Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New York Dreaming

~ One of the things I like most about travel is the sense of anticipation I get as the departure date draws closer and closer.

Couple this with the research I get to do about my main destination (New York City); the events I pencil into my travel calendar; the excitement I derive from discovering new people, places (and new things about myself), and it’s safe to say the pump will be primed and ready to go from the moment I touch down at JFK.

Here are some of the events I have already added to my schedule:

I’m also researching open mic nights, Irish music sessions, and of course I will return to some of my favourite 2008 locations such as The Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Rockerfeller Center, Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, the Staten Island Ferries, Greenwich Village, Central Park, and probably Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty (if I can be bothered fighting my way through the crowds and queues).

On my Been There – Done That! list are the Empire State Building and the New York Skyride; the United Nations Building; Madam Tussauds (tacky, yes, but worth doing once. Just); the New York Transit Museum; Bodies…the Exhibition; the New York Police Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History – although that is well worth a second look.

But what I particularly enjoyed on my 2008 trip was simply walking the streets of New York City discovering everyday life (people, events, places) in this amazing metropolis. On that trip (apart from one bus ride from the Staten Island Ferries hub, all the way up Second Avenue to Harlem and back down to 42nd Street), I never explored further than the American Museum of Natural History at about W 78th Street. This time I will be staying right at the top of Manhattan in Washington Heights, and I’m looking forward to ranging far and wide across the ‘top end’ of the island as well as revisiting the places listed previously.

Of course, there are many places not listed above. If you have any ‘must see’ locations you think I should add to my calendar, feel free to let me know via the Comments link below.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Walking Manhattan

~ I went for walk today covering a total distance 8.1 kilometres in just under 90 minutes.

While I was out I had a crazy idea to walk Manhattan. I decided that on at least one occasion I would try and walk the whole of Broadway (or at least from 187th Street and Broadway down to Bowling Green where the famous Charging Bull is located), since Broadway runs pretty much the full length of the island.

I mapped it with Google Maps and the total distance is 18.3 kms. According to Google Maps it could be done in 3 hours and 44 minutes of continuous walking, although I don’t know how they arrive at that figure. However, it seems about right given that it took me 90 minutes to walk 8kms. Double those numbers for 16 kms in 3 hours, and there you have it. Heck, I’ve still got 44 minutes to walk the last 2.3 kilometers.

And I’ll probably need every one of them!

Starting at Public School 48 (at 4360 Broadway, not far from where I’ll be staying), the route will take me past Columbia University; the Malcolm X & Dr Betty Shabazz Memorial; close to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine; the Children's Museum of Manhattan; the Beacon Theatre; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; and into Columbus Circle.

From Columbus Circle I’ll head down into Times Square, and on down Broadway to the Flatiron Building at E 23rd and Broadway. Here I will be on familiar ground, having walked this area extensively during my New York stay in 2008. Ignoring the Barnes & Noble book store in Union Square I’ll continue on to The Strand Book Store at 828 Broadway (www.strandbooks.com). On their website they claim to have 18 miles of books, and who am I to dispute this?

Down, down Broadway I’ll go. Past Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Tribeca, Little Italy and the neighbourhood that has all but swallowed it up - Chinatown. On through City Hall Park (looking out for the Brooklyn Bridge), past the Woolworth Building, St Paul's Chapel, and down past Wall Street until finally I reach the Charging Bull.

There can’t be too many visitors – or New Yorkers for that matter – who can say they have walked the length of Broadway. At the very least I will walk down to Columbus Circle, a distance of 10.4 kms (according to Google Maps), which is certainly doable.

Having completed the walk, I then have to walk back up Broadway to Fulton Street, and find the Broadway-Nassau Street subway station. Jumping on the A train, I’ll ride it all the way back to 181st Street station, stagger home, have a hot shower/bath, and go to bed.

I reckon I’ll deserve it.

And I know I will definately need it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

iPhone App of The Week: Walkmeter

~ As I write this the clock continues ticking on those free Lonely Planet city guides I wrote about yesterday. Remember, you only have until 11.59PM GMT tonight to download the guides of your choice. You will find them in the Travel section of the iTunes app store.

Since we are once again talking about iPhone applications, one of my favourite new iPhone apps is Walkmeter, a sophisticated pedometer for the man (or woman) about town. Walkmeter measures distance covered, average speed per mile/km, elevation, calories burnt, fastest pace per mile/km, and much more. It even creates a map of the route you walk (or run, cycle, ski, swim, skate etc), and saves this as an overlay on Google Maps.

At just $5.99 this amazing application has rendered my $60 clip-on pedometer obsolete. It provides much more information than traditional pedometers with a much higher degree of accuracy. It is also a great motivational tool for people who need to exercise regularly (that’s me), since you can map out a regular exercise route, and then compare stats each time you complete a ‘circuit’.

But Walkmeter is not just a motivational tool for fitness addicts. Using Walkmeter I could map a walking route around New York City (or any location for that matter), and email family and friends to let them see where I have been. I could of course, keep these routes for future reference, and I’m sure they would make a great record of my explorations around New York.

The only caveat to all this is that you must have an iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS device. Walkmeter is not for iPod Touch or first generation iPhones, which lack GPS capability. You also need WiFi, Edge or 3G connectivity for viewing maps, or using Twitter, Facebook, or email updates. Thankfully, you can use the application in Offline mode which helps avoid data roaming charges while recording your walk.

