Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

One thing I had always wanted to do since I got here was to visit the Statue of Liberty. While other sights had been higher on my priority list of things to see, I gave this idea maybe a maximum of a few months after relocating until I would make it out to Liberty Island. It has now been almost two years since the day I moved here. In those (almost) two years, I have never been to Lady Liberty.
My friends once went in the winter (well, technically that is now, but I am talking about 2010). Even my parents made it when it was raining and probably freezing outside. And I am proud to say that quite recently I have finally given myself the chance to experience one more piece of American culture every other tourist is irking to see.

It was a sunny day. It was a relatively warm day. It was the ideal day to go see what Liberty and Ellis Island are up to. While the weekend before I had tried to snatch some tickets for those two tours, I had to discover to my dismay that I had arrived at the ticket castle about an hour too late. “Tours to either Ellis Island or Liberty Island only. Both cannot be visited today!” was the announcement made by the ticket sellers. This at an early 2:30 PM, so I decided to try it out another day, as I wanted to kill two birds with one stone and see both attractions at the same time. Finally, this Sunday, it worked out. After getting up way too early for a weekend day, I took the R train for a short 15 min ride. A ride during which I came across five singing and guitar-playing guys from Madrid who were jollily traveling the world, their last stop being the USA. Then finding myself amongst other tourists at Battery Park, buying a ticket at the castle-like building in the center. And for all of you who would have gone straight to the waiting queue like I had erroneously done before: You have to either reserve your ticket online or buy it there, otherwise you won’t get on the boats.

That particular day the wait was not too long. In comparison to my friends, who had waited a good one and a half hours, I was through airport-like security within less than 20 minutes. Off we went, with the ferry towards the best piece of New York. Halfway through on the Hudson River the wind picked up quite a bit, blowing in all directions, making everyone on top of the deck freeze.

Awesome view on Manhattana

The first stop was Liberty Island. Liberty Island offers a nice view on the Manhattan skyline. Undisguised, blatantly open – a beautiful sight towards Downtown New York. The isle by itself is small, of course. It only has the Statue of Liberty, a restaurant, and a souvenir shop. Everything you need to keep tourists on it for one hour max. The statue by itself is impressive. It’s big and tall, and nice to shoot a memory photo of. I wonder what it must be like to go on top and see the open sea from its crown. Since I missed the ferry after 30 mins, I wandered around for an additional thirty minutes. I ran across a film crew from Holland filming a guy talking with the Manhattan skyline in the background. I also went inside the souvenir store just to see what overprized crap interesting pieces they had to offer. Came to find that I most likely would be better off buying my stuff in Chinatown than there.

The Statue
Overpriced souvenirs

A great thing the ferry to Liberty Island has to offer is a detour to Ellis Island. This was actually a trip I had been looking forward to. Magical images of all sorts of immigrants who first set foot onto the Promised Land popped into my mind. But after seeing several documentary writings and reading through some of the background info, I left the first floor with a rather sick feeling to my stomach. I hadn’t known that some people had signed indenture documents to offer their services in exchange for the travel fee. While the history of the African slaves had been somewhat known to me, it still made my stomach twist to listen to and read eye witness stories from the 19th century on how they were hurdled together, one next to another, into a boat for 7 weeks straight and then sold off to high prospects farms in the South. Not to mention the Native American history and the fates they had endured.
Ellis Island is definitely going to give you a lesson in American History I. A common phrase “the Island of Hope and the Island of Tears” refers to the 98% of people who were accepted and the 2% of immigrants who had to return home and were deported. After reading through some very touching stories I sometimes wondered why people still wanted to wander off onto the New Continent…

Aside from exhibitions, the three story main building offers the Great Hall, which is the place people were admitted, right next to the Mental Testing Center and Examination Station. What I found most interesting were the personal item of pieces people had forgotten or donated to the Ellis Island Museum. Festive wedding dresses, tiny children’s shoes, daily housewares from over 100 years ago. This museum has been built up after 1984 and the former employees and volunteers have done quite a job in doing so. I am thankful to have seen so many historic pieces and to get to know this part of American history better, thanks to the Ellis Island project. I would highly recommend anyone to stop by here, if even only for half an hour.

