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Beyond Manhattan


Exploring the boroughs of NYC

Posted on September 3, 2019

Until recently, I’d only seen Brooklyn as the slightly gritty backdrop of some of my favorite movies. I was a fan of Annie Hall and my mother and I loved Moonstruck, which we frequently watched together. Neither of these films inspired me to plan a visit to this part of NYC.

More recently, I shared the stage at The San Diego Travel Show with the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown, who lives in Brooklyn, specifically Park Slope, and fondly described her “gentrified” neighborhood.

That piqued my interest and yet, to me, New York City was still just Manhattan. I repeatedly returned to Broadway, Central Park, and Fifth Avenue — and Brooklyn remained unvisited.

Boroughs of NYC
Innovative Brooklyn: a rooftop greenscape

It might have been like this forever if my favorite great nephew hadn’t announced he was getting married, in Brooklyn. “And,” his mother informed me, “the parties the night before the wedding and the morning after will also be there, so you should definitely stay nearby.”

I got busy doing my homework and learned that Brooklyn is the most populous of the five boroughs that comprise New York City. The Bronx is the northernmost borough. Queens is geographically the largest. Manhattan is the smallest and most densely populated, and Staten Island is the most suburban in character.

Until we arrived, I couldn’t imagine why Brooklyn, a place I perceived as “gritty,” was known as “the borough of trees,” but that soon made sense. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is more than just the name of an old movie. Leafy maples, oaks, and others line the city streets and provide shade for visitors to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Boroughs of NYC
Brooklyn Botanic Garden provides a welcome respite from the busy city

I was further nonplussed at the sight of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in the middle of the busy traffic circle at Grand Army Plaza, the main entrance to Prospect Park. This impressive monument is very similar to and every bit as impressive as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The arch was built to honor the soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War.

Boroughs of NYC
The stunning arch in Grand Army Plaza honors soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War

And Prospect Park itself — a 585-acre oasis near Park Slope — offers walking paths, sweeping lawns, ballfields, lakes for kayakers, and a skating rink. The park was created by Frederick Olmsted, who also co-designed Central Park in Manhattan. The Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are adjacent to the park.

Boroughs of NYC
The Boathouse, a Beaux-Arts building in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, dates from 1905

Multiple subway lines make Brooklyn a convenient commute from anywhere in Manhattan, and the parks and gardens are ideal for families. Given this, I wasn’t surprised by the stroller brigade led by a legion of nannies marching past rows of well-kept brownstones.


Best Brooklyn Eats

When our Uber stopped in front of Romans, I thought the driver had made a mistake. The humble storefront didn’t resemble the restaurant my nephew had recommended. However, once inside, the cozy chic décor confirmed we were at the right place. I loved the bar with the white marble top and the bentwood chairs at a dozen tables. Their farm-to-table Italian fare was full of great flavors. My husband and I enjoyed tortellini with pea shoots, braised lamb with tomatoes and cucumbers, and fava bean puree with Benza olive oil. I was confused when our waiter told us he started working at Romans just to get the recipe for the dark chocolate sorbet, but after tasting it, I completely understood.

Best Brooklyn Sleeps

Given the area’s industrial history, it’s easy to understand why a few hotels are built into former warehouses, but we opted for a modern high-rise with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline. Rooms at The William Vale aren’t overly spacious, but there’s nothing quite like waking up during the night and gazing at those famous lights.

Boroughs of NYC
There are few better views of the Manhattan skyline than the one from the rooftop of The William Vale

More Boroughs

Unless you’re a student at Fordham University, I don’t recommend staying in The Bronx. However, the New York Botanical Garden in this borough is a must for nature lovers. The train from Grand Central Station in Manhattan provides convenient access. Brazilian Modern: the Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx, which combines lush gardens and vibrant art, will be on display until September 29.

Boroughs of NYC
The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is one of the world’s best

You probably also won’t want to stay on Staten Island, but the free-of-charge Staten Island ferry offers great views of the Statue of Liberty. The route runs 5.2 miles through New York Harbor and takes 25 minutes.

If the ferry feels familiar, it might be because it played a starring role in Spider-Man: Homecoming.   Elizabeth Hansen

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