Christmas in New York

One of my favorite seasons in New York is this time of the year! Christmas and the days leading up to New Year’s Eve are simply amazing. I would have never imagined a city could be brighter than Paris and bear ornaments more colorful than in the City of Lights. But when Christmas came around one year ago, the first significant holidays I spent in New York, I witnessed the fast change of this hectic city to a festive one – within days so to speak.
I have never really been the one who plans much for Christmas. It used to be a day spent with family and eating huge amounts of food. But last Christmas was different, of course. My family was far away. And friends came to visit me from Germany. They flew in on Christmas Eve, which is an important day in my home country. We already give presents on the evening of the 24th, as opposed to unwrapping them on the morning of the 25th. In Deutschland, this holiday also lasts until the 26th, which is the Second Day of Christmas.
So my friends flew in right when the holiday was about to start. One was jetlagged, the other joined me and my roomies in preparing a fine buffet underneath our Christmas tree. The first Christmas I actually had a Christmas tree in the place I lived (aside from living at home). We then went to the HUGE TREE in Rockefeller Center and walked around Radio City Hall and other parts of Midtown Manhattan. The Second Day of Xmas proved to be the day the biggest snowstorm of the 21st century hit New York, but that is part of another story.

Last year Xmas
Rockefeller Tree 2010

My point is: Last Xmas had been good. It hadn’t been lonely and sad, but rather filled with many people, good food, and presents. This Christmas was different in some ways but nonetheless still entertaining. I spent it in Williamsburg at my friend’s house. We cooked a well-tasting sweet potato casserole together and mixed some Brussels sprouts with squash underneath it. We even made our own pumpkin pie, which tasted so good, I am inclined to make my own pies from now on!

The highlight of Christmas’ Eve was our home-made Glühwein or Glögg, whichever variation you prefer. Warm wine enriched with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange peels, raisins, almonds, and whatever else you desire. Ours had a bottle of Brandy in it, as well, because we made it according to a Swedish recipe. It was so good, that we drank it within two days (for four liters of alcohol that is not too bad, ay?). The first day of Christmas was a rerun of last year: Taking the train up to the Rockefeller Center, shooting pictures of the Tree, this year during daytime. I noticed, albeit it was still impressive and huge, it looked just like last year. Even the colorful decoration was the same. The tourist masses are quite annoying around that area, so we walked away, but still with the flow. Then off to the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, only four blocks away. They were about to start a mass and people seated themselves. We didn’t stay for it.

Glühwein for Xmas
Part of our dinner...
This year's Rockefeller Tree

Then a surprise Christmas party at my friends’ house only 2 minutes away in Williamsburg. The newly-wed couple had made lasagna and eggplant dishes and invited their friends over for a bubbly wine party. I guess they still had a lot of leftovers from their wedding last month and wanted to share their “champagne” treats with everyone. Every guest added a bottle of sparkling wine, so that everyone was in quite a good mood when they left five hours later. We had a blast, eating the food, making fun of their adopted cats, chatting with each other, and getting to know everyone.

Christmas Party Round 1

Ikea was open on Monday, and I got to redeem one special Christmas present: My first bed in New York! After 20 months in this city, I had never possessed a real bed. I slept on a mattress in my first apartment. A futon that you could fold in and out in twin size was my second choice of sleeping. But this time, in my new apartment, I got a full-size bed with a fancy mattress. New York almost feels like home now… It definitely is an improvement from sleeping on the floor or crappy futon quality.
The Second Day of Christmas, or rather December 26, my friend invited me to a house-party in Sunset Park. A few of the guests I knew already. Everyone brought a dish of food, except for me, I made Glühwein right there. The group consisted of a variety of different cultures and people: The Bronx-bound New Yorker who had been here forever. The German who had moved here less than two years ago. The Jewish teacher, who worked in special-ed. The Asian who liked to travel. And other characters mixed into the group. We sat together well after midnight, until everyone started to disperse into the night. Tuesday was a working day for many.

Christmas Party Round 2

And that was pretty much how I spent Christmas this year. I got to meet many new people, dine at many different tables, and drink from many glasses.

Although I love this holiday in New York, I am unsure about New Year’s Eve. Last year I hurried out to Philly, which ended up being a phenomenously great weekend. But this year I don’t have real plans other than searching for a good party in Brooklyn. Avoiding Manhattan and those parties at which you pay 200 Dollars just to get in is my main goal for the last day of this year. And so it goes, two more days of 2011. An eventful year has come to an end and I am looking forward to an exciting 2012. May more travels, more acquaintances, more experiences happen. Which I am sure they will!

