Exploring Oregon: Drawing Hearts on Cannon Beach

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Cannon Beach is one of Oregon’s most popular tourist destinations. At least in the summer and when the weather is mild. As soon as I saw the iconic haystack rocks in other people’s images, I knew that we just had to check it out. Especially since Microsoft uses it as one of their default background pictures (Have you ever noticed? There are some great Milky Way samples, too, as I found out the other day). Read More »

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Independence Day: Recapping Stories on America’s Biggest Holiday

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When I first moved to New York, I had already heard rumors that fireworks during NYE are not permitted. I still haven’t found out the reason for this but there surely are a ton of fireworks displayed during a different, memorable night: Fourth of July! America’s Biggest Holiday gets even bigger thanks to Macy’s & Co bringing in the best firecracker show you will ever see on that holiday. Read More »

Daytrip to Culebra: Snorkeling and Swimming Around a National Wildlife Refuge

My first full day in Puerto Rico and what better way to spend it than taking the boat to a deserted island? My first day also coincided with my actual birthday so I was doubly excited to have it spent on the water and around some gorgeous reefs. Since I always try to make a trip to the beach on my birthday, this excursion seemed like a perfect fit.

Flamenco Beach View
Flamenco Beach View

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Enjoying One of Those Last Late Summer Days

far rockaway beach at sunset

Yesterday was one of those late summer days. Perhaps among the last ones for this season. Spent at the beach – an ode to the water, sun, and sand. At the Far Rockaways, as so many times this year. With a friend, who hadn’t been once this summer.
We had a blast just sitting there, being rained on by sand that was blown on our backs. The water, oh so icy cold, I didn’t dare stick much more in than my feet. My friend went in all the way, brave person. Beer and whiskey in disguise, grapes and watermelon pieces to keep us healthy.

Afterwards a stroll on the boardwalk, still broken up in parts. When will they ever have it fixed to completion? I hope no more hurricanes will mess with the progress that has been made over the past 4 months. A dinner at Far Rockaway Taco, where I’ve had so many tacos, quesadillas, and elotes over the course of one hot summer, I wonder how I will go without.

Then a beautiful view while walking back to the train. A sunset offering colors of purple, yellow, red, pink, and blue. People cheerfully packing up. We were not the only ones to enjoy our little excursion outside.
It is only a matter of time until summer will come to an end. Perhaps the next three days will bring another (mini-)heatwave. But I guess fall will slowly take over after this. What better way to end this season than one last day at the Far Rockaways?

What to Do During a Heat Wave in New York

image courtesy of Timeout NY
image courtesy of Timeout NY

New York is currently experiencing one of its seasonal heat waves. Yes, those kinda days were you’d rather not leave your house but you somehow have to. Heat waves are defined by “3 or more days of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) and above” (wiki). Well, there is also another way to define it: Melted make-up, puffy hair, and useless deodorant thanks to sticky shirts. The subways are blasting the AC full on while the underground stations are as air tight and humid as only can be at this time of the year. I made a point in finally installing my window unit after more than 2 weeks of constantly sweating indoors.

Now, summer in the North East of America might not be as bearable and dry as elsewhere in the country but it certainly still has its appeal. And during a constantly heated climate like this, the only thing you probably want to do is cool off somewhere close to a lot of water or wind. Preferably both. Luckily, there are several ways to keep your cool in a city as caged in and humid as New York. Let’s start with the most obvious ways:

Fire Island Beach
Fire Island Beach

1) Beaches
By now you should have figured that this is one of my favorite spots to hang out at. Unfortunately, due to the Sandy disaster, a few beaches have remained closed this season. Public funds never made it in time, therefore you will find the sparse sands we have to be heavily overpopulated.
Well, aside from Coney, which has always been way too crowded, no matter what year. The Far Rockaways in Queens have become more and more part of a hive for Hipsters and families. But nothing beats Far Rockaway Taco! Oh, and Riis Beach, which is an extension of the Rockaways but only accessible by bus, car, or bicycle. Just knocking out the subway in the equation seems to scare of a large amount of hordes. But yes, it still gets crowded.
Beach life so close to “home” is simply great because you don’t have to take a weekend trip somewhere and can see some really cool spots just by public transit. Now, if you’re seeking more of an adventure, I know that Montauk, Fire Island, and the Hamptons are also great for an extended trip. And of course the Jersey shores, but those are in another state.

