Monthly Archives: August 2017

Day Eighty-Eight: Walking the Border of Yorkville/Carnegie Hill: East 96th Street to East 84th Street and from Central Park West to FDR Drive August 25, 2017

I finally got out of Harlem and into the Upper East Side. This area is the border neighborhood between East Harlem and the Upper East Side (or as people used to say before gentrification of the Island of Manhattan, the Upper Upper East Side). Most people consider anything below 98th Street on the East Side of Manhattan and East of Central Park as the Upper East Side. However you call it, you are now out of Harlem.

The mood of the area is even different. It was like when I was crossing 155th Street from Washington Heights to Harlem months before. The mood of the area and its residents starts to change. It becomes the Woody Allen Upper East Side. Again just like Manhattan Valley on the West Side, there is still a very 70’s and 80’s feel to the neighborhood. Its got a more a middle class feel to it.

There are none of the expensive restaurants and boutiques that you see below 80th Street. The feel of the businesses is more local. Even the Isaacs Housing complex looks more upscale then the projects a few blocks up and their residents have their own security watch (the guy asked me what I was doing there and no one ever asked me anything when I walked through).

The walk along FDR Drive esplanade has some view.  The shore line of Queens is really changing. There is a lot of development around the East River and what a beautiful view of the river. The esplanade stops around 90th Street for renovation and then continues once you pass Gracie Mansion.

Carl Schurz Park where Gracie Mansion is located is a nice place to just relax and watch the boats pass by. You get the nicest views of Randalls-Ward Island and of Lighthouse Park on Roosevelt Island (I never knew there was a lighthouse over here). The developers are creating a new ‘Gold Coast’ along the Queens-Brooklyn riverfront.

It was nice to just relax and watch the water. The kids are in full force at this park like many parks around the city and it looks like they are trying to enjoy their last days of freedom before the school years starts in two weeks. Kids were playing basketball, Frisbee, roller skating and just chasing one another. It was nice to see kids not using cellphones.

The homes along this part of Manhattan were a combination of brownstones and prewar apartments but all along the Avenues, you are seeing more and more new construction. All sorts of new apartment and office buildings are being built along 1st, 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The businesses are more local than chains,  giving you a peak at time before the late 90’s exploded with the chain stores all over Manhattan. It is funny that I remember a time everyone in the city complained that the chains would not even come to the city now in 2017 they complain that they are taking over the city.

The border of Yorkville, 84th Street, is lined with many brownstone type buildings and private homes along with a series of small restaurants and shops worth exploring. Many are businesses that have been open for years such as Dorrian’s Restaurant since 1960. It harks back to when the Upper East Side was the land of preppies.

When you reach 5th Avenue, the area between 84th Street and 96th Street is lined with museums giving name to ‘Museum Row’ starting with the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the corner of 84th Street passing the Jewish Museum, Guggenheim Museum and many others, which will be fun to explore. Many of the smaller museums of the city line this area as well so I passed names I had never heard of before.

At 91st and 5th Avenue along the wall of Central Park is a memorial to W.T. Stead, a journalist who died in the Titanic. He was a English journalist best known for being an investigative journalist, better known as a gossip columnist. The funny part of his going down in the Titanic is that he had written that he might die in a drowning and wrote two fictional articles before the tragedy about ships colliding at sea and another about a ship that sinks without enough life boats to save everyone. Maybe he just saw his fate. He was into spiritualism, which was fashionable at the time and maybe someone hinted to him.

Mr. Stead’s memorial is one of many that line Central Park that most people don’t even notice.  The park is loaded with statues and memorials that most New Yorkers just pass by without a moments notice. It makes one wonder why they would put this here.

There are glorious views of the reservoir at 90th Street and 5th Avenue that you should not miss. Just walking in the park to see the gardens is worth the trip inside Central Park. Most of the gardens are still in bloom and the park is loaded with tourists milling around the waterfront.

Walking up 5th Avenue along the park at 96th and 5th Avenue, there is a statue of Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen in a small enclosure on the edge of the park before you enter it. This bronze, life-sized sculpture is a self-portrait of the esteemed Danish sculptor and was dedicated in Central Park in 1894. It is the only statue of an artist displayed in the parks of New York City and honors a titan in his field who had broad influence in sustaining the classical tradition in art (NYC Parks Department-Central Park).

As I was walking across 96th Street to finish the upper part of the neighborhood, I had a sudden craving for a sandwich and walked up to Moe’s Grocery Inc. at 1968 3rd Avenue, which I had eaten in before (See review on TripAdvisor & my blog, ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’). They have the best special, a chopped cheese on a hoagie roll and a Coke for $3.00. Ever on the budget, their chopped cheese rivals Haiji’s (Blue Sky Deli) up on 110th Street.

I thought I had asked for lettuce and tomato on the sandwich so add another $1.50 to it but when I sat down to eat it at the park at 96th Street, they were not on it. I was a little pissed at paying for something I did not get but the sandwich was so good, I did not mind. It is worth the walk up a few extra blocks to 108th Street for the sandwich. You will also see the distinction of the neighborhoods just by crossing 98th Street (See the previous walk in East Harlem). The sandwich is so loaded with beef and gooey cheese that it makes the nicest meal during this long walk and nothing is better than a Coke on a hot day.

I ended this part of the walk by rounding East End Avenue and relaxing at Carl Schurz Park, which is a true delight. What a beautifully landscaped park with paths of picturesque gardens and statues and active playgrounds with screaming children. The nice part is the bathrooms here are decent and you have a working water fountain, with lots of cold water. It was fun to explore the paths going up and down the landscaped paths.

Security is heavy at the northern part of the park where Gracie Mansion is located, the Mayor’s residence. There are NYPD cars all over the place so try not to dwell too long in this area not to get the attention of the police officers. You can’t even see the mansion any more because of the fencing around the house. This was the former summer residence of Archibald Gracie, a well-known Scottish born, American merchant, who was partners with Alexander Hamilton.

He built the house in 1798 as a summer home and entertained the elite at that time in Manhattan, including John Quincy Adams. Gracie’s daughter Eliza Gracie-King was one of the great social leaders at the time until Mrs. Astor took the throne during the ‘Gilded Age’. The house was sold in 1823 to pay off debts owed by Mr. Gracie and it was bought by New York City in 1896 due to back taxes by the then owners. It has been used as a concession stand for the park as well as the first home of the Museum of the City of New York. In 1942, the house was renovated and became the residence of Florio LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York and thus became the residence of future New York City mayors NYC Parks Department).

I had taken a tour of the mansion years earlier with the Cornell and Harvard Clubs when we had a historical tea at the house. Mayor Bloomberg did not live in the house at the time so it was used primarily for entertaining. We had a wonderful afternoon tea at the at the house and then a formal tour of the public rooms and gardens. It has the most amazing views of ‘Hell Gate’, a bend in the river along the esplanade, that has some of the roughest waters in the East River. The house does get a nice breeze.

After a long rest on the benches outside the park, I walked over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to spend the rest of the evening. The Met, as its called, is open until 9:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, so you get to listen to the music in ‘The Balcony’ restaurant or just tour the galleries. It gave me a chance to see the Greek Galleries again and walk around the Central American exhibitions. It is so nice to walk in the galleries when it is not busy. It was a nice way to end the evening.

 

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Day Eighty-Seven: A Trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for Members Movie Night August 23, 2017

I took some time before I start the next section of the walk to travel to Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (See reviews on TripAdvisor and my blog ‘VisitingaMuseum’). I have been a member for over a decade and I am glad that my donation helps support the gardens. It is so much fun to walk around these beautiful individual gardens.

