Wide streets framed with high trees. A typical American diner serving silver dollar pancakes to big families. A not too crowded park that leads you through the jungle to the open water.
Last Sunday I spent a day in New Jersey together with my friends who showed me around. They are a couple and moved into their new apartment at the beginning of this year. Because they wanted to be close to the City but couldn’t afford the
outrageous one-bedroom rates of Manhattan, they choose Jersey City as their new home destination. I don’t think they’ve ever regretted crossing the Hudson River ever since. They were simply over their shared apartment situation in Bushwick and NJ was exactly what they needed: A peaceful area with affordable rentals and lots of opportunities to travel in and out of New York.
Now, there are several ways to get over to New Jersey. You can rely on a bus or New Jersey transit, a train that will take you from the main stations, such as Penn and Grand Central, to the bigger cities. The easiest means of travel is most likely the PATH: An underground train that you can catch throughout Manhattan and that catapults you to the Garden State within minutes.
Coming from Brooklyn, I took the PATH from the World Trade Center Station. It is a little bizarre to get there via this route because you first have to take the R to Cortland Street and, instead of switching over to the PATH underground, you will have to walk out of the subway station, a few blocks past the new Liberty Tower, then take a left to finally enter the train station. Got it? Exactly! It took me two tries to get there. In case you get lost, there are a few stingy signs on the way but unfortunately it is easier to orient yourself on the hectic crowds scurrying ahead of you then relying on the scarcely written words. Of course the PATH can feel like you are transformed to a different universe at times, especially since so many people from New Jersey are taking it. While they are not completely foreign, the vibes you get on the PATH are just so very different than anywhere else in the city. The funniest costume I’ve seen on it so far was the Bird Man: An eccentric-looking guy who dresses in fluffy, uni-colored outfits every day and either walks the Brooklyn Bridge or travels over to New Jersey. Back in February he had his red outfit on as he was was buying a ride over to NJ. Right when I got this awesome shot of him.
Other than that, a PATH ride can be rather uneventful. Compared to NYC subways, of course. To get to Jersey City, I got off at Grove Street, which catapulted me into the center of this quaint town (or so it seemed). Especially since it was the weekend, I saw people walking around fruit and veggie stands as soon as I was above ground. Perfect timing for a weekly green market in the middle of the town.
While taking a look around and walking towards my friends’ house, I discovered a good indicator of having left the Big Apple for sure: The streets were wider, the avenues longer, and everyone a bit happier. Jersey City can also easily convey the airs of a hipster town or college student center, I have found. When walking through the streets, I have sometimes been struck by a striking resemblance to Park Slope, except for that the roads are further apart. “No wonder you felt that way!” my friend explained to me. “The brownstones you see here are from the exact same era than the brownstones in Brooklyn. Together with the trees lining the streets and the occasional dog and baby stroller, you can surely have the impression that you are still in the Slope.”
In the beginning I really did not feel like I had left my neighborhood. Until I saw the restaurants and bars. A neighborhood group gathered around huge TVs. Or the Sunday brunch crowd. Just so very different than in Breukelen. On Sunday my friends wanted to show me how huge the portions are you get in New Jersey. Therefore, they picked their favorite diner only minutes from their apt. “We really love that everything is close-by. You don’t need a car – unlike everyone wants to make you believe when you mention you are moving to Jersey. Bars, cafes, restaurants – everything is so close and we don’t even leave the town anymore on the weekends unless we have to”, my friends were eager to point out to me. True, the PATH was a good 15 mins walk away. But everything else was about as close as it could get.
Such as the Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory diner, for example. A few blocks over and close to the park, we entered it on a busy Saturday afternoon. Early lunch time. Big families with infants and babies who were devouring huge portions of scrambled eggs, and pancakes, and bacon … you name it! My mouth was watering just by looking at the food. “This is our favorite spot” my friend proudly announced as he heard my stomach growl. “And the best thing about it is that it is just so much cheaper than Manhattan!” Well, in Manhattan you would not find diners like these. I am sure they would be boycotted by some green/go-vegan/preserve-the-originality-of-New-York kinda group. Which is absolutely fine, that’s why New Jersey offers a close compromise, where you can devour a family-sized breakfast and not feel guilty. For ten bucks I got a cheese omelet, silver-dollar-pancakes (how original is that!), home fries and some fresh orange juice. What a meal! I was able to finish about 3/4 of it until I finally gave up. Thumbs up to that!
After our marathon brunch we were a bit stuffed, so my friends decided to go to one of the biggest parks in town. Their little dog Beija accompanied us and stuck her tiny nose in about everything she came across. On our way to it, she discovered a small snake lying around on the road. I never thought of New Jersey even having snakes, so I learned something new that day (one out of many things, actually).
Liberty State Park is an extensive green area, ideal for walking, hiking, yachting, and sightseeing. So pretty much anything you feel like doing on a weekend. They have cute little benches that overlook the skyline of Manhattan. They also have a historic train station which is now out of service but can still be visited for purposes of photo shoots or simply exploring. That day we saw three different wedding parties posing with their bridesmaids, groom helpers and families in front of the red brick walls of the train station. Luckily it was a gorgeous day out, with a high of 75 and no sign of rain on the baby blue sky.
Aside from the old wagons, the green trees, and the towers of Manhattan looming in the background, my friends showed me a very special spot of which I and most likely other New Yorkers had no idea it even existed: The 9/11 Memorial, Jersey-bound. Jersey City built the so-called Empty Sky and finished its construction at the same time the Manhattan counterpart opened to the public – on the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11. Its most predominant features are two opposing walls with the victims’ names, through which visitors can walk and see themselves in mirror-like fashion. These kinds of memorials always give me a huge gulp and I was touched by how every city close to New York seems to remember that one awful day in 2001.
Aside from the memorial, the town is connected to New York via ferry route. A boat goes out to Liberty and Ellis Island on a regular basis, which emphasizes the crucial role New Jersey withholds in the Tri-State relationship to New York. Often people, visitors and citizens, tend to forget this.
I was happy to have the chance of seeing Liberty State Park and spending an entire day with my friends whom I have a hard time meeting in the City nowadays due to different work schedules and other hectic hobbies. It was an honor for me to be their private photographer and take in their routine of a typical Sunday out in New Jersey. I am sure that I will one day come back to this mysteriously charming place, and if it’s just to see the skyline for the small fee of a PATH train ride.