An Overdue Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened 130 years ago, it was a technological marvel – the longest suspension bridge in the world! – and people didn’t know if they could trust it. A few days after the bridge opened in May 1883, a rumor that the structure would collapse caused a stampede that killed 12 people. P.T. Barnum, ever the master showman, saw an opportunity to promote his circus, and renewed an offer –  already once turned down – to stage a spectacle on the bridge. This time, with the recent deaths and persistent mistrust of the bridge at top of mind, officials allowed him to. The following May, he marched 21 elephants, including that gentle giant, Jumbo the fucking elephant, across the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Look, I go to a lot of zoos, and that is one seriously huge elephant.
(Image from the collection of the Barnum Museum)

Obviously the Bridge is still standing, so we felt it safe to join the throngs crossing it by foot one beautiful spring day a month or so ago. Somehow, despite living here for the past few years, visiting the city many times before living here, and having worked in lower Manhattan several times each, neither of us had ever walked across the bridge. It was time to make like Jumbo the elephant.

A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is just over a mile long, with a pedestrian walkway and bike lanes suspended above the car traffic. The views are lovely – the soaring towers of lower Manhattan on one side, Brooklyn looming straight ahead, and my favorite harbor bridge, the Manhattan Bridge (it’s true!), off to one side.

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Attached to many surfaces were Love Locks, or padlocks that couples attach to bridges while making a wish for everlasting love, and then throwing the key into the river. This is another reason not to eat anything anyone catches in New York City’s rivers: it probably has a key in its belly from one of these clowns.

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When we made it over to Brooklyn, we waited in line for half an hour to eat Grimaldi’s pizza (I hate waiting in line for things, but I will admit that this was absolutely worth the wait! There was a pizza-shaped hole in my heart, and Grimaldi’s filled it.) and then wandered into Brooklyn Bridge Park, where E and our friend D played catch on a tiny patch of unoccupied lawn.

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We wandered through Smorgasburg in the Tobacco Warehouse, and then headed back to the subway. This was, in all honesty, probably one of the most lamely touristy excursions we’ve ever made in the city (and I hope I’ve made it clear that I love doing touristy shit), but I admit it was fun. It’s always good to get a new perspective on your city, and a slow journey across a very large bridge is a really excellent way to do so.

I still feel like we maintained a bit of our insider cred, though. We stayed on the downtown 6 train after its last stop at the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station and looped on through the abandoned City Hall subway station to show our friend D. And the lights were on. So, I mean, that must count for something, no?

Winter Winery Visits in Connecticut

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This past weekend, E and I had plans to visit friends in Connecticut for dinner on Saturday. E likes to escape from the city — to “decitify,” as he says — regularly, and since we hadn’t disappeared since Christmas, we booked a hotel room and hopped in the car.

To kill time before we were due for dinner on Saturday, we decided to punctuate our drive north with visits to two wineries. For such a tiny state famous for its crappy soil, Connecticut has an unexpectedly robust wine industry. For my bachelerotte party, I was lucky enough to spend a day in a limo touring wineries with friends, and since then I’ve visited a bunch of other vineyards. This Saturday, we tried one new-to-us winery and revisited another.

The first place we stopped was McLaughlin Vineyards in Newtown. The property is a few miles off the highway in the middle of a residential area, but we found it pretty easily. We did a tasting ($10, with souvenir glass) and sampled 5 different wines, all good. The woman conducting the tastings told us about all of the classes, concerts, and programs at the winery. On Sundays in the summer they have live music under a tent in the fields, and people bring picnics and drink wine, which sounds like a pretty awesome use of a Sunday to me. She was very excited to support other Connecticut businesses (she served one of the reds we tried with a Connecticut-made chocolate, and had soda from a tiny soda company based in my hometown for sale in the shop). We also got to meet Misha, the winery dog, who seemed to have a pretty awesome life: sleeping by the fireplace, following her owner around, and making lots of [tipsy] new friends.

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Unfortunately they were out of the Chardonnay we both liked until March. We took home a bottle of Vista Muse, a Seyval Blanc, instead, which I am pretty excited to enjoy with some seafood once the days are a little longer.

