Skyscrapers. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Yankees. The Statute of Liberty. Times Square. And Central Park. New York City is home to thousands of famous landmarks, people, food, and sports teams. NYC is also home to the world-famous Central Park. Central Park is often noted as the “lungs of New York” because the park encompasses over 800 acres of meadows, trees, and woods on the “concrete” island of Manhattan. While millions of New Yorkers spend countless hours working on the 49th floor of a skyscraper in the financial district, commuting underground on the extensive subway system that may not always be on time, or driving a taxi in bummer-to-bummer traffic, the smart ones escape to the tranquility and greenery of Central Park.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a city girl. While I find each and every city I’ve been to fascinating and exciting in their own rights, I just have a hard time ever falling for one, except New Orleans. New Orleans you stole my heart in June. When I travel to a new city, there are 5 things I like to do:
- Photograph the architecture and street art
- Eat the local food
- People watch (Times Square, you are fabulous for this!)
- Explore the city by foot (To obviously burn off all the crap I probably just ate!)
- Find the local park (and maybe exercise)
When I was in NYC a few years ago, I was able to explore a little bit of the southern tip of the park. However, I knew on this trip, I wanted to spend an afternoon leisurely strolling through the park observing its’ people and the landscape. Secretly, I squealed with delight every time I recognized a screen from Gossip Girl. Dear Blair Waldorf, Can we please be friends? I might not wear designer clothes, but I used to hang with the mean girls! 🙂
Central Park began construction in 1858 and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Olmstead also designed Parc du Mont-Royal in Montreal. Thousands of workers shifted and moved over 10 million cartloads of soil to transform the former swamp and rocky outcrops into the park that it is today. Central Park is the most visited park in the United States and one of the most filmed locations in the world. During the 1860s, New York’s wealthy showed off their fancy carriages and the poor enjoyed free Sunday concerts during the 1880s. Central Park has history and character much like New York City.
Central Park’s terrain is surprisingly diverse. I know a lot of triathletes and runners who train in Central Park and I always thought it was a big, flat loop. But to my surprise, that park is hilly! I now have a new respect for those athletes.
I started my adventure through Central Park in the lower section near Columbus Center and The Pond. The main highlight of the pond area is the Gapstow Bridge located at the northeast end of the pond. The original wood and cast iron railing bridge was built in 1874, but was replaced by the current stone bridge in 1896. The leaves and foliage on the bridge were just starting to change colors while I was there.
After making my way around the pond, I spent some time people watching and listening to the street musicians. One thing that I do love about New York is the fact that it is a melting pot of races and culture. The American Dream is still alive in the eyes of some. While my feet were beginning to ache from walking almost the entire length of Manhattan over the previous 12 hours, I began my way north through Sheep Meadow and the Strawberry Fields. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for the last weekend in September. Fall might have officially began a week earlier, but summer was still blazing her way through NYC.
The meadow and the nearby sports fields were bustling with young adults drinking wine and reading on picnic blankets while parents were chasing their hyperactive children around while balancing hot dogs and cellphones in their hands. The Bethesda Fountain was teeming with people – locals and tourists alike. A group of street performers whom I saw twice around the Brooklyn Bridge area the day before were putting on a show near the fountain with a large gathering of people. I watched part of the show the day prior and I must admit, they are quite funny and talented. It’s not always something you see on the streets of New York where everyone’s dream seems to be a Broadway star or model. The fountain was created in 1868 by bohemian-feminist sculptor Emma Stebbins. The area is frequently featured in hundreds of movies and tv shows, including Godspell, Elf, The Avengers, and Gossip Girl.
One of the landmarks that I was excited to see was the Conservatory Water where children sail through model boats. Children can rent remote control sailboats and sail their boats around the small pond. I lucked out that during my time at the pond, I had the most beautiful light shining on the water. I’m still learning about photography and light, but I enjoyed shooting the boats spinning circles on the glass-like water. Unfortunately, I missed the Alice in Wonderland statute nearby.
Before heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I headed over to Loeb Boathouse and the lake to watch all the lovers row their overly-priced rented rowboats around the lake in an epic romantic gesture only seen in movies. All the couples must have been staring deeply into each other’s eyes because no one sunk or tipped their boats to my disappointment. Next up was The Met. I didn’t have time or the money to actually go into the Met, but I wanted to see the famous stairs to the Met and pretend that I was a Constance Billard’s girl! Don’t judge. Gossip Girl is a great show. 🙂
After purchasing an overpriced bottle of water and chugging it while shooing pigeons away, I began my limp back over to the other side of the park. By the time I made my way through the wooden path where I was pretty sure I was going to be attacked by the Blair Witch, I was happy to see the Belvedere Castle. Belvedere Castle was designed and built by Calvert Vaux in 1869. The Gothic-Romaneqsue castle serves no other purpose than a very dramatic lookout point for tourists and home to the Central Park weather station. Because obviously the weather is different in Central Park than in Manhattan?
I climbed my way back down through the woods looking over my shoulder while seeing teenagers and adults alike smoking pot or making out in the brushes. Welcome to New York, right?! I ended my adventures in Central Park at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a 106-acre body of water that used to provide clean water to the city. Now it is home to numerous waterbirds and a 1.58-mile track around its’ edges. The pond serves as a stunning backdrop to see beautiful reflections of the New York City skyline. I can still picture Charlotte jogging around the second Sex and the City movie. Was it wrong that I was hoping to see the cast filming a third movie there?
During my self-guided walking tour of Central Park, I was able to explore some of the highlights of the park. I was excited to cross off some of the famous landmarks, but I would love to go back and explore more of the northern area of the park and have a picnic with some friends in one of the many green areas. Central Park was a great escape from the constant movement and noise of the city; however, I still felt like I was in city. Maybe third times the charm?