Life in Flatbush

My first apartment was in Brooklyn. It was across the street from Prospect Park, the one I love the most! Brooklyn is a very diverse city to live in. You have a few good areas, a few bad areas, and then plenty of places in between which are boring, not close to the City, or right next to the ocean. When I first got here, my priority was probably not to be too far from Manhattan, as I knew this is where everything would be eventually going down.

So I moved in what can be called Prospect Park South or Lefferts Gardens. I am not too sure about the distinction. I simply call it Flatbush, because I was literally two minutes away from Flatbush Avenue. It was a good location for people who do not know much about New York yet and who want to be on the road all the time. I just had to walk 1 minute to the Parkside Avenue stop on the Q train and within 20 mins I was catapulted to Union Square or Canal St – whichever one I preferred. The Q back then (that makes it sound sooo long ago, but we are talking about less than one and a half years ago) was one of the better trains. It never seemed to have many delays, came regularly, even at night, and did not have as much trouble with weekend construction other trains usually have (but that is an entire story in itself). If I wanted to go elsewhere I took the orange line, meaning the B (that was when it had still stopped there), which took me right into the Lower East Side or Greenwich Village. Sounds like the sweet life? I guess it could have been….

Even as a newbie coming to New York and not knowing much about good and bad neighborhoods, I quickly made up my mind about Flatbush and its inhabitants. It is a West-Indian area with many people coming from Haiti and Jamaica. Although I saw one or two white faces wandering the streets, I always felt quite in a minority when doing my daily chores at the Laundromat or food shopping at the Pioneer. My experience when walking down one block to Flatbush quickly turned into a torture. West-Indian guys who were yelling vulgar remarks at me – a situation I really did not know how to deal with in the beginning at all. Rude cashiers at the 99ct stores. Other shoppers who just shoved me out of their way without saying a word or simply looking down upon me when standing in line. I believe this is how black people must have felt back in the 60ies, when they were walking through a white neighborhood. The reverse reaction in a modern setting did not suit me well. It first made me feel helpless, then mad, and finally I gave up finding a good reason as to why people react stupidly, and stopped caring.

Walking down to Duane Reade always seemed like running the gauntlet, though. Even after seeing how my roommate, a blond Canadian chick, who absolutely could not be mistaken for a Latina, dealt with all of the curious looks did not made me feel less uncomfortable. I always had the feeling I was the outsider, the awkward shaped piece sticking out of the mass. While my body language and also demeanor changed over time, I did not enjoy walking around the neighborhood and even further than to the stores I knew. The post office, which was a good 15 mins walk away, was always an interesting experience. Frustrated employees who liked to yell at their valued customers. Then of course the MTA ticket booth, which was a pure game of power between the victim standing outside and the “officer” sitting inside.

One thing you should know about Flatbush is that it is one of the neighborhoods who are still actively fighting gentrification, despite more and more newcomers (mostly whites) moving into the area. The prices are good, so is the location – a few reasons as to why it could become quite popular. At the same time, the old inhabitants do not want to be driven away from their neighborhood – their home. This might have caused a reasonable resentment that has been carried over to every non-black or non-Haitian person in the area.

I was glad I only lived 1 minute away from the train station. Flatbush could turn into a dangerous area during the dark hours. I never had any reason to make my way past the station and I really did not have much desire after being eyed by a gang of girls on one memorable summer night.

This was also the very first apartment in which I had bedbugs. Now for all of you who do not know what this is: I was about as clueless as you. Then I moved to Brooklyn and found out that itchy mosquito bites that won’t go away after 2 weeks most likely do not mean you were bitten by an insect. After careful examination of my bed sheets, I discovered a total invasion of those brown creatures, which you happen to see with your bare eye, no worries. Two exterminators and some very poisonous spray later we had gotten rid of those awful bloodsuckers. They were still among my top reasons of why I eventually moved.

I guess I am making matters sound a bit worse than they are. There are many advantages of living close to Flatbush. The quick transportation to the City being one. Then I really loved the proximity to the park. One quick jump over the street, and the green trees were all mine. I developed a daily jogging routine during that one hot summer of 2010. We also attended a few BBQs and even had some of our one. My roommate’s birthday in May was the best mixed-racial experience and cultural event I have witnessed so far. I remember us carrying bags of groceries and hot dogs to where her West-Indian friend had found an old grill, while preparing the foods for the gazillion amounts of relatives that kept stopping by and eating our food away. The laughs at Memorial Day. A certainly most interesting 4th of July, during which ambitious churchgoers tried to convince us to attend mass in Harlem.

BBQ-day in Flatbush

And then of course long nights contemplating life in the park. Seeing my roommate get fancy Jamaican hair styles at the Caribbean hair salon right around the corner. Hearing our ghetto neighbor yell at her grandchildren and beat her dog half to death. All of that was part of my experience in my very first apartment here.

After 9 months it was time to move out. First, my roommate’s latest lover, who happened to be a mere teenager and a full 18 years younger than her, managed to swipe my sterling silver jewelry I had left on the window sill. Second, I was still not too impressed by the neighborhood and decided to check other lands. And lastly, the bed bug epidemic was literally haunting that area of town and I was afraid of being struck again.

No real harm was done, and I was gone soon enough! I still like to go there every once in a while to snag a delicious slice from Family Pizza. Truly the best on that side of the park!

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).]

Welcome to the New Year!

January 2, 2012 (!)!

