USA 2016 Travel Diary: Walking on The High Line

If you ever find yourself wanting a different New York experience, take a trip to The High Line Park at the Lower West Side, Manhattan. The High Line is a great little spot for anyone who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Manhattan. It’s an incredibly modern linear park in the sky– an aerial greenway that runs through a line that will make you want to keep walking on and on and on.

We’ve all visited open-space promenades before, but I do believe this is the first time I’m visiting one with such a futuristic vibe! Designed by the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, and Piet Oudolf, this space has become one of the most frequented by locals just for a nice day out in the sun.

I heard that there are quite a bit of celebrity sightings at The High Line, and while I didn’t spot anyone I understand why they would come up here for a walk. It’s a refreshing feeling being here amongst all the greenery. Sometimes New York weather in the spring can be rather dreary, so I’m glad it was nice and warm when we had our walking tour here. (And no, there are no naked sunbathers.)

Speaking of walking tours, I highly recommend the ones by New York Tour1. Here’s our guide for The High Line walking tour, Jenny, and she is just a burst of sunshine! All the guides we had in all our walking tours with this company were actually pretty awesome. So lively and so knowledgeable about their neighbourhoods! They had such contagious enthusiasm every time they shared the history and stories about the places they were touring us in that you can’t help but fall into the same mood.

We discovered this tour company thanks to the New York Pass, which I wrote more in detail about on this post. In all honesty, I’m going to join another of their walking tours when I get back to New York one day!

Anyway, as interesting as the park looks now, it has an equally interesting history– one that Jenny shared with us in great detail with the help of her clearbook. Learning about the past of this place makes you appreciate all the more the park as it is today in terms of its looks and what it stands for. And maybe it’s my love for history talking here, but I found it all to be quite interesting.

The High Line Park was formerly the elevated section of the old New York Central Railroad’s West Side Line. Looking at it now, it’s hard to imagine that this area used to be called Death Avenue during the 1900’s. Before the tracks were elevated, the trains ran at street level and would consistently collide with people walking along street level!

The fatalities kept ballooning that the New York Central Railroad had to hire men to ride on horseback in front of the train carrying red flags. This served to warn people that the train was coming, and earned these men on horseback the moniker “West Side Cowboys”.

In 1934, they decided to elevate the tracks and make it run through many of the buildings, including that of the Nabisco Building (now the Chelsea Market) so it was easier to move cargo around. The original tracks ran as far as Spring Street in SoHo, but most of that has been demolished, leaving only the tracks in this area.

As modernization took over, companies began to favour trucking as a means to move their cargo. A steady decline in the use of the rails soon made it impossible to maintain, and the railway was abandoned in the late 1980’s. It basically became an ugly piece of rusty relic that got in the way of the redevelopment of the area, prompting government officials to order its demolition.

But nature had other plans. Winds and passing birds had deposited seedlings onto the tracks and soon enough wild flowers and other plants sprouted from the ground. At the same time, Joshua David and Robert Hammond founded the nonprofit ‘Friends of the High Line’ with the intention of re-purposing the train tracks.

In 2004, then Mayor Bloomberg committed $50 Million to redevelop the park, and after 5 years the park’s first phase opened to the public. The third phase opened rather recently, in 2014, and today The High Line is one of the most unique places you can probably visit in New York. It’s a great place to just hang out and people watch.

Or go on a quiet date. 🙂

I hope you didn’t get bored by the history lesson I just shared, but I felt it was necessary to tell the tale because it enriches the experience of being here. Plus I found the whole thing really fascinating. It’s amazing what willpower and a desire to create change can do! This was a good way to give a new identity to what used to be a gruesome place.

From The High Line, you can spot the Statue of Liberty on a clear day. And as you can see, it wasn’t a particularly bright day but you can see the silhouette of Lady Liberty in the distance right?

This space also serves as a site for exhibits, like the currently ongoing one called ‘Wanderlust’. It’s a group exhibition scattered all over The High Line which explores the themes of walking, journeys, and pilgrimages. And of course the one that stood out the most? Tony Matelli‘s sculpture aptly called Sleepwalker.

Incredibly lifelike and realistic down to the Hanes underwear! This is a painted bronze sculpture of a man lost in dreamland, but he looks like he could open his eyes any minute doesn’t he?

Extending a little over 2 kilometers long, walking here can be a very pleasant experience thanks to the plants and trees. You can also have some snack stops over at one of the covered walkways, or maybe take home a souvenir or two. I do believe they have a little Blue Bottle Coffee stall up here. It’s quite a popular coffee shop here in New York.

The whole walkway of the elevated park extends through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea, giving you some nice views of the Hudson River as well.

Some of these cast-iron buildings in the Meatpacking District used to be slaughterhouses and meat shops, but now the whole area is known as a trendy high-end neighbourhood. Nightlife is rich and there are plenty of luxury brands that have made their homes over here: Diane von Furstenberg and Christian Louboutin, to name a few. This is also the location of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Going back down at street level, I was immediately greeted by this painting that suggested very strongly that a visit to the Whitney Museum would be worth my while. Didn’t have much time for that though!

We didn’t really do much exploring of the Meatpacking District on ground level, but we did walk along its streets as we made our way to Chelsea Market. I didn’t take a lot of photos either because there were lots of road reconstructions going on all over New York during the time we were here. Unfortunately! But right around Hudson and West 14th Streets, there are a ton of restaurants just waiting for you to try out.

Over here you will also find what claims to be the oldest steakhouse in New York. Old Homestead is very famous for its prime aged USDA Texas-sized beef, but be warned that it is very expensive to dine here! 😀

Since I’m not much of a steak fan, my Dad and I opted to walk straight down this street towards Chelsea Market. That place deserves a post of its own, and I’ll be sharing it up next!


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