Posts Tagged 'NYC'

On the Waterfront: Kayaking in Red Hook

I’ve always been interested in kayaking, but never seemed to find the time or the opportunity to do it, especially since moving to NYC.  Growing up in Massachusetts and living in Connecticut for so many years, I used to enjoy canoeing on small rivers and ponds with my Dad and friends during summers of old. So with summer here again, I started getting the itch to give kayaking a go.  Now, I’m sure kayaking is not typically the first activity that comes to mind to most people when thinking of things to do in NYC.  But bear in mind: NYC is surrounded by water.  All you really need is a seaworthy craft, paddles, and a life vest and the water is your highway. Well, not if you’re a novice like me who’s unfamiliar with the local waters and the potential dangers.  So I starting digging around and found that there are a number of volunteer organizations around NYC that offer free kayaking tours on New York’s waters.  Most of these groups provide everything you need, including the kayak, paddles, life vests, basic instructions and a professional guide to watch over you.

Since I live in Brooklyn, I decided to give Red Hook Boaters a shot.  Red Hook Boaters is an all-volunteer organization devoted to providing safe public access to the waters of Red Hook, “to bring people to the sport of kayaking, and to promote education about, and care for, the coastal environment.”  During the summer months they offer free walk-up kayaking twice a week: Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 pm and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5 pm (schedule is subject to change). No previous kayaking experience is required. It sounded like the perfect introduction to kayaking in NYC. So on a hot Thursday evening after the 4th of July holiday, I decided to take a “7th inning stretch” with my son to Red Hook to check it out! And I wasn’t disappointed.

Red Hook Boaters located at Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park. The cove provides a great spot for kayaking as well as some amazing views of the Statue of Liberty.

RED HOOK: An Historic Industrial/Shipping Neighborhood Enclave

R-E-D H-O-O-K: this cute array of gigantic childhood “blocks” of boulders can be found right beside the cove at Valentino Jr. Pier. Notice the old red brick warehouses in the background–historic remnants of the once prosperous shipping port.

Red Hook is an eclectic neighborhood located in southwestern Brooklyn.  Its name is derived from its appearance as a tiny geographic “hook” jutting into New York Harbor.  Historically, Red Hook served as a thriving industrial port in the 19th and early 20th C. providing thousands of jobs to primarily Italian and Irish American dockworkers.  According to PBS.org, by the 1950s, Red Hook had over 20,000 residents, many of them longshoremen living in public housing projects built in the 1930s to accommodate the growing number of dockworkers and their families.  The neighborhood also had a tough reputation—with such notorious figures as Al Capone allegedly getting their start there as small-time criminals.  And that rough and tough reputation was evident in the 1954 crime drama classic, On the Waterfront, set in Red Hook, where a young Marlon Brando as a former boxer turned longshoreman takes a stand against a corrupt and powerful union boss. Between the 1960s and ’80s, Red Hook experienced a rapid economic decline precipitated by the loss of its traditional shipping business to New Jersey.  As the economy worsened, local crime increased.  Since the late 1990s, however, the neighborhood has been enjoying a slow but steady recovery as middle class artists and others have migrated to the former industrial shipping enclave attracted by its lower rents and a historic waterfront replete with old warehouses and cobblestone streets dating back to the Civil War era.  Today, it’s an eclectic neighborhood of local artists and artisans as well as an array of businesses.  And for tourists or New Yorkers looking for something different, Red Hook offers a great spot for exploration and recreation, as well as some outstanding views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

View from Louis Valentino Jr. Pier.  Lady Liberty beckons in the distance…

A taste of the artistic graffiti gracing one of the warehouses alongside Louis Valentino Jr. Pier.

