Echo rules Madison Square Park NYC this summer

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What is that glowing white figure in the middle of Madison Square Park?  It’s Echo by artist Jaume Plensa.  This large 44′ tall sculpture is made up of 15 blocks of plaster which have been individually joint together by lead sheets.   The 3-D sculpture is the face of a 9-year-old girl who lives in his neighborhood and name “Echo” comes from a Greek Myth nymph character named Echo.  She looks as though she is listening to the conversations of visitors resting in the soft sun of late spring in the green oasis known as Madison Square Park next to the Flatiron Building.  The photos make it look like I was messing around with a photo editing tool and the sculpture appears unreal in its surroundings.  This is why I encourage people to visit and see for yourself how amazing it is to see in person.

Echo is the first sculpture Spanish artist Jaume Plensa has ever assembled in New York City.  It is also the largest and most expensive piece that the park has ever commissioned.  The artist has always wanted to display his work in this area of the city and found that this creation with its message to the common man was perfect for this bustling venue.

This beautiful span of green is usually filled with sunbathers, office workers on lunch and others enjoying the green.  It is also home to many bold and well fed squirrels.  Today, the towering face is moonlighting as a scarecrow for the green picnic area.  It’s funny to see that most of the park’s puffy tailed residents are keeping a safe distance from the area surrounding the 44′ tall block of marble.

The Catalan artist, Jaume Plensa, has bought a very touching and beautiful piece to Madison Square Park.  This awesome vision named Echo will be peacefully resting in Madison Square park from now until August 14th.

Great Skate Escapes of NYC Black Friday Holiday Weekend

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For those frugal travelers coming into NYC for some deals on Black Friday there is some hope of having a good time even after the wallet is empty.   NYC is, like many other cities is much more fun without a budget but there’s still so much to do.  It just requires a little more thinking, planning and possible a little more walking or time on the subway.    One of the best ways to spend an afternoon after exercising the wallet here in NYC is spending some time at a local ice rink.  It doesn’t have to be crazy over the top expensive.  Here are some choices which can keep the budget in check while visiting NYC this weekend.

Skating in the Park

There a number of places around Manhattan to skate.  If you can bring your own skates it’s less expensive and even free in some locations.  The first one that comes to mind to most is Rockefeller Center.  Some people just dream about coming here to skate and there’s nothing wrong with making a dream come true.  It’s good to know what you are getting into beforehand.  Well…it maybe an icon but it’s small (the Ice Rink website even says no more than 150 skaters at a time), usually packed (line at peak times is 1-2 hours long), and expensive (you can skate as long as you want but it’s $10-14 for admission and $8 for the rental if they have your size).  If you have to go it’s a good idea to go first thing, during the week and way before the holiday season.  This year that means in the next couple days.

If you really want to skate but $18-22 per person exceeds the budget I suggest a couple of very nice, larger and more affordable places.  The first one that comes to mind is the Ice Rink that is just a few blocks away from the Rock and it’s located inside of the historic Bryant Park. There is 17,000 square feet of open ice for skaters to twirl around in.  They do not charge admission so if you bring your own skates it’s FREE, but the skate rental is $13 (rumor has it is that they are clean and comfortable if that makes you feel better).  Bring your own lock and your shoes can be safely stashed away for free. (the Rock’s lockers are for members only…sorry)  Just keep any bags and larger items back at the room because they charge $7-10 for bag check at Bryant Park.  I didn’t say it was all free.  It just can be if you are frugal and think ahead.

