Horseback Riding in New York: Say what?

horse

Today I spent my afternoon doing some horseback riding. I came up with a bucket list, which I want to accomplish during the sweltering heat of this New York summer. Taking a riding lesson and/ or doing horseback riding was definitely Read More »

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The Annual Mermaid Parade: Colors, Costumes, and Chaos

mermaid parade 2013 - 11

Coney Island is already a pretty eventful spot by itself. The beach area hosts the Annual Hotdog Eating Contest on 4th of July, America’s biggest holiday. The Hotdog contest originated at the one and only Nathan’s and to date draws thousands of physical visitors to Coney in addition to millions of live viewers in front of the TV. Aside from it having a fantastic amusement park with more and more major attractions added each year, it is also home to the oldest wooden roller coaster in the US: the famous Cyclone. I once made the “mistake” of paying $8 for a ride that lasted 1 ½ minutes (beware, I heard they upped the price to $9 now) and came tumbling out of my cart soon after. I can see how some people complain about back pain after but it was certainly worth the experience and I can only recommend you trying it out if you are in the area.

mermaid parade 2013 - 14

Coney and its neighborhood have been struck by the fatal Sandy, like so many other parts in Brooklyn and Queens close to the ocean. It went through its own process of rebuilding and -construction. As I have been fervidly following its Facebook tweed, I have seen the great progress it made from November 2012 until May 2013, when it re-opened its shining gates to yet another wild season. Every year, Luna Park is scheduled to open fully on Memorial Day Weekend and to close around the Hollow’s Eve weekend. Aside from its many attractions, a significant parade has been an important part of Coney’s repertoire for the past 31 years: The one and only Mermaid Parade!

mermaid parade 2013 - 10

Now what exactly is this Parade about? It is held during the month of June, specifically around the weekend of June 21, as it symbolizes the beginning of summer. While at first I thought it was a Lesbian/Gay Parade aimed towards expanding Brooklyn’s repertoire to a fancy version of it, I did further research and found I was very wrong in this initial impression. The Mermaid Parade has three purposes, stated on its homepage: “It brings mythology to life for local residents who live on streets named Mermaid and Neptune ; it creates self-esteem in a district that is often disregarded as “entertainment”; and it lets artistic New Yorkers find self-expression in public.” Yes, you do see some gay floats and groups dance around in the crowd. But then you also have families dressing up with their children, floats of political statements driving through the crowd and drunken bystanders peeling out of their octopus costumes.

mermaid parade 2013 - 2

For whatever reason, I didn’t find out about the Mermaid Parade until I had already lived here for 2 years. By pure coincidence, I had gotten off the train on a Saturday afternoon in June 2012 and immediately fell into a great chaos of loud obnoxious screaming drunken masses of people. Now, don’t’ get me wrong, Coney has the reputation of being always drunken and partly ghetto when it comes to its people. After all, the projects are right next to the amusement park. Way back in the 20s and 30ies it must have been a pretty beach but with Moses’ Housing Project, things drastically changed in the 60ies and 70ies. Such is New York, and mostly Brooklyn, all of this makes out its initial sketchy appeal with a flavor of exoticism mixed under it.

mermaid parade 2013 - 5 car mermaids

But in the past few years, Coney has developed into one of the hottest tourist sightseeing spots and uppedy white people bring their kids here occasionally. However, this year it was very extreme and Sandy might have played a part in all of this. Through a humongous Kickstarter Campaign, the parade was able to initiate $100,000 in funds and donations, therefore still partaking. The final decision was made at the end of May and everyone was thrilled!

My friend donated to the Kickstarter Campaign and received this scribbled piece of paper in exchange....
My friend donated to the Kickstarter Campaign and received this scribbled piece of paper in exchange….

So the Parade seemed exactly what you would think of it with about a month’s time to prepare: Chaotic, sometimes long-stretched, and mostly not very original in costumes. Sure, you had some really great groups, you had an awesome local trumpet band, and you had creative floats. But during some intervals you had random families walk through the scene, holding children who were dressed up in a green blob as Mermaids and waving at the crowd. Not.very.original.at.all.

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mermaid parade 2013 - 8

Overall, I was glad to have seen the parade for the first time in full. It generated a huge crowd towards Coney during that weekend and that’s exactly what this area needed (bring in the money, hey!). However, after one hour of blinking into the blinding sun and looking at a few boring groups in the parade, my friends kinda had enough and went to a bar close to the subway station. Our luck that it wasn’t as overcrowded as after the parade. We only had to wait one hour for the food (does not include ordering, which took 30 minutes).

mermaid parade 2013 - 1

Another group of friends joined us and was keen on checking out the boardwalk. The parade stretches from the main street all the way around and comes back over the boardwalk so I already predicted us getting stuck at some point. True enough, we couldn’t even cross the main street to get to our beloved Nathan’s, as police only let us do so in 15-minute-intervals. Once we were there, we saw how long the line was to order a petty hotdog (more than one hour!). My friends were not thrilled by this idea and wanted to check out the food options on the boardwalk. So we went through the entire amusement park, just to get stuck, literally, in a massive crowd of people on the boardwalk. No way we’d get food here, either.

