Bicycle. Bicycle.


“I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.”

Ashley and I have ridden bikes in the city before—when we first arrived, almost two years ago. We loved it. That time, we stayed on Manhattan and biked around central park, then followed Broadway through the madness of Times Square and down to Madison Park, where we rewarded ourselves at Shake Shack with some excellent burgers, a “concrete jungle” (made up of vanilla custard, banana, peanut butter, and chocolate sauce), and the best cheese-fries in the city. We learned, on that trip, that while Ashley didn’t really feel comfortable on the streets without bike lanes, give her a bike lane and she will happily go anywhere.



So when our Saturday beach plans were dashed by a forecast of afternoon winds and some possible rain, we decided to rent bikes and explore a different area of the city. We’ve been collecting the most recent city-published, free maps that outline the bike paths in all five boroughs of New York. We opened up a map and plotted a course, then—after
breakfast from City Bakery (a Lemon tart and the pretzel croissant)—we rented bikes from a local store in Gramercy Park and headed south through Alphabet City.
We cut through Chinatown and then navigated our way to the Brooklyn Bridge, where we planned to become two of those annoying bikers that always get in our way when we walk across it. Fortunately, while there were lots of people on the path, it was still early enough that the pedestrians tended to stay in their lanes. We too stayed in our lanes and everyone got along well. As always, the views from the bridge’s towers were stunning: clear views of the city and of the statue of liberty beyond.
We rode down into Brooklyn Heights and stuck close to the water. We traveled down through Cobble Hill (on a street we had actually never been on before) and through Caroll Gardens until we got to Red Hook. We spent some time searching for a neighborhood Ashley had seen when she was en route to see her friends, Chris and Josh, off on the Queen Mary 2. We couldn’t find it but, being in the area, and being as it was around lunch time, we couldn’t resist going to Fairway Market for their excellent and very affordable Lobster Roll.
After a delicious break by the water on their patio, I consulted my iphone map and the bike maps and we headed to Prospect Park in Park Slope. We entered the park and cruised down the hill to its base, where a bike path was clearly documented on the map. It seemed, however, to be leading us onto a freeway. But we took some side roads and re-joined the Ocean Parkway once a clear bike path had emerged.From there, we cruised down until the road ended at Brighton Beach. We ended up going to the beach after all! However, once at the shore, it was clear that we had made the right choice: although the wind whipping off the ocean reminded me of my days in San Francisco, it took a heartier breed (and there were a lot of them) than Ashley or I to enjoy a beach-day in this weather. We biked down until the boardwalk ended, then parked our bikes on Brighton Avenue. We had entered into the heart of the Russian shopping district!


Our first stop was at a bakery; walking in, we found that every inch of the store was filled with tasty-looking pastries, cakes, and cookies. We couldn’t tell what the items were (they were labeled in Russian), but I gathered a bunch of goodies that I thought looked the best. Ashley picked out one of the thinly layered slices of cake. With a host of things in hand, I went up to the cashier. The woman behind the counter said a great number of things to me in Russian, to which I smiled and explained in English that I don’t speak Russian. She smiled and pointed to the (ridiculously low) number on the cash register. Though each treat was yummy, we only sampled bits of them before stopping ourselves and then moving on to the grocery store (Brigton Bazaar). The grocery store was awash with interesting stuff, from the pre-made crepes to the huge assortments of smoked fishes and caviar.
After a few more blocks we decided to head back to the beach and keep biking along the boardwalk. We passed though Coney Island and then headed inland. Though the map listed a bike path, the road was under construction and the path had been removed—our map, we found, was often incorrect. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before we had a chance to head out again to the coast where a bike path ran along Lower New York Bay past the Verrazano-Narrows and under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The Bridge, up close, was absolutely huge—which makes sense given that it is the largest suspension bridge in the U.S. Heading further into Brooklyn, the path turned into a barely used, freshly paved and nicely maintaned path. The path ended in Sunset Park so we found a nice avenue—where there were enough double-parked cars that we could feel especially comfortable in the middle of the far right lane most of the time—and cruised up through Greenwood and back to Park slope.We followed the signs back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge and were home before long. And after washing off a thick layer dust and grime, we rallied for a nice dinner at Hundred Acres, one of three excellent New American seasonal restaurants owned by chef Marc Meyer (the others are Five Points and Cookshop). We thought it would make a great contrast to the day and wasn’t too far (we thought). By the time we got home, however, we realized that we unwittingly added over 3 miles of walking—just going to dinner and back—after having biked almost 40 miles. With some seriously sore butts and legs, we got back to our house and promptly collapsed into sleep.