Finally, the application comes in three versions: Runmeter, Cyclemeter, and Walkmeter. However, my reading of the information on the Abvio website seems to indicate that apart from each applications default startup setting, all three apps are exactly the same. That means you only need to purchase one app rather than three, assuming you like to run, cycle and walk.

Click here to see an example of a Walkmeter route map...

Online: Walkmeter...

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Love New York in…?

~ Well, it’s been a long time germinating, but at last plans are starting to bud in anticipation of my next foray into the northern hemisphere. To paraphrase a classic song:

I love New York in June, how about you?
July can’t come too soon, how about you?
Midnight and Jake are waiting,
I can’t stop celebrating,
I am over the moon – how about you?

Yes, folks, the planets are lining up in the perfect configuration for your excited bloggist right now because I’ve recently teed up a two month, rent free, apartment sitting opportunity in Washington Heights, at the top end of Manhattan.

Yes, you read it correctly…

Two months.

Rent free.

New York apartment.

And summer in the city that never sleeps.

Did I say I was ‘over the moon’? That hardly captures how I am feeling right now, but believe me, I am flying!

Midnight and Jake are a couple of very cool cats (literally) that will be in my care for pretty much the entire months of July and August while their Australian owners are back home here in Adelaide over the American summer. In return for looking after the daily needs of the cats and keeping an eye on the apartment, I get to spend most of the northern summer in one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

I feel a song coming on…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New York City’s Top 50 Neighbourhoods

~ Interesting feature in the April 19, 2010 issue of New York Magazine about the top 50 most livable New York neighbourhoods.

I was particularly pleased to see Greenpoint, Brooklyn at the number five spot.

I spent around six weeks at the Greenpoint YMCA on Meserole Avenue in 2008, and got to know my way around the neighbourhood reasonably well. I have written previously about my stay at the 'Y' in Greenpoint so I won’t repeat myself here (read Part One and Part Two if you want to know more).

By examining twelve broad categories including housing cost and quality; perception of safety; the number of public schools, shopping and services, food and restaurants and health and environment amongst others factors, the authors were able to compile a comprehensive and fascinating list.

Just for the record, here are the Top 10 most livable New York City neighbourhoods:

1. Park Slope
2. Lower East Side
3. Sunnyside
4. Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill
5. Greenpoint
6. Brooklyn Heights
7. Carroll Gardens and Gowanus
8. Murray Hill
9. Prospect Heights
10. East Village

Click to read the full report…

Greenpoint YMCA
99, Meserole Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 389-3700 or (212) 912-2260

Monday, April 12, 2010

Round The World Travel

~ Discovered a very interesting item on the Round The World Ticket website today that I thought I’d share and comment on.

Titled, 8 Not-So-Obvious Reasons To Go On A Round The World Trip, the writer talks about breaking routines; reinforcing your world view or re-examining your own culture and habits; making new friends and maybe even discovering a new home; the chance to reinvent yourself; and learning to appreciate your home (it may not be quite as dull – or dangerous – as you thought it was).

However, the writer’s second reason, Lose your desire for materialism really caught my attention. The concept of travelling light has been touched on before on this blog (Jim's Guide to Travelling Light). But the chance to declutter your life has not, and this is as good a place to mention it. But first, let me quote the full passage from the above article.

2 – Lose your desire for materialism
People who are preparing to embark on long-term travel are often forced to liquidate many of their possessions before they go out of necessity, but even those who aren’t will likely take on a new relationship with the material world. There is something about living out of a backpack for months or years on end, that tends to make people wonder how valuable their DVD collection or 10+ pairs of formal shoes really are. It doesn’t happen to every long-term traveller, but it seems that quite a few who survive with but 10 kilograms of possessions for an extended period will change their ways upon return to society at large.

Especially if you’ve gotten rid of most of your stuff before you left, you’ll think twice about nearly every new purchase when you get home, and this will likely save you quite a bit of money, though you’ll probably just use the extra dosh toward more travel anyway, so it’s not like you’ll get rich as a result.

When you live out of a backpack for a long time you realise that you need amazingly few things on a daily basis, and each new thing that you might add to this begins to just feel like extra cargo that you’ll have to sell, give away, throw away, or store again one day.

That last paragraph really struck a chord with me. On my seven month 2008 trip, I sent several boxes of ‘stuff’ (memorabilia, books, CDs and DVDs, clothes, etc) at considerable expense back to Australia. Eighteen months later apart from the books, CDs and DVDs, and a couple of items of clothing, almost everything else has been thrown away! And even those books and multimedia items I’ve kept have not been read or re-read, and neither have the CDs and DVDs received much replay since my return.

So why did I buy them in the first place? Mostly because I wanted to remember some of the more significant events of the trip. I think I was afraid I would forget the most interesting and exciting parts of the journey, and thought if I kept permanent reminders, then I could keep those memories alive. All of this makes perfectly good sense of course, but then it has occurred to me since that in fact, as travellers the things we do ultimately remember are precisely the most interesting, and exciting events we experience during our travels.

Maybe those details we eventually forget, are not quite the life changing events we thought they were.

Mind you, as technological innovations continue to change and miniaturise, keeping those memories alive is becoming easier and easier. Small digital cameras, and cameras on virtually every mobile phone now allow us to record everything from skyscrapers to hotel receipts; the meals we eat and the rooms we stay in; our methods of transport and much more besides.

Hopefully, the next time I travel, I will not feel the need to accumulate more baggage and ‘stuff’ than I absolutely need to help me enjoy the travel experience to the full.

Read the full article here…

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