On the northern end of Central Park sites the Lasker Rink and Pool that was built in the 1960’s.  The park as two rinks.  One for  the hip checking high school hockey players and another for all ages.  The park charges $6.50 for adults, $3.50 for youths, and $2.25 for seniors.  The skate rentals for all are $5.50 for all and a lock costs $7.50 but you get back $4 of it when the lock is returned.  That’s fair.  If you have your own skates then it’s a bargain at $2.50-6.50 per person.

photo credit: SETH WERKHEISER of BatteryParkCity.com

There are some unfortunate rinks that didn’t make it out this season.  One of the tops on my list in the rink located in Battery Park downtown.  They didn’t seem to find the right contractor to take over the job.  The site also had some problems due to extremely cold temperatures, larger amounts of snow fall and incidence of fallen debris from nearby construction sites.  Skating is not fun when windows and plywood are in the way.   The skating was $10 with or without rentals which was the best deal around.  I can only hope it maybe makes a late season debut or comes back next year.  I have a feeling the price may go up as it usually does in NYC.

For more info on other area rinks check out  the New York Led which has put together a great guide to these and other NYC metro area rinks.

Get out and enjoy the kind weather we have been enjoying this mild fall here in NYC.  Black Friday can be a fun day if you include some outdoor activities like skating. Happy Skating..and shopping as well!!

Off the Grid Food in San Francisco vs the Red Hook Ball Fields

San Francisco has always been a great food city.  The Bay Area is a locavores paradise.  Food sold here is locally produced and grown within 100 miles of the city year round. The Bay Area is experiencing a food cart trend has peaked and is very similar to the food cart culture of  NYC.  This was until the  Off the Grid SF was created in June 2010.

photo by official Off the Grid Facebook page M. Cohen

The Off the GridSF website describes it as “a roaming mobile food extravaganza that travels to different locations daily to serve delicious food, with a free side of amazing music, craft and soul. We’re bringing all your favorite gourmet food vendors together to create a market like you’ve never seen before.”  Vendors include the Creme Brulee Cart,  TaKorea,    The is only one venue worth mentioning that even comes close to it here in NYC/Brooklyn and it is the Red Hood Ball Field Food Vendors.

"Rain is Not an Obstacle" at the Red Hook Ball Fields by Yelper Marcos A.

 

For about the past 40 years vendors have set up their grills and blenders during the July and August sports season along the fringes of this remote Brooklyn 59 acre facility.   There were no places when the field was build near the low income housing in Red Hook to get food or drink, so logically picnic goers brought their own.  As the years passed artists and the like escaping the rent increases in Manhattan were naturally attracted to this area.   They, like Columbus, soon “discovered” what was going on at the park. Local mags/blogs began  spreading the word about the cheap sports and eating event that took place each summer in their hood.  Word spread and the Red Hook Food Vendors eventually got a shout out by the NYTimes food section.   And, you guessed it, The New York City Board of health soon paid a visit as well.  They weren’t too happy with the open fires, improper cooking facilities and vendors not following proper food sanitation practices that other licensed vendors did throughout the city.   Threats were soon made by the Parks Department but due to huge public uproar which included a plea from Senator Chuck Schumer .

The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain with his show No Reservations stopped by and filmed right before the possible closing was announced.   Big names in the New York food scene along with the hard work of executive director of the Food Vendors Committee Cesar Fuentes and his community support, the vendors were back to work.  Some had to throw in the towel because the list of regulations to follow and proper procedures to abide by was just too long.  They had to readjust in many ways and of course many say it’s just not the same.

Food bloggers voices were heard as well as many blogged in support of the food vendors.  One particular blogger J. Slab of The Porkchop-Express did an extensive entry on the history of the field.  This mercado seems to be showing signs of having a bright future as seen in this article in the NYTimes this past April.  It may not be the same as 40 years ago but it still gives those who have stuck around an income and local spectators good food to eat while watching Brooklyn’s own Cabinet Soccer Club vs. Beşiktaş Football Club, league champions of Turkey.

The Off the Grid SF is and inspiration for NYC since it’s a well organized and food community driven event that happens year round and many times during the week.   It has brought new life to Fort Mason that has had it’s ups and downs financially since it was designated as a national park in 1976.  The mobile food market sponsored here by SF Food carts which is run and was started by Mark Cohen has been proven to be a way to revitalize communities as others have been welcomed into the Mission, Haight/Ashbury and the Civic Center/Tenderloin neighborhoods of SF.

