Sunday, February 27, 2011

And there was light - PGH Day 4

I am sitting in my hotel room. My suitcase is packed. To write the last daily recap (there will be some more when all pictures are uploaded) is actually a painful process, because it means I have to say good bye to Pittsburgh for now.

But before I let my tears drop into my keyboard, I should start with something positive:

When I left the hotel this morning I found something very extraordinary:  LIGHT.  To be exact - SUNLIGHT. Believe it or not .... Okay it was still super cold and I slipped more than once on the ice covering the Warhol Bridge, but it is amazing how different the world looks in the sun.

My plan for today was quite packed and I started again in the Strip District with a delicious cappuccino at La Prima and a long and nice talk with my table neighbor - and older Italian gentleman and obviously a regular at the place. We discussed all kind of things from the glorious sunshine of the Adriatic summer to the recent hockey season.

After my late breakfast I went for the Pittsburgh Public Market on Smallman Street. This is a very nice indoor market where local vendors present their goods - from food to handicraft. One of the highlights is for sure the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory. What you can buy there has nothing to do with supermarket marshmallows. These guys make and sell chunks of taste and the marshmallows melt on your tongue. Literally.  They offer a big variation of tastes from sweet to spicey. I tried the beer flavored one (I am a curious person) and a banana foster. Actually the beer one was weird, but definitely not bad, but I like the more classic banana foster more.

The general impression of the Strip was very different from yesterday (no surprise though), because it was a) sunny b) Saturday, which is always the busiest day in the Strip. It's packed with people and very often you have to wait a while until it is on you to place your order, but who would mind? Most people are in a good mood and just enjoy all the food and scents. There is a lot of "on the street cooking and eating" and at many corners you hear some music from musicians on the street or out of a shop. It's lovely.

After spending some money on marshmallows, pepperoni rolls, biscotti and caramel popcorn I left the Strip being very sad that I cannot simply come back next Saturday.
I went from there back to the start point of my days in Pittsburgh - to the Consol Energy Center where some hardcore Lady Gaga fans were already sitting to be the first ones when the doors would open for the show tonight. Other than the fans I went straight inside and treated myself with another Pens sweater and cried over the price of a not affordable Kris Letang Winter Classics Jersey (400$ ! ). (Note from April 3, 2011: I later found a significantly cheaper one in the internet and ordered it - it's now called "my precious" and waits for the next Pens trip to Pittsburgh.)

It was still quite early and because the weather was so nice I took the T (the cute little subway like thingy which pretends to be public transportation ;) to Station Square to take the incline up to Mount Washington and enjoy the view by day - and sunlight. It's beautiful and with Pittsburgh being nowadays almost without heavy industrie you can really look far into the country.

Being already on the South Side I took the bus for some more stops up the East Carson Street to the South Side Flats. That is a cute little (even not sooo little because it goes quite a few blocks) shopping area and finally I got an idea where the younger people get their stuff. There you find record and book stores, a guitar shop, several tattoo studios (in relation to the size of the city I saw a LOT of tattoo shops and a lot of people with a tattoos), smaller shops with more individual fashion stuff and a lot of bars and restaurants. And again this neighborhood was totally different from all the others I had seen so far. I spent some money ;), had late lunch / early dinner at Nakama and took the bus back "dahntahn" - finally I had a bus driver who really spoke Pittsburghese.

Speaking about busses:  Today in bright sunshine, when I perfectly (!) knew where to go, for which price and even if I had to pay entering for leaving the bus (when you go out of tahn you pay when you leave, when you go from outside to dahntahn you pay when you enter the bus - don't ask me why ...) I had at least in some of the busses I took today a display telling me where I was, where we would go and what the next stop is - I would have really needed this earlier this week, but thanks anyway.

I dropped out of the bus in downtown to do my final walk towards the bridges. I could see what my friends meant with "On the weekends the cultural district wakes up", when I had problems to find room to pass the Benedum because the area was so crowded.

