Travel from NYC: Four Ambivalent Factors


New York City is a fascinating place to travel—and travel from. Living within a locale where constant change permeates controlled chaos amidst a sea of countless cultural influences can be as riveting as it is tiring. Many New Yorkers may say it’s hard to travel, due to demanding jobs coupled with the high cost of living. Nevertheless, NYC is not the worst place to feel trapped, as there is often something, somewhere in the five boroughs left unexplored.

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For all of my time spent in and around New York City, I had never ridden the tramway or visited the island. Roosevelt Island, that is. Yesterday was the day when that all changed.

Like a typical tourist, I strolled down the promenade towards Roosevelt Island’s southern tip and snapped shots of the arching cherry blossoms in bloom–yet saw nothing of the area’s residential neighborhoods to the north.

The main attraction was the Smallpox Hospital that stands today as a shell of the facility it once was. Other than functioning as its namesake, the Gothic Revival building also served as the Charity Hospital before closing in the 1950s.

Enclosed by the edges of an encompassing fence, the remnants of an institute originally intended to combat an infectious, sometimes fatal disease (that was eradicated in 1980) are now buttressed by interior and exterior beams.

The barren window frames frame sky-scraping edifices that tower above the west-facing horizon.

Visitors: do not plan on getting too close to the Smallpox Hospital.

Unless you happen to be a goose (who reads this blog).

I climbed what appeared to be the the tallest hill on the southern end of Roosevelt Island. The pinnacle offers instant visual access into the current skeletal structures recently constructed for Cornell Tech to flesh out.

Nevertheless, like the smallpox medical facility of the past, the grounds of the future Cornell Tech institute are also off limits to the public.

The campus even trained an infantry of miniature panthers to guard the territory from intruders.

Apparently these little guards also defend gardens from pesky canine invaders.

However small and arguably overlooked, Roosevelt Island is surely its own ecosystem where structures develop, thrive, die, decay, and regenerate. Alas, at this location’s southernmost tip, the viewer can compare it to two tiny islands that will in all likelihood never host any such towns, towers, or tourism.

I was satisfied, so it was time to head back into the sky and say bye to Roosevelt Island.

Cue the Blooms and Buds

Spring’s just started. While some are still bare, certain branches are delightfully speckling.

The subtle buds are now budding on select trees, while lavish petals embellish the branches of others.

On the ground, it appears that park gardeners have determined that daffodils were the botanical species best suited to welcome spring to NYC.

Even under the pre-dusk overcast, the vibrant pastel petals brighten the scenery .

They are an appetizer for the colorful, pollen-full main course to come.

Snow Week

It was one week ago that Winter Storm Jonas came to NYC. Two notable forbiddances have occurred in this seven-day stretch: on the roads, there was a temporary motor transit ban, and in Brooklyn, a resident who constructed an igloo on his property and tried to rent it out on Airbnb had his listing taken down within several hours.
After the precipitation had settled and things were more or less back to normal, I took the chance to travel north to a wooded area where I could try snowshoeing for the first time.
While there were some traces of human impact along the trails of Anthony’s Nose, on Monday, we had the whole hike to ourselves.
The lack of leaves on the trees on both sides of the Hudson made views of the snowy Bear Mountain grounds much clearer.
After a taste of nature it was time to remove the snowshoes and return to civilization, the designated outpost being Peekskill, NY. The town itself is as friendly as the sign suggests (but not as creepy as its overall appearance suggests).
Back in NYC, the snow has been gradually melting.
SnowgrossSome mountains have amassed on street sides–some prettier than others.
Snowshoes aren’t needed, but still, proper footwear is required for urban snow navigation.
Crocs are not recommended.

Snowy Walks

IMG_1073[1]Residual snow is pleasant up the hills, on a leisurely Sunday.

IMG_1076[1]Especially when the air is well above freezing, while the snow has yet to melt.

IMG_1077[1]So you can stroll around to enjoy the scenery up close…


…and in the distance.


However, incoming snow can be stressful, in the city, on a routine Monday.


IMG_1081[1]Especially when modes of transportation are affected.


IMG_1091[1]Something about walking around in the grey slush doesn’t feel quite so serene like hiking through white snow in the woods.

IMG_1093[1]At least some scenery is pleasing in the distance, when you can look up from the dingy puddles and piles that accumulate by the curbs.




Prospect Park Zoo & Lakes


The main reason I visited the Prospect Park Zoo on my day off was to see the Pallas Cat, a species which hails from Central Asia. Cute, fluffy and small, its accompanying descriptions had to reinforce the fact that the breed is far from a domestic cat, and definitely a wild one — but I still admired the seemingly pensive feline, and its wise stares, nonetheless.

IMG_1051[1]I made some new friends, though, with the more domesticated creatures. Although I think this one’s love is conditional, based on the presence of goat feed in my hand.

IMG_1042[1]Not all attempts at friendships worked.

IMG_1040[1]But you can still admire a peacock’s color scheme regardless of your personal encounter.

IMG_1050[1]This one is a type of pigeon that dwells in the tropics. Perhaps they placed him there to provide viewers perspective on the common urban pigeons we see here.

IMG_1049[1]Red panda, startled.

IMG_1053[1]Out of the zoo and near the Audubon Center, branches made interesting formations in the water.


IMG_1057[1]If the melting ice and cold weather weren’t telling enough, park keepers make sure to float buoys in the water to tell you not to enter the wintry lake.

IMG_1055[1]At least pedestrian bridges were erected  in the 1800’s to solve that problem.






Metro North

One of the big landmarks when I think of going home is the Metro North Railroad. It is a commuter train that links a good portion of the New York City Metropolitan area to Manhattan.

I always know this transit system will be an inevitable part of my time going to the East Coast at this point in my life, and often tend to vaguely daydream about it during my flight to New York.

