In the two years I have been in New York, I can honestly say I still don't know Brooklyn at all well. It is 10 times bigger than Manhattan (not literally of course) and is full of neighborhoods that are all very different.
I have visited the obvious - Williamsburg, DUMBO and Cobble Hill - but decided to expand my repertoire this weekend with a meander across the bridge.
First stop was brunch at Five Leaves in Greenpoint. The brainchild of Heath Ledger (unfortunately he didn't live to see it come to fruition), it is just a really cool, laid back cafe offering a yummy brunch. Most of the waiters are Aussies or Kiwis and the interior has a very subtle maritime theme - bar shaped like a ship's prow, a porthole in the toilet door and wooden "decking". Apparently the name comes from the "Swan" cigarette papers that tell you when there are only five leaves left in the packet.
Then it was on into deepest darkest Greenpoint to visit Rooftop Farms. This is such a brilliant concept and reminded me of the permaculture I'd seen in Havana. Started in December 2008 by a couple who run a green-roof business, Rooftop Farms is a 6000 square feet organic veggie garden on the roof of a warehouse overlooking midtown Manhattan. The group who run it currently grow kale, radishes, nasturtiums, carrots, peppers and herbs. They supply their produce to local provedores and restaurants and have a public sunday market. So I bought some freshly dug up baby carrots and radishes which don't come cheaply at $7, but at least I am buying local produce!
After coming down off the roof, I wandered through Greenpoint towards Williamsburg. It is a long, lonely stretch between the two 'hoods and vastly different to Manhattan. Firstly, it is so quiet! There are no people. Well, there are, but they are all young and local and just "hanging" rather than "doing". Secondly, much of the area is an "Industrial Business Zone" which means a lot of junk yards, empty warehouses, building lots and streets.
But amongst this wasteland you stumble upon some fab "street art" and quaint little stores.
You are also flanked by the East River with both glimpses and fabulous views back to Manhattan. The local councils are slowly reclaiming chunks of waterfront from the US Navy to make it into public parkland - a much needed green respite on this side of the river.
Unfortunately, where the councils can't afford to buy up the land and the warehouses are too dilapidated to renovate, the ugly apartment buildings are going up.
Finally you hit glorious Williamsburg. A hip enclave full of quirky shops, fab foodie stores and achingly cool bars. The 'Burg deserves its own post so I will only give you a visual taste here.
Final leg of my Brooklyn wander; on to Dumbo past the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's a spooky stretch of disused warehouses and dilapidated houses known as "Admiral's Row". Apparently some of these houses date back to the Civil War. The US Army Corps are fighting to restore them and place them on the National Register of historic Places. Personally, I think they would be the prefect place to set an urban version of The Blair Witch Project.
And then I arrive at Dumbo, a relatively new neighborhood in a very old part of town. It's a fascinating mix of artists' studios and multi million dollar apartments all on the edge of the East River. Why is it called Dumbo? I will leave that for another post.