A Happy New Year to the people from WordPress!

My Glorious 100!

Here it is! Right in time for the Christmas season! The one and only, the best, the glorious 100th post!
Wordpress shows me that I’ve composed exactly 100 published write-ups in the past 7 months l’ve been an active member of the blogging community. And while I thought it would happen sooner, be under more glamorous circumstances, and feel different – it simply is what it is! And I can’t quite believe I have opened up this blog only 7 months ago, written about so many diverse topics, and gained quite a handful of a readership. Thank you for following, thank you for commenting, thank you for opening up your worlds to me through your own personal blog.

And as I’ve already done in the Golden 50th Post, I have learned more about writing, more about blogging, more about myself in the past couple of months when coming up with these posts.

1) Take time to write!
Finding time to write can be challenging. My new full-time-job on top of my outdoor activities has really burned a hole in the time I could devote to writing. And, nonetheless, I am torn in between keeping this blog going or just using the time for other hobbies. I’ve so far decided that there is still a ton to write about here in New York and that I will therefore keep it going. It is merely the amount of posts a week I still have to regulate. But I see I am not doing too bad. This blog still gets quite a few hits a day, so not every subscriber has abandoned me yet. I will surely give my best to keep you loyal folks entertained.

2) Get away from the new hype of wanting to be famous!
I’ve noticed this from the beginning, actually. When browsing on other blogger’s sites or reading Freshly Pressed. There seems to be a hype around the so-called-writers in getting their work published. First of all, why would anyone want to be famous with a blog? If writing is the only thing you can accomplish, then sit down and write a book or an article, don’t satisfy this need in an easy blog! And second, why are you hoping to be freshly pressed? Most commenters are always the same on those sites, who hope that the community will boost their own page stats. Pathetic!
Now don’t get me wrong. Freshly pressed is a great thing WordPress has come up with. It is a great way to find other interesting writers and read their stories. But I consider these the only reasons they are of interest. Maybe I’m just blogging for the wrong purpose, though. Finding like-minded people who want to know about experiences in New York and on travels…

3) Don’t be too hard on yourself!
I know I’ve written quite a contradictory point in 7 tips on Blogging. I’ve said that once you push the publish button your post should be flawless. 90 posts later I disagree. It doesn’t kill the flow of reading if you stumble across a spelling or syntax error. Give yourself a break if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with what you’ve written. Of course you shouldn’t take it too easy. Proofreading and letting it sit for a few hours is still highly recommendable. But get out what you want to write about and don’t worry too much about the formalities. Which leads me to my next point…

4) Gain great writing practice!
Yes, I still think blogging in English has given me the best practice in writing I could ever have. I still look up terms and words in the Merriam Webster (online). I like to considerably work on my writing style. And I really do think I have improved over the past 7 months. If not in writing, then certainly in time. To me it is easier now to quickly come up a post in between breaks or on a Saturday morning, for I feel more secure about doing so. So if my writing has not improved, the way I go about certainly has!

5) Accumulate topics over time!
Remember that list of things I’ve mentioned in 7 Tips on Blogging? I still have it. But now it is closer 35 unfinished topics that are still on there. And every time I walk around Manhattan or hear something my friends and coworkers talk about, I write it down on that list. So on top of daily ideas, I do have it as a back-up, which is a really nice thing to have. Eventually I hope all of these will be written down, but that is yet to happen.

6) Write it down when it is new and exciting!
At the same time, when I look down at earlier topic ideas I’ve written, I feel like it will be hard for me to write about these now, just because it’s been so long I had a thought on them. And writing about summer in the winter time or Christmas in the summer time is really not the sense of keeping a blog up-to-date. So if you think you have a great topic, right it down as soon as possible. It is the freshness in your mind and the point of view you had at that time that will make it better than when you scramble for the right words months later.

7) Find different times to be creative!
I’ve noticed that there are different times I truly feel like writing and can come up with a post in a minute, as opposed to times I am just not feeling the vibes. And 100 posts later I still feel this way. But I also know that you cannot give in to your moods and circumstances for too long, and that you simply have to at least sit down and try. Even the most uncreative phases will create something. And if at the least they give you a feeling of accomplishment, is that really nothing to be proud of? But be wary of the fine line to procrastination, which you will just have to overcome by yourself.

