Finding Inspiration in New York

finding inspiration in new yorkNew York is filled with inspiration no matter where you go.  Even if you aren’t the creative type, it’s not hard to feel inspired in the five boroughs, even as older residents complain about gentrification.  I recently read an article that interviewed six designers that are making inroads in the New York fashion scene, asking them to share what they consider New York’s best spots for inspiration.  Some of these didn’t really resonate with me, but there were a few spots they mentioned that I do truly love:

St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery: This church on 10th and 2nd Avenue was once on the farm of Pieter Stuyvesant, New Amsterdam’s notoriously cranky one-legged governor.  According to legend, his ghost haunts the church, angry that his property has been turned into an Episcopalian church (he was a devout Calvinist).  All ghosts aside, there’s a graveyard in the back that offers plenty of peace and quiet if you ever need to be alone.  

The Lower East Side: As one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods and one of its first slums, there’s always something exciting happening here, even if the dynamic of the neighborhood has changed dramatically.  It’s filled with great coffee shops, bars, restaurants, clubs and small boutiques.  

Strand Bookstore: Even if it’s considered kind of a touristy place, it’s one of the few touristy places that New Yorkers actually love visiting.  They have books here on just about every topic you can think of, offering endless sources of inspiration.  

Brooklyn Flea: Any creative person could find some great ideas in all of the things going on at Brooklyn Flea, whether it’s the music, art or furniture.  Even though people in Brooklyn like to pretend they don’t care, they prep for the Brooklyn Flea.  

Chelsea: Whether it’s the High Line, the art galleries or the fabled Chelsea Market, there’s plenty to do out here, and the entire neighborhood has a great vibe.  There’s an app called “See Saw” that lets you search art galleries by neighborhood, which is of course great fun in a place like Chelsea.  

NYC’s Lesser-Known Attractions

NYC's lesser known attractions by Ari KellenNew York’s got plenty of iconic and exciting attractions.  The Met, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the 9/11 Memorial, the list could go on and on.  Yet for all of these famous, iconic attractions, there are those that aren’t as well-known.  Here are some of the quirkier attractions in New York that you should be sure to not miss, taken from an article in Timeout:  

BLDG 92: This small museum, located in what was once a military residence at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, pays homage to the historical significance to the area.  It features exhibits for the history buff in all of us such as Civil War ironclads, Pearl Harbor casualties and the stories of those who worked on these various ships in Brooklyn.  

Panorama of the City of New York: It could take a lifetime to explore all of New York City, so luckily the Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum makes it easier for you.  It’s a 9,335-square-foot model of the city, where each inch represents about 100 real feet.  

The Met Breuer: The brand-new Met Breuer (it’s less than a year old!) is designed to make the Met a major player in 20th and 21st-century art.  There have already been some unique exhibits; one notable example is an exhibit of unfinished works by artists ranging from da Vinci to Warhol.

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum: Located in Pelham Bay Park (itself named after the family who built it), the Bartow-Pell mansion is built on the estate of the Pell family, who settled in the region in the 17th century.  The mansion itself, which was built in the early 19th century, offers a unique look at life in 19th-century New York.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center: Most New Yorkers seldom visit Staten Island, but if you do, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, spread across 83 acres, is a must-see.  In addition to an enormous botanical garden, it’s surrounded by cobblestone streets and tiny paths of Victorian and Tudor-style homes.  There’s also a “Chinese Scholar’s Garden”, designed to resemble the landscape of ancient China.  

City Reliquary: Located in the heart of Williamsburg, and looking like a small and nondescript storefront from the outside, the City Reliquary is able to pack an amazing amount of stuff, all tied to New York’s history, into a pretty tiny space.  In addition to being a Williamsburg institution, it serves as an active presence in the Brooklyn community by organizing special events and fundraisers.  

Green-Wood Cemetery: While most graveyards don’t scream “tourist destination”, most graveyards aren’t the Green-Wood Cemetery.  Filled with Victorian mausoleums and stone statues, it’s the resting place of a half million New Yorkers who range from Leonard Bernstein to Boss Tweed.  It also features Battle Hill, one of the highest points in Brooklyn and a major site in the Battle of Brooklyn during the American Revolution.

Woolworth building: When it was finished in 1913, the Woolworth was the tallest building in the world, and to this day remains one of New York’s 20 tallest buildings (a coveted position to say the least).  The building has passed hands regularly, but you can still tour the lobby, decked out in glass and marble interiors.  

