Tag Archives: Upper East Side

Visiting Roosevelt Island

Getting to Roosevelt Island requires nothing more than a MetroCard swipe. Just another New York neighborhood, right?

Wrong!

Roosevelt Island feels like a completely different world. It’s located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens and you can get there either by taking the F train or by taking the Roosevelt Island tram, which was a quick little ride. It’s a lot of fun to see New York’s streets from a couple hundred feet in the air.

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You can access the Roosevelt Island tramway from its only station on 59th and 2nd.

The first thing I noticed is that Roosevelt Island is quiet. You can see all of Manhattan’s traffic on FDR Drive but can’t hear any of it. Roosevelt Island is only two miles long and you can walk the entire thing without needing to stop for a car to pass. About 12,000 people live in this strange little city of its own, with the helpful amenities of Duane Reade, a fruitcart seller, three restaurants, and a library and school.

What Roosevelt Island also has in abundance, however, is a lot of outdoor recreation space. This also made it feel like a completely different world. Manhattan does an excellent job of creating these spaces, but the number of parks, athletic fields, playgrounds, and pools on the island was really surprising. It even has a community garden with separate plots so you can have your own garden within a garden!

 

Once on Roosevelt Island, my friend and I stopped first at The Octagon, a fancy apartment building that used to be the main entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum:

People were taking wedding photos in front of it, which I can understand because the stone is beautiful. But I couldn’t help but think of Shutter Island and the sorrow of that story. What lives were lived here? What lives were lost? What stories were never told, or told and disbelieved?

The spooky, eerie feeling of Roosevelt Island remained with me despite the heat and bright sunlight. Our conversation turned to other psychological thrillers and horror movies as we walked to the lighthouse at the northern tip of the island.

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There’s clearly a legacy of advocacy on Roosevelt Island. The island is currently home to a K-12 school for students with disabilities, as well, so it was nice to see activism as a continuing conversation. Likewise, it was disturbing to think that such a calm, quiet oasis had been used as a place to remove individuals from society. (Kind of like Australia’s history as a British penal colony.)

From the lighthouse, we walked south, passing by a modern art commentary on what Roosevelt Island and New York City often represent:

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Clever, right?

As we walked south, we also passed Blackwell House, which dates from 1796. It changed hands a number of times and often housed the administrators of several Roosevelt Island institutions. You can read about it (and about Roosevelt Island’s five other Landmark buildings) here.

On the southern tip of Roosevelt Island lies perhaps its most interesting attraction: an abandoned smallpox hospital! The building was protected by a fence but the shell that remained, slicing straight through the sky, gave me chills:

At one time, those rooms were full. The walls closed in on the patients and on themselves. The ivy covering the building, blowing gently in the light wind, gave it a lifelike quality that juxtaposed sharply with the empty tree branches. Something’s wrong here.

People were quiet as they approached, looked around, took photos, and continued walking south to the park, concert venue, and memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that occupies the remainder of the island. I won’t say that I believe in ghosts but if I did, I’d be certain that this island is haunted.

And that’s reason in itself to go visit! Happy exploring!

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Wanderings Roundup

Back in October I was in a pretty dark place and amused myself by wandering around New York and taking photos of whatever made me smile. I’m in a much healthier place now, which means exploring alternative work/life/living options but also becoming increasingly positive about the possibility of staying where I am and continuing to do what I’m doing. The more time I spend in New York, the more I like it. Most days, anyway.

Lately I’ve been taking pictures of things that surprise me, things that don’t instantly come to mind when I think “New York City”. Below are some of my recent favorites. Enjoy!

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Playground in Stuy Town
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Museum of Natural History
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Times Square , which is not surprising but still takes my breath away at night
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Bridge in Koreatown
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Church on the Upper East Side
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Children’s bookstore on the Upper East Side
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Cemetery in Greenwich Village
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Homes in Greenwich Village

There’s no question in my mind that New York is an incredible city. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been and I’ve been a lot of places. I will never be sorry for the time that I’ve spent here, even the times I looked into the East River and wondered what it would take to disappear. New York has made me stronger, braver, more compassionate. I am continually astonished at how hard people work here, how much energy there is for all things at all times. The more people I talk to, the more stories I hear. Everyone is on a quest for something and everyone is sure they’ll find it.

I hope they do.

Searching for Myself in a Cup of Coffee

It should come as no secret to the careful reader that I am struggling here in New York. In addition to missing everything about living in Singapore, except for the humidity, I’m finding it very difficult to adjust to being alone, being in a new place, and being back in the US in general.

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View of the West Side from Engineers Gate in Central Park

In an effort to feel more at home in New York, I’ve been spending a lot of time in cafés to read, write, and people watch. Coffee makes everything better, and usually so does being a quiet observer among strangers. Having a legitimate reason to look around makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself, which is an important shift in perspective when I get too stuck in my own head.

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I think I’m mostly doing what that cat is doing. Watching and waiting.

A good deal of my coffee drinking has been at B Cup Café. As I’ve written before, it’s really close to my apartment and plays great music. It also serves good coffee and excellent shakshuka. I’ve been there at least four times, which practically makes me a regular. Based on my own habits, anyway.

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However, I’m bad at sitting at the best of times and caffeine doesn’t help. So I’ve also been wandering around the East Village and taking pictures of everything colorful in an effort to improve my mood and general outlook. That’s a thing, right? Color therapy? I’m not sure if it’s working but I did find some delightful street art:

The East Village is enjoyably quirky in a number of other ways, too. Examples:

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The most exciting part of my wandering today was green space! Neighborhood parks are so important in building community, and seeing them always makes me happy. More than a few parks have started decorating for Halloween, too. I passed by one of those today, as well as a couple parks that aren’t quite on the decorating bandwagon (yet?):

Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of my reading and writing (including this blog post) has taken place at cafés. I’m at Think Coffee at the moment, not because I actually wanted the coffee but because I’m also not good at being home for more than a few hours at any one point during the day. Again, I tend to spend too much time in my own head that way. I do a heck of a lot better at work, which often makes me feel more comfortable than I do during the weekends. (I know. I know, I know. Famous last words.)

I realize I’ve been saying “I’m not good at” fairly often lately. Maybe that’s part of the problem at this point. I don’t know anymore what I am good at. Learning. I guess I’m good at that. At least, I try to be.

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A little light reading, courtesy of the New York Public Library. Croissant sandwich and coffee from Petite Shell on the Upper East Side.

If you’re looking for me, I’m probably in a coffee shop. If not, chances are I will be soon. I always take my coffee black. Thanks for asking!