A Letter to New York

Dear New York,

Despite a weather forecast promising sun, I still love you, even with your overcast skies and a skyline shrouded in fog.

Seen from the site of Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I love you for those ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ celeb-chef photo opportunities.

An orange croc -toting Mario Batali against the Williamsburg Bridge, at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn.

For inspiring street art and producing talent like FAILE.

Custom made FAILE tiles adorn the exterior of a studio on 7th Street in Williamsburg.

I love you for your random photo opportunities.

A restaurant in the Meatpacking District, Manhattan

I love you for the grit and glam.

The Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District

I love you for your spirit; your ability to rejuvenate, regenerate, and breathe life into the ‘old’ to make it new again.

Along the rehabilitated High Line; a public park on a former elevated railway line.

I visited the High Line last year; I wrote about it and photographed it during the Fall with my little Sony Cybershot. You can view more about this project here: Above it all: Manhattan’s High Line | Marina Chetner.

The railroad tracks of the High Line.

I love how well you wear the colour green.

At every turn, you give the community an excuse to caffeinate.

Drip coffee and ceramic cones

I love that you make yellow cabs look cool.

You make traffic stop; you halt passersby in their tracks…

… and give others a reason to pause and reflect.

I love how you decorate scaffolding to make it interesting enough to photograph.

A paste-up for the Tate Modern

You never cease to amaze with quirky installations.

I love you for your iconic landmarks.

Most of all, I just love you for being you.

Thank you, New York. You’ve got a fan, for life.

Much love, xoxo

High Line, seen from ground level

West Side Frolics, in NYC

Well, I was hardly frolicking, though the warmer temperatures today had me reaching for my lighter trench as I headed outside, into the very welcome sunshine. Whilst it was still layer-worthy weather, I was glad to stuff my gloves into my coat pockets and wander about; taking photos comfortably – my fingers devoid of any painful numbing sensations so persistent in the cooler temps.

If you like architecture and are drawn to that well-worn, distressed look reminiscent of an industrial mid-19th Century Manhattan, then one of the best strolls to take is along the West Side of downtown NYC: starting at the Meatpacking District, and making your way through a residential West Village, along the outskirts of SoHo, and into the narrow streets of lovely Tribeca.

To be honest, at the halfway point of the walk (the SoHo outskirts) you will enter into a considerably commercial area. You’ll pass by tall storage warehouses that cast shadows below; the glassy rectangular prism of a building that is Trump Soho; large car lots, so full that their parked cars overflow onto the adjoining pavement; a few huge advertising agencies (Saatchi); and, enough Equinox gyms that could seemingly maintain the fitness levels of Manhattan’s Lower Half.

That said, this juncture is an opportune time to pop into D’Agostino supermarket or a deli to grab a beverage and a pack of trail mix ~ for ongoing sustenance.

Below is a glimpse of today; the last day of January. I hope this walk may inspire you to discover and/or re-discover Manhattan’s downtown; its formerly industrial ‘hoods.

As an aside, I want to thank robertoalborghetti and barbaraelka, and Photobella’s Project 365, who have nominated me for the Sunshine and Versatile Blogger Awards respectively. I appreciate it very much and as a follower of each of your blogs, I look forward to reading your posts. I hope to share the sunshine and passion for New York through this tour.

~A WEST SIDE STORY~

START: Meatpacking District

Head to 14th Street and Ninth Avenue. The meatpacking district covers about 20 square blocks, and is also bounded by the High Line and Horatio Street.

Cobblestones on Gansevoort St

The Gansevoort Hotel, to the left, Sephora - in front

Still a cool and trendy place to go during the week (preferably), the neighbourhood has retained its character from decades past. In the 1840’s it served as a market district: initially for produce, and later – for meat. Its cobblestoned streets, original store signage, and glimpses of the 1930’s elevated railroad – now the High Line park – are all reminiscent of the industrial era.

Cobblestones and Patios. Then, this area was known as Gansevoort Market. In 1884, New York named two acres of land after General Peter Gansevoort, a Revolutionary War hero.

