Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thank You for Reading 500 Posts!

When I started this blog 12 days after moving to New York City in October 2007, I didn't have a clear plan or vision. Heck, I didn't even have a job. In fact, I think it was my unemployment that was the impetus for Pay a Visit. After more than four years as a full-time journalist, I couldn't give up writing at the drop of a hat. What I could do, however, was write what and when I wanted to. And that's what I've been doing for 500 posts.

Yep, this is post #500. Thank you to all of my loyal readers (that's you, Mom and Dad!) and everyone else who pokes and prods around the site every once in a while (that's you, Paul!). Mostly, thank you for giving me the illusion that I'm not just writing for myself. Yes, I would write anyway, even if it were only for myself. But it's nice nonetheless to think that others have an interest in it too.

To use a very New York expression, my blog is what it is. But I am proud of how it's grown over the last four years. Pay a Visit has received more than 17,700 visits as of last weekend, with an average of about 40 per day. Granted, a lot of those people aren't sticking around too long, but it's a nice number to think about all the same.

Most visitors come from the United States (surprise, surprise), but over the last couple of years the site has received several hundred visitors from Canada, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany and Argentina. About 300 people have even wandered in from Vietnam and South Korea.

My proudest moment as a blogger came just last month, courtesy of a story told to me by a coworker. This coworker was planning to bring cupcakes to work for my birthday, and he Googled the name of the bakery where he wanted to get them. What popped up? My blog post on Carlo's Bakery, of course! That story makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weathering Hurricane Irene in Brooklyn

Hurricane Irene had more bark than bite in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Between the TV commentators and grocery store lines, you'd think we would have just experienced the storm of the century. Instead, it seemed like we received just slightly more rain with slightly stronger winds than usual. Paul and I slept through the worst of it.

Yes, we were lucky. Other areas of New York lost power and experienced flooding and broken branches.Our biggest inconvenience: our Dish Network went out and a technician is coming this week to repair it.

With our location about a mile from the shore -- not to mention three stories up -- we weren't worried at all about flooding. (That wasn't the case in other areas of New York City -- places like Coney Island, the Rockaways, Battery Park City and much of coastal Staten Island were evacuated.) We were more concerned about losing electricity and the possibility of shattered windows. There wasn't much we could do, however, but make sure we had a working flashlight (we did) and enough food to last through the weekend.

Many were preparing for the worst. Near a Rite Aid on Friday evening I saw two people walking away with the essentials -- one had a carton of bottled water, and the other a 12-pack of beer. Grocery stores were crowded and shelves quickly emptied. It took two tries to get a loaf of bread -- the grocery store nearest our place Friday night had only a few packages of hot dog buns and a lonely garlic baguette. I had better luck at a larger grocery store the next day.

Saturday was gray and humid with periodic drizzles throughout the afternoon. The subway shut down at noon with rumors that it might not reopen until Monday afternoon. Several neighborhood businesses plastered long strips of tape on their windows, hoping, I'm sure, that they wouldn't be needed.

We stayed up until about 5 a.m., tracking the storm online and watching CNN until we lost our signal. The seals around a few of our windows our bad; by this time we had to carefully place some buckets and towels on the sills and sop up some water. I awoke at 7 a.m. and put out another bowl. When I got up again three hours later, all was calm and the worst had passed. By the time Irene arrived, she wasn't a hurricane, but instead a tropical storm.

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, the subway system is still shut down. It isn't expected to be running again for the morning commute.

A week or two ago I thought the theme of today's blog post would be about marriage -- it's our eighth wedding anniversary tomorrow. And so I'll end this post with a bad joke. If I've learned anything in eight years, it's that sometimes you just have to weather the storm.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Madison Square Park's Clock Tower

The Flatiron Building, the Shake Shack, the park itself ... there's a lot competing for your attention at Madison Square Park.

One sight that takes you by surprise, however, is the clock tower on the former Met Life Building on Madison Avenue.

I took the picture above earlier this summer, about a block west of the park. Once you actually enter Madison Square Park, however, the clock tower is often hidden from view by the tall trees.

When we celebrated my birthday at the Shake Shack in July, we sat underneath one of those trees as daylight turned to dusk turned to moonlight. Each time I looked up, the clock was there, ticking away the minutes of my 30th birthday.

Don't get me wrong -- the sight of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building still sets my heart aflutter, but it's these smaller gems -- if anything 700 feet tall can be called small -- that I've come to appreciate more and more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Very First Earthquake

Post-earthquake evacuation

I was sitting at my desk at work when my chair started to tremble.