2) Pools
Here you have a few options: Public and private. Public pools are easily accessible through this web site. McCarren Park in Williamsburg is well populated during the summer months thanks to the Hipster-area surrounding it. And I wouldn’t recommend Dumbo’s Pop Up Pool on weekends, either. My friend and I actually stopped by here last Sunday, ready to hop into the cold water. But we weren’t so eager after finding out that the wait would have taken us one hour or more. On top of this, it also limits its space to 60 people in 45 minute cycles. Why? I do not know!
Private pool parties are going on at the Gansevoort and of course the Standard Hotel. You can also just spend a few thousand dollars a year for a year-long pool membership at chic houses. But is it worth it? I’m not sure.

Lovely Prospect Park
Lovely Prospect Park


3) Parks

Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Central Park, Corona Park in Queen … The list is endless! Parks are actually a nice alternative, especially when they are shaded by lots of high trees. I’ve been spending the last few days in way too many parks but it has helped me bunches. Just having a quaint picnic or BBQ (in designated areas) helps to get the summer groove going and not feel melted in the open sun. It’s also a great option for larger groups (instead of having to fight for a spot on the beach you will have more room on the green grass) and special events, such as birthday parties. The plus side of parks is that you can also get your fitness going on. Plenty of people ride, jog, or run during this outdoorsy time of year.
While you don’t want to be in the sun too much when walking over there, iced drinks help in staying cool.

4) Stay inside

… and give Con Ed a reason to yank your electricity bill up 200 percent. If you can afford it. If not, other air conditioned rooms are also helpful. I’ve been seeking out public space lately, such as libraries or museums. Or simple stores without splurging too much and wasting money.

So, in conclusion, this is a pretty sweet city to be in when summer comes around. Adding to another reason why I really love NY: Even though you might have to travel a bit, at least you have great options to get outside of the blistering hot streets surrounded by encaging sky scrapers. My friend in Paris is constantly complaining about how public pools are grossly overpopulated and no other option seems available. Even London appears to be a good 2 hours away from the coast. I guess Berlin has a few man-made lakes. But this city has all combined in one spot! High five to that!

Oh, and wherever you decide to go, don’t forget your sun screen!

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Fourth of July: Beach, Sunburn, and Rooftop Love

4th-of-July-manhattan-skyline

I hope you spent a great Fourth of July no matter where and how you were celebrating! It’s only been ten hours since July 5 came around and I woke up with only a slight hangover this morning. Good sign, indeed!

Yesterday was my third Fourth of July in America (at least the third one I can remember) and of course I got to spend it in the city I live in. While I do vow every year to travel outside and FINALLY get to do a kick ass BBQ and huge party, I somehow always end up either in Brooklyn or Manhattan. My dreams of a New Jersey rave or Connecticut fest have once again been shattered, as in every year and as in this year.

Despite those undreamt dreams, this year was to date the best celebration I experienced! Possibly because nothing was planned and everything happened quite spontaneous. Don’t you just love those days that unfold as the hours fly by?

Riis Park Queens

It started off pretty well by me going to the beach with the boyfriend, who surprisingly had a day off (he works 24/7 in his own bar and rarely gets to spend summer days outside of it). We went to Riis Park, which is close to Fort Tilden (which I failed to blog about last year, argh!) and part of the Queens community called Breezy point. Riis Park is an extension of the Far Rockaway beaches and the only way to get there is either by bike, by bus, or by car. Since bike and car is currently not an option for us, we decided to take the subway to Flatbush-BK College (both the 2 and 5 lines go there) and then hop onto the Q35 bus. There is also a direct bus from Park Slope and Williamsburg which costs $10 one way. The advantage of this ride is that you don’t have to go through the hassle of switching public transit and perhaps it doesn’t take as long (well, you never know what the traffic situation is here). Switching from the subway to the bus only took us an hour of a commute, which really isn’t bad for NY standards.