Wedding Gown from a European Immigrant

Of course this was not the first time I had seen the Statue of Liberty from close by. So what some of my touristy friends and even I have done is to simply take the Staten Island ferry which departs from the Whitehall Terminal. It leaves every 20 mins during daytime and from late nights on every hour. Also, it ships very close to the Blue Lady and for some that is truly the only view they need. A positive aspect is that you don’t have to endure the long wait you would if you were to take the Liberty Island ferry. And even though you see a very long line of people waiting ahead of you, usually everyone who is waiting on the top floor gets on board of the ferry. So don’t lose hope, you most likely will make it. Now there is not really much to do on Staten Island itself, so I can only recommend riding back with the very next boat. They are for free, which makes out another advantage for those who are tired of spending endless amounts of dollars on fantastic things to do in New York!

[For more pictures on the Staten Island Ferry and Whitehall terminal, go here]

What to Do on Rainy Days in New York: Museums (II)

Yes, the rainy season is here again! Or rather, has never stopped due to our extremely mild winter for the past 4 months. Which is even better, I think. What a great occasion to fill you in on the latest excursions I have made after What to Do on Rainy Days in New York: Museums (I).

So lately I have been having some time on my hands again. Time to check out two more gorgeous museums the City of New York offers.
As promised, I made it to the Museum of Modern Art. The MoMA is a pretty neat spot for exhibitions and galleries. Like many other large museums, it also offers free entrance when you go at certain times. I know Friday past 4 PM is one of them. So one Friday afternoon I made my way out to Midtown again. The MoMA is not located on the Museum Mile but close to the Rockefeller Center. It took me some time to find the right side, but once I made it there, a long long line of people was awaiting me. “Of course, “I thought, “Whenever something is for free you can never expect to be the only one with the “bright” idea to go there by yourself.” But surprisingly it didn’t take as awfully long to get in as I had fearfully anticipated. A good 15 min wait of shoving Italian and Asian tourists out of my way (who always wanted to get ahead of the rest), until I found myself inside. The MoMA is beautifully build up with a small yard and fountains in a secluded outside area. Inside, you can climb up to six open floors. Each floor hosts one to three different topics. I was fascinated by the photo section, naturally, and quite taken in by the paintings, too. And then, on the upper level, you find an array of items modeled and invented by contemporary “artists. “ Such as a bicycle tire stilted on a kitchen stool, taking in the entire room. Or a mask drinking an old bottle of Coca-Cola. Or a hamburger wrapper on golden stone. Well, the last one was my idea, I am just kidding. It would fit into the other dubious pieces of art. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the sculpture of the runner and the three red pieces of plastic quite brilliant. But a broken down bicycle tire? Next! Use the space for something more unique, please.

Is this art?

The runner

Overall, the Museum of Modern Art is great to fill you in on what contemporary wizards have come up with. I am sure they always have nice exhibitions going on but it must also be hard to find competitive artists who are worth to exhibit here. They must all still stand in the shadow of artists from a different decade…

Next was the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. That was actually yesterday, as it was cold and windy outside – most ideal time to finally make my way out to the Museum Mile again. Right next to Central Park, on 88th St and 5th Avenue, you can walk into the Guggenheim Museum almost every day except for Thursday. Or at least that is what I thought. But yesterday from 5:45 PM to closing time was a give-by-donation entrance fee. Meaning a long line of culture-hungry people was awaiting me here again. I am starting to see a pattern! Luckily, even though the mass wrapped around the building and almost to Madison Avenue, it only took us ten minutes to get inside.