The original plan for the night was to meet again with a friend and go to Bocktown, but since my friend had bad accident yesterday and cannot walk and is not able to even think about driving and going out, I was staying at home and enjoyed the very last time the chance to watch a Pens game live on TV before I have to go back to late night game radio. And what a game I caught! 5:5 after regular and overtime and a shoot out win for the Pens!  LOVELY! 

And there we are ... the last day is over. Tomorrow (today when you read this) it will be all traveling. When I am back home I will upload the full set of pictures to Facebook and post the links with some additional notes here as blog posts. So stay tuned - I will announce the new blog posts as usual on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for taking this trip with me and sending over so much positive feedback! To hear back from you really doubles the fun of writing.

Pictures of the day:

Wonderful treats at the Pittsburgh Public Market

Live music and cooking at the Strip District

The skyline in day- and sunlight

Heinz Field

Smithfield Street Bridge

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gritty but pretty - PGH Day 3

The headline sounds like a contradiction but it's not, but before I tell you why it is not, let me start with my daily pratice on the way to my new career as presenter for the Weather Channel:

Snow. Today  it was cold, wet, windy and it was snowing. Oh boy ... if  my time here in Pittsburgh would not be so limited I would have stayed in bed, watched TV and ordered food for home delivery. But with the end of my trip coming closer so fast now (Could somebody please slow the time down? Thank you!) that was no option.

So I dressed like the average Burgher to fight the weather:  Uggish boots (looking as stupid, being as comfortable and warm, but being also a lot cheaper than the original Uggs), Jeans, Steel City T-Shirt, Pens Hoodie, scarf, gloves, winter jacket, Pens goalie hat (same grey color than the hoodie - at least some style in this visual disaster) and the hood of the anorak above the hat. I looked like everybody else. Pittsburgh in winter is no place for pretty dressed people.

Nicely tugged in my winter fighter costume I faced the next level of confrontation therapy. You know that I suffer from vertigo. Did I tell you before that bridges are the worst? And bridges with open (you can look through) metal ballustrades are the worstest worst? Well - then welcome to Pittsburgh - the city of thousand bridges. All big, all move under your feet, all with a huge rivers below them and all with nice open, yellow steel ballustrades. And I am living at the North Side. That means: Every time I want to go the city, I need to cross either the Rachel Carson, the Warhol or the Clemente Bridge. I can tell you: I do it but I always almost wet my pants. It's horrible, but I am fighting it.

So after crossing the Warhol Bridge I took the bus to the famous Strip Distric and here we come back to the "gritty but pretty" from the headline. The Strip is not beautiful like - neat houses, clean and spacious streets, trees and flowers and fancy shops and restaurants kind of beautiful. It is very much the opposite of all this. But the Strip knows how to score and plays the charm card perfectly. You have to love it regardless how it looks like (end seriously ... all this standard shopping streets and malls with chain shops are boring anyway, aren't they?). And that is pretty - just in a special way.

The first round in the Strip I did not my own before I went to Old St. Patrick's Church to join my group for the Burgh Bits & Bites food tour. Sylvia McCoy (who by the way speaks perfectly German and Schwitzerdütsch) - founder of Burgh Bits & Bites - took us on a fantastic tour through the Strip District. She told us a lot about the history of the neighborhood and its businesses, which are mostly family run and based for several generations in  this part of the town.

We slowly walked Penn Avenue  - eating (the most pleasent way possible). We tried excellent Italian style (and quality!) prosciutto and suppressatas, pepperoni rolls (SO good), humus fresh made right there in the Strip but with original, imported ingrediences, variations of cheese at PennMac, incredible biscotti, fresh Italian pastries with various fillings (that one we got in a bag and I ate it hours later for dinner because I was FULL after the huge biscotti ;) and finally pierogi.
Everything - without exception - tasted extremely nice. I have to say that this was the first time (except visits at high class restaurants like the one in New York  the last evening and some places in San Francisco) that I had food in the US which tasted  - like at home. Like real food. I always have some issues with my tummy in the US - especially the first couple of days - because I cannot really handle the standard processed US food you eat, when you have no kitchen but only a hotel room and do not have the time and money to go to top restaurants every day. But not at the Strip - that's the most real European (and Asian and Oriental and Mexican ;)  food I had until now in the States - and it's very affordable.