Fort Tilden as of last year
Fort Tilden as of last year
Fort Tilden as of last year
Fort Tilden as of last year

Of course we weren’t the only ones with the great idea of swimming, so when we arrived, the beach was already well populated – filled with families, partying youngsters, and chillaxing hordes. Not as bad as Coney would have been on the same day but, yeah, beaches in New York tend to get crowded when everyone is off. We found a somewhat secluded spot close to the border of Ft. Tilden. Ft. Tilden was a great beach last year but unfortunately the community has not had the funds and helpers to clean it up for this year’s season. While Riis Park is usually a gay and lesbian beach, this year it was also a family beach because good sand is scarce here and any cleaned up beach is a good sign (yes, the aftermath of Sandy is still hovering over us). We stayed for the better part of that hot afternoon and unfortunately left with a minor, pinkish sun burn. Should have reapplied that sun screen after swimming, I guess.

After some Mexican food at the Habana outpost, I met with some friends in Bushwick, who had told me about a rooftop party with drinks and food. By the time I got there (perhaps 8 PM), the BBQ was already finished but drinks were just getting started. Bands were playing and people were happily dancing around. It must have been a crowd of 200 persons for the better part of night and that says a lot for a ‘simple’ rooftop in the middle of Bushwick.

Rooftop Love in Bushwick
Rooftop Love in Bushwick
Pre-party picture
Pre-party picture

While Teen Commandments (a local punk rock band) was performing, Macy’s fireworks were going off on the Hudson River. Although Brooklyn is on the East River, the roof was high enough to be able to see the fireworks past the silhouette of the skyline.

Teen Commandments
Teen Commandments

“I really don’t know why they changed the location to face New Jersey!” someone muttered next to me. I turned around and started a heated discussion with a long-term New Yorker who was outraged that 75 percent of New York was not able to take in the fireworks while New Jersey, the neighboring state, was. “They have their own funds and they do their own fireworks,” he pointed out. I agreed, as we had seen a few fireworks go off on the NJ side of the roof well before dark. Macy’s did a great job in providing us with 25 minutes of show time and even flagging up a few new forms, such as an UFO or a Jupiter (or any type of planet with a ring).

Throughout the night the rooftop crew decided to shoot some firecrackers into the sky, so we had our own “special” fireworks going off above our heads. At some point, the cops must have told them to stop and that was it. A rave-like party happened after the last band stopped playing and then everyone vanished in a drunkenly lost night.

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Crappy picture of Macy's fireworks
Crappy picture of Macy’s fireworks
party blues
party blues

What a wonderful 4th of July it had been! Even better than a proper 4th of July weekend. Because this time most New Yorkers stayed in their actual city (a lot of people had to work today or didn’t want to take a vacation day).

Oh, and in case you wondered why the Empire State Building was going crazy: Supposedly it was part of the Macy’s fireworks grand finale theme and changed its colors at light speed rate. At times it looked like it was rotating but that was just part of the effect.

Kicking off Memorial Day Weekend…..

Fleet Week in 2011
Fleet Week in 2011

Today is a good day! Today is the start of Memorial Day Weekend. Three days filled with hectic plans, brunches, and leisure time for most people in the US.

This last weekend of May usually marks the start of the summer season. The beaches are officially open and lifeguards take on their duties. People grab their party gear and head on to BBQs on a rooftop. Friends come together in the park for drinks and food. I’ve so far had three Memorial Day Weekends in the past and each of them have been memorable (word pun not intended) in their own little way. My first year when exploring the crowds at Brighton Beach (and lying next to trash in the sand). My second year when watching the events going on during Fleet Week and petting my first snake at Coney Island. My third year when finally exploring a Navy ship and being part of a BBQ on my friend’s balcony. Yup, Memorial Day has always been tons of fun. Sunshine, hotness, and humidity – that’s what I remember the most.

But this weekend has not really started off that great weather-wise. Today as in yesterday it is rainy, bleary, and cold. All week long we were having some blissful 80 degrees (26 Celsius) but now we’re down to the 50ies (13 C) at daytime. Summer just cannot make up its mind. And while next week it is supposed to be warm once again, the one weekend during which it really matters will not be spent on the beach. Perhaps the first time in ages, at least since I moved here.