All I see is PEOPLE!
All I see is PEOPLE!

Somehow we made it back to the bar, the entire excursion taking us over 1 hour, which normally wouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. Just to give you an idea of how crowded it was. So the parade was over by then and friend group number 1 (number 2 had successfully vanished in the subway station) was fed, drunk, and ready to check out the beach. Which happened to be swamped by unhealthy corpses of party people (big surprise here). We were in the sand, packed like sardines in a can, while a few of my friends jumped into the water (they assured me it was only cold for the first 10 seconds or so) but were freezing once a high wind hit us on the beach.

Beach "fun"!
Beach “fun”!

After another hour of lying around in a rave-like atmosphere we had enough of the fact that sand was being kicked in our faces every five seconds minutes and went off to the boardwalk. It was here that my foot hit a fatal plank, which tore my sole apart wounded it painfully. After dripping water on it, I decided it would be best to just go home and treat it under more normal conditions and with rubbing alcohol. My friends stayed and I am sure they had a drunkenly fun time…

So, in conclusion, the Mermaid Parade can be great fun and a once-in-lifetime experience. It’s worth taking tons of meaningless colorful pictures. Be aware of loose planks on the boardwalk. And make sure you get your 12-hour-sleep thereafter!

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To Summer – The Fun Season

summer in dumbo rain

There is something strangely reassuring about early morning sports. Be it running in the park or doing a boot camp class outdoors – it’s a great feeling to keep myself fit. Even better to do so in the wilderness of nature or next to the Manhattan skyline.

Summer is here! Rainy lately, but here nonetheless! So far I’ve completed three boot camp classes already within the past week. Yesterday we worked out in the rain; it really did feel like a military drill then. People were on their way to work and must have wondered what we were doing: A group of ten athletes just jumping up and down and lifting heavy stones over our heads…

I am also ready for the beach. Have been there a couple of times already during this season. It’s just not super-sunshiny weather wise. The water was freezing cold when I dipped my foot in it. I hope things become warmer eventually.

summer in gowanus brooklyn

I snapped this picture while strolling through Gowanus and Carrol Gardens the other day. Oh how peaceful the sun rays look in the evening of a sparkling summer day. I don’t know what to do come October but currently I want this weather to last forever!

People say spring is a new beginning. I believe every season brings a new attitude, a new idea, a new creation into mind. Especially since spring only exists for a few weeks out of the year here in New York. So I devote this post to summer and a new life. And new hopes and new opportunities. Hello from the Big Apple!

The Greenpoint Way of Life: Awesome Brunches and More!

Five Leaves Bloody Mary
Five Leaves Bloody Mary

Aside from Williamsburg and Park Slope, there is one more area in Brooklyn that is culturally interesting when it comes to brunch, restaurants, and other tasty eats. Greenpoint is close to the ‘burg but not quite as hipsterized and studentized as its pricier neighbor. It also has a chiller vibe to offer and lots of Polish culture. That’s right, little Poland used to be here (compare it to Brighton Beach, which hosts former Russian natives). Don’t ask how exactly this speck of New York turned into a Polish neighborhood but you can still see much of its cultural influence when you walk around and visit the small delis with Polish bread, water ( I am guessing Polish water is MUCH different from American one…), wine and more.
This post focuses more on the restaurant side of this quaint part of town. Unfortunately I have not yet been able to try out a Polish eat but other joints are just as good (if not even better). Brunch spots are blooming throughout this neighborhood, starting with the one and only…

1) Enid’s

Enid’s is right next to McCarren Park and hosts indoor and outdoor seating (great for the warm spring months to come). Occasionally, you will encounter a wait when you show up for brunch hours (which are around 1 to 2 PM), but I have never encountered a wait for longer than 10 minutes until we were shown a table. A unique part about Enid’s is their Frozen Harrison – a sweet-sour Tequila-based drink, which I have yet to try out. Aside from this, their Bloody’s rock (which are a consistent part of New York brunch culture).
For brunch, their pancakes come highly recommended. A great option for vegetarians is also the toad in the hole, offered here occasionally.

Brunch at Enid's - always eye candy!
Brunch at Enid’s – always eye candy!

I like Enid’s not only for their sweet stuff but also for their dinner. Their home-made veggie burgers are so delicious that we often just grab it as take-out if we are in the area (I therefore deem it best veggie burger in this area!).

2) Matchless

Across the street from Enid’s you will find a bar called Matchless. This one has a grungy feel and often hosts rock shows at night. It’s heavily populated with an evening crowd and has drink specials at a decent price.