West 13th Street's warehouses

Fact: In 1900, 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants filled the district; by the 1930s, those houses produced the nation’s third-largest volume of dressed meats. The city, eager to retain the immediate supply of fresh meat and jobs, subsidized the industry throughout the early 20th century. *

Head in the sand...

TO DO: Visit the High Line; go boutique shopping; have a coffee and pastry at french-inspired bistro Pastis; admire the intermittent street art. The Whitney Museum is slated to open here in 2015.

TO EAT: Have a cocktail and stay for dinner at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s, Spice Market – inspired by the street food the chef enjoyed while traveling in Southeast Asia.

TO STAY: The Gansevoort Hotel, for its rooftop pool and bar (in the heart of the meatpacking district on 9th Avenue), or The Standard on the High Line, for its Hudson River views. The new Dream Downtown is scheduled to open on 16th Street and 9th Avenue, in Spring.

Window Shopping

Spice Market, with The Standard Hotel in the background

INTERMISSION: West Village and SoHo’s Outskirts

Free Press

Somewhere in the West Village

On the corner of Charles and Greenwich Streets

Trump Soho

Bordering Canal Street

Subways, fire stations and Tribeca

END: TRIBECA

TRiangle BElow CAnal Street is what Tribeca stands for. Bounded on the north by Canal Street, south by Vesey Street, east by Broadway and west by the Hudson River, it hardly forms a triangle – more so, a trapezium.

Here’s the story: in the 1970′s, a tiny triangular area bounded by Canal, Lispenard and Church Streets was zoned to allow for live/work status; this movement was initiated by its activist artist residents, who called themselves the Tribeca Block Association.

A reporter covering the zoning story for the New York Times came across the block association’s submission to City Planning, and mistakenly assumed that the name Tribeca referred to the entire neighborhood, not just one block.**

Thus, Tribeca as a ‘hood was born.

Tribeca streetscapes

Water towers and cobblestones - looking towards Varick Street

Tribeca was one of the city’s first residential neighborhoods, settled during the late 18th Century. By the mid 19th Century, the area was transformed into a commercial center – mainly for textile production – and it was then that a large numbers of store and loft buildings were constructed along Broadway.

A textile past: "Look for The Clothespin Tack"

The area along the Hudson River became a bustling produce, dairy and meat market known as Washington Market. Industry declined in the 1960’s and so in the 70’s, artists converged on the area. From the 1980’s until today, large scale conversion has transformed this cute neighbourhood into what is one of the priciest in Manhattan (based on median closing price)***.

Don’t be intimidated by its expensive price tags: this is one of the loveliest neighbourhoods to stroll. Its cobblestone streets and converted warehouses are restored and well maintained, and the neighbourhood is a stone’s throw away from the River Promenade. Trailing the Hudson River from Battery Park and past Chelsea Piers, it makes New Jersey look really good.

TO DO: Tribeca Film Festival – co-founded by Robert DeNiro in 2002 to help assist in Lower Manhattan’s recovery after 9/11. DeNiro has been instrumental in building up Tribeca since then.

TO EAT: Bubby’s for brunch; Nobu for dinner (co-owned by Robert DeNiro). For thrills: Tribeca Grill – also co-owned by Robert DeNiro, it counts Bill Murray, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Lou Diamond Philips, Russell Simmons, Christopher Walken and Harvey & Bob Weinstein of the Weinstein Company amongst its investors.

TO STAY: Tribeca Grand Hotel – which actually stands on a triangular block – has a cool lobby bar for pre-dinner drinks. The James Hotel, located just above Canal Street, is on the cusp of Soho and Tribeca.

Tribeca Grand Hotel's clock

The James Hotel

OPTION: Outskirts of Chinatown/City Hall/enroute to Brooklyn Bridge

Heading home to Brooklyn, my subway stop is by City Hall. You may also choose to continue on this way from Tribeca, as the route leads to the Brooklyn Bridge. Here, you’ll also be able to take in some vistas of a courted Manhattan, on its East side.

