July 24, 2009
And by that I mean a beautiful island. Namely, Governors Island which sits, serenely, off the bottom tip of another island, Manhattan. An island so named, because when the Brits took over from the Dutch in 1674 (after a 10-year period of back-and-forth control), they did so for the “benefit and accommodation of His Majesty's Governors.” Never mind for the benefit of the original people who lived in the area - the Native Americans of Manahatas. The Dutch, efficient (and greedy) businessman that they were, had already purchased the island (which the Native Americans called Pagganck) for "two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails." It wasn't until 110 years later in 1784, however, that the island officially received its current name: Governors Island. Over the years, the isle served a mostly military purpose. Given its strategic location, forts were built that served to keep the British from even attempting to take New York during the War of 1812. If you're interested in more history than that you can go to the Island's website here.
Now for the real purpose of this post. Wow! This is a fabulous place! It's one of our city's new parks that will offer one a fantastic view and appreciation of our grand and magnificent harbor. Open Fridays and weekends form May 30th to October 11th , one can board a free ferry at the foot of Whitehall Street (just east of the Staten Island Ferry terminal ). You can board the ferry on foot or on bike but, happily, not by car. And you can rent a bike or a 4-wheeled bike-buggy on the island. On Fridays, bike rentals are even free but get there early as they go fast.
This place is a magical gem with a new and spectacular view at every turn in the road that one uses to circumnavigate the island. Here there are concerts, a sand "beach" (no swimming), free kayaks, art exhibits, cafes and food concessions and the most marvelous picnic locations, complete with sprawling lawns, lovely old shade trees, tables, benches and glorious hammocks! Then again, you can picnic in Nolan Park in the center of the island. A lovely oasis of towering London plane trees on each side of the center common are bordered with 19th century Victorian frame houses, used by the officers who inhabited this place once upon a time. Set up your picnic right on one of the porches and relax in the shade of the trees. If you want to avoid crazy crowds, you're probably better off on a Friday than a weekend.
Stacey and I started out on Friday morning. We mounted our bikes and headed for the Brooklyn Bridge, about three miles from our home in Prospect Heights. Though we've ridden over the bridge countless times, it's still a thrill. The views of lower Manhattan, the East River, the poetic structure of the bridge itself are always inspring.
(Note: You can click on any photo to see it larger). Stacey leads the way as we biked across the Brooklyn Bridge - awe-inspiring visit in its own right. Destination - Governors Island.
Biking the Brooklyn Bridge is a trip back to the late 1800's - a gargantuan stone structure that has stood the test of time. Just a few years later, the Williamsburg Bridge was constructed all of steel.
Midway across the bridge we stop to view our destination - that verdant island on the horizon in the middle of the harbor The large construction site just below is a future section of the miles-long Brooklyn Bridge Park that is being built along the East River.
We biked down Broadway and reached the ferry which is free and runs every hour on the hour (island bound).
"Are there sharks in the water? Can you ride a bike over there? Where are the bikes? What would happen if we fell in the water here?" And a hundred other questions.
A view off the port side of the ferry with a view up the East River to the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges.
Leaving Manhattan behind.
When you finish the short ferry ride and exit the ferry, it feels a bit like you're immigrants, newly-arrived at Ellis Island. People pour off the boat, on foot and bike, and look around, puzzled about what to do and where to go. Maps are available and friendly staff are all about to answer your queries.
"OK, we're here. Now what?"
After a stop in the bathroom, Stacey and I set off to explore the island. A bike path beckoned to the left and off we went. This appeared to be the circumferential road. We wanted to make a loop - several miles around - to see the views it afforded. Then we'd check out a bit of the island's interior. The park is still a work in progress - much of it is off bounds as old Coast Guard buildings and facilities are renovated and made accessible to the public. But already the park incorporates a large expanse of recreational space including the 2.2 mile "Great Promenade" which we were setting off on our bikes.
A view across the harbor and up the East River. Benches and picnc spots abound on the Great Promenade that rings the island.
Say, that's cool! These 4-wheeled, 4-person bike buggies are for rent - free on Fridays - for those of you who don't know how to balance on two wheels.
You're in for a treat when you come around the southern tip of the island. (Remember to click any photo for a larger version).
As we continue around the island, an awesome view of Manhattan.
Stacey rounds the northwest corner of the island at Castle Williams which protected the city from British invasion in 1812.
We finished our ride with an brief exploration of the center of the island. Here we discovered more charm: Colonel's Row and Nolan's Park - both lined with 19th century officers' homes and the Parade Grounds, a vast expanse of lawn. There's also a public school that served the children of Coast Guard service personnel and a movie theater that was showing a scary summer thriller. All these are free for you to enter and explore.
Colonel's Row, in the center of the island, with tree-shaded walkways, beautiful old houses and plenty of room for picnics or exploring.
Whoa! A giant ship appears and docks across Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn. The scale and scope of the harbor is enormous when viewed from this location.
We stopped at the Water Taxi sand beach (one of several throughout the city). This is equipped with, yes, sand and picnic tables. Adjacent is a hot dog stand where we stopped for a frank and a ice cold one before boarding the ferry back to Manhattan.
Nolan Park, surrounded by 19th century homes. One can sit on a porch and relax of have a picnic.
The Water Taxi sand "beach," with picnic tables, food concession and a palm tree.
It was a perfect few hours. The day had threatened rain with ominous clouds as we started out but, as seems to happen lately, had turned into a clear blue sky with puffy white clouds. We promised to return to explore some more. This is a great NYC destination that you should put on the top of your list for things to do and see in our city. See you on the bike path! - Matt
P.S. To see all my photos of Governors Island, click here for a SLIDE SHOW or here to visit the PHOTO GALLERY.