Socrates Sculpture Park

June 21, 2013

This park used to be an illegal dumping ground before a group of artists and people from the community saved it and molded it into what it is today. While I wouldn’t call this a destination, this park has a few things going for it that merit a look if you’re in the area, say, picking up that 3 gallon jar of peanut butter at Costco or visiting the Noguchi Museum nearby. As you can guess by the name, the park has art. Large art. Installations come and go, and sometimes the art is fascinating, and other times it’s just weird and maybe a little uncomfortable. Regardless, there is plenty of lawn space to showcase the creative spirit with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Some other things that weigh in its favor for a visit are the movie screenings in the summer and the greenmarket on Saturdays. There is also the occasional crafts fair. I don’t visit this park often, but stop by from time to time to see the changing exhibits. Here are a few pics from prior visits.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

This unusual visitor in the water is not a piece of art – I’m not sure what he was looking for, but due to the park’s history, there may very well be buried treasure in the water!

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park is at the intersection of Vernon Boulevard and Broadway in Long Island City. You can take the N or Q to the Broadway stop and then walk 8 blocks west to the river. By bus, the Q103 and Q104 will drop you off at the entrance. The park is open every day from 10am to sunset.

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Alley Pond Park

June 14, 2013

Over 600 acres, this park is the second largest in Queens – it’s so large it has its own golf course. Before you grab that super duper golf club, I do have to point out that it’s limited to a driving range and miniature golf. This park has a dizzying array of recreational spots. In addition to golf, you’ll catch folks enjoying a game of baseball, tennis, soccer, football, handball, basketball, even cricket! There are also plenty of wide open lawn spots for barbecues and picnics.

Look at these guys playing cricket in super white!
Alley Pond Park

Much of the park still holds value as an active ecosystem with wetlands and forests. In fact, it’s considered the most ecologically diverse park owned by the city. If you are a bird watcher, you’re in for a treat. The park hosts hundreds of thousands of migrating birds twice each year, from loons to warblers.

So let me segway into the hiking here. There are several easy trails you can take in the park. They’re nice and shady, with changes in elevation via concrete or dirt steps. When you take these trails, carefully avoiding the ones alongside the highway, you actually feel like you’re somewhere else far from the city.

Alley Pond Park

I debated whether or not to show you this next picture, but in the interest of making people aware, I decided to do it. These are the kettle ponds, clustered in a set of three, along several of the trails. They’re stinky and full of bright green algae. Avoid if you can. One of them is called Turtle Pond, but alas, I didn’t stop long enough to look for any. Yes…it was that stinky!

Alley Pond Park

One other thing that I’d like to point out that’s unique to this park is its Adventure Course. It’s a program for people to get together in teams and compete in an obstacle course. You must register beforehand and you don’t need to bring a group to participate. If you come alone, they will assign you to a team. As you can see in the pics, it’s a course that tests your endurance and fear of heights, among other things. It also includes a zip line somewhere (couldn’t find it).

Alley Pond Park

Alley Pond Park

I think the Catamount treetop course Upstate is much more challenging, but if you like the idea of a free day of muscle-building at a local park with strangers (or friends), this may be up your ‘alley!’

Alley Pond Park is in Douglaston/Little Neck. It’s more easily accessible by car, but you could take the 7 to Main Street and then the Q27 from there. Dogs and bikes are allowed. For bikers, there is a bike path from here that takes you all the way to Flushing Meadows Park.

Flushing Meadows Park – World’s Fair tour

June 7, 2013

I normally wouldn’t tell you to go out of your way to visit this park. It’s somewhat worn around the edges due to lack of upkeep. The lawns are patchy in the summer and the fountain at the Unisphere now gets turned on only during the U.S. Open. It’s a shame given its potential to be a great park. The fact that it’s the fourth largest park in the city, and the largest park in Queens, ought to generate some civic pride, but alas, it doesn’t get the same respect as smaller green spaces in the wealthier parts of the city.