I got to Brooklyn too late to visit the zoo or the Brooklyn Museum, so I took a walk to my favorite pizzeria in the area, Family Pizza at 720 Flatbush Avenue in Flatbush (See review on TripAdvisor). Their pizza is amazing and if you are in the area, walk down Flatbush Avenue for a slice. Even at the $2.75 price per slice, it is still great pizza. The sauce is so delicious and really makes their pizza.

I have never seen a neighborhood change so fast. It is going from a West Indian and Caribbean Black neighborhood to hipster central.  I have never seen a place change so much in an eight month period. Every time I walk down this street, it looks like another ten businesses have left and the ‘for rent’ signs keep going up. All the local businesses are being replaced by all the frou-frou restaurants and shops that cater to the hipsters.

As all the new buildings keep going up all over the Flatbush Avenue and the surrounding streets, all the businesses that surround them change as well. Even some of the small local businesses have been smart and upgraded their stores. I passed a Jamaican bakery that had been opened for years is completely renovated. It still looks the same outside but they have upgraded as the neighborhood has changed. On the five blocks to the pizzeria, I counted at the least ten businesses that have left and some have been replaced with new restaurants and shops.

I decided to look it up and the head of the Merchant’s Association said that their were 22 businesses that were open now and they were not being filled so fast. The ones that are being filled are opening expensive restaurants with things like $12.00 hamburgers and $20.00 pizza when the restaurants in the are that are left are serving food that is just as good for half the price. This was the difference between Family Pizza, where I ate tonight and the fancy pizzeria that opened directly across the street with the same pizza for double the price. Pretty place in comparison but still at the end of the day it is pizza.

After my walk down Flatbush Avenue and dinner, I walked back up to the Gardens. The movie tonight was the ‘Fabulous Mr. Fox’, voiced by George Clooney and Merle Streep. It was not too fabulous. In fact, I found the movie boring and sending the wrong message to kids. That’s the reason why it was a big flop at the box office. With a former line up of the ‘Wizard of Oz’, ‘The Goonies’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘E.T’., they could have picked another classic live-action film like ‘The Parent Trap’ or ‘Freaky Friday’. They even cut out the free popcorn that they have every year. I could tell someone new was running it.

Still the gardens were in bloom and it was a beautiful warm, non-muggy night (79 degrees) to sit on the lawn and enjoy the film. The place is testament to families as it is like a step back into the 70’s with kids running around in their bare feet, parents talking to their neighbors and people from the same buildings socializing with one another.

It was nice to walk around the Crawford Rose Garden and some of the roses were coming back in bloom and the Japanese Garden was in full form. I had not been there since the Cherry Blossom Festival in April. I had missed a few of the events because of work but still the Gardens are going through a renovation and the new Water Garden is being expanded. If you live anywhere in the surrounding area, this is one membership you want to have in your collection of museums and parks.

It is one of those membership perks that I really enjoy and to come in all the way from New Jersey after work says something. Its a great neighborhood to explore that is now constantly changing. Its just nice to be outside under the stars watching a film on a warm summer night.

Day Eighty-Six: Traveling to the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ for the Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017

We had the first Solar Eclipse travel across the United States since 1979 and at first, most people did not make a fuss over it but as the time approached, everyone started to ‘freak out’ that they must see it. I just wanted to avoid New York City that day and see it somewhere else.

I had a member’s invitation to see it at the American Museum of Natural History but I wanted to avoid the city today and that museum as I knew it was going to be packed and we would all be shoved into Rose Hall where the planetarium was located. It was not that I thought it would be done wrong but I did not want to deal with the crowds at the AMNH.

At the last minute, the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ (See review on TripAdvisor and my blog “VisitingaMuseum”) had a special function for the day where you could get the eclipse glasses and see the show. They did not know what they were in for as the crowd at the museum swelled into over 500 people. They did not have enough of anything for all the people that came. The line was still going on when I got to the front of the line. They ran out of glasses when I got there but they provided me with a ‘pin-hole’ paper so that  I could see the eclipse though the hole. I was lucky people were willing to share their glasses.

In New Jersey, we were so far from the path of the moon that we only got to see about 75% covering of the sun, so it was still bright out by us. So you really needed the glasses. It was so interesting to see the moon cover the sun and it moved ever so slowly. The display started at around 2:45pm EST and like I said you would never know it was happening because of the light of the sun. Some people said they noticed the difference but I didn’t see or feel anything different.

Horizon Plaza and the Garden area were mobbed with people from 2:45pm to about 3:30pm and they had the path of the sun and moon on TV on live stream inside the museum at the auditorium. I swear, the dopey things people will say on camera just to be on TV. The reporters didn’t even know what to ask once it was over. Some people really got into it and most seemed to care less. I thought it was interesting to see this cosmic display. When it happened in 1979, I was in high school and I don’t even remember anyone talking about and thinking back to it, I think it was a cloudy day that afternoon.

I left around 4:00pm when the path crossed and people got tired looking up. I could also feel the strain on my eyes. The nice part was I took the bus from home and did not have to tackle their parking lot. Lunch was at Central Restaurant, 30 Central Avenue, Downtown Newark, for an amazing meal (See review on TripAdvisor and my blog ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’).

The next time this will happen will be in 2024 so we have some time and will travel from Texas to Maine. So maybe we will get a better view next time. Otherwise, I thought it was pretty awesome.

Places to Visit:

The Newark Museum

49 Washington Street

Newark, NJ 07102

(973) 596-6550

Open: Wednesday-Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm/Closed Monday and Tuesday

https://www.newarkmuseum.org/

 

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g46671-d217958-Reviews-Newark_Museum-Newark_New_Jersey.html?m=19905

My review on VisitingaMuseum.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/visitingamuseum.com/1818

 

Places to Eat:

Central Restaurant

30 Central Avenue Street 4

Newark, NJ  07102

((73) 623-8137

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Central-Restaurant/111649452205238

Open: Monday-Saturday 5:00am-7:00pm/Sunday 7:00am-4:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g46671-d5052680-Reviews-Central_Restaurant-Newark_New_Jersey.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/294

Day Eighty-Five: Back to Coney Island for the Annual Sandcastle Building Contest and Walking Surf Avenue August 19, 2017

I had a busy day running around Newark and then Brooklyn visiting both the Newark Museum and Coney Island. I love how everything gets planned on the same day. Everyone is preparing for the Solar Eclipse on Monday, so both the Newark Museum and the American Museum of Natural History are getting ready for the viewings. So I stopped at the Newark Museum first today to see what they were planning knowing that New York was going to be very busy.

The Newark Museum is running a series of members mornings with a early morning tour of the museum and a light breakfast that seems to be catching on with the membership. We had a early morning tour of the kinetic sculpture of Uram Choe, a Korean artist who specializes in metal working sculptures that move on motion. His one piece upstairs in the Asian galleries opens up like the sun would in the morning and his downstairs on the second floor piece is a serpent eating itself, which is based on an old legend.

Mr. Choe’s is from an architect background and each piece moves on a series of motors based on motion. Every piece is placed with such detail and the way it moves is so intricate. The Newark Museum (See TripAdvisor review) is going though a major renovation where they will be opening the original entrance to the museum in the Fall after twenty years and hopefully a new beginning for a museum with a major identity crisis.

The museum has such amazing works to see in a beautiful setting but the problem is that Newark still has a negative  image to most suburbanites. No one I know wants to go there and that is a real problem for the city.  The museum in a great area of the downtown that is being rebuilt and refigured with all sorts of new housing and lofts but it will take time to shake the riots of the 60’s from peoples minds.

They just opened the new American Indian exhibition and refigured the American Art wing to reflect the development of the United States from Native American time to the present. Their Asian and African galleries are very detailed but the biggest problem they have is the imagine of an ‘African’ museum which they can’t seem to shake. It is such a gem and try not to miss going there.

