Archive for the ‘Things To Do’ Category

I’m obsessed with social history – how the area we live in would have been X amount of years ago, but particularly  – and especially in New York – around the turn of the century. When we first moved here, it started with a Brownstone infatuation but now has extended to the whole city.

Before motor cars or Robert Moses, when Madison Avenue was filled with insanely extravagant palaces and downtown NY insane poverty and overcrowding but rich with the cultural diversity of the immigrant influx.

It’s the stuff of inspiration for countless writers and film makers, from Boardwalk Empire to the upcoming film adaptation of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale (one of the most wonderful and baffling books I’ve ploughed through), which they filmed last Christmas in Prospect Park.

So I love this interactive feature on NYC Grid – of old and modern shots of landmarks in the city, which you can move around, like this one of Bowling Green in 2013 and 1907:

It’s interesting to see the ones that have really changed – where the building have been knocked down or former skyscrapers are now in the shadow of modern buildings, but I love the ones that haven’t changed that much, like this one of Bryant Park just the clothes the people are wearing. Goes to show how life just goes on in New York City:

Manhattan Bridge14th Street &  8th AvenueCapture

Bryant Park Bowling Green

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The Rocket Scientist and I were lucky enough to be invited up to Southampton for the weekend of Juy 4th. A friend of mine – a native New Yorker who I know from Sydney – was getting married on the Monday and the friends we were staying with us insisted we stayed for the traditional July 4th parade.



It felt like a real privileged to stay with a ‘real’ New York family up in Long Island. Sure, it would be fantastic to stay at one of the Great Gatsby-style mansions along the beach, with their separate servant accommodation and golf buggies to get around their monstrous grounds and $75k a week rental fees (I mean, you wouldn’t say no, would you?), but to meet actual New Yorkers who have been spending their summers in the Hamptons before the term even existed (East Hampton, Southampton, West Hampton were lumped together by real estate agents some time in the 80s) felt pretty special.

‘Ma’ was born and bred in the Bronx. ‘Pa’ grew up in Brooklyn. And it was fun to spend the week barbecuing and drinking Bloody Marys with them. The Rocket Scientist and I are always bowled over by the generosity of American families. We’ve had some of our favourite stay-aways at the homes of friends’ families.

How to get there & place to eat:

The best way to get to the Hamptons with a young family is via the Long Island RailRoad (LIRR). It doesn’t go as regularly as the ‘Jitney’ coach but, with kids, the air-conditioning, luggage space and ability to get around is worth the extra 30 minutes and $10.

The LIRR goes to Penn Station or Atlantic Avenue, handy if you live in Brooklyn.

The best places to eat in Southampton we found were La Parmigianali (excellent Italian), we liked the Golden Pear Cafe for breakfast. Scene-y 75 Main is good for a drink. And Barristers had cheapish cocktails and snacks if you don’t want to pay 75 Main prices for every meal.

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Yesterday I met a friend in China Town for Dim Sum and we ended up on an impromptu foodie tour that took us to sticky garlicy, deep-fried chicken at Cafe Hong Kong and Shiu Mai at Dim Sum Go Go (Michelin-starred, cheap and baby friendly), and eventually back across the Manhattan Bridge (a noisier, grittier experience than the Brooklyn Bridge), via Juniors in downtown Brooklyn for a restorative iced coffee and superb cheesecake.

(My foodie friend, a former personal chef to the stars and weekday culinary explorer, said, ‘American does the best cheesecake in the world. New York does the best cheesecake in America. Juniors does the best cheesecake in New York. You are eating the best baked cheesecake in the world’. I paraphrase as I was too busy eating the lion’s share of the dessert to concentrate 100% on what she was saying).

We walked past the new Citi Bikes, which I haven’t seen in NYC yet as I was away when they launched. I use London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ all the time (named after the foppish Mayor who introduced them). They are a super easy, if not slightly clunky, way to get around esp if you live and work near one of the stations.

They are convenient if you need get from A to B in a Tube dead zone – like Oxford Street to Clerkenwell, where there is no direct tube line – or zooming around the city on a traffic-free Sunday.

Not everyone likes them – there have been some sad deaths in London (although cycling on anything in the UK capital’s narrow streets isn’t known for being safe) – but nothing beats the pure thrill of biking around a city.