What this park does have going for it that’s unique and worth the trek out is its treasure trove of World’s Fair relics. The park was host to not one but two World’s Fairs – one in 1939 and the other in 1964. Most of you have probably seen the Unisphere and the strange rusty towers jutting into the sky on your way to and from LaGuardia, but have you ever taken the step to see these structures up close from the ground? Their imposing facades hide a rich history of people’s hopes and dreams from two different eras. What you learn about these structures might surprise you, and the key to unlocking their secrets is just a tour away!

The urban park rangers hold free scheduled tours of the World’s Fair sculptures and buildings scattered throughout the park. The tour is about 2 hours long and covers a lot of ground. Since I encourage people to get out there and actually do the tour, I won’t cover the details of the tour itself – only pictures from the tour that I took to whet your appetite!

There’s a family of red-tailed hawks that live on the Unisphere.  If you bring binoculars, you can spot their nest on  top of Portugal!

World's Fair Tour

This building is from the 1939 World’s Fair.  It used to house the United Nations.  It has definitely seen better days!

World's Fair Tour

I call these the mechanical mushrooms.  They are part of the New York State Pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair.

World's Fair Tour

Also part of the Pavilion.

World's Fair Tour

I remember coming here as a kid to marvel at the beautiful colored tiles on the floor.  They formed the largest highway map of New York State.  Sadly, the tiles have since been removed.

World's Fair Tour

They dreamed of robots.

World's Fair Tour

Ethnic representation at the fair.

World's Fair Tour

The Rocket Thrower from the 1964 World’s Fair

World's Fair Tour

To see when the next tour takes place, go to the park’s calendar. The park is easily accessible by subway.  Take the 7 train and get off at Mets-Willets Point.  This is a long tour, so I strongly suggest sunscreen and water.

Old Westbury Gardens

May 31, 2013

Here is another grand old estate in Long Island for you to get lost in. Old Westbury Gardens has the distinction of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was owned by the Phipps, a family that made its fortune in shipping. The mansion sits on 200 acres filled with woods, formal gardens, a lake, and a pond. We were very impressed by the layout of everything.

The walled garden is one of the largest I’ve ever seen. You enter through ornately-carved gates and find yourself surrounded by flowers of every shape and color.

Old Westbury Gardens

Old Westbury Gardens

At one end is a waterlily pond, but sadly no frogs and not too much in the way of waterlilies either, but that didn’t detract from the grandeur of the scenery.

Old Westbury Gardens

If you walk up Linden Alley, you will catch your first glimpse of the house. I could see myself playing out a scene from the Great Gatsby here!

Old Westbury Gardens

Old Westbury Gardens

This is the view of Linden Alley from the house balcony. They were setting up a photo shoot that involved a gramophone, a grand piano, and live pigs. Any wagers on what they were shooting?

Old Westbury Gardens

Old Westbury Gardens

The house itself was furnished with pieces of the period. They were exhibiting wedding dresses from different periods in each room. I overheard one lady say she didn’t understand why there were so many brides in the house. No picture taking is allowed inside, but I got this one picture of the sunroom before I found that out. The sunroom was quite easily half the size of my apartment.

Old Westbury Gardens

When you exit the house to the west, this is the view you get of the beautiful lake. There are geese and ducks in the reflecting pool beyond.

Old Westbury Gardens

As the name implies, this place is in Old Westbury, Long Island. It is a 30-45 minute drive from Manhattan. From April 29th to October 31st, it is open every day except Tuesdays, from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm (the house opens at 11:00 am). There are house tours at 11am and 2pm. Admission for the house and grounds is $10 per person. No dogs or bikes are allowed. For more information about events that are held here or to do wedding photography, you should visit their website.

Sands Point Preserve

May 24, 2013

I am not sure how I heard about this place, but once I found out there was a castle on the grounds, my interest was piqued. Castle Gould was built in 1902 by railroad tycoon Jay Gould and modeled after Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. His wife did not care for it, so it ended up serving as the stables and servants’ quarters. Imagine that! A castle just for the servants and horses! The Goulds, instead, made their home in a Tudor-style mansion nearby called Hempstead House. Jay later sold the estate to the Guggenheims, who kept it in the family until 1971, when it was willed to Nassau County as a museum site. The grounds are extensive and look out onto Long Island Sound. You can easily see how this estate was considered a gem along the “Gold Coast” of Long Island. Today, there are a number of trails on the grounds and the buildings are still in good condition.