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New York City has no shortage of food and street vendors who offer up just about anything these days.  What is missing is a venue where a number of vendors can get together like at Off the Grid in SF and the Mobile Pods in Portland OR.  Why not and make a night or day of good eating and live entertainment instead of just getting lunch or a small bite during the work day?  I got an idea…how about putting one by the old wharfs below Brooklyn Heights?  Do you out there know of an empty parking lot or other open space for such an event?  Where would you put one…?

5 Travel Tips for New York City

I’ve lived in this amazing city for the past decade and have managed to hold my own when I’m out and about.  I like most people living and working on this island do a lot of walking.  Not only is it the best way to get around but it’s sometimes the fastest (weather permitting of course).  This list gives some advice on how to get around this wonderful city as it’s a little intimidating.

Pay Attention

I’ll say it again, “Pay Attention”.  This is one of the most important thing to keep in mind when running around Manhattan’s busy streets and sidewalks.  The locals are just as guilty but pay attention to everything around you.  Not only will you avoid any run-in’s with a vehicle, skateboarder, rollerblader, dog, bicyclist (not uncommon to see them going the wrong way on a one way street or sidewalk), or other people busy texting.  Accidents that involve pedestrians and moving vehicles happen often throughout the day in the city and some end in fatality.   Here are the most common things that I come across just about everyday.

  • a cyclist is going the wrong way and off-roading
  • taxis, commuters in their own cars, police cars, fire trucks, cyclists trying to beat the red light
  • cars exiting out of a parking garage and traveling too fast and not remembering that they are crossing over a sidewalk

These points may sound frivolous but just beware that the are all common and if you aren’t paying attention then there’s the risk of  having an accident.  The reward for paying attention (if you care about these things) is the not so common spotting of a “famous” person or two.  There are  many well-known personalities who are just like us.  They walk around town like anyone else but they count on the fact that most don’t pay attention and are busy looking at flashing signs and tall buildings.

Pick a lane

One common faux pas city visitors make is they don’t know how to walk on a sidewalk.   In most cities the sidewalk rules are like driving rules.  If you were driving would you travel down the wrong side into on coming traffic?  Hopefully not.  Most drivers travel in a line when traveling with a group of vehicles not side by side.  There are some sidewalks in the city that can fit 3-4 people across but not many.    Be considerate and share the road.

Mind your manners

New Yorker’s disreputably are rude, loud and arrogant but not everyone is and there are plenty back home just like them.   Some bloggers in the city are quick to point this out to get people to click on and read and continue to back the myth up and write posts like this 13 things not to do in New York City written by P. Ling.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Let’s be fair.  Many New Yorker’s are just busy trying to get to work.  They sometimes have to get up at ungodly hours to get the commuter rail in, go to work, take that 2 hour train ride back home and do it all again the next day.  A slight change in weather, traffic or personal issue can all make a hellish commute even worse.   Be sensitive and considerate to them and try to get out-of-the-way.  This is a crowded and stressful city.  Don’t take it personally if someone isn’t eager to help if you need directions especially at rush hour.  Just move on and find another person to ask.  Storekeepers and police officers are good people to try first.  I would try MTA workers last.  They aren’t usually the most helpful unfortunately.

Study the layout of the city

This holds true with anywhere you visit.  Would you arrive in Paris or Tokyo without any idea of where things are.  New York was reconfigured over a couple of hundred years ago (Commissioners’ Plan of 1811) and it’s streets above Houston where reset into a grid fashion.  The numbered avenues go east to west and streets go north to south.  If you just remember a couple of things like if the streets are higher in number you are going north and if the avenues are getting higher you are going west.  There are some names thrown in there but by memorizing a few avenue names you are all set(streets downtown below Houston and some way up town)  There are always maps inside the subway stations, so they are a good back up if you forgot yours.  A local map and a city-wide map are usually found before the entrance gates down in the station.  They are hopefully in good enough condition to read. Not always guaranteed.