Even if a Citi Bike will never look as cool as your owning your own wheels:

Something to save for a baby-free day.



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Redhook public swimming pool, Brooklyn

Am terribly excited. Red Hook outdoor pool opens tomorrow for the summer season. Wherever I live, a decent outdoor (or indoor one for that matter) pool is one of the first things I look for. While most people look for good transport or quality schools, my postcode priority is somewhere I can cut through the water, cleansing my soul of life’s dust and grime. (Am with Jesus on that one.)

In London, I used to take a train 30 minutes from one side of the city to the other to go to London Fields Lido (although, in truth, spent most swimming sessions in Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre).

In Sydney, I was spoilt rotten by the number of amazing outdoor swimming areas: the glorious saltwater pools of Bondi Icebergs and Bronte beach water hole (I weep for them in my sleep) or one of the many fancy lidos on the harbour… not to mention the ocean of course.

Best outdoor swimming pool in the entire world: Bondi Icebergs

My attempts to find a decent pool in NYC have been varied and interesting. When we first moved to Brookly, I googled what I thought was the nearest place to swim and ended up taking the subway east to St Johns Recreation Center, which is essentially in the projects. It was like a Soviet bunker and looked like it hadn’t had any public funding since about 1983. The actual pool was spotless but the rusting grate on the bottom looks pretty menacing and the falling down air con unit in the changing rooms and black indelible mould in the showers did challenge my liberal values somewhat.

Since then, I’ve been swimming at the local ‘Y’, on 9th Street. It’s pretty good but small, only three lanes and about 25 foot long. But it’s not often crowded and there’s saunas and steam to make the 25 minute walk worth it (I can get the bus there too). I do think it’s quite pricey, at around $60 a month; especially given that I make it there about once a week.

So, anyway, can’t wait to try out the Redhook pool, which the teacher in my pre-natal yoga class was also raving abou yesterday. It’s free – amazing – and massive, bigger than an Olympic pool. And they have all sorts of strident rules about only being able to wear white T-shirts in the pool area and no inflatables… but that means you are much less likely to have to swim through a bunch of 10 year-olds playing murder ball with a beach ball and getting hit on the head.

Today is 5 weeks until my due date (gulp) and I intend to spend A LOT of the next hot, NYC summer month in this public pool. At last, a visible sign of some good use of our tax dollars.

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Last night we went to the New York Yankees.

This was our first baseball game. We went with our neighbours and some of their baseball-fanatic friends so we didn’t just spend three hours just eating (amazing) crinkly fries, foot-long hot dogs and sliders and drinking Miller Lite, watching men with tight buns.

Of course, that is not a bad way to spend an evening but there were some pretty exciting things going on on the field too.

The Yankees  – who, with their navy blue pin stripes, surely are the nattiest dressers in the league – were up against the Baltimore Orioles, who apparently are doing better than the Yankees this season so it’s important that we, yes we, whopped their asses.

Alex Rodriguez (aka: A Rod, aka: former squeeze of Madonna and Cameron Diaz) was playing as Designated Hitter.

From what I can tell, this means that the player is so good that this particular team member doesn’t have to tire himself out with any pesky fielding activities and only comes out for the hero-winning big hits. It’s kind of a honour.

To add to his A-man status, A Rod was wearing the team’s jazzy 1920s-style plus fours (the rest of the team were rather boringly in regular long trousers), which I should imagine is a bit like a straight man wearing pink – only the ones who are really assured of their masculinity do it.

As Todd, the baseball fanatic and fact man we went with said, when you earn a quarter of a billion dollars a year, you can wear what you damn well like. Yes that is right folks, $250 million of crisp green backs per annum. Whisssstle.

Also on the field was Mariano Riviera, a legend so great – one of the best pitchers in the world (which actually means in the U.S. – because the rest of the world don’t play baseball, but anyway…) – that he came only in the 7th inning (there were 9) and ran across the field to a standing ovation to his own song, Enter the Sandman by Metallica.

He’s one of the greats, with a 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, he is MLB’s all-time leader in saves (608) and games finished (892), (thanks Wikipedia).

I don’t know what any of that actually means really, but dude, the guys got his own song.

‘Mo’ too seem to have reached such legendary heights that he only has to play a bit of the game.

