There have been quite some changes in our travel plans. After Bolivia, we intended to visit the ABC Islands but had to cancel because we didn’t have the required yellow fever vaccination. We had planned to go to New York thereafter but decided to get here earlier instead.
Our initial time in New York was therefore extended from one week to three weeks. Instead of staying the extra two weeks in one apartment, we opted for two apartments in different parts of Brooklyn. That way we were able to experience three different neighborhoods. It was also difficult to find a longer-term apartment at the last-minute.
Our first apartment was in Windsor Terrace, a cute little residential neighborhood within 5 minutes walking distance of Prospect Park. Running the loop in Prospect Park is one of my favorite things to do when in New York. Naturally, I was making use of the close proximity to the park during our stay there… If I had a good road bike available, I would definitely ride there regularly too. I love the well-designed running/cycling loop of about 5 km, something I miss in European parks.
We like the Nitehawk cinema in Williamsburg because they show international independent movies and they serve food and craft beer during the screenings. Luckily, they opened a second cinema on Prospect Park West, 10 minutes from our apartment, where we watched the well-done South Korean/US film “Past Lives”.
We also went to a screening of the Italian film “Amanda” at IFC in the Village. Being a cineast, it’s surprising to me that I had never made it to a screening there before. Quite fittingly the cinema was originally a church in the 19th century–I like to worship good art house movies! We also watched “Frances Ha” at Metrograph and Wes Anderson’s latest film “Asteroid City” at the Angelika.
Our second apartment was in Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy). The brownstones and tree-lined streets of this neighborhood are gorgeous! Unfortunately, we also witnessed one brownstone opposite our apartment building burning. I have never seen so many firefighters in my life. To be fair, I think I never actually witnessed a house burning anywhere either. Anyway, NYC firefighters seem to be well prepared and ready!
While we love Brooklyn, there is of course also a lot to do in Manhattan. Some of our favorite activities are going to concerts and plays. Me, preferably to German-speaking plays, since English is not my first language. We went to see the NYC band “The Drums” in Webster Hall in the East Village, and we saw the plays “Flex” and “Let’s Call Her Patty” at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side, which were both well done. It was my first visit to Lincoln Center. I loved the outdoor space there. It seemed like a welcoming space to hang out outdoors and chat with a friend without having to have drinks or food, which is nice when you actually just want to have a good conversation sometimes, without a ton of background noise. NYC has more and more of such spaces and parks, like Domino Park in Williamsburg or Little Island, which was built on top of the Hudson River on the border of the Village and Chelsea. Both places have become part of this urban landscape only in the last few years and we visited them for the first time during this trip.
In the Google Store in Chelsea, I finally replaced my cell phone, which I dropped in Lima. I got a Pixel phone again. I love them for their ease of use and the great photo quality. Luckily, by trading in my old Pixel, I got a really good price too. During our stay in NYC, we made sure to stock up on everything we thought would be difficult to get in our next destination and left with way more luggage than we had when we arrived.
I also ran a 5k race in Prospect Park, which I completed in 21:20. Considering all the indulgences I had at that point in NYC, I am happy with the time.
Talking about indulgences, our next accommodation was in a basement apartment of a brownstone in Carroll Gardens, very close to one of our favorite craft beer breweries “Other Half”. We visited their new branch in Rockefeller Center earlier this month, but it was good to come back to the warehouse-style founding premises and not to be the only man without a button-up shirt, like in the Manhattan location.
Carroll Gardens is a lovely neighborhood. One of its characteristics is the front yards of the brownstones, which you don’t find in other parts of Brooklyn. It has a large Italian population, which began to settle there in the late 19th century. There are of course many Italian American businesses in the neighborhood like Lucali Pizzeria, which counts visitors like Beyoncé and Jay Z as their guests (or at least they visited once). That’s why they don’t take reservations and you have to stand for hours in line to get a table for later in the evening, so we skipped that experience. While the neighborhood feels COMPLETELY safe, there was an incident back in 2011 where a Gambino (mafia) family associate stabbed the owner of this pizzeria. I had to mention this for all the “The Godfather” fans out there. Similarly to Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, where we lived last summer for a month, Carroll Gardeners put things they don’t need any longer outside their houses for others to take. If we hadn’t been carrying all of our belongings with us, there would have been plenty of nice things to take home.
I always loved the fact that people in New York use their brain. If the crosswalk light is red and no car is approaching, you don’t stand at the crossing and stare at the signal, you cross the street. In Austria, you could get a ticket for jaywalking and sometimes people will even call you out for doing so. In New York, the police won’t mind AT ALL.
After our initial 3 weeks in New York, we had to extend our stay by another month because we were waiting for a visa, which didn’t come through. During this month we stayed again in Bed-Stuy.