And I am finally able to drag myself in front of a computer, not to mention to sit and stand. This has indeed been my first New Year’s celebration in the city of millions. As last year I had been making a trip out to visit some family in Philly (more to come in a different post, that is a promise), this year there was no back-up plan to escape the New Year’s Eve madness surrounding the Big Apple.
I know, most tourists come here just FOR this season. However, people who actually LIVE here try to stay away from Manhattan as much as they can. It’s just no fun being squashed in the horrendous mass of foreigners and locals that has mysteriously accumulated over night at Times Square. I already had this experience on an unforgettable July 4th (read more here) – I was definitely not in the mood to experience it another time.

My friends all had their neat plans of evasion laid out. Most were out of town. Off to Chicago, New Orleans or other exotic places. I knew I would stay in Brooklyn. There was no way I would have paid those $200 for a club in the Meatpacking District just for one night. This price did not necessarily include an open bar. Yes, New York can be ridiculously overpriced during certain times. So Brooklyn posed to be the (fiscally) safer solution. Most likely Williamsburg, as there were more options in bars than in the Slope. A few friends and I got together earlier on in the last day of 2011 (sounds so … memorable!). A few glasses of champagne kept the party rolling. At around 10 PM we made our way to the first stop during that NYE: Night of Joy, a quaint bar with an open rooftop for hot summer days and a comfortable interior in 20ies style for cold winter months. Which was exactly the bizarre thing: This year both Christmas and New Year’s have been excitingly warm. Not even close to freezing temperatures. Rewind to one year ago and you would have found us in the midst of mud puddles and snow mountains… Brrr!

One of those many glasses of champagne...

This time you wouldn’t have needed a winter jacket, not necessarily. So hanging out during that night was a bunch of fun. Of course there were no fireworks. New York is one of those weird cities were fireworks are only allowed on July 4th. I guess if you want to feel the crackles and see some colors, you shouldn’t stay here. I didn’t really mind it this year. We still headed outside around midnight, albeit there was not much to see outside. Our group made friends with three nice French people, who were a bit disappointed with how their night was going. “Paris is the best city to be in for New Year’s,” one claimed nostalgically. Well, if you want the big party, you better pay those 200 bucks, fella! Otherwise it’s private parties or bar-time over here.

(nostalgic) French people

Which turned out to be surprisingly fun this year! We went on to two other spots whose places I don’t remember and had a few more drinks. Everyone was out on the streets and having a good time.

The next morning and entire day was quite awful. I guess I spent my entire January 1 inside, a krass contrast compared to the day before. And I am about to swear to myself that I won’t drink for the next few weeks, but we will see how that goes. The first day of 2012 was also surprisingly warm. With 10 Celsius it almost felt like spring! Today winter has arrived though. Two more months for a change in weather to kick in.

I hope you had a good time, too, and Happy New Year from the City of 8 Million!

Taking a Deep Breath!

Prospect Park during the hurricane

The roommate search is over! Today I have found the apartment I want to spent my remaining time in New York in.
Well, of course no one really knows how long they will stay in the Big Apple. But I have managed to move to a nice room close to Prospect Park, and yes, still in the Slope, my preferred area of living so far. I had looked at it on Thursday already and this guy had kept me waiting for a good three day weekend until he finally gave the okay today.

It seems like a good mix – he is vegetarian, into guys, and might be a fun character to hang out with. I really hope it’ll be less drama, more quality (cooking) time spent together and of course keeping up my own private sanctuary called home. Since the building is literally 7 minutes from my old house, I am right at one of the two subway stations I used before, which makes my commute to the City and work really sweet as in it stays about the same. It seems that my previous two living situations have been reunited by the fact that I am still in the same area, Park Slope, but only 3 minutes from the lovely Park, the heartbeat of Brooklyn. My first room was right across the street from Prospect Park but in a lousy area. Now I have it all and even more than imagined, sorta.

Not my door, but a typical door in Park Slope

I am again very glad that this awful nightmare of finding a suitable place is finally over. Two weeks of a nerve-wrecking search have once again been enough. I cannot believe all the bs I had to go through to find this one. More fakos, weirdos, and trashy places than before. At least no one tried to rob me this time. But young people in the Slope can be pretty stuck up, I have noticed. As if they were proud of the fact that their rich pricks of a parent pay for their teeny eetsy room which is completely overheated in the winter. Sorry, just had to let that out.

Then of course walking through Kensington, another decent area of Brooklyn. A bit too family-oriented in my opinion. Albeit it is the fourth most diverse neighborhood in the US, at least that is what’s being told. Past those Halal stores towards some Asian cuisine. Then the orthodox Jewish boys playing in the streets while two blocks further down the Irish-Americans are spicing up their pumpkin pie for the big celebration. It is quite a comical mix and the neighborhood is definitely cheaper than what Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hills, and Park Slope have to offer rent-wise. But I decided it was not for me so I kept on going.

So this summer I am looking forward to more Bandshell concerts at Celebrate Brooklyn. I am desperate to hop on the F and swim in Coney Island (even though only in the beginning months of the summer, as everything past this gets too unhealthy). If I am still here this summer, I will most definitely take some gorgeous pictures of the Park. Maybe I’ll even go to the oldest Theater in Brooklyn a few times (as in cinema). But first winter is to come. So time for some drinks at the local bars and time for chilling on the couch or taking a stroll through the icy fields. Oh New York, you are so alive!

Cheers to a new start, this time hopefully it will not end in a bloody frustrating mess!

The cute streets I love about the Slope

Tasty Delights: Italian Food in New York

Let me tell you something about Italian food in New York. If you want to eat decent, if you want to eat authentic, if you want to experience the ultimate highlight in taste, then avoid Little Italy! At least the one in Manhattan. Disregard those tourist tips you find in New York in your Pocket or NFT (Not For Tourists). This is a simple rule and easy to follow.