And here another surprise was waiting for me: Picture-taking forbidden! Yes, that’s right, the Guggenheim is so far the first and only museum in which you are not allowed to shoot nice photos. Pictures are my passion and I like to keep some for the sake of my memory. However, I sadly had to discover that as soon as I put my Canon out and shot one memorable photograph on the second floor, a security guard came barfing at me, ordering me to pack that camera away. But after walking up the steep hill leading to the fifth floor, if you can call it so, because the museum goes up in a continuous flow, I also started noticing that some guards did not care at all if you snapped souvenir pictures right in front of them. Mind me, but once I made it to the very top, a huge group of tourists/locals/ who knows what were standing there and having quite a photo session. It was actually hilarious to see how most people were rebelliously posing for the best shot before the guards came and put an end to it all.

The Guggenheim right now has the John Chamberlain exhibition going on. It opened up three days ago. In addition, it is quite sad to know the background story as John Chamberlain passed away just two months ago. Either way, the exhibition was scheduled to take off now and they couldn’t or wouldn’t interrupt the installation, as they were already in the process of building up his art. Therefore, you can regard this special exhibition as a homage to the artist Chamberlain, who never got to open up his own work of a lifetime.
In addition to the contemporary pieces, you find paintings sponsored by the Tannhauser Gallery in a side section, featuring Picasso, Pisarro, van Gogh, Rousseau, and many, many more. What I found interesting were the paintings themselves. They were not the famous pieces you learn about and get to know in school or history books, but rather pieces of art you didn’t even know existed. A colorful painting from the 19-year old Picasso, for example, before the time his work became more and more blurred up.

Chamberlain Art (taken with iPhone 4S)

The Guggenheim is a museum I had always wanted to check out and I now finally got the chance to do so. Albeit its small size it does offer some true masterpieces and is definitely worth the visit. Take advantage of the free Saturday evenings, as they are not too crowded after all.

Me and my forbidden picture!

[For more pictures on the MoMA, go here.]

Coney Island on a Sunny February Afternoon

Time for the biannual Coney Island post!
I needn’t tell you that this speck of Brooklyn is one of my favorite spots once summer hits New York. I live right of the F train, which makes it really convenient for me to travel to the quirkiest beach found so far. It takes me a short 20 min ride when I care to go in the summer, and I usually always do, every other week or so. As mentioned in May and October, Coney Island is a beach at the southernmost point of Brooklyn and, aside from water that gets murky and unsafe always around the middle of June, it offers a fantastic array of spooky rides and the oldest wooden roller coaster in the American history. Yes, I’ve actually taken the dreaded Cyclone and I thought it was an awesome fun ride. Maybe not worth the 8 bucks they charged us for it, but hey, somehow they do want to get those renovation costs together, I assume. Still, I can highly recommend you taking this ride, even though it might creep you out when you hear the squeaks of the brakes and the squeals of the people going before you. It only lasts one and a half minutes, which is not really long. But those one and half minutes, they can blow you away.

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to have the great idea of actually using my time in a meaningful way, since it was the big three-day-weekend with President’s Day going on. A three-day weekend in the winter is usually an sign for most New Yorkers to simply pack their bags and hop on the next plane south. Especially during this time of year, as spring break is coming up. However, 2012 has still remained surprisingly mild, so I am not in the least disappointed that I have decided to stay true to the Big Apple all winter long. Which has also caused me to go back to what I do best: Sight-seeing and being a busy little tourist in the city of 8 million.
So on Sunday, to get back to the gist of my sentence, I spontaneously hopped on the orange line, which transported me back in time, to the feeling of summer, sun, and fun, in less than half an hour. I didn’t bring my bath towel, I wasn’t wearing my swim suit, but I carried my camera with me and was in a good mood to stroll the beach on a cool February day. As I came to find, I wasn’t the only one with this bright idea: A good amount of tourists, locals, and other folks were roaming the boardwalk and areas around the water. Well, why not, it was a gorgeous day and when the sun came out you almost forgot that summer is still a good three and a half months away…

Coney Island’s attractions were closed. I think they shut down one day after Halloween and open up in April again (their site says Easter, which is dependent upon year). The Luna Park has renovated and come up with an array of new rides, which were newly opened in May of 2010. Unfortunately, I have no idea what Coney Island was like before, as that was the first time I visited the Luna Park. I do know that they added even more rides for the smaller audience in 2011, so kids should be having a ton of fun with their little surf rides and water canoes now. Aside from the rides, what makes Coney Island colorful are all the little stands and food carts you find clustered around and close to the boardwalk.