We had a long talk in the gallery about the artist and about the development of Korean Art from Ancient times until today and then the museum had a beautiful Continental breakfast on the top floor of the Ballentine House. This was Mrs. Ballentine’s daughter’s section of the house that was built in the late 1890’s when they moved in after her husband’s death. The room, now used as the trustees room, is a look back on the Gilded Age and the invention of electricity in modern homes. It really showed me the treasure trove of artifacts that exist in this small museum.

After the tour, there was a quick tour of the museum and then a train ride to Manhattan and then a long subway ride on a beautiful clear sunny day to Coney Island. The whole thing took about two hours and I got there by three o’clock.

The Annual Sandcastle Building Contest I thought would be much bigger than it was. Only about twenty people were competing in it. Several mounds of  sand in one section of the beach outside of Luna Park were used but still the imagination of the work was spellbound.

Most of the works that I saw were some form of castle which seemed to be the object that everyone based their idea on but some people were a little more creative. There were gorillas, octopuses, people crawling out of the sea and one artist even dug out a complete hole and had the imagine of a women lying in the sea. There were some pretty interesting ideas at play. I am not sure who won that afternoon but the prize was $500.00.

Some of the professional artists did works to welcome everyone to the contest and their detail work was interesting as you see in the picture above. This was not done by a group of ten year olds.

I walked along the beach to relax my feet and as I walked I could not believe how empty the beaches were for a Saturday afternoon in August. By the water it was full but towards the back by the boardwalk it was empty. Not the Coney Island of yesteryear when every spot was full. I guess its just not that place anymore.

After a long walk along the beach, I dried off and walked the boardwalk to the end to Seagate, a private community at the end of the boardwalk. Along the way, I passed by the Coney Island Houses, one of the more dangerous housing complexes in Brooklyn. I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to build low income housing along the shorefront but that made no sense to me.

It looked like the complex was having a barbecue, that is until two guys went after each other in the basketball court area as the DJ was announcing a kids dance. She was beside herself to tell them to calm down. Then you had two groups of people trying to calm the situation down. It was not a pleasant scene.

I got to the end of the boardwalk and decided I wanted to see all of Surf Avenue to see the real changes on the island since the closing of the amusement area. I agree with an article I read years ago, it still is like a war zone.

They built all this public housing outside Seagate and as you walk along Surf Avenue until you get to about where the rehab center is, it just looks like Beirut. The whole area is full of rundown looking public housing and the street itself is a shell of the once glorious resort if it ever  was that. If there are ever going to get this island back into shape, the city seriously needs to rethink this part of the island.

I walked the entire length of Surf Avenue down to Brighton Beach and really looked at the stretch of the island facing the shore. By Brighton Beach, the area got so much nicer and more built up. Even in some of the pockets before the amusement area, they are building new condos along the boardwalk in between the projects. Even still, even when you reach Nathan’s, there is just too much wasted opportunity along the shorefront.

I turned around and walked up Stillwell Avenue by the subway spot and there they are starting to knock down the block and replacing it with low rise apartment buildings. This is where all the hipster people must be living. It looks like more of this area is about to come down.

For dinner, I went to Totonna’s Pizzaria Napolitano at 1524 Neptune Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets (See TripAdvisor review). This place is harder to get into than any trendy restaurant in Manhattan. They only make so much dough and as a matter of fact the smaller pizzas sold out before I got there and it was 4:30pm when I ate my lunch/dinner. The place was busy the entire time I got there. The only bad thing about the restaurant is the seating. They need to reconfigure their tables to accommodate more people. You can’t seat a single person like myself at a six top table.

The menu is so simple. Either you get a small or large pizza with a choice of ten toppings for $2.50 extra. The drinks were pricey with a bottle of Coke being $2.50. The pizza was $20.50 for the large or $18.50 for the small. The place is cash only.

The pizza was wonderful and with the size and the quality of ingredients, well worth the money.  You get a large pizza that is a large pizza with fresh tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, which gives it a different flavor from the shredded processed cheese most places use giving it a creamy flavor. The whole thing was topped with fresh basil and I added sausage to it. Cooking it in a coal brick stove gave it a nice smoky flavor. Needless to say, the owner could not believe I ate almost the entire pie at one sitting.

I met Louise Ciminieri, the current owner and the granddaughter of the original owner. She told me how the business passed down from her grandfather to her uncle and then to her. Her uncle had a habit of only making so much dough and after it was gone, the restaurant closed for the day. A little strange for a business to make money.

She could not have been nicer or more welcoming to me and seemed to get a kick at the fact that I made such a fuss in meeting her. I told her of all the reviews online and the fact that my own mom had eaten here probably when he uncle first owned the business. She has not changed the place much over the years and she explained how the neighborhood has changed so much since they opened. What was once an Italian neighborhood is now all car repair places.

After dinner, I took once last walk around Surf Avenue and then headed back to Manhattan where I ended up spending the rest of the evening at an outdoor concert in Bryant Park. It was nice to just relax and listen to the music.

It was a beautiful night and a great way to end the trip to Coney Island.

Day Eighty-Four: The Feast of Our Lady of Carmel and the dancing of the Giglio with the Giglio Society of East Harlem and walking Randalls-Ward Island August 13, 2017

 

I have been waiting to come to the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel in East Harlem to see the dancing of the Giglio for months since I had finished the walk in the neighborhood. I was not sure of what to expect since there really are not many Italians still living in the neighborhood. The church I am sure still attracts people from all over the city and I could see that my the members of the lift team.

It was a glorious day for the feast. Warm, sunny and no humidity. You could not have asked for a better day to be outside. The Dance of the Giglio started at 1:00pm and wanting to get into the city early, I took the 10:00am bus into the city. Who knew that I would get uptown two hours early.

I started my day with a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich at Blue Sky Deli at the corner of 110th and First Avenue, home to the famous ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich’ (see review on TripAdvisor & DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.wordpress.com). I swear, I don’t know what it is about this little hole in the wall deli but the food here is so good! The sandwich was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I had eaten outside my absolute favorite one, the Sausage McMuffin with Cheese at McDonalds. The sandwich was loaded with freshly cooked eggs, turkey bacon and American cheese. It was put on a hoagie roll and then pressed. For $4.00, it was a steal.

I took my sandwich and sat in Jefferson Park as I have had many times with my lunch and watched the world go by. A lot has changed since March and April. The park was in full swing and all over the place people were playing soccer, baseball, handball or swimming in their giant pool. It was a perfect day to be outside and relax.

All over the park, there were all sorts of birthday parties and family barbecues going on. Families really use this park and it was nice to see multi generations eating together. As I have said before, it is nice to see people socializing without a cell phone glued to their hands. There were lots of balloons and decorations and the boom of Spanish music to entertain them. Its fun to sit and watch people have a good time.

The Feast of My Lady of Carmel started around 1:00pm but the dance started late and everyone finally started to gather around the Giglio around 2:15pm. I give these men and women a lot of credit. The Giglio looked really heavy considering it was the structure itself plus about five musicians and the lead singer. One of the trumpet players was a little ‘zaftig’ to say the least. I will not be participating in this anytime soon.

The program started off with a prayer the patron saint, St. Anthony:

(from the prayer sheet):

Sant’Antonio of Padua: “The Wonder Worker”

St. Anthony is know as “The Wonder Worker” for the many miracles and conversions attributed to him. Although quiet and unassuming he was regarded as a sensational preacher in his time. A Franciscan priest and professor of theology, he gave up teaching to be assigned to preach all over Italy, attracting huge crowds wherever he went.