US Courthouse, to the left; City Hall - ahead

U.S Court House

Flanked - New York by Frank Gehry: at 870 feet tall, it is the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere

New York by Genhry - the Brooklyn Bridge is to the left

Chambers Street Subway

*http://meatpacking-district.com   **Wikipedia

***http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2011/11/22/nycs_10_most_expensive_sales_of_the_last_quarter.php

New York ~ Cloaked in Snow

I have not been able to acclimatise to the Northern Hempishere’s winters (my body functions better in warmer climates, preferably those of the tropics), though I was quite excited to see New York experience its first snowfall for 2012. Not only because it is nature’s way, but also because I wanted to see New York shine once again, in snow-covered glory. Don’t get me wrong – I have experienced the City in winter many times before, though last year’s heavy storm left a lasting impression on me. I haven’t relocated back to warmer shores yet (as I vowed to do so at the time), though I am glad that I wasn’t succumbing to cosy hibernation at the first sight of this year’s snow flake. It really was good to see New York’s snow-fringed beauty again.

Here’s a little about how the weekend unfolded…

SATURDAY

Whilst drinking hot chocolate and watching movies all day would have been idyllic, I decided to make the most of the 3+ inch snowfall and headed to the area around Manhattan’s West Village. With the Christmas festivities over and holiday lights now taken down, the neighborhood’s streetscapes were still as pretty as ever; window sills lined with snow, street lights and restaurant signs topped with a light dusting of flakes, sidewalks – shiny from the ice. There were a few people out and about: owners walking their dogs; window-shoppers, strolling around the cobblestoned Meatpacking District; store owners on the sidewalks, salting the way.

Along with a few determined sightseers, I had ascended to the High Line via its Gansevoort Street entrance and managed to enjoy some of its views, until the wind pretty much stopped me in my tracks and had me scrambling towards the nearest exit. Unfortunately, no amount of layering in the sub-zero temperatures would have been enough to keep me from experiencing that chilled-to-the-bone feeling; my fingers were numbed-out after an hour and I had no choice but to race back home and defrost in the heat of the loft – with a hot cuppa.

NB: I altered a few of these shots with the retouch menu on the Nikon D5000.

The heart of the Meatpacking District

A tangled restaurant-front

"Call in Sick" - smart street art, especially for nine-to-fiver Mondays

Restaurant delivery bikes. Fatty Crab, in the background

A storefront in the Meatpacking District

The Standard Hotel, on the High Line

View from above

Railway Lines at the High Line

Sidetracked and sidelined - on the High Line

Grand Exit

Yippee - back home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

 SUNDAY

With the temperatures a few degrees higher, I pictured Central Park in my sights. I’d seen the beauty of its fall colours, and more recently – Manhattan’s silhouetted skyline from its Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, on a mild winter’s day. Now I needed to see it again – covered in snow. I ventured up-up-uptown to 79th Street and Central Park West.

Manhattan’s streets were painful to walk along; the snow had either turned into dirty slush or melted into brown puddles. So, it was a sigh of relief to step into Central Park’s pristine beauty; the space felt other worldy. For lack of a better phrase, think winter wonderland. A blanket of pure white snow covered its expanse; the park’s trees and bridges were outlined in white. It’s as if the Park had taken on another guise; it had become a playground for snow-enthusiasts. Skiers whizzed past; sledders whoosed down hills; ice skaters circled the Wollman Rink. The pathways were crunchy underfoot, and slippery; ducks sought refuge (and warmth in numbers) under low hanging tree branches, where the water had not frozen over. Some of the birds braved a stroll along the ice. The sound of clicking hooves was a regular one; horse-and-carriages carrying tourists were aplenty.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll let this series of photos speak for themselves. They were taken as I made my way from 79th Street, toward The Shakespeare Garden and on to Belvedere Castle. From there, the Ramble’s meandering pathways led me over the Oak Bridge, along the shoreline of The Lake, past Sheep’s Meadow and Wollman Rink. After snapping a picture of The Plaza from the shores of The Pond, I made my way into slushy Manhattan via the 59th Street and Fifth Avenue exit.

I’m grateful for this snowfall and whilst I hope this is the last one, I won’t be dreading the next (as much). Enjoy!