Our second stop was a return visit for me. We popped into the bustling tasting room at Haight-Brown Vineyards in Litchfield. We opted for the basic tasting ($9, no glass), since my companion can eat neither cheese nor chocolate, and grabbed a seat at the bar on the second floor. The servers here were a bit overwhelmed, and we had to wait a long time between samples. Everything we tried was good, we just ran out of time before we got to the end (and we weren’t super excited about the fruit wines, anyway). They felt bad that we didn’t have time to try everything and didn’t charge us for one of the tastings, which was nice.

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We left with two bottles of the Picnic Red, which folks at dinner enjoyed, and a few bars of decent dark chocolate, because why not?

The rest of our weekend in Connecticut was spent hanging out with friends and their families, wandering through very old graveyards, and sleeping in at The Litchfield Inn, which had most of the charm of a New England bed and breakfast, but with private bathrooms and no forced communal meals (so it was great for me).

I’d like to turn more of our trips north into mini-vacations, and this was a good start to that. Next time we go to a winery, though, I’d rather have a picnic outside than have to huddle inside by a fireplace. Soon enough!

Late Night Explorations – Coney Island

Saturday evening, after a day of car trouble, cleaning, and studying (for E), we got the news that our landlord wants to raise our rent for the second consecutive year. We don’t want to pay it, so that leaves us looking to move in a little over a month. We’re not very excited about this, because guess what happens in a month, exactly, from today?

E takes the bar exam.

So, Saturday evening was shaping up to be less than fun, for more reasons than our surprise rent increase. In an attempt to drown our sorrows, we headed down to the beer garden for a pitcher, but we were both sort of cranky. So we decided to be spontaneous, and hopped in the car at 11 pm to head down to Coney Island and…

…The Coney Island Cyclone.

Neither of us had ever ridden the coaster, and it seemed like just the thing to jolt us out of our sour moods. We happened upon a sympathetic security officer at the New York Aquarium who let us park there alongside the revelers at the Mermaid Ball, and we were off. Tickets are 8 bucks per person, and luckily there was no one in line so I didn’t have time to second guess my decision.

We walked onto the platform and were ushered into a car. The lap bar was pushed down so tightly I was worried I wouldn’t make it through the ride without passing out. And then? We were off.

The first drop is 85 feet tall and steep as heck at 58.1 degrees. The ride is rough in a bone-jarring way that only old wooden roller coasters can be. I was not surprised to read that someone broke 4 vertebrae on the ride in 2007.  Despite being squished in behind that incredibly tight lap bar, I still got air on some of the drops. Don’t ask me how.

After we survived our roller coaster ride (which, if you’re so inclined, you can experience virtually here), we wandered down to the beach to see the water. Coney Island isn’t exactly a picturesque beach, but it has its own charm, with the amusements behind it and the litter of days well-spent in the sand. After E got his fill of looking out at the darkened water (something that spooks me), we headed back to our car at the Aquarium, and I rolled my window down on the way home. E thought I wanted to smell the ocean, but I was really trying to ward off some lingering nausea from the roller coaster ride. Same thing, right?

In moments like that — random Saturday nights when we decide we want to conquer a landmarked roller coaster — I am so glad we live in New York City. For all its filth, and eccentricities, and tiredness, it is also a place with enormous potential for joy, maybe, once in a while, sometimes.

Okay, New York, I don’t totally hate you. You caught me.

A Weekend Trip to the Twenties

Last weekend, E and I suited up and headed out to Governors Island for the  Jazz Age Lawn Party.

It was our second year attending, so we knew what to expect. However, we went to the smaller, quieter, (hotter) August version last summer, so the sheer number of people, of entertainers, of vendors was a fun surprise.

The Jazz Age Lawn Party is less historical reenactment than it is a chance for New Yorkers to get a little whimsical with their wardrobe, break out the nostalgia, and picnic for hours surrounded by grass and trees and bikes and champagne cocktails.

The costumes this year were fantastic. A lot of people who made it work with modern stuff, and also a ton of vintage promenading. Fans and hats and parasols, and suspenders, suspenders, suspenders.

