Category Archives: Exploring Washington DC

Author Justin Watral

Day Ninety One: New Blog Sites: VisitingaMuseum.com and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@WordPress.com by Blogger Justin Watrel.

To all of my readers and fellow bloggers following my blog, ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. I created two more blog sites to accompany the main site.

I created ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ and ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com’ to take what I have discovered on the walk around the city and put it into more detail.

I created ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ to feature all the small and medium museums, pocket parks, community gardens and historical sites that I have found along the way in my walking the streets of the island and in the outlining areas of Manhattan. There are loads of sites you can easily miss either by not visiting the neighborhoods by foot or not consulting a guidebook. Most of the these places are not visited by most residents of the City and should not be missed.

I never realized how many small museums exist in New York City, let alone the outer boroughs and in New Jersey. I have discovered so many wonderful and interesting artifacts in these museums that not only have so much historical value but they also deal with local history.

Gallery Bergen II.jpg

Gallery Bergen at Bergen Community College

There are so many pocket parks, community gardens and historical sites that you would miss if you did not walk the neighborhoods. What has also been fascinating about it is the people you meet along the way that volunteer in these facilities. There is so much pride to be had by these local residents dedicating their time to make these places successful.

‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com’ is my latest site:

https://diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/

I am featuring and promoting wonderful local restaurants that I have found along the way when doing the walk as well as places I have recently visited outside the city for $10.00 and below. I am not just featuring them for their price but for the quality of the food, the selection and the portion size.

Dumplings II.jpg

Delicious Dumplings at ‘Dumplings’ on Henry Street

These little ‘hole in the wall’ dining establishments offer a good meal at a fair price as well as supporting the local economy. I have a very limited budget for meals and thought this blog site would help all of you economize when touring New York City and the outlying regions. I cross reference my reviews on TripAdvisor.com.

For anyone thinking of doing a similar project like ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, I want to let you know how expensive it is to do. I have to pay not just for bus tickets, subway passes, meals, donations to museums and historical sites but the general wear and tear on my clothes. I am on my third pair of sneakers due to this walk. This is why you need to set a budget for it:

https://mywalkinmanhattan.com/

Beekman Place.jpg

Beekman Place

So I hope you enjoy ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ and ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com when coming to Manhattan. Please check all of this places out online for a change of hours and exhibits and menus.

Check out the newest site, “LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com” for small boutiques and specialty shops that are unique and quirky.

Cute Downtown.jpg

Little Shop on Main Street:

https://littleshoponmainstreet.wordpress.com/

Please check out my fire fighting blog sites, ‘The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association’, ‘tbcfma.Wordpress.com’, where I am blogging about the activities of the association that I am volunteering for at the home on a quarterly basis and the support that the organization gives to The New Jersey Firemen’s Home in Boonton, New Jersey. Firemen for all over Bergen County, where I live, volunteer their time up at the nursing home with activities to engage and cheer up our fellow fire fighters.

New Jersey Firemen's Home Museum

The New Jersey Firemen’s Home in Boonton, NJ

https://tbcfha.wordpress.com/

The second site about fire fighting I blog about is ‘The Brothers of Engine One Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department”, ‘EngineOneHasbrouckHeightsFireDepartmentNJ.Wordpress.com’, where I blog about the activities of  Engine Company One, in which I am a member, as part of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department. We do a lot of volunteer work for the department and many of our members are very active and hold a lot of positions on the department.

Brother's of Engine One with their bell

The Brothers of Engine One HHFD (site now closed-Blogs moved to section of MywalkinManhattan.com called “My life as a Fireman”):

https://engineonehasbrouckheightsfiredepartmentnj.wordpress.com/tag/engine-one-hhfd/

The most frequented of my blogs is “BergenCountyCaregiver.com’, a caregivers blog site to help adult caregivers take care of their loved ones. This helps caregivers navigate a very broken system and put all sorts of programs that might help them all in one place to read and chose what might help them. This deals with county, state and federal programs that most social workers miss because there are so many of them that don’t get a lot of attention. It is by far the most popular site.

