For a first-time visitor to the Big Apple, the “New York State of Mind” was more like planning three moves ahead in a strategic board game. Knowing which subway line to take, where to find a good place to eat, or how to navigate our whereabouts without a phone’s GPS coordinates took a little patience and flexibility. It was also a great adventure for us to be discovering such an exciting city. Granted, we are not complete newbies to navigating a major city as we have traveled extensively on other trips. There is just nothing like New York City where you can feel the overwhelming presence of humans surrounding you in popular places like Times Square or Rockefeller Center. While most neighborhoods aren’t quite that crowded, there was one place where we felt an openness incomparable to any other—Central Park.
We could have spent a whole day wandering around Central Park. At 2.5 miles long and 0.5 mile wide, Central Park has a total of 843 acres including a zoo, a castle, two ice skating rinks, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We entered the park from the south end at 59th street from the subway station and quickly felt relief to be away from the traffic. The path ahead curved around a bend where runners chatted while checking their watches in the pedestrian lane. There were no signs or maps so we followed the path to the right in the direction of the ice skating rink. There were vendors selling maps, but it didn’t seem to be a necessary expense for us.
The landscape of Central Park was most surprising as visible rock formations jutted from sloping hills inviting park visitors to climb its facade. They were wonderful feats of nature but seemed out of place in the heart of the city. While some of this bedrock has original north-south lines on its surface, the history of Central Park’s geography involved major construction and relocation of its natural elements in the 1850’s under Fredrick Law Olmsted’s park design. A Critical Look at Central Park’s Design- Untapped Cities
Derek felt compelled to learn more about Manhattan’s history during our trip by reading the book “Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan” by Phillip Lopate” where the author writes that “Central Park was the stroke of genius needed to complete the grid… of man-made Nature: the largest and greenest of rectangles, superimposed on the checkerboard.”
To an extent, I felt like we were going back in time where things moved slower and it took time to walk from one area of the park to another. There were very few automobile intersections with the carriage lanes in their place trotting across beautifully designed bridges and unique winding, paths. American Elm trees lined the perimeter of the Mall with artists and musicians serenading those passing by. We took our time to stroll while holding hands instead of our normal full-speed ahead power walk to the next destination.
We considered skating on Wollman Rink, now renamed Trump Rink, but thought better of it when comparing it to our favorite rink at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This rink may have been bigger, but it was a little overcrowded for our personal preferences. It was a beautiful spot to skate with the skyscrapers towering above.
Instead, we chose to visit the Chess House for some visitor suggestions where we were challenged to a game by local chess master, Matthew. He wanted to take on both of us so we teamed up to play him while chatting. I loved the serendipity of the pleasant encounter on such a beautiful afternoon. The character of these old buildings was simply charming.
We milled about the paths in blissful enjoyment without a care in the world or an item on our agenda until we came to an underpass where the sound of Christmas carolers led us to the sight of a magnificent bubble floating away.
The bubble maker casually dipped his sticks into his bucket and then coaxed it to expand with the breeze as he slowly stepped back. The small gathering of people recorded his performance and giggled as the bubbles grew larger before vanishing in thin air. It was such a simple pleasure, yet so fascinating that all we could do was admire the translucent colors drifting above.
There came a point when our stomachs were louder than our thoughts and we had to start winding down the sightseeing. There was so much left to be seen that it just could not be completed in our day. Central Park was like a walk back in time to an old city that set aside this plot of land for our delight. It was nice to get away from the streets and breathe in a refreshed New York state of mind.