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Reasons To Love New York: Storm King Art Center

It was back in April 2012 when Japan Tourism Agency sponsored a trip for me to visit Japan to help promote tourism. By far one of the coolest places I visited during that trip was the island of Naoshima, known for its abstract art installations spread out all over the island. So when I heard that there was a large sculpture park upstate, I was reminded of the awesome time I had in Naoshima and knew I had to check it out.

Storm King Art Center is absolutely beautiful. Located about an hour north of the city, it is home to over 100 art sculptures dating back through the last century. I had never heard about it before this year but it seemed to have gained a lot of popularity with its current exhibition, Zhang Huan: Evoking Tradition, specifically with its Three Legged Buddha sculpture.

While most of the larger sculptures are made of steel, the smaller ones are made of all kinds of different materials including rubber, wood, and stone. And if you are lucky to visit on a beautiful day like we were, then you may end up spending just as much time appreciating the scenery as well as the sculptures. The park itself is huge and they recommend leaving six hours to see everything, although we saw a good majority in about three. And while it can be a busy spot on weekends, there is enough space and a lot of different trails where you can avoid the crowds for the most part. I definitely recommend a visit now because of the beautiful fall foliage. The center is open until the end of the month (and then closed until April) so get there soon. And don’t forget to pack some snacks!


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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

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The Dynamics of Dim Sum

“Sixty-one! Sixty-one! SIXTY-ONE!”

A group of four wide-eyed people come darting to the hostess table waving their numbered ticket. “This place is terrifying,” I hear one of the girls exclaim as they take the stairs to the second floor.

“Sixty-four!!! Sixty-four!”

Three more individuals make their way through the crowd. “What is going on!?” a guy with a big, confused grin on his face asks his friend.

What is going on is just another typical, slightly-stressful Sunday brunch hour at the Golden Unicorn, one of the more popular dim sum spots in Chinatown. On 1pm on a Sunday you can prepare for at least a half hour wait, so I’m sitting back with my ticket and enjoying the eavesdropping as I wait for my girlfriends. Dim sum is one of the best brunch deals you can get in the city: affordable, delicious, quick (once you sit down) – how could you go wrong? But if this is your first time trying dim sum, here are a few things to remember so you can ensure a pleasant experience.

Expect to share tables
Depending on where you go, unless you have a group of 6-8 people there’s a good chance that you’ll be sitting with strangers during your meal. Most restaurants have the typical large round table set up, which can be good or bad depending on who you get stuck next to. Another thing to remember is that with the close proximity, your new friends will probably hear every detail of your wild Saturday night or reasons you hate your job. At one recent lunch my girlfriends and I were in a detailed conversation about Whitney Houston’s drug addiction before we looked across the table and noticed a 10 year old girl staring at us absorbing every word. Woops.

Screw the menus
“Can we just get a menu and order? Because this is annoying.”

WRONG attitude. This was overheard from two unhappy lunchers who were sitting at our table and got overwhelmed by the hectic atmosphere. The beauty of dim sum is that you don’t need a menu – the food is brought to you in carts so you can see the real deal up close and personal and decide. Sure, it can be a little crazy with lots of different carts going by quickly and often times the people not speaking English, but that’s all part of the experience. Which leads me to my next point…

Be quick, and pardon all interruptions
“So I couldn’t believe what he said next. He insisted that we…”
“Holy crap, turnip cake! Stop that cart!”

Ok, so it may not exactly be the most polite thing to do, but if a fresh tray of turnip cake or pork steam buns or whatever is your dim sum weakness comes out, throw manners to the wind and grab that sucker! If you’re not quick enough some other lucky table will nab it before you do and you’ll be forced to wait another miserable 5 minutes before the next cart comes around. Let’s be honest here, in any other situation I would be a little annoyed if someone stopped me mid-sentence when I was just about to get to the juicy part of my story. However, during dim sum its perfectly acceptable behavior to interrupt conversations for the sake of food (although, you may want to make sure that everyone in your party is on the same page here or your brunch may not be so pleasant.)

Order what you want and as much as you want
Unlike other restaurants where you check with your friends and make sure to order things that everyone likes, with dim sum you have free reign to go wild and order what you want. With the portions being tapas-style and the price of each tray being so cheap, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you’re the only one in the group that has a thing for shrimp shuumai. That being said, you also should be prepared to share everything you grab since dim sum is family style and it would just be bad form to hog it all for yourself. Also, don’t feel bad if you feel yourself ordering too many trays – chances are everyone else wants it too and is just waiting for someone else to speak up. You’d be surprised at just how quickly you do fill up with dim sum anyway – you’ll most likely leave stuffed and happy that you didn’t break the bank on Sunday brunch for once. I chowed down big-time during yesterday’s meal and it only cost me $15. Win!

