Thursday, September 7, 2017

This Year's Tips For New York City!

Every year, at least once, I go to New York City.  I've been all over and I've seen and done a lot of things in the city.  Each time I go, I try to find something new and fascinating.  At the same time, I tend to find some things that I advise people to skip.  As is usual, if I'm flashing one of these skyline pictures; you know it's time for my latest thoughts on the city.  Here goes.

The first thing that I'm going to do is give some advice on information.  I'm a writer, which means I'm still a book reader.
 This is a book called The New York Nobody Knows (Walking 6,000 Miles in the City) by William B. Helmreich.
This book will tell you more than what is where.  It tells you about neighborhoods, their history, their people.  It tells you about the people who live there, where they came from, and how they live and why.  It tells you in many ways how the city works.  It's a great piece of information that will allow you to not only visit the city, but to understand it.  It's a great book.
This is a subway map.  Don't visit the city without it.  If you do arrive and don't have one, stop at a news stand or in Grand Central Station and buy one.  It's worth the few dollars.  If there's one thing I can tell you about the city, it's not to drive in it.  I don't care if you are silly enough to drive to the city, but park your car and hit the subway.  It's the best way to get around.  Taxi's are everywhere, but you need to learn to find your way in a city like New York.  Taxis will cost you so much over time that it really digs in to the  money that you brought along to have fun on your trip.
This is the site that tells you all about the transportation in New York.  If you live anywhere near the city, take the train.  It's the bang for your buck and it takes you straight to Grand Central Station and the subways.  Getting around is the first thing that you should learn when traveling to a new city.
This is something that I tried on this trip.  It's the New York Water Taxi.  They have a waterside tour of South Manhattan that stops at various sites from DUMBO in Brooklyn to the Intrepid on the Hudson and many places in between.  Now, I've seen all that stuff, so my son and I took the IKEA Shuttle to Brooklyn to spend a little time in Red Hook and do a little shopping as well. It's a great bang for your buck to get away from other city tours that are less interesting, and some of the boats are discounted or free on the weekends.

There's nothing like a boat ride around New York Harbor, the rivers and the area.  We took the IKEA Shuttle to Brooklyn and spent some time in the neighborhood of Red Hook.  Now, you may wonder what the attraction is.  Well, a few years ago, the food trucks that sold South American food by the soccer fields which sprawl all over western Red Hook became a very big deal when the foodies that did travel shows on television all came to visit and try the local cuisine.  What happened was that it started a food truck revolution which now has us all going to festivals just to eat at food trucks all over the country.  What happened in Red Hook has been very different, however.

There are still some food trucks at the ball fields in Red Hook, and the food is still very good.  There are still tour groups stopping by, but they seem to be struggling.  Several of the ball fields have been closed due to lead being discovered in the soil.  It looks very different than it did a few years ago.  There are still ball fields being used.  There is still South American food that is excellent being served at the food trucks.  Here's a plea to travelers everywhere.  Visit this area.  Enjoy the people there.  Have a little gastronomic adventure.  I would like to see this area flourish again.  It's a great area with great people.  Don't miss out on this.

I've said it many times.  Tourists go to tourist sites.  Travelers go and see places.  Travelers meet people.  Travelers travel.  New York is one of the most creative places on Earth, and what IKEA has brought to Red Hook is amazing.  They've brought a new way to get to Red Hook in the shuttle that the Water Taxi runs.  They've brought jobs, business and a great place to shop to the area.  Another thing that they've done is to make a waterside park in the area that everyone can enjoy.  It's one of a kind and fascinating.  They've taken some old cranes from the shipping docks and turned them into decoration for the park and the pier that goes with it.  There's a beauty to the industrial area that we completely enjoyed.  Me and my camera had a field day.  And have you ever wondered what the Statue of Liberty and One WTC look like from a different perspective?  You can see them both from here and they look just a tad bit different from the working local's point of view.  This was one of my favorite parts of my latest trip and do I recommend that you take a local shuttle to check out an industrial working neighborhood?  I sure do.  This was a great experience and everyone should try it.  If you need a sofa bed or some book shelves, it will take care of that too.  My only advice is that when you show up at Pier 11 in Manhattan to take the free weekend shuttle, make sure you are not in a hurry.  This is an extremely popular trip and you probably will not get on the first boat when you arrive if you do this in summer.

