Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Top 10 New York City Resources

Planning a trip to New York City? Here you will find links to various resources that you might find valuable. All of these entries were previously posted on my site - but rather than wading through the depths of my entire trip, I have consolidated them down to the top ten.

You will find a brief summary below the link, listing their key points as well as reasons why you might find them useful.

Full maps and itineraries can be found here, as well as offbeat sights nestled in with those that are obvious, but still not to be missed. Tips, flips [literally], and restaurant tricks can all be found below.

1. A Week in New York City
Looking for things to see? City walks to take? A way to budget all your desires into a limited amount of time? This article has it all - complete with a custom made google map detailing a variety of interesting locations.

2. How to Avoid Being Scammed
There is a lot of hustling in the city, and it's not limited to the people trying to quickly get from one location to the next. Con Artists are all around. Take some advice, and be prepared to deal with it. Unless you want to end up paying a lot for a little, take heed of these fine words.

3. Brooklyn Bridge Crossing
Walking across Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan is a fantastic experience. Even if it is pouring rain, it is an sight and an event not to be missed. Here you will find text, and images that will hopefully convince you of this.

4. New York Subway Tips
If it's your first time in the big city, you might find it daunting to get around. Fear not, because the MTA (New York’s Subway) is a very reliable and efficient service. However, if it is your first time in the big city wrapping your head around that might cause problems enough. Fear not: help is here.

5. 5 Pointz
A graffiti Mecca just outside of Manhattan. If you can't take the trip, at least view the images here and appreciate the art form, imagining the diverse range of artists who came together to make this site what it is.

6. Quickly Move through the Customs Line
No one likes waiting in hour long lines. But when we get off at any major airport, that's what we're always up against. Follow these simple steps and you will be breezing through to your connecting flight in no time. You just might feel a little less good about yourself.

7. New York City's [big] Apple Store
Pun aside, this is a building you will want to see for yourself. Sure you'll be surrounded by hipsters, but then perhaps you are one - then it will be even more perfect for you. Take the great glass elevator down to the iProduct filled depths below and shop to your hearts content. Or just view the cube. Best viewed at night, it's worth the trip at any time of day.

8. Twenty Minutes in Harlem
There is so much more to Harlem than I saw in my limited time. And for that, I regret not finding a chance to return. But in my limited time I saw a very different community. One that exists just north of Central Park. By all means, explore the world north of 114th.

9. Ground Zero
September 11th is something that many of us will remember our entire lives. A day which seemed to pause - stretching into weeks, into years. Ground Zero remains a testament of what happened on that day. But the question is: should ground zero still remain, with MTA lines reading "this stop is temporarily out of service."? At what point should new growth and the construction of Freedom Tower to commence?

10. The Jump
Street theatre is abundant in this city. Here is the literal flip you were promised.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New York City: Ground Zero

Standing in the middle of City Hall Park one notices how closed of to the public some of New York's buildings are. There are gates, security booths, and tire spikes all in place to keep the undesired away. This is a far stretch from Toronto's city hall, where visitors are welcomed and encouraged with festival after festival. Perhaps things in this city are not always what they seem to be.

It is only a few blocks away that the most notorious event in American history transpired. On September 11t 2001, two planes collided with the World Trade Center, reducing them to rubble. The world watched on, helpless to do anything but view as the horror transpired.

Today, nearly eight years later, ground zero still remains. Cranes and construction vehicles stand behind boarded up fences. Worked walk in and out, allowing for brief glimpses beyond the veil. A memorial museum stands just outside the site.

Seven years ago, I was touched by the event – made to feel as it cut through the emotional barricades we all have, in order to keep the world at bay. And yet today, though unsure as to what I expected, I feel nothing. Nothing but a sense of subtle outrage.

To me, as an outsider, ground zero seems to be nothing more than exploitation of the American Spirit. Eight years ago, I shed tears for the people who fell – today there is nothing but an aging construction project hidden away from the public eye, a poster featuring some of the fallen, two lone candles, and a museum whose entry fee is far higher than it need be.

The towers should have already been rebuilt, and yet it seems the work has just begun. London, Tokyo, even Hiroshima rebuilt after their disasters, and yet here – where an iconic symbol fell – no progress has been made.

Though, never fully stated, I am left with the feeling that the city wants to use this wreckage as a rallying point around which wars can be waged. Were the new tower to be completed, people might start to move on with their lives, no longer obsessing over the past. While I do not think these moments should ever be forgotten, the five year old who – in excitement – wanted to watch the construction while playing with his own Tonka Toys alerted me to how many people have started to view this site as something else.

