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.  

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.  

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.


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.

Best Noodles in Astoria

pho noodlesAll gluten aside, few things are better than a big bowl of noodles.  Whether you’re enjoying spaghetti, pad thai or ramen, they’re carb-y goodness that can help fill you up and, when it’s cold outside, warm you up.  It’s hardly surprising that in recent years there’s been a major interest in Asian noodle soups, particularly Vietnamese pho and Japanese ramen.  Lucky for you, every neighborhood in New York seems to have great places to get a helping of noodles.  I recently came across an article that features some of the best noodle spots in Astoria, Queens, which I’ve shared below:

Trattoria L’incontro: This is the perfect place for the special occasion that you’re craving a full Italian dinner of pasta.  The type of noodles here are diverse: lasagna, fettuccine and ravioli, just to name a few select choices.

The Queens Kickshaw: Even though it’s a coffee house first and foremost, Queens Kickshaw has a surprisingly diverse menu: unbeatable grilled cheeses, fun craft beers and, more recently, a delicious vegetarian ramen.

Vite Vinosteria: The author of the article spoke about how she and some of her colleagues recently came to this excellent restaurant, where the pasta, specifically ravioli and tagliatelle, were major standouts.

Tamashii Ramen: With no shortage of choices for vegetarians and meat-lovers, Tamashii is a great place for noodles, located right on Broadway.  The Champon bowl, topped with seafood and featuring a slightly spicy broth, is one major feature.

Brick Cafe: You can get a lot of great things here, and the pasta is no exception.  Two particularly notable examples are their wild bucatini ragu (featuring wild boar in a red wine sauce) and linguini mare nero.

HinoMaru Ramen: Located right of Ditmars, this is sure to satisfy the ramen-seeker in you.  Tonkotsu, with a creamy pork broth, is one of their signature dishes.spaghetti and meatballs

Wave Thai: Also located on Ditmars, this is perfect for those whose preferences lean more towards Thai than Japanese.

Pye Boat Noodle: Few things are more comforting than a large serving of pad see ew, and few places can do it better than this authentic Thai restaurant on Broadway.

Vesta: It’s hard to go wrong here.  If there’s ever a pasta special on the menu, then you’ll be in for a treat.

Ornella Trattoria: This cozy restaurant has everything you’d want for Italian: both reliable Italian standbys and more inventive options, such as hemp or chickpea flour pastas.  Pasta di Castagna, a chestnut flour pasta in a cream and pistachio sauce with truffle oil, is one of the more noteworthy examples.

60 Beans: Much like Queens Kickshaw, 60 beans has evolved from a coffee shop into something even more beautiful, in this case a go-to Ditmars dinner spot.  Their pasta selections are exceptional, especially the burnt leek reginette, featuring braised lamb and creamy ricotta.

A Godzilla-sized Gator

As the old phrase goes, everything’s bigger in Texas. However, local residents thought this pleasant moniker belonged to the local food and flair, not massive creatures. When a gargantuan gator was found weighing nearly 1,000 pounds was found by the local Gator Squad, Christy Kroboth sprung into action against a monster some would rather run from. But what went into wrangling such a monster? How do you put something into a cage that’s bigger than the truck you drove to the site?

13-feet of scales and teeth, the locally dubbed “Godzilla” was a sight when Christy arrived on scene. Responding to a call for a gator half his size, the routine procedure for catching a normal alligator quickly proved useless. The 50-year-old beast looked like something out of a dinosaur film. Missing piece of its tail and coated in the scars, Christy looked more like a knight preparing to fight a dragon.

An accomplished wrangler, Christy says that many doubt her ability to capture such prehistoric-looking prey, but she never fails to impress with her ingenuity in a pinch. Her partially blind quarry was no match for her years of experience, and with a roll of duct tape, a forklift rented from Home Depot, and more than a little persistence, Christy was able to lift the massive monster into the waiting bed of her truck.

Ari KellenNow a happy resident of a local alligator shelter, Christy is confident that Godzilla will live out the rest of his long life in comfort, far away from any he may frighten. One of the few female alligator handlers in Texas, Christy is proud of her laundry-list of accomplishments at only 30. With more than 40 calls a week from people in need of rescue from their own monsters, Christy’s work is far from finished in the state of Texas.


Travel Smart

In light of the recent and horrible events in Paris, many are reconsidering traveling outside the borders of their home country. In a world where borders are becoming more like dividing lines than simple lines of demarcation, do we choose to venture beyond or stay within the relative safety of the familiar? Below are some ways to combat the ever-growing sense of unease that comes with travel, and remember that the world was meant to be seen, not feared.

Be Aware: You’d be surprised how many people arrive at unfavorable conclusions because they didn’t take the time to research where they were going. It’s not enough to purchase a ticket and pack a bag. A smart traveler does research on where they are visiting if there are any dangerous elements, and how to avoid them. This applies anywhere you can travel, from Colorado to Columbia, so keep a level head and do your homework.

Be Understanding: Though it’s pertinent to be aware in this day and age, the same can be said for being understanding. Assuming that everyone around you is a potential threat will only ruin your vacation and weigh heavily on your mind when you should be relaxing. You may not have control over what goes on around you, but you can certainly manage your reactions.

Ari KellenBe Realistic: While the attacks in Paris were awful, it’s important to be realistic when traveling. Statistics show that, at least in the United States, you are more prone to catch a stray bullet from an act of gun violence than be involved in an act of terrorism. Now, I’ve listed this as the third thing to remember because the above two are vastly more important. Statistics cannot replace alertness and will not substitute understanding, but they can offer some sense of truth in a time of concern.


A World of Wonder

Experience is often the best teacher. If that phrase holds true, then travel may be the best way to gain a varied collection of experiences. The world is as varied as it is massive, and new ways of life can be as close as the farm in Pennsylvania, or as far as the jungle tribes of the Amazon. Opening your eyes to new cultures, new modalities of living can motivate a growth of character and spirit that would otherwise go unmoved. It’s for precisely this reason that educational travel has grown to prominence.

Ari KellenBuilt on the idea of taking “non-tourist” trips around the world, educational travel is not about collecting souvenirs or visiting the next Disney, but rather the gathering of experiences. One of the many benefits of this process is that it usually costs less than your traditional vacations. Tourist traps, for lack of a better term, are aware that they are massive draws for crowds, and thusly raise their prices to make some extra money. When comparing educational travel to a vacation, it’s best to compare the cost of visiting Florida against a stay at Disneyland.

Children benefit greatly from this process, as well. The days of week-long family trips is all but a memory, and the modern family cannot escape the screens that follow us in our pockets, but they can take the family on a trip that can offer more than what can be seen through a tiny screen. Though most of the world can fit in the palm of their hands, children light up when shown the wondrous world in real life. Facebook and Instagram pale in comparison to the wild Sahara or the jungles of Asia. Bring them to the historical sites that have since become fodder for countless movies, and show them their heroes carved into living rock.

As said by the eternal Maya Angelou, “travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” The concept of the Global Citizen is far from fantasy.