Last week my friend took me out to the West Village. Now the West Village can have some really awesome food, as I already told you about Diablo Royale (go here to read post). The Italian counterpart to this tasty delight would be a hidden gem called L’Artusi – a restaurant with top-notch service and absolutely unique creations.

We dropped by on Wednesday, just us two people, no reservation, just popping in after a long day at work. My friend had already warned me that this place tends to attract the snobbish, rich upper-class of the Hamptons. And, fair enough, I didn’t see too many representable New Yorkers in this joint. More of the thoroughly dressed, over-styled, perfectly trimmed-and-manicured-nails kind of crowd. So in short, the crowd was too much for New York and easily recognizable as the Hampton people. However, they can have taste, these Hampton folks. And L’Artusi is surely going to challenge your taste buds, even if you don’t believe it. At first we started out with a nice glass of a 2006 Savuto. We then went ahead and ordered a roasted beets appetizer and a side dish of brussels sprouts to start with. Our main entrees consisted both of pasta, but in different variations: I chose filled pockets of tortellini with squash while my friend took the special of the day evening, which was truffle fettuccine.

Despite us having to wait a teeny bit too long for our food (I think at least ten minutes too much for my taste), the food was absolutely stunning. And to give L’Artusi some credit, the restaurant was crowded at this point in time. They have an open cooking area in the back of the restaurant, in case you really want to see how your meal is prepared.

Best Brussels Sprouts Ever!
Pasta filled with squash
Truffle dish
Tiramisu seduction

So my favorite part about the appetizer was the brussels sprouts dish. Crisply cooked in a garlic-sauce, peppered up with pecorino cheese on top. The main dishes were equally appealing: My squash in the pasta pockets melted in my mouth! And the dessert, a tiramisu, which we shared, was the right roundup for both of us after a culinary feast like this! It had just the right level of sweetness and was freshly made, convincing us both that it had indeed been the best option of the night. So don’t let the small dishes fool you, you can feel full after those in no time.
The prices might be a bit steep, with 16 to 28 dollars just for an entree (which is actually not too bad for Manhattan). You could use this restaurant for a special treat for yourself or an anniversary dinner. Unless you come from the Hamptons, then you can snag in your brunch here before heading off to Gucci and Versace.

Eating Italian in Manhattan – this had been indeed the first restaurant I liked. Back in May a friend and I had tried out Little Italy in Brooklyn – and yes, it does exist. Maybe a bit remote from the rest of the crowd, as we took the D train to the 18th Ave Station and walked a good 20 minutes to the Tommaso Ristorante. Or rather some creepy 20 minutes past some deserted industrial area until we found those four restaurants that make out Brooklyn’s Little Italy (right next to their Chinatown). Here we ordered a prix fixe for 25 bucks each (even in the evening hours), which included an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. All of these were very tasty! Starting out with some mussels in white sauce and mozarella with roasted peppers. Compared to restaurants in the City, the dishes are significantly bigger in Brooklyn! Then a fine-spiced Filet of Sole Francese with a meat dish combined with some of the best roasted potatoes I have ever come across. Dessert consisted of Italian Cheesecake and Panna Cotta. And don’t ask me how we both finished our dishes, but I assume we were quite stuffed when we exited the ristorante!

Tommaso appetizers
Filet de Sole Francese

Italian Cheesecake with a Panna Cotta

I will explain why I don’t think too highly of insider tips given in tourist guides for New York. One I had tried out was the infamous Totonno in Coney Island. When we walked in, the place had the feel of a fast-food joint rather than a notorious pizzeria. The waitress was indeed the same person displayed on the cover of the fancy magazine 10 years ago, but now significantly older and even with a hump. That’s right, a hunched back! So whatever photo-editing devices these glamour mags use, I’ve seen living proof of that they must be severe! Before eating my friend and I wanted to wash our hands so we each took turns to squeeze into the little booth Totonno calls a restroom . We disregarded the dirt on the floor and the hair in the sink because we both weren’t in the mood to puke. We then ordered a simple cheese pizza topped with some basic ingredients such as mushrooms and peppers. Even though we were both starving we both weren’t too impressed by its taste! Best pizza of Brooklyn – pah! Maybe best overpriced pizza of Brooklyn!

The awful Totonno in Coney Island

Grimaldi’s Pizza right in Dumbo always has a queue waiting outside that reaches around a few blocks. I wonder why. After experiencing Totonno, I doubt their pizza is any better. And the best thing about it: The last time I checked they had a sanitary “C” grade, which is about as bad as it gets in New York. After seeing this red flag I definitely did not feel in the mood to try them out.

Now, there is hope! There is a location in Bushwick called Roberta’s which has gained increasing popularity not even among the locals anymore. I have yet to try out their delicacies to give you an authentic food update on them. However, my friend, who happens to share my taste, has let me know that not only their pizza but also their pastries are supposed to be a tongue-tingling experience… If you get there before I do, let me know!

New York: Embrace the Change

I miss writing! Don’t think I have forgotten you, I am just insanely busy at the moment! Not only is the new job eating up most of my daytime hours and leaving me with practically nothing at the end of the day. But I am also in the process of moving.
That’s right! It will most likely be no more Park Slope for me by December 1. Because of unexpected circumstances I am looking for a new apartment/room in Brooklyn. I am not even dealing with other boroughs. Forget Queens, the Bronx, or anything North of Harlem. My heart lies here, which means I have to take my time, sort out some appointments and look at potential houses. I have to say, so far the Slope, Kensington, and even Bedstuy have been represented in my search.