Were the new tower to be built, images and references could no longer be directed at this site. No longer could a war in Iraq (never mind the fact they were not involved in the 2001 attacks) be accepted by a view of the damage.

Perhaps this is not the case. As I said, I am only an outside observer. Still, I find it hard to imagine how a building one kilometer high could be built in Dubai, quicker than the Freedom tower could be put up.

And as for the museum? Why not offer access to the stories, letters, and pictures within free of charge – or with donation? If one really wants stories to live on, there should be no price tag associated with them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to Quickly Get through the Customs Line

I know this isn't the politically correct thing to do – but let's be honest, you've done it before. And if you haven't, odds are you'll start after reading this.

So you wait for twenty minutes in the customs line, only to be faced with choosing a new short line. That one out of twenty booths with little lights on indicating they have an agent ready to service you. Each booth has about ten people in line for it. How do you decide which one to access?

Step 1:
Look at the color of the passports people are holding. The fact of the matter is – people often love Canadians. In Europe you get rushed through, and especially in America. If you see a lot of people with dark blue-green booklets in your hand, you get behind them. [I failed – I was in a line full of maroon. This meant waiting while people were fingerprinted and photographed. Something not required for myself.]

Step 2:
See who looks like they're a big happy family. Sure your line may be fifteen people long, and others are only ten. But families clear together. Six people may all go through at once. Husbands and wives walk up together. Spot the people who seem so much in love – avoid them. They're just dating. Individual waits for the. It's the ones with the deadened “are we there yet” look in their eyes that are your surefire ticket to success. Those are the married ones. Another tip is to see how many custom cards are being carried. One per group. [I failed here too. I should have known the couple looked too happy, but there was only one card. Or so I thought – the girlfriend was holding hers and her boyfriends. Love – it's a crazy thing.

Step 3:
Look out for freaky looking people. You know – those with long hair, or beards, or who are dressed in raggedy clothing – you want to avoid these lines depending on the country you're accessing. From personal experience, I can tell you that this look will get you a nice long wait, and bag search in places like Cuba. Though in America, Japan, Canada, or England this hasn't seemed to pose a problem. [There's nothing better than an armed Cuban searching for drugs that never existed. They'll find zippers and pockets in your pack that you didn't even know existed!]

Step 4:
This is the unfortunate one. Airlines claim they no longer racially profile – it's part of their mandate. And yet there's that Patriot Act and it's best selling sequel Patriot Act II that gives this sort of freedom in America. Other countries don't even pretend to care. So if you want to get through fast, look for the line with the most well dressed white people. It's unfortunate, I know – but when I was in London (where they have little holding pens for people they've pulled aside) the racial profiling was terribly evident.

Step 5:
Assess your agent. Do some lines have only three people, while others have ten? There could be a reason for this. Perhaps your fellow travellers are more perceptive than you. If they get through their line of ten quicker than you get through the two people in front of you, bail. Bail immediately. You do not want anything to do with that agent, for any reason. Do they look sleepy? Tired? Overworked? Underpaid? If they're having a bad day, they might think about doing everything in their power to ensure that you have a bad day too. [I have found perky women, and smiling men are the best way to go. Smiling women, and perky men on the other hand can just be a setup for disaster – you've been warned.]

Wrap Up:
You know when you learned about the nuclear family back in grade two? That family that no one seems to recall having, or even knowing anyone who had it? Well – if on your travels you find yourself in an airport customs line, and they are there. You do everything in your power to make sure you're right behind them.

No – it doesn't always work. Sometimes disaster is bound to strike. Other times your well chosen agent goes off duty right as you walk up. Still, you must do what you can.

Please enjoy a speedier trip through your next disembarkation, on way to the baggage claim.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Business as Usual

Well, I’m back from New York now. Unlike Kurt Russell, my Escape from New York was neither difficult nor desired, but nevertheless, here I am back in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Back at work, to boot.

This last week has been an experiment in using this blog as my full travel log. I attempted to write in it, as I would in my hard bound dollar store notebooks I’ve taken around the world with me. The experiment was – well, it was both a success and a failure. It was a success in that I wrote a number of interesting posts, as well as managed to add accompanying images. But in the sense of how much time was required, it was definitely a failure. Something that will not be repeated for some time to come.

