4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Falling for Fall in the Hudson Valley (by Carmen)

Fall foliage in the Hudson Valley

Fall foliage in the Hudson Valley

Towards the end of October Nathan and I celebrated a big anniversary so I wanted to surprise him with something different than our usual nice dinner out. Instead, I developed a secret day trip to the Hudson Valley. To make it extra special, I organized our adventure around three common interests: culture, food and nature.

Path to the Chuang Yen Monastery temple

Path to the Chuang Yen Monastery temple

Buddha in the Hudson

Buddha in the Hudson

Nathan had his suspicions and was able to guess some of the day’s activities, but I really threw him off when I pulled into the Chuang Yen Monastery grounds. This was a serendipitous online discovery. The Hudson is known for artist colonies and high end antiquing more than Chinese monasteries so when I saw the name displayed on Google map I had to learn more. Not only does it have the largest Buddha statue in the Western hemisphere, it also serves a vegetarian lunch to visitors on the weekends. I knew I made the right decision as we walked into the dining hall. Plates were piled high with stir fried vegetables, stewed seitan, braised tofu, rice and chili sauce. It was as delicious as I’d hoped. The two women next to us were discussing Buddhist philosophy as well as a recent group of monastery visitors from Tibet. Based on our experience in Dali in 2012, we made sure to finish every single speck of food on our plate, down to the last grain of rice.

Lake with goddess statue

Lake with goddess statue

Japanese maple tree

Japanese maple tree

After lunch we walked around the grounds, which included a small lake and a mausoleum. The lunch, peaceful surrounds and chill in the air brought back so many memories of our time in China. Especially our trek between the monasteries of Mount Emei Shan.

Fishkill Farms barn, orchards and vegetables

Fishkill Farms barn, orchards and vegetables

Trees laden with apples made for easy picking

Trees laden with apples made for easy picking

Apples!

Apples!

We left the monastery and headed north to Fishkill Farms. What Nathan did guess right about the surprise day trip was the “food” portion of the day: apple picking! Some apple farms that let you pick your own fruit (known as PYO) are like amusement parks focused more on hayrides and corn mazes than produce. I wanted to avoid that scene and, while there were plenty of people at Fishkill Farms, there were quiet corners in the orchards and vegetable patches. The tree limbs were heavy with crisp, ripe Golden Delicious apples, the kale was in full bloom, and we walked out with our arms full of goodies.

Nathan practicing his expert juggling skill

Nathan practicing his expert juggling skill

Apple cider donuts

Apple cider donuts

Most people at the farm seemed to congregate around the apple cider donut stand. Nathan and I had heard people talk of these sweets but we weren’t sure if they were really worth the hype. As we stepped up to the counter, we could smell the fresh from the fryer donuts. Still piping hot, they were coated in cinnamon sugar that became slightly caramelized and crackly. We took our first bite and it was a revelation. Yes, apple cider donuts really are that good. Looking forward to many more of these in my life.

“Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity”

“Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity”

One last surprise, was to take a little walk on the Appalachian Trail to honor both our love of nature and of long-distance trekking. We pulled into Fahnestock Park and immediately saw a beautiful green rock jutting out from Canopus Lake. I think we were influenced by our monastery visit earlier in the day but again we were reminded of views from China. We therefore decided to name it the Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity.

Now that I’ve seen the Hudson Valley in the fall and winter, I’m thinking spring and summer trips are in order!

Death & Spirits from West to East Village (by Carmen)

Nathan and I as Los Muertos

Nathan and I as Los Muertos

Halloween is a big holiday for New Yorkers. Bars and restaurants become enshrined in fake cobwebs. Dogs dressed as tarantulas or pirates or ballerinas are proudly paraded by owners. Ghost tours and haunted houses come forth to celebrate all things macabre, gorey, creepy and/or scream worthy.

West Village Halloween parade

West Village Halloween parade

To fully celebrate, Nathan, Brenda, Drew and I decided to join the thick of Halloween craziness, which centers on the West Village. Each year, a parade takes over 6th Avenue in which anyone in costume can join. I love the spontaneous, convivial nature of it all. It’s very New York. Nathan and I went all out dressing as Mexican calaveras (sugar skulls), sweets traditionally served around this time.

 

Merchant House in mourning

Merchant House in mourning

Washington Square arch, built on a former cemetery

Washington Square arch, built on a former cemetery

What’s Halloween without a little scare factor in it? The best spooky experiences are the ones where there is a grain of truth which is how we found ourselves at a candle lit funeral from the 1800s. The Merchant House Museum is in our Noho neighborhood and its history has always intrigued me. About 6 different ghosts have been sighted within its walls. Not only was the candlelit ghost tour the appropriate amount of creepy, the walking tour gave me new insights about my neighborhood. The grisly Bond Street murder, Edgar Allen Poe’s favorite bar (now occupied by Il Buco Alimentari), and the fact that the Washington Square was once a cemetery and still has 20,000 unexhumed bodies buried there were all news to me.