It’s also a chance to joke about people who we now know were in for a big economic surprise in a few years’ time — “Oh, golly, how much have YOU made in the stock market this month?!” exclaimed one of my companions dramatically. Perhaps we are using humor to address our own embarrassment and shame of our own actions (or those of people we knew) during the last boom. Or maybe people are just jerks.

More than anything, though, it was a visual spectacle to see so many people in costume, lounging on blankets, strolling among the trees, or dancing a few steps of the Charleston to the sounds of a live band. There is a feeling of safety when you are surrounded by so many people doing what can be construed as a foolish thing in one place. On the ferry over, the benches were full of a mix of people in costume and wide-eyed folks in normal clothes who had no idea what was going on. When the silly ones are the ones in the know, there’s something special happening.

We’ll see you again soon, Governors Island — possibly even for the next Jazz Age Lawn Party in August.

A Banner New York City [Food] Day

Last Friday, after E’s graduation ceremony, the celebration began. We were lucky to have E’s parents and brother in town for the event, and we wanted to show them a good time, which in my mind means good food.

Once E had turned in his robes and taken some photos, we wandered towards Central Park and the New York Historical Society. Our destination was Caffé Storico, tucked into the first floor of the museum. I am not super familiar with the area around the theater, so thank you Google for this recommendation. From their website:

The restaurant features dishes inspired by classic cicchetti, or small plates, as well as handmade artisanal pastas. Award-winning chef, Jim Burke, brings an approachable, refined style to the menu with a deep sense of authentic Italian cuisine developed during his time in Italy. An all-Italian wine list with over fifty labels, twenty of which are available by the glass, accompanies a full bar.

Our meal, from the chicken liver crostini to the warm strawberry rhubarb crostata, was amazing. The food was delectable, the service impeccable, and the setting just right for an afternoon meal. We shared a bottle of prosecco in a lovely setting surrounded by Ladies Who Lunch.

Image from their website.

Because the kitchen is completely open, it got a little noisy, but our 1:30 arrival was well-timed to miss the bulk of the lunchtime din. After we ate, we were tempted by the trinkets in the Historical Society’s gift shop. It was a bit over our normal price point, but the occasion called for something special, and we definitely felt like we got our money’s worth. I hope to sneak back some week for their special Sunday evening prix fixe menu.

We were lucky to have perfect weather (about 72 degrees, sunny, light breeze) to stroll through Central Park and digest for a while before meeting the rest of our party for dinner at the Bryant Park Grill (warning: autoplay!). E and I lovelovelove Bryant Park, and while we’ve gotten drinks at the cafe a few times, we hadn’t made it to the restaurant yet. The food was great, but the real draw was the setting. I let our out-of-towners take the seats facing the park and chose to examine a door into the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwartzman Building instead. I was still pretty pleased. Service here was spotty, but, I mean…

Image from Wikipedia.

… I’ll take it.

We made one last stop after dinner at the Campbell Apartment, a former office-turned-bar tucked away in a corner of Grand Central Terminal. We had been meaning to head there for a long time, but never seemed to be properly attired when we were in the area and thought of it. So that night, we marched our graduation-bedecked selves over to GCT, up the stairs from the main concourse, out the door, around the corner, back inside, up another set of stairs (you with me?) and into the Campbell Apartment. The room was lavishly decorated, dimly lit, and packed with just the right amount of people for a Friday evening happy hour. We were able to get a table after a short wait, and ended the evening sipping well-made cocktails in what felt like a secret club. Full of commuters. And tourists.

But no matter! I am glad to be able to check a visit to the Campbell Apartment off my New York City bucket list.

Thus ended a jam-packed day of fun and good eats at several New York City landmarks, from the Upper West Side to Midtown. Later that evening, after E had recovered from the whirlwind day, we went on one last adventure to cap out the day…

Oh, hey, I took this photo!

A ride up the elevators to the top of the Empire State Building! E’s mom and brother were staying at a hotel around the corner from the ESB, so while we were escorting them to their hotel, we were all inspired to make the trip. I haven’t been up there in years, and the view was more incredible than I remember. I’ve always been skeptical of the observation deck at the ESB as a tourist’s stop, but not anymore.