Each night I found myself writing for no less than two hours. Then, the addition of the pictures took another thirty or so minutes. Needless to say, these three hours at the end of the day could have been spent in – different ways.

And the thing I noticed? I spent the same amount of time writing, but whereas before I would have spread those three hours out on the subway, or in line for an exhibit, or even over dinner, I could not do that. Taking out a laptop at a restaurant seemed to be somewhat of a faux pas.

What does this mean for the blog? Not too much – it means that there will be the regular posts during my non-travelling times (about every other day), and perhaps one a day when I am on the road. One post a day seems to be a far more manageable number than say – oh I don’t know – 6? I’m sure it’s also far more manageable to read. Feel free to comment to that respect: What did you think of the posts? What did you think of the terrible number of them?

Where do we go from here? I’m back – but the memories, and thoughts, and all that decompression that follows a trip has not yet left me. So over the next week or so, I will be writing some reactions to New York City, a City Guide, a top 10 posts (Again, feel free to comment on what of the many posts were your favourite from New York City).

And then? Then we will take a closer look at some parts of Toronto. You’re excited, aren’t you?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

NYC09: Departures

Wake up early. Scramble! Scramble! Scramble!

Did I pack my toothbrush? Did my power cords make it to my pack? Is that the alarm ringing, or is that terrible song ingrained in my mind after hearing it far too early far too many days in a row?

Shower? NO TIME!

Out of the hotel, throw the keys down on the counter and make way to the downtown subway. And then... wait. And wait. And wait. Where is that number one train anyway?

Ohh well – there's the Two. It claims to be an express. That should get me to 34th Penn Station in only three stops.

Wait, what? It's making all the local stops. Ai ya.

O.K. Penn station! Rush through the exit, run to the Jersey Train Station and then... wait, and wait and wait. What do you mean the last train just left and the next one won't be here for fifty minutes? I thought these things came every half an hour.

Avoid the drunks sitting next to you, trying to talk about how hard they partied last night. Don't give the your name. Don't give them your name – ohh there's a friendly police officer to kick out everyone without a ticket.

Track three now boarding. I make my way on, and get rushed down the track, down the track, take a seat. And now we wait. We need a more favorable signal.

Off of one train at Newark Airport, and on the monorail – please exit quickly! so you can – wait. Boarding passes handed out, baggage checked, and rush through security where belts, shoes, comptures, wallets, watches, have to be placed in bins.

Feet smelling, and pants falling down, make way through the metal detector, and then it's a rush to get all your gear back on, and head to the terminal. So you can once again wait. And wait. And wait. The plane will get here when it gets here, I'm sure.

No posh lounge this time. No free juice. No internet access (except for a Boingo hot spot - $7.95 a day, or $9.95 a month – no thank you) just benches, a flight information screen, and a clock.

Hurry up and wait definitely seems the theme of the day.

NYC09: Stage Deli

Do you want to eat a Conan O'Brien? A Kevin Bacon? A Howie Mandel? Well if so there's only one place for you to head, and that's Stage's Deli. Located only one block from the MoMA it's the perfect way to finish any night at the museum. Or just any night in the big city. This is deli sandwiches at their best.

So you think that you can eat with the big boys do you? Well strap yourself in for the famous triply decker behemoths, and see if you've really got the chops for it.

Feeling a little on the cocky side? Why not start with a plate of biggest, and most delicious, onion rings you've ever had?

When you order one of the sandwiches, you may have an idea of what you're about to experience. But seeing, as they say, is believing. The Corn beef sandwich will arrive on a plate with a pickle (a real honest to goodness pickle that is more small cucumber than anything else – which might actually disappoint some diners) and two slices of bread.

Now, it's what you find between these two slices that makes Stage Deli, Stage Deli. There between these two tasty slices you will find two inches of meat. Two inches! Just getting your mouth around it can be problematic.

But once you've finished your last bite (if you can finished your last bite) you will be rewarded with a sense of self-satisfaction normally reserved for those who can eat the five pound steaks.

And if stacks of meat aren't your forte, they are also sell a number of different cheesecakes – desert sittings in a different area than dinner diners. It helps prevent culture clash, I'm sure.

Stage Deil: Truly a tasty treat that doubles as a New York City cultural experience.

But don't expect to come home with wallets full. Their sandwiches run $14.00 - $20.00, and a plate of onion rings to start costs just under $8.00.