Oak Bridge, looking over The Lake

Entering from 79th Street

Sledding

Skiing

In Shakespeare Garden

A tower of the Belvedere Castle. Erected 1869.

A castle doorway

Inside, looking out - Belvedere Castle

Manhattan skyline from The Lake

Frosted beauty - The Lake

Ducks on Ice

El Dorado Apartments, from The Lake

This was one slippery pathway, alongside The Lake

Beauty and The Lake

My little poser

Wollman Memorial Rink. Constructed in 1950; rebuilt in early 1980′s.

Sheep’s Meadow – closed for the winter season though usually grassy and green in warmer months; a social space.

The Plaza, seen over The Pond in Central Park

My token of love to Central Park

Back to busy Manhattan

A Grand Reservoir ~ A Legacy Lives On

Whoever invented the reservoir must have done it with him alone in mind. It was without flaw, a perfect lake set in the most unexpected of locations.*

There are quite a few excellent spots in New York from where you can take in a panoramic view of the city. They are mostly from high above – from a rooftop, or a viewing platform; from a bridge, or even from Manhattan’s High Line. There is only one place that I know of however, on ground level, where you can take in beautiful skyline views of the city. It is in Central Park, along the fringes of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

At the Reservoir on its West side, looking at Manhattan’s Midtown

The Reservoir can be accessed by a number of the Park’s entrances including those near 86th and 96th streets, from either the Central Park West or Fifth Avenue sides. Taking a subway to these entry points is easy, as there are a few stations located within easy walking distance of them. Strolling along any one the Park’s meandering walkways,  even over an ornate bridge perhaps, it won’t take much time at all to come face to face with an expansive body of water. Enclosed by a black, four foot high, steel and cast iron ornamental fence and encircled with a narrow dirt track – this is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

A West Side entrance

Bridge close by Central Park West’s 96th Street Entrance

Looking towards the southern point of midtown, and the Chrysler is there… somewhere…

From the South, looking West at The Eldorado Apartments

Midtown and Upper Manhattan vistas wrap around the western, southern and eastern edges of the water’s expanse; prominent buildings look miniature from across the lake (the Guggenheim – so tiny!) and on a good day, the sun sets behind a silhouetted skyline. I don’t venture to Central Park often enough, though when I do, viewing New York City from such gorgeous perspectives makes it really worthwhile.

Gorgeous (model of a) Guggenheim on the East side

Silhouetted Skyline

Twilight, ducks and The Guggenheim (far right)

Grasses and sunset

I’ve been living in New York, on and off, for about six years and only recently learned that in 1994, the reservoir was dedicated to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; it was “renamed for the beloved first lady who lived nearby and often enjoyed a run along the 1 1/2-mile jogging track that circles the water.”[2] Initially, this massive pool of water was named the Central Park Reservoir, built in 1862.

Spanning 106 acres, covering approximately an eighth of the Park and with the ability to hold over a billion gallons of water, the Reservoir was built to receive water from the Croton Aqueduct and distribute it around Manhattan.

The reservoir is 40 feet deep and holds a billion gallons of water. It was built in the 1860s as a temporary water supply for New York City, while the Croton Water system was shut down for repairs two weeks each year. At the time, it was unthinkable that a billion gallons of water would last less than two weeks. Today, some speculate that the City would go through that supply in just four hours. The reservoir was decommissioned in 1993, deemed obsolete because of the Third Water Tunnel.[3]

The Reservoir still distributes water to other Central Park locations, such as the Pool, the Loch, and the Harlem Meer, and also serves a dual-purpose: as a meditative lake and scenic running track.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani today cut the ribbon to open the renovated 1.58-mile running track around Central Park‘s Reservoir. The renovations, made possible by a $500,000 gift from the Goldie-Anna Charitable Trust, replaced the track’s gravel and timber lining, and completely overhauled its drainage system. The renovations, the first since the Track initially opened in 1982, will be maintained with a $2 million grant from the Uris Brothers Foundation.[4]

In April 2010, the jogging track was dedicated to a man named Alberto Arroyo. Known as the Mayor of Central Park by the path’s regular patrons, Arroyo claimed to be the first person to jog around the reservoir, since 1937.