 

My top three favorite NYC dim sum spots:
1) Golden Unicorn – 18 East Broadway
2) Ping’s Seafood – 22 Mott Street
3) Chatham Square – 6 Chatham Square

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The Great New York Pizza Crawl

One of my good friends was in town from Seattle this past weekend and she had a craving for some GOOD New York pizza. I guess living here I kind of take it for granted, the great selection of pizza spots all around town that is. So how do you narrow down where to go? Well, here are a few of my favorite places to stuff your face with a slice (or five):

The Popular Spots:

John’s

We ended up going here on Saturday night and shooot, I forgot how long the line can be at places like these. No problem though! One medium and one large was a good amount for our table of four, and I highly recommend adding basil and roasted tomatoes to your list of toppings. Yes, the photo above is our delicious pizza from here. Oh, and make sure to avoid the location in Times Square and instead head to John’s on Bleecker.

Grimaldi’s

Well, I kind of had to include this one, didn’t I? It takes me back to when I was a tourist here and would do the walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to get my hands on some of that cheesy goodness. Well, Grimaldi’s is as good as everyone says it is, but now there’s a closer location on 6th Avenue in Chelsea so you don’t have to make the long commute. Not going to lie though, having it close by does take away some of its magic. Typical!

Lombardi’s

Came here last year when my cousins from upstate were looking for some good New York pizza (they are also fans of the chicken and rice cart, mmm.) The pizza was pretty good, and the location in SoHo was fantastic for following up dinner with some bar hopping. Speaking of which…

Best Slices After a Night Out:

Brick Oven Pizza

Hehe, there’s Kati Roll, Chicken and Rice, Papaya Dog and Brick Oven! Definitely some of the best post night-out food that New York has to offer (and hey, its not so bad at a more godly hour either!) This little gem is located on 3rd avenue, conveniently a few blocks away from my old stomping grounds, Banc Cafe (another fine NYC establishment.) You will not regret going here… well, not until the next morning at least. Hey, you only live once.

Pomodoro Ristorante Pizza

Oh crap, I almost forgot about Pomodoro. Another favorite late night spot once you had your fun across the way at Spring Lounge (aka: home base!) The cost of a slice is comparable to other popular pizza joints, but do be wary of ordering full pies because those are super pricey (guilty as charged.)

And The Ultimate:

Luzzo’s

I think in all of the pizza I’ve had since I’ve been here (and unfortunately for me, I’ve had quite a bit) this was the one night that I clearly remember having a HOLY COW WHAT IS THIS moment. Luzzo’s is known for its amazing thin crust pizza. I wish I could tell you which toppings we put on those bad boys because it was the best yumgasm ever, and it was even better because I was surrounded by fantastic company to make it an epic night of feasting. This place is pretty small and the wait can be rather long but the ambiance is pretty cool and oh man its just so worth it. Just go, go right now, and I as finish typing this sentence I am putting on my coat so I can go enjoy some myself! Enjoy!

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Reasons to Love New York: Ode to the West Village

One of the best things about New York is that there are so many diverse neighborhoods in such a small space. You can walk for 20 minutes from Chinatown and easily pass through Little Italy, Soho, and the Village. The different neighborhoods are what makes New York so exciting for those of us who have lived here for many years: if you are tired of your current lifestyle with the restaurants and the neighborhood bars, try a different part of town!

This week I am staying in the West Village (long story) and I seriously feel like I am on vacation even though I’m only about 40 blocks away from my apartment. But oh, I feel giddy when I walk out the front door and am not sure what cute bars or streets I’m going to stumble on today. It’s like I’m a tourist again, except just a much savvier one with a lot more pride for my city. Maybe we should start something where we all just swap apartments with our friends for a week at a time and explore a new neighborhood…

In honor of my week-long escapade, here are a few awesome photos of the West Village. Wee!

   

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Brooklyn Bridge

Today was 50 and sunny, and after spending a few hours deep in research mode Alexis and I decided to take our cameras out around the city. I haven’t been to the Brooklyn Bridge since I was a tourist (over 6 years ago I think?) and so we headed there just in time for a beautiful sunset. Work, pho, and some camera play: what a great way to spend the day. And who knew just how amazing the sunset looked behind the Statue of Liberty from here!

 

 

 

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My Reasons to Love New York: The Winter Edition

I’m from California, and I know all you Chicago folks are going to roll your eyes when I say this but it is COLD in New York!

