Spending Labor Day at the Far Rockaways

Labor Day Weekend was special in a few ways. One of them was certainly the advent of our first hurricane since Sandy. Hurricane Hermine decided to circumvent the metro area but the mayor still decided to shut down all beaches, quoting riff waves and rough currents as a safety hazard. Read More »

Things to Do When Feeling Disconnected with New York: Show the City Some Love

Me playing tourist at the Brooklyn Bridge
Me playing tourist at the Brooklyn Bridge

Three and a half years in a fast-paced city like New York can take its toll on you. And on your perception and appreciation of this oversized town called the Big Apple. When I came back from my trip, it took me a couple of weeks to adjust. To the ruthlessness of the people, the weirdness going on in the streets, and the eeriness of noise and chaos altogether. Well, you know, eventually you adjust to everything and friendly persons sometimes make that process easier than without.

Aside from some loyal people and lots of booze, what else is good to snap you out of the unappreciative state of mind? Find the complete list below.

1) Do typical tourist things

Sounds obvious? Well, most people who have lived here for more than a year somehow end up not doing the things tourists are attracted to in the first place. When was the last time you walked the Brooklyn Bridge? Or took the ferry to Staten Island and saw the Statue of Liberty up close? Not to mention checking out Magnolia Bakery and its tasty banana pudding! I know – all of these things are also the same items that repulse most locals and natives from ever setting foot into an overcrowded area. Just the idea of being part of the face- and characterless masses… Scary!


But seriously, there is a reason as to why Dumbo is flooded by camera-snapping Asians. Not to mention all those Europeans running into Central Park. The best part about this city is that you have some fantastic movie-set-scenes as soon as you step out of your door. Why not take advantage of them?
You can’t believe how re-connected I felt with this city after taking a first bite of a cupcake in what seemed like… ages, if not months at the very least. There is NO BETTER way to appreciate New York than through cupcakes and bagels (and perhaps that cronut, if I can ever lay my hands on it one day…).

2) Do untypical tourist things

Hike to Brooklyn and check out Greenwood Cemetery. Or take a stroll over the Pulaski Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Queens. Find out where the trainyard cemetery in Queens is and go on a discovery adventure. Or take a free tour featured on brokelyn.com. Two weeks ago I got to see the interior of a factory that made Kombucha Tea, how cool is that? It’s all about coming up with things tourists would possibly put last on their list, if even at all.

Greenwood Cemetery on a sunny fall day
Greenwood Cemetery on a sunny fall day

And nothing beats a stroll through the neighborhood, especially if it’s in Brooklyn or Queens – far away from Manhattan, which has sold its soul to the masses. I usually make a point in catching up with some neighborhoods I am not close to at least once a year, if not more often. Recently I checked out Bay Ridge again and was reminded how peacefully people spend their lives in this secluded part of Brooklyn.

3) Do local things

Go for brunch, even better if it features unlimited mimosas and Bloody’s. Get a manicure and pedicure done at one of those cheap salons all over the city. Enjoy the free days at museums and other cultural institutions. And here is a good one: Be an extra in a movie (even if unpaid). This site takes $36 out of your pocket to sign up, but if you get a deal with the Michael J. Fox Show or True Blood, you can earn up to $200 a day by just standing around or jogging down a path. I kid you not. Of course you have to be selected from the highly competitive crowd. It might be worth the try.

Sushi around Union Square
Sushi around Union Square

My point is: Just go out there and explore this city. Watch the people around you (and put that phone aside!). Participate in a bootcamp class. Or explore some culinary tastes only you as a local will know of and appreciate.

And maybe one day, at Columbus Circle, on the B-Line to Brooklyn you will get that feeling again. Amidst the Mexican street performer strumming tunes on his guitar or the two students who took the wrong train and are jumping off, very last minute. The guitar being the perfect background music for the scene unfolding in front of you (I’m telling you, NY by itself is a movie.) There you might have it again, that once-upon-a-time feeling you had almost every day in your first year here:

1 Pulaski Bridge at night.jpg

New York is special. New York is unique. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

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?

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

Deutsches Einkaufen: New Aldi discounter in Queens!

Aldi is now in Queens! I couldn’t believe it when a fellow co-worker brought with one of my beloved German chocolates to work, claiming he had been shopping at a discounter in Queens. While I had driven past an Aldi in New Jersey two summer years one my way to the Jersey shores, I was rather amused at how far the popular German food store had advanced. However, I would have never thought they made the dream of cheaply imported German merchandise come true, so I had to check out for myself what exactly Aldi has to offer here in the US.

