Saturdays in Brooklyn: Wandering around Williamsburg


Went to a coffee shop today. It was so amazing that we did half a photo shoot over there…

After a week-long sickness (A cold? Or a flu?) I felt like leaving the house again just for fun again (and not for work). I first got a new haircut in Greenpoint and then wandered through McCarren Park to Williamsburg, where I met up with a friend for brunch. Brunch was Southwestern Style biscuits. Read More »

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!

A Weekend in Baltimore: Exploring a Highly Underrated City

What’s the first thing to cross your mind when it comes to the state of Maryland? Crabs, seafood, ocean, saltwater? These were pretty much the first thoughts that raced through my head when I thought about the place one of my fellow New York friends is originally from. And less so I would have never imagined I would ever make it here, despite that fact that I have a degree from the University of Maryland (their European division offers courses in my German hometown, believe it or not).

I know it’s close to DC, a city I spent one fabulous weekend in only 1 1/2 half years back. But much further reason to venture out to this part of the East Coast I certainly did not have. Until one day my friend spontaneously invited me and another friend to come visit her home place, the city of her student times, to relive many of the crazy nights back when she used to work and study there.

Unfortunately for friend number 3, he never made it on that bus in time and therefore had to miss out on a fantastic weekend in supposedly one of the most dangerous cities of the US. That’s right, this East Coast gem has many hideous but also paradox names attached to it, such as “Bodymore” or “Be-no-more.” Regardless of its humorous label, we certainly stayed away from the ghetto and situated ourselves in the safe downtown area.

Luckily, my friend found a sweet deal at the so-called Mount Vernon Hotel and Café right in, you guessed it, the Mount Vernon neighborhood of town. If you need any directions, it is a 5 minute walk from the famous Washington Monument and only a few additional minutes away from the beautiful Inner Harbor. Peculiarly enough and certainly unknown to me, Baltimore has a monument, similar to the one in Boston and DC. Since it is the tallest memorial in town, it sticks out everywhere you go, be it day or night.

Baltimore Memorial at Night

After an exhausting bus ride with the one and only Bolt bus (more to come later), we got off and first had to grab a bite to feed our starving stomachs. By then, it was ten o’clock at night and we certainly gave up hope in finding quality food anywhere close to our hotel. Then we strolled past Never on Sunday and I instantly fell in love with this simple but sturdy dinner. Good food, great price and humorous people taking your order – what else could you wish for during your first encounter with Baltimoreans? After getting a tuna club sandwich with the necessary side of fries (half of it ended up in a wastebasket two hours later) and a grilled sandwich for my friend, we then went on to celebrate the start of our trip with a beer from the Stables, a bar not too far from the first joint. On this particular Friday night, the crowd was mixed – students, elderly, even family-type of groups could be found within that one hour we were sitting at the bar, admiring the tap collection and talking through the main goals of the trip.

After this, we called it a night pretty early and found ourselves back in our now freezing cold hotel room at 1 AM. While we had noticed the low temperatures when we checked in, we didn’t really take the time to see if the heat had been actually turned out. Big mistake! And at 1 AM we certainly did not feel like messing around with the switches and knobs and the confusing looking heater. So we ended up waking up in intervals of every two hours just because it was piercingly cold during the night. Luckily for me (and my friend), I made a point in asking for a partial refund and the hotel was nice to offer us $30 back from a total of $200 (which makes it $100/night, not too bad, eeeh?!).

After a great continental hotel breakfast, we walked south towards the harbor, passing many little coffee and tea shops, which helped warm up things quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong, Bmore is still significantly warmer than New York, but even in November it’s necessary to bundle up if you plan on spending some time outside (except for my friend, who seemed to have lost all sense of temperature perception).

The Inner Harbor is a beautiful area for tourists and photographers alike. Of course it’s the main hub, attracting many souvenir collectors, sightseers, and other strangers to take in the best of the city. The view it offers is beautiful and it hosts many different city events, such as a holiday market when we were there. From here, we took in a better panorama above the city at a spot called Federal Hill. It also has a few bars and restaurants, in case you every want to spend your time there. Little Italy is opposite of this neighborhood, way on the other side and closer to the downtown area. It was rather deserted when we swung by, but nonetheless very colorful and offering a variety of quaint Italian restaurants to go to. In the end we opted to take in a late brunch/ lunch at James Joyce, a colorful Irish pub close to the Inner Harbor. The ultimate highlight of this trip: Artichoke-Crab Dip paired with Bloody Mary’s! Yes!

