pleasant and interesting and would be ideal for chit chatting while getting some exercise. Plan on taking your time and having lunch in Hastings as well. As spring is upon us, I can only imagine this trail becoming greener and greener, so now is the time to go.
Metro North Hudson Line to Hastings-On-Hudson.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
This one will sneak up on you, so put it on your calendar. The Belmont Stakes this year is June 11. Start gathering a posse now because you will regret missing this occasion.
The Belmont Stakes is one of those things you don't want to leave New York without ever witnessing. As part of the Triple Crown, its a pretty significant race in the whole season of horse racing. When going was originally proposed to me, I was pretty anti as I know horse racing can be a non-animal-friendly affair. After thinking it through I decided to go, knowing it would probably be a huge kick in the pants, if not for the gambling then definitely for the people watching. Boy was I right, my wildest dreams couldn't have imagined a bigger spectacle:
You will find a mix of people from the weirdest corners of our country wearing shirts that say things like 'life is too short for shitty beer' (the only attire requirements for the grandstand are shirts and shoes) to people dressed to the nines in pearls and large, floppy hats in the grand tradition of horse racing. Both were equally amusing.
There is also a great sense of camaraderie at the Belmont Stakes and you will be sure to make fast friends with some very unlikely characters. Be opened minded, this kind of thing only happens once a year.
The race itself is incredibly short, something like a minute and a half, but all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the event is what you should really go for.
Be sure to gamble! There is nothing like betting on a horse! Pick up a New York Post on your way there, brush up on your horses and odds and then place your bet. There is no better form of anticipation then wondering whether or not you are holding a winning ticket.
Make a day of the Belmont Stakes. Have friends over for brunch and white wine spritzers. Get dressed up in your pastel finery and bring a flask. This is a drinking event, so keep in mind to stay hydrated and wear sunblock. Be prepared to socialize, because mingling is guaranteed on this day trip.
Another added feature of this afternoon is the Belmont Stakes is located extremely close to JFK airport. So if you can't take the horse racing, avert your eyes to the 747's landing from all over the world. Something I did frequently during my visit:
When I went, I split a car service with five other people and it was a party the entire drive out there for only $15 per person. I would also suggest this as opposed to driving because the parking lot at the Stakes is a nightmare. There are also several public transportation options for you.
Tickets in advance for the Grandstand are $3 and the day-of they are $10. Either way, the price is right. Make a pitcher of Mint Juleps for your friends and ring in the start of summer with a day at the races.