Socrates Sculpture Park: In 1986, a group of artists and activists came together to create this 4.5 acre city park over an Astoria landfill.  Designated specifically for artists to create outdoor works, it hosts large-scale sculptures year-round, in addition to a Greenmarket, free yoga and tai chi classes.  

Top Winter Travel Destinations in the US

Top Winter travel destinations in the US by Ari KellenMost people associate vacations with the summer, but winter travel is an awful bit of fun.  Whether it’s a ski trip or a tropical getaway, there are some phenomenal winter travel destinations in the US.  Here are a few of them:

Puerto Rico: A combination of sunshine and stellar deals have drawn visitors to Puerto Rico for years now.  It’s affordable, has great beaches, good drinking and excellent food.  Whether you want to visit a celebrity chef or head into the backcountry’s “Lechon highway” for authentic roast pork, it’s great food you can’t get anywhere else.  

Hawaii: Even before Elvis made “Rock-a-Hula”, Hawaii has been attracting Americans with its stellar beaches, great weather and fabulous outdoor activities.  And the best part is that it stays fun and happening all year round.

New Orleans: New Orleans in the summer is humid and disgusting, but in the winter the weather is actually tolerable!  There’s a lot more than just Mardi Gras: lower hotel rates, great Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and fewer tourists.  

California: The beaches and sunshine of southern California make both Los Angeles and San Diego an idea winter getaway.  The colder months are also a great time to find cheap hotel deals.  

Florida: One of America’s most well-known and timeless snowbird destinations is the Sunshine State.  Whether you want to visit the Gulf beaches of Fort Myers and Tampa, take in the vibrant nightlife of Miami or go on rides in Orlando, it’s hard to go wrong here.

Salt Lake City: If you’d rather be skiing this season, then no worries, Salt Lake City is the place for you.  You can easily stay downtown and then drive just half an hour to the slopes, a winning combination.  

Savannah: Arguably the epitome of southern charm, Savannah is one of the most romantic cities in the country.  Apart from Valentine’s Day, winter is the low season here, giving you plenty of room to check out this charming historic city.  

Santa Fe: Yes, it’s a bit off the beaten path, but Santa Fe is wonderful to visit in the winter, with mild temperatures and access to ski slopes.  

Memphis: There isn’t much to do in Memphis, but there’s certainly enough to make for a phenomenal long weekend for anybody who loves food and music.  You can listen to live music on one of the many blues bars in Beale Street, get barbecue at Central (Rendezvous isn’t that good if we’re being honest) and visit Sun Studios, where Elvis Presley first recorded.

Anchorage: Most people would prefer to visit Alaska during the warmer months, but this is the prime season to see the Northern Lights, a natural phenomena as beautiful as it is unusual.  It’s tough to get there, but hotel rates are at an all-time low this time of the year.  

New York’s Hidden Streets

New York's hidden streets by Ari KellenYou won’t find all New York streets on a map.  Most of the streets are mercifully on a grid pattern, making it pretty easy to navigate.  Yet there are still some “secret” streets out there.  “Mews”, characterized by rows of stables, are easy to overlook, yet you don’t want to miss these at all.  I recently came across an article that shared some hidden mews in New York, listed below:

Washington Mews (Greenwich Village): Just north of Washington Square Park, this charming street features structures originally built as stables in the 19th century.  It’s now surrounded by iconic black gates, first built in 1881, meant to remind everybody that the street was private.  It’s been owned by NYU since the 50s, and is now used for offices and housing.  

Freeman Alley (Bowery): Even as the rest of the Lower East Side falls victim to gentrification, Freeman Alley retains the neighborhood’s old flavor with local graffiti.  At the end of it is a rustic American restaurant, Freeman’s.  

Sylvan Terrace (Washington Heights): Part of the Jumel Terrace Historic District, the buildings along the cobblestone Sylvan Terrace were restored to their old 19th-century appearance.  The wooden row houses feature dark green accents and painted glass paneling, much like they did back in the day.  

Pomander Walk (Upper West Side): It’s not easy to get accepted into this ultra-exclusive apartment complex, and involves an intense vetting process.  Yet residents insist that it’s worth it, and I’m inclined to agree.  Originally built as part of a film set that was never used, it’s a row of Tudor-style houses tucked mid-block between Broadway and West End Ave.  There isn’t a lot of space between these units, but the residents help make it look like a charming old English village smack in the middle of Manhattan.  

Warren Place Mews (Cobble Hill): The brick cottages here were first built in the 19th century as affordable housing for working-class New Yorkers.  Ironically, they’re now some of the city’s most expensive townhouses.  The asking price for one of these is 200 times its original price, but the charming little mew, featuring a picturesque courtyard, should be worth it.  