On top of some crappy weather, another occurrence will not happen: Fleet Week! That’s right, my beloved sea military week was cancelled soon after I came back from Germany! Bloomberg passed on to the news that the Navy and Marines had already announced they wouldn’t be able to make it. The Coast Guard by itself never made it out here, either. Due to budget cuts, the military was unable to host its annual week full of fun, family time, and great history gadgets. This year there will be no ships to visit, no concerts to watch, no funky uniforms to take pictures of when wandering through the streets. Somehow it has become a tradition for me to look forward to those 7 days in May that are always quite out of the ordinary. And give New York a special vibe.

So I devote this post to what turns out to be a rather awkward beginning into a usually great summer weekend: To Fleet Week, to BBQs, to the beach. But most of all to better weather…

Not seeing this here in 2013...!
Not seeing this here in 2013…!

Have a Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

To see what last year’s Fleet Week was made of, go here.
And to see what 2011 showed during the exact same week, here.
Let’s kick these Fleet Week blues farewell!

Sad Far Rockaway – A Trip to Former Beach Culture

Far Rockaway birds flying over beach

A few weeks ago I was out in the Far Rockaways on a blissful and hot April afternoon. It was a Sunday, perhaps not the best day of the week to take public transit (as it’s much slower and trains have longer waiting times than during week days). I hadn’t been out ever since I stopped by last summer, for the lovely beach and some fish tacos (read more on this adventure here). I had spent some peaceful days in June, July and August hanging out at the shore – simply being happy not having to go through the crowds at both Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

But as so many other places close to the water, the Rockaways were hit hard when Sandy came and went. And now, seven months after the devastating hurricane, they are still nowhere close to what they used to be.

When I wandered out on this particular Sunday afternoon, I was under the impression that at least the beaches had been rebuilt and that I was able to walk around, taking in life before the summer season. I hadn’t expected the train not to be working, the people still rebuilding their houses and the Far Rockaway taco shack cleaning up the shards in front of their doorstep.

Improvised MTA station
Improvised MTA station

The first obstacle I was to encounter was when taking the A-train towards Queens: It harshly stopped at Howard Beach/ JFK (which is usually not the last stop). I already wondered what to do next until I saw the signs directing me towards a shuttle bus to Far Rockaway. When stepping out of the train station, there was an improvised MTA station for those who needed help to get around and buy tickets. A small bus transported us from the JFK stop towards our destination – over land, past hideous Queens malls and KFC joints, until finally we were in the middle of the Rockaways: Mott Avenue. Never having seen the town center before, I was left to wander around. Past some run-down houses and dubious food joints, dollar stores and delis, all concerningly low in foot traffic. The rockaways are not known to be high class but I’m sure Sandy didn’t help in destroying a perfectly poor area.

Shuttle Bus to Queens
Shuttle Bus to Queens

After being blabbed at by random hoodlums and feeling a bit doubtful about my adventure, I walked off to the H-Train, which, I can confirm, truly exists. The H-Train is now what the A-train used to be back then: It extends over the “island” from Mott Avenue to Beach 90th Street and takes less than 20 minutes to ride from one end to another. It’s the only means public transport that has been rebuilt only weeks after the hurricane but, so far, its progress has most likely stayed the same. Of course buses are also active but I didn’t have the patience to look up their current schedule. At B 80th Street I hopped off and walked towards the promenade.

The H-Train!
The H-Train!

An empty KeyFoods glared at me, with boards nailed to the doors and windows, probably never to be in service again. I had to think about how tough it must have been for businesses to sustain themselves throughout the winter. In April, a few shops here and there were open, even a nail salon and bar were back to business. However, after turning the corner at 95th Street, Giovanni’s Ice Cream and my beloved Far Rockaway Taco were tightly closed. A few guys were balancing on the joint’s roof and doing construction work. I believe this is a good sign that come June they could be open again. After taking in all of this damage around me, I was ready to get away and see a clean beach.

Unfinished Promenade at Far Rockaway
Unfinished Promenade at Far Rockaway

But arriving at the promenade, or rather what was left of it, was more than depressing. Wooden stumps semi-finished in the sand. A homeless pillow left alone on the beach. Construction debris close to the sand. Only the sea, the sea had stayed the same. I felt like just taking that pillow and taking a nap, to escape this crude nightmare. The same nightmare the residents must have experienced for the past 8 months. I really have no clue as to how and when Far Rockaway Beach will be up and running but so far it did not feel like anytime soon. The demotivation and exhaustion reeked from every turned up stone I saw on my way back. A broken doll extended her arms towards me. I wonder who lost it and how it ended up in the sewage.