8) Connect with people!
I have to admit, I’ve been quite bad in reconnecting with people online lately. Time is a drag! And while I am not sure I have the nerves to “discover” new people online, I will certainly give my best in commenting on my “friends’” blog posts and seeing what they’ve been up to. One subscription e-mail after another shoots into my inbox but I haven’t really had the time to go through them and see what you are up to in the US, Europe or Asia. Hopefully, this will change again in the future. I might even have some time during the holidays …

As you can tell, it still is not hard for me to even write my 100th post in over 1000 words. I guess I should stop blabbing on and wish you guys a MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS instead! Enjoy your time off!

Xmas Party at Da Marino

Working in New York has many advantages aside from the extra cash you get to pay your bills and entertain your life style. Annual Christmas parties and celebrations are surely part of these good sides. Last year it was the Hanukah-Party to look forward to (I was working for a Jewish company). This year, my new job was hosting a small Christmas-get-together at a restaurant around Times Square. My company doesn’t have many people yet. There are 10 employees in New York, so our party was rather small. Not less fun, though!

The Da Marino in New York is located on the Restaurant Row at the upper end of Times Square. It is owned by Chris Noth aka as Mr. Big from Sex in the City. Despite a well-known actor owning this place, it is not as glamorous as thought but a rather comfortable spot to sit and eat. Our bosses thought it would be funny to make everyone wear a Santa Claus hat (good call, as I had wanted to buy one for Christmas anyways, now I have one!). We were seated at the far end of the restaurant, in our own secluded area, which was a nice idea of the staff and probably earned them an extra tip. Aside from one coworker showing up half an hour late, everyone was on time and indulging in the Italian bread with lentils and a well-tasting green-bean-mix. One of our employees went ahead and ordered two bottles of wine, one red, one white, for the entire group (our CEOs didn’t disapprove, or at least they didn’t show it). Then the guy sitting next to me was “forced” by our boss to finish up his martini so he could order another one. He ended up drinking four of those strong vodka drinks. An ongoing flow of three generations was represented at this table, with me being the youngest and a 60-year-old the oldest. The older generation thought it funny how none of us younger ones were really drinking and claimed how their generation would have taken advantage of the free booze. Well, nowadays we don’t really feel comfortable getting drunk in front of our bosses for the sake of a Christmas party or any other work-related event. The day after might be too embarrassing…

Part of our group

The food was decent, albeit not mind-blowing, and the atmosphere at the table was great for a party with people you see most of the time during the week. The dessert was a surprise as the American cheese cake tasted better than the Italian one (just another sign that this restaurant does not know how to prepare Italian food right, for your information).
All of a sudden three coworkers return excitedly to our table and claim they’ve seen Chris Noth sitting at the front end of the restaurant. I usually always take advantage of seeing a celebrity in New York, since it is after all the Big Apple and I don’t get to see them back home, so I jump up to the front, with my camera in my hand. Just to be stopped by the headwaiter, who says Mr. Big does not want to be disturbed. Excitedly I look around, seeking out faces at every table. I then promise I won’t take a picture of the actor, so eventually the waiter nods to a table right next to us, where indeed the actor is sitting. And probably overheard our entire conversation. No time to be embarrassed, though. I get a good look at him and retreat back to my table – unfortunately with no picture to show as proof of fact. But then, Chris Noth does not look as good as in those famous movies, either. The person sitting there looked like an aged version of how I remember him, with gray streaks in his fading hair and wrinkles on his face. Profound wrinkles, that is. My friend thinks he must be wearing a hairpiece at work, and, after seeing him, I totally agree. So I guess a small highlight of this fun Christmas-party was seeing a celeb at his own restaurant, and that surely does not happen every day.

Chris Noth surely does not look as handsome as in this picture!

The group parted at 11 PM, which means 4 and a half hours of sitting and eating together were over. Three of those ten people ended up staying out until 3 AM. One didn’t make it to work the other day, the other two were seemingly hungover (and one even still drunk in the morning). The smaller the company, the more intense these experiences, so I am happy to have said I had my first real, official Christmas-Party in New York for 2011. Of course this does not compare to the DJ-Party at my friend’s work. He works for a huge company in Hell’s Kitchen and his company hosted 2 dance floors with well over 200 party-hungry-folks. I prefer mine, as it was more intimate and entailed more personal conversation.


Wishing you blessed holidays here from New York!

SantaCon in New York

Just imagine this: You’re sitting on a train early Saturday morning and all of a sudden a mass of Santa Clauses and elves hops onto your car. You are utterly confused and think it must be a bad movie or dream you are awakening of. Then, on the platform there are other Santa Clauses, some seem lost, some confused, some annoyed, others drunk.

The annual SantaCon took place this very last Saturday!