On Sunday, however, everything was still brutally shut down. Back in October, at least the bars and food joints had been open. Now the only spot you could grab a bite of food from was Nathan’s (as extensively discussed in previous posts, this joint does not offer too much according to my taste – I don’t eat hot dogs!) and the fast food joints right next to the train station. I guess the restaurants were open as usual, but that is not why people come to Coney Island, to be honest. Aside from the missing culinary experience, everyone was quite happy. Some tourists even dipped their naked feet into the probably freezing cold Atlantic water, but I guess they don’t have an ocean where they come from.

Which is exactly why I love this spot: The salty sea breeze, the oceanic air, the mellow waves washing ashore – all beautifully illuminated by the sun high up in the sky. For this time of the year, it was quite blinding, and sunglasses were a must on that particular day. Some hardcore fishermen even had their fishing rods out. I am not sure if they caught anything. I would never want to eat anything coming from that place of the Ocean and I hope they don’t sell their fish it in Chinatown or Brighton Beach. I once witnessed a child catching a sea skate, which is pretty high on the list of being extinct. Just for fun, he caught it. Just for fun, he sliced the inside open. Just for fun, he threw him back into the water. Some people’s mentality towards animals just don’t make sense to me and are saddening me at times.

In the summer, Coney Island is home to many people, also homeless people and the socially disadvantaged. I believe the projects are not too far from there. So when you walk by a random group of guys in a torn undershirt who are loudly blasting their CD player on the pier or close to the water, you know what’s up. It’s funny to see the interaction between tourists, Russians, and other people when they encounter these random groups of men who have plenty of time to kill. It’s a mix between amusement and bewilderment. That is probably why Coney Island is regarded as ghetto by most New Yorkers after some point in the summer. My friend and I were always entertained by the random Salsa and Samba parties hosted by Puerto Rican crowds. A band would be playing and many grunge-looking people of middle age would start showing off their hot moves in front of the rest of the crowd. My friend, a German guy, would always be fascinated by the high amount of naked skin the 50-year-old women would show off, even though their body was lacking the prerequisite for bikini and mini skirt time. I, however, was fascinated and repulsed by how beaten down the men and women looked for their age. This was probably due to their hard-working life – or their extensive drug use.

Sunday was a great day at the beach. It wasn’t for swimming or tanning or dancing but simply for catching a nice fresh breeze of salty sea air and feeling rejuvenated after spending some time among so many peaceful people.

Oh, and the mystery to why this place contains the word “island”? Well, apparently it used to be disconnected to the mainland until they rejoined it by means of land fill. Dear Coney, you truly were an Island!

[For more pictures, go to A Picture Every Day: coney.island.in.february.(part I). and coney.island.in.february.(part II).]

Super Bowl in the City of Cities

I know, it’s been two weeks. Exactly two weeks, as it’s Sunday today. I would still like to tell you guys how Super Bowl went on that historic Sunday. You see, I’ve never been a big fan of watching sports. Maybe the world cup of soccer, but that’s about it. Soccer isn’t too big in the US of A. Over here, football rocks your worlds – I know, I know.

So when I moved here and February came around (that was one year ago, to be exact), I expected a bit more from the city of cities in terms of game broadcasting. But I was disappointed. One coworker at work mentioned the Super Bowl briefly but that was about it. Not big into that at my old work, I’m assuming. My former roommate and I managed to pull us together and watch the BIG EVENT at the Steinhof last year, and that was pretty much it. No real sports bar in the Slope we could really think of and, overall, the Super Bowl experience was a big disappointment from end to start. It didn’t help that I didn’t understand the rules and that the Black-Eyed Peas messed up half of their performance, either. 2011 – the Packers against the Steelers, that’s how I remember it.