Alberto Arroyo was there every day, and when he retired he was often there the entire day, waving and saying hello to everyone. When he couldn’t run, he walked. Then he used a cane, then a walker, and finally, after a stroke, a wheelchair. Arroyo died last month <March 2010> at 94.[5]

This pathway is also extremely popular with walkers, tourists, photographers, and the neighbourhood’s residents, where the lake makes up a large part of their glorious backyard. Signage requests that no strollers, bikes or dogs be taken on the track. Rightly so as the pathway is way to narrow to cater to everyone (and their mess)!

Photographers and walkers

There is also the track’s protocol of going with the flow; if going against traffic (i.e., clockwise) you may be faced with dozens of shocked faces and disgruntled looks. This park etiquette however, seems to work well. One just needs to be street smart if constantly stopping and starting – whether it is to soak in the view at different vantage points, or gaze at the ducks on the water’s surface, or to take a multitude of photos – as the path attracts some pretty swift runners. Apparently, in spring, cherry blossoms bloom along the pathway too. Can you imagine how beautiful such a setting would look?

An eastern perspective, and ducks

The Reservoir is also a lovely pit-stop during a weekend of museum hopping; after visiting The Met and/or The Guggenheim on the East Side, it would be a shame not to take a breather and stroll by the lake to say, the American Museum of Natural History, located at 81st Street and Central Park West on the other side.

In any kind of weather, the Reservoir’s space seduces. It’s such a calm place for the contemplative soul; an oasis for the stressed out New Yorker; a perfect viewing spot for the traveler; and, a romantic setting for a date. By day, Manhattan is characterised by its skyscraper skyline; by night, the beautiful lampposts light up the area and transport you to a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris.

It’s another reason that gives New York its edge and character.

Good night…

Grand Central Terminal: astrology, whispers… and some history

Picture this: Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. It’s crowded. Bustling with commuters trying to make it from Point A to Point B; fast-walking through the station’s Main Concourse, intermittently glancing down at their watches, hoping not to miss their trains to Connecticut – or wherever they may be heading to. If only they would stop once in a while to admire the details… Or perhaps they’re just in too much of a rush…?

 “Never stand between a commuter and his train.” Sun Tzu

The Grand Central Terminal is iconic to Manhattan. Located on 42nd Street and Park Avenue, you’ve likely seen it featured in countless movies –  during Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and more recently, in Mendes’ Revolutionary Roador referenced many times, whether it be as inspiration for New Yorker cover art or as a listed must-see in a  guidebook on Manhattan. Acquainted as we all may be with this landmark (note: it is a National Historic Landmark), I had always been intrigued about a couple of its charming yet mysterious details: that magical-looking painted ceiling, and the legend of its whispering walls. Recently, I set on a research/adventure to uncover the stories behind this intrigue.

A few weeks ago, I had watched a rerun of Anthony Bourdain’s Layover – Rome, during which the Termini Station was described as: hellish, with as much charm as New York’s 34th Street Penn Station (that is, none). I share these sentiments and can thankfully say that the same cannot be said for the Grand Central Terminal. In stark contrast to its counterparts, it is a beautifully restored Beaux-Arts building that is pleasant to walk through – crowded or not.

A bit of history…

Grand Central Terminal’s beginnings extend back to 1871. However for purposes of this post, I’ll start around the time of the station being saved from its potential fate by a wrecking ball.

In 1968, its lessee, UGP Properties, had proposed a Marcel Breuer-designed, 55-story tower to be built above the Grand Central Terminal. Such a plan would ultimately mean harsh consequences for the building: either its façade, or the entire Main Waiting Room and part of the Main Concourse, would need to be demolished. Having been designated a landmark a year earlier, not only did the Landmarks Preservation Commission block any such project, but the plans sparked an outcry from many city leaders, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who stated:

Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.