Ghostly Day Trips From NYC

ghostly day trips from NYC by Ari KellenNew Yorkers love their weekend getaways: the Poconos, the Jersey Shore, the Catskills, etc.  Yet New Yorkers might not think this is a great time to take a weekend trip; most of the leaves upstate have fallen, apple picking season is over, it’s starting to get cold, but there isn’t any snow for skiing yet.  But with Halloween just around the corner, a weekend ghost tour could be fun!  Here are some haunted places outside of New York that could make for a great day or weekend trip:

Amityville Horror House (Amityville, NY): Whether or not the events described in the “Amityville Horror” book or the 17 films it spawned actually occurred, this Dutch Colonial-style home does hold some dark secrets inside its walls.  In the early 70s, before the events of the book occurred, a young man murdered his parents and four siblings in the house.  The next family to purchase the house fled after 28 days, claiming that they were harassed by evil spirits, although no subsequent owners have reported anything unusual.  You can’t enter the house, but you can drive by, or maybe buy it (it was recently put on the market).  

Letchworth Village (Thiels, NY): The little hamlet of Thiels is home to Letchworth Village, which previously served as an insane asylum.  Like many historic insane asylums, Letchworth gained a reputation for mistreatment, and the ghosts of patients are said to still haunt the grounds.  Although the buildings are off-limits to the public, trespassers have reported such phenomena as weird sounds and moving objects.  

The Spy House (Port Monmouth, NJ): As one of the oldest houses in New Jersey (built around 1663), the “Spy House”, named after a previous owner who served as an American spy in the American Revolution, has had plenty of time to accrue ghosts.  Hailed “the most haunted house in America”, it once boasted 22 active ghosts, including a woman dressed in white, a bearded sea captain and a small boy.  It was previously open to the public for tours, but those have since stopped, fueling the suspicion that officials were trying to cover up the paranormal presence within the house’s walls.  

Union Cemetery (Easton, CT): This ancient cemetery, featuring graves from as far back as the 17th century, is said to be one of the most haunted places in Connecticut.  According to legend, a ghostly figure with long black hair wearing a white gown, known as “the White Lady”, haunts the grounds, floating among the gravestones and scaring drivers by appearing in the middle of Route 59.  

Shades of Death Road (Allamuchy, NJ): Nobody knows how Shades of Death Road got its grisly name, but whatever happened, it’s known as the site for all sorts of paranormal activity.  The road has hosted all sorts of grisly events over the years, such as an outbreak of malaria, car accidents, gruesome murders and brutal highway robberies.  Ghosts and other supernatural phenomena have been reported at various points along the road.  

Warrens’ Occult Museum (Monroe, CT): Ed and Lorraine Warren were a couple who worked as a team of paranormal investigators for over 50 years.  They claimed to have investigated over 10,000 cases during their career, including Amityville, and their work has inspired such films as “The Conjuring” franchise, “Annabelle” and “The Haunting in Connecticut”.  Their home in Monroe serves as the “Occult Museum”, where they keep various haunted objects that they’ve confiscated over the years, including the infamous Annabelle doll.  It boasts the “largest array of haunted artifacts and items that have been used in occult practices throughout the world”.   

Forest Park Cemetery (Brunswick, NY): Not for the faint of heart, this cemetery features inexplicable “cold spots”, where the temperature drops dramatically.  Apart from a general feeling of creepiness, visitors to the Forest Park Cemetery have reported glowing orbs and headless statues that bleed from the neck.  

7 Great Parks in Manhattan

7 great parks in Manhattan by Ari KellenCentral Park is probably one of the most iconic parks in the world, and not without good reason.  People travel to New York specifically to visit it, and it’s one of those touristy spots that’s worth a visit.  But that’s not to take away from some of the other fantastic parks across the city.  In Manhattan alone, there are dozens; catch some jazz musicians playing at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, or maybe take a stroll on the water at Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side.  Maybe pack a picnic lunch and find a quiet spot when it’s warm, catch the fall foliage in October or build a snowman in the winter.  You can find just about anything in New York City, including serenity (hard to believe, I know!).  Here are seven must-see parks in Manhattan, excluding Central Park, taken from an article by New York blogger Tracy Kaler:

Madison Square Park: Easily accessible to residents of Chelsea, Flatiron, Kips Bay and NoMad all have easy access to this park.  It not only provides a spot to relax and recoup, but also features a Shake Shack outpost.  Across the street on the eastern side of the park is the Michelin star-rated Eleven Madison Park.  

