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) - Staten Island

 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.