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For the 1,000th Post: A List of Lessons Learned

For the 1,000th post on Walking Off the Big Apple (originally published November 2, 2011), I felt it was time to take stock of lessons learned, offer general advice that may be ignored, and suggest a few fun things to do in New York City. I mostly wish to thank readers who have helped sustain this ongoing adventure.

• Don't be afraid to venture into unfamiliar places. For backup or to lead the way, bring a dog.

From my archives: New York City
Don't be afraid. There's probably just a guy playing saxophone in there.

• I once thought that visiting the standard sightseeing spots was a big cliché, but truly the famous places are famous for a reason. Times Square, so visually overwhelming, often feels like crossing over into another reality. The Statue of Liberty cruise is breathtaking, and so is walking around Liberty Island and taking in uncommon views of the statue.

• When taking a photo, often it's not the interesting view ahead worth capturing. Turn around and face the other direction. There it is - behind you.

• Visitors to New York are inclined to try to do too much and quickly exhaust themselves, becoming grumpy with their friends or family members. Acknowledge there's too much to do and then visit just one or two museums, for example, but not five in one day.

From my archives: New York City
Sometimes the unusual views are the best ones. But you have to go there and find them.

• NoHo and Tribeca could use more trees.

• Visitors may learn more about New York and New Yorkers by choosing to walk up and down 8th Avenue or 2nd Avenue, as opposed to 5th Avenue.

• Fun thing: Grab a sack lunch and take it down to near The Pond in Central Park near 59th and Fifth. After lunch, walk straight east on E. 59th or E. 60th. At Lexington, go into Bloomingdale's, look around, take the elevator to the 7th floor and order frozen yogurt. After yogurt, go back out of the store and walk east down the street to the Tram Plaza and take the tram over to Roosevelt Island. Walk around and ride the Tram back.

• The best New York literature often involves unfair social and political forces that are beyond the control of individual characters. The city becomes overwhelming. I'm thinking of works as diverse as Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, and Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City.

From my archives: New York City
Stuck in a rainstorm, I can think of few places I would rather be than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

• Another thing about taking photos - Because time passes and things don't remain the same, over time people who take pictures of the city will make invaluable contributions to the history of the city, especially in documenting cherished places we have lost.

• Taking a long walk helps many people improve their mental state. Whether it's personal problems, the cares of the world, or the too-busy Big Apple, walking it off puts things back into perspective.

From my archives: New York City
Though the city changes, New York often looks timeless.
This view of the Flatiron Building is taken from the same spot as Edward Steichen's 1904 photograph.

• Instead of flitting about from one new restaurant or shop to another, discover and patronize older places that have been around for a long time. These older places can become like family, facilitating emotional attachments in the big city.

• Try to develop an interdisciplinary perspective, appreciating the connections among art, history, music, biographies, society, architecture, literature, etc. I couldn't write the kinds of posts I write without my degree in American Studies.

• Cities and neighborhoods that do not have places to walk and that require people to buy cars need to get with the program. Having experienced post-car life, I've reached a point of no return.

From my archives: New York City
Some people say that looking up makes you look like a tourist.
I would never say that. How else would you be able to look at something like
Louis Sullivan's Bayard-Condict Building on Bleecker Street?

• Fun thing: Walk in a diagonal line across Central Park, never mind the walkways or roads. Over the hills and dales and such.

• New York City is far more interesting after reading lots of literary fiction and history books. We all bring our knowledge and imaginations to what we see and experience.

• I never know for sure where I'm going to walk next, but I always keep a running wish list of topics for inspiration. My current list includes the following: Albert Pinkham Ryder, Center for Book Arts, Chinatown, Zora Neale Hurston, Thomas Merton, Red Grooms, The Seven Year Itch, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Tom Paine.

From my archives: New York City
Don't avoid Midtown during the holidays. Rush right into the mayhem.

• If you've enjoyed a pastrami sandwich and a big black and white cookie for lunch, forget about walking it off. Walking for an hour after lunch burns a few calories, but not enough to walk off a whole deli lunch. Walk off some of it.