Located at 5th Avenue and 53rd The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA to close friends) is free on Friday's between 4:00 and 8:00. The gallery is one hundred percent free. This is not one of those things where they have suggested donations and it can be free, no my friends, this is where they are just standing by the door handing out tickets.

Now, while I say the museum is located at 5th Avenue and 53rd, if you arrive at 4:30, you might just want to do yourself a favour, and head straight for 6th Avenue and 54th steet. That's where you'll be joining the line to get your free ticket.

A literal blockbuster, the MoMA forces people all the way around the building in an attempt to create order to this free ticket madness. But don't worry – the line moves fast, never once stopping. It's no more of a line, than it is a stroll to the front. And then you're in.

This is where the real line begins. If you have a backpack, you will have to check it. A slightly neurotic man will tell you to line up in either line A, B, C, or D. And then he will yell at you for not being “tight to the right!” or not having your “shoulder against the wall!” Failure to do any of these things will cause him to lose count. I try to imagine his home life. I can not.

Now once you're through that – or you were smart enough to leave the backpack at home, you'll be able to stroll right in.

There are five floors of art here to explore. If you rush you can get through every room in two hours. If you take your time? Well – if you take your time, a single piece could take that long. But if you start talking about that piece, for those full two hours you can bet myself – or someone like me – will be listening to every word over your shoulder, silently giggling.

“You see, I understand that there are tables and chairs down there. They're all different, and all different types and different styles – but what does it mean?” / friend tries to explain what the sign had said / “Well, I know there's an explanation down there – but I just feel that I should be able to understand it without having to read something.”

Listening to people in art galleries is one of my biggest pleasures. Yes, I like to analyze too – but I'm fully aware, that you can't do it in public without coming off sounding a little bit ridiculous. I mean, if you want to understand a piece of art without having to read about it then you just look at it and you understand it. But if you really want to understand it as the artist intended then there is no way around reading what the artist has to say about it.

Follow the hipster can be a great game at an art gallery – so long as you understand the rules. Some other time in your life, be it at a bird watching conference, or a comic book conventions, or a fashion show you will be the “expert” and other people will follow you to hear all the ridiculous things you have to say. By playing follow the hipster, you give up all right to be upset with this person. Sometimes a pipe is a pipe. But not here, not at the MoMA.

There is a stunning photography exhibit here that chronicles the history of the form. Not only does it show photography through the ages, but it also gives detailed explanations for the printing process used throughout the years as well. Extreme closeup examples show the dot matrix of each image. You can view the similarities between magazine prints in the nineteen fifties and the modern ink jet printers. The differences between how photos are digitally developed today versus the silver negatives that were once used as as different as they are similar.

This single exhibit itself cries for more attention than a quick run-through can allow. Still, if you are pressed for time, passing through quickly is more important than skipping it all together.

One floor up, the paintings begin.

It is here in New York City's Museum of Modern Art that you will find many of the paintings you have studied throughout high school. Salvidor Dali's melting clock (which has a different, more profound name – something about future I believe), and Van Gogh's Starry Night are often on display here. I say often because from time to time they will be floating around Europe. I can only assume this occurs whenever you are there to see them. Yes, it's only when you want to see them that you can't. Sure they're there for everyone else but – and WHY would the museum send away both showpieces at the same time?! Never mind – I digress.

Even without those two, scheduled to return in time for the summer, there is a lot to see. Numerous works by Pablo Picasso line the walls. To the point that you are looking for a work by another artist – any other artist. And then you have Andy Warhol. His famed soup cans, and Marilyn Monroe call this museum their home.

Monet has a huge print that is beyond photographing, provided you don't want to stitch together numerous images.

The Museum of Modern Art has something to offer everyone – and it's your job to see it all. Best bring a pen, and get a map so you can check off each room as you pass through it.

Hey, it worked for me.

NYC09: New York Library

I'm going to be honest with you. I thought I knew what libraries were. I thought they were buildings with books in them. Places where you could read books, borrow them, you know – do things that most people tend to associate with libraries.

Now, I've recently discovered some of Toronto's libraries. They were slightly unlike what I'd expected. They had rare books on show, and all sorts of special displays and reading rooms. Still, for the most part the Toronto libraries were as I'd expected them to be.

Now, the New York Library? The one with all those lions out front? That is sch a different thing. Step inside. Do it. I dare you to. One step inside the library and you will be – well, you'll be subjected to a bag search – but after that, you'll see a large open hall that leads to a number of staircases.