Suffice to say, that after a decade’s worth of battling it out in court rooms, the Supreme Court upheld New York’s landmark law and spared the terminal such a fate. (The station had been declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)

In a major state of decline since its post-war days, Metro-North along with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (known as MTA, who in 1994 gained long-term control of Grand Central Terminal in the form of a long term lease) started a planning process that paved the way for what we now know as the restored Grand Central Terminal. Revitalisation and construction had begun in 1996, when a couple of years into it, a striking artwork was uncovered: the Main Concourse’s Sky Ceiling.

Star Light, Star Bright

If you look closely at the revelers in the Grand Central Terminal, you’ll notice many of them with craned necks, staring up at the 125-foot high ceiling. Arching over the 80,000 square-foot Main Concourse, the vaulted expanse is beautified with astrological images based on a design by the French painter Paul Helleu. In 1912, Helleu had painted the artwork in gold leaf on a background of cerulean blue oil. Unfortunately, the ceiling had been obscured shortly thereafter – it had been mended in the 1930’s due to falling plaster and it had also been badly tarred by tobacco smoke.

The astrological painting “portrays the Mediterranean sky with October-to-March zodiac and 2,500 stars. The 60 largest stars mark the constellations and are illuminated with fiber optics, but used to be lit with 40 watt light bulbs that workers changed regularly by climbing above the ceiling and pulling the light bulbs out from above.

Soon after the Terminal opened, it was noted that the section of the zodiac depicted by the mural was backwards. For several decades, lively controversy raged over why this was so. Some of the explanations offered were that it just looked better, or it didn’t fit into the ceiling any other way. The actual reason is that Paul Helleu took his inspiration from a medieval manuscript, published in an era when painters and cartographers depicted the heavens as they would have been seen from outside the celestial sphere.”*

There is a small dark circle in the midst of the stars right above the image of Pisces. In a 1957 attempt to counteract feelings of insecurity spawned by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the Grand Central’s Main Concourse played host to an American Redstone missile. With no other way to erect the missile, the hole was cut so the rocket could be lifted into place. Historical Preservation dictated that this hole remain (as opposed to being repaired) as a testament to the many uses of the Terminal over the years.**

Now, what of those Whispering Walls?

I had discovered the wonder of Grand Central Terminal’s Whispering Gallery when my sister was visiting from Sydney a few years ago (gosh, that was in 2005!). Having been told about it by a traveler in passing, we had attempted to follow their rough instructions:  we were to walk down the ramp to the famous Oyster Bar, and the gallery would be right there. And there it was. Right outside of the seafood restaurant, we found ourselves standing under the low tiled domed ceiling of the ‘Whispering Gallery’.

The tiled, domed ceiling

A glimpse inside the Oyster Bar

Next, we were to diagonally stand across from one another, backs to each other, and face into one of the four piers that form the perimeter of the gallery. Then we were to whisper into ‘our’ pier, as if carrying on a conversation. We had done just that: speaking lowly into the corners in the arches, we has set about testing the gallery’s acoustic abilities. Lo and behold, we could hear one another perfectly.

Unfortunately, I recently came to find out that there is no legend behind the sound phenomenon. The crossing pair of vaulted arches allows for “the whisperer’s voice (to) follow the curve of the domed ceiling.”*** Hence, the feeling that you’re talking to one another as if side by side, as opposed to experiencing muffled conversation in any crowded intersection.

Grand Central Terminal has certainly come into its own through a long process of reconstruction. As I mentioned in my post on Manhattan’s High Line, New York is a spirited place, and it is heartening to find out that such prominent, historical New York icons share the common thread of a rallying community support behind them. It is a show of dedication to a much admired and adored city. And, not only that, but the Grand Central Terminal contains mysteries that will continue to entertain residents and travelers alike, for years to come.