Therefore, today I made my way up to the Rego Park stop on the still significantly impaired R-train. Rego Park is supposedly one of the bigger shopping malls you can find in this borough, together with the Queens Mall shopping center. Aldi was somewhere next to Staples and Payless Shoes. I had troubles finding it at first until I noticed that there are no doors leading to the outside, you indeed have to actually enter the mall. Then I stood in front of it: The brandnew and all-too-familiar sign with the bright orange contour, blue background, and white letters. “Aldi Food Market,”it read, food market being the only term giving away that I was in a foreign country and nowhere close to home.

I then went on, fully entering the twilight zone: The common sight of shopping carts stacked to the side, but no Euro needed to snag one. German Choceur chocolates neatly rowed up in the beginning of the aisle, together with Schogetten, another brand that rings so close to home. True, the selection was tiny compared to what Aldi offers at German stores. Schogetten had three different flavors, whereas it usually offers 7 and more in its country of origin. And right next to the German chocolates? Captain Ahoy’s chocolate chip cookies and other American brands. Gourmet tartar sauce next to Hershey’s ice cream sauce. The list of controversies goes on!

Tartar sauce right next to…
…. Hersheys syrup!

German brands mixed with American goodies – who wouldn’t get confused at first. It took me a while to shut my mouth and actually make it through the entire store to get an overall impression. Of course the fresh produce, such as veggies, fruits, and dairy products, are not imported from across the ocean. However, especially now during the Christmas season you could find German cake and a goodie called “Stollen,” which is a pastry made of raisin bread and filled with either almond paste or other sweets.

Christmassy stuff

Meat and milk comes from the US. I did find gingerbread that was exactly the same I bought when still back home. Even the price was not too much higher for most of the products. Schogetten cost around 80 euro cents, whereas here you can get them for one US Dollar. Stollen is 5 bucks and I believe you get some for almost 4 Euro back home. I overheard a German woman excitedly explaining that this is the real deal back home and that you really have to try it to experience a true German Christmas feeling. I shot her a freaked out look and went on, more uncomfortable than ever.

It appears that the German discounter has been able to successfully apply the concept of keeping the shopping experience cheap in this country. But I was rather baffled when I saw the marketing strategy they use: Aldi Truths! Truth #25, for example, states that “the same is always better when it costs less.” Duh! I am unsure if these truths are also stated in its country of origin, I, however, have never seen them around and have decided not to be a big fan of them.

One of Aldi’s Truths

Regardless of the store not being overly pricy, I still had to pay $15 for a few sweets I bought, and I am certain I would have not spent that much in Germany itself disregarding worldwide inflation and economy crisis. An ecofriendly Aldi paper bag costs 6 cent, but you have to be careful as the paper is rather thin and if you can, get more than one. The best is simply to carry your own bag with you, as you would in Germany. You can also purchase a cloth bag for the price of $2, but I opted against it, since I am too embarrassed to don’t want to be running around with an Aldi bag when I do regular food shopping.

Even though I would have thought to be less homesick and more pro-American Aldi before I visited this store, the opposite effect showed: I am actually not sure I ever want to go back for fear of spoiling all the reasonably good memories of the real German Aldi I am used to. It was more of a bizarre experience to shop among English-speaking people in a store that offers a few German products, half of which are made in factories in Illinois or Mexico, despite the German name attached to it. The products have an English packaging and nutrition information is giving according to standards in America, not Europe.

Christmassy stuff

The entire shopping experience painfully reminded me of the analogy of Coca Cola: You might be able to buy it everywhere but it does not necessarily evoke a feeling of being at home. On the contrary, it can let you wonder how far American thinking can spoil your feeling in pride of German merchandise.

Oh, and after reading some reviews on Yelp, I guess American consumers think it is a huge deal that cashier’s can sit. I guess it can be…

But get your own impression of things! Aldi has now also opened doors in Manhattan as of October of this year. Find more infos on their Web site at Aldi.us. Happy shopping!

No German words included in this post for fear of losing my mind!

Dealing with Sandy’s Aftermath: A Week of Chaos

A dark Lower Manhattan in Sandy’s Aftermath

This week is slowly coming to a close. However, the wounds caused by the hurricane that hit New York, New Jersey, and other states are still wide open. The full extent of the storm was well hidden to us at the time of the last two posts.

Wednesday morning I was supposed to report back to work. Such as thousands of other people all throughout the 5 boroughs. Since the trains were not functioning, our job asked us to take our own cars or cabs they would reimburse us for. Flagging down a taxi proved to be harder for everyone else, except for me. I had one down in only 5 minutes. Seeing the traffic all around the Barclay’s Center made me feel a bit queasy. And trying to get out of Brooklyn was simply hell. Driving over the Manhattan Bridge was almost a piece of cake compared to the bumper-to-bumper scenario in downtown Brooklyn and before.