St. Marks in the Bowery steeple

St. Marks in the Bowery steeple

Dia de los Muertos altar

Dia de los Muertos altar

Al pastor tacos

Al pastor tacos

In the days following Halloween, we visited the East Village to view the Day of the Dead altar at Stuyvesant Square. Hosted in the shadow of the historic Church of St. Marks in the Bowery, the altar and food stands were sprinkled among grave stones from the early 1800s. It’s hard to imagine the same square at that time, when the church was surrounded by farmland and stately homes. Though we had just eaten lunch, we made room for a delicious al pastor taco. Looking forward to many more of those in our upcoming Mexico vacation!

Hurting for a Yurting (by Carmen)

It was still a cold, blustery spring when our friend Taylor suggested a summer camping trip. As extra enticement, the campsite she had in mind came equipped with the most fun to say accommodation on earth – a yurt. The heat of summer was still just a glimmer in our eyes but we could already taste the campfire s’mores. We replied with an enthusiastic yes.

Yurt sweet yurt

Yurt sweet yurt

It was months later, in the dog days of summer that Taylor, Andrew, Nathan and I piled into our rental car for the drive to the Belleplain Forest in New Jersey. But NJ didn’t want us. Or so it seemed from the massive effort it took to get into and through the Holland Tunnel. When we finally emerged on the other side we all felt extraordinarily grateful for leading car-free lifestyles exempt from the daily traffic grind. We still had a ways to go since our destination was in the southern end of the state. We passed the time with upbeat music, good conversation and entertaining roadsigns, like the community of Cheesequake. I think NJ just wants to be made fun of sometimes. When hunger got the better of us, we made a quick pit stop for decent Chinese food in a random little town along the way. Thanks Yelp!

Building our fire

Building our fire

After a few hours on the road, we pulled into the campsite after dark and found that friend Megan and Andy had built a lovely campfire for us. What a welcome sight after a long drive.

Lake Nummy (photo source: Megan)

Lake Nummy (photo source: Megan)

Woodsy stroll (photo source: Megan)

Woodsy stroll (photo source: Megan)

The next morning I awoke to the most perfect weather ever. It was not too hot, not too cold; not too humid, not too dry; just right. To get a taste of the surrounding woods we did a quick stroll around Lake Nummy (rhymes with yummy :) before jumping in. While the lake was rather small, the designated swimming area was even smaller. And of course it was watched over by two lifeguards, just in case. Thankfully, we all survived.

Andrew after he successfully hung the hammock

Andrew after he successfully hung the hammock

Hammock views

Hammock views

Improvised hummus wrap (photo source: Taylor)

Improvised hummus wrap (photo source: Taylor)

We ate a crunchy lunch of veggie and hummus wraps and hung around until it was swim time again. While the group headed back to the lakeside, I opted to rest in Taylor and Andrew’s deliciously comfortable hammock while reading my beloved Alexander McCall Smith writing about my favorite city, London. Felt like care-free days of summer camp.

Cooking on the campfire

Cooking on the campfire

Campfire gathering

Campfire gathering

In the evening we gathered around the campfire to assemble some kabobs for dinner. Though by the end of it we were incredibly full on charred veggies and spicy rice we still had s’more room for dessert. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret about s’mores – the best method for a perfect ooey-gooey s’more is to warm the chocolate. Because lets face it, chocolate tastes better in melted form. To do this simply place your square of chocolate on a graham cracker and place on a grate near the fire. It only takes a minute and your s’mores may forever be changed.

Sea Isle City Beach (photo source: Sea Isle City)

Sea Isle City Beach (photo source: Sea Isle City)

On our final New Jersey day we couldn’t pass up the a chance to visit the Jersey shore. Yes the shore of MTV infamy. Indeed there were the dense looking guys who spent way too much time at the gym and sunning themselves. But this simply gave the beach some NJ credibility. With good waves and decent sand even this California girl has to admit, this was a nice beach overall.

Thanks to Taylor, Andrew, Megan and Andy for a great weekend! Let’s do it again next year :)

Solstice on Fire Island (by Carmen)

Sunset on the solstice

Sunset on the solstice

Yes, the solstice was a few months ago – we’re catching up a bit. After a strenuous hike on the AT, we decided to take it easy this time and head to the beach. The summer solstice seemed like the perfect time to get to the shore and soak in as much light as possible.

Wide open expanse of beach

Wide open expanse of beach

Fire Island is a skinny spit of land spread along the south shore of Long Island. While it only has 300 year-round residents, thousands of fair-weather visitors descend in the summer. Indeed Fire Island has reputation as a party zone, which explains why I got a few puzzled looks when I told people that I was backpacking there. The general lack of knowledge about the island’s wilderness zone worked in our favor as we encountered beautiful stretches of beach to enjoy all to ourselves.