Getting a view of the city E loves from above was a perfect nightcap on a day full of celebrations. We said good-bye, gathered our belongings, and treated ourselves to a rare (but much-deserved) cab ride back to Queens, and to sleep.

We Do New York: Local Queens Fun

Things have been sort of bananas lately. Work has been crazy, and nearly every weekend has been chock full of travel, or visitors, or both. This weekend we had blessedly little on the docket, so we took the opportunity to spend time with some local friends and finally give the apartment a fraction of the TLC it’s been missing out on while we’ve run all over the place. While I was waiting for the Chinese food delivery guy (hey, I never said we were superheroes) to run up the stairs with our order, I looked at our newly clean living room and thought to myself, Hey, this place is actually pretty nice when it’s in some kind of order. I tend to get pretty negative about our apartment and everything we hate about it, but we’ve lived here for 2.5 years and it is most definitely a reflection of us, if nothing else.

So, about that whole hanging-out-locally thing. As residents of an outer borough, it is somehow very gratifying to spend an entire weekend without crossing that body of water that separates our home turf from Manhattan. The trains are basically always messed up on the weekends, and, well, it just seems so much further away if you have to go underground (the subways out here are elevated).  E and I spent Saturday during the day wandering around the old world’s fairgrounds further out in Queens, enjoying the beautiful 50 degree weather. The former fairgrounds are now a park that is in some disrepair, and is peppered with the remnants of New York’s 1939-40 and 1964-65 world’s fairs. Being something an enthusiast for theme parks and world’s fairs, this park was one of the things that made me excited about moving to New York when I was generally pretty unhappy about the deal. When we rented our apartment, we had to drive to a bank to take out cash to give our landlord, and we passed the fairgrounds on the highway. I saw the top of the Unisphere poking out above the trees and was immediately excited to visit, and that’s still true today.

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As usual, we wandered around the New York state pavilion, and did some people-watching by the Unisphere. We had grand plans to go to the Queens Zoo, also in the park, but it was chillier than we anticipated, so we ducked into the Queens Museum of Art (recently — and oddly — featured in the movie New Year’s Eve) to visit our old friend, the Panorama of the City of New York. The park remains one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path sites in the city, and if you have the time to trek out there, I highly recommend it. I’m hoping to use a Mets game as an excuse to get back out there again in the coming months, to drink some beer and heckle some baseball players who make way more money than I ever will!

Saturday night, we met friends at a speakeasy-style lounge in Long Island City called Dutch Kills. No one in our group had been there, but it was a fun bar with a great vibe and fantastic cocktails. We got there around nine and were able to get a table right away, and all night the place was just the right amount of busy — you felt like there was a lot going on without being overwhelmed. I am not generally a mixed-drink kind of gal, but this bar was a delicious exception.

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Something we all oohed and ahhed over was the fact that each drink was chilled with hand-cut ice to suit the needs of that beverage. Above was my drink for most of the night, the Marie Antoinette, with its tiny little cylinders of ice. Other folks at the table had drinks “on a rock” — with literally one large chunk of ice — or “served long” in a tall glass with a single long, cylindrical piece of ice. Definitely cool (pun not intended, but appreciated). They also include the recipes for their cocktails on their menu, which you can download from their web site. That kind of inclusiveness helps counteract the pretentiousness of a bar this young masquerading as a speakeasy, and makes me pretty excited to try to recreate some of our favorite sips from the evening.

E and I both slept off our booze this morning, which was well worth it for a lot of reasons. We’re gearing up to watch the season finale of Downton Abbey tonight, and I am more excited than I probably should be. I want to run out and get some snacks for the viewing, but can’t think of anything themey, and the whole point of watching television is themed snacks, am I right? Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I was pretty stoked that time I made “fish biscuit” sugar cookies for a Lost viewing party. I do have a bottle of sparkling wine in the fridge. I mean, fancy wine is appropriate, no?

Back in the US…A

Around 11:30 on Saturday evening, our plane roared into LaGuardia and we were, more or less, home. Our trips to Disney World and to Mexico had been fun, but we were both nursing colds, tired of eating out, and missing our cat. When we got back to our apartment, Tessie practically leapt into our arms, and we both puttered around for a bit, letting all the pent-up energy from a day spent in various modes of transportation disperse.