Kayaking

Red Hook Boaters is located at Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park, a tiny cove graced by old brick warehouses on either side with a direct view of Lady Liberty across the water.  My son and I arrived just before 6 pm and a crowd of about a dozen people were already there waiting to kayak.  After filling out the necessary waiver forms and being fitted for our life vests, we were given a brief but informative lesson on how to safely kayak on the local waters.  The instructors then helped everyone climb into their kayaks one at a time and we were off.  Due to the potential dangers of strong currents and boat traffic on the open water, we were told to kayak only around the cove and the pier, which was just fine by us.  And in order to provide the opportunity for others to participate, we were limited to about a 20 minute excursion. That said, the experience and the opportunity to enjoy some outstanding views on the water was priceless!  And if this is your first time or you’re going with kids like I was, you’ll appreciate the chance just to get your feet–and likely you’re clothes–wet!  Advice: definitely wear a bathing suit and keep your camera/phones in a water resistant bag. Paddling around the cove with views of the guiding torch of “The New Colossus” to our west and the Freedom Tower rising from the ashes of Ground Zero to her north, I couldn’t help but think of the countless generations of people that crossed the ancient waters around us to discover a new land in pursuit of new lives and new opportunities… As a New Englander who moved to NYC for a new experience, I can definitely relate to that spirit of adventure and challenge.

On the water! It’s amazing to feel the glide of the water beneath you while taking in some of the dramatic and tranquil views.  A rewarding experience…

After our dalliance with a mere drop in the bucket of the great waters surrounding New York City, we took a couple of hours to explore the surrounding community.  As mentioned above, Red Hook is a really unique, eclectic neighborhood worth an exploration in its own right.

Here are a few suggestions to check out during your visit:

Work up a bit of sweat while kayaking?  You might want to check out this old Red Hook ‘institution’: Sonny’s Bar is a local saloon located inside an 1850’s era tenement apartment on cobblestoned Conover Street, just a short walk from the waterfront and Valentino Jr. Pier.  The old decor inside might remind you of the bar where a conflicted Terry Malloy took Edie on their first date.

Sunny’s Bar: one of the oldest running bars on the Brooklyn waterfront. The 19th C building and cobblestone street takes you back to a different ara.

For a more family-friendly experience with an eye towards the nabe’s maritime history, check out The Waterfront Museum, a free museum housed aboard the 1914 Lehigh Valley Barge #79. The museum is designed to promote NYC’s maritime heritage and an understanding of the importance of the Harbor and the local waterways as highways for commerce, culture, and recreation.  Check the website for details.

View of Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79, home of The Waterfront Museum.

‘Potted’ plants aboard the Barge.

After checking out the Museum, take a stroll through a beautiful public garden located right next to the Barge.  In addition to enjoying some amazing views of New York Harbor and the Verrazano Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, this local ‘greenway’ offers a nice spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the colorful flowers. If you didn’t bring lunch or a snack, swing by Fairway, a unique and popular family-owned grocery store chain whose Red Hook store, located in a large old brick warehouse right on the waterfront, of course, boasts one of the largest grocery markets in NYC.  And in the unlikely event you don’t find what you’re looking for at the deli, check out Fairway’s Patio Grill, which serves burgers, dogs, BBQ, and lobster rolls, while offering beautiful views of the harbor.

The public garden invites you…

A close-up of some of the public garden’s flora.

Another popular option for dining is the Red Hook Lobster Pound located on nearby Van Brunt Street, where you can enjoy succulent Maine lobsters and lobster rolls.

Regardless of where you dine, and there are many other options, make sure you save room for dessert at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies.  If you’re a fan of key lime pie or just want to see what the hype is all about, you definitely can’t miss a sample of the sweet, tart pies Steve’s has to offer.  Simply divine, especially on a hot afternoon or evening in Red Hook.  And if you can’t find it, keep a look out for the signs to show you the way!

At an intersection in Red Hook. Notice the sign pointing towards the key lime pie?

Still heading in the right direction for Steve’s…

Finally! Like an oasis in the desert! Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. If the are doors open, buy some pie then, ’cause they might be closed if you swing by later. And if you aren’t sold yet, according to my 7 year old son, it’s one of the best pies in the world.

There is so much more to see and enjoy in Red Hook.  I’ve merely scratched the surface here.  I highly recommend you visit Red Hook to see the neighborhood for yourself.