Now, this year was different. Of course. This year it was a New York home-born team against another New England biggie. I guess those facts by themselves made the game a bit more appealing. My friend had invited me two months earlier already to an apparently huge Super Bowl party of a cousin of a friend of his… you see, someone you know who knows. The party was set to be on Roosevelt Island. Because of this, I was excited in many ways. First of all, I had never been to Roosevelt Island. I was looking forward to trying out the quaint tram I had so often heard about in the past, and to catch the amazing view on Manhattan you apparently have. Second, I had never been to a die-hard Football Party and was thrilled to see how New Yorkers celebrate this event after the disappointing muteness I had experienced the year before.

Roosevelt Island Tram

So after a beer with friends in Midtown, my friend and I took the notorious Roosevelt Island tram from the East Side of New York. It doesn’t take long at all, that lift-like globe that catapults you from one world to another. Some short five minutes later we were on the other side and made our way to the loft we were invited to. It was a rooftop lounge, and a good 50 people had already thrown their dishes of snacks, cakes, and home-made guacamole on a table. A huge fridge served masses of beer, mostly Coronas. Yes, this was about as multicultural as it got: From Latin people over old school New Yorkers to Dutch-speaking Europeans – you pretty much had it all. While I still did not understand the game an ounce more than I did last year, I was barely watching it this time but huddled around the snacks and drinks or on the open roof deck, which offered an amazing view towards Manhattan. I don’t know about you, but aside from the performances in between (which I am not a big Madonna fan), the game was pretty much unexciting and uneventful. Those last two minutes added a nice twist to it, and in the end we all were in the right city when it came to winning. The Giants earned the trophy this year and everyone was happily dancing and/or hopping around after the final score. Overall, I was mighty glad that this year I had actually chosen wisely when it came to celebrating Super Bowl.

Party Table
Some wild post-game dancing.

Two days later the winning team came back home and had their parade in the Financial District. Of course I couldn’t take part in it, as I was working on that particular Tuesday. But it was a great feeling to be at the right place at the right time. My coworkers were telling me about the die-hard fans they had bumped into on the subway at 8 o’clock in the morning already – mostly from New Jersey or upstate New York (how could it else be!).

Now I don’t know about next year, but I guess I am just not a really big Super Bowl fan yet to care much about the football season… If only I had enough patience to sit down and learn the rules one day. I guess I would rather spend my energy and wits on other stuff. Sorry, soccer has definitely made it to me before you have, football!

How did you guys experience the match 2 weeks ago? Did you care at all?

This Must Be the Time….

This must be the time no one likes to blog…. I thought the winter would make it easier to justify sitting indoors and getting some writing done. But instead I find myself occupied with other things and pretending it is not winter anymore! Luckily, I’ve noticed from a few others (right Amanda, Ginger, Elena?!) that I am not the only one to procrastinate in the blogosphere… Free time is simply valuable for me right now. Working out at the gym – reconnecting with Ballet and Zumba, two dances I have ignored for almost an entire year, and doing weights – that’s what my fitness agenda is all about right now. Brunches on the weekend and getting together with a couple of friends long forgotten – such is pretty much my social life at the time.
Work is still challenging and lengthy, which means I love to make the very best out of the few couple of hours a day I get away from it. And the weekends, well they have almost become sacred.

