As much as I love the city, having been here for a year straight with only the occasional weekend away, the place does start to get to me. Especially in the summer. The subways are just as crowded, except everyone is hot and smells bad and they’re sweaty and when they bump up against you they transfer some of their sweat onto you. Not that I blame them – I’m doing the same myself. But can’t I get a little breathing room over here?
Two easy weekend get-aways, just a subway ride away, have convinced me that you don’t have to spend a lot of money – or even leave the city – to experience space and fresh air, and return to the soot and crowds and $4 lattes refreshed and ready for anything.
The first is Coney Island, which I have written about before. There are now four trains that go to Coney Island: the D, F, N, and Q. Attractions include a stellar aquarium, the famous Sideshow, Astroland and the Cyclone. My favorite entertainments, though, are the unofficial ones – like the guy who sits in front of the aquarium with a lip-syncing puppet, and the dead-pan barker for “Shoot the Freak,” a game in which patrons are given the opportunity to shoot a very un-freakish human target. There’s karaoke on the boardwalk, but if you value your eardrums, steer clear. Also waaay more tattoos than the Jersey shore, by far. The last time I was there I stood in line at Nathan’s behind a guy who had the Starship Enterprise (from Star Trek) on his left bicep, and on his right calf, what my friend described as “a monk with a machine gun.”
The next easy getaway is the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum’s medieval collection at Fort Tryon Park. Maybe everyone’s already been there, but I made it up for the first time this weekend and man, is it beautiful. Hilly, in full bloom, with a gorgeous view of the river, you won’t believe you’re still in Manhattan.
The Cloisters are home to the Unicorn Tapestries, 500 years old and largely considered one of the finest works of art in the world. Back in April the New Yorker magazine ran a piece about the Tapestries. Although the article was primarily about the difficulties in photographing the tapestries in high-res, it obviously stimulated interest and led readers to believe the tapestries had been recently restored. Make no mistake – the restoration took place over 10 years ago, it was only the difficulties with the digital images that have been recently overcome. That doesn’t diminish their beauty, however, and shouldn’t give you any less reason to make the trek up to 190 St. on the A.
And finally, for a cool, peaceful moment, whenever I find myself somewhere near the Central Park Zoo, I like to walk through and pass by the polar bear tanks. There’s a spot on the walk where you can see them, without actually buying a ticket to enter the zoo. They swim gracefully, in their bright blue pool, and give the impression of coolness, even if us local bipeds can’t experience much of it ourselves these days.