During the day, it turns into a pretty decent food spot. For brunch you will find the usual options: Eggs, pancakes, Huevos Rancheros. I once tried their Nutella pancakes, which consist of buttermilk pancakes topped with whipped crème fraiche and Nutella powder. Yes, Nutella powder! Melted over the still warm pancakes they make out for a sweet sugar rush almost nothing can top! Beware that you won’t need the maple syrup right next to it, unless you are aiming towards diabetes in your 40ies…

Nutella Powder Pancakes
Nutella Powder Pancakes
Eggs and house-made biscuits
Eggs and house-made biscuits

Matchless offers all of these wonderful brunch specials at a low price, which makes it even more appealing. Eggs any style for 7 bucks? Heck yes!

3) Five Leaves

The ridiculous line in front of Five Leaves (oh, these are mostly Europeans!)
The ridiculous line in front of Five Leaves (oh, these are mostly Europeans!)

It must have shown up in tourist books and guides by now, as the lines for this place are exorbitant long! I am not exaggerating when a normal wait for brunch could take up to 45 minutes during their busiest hours. And evenings? About as bad, if you don’t know the wait staff. What could be the reason for this high interest? Their food is amazingly delicious! Heath Ledger was planning on owning it and opening it up. Unfortunately, he died before it was finished and the plan was on hook. After a short waiting period, the family decided to add the necessary funds from his legacy and the bar was opened in September 2008. The current owners add an additional flair of Australian glamour to this speck of earth. So if you are into the movie “A Knight’s Tale” and want to find out what the actor invested in, go stop by here. If you are into fabulous food, go stop by here, as well.

Ricotta pancakes - YUM!
Ricotta pancakes – YUM!
Mushroom toast - also YUM!
Mushroom toast – also YUM!

Of courses pancakes are a must, come breakfast. Five Leaves offers a banana version: Ricotta pancakes topped with fresh fruit and sweet butter. Heavy, filling, and sweet. I once even managed to eat the entire plate by myself. Only once, though. Beware, it is a HUGE portion. Then of course there are other options on the menu. Such as a smaller plate of mushroom toast, about as equally fantastic (but not as sweet). Oh, and drinks? Try their horse radish bloody mary! Spicy and well-mixed!

4) Calexico

Last but not least, we return to Mexican Food. Or rather: Solid Tex-Mex. Calexico is a gem, albeit not hidden anymore (the last time I was here, I walked right into an elderly German couple trying to order food. “Who is giving these places away to outsiders?” I wondered.).
Calexico started out as a street cart (remember my street food post almost 1 1/2 years ago? Read more here!) and a while back the restaurant version opened. And although I wasn’t too thrilled by their street food, I am now one of their biggest fans when it comes to sitting food. My absolute favorite is their huge portion of nachos. Disregard that crappy picture I have, they look much better than that in reality. Followed by quesadillas and their Mexican corn (which is grilled corn with Mexican cheese and spices).

Crappy picture of a tasty eat!
Crappy picture of a tasty eat!

Whenever the big craving overwhelms me, I have to go and get some take-out here. In case you want to stay and sit down, try out their drinks, which are tasty and strong. For example their different versions of house margaritas. Since indoor seating is rather sparse (especially during restaurant rush hour) they have a tent-like structure in their backyard, which is heated in the winter. Still good enough, especially with the prospect of devouring some awesome food!


[For posts on brunch in other spots go to:

Restaurant Review: Williamsburg Chique and Not-so Chique!


Tasty Eats in Brooklyn: North Slope


Tasty Eats in Brooklyn: South Slope

Mouth-watering pictures guaranteed!]

Nemo Flaking Its Way into New York

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Another storm has entered New York. This time in form of a blizzard. Heck, we haven’t had a blizzard in over 2 years! I had almost forgotten what real snow looks like until I left my apartment this night.
Crunchy white mass sticking to my shoes, flakes melting as soon as they touched my cheek. Snow in the Big Apple – it’s been so long.

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And while in the season of 2010/2011, we had two real snow days (snow days meaning days off work due to snow storms), today we had to work until the bitter end. Despite the weather forecast texting our all cell phones yesterday afternoon (Bloomberg must have paid an exorbitant amount to make sure every person in the metro area was well informed of the current conditions!), not every company allowed their employees to leave early, least to say, stay home on Friday (today).

It surely was not as bad at 5 PM but it got worse and worse until the constant flow of snow came drifting out of the sky. And still is. Most likely until tomorrow.

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These pictures were taken while walking around Park Slope just a few hours ago. Enjoy!

Personality Types – Find Out Who You Are!

Recently I’ve stumbled across this cool site I found on Liz’s blog (she happened to find it on another person’s twitter – the word spreads fast!). It determines what personality type you are according to your blog. It is based on the Myers- Briggs personality tests and a pretty neat tool I wanted to share with you since this is after all a blogging community.

Because I have two blogs, I first gave in my main one, which happens to be German-American Abroad.