For all of you who, like I, did not know what a SantaCon is: Join the Rows! SantaCon has gained more and more popularity throughout the 21st century. Supposedly starting out in 1994 somewhere in the US, but then gaining back its popularity in 2004 and on, SantaCon takes places in many cities all over the world now. It is a massive gathering of dressed up people who wear a Santa Claus costume or anything pertaining to the Christmas Idea. Of course it looks more impressive when a mass of red and white costumes group together, than mixed up specks of green and blue could ever do …(if you’re going for a fairy or elf costume, that is!) The main purpose of a SantaCon is easy: To get together in a cheap funny costume and drink as much booze as possible!

So this year I missed out on SantaCon, sadly. My coworkers and my roommate told me about this event only one day ahead of time, and, aside from having other plans already, I didn’t feel like scrambling for a costume. The SantaCon Web site and their Twitter Account keep you updated throughout the day where Santa Claus has to move to. That’s right – the participants do not actually know what is going on until they arrive at their first location of bars and pubs in the early morning. This very first location is tweeted and announced at approximately 9 PM Friday evening (SantaCon is always on a Saturday, as people will surely be hungover the next day!). The idea is to move on to at least 4 (unknown) different locations throughout the event, so a core requirement, aside from having a costume, is to be in possession of a metro card with at least 4 rides left on it (no worries if yours is unlimited). The first stop this year was the Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn and a location close to the water in Manhattan. 10 AM, folks, early bird awakening to get your booze and fun!
Then the crowd moved to South Street Seaport, at which I can only imagine the ocean of Santa Clauses that day. My coworker mentioned how crammed full all levels of the Seaport had been. Nowadays, the locations are announced by twitter, so having a smart phone is helpful. I guess you could just go ahead and follow the mass of Santas when they move towards the subway. I know Grand Central was a stop in between as well. I was there on my way to Queens and saw a few lost Santas and elves, who were evidently tired of being up on the street all day long (but nonetheless in a good mood, I wonder why…). Afterpartys are a must. My roomie was home at 7 PM already, though, and very hungover when he woke up in the evening.

To me, SantaCon sounds like another senseless occasion to get drunk, but the fact that people dress up shortly before Xmas is a cute idea. I wonder if I might be able to be part of it next year… My friend and I saw a lost Santa on the train in the middle of the day and asked him how much he had spent on his costume. It was somewhere around 60 Dollars. Unless I find a cheaper way of dressing up, I will come up with my own costume.

I’ve heard of SantaCon in London, too, and really wonder how that might be. New York is a great city to be in, when events like these happen. The city provides a lot of space for nonsense, and a mass of dressed up people flooding your subway car can really make your day. Just another one of those ideas that spread the holiday spirit and can cheer you up!

See another fantastic post on Santa Con at Hbomb’s blog!

The 9/11 Memorial [at Night]

This year has been a special year for all of those mourning the 9/11 victims. On September 11, 2011 the first official 9/11 Memorial has opened up on the site the World Trade Center Towers used to stand. While I had not known any of this until I read it in the news when I was still in Germany, I have been even more desperate to go as soon as I got back from my Eurotrip.

I first logged onto the ticketing web site at the end of September, hoping to find a way to enter the Memorial soon. My friends had mentioned it could take up to a few months until a slot becomes avail. The tickets are basically for free. When booking them, you have the option to donate 10 or 20 USD or any other value entered. Or you don’t have to donate a cent if you don’t like. After giving in the requested personal information (it’s name, phone number, and address), the system showed me that the first possible date to look at the landmark would be …. an entire month from then! That was after ignoring a few dates during the week, as I had to work on those days. So I literally booked my ticket ONE MONTH ahead of time and originally wanted check out the 9/11 Memorial on Oct 29. Which was exactly the day the first and so far only snow fall hit New York (yup, just around the Halloween weekend, read more here). How truly unfortunate for me! The month after this I dedicated my free weekends to room searching and looking at crappy apartments, so there was no real chance a visit could have worked out for me. I even almost forgot about my plans until last Monday, when I spontaneously secured a time slot for Friday 7 PM, less than a week from this date.

One of the few obstacles to the Memorial

Now, I already knew from two months ago that getting to the Memorial means zigzagging through a huge chunk of the Financial District. So I made sure to be there exactly on time. When getting to the Memorial entrance, I saw a huge amount of barricades built up, which most likely had been used during busier times, I have no doubt about this. Some teenagers were checking my tickets, making fun of my boots (“Is that real fur?” Morons!) until I arrived at the next group of memorial workers, who checked my ticket once more. Then over to an inside area resembling the security check of an airport. ”Take of all metal items and put your bag in this basket, please,” a security officer ordered. Right on, through the beeping frame, and on to the final stop: More employees who for the very last time stamped a star-like symbol onto my printout! Wheeew! The way from there to the Memorial takes a while, too. Guess I was lucky no queue was waiting, otherwise all of this would have taken four times as long.