From top to bottom: Tuna Club Sammich, Artichoke Crab Dip, and omelette

From here we decided to stroll around some more. Our evening plans were to go once again to Never on Sunday for a quick supper and then to pop in a bar where her friend worked at: Brewer’s Art! Unique beers with funny names were offered here and I even managed to try two different types whose names I’ve forgotten. A bustling joint at 10 PM already, I was harshly reminded how soon spots close anywhere outside of New York: 2 AM is a common, nationwide curfew and that was indeed when we found ourselves transformed back in our hotel rooms, this time with warm temperatures (thanks to complaining). Not without having made friends with some enthusiastic Frenchies, who were thrilled by the city and made fun of the rest of the crowd and other American habits.

Baltimore Harbor and us!

The rest of the trip went by in a blink: Brunch at my friend’s former work spot: The Owl Bar at the Belvedere Hotel (this time also deserted, which back in her time was uncommon, as she pointed out to me). Walking among further smaller neighborhoods, doing more window shopping than actually buying anything (although I managed to snag some books for only 50 cents a piece at the most random book store we could find). Our bus back was scheduled to run at 4 PM, so we ran past the Penn Station of Bmore one last time – a gorgeous old building with a hideous modern statue of an oversized woman in front of it.

Yes, Baltimore, together with its crab dip and old school elevators, certainly made a great first impression on me. I can recommend this not so popular town yet on the East Coast to anyone who wants to dig deep into the colonial history of the US and have a positive vibe attached to it. The Bmore people talk with a sympathetic drawl and are always quick to explain simple facts of their town to you.

Inner Harbor at night

Oh, and the Bolt bus? Shaky on the ride to, and smelly on the ride back. A passenger managed to smoke pot during the first hour of our trip towards Baltimore, which we found rather… well, odd?! I guess it’s always an experience to try these types of transportation out. With $50 roundtrip, we couldn’t really complain, though. The rides were between 3 1/2 and 4 hours long. There is also a train that goes there directly but with only one hour less travel time and more than two times the fee, it didn’t make much sense for us to take it.

Little Italy

[For more pictures go to:

Baltimore During Day (I)
Baltimore During Day (II)
Baltimore at Night]

A Day in Jersey City: Weekend Glories

Wide streets framed with high trees. A typical American diner serving silver dollar pancakes to big families. A not too crowded park that leads you through the jungle to the open water.

Last Sunday I spent a day in New Jersey together with my friends who showed me around. They are a couple and moved into their new apartment at the beginning of this year. Because they wanted to be close to the City but couldn’t afford the outrageous one-bedroom rates of Manhattan, they choose Jersey City as their new home destination. I don’t think they’ve ever regretted crossing the Hudson River ever since. They were simply over their shared apartment situation in Bushwick and NJ was exactly what they needed: A peaceful area with affordable rentals and lots of opportunities to travel in and out of New York.

Now, there are several ways to get over to New Jersey. You can rely on a bus or New Jersey transit, a train that will take you from the main stations, such as Penn and Grand Central, to the bigger cities. The easiest means of travel is most likely the PATH: An underground train that you can catch throughout Manhattan and that catapults you to the Garden State within minutes.

Coming from Brooklyn, I took the PATH from the World Trade Center Station. It is a little bizarre to get there via this route because you first have to take the R to Cortland Street and, instead of switching over to the PATH underground, you will have to walk out of the subway station, a few blocks past the new Liberty Tower, then take a left to finally enter the train station. Got it? Exactly! It took me two tries to get there. In case you get lost, there are a few stingy signs on the way but unfortunately it is easier to orient yourself on the hectic crowds scurrying ahead of you then relying on the scarcely written words. Of course the PATH can feel like you are transformed to a different universe at times, especially since so many people from New Jersey are taking it. While they are not completely foreign, the vibes you get on the PATH are just so very different than anywhere else in the city. The funniest costume I’ve seen on it so far was the Bird Man: An eccentric-looking guy who dresses in fluffy, uni-colored outfits every day and either walks the Brooklyn Bridge or travels over to New Jersey. Back in February he had his red outfit on as he was was buying a ride over to NJ. Right when I got this awesome shot of him.

Other than that, a PATH ride can be rather uneventful. Compared to NYC subways, of course. To get to Jersey City, I got off at Grove Street, which catapulted me into the center of this quaint town (or so it seemed). Especially since it was the weekend, I saw people walking around fruit and veggie stands as soon as I was above ground. Perfect timing for a weekly green market in the middle of the town.