Get Organized before you hit the streets

First, put together a make a list of the places you want to visit while in the city.  Then check out a good city map and chart out each listings address and if some or all are in the same area.  It’s good to see what is where so you can make the most of your time.  It’s also good to figure out when the best hours will be to visit each place.  Like most cities, New York City Museums are much busier on the weekends so it’s best to go during the week.  There are some free hours and many suggest ticket prices so do your homework and save money.

When it’s time to head out for the day, figure out exactly how to get there before leaving your hotel or starting point.  I find that walking the route if is the best way to see the area since you never know what you are going to pass by along the way.  It could be an interesting place to eat, store or museum that’s not on your list or popular enough to put in a guidebook.  I would also figure out when the local hours of commuting are at their peak.  It might be nicer sitting and relaxing for a few more minutes than dealing with morning commuters.

There are so many interesting and fun things to see and do in New York City.  Plan well and don’t worry if you don’t get to all of them.  There’s always next time.

Central Park, angry people and flowers in the rain

It was a more typical late March day in Central Park NYC today.  We have been spoiled with the unseasonably mild warm weather the last week or so.  I still enjoy a misty cool day in NYC since I had the park to myself.  Just me and a few horse and bike carriages.  A horseman and a MTA bus got into a little snafu next to the park so I took a pic to mix it up a bit.

Daffodils, forsythia are in full bloom and the trees are showing some buds.  This rain should make the park green by the weekend.  This means allergy sufferers like myself will be sniffling but what can you do.  It’s spring wild animals are everywhere in the park.  So as the sign says, “Leave the Wild Animals Alone”.  Try and keep away from the cute raccoons, wild ducks and panhandling squirrels, they look harmless until they mistake your finger for a nut.

Great things about being a Tourist in NYC

NYC literally lives for tourist.

I sometimes think that if Ray Kelly had to save me or a British visitor he would choose the later.  The city doesn’t sleep and is always ready to show a visitor a good time not matter where they are from.   This is ok with me because without the influx of foreign currency during these hard economic times NYC would be very different and maybe more like how I first remember seeing it.  Times Square hasn’t always been all glittery and neon lit.  The subway system has seen better days, taxi cabs are really ripping people off (so much they are getting caught now) and the tour bus people are even more aggressive Times Square, but crime is still low and people are still willing to shell out big money for a hotel, shows and plane tickets to get here.

Anyhow, it’s a great time to be a tourist in NYC and here are some reasons why:

Everything is on SALE

The Euro and the British Pound have seen better rates of exchange to the greenback, but it’s still a 35-50% discount…so buy 2 iPods not one and throw in a real designer handbag why get a bad fake.  On top of that, there’s always a sale going on for us locals.  I can’t remember paying full price for anything in the past year.

Don’t Speak the Language…. not a problem

The language barrier or lack of in most cases.   It’s unusual to walk down a busy street in NYC and only hear people speaking english.    If you are lost and need direction or just ask where a good place to eat is it just takes asking the concierge at your hotel or even a person on the street if they look approachable.

The Grid System

Easy to follow the streets….hard to get lost.  The streets here were brilliantly reconfigured  above Houston Street in the beginning of the 19th century.  Something like this could have never been done today since the 2nd Ave. subway has been a big pain and it’s proven how hard it is to get people to cooperate but I’m not one who is looking to replace what can’t be replaced like a very  cheap apartment.  Finding where you  need to go just takes a good sense of direction and the ability to count.  The only confusing part is the avenues with names so it’s not foolproof.  That’s the eastside for you.  There is some thinking involved but it’s not that challenging.  Just find a tall recognizable building like the Empire State or Chrysler Building and get your barrings from there.

AMAZING FOOD!!!