At first I didn't think much of it. There's been a lot of construction on the building next door, and the drilling has become so commonplace that I've tuned it out. But this time I didn't hear anything.

Then the trembling started again. Almost simultaneously a coworker and I confirmed with each other that, indeed, we were not crazy. Other departments in the company seemed to be doing the same thing. Just as we were about to head for the door, our receptionist made an announcement over the intercom to evacuate the building.

At this point we were fairly certain it was an earthquake. That wasn't the case at first. Some, flashing back to 9/11, immediately imagined another attack. As we gathered outside of the building, however, the receptionist told us she had just received a call at the front desk from our Washington, DC, office, informing her that they were evacuating because of an earthquake. Seconds later, just before 2 p.m., the tremors started in New York.

Cellphone calls were impossible to make, but Twitter and Facebook were working. Between them and my coworkers, I learned that the quake was felt even in Ohio.

Just as we were all feeling pretty safe, a few women from half a block away started dashing toward us and then the other end of the block, and crowds more followed her. Not sure what was going on, we ran in that direction, too. One of the women told us someone had seen a building swaying. I suspect someone was letting their imagination get the best of them. In any case, no buildings collapsed.

We returned to our floor about an hour after the quake hit, but that didn't mean the day's events were out of our minds. What's more, some companies were using the earthquake as a marketing tool within hours, offering special earthquake discounts just for the day.

Except for the 30 seconds of minor shaking, it was a normal day. The subway wasn't even delayed. And so ends my first brush with a natural disaster. Although in this case -- when some people couldn't even feel the tremors -- I'm not sure "disaster" is the appropriate word.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nighttime Comes to Brooklyn Bridge Park

I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge a few times a year, either with guests or with Paul. Over the years, I've watched the land under the bridge on the Brooklyn side turn slowly from gray to green as the Brooklyn Bridge Park came to life.

But while we watched the park take shape, neither Paul nor I had ever visited until Saturday night.

Only a few sections of the park are open, but that obviously hasn't stopped a mixture of locals and tourists from taking advantage of the wide yards and expansive views. Benches line the waterfront and small groups on blankets dot the lawns. It was practically impossible to snap a photo without a stranger stepping into view unless you pressed yourself against the railing.

I fully expected the amazing views. The park abuts the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and I've absolutely loved being in the passenger seat the few times we've driven home from Queens or northern Brooklyn late at night. My nose is pressed against the window taking in the view while Paul keeps his eyes on the road.

So while I was busy snapping photos Saturday night, Paul got to enjoy the brightly lit bridges and skyscrapers. A nice change for him, I'm sure.

Pier 1 of the park is right next door to the River Cafe, a restaurant known as much for its view as its food, as well as the correspondingly high prices. For my money, I'd rather grab a taco at one of the pier's food carts and then snag a bench or a coveted table and chairs right next to the water. The food, no matter how top-notch, is always going to be a mere appetizer when you have a view like this for an entree.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coney Island's Wonder Wheel

Sometimes the best few minutes on "Saturday Night Live" are the opening sequence shots of Coney Island lit up at night, and I always watch for the Wonder Wheel.

It's my favorite single thing at Coney Island, and I haven't even taken a ride yet.

Ferris wheels are among the scariest things at amusement parks to me. Give me a 300-foot-tall roller coaster any day. At least there I'm securely strapped in. On a ferris wheel, I'm slowly swinging to my apparent death, secured only by something that barely passes for a seat belt.

But the Wonder Wheel is more of a thrill ride, which, oddly enough, I suspect would make me less scared simply because I'll be expecting the fear. The red and blue cars follow a track within the wheel, rushing to the inside and then the outside as the wheel turns.

I don't know if there are seat belts.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Evening at the Coney Island Brewing Company

I think Paul was surprised when I decided to tag along.

His brewing buddy from the neighborhood heard of a new brewery in Coney Island that was holding its grand opening celebration last Wednesday, so he and two friends decided to check it out. Although I nearly always stay home when Paul's hanging out with the guys, this time I decided to see what it was all about.

I'll admit, however, that I was there mostly for Coney Island and not for the beer. This week's blog posts are dedicated to Coney Island and what it looks like as the sun sets on a weeknight in this coastal neighborhood.