This is Castle Gould, which is now the Visitor’s Center where they hold educational programs. The castle’s limestone facade contains fossils along its surface.  Quite interesting and worth the look!

Sands Point Preserve

One of the trails leading away from the Visitor’s Center skirts the freshwater pond nearby. It is a nesting place for ducks, but we did not see any that day.

Sands Point Preserve

If you keep walking past the pond, you will hit trail #5 – this will take you to the cliffs and beach along Long Island Sound. Unfortunately, the beach is in bad shape right now, possibly from Hurricane Sandy. There are signs not to enter and broken-up concrete litter the entire beach. You should heed the warning because even the stairs leading down to the beach are not safe.

Sands Point Preserve

This is Hempstead House, a mansion containing 40 rooms!  They were setting up for a wedding reception on the day we were there so we could not go inside. Normally, you can go in and look around, although it is not actually furnished anymore.

Sands Point Preserve

I would not say the trails are all that interesting, but at least they are well-marked and easy to navigate. They would be good for families with children.
Sands Point Preserve

The preserve is in Port Washington, Long Island. It takes about 45 minutes by car from Manhattan. Admission is $10 per car. Dogs are welcome, but bikes are not.  There is a third building that is on the grounds that you can visit called Falaise.  It is a Normandy-style mansion on a cliff that is still furnished appropriate to the period. We decided not to go since we were there very early and the tour hours did not work for us. If you are interested in visiting it, you are required to do the tour – tours start at noon and occur every hour on the hour until 3pm. They will pick you up at the Visitor’s Center and drive you to the mansion. Otherwise, you cannot go there on your own. There is a separate admission charge of $10 a person.

Rockland Lake State Park

May 17, 2013

Through much of the 19th century, Rockland Lake was a hub for ice harvesting.  The spring-fed water was ideal for creating clean ice, and many ice houses lined the lake. Today, people enjoy the lake for other reasons. There is a 3-mile bike and jogging path that circles the lake, with multiple vantage points and benches from which to commune with nature. You can also go fishing or boating on the water. My main enjoyment came from spotting the various birds that migrate here – Canadian geese, swans, egrets, and your run-of-the-mill ducks.

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Geese crossing

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Beautiful birds by the Nature Center

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

The park is west of the Hudson River in Rockland County – about a 45 minute drive from Manhattan. Admission is $8 per car. Dogs are not allowed in the park during the warmer months.

Kissena Park

May 10, 2013

Out of all the parks in Queens, Kissena Park is probably my favorite. I don’t think too many people know about it, and I’m including Queens residents in this count as well. It’s also hard to get to by public transportation, so that definitely factors into the equation. The park lays claim to a huge lake with ducks and turtles aplenty taking advantage of the water. There are wide expanses of lawn for a picnic or an afternoon siesta. For the sports-minded, there are also tennis courts, basketball courts, and even a golf course next door. The park in general seems to be more carefully maintained than other Queens parks. I wonder why?  It’s a shame Flushing Meadow Park couldn’t be this nice.

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

The best way to get to Kissena Park is by car. It’s located in what I call “deep Flushing” – far enough away from the Main St # 7 subway station that you will need to catch the Q17 bus after you arrive by subway. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes down Kissena Boulevard. Dogs and bikes are welcome in the park. I suggest you bring a picnic blanket, grab some take-out at any number of Chinese restaurants in Main St, and have a picnic here!

The Adirondacks (Lake Placid and Lake George)

November 18, 2012

Continuing our upstate NY trip, we drove from the Finger Lakes to the Adirondacks.  This region is huge with plenty of little towns to explore, but we decided to focus our last 4 days on Lake Placid and Lake George.  By mid-October, the crowds are thinned to a minimum and there is plenty of peace and quiet in the woods.