BCFHA Barbecue 2019 V

The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association

I wanted to share these with my readers and thank you for following my main blog, ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. Please also share this with your friends who are visiting New York City to really tour the city by foot and see it for its own beauty and uniqueness.

Happy Reading!

My Blogs:

MywalkinManhattan.com

https://mywalkinmanhattan.com/

BergenCountyCaregiver.com

https://wwwbergencountycaregiver.com/

VisitingaMuseum.com

https://visitingamuseum.com/

DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com

https://diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/

TheBrothersofEngineOneHasbrouckHeightsFireDepartment@Wordpress.com

https://engineonehasbrouckheightsfiredepartmentnj.wordpress.com/

TBCFMA@Wordpress.com

https://tbcfha.wordpress.com/

Also visit my past blog on Patch.com: The Merchant Series

https://patch.com/users/justin-watrel

https://patch.com/new-jersey/hasbrouckheights/friends-merchant-series-young-fashions

https://patch.com/new-jersey/hasbrouckheights/friends-merchant-series-young-fashions

I did this for the Friends of the Hasbrouck Heights Library from 2009-2014.

Garfinckel's Department Store

Day Fifty-Two: A Visit to Washington DC in search of Alan Ballatine-Garfinckel: Editing my novel, “Love Triangles” August 19th, 2016

 

JUstin Watrel I

Author Justin Watral

I am getting ready to release the second book of my trilogy, “Love Triangles” (“Firehouse 101” was released ten years ago and will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary on September 25th). Since a section of the book takes place in Washington DC and I had to run an errand in the nation’s capital, I decided to get some research in as well since I wanted to update that section of the book.

Garfinckel's Department Store II

To put it bluntly, DC has changed tremendously since I started writing the book in 1989. When I first started to write “Love Triangles”, Washington DC was falling apart. I had just graduated from college and had visited DC several times since the eighth grade and decided to set the book at Garfinckel’s Department Store when I visited it in the summer my father took my brother and I down to DC for a business trip. Those were the days when you could let a 13 and 11 year old roam the city by themselves. We were staying at a hotel close to F Street and my dad trusted us while he was working.

Garfinckel's

Garfinckel’s Department Store today

I knew at a young age what I wanted to do when I grew up and since I has just been in Washington DC with my eighth grade class a few months before, my brother and I roamed downtown DC and spent the day roaming the department stores on F Street. This was the heyday before the shopping district went downhill. We roamed around the Willard Hotel, Hecht & Company, Woodward & Lothrop and finally spent the afternoon at Garfinckel’s shopping for gifts for our parents before hitting the Smithsonian .

I remember buying my father a bottle of ‘Grey Flannel’ for a thank you gift and getting my mother a decorative candle because we could not afford the silver salad server by a dollar when we were at Garfinckel’s. Looking back on customer service, it must have been unusual to see two teenage kids shopping by themselves in DC but the woman never blinked an eye and as friendly and professional as I remember her being, she wouldn’t give us a break on the salad server. So we settled on the candle.

Garfinckel's Department Store

The elegance of Garfinckel’s selling floors

I still remember having a snack in the Greenbrier Room, the restaurant in the store and my dad had that bottle of ‘Grey Flannel’ until I moved back in with him in 2001 from Guam. I believe that I was the one that finished it up. It is funny how one afternoon can inspire a book considering the store closed over twenty five  years ago.

Once I finished some work I had to do in the city, I took a special trip and walked all over the downtown area that had inspired the book so long ago. The buildings for the most part are still there. Hecht & Company converted to Macy’s years ago and they had closed the old store on F Street back in the 90’s.