St. Anthony is often depicted as holding the infant Jesus as it is said that the Christ child appeared to him in visions.

He is known as being of particular help in retrieving lost articles because of a story in which a book of psalms that had been stolen was returned due to his intercession.

He died June 13th at the age of 36. He was canonized the following year and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.

The Giglio Society of East Harlem’s roots can be traced to a town several miles from Nola called Brusciana. The annual dancing of the Giglio began in 1800’s inspired by Francisco Vivolo’s vow to St. Anthony, the patron Saint of Brusciana. Francisco vowed to dance the Giglio annually if St. Anthony would help his gravely ill son recover from a very serious illness. The prayers were answered and the dancing of the Giglio in honor of St. Anthony began in Brusciana and still continues today.

Immigrants from Brusciana continue the feast and uphold this grand tradition brought to this country by our forefathers. Our objective is to pass onto our children, as was done with us, the tradition of o’Giglio, truly one of the greatest wonders of the world!”

After the prayer was over, the crowd went wild and the ceremony began. These handlers really worked hard as they broke several boards lifting this structure. It was amazing as some of them were smoking cigars or drinking a beer while they were doing it. The guys all looked like military, construction workers, police and firemen. Some did their job with ease, others looked like it was going to be a long day.

After the prayer, their master of ceremony, Jimmy Alleva , sang a few songs in Italian and I swear that his guy had the most beautiful singing voice. I read his bio online and it seems that he sings in feasts all over the tri-state area. Even though the guy is self-taught, you would swear he is a classically trained opera singer. After he sang two songs in Italian, he ‘brought the house down’ with the crowd and there was a massive applause . Talk about bringing you closer to God when someone can touch a crowd like this. People were giving him ovations. Then came the lifts.

Like I said, some of these guys were experts and did it with ease and others were really struggling. They lifted that Giglio all over the neighborhood, up and down the street then to the church and back and then the Ladies of the Giglio did there lift and credit to all the women that lifted it along with the men because these ladies held their own. The Ladies of the Giglio did there lift with some of the men and these women were strong. They did a great job as well.

The lifts of the Giglio went on for quite awhile being dedicated to various families who must have made donations to the church. After that it was festival time. One of the announcers said that the feast just keeps getting bigger every year and you could tell by the crowd that more and more people are venturing back into this neighborhood for the afternoon. The place was packed.

The best part was the fresh zeppoli that were cooked right in front of me. There were not that many food vendors on the block so they had control of the whole crowd. For $5.00 for six, these zeppoli were some of the best I have had. They came right out of the fryer and loaded with powdered sugar. I devoured those fast.

I walked around the rest of the feast, looking at the small rides and the games of chance. This feast is only two blocks long but a lot of people are packed into this small space. The band kept playing for the rest of the afternoon and groups of families sat under tents on the sidewalks catching up with old friends and members of the church.

It is going to be interesting the fate of this festival in an ever gentrifying neighborhood that has switched from Italian to Spanish to Hipster. The neighborhood is changing fast even in the time I have walked it. More and more is under scaffolding.

I stayed for about two hours and then decided to walk around the neighborhood. My walk took me past the Jefferson playground, down FDR Drive to the dreaded East River Houses (they still have not finished that playground facing the drive) and I walked across the pedestrian bridge to Randalls-Ward Island and walked across the explore the island. I walked the entire length of the island and it took about two hours.

Randalls-Ward Island is a island in the East River bend off Hell Gate and is connected to Manhattan by two pedestrian bridges one on 105th Street and the other on 125th Street plus the bridges leading you to the South Bronx. The island is part of New York County which is where Manhattan is located but it is truly one of those hidden ‘gems’ of the city that most people don’t know exist. I never knew it was there. When I crossed over the pedestrian bridge, I never knew of islands and their dark past. You would never know it from the new playgrounds and ball fields.

From what I had read online, the islands were once separated by a stream called ‘Little Hellgate’ that was filled in years ago to create one island. The reconfiguring of land that you see all over Manhattan, like in Marblehead and in Battery City. The islands were originally used for farming by the American Indians, Dutch and English but it was during the Civil War, they started being used for a dumping ground.

At various times up until World War II, the islands housed a potter’s field, homeless shelters, a ‘Insane Asylum’, small pox ward and a dumping ground for orphans. They were considered ‘islands for the undesirables’ and most of the city’s problems were shipped to the island, similar to the role that Riker’s Island plays today.

You would never know it now with all the new playgrounds, picnic sites, ball and soccer fields, concession stands and thank God, new bathrooms and water fountains. When I got to the island, everything was in full swing on a beautiful sunny day.

You thought the parties were in full swing in Jefferson Park, you should come to Randalls-Ward Island. All over the edges of the island were barbecues with meat sizzling on the grill, birthday parties with balloons with pink and blue all over the place and Spanish music blasting over their heads.  These were not small parties but big family get-togethers. Its nice to see people having such a good time.

Even the ‘hipsters’ are discovering the island mostly hanging around that southern part of the island that faces the Upper East Side and the rapidly developing Queen’s waterfront. Theirs is the quieter section closer to the pedestrian bridge with the better vantage points over-looking the new ‘hipster’ enclaves.

Walking the island took me close to two hours as I walked through the parks and ball fields and under the bridges that crisscrossed the island. There were many natural flower gardens on the northwestern part of the island overlooking Astoria Park on the other side of the river. The Wildflower Meadow was in full bloom and was attracting all sorts of butterflies and honeybees. As you walked in there were all sorts of benches to relax and just watch the view.

The island is still has remnants of its past. I passed the water treatment plant, a much needed addition to an ever growing city that seemed quiet that day and the FDNY Training Academy which was closed for the afternoon. You could see from the street the size of the academy and how much training these guys really get. It is isolated from the rest of the island.

On the most Northern part of the island , the police have their back offices and training facility and in between both of these are ball fields in which many leagues were playing that day. The nice part was when following the paths there were plenty of new bathrooms and places to just relax as well as snack bars where the prices were not unreasonable.

The New York Psychiatric Center still sits on the northern part of the island like a fortress. The ironic part of this is that it is surrounded by paths of flowers, marshes and lagoons that have been built around the island to clean the water. The Water’s Edge Garden sits just past the Center and offers the nicest views of the new Harlem being built.

The western part of the island has the nicest walking paths by the water and many different gardens that are in full bloom. I passed the Icahn Stadium, where a small game was going on and could hear the cheers in the background. I kept wondering why such a great set of parks was not being better taken advantage of by the entire city.

I rounded the path back to the pedestrian bridge and while walking across tried to spot the ‘spotters’ that everyone talked about at the East River Houses. I saw a lot of open windows on the top of the complex but not a sole in sight. I will avoid this place in the future now.

I walked back to the Q subway on East 96th Street going full circle since my day at Coney Island and took it down to Little Italy downtown. I had such a craving for Italian food that needed to be filled.

Little Italy now is just three blocks by one block and its barely that anymore. Even in between the famous restaurants that still exist, new boutiques are opening. The area is now squeezed into Mulberry Street from Canal to Broome Streets with a smidgen of restaurants up to East Houston, the original border of the neighborhood. Anything above Broome Street is not longer ‘Little Italy’ but ‘NoLiTa’ (North of Little Italy).

This area has been becoming trendy for about twenty years. Most of the old Italian businesses have closed by the late nineties and have become boutiques and non-Italian restaurants. If my grandfather who was raised here had a crystal ball and had owned one of these buildings, we would have been set.

There is even a change from the ‘red sauce’ restaurants of the past to more sophisticated Italian dining leaving the old restaurants to the tourists. One by one they are closing down or changing hands.  It shows in the food quality.

