Kicking off the New York Summer: Free Events and More (Part 2)

free yoga in new york

In order to maintain a great summer body after all of those movies and concerts (and perhaps the occasional beer or two), New York offers the perfect solution, too. There are some free events including yoga, Pilates, dance and even kayak throughout the boroughs.

1) Yoga

Two years ago I already mentioned the Yoga in the Park series. Prospect Park offers some great yoga every Thursday from 7pm on. People count can be quite extensive but not as bad as in other locations in the city.

Such as Bryant Park Yoga, which usually fills up the entire lawn area. Free Yoga classes are held here on Tuesday mornings from 10am on and Thursdays at 6pm. I once went on a Tuesday morning and the class count was 300 people. Contrary to my initial belief, since it seemed less than that.

Bryant Park Yoga
Bryant Park Yoga

Coney Island offers a give-by-donation yoga session right at the beach. Monday and Thursday nights at 7pm on a weekly basis, so perhaps you can go to a movie right after.

Union Square offers free yoga on Thursdays at 8am. It’s open to all skill levels and might be a great way to kickstart your day!

Same goes for early morning yoga at Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 6. Here, yoginis meet at 7:30am on Mondays for a sunrise yoga. Sessions are through July 27th.

2) Pilates
The Audubon Center in Prospect Park offers free Pilates every Friday at noon through August 20th. Find more info on their web site.

3) Kayak
Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 2 offers free Kayaking to the public. Every Thursday from 5:30 to 6:45pm and Saturday from 10am to 3pm it has 20 minute sessions open to every age group. Every Sunday starting at 11am it offers Kayak Polo for adults and children throughout the day. I’ve started volunteering with them last month and have since then completed my Safety Boater training (which involved taking a dive into the East River). It’s a cool thing to do when combining a sporty activity with on-the-water paddling.

4) Hip Hop Dance Aerobic
From July 10 through August 11th Brooklyn Bridge Park is hosting this fun classed sponsored by the YMCA. Get your dance feet moving and your rhythm going every Friday at 7pm.

5) Zumba
It’s at the same location in Dumbo from July 5th through August 16th. I remember trying to come here in the previous years and it being immensely popular. Perhaps an early registration is advisable.

6) Broadway Dance
Until August 4th, every Monday at 10am you can learn some grand lessons in the realm of Broadway and Musicals. Other than that, you will also get a great work-out. Same location, Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

7) Free Juggling in Midtown
Bryant Park features free juggling with a group of outstanding jugglers every day from 12-1pm. I happened to come across them in May and have yet to come back for my second session. They are located directly behind the Public Library and are not hard to miss. If you happen to be around for lunch and want to learn a few beginner juggling skills or even if you just want to throw a few balls around – this is the place to be doing it at.

Juggling in Bryant Park
Juggling in Bryant Park

Kicking Off The New York Summer: Free Events and More (Part 1)

Summer in New York
Summer in New York

It’s the beginning of July and our New York summer is in full swing. Not only have we had a few of our first heat waves, but beach season has officially started four weeks ago and the parks are being continuously over-crowded with picnics, birthday parties and sunbathers.

Concerts, movies, yoga – experiencing a summer in New York is always a treat, especially after our cold and long winters. Indeed, summer in New York can be so distracting to a certain degree that most things never get done, unless you really force yourself to accomplish them. So make sure you don’t become too busy and still find some time for inner peace and silence. Because this time of year has the potential to sweep you off your feet and then leave you dangling – sometimes head-over.

In the past few years, I’ve already written a few post on New York City summer events, so I am recapping some old and new things in the next few posts.

Free Movies in the Parks:

1) Bryant Park Movie Nights
Every Monday starting June 22nd, Bryant Park features some popular movies at sundown. For 10 weeks straight, you will have the opportunity to be part of this fun event in Midtown Manhattan.

Bryant Park movie time
Bryant Park movie time

2) Coney Island Flicks
Every Monday starting in July, Coney’s flicks on the beach come into play. I’ve actually never made it out to one of these and my summer goal for this season is to watch the Grand Budapest Hotel on July 13th.

3) Brooklyn Bridge Park SyFy Movies
What better way to end a Thursday than watching a free movie outdoors with the Manhattan skyline in the background. Be sure to get here on time because this spot is pretty popular and even tourists who just stroll by get lured into “I must see Dr. Strangelove today otherwise my NY experience will be tainted.” From now till the end of August there are a number of great movies to be viewed.