Woodies II

Woodies closed in the 90’s too when merged with John Wanamaker from Philly and both stores which needed massive renovations fell under the weight of a bad economy and Garfinckel’s closed when it was spun off to Hooker Real Estate Company and all the stores owned by Hooker that included Altman’s and Bonwit Teller closed for lack of business. The early 90’s were dark days in retail as many old-line and carriage trade department stores that had survived the Depression and years of consolidations finally closed their doors for good. The closing of Garfinckel’s came about the same time I started to write “Love Triangles”.

Woodies

The Woodward & Lothrop Department Store today

To keep the updates on the book fresh, I walked down to F Street to see the old buildings. Hecht & Company was now another retailer but the building is still beautiful and a testament to when shopping wasn’t a chore but a leisure activity. Woodies still keeps its name plates and pictures of the old store in its heyday in the lobby which is still polished oak and marble.

Hecht's Department Store II

Occasionally an old timer like myself will walk the lobby and still look at the old pictures and have good memories of a store long forgotten by a newer generation of shoppers. My next part of the F Street tour was the old Garfinckel’s building which is now been renovated, reopened and renamed the Hamilton Square Building housing what was once Clyde’s of Tyson’s Corner and now the Hamilton Grill. You can still see the Julius Garfinckel nameplate above the doors of the building hidden behind the awning. That is all that is left of the store that I bought those gifts so many years ago. It’s still an elegant building.

Hecht's Department store

The Hecht and Company building on F Street in Washington DC

After the department store tour, I made my way across the street to the Willard Hotel, still considered one of the Grand Dames of the city which has been now overshadowed by Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton Hotels plus a slew of others that have opened in the last thirty years. It’s still a beautiful old hotel but it could really use a spruce up when you look closely at it. The one nice added feature was the outdoor café that they put in the back of the hotel facing the Mall. That was packed to the gills with tourists looking for some shade.

I walked around the Mall and towards the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and the security was out in full force. I have never seen so many policemen and security before but since people have jumped the fence and landed in the yard lately, it is better that way. The tourists acted like tourists in front of the building but I always felt that I was being watched.

I walked back around the downtown and walked down to Chinatown, which at this point has been reduced to one block and about a dozen restaurants in which some are still living on their reputations from years ago. I went to Chinatown Express (746 6th Street SW), a noodle and dumpling house that I had eaten at back in 2010 with my dad when we took a trip to DC to see the White House Christmas tree. Back then, the restaurant was introducing fresh dumplings and noodles made in front of you which not many places were doing in New York City yet. How New York has caught up and done better. The food went downhill in six years (See review on TripAdvisor).

Chinatown Express

Chinatown Express at 746 6th Street

The soup dumplings were dried out, the shrimp dumplings were under cooked and over pan-fried and the noodles were good but not great. The service was lackluster. Ever since they built the Verizon Center, they pretty much destroyed what was left of Chinatown. It is now down to about a block and most of the restaurants look like tired old relics of bygone era. The area has gentrified itself out of character.

I was able to walk back down E Street towards Ford Theater. The modern section of the building really showcases the times but the old building is a step back in time. The scary part is when you walk across the street to the doctor’s house where they took the body after the shooting. They still have the blood soaked pillow in the display case. The exhibition is a real eye opener and this should not be missed. It is one of the tours that is a must do when in DC (See review on TripAdvisor).

Ford Theater DC

The Ford Theater in Washington DC

My last part of the tour was a walk around the Mall and a tour of the Natural History Museum off Constitutional Avenue NW. This is one of the museums I still remember from my eighth grade trip to DC. I still have a fascination with the Hope Diamond and it is something to see it. The whole Gem exhibition should not be missed as some of the most famous gems are located here as well as the stones in their raw state. The animal exhibitions are good but do not have the same effect as in the Museum of Natural History in New York.

National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of Natural History on 10th Street

Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

By the end of the day, the humidity was a killer. I was exhausted from all the walking and the heat was no help. I walked back to Union Station and cooled down. They have fully renovated the station and it is much more than just a train station. It is a destination of shopping and restaurants and has the most impressive lobby to walk around. The station is the true hub of the city with both the trains and subways to take you to all parts of the city. Make sure to visit the McDonald’s in the station. The service is excellent and for a McDonald’s the food is really good (See review on TripAdvisor).