I went to the Grotta Azzurra at 177 Mulberry Street (See reviews on TripAdvisor), where I have been eating for years and the food quality and service have gone way down. While I ordered my dinner, the table next to me the guest was fighting with his waiter on a glass of wine that he had ordered that he was not happy with and the waiter was giving him attitude. Not smart in an economy like this.

The food was mediocre at best that night. The fried Mozzarella was cooked perfectly on the outside and not cooked on the inside and I had to send it back. The second batch was better. The manicotti was good and the sauce was decent but the runner who served me the dish dumped so much parmesan cheese on top all I could taste was the cheese. It was such a waste. The service was good but not great. All of this reflected in the amount of people eating there that night. Most of the other restaurants were much busier than here.

I walked back down Canal Street to the E subway and back to Port Authority to go home. I must have walked five miles today but got to see so much of what makes this city great. The cultural festivals of certain parts of the city have not died yet and still thrive with more attention from outlets like YouTube. It was an interesting afternoon into my own family’s past.

Day Eighty-Three: Walking the Streets of Manhattan Valley (The Bloomingdale neighborhood) August 3-9, 2017

It took a couple of days to give the neighborhood a long walk, but I covered all the space in three days. This is such an interesting neighborhood and so many people took an interest in what I was doing over in the time I spent here.

It was hot and humid my first day in Manhattan Valley at 81 degrees. I got up to neighborhood in the later afternoon after a long day wrapping spoons at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. It may not sound that exciting but it is one of the most important  stations at the kitchen. You need a constant supply of silverware to help feed everyone.

I started the walk at the E subway station on the edge of Central Park. On a hot day, the park was packed with people getting a tan, fishing in the Meer, walking their dogs or just hanging out. This part of the summer is nice because the tourists are walking around and it is fun to watch them make a fuss at everything.

The first couple of blocks along 109th and 108th Streets are filled with prewar apartment buildings, schools and small playgrounds and many small brownstones. A lot of the buildings in this area are being sandblasted back to their former glory. Closer to the parks, the buildings have an elegant feel with their carved marble fronts and small gardens and potted plants decorated them. The sign of a doorman says that this area is getting more expensive.

On 107th Street, I saw many beautiful buildings in various stages of renovation on all the blocks as this are is beginning to become part of the Upper West Side fabric. Many of the small brownstones along Manhattan Avenue had been swept in their fronts and their plants were in full bloom. Again, I love the block between 106th and 107th Streets.

When you reach Riverside Drive, there is a beautiful line of old marble mansions that line the drive from 106th to 105th Streets. These were built at a time when money was no object and living along the park was a sophisticated choice. These homes are all being renovated and one wonders if they are going to become private homes again. When rounding 107th Street along Riverside Park, take time to look at these homes from the park side and you can imagine the view they have from the front of these homes.

I walked all around Riverside Park in this part of the neighborhood and it is just beautiful when the trees are in full form. The shade trees and paths offer refuge from the hot sun and it is fun to watch the neighborhood kids play in the playgrounds with their parents and nannies. It is nice to see a group of kids enjoying nature and not glued to a cell phone. From the park, these are the most gorgeous views of the Hudson River with the cliffs in New Jersey in the background and a constant stream of boats in the river passing you by.

I made a lunch stop at SheShe Pizzeria at 961 Columbus Avenue at 107th Street (See TripAdvisor review and my blog ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ on WordPress.com). This small pizzeria has delicious food with the most reasonable lunch specials. Their lunch menu has ten lunch specials for $5.00 including a personal pizza with pepperoni that I had with a Coke for lunch.

This small ten inch pizza was freshly cooked for me by the owner of the restaurant. It was loaded with pepperoni and cheese and when it came out of the oven was cut into four generous slices. The sauce is flavorful and the slices are all stringy and gooey with the melted cheese. It is the perfect lunch/dinner if you have a good appetite. Their spaghetti and meatballs was terrific too that I had another day I was in the neighborhood for lunch. The service is very warm and welcoming and he remembered me from a few days earlier.

To work off all this good food, stop back at the ‘Mobilize for Change’ Community Garden across the street at the corner of 107th Street and Columbus Avenue and stroll through the gardens again. The gardens are in full bloom and it is a nice place to just walk around the paths and look at the progress of the individual vegetable gardens. The tomatoes are really coming in.

One  the most beautiful buildings in the neighborhood along Central Park West and 106th Street is 455 Central Park West, the old New York Cancer Hospital. Years ago when I was walking around the neighborhood, this was an abandoned building that was all boarded up and graffiti ladened.  Now it is park of an exclusive apartment complex. To live in the Victorian section of the building must cost now millions of dollars. The whole building was renovated back to life and is one of the most unusual pieces of architecture in the neighborhood. It is also rumored to be haunted.

In between Columbus and Manhattan Avenues on 105th Street is the La Perla Community Garden. The garden was created around 1992 when a group of neighborhood citizens got together to clean out a garbage dump of a lot and turned it into a vibrant garden with paths leading through trees, flower and vegetable beds. There is even original graffiti art from one of the local artists all along the walls of the building that surround it.

I talked with one of the creators of the garden, Carmen Ortiz, talked with me that afternoon. “It took about ten years to clean the lot out and that was constantly throwing out the garbage to the curb just to get all the debris out. We have worked so hard to create and maintain the garden and now a piece of it is being sold off.” Currently the middle part of the garden was owned by two couples but the taxes are getting too high and the neighborhood is changing so fast, that it was cost effective to sell it. Now the left side of the garden will be a new townhouse while the rest of the garden will remain.

“It’s sad because we do so much for the community here,” Ms. Ortiz added. “We will be having a flea market this weekend and have Jazz Concerts here. During the holidays, we have events for the neighborhood children. You can see by the plantings, everyone has a plot here.” Several raised beds contain various vegetable plantings. I just hope that building this new townhouse does not affect the garden to the point where nothing can grow there. Its a sad commentary to the city when something that New Yorkers spent their time on to make better improved the neighborhood to the point that it was its own demise in the end.

Along West 104th Street between Central Park West and Manhattan Avenue, you will see another set of Community Gardens which is interesting because the plot has a prewar apartment building right smack in the middle of it. The center piece of this garden is the Jesus Crawford Rose Garden which was just losing the last of its blooms when I visited it. This was named after the creator of the garden.

Just like ‘Le Perla’ and ‘Mobilization for Change’ gardens, this garden has added much needed green space to the neighborhood with trees and raised vegetable gardens that add that sense of neighborhood to the street. At the height of the summer, it is nice to see all of these gardens in full bloom and the fresh vegetables on their way.

Walking through the Douglass Houses and the projects in general are always amusing to me. I never know the reception I will get. For the most part, I crisscrossed through the walkways of the projects from 104th to 100th Street. I visited all the playgrounds and community areas to sit and people just ignored me but looked out of the corner of their eyes to see what I was doing.

I watched some kids playing on the swings and some people attending the community gardens that they had planted but for the most part I saw a lot of socialization along Columbus Avenue. Many groups of men set up tables and while blasting Spanish music played cards and dominos and watched the neighborhood go by. I am sure that for all the game playing these guys know perfectly well what is going on around them and the surrounding buildings. That struck me as watching everything.

Its at 100th Street where Manhattan Valley joins the rest of the Upper West Side as new office and apartment buildings have been built along Columbus, Amsterdam and Broadway. This area is guarded by a police and fire station around the corner so there is action here all day long.

You can go to the bathroom either in Fredrick Douglass Park near 104th Street or at the Whole Foods at 100th Street. Stick with Whole Foods as it is cleaner and cooler plus you can use the water fountain.