The result was: ISFP – The Artists.

personality type the artists

According to the description, I am NOT a friend of many words (most readers would strongly disagree since a majority of my posts are 1,000 words and above) and have to make sure that I am not being taken advantage of. Aside from this, I am very compassionate and genuinely care for my fellow human beings. I really like that last part of the description!

brain activity

I then typed in A Picture Every Day and received a very different response. According to this blog, I belong to the ESFP – The Performers.

As the description goes, I live in the current moment and experience life’s riches. I also love being around other people and have an eye for beauty and art.

personality type the performers

I guess if I were to combine those two descriptions, I would get a solid (and very flattering) observation of my current personality. It’s interesting to see how the test takes your blog and transforms it into a pretty accurate view of who you are or perhaps wish to be.

To a certain degree, the results took me by surprise. I would have thought the roles to be switched, after all my picture blog appears to be way more artsy than this one, the writing site.

Please feel free to try it out for yourselves and don’t be shy to leave your feedback!

Go visit the Typealyzer!

Restaurant Review: Williamsburg Chique and Not-so Chique!

Throughout the past one and a half years I’ve had many chances to try out great and bad restaurants in Williamsburg. It’s only a short hop on the G-train from where I live and it’s very convenient in terms of being able to stay in Brooklyn but still get the busy vibe of Manhattan streets, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, I won’t bother, it’s simply too complicated to explain!

Anyhow, Williamsburg can be very chique once you trot away from the walked-by-many-appreciated-by-few roads of Bedford Avenue and Co. Matter of fact, I rarely even go to Bedford Avenue anymore just because this entire stretch down to the Southside turns into a true frat house atmosphere once we hit the weekend hours. And who needs that when you can simply walk down another street and land somewhere truly interesting? Yes, that’s exactly what I think, too.

Therefore, instead of getting of the Bedford Stop on the L-train, ride one stop further and make your way to Lorimer/ Metropolitan Avenue. It is here where you will find…

1) Dumont

Now this is a pretty chique restaurant compared to some of the washed down bars you have in its proximity (take Union Pool, for example). I’ve come here for birthday dinners and on other occasions. Originally known for its burgers, it has strutted far away from that reputation. One time I tried the shrimp fettuccine, which I can recommend once it is in season again. The veggie ravioli is equally as good. But the true hit was the Dumont Salad with its Danish Blue cheese, radish, pecans and the slightest hint of its balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Dumont's shrimp ravioli
Dumont’s shrimp fettuccine

There is always an appeal to dishes where you can taste they are home-made and not factored down to the conveyer-belt-atmosphere found elsewhere. Dumont also has a great cocktail list but unfortunately I have not yet come around to trying these out. Next time for sure!

2) Dressler

I went here once, for a friend’s birthday. It was pretty amazing. Due to the servers knowing him, we got a higher end treatment (and lots of water refills, even though our glasses were still full). It is owned by the same folks who opened up the Dumont, an already classy joint off of Lorimer. But the Dressler is definitely its higher end version. Look at its proximity to classics such as the Peter Luger Steakhouse and you will understand why. It’s breathtaking and awing but in the end, it is a restaurant. The food is on the pricier side so be prepared to bring your second wallet tucked in your nice tuxedo.
When we went here, we got the butternut squash ravioli. A gift from anywhere but earth! The marinated beets were also appealing and great for starters. They have a nice selection of wine and cocktails, just like the Dumont!

Beets appetizer and home-made pasta
Beets appetizer and home-made pasta

Given the fact that all of this happened post-Sandy (about five days after the mega storm), I was greatly impressed at the freshness of this food and the cheerfulness of the place. We even discovered an Indian actor sitting at the bar (but of course you don’t disturb these people or gawk at them..).

3) Walter Foods

Another goody, especially when it comes to brunch. I can highly recommend their Bloody Mary’s (so rich in ingredients it will make your head swirl when you see the amount of olives you are able to snag). Also, their French toast has left a lasting impression, especially after coming here more than a few times already. If you are not into sweet stuff, try their egg dishes or, even better, oysters. That’s right, they offer oysters for brunch (market price, usually).

Mouth-watering French Toast!
Mouth-watering French Toast!
Oyster time
Oyster time

Walter Foods has an outdoor patio in the back, and it’s especially gorgeous in the late summer/ fall time of the year.

4) Rye

Rye is simply amazing when it comes to brunch, and food, and pretty much everything else. Walking in here was impressive by itself. The décor was very classy, resembling rustic wooden creations in Germany, but then more elegant due to the white table sheets. We sat at the bar, so no white sheets for us. However, after waiting some time for our food to arrive, we did get the chance to taste one of the best gourmet pieces I’ve tried in New York so far!

I ordered a Croque Madame. For those of you who’ve been to France: It’s similar to a Croque Monsieur. The last Croque Unisex I had was in Paris. This one at Rye was so much better than anything I’ve tried in the French capital (I am unsure if this is a compliment or not, but let’s let it sit there for a minute). My friend had the omelet with sides – equally appealing and also tasty.

