Friday, November 8, 2013

Ten Things I Enjoy About Living in New York City

I was going to title this post "10 Months, 10 Disappointments" but eventually opted against it (clearly).  Upon reflection, I feel like I've been pretty hard on New York and, with at least another 8 months in this city, that's no way to live.  So, in an attempt to love this city I'm now calling home (at least for the time being), I'm lowering my expectations and starting anew.  Now, instead of 10 months and 10 disappointments, I've rewritten this post to be more positive (though I reserve the right to write about my disappointments in the future).

I have now lived in New York City for 10 months.  That's the longest I've stayed put since we left Seattle after 11 years of residency back in 2010.  And, if our experience in Seattle taught us anything it's that it can take a good two years in a city before feeling at home.  However, if our experience in London taught us anything it's that it can take as little as one month, too.  After 10 months in New York City I can tell you that NYC will definitely be more reminiscent of Seattle than London for us.  Still, although we don't feel at home quite yet, we are really enjoying certain aspects of our new city.  Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I'm enjoying the most.

The UN from a Tudor City rooftop
1.  Hidden New York
Everyone knows about Grand Central, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building but not very many tourists know about Coney Island or the northern side of Central Park or Governors Island.  It's fun having the time to really explore this city.

2.  Transportation Options
I am no fan of the MTA and it's very possible this same heading will appear on my "10 Disappointments" list some time in the future but, at the same time, I do admit that having multiple transportation options is a good thing and something that should be celebrated.  However, the inane bureaucracy and outrageous costs associated with said options due to the MTA's incompetency is another matter entirely.  But, lest I get too negative in a supposedly positive post, NJ Transit is pretty awesome.

Travel to neighboring areas by train
3.  New Jersey
Speaking of New Jersey, what a freaking surprise!  I haven't had too much exposure to NJ but from what I have seen I'm rather impressed.  Hoboken is adorable and Newark didn't kill me (remember, expectations are low).  Plus, I got to both for only $2.50 each way.  Jersey gets a bad rap but it's looking better and better as time goes on, at least from this side of the Hudson.

4.  European Feeling
Upon moving here, it was very evident to us that NYC is much more European than we had ever noticed prior to living abroad.  Perhaps it's the history of the city or maybe because it's so international but, regardless, there are many aspects of living in NYC that have reminded us of our time in the UK.  From garbage collection to pronouncing French words correctly to not respecting personal space to crossing the street whenever convenient and not just at crosswalks.  New York City is exactly what someone missing London, but banned from residing there, needs.

Autumn in Central Park
5.  Seasons
There are four seasons here.  Really.  Four very distinct seasons.  The summers are hot, the winters are cold, the springs are filled with new growth and the falls are filled with changing colors.  And, the sun shines all year round.  This is perhaps my most favorite thing about living here.

6.  Rainstorms
Speaking of weather, it rains in New York City.  No, like really rains.  Like, thunder, lightning, flash flooding type of rain and it happens often.  Anecdotally, I'd always known it rains more in NYC than Seattle but I'd never really understood how that was possible.  Well, rather than having months of dreariness and days filled with mists of rain or small droplets, in NYC it's a gorgeous day and then, out of nowhere, you're drowning. And then it's gone.  It's awesome and diverting and exciting and fun.  And, since you won't be able to catch a cab, you might as well enjoy the experience.  Seriously, you can try but don't expect to successfully hail a cab in a rainstorm.  They're all taken.  Every single one of them.  Also, you should probably always carry an umbrella.

Sudden Rainstorm
7.  Fireflies
Everyone loves fireflies.  From the kids growing up in the city to the elderly who've lived here all their lives; everyone is enamored by these little sparkly guys.  They're fascinating.

8.  Street Festivals
These are random which sucks because I'd love to plan my calendar around them but the randomness may also make them more fun because when you stumble upon one it's like you've wandered into a surprise party.  For you. I've lived in two neighborhoods now and have awoken to surprise street festivals at least once in each of them.  It's so fun to wake up to a fried Oreo booth on your front lawn.  Seriously.  This is not sarcasm.  I love it!

Marine Park, Brooklyn
9.  Neighborhoods
The real charm of New York City is in the neighborhoods.  I guess that might be true of any city but it's one aspect of big city living that I truly enjoy.