Tompkins Square Park: Alphabet City, once a no-zone in Manhattan, has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, and its main park, Tompkins Square, has plenty to offer, particularly for dog lovers.  The oversized dog run here has three dog swimming pools, a tree deck and bathing areas.  In Halloween there’s a dog parade, and every summer the park hosts both the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and a French film festival.

City Hall Park: This park in the financial district makes for terrific people watching, in addition to a great escape from the surrounding area’s hustle and bustle.  In many ways, it feels more like a public garden than a city park, with monuments and fountains gracing the well-manicured space.

Bryant Park: Conveniently located within walking distance from the Theater District, the New York Public Library and Grand Central, Bryant park hosts such events as group yoga classes, Broadway performances, free summer movies and more.  It also happens to have some of the cleanest public restrooms in the city.  

Ruppert Park: If you’re ever passing through the East 90s, this is absolutely worth a visit.  Although it belongs to the high-rise development Rupper Towers, it’s free for all who want some peace and quiet.  

Hudson River Park: This 550-acre waterside park connects Hell’s Kitchen to Battery Park City, starting at 59th street and extending all the way to Manhattan’s ede on the West Side.  It offers everything from dog parks to on-the-water activities, making it a favorite among New Yorkers.

FDR Four Freedoms Park: Not many New Yorkers visit Roosevelt Island, but if you do, the park at the southern tip of the island, FDR Four Freedoms, is absolutely worth the visit.  Dedicated to the legacy of FDR, it was designed by famed architect Louis I Kahn and offers sweeping views of Manhattan and the East River.  

10 Great Travel Tips

suitcase travelThe blogger Matthew Karsten, the self-proclaimed “Expert Vagabond”, has spent four years traveling around the world.  He sold everything he owned and started his journey with a one-way flight from Miami into Guatemala City.  I recently came across an article where he shared 30 valuable tips learned from traveling around the world.  Here are ten that I think are particularly interesting:

Wake up early: Waking up at sunrise lets you have attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds, and is a magical time for photos.  Sketchy areas are also less dangerous in the morning.

Stash extra cash: Cash is king, as the saying goes.  To cover yourself in case of an emergency, have at least a couple hundred dollars’ worth, God forbid you lose your wallet, your card stops working or the ATMs run out of money.  Stash it somewhere convenient, such as socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag or around the frame of your backpack.

Meet local people: Make a point to avoid other travelers and start conversations with locals.  Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so this is easier to do than you think.  Be friendly, smile and say hello, and even the most unfriendly-seeming people will open up to you.

Take lots of photos: These could be once in a lifetime experiences, so remember them forever with plenty of photos; they cost nothing, are easy to share with others and don’t take up space in your luggage.  Just remember to get out from behind the lens sometimes and enjoy the view.

Keep an open mind: Don’t judge the lifestyles and cultures of others, listen to opinions you might not agree with, practice empathy and embrace different possibilities, and you might learn something.

Try Couchsurfing: If you truly want to experience a country, staying with a local in the form of couchsurfing is the way to go.  There are millions of them around the world who will host you and provide recommendations.

Don’t be afraid: Reading the news, it’s easy to think that the entire world is dangerous.  Keep an eye out for sketchy situations, but don’t let that shape your entire trip.  All you need is common sense, and you should be okay.

Eat local food: Even if you think you know what Mexican or Chinese food tastes like, you’re probably wrong.  Taste a bit of everything, even if you don’t know what it is.  Try street food from vendors with big lines out front.

Say yes: Be impulsive and say yes when somebody invites you to meet their family, try something new or explore a new place.  Such situations often turn into the best stories from your experience.  Challenge yourself to try things new; if something normally makes you uncomfortable, try it.

Get off the beaten path: Cliche as it sounds, seek out interesting and unusual places that don’t see many tourists, and you’ll get plenty of memorable travel experiences.  Travel to popular sites, but don’t rule out any places.

Traveling to Isaan

IsaanWhen it comes to Thailand, it’s very easy to just want to travel to Bangkok and overlook the other areas.  Yet this is a sore mistake.  I recently came across an article about the region Isaan, an underrated part of Thailand that most people skip on the way to Laos.  Most of it is farmland and small towns without any real “attractions”, so it’s often overlooked by tourists.  Yet if you want to see what day-to-day life in Thailand is like away from the crowds, then this is where you want to go.  It’s extremely cheap, averaging on about $25 to $35 a day.  Overall, it should take at least one month, but can be done in two and a half weeks if you press yourself.  Here are six tips for traveling through Isaan:

1. Don’t pre-book: Since the region doesn’t see many tourists, just showing up to guesthouses and bus stops should work just fine.  Unlike Bangkok, you shouldn’t have any issues with fighting for space.

