When my fiancée and I were deciding where to stay in New York, we wanted, as most people do, somewhere that was affordable – this was especially important as we were spending 2 weeks in the city. A search revealed Condor Hotel (which ended up being an excellent hotel), which was in Williamsburg in Brooklyn to be an option that looked like it ticked all of the boxes.
We had always assumed that we would stay in Manhattan, however did some research on the area and discovered all about what had been going on in Williamsburg re gentrification, the food scene, the art scene, hipsters and the like. There were a lot of Williamsburg stereotypes, however it sounded like quite a decent area so we decided we’d give it a shot.
When we arrived, it turns out that the hotel was about a half hour walk away from the “cool” part of Williamsburg. Where we were located was a Hasidic Jewish part of the neighbourhood. I’m always interested in learning about different cultures and seeing what the lives of people are like in a city and, not being Jewish, I learned about a lot of stuff I didn’t know about and got to see a whole part of New York that I likely wouldn’t have it I was staying in Manhattan – this is what travel is about to me.
To a tourist, the famous yellow school buses are a tourist attraction in their own right.
Everyone was walking around with cloaks/gowns/capes of sorts, and these big furry hats like you expect to see people wearing in the middle of winter in Russia. All of the Jewish run shops in the area were closed and people were walking around very quietly at all hours of day carrying these particular plants that I hadn’t seen before along with palm leaves.
There were wooden boxes being constructed on balconies and on the sidewalk out the front of many of the houses/apartments. I knew that there was some sort of religious celebration going on, and a few days into my trip, I asked a Jewish guy at the shops what it was all about and he kindly told me all about “Sukkot”.
Sukkot is a Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals on which Hebrews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday lasts seven days. The first day is a sabbath-like yom tov when work is forbidden, followed by the intermediate Chol Hamoed and Shemini Atzeret. The Hebrew word sukkōt is the plural of sukkah, “booth or tabernacle”, which is a walled structure covered with skhakh (plant material such as leafy tree overgrowth or palm leaves). The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many sleep there as well. On each day of the holiday, members of the household recite a blessing over the lulav and etrog (Four species).
At the end of our holiday, when Sukkot had finished, this whole part of Williamsburg changed. All the shops were open, great smells from all the Jewish bakeries surrounded the area, and there were people and traffic everywhere. It was unrecognisable from a few days earlier.
Just west of the Jewish part of Williamsburg, things take on a Latino vibe. Advertisment, shops, the works – in this area lots of stuff was either bilingual, or not even in English. I love how New York is such a melting pot of cultures and you can experience so many of them in the same city – everyone is just free to do their own thing.
With Halloween just around the corner, there were shops selling carving pumpkins all over the city. There’s no real wasted space in New York. Everywhere you look, be it a side street, next to rail lines, there’s something going on. The streets on either side of the raised rail lines seemed to have a particularly high concentration of small businesses – especially near the stations themselves, which would be expected.
Some might say that overhead rail lines and stations are an eyesore, but I think that they give the area a real unique character.
The views from the above ground platforms are always fascinating and give you a real different perspective of the area.
Williamsburg is such a diverse, unique and interesting part of New York, and while many of the Williamsburg stereotypes hold true, negative and positive, the fact of the matter is that Williamsburg, and Brooklyn in general is a great part of New York, and well worth your time.