Brooklyn, N.Y. — IT may be a news flash to many visitors, but New York is more than Manhattan, and we Brooklynites like to think the good part is on our side of the East River.
Of course, Brooklyn doesn't really market itself to tourists. This is still a place of neighborhoods, and no one wants his neighborhood patrolled by double-decker buses equipped with tour guides pointing out locals like gazelles on the veld.
Still, if you can squint past its sometimes gruff exterior, you'll find a genuine warmth and friendliness among Brooklyn residents that's not for sale at any price in the gilded shops of Fifth Avenue.
I should know: After six years in Manhattan, I moved last year to the borough of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn's a big place -- with 2.5 million inhabitants, our borough would be the fourth-largest city in the country if it stood alone. If you have a few days to visit, it makes sense to concentrate your energies on a few neighborhoods.
Consider making the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge your home base (especially because it's one of the few hotels in Brooklyn). As its name implies, the hotel stands at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Get up early one morning and find your way along Adams Street to the entrance to the raised pedestrian walkway down the center of the bridge and head toward Manhattan. If you do this early enough you'll be treated to one of the world's most spectacular man-made vistas as the rising sun bathes the steel and stone spires of Manhattan's Financial District in gold.
Once you're in Manhattan, you'll find yourself outside City Hall. Admire the graceful proportions of the marble and granite facade alongside the manicured park filled on weekdays with office workers and bureaucrats taking a break from the great paper shuffle.
Then go from one government seat to the next: Hop on the 4-5 MTA subway line and head back into Brooklyn, exiting at the first stop, Borough Hall. The Greek Revival building, which was Brooklyn's City Hall until the city's merger with Manhattan, opened in the mid-19th century, though the statue of justice that crowns Borough Hall's cupola did not ascend to its perch until 1988. Newly renovated, Borough Hall sparkles during the day and shines at night under the glow of colored lights.
ACROSS the East River from Manhattan is the most genteel part of Brooklyn and also its most moneyed. A townhouse with Manhattan views on Columbia Street in Brooklyn Heights sold last year for a staggering $8.5 million, the most ever paid for a home in the borough.
It won't cost you a dime, however, to walk the charming streets of this area and marvel at the well-preserved homes of a neighborhood that was declared one of the country's first historic districts in 1965.
Brooklyn Heights feels to me like the Manhattan I'd always seen in the movies -- the Manhattan of the 1950s and early '60s, that charmed moment of prosperity and peace between war and riots. The Manhattan of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Rear Window."
When you walk down these streets at dusk on a warm evening, a magic descends and blankets everything not with the frenetic buzz of Manhattan isle but with a calm happiness. It's like being the invited guest at a very special party. People pass one another laughing on the streets.
My fiancee, Rie, captured the essence of the difference between Manhattan and Brooklyn one evening as we walked back through the Heights after dinner. "People stroll here," she said. "Nobody strolls in Manhattan."
So take your time -- you won't get elbowed off the sidewalk if you stop to look at the many historic churches lining the streets.
Once known as the City of Churches for the clusters of spires that defined its skyline, Brooklyn still has numerous historic churches dotting the borough.
At 75 Hicks St. stands Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, where famed abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, the brother of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, led the congregation in 1847. Beecher would hold mock slavery "auctions" at the church, where congregation members would contribute to buy the freedom of real slaves.
The 1840s Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity at 157 Montague St. contains thousands of square feet of stained glass windows, including 64 windows by William Jay Bolton, considered the oldest American-made stained glass windows produced.
Sadly, time has taken its toll on the church, which was placed on the World Monuments Fund's Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2002.
Walking west, you'll come to the charming riverside Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Try to ignore the scraggly roar of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway coursing nearby and gaze across the river at that certain special beauty that Manhattan has -- from a distance.