I’ll be honest, I spent the first few days back in NYC mostly in my apartment “researching” (aka hibernating) and telling myself I was working off my reverse culture shock and readjusting to a somewhat normal routine once again. After a week passed, I realized that I was wasting time that many other people would love to have. I mean, I’m in New York!  Concrete jungle where dreams are made of and all that jazz, I need to channel my inner Alicia Keys and enjoy the moment! So I got on my cutest Japanese winter outfit (shorts with tights and boots of course, and any faux fur I could find), grabbed my boyfriend (my Canon Rebel) and braved the windchill. And you know what – even in what I consider to be the worst month of the year, this city is still pretty amazing.  Even if I just got back from being outdoors and I’m pretty sure my fingers are still numb while I type this. So to honor my fine city of current residence, here is my short and not at all exhaustive list of…

My Reasons to Love New York Even When It’s Ridiculously Cold Outside:

1) The Cozy Bar Scene

Nothing beats a bucket of beer at The Frying Pan on a cool summer afternoon, but when winter hits where do all the thirsty New Yorkers run to? One of the reasons I love New York in the winter is because of the fantastic bar scene. Choose your poison – a whiskey bar with a toasty fireplace to keep your blood warm, a restaurant/bar with some great live music that’s superb for people watching, or perhaps a rooftop bar with an amazing (but indoor) view of the city? When it comes to bar options in winter, the city is full of good spots. My current favorite is JIMMY, a sexy and modern rooftop bar atop The James Hotel in SoHo. The drinks are steep but on point, their fireplace is a great touch, and you can get a killer view from just about anywhere in the bar. And I do mean anywhere – the women’s bathroom has a floor to ceiling window. But don’t be shy, I’m pretty sure no one can see you.

View from JIMMY at The James. Photo not my own.

Another favorite spot of mine is Revel in the Meatpacking District. I can’t handle lines even when the weather is warm, and I sure don’t want to be standing outside on a cold January night! Revel is a great spot because even though its in Meatpacking its not ultra-pretentious or impossible to get into, and once inside there’s a great outdoor area with a retractable roof in the back. Don’t worry they close the roof in winter. Also, my friend and favorite resident DJ, Dj Japancakes, is there on most Saturday nights. The crowd can be hit or miss at times, but the music is hot and you’re only a stone’s throw away should you choose to venture out to one of the other spots in MPD. Beware of the door woman at the Jane Hotel!

Other honorable mentions:

The Spotted Pig, a fantastic West Village gastropub for people watching.

Lovers of Today, a hard to find but cozy spot in the East Village.

2) Madison Square Park, and everything in it.

In the summer, Madison Square Park was one of my favorite lawns to lay out at and do my weekly crosswords. And in the winter, its still a favorite spot because the bare trees with the clocktower look stunning. But aside from being a cute park to take a break at, what I really love about it is that its the home of Shake Shack! And the best part about Shake Shack in the winter: shorter lines! Note that I didn’t say short because c’mon, New Yorkers and tourists alike will do anything when they have a shake shack craving. But today’s line around 2pm was not bad at all. Never been to Shake Shack? Be bold and don’t skip their shakes – they’re pretty damn tasty and maybe even worth the frostbite your hands will get from holding it.

Second best reason to love Madison Square Park: turn around and you are facing Eataly, New York’s giant Italian marketplace. People seem to have mixed feelings about Eataly. Some people don’t like the set up of Birreria, their rooftop bar/restaurant. Others often complain about it being too crowded. It is a very busy spot, but I still brave the crowds when I go because I need to feed my addiction. My coffee addiction that is, not my love of all things Italian (although they do go hand in hand.) To me, Eataly’s coffee/espresso at Caffe Lavazza is some of the tastiest that I’ve tried in the city. When I drink it, it puts me right back in Italy having cappuccino and brioche with my friend in Milan and talking about what went wrong with Juventus. Don’t take my word on it though, try it for yourself! And grab a seat at one of their food tables, help yourself to some snacks and warm yourself up with a glass of wine. Buon appetito!

3) Food Trucks

While we’re on the subject of food, I thought I should bring up one of my year-round favorite reasons I love this city. The amazing selection of FOOD TRUCKS. One of the best things about food trucks in winter is that since they’re mobile, you don’t have to walk across town to get your Kimchi Taco Truck fix. Just check their calendar to see when they come to you. How great is that. Even though harsh weather conditions can sometime hurt the food trucks schedule, for the most part I feel that they try hard to make it out to their customers on a regular basis. If you are reluctant about trying it, as someone who will proudly admit that I follow about 10 different food trucks on Twitter, I can say say that food there is ridiculously delicious too. And if that still doesn’t tickle your fancy, let me just suggest an at-home delivery alternative: FreshDirect.

4) Ice Skating

Ok, full disclosure: I really hate ice skating. Like personally taking part in the activity. It’s just that I lack certain coordination skills, so me on blades is never a good idea. I’m that girl who is clinging to the wall, or the one who won’t let go of your hand. If I go down, you better believe you’re coming with me! That being said, even I can admit that ice skating is adorable. I mean, its got to be one of the top five winter date ideas right? I just saw some guy spitting game on his date just now, and you know what? It worked. Magical ice skates, I tell ya. Ice skating makes the city light up. Below is a picture of people skating in Bryant Park on a Friday afternoon. If I had to pick, I would choose Wollman Rink in Central Park, but between the Rockefeller Center Rink and the Standard Hotel Ice Rink in Meatpacking (just to name a few,) you definitely have your choice of options.