When I was walking in between Riverside and West End Avenues, I came across a community bench designed by artist Linus Coraggio who lives on the block (website: LinusCoraggio@verison.net). It just so happened the artist was outside fixing his motorcycle and we got to talking about his work.  He showed me the bench and all its detail work. He had lived in the area for many years and had watched it change from bad to better.

His current specialty is welded, crafted figurative and abstract sculpture and furniture. I even read online that Ringo Starr is one of his clients. He was showing the work he was doing on the brownstone he was living in, doing work around the railing and in the foyer of the building all the ceiling work. His attention to detail and to how the work flows is a sign that he takes his time with each piece. It is an interesting set of artwork with all sorts of bends and twists to the metal work.

He even has a chair he created right in front of the building. It twists and turns and the metal work is extremely creative in that you can tell the detail and the amount of time to get the metal to work in this fashion. You almost don’t want to sit in it. He told me he currently has a show going on in the East Village and a studio up in Ellenville, NY. Just stop on this block alone to see his craftsmanship. It is beautiful.

On 99th Street just off Amsterdam Avenue, there is St. Michael’s Parish, which has the nicest garden to sit in. It is a nice place to relax and just think. Tranquil is the word for it. It is beautifully planted and everything was in full bloom. It was nice to just stop and take a break here. Take a look at their postings as they have a lot of activities going on.

A couple of mornings later, I came back to finish the bottom part of the neighborhood and walked 96th Street again to see how the neighborhood transitions. The streets between 96th and 98th Streets are filled with smaller marble brownstones and many attractive prewar apartments. There are a lot of businesses transitioning along these streets as I see many of the older businesses now sitting empty with ‘For Rent’ signs telling the rents are changing in this part of the neighborhood as well. Soon they will be filled with the next wave of chain stores and glitzy restaurants.

This part of the neighborhood was easy to walk because the Central Park West Apartments and their playground stop the side streets between 98th to 99th Streets and the rest of the complex is gated off. My suggestion is do not try to walk through the complex because the signs are very blatant that they are watching you. You can see from the streets though there is a large parking lot and several well landscaped paths surrounding the buildings. I was just surprised they built these and the projects right next to one another.

I stopped at Telo Deli at 23 West 100th Street for some of their homemade empanadas ($1.25). They were so good I had to go back a second time for another which made the man behind the counter pretty happy. Try the pizza and chicken ones. They are generously filled and cooked perfectly. It is a good place to stop for a reasonable snack.

My last part of the day before I walked across Central Park to start my trip to Coney Island for my ‘Q to Q subway trip’ from 96th Street on the East Side to Coney Island on Stillwell Avenue, I stopped back at SheShe Pizzeria at 961 Columbus Avenue, to try one more thing on the lunch special menu. This was one of the inspirations for my new blog “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’. For $5.00, these lunches are exceptional.

I tried the side order of ziti with meatballs and it was more than a side order. You got a very generous portion  of perfectly cooked ziti with about three fresh meatballs that were sliced on top and then put under the broiler. I could just about finish it. The meatballs had a nice garlicky taste to them and the sauce was well spiced. It looked like the owner was happy to see me again. I will be back again for another personal pizza.

As I finished my walk of Manhattan Valley, I really felt that neighborhood aspect of this community. For a section of a major city, this had a small town friendly feel about it. The people here, no matter where they live want this to be the best community it can be and I was impressed by all the free time the residents donate to make it that way. Whether it was Carmen Ortiz and her partner in the garden, Bob, spending their time weeding beds to Linus Coraggio donating his creativity to building a bench for people to relax in to the guys playing dominos watching what everyone was doing, I could feel the sense of neighborhood here. The residents here really care.

Places to Eat:

Telo Deli

23 West 100 Street

New York, NY  10025

SheShe Pizza

961 Columbus Avenue

New York, NY  10025

(212) 222-7201

sheshepizzatogo.com

Places to visit:

Linus Coraggio Bench

West 100th Street Between Riverside Drive and West Side Drive

https://linuscoraggio.com

St. Michael’s Parish Church Garden

225 West 99th Street

New York, NY  10025

(212) 222-2700

http://www.saintmichaelschurch.org

Jesus Crawford Rose Garden

West 104th Street

New York, NY  10025

Le Perla Community Garden

76 West 105th Street

New York, NY  10025

Mobilization of Change Community Garden

955 Columbus Avenue

New York, NY  10025

Day Eighty-Two: Going from Q to Q. Taking the subway from the beginning of the Q on 96th Street to Stillwell Avenue Coney Island August 9, 2017.

I had finished the Manhattan Valley neighborhood earlier in the day when the Soup Kitchen was full and they did not need me. So I walked the lower part of the neighborhood to finish it off and then walked across Central Park to the beginning of the new subway stop for the Q subway train at 96th Street and Second Avenue. As I had written on Day Sixty-Six on my walk, this subway line is really nice and take time to look at the artwork at the stops at 96th, 72nd and 63rd Streets.

If you are going to take the Q to Coney Island leave yourself plenty of time because it is over an hour to get from one end of the Q to the other. It was a beautiful warm clear sunny day around 84 degrees and a perfect day to go to the shore.

I love the Q train! I love the new section of the subway with its interesting art and the fact that it is so clean. That and the fact they the E subway has the newest cars to stretch out in. It makes it a pleasure for the long trips.

You get some of the best views of the city from the subway once you cross over into Brooklyn. You get a great views of lower Manhattan when exiting from underground plus you get to see the old parts of Brooklyn with views of the ‘Brownstone’ neighborhoods. There’s another area that keeps changing with gentrification.

The subway ends at the Stillwell subway stop. This rebuilt stop was the first part in the renovation of the island to make it a more 24 hour resort. Most of the other plans have been scrapped or were never enacted. To be honest with all of you, the amusement area of Coney Island is still dumpy and has not been much since the Luna Park fire of 1946 and the Dreamland fire of 1911. They keep trying though.

Even when I went to Coney Island as a kid in the 70’s, it was rundown then. Please don’t get me wrong, Coney Island can be a lot of fun and you can have a great day out here but don’t get too lofty of expectations of what it is like (See reviews on TripAdvisor). Don’t venture too far from Nathan’s after dark and follow the crowd back to the Stillwell subway station after dark if you stay for the films on the beach or the fireworks.

I have been down for the Mermaid Parade in the Spring several years ago and will be going to the Sandcastle Building contest next week. There is a lot going on during the summer and it is good to check out these activities. The Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan’s draws thousands to the island to watch their hero’s devour hot dogs at record speed.

Still the I love to explore the changes to the island and walked around Surf and Neptune Avenues after I got there. I wanted to see if Totanno’s Pizza was open that day so I walked for two blocks Neptune Avenue and I will tell you that though the area is changing it still is not a great neighborhood.

Totanno’s is in the middle of a commercial area with a series of garages and car repairs. The worst part was that it closed for the day. The restaurant is only opened from Wednesday to Sunday so its for another time. I did get to see the back part of the island and found where the original Coney Island Creek was located. This is where the original Sea Lion Park and Luna Park were located back in the early part of the century.

I changed my plans around and walked the length of Surf Avenue and started my walk around the amusement area which runs from the Aquarium at West 8th Street to about West 16th Street. Even with the rebuilding of Luna Park on the footprint of the old Astroland, Surf Avenue needs a major makeover. The chain restaurants have added a little life to it but still some of the blocks are a series of rundown buildings and old time amusements.

I stopped by the Coney Island Museum at 1208 Surf Avenue and the museum part was closed for the day but the side show part was open but I had missed the show. I walked around some of the open exhibitions on the outside and it is interesting to see some of the artifacts from the old amusement days.

