Undiscovered New York – Going Dutch

2009 marks the 400th anniversary of New York’s “discovery” by a Dutch expedition led by explorer Henry Hudson. Way back in 1609, Hudson (who was actually British) and a small crew of Dutch sailors steered their vessel through the small gap between Staten Island and Long Island and into New York Harbor.

Before them laid a vast wilderness, thick with old-growth forests and teeming with wildlife like beaver, oysters and bears – just the spot to found a new colony that would come to be known as New Amsterdam. From 1625 until 1674, when the colony was turned over to the English, the Dutch ruled over the harbor and islands that would one day become the great city of New York.

More than 400 years later, little evidence of this once thriving Dutch presence remains. You would expect at least a few windmills or some tulips, right? Yet if you know where to look, the signs of New York’s historic Dutch presence are all around you. Whether you’re hanging out at the swanky Gansevoort Hotel, meeting up with a friend near Stuyvesant Town, or dunking a doughnut in your morning coffee, Dutch influence on American history is stronger than you might expect.

Ever wanted to discover the secrets of New York’s surprisingly rich Dutch history? And what about visiting The Netherlands today? We’ll get a “taste of Amsterdam” without ever leaving New York City. This week at Undiscovered New York, we’re going Dutch. Click below to see why.
The New Amsterdam Trail

Just in time for the 400th Anniversary of Hudson’s famous voyage, The National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy has released a self-guided walking tour documenting the history of Dutch New Amsterdam. Using a free map and downloaded audio, visitors can experience the legacy of personalities and places that define New York’s Dutch legacy.

Starting at Battery Park, visitors make their way north stopping to learn about the (in)famous Dutch purchase of Manhattan from the Native Americans, Dutch architecture and the defensive fortifications that gave Wall Street its name. Starting this July, a guided tour will also be led by National Park Rangers.

Dutch Food
Though it may seem that Dutch influence over New York vanished in the 17th Century, it remains very much alive in New York to this day. This is particularly true of our favorite foods like cookies and doughnuts, which are strongly influenced by the cooking techniques of early Dutch settlers. If you’re looking to get taste of contemporary Dutch cuisine, check out Manhattan’s Danku restaurant. The eatery serves a variety of Dutch specialties including Kroket pastries as well a variety of specialties like Nasi Goreng from Indonesia, another former Dutch colony. For a slightly more authentic taste of Netherlands-style Indonesian cuisine, check out Java Indonesian Rijsttafel in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

Dutch Arts & Culture

Not only can you take a tour of Dutch History in New York, you can also experience it firsthand through the city’s wide range of Dutch-themed art exhibits, events and cultural celebrations. Art lovers in particular have a wealth of options. The Museum of the City of New York is offering a range of Dutch exhibitions this summer, including a show of contemporary Dutch photography and a closer look at the life of explorer Henry Hudson. Visitors hungry for more Dutch art should head to The Met to check out their vast collections of European Paintings including those by Dutch experts like Van Gogh and Vermeer.

Dutch culture doesn’t stop at New York City – further upstate in New York is Kingston, among the earliest Dutch settlements in the state. The city is celebrating this year’s 400th Anniversary with a range of activities, including expert lectures on Dutch gardening and displays of historic Dutch weapons. If you need further motivation to head upstate, check out Undiscovered New York’s tour of the Hudson River Valley from last year.

Undiscovered New York: Bike tour of Governor’s Island

New York is a city dominated by islands. Most of these islands, like Manhattan and Staten Island, are easily accessible and fairly well traversed. Yet in a city this densely populated, so well-known and discussed, there still remain pockets of isolation; islands of mysterious calm and forgotten charm that make a visitor feel as though they’ve stumbled upon the ruins of some grandiose civilization. One of the most iconic examples of this phenomenon is Governor’s Island, a tiny droplet of land in New York Harbor situated teasingly close to the hustle and bustle of New York proper but worlds-away in pace and temperament.

Governor’s Island began its history as the exclusive province of the British colony’s royal governors. It was an isolated piece of land off-limits to commoners, reserved for those of privilege. Soon after American Independence in the late 18th Century the site became home to a U.S. Army base and later a Coast Guard installation. It wasn’t until more than 200 years later, in 2003, that control was transferred back to the City of New York and the Governor’s Island National Monument was established.

It’s now 2009 and Governor’s Island is a radically different place, free of its shroud of off-limits secrecy. The island is today a free five-minute ferry ride from downtown New York, a seasonal retreat that offers visitors a wealth of unique activities, beautiful vistas and fascinating history. Best of all, Governor’s Island is tailor-made for bike riding. The site boasts over five miles of car-free bike trails winding past opulent mansions, jaw dropping vistas of New York Harbor and quiet green spaces sparsely populated with visitors.