Hey, don’t judge! The realtor after all did put “Crown Heights” in the ad. But a place off Nostrand Ave on the A-line is most definitely not Crown Heights anymore. I thought it still essential to at least check out this spot before I could judge and kick it out of my considerations. With some caution I stepped off the train and saw a good amount of homeless people already. I guess a homeless shelter was close to the station. Walking down 4 long blocks to the advertised location proofed to be very errr … interesting. Good it wasn’t too late at night, I think I would have been more scared otherwise. The area seems to be very West-Indian, but compared to Flatbush, another West-Indian neighborhood, the vibes are completely different. Oh boy, I definitely have to write a ghetto post on Brooklyn! The part of Bedstuy I was in is already starting to gentrify – I saw more and more white faces when walking towards my destination. And the houses are beautiful, almost like in the Slope, built sometime in the 19th century, which stoic stone-steps leading up to the high-ceiled buildings. “Pity that the wrong sort of unappreciative folks live there”, I thought.

When I walked close to the given address, I saw another guy who had already been waiting. The appointment was one was one of those “open-house-come-ins” people tend to have in New York, so I wasn’t too surprised. What was different about this seeing was that we had two different names for who we wanted to see and didn’t know which apartment number to buzz. After waiting some precious 5 minutes, a girl came downstairs and fetched us. Supposedly the rooms were not even renovated yet and the entire place was in the process of being built. Yup, as far as I could tell the floor had only recently been installed. So a completely new apartment with five bedrooms seeking to be filled on a first-come-first-serve basis. The kids who found the spot were confident that it would be done by November 15th… Which would have been in a week from when I had looked at the rooms. I never followed up with them but I am curious to know if they are able to move in by Tuesday, which I highly doubt. The girl who had discovered this “raw diamond” was nice and had already bonded with an Australian guy. There were four other people looking at the three spare bedrooms. As we got to know each other, I found out that only a guy from Long Island and I myself had lived in New York for longer than one month. So no wonder these folks were quite enthralled! If they were to know that the real ghetto starts just 4 blocks down, I doubt they would have even considered checking out the room … But I have to admit all persons were equally social and I sure hope they found their match in roommates. I decided it wouldn’t be for me this time, though. Of to the next one.

Aside from the aforementioned apartment I have checked out a few places in the Slope and sorta given up the idea of living in a decent spot over here. One potential candidate wanted me to pay 600 bucks just for her “new” furniture she had bought from Ikea (!) and which she wouldn’t be able to take with her on her move back to Austria. Then there was a situation during which I had to wait for 20 minutes just to get into a place. The girl who had been looking before me had locked herself into the apartment by accident and it took some three strong women to pry the door open (it was wooden and had been caught in the frame).

I am really not in the mood to look at another 20 places, just as was the case last year. I remember saying to myself I never wanted to go through this again! Boy, was I pleased when I had found the “right” place. And here I am, once again on a search for a room in New York! I will keep you updated on the progress. Until I figure out how to squeeze in more hours in a seemingly fast-paced 24-hour-day or until I find out how to sleep and write and work at the same time, well until then, keep on following. I will try to keep you updated more often.

Have a great Sunday!

Exploring Brooklyn: Red Hook

I can picture the look on your face! “Red Hook,” you might be thinking, “What on Earth is there to see in Red Hook?”
What, has this never been on your top priority list of things to do in New York? No?!

I hope not. The only reason fellow New Yorkers know of Red Hook is because of the one and only Ikea in this area. It can be reached via ferry from the Manhattan side and through a bus shuttle from Brooklyn (Queens and the Bronx are out of luck on this one!).

A coworker recommended I go check out Red Hook. Unknowing of the area, I decided to do this on a warm early fall day – just the right time to go take my camera for a walk and shoot some pictures of the neighborhood. The trip over there was already part of the adventure: I got in on 5th Avenue and 10th Street, after searching for the mysterious bus number B77, which seems to not be running from the Slope to Red Hook anymore. Then I asked a little boy next to me for directions to the “bars and restaurants” in that area and he looked completely overwhelmed. After I had turned away and silently cursed myself for asking a little boy of ten years, he tapped me on the shoulder and cheerfully claimed that there was indeed a bar right next to “his” apartment! What a goofball!
A young man’s fantasy certainly did not make me want to get off the bus, as the route goes directly through the “ghetto”part, which is an area filled with brown stones and prone to bad history. Poor boy, I hope he doesn’t have to be cautious of fights or prove himself every day he wants to get back into his place!

A stop later I finally got off, determined to check out that “culinary mile” in Red Hook my coworker had mentioned. But before getting lost for the second time I carefully asked some passerbys who looked at each other confusedly and then pointed me in the direction of Van Brunt Street. When approaching it, I ran past many cute houses originating from another century. The area is obviously geared towards family life, I would assume. Another drawback for especially younger people is that Red Hook is hardly reachable by subway, so you have to rely on an unsteady bus schedule or own a car (which most young people in New York do not have!).
Van Brunt Street is cute to look at even though there is not much to see. I think I came across one fisherman’s bar and one other restaurant. A cute wine shop had opened up along that area and hosted a cute selection of domestic and foreign bottles.

Since I was determined to prove that I hadn’t made the trip out for nothing, I just walked down Van Brunt all the way through to the end, past the huge grocery store Fairway, past some seedy looking smokers staring at their feet, and even past the notorious IKEA, until I came to a lovely harbor area. There was nothing to do here, not a store or a bar could be found, or anything else to walk into, but I had a nice view onto the East River and I also saw old-school New York subway cars in tram wagon style. As I drew closer, something rustled in the inside and all of a sudden a drunk homeless man staggered out of it. Yicks! Scared to death I ran off, down Van Brunt Street again, until I found the first bus stop.