4) McCarren Park Movies
Every Wednesday night starting the first week of July, this Williamsburg park will bring you 6 movies until mid-August. Some are pretty funny, such as Clueless and Wet Hot American Summer. Other are simple classics – nothing wrong with Dirty Dancing.

And here is a list of smaller parks and venues which host free movies throughout NYC parks.

If you look hard enough, you can pretty much find movies even at bars or places with an outdoor space. Habana Outpost features movie night every Sunday from May through October.

Concerts:

Our two major parks have been showing some splendid concerts for the past few summers.

Central Park has the amazing Summerstage, which features all kinds of music and bands during the hot summer months. Indeed, last Saturday I was at a hot Reggae show in the sweltering June heat and enjoyed my time at 2pm in the afternoon immensely.
For the full line-up, consider this website.

Celebrate Brooklyn
Celebrate Brooklyn

Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell is an oldie but goodie. Ever since starting to go hear in 2011, I’ve had a blast. And I plan on attending at least two concerts this summer – we will see how it works out. So far, performances are scheduled every Thursday, Friday and Saturday eve starting at 7:30pm. Some Benefit Concerts are held on odd days, too, in addition to the general lineup. Queues have been quite long in the past few years, depending on the band playing.
Find the full lineup under the BRIC website, who sponsors and organizes this concert series every year.

Other free concerts in various parks throughout New York can be found under the City Parks Foundation webpage.

The Ivory Crush in Times Square: Changing the World One Step at a Time

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Last week one of the most important events in Wildlife History went down in New York. Times Square hosted its legendary Ivory Crush – an occurrence that has only happened once before in the US. The purpose of this legendary Ivory Crush was to display the accumulated amount of illegally imported ivory to the US and to send the right message. A total of one ton disguised in statues and other forms was brought to New York.

Ivory displayed at event, img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Ivory displayed at event, img taken by Wendy Hapgood

Why crush the ivory and not auction it off in order to donate the benefits to the wildlife protection society? Well, this actually happened in previous years – and it backfired immensely! While a high amount of sales had been achieved by auctioning off legal ivory – meaning ivory from elephants which died of a natural cause – there seems to be no bullet-proof method to go about protecting elephants from exploitation and death. Legal ivory might raise several millions of dollars, which in turn can sponsor more research and conservation centers. But on the flipside, it opens up a pathway to the underground getting rid of their illegal ivory and that’s when things turn negative. To date, there is no effective way of telling illegal ivory from legal one (unless it’s marked or provided with an electronic chip). Needless to say, the past auctions have been quite controversial in regards to these concerns and have perhaps fueled the sales of illegal ivory disguised through this legal gateway.

Two weeks ago, ivory was crushed to discourage poachers from killing off entire species as well as buyers and collectors from greedily bringing up the sale of items which are endangering the existence of innocent animals throughout the entire world. What will happen once this entire ecosystem breaks down? No reason to let it come so far.

Crushing ivory, img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Crushing ivory, img taken by Wendy Hapgood

Ivory was first crushed in the fall of 2013 in the US, when more than 6 tons of ivory seized since 1989 were destroyed in Denver, CO. China was soon to follow with a similar event. Soon after, ivory crushes happened in some African countries, such as Kenya, as well as the Philippines and Belgium, to name a few. A total of 50 tons of ivory worldwide have been crushed in the past 2 years. While opinions vary on whether or not this will fuel even more aggressive poaching (since ivory is becoming scarcer as we’re speaking and therefore also more valuable, which in turn might cause more poaching), the events are held to bring the same message across: To discourage ivory trading and to destroy the entire ivory market worldwide.

Luckily a large crowd, img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Luckily a large crowd, img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Image taken by Wendy Hapgood
Image taken by Wendy Hapgood

On June 19th, 2015 one ton of ivory was displayed in Times Square for the crowds to see. Important political figures, such as U.S. interior secretary Sally Jewel and state senator Brad Hoylman, came out to give a speech on this memorable hot summer day. A total of ten speakers stood together and provided valuable insight on the entire issue concerning not only the US but worldwide. The US is considered the second largest market of illegal ivory trade, following China as the undefeated number one.