*grandcentralterminal.com **Wikipedia ***manhattan.about.com

Happy Holidays! xoxo New York City

The Norway spruce that decorates Rockefeller Center this year is 74-foot tall; it is decorated in 30,000 colored lights and topped with a Swarovski star. Though the Rockefeller Christmas tree looks similar from year to year, give or take a few feet in height, each tree to have graced the plaza has told a different story of its origin. The 2011 tree was not selected per the usual application process, as it was scouted by the Rockefeller Center’s head gardener on a property in Mifflinville, PA whilst driving along the I-80 freeway. The tree now stands proudly in the middle of Manhattan, admired not only by its owners (albeit in a different light) but also by throngs of visitors at any one time. This is just one example of the preparation and energy that goes into the creating the Christmas  experience in Manhattan.

Christmas time at Rockefeller Center

Manhattan is one of the best places to immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit, and there’s no doubt that NYC puts on a great show for its visitors and residents. It inspires department store pilgrimages (for the shopping as well as the window displays); ice skating excursions to the renowned rinks at Central Park and Rockefeller Center; Christmas market hopping – from Union Square, and all the way up to Columbus Circle – where you can drink hot apple cider whilst perusing the stalls that sell all sorts of beautifully made handicrafts, intricate fine jewelry, artworks, and everything else in between. As I have discovered over the years – two, three, even four days is not enough to experience the city during this time of year. Despite any compulsive planning that may have been undertaken prior to the trip, there will always something to catch your eye and veer you off of a scrupulously mapped course. I recommend setting aside at least one week to experience New York in its holiday splendor. Unless it’s just gift shopping you’re after – then, a long weekend will suffice.

Inspiration for the gift list...!

The original Magnolia Bakery in the West Village

Having been brought up in Australia, I have never much cared for a chilly Christmas season, with or without snow. I’ll take the festive season in summery Sydney any day. Sure, I understand that a hot Christmas may seem strange to many people – after all, even I think that a decked out Santa Claus is more believable in chillier climates – though as I get older, it’s more about being with my family and creating memories, than anything else. Christmas time, for me, equates to beach weather and long, hot days; indulging in barbequed everything – grilled squid, charred lamb chops, sizzling meat patties – while relaxing in the backyard; enjoying the company of family and friends on rooftop bars, overlooking beautiful Sydney, a glass of Verdelho in hand. I always seem to take a trip to Oz in the middle of the year, and haven’t experienced a Christmas at home in a long while.

"What Katz's is to pastrami, City Bakery is to hot chocolate." New York Magazine

Ice Skating at The Standard Hotel ice rink, as seen for the High Line

As it’s not a matter of going big or going home (my adopted home of NYC always delivers for the holiday season!), I do embrace the result of months worth of festive preparations made by the city. Whether braving the crowds that descend upon Midtown Manhattan, or during a stroll through the calmer parts of the city – be it Greenwich Village or the Upper East Side – it’s easy to spot coloured fairy lights prettying up balconies and storefronts; decorated Christmas trees or Chanukah candles framed by windows; wreaths hanging from doors and adorning brick walls that would otherwise stand bare. It’s a time when each neighbourhood equally embraces the festive season and an underlying theme of embellishment: now, less defined by their individual ‘hood appeal, and more unified in making Manhattan look like one very well decorated and brightly lit Christmas grid.

A Christmas tree

Beautiful West Village

This year being no different, I set the nostalgia aside and took some time to explore New York City in its lead up to Christmas. En route, I became happily reacquainted with New York’s charm despite the droves: the beauty is in its street scapes and their everyday activity. This is the very reason I fell in love with New York City in the first place.

The Strand book stall lines Central Park, Fifth Avenue

A pianist in Washington Square Park

Here is a charting of a festive few days around and about, with some of that old New York charm thrown in. Enjoy!

Wall Street's barricaded Christmas tree

Christmas and hope soldier on in the midst of construction at Ground Zero

Lights against Chinatown

Delights at Dean & Deluca

Washington Square Park Christmas Tree (Empire State Building in the distance)

Fiddlesticks on Greenwich Avenue

Part of the Tiles for America fence (Greenwich Ave and Mulry Square)

Simply decorated

View from the High Line at night

View of the High Line at night

See my post here for daytime images: Above it all: Manhattan’s High Line.