While taking a look around and walking towards my friends’ house, I discovered a good indicator of having left the Big Apple for sure: The streets were wider, the avenues longer, and everyone a bit happier. Jersey City can also easily convey the airs of a hipster town or college student center, I have found. When walking through the streets, I have sometimes been struck by a striking resemblance to Park Slope, except for that the roads are further apart. “No wonder you felt that way!” my friend explained to me. “The brownstones you see here are from the exact same era than the brownstones in Brooklyn. Together with the trees lining the streets and the occasional dog and baby stroller, you can surely have the impression that you are still in the Slope.”

Jersey City graffiti

In the beginning I really did not feel like I had left my neighborhood. Until I saw the restaurants and bars. A neighborhood group gathered around huge TVs. Or the Sunday brunch crowd. Just so very different than in Breukelen. On Sunday my friends wanted to show me how huge the portions are you get in New Jersey. Therefore, they picked their favorite diner only minutes from their apt. “We really love that everything is close-by. You don’t need a car – unlike everyone wants to make you believe when you mention you are moving to Jersey. Bars, cafes, restaurants – everything is so close and we don’t even leave the town anymore on the weekends unless we have to”, my friends were eager to point out to me. True, the PATH was a good 15 mins walk away. But everything else was about as close as it could get.

Such as the Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory diner, for example. A few blocks over and close to the park, we entered it on a busy Saturday afternoon. Early lunch time. Big families with infants and babies who were devouring huge portions of scrambled eggs, and pancakes, and bacon … you name it! My mouth was watering just by looking at the food. “This is our favorite spot” my friend proudly announced as he heard my stomach growl. “And the best thing about it is that it is just so much cheaper than Manhattan!” Well, in Manhattan you would not find diners like these. I am sure they would be boycotted by some green/go-vegan/preserve-the-originality-of-New-York kinda group. Which is absolutely fine, that’s why New Jersey offers a close compromise, where you can devour a family-sized breakfast and not feel guilty. For ten bucks I got a cheese omelet, silver-dollar-pancakes (how original is that!), home fries and some fresh orange juice. What a meal! I was able to finish about 3/4 of it until I finally gave up. Thumbs up to that!

Huge brunch in New Jersey

After our marathon brunch we were a bit stuffed, so my friends decided to go to one of the biggest parks in town. Their little dog Beija accompanied us and stuck her tiny nose in about everything she came across. On our way to it, she discovered a small snake lying around on the road. I never thought of New Jersey even having snakes, so I learned something new that day (one out of many things, actually).

Liberty State Park is an extensive green area, ideal for walking, hiking, yachting, and sightseeing. So pretty much anything you feel like doing on a weekend. They have cute little benches that overlook the skyline of Manhattan. They also have a historic train station which is now out of service but can still be visited for purposes of photo shoots or simply exploring. That day we saw three different wedding parties posing with their bridesmaids, groom helpers and families in front of the red brick walls of the train station. Luckily it was a gorgeous day out, with a high of 75 and no sign of rain on the baby blue sky.

Liberty State Park
My friends at Liberty State Park

Aside from the old wagons, the green trees, and the towers of Manhattan looming in the background, my friends showed me a very special spot of which I and most likely other New Yorkers had no idea it even existed: The 9/11 Memorial, Jersey-bound. Jersey City built the so-called Empty Sky and finished its construction at the same time the Manhattan counterpart opened to the public – on the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11. Its most predominant features are two opposing walls with the victims’ names, through which visitors can walk and see themselves in mirror-like fashion. These kinds of memorials always give me a huge gulp and I was touched by how every city close to New York seems to remember that one awful day in 2001.

New Jersey’s version of the 9/11 Memorial

Aside from the memorial, the town is connected to New York via ferry route. A boat goes out to Liberty and Ellis Island on a regular basis, which emphasizes the crucial role New Jersey withholds in the Tri-State relationship to New York. Often people, visitors and citizens, tend to forget this.

I was happy to have the chance of seeing Liberty State Park and spending an entire day with my friends whom I have a hard time meeting in the City nowadays due to different work schedules and other hectic hobbies. It was an honor for me to be their private photographer and take in their routine of a typical Sunday out in New Jersey. I am sure that I will one day come back to this mysteriously charming place, and if it’s just to see the skyline for the small fee of a PATH train ride.

Liberty Harbor is always worth seeing

For more infos on Liberty State Park, go here and here.
For more pictures on Beija, the beloved dog, go here.
For more pictures on Jersey City, go here.