• New York has changed in many ways since I started the site in July of 2007. The most positive developments include new pedestrian plazas, new bike paths, and the expansion of the greenbelts at the shoreline. On the other hand, the combination of climate change and the construction of new luxury residential buildings, especially at the water's edge, is making New York look more and more like Miami. We had hurricane warnings this year, too. (Potential upside - Instead of retiring to Florida, we can stay here.)

• Have you noticed we have extraordinary sunrises and sunsets in New York City? The Hudson River School artists, painting the sublime colors of the landscape and sky, often worked out of the Tenth Street Studio building in Greenwich Village (no longer there). The skies we see in the city are the same skies Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt painted.

From my archives: New York City
Make note of beautiful sights, for they may be lost forever.
Case in point - the south tip of Roosevelt Island, now the site of the FDR Memorial
designed by Louis Kahn.

• Fun thing: Walk through the luxury hotel lobbies when they are near, especially the Waldorf Astoria, the St. Regis, the Peninsula, and New York Palace. While gaping at the opulence, take time to appreciate the people working at these hotels - the doormen, desk clerks, housecleaning crew, porters, retail sales people, and the concierges. They work hard to make New York seem glamorous.

• When not walking great distances, enjoy the bus system. The M5 is a particular favorite. It runs the length of Manhattan from South Ferry up to Washington Heights.

• Fun thing: Speaking of buses, the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City offers a Sunday shuttle from the Asia Society (Park and 70th St.) to the museum. $5 one-way; $10 round-trip.

• Why not read Truman Capote's novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, instead of watching the movie again? Capote's Holly is much more nuanced - often unlikable, full of prejudices born of her dirt-poor Texas background - than in the pretty movie version (although I watch it every time it's on and cry like a baby at the part at the end with the rain and the taxi and the cat.)

From my archives: New York City
Enjoy all the holidays and everyone's New Years celebrations.

• Occupy everything. Be present and accounted for.

• New York is an international city, so it's helpful to learn another language. The other day I found myself on a bus with young students from France who were on their way to visit the Statue of Liberty. We had a great time on the bus ride, bantering back and forth in French and English. Learning another language is like getting a key that opens a new door in the city.

• Walking uptown and downtown in Manhattan seems breezy, and the streets go by fast. This is not true with arduous crosstown walking. In this case, a crosstown bus is your new best friend.

• The whole New York vibe tends to add a lot of pressure, especially on people trying to advance their careers. People are forever busy. Take a day off from it. The world will not end.

From my archives: New York City
Whenever I get stuck, I find that I need to shift my perspective. I often take this literally.

• The all-time most popular posts on Walking Off the Big Apple are about practical matters. Lesson for bloggers - Give people practical information on a regular basis. I can spill a thousand words analyzing one Willem de Kooning painting, but people basically want to know if MoMA is open on Mondays. (It is.)

• The most popular page on Walking Off the Big Apple, by far, is New York City Self-Guided Walks (by Area). This makes sense.

From my archives: New York City
For those who need to see the sky, walk out on the piers.

• Buy a good strong pair of warm weather-protected boots for the winter. Otherwise, life is basically miserable. Also, smart people dress in layers.

• There are 25 branches of Le Pain Quotidien thus far in New York. Please email me when they bring back the organic pumpkin pie for the holiday season.

• Some places resonate with me for some reason, like Roosevelt Island and Audubon Terrace. I'm always looking for the next great place.

• Writing Walking Off the Big Apple is such a joy. It's important to make time at some point in life to focus on your own work, whatever that is.

From my archives: New York City
Times Square never ceases to amaze me. Walk up these steps to sit down and get a good view.

• Though it may appear that I possess the leisure to walk around New York and eat pastry and go to the opera, I belong not to the leisure class but to the collapsing American middle class. I am the 99%. I have to work as an editorial consultant to make a living. I may even work retail this holiday season! I write this website because I can't help it. Also, I can't seem to find an ending.

• Please give up on finding a taxi between 4 to 5 p.m. In fact, if you are not at work, try to never be out in the city at that hour, unless it's someplace nearby.

