Friday, November 20, 2015

The Castle in Central Park

New York's iconic Central Park. For some people, it's an oasis of verdant open space in the midst of a concrete jungle. For others, it's a cesspool rife with muggings, rapes and murders. When I first visited New York City as a teenager, my parents leaned towards the cesspool side of the opinion spectrum. In their defense, an internet search of "Central Park murders" does come up with a variety of hits. So with my face pressed to the window, we drove through Central Park but never emerged from the safety of our car. Years later, I returned to New York, and finally, I seized the opportunity to explore the park on my own terms.


As the notion of going to the park transitioned from an idle daydream to a specific part of our trip itinerary, I began to realize how vast it is. At 778 acres, it's bigger than London's Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined. The park is home to a zoo, boathouse, conservatory garden, playgrounds, cafes, an ice skating rink in the winter and more. No wonder scoundrels are able to hide in its enormousness. I could spend days in this one part of New York, but I only had an hour or two.


Central Park
A crisp, autumn day in Central Park


After much consideration, I decided to lead the family on a mid-park stroll from the American Museum of Natural History on the west to The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the east side. It took longer than I expected. There were rocks to climb and footpaths to follow. In some areas, we seemed isolated and alone, far from the bustling crowds on the city sidewalks a few blocks over. I reveled in the quietness — well, as quiet as it gets around my three kids — instead of fearing that some scoundrel was about to leap out from behind the bushes. When we reached paved roadways, they were full of joggers and families pushing strollers or riding bikes but blessedly car-free.


The Castle in Central Park

Partway through our walk, we came upon Belvedere Castle. To weather geeks, it's the official location of the National Weather Service Central Park readings. The turret is the highest point in the entire park, and you can see the anemometer and wind vane next to the base of the roof's flagpole. To children, it's Gargamel's New York headquarters in the movie, The Surfs. To the park's designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it was intended to be a Victorian folly — a fantasy structure without a practical purpose.


Belvedere Castle
See the weather instruments on either side of the flagpole?

Constructed in 1869 with a facade of gray Manhatten schist and granite, it's small in stature compared to most castles, but it's worth making the climb up to the terrace. There, you'll find a spectacular view. "Belvedere" means "beautiful view" in Italian, and it is indeed the epitome of beautiful. From that vantage point, we looked north out over Turtle Pond and the Great Lawn, all the way to the skyscrapers that make up the great Manhattan skyline.

Belvedere Castle
How do you say "beautiful view" in Italian? Belvedere

Have you visited Central Park? What's your favorite spot?



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14 comments:

  1. It is a beautiful space but I had no idea there was a castle in the midst of it. I can understand your parents caution and wanting to ensure their child was safe in a strange city but I'm all for making the most of any green space opportunity in the city.

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  2. Yes, we've been and were lucky enough to spend half a day in the park. I loved the bronze statues of nursery rhymes, the John Lennon Imagine pathway mosaic and the mosaics in the underpass (I'm not sure of the name of it). We saw the skating rink but it wasn't ice. We say a movie being made in the park. Lots of memories. I can't wait to get back there and see some more of Central Park.

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  3. I'd love to visit NYC and Central Park. I've seen it in so many movies! # weekend travel inspiration

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  4. Life Images by JillNovember 20, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    I had no idea that Central Park was so big. It would be easy to get lost in. I don't think I would feel safe on my own. Have a great weekend ahead!

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  5. contented travellerNovember 20, 2015 at 8:21 PM

    We are in NYC at the moment so will go looking tomorrow.

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  6. I knew Central Park was large, but I didn't know it was that big! I also didn't know about Belvedere Castle. You just never know what you'll find when you wander! :-)

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  7. This post really resonated with me as I had the same experience growing up. Back then, New York as a whole was a scary place. Nowadays I make a pilgrimage there about once a year. Such an amazing city, and Central Park is one of the best places to experience!

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  8. Hi Michele! So glad you made it back to Central Park. I wasn't living here during those awful years but I remember hearing about the attacks. It wasn't just the park, most of NYC was in a terrible state back then.
    I love Belvedere Castle and the view and everything from the Boathouse, Wollman Rink, Bethesda Terrace & Fountain, to just walking and jogging in the park.

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  9. Michelle, how pretty! I have not heard about this castle before. There is no doubt that New York is a city full of "hidden secrets."

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  10. That is a great view! Never been up there - but I certainly want to go now! :)

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  11. I've always enjoyed your posts about New York, especially the ones of Governors Island. I was disappointed it wasn't open in November when I visited last year. Well, I guess I have an excuse for another visit.

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  12. Sorry about Governors Island, Michele. It's such a beautiful place, so yes, you must come back! Please let me know when you do.

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  13. I had no idea there was a castle in Central Park. It looks fantastic - too bad I missed it when I was in New York.

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  14. I really like Central Park. I've not visited the castle, so good reason to return! I have eaten in one of the restaurants (forget which one), but I remember that the view was lovely!

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