The 9/11 Memorial consists of two large pools with a black hole inside (at least that is what it looked like at night.) I know this sounds bad, but the North and South pool are beautifully illuminated because of the light shining through the carved in names of the disaster victims. The pool is made up of waterfalls to the sides which blend into the still water on the ground. Names are written along the frame of the pool, making out the identified victims, who reach up to 3,000. I first walked around the South Pool, taking in the sights and the atmosphere. All these different names, the calm pond and the moving water fall, the dark hole in the middle – a very festive but also sad atmosphere I found. And all along, the Freedom Tower hovers over the scene. More buildings are meant to be built along the side of the Memorial, making out the new Financial Center of New York in the future.

Carved in names of victims

The Freedom Tower, tallest landmark building in New York as for now

I then went on to the North Pool. A museum is built on the side between both sites, but I am unsure what can be found inside. It looked so pretty, with its light shining from the inside. When I stood at the North Pool my eyes fell on the inscription of a woman. Helen F. and her unborn child, it read. This really took me aback. Overall, the entire experience at the former WTC was a very sad experience, bringing back the memory of the day when and how I had found about one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st Century.

North Pool

There were many cops at the memorial site of course, with watch dogs. A group of people was standing around them and asking them questions. I took this picture of two dogs, who must have been disturbed by the crowd (or their Master).
Then, on my way out, I walked past an illuminated tree. This tree was partly charcoal on one side. An employee was explaining how they had to fasten the metal ropes around it when Hurricane Irene swept through New York (read more here). A wreath made of flowers was put up on one side, in military manner.

The Museum on the side

The tree that had survived

Before exiting on the long walk back out, I entered the souvenir store, which you can’t miss when visiting the Memorial. There were a few items of victims and survivors built up for display in glass cases. I saw a fireman hat – the fireman himself had survived. Then a wallet with a 2-Dollar-bill. The story is beautiful: A 58-year-old man had proposed with this 2-Dollar-bill not too long before the tragedy (and gotten “yes” as an answer!). He kept it on him ever since. Sadly, he didn’t survive his trip to work 10 years ago and died on 9/11 – his personal items were restored among the ruins.

Fireman's hat
2 Dollar Souvenir and a heart-breaking story

What interests, yes, even fascinates me most about 9/11 are the stories the relatives of the victims have to tell. A short film described four life stories, which were put together in a five-minute-documentary. How heart-gripping this movie was! A boy who had lost his father. A wife who had lost her husband and finally remarried after 10 years. And many more peeks into the lives of people who have experienced an earth-shaking tragedy !
The documentary also showed what eventually is planned to become of the WTC site. New York is intending on building the aforementioned Financial Center around the pools. Trees are supposed to fill the distance between these pools and in the end become a forest, perhaps an oasis of mourn, peace, and quietness. It looked quite advanced on the graphics.

9/11 is such a sensitive topic. When I was in New York in 2010, I didn’t see much of a memorial service going on that day. I was even quite disappointed at how careless most people, including my former roommate, thought about the event. They just shrugged their shoulders and didn’t waste another thought on it. But then a local New Yorker told me about his time, when he had been in this City, at the very same day 10 years ago. How awful and uncertain the hours and days after the tragedy had been for everyone. How people were trying to get past the police barricades in Chelsea, because they lived 40 blocks away from the WTC. And how they had still smelled the smoke, dust, and filth in the air. When he had stuck out his hand to get a hold of flying pieces in the air, he saw it had been business papers. Shredded, burnt pieces, flying all the way from the Financial District up to Chelsea! And how eventually everyone had to deal with what happened in New York, how crucial it was to survival and to get on with life, to find solace in everyday activities. And some people are still fighting health problems nowadays. Asthma being the most harmless form. Yes, I can go on and on, but maybe I’ll save that for another post!

I will most likely revisit the 9/11 Memorial, this time during the day. Have you had the chance to go there yet?
Tell me how and when you found out about September 11, 2001!

[For more pictures on 9/11, go to A Picture Every Day!]

Being Employed VS. Being Unemployed in NY

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I’ve been catapulting myself into the beginning weeks and months of my time in the City and how it felt to live life then. I know, it’s not terribly long ago. But I feel like the memories are fading already, after a good one and a half years.