10. Pop Culture References
One of the things I always enjoy is watching a movie or TV show that takes place in a city I'm about to visit or am currently living in or miss terribly.  The Bourne trilogy is good for eastern European cities, the new BBC Sherlock is good for London and Frasier, to a certain extent, is good for Seattle.  But, the depth of material for New York City is bottomless.  The reservoir spilleth over and it's fun to have so many options, especially when I move away and, inevitably, begin to miss this city I called home but didn't appreciate enough while I was here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Coney Island

Coney Island boardwalk
Believe it or not, Coney Island is not an amusement park on an island (seriously, I can't be the only person who thought that).  Rather, it's a normal neighborhood in Brooklyn (like Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, etc.).  Situated on the south side of Brooklyn, Coney Island exceeded all my expectations whilst not actually meeting any of them.  Seriously, I had expected an island with rides.  Instead, I got a beach resort (See, expectation not met yet exceeded).  Best July 4th surprise ever.

For $2.50 you can take the subway to Coney Island from anywhere in New York City.  The D, F, N and Q lines all terminate at Coney Island.  The B line will get you pretty close, terminating at Brighton Beach.  The journey takes about an hour from Midtown.

Coney Island Beach on July 4th
First of all, who knew New York City had a huge, lovely beach?  I've lived here now for over 6 months and not one person or article about things to do in the summer has mentioned this beach.  Come on!

So, once you finally discover this beach, if you're anything like me, you run out to the water to soak your feet and then plop down in the sand to just absorb the moment.  Not wanting to leave, can you imagine my joy when a plethora of vendors begin to parade in front of me?  Peddling Italian ices ($2), ice creams ($2), churros ($1), mangoes and cotton candies, these vendors allow one to snack on summer foods without expending too much energy or losing your choice beach spot.  Without being obtrusive at all, just pushing their little carts along the sand, ringing a little bell to alert you to their presence, these vendors were very popular and their presence, especially in that suffocating heat, was very welcome.

Luna Park at Coney Island
If simply basking on the gorgeous, 3-mile long beach and playing in the warm (when compared to the Pacific) waters of the Atlantic is not enough to divert you, Coney Island has many other activities to choose from.  In addition to the restaurants and bars found along the boardwalk, there is also an aquarium, amusement areas and rides (including the famous Cyclone) as well as MCU stadium, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones (minor league Mets).

Having never lived in a city with this type of a beach, I'm really excited to start putting together my 'beach bag' for weekday afternoons and lazy weekends.  For the first time ever, I have the opportunity to get off work and go directly to the beach or waste an entire weekend day sitting on the beach instead of on my couch (figuratively, since I don't have a couch).  Who knew this could happen in NYC?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cape Cod

Highland Lighthouse, North Truro
Last weekend we had the opportunity to visit Cape Cod with a dear friend and his family, including his youngest brother, future sister-in-law, mother, and grandmother.  We stayed in a lovely cottage near the sea in Dennisport and proceeded to have an amazing time, dare I say "Best Weekend 2013".

Getting to The Cape from New York City without a car is pretty straightforward.  One can either take a train or bus to Providence and then take a bus to Hyannis from there.  We opted to take a bus to Providence, purchasing on Greyhound's website because they had the cheapest fare.  (Side note: apparently, Greyhound is no longer Greyhound because our bus was labelled Peter Pan and, though the driver would mention Bonanza in conjunction with Peter Pan ("thanks for choosing Peter Pan / Bonanza"), we never heard anyone say anything about Greyhound.)

The Port Authority (aka bus station) in New York City is very reminiscent of the bus stations we experienced in Europe (actually, there's a lot about New York that reminds us more of Europe than of the US, but I digress); buzzing with activity as though riding the bus is really a thriving transportation alternative (though most people in the US would not consider it an option at all because, if you're going to use the road, why don't you just drive yourself?).  Though our experience was relatively painless, it could have easily gone the other way.

First of all, the Port Authority does not have a departure board telling you where to go for your bus, nor is the information printed on your ticket and, at 7am on a Saturday morning, all information booths are closed.  Luckily, while retrieving our tickets the day before, we had been told what terminal our bus would be leaving from (though the Peter Pan insignia on our bus made us doubt the information for a bit).  Secondly, apparently bus companies will intentionally and regularly oversell their buses.  If you're one of these sad fools who don't get on the bus you bought a ticket for you may be lucky and another bus will be brought in to accommodate your reservation relatively quickly or, and just as probable, you may have to wait for the next scheduled bus.  Without knowing about this custom of overselling, we barely made it onto our bus.  The poor fools behind us were not as lucky.  Whether another bus came for them or they had to wait until the next bus, a whole 2 hours later, we will never know.