I was also totally impressed by the people at the places we visited. They take these tours all the time and they must have done this hundreds of time before, but none of all these guys made us feel like a random group dropping in. They were all very nice, had great stories to tell and talked with passion about the food and their businesses. Most of the them have stores and you find the restaurant / food tasting place in the back of the place. Many of them only sell a small part to the directly to customers but do most of their business as wholesaler.

After I had finished my last pierogi I was full and happy and realized that I had for most of the time totally forgotten that it was a horribly cold and uncomfortable day.
So I can strongly recommend that just in case you ever make it to Pittsburgh - and also when you are local but never did this before (we had some locals in the group and they found out almost as much new things as we out of towners): Do the Burgh Bits & Bites Tour in the Strip District and when you feel like knowing already everything about the Strip choose one of the other tours offered. When I come back to Pittsburgh, I'll definitely do one of the others. If the weather forecast is okay then, I think I'll go for the Mt. Washington tour. Perfect view plus high class food sounds perfect to me!

In the evening I so felt like staying home and warming up, but I had a ticket for a concert at the Warhol Museum and it would have been really a waste to skip it ... with only 5 minutes walk to get there. This night's event was part of the "Off the Wall" series and a concert of "The Blow" (aka Khaela Maricich ... do I smell jugo roots here ;)) ?)  in cooperation with light and sound artist Melissa Dyne.
To call the show a concert would not really cover it although the songs were the central angle of the event. It was more a mix of music, story telling, dance and performance. I liked it. It's not exactly the music I hear at home and the kind of show I usually visit, but I loved the ironic humor and the songs had something very unique and catchy and the texts were awesome.

Listen to one of the songs here:

True Affection - The Blow by LoveJamieNicole

After the show I had to fight with the first drops melancholia. My time here will come to an end very soon. I have only one more day. A full day with lots of great stuff planned, but stilll - only one day. And looking from the bridges over to the skyline at night did not make it any better .... scrolll down to the end of the picture section and you'll now why.

PS: I saw terrible towels in Italian and in Polish today. If one of you EVER runs into a terrible towel in CROATIAN - I want one!!!

Pictures of the day:

The new mural at Strip - only a few months old it brings some color to the neighborhood.

Maybe 5% of the available range of cheese at PennMac.

Before the tour some people recommended to me especially the biscotti. I was ready to follow the recommendations and to try the stuff without expecting much because I usually do not like biscotti - too dry and too tasteless. But I tell you folks - THIS stuff ... awesome.

The Blow on stage.

And here the pictures which I will take home in my heart.
The Warhol Bridge & downtown skyline.

The Clemente Bridge and downtown skyline shot from the Warhol Bridge.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Regardlessly awesome - PGH Day 2

Did I tell you already that I like my hotel? I guess, I did, but I really love it and so I say that again. I am just sitting in a cozy armchair in my warm and comfortable room. It's just perfect and highly appreciated because outside it is YUK. It is cold and wet and rains. I know ... I hear the Pittsburgh Twitter community shouting in a choir "We told you so!" (You will hear this a couple of more times today.) Right, you did and I am not at all suprised that the weather in Pittsburgh sucks, but ... it really does and I am happy after another great day to be now in a warm and comfortable place.

After having a (too) slow start in the morning, because I was for no special reason a headless chicken today, I went to the Warhol Museum, which is just around the corner from my hotel.
Some of you at home might not know this, but Andy Warhol wasn't a New Yorker from birth. He was born and grew up here in Pittsburgh and the museum dedicated to him is one of the most presticious and the biggest single artist collections in the US. On seven floors the museum allows a deep dive into Warhol's art and biography.
After the (logically) overcrowded museums in New York spending time at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh was fantastic. On a rainy weekday morning the place was almost empty. After a nice little hockey chat with the girls at the cash desk and breakfast in the caféteria, I slowly walked in perfect silence (not in the media section of course) through the spacious exhibition. Sad enough it is not allowed to take pictures. I would have loved to use my camera (better: what is left of my camera - but today it mostly worked) to memorize the stuff I liked most. My favorites were not the big prints, but small collages with pictures and little things from his life like a bunch of really sweet postcards sent to Warhol by Keith Haring or a great photo of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Josef Beuys.