Ready to take a look? Join Undiscovered New York as we explore Governor’s Island by bike…click below for more.
Getting There and Getting a Bike
Separated as it is from the rest of New York proper, it seems difficult to get to Governor’s Island. In truth it’s a surprisingly easy trip. Pick up a free ferry at the Battery Maritime Building in downtown Manhattan. After a quick ten minute jaunt across New York Harbor you’ve arrived at the Island’s main loading dock. All visitors are invited to bring their own bikes along on the ferry for the ride.

Once you’re off the ferry, jump on your bike and off you go to explore the island! Didn’t bring your own bike? Fear not – just left of the main ferry landing is a bike rental station, where bikes can be rented on Friday-Sunday. New York has also implemented a special Free Bike Fridays system, allowing cyclists to rent a bike for up to one hour at no charge.

Let’s Bike – Heading South
We begin our biking tour of Governor’s Island by heading left down the road out from the bike rental station. This area is one of the more densely developed part of the island, housing most of the facilities used by the U.S. Coast Guard during the Island’s stint as central command for the organization’s Eastern Seaboard activities. At its peak, the Island was home to around 3,500 full-time residents. Don’t worry, we’ll return to this area for a look before the end of our biking trip.

Along your right you’ll be able to see the elegant facades of Nolan Park peeking through the foliage, including the Commanding Officer’s House. The residences were once home to some of the Island’s high-ranking officials. They are now largely uninhabited though still retain many of their beautiful architectural details like colonnades and gabled roofs.

Off to your left, across the channel, is Red Hook, a shipping port that is now home to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. If you’re lucky you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of a massive cruise ship like the Queen Mary 2 docked at the station.

After about 10-15 minutes of biking we’ve come to the island’s southernmost tip, also called Picnic Point. The southern end of Governor’s Island is actually man-made, composed of the land dug up during the construction of the Lexington Avenue Subway line. It’s a great place to relax and chill out, offering green grass and sweeping views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Statue of Liberty.

More Biking – Heading North
As we head back up the Island’s other side, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of New York Harbor. As you bike along, you’re likely to gaze out at teetering sailboats, meandering their way through the Harbor. To the north lie the twin peaks of glass and steel, with New Jersey off to your left and Manhattan off to the right, split in half by the coursing Hudson River.

Just before completing the Island’s outer bike loop we’ll cycle past the imposing bulk of Castle Williams. Erected in the early 1800’s, this hulking stone fortress one stood as the main line of defense for New York Harbor, menacing would-be attackers with heavy artillery. It later served time as a prison in the early 20th Century.

With that, you’ve made it all the way back to the starting point. Return your bike or continue on and explore some of the Island’s lesser known side streets and back roads.

Other Activities
By now you’ve returned to the ferry landing. Nearby lie a whole range of monuments and activities to keep you occupied until that next ferry arrives. Just up the hill from the main landing is Fort Jay, one of the Island’s oldest forts.

Behind Fort Jay is a former military parade ground. These days its a beautiful open green space dotted with trees. At one point it even harbored a 9-hole golf course, now demolished. Off the parade grounds is Nolan Park, home to the Commanding Officer’s House as well as Colonels Row, another area of beautifully preserved mansions. The area is dotted with tables and benches, making it the perfect spot for a lazy Summer picnic.

If you’ve had your fill of forts and mansions, make sure to stick around for one Governor’s Island’s many planned summer activities including Jazz concerts, film festivals and polo matches.

Undiscovered New York: Getting sporty

You probably already know New Yorkers are a competitive bunch. Whether it’s fighting it out for designer duds at the latest sample sale, running down a taxi or climbing the corporate ladder, it’s a city that thrives on getting ahead. What you may not realize, however, is that these very same facets of New York City also make it the ideal place for athletic pursuits.

Despite all the glass and concrete, New York is an increasingly athletic and outdoor-friendly city, with residents (and visitors alike) reaping the many benefits. Recent years have seen new city regulations to make the streets of the Five Boroughs increasingly bike and pedestrian-friendly. Just a few months ago, a project was announced to convert a stretch of Broadway between 42nd and 47th streets to a pedestrian-only mall. What’s more, large-scale projects like Hudson River Park have redeveloped once-gritty industrial waterfront areas, adding new trails, running paths and parkland.

