Thursday, February 10, 2011

New York City: Skip The Clichés

Boy, oh boy, where do I begin? Every New York corner hides a culture adventure of some sort. Some of them are well-known, some really aren’t. So I decided to share a few that a typical New York City travel guide may not list.

Skip the Empire State Building – all the hype around it is not worth the thirty bucks and a dozen lines you’d have to stand in to get onto its observation deck (or fifty dollars, if you want the express elevator). You can leisurely observe that same Manhattan skyline from the 42nd floor of Marriott Marquis Lounge with a Manhattan in your hand. And if you long for that speed-elevator experience, the Marriott's glass elevators will whisk you 48 stories above the city in seconds, literally and physically taking your breath away. The lounge is revolving so if you pick out a spot by the window, you will be taken on a 360-degree, one-hour city tour, floating by such famed landmarks as the Chrysler Building, Carnegie Tower, MetLife, or The Intrepid. And by the flocks of the unhappy tourists shielding themselves from the wind on the Empire State Building deck.

If you love art and fashion and are torn between going to a museum and attending a fashion show, kill two birds with one stone and visit The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum – the most fashionable art collection in New York City and perhaps on the planet. It may not compare in size and grandeur to the Metropolitan, but it owns the largest collection of costumes, textiles, and apparel in the world, dating from the 18th century to present times and counting more than 50,000 objects that include garments, shoes, and accessories. The costume collection features Christian Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Vivienne Westwood. Its millinery medley boasts 3,000 hats, and its handbag collection includes purses, pouches, clutch bags, and portemonnaies by Gucci, Coach, and Roberta di Camerino. However, because the museum is small, the exhibits keep revolving. There are also special exhibitions. The latest one covered eco-fashion, featuring clothing items made from bio-degradable fabrics such as organic cotton as opposed to polyester. The show also explored the challenges of sustainable fashion delving into issues such as natural leather, which requires disposing of salts in the process, versus its synthetic, oil-made cousin, revealing that neither approach was particularly planet-friendly. The admission is free, but there are no fitting rooms. And no sales!

Horseback riding is certainly not the first activity that comes to mind when you are planning a trip to New York City, but you may be surprised to know that every borough maintains stables and bridle paths. Out-of-town visitors are often amazed to see equestrians in Central Park, where horseback riding is actually permitted year round. The recently rebuilt Central Park bridle path is more than six miles long and goes around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as well as the North Meadow. In Brooklyn. One can rent a horse or take lessons at Kensington Stables, which was built in 1930 as the last extension of the Brooklyn Riding Academy. A part of it was torn down to build the foot bridge over Ocean Parkway, but the rest survived. Bronx offers the Pelham Bay Park Trail with its beautiful vistas of marshland and woods, as well as the Riverdale Equestrian Center in Van Cortlandt Park.

Forest Park in Queens boasts a four-mile equestrian path that meanders through 600 acres of magnificent oak woods, up and down the hills. The path was opened to horse lovers in December 2002 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony as a gorgeous gray horse pulled a surrey through blankets of sparkling snow – New York had just been hit with its first winter storm of the season, but horse enthusiasts made it through the drifts to show their support for the project.

The time when New York City was nothing but horses pulling coaches, milk wagons, and carts is long gone, but city horsemanship is far from dead. So when you visit the Big Apple the next time, you can skip the cliché carriage ride around Central Park, get yourself on a real horse, and gallop through its woods instead.

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