Monday, April 21, 2014

An Unexpected Walk on the West Side in New York City

A few days ago I was supposed to be going on a group walk in New Jersey which was starting from the George Washington Bus Station at 178th Street at 10.00 am. However, despite setting off from home early enough, the combination of subway cancellations due to track work and mistakenly getting on a local train rather than an express meant I was only at 125th Street at the due time. Knowing the group would probably have left by the time I did get there I decided it was rather pointless continuing to head north, but I'd been looking forward to a long walk, so on a whim I decided I would walk back to Grand Central Station (42nd Street) and explore an area of the city which is relatively unknown to me.

The first point-of-interest was just around the corner from the subway. Morningside Park is a narrow strip of greenery stretching north-south for thirteen blocks. Covering a steep hill, it rises almost like a wall from Morningside Avenue on the east to Morningside Drive on the west. A series of stone staircases provide access to the upper road, turning the stroll from one side of the park to the other into an energetic work out. Fortunately the first signs of spring in the form of a profusion of daffodils and early blossom and the view from the top made the exertion worthwhile.

If I hadn’t crossed the park I might well have missed the next sight, the enormous Cathedral of St John the Divine. It’s an awe-inspiring building not only for its size, but also for the Gothic architecture. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen and I was not surprised to learn that it is the largest in the US. My initial glimpse of the Cathedral was from the rear and at first I thought it must be disused because construction hoarding sealed off entrances and a sign proclaimed a residential development was in progress!


Fortunately a walk around the building revealed the magnificent front entrance on Amsterdam Avenue. A quick peek inside further revealed a wonderful sculpture suspended from the ceiling in the nave of the church. The two phoenixes were created by Chinese artist Xu Bing from disused construction materials which are illuminated by tiny twinkling lights, giving the impression the creatures are soaring towards the entrance. It was certainly an unexpected surprise.

Next to the cathedral is a small garden featuring the Peace Fountain, a sculpture which celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil in a battle between the Archangel Michael and Satan.

Around the base of the fountain there is a ring of mini-sculptures of animals, some of which were created by school children from the neighborhood.

A series of book-like sculptures circles the outer edge of the garden, each one depicting artists, thinkers and philosophers together with a quote from their work, providing a delightful interlude from walking.

My journey continued on down Amsterdam Avenue, past shops and restaurants of all nationalities. The street was bustling with activity, helped by the numerous outdoor cafes, which all seemed to be doing good business. It was definitely one of those days when the full advantages of living in the city were on display.

My next stop was 72nd Street and Broadway, at yet another small park, this one with a statue of Giuseppe Verdi, and a view of this beautiful building.
Comparing it to the glass monstrosity on the next block, I couldn’t help wondering why it is that despite all the amazing advances made in the last century we don’t seem able to construct buildings that are not only considered beautiful now, but will be in the future. I can’t imagine that in a hundred years time people will stop to admire the glass skyscrapers that developers seem so fond of and it makes me realize the importance of preserving the fabulous architecture from the past.

Ironically, my next stop was at Lincoln Center, a  prime example of modern architecture, which despite its concrete and glass surrounds does offer a certain charm and certainly a pleasant place to sit in the sun and while away some time. A one-stop cornucopia of the arts with music, theater, dance, film and exhibits all within a stone’s throw of each other, the theaters are separated by well-used plazas. At night the development is lit up like an artistic jewel-in-the-crown, drawing crowds with offerings of culture of the highest caliber--in summer months, both in and outdoors—but surely a few more ornamental touches could have been used in the design of buildings for the arts.

 By the time I got back to Grand Central the earlier frustrations of the morning’s travel were long forgotten and not only had I still managed to get some exercise, but I also had another route to mark up on my walking map of New York City.  




  1. Thank you for sharing these pictures and your experience. It's great walking vicariously with you.

  2. Thanks Elisabeth - I'm glad you enjoy it!