We drove through a somewhat less lively but nonetheless depressing Chinatown. Unkempt people, no matter what ethnicity, waiting in a long line for the bus to Uptown. Students trying to get a ride out of this city. Then the ghost town of the West Village and the rest of Chelsea. A family with two small girls, evidently not having taken a shower in days, with desperate looks in their eyes and even sadder expressions while waiving their hands for a cab. An angry woman shaking her fist at us because I was the only passenger in an otherwise empty cab.

After one hour I was finally in Midtown – way sooner than most of my coworkers. The horror stories from them piled up one by one: People from Queens were stuck in traffic for up to 2 1/2 hours before they made it to work. Other Brooklynites paid 75 bucks for a 2-hour cab ride which would have cost them 20 bucks max under normal circumstances.

That one morning by itself was the beginning of an endless frustration reaching throughout the entire week. The Empire State Building had its power up, alright, thanks to its own generators and what-nots. However, ConEd had turned off the heating. We sat bundled up in our winter coats, trying to get some work done and being hit over the head when pictures from Staten Island, Breezy Point, and New Jersey reached us through the online news. A heartbreaking story of a coworker who had lost his house and car all in one night. Another who was scraping sewage water remnants from her basement walls. And yet another stuck without electricity in Staten Island.

Traffic in Brooklyn on Thursday

It turned out that a total of four people lived in Brooklyn, and since we were pretty much all on the same route (Park Slope and Sunset Park), a coworker with a car volunteered to drive us to and from work until the day the subway was running again. While driving down the FDR, we passed the East Village, or rather, the depressing sight of ultimate darkness of what had once resembled a carousel ride.

On Thursday, subways resumed partial service to Uptown Manhattan and from Queens to the City (stopping at Times Square). Brooklyn was still cut off from Manhattan. The MTA started engaging shuttle buses from the Barclay’s Center to Manhattan. The lines were a total chaos: People waited as long as 3 1/2 hours to get onto their “ride.” As we drove past one of those horrendous lines, we saw people lined up around more than 6 blocks. Traffic was still dense in the morning. Police officers were checking if the minimum of three passengers per car was met. Whoever had less persons was asked to pick up waiting hitchhikers on the side of the bridges or to turn around and not enter Manhattan.

We decided to evade “rush hour” traffic and drive home at 3 o clock already. A wise decision. Subways started resuming service throughout Brooklyn, but still not into Manhattan. The buses were still a complete chaos. Much more pedestrians than usual could be found on the bridge throughout this entire week. Horror stories from the working subway lines in Queens were discussed at work: People were fighting over seats and shoving others from the benches. Passengers were smashed against the train windows but at least they had gotten on.

The updated MTA map that was valid until Saturday

More stories from residents of Lower Manhattan made the round: Supposedly their Uptown brothers and sisters denied them access when they went into hotels and asked if they could at least charge their phones. The discrepancy between this city sometimes still baffles me: Only one block over and it could have been you without power for 5 long days, 40th Street!

On Friday, the ESB started having problems with electricity in certain rooms. Our Internet gave up. We basically were simply incapable of doing our work because of these technical issues. Electronic heaters were bought and put into our offices so that we could take our winter coats off. It was pretty much a wasted day.

Horror news of a snow storm hitting us next week made the round. All of Lower Manhattan was still darkened out then. I started asking friends if they knew someone who was still stuck there and that they should get out before the second storm hits. Work asked a few people to come in on Saturday, only if the power and Internet was working again, of course. When I told my friends, everyone was shocked. In a state of chaos, we need a weekend without having to go through the excruciating pains get to Manhattan. Everyone needs these two days off to recover from the bad news, the frustration, and the shock that surrounded everyone who had to return to work and go through disastrous traffic or deal with half of New York still being out of power.

Traffic jams everywhere

Another crisis was slowly creeping up on us: The gas shortage! When we drove home once again on the last workday of this week, we found a line of up to ten blocks long leading from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Atlantic Avenue. People must have been waiting for hours already! The news reported a man pulling a knife at someone cutting the line at a gas station in Queens. We had enough of this chaotic week and just wanted to be left alone with our own worries, not having to bother with getting to and fro the City.

It also happened to be my friend’s birthday yesterday, so I ended up walking those 1 1/2 hours from the Slope to Williamsburg. Since the cabs were now charging outrageous fees due to the gas shortages, I tried a bus first, but two crowded ones drove by without even halting. After 30 minutes I had enough. As it was still early in the evening, I made it to the isolated part of Brooklyn safe and sound. A short stint past the famous Marcy Avenue Projects, but it was still early at night. At the same time, power was restored in almost all of Lower Manhattan. From over half a million households, now only 5,000 are left powerless. What a true wonder ConEd performed last night! The happy Facebook posts on my friends’ walls were endless and heartbreaking at the same time.

