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Exploring New York City off the beaten path

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

New York, United States  /  Sun, December 23, 2018  /  04:38 pm
Exploring New York City off the beaten path

The Brooklyn Bridge connects the Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs. (JP/Jessicha Valentina)

It was 11 degrees Celsius when two Indonesian journalists and I walked from our hotel in Times Square to Subway Station on 42nd Street.

On Saturday morning, the station was flooded with both locals and tourists. But it did not stop us, all first-time visitors to New York, from exploring the city without help from a local guide.

With Google Maps on my phone, we braved the crowd, took the subway downtown and arrived safely in Brooklyn.

Traveling in New York City without a local guide was not as scary as I had anticipated. Prior to arriving, I was excited yet overwhelmed upon seeing the list of attractions recommended by various travel websites. The Big Apple has tons of things to offer, from museums, parks, Michelin-starred restaurants and popular landmarks, such as the Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building, to hidden gems, such as speakeasy bars and small boutiques.

Alas, I only had four days and I was not keen to visit the usual tourist spots. For those who have a limited time in New York, try visiting these spots, which may be considered as off the beaten path.

What to see

Visit Brooklyn

Brooklyn, particularly Williamsburg, is commonly recognized as a hipster spot. Relative to Times Square, Brooklyn is packed with more low-key tourist attractions, such as Brooklyn Brewery and public murals.

To start your adventure in Brooklyn, I’d suggest you to start by going to the most touristy spot, Brooklyn Bridge, a bridge that connects Brooklyn and Manhattan boroughs. Although the bridge is not off the beaten path, it is worth visiting for the views.

DUMBO is a must-visit attraction in Brooklyn.DUMBO is a must-visit attraction in Brooklyn. (JP/Jessicha Valentina)

After strolling across Brooklyn Bridge, walk to DUMBO, which is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, and take some pictures. When you’re done, walk further down to Washington Street and rest in the area's park. Here, the ambiance is much calmer. Furthermore, you can also visit the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Environmental Education Center to learn about the native animals of New York.

What to do

Strolling around Gramercy

New York is known as the City that Never Sleeps. Those looking for quiet time may want to visit Gramercy Park.

Although the park is only open to residents, you can still have some quiet time strolling around it. Here, you will spot many dog owners walking their dogs, smiling at you and, sometimes, allowing you to pet their dogs.

The park is surrounded by shad trees and the city's iconic red-brick buildings, making you feel like you are walking in a movie.

Once you’re done, you can walk to Mario Batali’s Spanish restaurant Casa Mono on Irving Place to enjoy some delicious meals.

Read also: What it's really like to have 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' in New York

What to eat

Sample Indonesian food

You can find almost everything under the sun in New York and the same thing goes for food.

However, if you are tired of eating bagels and pizza and miss the tastes of home, fear not, for Indonesian restaurants can be found.

Balinese 'sate lilit' at Bali Kitchen restaurant. Balinese 'sate lilit' at Bali Kitchen restaurant. (JP/Jessicha Valentina)

In New York, Indonesian food is not as popular as Thai or Vietnamese cuisines. Hence, Bali Kitchen in East Village is a hidden gem for foodies.  

Having first opened its doors in September 2017, the eatery is small, but it offers a variety of comfort dishes, such as gado-gado (mixed vegetables served with peanut sauce), rendang (beef simmered in coconut milk and spices) and Balinese sate lilit (minced meat satay).

Where to shop

Shop for souvenirs in SoHo

No visit to New York is complete without bringing back some souvenirs. Obviously, you don’t want the usual “I love NY” T-shirts, fridge magnets and the like.

If you’re looking for more unique souvenirs, do include SoHo on the itinerary. Here, you can find many shops, including MarieBelle gourmet chocolate and the Miansai jewelry shop.

MarieBelle sells chocolates with a small MarieBelle sells chocolates with a small "painting" on each piece. (JP/Jessicha Valentina)

The former offers chocolate with a tiny "painting" on each piece, making it a perfect gift for your colleagues or artsy friends. Meanwhile, Miansai sells a wide range of artisan jewelry for both men and women.

Buy fashion items at thrift shops

Prior to flying to New York, Indonesian food photographer and illustrator Dita W. Yolashasanti suggested that I head to thrift shops. I was glad I followed her recommendation. 

While exploring East Village, I stumbled on Buffalo Exchange on 11th Street. Available in 17 states across the United States, the store allows customers to buy and resell clothing, resulting in a myriad of secondhand outfits, including shoes, bags and clothes.

Since bags are my kryptonite, I checked the bag section and discovered used branded bags, such as Coach, Kate Spade and Fendi, as well as unknown but quality labels for sale at very good prices.

Tips:

  • Subways are the fastest and cheapest way to explore New York. The unlimited 7-day pass is priced at US$33.
  • Don’t bring too much cash. Contrary to popular opinion, bringing cash is inconvenient as most of the stores prefer credit card payments.
  • Banks are closed on weekends and you need to swipe your ATM card to open the doors. The censors cannot detect Indonesian ATM cards.
  • Even if you want to save money, it is worth having active internet to easily navigate the city.  
  • Most New Yorkers are friendly. If you’re lost, don’t hesitate to ask for directions. (kes)