Pick one, it's your call. Up you go, and you'll be in another hall. That hall will lead to other halls, or more stairs. Go up some more. This continues for some time. While you're wandering around lost – do be sure to take notice of the lovely photographs on display. Or the large collection of paintings in some of the empty offshoot rooms.

These offshoot rooms are what you're looking for as a tourist. Through here, you will find fully painted ceilings with ornate chandeliers illuminating from above. Through these doors you will find row after row of desk with people reading, researching, studying, and browsing the interwebs on their laptops.

Some of them might look a bit perplexed when you start taking photographs, but provided yo have your flash turned off, there's no problem at all.

This is no mere library – it is a labyrinth of education, and masterful artistry. Are there collections of books here to be checked out? I'm not sure. I couldn't quite say – but that's not the reason you're there anyway, is it? And as for the people studying... Well I'm sure they know what they're doing, even if you don't.

So – how big is this library? Well, I'll tell you this: Two girls were cell phoning each other trying to meet up, failing time after time after time. Any library big enough to require cellular communications just to find someone – well that's worth seeing, isn't it?

NYC09: FAO Schwartz

FAO Schwartz
5th Avenue and 59th
New York City

“FAO Schwartz, the greatest toy store in the world. FAO Schwartz, the best toys for all the boys and girls!”

These lyrics, sung by the Toy Soldier-dressed doorman out front ring true the moment you walk through the door. If Santa were to have a warehouse down south, it would be FAO Schwartz. The store has a number of stuffed and wooden toys, that you can imagine were made by a horde of work-lusting elves.

The first few sections, one after the next, after the next, are full of these types of toys. All the way to the candy section, guarded by another wave of toy soldiers made out of gum drops and candy corn.

The toys here are a delight to people of all ages, bringing back nostalgic joy for a simpler time, while interesting an entirely new generation of children.

This store also features a Build a Muppet workshop, where customers can choose Muppet bodies, eyes and other facial features, clothing, and accessories. For those desiring an officially licensed Muppet this is the place to be.

Taking the escalator upstairs, you'll find yourself passing stuffed animals that would be at home on the African Savannah. Don't be set on taking any of them home though, the giraffe alone will set you back $2700. And the dragon guarding the top floor? That was without a listed price.

upstairs you will find yourself in Diagon-Alley, where all sorts of Harry Potter merchandise can be purchased. Scarfs and ties from the for Hogwartz houses are yours for the purchasing, as are replica wands. If you so desired, you could find yourself fully decked out in all the official clothing, with a sorting hat to boot.

Chewbacca and Darth Vader stand not that far away, with Batman in the background. They are constructed completely out of lego. If you'd like a lego Batman of your very own, it will only cost $2700.00 What a bargain!

One more section back and you'll find yourself at the big piano. Still in working order, the piano has been set up behind a roped off area. If you'd like your chance to give it a play, you'll have to fight through a line of feisty six year olds. Still – if it's something you really want to do, don't let any tiny ankle biters hold you back.

No matter what you're after, this store is for you. It offers the perfect break for couples tired of walking all day, families wanting to explore something other than city streets, and single travellers just looking to rekindle that something missing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

NYC09: Disney Store

Disney Store
5th Avenue and 55th
New York City

Let your childhood dreams overtake you as you step inside the New York City Disney Store located on the shoppers paradise known as fifth avenue.

Plush Mickey Mouse's dressed as the state of liberty, and I [mickey head] NY t-shirts, shot glasses, and bags are abundantly offered for your consumer needs. Once you've tired of the first floor, head up the escalator and find yourself in a world of stuffed Pooh characters, and princesses, along with their fairy tale friends.

As you shop, be sure to look up and catch Goofy and his friends engaged in a number of different sports. But beware, as you look to the end of the store, as Snow White's Wicked Witch looms above, poisoned apple in hand. To the other end is a flat screen television playing whatever Disney DVD is popular at the moment.

A Disney Mr. Potato Head shop is set up, where shopped can pick their plastic potato, and fill it with pieces to recreate their favourite Disney character – including a very disturbing version of Ariel. For $19.99 you get a head, a box, and all the pieces you can stuff inside.

The third floor is for fine art collectors, and not to be missed. If canvas prints, and original art is something you'd like to add to your collection, they can all be found on the highest floor of New York City's Disney Store.