McDonalds Union Station

McDonald’s Union Station

I don’t care what people say about traveling by train, it is the best way to go. If I drove this trip, it would have taken me four hours and we got down to DC in two and a half hours by Acela and it is the best way to travel. It is so relaxing and peaceful in the Quiet Car. You just relax and watch the cities and towns pass you by. Even Trenton looks pretty good from the train.

Be on the look out for the release of “Love Triangles” as an Ebook as well as read my first book, “Firehouse 101”, the first book in the trilogy. You will see how they tie in a moment in time and show New York City in a unique light. Enjoy the reading and take a train ride down to DC. With so many things to see and places to visit, it is well worth the trip.

(As of January 2020 the book is going through more edits)

In the meantime, please read this excerpt from the book that I recently read at a book reading.

love triangles teaser

 

Reviews from Research Trip for the book:

 

Places to Visit:

 

Ford Theater

511 10th Street NW

Washington DC 20004

https://www.fords.org/

Open: Check the website for show dates & tour times

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28970-d104861-Reviews-Ford_s_Theatre-Washington_DC_District_of_Columbia.html?m=19905

 

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

10th Street & Constitution Avenue

Washington DC  20004

http://naturalhistory.si.edu/

Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-5:30pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28970-d104867-Reviews-Smithsonian_National_Museum_of_Natural_History-Washington_DC_District_of_Columbia.html?m=19905

 

Places to Eat:

 

Chinatown Express

744-746 6th Avenue NW

Washington DC 20001

(202) 638-0424

https://www.chinatownexpressdc.com/

Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g28970-d450543-Reviews-Chinatown_Express_Restaurant-Washington_DC_District_of_Columbia.html?m=19905

 

McDonald’s Union Station

50 Massachusetts  Avenue NE #2

Washington DC 20002

https://foursquare.com/locations/mcdonalds/washington-dc

(202) 408-5014

Open: Sunday-Saturday 4:30am-3:45am

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g28970-d4760460-Reviews-McDonald_s-Washington_DC_District_of_Columbia.html?m=19905

Blogger Justin Watrel in front of street art

My Walk in Manhattan: my walking experience around the whole island. I started this project on Father’s Day, June 2015

Happy Father’s Day!

(This project is dedicated with much love to my father, Warren George Watrel, who still inspires me!)

Hello and Welcome to ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, an extensive  project to walk the entire island of Manhattan. My name is Justin Watrel and I will be your guide in exploring the island of Manhattan, searching every nook and cranny of the island for the unusual, the usual and the in between.

‘Walking the Island of Manhattan’ may not be terribly original as there are about four other people doing the project at the same time, but this project is different in the way I see the island. Not rushing through to prove I have walked it but to see what these neighborhoods are all about and what is there to discover and enjoy.

For all you ‘Manhattanites’ who think you know your island, I will show you things that you have never seen and places you have never gone, restaurants you have never tried and historical sites and museums you never knew existed. Maybe just a few blocks from where you live. As the son of two “Brooklynites’, I have traveled around the city a lot since 1969, my first time in the City when my parents took me to Chinatown to Hunan Gardens, a Chinese restaurant on Mott Street. I ended up there for eight birthdays until it closed in the early 2000’s.

Chinatown Parade

Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown

“My Walk in Manhattan” is a  project to walk the entire island of Manhattan in New York City from top to bottom from the beginning of the Summer of 2015 until I finish the walk. Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide and covers a total area 23.7 square miles.  Along the way of walking the streets of Manhattan, I will be walking into parks, museums, restaurants and looking at the architecture of the neighborhoods and the buildings in them.