Perhaps the most surprising fact of New York’s athletic culture is the variety of great outdoor-centric activities you can do just by jumping on the subway. Ever wanted to paddle a sea kayak next to a canyon of skyscrapers? How about a rock climb on one of the highest man-made climbing walls on the East Coast? Or maybe you’d like to “clown” around on a trapeze for the day? Lace up those cross-trainers and click below – this week, Undiscovered New York is “Getting Sporty.”
Climbing and Bouldering
You probably already associate New York with towering skyscrapers and climbing the corporate ladder, but it’s also a great place for some climbing of the more natural sort. Not only can visitors learn climbing skills like bouldering within Manhattan’s Central Park, there’s also a wealth of large climbing walls located all over the city.

Organizations like Climb NYC over a wealth of climbing info to help you find a wall that’s right for your skills and interests. Over at Chelsea Piers, visitors can tackle a 46′ high x 100′ wide climbing wall – one of the largest (and most expensive) man-made climbing walls on the East Coast. Others prefer the City Climbers Club, which offers a more modest but also more reasonable climbing area. Whether you’re just a beginner or a climbing expert, you’re sure to get a challenging experience.

Hudson River Kayaks

The image many visitors have of New York City waterways is grim. Visions of the East River are likely to conjure garbage and decomposing mob victims. Thankfully a concerted cleanup effort has left New York’s waterways in 2009 surprisingly clean – clean enough that you can now ride a kayak on them.

Visitors interested in taking a FREE kayak ride should head to Piers 40 and 96 as well as 72nd Street along the Hudson River. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation rents out free boats for 20 minute rides every weekend during the warmer Spring/Summer months. No prior experience is necessary other than knowing how to swim. It’s a great way to spend the day, paddling your way along the surprisingly serene river between the protected nooks of the river piers. You’re certain to get a view of the city you wouldn’t otherwise get back on dry land.

Trapeze School
Ever harbored a secret fantasy to run off and join the circus? You might finally get your chance when you come to New York. Just a short walk from Hudson River kayaking at Pier 40 is the Trapeze School of New York. Complete with all the necessary swings and safety nets and harnesses to get you up and swinging, the school has been attracting urban daredevils and just the plain curious for almost 10 years.

There’s quite possibly no better setting to learn – as participants flip, swing and glide their way through the lesson they are greeted with panoramic views of the city waterfront and skyline. Visitors can purchase a two-hour lesson starting at around $50-60 plus a one-time $22 registration fee. The school has a second indoor location at 30th Street.

Breaking: Yet another plane crash. This time near Amsterdam

I have to say, as much as flying does not bother me, it’s a bit unnerving to click on The New York Times to see if any thing new has happened in the past few hours to find out that the new thing that has happened is another plane crash. This time the crash was just outside Amsterdam, but in a soft field instead of on a house near Buffalo, New York, on snow near Nome, Alaska or on the Hudson River.

The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800, en route from Istanbul, was almost to the airport when it suddenly lost speed and dropped. According to one person on board, the crash only took a few seconds. According to the article, most people did not suffer major injuries even though the plane broke into two pieces because there wasn’t much fuel left. If there had been more fuel, the outcome would have been worse. Still, the outcome wasn’t good.

Nine people died, including both the pilots. There were 25 with serious injuries, 24 with minor injuries and the rest walked away. In all there were 134 people on board. Considering that I was just in Amsterdam a couple months ago and flew into Schiphol Airport from the U.S., I’m thinking about how those fields looked when we were coming in for our landing. Yep, it’s a bit unnerving.

[This photo by PhillipC is of tulip fields when he was in route to Amsterdam from Gatwick.]

Commuter plane crashed on way to Nome and all safe

Last night a Frontier Flying Service plane heading to Nome, Alaska from Brevig Mission went down with a pilot and five passengers. Although the story is not as fantastical as the Hudson River landing, I imagine the sentiments of those on board are similar, particularly with the news of the crash near Buffalo still so recent.

According to this Anchorage Daily News article sent our way by Matt, a Gadling reader, the pilot guided the plane into a safe crash landing then set off the emergency locator beacon to help rescue teams locate the plane. Only one person suffered a bump on the head.

When the plane didn’t arrive on time after the pilot lost contact with the tower, officials knew something was wrong. The Piper PA-31-350 was found seven miles from Nome by rescuers on snow machines. The plane crash is under investigation, and it’s unclear what happened to cause the crash.

Reading the story reminded me of the harrowing tales my husband has told about flying to fish camp in Alaska. He had a couple of flights where his heart ended up in his throat, so to speak. No crashes, though–just some dips and turns he could have done without. [The photo is of a Piper Chieftain with Golden Eagle Airlines in Australia.]