Ferry that took us across Great South Bay

Ferry that took us across Great South Bay

Wooden walkways become the “roads” of the car-free sections of Fire Island

Wooden walkways become the “roads” of the car-free sections of Fire Island

Like the Appalachian Trail we had hiked earlier, the Fire Island trails had the great benefit of being transit accessible. We boarded a Long Island Rail Road train to Patchogue (pronounced PATCH-og) and walked a little ways to the Davis Ferry landing. (If you go, note that there are two ferry landings in Patchogue. You want the one further north, closest to the station.) The 30 minute ferry across the calm Great South Bay was packed with families, coolers, barbeques, dogs, and us with our backpacks. There are no cars allowed on most of the island and the only access is by boat.

Our secluded campsite among the dunes

Our secluded campsite among the dunes

After checking in with the visitors center, we filled our water bottles to the brim. There would be no amenities once we walked into the wilderness zone, not even a water spigot. This seems to be enough of a detraction that within 20 minutes of walking the crowds dispersed. The incredibly bright sun beat down on us as we crossed wide swathes of empty sand, though because it was only June, the cool breeze meant we welcomed the suns warmth. When we felt we had lost sight of all other backpackers, we nestled our tent against a sand dune and devoured our all-time favorite hiking lunch, a PB&J.

Near the tip of Old Inlet which was breached by Hurricane Sandy

Near the tip of Old Inlet which was breached by Hurricane Sandy

There was more walking to do, however, as Nathan convinced me to join him in hiking to the Old Inlet 4 miles away. The name Old Inlet is a bit of a misnomer. While it was once a dwindling waterway connecting the bay and the ocean, Hurricane Sandy increased its size tenfold. The Reborn Inlet, as they should call it, now creates a swift tide rapidly pulling water in and out of the Great South Bay.

The man can cook

The man can cook

Mmmmmm

Mmmmmm

Nathan and I sauteed a light dinner of vegetables and couscous while perched on a large piece of driftwood. It felt so exhilarating to be in such a empty, idyllic setting, breathing the salt-scented air, absorbing the sound of waves crashing. We toasted our good fortune with a few sips from the flask, then carefully climbed a nearby dune to watch the sunset on the solstice.
Once the last bit of sun was gone, we bid a hasty retreat into the tent to escape from gigantic mosquitos that found us irresistible.

Tequila!

Tequila!

Sea shells by the sea shore

Sea shells by the sea shore

In the morning, we milked our beach time with some sun salutations and splashing around. As we headed westward, the families with coolers at the beach set again surrounded us again. While waiting for the next train, we shared a delicious meatball sandwich from Delfiore Italian Deli and marveled at the fact that such natural beauty could be found so close to NYC. In the end, we retained three souvenirs from our solstice on Fire Island: sea shells, sunburn, and a new respect for east coast beaches.

1% of the Appalachian Trail (by Carmen)

Appalachian Trail sign post

Appalachian Trail sign post

Fall is well under way here in NYC but here on the blog we’ve got some summer catching up to do. To take advantage of the warm summer, Nathan and I enjoyed three lovely camping trips in three different locations – one in the mountains, one on the beach and one in the woods. It had been almost two years since we had set up our tent so by Memorial Day we were ready to hike some of the mountains of the Appalachian Trail.

Excited to be hiking again

Excited to be hiking again

We jumped in to the first camping trip with both feet. At 20 miles in with an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet, our hike in the mountains of Harriman State Park was challenging. There were two main advantages that caused us to choose this trail. The first was that both the beginning and end were transit accessible, which made planning much easier. The second was that our route followed a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail (aka the AT). The AT stretches 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, meaning we we’re only tackling less than 1% of it. And given that it took me a month to walk the 500 miles of the Camino, I’m awestruck by this megatrail.

White AT blaze (photo source: Two Knobby Tires)

White AT blaze (photo source: Two Knobby Tires)

Trail blaze translation (source: Wikipedia)

Trail blaze translation (source: Wikipedia)

As we began the trail, we spotted one of the telltale signs of the AT – the white blaze. Just as the Camino has its yellow arrow, the AT uses patterns of white rectangles painted on trees to let you know that you are indeed on the right path.

Nathan in the Lemon Squeezer

Nathan in the Lemon Squeezer

Orange salamanders littered the trail

Orange salamanders littered the trail

A couple hours in, we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place, literally. The Lemon Squeezer is a tight squeeze for anyone and with a backpack I barely made it through! As we continued on, we marveled at the technicolor vividness of green wilderness around us. Everything glowed, especially the neon orange salamanders. The beauty of it all and the excitement to finally be backpacking again helped give us strength in our battle against the gnats and mosquito which enjoy buzzing in our ears every step of the way.