And then this morning finally some more good news: The 4 and 5 were the first subway lines to go all the way from Brooklyn through Manhattan to the Bronx! Hourly updates poured in: The Q to be restored by the afternoon, the 2 and 3 by tomorrow. The D up and running on Sunday. Now the only trains that are missing are mostly in Williamsburg: The G and L lines will most likely take until sometime next week to function properly again. The L is underground and all the tunnels have been flooded. Seeing pictures on the Gothamist really makes me appreciate that at least a few subway lines are up in the running this weekend. I will not yet take advantage of them but hope to get to work on Monday that I have more options than a car or a cab.

New York finally announced that they won’t hold their marathon this coming Sunday. One of the sanest pieces of news I have heard do so far in this matter. It had caused a lot of disgruntlement and even hatred when it came to this topic. How could a marathon be carried out when Staten Island, Manhattan and other parts were still struggling to digest what had happened to their destroyed homes? Luckily, hypocrisy did not prevail, even though Bloomberg’s initial argument was that the marathon would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars revenue… So everyone who flew out to run can help as a volunteer if he or she really wants to support this city!

What is the situation right now? The gas shortage and frustration connected to it still persists and most likely will for a long time. While Manhattan is almost restored to its old self, the often forgotten and in this case even neglected borough of Staten Island is struggling to keep up with restoration. New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester are mostly still powerless and have no heated water. Whenever this will be back to normal – who knows!

Currently I am simply thankful for living in one of the lucky areas and having had the option of a ride to and from the city. The initial state of frustration is giving way to depression and sadness at all the damage caused in this city. We survived but the wounds are still fresh and nowhere closed to being healed.

Exploring Beaches: Far Rockaway in Queens!

It’s August! Already! And after so much talk about the one and only Coney Island I found it to be at order to mention another fine beach of New York: Far Rockaway or the Rockaways!

Briefly touched upon on Ocean, Sand, and Fun, I have now had more time to extensively explore the (unlimited) possibilities offered out in Queens. This year as well as last, Far Rockaway has been my go-to choice, especially after the month of June has passed. Coney Island and Brighton Beach might be easier accessible by public transportation but this also brings one huge disadvantage with it: Many people go there. Huge crowds equal a more disgusting environment, especially when you are talking about a public place. After catching a nasty rash after swimming in the murky waters of Coney, I decided it was time to spend an extra hour on the train to get a beach that is still decently clean. Ergo, a trip to Far Rockaway became a must!

The best way to get there is if you hop on the A-train towards Queens. And here is where it could get tricky: 3 different A-trains lead to Queens! Make sure you don’t enter the one that goes to Lefferts Boulevard. This will catapult you to a housing area nowhere close to the water. If you hop onto the one leading up to Far Rockaway, be aware that you are approaching the numbers B67th St and less. If you are in the one riding up to The Rockaways (very similar in names) you are approaching the numbers B90th and up. There is no train between B67th and B90th St but the distance is easily walkable.
If you happen to be on A-Train number 2 and want to go to the higher numbered streets, get off at Broad Channel to catch a Shuttle towards the Rockaways.

As you can tell, many ways lead to the same destination. B67th Street is designed towards surfing and surfers. A separated area has been designated for the sports freaks and two great surf schools. I had the chance to take a lesson myself last summer and it was a blast. This summer I have been quite busy during the weekends and not been at the beach as many times as I would like to. My tan is practically non-existent and my bathing suits are dusting in the closet.

So yesterday was one of those rare occasions I took the train up to the shore again. It turned out to be a fantastic day! Past the surfer boys and girls, I found a nice spot right next to the lifeguards around 70th St. I always plant my colorful yellow-orange towel and hideous Whole-Foods-beach-bag next to those folks whenever I am by myself. It’s the best way to make sure your stuff does not get stolen by random thugs. Certain gigolos also do not see a reason to bother you with annoying flirt approaches once you are next to these red and orange coated heroes.

Today I even got to talk with two of them while they were routinely checking up on swimmers not getting too close to the rocks. “Last week we pulled some surfers away from those” one explains. “I cut my leg and another lifeguard was badly injured when his shoulder hit the rocks and was sliced open.” He bends down to proudly show me his battle wounds and then goes on. “Them surfers who take the lessons once or twice and then go out there with their own boards are the ones we have to look out for! They don’t have the experience and underestimate the currents.”

I also learn that a beginning lifeguard gets paid $13.50/h when starting out, with chances to increase up to $17.00/h depending on experience and years of service. Not bad for 8 hours of summer work, enjoying the outdoors and tanning non-stop. “I might have to consider working there next summer,” I thought, as the two guards ran off to help a child in the water.