NYC09: Build a Bear Workshop

Build a Bear Workshop
5th Avenue and 46th
New York City

Walking up 5th Avenue you might find yourself looking at the most disturbing logo you've ever seen. Now, in reality, I've been told it's quite cute. Perhaps I've just read Gulliver's Travels one too many times, but when I see a great number of little creatures climbing over a bigger version, especially when they are armed with needles, I tend feel quite uneasy.

The logo I speak of is none other than that of the Build a Bear Workshop where little bears climb all over a great big bear that has been clearly injured. Not only that, but these little bears are holding the larger creatures heart in their hand. One might assume they're puttng it in – but this makes no sense, as it was once together. By any reasoning, these little creatures are ripping the heart straight out of a cuddly teddy, for mystical reasons beyond my limited understanding.

Now, if you manage to get by that fact, step inside – unless you have children with you. If you have children with you, be prepared to drop $50.00 or face an onslaught of cries and wails. I certainly didn't issue any of my own, due to lack of funds.

Step 1: Grab a 'pelt'. This is the base for your bear. There are bears, and elephants, and carts, and scruffy puppies. The choices extend through three rooms, and two floors. If a basic animal is not what you want, there are also dinosaurs, people, and the newly added Unicorn (which a woman outside, with pink cape, was very enthusiastically advertising.)

These casings range in price from $30.00 all the way down to $10.00. A very reasonable price, isn't it? But the bear building fun doesn't end there.

Step 2: The next step is to hook it up to the stuffing machine. And then, when you have a semi-complete bear, you need to choose the clothing.

Step 3: Ahh, the clothing. This is where that $10.00 bear turns into a $50.00 bear. You will need pants, and a shirt. These are about $10.00 each, and then there are the shoes. That will run you another $7.00, If yo want your bear to have an iPod, or an electric guitar, those will run you a few more bucks here and there. These prices can tend to add up.

The store offers a great amount of fun for men and women of all ages. And the costumes range from New York Yankee, L.A Laker, Soldier, Tourist – and just about everything in between. They even have licensed costumes of Spider-man and Batman, so you can create your very own Spider-Monkey, or Bat-Cat.

Whether you wish to purchase a bear or not, a stroll through these floors is well worth your time.

NYC09: Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet
Broadway and 13th
New York City

Forbidden Planet is a comic book lovers dream. It offers an assortment of current issues, ranging from the top of the line super heroes you'd come to expect like Spider-man, Batman, and Superman. Lesser titles such as Night of the Living Dead, and Ex Machina are also for sale there. And if independent lines, such as small press and homebrew comics are more up your alley, well then there is an entire shelf for you too.

Action figures more to your liking? All the hottest toys can be found here: Aliens vs. Predator, Marvel Comics and DC Comics toys, and even such oddities as William Shakespeare, and Horror Movie Victim #3. Catching my eye, was the warning sign man. Complete with yellow triangle backdrop, this black stickman can be posed to create whatever unique warning label you desire.

The upper level of the store features manga and art books, if Japanese culture is what you're after. Featuring most of the top titles, and an assortment of lesser known, this store does its best to provide for all clientèle. They even have a display case full of capsule toys and titillating statues.

Whatever your geeky pleasure, this is the place for you in New York City.

NYC09: Pastry Puffs and Comic Buffs

Doughnut Planet
Doughnuts. They come in many shapes; they come in many sizes. They can be one of the most delicious pastries, unfortunately they are more often remembered as those seventy cent briquettes that one can pick up at their local coffee shop. Let me assure you right now that those are not doughnuts. They are donuts. There is a difference, and if you want the best of the best in New York City, head down to Grand Station and walk east to Norfolk.

It is there, at that intersection, that you will find Doughnut Planet. Head all the way down in New York City and you will find yourself rewarded with some of the most mouth watering fried treats. The doughnuts are huge, and come plain, jelly, and cream filled. They will shock you my remaining circles with holes, even though they are stuffed full of deliciousness. The jelly travels the entire circle, ensuring each bite is as delicious as humanly possible.

It is this human element that helps make them so great. You will find you reheated, or frozen deserts here.

Yes, they run $2.50 to $3.00 each – but honestly, if you're only here once it's worth it. You'll not notice those three dollars ever again, but yo will remember the food. The only reason to stay away, would be because you don't want to ruin every other donut that follows.