The following day we based our plans around Bastille day. Every year, a french bar, which is active in the french expat community, hosts a Petanque tournament in Brooklyn (in honor of the French holiday). The past two years we have had the good forture to stumble upon it. This year we actually planned to attend.

We returned our bikes in the morning, and then walked down to Balthazar, the quintesential (New York) french bistro in SoHo. This resturant, and its sister resturants, have helped set the tone for what New York expects from its great french bistros. Ashley and I always love to have the (not so french) doughuts there—this time they were covered in pistachio—and with their crispy exterior and soft cake interior, they were excellent. Our other dishes were also great. And though it’s not cheap, Balthazar felt like the right way to start our jour française.
After breakfast, we performed a mini-repeat of the pervious day’s exploration, crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge—this time on foot. From there, we traveled down Smith Street to Bar Tabac. As was the case last year, French alcohol brands had set up stands along the perimeter of Smith, while the street itself was taken over by petanque games. Old-time pros mingled with serious, young folk up and down the street, where sand had been brought in to create the courts.
After arming ourselves with two Ricard Pastis, Ashley and I made our way around to the various booths, checking out the give-a-ways. Ashley donned her new Lilet hat to help keep the sun out of her eyes as she explored the scene. In previous years, a french jazz band played adjacent to the course; but perhaps we were too early this year as the only music was that of a neighborhood Peruvean resturant who was pumping latin music. It definitely changed the mood of the scene a bit and I think next year we’ll try to time our visit for when the band plays.
After one more drink, we kept walking down Smith and came across another french café celebrating Bastille day with a Petanque games and a bar-b-q. It was really fun to see everyone out and having such a good time.Our next stop was Baked (on Van Brundt in Red Hook)—but not because of anything French. Baked was awarded the honor of the best brownie by Cooks Illustrated. Though we’d been to the bakery many times, we still hadn’t tried their brownies; and after resisting so many other goodies earlier in the day, my resistance was down. Ashley, knowing she could trade with me, decided to get a lemon cupcake. Both were very good, but best brownie? Personally, I think I make a better one. Ashley thinks that adding frosting to a brownie, as I do, is cheating. I threatened that if she didn’t agree and back down, I would be forced to prove it to her. Despite my threats, she held her ground. Clearly this matter will have to be settled in the kitchen at a latter date.

After our desserts, Ashley brought me to a new garden she had found near our favorite key lime pie factory (one of Red Hook’s great treasures is the Steve’s Key Lime Pie Factory that supplies many restaurants). You’d never guess it from the street, but the parking lot opens to a wonderful section of gardens with benches and a great view of the water and statue of liberty. We sat on bench and thought out loud how amazing our city is.


We watched a few water taxi pass before we wandered over to the Ikea water taxi-line. Such a crowd had gathered that we barely made it on, but with success we quickly headed up to the top deck. I had been looking forward to the ride back to Manhattan all day, and it didn’t dissapoint. Riding over the water—even in a water taxi—gives one the most increadible feeling of freedom, not to mention amazing views of the city.


When got back to Manhattan, we decided to stop for a beer on Stone street. Stone street was the first paved street in New Amsterdam, and is an atmospheric enclave of old buildings and style surrounded by huge skyscrapers—it’s also filled with beer gardenesque pinic tables, restaurants and pubs. We shared a few oysters over beers before finally walking home, having had a great, full weekend.

Related posts:

Travel Guides

Browse By Category