There are two things that I always recommend and they can both be done in the same area.  The financial district is on the southern tip of Manhattan.  It's home to One WTC and all the 911 things, including O'Hara's Irish Pub which I always recommend.  It's home to the New York Stock Exchange, and Federal Hall.  It's also home to the original Tiffany's and one of the Trump Buildings.  I stay in this district when I visit for overnights on the weekends.  The hotels in the area are cheaper here on the weekends because all of the financial people are done until Monday.  It is a great pedestrian area and the subways are easy to find.  It's also only blocks from the waterfront, and home to some of the most historic places in the city.  The food and drink at O'Hara's is good too.   So, one thing that I always do is visit a church and this last time it was Trinity Church.  That's right, the one from the movie National Treasure.  It's a beautiful old church with a lot of history and many things to see.  Just remember that it is polite to leave a donation when you visit, seeing as they are opening the doors of their church to strangers as a tourist attraction.  Also, I don't recommend that you try and visit on Sunday's.  It's the day that they church is in use for it's intended purpose and I think that's just rude.  The other thing that should not be missed if you are staying the night in the city is the sunset on the waterfront.  Anywhere from Pier 11 west is a great place to spend the sunset hour.  You can see the folks across the way in DUMBO's waterfront park watching as well, because that is also a great spot.  When the water sparkles and the buildings glow gold, it's a wonderful sight.  When it's through, then it's time for dinner in the city.

I like to take first timers like my son to Little Italy for the evening when I take them overnight to the city.  It's a little bit cliche, but it's always a good time.  One of my favorite places to eat is Casa Bella.  This place has great food, good prices, a great location to eat outside in the summer, and the people who work there are a lot of fun.  It's my bang for your buck, good time recommendation for the area.  Now, as far as desert goes, have the cappuccino to stay awake for the evening, but hit one of the gelato stands for desert.  The carts and stands have the best stuff for the best price and I love talking to the vendors.  Make sure you hit Chinatown for some shopping while you're there and the shops in Little Italy as well.  Chinatown surrounds Little Italy, so it's all the same area, and you tend to catch the subway in Chinatown anyway.

I've said for many years that I love the idea of wandering around and looking at street art.  Ron English is back and this time he has hit Little Italy.  Baby Hulk is one of my favorite mural subjects.  A few years back, Ron English painted a massive mural of Baby Hulk along the Bowery.  I was happy to see that Baby Hulk is alive and well in another Ron English painting in Little Italy.  Now, as far as street art tours go, you can meet up with some guides and pay $20 to $30 dollars and get to see the works.  You can also do that in Williamstown in Brooklyn. Or, you can go somewhere like Astor Place, get off the subway and just start walking around the Bowery and the East Village.  You will see street art, and you will enjoy the walk.  The area is also known for kitchy shops and great restaurants with all kinds of international flair.  I even found a Zoltar machine.  I also found Beetlehouse, the Tim Burton themed restaurant.  It's on 6th Street for anyone who wondered.

On the Bowery I found the International Center of Photography.  They have a museum there and Magnum Manifesto was the exhibit on display when we randomly stopped by.  I obviously love photography and found the displays of internationally renowned photos from around the world fascinating.  It was worth the fee of $14 and I would definitely stop in again.

What is John Varvatos?  It's a store at 315 Bowery.  This is what I love about New York the most.  My son told me he wanted to go here.  I thought he was nuts.

John Varvatos used to be CBGB.  This was one of the premiere spots for punk rock, of which my son is a huge fan.  The great thing about this store is that it is a living museum to the old club.  There are playbills all over the walls and all kinds of crazy pictures from back in the day.  They even kept the stage and the bar areas in tact.  It's fascinating, and the store owners certainly don't mind if you come in and take a boatload of pictures and look all around the store.  It's a living landmark.  I was amazed at all the things I saw in there.  It was also a very good time and a great stop while on a street art walking tour.

So, the next time you visit New York City, try something new.  See things from a different perspective.  Meet people.  Learn while you see.  It's a great adventure and one that I enjoy at least once every year.  Most of the time I like to go twice. 

Now, as promised I have some advice on things to look out for.  Watch out for subway closings on the weekend that are not included on the website.  The subway that I normally take to my hotel was listed as working on the website and was closed for the weekend when we got there. That is one more reason to carry the map.  You may need an alternative fast.  Another thing that I highly recommend is making sure that if you take a single overnight into the city, you pick your hotel carefully.  Make sure that you pick a hotel in a relatively quiet location.  That's why I stay in the financial district.  Also make sure that your hotel has good amenities, and I don't mean the food.  My hotel provides water bottles and purified water in each floor's hallway so that you don't have to worry about having water to take out with you.  They also hold your bags while you are out running around the city so you don't have to carry them or pay extra before check in or after check out at the hotel.  Make sure that there are conveniences around you.  There's a grocery, deli and about a thousand coffee places right next to the hotel that I stay at.  There is also an indoor area where you can hang out and enjoy your coffee in bad weather.  The subway is right on the corner from my hotel so that arrival and departure are easy even in bad weather.  This is all very important when staying in a city like New York.  Check before you book.