February is supposedly the very last month of this half-a**ed winter in the City. We are actually getting a few more colder days now and then with an occasional flake of snow, but it is not sticking to the ground. Now, mid-February, I am not too worried about freezing and cold wind roaring into my face. I wonder what the spring and summer might be about…

Last week was one good Super bowl game! The NY giants won and even earned their own parade in the heart of New York. The Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week has started last Thursday. While I attended one show last year, I doubt I’ll get the chance to poke my head in this year. Which I somewhat do not regret. Then, the Grammy Awards today, running in the background as I am typing. Some well-earned awards, some not-so-justified honors (Chris Brown? For realz?).
The death of the biggest inspiration in the Soul and R’n’B industry: Whitney Houston. Present in every generation simply because of her unique vocals and her talent, to be remembered in the (music) lives of many…

Good times and sad times intertwine. I’ll keep you posted on those. Oops, it’s been so long!

Just Another Chillaxing Weekend in the Big Apple…

Last weekend was a really relaxing and fun-filled time off. Two of those days simply taken to enjoy the wonders of New York.
First of all, I got to discover one of the best brunch locations in the Slope I have come across so far. Giovanni’s offers Italian eats at a reasonable price with unlimited bloody’s and mimosas. For 17 bucks you get quite a huge amount of food, as antipasti is served before the secondi, with the first dish being almost the size of the second. We couldn’t finish up our plates, in a good way, that is. I have seldom tasted anything as well seasoned and put together than in this Brooklyn Eats restaurant.

Antipasti....
... Secondi!Yaaaaaam!

With full stomachs, which almost ached because of the food overload, we decided to go for a walk and ended up at the Steinhof. The Steinhof is a spot that sorta reminds me of home but not really. My old roomies and I used to spend a good amount of happy hours and weekend time in the only Austrian bar in Park Slope. It also helped to only live two blocks away from it, as it’s right on 7th Avenue. Now that I’ve moved two blocks over, I have to walk a bit further, but it’s still less than 10 minutes away. For some reason I don’t go there as often anymore, it seems like a completely different area to me now. And I guess I people get lazy after some time, too.
So the Steinhof is a pub I’ve really come to like. They have happy hour from 4 to 7PM – every day that is. We got there just in time for our first half-priced beer. It still blows my mind how often the bartenders change in this spot. The waiters stay the same, as long as I’ve known them. Long long ago there used to be this Australian cocktailmixer who liked to flirt with every girl behind the bar. Then he got fired and ever since the selection of newbies went from grumpy bartender to bossy bartendress. Well, guess you have to get used to some things in your life.

interior of the Steinhof

Sunday was a day ridden by emotions and krass situations. First, the Chinatown Parade and our successful escape from the masses of tourists and other idiots longing in the wrong direction. Then I met up with another friend in the St. Marks area. I hadn’t been there in a while, must have been a few months ago, at least. We walked over to Washington Square Park. The day was beautiful, as the sun was shining and it was relatively mild outside. Winter has still not shown his rough, scarry, frosty face to us this year. Because my friend is shooting a video next weekend, we were on the lookout for various props. First a sports outfit at American Apparel. All sales girls looked like models, with a tall, lean figure and a funky outfit. I guess they were hired because they meet certain criteria.
Then we ended up in a stretch of the Village I had barely touched upon. It was the street of the second hand stores, how I like to call it. The MONK with its scented candle smell and its chaotic racks of muffy clothes. An army store where you could get FBI batches for ten bucks a piece. And many more little shacks which were fun just to check out. I am not even into handed-down clothing but it’s definitely an experience to just walk in and take in the vibes of such a store.

Washington Square Park at Sunset
MONK second hand store

Then Adorama around Union Square. It’s a well-known camera equipment store but the sixth floor has a rental section. After seeing the low prices on renting a lens for one weekend or longer, I was rather taken aback. Definitely planning on checking out a few of those items and shooting the power out of my camera whenever I get a chance.

A fine end to all of this: An evening at Diablo Royale! My favorite, favorite Mexican restaurant in the City so far! Fajitas and Enchilada time, everybody! And no, I still cannot get enough of it!

Diablo Royale
Diablo Ricky - the restaurant's specialty!

So that is how my weekend went. After the past two weeks of constant stress I definitely needed a bit of a time-out and being surrounded by people I like. New York has so much to offer, even in the winter. It’s insane!