À bientôt Grinch Village

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A graduation ceremony triggered the latest, not last, trip to NYC. That was back in May – so this is a very tardy post. For the second time, we stayed in Brooklyn, but who can forget the year of “Grinch Village”?

I like to drive, but am a very good navigator. On family trips that’s my job. I love maps of all shapes and sizes. I study them before we travel - old fashioned maps and digital maps, sometimes checking out street view so as to be super prepared. Especially in the days before GPS I liked the "TripTiks" - customized maps - prepared by the automobile club (CAA). (Truth be told, despite having smart phone GPS I still like to have a TripTik.)

In 2009, we asked for a TripTik to Greenwich Village, and when we picked it up noticed that we were headed to "Grinch Village" instead!!

Though I still use that beat up TripTik for part of the drive, the last few times we have by-passed the tunnel entrances to Manhattan and have instead approached NYC via Brooklyn, on the Verrazano Bridge. For the first time, we did AirBnB and found ourselves in a stunning condo at the base of Brooklyn Bridge with a charming host who could easily be a character in a novel. (I do have some AirBnB advice if you are ever interested.) Our AirBnB condo was in the Sweeney Building. The host was one of the first to move into the building once renovations were complete, and she tells tales of how sketchy the neighborhood was in those days. Crazy trivia about the building - "It was erected in 1908 by the W. H. Sweeney Manufacturing Company. The company was founded by three brothers from Marysville, Ontario. They manufactured copper, brass, nickel, and silver kitchenware." [Source]

Room with a view - eyes left - Brooklyn Bridge

Room with a view - eyes left - Brooklyn Bridge

Room with a view - eyes right - Manhattan Bridge

Room with a view - eyes right - Manhattan Bridge

Holiday, getaway, rest & relaxation? Well, in my opinion, NYC has not been a place for relaxing. The pressures are the reverse. You are in the Big Apple. There is so much to see and do. How can you afford to sit in a coffee house for more than an hour, or (perish the thought) have a wee nap. It’s go, go, go; do, do, do. The step counter on my iPhone rewards me for all those extra steps! My fantasy NYC getaway would be a stay of a week or more, with "go, go" days alternating with "lazy" days.

Truth be told, we have used some of our NYC time sitting, quietly watching an amazing world go by. While seeming to be a place of concrete canyons, NYC has more neighborhood parks, green spaces, or more specifically, places to sit than any city I have visited. Despite using transit, the "go, go" walking begs some rest periods – especially in the summer months when heat and humidity turn everything into a challenge.

There are so many NYCs - one for theatre-goers, shoppers, lovers of museums and art and architecture – the list goes on. Despite annual visits over the last nine years, we have not seen it all. 

We have never seen a Broadway show or spent much time shopping - foodie shopping being an exception. There’s the unbeatable Kitchen Arts and Letters Bookstore. Walking out empty-handed is nigh impossible, so if you go there first, be prepared to lug your purchases around all day. We once followed Bourdain’s advice to check out Chef Restaurant Supplies – though here’s an update on cool kitchen stores.

This year’s foodie highlight was Kalustyan’s. Though they have some ready to eat food, I’d describe this as a sort of “dry goods emporium”. They’ve been described as “a specialty market known for Indian & Mideastern spices, teas & other global food items”, and they describe themselves as a “landmark for specialty foods since 1944”. Upon entry, the shop may seem small, but each doorway is like a rabbit hole leading to another wonderland. The place left me gobsmacked.

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When it came to eating this year, though there is no end to new restos in NYC, inexplicably we made pilgrimages back to "been there" places like The Diner (in Williamsburg) and Andrew Carmellini's Lafayette. It is hard enough to keep up with new restos locally - in Toronto, even in Hamilton. In NYC – even more challenging. In The Guardian’s recent listing of NYC Top Best, I know all the neighbourhoods, but have not been to any of the restos. Another reason there must be a "next time". Not to be overlooked, we finally made it to the infamous Shake Shack. The "mother-ship" in Madison Square Park had been closed for a while, re-opening in 2015, but it was the location in Brooklyn that we stumbled upon. We may have ordered the wrong thing, but in truth, years of anticipation were better than the reality.

For us, over the last decade, NYC has been mainly a foodie adventure with a sprinkling of museums and the outdoors. More than once we have rented bikes (really the only way to see the bulk of Central Park). On the other hand, we had to make a point of visiting Times Square a few years ago – it was getting embarrassing to admit we’d never been there.

This year’s outdoors adventure was Governor’s Island. (See also their site.) Having stayed frequently in the Southern Seaport area, we knew exactly where the ferry departed for the short trip to the Island. Its history includes the fact that it was the (easily secured) location for the 1988 meeting between Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The story of the Island, which through most of its history was a military base, is utterly fascinating! Today few people live there and it is being devoted to public spaces and parkland – the latest section, called The Hills, having opened in July 2016. If you can take your eyes off the amazing and abundant abandoned housing, you get unique views of Manhattan. Rent bikes on site to explore it all, and take breaks for food and ice cream – and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Gov. Island: Unique view of Manhattan

Gov. Island: Unique view of Manhattan

Gov. Island: What we all need

Gov. Island: What we all need

Whether or not it is a city that never sleeps, NYC is certainly a city that never stands still. The changes from year to year were visible and over almost a decade - staggering. Though there must surely be municipal issues, the urban renewal and development seems to progress in an orderly way that appears to be aimed at improving quality of life - though I'd have a tough time convincing Brooklynites affected by the 15 month "L" train shutdown.

I know little about the Upper East or Upper West side - having infrequently ventured north of 94th Street. But changes in the South Seaport, Battery Park City, Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, Pier 45 and the Meatpacking areas - just to mention a few - are, without exaggeration, astounding, stunning - and they're not over yet. Not to be overlooked are the ever-evolving neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Encouraged to visit DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), the first time was underwhelming. Now it is thriving, filled with views that make you smile - Jane's Carousel , and wee beaches. The Brooklyn Bridge Park offers green spaces, scenic views, art installments and more. Our first walk from Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan Bridge was a challenging crawl past empty decrepit warehouses, many of which have been now restored and put to good use - always with green space as part of the plan.

Am already mapping out future trips, hoping one day to see The Lowline (in development; not to be confused with the High Line), Bourdain's (not yet ready) new food market, and the Southern Seaport transformations. See you again soon NYC!

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Road-trip tip? If you want a break from the usual driving route that CAA and GPS suggest, make homeward bound up the Manhattan side of the Hudson River. Fit in a visit to The Cloisters if time permits. Approaching Yonkers, the road won't be next to the water, but there's still much to explore - cute towns (Nyack, Cold Springs) and art (Storm King, Dia:Beacon). If you can't make it home in that same day - explore Saratoga Springs or head over to Ithaca, and spend the next day exploring the Finger Lakes area.

If you are planning to visit NYC, you may enjoy my other related blogs - June 2016 and June 2015 (the year I began blogging - so nothing for the years before...)

Recipes. NYC trips are always inspirations for cooking, and some recipes made it to the blog - check out Black & White Cookies, and Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies, Linzer Cookies and Portuguese Muffins.

NYC Read: I like to read books set in my travel destination. This year's NYC read was Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney.

Just for laughs: when Greenwich Village = Grinch Village, it reminds me of cake decorating mistakes. Have you seen these?