nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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All five boroughs, tick, done

Yes, I have now been to Staten Island! This is the fifth, least well known, least loved borough of New York City. It’s been on my list for a long time and today, a gorgeous day here in New York, we took a subway, a ferry and a bus in my quest to complete the set of five boroughs.

Most people go to Staten Island because it’s a free way to see the Statue of Liberty. If you get the free ferry, the big orange one, from Battery Park on the very southern tip of Manhattan, it takes 25 minutes to cross the five miles of water that separate the two boroughs, to reach Staten Island. And it seems that’s all people do. They are herded on like a lot of summery dressed cattle, all sit on the right side of the ferry (I’m surprised it does not tip over) and take their pictures. They are herded off the ferry, with very clear directions from the loudspeakers to get off the ferry as it’s not going straight back to Manhattan. And then they crowd back into the Staten Island ferry terminal to return to Manhattan. So in about an hour you’re done.

I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty many times now, it’s great, but not the focus of our trip. And as we get out into the bus terminal and head to our bus stop the only people left are the odd lady singing to herself and some people who clearly don’t live in Manhattan.

Our S40 (S for Staten Island) bus driver takes one look at us, me, J, E and my mum (over from the UK) and knows where we’re going. ‘You want the harbour?’ Why yes, we do. Thank you.

And by harbour (or harbor to the Americans) we mean Snug Harbor. It’s about a 10 minute bus ride along the top part of the island. I had thought it was a bit more commercial and refined for tourists, but no. It’s not a harbour, for a start. It’s a bunch of very old buildings, kind of naval looking, a kind of poor Greenwich. My mum wondered if we were supposed to be there at all. But no one stopped us.

And what a wonderful, peaceful place it turned out to be. After wandering around, following the maps, we came across a secret garden replete with maze to lose small children in; a ‘healing garden’ devoted to those who lost their lives on 9/11; and a children’s museum, shut, but could have been fun. It is so quiet, there are birds and fresh air. I’d forgotten what peace and fresh air were like – it’s neither, ever in Manhattan.

I don’t know that I’d add it to the guidebooks for tourists on limited time trips to New York, but for a getaway that costs five bucks each way, it’s a bargain. Just don’t forget to pack a picnic, there’s no food hawkers, no drink sellers, just birds and random whippets who appeared as we munched our sarnies. What a lovely day out.

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I don’t think we’re in Manhattan any more

There are five boroughs in New York, with Manhattan being the most well known. Staten Island suffered horribly in the Hurricane and is often forgotten as the island off the bottom of Manhattan. The Bronx is at the other end of Manhattan and whilst I have discovered there is a zoo and a botanical garden there (to be visited on warmer days) it still makes me think of scary New York of the 70s. Ed Koch, Mayor between 1978 and 1990 died recently and was credited with transformation of the Bronx and other run down parts of New York. This leaves Queens and Brooklyn. The latter is of course well known because the Beckhams called their eldest son after the borough – it’s certainly up and coming now, with Park Slope known as the nappy valley of New York.  I visited the Transit Museum today and got my first glance at Brooklyn. I only saw the civic parts around city hall and the MTA (transport authority) but it was a world apart from Manhattan. Lower built and more interesting to look at than the high rises of the Upper East Side. And as for Queens, well, I wouldn’t go there again unless there was a good reason. We went to Astoria, which is across the East River from the Upper East Side of Manhattan and it is pretty unloved and run down. The Museum of the Moving Image has been there for 20 years but it hasn’t led to any regeneration in the neighbourhood a la Tate Modern in London. The museum is great, hosting a computer games through the ages exhibit (or excuse for middle aged men to play with computer games dating back to their teens) and it did make me laugh to see the Wizard of Oz as part of the permanent exhibition, when the first thoughts I had when we emerged from the subway were “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto”.