Today, the brewery. Coney Island Brewing Company bills itself as the world's smallest brewery, and it's difficult to believe that's not the case. The gimmick is that it brews only a gallon at a time and has only a tasting room and gift shop -- all in a space about the size of a typical walk-in closet, just off Surf Avenue literally next door to the freak show.

The entire brewery

Brewery to the left of the balloons, freak show to the right

However, the brewing company is affiliated with Shmaltz Brewing Company, the craft brewery behind the Coney Island lagers and He'brew beers. Some of those fine beverages also seem to be sold in the tasting room.

I stuck around long enough to catch up with an old work friend who also happened to be at the opening, grab a sample of some bourbon-like beer and to hear how Paul and his friend may end up concocting a gallon of their own beer for the brewery. This may not be the last you hear of the Coney Island Brewing Company.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at Night

We bought a new camera that's just slightly out of my league.

It has so many functions that our former six-year-old camera didn't have that I am determined to spend some quality time with it before we go on vacation.

With that in mind, Paul and I took a walk last Friday evening along the Shore Road Promenade. The sun was setting when we arrived, and it was dark by the time we arrived at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, about a mile south. Perfect for trying the night and low-light settings on the new camera!

Manhattan at twilight

Not only that, but it was the first time I'd been so near the bridge at night outside of a car. There's a scenic pull-off along Shore Parkway as you near the bridge; even at 9 p.m there were about two dozen cars in the lot, and the benches along the water facing the bridge were full. It felt very "Saturday Night Fever."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New York Kisses = Midwestern Handshakes

I don't come from a very lovey-dovey family. Growing up, I never had any doubt that my parents loved me, or vice versa, but we rarely showed it in any outward form. I can't remember the last time I hugged my sister. A psychologist might say that this is because Mom used to punish us as kids by sitting us down on the front porch and making us hold hands. I, however, think it's just in our genes.

Through Paul's family and numerous friends in Columbus, however, I gradually got used to hugging. That's especially true now that arrivals and departures happen only two or three times a year. There's no avoiding a hug when you haven't seen someone for 9 months, and hugs don't even make me uncomfortable anymore. I've even been known to -- gasp! -- initiate a hug.

But in New York I've been initiated into something entirely new: kisses, European-style.

I've experienced this enough in New York (and not at all in Ohio) to learn a few rules, draw a few conclusions and yet still have multiple questions.

Kisses are performed upon first meeting for the night and then again upon leaving. Kisses are between one man and one woman -- no same-sex smooches here, unlike in some countries. They're not absolutely mandatory, but they seem to be a replacement to a handshake. A courtesy.

I've exchanged kisses with people I've known for a few years and people I've met only once or twice. Depth of friendship seems to be irrelevant.

Looking back on what I've just written, I feel a little like Jane Goodall. Instead of observing chimpanzees, however, I'm closely watching the behavior of an even more foreign species: the native New Yorker.

A recent occurrence confirmed my growing suspicions about the difference between New Yorkers and Midwesterners in this regard. I was at a bar and saying goodbye to two of Paul's male friends. One moved to New York City as a child, the other is a Midwesterner who's lived in New York about a year. I got a kiss from the New Yorker followed by a firm handshake from the Midwesterner.

I'm still slightly uncomfortable with the kissing, although I've done it enough now that I'm sure it will be as commonplace as the hug with time. Although, since it took me roughly 25 years to be comfortable with hugging, I'm not sure how much time I will need.

Monday, August 8, 2011

An Austrian Birthday at Blaue Gans

This year I had more trouble than usual choosing where to drag Paul for my birthday dinner.

Since turning 30 is, after all, something of a milestone, the place I chose had to be worthy of marking such an occasion. That basically meant it had to meet three criteria:
  1. The food had to be good.
  2. The restaurant had to be a place where we wouldn't go on a typical Saturday night.
  3. The bill had to be more than I would prefer to pay on a normal night out.
And that latter is coming from me, the world's biggest cheapskate. Nevertheless, if you can't treat yourself on your 30th birthday, when can you? Your funeral?

A day or two before my birthday I finally made my choice: Blaue Gans, an Austrian restaurant in Tribeca. I had originally expected to chow down on the Saturday after my birthday, but that plan stalled when Paul presented me with birthday tickets to "Anything Goes." We already had plans for the following Saturday, so my birthday dinner was postponed until July 30. That's OK -- there's nothing I like better than making my birthday last as long as possible.

