Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Off-Highway (Second Leg of East Side Stroll - Fourth Chapter)

 A major housekeeping note.   Almost since I started blogging last year, I've not seen comments that people have tried to leave.   I think I have fixed the problem, so you may want to send a comment (either on the blog as a whole or on this new chapter).   If you do and I can read it, I promise to answer.

We seemed to be moving slower than usual up the trail...probably because of all the "rest stops" we took along the way.  We weren't particularly tired but I know that Nature Girl has had some issues with her foot and was probably grateful for every "sit down" along the way.  I also think we were trying to stop as much as possible to soak up all those warming rays of a waning summer sun -- feeling in our bones that we wouldn't have too many days left of  this glorious warmth.  

Still, it was time for us to forge north, with the FDR Drive whizzing by on our left and the East River (actually an estuary) rolling on its watery way to our right.  But, after only a few strides away from Buzzy O'Keefe's Water Club, we were thwarted in our efforts to keep walking along the riverside.

So, we followed this fence away from the river and towards the teeming traffic on the FDR.  

Was this the end of the trail?   Was this going to be the first time, since our quest began more than a year ago in Inwood Park at the tippy-top of Manhattan, that we'd have to walk more than a block away from a river? 
Were we going to meet our Waterloo on East 34th Street?
 We rounded the bend where the fence ended.  The situation did not look promising at all...

Parking lots...nothing but parking lots, and the UN tower cutting through the blue sky like an old-fashioned lighter, or a very fancy box-cutter.   I was about to throw in the proverbial towel but, as she has in the past, NG or Sacajawea (as she is often called -- mostly by me) was not going to let the obvious get in the way of her explorations.  She forged ahead, weaving around a Nissan here, and few Fords there.  Lo and behold, she guided us past the 34th Street Ferry Landing...

...and back onto the trail.   A valiant effort that put us back in touch with our "wet" side but, having spied the UN building in the nearing distance, I knew the end still loomed.   In the light of this, I found this little stretch of walkway all the more divine.
Once again, as we were closing in on the most Eastern part of 42nd Street, the warning signs of impending doom rose up in the form of waterside construction.
This looked even worse than before.  Cautiously we strode on, following a fence line, once more.
Miraculously, we were again rewarded with a "break in the fence" through which we scurried like Alice down the rabbit hole.  

And, what a delightful pocket of greenery and park-architecture awaited..
There was even one of those outdoor "fitness areas" which seemed particularly bizarre to find at this juncture.  
Have we talked about the lampposts on this East River walk?  Since this is the less renovated path, some extraordinary lamppost kept "popping up" as we trekked uptown, like these prime examples...
I never paid much attention to the design of light fixtures and signs until I was in Barcelona a few year's back and marveled at how the Spanish architects and building designers of the Arte Moderne Era (roughly straddling France's Belle Epoch to Art Deco decades).   Even the Gaudi-designed lampposts along one of the main boulevards was an object of great beauty and wonder.  Sad that the vast majority of outdoor lighting in our modern world looks so utilitarian and drab.  Not like these majestic survivors with white orbs proudly upright and unbroken by decades of weather abuse.  Well -- likely these have been replaced a few times over the past century that the lights have shined.  

But, unfortunately for the trek, another blocking fence came into view...and this one looked like the "real deal."   Yes, we'd hit the oft-cited "end of the road" at East 37th Street and had to exit to First Avenue walking underneath the FDR (nee East River Drive).

It was a relatively clean and classy exit -- a nice walkway from a (finally) dashed dream of circumnavigating Manhattan Island at it's shoreline.  Not to take away from the narrative drama, but I'd read enough to know that we were going to have to take to First Avenue around the UN, especially in these post 9/11 "terror alert" days.   Still, I was hoping for a few more blocks by the sea.   With  heavy feet and the FDR uncharacteristically on our right side, we started moving up to 38th Street, with all intentions of walking west to First Avenue.  

All of a sudden, I looked back towards the East River and I though I spied the bobbing heads of some bikers making their way up along the riverside north of where we were stopped...
Faster than a millipede, we were scrambling back under the FDR and along a dirt road not previously taken...