5) Central Park!

Central Park is breathtaking in the fall with all the leaves changing colors, but there is something so serene about seeing it blanketed in snow. With this weekend having the first real snow of the season, I decided to head into the park to capture some photos. Note: fingerless gloves are not enough to keep your hands warm when photographing outdoors, brr. Central Park is fantastic and I was thrilled to stumble upon a spot where about twenty-five kids (and even a few big kids my age) were sledding. Seeing them having such a great time outdoors right in the heart of the city was magical and it made me appreciate the change in seasons here. I love New York!

What are your reasons to love NYC in the winter?

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Meet, Plan, Go!

You know you’re back in New York when you get off a redeye and find yourself going non-stop until midnight. Oh NYC, this is why we are made for each other.

I must admit, I had mixed feelings about returning back to New York after all this time. Sure, it was only a few months, but those days were packed with such amazing and intense moments that I walked away from the experience with so many new ideas and insights about other cultures and even myself. Not working full-time during this period has really opened up my mind – I have embraced a whole new creative side of myself that I never saw when I was alone in my cubicle for hours on end each week. Walking into my studio was also rather odd; after living out of a backpack or suitcase, it took me a moment to accept that I’m back in a place where I can actually unpack and settle in. Who would have thought that being back in a completely comfortable environment again would feel so uncomfortable?

Well, part of the reason I love New York so much (reason #138!) is because of the vibrancy and diversity of its residents. A few days ago I stumbled upon an event at The Crooked Knife over by Union Square put on by Meet, Plan, Go. Meet, Plan, Go is a company that is excited about long term travel, and encourages everyone to take a career break and see the world. They provide information and resources to help you if you are considering taking a year off from your job to travel, and also host events so you can get plugged into a community of people who have traveled extensively or want to. When I saw that they were having a happy hour event the evening I was back into town, I knew I had to go. And I was impressed to see a decent turn out with quite a variety of people. Over the course of the five hours (yes, FIVE hours) that I was there, I met some very inspiring fellow travelers who were about to set off on their 1+ year travel adventures, along with one girl that had just come back from a year of working at odd jobs all over the world in return for accommodations. I also was more than happy to give out tips to people that were in the midst of planning their trips, including talking about the JET program and other teaching English opportunities in Asia, the best beach spots in India, and how to find a reliable person to sublet your pad to for a worry-free trip. It was a fantastic way to transition back into New York and cope with my reverse culture shock, and also great inspiration for my next big getaway. I was speaking with the one of the founders of the company, and one thing that truly resonated with me was how MPG wants more Americans to embrace travel career breaks as part of enhancing your career instead of seeing it as a scary or negative move. I wholeheartedly agree with that. Why is it that in other countries taking a “gap year” is acceptable (and often times the norm), but in the States it is met with so much hesitation? I hope that more people are able to step out of their comfort zone and see how impacting an experience like this can be for themselves, both personally and professionally. It’s surprising what you can gain when you give it all up for a little while.

Meet, Plan, Go flyer

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New York Tourism

I found this great article in my favorite magazine, New York Mag. It’s about tourism in New York, and I thought this part in particular was very interesting – curious to know if others feel that this is an accurate representation of the many different visitors as well:

“Among travelers from the top foreign markets, Australians are the most adventurous. They are the most likely to attend a sporting event, go dancing, shop, buy tickets to a concert or a play – anything, really. The French are the likeliest to attend an art gallery or a museum. The British, Irish and Arab Middle Easterners are the least interested in art. Brazilians are emphatically anti-guided tours. The Japanese are seriously into Harlem, crowding gospel brunches and church tours (it is an open secret among New York’s jazz community that our jazz clubs are, at this point, all but subsidized by older Japanese men). The Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and the Dutch are the wealthiest, with 18 percent of the arrivals earning more than $200,000. Indians are the thriftiest, in a sense – because they often stay with friends or relatives and avoid hotels, they spend only $88 a person a day. But they also tend to stay longer than other groups, spending $1,000 per trip. The “Russian oligarch” stereotype, statistically speaking, is fiction.”

“And Another Fifty Million People Just Got Off of the Plane” – New York Magazine

From my experience in Europe and Japan, I can agree with the part about Aussies – they are down for anything. I would add Italians to the list of liking art galleries and museums. As fror the line about Indians, well, I just spent a month crashing at my cousins’ place in India – true!

So visit NYC, and come say hi to me!

Photo taken from NY Mag article

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