My favorite items in the collection were the silver pillows. These are balloons made from a silver material, in the shape of big pillows and filled with helium. Pushed forward by a couple of fans, which are installed in different locations and levels the pillows drift around their exhibition room. The visitors are not only allowed but invited to enter the room, carefully touch the pillows and let the silver clouds gently bump. It is a totally dreamy experience because the pillows are really floating and kind of take you with them. It feels like we would imagine it is to be in the clouds while for real clouds are wet and cold like Pittsburgh weather. It so beautiful I went twice - on my way up and one more time on the way down.

What I liked a lot at the Warhol Museum is, that it is a work in progress and you can look a bit behind the scenes. There is an event room, where rehearsals were held for the concert tomorrow night, you can see where the offices are, there are work rooms for classes and you can see the team working on the archive for the time capsules. It is not so abstract and passive - people are living and working with Warhol's art.

After some time in the museum I took a small walk around the block and could force my camera to take some pictures of the Andy Warhol and the Roberto Clemente Bridge, PNC Park (the baseball stadium) and the statue of Roberto Clemente. You can also see Heinz Field (the football stadium) from there because the stadiums are practically next to each other, but I did not went closer now to get a picture, but I can tell you that it is HUGE (should be .. 60.000 people is a LOT).

The rest of the day I spent with something which is together with the weather part of the "regardless" in the headline. I was browsing neighborhoods for a special shop, places I wanted to see, people to meet. And I can tell you: Getting around in Pittsburgh without a car is NO FUN ("We told you so!" choir sets in again). If you want a taxi and you are not in front of the Fairmont Hotel - you call and wait. The more far away you are from downtown the longer you wait. Because the people I know here are the best, I did not have to do that. They were driving me back to downtown / my hotel, but without that ... it all takes forever.
And yes, there are busses, but when I asked for an overview like a map with all the lines so that you can see for example where they are crossing - no chance. It simply does not exist. Because I  had some places to go to out of downtown (there you do not need anything - you can easily walk), I went to the office of "Visit Pittsburgh" and the very nice lady there printed me schedules and plans for exactly the routes I wanted to travel and safed my day with doing it.
The busses worked fine for me although one was significantly late, but the traffic was very bad - so that was no suprise. But, dear Port Authority, are you aware that people who are not from Pittsburgh are lost in your bus system? There are no plans of the routes in the busses, no display announcing the next stop, no announcement of the driver. Nothing. When you have daylight and a rough idea where you are and where you want to go, it's fine. You count streets and when your place it at 47th then you ring the bell at 45th and jump off the next stop with being for sure near your place. But when it is dark you need assitance. Otherwise you would never know where you are and when you should get out. I asked my driver to tell me when we come to my stop and so he did. Because the people are very, very, very nice it all works but a guest or newbie friendly systems looks differently.

Other than that I had fun exploring the many different faces Pittsburgh has. You have the mostly modern downtown area, the Strip District with lots of old brick buildings, various food shops and lots of street life. Or you have Lawrenceville's Buttler Street were you find a couple of tattoo shops, small hippie style businesses, cute little bakeries and cafés. It is a quickly changing part of the city and you can read more about Lawrenceville, it's industrial past and recent revitalization in the related Wikipedia article.
And then on the other hand you have places like Shadyside which is beautiful with cute little houses, trees along the streets, a whole bunch of nice cafés and restaurants, a nice little shopping street with partly really fancy shops. A completely different world.

Before I came here I was really curious to find out more about the people. My PGH tweeps are all very proud of their city (what I can totally understand), but of course the internet is only one part of the universe and I wanted to know if there is really something like the spirit of the city and there is. I overheard so many talks - just today in the breakfast room of my hotel again - when people speak about people who moved away and came back because they were too homesick or they discuss with passion the latest news like bus service cuts (You are out of your mind, responsible folks, are you?) or Christopher Nolan filming very likely big parts of the next Batman movie in Pittsburgh and everybody is so happy and excited about it. The people here mostly really love their city and they make it part of their daily life to care about it.