The ocean behaves differently out there. While Coney Island is protected in its bay-shaped area, the Rockaways are open, letting huge waves form, especially towards the end of the summer. You also find more crabs here that like to pinch your foot if you stand in one spot for too long when being in the water.

Brooklyn has a flamboyant beach culture with is cheerful Luna Park and other fantastic rides, not to mention restaurants and bars right next to the action. In comparison, Queens’ beach culture is more subtle and evidently more relaxed. Of course you have some spots right on the boardwalk. If you walk up to 86th St you can grab your first set of burgers and even listen to a band jamming it out on Saturday afternoon. Walk up ten more blocks and around 96th St you have 5 different food joints catering to the needs of the hungry beach folks. My friends and I happened to stop by here sometime in June. After a taco dish, ice cream, glazed fruits and a plastic cup filled with beer, we had thought this to be one of the best beach days in New York.

Turns it the food is way better only two blocks down. I am talking about the one and only Rockaway Taco. Hyped by the press (see an article in the Times on this) and of course word-to-mouth propaganda, this little shack has become a big shot within the past two to three years. As a lifeguard nostalgically remembers, the menu used to consist of “two items and I kept the small square in my pocket”. Now they added quesadillas, chips and guac, corn and cukes, and a few other items to their initial selection of fish tacos. While the tacos cannot motivate me to go there another time, the quesadilla is very good and the Mexican corn was also satisfying enough. Hopefully I’ll be able to try out more of their choices before the summer comes to an end. Of course the line can get crazy busy during certain peak times. I found 7 PM on a Saturday night to be a great hour to stop by. It only took me 5 minutes of waiting and then I was happily munching away. Yesterday I went around 5:30 PM and had to wait altogether a good 15 mins until I had the food in my lap. Luckily, they offer an outdoors area with benches and more Taco nuts to meet.

But there are other places right next to it, such this sammich place and ice cream shack.

the menu…

the outdoor seating area
…the food!

I am sure there is so much more to explore but as of now, these are the places I was able to check out. I am curious to see what the local bars are made of and I am eager to try out more dishes around the block. It is a splendid location for swimming, tanning, and socializing and at this time of the year it makes out for the better alternative to the overcrowded Coney Island. Let’s just hope this area will not become as hipsterised as Williamsburg and Bushwick already have…

To read more about Surfing at Far Rockaway go here.
To see pictures on Surfing at Far Rockaway, go here.
To be creative go to How to Handcraft Your Own Shell Necklace.

A Day in Queens

Last weekend my friend and I tried out something new. We went all the way from Brooklyn to Queens!

Now this might sound unexciting to some of you. “Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, isn’t it all the same?” you might think. “Isn’t it all pretty darn close to each other?” No no, I have to tell you, it is not. You can actually spend a good 2 and a half hours of travel from the midst of Brooklyn to heart of the Bronx, and this is by means of normal subway (as I told you, most folks don’t have or need a car here).

So getting to Queens from Park Slope was very … interesting. Since it was a Sunday, the train schedule was messed up, of course. Trains usually arrive every ten minutes on weekdays and Saturday, but on Sunday they like to show up every 20 minutes, which is about three times an hour. Once we finally hopped on the F, we traveled all the way up to Roosevelt Av and switched to the 7-train. The 7-train is basically the connecting subway from Queens to Manhattan and it stops at Times Square. I rarely take it as I don’t have any reason to go to Queens. Indeed, I recall, the last time I jumped on it was exactly a year ago, and that was when I was looking at a room around Jackson Heights.
Anyhow, the 7 is tricky as it goes local or express. Local means it will halt at every useless stop. Express is the better option. After one and a half hours we finally breathed in fresh air when getting off at the Mets-Willows Pt stop. Destination: Flushing Meadows Park!

Flushing Meadows is a well-known park, as it is right across from the Mets stadium (football freaks!) and as the US Opens court is directly in the heart of all the green. Regretfully I’ve only made my way out once since I’ve been here. This was last fall and I had a good time shooting a few lovely pictures, taking in the last rays of the autumn sun, and watching Mexicans play soccer. Then a tragedy happened and in February I lost all the pictures I had taken in New York due to a hard drive failure.

Shit happens.

Now I am slowly rebuilding my path from last year without getting lost on its way.