The bus ride was 3 hours and 45 minutes from New York City to Providence and another 2 hours to Hyannis.  Leaving New York at 7am, we were in the welcoming embrace of our friend by 1:30pm Saturday afternoon and enjoying our first Cape Cod feast by 2pm.

lobster roll and chowder
One of the things that made me instantly fall in love with Massachusetts, or maybe just The Cape but, as I've never been to other parts of MA before, I'll assume it's the whole state until otherwise disproved, was that beer is served everywhere.  You're in a family friendly diner?  Want a beer?  Yes, please!  You're at a tent party in a random, isolated area?  Want a beer?  Yes, please!  And, not just any beer.  You get variations of Sam Adams.  Know why?  Because Sam Adams is The Boston Beer Company and (another thing that made me fall in love with Massachusetts) the people here have great pride in all things Massachusetts.  (We saw "Go Bruins!" alternating with the destination on city bus display boards.)

Our time on The Cape was relatively short - we were on our way back to New York City by 4:45pm the next day - but we packed a whole lot of good times and memories into what also felt like an incredibly relaxing weekend. In just over 24 hours, we were able to do all the things one does whilst enjoying The Cape during The Season. We lounged on the beach for hours, we sat drinking mimosas on the back porch for an entire morning, we played a leisurely game of mini-golf, we bought salt water taffy and attended drag karaoke in P-Town, and we went to a benefit concert for the local radio station which included seafood gumbo, amazing zydeco and, of course, Sam Adams beer. Seriously, Best Weekend 2013!

After a lifetime of hearing references to The Cape, my first visit did not disappoint.  This area has been in the common American lexicon since at least the Kennedy administration but it doesn't look like an aged seaside retreat at all.  Instead, it is thriving and modern, achieving the latter without having changed much over the past few decades (at least according to our hosts).  I'm so glad I had the opportunity to visit such a great place with such a good friend and his fun family.  Enjoying The Cape with the added benefit of generational knowledge turned a lovely weekend into a memorable one.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pedestrian Access on the Bridges of Lower Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge, Tillary Street entrance
There are three bridges in lower Manhattan which take you across the East River into Brooklyn: Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge.  Whilst each provides access for pedestrians and bicycles, the experience for walkers/cyclists is vastly different.  Below are my observations for each.

Brooklyn Bridge - Of the three bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge is by far the most popular for tourists.  The pedestrians and bikes share a path down the center of the bridge, separated only by a thick white line (which is often completely ignored by the camera wielding hoards).  The multi-year renovation project is near completion (June 2013) which will allow for almost completely unobstructed views across the entire length.

Nearly unobstructed view from the Brooklyn Bridge
Access from Manhattan is near City Hall, just south of Chinatown on Centre Street.  From Brooklyn there are two access points, one closer to the waterfront (Prospect Street) with stairs and another without stairs, where the cars enter at Tillary Street.

For a leisurely stroll, as stated above, the Brooklyn Bridge is not a pleasant experience.  Similar to the Millennium Bridge in London, unless you hit it on the morning commute, before the tourists arrive, you'll wind up encountering a number of stationary, picture-takers and angry bicycle commuters yelling at said picture-takers to get out of their lane.  Of course, for tourists, with its history, beauty, and nearly unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge is a must-see.  But, please do be aware of path etiquette and stay on the appropriate side.

Manhattan Bridge
Manhattan Bridge - The Manhattan Bridge is the middle of the three bridges, accessed by a grand entrance, reminiscent of the Wellington Arch in London or Arc de Triomphe in Paris, on Canal Street in Manhattan.  The pedestrian access is on the south side and a bit dodgy.  The bicycle entrance is somewhere on the north, I assume, and kept wholly separate from the pedestrians'.  On the Brooklyn side, pedestrian access is very near the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Manhattan Bridge provides for separate paths for pedestrians and bicycles with the pedestrians on the south and the bicycles on the north.  The view, though iconic and, I believe, the one used for the New York, New York hotel and casino in Las Vegas, is marred by a chain link fence the entire length but, with some patience and ingenuity, good pictures can be had.

view through the links of the Manhattan Bridge
Trains, which also use this bridge, are at the same height as the pathways resulting in a loud and intrusive noise every few minutes as they pass.

Williamsburg Bridge, Houston Street
Williamsburg Bridge - The farthest north of the three bridges, the Williamsburg Bridge will take you from Houston Street in Manhattan to the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.  Similar to the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge also has a grand entrance but this one is reserved for the pedestrians/cyclists.