Croque Madame
Croque Madame
Omelet with side of salad and toast
Omelet with side of salad and toast

I glanced around and saw a random girl order the French toast. It was such a large amount, I would recommend splitting it among two people. Seriously, her oversized plate was clustered with the goodies! Since we were pretty full, we didn’t get the chance to try out their home-made donuts. Next time for sure!

5) Mother’s

Now to the not-so-chique: Mother’s is a joint that has a dive-bar-kinda vibe. Other than that it has one of the best veggie burgers I’ve tried in this area and one of the cheapest. For 7 bucks a pop you can get a full burger. Meat costs extra, I believe you would pay 8 dollars. Cheese is 1 dollar. Then you can choose between either a side of fries for $2 (totaling everything to an even $10) or a basket of fries for $3. For some reason we always end up getting the basket because our thought process is that we can simply share it and save one dollar (instead each of us getting a side of fries). A basket is humongous, though, so half of it goes uneaten. I am not sure if I should approve of the waste of food or the savings of money… They have decent beer, too. Gaffel Koelsch from Austria, who couldn’t say no? If you’re in the Graham avenue area, feel like having solid bar food and not waiting too long, this is the place you should end up at. As simple as that!

Williamsburg is so darn close to Greenpoint that I have decided to come up with a special post on restaurants in the former Polish neighborhood soon. Keep tuning in for the best of the best, or at the very least, the most interesting when it comes to a German discovering her eating ways through New York errr Brooklyn!

Cleaning Up Sandy’s Mess: Volunteering in Red Hook

It’s been a while since I updated this blog. Many things have happened in between… Voting for a new president. A snowstorm hitting New York… It’s been some time but Sandy is not yet forgotten. Some people are still without electricity in parts of the City, New Jersey, and New York State. Such as Brooklyn. Trains have partially picked up service but Williamsburg is still pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. Literally! No gas, no trains, and the only way to get a hold of someone is either by phone or foot.

Despite all the misery, or rather, because of it all, many people felt like helping out others who were not in need. So did I, as on Sunday I got to volunteer for the very first time in my life! I would have never imagined it to be right after a hurricane hit this city. But the weekend was long and the more I did nothing, the more I felt I finally wanted to do something about this miserable feeling of helplessness. Luckily, my roommate told me about volunteer opportunities that were close by and easily accessible for us since we were in Brooklyn. “People in Red Hook still don’t have electricity,” she explained on Friday. “It’s insane how much is going on there; the church definitely needs some help this weekend!”

So early in the afternoon my friend and I took a train and a bus over to the formerly flooded part. While we were passed on at the community center, we walked down to the Red Hook Initiative. “Sure, we can always use a helping hand!” a guy exclaimed as soon as we got there. A line of homeless-looking people had gathered around hot food supplies that were handed out to the less fortunate. However, my friend had brought with her own gallon of water and canned food, so we wanted to get rid of her donations first.
“Yes, non-prepared foods will have to be donated elsewhere… Just go down three blocks and there should be a church on your left,” the guy told us while turning to a helpless resident asking for blankets.

Donating food with a friend at a church in Red Hook

“This volunteer stuff is not really super-organized,” is all we thought and then we went down to the church. A mass of people was trying to get rid of all the stuff they brought. “Blankets and flashlights across the street please, water to your left and canned food to your right,” a woman cried out. My friend and I were a tiny bit confused and started to become annoyed with how complicated donating had become. “Here, I’ll take that from you. Of course not for me, for the church,” a guy said and carried our donations up the church steps after noticing how helpless we looked. Done deal!

We then went back to the Initiative and joined a group of approximately 40 people, all eager to help out. We were asked to form groups of 6 people and then the assignment was explained to us: We were to enter the projects and take on two buildings per group. Since every floor had about 5 apartments and every building had 6 floors, we were good to go for the next two hours or so. Our task was to knock on people’s doors, ask them if they needed medical assistance, and jot down what they had to say in case it seemed like an emergency situation. Which really none of us would have known how to react had it come down to a true emergency situation, to tell you the truth.

Volunteering in Red Hook

We trotted off to so-called buildings 19 and 20. Our group all of a sudden had 9 people instead of 6, but no one really cared anymore. The people hanging outside of the projects eyed us suspiciously but let us pass without further comments. I was pretty happy it was broad daylight and I was somewhat protected by 8 more white people by my side.

A group of teenagers had huddled underneath the stairways, since an outlet had been put there to charge phones and other electronic devices. Three of us took on the fifth floor. Out of all those five apartments, one person answered and assured us that she was fine. Then an elderly lady came wheezing up the stairs as we were about to go to floor 2. She had a hard time climbing up the steps so we asked her if everything was okay. She said she needed an asthma pump soon since she had lost hers. For some reason, she kept running up and down the stairs, though, and we saw her again outside as we left the building. A few of the other emergencies were lack of insulin for diabetics and then of course some more asthma cases.