So I definitely had to check out Flushing Meadows in October again, just to retake those infamous, beloved photos. My friend had never been and I considered this to be a great occasion to show him around.
We started walking towards the well-known emblem of this park. You know, the first thing you notice when watching an episode of “The King of Queens,” which by the way is completely shot in LA and, therefore, not really authentic. Back to the story. We started walking towards the Unisphere, illuminated by the sun shining through the metal bars of the back of the figure. This year as in last year there were many Latinos out, playing their soccer and having fun in the sun. It was an unexpectedly warm day outside and we didn’t need the jackets we had brought with just in case. But this time I didn’t know whether I should be happy or sad. Mexicans in New York definitely deserve a separate post, so I won’t deliberate too much on them here. It’s just so sad to see them playing out and knowing their life is better than the small village they came from in Mehiko but that they are still not being treated unbiased by the people here. More of this in a later post, though.

We shot some excellent pictures of the Globe. Basically, we had our own private photo session in front of it and I reveal to you some good photos worth posting.

The one and only Unisphere

Then I showed my friend where the US Opens are being held and we carried it on from there, walking around, until we got to a river-like structure. I still didn’t know whether to feel sad or happy. The murky water was filled with trash and I doubt any animal would survive in it. Families were posing in front of this pile of junk and acting as if it were a great scenery. Then the pigeons which were fed by passerbys. The few Orthodox Jewish kids who were running around in a minority compared to the Middle-American crowd. On our way out I passed a dancing group of teenagers. I think they were trying out the some Salsa steps and I couldn’t help but take a picture.

On the subway ride back we got off at Jackson Heights, as I remembered a block that was called Little India in the midst of Queens. I was eager to check it out and we walked right into an Indian street fair. Seems like we were at the right place to the right time, as it happens quite often. Since it was 5 PM already, some stands had wrapped up, but most were still open, advertising their good food, their colorful shawls, and other Indian exotics. I helped myself with a buffet, my friend got a cold dish the name of which I’ve forgotten made up of chick peas and various vegetables served in a sauce layered with bread. Both were really good. For dessert I sneaked around a kettle in which something resembling fried calamari was swimming around. Turns out these were traditional Indian sweets called Imarti. I bought a small bag and took a bite. Pure sugar mounted on top of fried pastry but very good indeed. I don’t think my teeth will like this dish in the long run, but it was worth trying.

It had been a long day. We were tired. Off to Brooklyn we went. This time I wanted to take a different way, so we stopped at Bryant Park and walked to the F from there. Then we had to wait those full 20 minutes until the next train showed up. So it was another one and a half hours back to the Slope. The colorful day had made up for the tedious trip, though!

For more pictures on Flushing Meadows, go to A Picture Every Day.

Finding a Roommate in New York (Second Round)

While I had been really lucky during my first search, I got a taste of the potential problems my German friend had mentioned during my second hunt.
After eight and a half months of Flatbush, I decided to move out for various reason: First, my roommate had let an 18-year-old kid into our terrains who had stolen my jewelry. She didn’t find this a good enough reason to keep him away from the house, so I packed my belongings and tried to get out of there as soon as possible. Second, I had enough of the area and Haitian people treating me like I was an intruder of their territory and being whistled, yelled, or simply stared at when walking down the streets. I also didn’t appreciate being treated with contempt because of my skin color when buying my groceries from a local business.
Well, eight and a half months is enough time in New York to develop a pretty good idea of where you want to live and what type of roommate you can tolerate or which apartment you want to move into.

But two weeks later and after having looked at twenty apartments I still hadn’t found what I wanted. This time it was tough because I was working a 9-5 job and had to juggle writing E-Mails, calling people, and meeting up with them during my lunch breaks and after work. I think I crammed three to four locations in one extreme day. Needless to say that by the end of the day I was simply exhausted and unmotivated to move on.
The search by itself went over craigslist again, but even after haven written two ads nothing great had come along. The stories I can tell, though, they are worth it. I met the most unique people during this time period!

For example this one time when I had given other boroughs a chance and actually made my way up to Queens (again) to meet with the potential candidate. The address was almost on the last stop of the 7 train, which works great during the day but commutes badly to and fro Manhattan on weekends and nights, as I was told. From there it was an additional 15 minute walk, forcing me to picture the cold, icy wind blowing in your face for a quarter hour straight during the unbearable winter months. The guy was a friendly Indian who was already in his 40ies and lived in a shared apartment with three other girls – all of them doing their own thing, meaning they didn’t necessarily qualify in the category “social butterflies.” This was most definitely not what I was looking for. And, as I realized, I still hadn’t lost my heart in Queens.

So I focused my search on the Brooklyn sector, preferably around the Prospect Park area, because once you’ve lived there, you don’t want to live without that patch of green nature that lets you breathe fresh air once in a while. While being on my apartment-hunt, I met destroyed people, adrenaline-seeking people, artistic people … – you name it!