Vivid green landscape

Vivid green flora

Our campsite

Our campsite

Along our walk we encountered a few intrepid through hikers, or people walking the trail all in one go. They were light on their feet and walked with purpose. They had commandeered the stone shelters built at intervals along the AT since many did not carry tents. While all hikers are technically supposed to stay in or near the shelter, it was far too crowded for our taste. So we pushed on and found ourselves a beautiful little clearing in a nearby valley to set up camp. After setting up our tent, I collapsed inside for a quick nap. As I gazed out the window, I could see the golden light streaming through the incredibly bright green leaves. It was beautiful. Finally, we decided to start dinner. Little did we realize that green clouds were rolling in overhead and within minutes the heavens had opened and the rain began. Not just rain, though, a veritable downpour. We dove into the tent soaking wet and managed to finish our meal inside.

View from top

View from top

Bear Mountain views

Bear Mountain views

Bear Mountain from Lake Hessian

Bear Mountain from Lake Hessian

We woke to a sunny day and we trudged up and down the mountains to our destination, the Hudson River. As we came closer to the summit of Bear Mountain, the trail takes on a new atmosphere. Bear Mountain is a popular destination for day hikers from the nearby inn and picnic area. Most of the people we encountered in this area were ill equipped for such a hike – some were even in flip flops. But I admired the perseverance of those who made it to the summit. We descended the mountainside and were jolted by the loud music and huge crowds surrounding the inn and Hessian Lake. The people were incredibly diverse – Arabic-speaking groups gathering around aromatic baked chicken and rice, Latinos blasting salsa music, Asian families bbqing. We grabbed a mint chip milkshake and I lost myself in its sweet creaminess. Basically anything you eat after a big hike tastes amazing and this was no exception.

Bears are necessary at the Bear Mountain Zoo

Bears are necessary at the Bear Mountain Zoo

Hudson River from Bear Mountain Bridge

Hudson River from Bear Mountain Bridge

And yet, we weren’t quite done. There were a couple more miles to hike, past a zoo and historic buildings. Since it is along the Hudson River, this area once held strategic forts to protect such an economically important waterway. Finally, we made it to a dusty little train station by the river and were on our way home, grateful to know that an escape to nature could be so close the NYC.

Manhattan-henge (by Carmen)

Empire State Building + Manhattan-henge!

Empire State Building + Manhattan-henge!

Twice a year thousands of people collect on the main east-west arterials of New York City to worship the sun. Or at least take a million pictures of the sun as it sets exactly aligned with the city’s street grid. The event known as Manhattan-henge occurs approximately 25 days before and after the summer solstice. Nathan and I were one of the revelers on a spontaneous Friday night out in our adopted city.  This year, Manhattan-henge fell on July 11, which, happened to be a Friday!

Astor Wine & Spirits - our local booze source

Astor Wine & Spirits – our local booze source

Friday nights are always my favorite. It generally starts with a stop at Astor Wine & Spirits, our local wine shop. Most days of the week, Astor offers generous samples from the abundant collection. We’ve tasted wines from around the world – even a $250 Cristal Champagne! In addition to wine we’ve had smokey whiskeys, peaty scotches, grilled corn infused mescal…all at no charge. It’s quite possibly the perfect wine shop. If only NY liquor laws allowed them to sell beer they’d be unstoppable.

Yay for bikesharing!

Yay for bikesharing!

After our tasting we decided that midtown would offer us the best Manhattan-henge viewing. We hopped on a citibike and cycled our way up to 34th street. I LOVE citibike. Combined with the bike lanes that are being added throughout the city, I’ve always felt safe biking in New York. And it’s just fun to feel the breeze through your hair.

Sun worshipers

Sun worshipers

Almost there...

Almost there…

Sun down

Sun down

We finally made it to 34th Street with about 15 minutes until sunset. A cluster of tourists were already excitedly taking photos. We joined in the fun and pretended to be tourists ourselves by loudly talking about how much fun Times Square is (note: no locals say anything good about Times Square). I enjoyed watching the crowds as much as the sun. Because the best view is in the middle of the street, everyone waited for the light to change and then ran to the middle to snap away. Then the cars would honk and everyone ran back.

Japchae close up at Woorijip

Japchae close up at Woorijip

As the sun dipped below the horizon the throngs thinned quickly. We decided to take advantage of being near K-town and walked a whole three blocks to the pulsing, neon-lit stretch of Korean BBQ restaurants and karaoke bars. We just wanted a snack so made our way to Woorijip, a fast moving cafe with grab and go Korean food. I can never have enough japchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles) or kimchi in my life. Not everything’s a winner here – go for things labeled “spicy” for the best experience.