Dinner by a crackling fire

Macy's

Merry Christmas from Tudor Place

Christmas decorations as New York Public Library

Candy Tree at Dylan's Candy Bar Pop Up Shop

A 'wreathed' and bustling Grand Central Terminal

Toy Soldiers

Celebrity ornaments by Christopher Radko, exclusively for Bloomingdale's

Bloomingdale's window

Louis Vuitton for Bloomingdale's

Lady Gaga, for Barneys

Gaga's Crystal Cave at Barneys

Gaga's Boudoir at Barneys

The Plaza Hotel across from Central Park

Bergdorf Goodman, mirror/crystal window

Bergdorf Goodman, paper window

Avant-garde, haute couture, reflections at Bergdorf Goodman

Bergdorf Goodman, metallic window

Shopping at Tiffany & Co

Star light, star bright... make that wish on Fifth Avenue

Have a Happy and Safe Holiday!

Above it all: Manhattan’s High Line

Manhattan lives up to its hype. It works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, seemingly without a break. It’s where things happen; the world’s muse. Its avenues are well-trodden; the roads are in continual need of repair. It is where the hot dog+pretzel stand is about as ubiquitous as the yellow cab. Being a walking city, sometimes all of this hubbub just gets too much to deal with on a daily basis. The creation of Manhattan’s High Line is a bit of genius in the city that never sleeps. It’s a respite from the city down there, where one can peacefully observe the hustle and bustle from up top.

The High Line

The Standard Hotel

Elevated city view

I first read about the High Line in a travel magazine a few years ago and recall thinking what a great idea it was to reclaim something old and make it new again. In this case, preserving 30 foot high abandoned railway tracks and converting them into a usable public green space – now called the High Line. Facing demolition in 1999, a community group was formed – Friends of the High Line – and came to the rescue with the High Line proposition. Thankfully, the project was approved by the City of New York – the results of which we are able to enjoy today.

The Standard Hotel

Autumnal colours against the Hudson

Birch trees and grass

The park has opened in two phases since 2009. The first phase spans the area between the Meatpacking District (Gansevoort Street) and up to 20th Street. Phase two opened this year (2011), and furthers the walkway to 30th Street. The final phase, between 30th and 34th streets, called High Line at the West Side Rail Yards, has received commitment for development and plans are underway for its construction. Such is the significance of this project that in October 2011, the Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation (founded by the fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg, and her husband, Barry Diller) made a $20 million commitment to the High Line. This is the largest single private contribution to a public park in New York City’s history and will be put towards this final stretch of the project.

Factories and warehouses hug the High Line

Undercover windows

Fragments of the past

In a city where it may seem inconceivable to find space for more high rise developments, the Standard Hotel and quite a few condominiums have found a home by the High Line. Juxtaposed against the factories standing reminiscent of the West Side’s meatpacking and industrial days (some converted into luxury apartments), they make for an interesting design mix given their very different and even futuristic-looking exteriors. With the added vista of the Hudson River to one side, and city views from other vantage points – here, you’ve got a pretty good stake in New York real estate, complete with a 1.45 mile long garden.

Frank Gehry's IAC building (left); condos (right)

Condos.....

... and more condos.

In addition to being a public park that makes walking uptown and downtown that much more pleasurable, the High Line hosts interactive public art installations, performances, open air film screenings and exhibits throughout the year.

Art

The success of the High Line has been two-fold: not only does it attract two million visitors annually, but it has also inspired another green space project. Dubbed the “Low Line”, its plan proposes to restore a former trolley terminal under Delancey Street (Lower East Side), into an underground park. Read more here: NYTimes.com

True to its spirit, the residents and community of New York rallied together in support of this reclamation which has further stimulated the West Side’s rejuvenation. The High Line has successfully rehabilitated and preserved an essential part of New York’s history. Likely influenced by its Parisian predecessor, the Promenade Plantée – an elevated park built around a similar rail viaduct and inaugurated in 1993, Manhattan’s High Line has furthered interest for industrial restoration closer to home. Similar projects are in early stages in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Jersey City, and Chicago.

A linear view

Hudson River views

A great blog about Promenade Plantée can be found here:

Paris’ Promenade Plantée: The original High Line park | On the Luce.