By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
Amid the mayhem of man-made Manhattan, there’s a milelong stretch of steel and concrete where nature flourishes.
No, it’s not Central Park. It’s a reclaimed piece of elevated railway transformed in recent years into The High Line, a gem of a park on the West Side.
Running from the Penn Station rail yards south to the Meat Packing district, The High Line offers views of the city’s skyscape and the Hudson River, all framed by the aging infrastructure and the beauty of the planned gardens.
The result is one of many great ways to explore New York for free. It’s also a way to get connected to the city’s complex and layered history.
During a recent trip to New York, I spent time doing my favorite things — eating a giant roast beef deli sandwich, jogging in Central Park and seeing a show on Broadway — and enjoying new adventures on free walks, and visiting two fascinating, off-the-beaten-track museums.
I started at The High Line. First opened in 2009, 10 more blocks were added last year nearly doubling the length. Soon the park will extend even farther north, offering peeks into the vast rail network that keeps the bustling metropolis of 60 million people moving.
This stretch of elevated rail came about in the 1930s as a way to safely separate freight traffic from the crowded city streets. As trucks replaced trains, the rails went cold.
A vast portion of the line was demolished in the ’60s. By 1980, the last train rolled along the tracks where visitors now explore the park (the final cargo to be transported was frozen turkeys).
Today, the rusted parallel tracks still can be seen among the shrubs, grasses, plants and trees. It’s a fantastic walk with art installations and vendors selling gourmet coffee and locally made treats. I had a rhubarb-hibiscus frozen pop made in Brooklyn.
Another great New York walk is hardly new. For nearly 130 years people have been crossing the East River by foot on the Brooklyn Bridge. The wooden boardwalk spans the middle section of the bridge away from the vertiginous edge. From the vantage points along the way, there are expansive views of the skyline and Lady Liberty saluting from the harbor.
The Manhattan side rises above South Street Seaport and the Financial District. The new One World Trade Center tower now fills the void left by the 9/11 attacks.
Frank Reisman was one of the victims of the 2001 terrorist assault. His family started life in New York a century ago at 97 Orchard Street, a tenement on the Lower East Side. The family’s story is recounted at this address, one of several stories illuminated by the Tenement Museum.
Not too long ago, 1 in 5 Americans could trace their family’s roots to this once bustling and crowded immigrant gateway, said Laura Lee, my tourguide at the museum. To visit the building, sign up for one of the frequent guided tours.
Built in 1863, the building’s five floors likely were home to some 70,000 people before the city condemned the property and it closed in 1935. There was no electricity or running water until 1905. Before that, coal-burning stoves provided heat, and a water tap in the yard, plus four privies served the entire building. Two water closets were added to each floor later.
Landlords let the apartments deteriorate for five decades until a group of preservationists purchased the building and created the museum.
Visitors today see a combination of restored apartments where they learn about the history of some of the tenants. People also get a glimpse at what the building looked like after being unattended for years.
While the Tenement Museum provides insight into life in nascent New York, the antiquities collection at the renovated Brooklyn Museum opens visitors to the ancient world of Egypt. The third floor is dedicated to one of the largest, and arguably the finest, collection of Egyptian artifacts in the country.
I spent more time visiting the museum’s top floor and the American collection. Be sure to check out the Visible Storage Study Center, a 5,000-square-foot space that provides access to about 1,500 objects from a collection of American paintings and sculptures, as well as material from the Decorative Arts, American Indian and Prints, Drawings and Photographs collections.
This room makes it possible to see the collections in a less formal setting. Here Tiffany lamps, gorgeous furniture and silver work are viewed as well as fine art. Each piece is identified by an accession number that can be looked up on iPads located around the room.
The Brooklyn Museum is a short subway ride away from downtown Manhattan. The New York subways may be a bit intimidating, but they’re safe, reliable, quick and often less expensive and faster than taking taxis.
New York is expensive to visit. Finding reasonably priced hotels can be impossible. I used Kayak.com and found a nice — albeit small — room for about $200 a night. Keep checking the website for rates. I rebooked days before my visit and saved about $200.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
The High Line Park: Runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to W. 34th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues. Park is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; www.thehighline.org.
Tenement Museum: All tours and visits begin at the museum shop at 10 Orchard St., which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tours are best reserved in advance. Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for students and seniors at www.tenement.org.
Brooklyn Museum: 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students. Children 12 and younger free; www.brooklynmuseum.org.