The Williamsburg Bridge shares many traits with the Manhattan Bridge but, in most cases, executed better.  For example, trains also use the Williamsburg Bridge but instead of being at the same level as pedestrians/cyclists they are located lower, changing their presence from one of irritation and nuisance to novelty and joy.  On the Manhattan side, the pedestrians and cyclists share a path upon entry for a bit before separating and continuing as on the Manhattan Bridge, with cyclists on the north and pedestrians on the south.  However, rather than being relegated to that side for the duration, there is a connection in the middle allowing for intermingling of the paths and pausing to take pictures, etc. without becoming an obstacle to others. Similarly, there is a large viewing platform on the Brooklyn side, allowing for pictures of Manhattan without blocking the path.

Williamsburg Bridge
One area for improvement, however, is the type of fencing that is used.  On the Manhattan Bridge it's just normal chain link but on the Williamsburg Bridge it is a heavy duty red fencing which is an eye sore in pictures.

Overall, I think it's lovely that there are three free and convenient methods for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the East River from Lower Manhattan.  Whilst each has their faults, the benefits and value easily outweigh them.  I'm looking forward to experiencing them by bicycle (though I'll probably do an early morning bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

31 Things I Learned Whilst Living Abroad

In December 2012, which was my last month living abroad (this time around, at least), I compiled the below list of some of the things I learned during my time as an immigrant in the United Kingdom.  Though in all likelihood this post does not signify the end of Travelin' Bunny, I do expect long periods of silence between posts.  Until we meet again, I wish you all happy travels and safe journeys.

31. Every country has hillbillies

30. When in doubt don't use sarcasm

29. There's more than one way to make a bed (see Evidence A)

Evidence A
28. You don't know what you don't know

27. English, even when both parties are claiming to speak it, is not necessarily a common language.

26. I am not a small town girl.

25. European Christmas markets make everything better.

24. Mulled wine makes everything better.

23. Mixer taps (aka regular faucets) are 'new' technology". (see Evidence B)

Evidence B
22. Nothing beats a £3.50 chicken doner kebab. Nothing. (Except, of course, a cheaper one.)

21. It is possible to see Europe for £25 return

20. I am capable of sleeping anywhere (e.g. standing, sitting, on the floor, lumpy futon, hard mattress, surrounded by shouting/crying/thumping).

19. Some cities completely shut down their public transit systems on Christmas day (I'm looking at you London). You wanna go visit your family? Hope they live within walking distance. You have work? Better sleep there overnight. Wanna go see the lights on Kensington High Street? Eff you.

18. Travelling by train, not that great. Don't get me wrong, plenty convenient (at times). Just not that great.

17. Not putting your rubbish in a bin is okay (and not considered littering) because people are employed to clean up after you. Seriously.

16. The USA was referred to as 'the most liberal country in the world' in either an article I read or something I saw on the news. Either way, even if it was just one person's opinion, I didn't know anyone believed that.

15. Michael Bublé and Bruno Mars are very popular.

14. Hotels in the US often have signs near the phone which read 'local calls are free'. I've always thought, 'well duh'. But, now I know that they say that because local calls are not free everywhere - like in Europe.

13. For the most part, things are exactly the same

12. Those of us who possess self-awareness are at a disadvantage and destined to be slightly frustrated with others at all times. (#12b, Europe is full of people lacking self-awareness.)

11. Shower head placement is arbitrary

10. Escalators are complicated and sometimes deadly (this may only apply in Scotland)

9. Generally, low standards/expectations equals more happiness

8. New friends are just as valuable as old ones.

7. Sometimes different isn't wrong, it's just different. But, sometimes different is just wrong. And, sometimes the wrong-different stuff is still different because people are too stupid/stubborn to change it.

6. I have a very unsophisticated palate

5. Street food is a cheap way to sample local cuisine (and delish!). (See Evidence C)

Evidence C
4. Comments are often made about the percentage of Americans who don't have passports (among other unflattering American statistics), both by Americans as well as others. But, I was shocked to find a number of people here who haven't been abroad (not even to Paris). More people in Scotland than London but there are still a good deal of people in London who've never left London. Shocking.

3. Not having to worry about health insurance, just knowing I'm covered, is a huge relief which I didn't expect. I thought because I always had amazing coverage in the States that I was never concerned about it. But I was. And I'm not here. And it's nice.

2. I don't hate all Americans I meet abroad. I may still hate all tourists, though.

1. When I left in 2010 I'd had enough of the States. The politics, the entitlement, the patriotism, the guns, the religious zealots, the anti-choice ignorants, the second class citizen-making. I was ready to never return. But, after about a year, the honeymoon period was over and I started to miss the States, something I didn't think was possible. But, I do miss it. And, I'm looking forward to coming home.

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