On Your Feet: Upper East Side

This series is born out of my ample solo time spent in New York. As a teacher, I enjoy plenty of vacation time, but much of it isn’t shared by my non-teacher friends, so I am alone often. I started exploring neighborhoods in small doses to avoid spending hours on the train, so every itinerary you’ll see in On Your Feet is walkable in a matter of a few hours.

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Peek into the windows, and you may get a glimpse of pre-war plaster ceilings and ornate crystal chandeliers. 

Classic Elegance

For the first installment, I’ve chosen the Upper East Side. Conservative, regal, and traditional, the Upper East Side is the ultimate in classic New York. It hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years, unlike the Lower East Side and all of Brooklyn, for starters. The Upper East Side is home to famous hotels like the Carlyle, several major art museums, very high-end shopping, and gorgeous townhouses from the turn of the century. I’m reminded of the 1st arrondissement in Paris, and this itinerary happens to have a few Parisian influences, which I adore. It doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife, which makes it ideal for a daytime visit.

I begin by taking the train, descending underground in laid-back Williamsburg, and arrive at 72nd Street and Lexington in the middle of old-school Manhattan. You’ll see many places on Lex to buy snacks and water, but if you’re looking for coffee, I recommend going half a block uptown to Shakespeare & Company. This is the New York outpost of the famous Paris bookseller, and while it can’t beat the original for ambience, it’s solid coffee and you’ll support an independent business.

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Bethesda Terrace, view from the fountain. 

Continue walking west and you’ll run into Central Park (be sure to check out the view up and down Park Avenue on your way!). I enter the park at 69th Street, and walk west some more to the long, shaded Mall, flanked by towering elms. Here, the hustle of the city dissipates, and it feels a bit like the Tuileries garden: people stroll, not race; they relax on benches; jazz musicians play. The Mall leads right to Bethesda Terrace, one of my favorite places in the entire city. Savor the view looking down onto the Angel of the Waters fountain and pond, then walk down the stairs and take some time to admire the beautiful tile work on the walls and ceiling of the Terrace. Wind around the pond to the right, and you may happen upon Alice perched on a mushroom, and a pond with miniature sailboats.

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Oil, Marble, and China

Exit the park at 79th Street, and on your left will be the imposing and beautiful Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the Met, so here is my favorite path:

Buy your ticket and enter on the right, in the Egyptian wing. Walk through the natural light-filled Temple of Dendur, then continue into American art to see the indoor plaza and Tiffany glass. Turn left into Medieval art and check out the gorgeous gate on your way to European Sculpture. If you have time, I love the European Decorative Arts, which is a big collection of preserved furniture, rooms, and even a walnut Tudor staircase. There is a small but ornate room containing furnishings from Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, and an oval-shaped room painted to make you feel as if you’re on the grounds of Versailles. Check out the Greek sculptures on your way to the elevator (Perseus is my favorite). On the roof deck you’ll see contemporary art installations, a beautiful view of the Park and midtown, and a cafe with an ivied pergola, where you can enjoy a glass of prosecco and sit for a moment.

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Small indulgences

When leaving the museum, walk crosstown to Madison Avenue, take a right, and head downtown. This is glorious window shopping in general, but the highlight is the Ralph Lauren flagship on the corners of 72nd Street and Madison. This building is the former Rhinelander Mansion, built in 1898 but never occupied by its owner. The attention to details is incredible, and it truly still feels like a house. Just south of Ralph Lauren, between 71st and 70th Streets is famed macaron-maker Laduree. This is their first location opened in North America, and the interior is small but delightful: the heady fragrance of almond in the air, jars of preserves glowing like jewels, glass-encased candles in scents like Hyacinth and Arabian Nights, and the iconic, conical macaron towers. In addition to classic flavors like fleur de sel, strawberry, and rose, there are seasonal flavors like Christmas chocolate and coconut, but my favorite will always be fig. Laduree is not cheap at $2.75 per cookie, but the experience is so lovely that it makes a perfect pick-me-up for the trip home.

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Living in a place of constant change is exciting, but unsettling sometimes. In Brooklyn, the streetscape looks different every year, but the Upper East Side is almost a time capsule of the golden days of the city. Its ornate architecture, cultural institutions, and conservative elegance transport me to another time and place, giving me an almost-European vacation, right in my hometown.

Image Credits: AirBnB, WikiMedia, pwpla.com, seasidecitylights.com, artnet.com

 

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