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Hello from New York City (6) - Checking out (somewhat desolate) Coney Island

By Susanne Pacher

So I am sitting here back in my office and I want to bring our last 2 days in New York City to paper. Considering that the weather forecast for Saturday was pretty bad (rain and maximum temperatures of 13 degrees C), the day turned out much nicer than expected.

Surrounded mostly by Caribbean retail outlets, we got a headstart by walking down Flatbush Avenue in the heart of Brooklyn. At Avenue U we grabbed a bus to the west end of Coney Island and started walking along the boardwalk.

When you come from Toronto you associate the term "Boardwalk" with a nice upscale residential neighbourhood, mature trees, manicured lawns, Victorian houses, well maintained playgrounds, tennis clubs etc. Well, the boardwalk in Coney Island is just a little different.

Essentially it is a very wide beach with a wooden boardwalk, made up of 5 sections of wooden planks laid down in a different orientation, probably 15 to 20 m wide, that is surrounded by a large number of low rental apartment buildings. There are huge parking lots for school buses, and all the buildings are closed off with high fences so residents and visitors only have access through the main streets to get to the boardwalk.

Then you reach the main drag around Key Span Park, home to the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team. Just a bit further east is the Astroland Amusement Park where the more than 75 years old "Cyclone" roller coaster is still giving kids a thrill. Right in front of it are a few huts with food, including the famous "Nathan's Hot Dogs" ("Since 1916", the taste wasn't actually as famous as you might think..), and various fast food and amusement booths ("Shoot The Freak - Live Human Targets" paintball).

The area to the west of this park had a bit of a desolate feel, but from the Amusement Park on eastwards towards Brighton Beach we started to see more pedestrians strolling about, people sitting down and reading on benches... By this time the weather had warmed up nicely and the locals were enjoying the outdoors.

We headed up from the Brighton Beach boardwalk into the local neighbourhood, also called Brighton Beach, or more informally "Little Odessa", due to the large number of Russian Immigrants. The stores, delis and hairdressing shops underneath the elevated subway tracks were humming with shoppers, a very lively neighbourhood.

Then we decided it was time to explore Harlem. Encouraged by our Greeter's comments yesterday, we figured Harlem these days was safe enough to go and explore on our own without any fear for our safety.

Sure enough, just like moles we popped up at Broadway & 145th Street and walked all the way south to 103rd Street and Harlem sure felt pretty much like any other neighbourhood in NYC. The historic apartment buildings looked like they were in pretty good shape, the streets were quite clean, lots of local Black and Latin residents were ambling around on the streets or hanging out with friends in front of buildings, the whole area seemed quite well kept and did not have a dangerous or dingy feel to it. At 3333 Broadway we were awestruck by a public housing project consisting of 5 huge apartment block towers, up to 35 stories high, and we tried to figure out just how many thousands of people would be living in just this one complex. Along this stretch we actually saw lots of older apartment towers, but viewed from the street, everything looked pretty orderly.

Both my husband and I remember New York City very differently. We had both been there more than 10, 15 years ago, and New York City had a distinct edge, tons of graffiti, dirty streets with lots of litter, people occasionally giving you some questionable looks.

The contrast between then and now is amazing. We have literally ridden subway trains, buses and ferries all over New York City, and we were hard pressed to find candy wrappers in any public vehicles, streets were clean, as a matter of fact we saw tons of cleaning crews cleaning up street debris. And most importantly, we always felt safe and comfortable, and we were out sometimes in public transit until close to midnight.

Now that doesn't mean that crime doesn't exist, as evidenced by the little incident on the Staten Island bus on Thursday, but overall, in our opinion at least, New York City seems to have lost a lot of its grime, dirt and threatening air, and we did indeed explore huge areas of Queens, Brooklyn, Harlem, Staten Island and Manhattan, so I figure we have gotten a pretty good overview.

Further south we checked out the Campus of Columbia University and had a nice little dinner in a Mexican restaurant on Broadway, called Nachos. Broadway south of Columbia University has a very upscale feel to it, with lots of designer store windows, French-inspired bistros, whole or gourmet food outlets. Some parts with outdoor patios almost have a Parisian feel to it.

Later that evening at dusk we took a bus down to Columbus Circle where we were awed by Time Warners Corporate Headquarters, which are flanked on the right by the glitzy Trump International Hotel & Tower. Then, after a little walk through southern Central Park, past the glitzy lit up Tavern on the Green (soups from $15 and up....), we were off to pick up a few souvenirs, and we finally managed to find the Ed Sullivan Theatre, where David Letterman entertains his global audience with his late-night sarcasm and wit. Wading our way through a throng of people (mostly tourists) we finally got on a subway near Times Square that was crammed with late night party goers.

About 45 minutes later we plopped into bed, exhausted, from another day with about 4 to 5 hours of urban trekking.

About The Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions ( Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the t-ransitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.

Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest ( and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.

"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".

The travel story with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Travel Stories (

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