Tuesday, March 24, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 6)

On day 6 it's back to Brooklyn to explore some of the historic neighborhoods and major landmarks of the city's most populous borough. Brooklyn was once an independent city with its own government, parks, landmarks, and culture. Brooklyn grew up around its waterfront and the ferries to New York, but with the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, development multiplied in Brooklyn. Day 6's itinerary covers some of Brooklyn's most notable historic landmarks as well as neighborhoods that have become some of the trendiest in the city. This is an itinerary best done on a weekend to take advantage of programs like the Brooklyn Flea Market.

DAY 6 - Prospect Park and Brownstone Brooklyn

Morning: Head to Grand Army Plaza to start the day. Don't confuse this with the landmark of the same name on 5th Ave in Manhattan. Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza is New York's answer to the Champs-Elysees. It's not quite up to the grandeur of Paris, but it's not too shabby either. As Flatbush Avenue approaches Prospect Park a large traffic circle forms around New York's biggest triumphal arch, the Soldier's and Sailor's Monument. The arch was built to honor the fighters for the Union in the American Civil War and is actually much bigger and grander than the Washington Arch in Manhattan . This is the central intersection of Brooklyn and it also forms the northern entrance to Prospect Park, Brooklyn's 585 acre emerald jewel.
   Prospect Park was designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead in 1865. Both were in the midst of building their first project, Manhattan's Central Park, when they were brought in to propose a new plan for the new Brooklyn park. They proposed a realignment of the park's borders and designed a sylvan, rustic park in the same style as Central Park. Vaux and Olmstead's parks heavily borrowed from nature and shunned formal architecture. In Manhattan, they had been forced to create many small natural spaces but in Brooklyn they amplified their design scheme and created three major landscapes: a large lake and shoreline, a rugged woodland, and the first sight when you enter Prospect Park the Long Meadow. The designer's themselves thought the Prospect Park design superior to Central Park and many New Yorkers agree. Have a walk through the meadow, which undulates and winds almost a mile down the spine of the park. Just past the picnic house on the right, you'll see a lake and stream on the left side of the meadow. Cross the rustic Esdale Bridge into the Ravine. This is a rugged, rocky, hilly forest built onto the natural glacial hills of Long island. These hills provided a line of defense during the Revolutionary War and George Washington led the ill-fated Battle of Long Island among these hills in Prospect Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. The Ravine is easy to get lost in so stick to following the stream downriver through the woods. Eventually you'll reach the beautiful PRospect Park Boathouse. From here you can walk behind the boathouse and exit the park.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 5)

   Day 3's activities took in the stretch of Midtown south of 42nd Street. Now, it's time to partner that with the stretch of Midtown north. This is the busiest business district in North America and is always jammed with crowds of workers and tourists. Weekdays often mean shorter lines at museums and attractions, but they also mean surges of office workers on the sidewalks in the morning and evening rush hour, and especially around lunch. So just be wary of those lunch crowds and you'll be all set. Grab a hearty breakfast before setting out and head over to Rockefeller Center

DAY 5 - Midtown North

Morning: Start the day exploring Rockefeller Center. This is one of the greatest architectural treasures of New York City. The complex cover three blocks between 51st and 48th Streets and was built during the depths of the Great Depression. It's a masterpiece of understated Art Deco design, but is also one of the most forward-thinking commercial spaces ever built. Rockefeller Center was built so that it's buildings would all gracefully fit together. It was designed with public promenades and gardens, and even some private gardens on rooftops. There's places to sit, shops to visit, and a large underground concourse of shops and services. It was built with truck loading bays and subway connections underground so the sidewalks aren't quite as packed with trucks and office workers as other parts of Midtown. And since it opened in 1933, it has housed NBC studios. If you arrive before 9 AM, you'll be able to check out the broadcast of Today that usually wraps up with a number of outdoor segments. I've gone by around 9:00 before and always found there to be lots of space from which to watch the last few segments as they're broadcast live to the whole East Coast. Inside the GE Building (aka 30 Rock) there is the studios of The Tonight Show, NBC Nightly News, Saturday Night Live, and other NBC classics. There are studio tours offered but it's hard to know exactly what you'll see on the tour. Tours obviously don't get into studios that are in use. So it can be fun or a disappointment depending on what you see. More reliable is the tour of Radio City Music Hall, which is a world icon of Art Deco and coordinated kicking. The theater is sparklingly restored and the opportunity to see it without seeing a show is worthwhile.  Tours run every half hour and take a little more than an hour.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Puttin' on the Ritz

   The Lower East Side was a place that the multitudes came for a new life. They stormed the shores of New York harbor on ships from Hamburg, Liverpool, Cork, Palermo, Naples, and many others. And for a time, the greatest number were fleeing the lands of Eastern Europe. Jewish immigrants from all over the Russian Empire joined the rest of Europe in one of the great migrations of modern time. And they crowded themselves into Lower Manhattan. So thick they were that a square mile of the neighborhood was home to 500,000 residents. Over the generations these families would rise up out of the slums, but there were a lucky few who made it big. One of these lucky few was a young man who came with his family from the Russian Empire in 1893. His name was Israel Baline, but the world knows him as Irving Berlin.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 4)

 So far, the first three days have taken in some classic sights of the city. Even the trip to Brooklyn Heights doesn't venture too far off the beaten track. So now that you've gotten your feet under you, it's time to check out New York's forgotten borough. Day 4 heads to Staten Island. This day's itinerary will be written with an eye to the future however. By summer of 2017, the shoreline of Staten Island will be very different.