The people of Pittsburgh are also famous for being the biggest sports fans ever and I was wondering if really so many people run around here with their Steelers, Pens, Pirates, Pitt gear in normal daily life and ... they do. You even see business folks nicely dressed with suits or the women with blouse / skirt  topping the whole outfit with a Steelers scarf for wearing their Pens Winter Classics fleece under their coat to keep warm. I mean ... no problem for me. I can easily pretend to be local with simply wearing my Steelers and Pens shirts and hoodies like all the others ;)
What I think is really funny, when you come as a guest and are not so used to it, are the bus displays. All of them have displays telling the line and the direction like this:

Lawrenceville - Bloomfield - Shadyside- Squirrel Hill - Greenfield - Waterfront - LET'S GO PENS! - Lawrenceville - Bloomfield - Shadyside- Squirrel Hill - Greenfield - Waterfront - LET'S GO PENS! - Lawrencewill ...

I have also seen the same for PITT (basketball), but at the moment not for the Steelers or the Pirates which is I am sure offseason related and will change as soon as the baseball season starts again in spring and the football season in fall.

The highlights of the day should be mentioned today at the very end. I could spend some time with @burghbaby (click on the name for THE PLACE to go when you like mommy blogging and awesome photos) and @SecretAgentL (click on the name and find out more about the amazing Secret Agent L kindness project and spread the word and do a mission)  and I had such a great time putting real people to the blogs and Twitter accounts. Thanks so much for your time, ladies!

Pictures of the day (not so many due to bad weather conditions):

The Warhol Museum

Roberto Clemente Bridge


Thursday, February 24, 2011

And ZOOOoooosh goes the puck in Pittsburgh - PGH day 1

Today I really have to keep it short (note: I am done writing and "short" did not really happen.). It is 8 am and breakfast is served until 10 am (note: fail - it was 9 am and I'll go to a coffee shop now) and I need to get ready in time to enjoy the luxury.

So .... change of location. Yesterday I woke up early to pack my stuff and New York City was a b*tch telling me with sweet voice "Do not leave ...... look how PRETTY I am. Don't you want to stay a little longer?" Well - yes and no. It was really hard to leave and I sat in the taxi looking out into the clear blue sky and the sunshine doing all the "last looks" - not an easy one.

The trip itself was easy going, but it was good that I am not at all afraid of flying. I mean ... what kind of airplane you would expect when your (Delta) flight is operated by CHAUTAUQUA AIRLINES? Exactly!
And I can tell you that flying a lot of curves and circles and that stuff is like taking a ride when you are in such a small plane. But like I said - I am not easily scared by planes and for me it was fun and Long Island is beautiful from the birds eye perspective (it is also very nice when you are down there, but I did not do that this time).

Arrving in Pittsburgh was fun. I was greeting the statue of Franco Harris at the airport and after picking up my suitcase I took a taxi into town. I mean ... this is the first time here for real, but I already knew a lot of things and one was that coming from the airport I would come through Fort Pitt Tunnel and that would mean from somewhere in nowhere directly into downtown. So I was kind of prepared - kind of - because it is really BOOM. You come out of the tunnel and directly in front of you is the downtown skyline and half a dozen of yellow steel bridges. It's impressive - even if you just left New York City, which is like a synonym for super impressive.

I made it without problems to my hotel - The Priory at the North Side. It is an old monastry turned into a boutique hotel and it is beautiful. They did lots of renovation lately and so all is new and fresh, but all in style of the old building. I have a super cute and comfortable room and if it would not be such a waste I would just stay in my comfortable bed and watch old TV series on TNT.

In the late afternoon a local friend of mine picked me up and gave me a first quick tour downtown before we made it to the Consol Energy Center for the Pens game.

Most of you are no hockey fans. So I do not bore you with a lot of details although I could talk about it for hours. To be there for real, hear the noise the puck makes on the ice, see all the action happening just in front of me - AWESOME! Hearing the siren announcing Tyler Kennedy's goals - CHILLS!

