The Cloisters: European vibes in NYC

After 7.5 years living in New York, I finally made it to the Cloisters. I got lucky, in fact, that a random Friday off of work in early November was a stunning September-like 73 degrees. Perfect for a field trip to the tip-top of Manhattan.

The Cloisters had been on my New York bucket list for awhile…I recall having conversations about going up there with friends back in 2011. I just never got around to planning a trip there or having enough time or the right weather or any other excuse I could think of. So when I found myself with a day off (and beautiful weather in the forecast), I blocked off my day for a trip uptown.

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Getting to the Cloisters from Brooklyn can take awhile – my trip was about 1 hour from Bed-Stuy (take the C to the A all the way to 190th Street). I rarely ever ride the subway for that long and was content to close my eyes and listen to a Spotify playlist, opening my eyes occasionally to check which stop was next. When we did finally arrive at 190th Street, I was totally caught by surprise. Exiting the subway stop (which is accessible only by elevator, something I hate), I emerged into a different kind of Manhattan. The stop is just below Fort Tryon Park; you have to walk through this park to get to the Cloisters. It was green. It was quiet. It felt more like Europe than any other part of New York City. For someone who has lived in this city for awhile, it felt entirely new.

I instantly became a tourist in my own town, snapping photos of the trees and the views over the Hudson River. This was some sort of magical Manhattan and seeing it on this gorgeous fall day made it that much more incredible. So yeah, I couldn’t stop with the pictures and the marvelling and whatnot.

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Fort Tryon Park is quite beautiful and its location above the Hudson makes for a peaceful setting. There are many benches where you can just sit and take it all in or read a book or drink some coffee or chill with your friend or your kids. Follow the signs through the park and you will arrive at a field in front of the Cloisters which, on the day I was there, was full of kids on some sort of field trip. By the time I left the Cloisters, the kids were gone and had been replaced by a woman painting and a young family playing. Far more serene by that point. I found a bench and soaked up the silence (and the sun) for a bit before rushing back out of this idyllic place and into the busier Manhattan.

But back to the Cloisters…this really felt like Europe when I got even closer. The museum looks like an old abbey and houses medieval art. Where, other than some old European city, would you find a place like this? I was instantly transported back to Prague last Fall, walking high above the Vltava River at Vysehrad.

The Cloisters is part of The Met and thus follows the same “pay what you wish” admission policy. You can also use your ticket to access the two other Met museums that day should you find a way to make it over there after schlepping all the way up here (ambitious). I spent a little more than an hour wandering through the museum, mostly gawking at the stained glass and the stone passageways rather than the art.

And then I wandered into the garden and never wanted to leave. The garden is full of plants from medieval times, organized by their use (medicinal, cooking, magic/ceremony). Because it was such a lovely day, I had no desire to leave the garden. I made my way around all of the plans until I found a bench where I could take it all in. Everyone else seemed to be doing the same thing, feeling so lucky to have visited on a day like this.

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Even upon leaving the park, I couldn’t believe I was still in Manhattan. For just a few hours (and a subway ride and the price of a museum ticket), I had found myself transported across the Atlantic. I had found myself somewhere totally foreign in my own city, a place that felt utterly new and different and a bit magical. And now I know whenever I feel the urge to escape, I can just take the A train up to 190th Street.

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