Measuring up to Manhattan – 1

5 Dec

Saturday morning and I was out on my bike a little past 9 – some feat considering I don’t surface before 11 on most weekends. What I was about to get myself into over the next few hours was to be part 1 of an even greater feat – at least by my fitness standards!

33rd street on the East River is where the bike path resumes south to the tip of Manhattan after being truncated for almost 30 blocks thanks to the UN building. I had covered a little over 6 kms or 4 miles from my house in 22 minutes and looking back, it sure seemed more impressive than it probably was.

The Queensboro Bridge which provided me access across the river minutes earlier was engulfed in thick morning fog – a most unusual sight for New York especially so in summer days. It would be bright again soon but for now the fog would accompany us on our ride south. As a result, the morning air was nippy and soon necessitated a pit stop for me.

Read the fine print! I’ve heard of toilets, restrooms, latrines, loos & bogs. But ‘Comfort Station’ was definitely a first for me.

Despite several photo stops, we had made it past the Williamsburg Bridge in good time and were now passing the Lower East Side. There are several playing fields and sports facilities here stretching for almost a mile alongside the bike trail.

While the inner parts of Manhattan offer little in the way of respite from an urban sprawl, the water front on both sides of the island has been developed beautifully and is a lesson in efficient space utilisation for any city planner. Of course the best and only way to see this is either by foot or on a bike – certainly not by car!

The fog may have kept the warmth out that morning but the hide and seek it played with the rising sun was a sight for sore eyes. I have photographed the Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridges on umpteen occasions and at different times of day but I can vouch for the fact that they’ve never looked more majestic than they did that morning.

A few steps south and a wider angle revealed completely different light and hues.

The plan was to make it to the Battery Maritime Building at the tip of Manhattan to board the ferry to Governor’s Island. Not satisfied on having made it there on foot before, we now wanted to conquer it on our bikes 🙂 So while we did make it in time for the 11 am ferry, no bikes were being allowed that day. That called for a quick change in plans which we made over coffee and muffins at Battery Park looking out towards the Hudson River.

And here is what came to be. We would head north along the Hudson using the West Side bike trail till around the mid 50s and call it a day there.

With a little inspiration from sights such as these, we prodded on..

Battery Park City, the Financial District, Tribeca and Chelsea were passed with much aplomb. However action at the 33rd Street Heliport created much flutter and necessitated a break of journey.

It was to be a day of activity along the Hudson – activity in the air and in the water and perfectly timed for us as well! As we made our way along Hell’s Kitchen into the Upper West Side, Manhattan’s Passenger Cruise Terminal came into view. Well, if not the terminal itself, at least the ships did!

While we’re on the subject of ships and terminals, I should add here that the entire west side of Manhattan along the Hudson has a very interesting maritime history. Several piers dot the river front even today – some abandoned, most others in use serving a different purpose today than what they were built for. The cruise terminal, for example, began life in Chelsea and due to a paucity of space moved north to the piers located between 46th and 54th street. Chelsea Piers has since been reinvented to be possibly the largest sports & entertainment centre in Manhattan – another good example of efficient utilisation of existing infrastructure and its effective adaptation to changing times.

Passenger cruise numbers have grown exponentially in the New York area giving rise to two more such facilities – one each in Brooklyn and Bayonne harbour. In fact the QE2 (or whatever it’s latest avatar is these days) now docks at Brooklyn. While I wasn’t expecting to see a Cunard Line vessel at these piers, I was terribly excited at the prospect of being in such close proximity to a cruise ship.

With a thunderous hoot of it’s horn, the Carnival Victory backed into the Hudson River and set sail into the Atlantic. To describe it as mammoth would be an understatement. The relative size of the helicopter probably puts things into better perspective.

Calculations performed later would reveal a todal distance of 19 kms (12 miles) covered by us that day!

An unplanned yet heavy night of drinking ensued. Some Sake, Asahi, Mojito, Gin, Guinness & Tequila later, I hit the sack with a surprisingly light head at a very respectable 5 am.

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