I felt like I saw more people in NYC riding Citi Bikes than ever before. And my feeling was not wrong: stats say that it was a record month in the history of the ridesharing company, registering 3.7 million rides in July alone. While the yearly plan for Citi Bikes in New York is affordable ($205 with unlimited 45-minute rides throughout the year) a non-member, 30-minute ride costs $4.49. Therefore, we decided to purchase some cheap, vintage road bikes, which we sold at the end of our stay. Having our own bikes, I cycled more than ever before in New York and noticed that, just like with pedestrians, cyclists don’t wait at a red light if no car is approaching, something which is easily recognizable when you lean a bit forward on your bike, since you don’t have a long engine hood like a car. The traffic infrastructure in most parts of the world was designed for cars and at great disadvantage for bikes. It only makes sense to me to have different “rules” for bikes and make riding bikes more attractive to reduce air & noise pollution in urban areas. Brooklyn has lots of bike paths, but unfortunately, many are just a line painted on the side of the road and often cars don’t pay attention to bikes, so you shouldn’t consider it safe. I once crashed into a car that made a sudden turn in Vienna. The car spotted a parking place and did not make sure that no one was riding on the bike path. Thankfully, nothing happened to me. There are also a growing number of dedicated bike lanes in NYC, which are completely separated from the other traffic. They also have the necessary distance to parked cars, so you don’t get “doored” – hit by an opening door of a car.
Generally I feel NYC is making a lot of progress in many areas. Things move slowly, but they move. In October the recycling of compost for residential buildings will become mandatory in Brooklyn, and by the fall of 2024, this will be applicable to all 5 boroughs. Starting in March 2024, ALL businesses in NYC will be required to use hard-lidded trash bins. Shops that sell food already have to use them. This is another step in trying to counter the rat population. I saw so many rats flattened by cars on the street, I almost started counting them as a “fun activity”. I guess I saw around 15 in total.
During our stay, legislation was enacted setting the minimum stay in an independent Airbnb unit to 1 month. A step necessary because businesses were buying apartments and converting them into Airbnbs, adding further stress to the housing situation. Housing is an area where NYC hasn’t improved; in fact it is more expensive than ever. Almost 100 million square feet, or 9 million square meters, of office space sits empty in NY. With an occupancy rate of less than 41% of pre-pandemic levels, one can only hope that these empty offices are converted into apartments to bring down rent prices and ease the housing shortage. The way it looks to me is, that it’s unrealistic to expect that office workers are going to work for more than 3 days a week in the office in the future, company culture has changed and companies also save on office costs that way. One company I worked for in Austria went from “we don’t want you to work from home at all” to “you have to come to office just ONCE a month”.
Another positive development is that outdoor /curbside dining seems here to stay in NYC. Introduced during the pandemic, it is more popular than ever. What’s better than sitting outside on a warm summer evening and enjoying your favorite cuisine? There is no food that is not available in NYC.
This was the longest time I have been in NYC during the summer, so I made sure to visit some of the beaches the city has to offer. We took the A train to Rockaway Beach. Having lived a large part of my life in landlocked Austria, it never ceases to amaze me that I can take a subway to the ocean. The A train is the longest subway line in NYC and stretches all the way from the top of Manhattan to Rockaway Beach in the very south of Queens (31 miles/50 km). One day we took it all the way up to 207th street and walked the entire length of Manhattan. NYC is so big and there is so much to explore! I rode my bike to the People’s Beach. Growing up in Austria, it was normal for women to be topless at the pool or lake and I never even thought about it, not something which is so common in the States. I was surprised that at the People’s Beach, women covering up were the minority and I felt like I was back in Europe for a minute.
It took me some time to warm up to NY pizza, but now I am converted. I have to admit that the NY pizza slice is, on average, probably better than a slice of pizza anywhere else. NY is so diverse and food options are just endless. I was super excited to be able to have my all-time favorite Indian dish, Masala Dosa at Fort Greene Park.
Bee loves musicals and that’s why I got to experience my first two Broadway productions. She went to way more musicals, but I saw two classics with her, Wicked and The Book of Mormon, both well done. Broadway tickets are not exactly cheap, like so many other things in NYC, but you can actually find enough that is reasonably priced and free stuff if you look out for it. Prospect Park regularly offers free yoga classes and I went for a free yoga class in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria. The same applies to food: most restaurants are really pricey but we had some good dumplings for $4 in Chinatown. You have to look out for the offers and happy hours or go to the cinema on a Tuesday. In summary, I would say NYC has probably more to offer than any other city, at least for culture vultures, craft beer enthusiasts, people who like to walk or bike places, who love parks and who enjoy food from around the world. NYC is changing but one thing remains the same for me, I still love it more than any other city, and in fact even more than before.