Van Leeuwan sundae

Van Leeuwan sundae

Satiated, we took a quick subway ride back to East Village and remembered our PayPal deal. PayPal is eager for people to forget about those old fashioned things called credit cards and instead use their phone to make payments. They’ll even pay you to do it. So far, Nathan and I estimate that we’ve taken advantage of $500 of PayPal incentives. Sometimes the businesses that have offers aren’t worth it even with the discount but we’ve also found some real gems. When a deal comes up for a place we wanted to try anyway, all the better. Such was the case with Van Leeuwan ice cream shop. We bought a classic sundae to share with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, bittersweet hot fudge, walnuts, fresh whipped cream and house preserved cherries on top.

I originally set out to write a quick post about the phenomenon of Manhattan-henge. But as I thought back to the that night, I recalled all the other spontaneous activities surrounding the sunset that only seems possible in a place like New York. The city so seamlessly brings together a number of perks – easy access by bike and subway, the proximity of diverse neighborhoods, the many, many freebies. I remember feeling impressed by the novelty of all this when I was a tourist a few years ago. Now this is just another Friday night in NYC.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate (by Carmen)

Yang’s Fry Dumpling

Yang’s Fry Dumpling

That’s it. In the picture. The best thing I ever ate. Specifically, it’s a fried soup dumpling (aka 生煎包 or shengjianbao) from Yang’s Fry Dumpling in Shanghai. The memory of that first bite into the crisp, sesame-scented skin through to the juicy interior. Savoring each sip of the piping hot broth. Even now my mouth waters.

But it was about more than the dumpling. It was the moment, the trip, the city, the people, the cafe, the florescent lighting, the finding of the dumplings themselves – everything contributes to the experience of a true food find. So here is my ode to the holy grail of dumplings, encountered on a rainy afternoon and Huanghe Road in July 2009.

Shanghai French Quarter

Shanghai French Quarter

Alleyway in the French Quarter

Alleyway in the French Quarter

It was Nathan and my first taste of travel in Asia. The weeks before I started grad school we criss-crossed the continent for 6 weeks – Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and China. It was a culinary awakening in many ways. The flavors were fresher, brighter, stronger, spicier, sweeter, just overall more intense than I could have imagined. I was loving everything I ate, becoming intoxicated on everything from gula melaka (a rich malaysian palm sugar) to Japanese bento boxes. Our last stop on the itinerary was Shanghai. My parents, who had joined in part of the journey, Nathan and I had lingered in the old French Quarter, ate amazing bbq eel and observed the crazy fast high-rise construction in Putong.

Yang's on Huanghe Road

Yang’s on Huanghe Road

But it was in our first afternoon that we arrived at Yang’s. We were looking for a noodle restaurant recommended by the guidebook and had no luck finding it (this happens a loooot). As we gave up, I looked across the narrow street and saw a familiar yellow sign advertising fry dumplings. It took me a second to realize that I had seen it on TV, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations to be exact. Nathan and I had watched it to get excited for the new sights, sounds and tastes we were about to encounter. Everything came together at the right moment otherwise I would likely have passed what looked like every other hole in the wall cafe right up.

Workers at Yang's

Workers at Yang’s

Dumplings getting fried

Dumplings getting fried

The bowl of plump dumplings was plunked down in front of us and I gathered my dumpling with my soup spoon. As I took my first bite into the skin, I was careful not to lose the precious broth inside. From the second the flavors hit my taste buds I was floored. A beautiful depth of textures and flavors exploded in my mouth. We all had a collective moment of silence around the table. I’ve commemorated the event with a picture of these glorious dumplings on my living room wall.

Slurp!

Slurp!

My mom always said I’d find true love when I least expected it. She was right. But I didn’t realize her sage words applied to culinary relationships as well. Love at first bite. This love is not only because it tasted phenomenally good, but also because it provided a capstone to the deliciousness I had encountered throughout Asia. This dish inspired me to try more, explore more, travel more and find that next bite to take me out of this world. In short, Yang’s inspired me to dream big eventually leading to the Big Trip of 2012-2013. What power a simple dumpling can have!

Shanghai by night

Shanghai by night

Looking down the core of the Shanghai Jin Mao Tower

Looking down the core of the Shanghai Jin Mao Tower

Shanghai has been on my mind because a friend of ours moved there almost one year ago. Inspired by this blog to do more exploring, he and his wife took the plunge and moved halfway across the world – from Texas to Shanghai. We recently received a lovely email with them complete with pictures of their experiences. I’m so impressed with their adventurous spirit. So this post is dedicated to them, Tomasz and Nicola. To many more adventures – and dumplings.

Note: Yang’s Fry Dumpling is a local Shanghai chain with a few locations. I went to the one at 97 Huanghe Road, just north of People’s Square. It’s labeled 小杨生煎馆 on Google Maps as of June 2014. One friend tried to find this location and was unsuccessful, so you may want to consult the web for other locations.