The Island of Manhattan

My soon to be path around the Island of Manhattan

I have found that people miss a lot when they walk with their cellphones and only look down at it. When you look up, you see the true beauty of the City. You see the stone work of old brownstones, you see small boutiques off the beaten track and can indulge in those hole in the wall restaurants that are usually found by foreign tourists. Nothing is more interesting then seeing a stone face on a building staring back at you, a tiny pocket park that residents created out of a garbage dump and that small entrepreneur trying to create a vision.

611 Broadway Cable Building II

The Cable Building at 631 Broadway

This project was inspired by many things. My major inspiration for this project follows the recent passing of my father, Warren George Watrel. My dad and I loved to walk around the city and spend the day at various museums, walking around Central Park and the Conservatory, taking the subway to try new restaurants in Chinatown or Little Italy or any new place I had read about in the Village Voice (my Bible when looking for things to do on weekends).

Columbus Circle.jpg

Columbus Circle on the West Side

My father was a ‘Brooklynite’ from Williamsburg (long before it was ‘Hipster Central’, he would have been amused) and loved the city, so this voyage is dedicated to him. Having watched the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, we look for inspiration in our travels  and try to find the answers to why something happens the way it does. Walking to explore does that.

I was my father’s caregiver after his illness hit him and I continued my trips into Manhattan as my father got better. It was the inspiration to this site’s sister site, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’. After he passed in 2014, I wanted to spend Father’s Day doing something different yet do something that we would have done together. Thus started the first walk in Marble Hill.

Marble Hill VI

My first Day in Marble Hill, Manhattan

Another inspiration was a recent article in New York Magazine entitled “Which New York is Yours? A Fierce Preservationist and a Pro-Development Blogger Debate” in which the author Justin Davidson asks about the disappearance of New York’s Character. “What does that character actually consist of? If we did make an all-out effort to preserve it, how would we know what to protect?” How much is the city changing? I have worked off and on in New York City since 1988 and the answer is in some parts of Manhattan it is night and day. Could you imagine walking in Bryant or Tompkins Square Parks in 1990?

I did and they were very different places back then. With the changing Zoning Laws and gentrification of many neighborhoods, its not the city of 1970’s movies. What I am looking for are those unique little pocket parks that we pass, those statues of people we have no clue who they are and those historic plaques of places gone by and people we don’t know.

Astor Row Houses

Astor Row Houses in Harlem

Another are the books, ‘Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul’ by Jeremiah Moss and ‘The Death and Life of the Great American City’ by Jane Jacobs. How do cities keep progressing and changing? How does change effect a city and what direction are we going in? Does the Island of Manhattan have to be all luxury or can it be mixed to help keep the creativity alive and keep innovation going? Do we want the big bad 70’s again or the luxury brand of the 2010’s and 20’s? How is it impacting and changing the city? How much has Manhattan and the rest of the boroughs changed with the rezoning of the city under the Bloomberg Administration. This can also be looked at in the documentaries “Gut Renovation” and “My Brooklyn”.

The last inspiration was my doctor. He said I have to lose ten pounds. I am hardly over-weight but like many people he feels that I will be healthier if I lose the weight and keep it off. I want to see how a walk like this tones the body.

Bowling Green Park

Bowling Green Park in Lower Manhattan

I know many people before have walked the entire length of Manhattan while others have or are attempting to walk the every  block in the city, mine has a more personal reason. To really see the city I love from the ground up and explore parts of the island that I have never ventured to and see what I find there. Along the way, I want to see how the city changes while I am taking the walk. This is not the “Christopher Columbus” attitude most people are taking when exploring the neighborhoods but more honoring those residents who are trying to make the City better.

My project also includes stops at various points of interest and to get a better feel for all the neighborhoods, I am walking both sides of the street to get a better look at the buildings in each neighborhood and what defines the character of a neighborhood. I get the impression from some of the readers of Mr. Davidson’s article and from comments on the Internet that Manhattan is some “playground of the wealthy that is being gentrified to the hilt and soon no one will be able to afford any part of Manhattan”. Like in any place, there are people struggling everyday to survive in New York and like every city in the country, people are moving back in droves and want a quality of life for them and their families.