First category: The girl who had just divorced her husband and didn’t want any other guys visiting her future room-mate because the bare sight of a man would too hurtful for her. Splendid idea for a single girl like me! Then there was the 35-year-old lawyer who owned a thing euphemized into a “loft,” which was really only a long narrow tube and my “room” transformed itself into a box without a window. He freely admitted to smoking pot on occasion, too, and if this would be a problem for you me we’d rather not live together. I considered him a very representative man of the law and couldn’t wait to get out of the door.

Second category: The two apartments in Williamsburg who were either above a family of a drugdealer or right around the corner of one. One time I walked up the stairs and looked a desperate, homeless Junkie in the eye as I was finding my way to my appointment. That was sorta enough for me to figure that I did not want to be stabbed or shot when on my way home just because a criminal had opened up his business right next to me. I cannot believe how calm those girls were considering the circumstances they were living in.

Third category: Artists from Europe who were offering a short-term-solution. Such as this 40-year-old woman from Munich whose house was incredibly nice but I figured it would be too much stress to move out again after three months. Or the nice Swiss lady in an eight-bedroom-sublet who could only offer a month.

Surprisingly many families rent out extra rooms in their houses in New York, too. I met up with a few Haitian-rooted mothers who were showing me a hotel-style-room: Bed, closet, night stand. Maybe a lamp or two. This simply made me feel like an intruder of their family and labeled me as their paying rent-provider guest.

I even went back to looking around Flatbush, but I was glad when I came out of those rooms in one piece. No more Flatbush for me, I decided.

There was another apartment in Spanish Harlem, but this time closer to the subway station and in a livelier neighborhood. Still didn’t appeal to me. All tenants were students and appeared rather irresponsible. I also find it quite incredible what some landlords call a room considering the price they charge.

A constellation with two guys around Crown Heights might have been interesting but I did not feel too comfortable with this thought. It is New York after all, many crazy things happen here and I don’t want to play the main role in that. The same goes for two-people-households, where I felt that I needed at least another person to put some space in between. The nicest ones were of course too expensive price-wise. I still don’t get these two students who were living in a completely new apartment in Crown Heights but who didn’t have any electricity or warm water! They were still hoping that managemend would turn it on before the winter started, and, for their own sake, I suggest they did.

Finally, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I trotted to a spontaneous apartment-seeing in Park Slope, close to the train and park, and in an excellent neighborhood. Being wary of what types of people I had encountered earlier in the Slope, I didn’t get my hopes up. Then a nice Belarusian girl opened the door to a clean, newly-renovated apartment and an unfurnished room with two windows. I knew I had what I was looking for right in front of me. I got the call asking me to move in with them that same evening and didn’t hesitate to fork over the deposit slip on Monday. Certain things take time, but I had seen my share of unlikely rooms to know when to take the right one.

So if you are ever on the look-out for longer than one or two weeks in New York, don’t give up. Something will come along but be fast and grab it! I have also come to find that going on a room-search can be surprisingly refreshing. You get to met many different people and take a look at where they live and how they present themselves. It is good to move once in a while because if you get hooked on the same persons over and over again, you might be missing out on the inspiration and ideas coming from new people. That’s is also the reason why I like sharing an apartment with roommates. Sometimes people move in and out and a new roomie can add a fresh, perhaps even good vibe, to the dusty constellation.

As you might be able to tell from my previous posts, I still live in beautiful Park Slope and I have managed to stay friends with my two Eastern European roommates. Until now this has been the longest living situation for me in New York. Well, to give it some credit, it’s only been 8 months. Because we were all new to the area, we discovered the nightlife here together, which makes our connection to each other more special than usual. We sought out what Prospect Park had to offer during the summer. And we even joined the same gym (YMCA) at around the same time. I feel lucky again. I guess the best things sometimes do take the longest.

Here is to hopefully 8 more months and beyond!

My roomies and I on a night out during our first month together
Celebrating my roomies' birthday in January...
My roomie and I in Vegas!

Finding a Roommate in New York (First Round)

Unless you are one of those “lucky birds” who have every minute of their life meticulously planned out, one of the first things you will have to do when you move to New York is to find a decent place to live in. And, depending on your budget, you will have to make the decision if you want to waste spend your pay check on your own lofty apartment or if you are willing to share some space with other random New York people. To me, the decision was pretty clear: I had my limited amount of savings, I didn’t have a job lined up yet, and I was in no position to demand extras when it came to living situations.
It is practically impossible to check out an apartment prior to your move if you are relocating from another country. You could look at pictures online and talk to potential candidates via phone, but in the end you will have to virtually see what you are getting yourself into and interact with the people. So it was pretty clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to have a room until I got here. I already knew of a few Web Sites but I really didn’t have that much of a clue where to start my quest. I didn’t have to wait long, though, as help came in the form of my first New Yorker, who suggested I put my own ad on craigslist instead of seeping through their incredible amount of spam ads, which were almost useless to me because I didn’t know where to live yet and which abbreviation to pay attention to.