The Metro North public transit network is utilized by thousands of people daily. It is foremost a commuter line frequented by career people who pay peak hour fees and read the New York Post or Times or Wall Street Journal or endlessly check their Blackberries or iPhones. It is also a weekender-frequented line that is ridden by obnoxious teens with fake identification cards, all done up in high heels and make up and impractical clothing to check out the clubbing scene. Many sports fans also ride Metro North, particularly Yankees fans in popped collars who have no problem offering Scoal chewing tobacco to their fellow riders at ungodly hours.

For me personally, I think of my teenage years, when I would dread the trapped suburban cave of Westchester County, and spend all of my hard-earned money from my several pointless jobs on the train tickets to take me to a more magical place. I have countless memories of paying for tickets into the automated ticket dispensers and being angry at the gradual increase of their prices over the years. I also spent lots of my time living there standing on the platforms of Pleasantville station, the closest to where I’d lived. Or scenic Scarborough Station, where I got to watch the Hudson splash waves.

The Ossining Station is where I spent my old morning commute to Riverdale, which is in the North Bronx, where I had worked as an ESL instructor. I would wake at 6:00 AM daily, be driven there by 7:00, and wait for the 7:08 train. I would often buy the coffee from the small convenience half-store set up there in the upper deck’s shelter, then walk down the stairs, wait for the train to arrive and and watch the other commuters load onto the platforms. On the way back to Ossining, sometimes I even caught the view of the Rockland County commuters boarding their ferry to take them back across the Hudson. I would ride the Hudson Line back and forth daily, in a pre-peak hour where I would sit alone and drink my  caffeinated beverage without a cup holder and correct tests and essays, or sometimes get the opportunity to daze off into the Palisades cliffs of where New York State ends and New Jersey begins (or vice versa on the return train). It was my only time being truly alone and at peace at that point in my life.

Today, I face no commute, and Metro North trains are something I always take when I’m back in New York, still having the same feeling of anxiousness to leave the suburbs and be in the city. I have pretty much memorized the Hudson Line, that goes along the river, and the Southeast Line, that goes through inland areas through the backs of many different towns that gradually turn more urban.

On both of these routes, I’ve memorized the slow-down when the train goes southward from the Bronx and crosses the bridge into Manhattan Island, where it then inevitably docks at 125th Street in Harlem.

After Harlem, the silver bullet then drives through a long stretch of underground tunnel and slows down even more, eventually weaving into the bowels of the Upper East Side and finally into Grand Central of Midtown Manhattan.

I am so familiar with the routine of getting off the train, and entering the dirty and dark, brown and grey platform station with trash cans full of hundreds of old newspapers, where all of us now-walking passengers are completely jammed and crammed through our gradually ascending exodus out of these sub-city track bowels, like some entrapped troglodyte creatures instinctively heading for the light, into Grand Central, a dome trap universe of hustle and bustle and travel and commute and overpriced fast foods and boutiques.

The final step is to either exit out the doors of Grand Central and enter the commotion of 42nd street, the reaching skyscrapers and yellow cabs and the drift-off of tourists from Times Square mixing with the thousands of commuters dressed in pressed collared shirts and shoppers carrying an abundance of brand-name store bags. Either I walk to my destination, or go underneath ground once again to the MTA subway, and ride up, cross or downtown and begin the awaited adventures.

Back to Coney

I somehow found myself back in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, the second time in the 5 days I’ve been back.

Except yesterday it was different. It was about 95 degrees, and full of people. I was unable to step on the sand because I cut my foot pretty bad the day before, so I stayed on the boardwalk to examine the people of all sorts: young, old, families, couples, clothed, in swim trunks, in bikini tops, fair skinned, light skinned, too skinny or too fat, showing too much skin or looking too hot with all their clothing on. With such an interesting diversity I kept wondering what exclusive beaches must look like. I think this place is the only beach in the world where you can have such a blend of contrasting demographics.

Last time I had biked, but this time I was in a car, and finding a parking space was quite an adventure. There are the tiniest little driveways along the jam-packed streets and small urban houses behind their steel fences, with lots of the curbs painted yellow or with no parking signs, all somehow crammed within an area infested with Odessa’s former population and Russian-inspired developments. My boyfriend had made the observation last time that it was the only beach he knew of where one can purchase a fur coat in the summer.

I had the pleasure of eating at a Russian restaurant that was misted from the awning and tucked away in the shade, but had to experience others eating certain foods that smelled vile and looked very scary.

We then walked down the boardwalk from Brighton Beach to Coney Island, to the red steeple and past the Cyclone and famous Ferris wheel, with humans everywhere eating mangoes with hot sauce or Nathan’s hot dogs or  fried shrimps, passing NYPD men in uniform goofing around by their scooters looking chubby as ever. The restrooms were full of families crammed together in front of the far and few between running water outlets, washing the sand of their ankles and feet, while the sandy water dripped out to the long line of women waiting for the indoor facilities.

Stopped off in a bar to cool off the madness from the heat and the crowds and relax by the bikers rocking their black leather. I could once again hide in the shade under an umbrella with my sunglasses.

Always an interesting time!

Botanical Gardens

On the contrary, when most people think of New York City, they probably automatically think of skylines, city lights, traffic, subways and streets. I went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago, and was really surprised by the the environment there.

It’s crazy how botanists and other gardeners and scientists can pull such species out from all over the world and manipulate this urban habitat to adapt such different organisms to live so closely together. It’s amazing that the most populated borough of the most populated city of this country can hold such a creation.

I was even impressed by the animals they had living there. Lots of turtles were out soaking up the sun rays, koi were swimming around the Japanese garden, and there were even some rabbits running around.

One of the rooms was full of Bonsai trees, which look really fascinating.