One thing I will always look back on and feel good about is not having a steady job when I first moved here. This might sound backwards to you. Most people do it the other way around: They get their visa which is connected to a job offer in the States and then move over here. At least this is what my German friend did. We moved here at about the same time, only one week of a difference, and we ended up still being here. Ironically, not at the same job, not in the same apartment, not even with the same friends, but we are still around.

What I remember is that he had always been intensely stressed out when first moving here. His former job site in NJ had surely kicked his a** and his boss made him work a good 12 hours through the entire day. So it seemed that during the week and even on some weekends, he had basically no time left to explore New York and see what this city is about. I, on the other hand, had been busy looking for an apartment for 2 days (what a joke compared to his 2 weeks of fruitless efforts), and had then taken it pretty easy, living off of the savings I had accumulated in Europe. The first month I was here, I felt like such a tourist, it was incredibly refreshing. After about six weeks though, money become sparse, how unpredicted indeed, and after a few unsuccessful applications I entered the American food industry and waitressed my way through the LES for two steady months. I am not encouraging anyone to become a waiter or bartender. I hated that job, there is simply no career made in a bar filled with scum bags and cheap bosses. But it did give me enough leisure time, as I only worked three days and nights and had the rest of the week to myself. Since this was during the summer, it was sweet to be able to go to one of New York’s fabulous beaches on a Tuesday or Wednesday (read more about beaches here). It was nice to be able to hang around in Bryant Park on a hot August afternoon. It was enjoyable to go out during the week without having to jump out of bed early the next morning.

And even though I had been looking for something steady, it is, in general, pretty hard to find a job here in the summer. You might wonder how this is relevant upon season, but NY has this thing of snatching underpaid interns who are eager to get into a business during the hot months. Not really a good time for desperate college graduates to get their foot in the door AND aim for a decent salary. And true enough, I made it into my first 9-5 in the beginning of October. After 6 months of dwelling, exploring, and seeing New York at every possible hour of the day it was time to enter the working world. And ever since then I have basically never taken enough time off to get the feeling back which I had during those first sweet months in the Big Apple. The pros of having a steady job here are that it is nice to have a routine, to be able to get to know other working people, to expand one’s friend’s circle, if possible. But on the flipside, it compromises a great deal of your time and might stall you in a way never foreseen.

I consider winter the best time to be employed, if there is ever a season to be named. It’s good to be inside, to evade the cold, and to be occupied instead of feeling depressed and lonely. Once spring comes around, though, this city shows a completely different face. It is like a circus around Times Square, quite colorful in the Village, drunken in the Lower East Side. The warm months are most likely the best to be unemployed. Of course no one can really live like this over here, unless they switch jobs twice a year.

I know that some Americans have come here to pursue a serious career. Bankers, investors, advertisers, … you name it! I sometimes pity them and their life style somehow and wonder if it is worth going through all the stress during a time most crucial in their life. They are nothing I would like to become but then again it is very interesting to witness them and see how they undergo the metamorphosis of a naive student to a serene business man (who will eventually end up on coke).

To me, New York is not really about a career. I know I will eventually have to say good-bye and go back to college to pursue a graduate degree. To me, New York has always been about the journey. About breaking out of a boring everyday situation, away from the rigidity and stubbornness of the European system and meeting a bunch of crazy people. It’s about living somewhere far away from home, coping with different cultures and personalities, and gaining some valuable experience on the trip overseas.

I am sure a year, even a few months of employment will look splendid on your resume and appear impressive to recruiters. But it is often forgotten that you can surely slave yourself to death here. It is after all the city of which if you make it here you can make it anywhere. For a very good reason: See New York as the training for everything else in your life, be it a job, be it even life, and then working or living in every other state, maybe even country, might seem like a piece of cake to you. The stress levels you reach here couldn’t be higher than anywhere else.

So if a job simply drains you, takes all your energy, and doesn’t even leave you with a tiny bit of satisfaction, then I am not sure it is worth pursuing for too much longer. It’s all about the memories created during your life time, and New York especially is one of those cities you want to focus all of your energy on. Where you want to take in every sight, witness every oddity, and not waste away at a frustrating job site.

Moving in New York

People do it all the time. I myself have done it three times so far. The first time was in a taxi. The second time was via taxi and subway. The third time was by U-Haul and foot. There are many ways to move in this city.