Although we lost (2:3 vs San Jose Sharks in overtime) it was a GREAT game. The Pens were fighting hard, Tyler Kennedy scored them seconds before the end of the 3rd period into overtime, goalie Marc-André Fleury (one of my favorites) did a great game just like my other favorite Kris Letang. The whole atmosphere was AMAZING! It was soooooooooo much fun!!! This is definitely very addictive. I felt like a kid after a fun ride begging the mom with "AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN!"  And hey ... I did not see Sidney Crosby (the world's best hockey player) and Evgeni Malkin play. For me that sounds like I have to come back. Right? Right.

BTW... right there in the arena I had my first Primanti Borthers sandwich and although I had only breakfast and although I am not a bad eater I managed exactly half of it. Yummy but - ufffffffffff!

After the game I went with my friend for a beer and some fries, which is nothing but an understatement. It was a mountain of fresh cut fries at a classic Pittsburgh spot in Oakland. When I saw the portion I thought we would never do that, but the fries were so good that we just kept talking and eating slowly and at one point the potato mountain was gone ;)
As the icing of the cake we drove around a little more and even made it up to Grandview where you have the most amazing view on the skyline of Pittsburgh. I will add a picture (my camera is doing very bad but sometimes it still works for some shots), but it is not showing even 50% of the real beauty. I really cannot thank my friend enough for taking me around so much even late at night and telling me already so much about the city.

What a HUGE first day! Time to get up, have a shower, have breakfast and start with No. 2.

The picture of the day (forget that I ever said three):

Sloping Pennsylvania:

The brand new Consol Energy Center - the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins - and the parts of the Pittsburgh skyline mirrored by the arena.

Primanti Brothers - and YES ... these are fries INSIDE.

Two shots from the game. Like you can see we had very good seats.

The night over Pittsburgh

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Burn, baby, burn - NYC Day 5

Don't get scared. I did not hurt anybody, but I did today what I guess everybody is doing, who is coming here: I set my precious golden (sounds impressive but is only a regular card including some extra services like travel health insurance) credit card ON FIRE

You remember all the smart and thoughtful talk about art and stuff the last couple of days? Well - (only for today of course) screw it! The only arts I was enjoying today were the art of shopping and - in the evening - fine dining.

New York really wants me to be sad to leave, it seems. Today was just awesome from the beginning to the end. And although I do not want to talk like the anchor woman of the Weather Channel I need to add my daily report: It was very cold and I am sure you guessed that already, but the sun was shining from a cloudless sky. We had a beautiful day and as long as you could walk in the sunshine it wasn't even that cold (but mind the shadow, which is not exactly easy in Manhattan).

I started as usual at my Jewish deli "Milk 'n' Honey" with toasted onion cream cheese bagel (and a lactase pill) and a fruit salad. Then I went off to Union Square.

I was on a mission: Find a cool carnival costume for my 1.5 years old niece. My sister found cute stuff in the internet, but she would have need to order all of it from the US and since I am here anyway .... 
The problem is, that nobody here is aware of carnival. I was at Toys R Us and they would have costumes but only as seasonal article at Halloween. The nice staff there recommended me a place near Union Square called "PartyCity", where you could get everything for your party.  Cool place - same problem: Sorry, it is not Halloween. BUT the friendly gothic guy (pale, make up, long hair, gothic tattoos), who was working there, told me about a shop near by where I should find what I was looking for. The very cool shop (more in the picture section) is directly next to Grace Church, which was not even on my sightseeing plan but turned out to be a beautiful gothic (revival) building and definitely worth to visit.

After fulfilling my mission I throw myself into my personal (very enjoyable) disaster: The big BABY GAP department at the GAP near Union Square. You know, I LOVE shopping for my niece and it's so hard not to carry arms full of stuff out of the place. I must have looked really silly because I packed and unpacked my shopping basket approximately three times because I could not decide what to go for. In the end the "Buy 2 items and get the 3rd for free" sale helped a lot to keep things financially under control ;)

Up from there I took the train back to Midtown, where I stumbled into the HBO Fan Shop after being effectively glamoured by an "I LOVE SOOKIE" T-Shirt, which was advertising new arrivals in the "True Blood" departement. Burn, baby, burn.