So there was I thinking, well these baseball players have it easy, with their billion dollar pay checks, short play times, celebrity dates and natty outfits. Until Todd pointed out that there are six games a week, every week from April until October. That’s a lot of games in anyone’s book. It’s not like they sprint around for an hour and a half like they do in soccer, but the game doesn’t have the same stop-start beefy lethargy of American football either.

So here are the (very) basic rules, as I’ve gleaned them (true baseball fans might want to look away now):

  • Baseball is basically a cross between of cricket and rounders. It is scored like cricket, with innings and wide/no balls (which are called simply ‘balls), and runs but looks like rounders (with meaner bats).
  • There are nine innings, in which the pitching (fielding) team must try to get the batting players out, by either catching a ball or striking a ball, or by picking up a hit ball and throwing it to your team-mate on a base before the batsman can get there.
  • Striking a ball is when the batter misses three times consecutively (three strikes and you’re out!). The strike zone is much smaller than in cricket – from the kneecaps to about the belt area, which is why it looks like the ball is being thrown so low.
  • A player on base has to run if another player wants his base, so the team have to keep moving. It’s perilous being on base for another reason too – if someone is caught out, then every player on a base is also out.
  • You can also be tagged out – like in ‘tag’ at school; if you are chased and touched with either the ball or a glove holding the ball as you run between bases.

Other rules are:

  • When the sweaty guy selling beer says ‘last orders’, he’s lying (but buy one anyway; $9, ouch)
  • Monkey nuts are the best-value snack in the stadium ($5, huge bag)
  • People who learn the words to YMCA before they go to a game will achieve greater audience participation satisfaction
  • When you have your own song and a standing ovation every time you walk on field, you’ve hit the big time, baby

New York Yankees Newborn Lil' Fan Coverall by Majestic Athletic - MLB.com Shop

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Have recently discovered the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

And it was so pretty that I went there twice in one week – once with my friend Pip and at the weekend with the H1B. I thought it would just be a very splendid, stylised park with neat rows of tulips and a few exotic orchids in some steamy, Victoriana-style hot houses, but actually it’s beautifully set up for visitors, of which there were many.

There’s plenty of kiddy areas for horticulturally-minded squealers and lovely, peaceful avenues of trees in riotous magnolia and cherry blossom for the adults.

It seems to have attracted every pregnant woman in New York City too. Must be something about the ozone or oxygen in the air, but the place was heaving (groaning?) with expectant mothers, proudly cradling their bellies and breathing in the serenity (and hopefully undoing the negative effects of last night’s glass of pinot and the stress caused by a weekend visit to the stroller department of Buy Buy Baby — mistake!).

Over the last weekend in April, the gardens are holding the Sakura Matsuri festival – or the Japanese cherry tree festival; a culmination of Hanami, which is Japan’s way of celebrating and appreciating every day the sublime cherry tree is in flower.

If you haven’t seen a cherry blossom up close, imagine that a mythical nymph made a pom-pom out of the finest magenta and pink fairy silk and turned it into a flower, which was designed to sway and blow against the backdrop of a deep azure sky – that’ll get you about half way to how ridiculously pretty they are.

You don’t have to go the BBG to see them, of course, as the streets of the West Village and Brooklyn are filled with the trees, turning the whole city into a scene from the pages of a wedding magazine and showering lucky passers-by with their confetti. However, the ones at the gardens are especially beautiful.

> More details on the Sakura Matsuri festival


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In line for Shake Shack in Madison Park – h1b reckons the line is 70 metres long. These burgers better be good. Still its a lovely day to look at the view (Empire State, Mies Van de Roe (sp?) & flatiron) and plenty of blossom




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Reasons to go to Stonington:

1. The novel Jaws was written there

2. It has a gen-u-ine canonball that was used by the Red Coats against the defending Yankees in the War of 1812

I took some pictures of our trip to Stonington so you can see just how beautiful this town is. It was a freezing weekend, with snow on the ground and high winds that blew in across the icey Long Island Sound, but clear sunny skies all round. If you were well wrapped up (and I mean well wrapped up), you could almost imagine it was spring.

I’m almost hesitant to recommend a trip to Stonington as it was so lovely, we’d like to keep it for ourselves (although I think one or two other New Yorkers may have heard of it, given that most of the property in the place are now holiday homes).