Trying not to be discouraged by the past hour I had unsuccessfully searched Red Hook for a culinary highlight and still confused at where Red Hook’s flair lies I gave it another shot and asked a group of young people if they knew of any good restaurants in this area. They told me to take the bus with them until Columbia Street and then get off there.

So, Columbia Street is supposed to be another recommendation and indeed they do have a temptingly-good-looking Middle-Eastern, an Italian, and an Asian restaurant, but I am unsure if this belongs to Cobble Hills already or can still be categorized under “Red Hook.”

To come back to my previous first sentence: I came to Red Hook, I saw Red Hook, and I am still not impressed. Guess the general opinion is right: There is not too much going on over there. But don’t hesitate to hop off the bus earlier and explore Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, the neighboring areas! They are very awesome!

For a few more shots on Red Hook, go to A PICTURE EVERY DAY.

The Phenomenon of Dollar Stores

Have you ever been in desperate need of dish wash soap? Have you ever cared to look for bargains on house shoes? Or have you ever wanted to purchase bathroom products without having to drive around for miles to buy them?

Tadaaa, I am hereby introducing to you, the phenomenon of Dollar Stores! Now to all fellow Americans, disregard this post, as I heard you can find these shops throughout the entire United States. However, the first time I came to New York, I was flabbergasted by the so-called “cheap solutions”: 99ct stores popping up all along Flatbush, big and small, with various products I needed and most I didn’t. During my first move, after I had unpacked all my things, I was stuck in the midst of Brooklyn, and had to urgently buy a few products before making a trip out to the City. A hair dryer was one. Body wash another. Simple things I cannot live without.

My roommate told me to just walk down to Flatbush Avenue (remember, I was living in a different area back then) and to go check out a Dollar Store before taking a train up to Target. Well, so I did, and the first thing I noticed when poking my head around that Flatbush Ave corner was one 99ct store after another. Bargain Hunters, one was called. Great Buyers another. I decided to try my luck with the first one to my right and entered this unimpressive looking shag. Turns out the Dollar Store was a bit bigger than I had thought.

The first thing that came to my mind was to grab some comfy looking house shoes for laughable $2 from the first counter. Then I saw 99ct facial tissues I desperately needed. After finding a suitable hair dryer for less than 20 bucks and some first-class soap I thought I could use, I finally got out of that store, already having purchased things I knew I wouldn’t use. For example a zebra-printed handheld duster, even though we already owned three of these devices. It had just looked too cute!

Gradually I became accustomed to the idea of Dollar Stores and started comparing various items in different stores. Bargain Hunters was good for every-day devices, such as cotton swabs and tissues. Great Buyers seemed to be a better fit for dish wash and cleaning tools. And my first choice for roller blinds was still Ikea, of course, but since Ikea is so far away in Red Hook, I bought some $6 ones from the 99ct store.

So 99ct stores were definitely my spot to go to in the beginning. Then I started to compare prices and saw that a good amount of things was not really cheaper than elsewhere. For example, body soap and shampoo, at least the good stuff, is more economical to purchase at Target. Also, in the long run, I would stick to buying electronic devices from a certified store which has a longer guarantee than one week. My first hair dryer actually lasted pretty long, over a year, but I wouldn’t have had the option to exchange it for a new one after two months in case it had broken down. Target has the nice option to return your goods up to 90 days after purchase, which I really value (still not comparable to that 2-year-warranty German stores give you, but you can’t have it all!). And then I had this problem of wanting to return curtains which looked dead-ugly when I unfolded the package. But of course the Dollar Store does not issue refunds on “used” items (even though I made sure to tell the clerk I had only bought it one hour ago), so I never got my money back but had to buy something else in their store. Just another annoying issue. Clearly, now that I know the rules, I know how to play along.

When I moved to the Slope I already figured that I would have to give up the concept of Dollar Stores, since I thought these to be a part of poorer neighborhoods. How wrong I was! They are all over New York, matter of fact! But the ones where I lived are not owned by Haitian natives or Latin-rooted entrepreneurs. They mostly belong to Asian families who employ their teenage sons and daughters as cashiers or stockers (and some only do this with a sour expression on their face). However, down towards 9th Street you can still find plenty of Latin-owned 99ct stores, who offer a variety of paper party cups and plates and not to forget the obligatory back-to-school notebooks (even off-season). They helped me out when I was in dire need of a knitting kit and some basic screw drivers to fix up my room. As it turns out the screwdrivers wore out after three uses already and didn’t turn the screws tight enough anymore.
And then, one day, I bought a cute pair of flip flops made of bast, thinking they might break down after a few uses. One week passed and they never gave in to my prediction, so I bought another pair, which are still buried in my room somewhere. However, one summer day it started to rain and as I was walking up towards Duane Reade I slipped and almost fell against the glass wall. Puzzled at why I was the only one who had troubles gaining a grip on the cement floor, I tried to walk again and slipped another time. And from there on I was very careful not to fall down the subway stairs by holding on to everything I could. So the 99ct store flip flops might have looked cute at first but they turned out to be some lethal weapons on wet ground. It sorta took out the joy of wearing them after this, as New York weather changes sporadically and I didn’t want to be caught in another deadly rain shower again while wearing them.