As we entered the second building, a strong smell of feces struck our noses. We had decided to take on one building with four people only just to not give the people a heart attack when having too many volunteers banging on their doors. Nothing too special here. In the third house we actually ran into another group of volunteers who had mistaken this complex for their project. But whatever, no one really had a plan by now anyways. I rang the bell of an old Polish couple – they were probably around 70 years old. They didn’t speak English but their apartment smelt strongly like gas. Such as so many other apartments we had seen.

Volunteering in the Projects

Over 80 percent of the apartments in the projects had no electricity and it seemed that only arbitrary ones had power for whatever reason. So in order to keep warm, especially the elderly had decided to just turn their oven up a notch and run the risk of inhaling poison in exchange for any kind of heat. After one and a half hours we were done. We then saw another group of volunteers, possibly with a different organization, going from building to building and handing out foods and other supplies. We felt that this was not really the sense of having us bothered the people first, since both the food and the medical examination could have all been done at once.

When we got back and reported to the Initiative with our notes in our hands, we didn’t feel like we had accomplished much. And the odd vibes we got when entering the area made us feel bad for the people who had to endure living there without power, especially during night time. There might be many harmless people in the projects but all it takes is one bad person to turn your night into a true night mare, were our thoughts as we parted.

It felt good to get out there and do something and many other people had the same ideas on that particular weekend. However, it could have been a bit more organized by the organizations, as to not randomly bother people for 10 different things in one single day. My friend in Williamsburg loaded trucks with care packages to be sent to destroyed areas. Another friend actually drove down to the Rockaways. How she managed to get gas in a fuel-impoverished city is a mystery to me. The picture below shows a washed-away boardwalk on what used to be my favorite beach this summer. It’s incredible things like these that make me understand how strong this storm really was…

A truly sad sight at Far Rockaway…. The wooden stems are what is left of the “boardwalk”

This Is Devoted to the Couple Who Got Engaged in Dumbo

It happened down under Manhattan Brooklyn Bridge. Right there, in the place of a thousand tourists a day. By now a well-known location – not only because of pizza, ice cream and other overrated must-dos.

One of those rare magical moments in New York. Once they happen you are left smiling and feeling happy. And also thinking Ahaaaa!

I was out and about, wandering around the scenes, looking for the infamous steps in Brooklyn Bridge Park. A few days ago I had read that there are several readings happening here and I was anxious to see what they were about. For five minutes I got to hear what the author had to say about his most recent book and then the event was wrapped up for the day. While everyone hustled out, I stayed and climbed the now half-empty steps. Determined to get a good night shot and secretly cursing myself out for forgetting my tripod.

The night scene was gorgeous. The people were even more interesting. A group of teenagers snuck up from behind me and silently walked past down the steps as if it’s a normal occurrence to be dressed up half-nakedly like Cleopatra and other exotics. They were having fun with their own little photo shoot down there, such as so many others I had seen when walking past the crowds.

It also happened to be one of those days Obama was back in town. The entire East River was lit up by police boats and Manhattan’s banks were light-polluted thanks to the high amount of escorts.

The area close to the steps is not as well-known as the rest of the park. It is often well hidden to the lazy tourist eye. Most tourists don’t see much reason to go past the Ice Cream Factory once they make it out to Dumbo. You have a great view on both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline so you’ve basically seen it all.

Wrong! You haven’t seen an engagement before! You’ve seen the Asian and South American wedding parties of obnoxious rich people who pay an arm and a leg for obtaining a 5-minute permit that allows them to legitimately shoot and annoy the crap out of almost everyone else there. But that’s pretty much it. You are missing out on the magic of Dumbo if you think that’s all it is about!

So, while I straighten out my camera on a random rock and desperately use the handrails as some form of stabilizer, a guy suddenly appears. He is dragging with him a trail of prints rowed onto a thread. Similar to the Tibetan flags, only the flags are pictures and handwritten notes. While he is moving up the stairs, swirling around me, almost tying up my feet, a girl shows up. She starts reading the pieces of handwritten notes, is intensely looking at the pictures. I realize they are all of here. “There must be some sort of love-game in process,” I think to myself, and then set my camera to a 30-second exposure of the skyline, hoping they won’t run into my picture.

The guy drags the thread over my head, so that I am not in the middle of the entire circus. He is nice about this. He then positions himself a bit awkwardly, pretending to be surprised when she is finished. A certain vibe of excitement is floating through the air, barely tangible. The thread is longer than he expected. He has to go down a few steps until she has read everything. She is already almost in tears, dropping her bouquet of a dozen roses when hugging and thanking him. He then goes down on his knees and nervously fumbles in his pockets. Presenting a case with a ring to her. She says yes and they kiss happily. Both cannot believe what just happened. I myself am still pretty stunned.