Doll in sewage
Doll in sewage

A trip to the Rockaways – a shock in every bit. Whatever has been damaged will take months to come to repair. Has a summer gone to waste?

Current damage at Far Rockaway
Current damage at Far Rockaway

My Trip to Miami in the Middle of January (I)

south beach bird flying in sky

The blistering cold of a New York winter that has finally arrived painfully reminds me how hot and sunny it was only two weeks ago in Florida. It was mid-January, when I joined the flock of New Yorkers who take a trip down to Miami when the City is too cold to endure during those 4 cold winter months.

Flying to Miami from here is convenient. Landing at Fort Lauderdale or Miami airport and soaking in the sun for a couple of days – easily done. The flight is only 3 hours without any time difference, simplifying matters for a mini-vacation.

We booked our flight to and landed in Fort Lauderdale on a chilly Friday morning. With some cool 55 degrees (13 Celsius) blasting at me, I started wondering if I should have packed a jacket or two. Luckily, as the day went by, it turned warmer and warmer, until it reached the mid-70ies almost at midnight (bizarre, isn’t it?).

Since we had booked with a shared-ride company, we were pretty much stuck to see parts of Miami and Miami beach for a total of 1 ½ hours (!) while dropping off a lot of some fellow passengers. Our first impressions were the hotels and then the people entering and exiting these hotels. The boyfriend smirked and let me know that this was exactly what he had expected Miami to be about: The flashy cars and suits, and people trying to act famous. It was a bit of a show, the entire time we were there, I have to admit.

We were glad when we finally arrived at our apartment, booked through airbnb (a site I can highly recommend). In the middle of South Beach we had rented out a lovely studio owned by an Austrian landlord who was eager to show us the hotspots of his adopted home. “I’ve lived here for 17 years” he announced in his strong European accent. “If you want good coffee, go to Las Olas, it has the best breakfast ever!” Oh Austrians and their “good” coffee!

Since it was noon by now, we did not check out this lovely spot but went on to a random Taco Bar, which served some excellent Tex-Mex food. Finding good Mexican food outside of California is always a feat. Miami has many Spanish speakers from Latin country so it was actually not that hard to come across a variety of their restaurants and little food shops.

Finally! Miami Beach!
Finally! Miami Beach!

Next, the beach. Pretty much the only thing we’d been anxiously awaiting since the time we got off the plane. It did not disappoint: Crystal clear water with a clear turquoise tint. White sandy beaches you only see in Florida. The only thing that did disappoint was the weather, of course (think 60 degrees by now). So we gave up on the idea of swimming on our first day here and strolled along the beach.

There is a fair called “The Strip” close to the water, which is most likely the most primitive simple street fair I have seen in a long time. Tents are built up to show off some overpriced random souvenirs you can find in any other beach town. On Saturday, there were old-timers parked on this long road, but other than that I figured there is not really much to see.

Miami Strip Fair
Miami Strip Fair
Hotel pool located close to the beach
Hotel pool located close to the beach

We therefore decided to walk on the wooden roads leading close to the beach but still past the hotels and we got glimpses of their glamorous outdoor pools, their bar areas at the water, and the nice lay-outs you must only see in Miami. An afternoon drink at the Raleigh and a snack at one of the most Southern restaurants you will find in South Beach. The Yardbird is one institution – off the main hotel road, in the middle of the town. It serves peculiar items such as the Yam-hattan and the Cheddar Waffle. Yes, a sweet waffle topped with bourbon syrup, cheddar cheese and home-made pickled relish. Best culinary experience of the entire trip! Indeed, the boyfriend and I were so thrilled to try out their dinner special, that we spend our entire last night here, feasting on other Southern specialties and their locally brewed beers. Oh, and beware: Some dishes do not contain meat!

Best Cheddar Cheese Waffle ever invented!
Best Cheddar Cheese Waffle ever invented!
They don't like vegetarians at the Yardbird...
They don’t like vegetarians at the Yardbird…

[For more pictures on Miami go to Miami Calling (Part I)]