Other than a few pitfalls, the Dollar Store is a fun place to be. It is crammed full with many cheap things, which I didn’t even know existed, and the bright colors of their merchandise heighten my mood when I walk in on a gloomy fall or winter day. I sometimes have to catch myself to not buy too many things I already have in abundance I won’t ever use so lately I haven’t really been down to the Dollar Store anymore. I understand that New York is dependent upon all the individually owned shops and they belong to the culture of this city like Sacks on Fifth Avenue.

Coney Island Reloaded

Yes, I know, beach season has long been over. The Hamptons and Montauk as a top destination never came true, regretfully. But I have one last post about this for you: Coney Island reloaded! I wouldn’t have thought I would ever go back to Coney after September (the last time was indeed in August, when it was hot, sticky, and sweaty, and there was no chance to not make that day a beach opportunity). But this time I was on a mission: I wanted to visit the New York Aquarium again, as I had only been there once and this was at least a year ago.

So last Friday afternoon I made my way out to the second last stop on the Q Train. Surf Avenue, here we come! The Wonderful Elena had already waited there and filled her hungry stomach with fast food from Nathan’s. Not a hot dog, though, as I want to point out, even though Nathan’s is the hot dog joint to go to, as they host the annual 4th of July Contest over there (which was won by a Californian this year with the record of 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes).

Back to the story: The Aquarium is a fairly small institution and it had somewhat disappointed me last year, as I had expected a bigger selection of fishies and attractions. Same with the Bronx Zoo, which is relatively unspectacular compared to the other sites you find in New York. I suppose it must be hard to find a decent-sized space for animals in a tank, so Coney Island seems to be one of the only spots willing to host such an attraction (after closing down in Battery Park one century ago). It is one of the oldest locations, too. I am not sure how many creatures it has in total but it is pretty diverse as the selection goes from mammals over birds to reptiles and amphibians. In June of 2010 I was lucky to witness a seal show, during which the keepers were animating three different animals to do various things for about half an hour.

Unfortunately, during our visit in early October there was no such thing going on. Friday afternoon happens to be a give-by-donation-entry charge, as the attraction usually costs $15. Understandably and more so justified by the animal-keeping and related expenses than the actual size it displays. Albeit the show was canceled, we still had fun looking at sharks, which I had missed the other time, and carefully checked out the jelly fish, buried creatures in the sand, and cute little sea horses. I do have to say that these things tend to be more enjoyable when you have company, rather than going by yourself. The penguins were not out anymore, or they were on vacation to the Arctic, but the walruses appeared to be humongous through the glass, when contently swimming around in their pond.

After one and a half hours we had enough (it doesn’t take that long to walk through it), and before we went our own ways I suggested to check out the Boardwalk one last time. You see, Coney Island is so colorful from the Memorial Day Weekend on, but it is a quite depressing and very lonely spot to visit from November to March. Last year I had brought my German visitors here one day before Thanksgiving and I tried very hard to hide my tears of shock, as I had never seen a deserted Coney Island in my life before. But that particular Friday was sunny and kind of warm (of course not suitable for a swim anymore), so a good amount of strollers, tourists, and locals could be found walking around the part we went to. And then the Wonderful Elena and I did something I hadn’t done in the past one and half years I’ve lived here: We had a happy-hour-beer at a random “bar” on Coney Island! Yicks!

I know, this must sound somewhat unexciting to you. Bar = happy hour = beer! But, wait a minute, this is CONEY ISLAND we are talking about. The place you either bring your own bag of booze and save it for the afternoon with your friends in the sand, or the place you go on one attraction after another (Wonder Wheel and Cyclone to be highly recommended) and don’t want to drink anything (with alcoholic substance, that is). Bar culture in Coney turned out to be interesting, I dare say. We mostly found locals there, who were already drunk tipsy, or other foreigners to this area, such as us. And not to forget the homeless, alcoholic people who were simply soaking up the last rays of sun, such as everyone else.

The Wonderful Elena ordered a Star Island Single mermaid creation, which tasted like mushroom, and I had an eagle motive printed on my glass, which wasn’t all too good. Both beers came in a bottle and must have been from Long Island or even Brooklyn. But hey, we went for those fancy stickers on the bottle, and that by itself was worth it. I guess it has some sort of flair to sit in a half-empty bar at the beach in New York and to watch people walk by or take in the waves of the ocean while talking to your friend.

I think this is the first time I have said a decent good-bye to a summer destination I yearn to go back to in less than eight months from now. If I am still here, that is.

Oh Coney Island, you have brought so much joy to my life, I wish I could give back!

Stories During the Hurricane: Day 2, During and After

Hurricane Irene – have you been downgraded to a tropical storm when you hit us sometime during the night (exact time still unclear) or where you indeed doing the things a normal hurricane of category 1 does? Because if you were, you seem to have been the most harmless hurricane ever witnessed.

I woke up today around noon, after cramming in some extra night time to get things done before the electricity was supposed to go out (and as everyone thought it would). Puzzled because I did not hear the rain falling down on me, I peered out of my window and saw an almost clear sky. Still greyish and a bit windy, but clear compared to the past 24 hours.
Confused about the treacherous peace and silence outside, I opened my door and met my enthusiastic roommates, who were dancing around the apartment and screaming : “It’s over, it’s over!

Then, the first text messages came in from friends saying “most boring hurricane ever,” writing about their deep disappointment of not having witnessed the storm of the millennium. Next time, folks, next time! And what a typical reaction for a New Yorker to have, by the way.

