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 »

Volunteering in New York: Free Kayaking on the East River

The past few weeks have kicked off the summer season. Not only has it been extremely hot and sunny, but some fun outdoor activities have started again. My friend suggested that we try volunteering this year, and I was all for it. Brooklyn Bridge Park offers free kayaking throughout the summer months and of course they need a bunch of people to help them out. Free Kayaking is open to the general public throughout the summer months. Whoever feels like floating on the East River can do so for 20 minutes at a time.

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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!

Protect-Your-Skin-With-Sunscreen1

4th of July: Rice Krispies Treats with Peanut Butter

rice-krispies-treats

Tomorrow is Independence Day, meaning one of America’s biggest holidays of the year has finally come around. While I did most of my pre-holiday-shopping today, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every store in NY will be open until the late afternoon hours of 4th of July. Now I surely don’t remember how things were last year and before that, but I somehow must have forgotten the fact that shops do not close, even on the second-most-significant day of the year. Sure enough, Macy’s will always be known for its insane shopping discounts on named day (and of course today, too, in case you want to step into the masses of bargain hunters). But even food stores and other local delis will remain in business until the very last minute, or so it seems.

My plans for tomorrow are not yet well thought out. Part of this is due to the crappy weather we’ve been enduring lately. This must have been one of the wettest summers I’ve experienced by far. Every day we’ve had some sort of thunderstorm or summer rain and it has been increasingly difficult to decide on what shoes to wear (rainboots or flip flops) and to make plans for the beach. Hopefully, tomorrow the weather will hold up. In case the sun shines, you will find me at the beach with a bottle of bubbly. Not at Coney Island. I made the mistake of going there last year and ended up being almost suffocated in the masses surrounding the annual Hotdog Contest hosted by Nathan’s. No, I will chillax on the sands of Far Rockaway and hopefully it will be not as crowded with people as it was two years ago…

In preparation of tomorrow’s festivities, I felt like trying out something new and made a traditional American dessert: Rice Krispies Treats! It reminded me of some old childhood days and the fun we had when devouring this. To spice it up, I tried a peanut butter and chocolate version. For the peanut butter version you will need:

rice-krispy-treats-ingredients

– 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
– 1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows

– OR –

– 4 cups miniature marshmallows
– 1/2 cup peanut butter
– 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal ( I took the ones from TJoes)

First melt the butter on a low-heated-stove and then mix the marshmallows into it. When everything is melted properly, remove pan from stove and add peanut butter. After the peanut butter has melted, just throw in the Rice Krispies and voila, here you go!

rice-krispy-treats-ingredients2

peanut-butter-rice-krispy-treats

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(Find the original recipe on the Rice Krispies homepage)

My original plan was to have whole chocolate chips but they melted as soon as they were mixed with the rest of the ingredients. Change of plan, I guess. Also, half of my treats just crumbled away, perhaps I didn’t add enough marshmallows. For my first attempt in making these (easy) bites, I think it went well. I also added a glass of white wine because I felt like it.

bubbly-wine

I hope you have a great 4th of July. What are your plans?

The Annual Mermaid Parade: Colors, Costumes, and Chaos

mermaid parade 2013 - 11

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

mermaid parade 2013 - 14

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

mermaid parade 2013 - 10

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

mermaid parade 2013 - 2

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

mermaid parade 2013 - 5 car mermaids

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

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

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

mermaid parade 2013 - 13

mermaid parade 2013 - 8

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

mermaid parade 2013 - 1

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

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

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

Beach "fun"!
Beach “fun”!

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

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

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mermaid parade 2013 - 9

To Summer – The Fun Season

summer in dumbo rain

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

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

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

summer in gowanus brooklyn

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

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

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!