The Yancy Street Gang
From doughnut planet head a few streets north to Delancy Street, and there you will find the inspiration for Marvel Comics' Yancy Street. Ben Grimm, better known as The Thing from Marvel's First Family (The Fantastic Four), grew up here and became the leader of the local street gang.

But why? Why would Marvel have chosen this location? That's a question I find myself always asking when I stroll through a real-world environment that has inspired so much fiction.

The are seems a little rougher. The glitz and the glamour are not as they are in midtown. Walls and signs are tagged, and spray painted, names garnering attention, perhaps territory being carved out?

Chainlinked fences surround car lots, and fast food restaurants abound. Chinatown, only steps away, offers a break from the monotony of potential city living – but comfort for the locals can easily be found.

It's easier to understand the personality of the Every Lovin' Blue Eyed goliath, having walked the streets that he did, and explored the locations he would have called home. It's moments like there, where fiction becomes so entwined with reality, that literature really has a chance to take off.

Bleeker Street Sanctorm
Continuing north, and continuing my quest to walk the streets of those who once existed only in four coloured panels, I made my way to Bleeker street. At 177 Bleeker, you will find the site of Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. In the comics it has recently become disguised as a Starbucks being constructed. A slight jab at the ever growing community.

To this day, the site still remains a restaurant and a rural building. While signs of the coming growth are evident, there are still enough small and eclectic shops to illustrate the communities personality. A perfect fit for Doctor Stephen Strange, and his assortment of oddities.

Chocolate Croissants from the Market
14th street and Broadway opened up before me in the form of a farmers market. There were fresh fruits and vegetables, an assortment of baked goods, and all number of memorabilia. Though the chocolate filled croissant wasn't the best I'd ever had, it was the best I'd eaten thus far in the city.

One moment which I felt quite hypocritically delightful was when I took a picture of a man selling his photographs beside the station entrance, in the centre of the market. He looked at me, and said, “you can't take a picture of me.” I informed him that that wasn't the law. By placing himself and his works in a public place he opened them up to be photographed (as he has no reasonable assumption of privacy, situated in the middle of a market.) He then told me that he was the law, and since they were his works, he had every right.

Now – I understand how he felt. And I might have almost respected his wish, were all the pictures he was selling not of street scenes that he had shot of numerous other people. In fact the picture I took of him would have been right at home, amongst his own wares.

But hey, he was the law – so I just took my picture and headed out.

Lets be honest – if one can take photos within the MOMA, and not break copyright laws – these amateur shots... But hey, we all feel the way we do about our works. How would I feel if someone took my photos and used them? Never mind the fact that those are two separate issues though.

Copyright laws – as a photographer, learn them, and know them. But be aware that some people find themselves the law, and legal or not, you might just find yourself punched in the face if you don't listen to the wishes of your 'subjects.'

Hmm – what was that just one street north? Could it be Forbidden Planet?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

NYC09: New York's [big] Apple Store

To the Hipster-Cave!

Rush inside the cosmic cube, emblazoned with Apple logo, pass your own personal hipster butler wishing you a good day, evening, or night and jump into the great glass elevator, taking you below street level.

A moment later you will find that your secret lair is not so secret. All number of people will be crowding macbooks, and ipods, and brand new head sets. You'll see people trying to steal wi-fi signals set up on couches around the elevator. You'll notice employees in pastel coloured clothing – hopefully not – of their choosing.

And then you will probably want to run screaming, provided that you have not fallen into the glitz and glory of the shop.

Back to the hipster-vader, back to street level and then far far away. To FAO Schwartz toys (which is no more than thirty meters off. There's perfectly respectable place to spend some time.)

NYC09: A Day at the Museum

The American Museum of Natural History was made even more famous by the movie Night at the Museum. Sure, none of the movie was actually filmed there (except for the exterior shots.) And sure the movie featured a South American monkey which came out of the African exhibits – but the movie did reinvigorate interest. And after all, a lot of this museum's fame comes from its blunders.

You might be familiar with the Brontosaurs? You may also remember that such a dinosaur never actually existed, and that it was actually an Apotosaurus with the wrong skull on it? Well this mix-matched mix-up happened right here, at the American Museum of Natural History.

There are all sorts of ways to actually enter the museum. Perhaps entering from the street, through the main doors is your style? Perhaps you visited on a beautiful and sunny day, where you enjoyed a stroll through Central Park beforehand. Well doesn't that sound lovely for you? I entered during a downpour, and had no desire to go outside. For people such as myself, the museum has an entrance directly from the 81st street station.