My worst episode during this “hurricane” was when water came crashing down into my room from a hole that had formed in the ceiling (as we are directly beneath the roof). At 7 AM short I was awakened by a drip drip drip drip drip. Sleepy and irritable, I didn’t know what was going on at first. Then I grabbed two buckets and was swarming around, desperate as to what to do if this devious hole would not stop letting down water soon. Somehow, after emptying two buckets, the drain did become less and I was able to go back to sleep, wishing that the rain would stop of course and fearing more outcomes of this storm. Well, as described above, there really were none, and that episode was and stayed the worst that had happened to me during the hurricane.

Most people took this entire weekend with a great amount of humor. One friend posted hourly updates on Facebook about how he would be waiting in front of a bank to see its roof come off and then steal its money (Very funny indeed! Who would ever come up with this?). Some voiced what they thought of the safety precautions taking 3 days ahead of time (They didn’t think too much of these). And then again others were just mad for buying those huge amounts of food for no reason. Yep, seems like this is the right city to be in for a hurricane.

The Hudson was the only river which eventually overflowed and caused some flooding in the West Village and along 12th and 11th Avenues. Hilarious, if you think about it! The beautiful village under water… I also wonder how many rats might be swimming in that sewage. Staten Island and Queens have power outage problems, once again a reason why I live in Brooklyn (Well, it does sound like a good reason I considered this location 9 months before the hurricane!)

The MTA is supposed to be running tomorrow again, albeit not in the morning, meaning I might not be able to go to work (No, I am NOT taking a cab just to get there!).

Today afternoon I packed my camera and walked outside, into a neighborhood that was up on the streets, doing the same thing I was: Taking in the fresh air and estimating the damage Irene had left. I have rarely seen so many happy and peaceful faces at once. Supposedly, the big thing to do was to collect fallen tree branches as a souvenir of the hurricane (always in for a trend, these people).

The following are a few pictures I took while out and about.

Now the only problem I might have is JFK and its backed-up flight schedules, but I supposed Thursday is still long enough away to have those difficulties figured out by them. Then it indeed will be time to wave this city good-bye, at least for a good amount of time!

Stories During the Hurricane: Day 1, Still Before

It’s Saturday, August 27th 2011, and New York is officially the City Without Subways. Bloomberg shut down the entire transit system at a punctual 12PM and, as cited in this article, the last train went out at 12:14 PM short. This means until Monday or later there will be no way from my house in Brooklyn to anywhere else, least say Manhattana, or back.

A busy 7th Avenue on the day of a hurricane

Since these warnings were made clear yesterday already, I didn’t even bother to hop on to stock up on extra food or make a trip to Manhattan. Instead, I wanted to get some last-minute laundry done and went to the one close-by in my neighborhood. Because the Roomies’ boyfriend had said that the YMCA one and a half block away was acting as a shelter, I thought it might be fun to take a few shots of what was going on in the hood. So, with my camera strapped around my neck, I wandered around, first asking the laundrOmat (yes, it’s called laundrO-mat here, not laundrY-mat, everything is different in New York) about its opening hours and getting one weird answer after another. After finally clarifying with the Latin lady that they would keep it open until 3PM for sure, I then quickly went up to 15th St and peeked into the YMCA. There was one pathetic school bus parked in front, maybe the typical evacuation bus these days, and as it turns out I only got to take this picture.

YMCA, the shelter!

Because as soon as I stepped in, some older ladies made sure to voice their opinion of how highly inappropriate a photograph would be and I got their subtle hint of not utilizing it at all. The so-called volunteers did not volunteer to give up much information pertaining the matter other than stating that this shelter was meant for the elderly evacuated from Coney Island and other risk areas. In my head, I could see the imaginary bubble pop in front of my eyes, as I had considered the idea of using it for our own benefit and jumping into it once our apartment was set under water. O well, we are in safe heaven now anyways, lucky us.

After this episode I sprinted back home, grabbed the laundry and went to the same location, again. This time an old, bitter Latin woman yelled at me for trying to wash my laundry as they were closing down soon. I guess she didn’t recognize me from when I had walked in 10 mins ago. Stubbornly and fighting for my right to be here I finally managed to convince both Latinas that I would indeed have all of my clothes done within one-and-a-half hours and that I really had asked them about this not too long ago. They let me stay, even though I got the evil eye once or twice. 5 mins later roomie no. 1 walks in with her boyfriend and is attacked by the same mean lady mentioned above. She tries to insult here back and then they walk away, both sorta looking at me in a confused way (why does she get to stay and not we?). Roomie no. 2 enters 5 mins after this, the mean lady is gone by now, and the other Latin woman clarifies that they will close at 2 PM (getting earlier and earlier with these folks). She then pops open her fancy iPhone and googles another location, being sent to 6th Ave by me and to 14th St by another laundry-washer.

6th Ave laundromat

Well, as it turns out we have a laundrOmat only two blocks away whose owners don’t give a blinking wink about hurricanes and other catastrophes but who do care about making their $2 a load until the last customer is out. That is where both went; maybe I should have done the same.
So, first day of rain, and I got my laundry done, what an accomplishment!

In the course of the afternoon, the Roomie stocked up on fruits and while doing this saw bunches of people populating the restaurants on 7th Ave. We were all pretty much bored out of our heads by then. The laundry was done. The house was clean. The bathtub was filled with a necessary amount of water (in case the toilet needed to be flushed during the outage). We had enough of sitting inside and thus shoved in 2 chill hours at the Steinhof.
The Steinhof used to be our bar of choice during those cooold, cuddly winter nights because it is only two blocks from our apartment. They also have a great happy hour deal going on every day of the week from 4 to 7 PM, including all draft beers, wine and some mixed drinks, which cost $3 only. Every day of the week surely includes Saturday and there were a few people sharing our thought when we walked in. Supposedly the bar plans on being open until the power goes out, so if you still want to jump into the fun, go ahead, they are not closing anytime soon.