Getting There

If you don’t have a car, Red Hook is accessible by subway (the F and G trains to Carroll Street and you’ll have to walk a bit) and the bus (the B 61).  I recommend using HopStop for determining the best way to get there by bus/train.  There is also a ferry service between Manhattan and Red Hook’s IKEA.

Well, hopefully, I’ve inspired you to take a “7th inning stretch” to try kayaking along Red Hook’s historic waterfront and to further explore some of the jewels of this eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood.

Cheers!

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Camping in Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Summer is in full swing.  And one of my favorite summertime ‘7th inning stretches’ is going camping.  I love enjoying the fresh air, the stars above on a clear night, and the crackle and smell of the campfire…

Now, I’m no camping pro, mind you.  I’m more of an ‘occasional’ camping enthusiast whose idea of camping usually consists of driving a car right up to the campsite, sleeping in a large tent with a queen-sized air mattress, and enjoying a few craft beers beside my charcoal lighter fluid-soaked campfire.  So, yeah, it’s not exactly ‘Man v. Wild’.

Anyway, as many of you might know, I’ve been living in Brooklyn for about 3 years. And one of the things I love most about living here is the diversity of activities, sights and experiences. And in 3 years, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  So when I began hearing a wild rumor that there was a campground in Brooklyn, I just had to check it out. Wait! Camping in Brooklyn?!? Fuhgeddaboudit!  Well, upon further research, it’s true!  The NYC borough synonymous with Jackie Robinson, Norman Mailer, Biggie, and Nathan’s hot dogs has an actual campground in its concrete midst.  And, no, wise guy, you’re not camping in the middle of a parking lot or under the overpass of the BQE.  More like camping on an abandoned airstrip.  Seriously.

Floyd Bennett Field–An Urban Campground

On Memorial Day Weekend,  I took a ‘7th inning stretch’ from the Big City to check out the urban campground at historic Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY, a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.  The campground is literally located on an abandoned airfield which was once home to NYC’s first municipal airport.

The Ryan Visitor Center. When Floyd Bennett Field opened in 1931, it served as the Airport’s Terminal. Recent refurbishments capture much of the original artistic designs and features of the Terminal as it appeared in the 1930s. In addition to providing useful park info, visitors will find a collection of galleries dedicated to aviation history.

History

Floyd Bennet Field is located in South Brooklyn, about a stone’s throw from Coney Island, and on the western edge of New York’s Jamaica Bay.  It was dedicated as the City’s first municipal airport over 80 years ago, in 1931.  Although it ultimately proved to be commercially unsuccessful, for about 10 years, the airfield was front and center to the so-called Golden Age of Aviation.  Some of the era’s most colorful aviation pioneers–pilots like the one-eyed Wiley Post, “Wrongway” Corrigan, Jacqueline Cochrane, and Howard Hughes–used Floyd Bennett Field as a staging ground for their various aerial feats.

A few of the famous aviators who frequented Floyd Bennett Field during the Golden Age of Aviation

And yet, for all of its fascinating history, Floyd Bennett Field never quite “took off” as a commercially viable civilian airport.  Between the Great Depression and the lack of an efficient highway connecting it to Manhattan, Floyd Bennett Field’s fate as a commercial airport was sealed.  With the onset of the Second World War, however, the airfield was to serve as an invaluable resource.  In 1941, NYC sold the airfield to the Navy, which used it as a training ground as well as a base for patrolling for U-boats.  In 1971, the Navy de-activated the airfield.  Soon thereafter, the National Park Service made it a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (Gateway NRA), a 26,000 acre stretch of beaches, parks and historic sites extending from parts of NY to NJ.

Today

Today, Gateway NRA offers a variety of nature programs at Floyd Bennett Field including camping, hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs, an aviation museum as well as a guided tour of old Hangar B, where visitors can check out cool vintage aircraft right up close.  In addition to the on-site activities, Floyd Bennett is conveniently located near world-famous Coney Island, the New York Aquarium, and the Rockaways, home to some of the finest beaches in metropolitan NYC.  And for out-of-staters, the campground is accessible to Manhattan via a seasonal ferry located at nearby Jacob Riis Park, which offers limited service to Manhattan.  The campground is definitely an ideal weekend destination for enjoying some diverse exploration of the area.