Day 4 - Staten Island

Morning: Staten Island is often considered the forgotten borough of New York. The island's busiest hub is five miles across the harbor from Lower Manhattan. The only connections to the rest of NYC are the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn and the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan. In fact, there are three bridges to New Jersey, making the island much more connected to the nearby state than the rest of its own city. In addition, the island is much more suburban than the rest of the city. More cars, fewer apartments, and more single-family homes. But there's still some awesome coastline and some great food to be had, so it's time to hop on the ferry,
   The Staten Island Ferry is one of my indispensable New York experiences. There's plenty of nice harbor tours, but the ferry is truly part of the commute of tens of thousands of Staten Islanders. It's a blue-collar kind of commute. The snack bar reaches the height of its culinary prowess with bags of popcorn. Best of all, the city-operated boat doesn't need to pay liquor taxes, so $3.50 tallboys of Budwesier make this one of the best floating bars in America. The ferry used to carry a small fee, but political protest by Staten Islanders in the 90s led to the fare being eliminated. So now, one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world is free for all passengers. The ride begins at Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan. My strategy on the ferry has always been to ignore the crowds going to the front decks and west railings and instead to park myself on the rear decks where you first board the ferry. There are multiple decks and any of them will do, though the bottom deck is almost always nearly empty. Standing on the back deck, the city recedes slowly from view. The skyscrapers that begin as looming behemoths gradually shrink. Before long the Statue of Liberty comes alongside the ferry and the reward for waiting to see her is no jostling crowd to compete with for the great views.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How to navigate short-term rentals in NYC

   The vacation rental business is booming New York City. Record numbers of tourists have been flocking to New York City every year, 56.4 million in 2014 according to the city's tourism agency NYC & Co. And while hotel construction has kept up with the new arrivals, hotel rates continue to be some of the highest in the world, with an average room often running more than $300/night. The booming numbers of visitors has led to a surge in the market for short-term apartment rentals, as visitors look to find less costly alternatives to hotels.
   There's a lot of appeal to these kinds of accommodations for many travelers. Large groups of family or friends are often forced to book multiple hotel rooms, significantly expanding the cost of a trip. Families with more than two kids feel the extra burden on the checkbook particularly acutely. So cost is a major factor in how popular vacation rentals are. Apartments also come with more residential amenities like full kitchens and living rooms with places to sit. This is a big benefit for visitors staying for more than a few days and for those who want to save some money by having some meals or snacks at home. Finally, there's the experience of staying in an apartment. It isn't just the sights of New York that are iconic, but the lifestyle. Everything from the local pubs, quaint coffee shops, tree-lined blocks of high stoops, and cups of soup at the deli have entered public consciousness through TV and movies. The experience of not just being in New York, but in some sense being a New Yorker are big draws for people visiting the city. Not to mention that staying in a residential area gives much greater access to grocers, bars, restaurants, shops, and some of the amenities that draw people to the city. There's a lot of good reasons to ditch the hotel and stay in an apartment. There's a catch though.
   In New York City, it's almost always illegal.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 3)

This series of posts is a selection of itineraries covering 30 days in and around New York City. This isn't meant as exactly what to do if you're here for a month (it would be exhausting!). But more a great selection of things you could do while here for any length of time. Now that we've gotten a good intro to the city, let's dive into the crowds...

DAY 3 - Midtown South

Morning: After we've gotten to see the skyline from the water and from Brooklyn, it's time for the all-time classic view. Head over to 5th Ave and 34th Street. It's time to go up to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. This is, of course, one of the most popular visits in New York, which means the lines can often be massive, especially at peak times of year and on weekends. So first thing in the morning is the best time to check it out. It opens at 8 AM, and on busy days is packed by 10. So either head over early, or visit at off-peak times. Nevertheless, the view is a classic, especially the south view looking over Downtown and the Financial District. And one piece of warning, there are lots of vendors selling a variety of passes to the top, but they are often shilling crappy package deals so just avoid them and head inside.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Great list of unique shops in New York

   I'm not usually the type to simply link to a bunch of other people's lists or writings about New York City, but this one is a topic of which I'm particularly fond. One of the great charms of New York is that in a city whose essence is often defined as motion, progress, striving, and whiplash changes, there are still hundreds and thousands of small local businesses that have served their communities for generations. Some like Katz's Deli or Nathan's Hot Dogs have become international icons of New York's food and history. But scores more are famous only to their customers. They don't change their signs. They don't change their menus (much). They are passed down through generations, or sold to loyal customers who keep the ship sailing on the same course. They provide a living history, and one that continues to perform vital functions in their community. Just in my neighborhood, I can buy bread at at 40-year old Italian bakery. Buy my meats at a 50-year old butcher shop, grab a drink at a more than 60-year old Irish pub, or get breakfast at the neighborhood diner that has been under the elevated tracks about as long as there have been elevated tracks. You can't ignore New York's history and the people that have lived there in past generations because you live that history and that life everyday. So here is Buzzfeed writer's Mathew Perpetua's list of 44 unique, old, small businesses in all 5 boroughs. Not only are there some classics there, but a few I didn't even know about. Enjoy!

44 Amazing old NYC businesses

A photo posted by Shawn (@nytourguy) on