Hurricane Specialty
Us having fun at the Steinhof and before the hurricane

The waitress recommended a hurricane drink (what these people come up with in such a short time), which is a cocktail based on three liquors and clouded up with orange juice to resemble Irene. Uhm, yeah, it was the strongest drink I had in a long time and I stuck to my draft beer after this. We sat inside, chatted away, made fun of the precautions, and watched the rain turn into a more and more worrisome drizzle within an hour or so. Then we parted, as one group wanted to go to 5th Ave and get some tacos and I went home, to save some files and write this down. As it turns out, though, the taco place was closed anyways, so I didn’t miss out on too much.

The rain has become more dense and intense as I am speaking. New York is trying to get everyone off the streets by 9PM the latest. And even though no one can really foresee the actual outcomes of this disaster, the news were advertising a power outage, even in areas not prone to flooding. To top this all, the latest I heard was an outage that might take three weeks to be fixed. Three weeks! I really hope this will not come true and I am hoping even more that flights will go out regularly on Thursday, my day of travel.

Probably this will be my latest update in a while (well, because of the power outage = internet cutage = whatever else you can think of), so chin chin! Keep on tuning in!

My Best-Kept Secret in Brooklyn: Rooftop Love

I have a rooftop in my building. It faces both Brooklyn and Manhattan. It offers the most beautiful panorama in entire Park Slope and it comes for free (well, or with the rent, however you like to see it).
When seeking out locations, the room and the roommates were not the only reason I took the apartment I am in right now. On the day of the room-seeing, my roomie-to-be said I should take a look upstairs after I was done talking to her. Not expecting too much since we were in Park Slope and I couldn’t imagine anything off from Williamsburg to be known for its views, I climbed up one staircase. When I opened the door, my first image was a nice white area wider than I had thought. It showed a view over our Brooklyn neighborhood. Then I turned around, peeked around the corner – and was dumbfounded: I saw the entire Manhattan skyline spread out in front of me. What a great surprise such a breath-taking panorama was, and how stupid would it be of me not to consider a hidden treasure like this.

During the day
At sunset

Luckily enough I got the room but that was during the winter. The winters are cold, windy, snowy, and unbearable here (more about this in a different post). Hence, during the winter I was not up there quite as often (translates into almost never). This was for practical reasons, too, though. The door that led upstairs was knocked in with snow and it was hard to open it. So no luck and really no desire to go up there in January and February. Then the spring came along in March and with it some nice mild days. May was finally the season that started my real rooftop love: Hanging out on top for hours after work, just eating, contemplating, inviting friends, writing down my thoughts, doing some serious work… And for three months straight I have had my rooftop now and my rooftop has had me.

To give you a specific idea of what I am talking about, our roof is made of three roofs combined into one nice area, only separated by small walls you can easily climb over. The rooftop to our left is fancy: Our neighbors built a complete terrace area with seating and planted a green garden next to it. It makes our part look rather bland. But then the roof to our right looks as equally bland, if not even blander, because their door is slightly broken. I really love the small courtyards which I can look down on from the top. It reminds me of Roman architecture for some reason I cannot fully explain.

The fancy side
Our part
The cute courtyard

If the landlord would agree, we could use all three roofs together and have a huge party here with a DJ and open bar. If life were that easy. The space would be big enough and I’m sure the roof would not collapse. But life isn’t that easy. Technically we aren’t even allowed on the roof for safety reasons.
Aside from the amazing view onto the Manhattan skyline, I can also see parts of Staten Island and New Jersey. And sometimes, if I scoop around the trees which are planted in the way or if I wait until the trees don’t have any leaves anymore, I can even see the Statue of Liberty.

Our neighbors have hosted many small parties during the summer. They also use their terrace for just sitting outside when taking in their dinner. On 4th of July this roof was witness to a nice assembly of people as all three roofs were taken: To the left, the family of 3 apartments had gathered. On our roof, some people from downstairs together with their friends were anxiously awaiting the fireworks. And to our right, some old man took up the space. We weren’t the only ones around celebrating Independence Day. Practically every other roof in our neighborhood was packed. Some even blasted their patriotic songs across Park Slope via boom box. It was fun to be part of this. For the second time already the fireworks did not go off over the East River (this would have been a splendid view!), but on the other side over the Hudson River. It’s good to see the spectacle from New Jersey. Since we do have a view onto NJ, we all had the same idea and were trying to figure out if the fireworks were see-worthy from our building. They were but only partly. I have to tell you, though, that it was still better than last year, when I had been in Times Square and all the buildings had covered up the night sky.

I usually show everyone who visits us our hidden treasure. And all visitors have been impressed so far. You just cannot beat this view, unless you live in a loft in Williamsburg right at the waterfront (and pay three times the amount of rent you would pay here).
The roof is the spot to hang out, have a glass of wine, or to remember what I came here for.
I can still hear the streets but all sounds are dampened by the heights. It’s sometimes entertaining to lean over the edge of the roof and look down at Park Slope’s hasty crowd.

With a glass of wine in May
My first impressed visitor in the winter

Much to discover, such as this fire escape ladder
All three roofs at one glance

Now if I could live on a bridge because of its stunning view, it would be on the Manhattan Bridge, but unfortunately, this is not allowed, so I seek refuge on my rooftop. Not bad, either, what do you think?

And I will continue on enjoying it to the bitter end!