I did a baggage drop off at my hotel and went on 6th Avenue. Already a little exhausted I had a small bowl of soup at Pret A Manger and spotted the official NHL shop just accross the street and went over because I could think of nothing better to get in the mood for the game tomorrow. Okay - way too much Islanders stuff but hey ... we are in New York. Two guys working there caught me when I looked teary eyed at the signed Winter Classics Sidney Crosby jersey they have there (behind glas to look at and not to purchase) and we had a nice little hockey chat.

Next stop: Magnolia Bakery (for those who do not know - this place is famous due to "Sex & The City"). I know ... it is overpriced, you can get better cupcakes somewhere else, it is just hype and all this, but damn - that place is SO PRETTY, it smells wonderful, the staff is very nice and I have to say that my vanilla chocolate butter cream cupcake was yummy.

The rest is not so exciting. I picked up the stuff at the MOMA shop I left there on Saturday, because I did not want to wait forever at the cash desk, and then changed from 6th to 5th Avenue, but I did not buy anything there.
But what I did was waiting in the queue for getting into the Hollister Shop. I had seen people waiting in front of this place all week and I had read about it in "The Believer" and did want to see it with my own eyes.

You want my impression? It is pointless and boring. I mean, the shop design is special - a mix between a beach bar at a fake beach (you hear the noise and there are huge screens displaying waves hitting a beach), a living room kind of place with sofas and books shelfs packed with clothes. It is just - weird. And even more weird are the 3/4 naked people (bikini, shorts) standing around randomly for what - decoration? The men looked like Barbie's Ken and that is not a compliment. In addition to that the shop was PACKED (the queue makes sense - more people and you would not be able to move in there anymore), but the clothes were nothing special, very colorful but neither cool nor nice. Been there, done that - over.

Back to the hotel, another baggage drop off and then off again to the final destination for today:

Harold Dieterle's (winner of the first season of the US TV show "Top Chef") new restaurant "Kin Shop" (modern Thai kitchen). My friend, who knows the restaurant scene in New York very well and is the perfect person to decide where to go to, had chosen the place and it was really, really good! It has a cozy and relaxed atmosphere, the music is good (and not too loud), the staff is very friendly and competent and - most importantly - the food was just awesome. It was all super delicious but my favorite was definitely the lamb curry with noodles (between soup and curry from the consistency). All this rounded up with a great bottle of Gewürztraminer from Elsass and a great talk with my friend was such a joy and made it a perfect last night *SNIFF*.

Bad news of the day: My camera is dying. The display gets worse every day and when I switch it on it vibrates (?). Sometimes that stops and I can take a pictures, sometimes it doesn't and I have to switch it off. I guess the thingy, that is supposed to balance my shaky hands out, is broken. I do not know. I just hope it keeps working for four more days. If not ... I will use my cellphone cam, which does decent pics but is of course less convenient.

Dear friends, tomorrow there will be most likely no blog post (maybe when I have a sudden case of insomnia, but I do not think so), because

1) It's a travel day.
2) It's a HOCKEEEEY NIGHT in Pittsburgh (traditional first sentence of the game live broadcast) and I did not yet gave up the hope, that I see the Pens win (LET'S GO PENS LET'S GO!)
3) I might have a couple of drinks after the game to either celebrate the win or make forget my depression about seeing the Pens losing without Crosby and Malkin.

So no worries, when you do not hear from me tomorrow: "NO NEWS ARE GOOD NEWS"

PS: Elmo was having a hot dog at the same corner this night again, but I did not take another picture. Enough stalking for now :)

The three pictures of the day:

Bryant Park (42nd street / 6th Avenue) - my subway station. I really like that place.

What can you do, when you need to find a baby costume and everybody keeps telling you "Sorry - only at Halloween"?
I will tell you: You go and find Halloween!
PS: I got myself some really nice fangs there, because, you know ... pale is the new tan *grin*

The famous New York fireladders at a random apartment house near 14th Street / 6th Avenue. I really like the whole area (Grace Church, Union Square, Greenwich Village) a lot.