View from the beach looking across Jamaica Bay. The beach was just a short walk from the campgrounds and Hangar B. Fishermen can be seen standing in the water offshore.

Beach grass on Jamaica Bay. Notice the plane in the upper right. Though Floyd Bennett no longer operates as an airport, you will hear plenty of airplanes from nearby JFK.

Hangar B is the home of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Project (HARP), a US National Park Volunteer aviation group dedicated to locating and restoring historic aircraft, most of which have a connection to Floyd Bennett Field and its history as a former Naval Air Station.  Be sure not to miss one of the informative guided tours of the old, dilapidated Hangar to learn more about the history of the airfield and the diverse collection of ancient aircraft within.  The tour will provide an up close look at old prop planes, bombers, helicopters and a Skyhawk Fighter Jet, to name a few.  There is also a full scale model of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer.  The tour will really give you a sense of how quickly aviation technology evolved over a relatively short time.

Fairchild PT-26.

Lockheed P-2 Neptune: an anti-submarine patrol bomber

Lockheed P-2 Neptune: an anti-submarine patrol bomber

Camping at Floyd Bennett Field

Okay, enough of the history stuff.  On to the campground!  Despite its urban location, the campground at Floyd Bennett Field is surprisingly rural.  The camping area presently consists of about 40 tent sites, which are fairly spread out, as well as 6 sites for recreational vehicles.  I stayed at the Tamarack Loop.  Tamarack, and the adjacent Goldenrod Loop, consists of a large grassy meadow surrounded by trees and shrubs, creating a very rural feel.  You’d hardly believe that your tent is situated essentially right next to the original air strip from which planes once took flight. Each tent site consists of a picnic table, a grill and a fire ring.  A couple of larger sites also have open-air gazebos offering shade or cover from rain.  Most sites can accommodate up to two tents.  And the Park Service provides a steady supply of free firewood for campers.  Bathrooms, while primitive, are only a short walking distance away from the tents.  Showers?  Well, let’s just say you’ll probably end up roughing it.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, however, showers are apparently available during limited hours to campers for a $10 fee at the nearby Aviator Sports facility.

My tent site upon arrival at the Tamarack Loop.

My campsite is complete! Ready for a campfire and a couple cold brews!

While the location is decidedly rural in appearance, one will not likely confuse Floyd Bennett with a peaceful Vermont forest anytime soon.  Rather than falling asleep to the serenade of crickets, be prepared to be lulled to sleep by the gentle roar of jet engines!  JFK, one of the world’s busiest international airports, is located a mere 11 miles away directly across Jamaica Bay.  (Bear in mind, this is still the City that Never Sleeps…) And don’t forget to pack the bug spray!  The campground is close to the water and the mosquitos are vicious at Floyd Bennett.  That said, it’s camping!  If you want a good night’s sleep, stay at a Holiday Inn Express or something…

‘Primitive’ bathrooms. Note: there is no flushing water inside, and you might want to bring your own TP. A water faucet (not pictured) is located across from the bathrooms. In addition to this facility, portable WC’s were available.

I spent a couple nights at Floyd Bennett and, overall, I really enjoyed the Brooklyn camping experience.  And I would definitely recommend camping enthusiasts check it out, especially if you already live in the NYC area and are thinking about an inexpensive ‘staycation’.  And if you have kids, it’s an affordable and convenient way to take the family camping without leaving the City.  Floyd Bennett also has the advantage of still being ‘under the radar’.  The National Park Service only recently expanded the campground from 4 to 40 sites.  I made reservations for Memorial Day Weekend, and while a lot of people were there, it was definitely not filled to capacity.  For reservations, which are recommended, check out the National Park Service’s website here.

Sunset at the Tamarack Loop at Floyd Bennett Field campground.

For a unique urban camping experience in the heart of Brooklyn, take a ‘7th inning stretch’ and check out Floyd Bennett Field, where roasting s’mores over a campfire is as synonymous with Brooklyn as Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch…

An idyllic campfire at dusk…in Brooklyn!

