Central Park, South End: NYC

Central Park initially opened in 1857 on 778 acres of land. It now covers 844 acres and is still NOT the largest park in New York City.

For the longest time, I was one of those who visited New York once in 2011 and then lived in one of the outer boroughs for 8 months without having set foot in Central Park. I have no explanation other than they weren’t kidding when they said there is so much stuff going on in this city. It also has been blowing my mind the vast number of other green spaces available here for long hikes and other nature activities whenever I needed to decompress and step away from all forms of iron lungs.

Central Park south end entrance and map

Central Park
6AM-1AM (Open Daily)
W 59th St | New York, NY [map]

[Photo Gallery]

So I’ve been to this famous park twice now — once before the onset of fall, and most recently on November 30th of 2013, two Saturdays before we got our first taste of snow for the winter which didn’t officially start until December 21st. On my first visit back in September, we got off the train on 59th St and started walking towards the closest entrance to the south end of the park. On the way, we were greeted by a small wedding entourage. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo on my camera phone. To my later frustration, it was the only camera I had with me at the time.

A wedding entourage on the way to the South End of Central Park.

There are those who travel far to seek out “nature” on their wedding day, and then there are city people. So the question on every wedding planner’s checklist should be: “Do you prefer man-made illusion or urban grime?”

And then we got to the entrance with a map of the huge park, but not without one of us partaking in a supposedly classic New York experience: eating a hot dog while visiting Central Park. I get queasy over hot dogs and how they’re sourced in general so I passed. Despite it being a cloudy day, the park was crowded and full of people having fun walking their dogs.

People walking their dogs at Central Park.

Big dogs are often happy when you take them outside for a walk.

Before we could take our own afternoon walk, our individual calls of nature got more urgent and were made progressively worse by the lack of any visible bathrooms. We ended up going to the cafeteria and standing in line for almost 30 minutes before one of the cafeteria employees directed the crowd to the closest public restroom. Hopefully this saves you some time when visiting Central Park. Yes, there are 16 public restrooms all over the park.

After a long and painful release, we started our walk at The Mall leading to the Bethesda Terrace and lo and behold — your typical TV and touristy NYC stuff happened.

There was the old man drawing a sketch of a female tourist, a busker who looked like a shorter Sansa Stark, and of course, a living statue. My best friend-cum-travel partner pointed out: “Hey, that used to be Amanda Palmer’s job.” Yes, it was in fact Amanda Palmer’s job and you should go watch her inspiring TED talk about it.

Balto statue, the dogsled who saved lives.

We also snapped a photo of the sculpture of Balto, the sled dog who saved Alaska’s children from a diphtheria epidemic. If you go to the park’s official website, you’ll learn there are 82 points of interest on the South End of Central Park alone where we visited the first time.

Another standout for me was the moment before we stepped down to the Bethesda Terrace with the decorative ceiling. There was a 15-year-old teenager in a My Chemical Romance shirt who approached me with a quivering voice saying “Your hair is awesome.”

A view of Bethesda Terrace from the top

A view of Bethesda Terrace from the top

If I were less awkward, I would have given her a hug. Don’t get me wrong, but I have never felt as validated in my entire life as I do in NYC. Give that 15-year old girl a few years, and she’ll be telling you about the best underground stuff and the most DIY things happening around you. Maybe that’s the 13-year-old in me speaking, the one who thought Blink-182 was the best band ever but whatever. Give young punks a chance to grow or they (and I) will never like you.

Central Park Bethesda Terrace musician

New York City is replete with musicians who willingly serenade everyone around them for free.

While touristy, I would much rather kids take their parents to Central Park than the mall. :P

While touristy, I would much rather kids take their parents to Central Park than the mall.

And of course there were kids petting ducks, and taking pictures of the white animals with their iPads.

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I couldn’t resist the temptation to pose by the famous Bethesda Angel of Waters statue on the Bethesda Fountain. Unfortunately I got her back view but she is supposed to be referencing the Gospel of John which describes an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda and giving it healing powers.

Central Park South End by the Bethesda Fountain

And I was a little too sorry I didn’t have my nice camera with me when this beautiful scenery revealed itself to me.

The stunning 18-acre Central Park lake

This stunning 18-acre Central Park lake used to be an untamed swamp.

Central Park lake that used to be a swampPeople find it hard to believe sometimes, but NYC does a great job of juxtaposing beautiful skyscrapers with mesmerizing natural views. Just like all other cities I’ve been exposed to, it is far from being perfect but Central Park is a testament to its legendary greatness. Another standout point of interest for me was the Belvedere Castle which gives you the best and highest views of the park and the surrounding cityscape.

The Belvedere Castle which  also serves as the official Central Park weather station.

A noteworthy fact is that since 1919, the National Weather Service has been using this castle as the location of the official Central Park weather station. In a fenced-in compound just south of the castle, other data such as the rainfall is recorded and sent to the weather service’s forecast office at Brookhaven National Library on Long Island. The Henry Luce Nature Observatory which was created in 1996 is also located in this castle and is open to the public for free Tuesdays-Sundays from 10AM to 5PM. Sadly it was past 5 when we made it up this way.

A stunning view from the Belvedere Castle of Central Park

An example of the much-talked about “stunning views” from the Belvedere Castle.

The Belvedere Castle has also been the setting for many popular films, animated series, and video games. Learn more about this interesting architectural feat here.

A wedding happening at Central ParkAnd brides or brides-to-be really do seem pulled in by the allure of Central Park. Our remark while witnessing two wedding entourages that day was that we couldn’t really fault them for this choice. Next up, I will discuss my night visit to the North End of Central Park which was incredibly different and I assume is much less touristy during the day. I can’t wait to explore it further.

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