My next stop was the famous Cyclone Roller Coaster on West 10th Street (see review on TripAdvisor). This is the most amazing and exciting ride on the island and one of the things you should see while you are in New York City. It is $10.00 to ride the coaster but it is well worth it! That first hill you go down is so mind-blowing. You feel as if the cars are going to fly into the sea. It rolls up and down those hills back and forth facing the buildings across the street and the sea. Of all the amusement parks I have been to there is nothing like the Cyclone.

I walked into the Luna Park area and saw the improvements that have been added to the park. The problem with Luna Park is that its mostly kiddie rides and not much for adults with the exception of the Log Flume Ride. Luna Park was rebuilt on the old Astroland which had closed by in 2008 and is trying to capture the old magic of the island with upgrades on rides and concessions. It even recreated the original entrance of Luna Park across the street from the old park. Still it will take a lot more work on the park and more added rides in the future. I give them so much credit for revitalizing the park with a new look.

I walked after that to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, 1025 Regielmann Boardwalk, which I had not been on for about seven years and the famous Spook-a-Rama, which I had not ridden since I was about eight. The Wonder Wheel was built back in the 20’s and with a height of 150 feet, has great views of the ocean and of the island. Both rides were $8.00 and were well worth it for the day.

When riding the Wonder Wheel, make sure to get one of the cars that slide. Not only do you get the view but you get the excitement of sliding around. When you reach the top of the Wonder Wheel, it has the most breathtaking view of the boardwalk area, the beach and ocean and a view of the whole island. The breeze is so refreshing up there and you feel like the world is your own. Talk about seeing the world go by.

After the Wonder Wheel, I walked over to Spook-a-Rama, also $8.00, which I first rode when I was eight and it has not changed that much since then. It does have a few thrills that do pop out at you that will have you jumping. There have been a few updates on it with video displays but for the most part I remember it being much scarier as a kid. I will let you know though the first couple of things popping out at you will still have you jumping out of your seat but still its not the Haunted Mansion at Disney Parks.

I had enough time to go to the New York Aquarium located at West 8th Street, just past the Cyclone. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, most of the Aquarium was seriously damaged and most of the park is still under construction. The Coral Exhibition is still interesting especially with the destruction of the wreaths around the world and the Sea Lion demonstration is a lot of fun. The Sea Lions are such hams and seem to love the crowds. What I thought was interesting is that both of them were born in New York City at the Bronx Zoo so they have only known humans. Still they look like they are having fun.  They seem to love waving to the audience and the crowds love them back.

My last stop of the evening was dinner at Nathan’s at 1310 Surf Avenue. This hot dog chain was founded in 1916 and is still in their original location. They have the best hot dogs and their French fries are some of the best in the industry. When you go you have to have the original hot dog with mustard, the regular fries (which is a large order anywhere else) and their famous Orangeaid. It is the best meal.

On a hot sunny day, it is nice to sit out on the tables right next to the restaurant. There is something about the sea breezes, the salt air and hot dogs and fries that make a phenomenal combination. It is a meal that is part of the beach experience and that was worth the trip alone.

Before it got too late, I was back on the Q Train back to Manhattan. I’m sorry but sensible people still get out of Coney Island before it gets dark. Even though the subway station on Stillwell and Surf Avenues is very safe and there is a police station there, its better to leave before dusk. I don’t care how many artists have moved into the area.

The subway ride took just over an hour to get back to Manhattan but it was still light out when I left the shore area and got my last glimpse of the ocean pass by. There is nothing  like watching the sun reflect on the beach. The best was that we passed lower Manhattan before we went under the tunnel and watched the skyline brightened by the lights in the office towers. If you want to see an amazing site, it is when the city lights come on and the skyline is ablaze. It is like a picture postcard and impressive. When people think of New York City, this is what they imagine.

When I finally got back to 96th Street, I had some time to look at the artwork again and stretch around the station. I still love to see museum quality art in a subway. Then it was off back on the Q back to midtown.

For the price of a roundtrip ticket on the subway, it is fantastic voyage around the city on the new Q. Artwork, amusements, skyline views and the beach. What more could you want?

Day Eighty-One: Walking Manhattan Valley (the Bloomingdale District) along the Avenues from West End Avenue to Manhattan Avenue from West 110th to West 96th Streets July 31, 2017

 

Manhattan Valley (the Bloomingdale District) is the imagine of what people would think the Upper West Side is like in the 1970’s. It reminded me of an old Woody Allen film. It still has that old New York feel to it before gentrification rolled over the lower part of this side of the island. I think what keeps the neighborhood grounded is the Douglass Housing Complex in the middle of the neighborhood which runs from 104th Street to 100th Street from Amsterdam Avenue to Manhattan Avenue. The Park West Apartment Condo Complex anchors the southern part of the neighborhood.

The fringes of this neighborhood on all sides are quickly gentrifying from the sandblasting of buildings and new businesses along Broadway to almost everything north of 104th Street to 110th Street from Riverside Drive to Central Park West. Everything seems to have scaffolding in front of it, already is being cleaned and buffed or in the process of it. It is a mixture of old and new and it seems that the population likes it this way. The one thing I have to say it feels like a real neighborhood.

The Dutch called the area, “Bloemendaal”, which translates to “Valley of Flowers” as the area was once home to many farms and forests. The whole area was once the summer home to the wealthy residents from downtown and as the city grew, the area was dissected by the street system. There are still many pocket parks, community gardens and playgrounds plus it is bounded by Riverside Drive and Central Park.

My day began with another busy day at the Soup Kitchen. I admit I don’t think that in this economy I don’t think it is going to be getting slower. We’re consistent every time I am there. Not the 1500 meal days we used to have but it still gets busy. I work the busy  extra Bread station and they love their raisin bagels when we have them. I did not get of there until 12:30pm.

I started the walk at 110th Street with lunch at my new favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Chen’s Kitchen at 1003 A Columbus Avenue (See TripAdvisor review and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com). I had an order of their Orange Chicken and it was out of this world. The food there is excellent and for the size of the portion and the quality of the dishes, this place should be on everyone’s map. The orange chicken was perfectly cooked, crisp from the deep fry and the fried rice is good for a lunch portion. Their egg rolls are quite good as well.

Hunan Chen's Kitchen.jpg

Hunan Chen’s Chinese Restaurant

(Note to all readers: I have added a new blog site along with ‘VisitingaMuseum’ to accompany ‘MywalkinManhattan’. The new site is called ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’, where I will be featuring restaurants I find on my travels around the island and beyond for under $10.00. There have to be more people like myself who are on a budget).

I had my lunch on the benches by the entrance of Morningside Park and on a sunny day, there is nothing like it. It must be a favorite of the neighborhood because I found myself with a crowd around the benches. I guess the park’s lurid past is behind it now as I watched a soccer game from the bench as I was eating. It is a nice place to relax and gather your thoughts.

Morningside Park

Morningside Park

After lunch, I started walking the Avenues that go up and down the neighborhood. This side of the island is a little smaller than the East Side of the park, six streets as opposed to eight. It was still quite the walk.

My first street was Manhattan Avenue and this street is just as juxtaposed as the other neighborhoods uptown. You can go from luxury brownstones to the projects in just one block. Lining Manhattan Avenue from 106th to 105th Streets are some of the most picturesque brownstones with front gardens and potted plants that you will see in the city. Each one is nicer than the other and seem unique in their own way because of their design and their plantings. I can imagine how they must decorate around the holidays.

Once you pass 104th Street, the large Fredrick Douglass Houses start to dominate the neighborhood.  I think that the project has kept this part of Manhattan from fully gentrifying as it dominates the whole core of the neighborhood from 104th to 100th Streets from Manhattan Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue. Like most of the housing complexes I have walked through, everyone pretty much ignored me. Tables of older Dominican men played cards and dominoes on a nice day, young mothers were in the playgrounds, which were nicer then most of the complexes I have seen and one family even had a lemonade/snack stand near the Youth Hostel on Amsterdam Avenue between 104th and 103rd Streets.