• Hang out on Twitter and find others enthusiastic about the city. You will also see the many wonderful photos your Tweet peeps share.

• You can do a lot in NYC on a $20 bill. That should cover a cup of coffee, a subway ride, a small lunch, a cookie. Many visitors tell me that when they are in New York, they just like to walk around. That's what I'm talking about here, a thousand posts later.

From my archives: New York City
Walking in winter is wonderful and affords the rare opportunity to hang out in the middle of the street.

• Fun thing: Walking in winter, provided that the wind isn't too strong, is incredibly exhilarating. I tend to walk more in January than in July. It's often quiet, and the winter light is beautiful.

• My favorite coffee is the coffee I buy from the guy that runs the cart at the intersection of Bleecker and Broadway. I practice my French with him. He also sells the best muffins.

• Small urban spaces in midtown like Greenacre Park and Paley Park furnish temporary escapes from the hectic pace of the city. Locate places like these for leisurely escapes.

• One of the best getaways within the city is a trip uptown via the A train to The Cloisters. This medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art feels like a journey to not just another place but to another time. Get there early on Sunday morning to have the Unicorn Tapestries all to yourself. Still, the point of living in New York is to not escape it, but to be a part of it. There's a song there, I think.

From my archives: New York City
Everyone could use a retreat. The Cloisters.

• Fun and helpful thing: The app, New York City Compass, is handy when emerging from a subway. It's simple and to the point - Uptown, Downtown, East Side, West Side.

• Never excessively plan a walk in advance. Stay in an improvisational mode and riff on it. Listen to more jazz for inspiration. Visit the grave of Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery. He's in the jazz section with Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Celia Cruz, Milt Jackson, W. C. Handy, and many more music legends. After listening to Miles, you will know how to walk properly.

• Random food and drink: Madison Bistro (French onion soup); Po (those white beans they bring to the table); Marumi (shumai dumplings); Sanctuary T (white sangria); Aquavit (gravlax); Moishe's Bake Shop (chocolate babka); Rubin Museum of Art (Himalayan tea); Cafe Lalo (quiche); Dojo (black bean burritos).

From my archives: New York City
The working title of one post I've been meaning to write is "Where are we when we are at BAM?"

• You like great sacred choral music? For free? Go to church. Some of the best voices in the city will sing it out on Sunday mornings. Churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship in New York are beautiful, too. Andy Warhol once said, "I think it's really pretty to go to church. The church I go to is a pretty church. They have so many masses." (from "Lee" by Andy Warhol, Interview magazine, March 1975, v. 5 no. 3) Warhol attended masses at Saint Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side, 869 Lexington Ave at East 66th Street.

• When cold weather arrives, the carbohydrate craving kicks in. Chubbiness results. I forget this every year.

• If you think you have a pronounced accent and are worried about it, don't worry about it. Millions of people come to New York City from someplace else. On the other hand, you may have to re-pronounce things for clarity. In my case, I say stuff like, "There's a far in a building down the street, but I hear the far trucks coming." Lesson: Don't yell "Far!" in a crowded theater in Texas.

• The New York Public Library's main Reading Room is a great place to sit and read for an hour. If the book remains fascinating, take it outside to Bryant Park.

From my archives: New York City
Which reminds me - NYC is one of the best places to wander around all alone. 

• When setting out on a long walk, take a bottle of water. The body gets thirsty. The landfills are maxed out, so avoid buying yet another plastic water bottle at a cart along the way.

• My favorite walk from 2011 - A Walk for the Optimistic Modernist: From MoMA to the United Nations. Truly upbeat, with an emphasis on the best of modernist design.

• Keeping a written journal of interesting places can eventually lead to writing a blog which may lead to meeting wonderful people and even more interesting places to explore.

• Whenever I conduct the inner debate about staying home versus going out for a walk, I'm almost always glad I chose the walk.

• Enjoy your adventures wherever you may live.

• Thanks so much to all of you, to everyone who has supported Walking Off the Big Apple thus far.



Images by Walking Off the Big Apple, from the archives.

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