When I had first gotten here, I had stayed in a hotel in Queens. After finding a suitable apartment in Brooklyn, the only plausible way for me was to take a cab and make my way over there. I did have at least one convincing advantage at that time: Only two suitcases to go to stuff into that gypsy cab I ended up taking. Not much baggage for someone who wants to move. No furniture or other petty things I had to worry about.
Fast-forward 8 and a half months and I was once again on the move. This time I had accumulated somewhat more of a baggage: A chair here, a futon there, and a few more clothes. Way too many extras to squeeze into a simple cab ride. So I took two suitcases with me on the train. The trip turned out to be a pain in the arse, as schlepping two bags up and down the subway stairs was a bit too much, even for ambitious me. I then got a cab for the rest of the clothes, the chair, the trash can and you-know-not. Should have taken that directly, seven bucks and 7 minutes was a real bargain deal compared to those tedious 40 minutes underground. On my last day, in an adventurous action during which one of my friends was locked up in the apartment by my former, drugged-up roommate, we snatched another cab just to transport a twin-size futon. This time, of course, the driver overcharged us with a hefty 15-dollar-bill, but I guess it was worth the trouble of not having to buy it myself and having a place to sleep on right away.

Then followed the obligatory visit to Ikea. Pretty much my first time I bought actual furniture there (my first room had already been furnished, whereas my second place gave me some room for ideas and also left a blank hole in my wallet). So whatever movables I had purchased about a year ago, they were still standing around in my room. This time I was so not in the mood of going back and rebuying all the junk, even though price-wise it wouldn’t have been so bad. The thing about Ikea is, you can’t just look at it from a price-perspective. You have to calculate the hours time it takes you to get all of those steps right and see the end result standing in front of you – not toppling over. Which in my case had taken me two painfully long days for simple, basic things such as a chest, a shelf, a desk and even a desk chair. The table, on the other hand, was easy, just screwing four legs onto the fundament, and tadaaa… one fine result in minutes!

But I almost had to pass on the idea of renting a car and shoveling all the bits and pieces over to an apartment that was after all only 7 minutes away – by foot. Heck, I even thought about carrying some furniture over and leaving the rest behind. Then I talked to my friend.Luckily. My friend knows many things which make life easier in New York. So he simply suggested to take U-Haul.

“U-Haul?,” I wondered, because I had never heard of it before. The concept is easy: Rent a van two times the size of a normal van and pay about 20 bucks for a 24-hour-period. U-Haul’s strength, if you can call it that, lies in charging its customer for the mileage. Now this might be a “slight” problem for the rest of the States. But for New York, where people need a U-Haul truck for about anything, from moving furniture to packing up the music instruments of a band, it is a splendid concept! You can actually manage to not burn as much mileage and still have your precious things transported. U-Hauls’s prices start at $20 and counting. With tax, insurance (the company gives you a damage waiver fee option of $11, which I took), and a mileage of 5 miles I paid about 42 dollars. Almost a bargain, I think. My entire room fit into the truck’s, sorry, VAN’S interior and I could have put more in it. I am one of the few (illegal) folks who have lived in the City for an extended period of time and still do not possess an American driver’s license. But U-Haul accepts international and foreign driver’s licenses (wheeeew!) and the company let me insure my friend at no added cost. I let him drive and maneuver this huge monster of a car through Brooklyn’s streets. He claims that I could have easily driven it but I wasn’t’ in the mood of trying it out and maybe bumping into something. I can still see the picture of him trying to squeeze the van into a parking lot in front of my apartment until an Arabic guy offered his help. He had much more experience with these types of automobiles and perfectly placed the large car into the small spot. Bravo! Other than that nothing happened, luckily. I am not sure how U Haul’s insurance really works in case of, say, an accident but then I wasn’t keen on trying it out either.

So, for the record: I highly recommend a cab if you don’t have too much stuff to take with you. Otherwise shoot for U-Haul or, if you own a zipcar account and don’t have to pay the registration fee, then zipcar. U-Haul has great trucks of immense size, though; they really do fit a lot in them. And since you can borrow it for 24 hours straight, the move and the obligatory trip to Ikea, if in need, can be accomplished all in one day.

Good luck on moving in New York, it is all part of the game!

The Phenomenon of Food Trucks in NYC

This blog has been revolving an awful lot about food lately. To add to all of these culinary experiences, one vital piece of the NYC food culture cannot be missing: The phenomen of food trucks in New York!

Now I hadn’t really paid attention to them at first. After all, I had thought that these things might be similar to the concept of Imbisse we have in Deutschland. Except for that you can buy Mexican food and YoYo-yoghurt from them over here. I had also thought certain ice cream and yoghurt trucks to be way overpriced in the summer so I had never bothered to try them out. Then I read Katz post on the Kimchi Taco Truck and just knew I had to stop by it. She is a vegetarian, just like I am, and had tried some veggie and tofu creations with Mexican food prepared in a Kimchi way. So a few months went by until I started searching for it. Then last week I finally strolled down to the Flatiron District and checked it out.

