Having been to New York on several occasions previously, we debated about where in the city we’d visit for the start of our travels. New Jersey, Lower Manhattan, Midtown, Harlem or Brooklyn. We scoured Airbnb for the best deals and whittled it down to two or three favourites mainly away from the tourist centres.
We finally chose a one bedroom basement apartment within an old brownstone town house in Harlem… or to be exact, Edgecombe Avenue on 145th. There’s many things you could say about Harlem with reference to history, crime and in general the grittiness of the area. It covers a large area in the north of Manhattan, stretching from 5th Avenue and 96th to the East River up to 155th street. Central and West from 110th street at the north end of Central Park past Broadway to the Hudson River and again to 155th.
Still mainly African American with a large Hispanic population in East Harlem [or Spanish Harlem] the area has undergone a renaissance in recent years with new shops and cafés popping up all over the area. Overall crime levels are below the national [US] average and with that we never felt threatened. Even having Hamish in a city that’s not very dog friendly and having to walk everywhere, including at times after dark, we enjoyed everything the area had to offer.
With the exception of Gospel tours there is very little advertised as main attractions for tourists and you’re about an hour walk from Times Square, The Empire State Building and Midtown etc. This suited us fine as it was quieter and the prices in shops, restaurants, bars and cafés haven’t yet risen to the rip-off levels downtown. Still, no shortage of things to do. Several parks [including Central Park, a 30 minute walk away. St. Nicholas Park, Morningside Park and the Jackie Robinson Park closer by would keep Hamish entertained. Also close by an open air [free of charge] full size swimming pool, shopping mall and the world famous Apollo Theatre situated in the busy thoroughfare of 125th street. Just across the river, the Yankee Stadium if you’re into baseball….. or just want a gawp at a strange sport, along with an abundance of restaurants and coffee shops to suit your needs.
Named after the Dutch city of Haarlem we walked along Amsterdam Avenue; the only similarities being [at times] the aroma of cannabis which filled the air as we passed groups of men and women hanging out. But like the European Amsterdam causing no major issues… or none we witnessed, and was quite relaxed.
As an outsider looking in, the indigenous black population of Harlem are distinctively different from the rest of the locals in as much as their fashion sense ranges from the outrageous to the kaleidoscopic, from the hideous to the super-cool. The vocabulary at times would make a Nun blush and the general conversational sound decibels can be astronomical. But, they have a unique sense of self confidence and charm that other cultures in the area seem to lack, and without them and their idiosyncrasies Harlem would lose much of its individuality and flavour.
All in all an excellent place to visit, made better by [all] the residents there. Would we come again? Probably not, not when there’s other areas to conquer. But we’re sure glad we did come and I’d thoroughly recommend it to those thinking about going.