For official information and updates, visit the official NY Harbor Parks’ website and Twitter account, and Gateway NPS’s website and Twitter account.

Cheers!

Gardens of Park Slope: Spring–Early Summer 2012

I’ve lived in Brooklyn nearly 3 years, 2 of which I’ve spent in picturesque Park Slope. Like many, I am fond of the historic brownstones, its proximity to Prospect Park as well as Manhattan, and its eclectic mix of ‘hip’ and family-friendliness. Residents here really care about their nabe–sometimes to a fault–but the passion is often reflected positively in the way they take care of their tree-lined streets and avenues, especially in the warmer months. If you’re in NYC, especially Brooklyn, on a sunny afternoon, Park Slope is an outstanding neighborhood to take a stroll.  There are some great restaurants and pubs in the area, as well as some unique shops worth perusing. And Prospect Park is a destination in and of itself. But often the best part is simply taking a walk up and down some of the most beautiful tree-lined boulevards in all of Brooklyn and enjoying views of stately brownstones and lush gardens with a little people watching along the way.  To learn more about Park Slope, the architecture, and its history, visit the Park Slope Civic Council and the Brooklyn Historic Society.  In the meantime, to inspire you to take a ‘7th Inning Stretch’ and visit, enjoy some photos I took this Spring and Summer of some of the nabe’s beautiful gardens.

A gate blossoms

An oasis shades brick

An exotic Babylonian-like Garden in Brooklyn

Peach colored roses

Hydrandrea at the base of the staircase

Flowers at the corner

Red flower, red brick

Flowering brownstone

Gargoyles standing watch

Spring Allegro

Sunset on the Slope

Which is your favorite?  Cheers!

Two Trophies and a Side of Rice

A ‘7th Inning Stretch’ with Jim Rice and the World Series Trophies

New York City is great!  No, I really mean it.  I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost 3 years now, and as much as I love New England (and my New England sports), I really enjoy the energy of the City as well as the opportunity to experience so many activities, sites, and events within minutes across the entire NY metropolitan area: world class museums, parks, on and off Broadway shows, live music, and an array of dining options reflecting the City’s diversity.  And in April, I had the good fortune of coming face to face with former Red Sox great and Hall of Famer, Jim Rice, and the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies right here in NYC.

Back in mid-April, in recognition of Fenway’s 100th anniversary festivities, MLB Fan Cave and the Sox, set up a rare opportunity for fans to meet the Red Sox HOF’er and to check out the trophies in Manhattan.  Even Wally The Green Monster made the trip.  I found out about it on the day of the event on Twitter and proceeded to re-arrange my schedule to swing by for a ‘7th inning stretch’ with the Red Sox HOF’er.  No way was I going to miss out!  And as luck would have it, my son and I were both home that day, so fortunately I was able to take him with me to share the experience.

Although I was too young to enjoy Jim Rice’s finest years, I remember seeing him play for the Sox in the late 1980s and appreciate his contributions to the game.  And as an avid fan, it would be really cool to meet a Hall-of-Famer who once played for my favorite team.  I even dug up one of my old Jim Rice baseball cards.

Jim Rice, Topps, 1990

Within 30 minutes, including a few stops on the F train and a few blocks’ walk, we were at MLB Fan Cave, located at 4th Street and Broadway, right in the heart of Greenwich Village.  And being that it’s Manhattan, and not Boston, we had only to wait a couple minutes to meet Jim Ed and the trophies.

My son and I with Jim Rice and the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies.

It was a real honor to meet Jim Rice and to check out the World Series trophies up close–and to share that experience with my son was priceless.  My little guy wasn’t yet born when the Sox came back to defeat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.  And he was only 2 1/2 when the Sox swept the Rockies to win the 2007 WS.  So to be able to high five Jim Rice with him while checking out the World Series bling was a bonding experience with my son that I’ll never forget.  And the best part–it happened in NYC!  Thanks Mr. Rice, MLB Fan Cave, the Red Sox, and NYC!  Go Sox!