It was much more historical than I thought, with the pretty, coloured wooden houses dating back to the late 18th century. Apparently American troops fought off the British there in the War of 1812 (when America invaded Canada, which was part of the British Empire), so our Yankee Doodle friends delighted in telling us.

Flagpole in Canon Square. Used to fight off the Brits apparently - the canons, not the pole

Made in Britain: canonball

Prime real estate

Of course, people really flood into Stonington for sailing – but it’s worth a trip in the early spring just so you can see how it once was before it was inhabited by Musto-wearing yachties with their yellow trousers and deck shoes. Our friend Paul grew up here, when it was a fully serviced town, with kids bombing around on their BMXs and the natty galleries and cute tea shops were doctors and dentists, and shops that sold actual food and household stuff.

Fact: Peter Blenchley wrote the book Jaws while he spent the summers living in a converted turkey coop in Stonington (I’m sure it was more plush that it sounds; or at least it would have been after he made squillions out of the Steven Speilberg film).

He based it on actual shark attacks in Long Island in 1916 but you can see where the setting for his 1974 book came from.

Across the water to where Benchley lived when he wrote Jaws


We stopped off in Mystic on the way back – yes, the place where they set and filmed Mystic Pizza.

We didn’t eat at the pizza joint (it exists – or someone set one up after the film came out), but instead at The Oyster Club, which is a new venture by some friends of our neighbours. They have shipped the farm-to-table concept from Manhattan to this small fishing town and set up in a 1902 clapboard house, with blue walls and an orange door. The food was locally sourced and delicious and if you are passing through, I’d recommend it.

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Yesterday, my friend Pip and I decided to catch the train somewhere and get out of the city. Here is the list of possibilities we came up with in a message exchange on facebook (surely the best form of communication between a thirty-something and forty-something who live in the same city as each other?):

1) Beacon looks good even if the thing* you wanted to see isn’t open – but you might want to save the trip? It takes an hour and a half on the train from Penn Station and the journey is meant to be stunning.

2) Can you do Friday instead? Governors Island opens on Friday… free ferry and, er, beer garden…!

3) Take the subway up to The Cloisters to pretend we’re monks for the day… or go and check out Harlem and have some lunch?

4) Can you get the train to Montauk? A la the Jim Carrey movie (hold the snow angels)

*The thing is DIA Art Foundation, which holds one of the best contemporary art collections in the US, apparently – but is closed on Thursdays. There’s more about it here from the New York Times (the article is a bit old, but you get the idea).

Governors Island has many, many exciting events – including the Jazz Age Lawn Party, which I’m particularly looking forward to – so we decided to save it for warmer weather, plus it’s not actually out of the city so missed the point of the day.

Montauk is 3.5 hours on the train (slow train!) so despite the filmic reference potential, we decided a visit really warranted a night’s stay.

The Cloisters is, well, a bit worthy, being about mediaeval art (it’s part of the Met) and men of the cloth and all. Plus it’s also really in the city (but way up, past 190th street)…

So, Beacon was the only remaining option and had the advantage of catching a train from Grand Central Station (not Penn as thought), which has a certain charm, and the H1B had told me that the Hudson Valley train line is particularly beautiful, as it runs up the immense Hudson (see the schedule/journey planner here – trains leave every hour and off-peak starts at 10:45).

However, in a fit of wild spontaneity we decided to disembark at Cold Spring instead – a few stops earlier (it took about an hour and fifteen minutes).

Cold Spring is a pretty 19th century village, which used to be a whaling and Post Office station. There are brick buildings and plenty of American clapboard houses, with the stars and stripes hanging outside. Nowadays, there is less blood and blubber and Main Street is instead full of antique shops (more bric-a-brac) and coffee shops and particularly good brownies at GoGo Pops – try the caramel one with pink Himalayan salt, which I’m eating as I write this. Yum.

It’s touristy – but rightly so, as it’s charming and makes a good day trip for lunch and a mooch, and the backdrop of the awesome Hudson River, which was so essential in the rise of New York City.

(Try The Foundry Cafe, a few buildings up on the right as you leave the train station – it’s run by one of the most enthusiastically upbeat women I’ve ever met and I had a drink of dandelion and burdock, the first in about 25 years when the milkman used to bring it to our house in Cambridge.)

This was my favourite bric-a-brac find, in the old Cold Spring National Bank, which has a real old vault in it. I got my cinematic film reference after all….

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