Fugheddaboud What You Think You Know About Brooklyn

By Joann Klimkiewicz

The Hartford Courant

NEW YORK ~ Autumn showcases the Big Apple at its ripest, certainly one of the loveliest times to take in an ambling city stroll.

The skyline surrenders to a golden hue. A welcomed chill clings to the air. And the pace slows, if just for a sigh of a moment, before the crush of the holiday rush.

But regular New York day-trippers should bypass the tried and true of Manhattan for the city streets less traveled. Just a hop, skip and a borough away lies Brooklyn, ripe for its own autumnal exploration.

Brooklyn, you ask? The borough of Nathan’s hot dogs and Coney Island fame? The borough that bids drivers a prickly adieu with its expressway signage: “Leaving Brooklyn … Fugheddaboudit”?

Indeed, grit and attitude and heart. Brooklyn’s got it all. But there’s a whole other side to the borough that the uninitiated might not know: The Brooklyn of vibrant, trendsetting neighborhoods with their unique shops and sidewalk cafes, of serene landscapes and lush parks, of historic brownstones and community stoop culture.

A proper visit to the borough should begin with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, where regular New York visitors can symbolically leave the familiarity of Manhattan for the adventure of the unknown. Find the pedestrian walkway at Park Row and Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, just across from City Hall Park (by subway, take the 4,5,6 to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall, or the J,M,Z to Chambers Street).

Depending on how leisurely your stroll, a trek over the 5,989-foot expanse of steel and wire can take less than a half-hour, twice that if you stop often to soak in the views. And you should. They’re often proclaimed better than any offered by the tallest of New York skyscrapers. (Tip: If you’re on foot, hug the right side of the walkway to avoid the speeding cyclists and panting runners occupying the left).

Gazing from this perch above the East River is to see the literal nuts and bolts of the city and to appreciate the artistry of the bridge’s architects. Upon its completion in 1883, it stood as the largest suspension bridge in the world, and the first to be made of steel and wire.

Here the city’s skyline glistens behind you, with clear views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings to the left. Trudge farther to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to the right, and farther to get a view of the borough waiting to greet you. Along the way, make sure to linger at the twin gothic-style arches whose wide platforms are dotted with plaques detailing the bridge’s history – how it was built and what the views were like at its opening May 24, 1883.

As cabs rumble beneath and pedestrians swarm, it’s difficult not to recall another of the bridge’s historical footnotes: its use as a somber exit route from Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. Gazing across the river, you can’t help but replant the twin towers with your mind’s eye, imagining them back in their rightful spot, reaching up from the city skyline.

Once the bridge spills you out onto Adams Street, swing around to find 19 Old Fulton St. and stand in line beneath the bridge to get a taste of the fuss over Grimaldi’s famous coal-oven pizza. Linger to explore the waterfront and picturesque Brooklyn Heights, or hail a cab for greener pastures.

The best way to enter Prospect Park is by way of Grand Army Plaza, an elaborate arch adorned with bronze sculptures, including a bust of President Kennedy. It’s a bit of European flair, Brooklyn-style, right in the heart of a bustling intersection across from the Brooklyn Public Library. Visit on Saturdays, when vendors’ displays of fresh produce are dotted with fall’s golds and oranges and greens as the plaza plays host to New York City’s second-largest open-air farmers market.

Then, leave behind the blare of traffic, the noise of congregated police cars and busy hot dog carts and let yourself be swallowed by the lush calm of the park – another urban gem designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted.

“It’s often said that Olmsted and Vaux tested their ideas out at Central Park, and this is where they perfected them,” says Eugene Patron, a spokesman for the 585-acre park, created 10 years after the duo’s Manhattan urban oasis. “When you come into the park, you truly lose the city.”

And you lose yourself. Meander the well-marked trails and let them take you where they may. Stumble upon dribbling waterfalls, carved bridges, sweeping pond views and rolling, wide-open fields. Take in the colors of fall. Pack some snacks and spread a picnic out on the lawn. Or hunker down in one of the nooks furnished with wooden tables and barbecue pits, where you’re bound to get a friendly wave and a nod from a family out for an afternoon respite or a church group gathered for cookout.

This is Brooklyn?

“That’s the difference,” Patron says. “We’re really more people’s back yard. People really come here and use the park in a way you don’t see in Central Park. We’re really a community place.

“We’re still Brooklyn.”

Once you’ve had your fill of looping trails and leafy strolls, head to the eastern edge of the park to the Prospect Park Zoo or the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which dubs itself a 52-acre “living museum.” An October visit explodes with horticultural color – golden ginkgos and crimson sorrel trees. If art’s your thing, stop into the neighboring Brooklyn Museum, one of the country’s oldest and largest art museums. Here you can peruse the museum’s renowned Egyptian masterpieces and contemporary art, housed in a 560,000-square-foot Beaux-Arts building.

Find the park’s western edge and spill out into aptly named Park Slope – a crown jewel of Brooklyn neighborhoods. Its tree-lined streets, romantic brownstones and cozy cafes emanate a family-friendly, Sesame Street vibe. It all makes you want to park yourself on one of the well-manicured stoops and chat with the congregating neighbors.

“The city can be quite chaotic. This is a different experience,” says Loriann Shaheen, of Bed & Breakfast on the Park. Run by proprietor Liana Paolella, the antique-filled, seven-room B&B on Prospect Park West serves up a breakfast that includes crepes, fresh fruit and baked pear pancakes. In the fall, guests scramble for their top-floor “Lady Liberty” room, which boasts a private garden with a view of the crimson and gold treetops, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan.

“This (neighborhood) really gives you more of a flavor of how people in the city, how people in Brooklyn really live. It’s quite lovely.”

There’s certainly still a bustle as you walk the main stretches of Fifth and Seventh avenues, packed with mom-and-pop shops of unique baubles and gifts, and restaurants that cover every culinary taste – Thai, Indian, Italian, French, vegetarian. Emanating from every street corner is an ease and a neighborly feel not always felt across the river in the Big Ripe Apple.

Ending your day in Park Slope, you linger and you walk and talk. You shop and explore. You sit and dine. But you don’t dare look to the Brooklyn Bridge as your ticket back to Manhattan.

Your feet are begging for mercy by now.

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