A total of 34,000 elephants are killed yearly in order to gain access to the delicate ivory. This makes out for 96 elephants every day or roughly one elephant every 15 minutes!

Our group
Our group
What is wood, what is ivory? It's all ivory. Img taken by Wendy Hapgood
What is wood, what is ivory? It’s all ivory. Img taken by Wendy Hapgood

Highlighting the fact that poachers are mostly only tools to bigger underground organizations helped in shaping the image of the intense market of illegal trading. Before listening to these speeches, I hadn’t even known of the implications and associations to terror organizations involved in illegal ivory trade. From the Irish Mafia over ISIS to notable others – the projected sales are fueling a much higher and destructive force than we as normal people are ready to understand.

After providing some crucial background info on the ivory crush, the displayed amount went through a massive wood chopper – piece by piece. Some ivory products were quite easy to recognize and had only been adorned with a few carvings here and there. Several trinkets were available. But other times, such as when looking at statues, ivory seemed to resemble wood very closely. It’s a tricky part – differentiating ivory of all other kinds of materials.

Img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Img taken by Wendy Hapgood
Img taken by Wendy Hapgood

If you are still unaware of how big a deal ivory has become, please note that people are being followed, threatened and killed throughout the US and of course in the countries the ivory stems from. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of murdered park rangers in South Africa by now. Most likely killed by greedy poachers, these protecting agents were simply doing their job by providing animals with their basic right of living. But also in the US agents of the Wildlife Society are being followed and threatened to give up their jobs. We ran into an undercover agent during the event who works closely with the police in order to catch ivory traders red-handed. He has to be very careful as to not reveal his true identity and has been approached by multiple underground organizations in regards to his job and life safety.

New York State is one of the forerunners by implementing a law in 2014 banning the sale of ivory in its territory. Several states have followed since and a hopeful future guess is that all 50 states will be as equally harsh when it comes to ivory trading. Unfortunately, prison sentences are almost unheard of, even when ivory trades have been discovered. The longest sentence was finally handed to Victor Gordon last year after implementing the law, who is anticipated to spent 2 ½ years behind bars (or most likely on probation). A relatively short time frame considering he smuggled in 1 million worth of ivory over the course of his “career.”

Imagine an entire species dying out and no one person being held responsible for it. Almost unheard of when it comes to humans but the sad reality is that crucial existential animal rights are still too far behind our most basic ones.

Meeting before the event and getting a T-shirt from 96elephants
Meeting before the event and getting a T-shirt from 96elephants

Several nonprofits hosted the event, 96elephants.org was perhaps the most noticeable one, providing the protesters with T-Shirts, buttons, and hand-fans. Kudos to this great organization for making changes in the world of wildlife protection and raising awareness to the masses.

Events at Coney Island: The Mermaid Parade 2015

About a week ago Coney Island hosted it’s most famous annual event: The Mermaid Parade!
It was a colorful ensemble of great costumes, fun wigs and provocative statements.
The Mermaid Parade is always held the weekend before the gay pride parade and around the summer solstice. It celebrates the freedom of artistic expression and has become quite the forerunner for Brooklyn’s art scene. This year the parade went into its 33rd round– I bet a lot of things have changed since its beginning in the 80ies.

I went here two years ago but was a bit overwhelmed by the crowds and not being able to see much since the good standing spots are usually taken far in advance. That was on a sunny day so this year I was really excited when I saw the forecast to show rain. Rain meant that still a good amount of people flocked out but this year we were actually able to get a great spot almost right next to the Cyclone. Something that absolutely almost never happens! Not dealing with the aggressive crowds meant more peace to us and I was happy to witness some crazy Mermaids and Mermans this time without being elbowed out of the way.

Despite a few drizzles here and there, halfway through the show the rain stopped and we were able to enjoy the parade without holding an umbrella. Striking themes this year were certainly the lobster costume and glittery fins. While two years ago I had not seemed impressed with the costumes overall, this year was an improvement. Of course you still had completely weird themes but mostly people were pretty original and tried bringing the art back into play. A bit of a bummer was that the floats and groups were so far apart from each other, but I guess they were stopped in regular intervals to let pedestrians cross.