   We strode along it with great expectations of being among the few to find a way up along the East River on the riverside right past the UN.   Ha...that was certainly misplaced positive thinking!  We were locked out...and sent packing, for the third time, through the East 37th Street Underpass and now, without doubt, away from the river's edge.   Still, we were within the one block/view of river rule...

...for a little while, anyway!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

From 23rd Street Up -- I'm Sure (Second Leg of East River Stroll, Third Chapter)

I'm feeling incredibly "geographically-challenged."   I realized that I'd totally lost my "street" compass since starting the Second Leg of this walk and that all my street references in the first two chapters have been a bit askew.  You'd think that, having fairly successfully navigated my way through Rome, Tuscany, Siena, Chianti, Florence, Ravenna and Venice, I would not be stymied by a few blocks of waterway (hey, I was hardly lost in Venice -- which may or may not be a good thing). 

I've gone back in and made a few adjustments...you may want to re-read them so that you'll understand exactly where we are right now...which is at the southern end of the 23rd Street Boat Basin. 

Compare and contrast...this was behind us.
And, this was ahead...
We'd reached the 23rd Street Boat Basin, an area with which I'm pretty familiar, as I enter the FDR Drive quite frequently from my office, on the ramp that is right next to this part of the trail.  Ah yes, there's the gas station/boat dock with the waving palm trees...

We'd left the land of greenery and flowing water for cold, hard cement (though still with a water view).   We walked past the station, and the entrance to the apartment complex where our friend's mom lives (which I'd always envy every July 4th, as they had the absolute best views of the Macy's fireworks display on the East River).   Now that the fireworks have moved downtown further (and to the West Side), not so much. 

Where to go now?   Would it be trespassing to walk down what looked like a private entrance for cars picking up residents, and a private service entrance for trucks?   Well, better to try and be ejected, than not to have tried at all.   With Sacajawea leading the way, we walked down towards the water.

As we rounded the above tree, I had to pat myself on the back (again) for embarking on this walking odyssey in the first place.   One of the greatest pleasures of this walk has been discovering parts of the city that we never would have seen from a car or from taking the usual routes around town.  So, who knew that the British School is here...
...and that they have terrific views overlooking the water...

...and that the trail along the East River continues right past their windows.

After a brief rest...

...we were on the road again.
We continued walking northward along the riverbank, past stairways and skyscrapers (the start of the Bellevue Hospital/New York University Medical Center complexes). 
Not to go into my massive and varied history with the doctors and labs at NYU Medical Center -- let's just say I was overjoyed when my new favorite tea shop, Argo, opened in the lobby, right next to where you have your blood tested.  I'm there often enough that having my Chai Latte with Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup (with Half & Half) is a much anticipated treat!

As we kept walking, with the river and Long Island City on our right, and ahead our first sighting of the iconic United Nations Building...

...the thought of food started dancing around my brain.   I had recently read that famed chef and TV Food Network celebrity Tom Collichio (who my Brazilian relatives are convinced is a long-lost relative as they have the same family name) had just opened a new restaurant near NYU Medical Center, overlooking the East River, called RiverParc.  It had great potential for today's lunch option, as it had all the pre-requisites -- great food within sight of the river.  Only problem is that I wasn't sure exactly what street it was on. 
We kept walking towards another well-known sight on this side of the city...Buzzy O'Keefe's Water Club.
As we neared it, I reminisced about the many times I had been there...for drinks on the roof deck and, most memorably, for the wedding of an old college friend with whom I am no longer in touch (I was the matron of honor as it wasn't too long after the OG and I had tied the knot).  It was a rather strange wedding, and even a stranger, short-lived marriage, but I recall how lovely it was to have the ceremony and reception floating on the East River, under the stars.

We rounded the north side of the Water Club (where they used to dock a barge filled with sand that served as an urban beach in past summers (but don't know if it is still done).   There we found the parking lot for the restaurant, as well as some lovely flowering plants flanking modern wooded benches.  

Time for a sit-down (or shall I say a "lean-down")...

And, also a good time to take some photos, in front of us...

...behind us...

...and ahead of us.

As the Water Club wasn't a lunch option, I asked the OG to try to find the aforementioned RiverParc on his Blackberry.
To no avail.   We later learned (as you will, too) that this turned out to be a good thing, on many levels.
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