The Brewster Peninsula Trail behind the Howard Johnsons takes you to a fine view of Lake Placid. Surprisingly, we found out the hard way that if you are not staying at a hotel or vacation home on Lake Placid, you will not have access to the lake. All roads around Lake Placid are private. This was one of the few places that let you get a glimpse. The other place we discovered that allows public access, although we didn’t have a legitimate reason for being there, was a boat docking area.

Brewster Peninsula trail

Brewster Peninsula trail

Lake Placid

Mirror Lake, the smaller lake that sidles up against Main Street in the town of Lake Placid, is far more easily accessible and is quite stunning. We enjoyed watching this lake change color throughout the day. Aside from the outdoor spots right off of Main Street where you can view the lake, there are two hidden locations that provide amazing views, complete with comfortable seating. The library on Main Street has a sun room with rocking chairs and a large window framing the lake. This is a great perch for when it’s cold. The coffee shop in the mall on Main Street has an outdoor balcony with cafe seating. The view here is worth a panoramic shot (my photo-stitching skills are not quite there yet).

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake at sunset

If there is only so much you can take of lakes, there is one excursion outside of Lake Placid that I highly recommend called High Falls Gorge.  The treetop walkways and bridges give you a view of the Ausible River churning angrily below.  The place has a feel of a mining operation (it actually does have a “mining for gems” feature for kids).

High Falls gorge

High Falls gorge

After a couple of days, we continued on our way to Lake George, about a 2-hour drive south. We stopped off at a taxidermy shop in between. Taxidermy seems to epitomize the Adirondacks for me.

taxidermy shop in Keene

Lake George has a different feel to it than Lake Placid. It is much more casual and we felt the off-season atmosphere more clearly here. We only spent one full day here and got busy seeing what there was to see. Here is a view of the lake and surrounding area from the top of Prospect Mountain. There is a fee to drive up this mountain.

Prospect Mountain

Prospect Mountain

The lake is also quite beautiful from the ground.

Lake George

Lake George

Lake George

I can imagine the Adirondacks being beautiful in the winter with snow on the ground and in the treetops.  There is plenty to do in the winter, especially in the Lake Placid area.  I don’t believe the lake is full of activity in the winter, but there is skiing and snowshoeing in the nearby mountains and woods.   For a place to stay, I recommend the Winterberry Bed and Breakfast right outside the center of town.  Our room was inexpensive and breakfast was delicious.  For Lake George, we stayed at the Inn at Erlowest, a grand old mansion right on the lake.  If you want luxury in a rustic setting, this is it!  The drive from Lake George to NYC is about 3 hours.  If you are planning a trip just to Lake Placid, the drive will be 5 hours.

Niagara Falls

November 11, 2012

I have to admit that Niagara Falls has never been on the top of my list of places to visit, despite having lived in NY my whole life. However, our recent trip to the Finger Lakes brought us in close proximity and we had to take the opportunity once it presented itself.  If you read my previous post, you’ll know that we based ourselves in Canandaigua to explore the Finger Lakes.  The drive from Canandaigua to Niagara took one and a half hours.   If you get there early enough in the morning, before 11am, you will find parking easily on the NY side (at least in mid-October).   Here are some views of the falls from the NY side.  There are in fact, three waterfalls, which I didn’t know about until I did some research for this trip.  Here is a view of Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island.  You can somewhat tell from this picture that it is indeed shaped like a horseshoe.

Niagara Falls

Here is a view of the other two falls, the large American Falls and the tiny one next to it called Bridal Veil Falls (yes, that tiny sliver of a waterfall in the foreground that is separated from the other waterfall by a ruined platform).