Swarm of fish

I saw a pretty cool swarm of fish, which was a group of 4 friends all dressed in the same costume. They ran around together but without the group the costume probably would have only looked half as impressive. A lot of families were part of the ensemble as well, so I got to take a few good pictures of anxious looking Mini-Mermaids and also a hula-hooping pirate.

One of my friends got bored halfway through the event. I guess this is what I felt like in 2013. The more you watch it, the better it gets, actually. The best part about the parade is that it returns via the Boardwalk, so if you missed something you can just walk down there and then watch the end. I also appreciated it only being a few hours long as opposed to the 6-hour-long parades in the City. It makes a difference to be standing around for 3 hours only than half a day.

The best costume ended up being a golden Mermaid, who we befriended shortly after the event when getting our 2-for-1 margaritas at Margaritaville. We found out a few days later that she was the selected winner and had won the first spot. This made us very happy, since she had told us how much work she had put into her costume.

[For more pictures, go to Photograph My World]

Celebrating the Happiest Day on Earth: The New York Pride Parade

New York Pride 2015
New York Pride 2015

Today was perhaps the biggest party of the universe! June 28th 2015 marks the day of several pride parades throughout the country. With New York being the legendary runner-up, it ultimately hosted the biggest party I’ve seen in this city so far. Being part of the New York Pride is always a great experience but this year was special. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage and legalizing it in all 50 states throughout the US just two days ago, the entire country has been in a constant mode of celebration.

Facebook created the option to highlight your profile picture with the gay flag in the background. Conservative states such as Louisiana became a milestone marker when the oldest gay couple tied the knot right after the decision was made. Bars have come up with drink specials in order to get their business up. Gay and straight people throughout entire America have been acting nuts and it seems like the celebrations haven’t lost in intensity since Friday.

Of course New York is the city where things go down, and where else would one want to be out of all places in the world. It hosts the biggest pride parade of the entire country and 2015 was its super duper special year!

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This year, the annual New York Pride parade started at 12pm on the dot. All around Broadway a high police force was present and tons of barricades. A group of my friends were watching it around Madison Square Park. When I got off the train to meet them, I was already met with a huge wave of happiness. The good vibes were undeniable and I could already tell this would be a pretty intense day.

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One float after another rushed past us, some with cheerful music blasting out of their speakers. Other foot groups were simply singing, cheering, or waving their flags to us in the crowd. Free treats were handed out on a running basis – from rainbow flags over bracelets to beach balls and condoms – the list of goodies I have is endless! Older couples who had been waiting for this day since the gay rights movement were elated. The younger crowd was dancing all over the streets. It was a continuous party in non-stop-mode. NYPD had their own group marching for them. Followed by the Fire Department and blasting tuba players. It was a sight previously unseen and an endless supply of happy moments.

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We ended up wandering away from this scene at 3pm and running into more euphoric people celebrating on the streets of Chelsea. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we made our way down to the Village. What a grave mistake elating experience, which led us to have the experience of our lives. At one point, around the legendary Stonewall Inn, there was no way forward or backward. We were completely stuck in between rainbow wigs and bare bodies. Elated people were everywhere – celebrating, cheering, puking and being immensely happy. And to my surprise, people just weren’t getting tired of celebrating, they kept going and going.

The overwhelming crowds at Christopher Street
The overwhelming crowds at Christopher Street

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We tried to weed our way out this intense crowd and backtracked. Side streets were less crowded but still full with people. Where did all of these people come from? I asked myself. It was an endless supply of folks dressed in rainbow flags and dancing around us. We then tried to go to Union Square but at 6pm the parade was still in full swing and there was no way to go past Broadway. Eventually we just gave up and took a train on the West Side to get back to our home destination.

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What a fun-packed day it had been. I’ve never seen this many people on the streets of New York. And what was even more astonishing is that everyone was in the same mode of happiness and emitting joyful vibes. No time for bad mood today! I can’t believe I was part of such an amazing celebration, such an amazing event. My friend compared it to the Civil Rights Movements of the 60ies. In a way, this is our generation’s milestone. Freedom of love, peace of heart for so many same-sex couples who were unable to express themselves freely up until very recently. Now they have the same legal rights as everyone in this country does. What a breakthrough indeed!

Today was the biggest party of the universe and the happiest day on earth!

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