Fredrick Douglass Houses.jpg

Fredrick Douglass Houses

Manhattan Avenue stops at 100th Street in front the big Central Park West Condo complex which looks like middle-class housing to me. All I know is that they want you to stay out of the complex. There are signs all over the place that the through ways are for residents only and there is security all over the place. I won’t be able to walk through that too quickly.

Columbus Avenue below 100th Street joins the rest of the Upper West Side with shops and restaurants and a large Whole Foods which is a nice place to go to the bathroom if you need it and to fill up water bottles. Above 100th Street, it is dominated by the housing complex and then it changes back to small stores and prewar apartments.

A nice stop is the ‘Mobilization for Change Community Garden’ at Columbus Avenue at 107th Street. What a beautiful pocket park. It has colorful flower beds to walk through and there are elevated vegetable gardens that residents plant in and all the plants are in the stage of maturity that herbs are standing tall and vegetables are ready to ripen. It is a nice place to sit and relax.

The people there are very nice and talk about their role in helping make the garden what it is today. Take time to walk the path through the garden. This garden was created in the late 1980’s, when the neighborhood was not so nice and it was a dumping ground. The community really transformed this lot into something special.

Mobilization for Change Community Garden

Mobilization for Change Community Garden

Columbus Avenue dissects the Park West Village Apartment complex, so you get to see the planted gardens and paths that lead through the complex. Behind that, starts the modern shopping district. This area is totally being rebuilt and there are new buildings all over this section of the neighborhood. I was not able to walk through the complex as security is all over the place. There are also cameras all over the place. So I just walked around it.

At the bottom of Columbus Avenue, a new complex of buildings has been built with all new shops and a new Whole Foods are right across from the Douglass Houses. 100th Street is the obvious border of the Upper West Side to this neighborhood. This is when you see the community really mixing. I saw a lot of Whole Foods bags heading up the road. The Whole Foods is nice because it is also a place with a nice public bathroom and a place to fill your water bottle. The only other option is the Fredrick Douglass Park and their bathroom which needs a lot of work.

Amsterdam Avenue is a continuation of what it is uptown. A transformation of a neighborhood depending on the block that you live on. Everything above 104th Street and below 100th Street is quickly improving with old prewar apartments under scaffolding and new restaurants replacing old ones. Little by little the area is starting to change. Even the Amsterdam House, a public housing unit, is getting a make over right across the street from Fredrick Douglass Park.

At Amsterdam Avenue and 104th Street is the Youth Hostel that sits on the fringe of the Fredrick Douglass Houses. I was wondering why there were so many twenty year olds in this area walking around and speaking so many languages. (These kids fill all the reasonable restaurants in the area that inspired my blog “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC”. There are so many great restaurants in the area where you can eat for under $10.00 and I wanted to let everyone know that they are there). This area gets very active later in the day when everyone comes back from visiting other parts of the city.

Between 100th and 99th Streets, St. Michael’s Church dominates the street with the most beautiful stained glass windows and the architecture is amazing. Really take a good look at the detail work of the building. On the way back up, walk through the Fredrick Douglass Park and watch the neighborhood come alive. There are kids screaming in the pool, hipster types playing soccer in the field and mothers from all over the neighborhood playing in the park with their kids and socializing with one another. This is where the neighborhood really mingles and you see it come alive.

St. Michael's Church.jpg

St. Michael’s Church

Rounding Broadway is where you see the real changes happening in the neighborhood. Broadway is where the neighborhood shines with its diversity of businesses and housing. Being two blocks from the Douglass Houses, it also shows how the fringes of this neighborhood are starting to change. Older businesses are next to newer hipper restaurants and it makes a nice mix. Some of the most interesting buildings are in this area and really look up as you walk around or you might miss it.

The most interesting aspect of Broadway is the landscaped ‘Mall’ that runs in the middle of the street and gives nature its due throughout the neighborhood with trees and flowers lining the middle and benches to relax and just walk the world go by.

At 107th Street and Broadway is Straus Park, dedicated to Isidor and Ida Straus who died in the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. The Straus family had ownership of Macy’s Department Store at the time and had been very prominent in the business world. I remembered when I had worked at Macy’s that there had been a park dedicated to them.

Straus Park II.jpg

Straus Park

This graceful park is lined with trees, flowers and bushes and is beautifully landscaped to match the Broadway Mall across the street. There are lots of benches to relax in and the park is well maintained by the neighborhood. The four days I spent in the neighborhood there was always someone weeding, pruning or watering something. It is a nice place to take a book or get some writing done. Many of the residents socialize here and it is a nice gathering place. The memorial dedicated to the two of them is simple and graceful and fits into the park nicely.

The park also dissects the streets, where Broadway and West End Avenue fork and separate into two different streets. Walking down Broadway when you reach 103rd Street, artist Joy Brown has another one of her ‘people’ statues that I had seen further uptown. Here the adult was walking with her child. These statues are whimsical and almost like a animated character in 3D. Many of her statues line Broadway at various streets uptown.

Being so humid that day, I made a pit stop at McDonald’s. I stopped for one of their frozen strawberry lemonade’s. I swear, that drink is one of the best things to drink on a humid day. It cools you inside and out. I ordered a medium and I did not need to drink anything for the rest of the walk. I was totally refreshed.

Take a look at the Metro Theater, closed now, to see the interesting Art Deco details on the building. It would be nice if this could be opened in its original shape but for now it stands boarded up awaiting its fate. A lot of Broadway is now being lined with new apartment buildings and shops that are connecting it to the rest of the Upper West Side.

Metro Theater.jpg

Metro Theater on Broadway

West End Avenue is onto itself as a more residential block. I get the impression by the people walking around this street that they take themselves a little too seriously. Everyone I saw had this determined look on their faces. I could not figure out why.

The buildings that line the street between 106th to 96th Street are mostly prewar apartment houses with detailed marble carvings. The side streets are lined with a combination of old brownstones and smaller apartment houses. Planters with small trees and flowers dominate the buildings and give it a more European feel to them. One of the most beautiful buildings on the block is at 925 West End Avenue. It is a marble building where you see numerous faces and animals carved into the marble. There are two similar buildings like this in the neighborhood but this one is most spectacular. Look at the grill work and the windows and it will make you fall in love again with the treasures that the city offers.

I took a detour off West End Avenue to walk down several of the side streets to see how nicely the buildings blended into Riverside Park. The block between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive are the most gentile part of the neighborhood and show off some its oldest architecture.

This is a classic New York neighborhood showing the ‘old’ New York. As I said earlier, there is something very mid-70’s to early 80’s about this part of the Upper West Side. Its changing but not like the hyper-luxury buildings further downtown. Its like walking around the city at a time when New York City was getting better for New Yorkers not a real estate investment from abroad.

Places to Visit:

Strauss Park

West End Avenue & 107th Street

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/strauspark/

 

Morningside Park

West 123rd-West 110th along Morningside Avenue

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/morningside-park

 

Mobilization for Change Community Garden

955 Columbus Avenue

https://communitygarden.org/find-a-garden/gardens/mobilization-for-change-community-garden/

https://www.facebook.com/MFCGarden/

 

Places to Eat:

Hunan Chen’s

1003 Columbus Avenue A

New York, NY  10025

(212) 222-1118

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4980909-Reviews-Hunan_Chen_s_Kitchen-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/24

McDonald’s

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/541

 

Things to See:

Joy Brown Statues (now closed)

http://joybrownstudio.com/

http://broadwaymall.org/public-art/