If you shop for a particular item in the city; jewelry, lighting, furniture, etc.; make sure that you do it in an area that is full of such shops.  Clothing, hit the garment district.  Jewelry has a district.  Lighting and furniture  hit the Bowery.  Once again, check it out before you go.  Only suckers shop the expensive stores in midtown and uptown Manhattan.

Look for the bargains.  The ferry to Governor's Island is free on the weekends.  So is the shuttle to IKEA and Brooklyn.  CityBike is a great value unless you are riding through Central Park at which point rent a bike from the park crew at the gate on Columbus Circle.  CityBike has time restraints that can cost you a lot of money if you have the bike too long.  They also don't come with any kind of a lock so that you can park the bike and investigate the park.  Metrocards are the way to travel.  They transfer to some buses, the Roosevelt Island Tram and some other things.  Check out the prices though.  Even if you are staying a short time, you may want to buy the week pass for unlimited use.  Do the math and make the right decision.

By all means, don't think that you have to visit the Statue of Liberty, go up the Empire State Building and see a Broadway show just because you are going to New York.  Some of the best things in the city are hidden gems.  Bus tours are good, but can be expensive.  Look for the bargains.  Remember, New York is a touristy town and there are a lot of people there looking to make a buck off you when you visit.  I provide good advice to travelers for this city all the time.  Save money.  Spend it on the food

All that being said, remember never to go to Union Square the weekend before school starts at NYU and never ever get caught up in the political protests that continually go on there.  However, some of the best book stores in the city are there, such as a four story Barnes and Noble and The Strand; and some really good restaurants.  Choose your time wisely when you go there.

So, plan a great trip to New York.  Get a hold of me on any of my sites if you would like some advice on great off beat things to see and do in New York.  Take some time to visit one of the greatest cities in the world and enjoy!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Drachenstadt! Im Bavaria!

Somewhere is the lovely countryside of Bavarian Germany, there is a story afoot.  It's highly medieval, and it's become a lot of fun.  The reformation sent Germany reeling against the Holy Roman Emperor, or Pope.  When they decided that they should follow the word of the Bible in the vernacular, and quit following the elaborate worship celebrated throughout the Catholic realm; many wars broke out.  At one point, a huge army was sent to attack the people of the forest.  The simple country village, Furth Im Wald suffered from these battles.  But, in the middle of it all, a legend was born; a legend of the dragon.

Bavaria was ground zero for the religious wars of the 1400's and 1500's.  Some of the worst fighting was in this region.  The Bohemians, did not wish to be told what to do by Rome.  They were done.  They weren't alone.  A lot of Europe decided that they would rather worship in their native tongues.  And while today, religion is settled, the legend of the dragon lives on.

The dragon is an integral part of Furth Im Wald.  He even has his own museum. The legend goes that the dragon wreaked havoc on the village and the only two people who could rid the village of the vicious beast were the young lady of the Castle Furth and a fearless Knight, Udo.  How did they fulfill the prophecy and slay the dragon?  Well, if you want to find out, you must come and see.

Every August is the festival where they spear the dragon.  The people of the village reenact the invasion of the Dragon and how they took care of the problem.  Being a Bavarian and slightly medieval looking town just adds to the mystique and the fun of the entertainment.  While in town, you will enjoy many of the other great cultural and performing entertainments.  You can see traditional arts and industry in the town like metal working and such. There are live performances of what we in America would call fables.  There's food and of course, bier.  Bavaria is known for it's beer.

Furth Im Wald is a fabulous Bavarian village located along the Czech border between Nuremburg, Munich and Prague.  It's a great country getaway.  It's a lot of fun during the more visited time of Oktoberfest, but in August; this place is fabulous.  It's set up for tourists, so you will find it on guided tour lists.  You will also find a good variety of accommodations and restaurants.  The people are friendly, the arts traditional, the drinks plentiful, and the dragon amazing.

While the dragon has been slayed every August for over 500 years, these days he is a technical wonder.  The dragon is one of the largest robots in the world.  Several agencies came together to create this enormous mythical monster.  He is now not only the scourge of Furth Im Wald; he is also the pride of the village.  They love to share their lore and traditions with people so come on out to Furth Im Wald in August and enjoy a one of a kind festival in the wonderful region of Bavaria.  Enjoy!