Delacorte Clock.jpg

Delacorte Clock in Central Park

In the Age of COVID, it has been interesting starting the project again. I had been on hold from March 13th, 2020 through June 10th, 2020 when the City was closed for anyone other than First Responder and people who had to work there. I was so happy when I could return and continue walking Manhattan. My walk down Broadway for the forth time was a surprise with all the businesses closed on the Upper West Side and I met the challenge of “The Great Saunter Walk” , the 32 mile walk around the perimeter of the island in 14 hours. There is now more to see and explore and write.

The COVID world though has me facing closed businesses that I have covered over the years. Restaurants and stores that I have mentioned in this blog since 2015 have since closed permanently or closed for the time being, I am not too sure. We also have a walking world of masks that keep us safe. The times in Manhattan are changing from the way we eat in restaurants to the way we shop and visit museums.

SoHo boarded up after the June Riots 2020

Fifth Avenue boarded up after the June Riots 2020

Things are constantly changing in Manhattan since the riots in June and COVID keeps raging in the City with people not wanting to wear masks. I hope that things will get back to normal soon. I still see people out and about doing their thing and enjoying the warm weather so I am optimistic about life. Still though, Manhattan keeps changing with the Theater District boarded up and Chinatown looking like a ghost town. We will see how New York City recovers from COVID like the rest of the country.

I have now expanded this site to three other blogs, ‘VisitingaMuseum’ (VisitingaMuseum.com), which features all the historical sites, community gardens and small museums and galleries I find in not just Manhattan but throughout the rest of the NYC and beyond in the suburbs. 

‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ (DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com), where I feature wonderful little restaurants, bodegas and bakeries that I find along the way. The one requirement is that the meal is around $10.00 and under (for us budget minded people).

“LittleShoponMainStreet” (LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com) where I find unique and creative stores in Manhattan and locally whose merchandising, displays, merchandise and service stand out in an age of Amazon. This harks back to a time when shopping was enjoyable and not a chore.

I have also added two new sections to the blog, “My life as a Fireman”, which I have moved from an old site that I had created for my old engine company to describe my experiences on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department over the last 16 years. Also, this is what takes up my time when I am not exploring New York City.

Justin Watrel Fireman

Justin Watrel, Fireman

Another is “A Local Journey” are tours of downtown’s and communities outside the New York City area to travel to when you need to escape the City’s clutches. I have specific guidelines in finding stores, restaurants and museums/cultural sites in the area. This has lead me to really explore my own town of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and exploring out of town destinations like Red Hook, NY and Beach Haven/Long Beach Island, NJ. You would be amazed on what these small towns offer.

Downtown Red Hook, NY

Downtown Red Hook, NY in the Summer months

With COVID still rearing its head when I am in New York City, I do everything to stay safe from being fully vaccinated (I have take both shots and no I have not turned into a ‘Pod Person’) to wearing a mask and keeping hand sanitizer on me. I abide by all NYC Parks rules and try to stay away from people when in museums and restaurants.

Even with all its problems, New York City is still the most exciting City on earth and follow the blog, neighborhood by neighborhood and join me in discovering what makes Manhattan one of the greatest places on Earth!

So to readers who will be following me on the journey walking through Manhattan and beyond, I hope you enjoy trip walking by my side!

Red Hook Trip IV

Me in Red Hook, Brooklyn discovering my new love in “Street Art”

This project is dedicated to my father, Warren George Watrel, with lots of love and many wonderful adventures and memories to keep me company as I take “My Walk in Manhattan”.

Dad & I

My dad, Warren and I at a Grandparent’s Day Brunch in 2013

‘Break My Stride’ still plays in my mind when I do this walk.

This walking song plays in my mind when I start ‘Walking’. Thank you Mary Mary!