We learned some important things on this vacation. It was our first major trip together, with the exception of another trip to Disney World a couple of years ago, and a short trip to visit E’s grandmother last winter. Those don’t really count, though, because I can do a Disney vacation in my sleep, and visiting family is basically like being at home in a different climate.

This vacation taught us that:

  1. Squishing two totally separate trips into one trip is really a pretty bad idea. Going to Disney World is a monster of a vacation under any circumstances. In this case, we were cramming 3 parks into 2 1/2 days, trying to contend with the half and full marathons snaking around and through those parks, negotiating the higher crowd levels that came with those marathons (and their runners and spectators), and trying to spend time with family who were also down there. Then, after those 2 1/2 days, we jumped on a plane and landed in a foreign country. Our time in Mexico was its own monster vacation, with sites to see, ruins to explore, and beaches to visit. Because the trips were so very different from each other, it was an entirely different beast than visiting, say, 2 European cities (even disparate ones!) in one vacation.  If we had been smart (and interested in preserving our sanity), we would have spent an extra day or two in Florida to take the pressure off to SEE ALL THE THINGS so quickly, and saved the Mexico trip for another week or month or whatever. Unfortunately, my frugality led me to scoff at the idea of spending the extra money on flights when we were so much closer to Mexico in Florida. Frugality? I shall scoff at you, next time.
  2. All-inclusives are, generally, not for us. We got a Groupon for an all-inclusive at a price we couldn’t turn down. Otherwise, I don’t think we ever would have ended up at one. Initially we planned to use the resort as a home base for the week and venture out a lot to other areas, including the possibility of staying at another hotel or two a couple of nights (the Groupon was seriously a steal). Due to the insanity of vacation planning, that didn’t happen. The first 24 hours or so, we were feeling very out of our element in that environment, where people really go above and beyond to take care of everything for you. I know how weird this sounds. “What, you didn’t like people WAITING ON YOU HAND AND FOOT?” No. And maybe it has something to do with the socio-economic forces at play when staying at an all-inclusive resort on the beach in an area where many of the locals were moved into towns on the other side of the highway when tourism began to grow in the region, but I think we’ll avoid all-inclusives in the future. I could see visiting with a group — intergenerational family group, or a group of couples, or of friends — but for me and E, we’ll stick to regular old hotels.
  3. We should be picky when trusting a guidebook. We were led both to the least fun part of our trip (a hyper-touristy area in one of the cities near our resort) and the most astounding part of our trip (a nearly deserted, pristine beach in a nature preserve) by the same guidebook. My gut told me to avoid the former and rush to do the latter, and I should have listened to it. But I trusted the guidebook. So it goes.
  4. We are really, really glad we didn’t have a “big” honeymoon right after our wedding. The amount of work that went into planning this vacation was immense, and the last minute lead-up was, for all our planning and forethought, still pretty frantic. And that was without a giant life event standing between us and the plane ride! The further I get from our wedding, the happier I am with our decision to stay local, invest in the hotel room, and keep things blissfully quiet on our honeymoon.
  5. You really can’t have a second honeymoon. On our actual honeymoon, we were seriously in la la land the entire time. I don’t think we’ve ever been nicer to each other than we were on that trip (and that’s not to say we are terrible to each other in daily life, but rather to say that not a single temper flared, snarky comment was made, or moment of sulking happened the entirety of the trip). This vacation, which my mother kept referring to as our honeymoon, was a regular old vacation. We had a great time and it was a lot of fun, but there wasn’t the glowing buffer to keep regular life out that there was on our honeymoon.

All those lessons learned, I can’t wait to go on our next adventure! I’m already scheming over some small trips over the next couple of months, and dreaming up our next big trip. We’re thinking something more urban, since this vacation was all about hanging out in gorgeous beachfront locales (tough life, eh?).

In any case, I’ll have some more posts on the things we saw (including our super weird, half-abandoned hotel [see: cheap Groupon]) and fun stuff we did in the days to come. I have to keep remembering that there are places with beautiful weather and sunshine when it’s 19 degrees here in New York.

Hmmm, maybe that doesn’t actually make me feel better, per se.