Down to the darkly atmospheric shtetl of Williamsburg to visit sweet 90-year-old, hungarische great-uncle S. Journeyed all the way – a 17-mile trajectory – on two wheels.
Amazing bike ride taking us from chez-nous in the north of the Bronx due south along the Hudson River, practically down the entire length of the island of Manhattan along the green walkway.
Then zigzagging furiously through furiously trendy downtown to the east side, thereafter, a hop, skip and a jump and over Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn, and lo and behold: you have reached your destination.
On the way:
Whizzed over the majestic Henry Hudson Bridge.
Panoramic views, sparkling water, and a blue, blue sky.
Guy nonchalantly smoking a joint on the Henry Hudson Parkway gazing out over the river to the shores of New Jersey.
Manhattanite skaters, rollerbladers –
Manhattanite joggers running with their dogs on leash –
Manhattanite joggers pushing their babies along in trendy three-wheeled buggies/strollers –
Latino New Yorkers having barbecues and playing loud music –
People sporting about and people playing sports –
all the way down this oasis of calm snaking down the west side of their beloved, congested, noise-polluted island.
Sharp turn eastwards at W10th St.
Many a youthful trendoid (female-male-unisex) strolling through Greenwich Village, SoHo and the East Village dressed in obligatory uniform of skinny jeans, trilby hat, big black-rimmed goggles.
Up and over the bridge and back in time into Williamsburg.
Women in hyper-modest, drably coloured clothing and rigid hair coverings go about their business.
Men in full hasidic garb march off to shul (where else?)
An ancient rebbe bedecked with a flowing white beard smokes a cigarette outside his apartment building watching the yidden go by.
A shuffle into more modest layers of clothing over cycle gear in vain attempt to stick out less like a sore thumb in the heim.
Lovely time spent with hungarische great uncle S waxing lyrical about days of yore and looking at b&w snaps.
Pass by Gottlieb’s, a gloriously unpretentious, slightly faded heimishe deli, wafting hopelessly heimishe, hopelessly nostalgic odours of chicken soup, kneidlech and the like into the street.
Sub-zero chance of getting me to pass that by without a good old hearty pit-stop.
So in we dash for a hearty, greasy heimishe meal.
Overflowing bowls of mushroom barley soup and chicken egg-drop soup.
Magically-instantly refilled dish of pickles on table.
Goulash and rice (vegetarian days are gone for now).
Sounds of Yiddish and Yinglish spoken all around, barely distinguishable, intermingle.
Turns out the place has been in the hasidic proprietor’s family for the last three generations.
Then back onto our bikes and nip over the imaginary divide – back to the future – into trendy Williamsburg.
Immediately transported back into New-York-skinny-jeaned-trendoid zone.
Saunter down Bedford Avenue – trendy little bars, vegan cafes, muffin shops, book stalls on streets, bikes parked on every street corner.
Loved it – but not nearly as much as the real Williamsburg.
Final leg of journey:
A wobble back over Williamsburg Bridge, legs definitely tiring of pedalling by now.
Time for a quick beer before going home?
Quick one for the road at a beer shop in Greenwich Village.
Bikes in tow, we jump on the A Train all the way home.
A marvellous day was had by all.
(and thanks goes out to the kind subway bosses who allow tired cyclists to take their clunky tired bikes home on the train. Phew.)