The  food here is nothing but choices and can fit any budget.  It kills me that people even step foot into a McDonald’s and not a local diner or sandwich shop.  Sure..it’s easy but you can’t tell me that you don’t have one where you come from.  Pick up a Zagat guide, look on the internet or just ask your concierge and find out where to eat.  There are places which will be just as cheap as the McDonald’s but you’ll actually get a fresh meal and most of all  support a local guy.

Like I said…NYC loves Tourists and it’s literally turned into Disney World here since they have taken over Times Square.  My only hope is that people who come to visit this great city go off the beaten paths of Broadway/Times Square and adventure out to places like Coney Island, take a picnic on Governor’s Island instead of Ellis Island, visit the Garner Museum instead of the MET and have a glass of wine at a small bistro in the lower east side instead of 9th ave in Hell’s Kitchen.  It’s and easy path to get off of since it’s really not so beaten…it’s just where the locals are.

Some NYC Central Park Blizzard of ’10 pics

It’s pretty hairy here weather wise.  I got a late start but wanted to get some pics of the city while the snow was fresh.   Central Park is beautiful in any weather.   It was hard keeping the lens snow free.  The snow continues.  Luckily,  I made it back without getting scooped up by the snowplows or becoming a meal for the coyotes, bald eagles and  rabid raccoons that are out there. I love this city… Enjoy!

Short List of Subway train fares in the U.S.

Here’s a breakdown of current subway fares which will all probably be going up soon.  This isn’t a complete list but the most popular and interesting routes in the U.S.

New York City MTA: $2.25

Washington D.C. Metro: $1.65-$4.50

Chicago L: $2.25

Boston T: $2.00

San Francisco MUNI: $2.00

Los Angeles Metro:  $1.25

San Juan, P.R. Tren Urbano: $1.50

Detroit People Mover: 50 cents (WOW)

The fares on the New York City Subway aren’t looking too bad are they.  It’s not the cleanest and it’s not as modern like the Tokyo Metro, but it does take riders far and does it 24 hours a day.   Chicago charges the same fare but goes a fair distance but only until around 1am like Boston which is 25 cents less.  The MUNI is a fare price if you live in the right neighborhoods.  If anything, one can’t beat the transfers they give out.  I once got one that gave me 2 hours.  Who even takes the subway in LA?  Ridership is up on LA subways so hopefully there are less cars on the road as well (doubt it).  San Juan P.R. (10.7 miles) and Detroit (3 miles) are small systems but they must help some people get to where they want go.  Can’t beat either prices.

NYC: Somewhat secret places to take a break

There’s some much constantly going on around you in NYC.  A break is all you need to take a detour and find a place to regroup that’s close by.  Here’s a list of some great places to visit and get a moment of reprieve from the noise and commotion of the city streets.

New York Public Library – Mulberry Street


This hidden oasis in the middle of the shoppers paradise known as Soho is a great place to rest the feet and catch up on some reading.  This building was formerly  the cite of  a chocolate factory and has been beautifully and thoughtfully designed with respect to the building’s infrastructure, history, and context.  The ground floor is the top and main floor of the library with two floors filled with books and rooms to comfortable browse through them below.  This is probably one of the nicest libraries and lesser known on the island.  Additionally, it provides visitors with free wi-fi and a place to relax and unwind for a bit.

Governor’s Island


Currently, there is a rumor going on the the trial of one of the mind behind the 9-ll attack may be having their court trial here.  Let’s hope not since it’s a great place to spend the day in the warmer months of the year in NYC.  The island got its name before the Declaration of Independence was signed since the british colonial assembly reserved the island for the exclusive use of New York’s royal governors.  After the U.S. Army took control and built a base and a prison on the site.  The National Coast Guard where the last organization to control the island and they left to the hands of the State of New York and the parks department.  The city and state are still trying to figure out how to further develop the island with more attractive features and activities.  For now, it’s a peaceful place to rent a bike and have a picnic while enjoying the views of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Best of all…it’s peaceful, clean and it’s free.