Forget Manhattan it is all about Brooklyn

Rebecca Underwood reveals that heaven looks at you from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Williamsburg Street - credit photographer Marley White
Williamsburg Street - credit photographer Marley White

Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs, is connected to Manhattan by the mighty Brooklyn Bridge, spanning 1.3 miles across the East River.

On its opening day in 1883, amid much fanfare, more that 150,000 people walked across it. Local residents later suspected that the structure was unsound and rumours continued to spread until the flamboyant Phineas Taylor Barnum; founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus; guided 21 elephants over it. Recognised as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the Brooklyn Bridge continues to be a major tourism attraction.

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Today, Brooklyn is in fashion, it's a ‘go to’ destination for tourism, a focal point for entrepreneurs, digital start-up companies and forward thinkers and it's a ‘cool’ spot for designers and artists.

Brooklyn apartment - HomeAway

Keen to experience life in the local community, I moved into a two bedroom apartment in a classic Victorian brownstone property located in the leafy Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. Only 2.5 blocks from the subway, this is the perfect spot in the heart of the action offering guests the opportunity to take part in local life, if only for a short time. The apartment, listed on the HomeAway website, is comfortable and spacious and features an enormous kitchen with every appliance including a washing machine and dryer. There is also a garden with a barbeque and a selection of garden furniture, which is ideal when the night temperature is favourable. Rather than utilising my very limited skills in the kitchen I took a stroll along to Bedford Avenue and popped into a family owned restaurant. Fancy Nancy’s was buzzing with locals, which is always a good sign. I sampled the delicious veggie burger and my chilled glass of Palomino And Pedro Ximenez 2017 enhanced the flavours perfectly.

To stock up on groceries, the Down to Earth Farmer’s Sunday Market on Park Slope’s 4th Street at 5th Avenue is ideal. Crammed with vendors selling a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, baked goods and dairy products, this is a great place to mingle with the locals and to get a true ‘feel’ for Brooklyn.

For a deeper insight, I headed for the Brooklyn Museum, on Eastern Parkway. One of the many collections, ‘Something to say: Brooklyn Hi-Art!’ runs until June 30, and features text-based works, by local artists. The striking works are prominently displayed in the museum’s public spaces. Using questions, language and humour, the intention is to encourage dialogue related to local and national issues, and it’s impressive. After feasting my wide eyes on so many treasures, including the Egyptian collection, I headed off to the Norm, the museum’s bustling café, where temptations included a superb Thai curry shrimp soup and I was persuaded to try more than a sliver of carrot cake.

For those seeking an authentic American dining experience, Junior’s, which opened in 1950, is located on Flatbush Avenue EXT. The menu features a wide selection of deli-style and traditional sandwiches along with Junior’s famous 10oz char-broiled steak burgers. I opted for the sky-scraper deli-style pastrami sandwich and with a smidgeon of appetite remaining I just had to try the ‘World’s best cheesecake’, which was everything I expected.

Tillary Hotel Lobby

After that guilty pleasure I took a very brisk walk to Prospect Park’s Zoo, which is highly regarded, due to its continuous and successful conservation efforts. Home to over six hundred animals, attractions include Animal Lifestyles, which features a very vocal Hamadryas Baboons, a gorgeous Pallas’s Cat and a boisterous group of Geoffrey’s Marmosets, constantly squabbling over fruit and just about anything else. Following the Discovery Trail I was enchanted by the adorable red panda, and in the Hall of Animals I encountered a mean looking poison dart frog and remained at a very safe distance.

Strolling around the nearby Grand Army Plaza, I hailed a yellow taxi in search of a shopping expedition. Brooklyn offers an enticing range of trendy boutiques and huge malls including City Point (entrances on Albee Square West and Flatbush Avenue), which features Century 21, a popular department store crammed with seven floors of designer fashions at discounted prices. As an unrepentant handbag and shoe addict I succumbed to the temptations of Love Moschino and just had to have a funky pair of boots by Donna Karan. Credit card limit intact, I hurried along to Macy’s, a short walk away on Fulton Street.

Fully laden with bags of goodies I hopped on the local public bus and made my way to Williamsburg, another popular Brooklyn district, which is simply bursting with bars, eateries and entertainment. I stayed a stone’s throw away at the 23 storey The William Vale hotel, located on North 12th Street. Facilities include New York’s longest outdoor swimming pool, which is perched above the property’s 15,000 square feet rooftop park, and it affords spectacular views. Accommodations are spacious with contemporary furnishings and features include floor-to-ceiling windows and open-air balconies. Leuca, the hotel’s Italian dining venue, serves a great breakfast, including lemon-Ricotta pancakes, and there's a wide variety of wood-fired pizzas, pastas and more served throughout the day and night.

For a Scandinavian dining experience I headed for Norman, a hop and skip away on Norman Avenue. Popular with locals and out-of-towners, this minimalist warehouse-style restaurant features a long bar and an open kitchen with a bevy of chefs creating some fine dishes. I ordered a seasonal special; the crispy Farro porridge and wild mushrooms accompanied by a cool glass of 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and it was served with aplomb.

The William Vale accommodation

Another great place to stay is the Tillary Hotel on Flatbush Avenue Ext, which is a short stroll from the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade, and it’s a stylish and contemporary property. Accommodations range from a classic king or queen room measuring 250 sq ft to suites offering up to 450 sq ft with ultra-comfortable beds swathed in Frette linens, and there are interactive Smart TV’s and complimentary Wi-Fi. After a tasty breakfast in the hotel’s TRoom Café, which serves products that are all made in Brooklyn, I set out for a walk across Brooklyn Bridge.

As buses and coaches are banned from crossing the bridge the best option is to follow the pedestrian walkway in the centre of the traffic lanes. The walkway is surprisingly narrow and on arrival it was clear to me that a lot of people had the same idea at the same time! But, it was more than worth it as I gazed upon the astounding views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty and I recalled Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s wonderful song and Frank Sinatra’s soothing voice: ‘Like the folks you meet on, like to plant my feet on, the Brooklyn Bridge, what a lovely view from, Heaven looks at you from, the Brooklyn Bridge...

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