Road Trip New York & Vermont (by Carmen)

New York in May has been lovely. The warmth of spring has been blissful after such a harsh, looong winter. Summer’s humid heat is just around the corner, threatening to blast my memories of numb fingers and toes into oblivion. So it is strange to think that just two months ago I was staring at a rental car that wouldn’t start, clutching my backpack and breathing fog into a crisp -8°F (-22°C) morning.

View of Poughkeepsie from the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River

View of Poughkeepsie from the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River

But let me back up a bit. Nathan and I found ourselves with a few days off around mid-March and decided to make the most of it. We toyed with the idea of hopping the pond to visit a friend in Dublin but the flight prices were just too much to bear. So we stayed local, rented a car and road tripped it along the Hudson River to Vermont. The route was the opposite of most people’s instinct to go south and escape the cold. Our goal, however, was to actually enjoy the winter. Snow and ice in a city context is a nuisance but in more rural settings winter sports become available. Skiing, cross country, snowshoeing, ice skating…the snow was beckoning us to go north.

Icy Hudson River view from the walkway

Icy Hudson River view from the walkway

We had 300 miles to plough through on our first day so we broke it up with a few stops as we drove along the Hudson River. Our first stop in Poughkeepsie found us strolling along Walkway State Park, a former rail bridge converted to pedestrian use five years ago. It offers great views of the icy Hudson River 200 feet below.

Next up was the town of Hudson, where I found the best bookstore in the world. Upon entering, you see the expected shelves of fiction and non-fiction. But look to the left and you encounter a full on bar with interesting drafts being consumed by friendly locals. Patrons are welcome to take their beer with them while browsing the books and thoughtful cup holders are provided so one can flip the pages. There should be many, many more businesses like this.

When we finally arrived in Burlington that night we were exhausted. Thankfully, our Airbnb hosts provided us with nourishing vegetable soup to take the chill off. They apologized that it was only vegetarian and not vegan, which instantly made me think of vegan-friendly Berkeley.

City Market Cooperative in Burlington

City Market Cooperative in Burlington

If I had any doubts about Burlington’s similarity to Berkeley, it was completely erased by a visit to the City Market Co-op. I dearly miss my Berkeley Bowl grocery store with its mountains of fresh produce and generous bulk section. City Market had an even bigger bulk section! And it’s a functioning co-op that provides dividends to its members. I certainly didn’t expect to go grocery shopping on this trip but that’s exactly what we did, at a fraction of the cost of markets in NYC. Take that Whole Foods.

Beautiful fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street

Beautiful fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street

Nathan, expertly snowshoeing at Shelburne Farms

Nathan, expertly snowshoeing at Shelburne Farms

Feeling at home in Burlington, we made our way down the main drag, Church Street. After a stop for a bite of rich fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates, we walked a few doors down to the local outdoor store to chat with staff about the best places to snowshoe. They directed us to Shelburne Farms, which in warmer times is a sustainable farming education center on the lake. It was designed in the 19th century by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) as a picturesque rural setting. For our visit we didn’t see the farm’s cows but the rolling landscape was covered in fresh snow for us to tromp through. At the farm shop we picked up some of the farm’s delicious cheddar for the road. Not that we had far to go – our next destination was Magic Hat Brewery five minutes up the road. The psychedelic brewery visitor center fit perfectly into Burlington, home of the band Phish. We tasted all the beers on offer and especially enjoyed the passion fruit juice infused Steven Sour.

Walking on (frozen) water!

Walking on (frozen) water!

Wind swept ice

Wind swept ice

Frozen Lake Champlain lighthouse

Frozen Lake Champlain lighthouse

Nice day for bike ride

Nice day for bike ride

At sunset we made our way to the waterfront to take Lake Champlain. The lake was an important trade route between Canada and New York and battles between Americans and British were fought in these waters. In the middle of March, though, the harbor was completely iced in so Nathan and I took a nice walk on the ice to the lighthouse. Later that night we went to the town’s Irish bar to listen to some jigs and reels in celebration of one of my favorite holiday – St. Patrick’s Day!

Cross Country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge - note the metal maple buckets

Cross Country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge – note the metal maple buckets

Our 2nd morning was frigid beyond belief and, as luck would have it, our rented car had a dead battery. Fortunately, we only needed a jump but unfortunately we couldn’t find someone to help us out. We decided to have breakfast at a nearby cafe, the Barrio Bakery. The warm egg sandwich and blueberry scone helped us feel better and one of our fellow patrons eventually gave us a start.

We bid goodbye to Burlington and drove east to Stowe for some cross country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge – yes, that Von Trapp Family. While The Sound of Music was based on a true story, the musical didn’t cover the fact that the Von Trapp’s became a touring singing group that eventually opened a ski lodge. The lodge has a framed picture of Maria Von Trapp skiing the same trails we did.