Niagara Falls

I didn’t know why my Canadian friend insisted I had to cross into Canada to see the falls until I got here.  Considering the limited view of the tops of the falls on the NY side, you owe it to yourself to bring your passport and cross over to Canada!  There are two ways to cross into Canada from the immediate area – cross Rainbow Bridge by foot or cross it by car.  Crossing by foot is far easier because you will not get stuck in traffic.  We went through the customs office on the NY side in 5 minutes (keep in mind we were there before noon).   The walk across the bridge takes just another 5 minutes, but I would imagine that everyone spends at least 15 minutes just gawking and photographing the falls from this vantage point.
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

The view from the Canada side is not that different from the view from the bridge.  I will spare you the multiple pictures I took from the Canada side that look almost identical to the one above, just a little closer and flatter in appearance.   Some things of note on the Canadian side – lots of casinos and a sea of authentic Korean and Japanese restaurants (many of them did not have English translations on their storefronts).  Very interesting.  Also, keep in mind that you will need to drop two quarters into a turnstile to cross the bridge back over to the NY side.   Those Canadians!

I don’t know how many people just look at the falls and then leave. That would be a mistake.  Further up north on the NY side is a beautiful area called Whirlpool State Park where you can see whirlpools from a safe distance.  The water from the falls meanders its way here where its goes through some turbulence as it swizzles around a bend before making a 90 degree turn eastward.  The whirlpools appear and disappear without any noticeable pattern and greatly vary in size.  Whirlpools are quite disturbing if you have never seen one in real life.   Now I can truly appreciate how ships can get sucked up into a whirlpool, never to be seen again.  There is an aerial tram that takes you on a scary ride above the whirlpools from the Canadian side to the American side.  It was not operating the day we were there because of strong winds.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

For folks coming from NYC, I would recommend a trip to Niagara Falls if you happen to be near that area anyway, but not as a trip for its own sake.  Also, I would agree with most people that you must visit the Canadian side to get a full view of the falls, but I would not recommend spending the night there unless you like casinos and amusement parks.

The Finger Lakes

November 4, 2012

My little blog won’t be able to do this northwestern part of the state justice.  I barely scratched the surface during my 3 days here, but what I can give you is a little flavor to whet your appetite.  On the map, you can easily see how the Finger Lakes got its name – deep grooves left by glaciers resulted in long slender bodies of water side by side resembling fingers. There is an abundance of gorges, waterfalls, forest, and of course, lakes in the area.  Perfect for nature lovers!

We came here to see the leaves change and at mid-October, we were in time to see the colors peak.  It’s absolutely gorgeous at this time and with the summer crowd gone, the perfect time to explore at leisure.  Here are a few highlights from our stay.

Taughannock Falls is at the bottom end of Cayuga Lake, close to Ithaca.  It can be seen from two vantage points, from the top at a parked lookout point and from the bottom of the falls itself.  Here is the view from the lookout.  What I saw didn’t match the pictures, possibly because there hadn’t been enough rain in some time.  Its height is still impressive though.

Taughannock Falls

The hike to the falls itself is an easy 20 minute walk through a partially dry river bed (or you can follow the official trail that is completely dry above the river bed).  We saw hawks nesting on the gorge wall.  Pretty amazing.

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls

For our stay here, we decided to base ourselves at the upper tip of Canandaigua Lake.  This was so we could drive to Niagara Falls without spending too much time on the road (separate post on that coming up).  Canandaigua also happens to have a nice little main street and a historical attraction called the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion.  This estate houses a 40-room mansion and several different styles of gardens.  You can tour the grounds and mansion by yourself, but I recommend the free guided tour of the mansion – you get more out of it than just reading the signs.

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

The real highlight of the Finger Lakes, at least for me, was the gorge at Watkins Glen.  Something about the 800 steps carved into the rocks, forming a meandering and moderately-difficult trail with gushing water and dripping caves, reminded me of Lord of the Rings.  You forgive this man-made intrusion into nature because otherwise you would not be able to experience the sights and sounds of this place.

Watkins Glen gorge

Watkins Glen gorge

Watkins Glen gorge

The drive to the Finger Lakes takes about 5 hours from NYC.  To keep your sanity, I recommend you break up the drive somewhere along the way, like in Binghamton.  The Finger Lakes is a huge area and you have many options for where to rest your head.  We stayed at a Victorian bed and breakfast in Canandaigua called the Inn on the Main, which I recommend wholeheartedly because we felt very pampered.  The Finger Lakes is also known for its impressive number of wineries.  For more things to do, especially when the lakes are open for water sports, click here.