Adventures Close to Home
Spring had finally arrived, and Yao Yao and I were kicking around ideas for what we could do to celebrate. Now, people who live in, say, California may not feel the need to celebrate the season’s arrival, but those of you in the Northeast know that feeling of complete joy and gratitude that comes over you when you can finally step outside with but a single layer of clothing between you and the elements. I really understand now what drove people to put on dirndls and Tyrolean hats and dance around the Maypole – you’re just so darned glad to be in the fresh air!
So we had one stipulation for the type of activity we were looking for: Whatever it was, it had to be outdoors.
We decided to spend the day in Manhattan – a “tourist day,” a day spent exploring places a tourist would typically visit.
It’s an odd feeling when we “discover” the amazing places so close to home that we have never visited. I’ve lived in southwest Connecticut for 20 years and have never been to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. We’ve been to iconic sites all over the world – the coliseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (where I grew up) – but the places close to home are “too touristy”? Come on!
It’s not that we hadn’t explored New York: Over the years, we had spent countless hours in the Museum of National History, The Metropolitan Museum, and MOMA, and wandering through Soho, Chinatown, and Tribeca, but we wanted something different, something new.
So we enlisted Mr. Google to help us come up with ideas of places we hadn’t truly explored or an activity we had never done. After 15 minutes, we had a plan. We would go to Central Park, take a section, and “go deep.” We decided we would explore the middle section of Central Park, or “mid-Central,” as it’s called. Yao Yao wanted to rent a rowboat and I knew she would love the little sailboats, so off we went. It’s odd how you can plan and plan and have a so-so day and sometimes you can take off with a half baked plan and have an extraordinary time.
This day was one of those exceptional days.
Perhaps it was the balmy spring weather and foliage in a riot of color? Or the amazing luck of finding our way to the right entrance to the park? Or was it finding a reasonably priced parking garage where you don’t have to sell your first born to pay the freight?
Anyway, at Loeb’s Boathouse, we rented a rowboat and set out to explore the lake. Yao Yao took the helm, and though we were a bit rocky at first (we almost did a header into the questionable water) within minutes she was an expert. “I’m the captain now,” she announced. ( In full disclosure, she had no idea what movie she was referencing, but Jim, my husband, and I often use that line to claim power at any given moment.)
Surprisingly, there was no wait to rent a boat, and the cost was amazingly low – just $12 an hour. We saw birds galore, turtles all over the rocks, and little bridges to nowhere. An hour proved to be the perfect amount of time on the water. Any longer might be construed to be child labor, as I did no rowing and contented myself to sit regally like the Queen of the Lake.
After our leisurely time on the water, we decided it was time to rent the little sailboats. We stopped at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, which, even at my advanced age, I found impressive. Then we headed to the Conservatory Water and Gardens. This area immediately reminded Yao Yao of the Tuileries in Paris, which we had visited and biked through last year. Replete with climbing structures, an outdoor café, and even a little clubhouse full of antique model boats, it’s where E.B. White chose to set Stuart Little, the best-loved children’s novel. Conservatory Water has radio- and wind-powered sailboats that glide across the pond, and once Yao Yao took the helm of her little boat, we joined the company of other Weekend Captains who plowed the main (or the pond) with their own little crafts. And all the while, the birds that landed on the water’s edge watched us.
We turned in our sailboat and controls and sat in the cafe eating ice cream and just enjoying our time together. It was a magical day, and it was clear to both of us that there was so much more to do. Ice skating in Winter, a closer look at Strawberry Fields – well, there’s always next time.
We headed out of the park and had planned to eat at the Boat House for lunch, but Yao Yao opted for her favorite restaurant back home in Connecticut. After getting into the car, she announced, “Best day ever!” and was asleep in minutes. It was at least one of the best days ever – and we didn’t even have to go through customs!
Hire a gondola, a bicycle, or a row boat. Sit in a cafe on the water or have a lovely lunch in the Boat House. Pay tribute to the Beatles at Strawberry Fields or head to Belvedere Castle – and that’s just part of mid-Central Park. From April through October, the park comes alive and yet even in the coldest of months there is much to do. You can skate, take a horse and buggy ride, and cavort in the snow. Fredrick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux sure knew what they were doing.
Check out the website or give them a call. They were really helpful. Make sure to read the “Plan Your Trip” section. It has a lot of great advice and all the rules of engagement.
19 fun things to do in New York. Great sight that uses the filter of a child.
Great collection of things to do in New York whether you are young or old.
An overview of the history of New York’s Central Park and a bit about my personal hero, Fredrick Law Olmstead