The romance of the situation, the beauty of the location. All pieces have neatly fallen into place.

I believe they could not have been much older than me. Beginning to mid-twenties. She looked like a student. I have seldom seen such a great picture.

Americans are all about the perfect moment. A nice dinner, a walk under stars, then popping the big question. But this was different, this was an original idea. They also just happened to be in the right city to have a great background for their scenario.

I therefore devote this post to the couple who got engaged in Dumbo on July 30, 2012. You made my day! Heck, you’ve even made my entire week!

So much happiness and love was conveyed to us passive bystanders that night and I am glad I was able to witness it. I told you my pictures turned out too blurry to even consider serious. But I am willing to post them on here. It might be the only memory you have of the night he proposed. Feel free to download them and please hit me up if you ever make it to this site!

I wish you all the best in your hopefully happy future together and I wonder where your paths will lead. Hopefully to a lovely home!

Exploring Brooklyn: Quaint Little Bay Ridge

Cute little bars, bakeries, and butcher shops right next to the Hudson River. Italian stores paired with Arabian signs when bypassing Russian pedestrians. One of the cheapest movie theaters in town right next to a typical New Yorker bagel shop…

One of the neighborhoods that are highly underestimated carries the name of Bay Ridge. Bay Ridge is found on the last stops of the R-train at the Southwest tip of Brooklyn. It is reachable by train, bus, and car. But since it is so far off from everything else most people seldom take a trip down there (unless they live there, that is).

I had a friend who used to rent an apartment over here with her husband. The very first time I made my trip out to Bay Ridge was indeed about a year ago, in the Summer of ’11 when I was visiting the couple. The Wonderful Elena and her husband had somehow ended up here because of the affordable living expenses and recommendations from his work. While another friend had already told me about how great this area is and how she lived here for over two years of her New York time, it certainly was not on the top of my priority list to visit.

Bay Ridge’s Century 21

There was the exciting Williamsburg first to see, of course. Then Cobble Hills and Carroll Gardens followed. Brighton Beach and Coney Island made it on my sightseeing list way before this, too. Not to forget the culture of Park Slope (before I moved here, that is). So all together, this little part of Brooklyn had been ignorantly neglected by me for a good one and a half years. When I finally had enough reason and courage to take the R out to 95th St, I was pleasantly surprised. I had imagined a boring neighborhood with not much going on. Maybe a few people strolling the streets, but perhaps not too safe after all.

But as soon as I stepped off the subway, and walked down to 3rd avenue, I already spotted the first few bars and some traditional food shops along the way. From Bake Ridge to the small Greek place around the corner – everything was more chill, relaxed, and old-school Brooklyn than I had seen anywhere else in this borough. My first evening here was a time filled with many aahs and oohs and I swore I would come back more often than this.

I helped that the Wonderful Elena told me about this great Italian cake shop where we managed to stop by and even taken in lunch right before she left for Russia. The prices were really good for the amount of food we ordered. I bought the tasty Alaskan cheesecake here once. This was after she had given it to me as a gift before so I had the chance to try it out. A creamy, white cheesecake topped with an abundance of fresh fruits and more – I was convinced after the first bite! And all of this for a mere 18 dollars – a bargain compared to bakeries in rest of this City. Paneantico delights are a must-try for all of the food-lovers in Brooklyn!

Only a few visits out to this area won me over that this little part of New York is a true goldmine. Not only do you find everything worth living here but you have a diversity of different cultures door to door. Of course the last stop on the R is the end of it all. Going towards 70th St, I was transported into different areas every 5th Street or so. Starting out with the well-known Schnitzelhaus around 74th Street. This place is supposed to offer “authentic German Cuisine” in this area of Brooklyn. While I haven’t had the chance to try out their food yet, I have had the chance to weed through their beer list and can confirm that they have a great deal of drafts and bottles on there. The servers are not German, unfortunately, taking a bit away from their highly claimed “authenticity.”

Then past Arab bridal shops on my way to the Alpine Cinemas. This is really a great movie theater they have: The seats are comfortable, the movies are up-to-date and you pay only $9 for a screening ($12 in 3D), which is more than a three-dollar difference to the 13.50 I paid last week in the Union Square Regal. Alpine Cinema also has a summer special going on, check out their Web site to see more details about it.

The bar culture is found all along 5th Avenue. Which Irish pubs, Italian restaurants and other American joints. I have not checked out any of these yet, for lack of friends who want to join. But something I have been able to discover by my own is Century 21 – the Brooklyn equivalent to the one found in the Financial District. Bay Ridge’s Century 21 is more relaxed with fewer hordes of tourist and rude employees than you find in Manhattan. You also find more Russians here than in the City. I have spent a better time browsing the shelves of this outlet-oriented store than anywhere else. Shopping is definitely more fun when you are not shoved out of the way by Italian visitors or barked at by stressed-out employees.

