After a gruelingly long but otherwise uneventful winter, spring is finally in the air. Green shoots are muscling their way to the front row. Flowers are taking center stage. The hibernating inhabitants of the city are slowly emerging from their slumber, eager and ready to shed their winter layers and expend all that pent up energy. All the usual suspects come to mind: picnics in Central Park, visits to the Brooklyn Botanic and New York Botanical Gardens, and trips to Governors Island. Patio seats and access to rooftop bars become hot commodities. But we thought we’d offer another, oft-forgotten option to add to your list: Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island.
Thanks to some inspiration from our friend Lynn from Blue Brightly, we were particularly excited to explore the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which opened in 1999. It features a compilation of different gardens in China, including eight pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls, a koi pond, gorgeous flowers, Chinese calligraphy, and a variety of Ghongshi scholar’s rocks. Each aspect of the garden holds a deeper meaning, from the architectural details to the selection of plants. Here are a few highlights to look out for as you stroll through:
The Moon Gate
Circles are highly symbolic in many cultures, signifying totality, infinity, an unbroken line. The Moon Gate in the Chinese Scholar’s Garden represents the completeness of the universe, but it also offers visitors different perspectives of the garden. As you move through the space, the gate highlights changing views.
Lingering in Clouds Peak
Rockeries in the garden are meant to represent the mountainous landscape of China. The largest rock sculpture is named Lingering in Clouds Peak, which symbolizes the lofty goal of a scholar: attaining knowledge.
The Yellow Bamboo
Bamboo is a symbol of longevity and vitality because it can survive the hardest natural conditions and remains green all year round. Bamboo is the symbol of the scholar as it is both flexible and strong.
The Patterned Ground
River stones are used to create varying patterns on the ground throughout the space. Each brocade pattern carries a different meaning, symbolizing purity, enlightenment, harmony and knowledge.
But Snug Harbor isn’t a one-note destination, the grounds of the converted 19th century charitable rest home for sailors offer myriad sites and activities to enjoy. Opportunities to explore history, architecture, gardens, agriculture, visual and performing arts, and education are spread far and wide across its 83-acres. Take a jaunt. Make a day of it. You won’t regret it.
Staten Island and How To Get There
When people talk about escaping Manhattan, they almost always mention the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, or Long Island. Staten Island is often treated like the stepchild of the outer boroughs, and that’s really quite unfortunate because it has a lot to offer: a zoo, a park, a cultural center, architectural treasures, a 630-foot observation wheel, museums, beaches, and some really great dining options. It is also the least populated and greenest borough, boasting an incredible 12,300 acres of parkland.
Staten Island is easily accessible by way of a quick 25-minute ferry ride from Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan. (The views on the ride over are nothing to scoff at either, you’ll even get to say hi to Lady Liberty.) Once you arrive in Staten Island take the S40 bus at Gate D to travel along Richmond Terrace, and let the bus driver know that you want to get off at Snug Harbor. It’s less than a 10-minute ride.
Pro Tip: The ferry is free but is largely used for commuting. Avoid weekday commuting rush hours for the most comfortable ride. Do not fall for scams involving strangers in uniforms trying to sell you tickets.
Pair it with:
Lunch at Lakruwana
There are a lot of amazing restaurants in Staten Island, from low-key casual to high-class fancy. But Lynn and I always tend to migrate toward the more adventurous options, and Staten Island has plenty to offer in this category. As it happens, one of the largest populations of Sri Lankans living outside of their native homeland resides in Staten Island. In our minds, the test for authentic ethnic food is the answer to a pretty simple question: how many patrons of said restaurant are of that ethnicity?
When we stepped into Lakruwana recently and discovered that ninety percent of those chowing down were Sri Lankan, it was clear we were in the right place. The interior is covered, floor to ceiling, in genuine Sri Lankan artifacts, shipped piece by piece specifically to produce the elaborate effect. But enough about that, let’s talk about the food. From the affordable, clay pot lined, weekend buffet to à la carte offerings, you really can’t go wrong here. Our Lamprais (an elaborate combination of spiced meats and vegetables on a bed of rice, steamed in a banana leaf wrap) and String Hopper Kotu (a molded pyramid of stir fried rice flower nets with a side of curry) did not disappoint. You’ll be planning your next visit before you clear your plate.
668 Bay Street
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