When I got to 25th Street and Broadway, I was confused at first. A truck labeled “Calexico” stood on one side, a burger van was prepped on the other. But then, way in the back, at a different street corner, another crowd huddled around what I had been looking for: The Kimchi Taco Truck. I suppose this area right next to Madison Park is popular among the food truck industry. No kidding, there is tons going on over there, enough to keep a business afloat.

The Kimchi Taco Truck employs Asian-looking people who are supervised by the head of the crew: Philipp Lee.
I heard him bark some questions to a few customers ahead of me but he was polite to me when I asked him what Kimchi actually stands for. They use the variation of cabbage with this fermented Korean dish. I decided to go with the spicy rice cake and three tacos called Tofu Edamame Falafels.
My order took about five minutes, which is not that bad considering the crowd. Despite the Kimchi employees warning me not to shake its content and to “keep it flat” I must have shaken it when running across the street to avoid a red light. For as soon as I opened the Styrofoam box the tacos were pretty much spread across it. This is what I looked like:

Shattered Tofu Edamame Falafel

Not very appetizing, I know, so make sure you DON’T SHAKE IT when you order from them.

I managed to sort the contents out and put the tacos together again. But after biting into them and tasting their full aroma, I do have to admit that I was a teeny bit disappointed. They were moderately spiced for Asian standards. So far so good. The tofu was alright. The rest of the taco was prepared fine. But something was clearly missing. Some secret ingredient to change this simple street taco into a BRILLIANT creation. Not what I had expected it to be at all. So, in conclusion, I wasn’t too impressed by the Kimchi Taco Truck. It didn’t help that they screwed up my side order of rice cake and gave me something pasta-like instead. This tasted better than the tacos but unfortunately the dish was halfway cold already. Perhaps I have to go back some time during off-peak-hours to get the full experience of flavor from them. I’d rather try out other trucks, though, just to get a better understanding of the food truck culture.

Mysterious side order
Hella busy Kimchi Taco Truck

Next was Calexico. Yes, named Mexican stand above that is also found in the vicinity of Madison Park. If you haven’t gotten the vibe yet, I am a huge fan of Mexican food, mostly Californian Mexican food (which obviously you won’t ever find here on the East Coast). So my standards are quite high. (Be prepared that I am in the process of putting a Mexican food post together and check back in a few weeks!).

I saw the line to this truckie being very long during lunch hours, with the average wait being up to 20 minutes, believe it or not! And yes, people agree to wait this long, it is after all New York. But the day I ordered from the Calexico Cart, it was raining, so not much of a crowd was found in front. In a good way, I mean, as it only took 3 minutes to prepare my order. I opted for the vegetarian burrito and a side of chips’n’salsa. The side dish was huge – that’s a good thing. While the salsa was rather bland, the burrito tasted decent, better than I would have thought. More of the Tex-Mex-style. A big plus is their customer service, as the employees are all pretty young and polite. A combo you usually do not find in New York, so I doubt they were from here. If you’re in the area, stop at Calexico, the price is standard and the food okay.

Calexico Cart
Calexico burrito and chips with salsa

Once I tried out the Belgian waffle truck called Wafles $ Dinges on a night out in the East Village. Bad mistake that can be led back to homesickness and an effort made to quench it. I couldn’t understand how these people are able to sell their stuff as authentic Belgian dessert food. Simply awful for European standards! If you want good Belgian food, go to Pommes Frites in the East Village. Their French fries are indeed great, especially when combined with the special sauces.

Then you have the average Mediterranean food trucks and Halal stands. I believe friends who visited me a year ago were courageous enough to try out pita bread gyros in a touristy area. The very next day all of them were lying on the bathroom floor next to the toilet of their hostel! Food poisoning. This was in May, not really the season during which meat goes bad yet. So I am not sure I would recommend those. However, a former coworker always had her favorite gyros stand close to 37th St and 7th Avenue.

And here is a quite informative site called newyorkstreetfood.com that tells you about every food truck in town and where to find them at what time. These guys eat at food trucks almost every day it seems and provide pictures with their stories.

I am not sure if I am really in the mood of trying out other food trucks here if I don’t really have to. They are a great solution for just-grab-and-go-meals, but you can find decent sit-down-places in the West and East Village for the same purpose. And if the wait is as long as at the Kimchi Taco Truck and Calexico Mexican Food Truck, then maybe waiting to be seated in a restaurant could serve the same purpose.

But you shouldn’t hesitate to try it out! It does after all belong to the New York City experience.