2. Try to have your own transportation: Like Ireland, Iceland or Southern France, Isaan is best explored on your own terms.  To really get out and see what it has to offer, rent your own bike or car.

3. Drivers can be hired and prices shared: If you don’t have your own transportation, then you’ll have to rely on hiring drivers.  It’s expensive, but it’s the only way to get to national parks and ruins, which are far outside the cities.  Yet drivers all charge set prices, allowing you to share costs with friends.

4. Expats can help: Isaan is filled with English teachers, so breaking into the local scene with Couchsurfing is great, and they’ll be more than happy to show you around.

5. National parks are far away, and day tours are hard to organize

6. English isn’t widely spoken: Since there are fewer tourists, the language barrier is going to be bigger.  You’ll be able to get around, but you’ll need to use more hand gestures and pointing.


Cold Weather This Weekend

cold cold cold

New York’s weather this winter seems to have been all over the place; Christmas felt nearly tropical, the rain was torrential in the early part of January, but then a couple weeks ago a record-breaking snowstorm hit.  And now, the Polar Vortex is set to sweep into New York City this weekend, getting ready to ruin your Valentine’s Day.  It will be sending down frigid air southward, from beyond the borders of Canada.  Some of this air will be sliding directly southward from eastern Canada, avoiding any warming effects on the mild waters of the Great Lakes.

A polar vortex is a storm typically centered near the North Pole, and tends to keep the coldest air trapped in the north of Canada.  This storm will occasionally weaken or shift enough to allow for frigid air to plummet southward into the US.  After a month with temperatures averaging 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, temperatures for this weekend will be falling to 10-20 degrees below normal, possibly going down 30 degrees.  After climbing to 38 degrees later today, the temperature is set to plummet dramatically; temperatures for Friday and Saturday morning will be around the teens, and Sunday morning could see temperatures down to five below.

Cold air will be tough for any New Yorkers spending time outdoors and not properly dressed.  Some things to worry about include frostbite, hypothermia, the bursting of unprotected pipes, water mains and battery failures in vehicles.  While New England will be get hit harder than New York, that’s not to say that Gotham won’t be cold.  Yet much like Jonas, this weather will leave just as soon as it came.  Temperatures might get as low as all of last winter, but the cold air isn’t likely to linger.

Traveling to Bangkok

Although it’s developed a reputation as a place where just about anything can happen, Bangkok’s pollution, traffic and lack of tourist attractions frequently leaves tourists feeling underwhelmed.  In the traditional tourist sense, there isn’t much to do here, but those who live in Bangkok would beg to differ.  Here are some tips for places to travel if you’re there, based off of an article I found written by somebody who used to live there:

The Grand Palace: Thailand’s royal palace, built at the end of the 18th century, is filled with numerous temples, including one that houses the 15th-century Emerald Buddha statue.  Located nearby is Wat Pho, a massage school tBangkokhat features a larger-than-life gold reclining Buddha statue, as well as the incomparable Wat Arun Buddhist temple.

Chatuchack Weekend Market: If you’re looking to buy anything and everything, here is where you go.  It’s a huge market with gifts, knockoffs, traditional food and plenty of chances to barter.

Jim Thompson House: Jim Thompson was a former American spy and silk merchant, who built a traditionally Thai home in Bangkok decorated with traditional wood furniture.  Although he vanished mysteriously in Malaysia, his house is now a museum paying homage to traditional Thai architecture.  In addition, the proceeds from the museum go to helping underprivileged kids.

Terminal 21: While most malls don’t turn head, this is an airport-themed mall, where every floor features a different region of the world.  There’s free wi-fi, restaurants on every floor, a movie theater on the top floor and an exceptional food court.

Suk Soi 11: This downtown street is the expat hotspot of Bangkok, where you’ll find great bars such as Cheap Charlie’s, guesthouses like Suk 11, Indian food from the Moghul Room and even Tex-Mex at Charley Brown’s!

Chinatown: A great place to get delicious seafood at night.  The only drawback is that the area is flooded with people all jockeying for space on the tiny streets, so be prepared to push your way through.

Khao San Road: All travel paths seem to lead to and from this infamous tourist street.  Yet apart from being a transit hub, it’s also the epicenter of backpacker life, with no shortage of bars, shops, street food, international restaurants, vendors, locals and activity.