View towards the Verrazano Bridge

And the view you have close to the Verrazano bridge! A panorama flat out towards the river and New Jersey. This view is seldom revealed as openly in Brooklyn as it is in this one little spot of the borough. There is a small park around the bridge, with some traditional elements of American history (canons, anyone?). Just a walk around the area had me transported to a very different place I had been only an hour earlier.

At some point around 60th Street Bay Ridge flows over into Sunset Park. A neighborhood of Brooklyn I have not yet been able to experience as well. And there is still so much to see in the Ridge area. The 69th Street Pier, for example, which is a long boardwalk reaching out into the river, offering a promenade and great view towards Manhattan. Supposedly, fishermen competitions are being carried out here.

This neighborhood will always be worth another visit, and if it’s only to snag another pastry from Paneantico on the last stop of the R!

Moving to Park Slope

After being a Flatbush resident, I did what can be seen as the total opposite: I moved to Park Slope. Yes, the fancy part of town. And on the opposite side of Prospect Park. Park Slope is considered a family-oriented neighborhood but nevertheless it still holds its reputation as being posh and quite overpriced.

I got a room at a reasonable cost on the liveliest avenue the Slope has to offer: The fantastic 7th Ave. The walk to the train station was now a good 7 minutes away, but walking past all the restaurants, coffee shops, and other culinary joints made me happier than a 1 minute walk past Prospect Park in Flatbush ever had. Moving here was a relief compared to from where I had come. And I felt I had really earned it after the hard times I experienced before. No yelling neighbors who wanted to kill their children so they could have some peace. No abused animals barking in the lonely dark. And no bed bugs to worry about anymore.

So I really enjoyed time in the Slope. One of our favorite neighborhood bars was just two blocks up: The Austrian Steinhof and its great happy hour special. A little bit of Germanness and home brought to me by simply sipping their Franziskaner or looking at the ads in that pub. Being able to go out after work and eat at one of the numerous restaurants on 7th Avenue was enough to keep my attention occupied for months. Then of course celebrating at a few dance bars on 5th Avenue, which had to be explored by me and the roomies every once in a while.

I had Cafe Steinhof

The cultural experience I had so badly longed for before was now right at my doorsteps. I could see myself developing a completely different social life and having more diverse networks than ever before. Just going to the gym, which was two minutes away, and attending all of their different classes felt simply good. My dream of living in an area that was in New York but did not necessarily feel like New York seemed to have come true. At the same time I did not feel threatened when returning home late at night. That was before word had spread on several instances of rape and molestation around 5th Avenue. Today I still feel safe in the neighborhood, though.

I now had two trains to choose from if worse came to worse. So while the Q got stuck for two full days during the blizzard of 2010, the R on 4th Avenue was running just fine and getting me to the places I had to be. The F-train, with its local stops, still only took me 20 mins until I was in the Lower East Side. And if we felt like partying in Williamsburg, we surely had the G (whenever it decided to run), which we could take a short ride up to Lorimer Street.

True, my room was about half the size it had been before. But this time I had a gorgeous roof top from which I could see New Jersey and Manhattan at the same time. Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer was just 10 minutes away (by foot), and I made a point to see almost all of their Saturday evening concerts from June on. The oldest theater of Brooklyn, the Pavilion, was a fast walk up to Prospect Park West and, even though it was not too comfortable to sit in, I still had the chance to see a few good movies during rainy or cold days.

Rooftop Love!

Of course you start adapting to everything after a while. And surely Park Slope is not without flaws. Annoying children running loose on the sidewalk, while their mothers are talking with each other and expecting you to move out of the child’s way. An appalled look from the caretaker once she realized I just did not care if her spoiled brat fell down in front of me and pointed out they better watch their children better.

And every once in a while you saw a mother carry a baby to a bar. No one needs a crying infant at a place you want to get drunk at. Also worth mentioning are the high prices for groceries and the outrageous rip-off at the one and only Union Market. Even though it is considered a gourmet store, I had a few fights with the cost-value relationship of the items they offer. What had been known in Flatbush as funny looks towards white people now turned back into the opposite. My Dominican friend once visited me (he is black) and felt very uncomfortable walking the streets of this neighborhood. He claims everyone was observing him, waiting for him to make a wrong move. I wouldn’t know. But it wouldn’t surprise me. I have yet to find an area in which both races are equally accepted. While 7th Avenue is still quite snobby, 5th Avenue can be seen as the Latin part of the hood. Many Hispanic folks live here, own their store, or like to wander around. It is a peculiar aspect of the Slope but it surely exists.

A stroll past those two summer street fair on both 5th and 7th Avenue made up for all the hardship accompanied in living in the Slope. Just walking all the way down to Crown Heights and seeing the differences in worlds was an eye-opener to me. Sometimes you simply know when you fit into a hood and when you don’t. I like to believe I have found my perfect match just here, in the quiet, overpriced Slope!

Brunch in the Slope

[For another post on Park Slope, go to Life in Park Slope!]