When you approach the ticket booth you will notice some important phrasing regarding the ticket prices. Suggested Admission $15.00. Suggested. If your pocket are full, and you're in a giving mood, you can drop one hundred dollars. If you're running on empty, you don't need to pay a single cent. And much like the Bronx Zoo, they don't make you feel bad for this.

When you enter, you're best to find an information booth and grab a map. It's not too hard to get turned around in the dozens of buildings you'll pass through. You might also want to ask about the free guided tours. Tours run every hour, at fifteen past. They vary in length between one and two hours, and try to highlight the most important displays, offering a number of interesting facts that you might not otherwise discover.

Museum Highlights
The various animal exhibits in the museum were mostly collected decades ago. This was all done when people had to go out to the field, trap the animals, and bring the back. I was told that the displays in this museum were quite different than others at the time of construction. While most museums had all their cats together, and all their other similar animals together, this museum attempted to recreate the natural habitat of the creatures.

The gorillas were surrounded by foliage, with a painting of their mountainous homeland behind. One of the gorillas was two feet, beating its chest. These gorillas are not found in zoos either, I was assured,

I was then told how the specimens were collected. The posed gorilla beating its chest was like that became the person in the field actually saw it like that, when he approached it. The animals were then caught, shipped back to America, skinned, posed, and put on display. Reconcile that!

From that moment on, all the animal halls were a tab bit more macabre than they needed to be.

Dinosaurs are the main draw for most museums of this sort. Certainly pump museums, or canoe museums wouldn't be expected to have dinosaurs, though I imagine they wouldn't hurt admissions.

The main entrance opens up directly to the recreation of three skeletons set out on display. A sauropod is defending itself from a carnivorous beast.

The forth floor hosts the actual bones on which these are based. There you will also find a stegosaurus, triceratops, and tyrannosaurs rex, just to name a few. The highlight there for me was the pachycephalosaurus skull that visitors could touch. Being a head butting dinosaur, I got down on bended knee, and engaged the skull in what some assume is its primary usage.

The Hall of Human Origin
Here you will find information about DNA, old tools, and dioramas of privative man in all sorts of precarious situations where things do not seem as if they will turn out well for our ancestors. Tiny man walks hand in hand with tiny woman. Hairy man screams with hair woman as a vulture approaches. Ancient man is on the verge of death as he fails to notice a bear behind him.

Though less hands on, as this exhibit helps explain our origins, there's definitely something worthwhile about seeing it.

And to be sure, this is only a fraction of the the four floors, and multiple buildings have to offer.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for your visit. There's so much to see and do.

NYC09: Brooklyn Bridge Crossing

The rain pelts down from above, rolling off the beak of my Hydrofoil 3 rain jacket. You might remember it from the time I was complaining about having to spend one hundred dollars on a jacket. But even then I knew – I knew – that the moment I found myself trapped in the rain, all thoughts of price would be forgotten.

This was definitely the case. As others walked by in their hoodies and sweaters, I simply smiled and nodded. Hours later, I would be dry, and not exuding that telltale scent of wet clothing. They on the other hand would be cold, and wet, and quite possibly miserable.

Most people would have found a warm and cozy place to shack up for this day – it would take something of exceeding importance to justify facing this dreary day. And for myself, and those whom I passed, such an experience was upon us.

Walking the length of the Brooklyn bridge is one of the greatest things to do in New York City. It offers beautiful views of the city, a glimpse of breathtaking craftsmanship, access to a wonderful part of New York. Best of all, it's free. A memorable experience in one of the worlds greatest cities, without having to spend a dime. Even in the rain, what more could anyone ask for?

Walking from Manhattan to Brooklyn is a great experience, especially if you plan on exploring the community. There's nothing better than seeing the Welcome to Brooklyn sign on the bridge as you finally cross over. However, for the best views, you'll want to walk the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Opening before you will be great views of the beautiful city skyline. Overhead you'll see the suspension wires criss crossing, here today as they were over a hundred years past.

As I walked the entire length, I mused on just how inconceivable this construction must have been when it was first built in the 1800s. For something to amaze me today, despite how conditioned I've become to the unexpected – it must have been breathtaking to those with little for comparison.

By all means, if you're in the city – take a trip to High Street / Brooklyn Bridge station, and then walk back to Manhattan. It's impossible for anyone to have a bad time here. Except Gwen Stacy.

Still too soon?
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