The first day I was here, I wrote everything of interest in this ad and was even careless enough to include my new cell phone number. Soon enough I received my first calls from people all eager to be my potential roommate or offering me to take a look at their room. I do have to admit that my expectations were not high during this initial period of time and that I was really lucky when it came to finding a room. Beginner’s Luck, how Paulo Coelho calls this. All I had to do during this first day was to choose from a few of the calls and organize my schedule around these selections during the first few days. I say it again: I was very lucky and I didn’t have high expectations.

The first room I picked was in Spanish Harlem in Manhattan. A guy called Fernando was from the Dominican Republic and told me that a girl from Berlin had lived there up until recently. Sounded good to me. If another German chick could survive in that hood then why shouldn’t I, right? Dang, was I wrong! I got of the 1-Train and was surrounded by tons of bad vibes. As I walked those 10 blocks over to the apartment I had a hard time picturing myself skipping down the same road in a short party outfit during the hot summer months. Fernando was a nice pal and the apartment was a decent size. I didn’t appreciate the other drugged-out roomie, though, not to mention her spaced out boyfriend. I had to pass on this opportunity. When I walked back to the subway station I felt like I was walking on glass. Not just because I was the only white person around among blacks and Latinos. No one said anything to me but I knew that if I took a step in the wrong direction or said a wrong word bad things would happen. I was pretty glad to be out of that one.

Sometime during that evening I got a call from a Canadian girl who lived someplace in Brooklyn. I had this idea of wanting to move to Queens or Manhattan, so Brooklyn wasn’t really on top of my list.
While putting the other 40 potential appointments together, though, I made plans to scoop her in on the following day, not really expecting much from this encounter. “Just take the Q from Union Square and it will take you less than 25 minutes to this place”, she said. I was and stayed skeptic.
But the next day it really only took me 25 minutes of a ride to the Parkside Ave stop on the Q line. And when I got out of the subway I felt fresh air, saw trees shadowing the entrance to a park, and met a bustling lot of people on the streets. The vibes were good compared to last night. And the apartment was right across the street from the train station. Another huge plus for me as I was still unsure of what to think of certain New York neighborhoods by night. When the Canadian opened up the door, I felt like being transformed back to Europe. In a good way, that is. The interior was made up in the same style many German rooms in a city are. My allotted room was surprisingly big and let through a good amount of light. The Canadian also owned cats – creatures I had never looked at before. I wasn’t cat-phobic, though, rather curious what to expect from scratchy, hairy, living fur balls. To sum it up, the overall impression was good and I was considering not even going to a third seeing.

Well, I needed at least some sort of comparison so I took the train back to the City and then hopped on the 7 up to Queens. Bad luck for me as I wandered around and just couldn’t figure out the address of the apartment. After half an hour I gave up and didn’t even cancel the appointment. That was not very well behaved of me, I know, and I really felt guilty after this. But while walking through the neighborhood I had come to the conclusion that Queens wasn’t the right area for me anyways. Some spots over there are extremely family-oriented, such as the one I was in.

Glad to move out of my hotel soon, I met up with my German friend and as we compared our apartment-hunting stories I knew I had been very fortunate. He had slept on his friend’s couch for two weeks straight until he was able to find something close to suitable in New Jersey. Not his first choice of destination, of course, but hey, Weehawken has a good connection to Manhattan. And the prices are cheaper than in New York.

What we both found surprising was the fact that room size and room price do not seem to correlate. In Europe the bigger the room, the more you pay. Not here. Here you have a set amount of money that is divided among the bedrooms and no one pays attention to price in relation to size. Good for you if your room is big but it can be unfair when it is small.

Also, if you find something you like, you have to act fast. My friend had seen many nice rooms but was still in his German mentality of sleeping it over a night or two. Well, that is in general how things happen but in New York the demand ratio is quite high, so you have to be fast when picking. By fast I mean signing a contract before you leave the house. I know, pretty hectic. Deposits are usually three months rent. By an average room price of $600-900 in Brooklyn and more $$ in Manhattan, you can derive what high amount of sum you have to come up with. A good thing is that you can quit your contract if you find something better after your first month of stay. Here you either find a new roommate and suggest him/her to the rest of the household or give one month notice. Decent enough, considering the average three months of notice you have to give in Germany, which I consider pretty inflexible for an insecure life of a young student.

To emphasize my point: My first apartment took me less than 2 days to find and I ended up moving in with an interesting artist from Canada who was crucial in forming my first impressions of New York. I felt really lucky in those first weeks in New York…

My roommate and I having a fun time in Cali