Glorious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone straight from the factory

Glorious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone straight from the factory

Working up a sweat on the ski trails meant time for a rewarding treat. And really, ice cream is an amazing thing. Even when it’s so cold outside your body aches, it’s nearly impossible to decline a waffle cone filled with rich, creamy ice cream. We had no chance resisting the pull of the Ben & Jerry’s factory, even with our snowy surroundings and cold start in the morning. I was somewhat shocked to find 20 other visitors with us on a Monday afternoon in March. Twenty more were lined up for the next tour a half hour later. We all scream for ice cream, I suppose.

Covered bridge near Woodstock, VT

Covered bridge near Woodstock, VT

After a pit stop in the state capital, our final night was spent in the tiny, incredibly cute village of Woodstock (but not that Woodstock). We were pleasantly surprised to find an excellent, casual restaurant near the village called Worthy Kitchen. After filling up on shepard’s pie, we tucked in for the night in our B&B.

On our last day we experienced more quintessential Vermont experiences – covered bridges and maple tapping. It being the start of sugaring season the maple trees were just beginning to release their sweet nectar which is boiled down to our favorite pancake topping.

The tastes and views of Vermont were everything I’d hoped for but was over far too quickly. It whet my appetite to further explore New England. Maine lobster rolls anyone?

Vermont humor (Source: Vermont Independent Clothing Co.)

Vermont humor (Source: Vermont Independent Clothing Co.)

What the Hurricane Left Behind (by Carmen)

Historic South Street Seaport

Historic South Street Seaport

As part of our hunt for a NYC apartment to call home, Nathan and I had to find a temporary sublet. Since it was only for 6 weeks, we were willing to live almost anywhere. It was only by chance that we ended up subletting in a hidden corner of Manhattan called South Street Seaport.

Looking out to the Financial District from South Street Seaport with views of the World Trade Center and 8 Spruce Street Tower

Looking out to the Financial District from South Street Seaport with views of the World Trade Center and 8 Spruce Street Tower

South Street Seaport is bordered on the north by the hulking Brooklyn Bridge, to the east by water, and to the west and south by the glossy high rises of the financial district. Originally, the area was developed on filled land as a port, with two wide boat slips to load and unload trade ships. Seafood became a specialty and the Fulton Fish Market opened in 1822 and continued to operate until 2005. In Europe, this would not be noteworthy but in America that is an amazingly long time! The fish market, the second biggest in the world after Tsukiji in Tokyo, was moved to a modern facility in the Bronx.

The masts of the Peking sail ship, part of the South Street Seaport Museum

The masts of the Peking sail ship, part of the South Street Seaport Museum

The long history of the neighborhood envelopes you. It is visible in the 1800’s architecture (some decorated with sea life motifs) and the historic sail and steam boats bobbing in the water (part of the South Street Seaport Museum). On a tour of the 1930 Peking sailboat, we learned about the typical sailor’s life. Let’s just say rough would be an understatement. It’s no wonder they couldn’t wait to get ashore and patronize the bars and bawdy nightlife of the South Street Seaport – a tradition carried on in some ways by bars like Jeremy’s Ale House and Paris Cafe.

My sublet's street flooded during Hurricane Sandy (source: kidscreen.com)

My sublet’s street flooded during Hurricane Sandy (source: kidscreen.com)

In a city like New York, it’s no surprise that developers want to capitalize on the area’s unique character. There are plans in the works to turn this area into a luxury shopping mall and condos. The community opposition has already mobilized but Hurricane Sandy certainly crippled their stance.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy were spread unevenly across NYC. For some, it simply felt like a huge storm. Others experienced major flooding, power outages and wind damage that ruined homes and businesses. Forty-three New Yorkers lost their lives. Since it’s on fill, South Street Seaport succumbed to flooding with disastrous results. With the major repair costs, many of the shops and restaurants found it difficult to reopen at all. Over a year later there are still plenty of empty storefronts awaiting new tenants/development.

Pasanella & Sons tasting room (source: Mimi and Meg)

Pasanella & Sons tasting room (source: Mimi and Meg)

Of the independent businesses that have returned, one of my favorites is Made Fresh Daily. This cheery café doesn’t win any awards for the best coffee or the most avant garde food. Instead, it makes simple pastries and lunches in a comfortable setting. For me, the best part is their collection of magazines free to read in the café. I typically grab a tea, a few ‘zines and camp out. And because the neighborhood is so peaceful, I don’t have 20 customers eyeing me for my seat. It can be full but is never overly crowded. In NYC, that’s saying something.

Another great shop is Pasanella & Sons. This small wine shop has knowledgeable staff and a beautiful brick tasting room in the back where they hold events. Since we lived there in October, we got to attend a great hard cider event where the drinks ranged from dry and fizzy to pungent and sour.

