New York Native Spills Her Secrets

by Soyni Driskell

Although we live in a warm cocoon of some Barnard College loving, now you can use weekends and those afternoons after classes or your first-year seminar to explore all the crazy nooks and crannies of this place. As a Brooklyn native, New York is a place that surprises and impresses me every day with its newness, even when the jaded cynic in me absurdly believes I’ve seen it all. Here are some offbeat highlights that you should consider for your next free weekend, free hour, or free moment.

Most new people to campus immediately turn their direction south to tackle the downtown that those poor, misguided NYU students trample over each year. Get as many pierogies as you need, but don’t overlook some treasures on the northern end of the city.

Pro Tip: The West Indian Day Parade is this Monday!!

See a Yankees Game (The Bronx)
Even if you never go to a Columbia football game, before fall is over, you have to buy some cheap bleacher seats in Yankee Stadium and watch at least one Yankee game. I am definitely not a crazy baseball fan, but because you are a New Yorker now you must understand this: Mariano Rivera, the beloved, revered, canonized Yankee closer for the last 19 years, is retiring at the end of the current season. If there is one thing a freshly-minted New Yorker must do, it’s experience the sheer joy of being in a stadium full of people showering their pride and love on one of their heroes; it’s a one of a kind experience. Plus, they have peanuts! And cracker jacks! And the seventh inning stretch!

Explore The Cloisters (Upper Manhattan/Washington Heights)
On your way back to campus from your Bronx jaunt, stop in northern Manhattan at The Cloisters (Barnard/Columbia students get in free with the “Fall 2013” sticker on your Columbia ID!) which is a combined museum/series of gardens in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights. The building is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is fashioned after medieval European abbeys; it is a beautiful space. The gardens are a great place to take a picnic or go for a walk, perfect for those few hours during reading week when you need to get off campus before you snap. For a little while you can pretend you are no longer in the city.

Nothing beats a picnic/tanning party

Dinner in Washington Heights
Washington Heights itself is a really cool neighborhood full of roaming Columbia Medical School students, Dominican restaurants run by neighborhood lifers with great food and even better prices, and some of the best views of the Hudson and (umm…) New Jersey. It’s a really dope place (impressions left by certain MTV reality shows to the contrary). Also, if you make friends with any seniors, chances are high this is where they’ll be living after they graduate (if not Harlem or various seedy parts of Brooklyn), so it’s not a bad idea to get familiar.

Pancakes and the Schomburg Center (Harlem)
Harlem is a historical neighborhood and everything in Manhattan that is north and east of campus below Washington Heights. It’s huge. Other than what the guidebooks suggest there are two things worth noting here: 1) this neighborhood boasts the only IHOP I have ever been where I was greeted by a bouncer at the front door (@ 135th street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd). I’m still not sure if this is a regular thing, or if they just saw me coming. 2) The Schomburg Center on Lenox Avenue is a reference library that houses the pre-eminent collection of African-American and African-Diasporic literature and research. It also regularly has interesting lectures and film screenings through the year.

An afternoon in Central Park
Laying in Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park and making stories based on what the clouds look like is a great way to spend an afternoon. The “Concerts in the Park” performance series, some great people watching, and tons of clandestine green spaces for fall picnics (can you say “romance”?) make Central Park definitely worth the hype.

Indulge your inner Hipster at the Union Square Farmer’s Market
Union Square is the thoroughfare to downtown, but its way more than a convenient meeting place. The farmer’s market on the weekends has artisanal meats and cheeses, fresh pastries, fresh produce from farmers in the tri-state area and all the hipster, organic goodness to fill your heart’s desires. It’s also a great place to buy small handmade gifts and interact with the people who are feeding you: knowing where your food comes from is never a bad thing.

Bookstore Hopping (Union Square)

Find all the flea and farmer’s markets around the city!

This neighborhood also has three very different bookstores that each have their own charm: Barnes and Noble on East 17th street is the largest B&N in the city and features a lot author signings and events year round. It’s worth checking their calendar (Last year, I accidentally dropped by the day Justin Bieber was doing a signing….never again). Strand Bookstore on the corner of East 12th St and Broadway boasts the moniker of “the world’s largest used bookstore” and is a place where you can lose an entire day by wandering through the wonderfully cramped stacks of books, small toys and knick knacks. The staff are all incredibly opinionated with recommendations for new works and very helpful! Last but not least, Alabaster Books is on 4th Avenue, around the corner from Strand. It is a tiny mom and pop bookstore that is still going strong even though it is a stone’s throw from the two bigger options. They have a lot of old editions of books that can be wonderful gifts and the proprietors let your roam and pick to your heart’s content.

Accidentally Spend an Entire Weekend in Brooklyn
Brooklyn is my hometown so please allow my personal bias to roam free! Brooklyn has long been considered the cool, marches-to-the-beat-of-its-own-drum younger sister to Manhattan; the Solange to Manhattan’s Beyonce, if you will. But then one day everyone woke up and realized they were really, really into Solange! Plus it costs way less to go to a Solange concert than a Beyonce extravaganza.

I’m gonna pop some tags…

But I digress….. don’t fall for the obvious here, allow me: spending time in Fort Greene is a must, walk to the top of the hill in the center of Fort Greene Park and swing on the swings. The Brooklyn Academy of Music in the neighborhood is a cultural landmark that shows a lot of smaller, independent films, as well as theatre performances and amazing showcases by their affiliated dance company Mark Morris Dance Group. There are also tons of great shops and restaurants in Fort Greene and a lot of them are hidden on residential blocks so you might accidentally stumble across a new favorite.

The promenade in Brooklyn Heights has the best view of the Manhattan skyline, hands down and Prospect Heights has the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Flatbush side of Prospect Park, which is way more chill. There is also something to be said for experiencing Williamsburg. There is great shopping (Beacon’s Closet for thrifting, Bird for a nice boutique situation) and lots of food, but also lots of people, so be warned. The Salvation Army in Bed-Stuy is hands-down the best one in the city. It’s huge, its organized, the staff are nice, and because it’s on a random block (fun fact: Dave Chappele’s Block Party concert happened on this block in 2004) it hasn’t been overrun by hipsters yet so there are still good buys. See? Giving away my secrets. Including Smorgasburg, Brooklyn Flea, and everything about Nostrand Avenue, there is always too much to do in Brooklyn.

I could go on and on about spots to try and streets to walk down, (because yes, I know I left out Queens and Staten Island) but what you really should do, new friend, is wander. Grab a friend, or grab the person on your floor whose shoes you’ve been admiring, and hop on the train: get off anywhere. New York really is a walker’s paradise and you can stumble your way into so many of its treasures if you just lace up your walking shoes. Use the city as a means of making new friends and crafting adventures. I met one of my best friends when we both decided to go the West Indian Day Parade (Labor Day, every year, in Brooklyn. Go!) and wound up on the same train together. So get out there and explore your new home: it’s been waiting for you. And reach out to us if you have any questions!

Soyini is a Junior at Barnard and On Campus/Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of NY Daily NewsPanoramio, Urban75, and Wall Street Journal.

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