4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “New York”

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!

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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.

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.

New Year, New York (by Carmen)

I heart NY from the Lower East Side

I heart NY from the Lower East Side

We have some catching up to do, but where to start? Our summer in LA? Our quick trip to Portland? Those will come. But for now I’m going to fast forward to today, New Year’s Eve.

For me New Year’s eve is a time of renewal and reflection. Looking back over the past year, Nathan and I took on a lot of “new” – new countries, foods, people, scenery, cultures…even a new marital status! I will forever be grateful for these experiences because I was able to learn more about the world and myself. But this year it was time to set down roots somewhere. While deciding where wasn’t an easy choice we finally did make a decision this past fall – New York!

New York is aptly named as it’s an endless stream of new. New shops and cafes are constantly opening. Little hole in the wall restaurants to expose you to new cultures and cuisines. Snow blanketing the streets and trees every so often making it feel like a new white city, a blank slate on which you can write your own story. It’s our kind of town.

So this is a quick post to say that yes, new posts will be coming ;) We’ve got a lot of exploring to do on the East Coast and, of course, right here in New York.

New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York

– Alicia Keys

A bright and shiny New York

A bright and shiny New York

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