The Village FIshmonger at New Amsterdam Market

The Village FIshmonger at New Amsterdam Market

The New Amsterdam Market meets outside the old Fulton Fish Market building. A weekly market before the hurricane, it has since become a monthly one. The market sells more specialty goods than everyday groceries (think cheese, honey, sausage, etc.) and it is all of high quality. I particularly enjoyed the extremely fresh Village Fishmonger stand, which is a CSF (community-supported fishery) that I’m tempted to join.

Filming The Knick in South Street Seaport

Filming The Knick in South Street Seaport

A fruit & veg stand in "old" New York

A fruit & veg stand in “old” New York

My view of the filming from Made Fresh Daily cafe

My view of the filming from Made Fresh Daily cafe

The hidden, historic atmosphere of South Street Seaport makes it ripe for filming. It was quite entertaining to exit my building one night and find Law & Order: SVU filming across the street. A few weeks later, I come out to find a different film shoot had transformed the block next to mine into turn of the 20th century New York! In order to film for The Knick (which basically looks like Grey’s Anatomy set in the early 1900s), they brought in horse-drawn carts, new store awnings, a few vegetable carts and dozens of people in period costumes. As I drank my tea at Made Fresh Daily that morning, I was able to watch Victorian era NYC pass me by through the window.

View from our sublet’s rooftop

View from our sublet’s rooftop

While subletting drew out the moving process, I treasure my stay in this peaceful little neighborhood that makes me feel like I stepped back in time. It became one of the first steps in making NYC feel like home.

The Great New York Apartment Hunt (by Carmen)

We packed our bags yet again but this time it was more than just our backpacks. It was early fall and we were getting ready for the big move from Los Angeles to New York City. While our stuff was piled into a moving pod to be shipped across the country Nathan and I boarded our one-way flight to the East Coast. Upon arriving to the city, we dove headfirst into Craigslist ads with the goal of finding our new home within a week. Thus began the Great Apartment Hunt.

We sought out rentals high and low

We sought out rentals high and low

Finding an apartment can be equal parts exciting and anxiety-inducing. In New York, however, the latter wins out as the city is overrun with brokers who charge nearly 2 months’ rent for the doing the same thing you can do on your own with Craigslist. Given the high price of apartments already, this is an astronomically high sum for the amount of work they’re theoretically saving you. To make matters worse, brokers flood Craigslist and other free listing sites with fake ads so that you will call their company and they can try to get your business. It all makes for an extremely frustrating process for those without a ton of cash to burn. Despite the obstacles, we decided to do our best to sidestep the broker system and find something on our own.

Intricate balcony in the Lower East Side

Intricate balcony we saw during our apartment walk in the Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters to fuel our search.

Russ & Daughters to fuel our search.

Our experience started on a beautiful sunny day walking around the Lower East Side. As we meandered we called every “For Rent” sign phone number we stumbled upon. We would stop for coffee or a bagel at Russ & Daughters and scour Craigslist and other apartment listing sites from our phones. And we got exactly nowhere. No one we called had a one bedroom available and some said they only went through brokers. We felt broken by the broker system.

We broadened our search to include Brooklyn brownstones.

We broadened our search to include Brooklyn brownstones.

We knew we had change up our strategy so we broadened our search area to more neighborhoods and Manhattan and even across the East River to Brooklyn but to no avail. Finally, we gave in and called some brokers. The initial excitement of access to more listings was soon tempered when they showed us places that were extremely small, dark, poorly maintained and/or expensive. Some of the worst things we saw included a floor so uneven you had to walk uphill just to cross the living room, a kitchen with a broken stove that they simply placed a hot plate on top of to “fix,” and an extremely filthy apartment featuring a giant bong in the bathtub. I’m sure that worse exists in NYC but I couldn’t believe the asking prices of these places.  Our dreams of living in Manhattan were looking a little hopeless.

The entrance of a potential rental...home sweet home?

The entrance of a potential rental…home sweet home?

This bedroom might actually fit a bed.

This bedroom might actually fit a bed.

Then the holy grail appeared! After three weeks of couch hopping I was doing my morning Craigslist search when a post came up too good to be true – perfect neighborhood near tons of transit lines, nice light in the living area (as opposed to only in the bedroom like most places we’d seen), an open and spacious (by NYC standards) kitchen, UNDER budget and, best of all, no broker! How could it be? Nathan was suspicious, even after we met with the tenants to discuss the transition. But it actually all worked out…except for one tiny, little catch – we couldn’t move in until Thanksgiving which was still six weeks away. Thus began the Great Sublet Hunt. :)

Sweet success in the form of our cozy apartment

Sweet success in the form of our cozy apartment

We eventually did find a sublet (which was in a great neighborhood I’ll post about soon).  At the end of November we moved all our earthly belongings to our tiny corner of NYC to call home. Over the past four months we’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring our new neighborhood. I really can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.

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