I had chosen Blaue Gans ("Blue Goose" in English) specifically for two reasons. One: I was in the mood for schnitzel. What can I say? Some girls want diamonds for their birthday, others want fried pounded pork. The schnitzel with lingonberries and a side of cucumber-potato salad fit the bill. The schnitzel was crisp and just as good as I imagined. The potato salad was the real surprise, cool with thin slices of cucumber and celery seeds. Delicious on a hot night.

And the second reason I chose this restaurant: the dessert menu. I had looked up the menu beforehand and seen "Salzburger Nockerl." Intrigued, I Googled it. It's basically a meringue shaped to represent the hills surrounding Salzburg. How did I not hear about this in Austria?

The nockerl was served on a blueberry compote, and if I have to be honest, it wasn't all that great. Still, it was worth it to get a dessert that looks like the Austrian countryside. That was my birthday present to myself.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Empire State Building from the High Line

I expected greenery and big crowds when we visited the High Line park earlier this summer. What I didn't expect were so many great views of the Empire State Building. I'm going on four years as a New York City resident, but the sight still makes me pull out my camera.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Addressing New York City's Neighborhoods

I have many ways to describe where I live, all equally correct.
  • The neighborhood of Bay Ridge
  • The borough of Brooklyn
  • Kings County
  • New York City
Addressing New York City's addresses correctly seems to be second nature to the natives, but it took slightly longer for me. Here's what I had to learn:

New York City is comprised of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.

Each of the boroughs is also its own county: New York (Manhattan), Kings (Brooklyn), Queens (Queens), Bronx (the Bronx) and Richmond (Staten Island). All five of the boroughs/counties make up New York City, although in common parlance, only those who live in Manhattan are said to live in "the city" (a common abbreviation specific to Manhattan).

Each of the boroughs have neighborhoods, most with imprecise borders. But there are some differences in how these neighborhoods are addressed, quite literally. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is every bit as much of a neighborhood as Astoria, Queens. Every neighborhood in Brooklyn, however, has a "Brooklyn, New York" address, but in Queens, letters are addressed to the specific neighborhood (in this case, "Astoria, New York"). The Bronx and Staten Island follow Brooklyn's example, while residents of Manhattan get envelopes addressed to "New York, New York."

To make thinks a little more confusing, Brooklyn also has a specific downtown that's considered its own neighborhood. It's possible to work in downtown Brooklyn in the borough of Brooklyn -- in fact, Paul does. Manhattan also has a downtown, although it's usually called the Financial District. That's where I work.

Of course, novels could also be written on the the intricacies of New York's neighborhoods and their abbreviations, as well as the area code system. That's for another post!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thai Comfort Food in Bay Ridge: myThai

Some people turn to meatloaf, but Pad Thai has been my comfort food of choice ever since we moved to Brooklyn.

I'd never been to a Thai restaurant before moving here, although there was one in Columbus that I'd always meant to try. Instead of sampling it there, however, Thai was one of the first foreign cuisines I remember trying after moving to New York. My favorite Thai restaurant is so good and so near -- less than 10 minutes away by foot -- that I've rarely been tempted to try another.

Each visit to myThai is wonderfully the same. Paul and I each start with a Thai iced tea. Anyone who knows me knows well that I hate ordering drinks in restaurants. For this I make an exception. A tall glass is filled with ice, a dark tea and sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes it's a craving for this alone that will lure me to myThai.

We typically visit myThai with a gift certificate from in hand. Everything's so cheap that we practically struggle to use it all. So even though I typically don't get restaurant appetizers either, both Paul and I have become obsessed with the myThai pancake. It's kind of like a flaky, savory elephant ear, fried in coconut butter and served with a coconut milk and curry dipping sauce. I could make a whole meal out of a few of these.

But I look forward to my entree all the same. Almost every single time I get the same thing -- vegetable Pad Thai. Along with the appetizer and upcoming dessert, I generally have enough leftover for another night or two. Paul mixes it up -- during our latest visit he ordered green curry -- and I like it when he orders something with rice. It always is served molded into the shape of a heart.

Pad Thai

Green Curry with heart-shaped rice!

Dessert depends totally on what we're in the mood for. Perhaps mango ice cream or fried green tea ice cream. Last time, we ordered friend bananas with honey and green tea ice cream. Each banana chunk was neatly and lightly fried into a sphere. Yummy.

I always leave myThai happy, full and wondering why we don't eat there more often. What more can you ask for? Only, I suppose, that Paul could whip up a myThai pancake at home.


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