And additionally:
When I came back from London and posted my pictures my sister asked me "Where is the picture of the BABY GAP?"  Here it is :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Slowmotion - NYC Day 4

Today there is not so much to tell. After 2 and half crazy days I really took it easy today. I slept in a bit, I talked to a few people at home, I had a nice breakfast with scrumbled eggs and a bagel at my new favorite place next door and got some organizational stuff done for the rest of the trip. Sounds boring? I would choose the word relaxing :)

When I was done with all that stuff I took the train in Northern direction to visit a dear friend of mine for a girl's afternoon with tea and scones (they were SO GOOD!).
Her neighborhood Washington Heights is located north of Central Park at the riverside of the Hudson and is one of the oldest and historically most important neighborhoods of Manhattan, but it is not popular for tourists because all the normal sightseeing spots are quite far away. It is a very nice and friendly place to live and like a little oasis only a 20-minutes-train-ride away from all the craziness.

After the first round of tea my friend and I went for a walk in Fort Tyron Park. That's a beautiful park overlooking the Hudson and with a stunning view of the George Washington Bridge. And today it looked like winter wonderland. Yes - there is SNOW in Manhattan. Here in Midtown it is only a bit of powdered sugar on trees and roofs, but up there at Fort Tyron .... all WHITE!

And that was it - the rest is more nice tea, more gorgeous scones, watching two adorable cats playing and talking about old times with a dear friend. I love the internet for all the possibilties to communicate and overcome huge distances, but it will never be able to replace being together face to face and having the chance to give the people you love a hug.

Silly side note: When I gave my friend my US number she was suprised because it starts with 917. It turns out that this is the first real area code for New York City and in the meantime a number with this code not so easy to get anymore (lucky me - and I had no idea). Read here more about area code 917.
I know - this means nothing really, but I think I have now the coolest phone number on the planet and will defend it with my life ;)

Pictures of the day. I am not even trying to limit to three today. Since I have not so much to tell I will share with you some more visual impressions.

You know that you are in America, when there is a ferris wheel inside (!) the Toys R Us.

It doesn't look like you would think Manhattan looks like, but that is where it is - Fort Tyron Park at Washington Heights. And btw ... SNOW!

Just a few meters away from the spot where I took the picture above, you can see the George Washington Bridge.

Back to Midtown Manhattan. That's 42nd Street up to Broadway.

And look who is done with cupcakes and heads now for one of the famous New York hot dogs for dinner!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Got ya! - NYC Day 3

GOT YA, Statue of Liberty! This time I finally got ya!

When I was in NYC the first time and came back with a whole bunch of super cool pictures it happened very often to me that people asked where I had my picture of the Statue of Liberty. I told them that I had seen the lady only for a minute out of my friend's car and that it was all blurry because it was raining cats and dogs. The usual reaction was "Oh :(."
I was all "Look .... all these pictures down from the Empire State Building on a cloudless sunny day, World Trade Center, Central Park, 5th Avenue, China Town, Greenwich Village, East Village - all the cool places from the movies are here in my pictures."  But in Germany it seems New York equals very much with the Statue of Liberty and you better do not come home without her picture. So this time, I swore myself, I would make it happen ... and failed badly yesterday due to the very bad weather conditions.

But a new day, a new chance ...
Today I jumped on the street in bright sunshine - nice if my breath in front of my face would not have turned into fog immediately. It was freaking COLD. But at least - the wind had calmed down and there were no clouds at all.

But before I was ready to go I needed breakfast. The place across the street was closed which was okay - I wasn't keen on going there again. The blueberry pancake I had there the morning before had kicked me in the stomach all day. BUT other than on Saturday (kind of logical) the Jewish bagel shop (and I mean really Jewish and not only ... bakery that also sells bagel kind of Jewish) down the street was open. So I went there - and fell in love. Lovely bagel, funny and super friendly people and a kind and cozy atmosphere.
Funny episode: When I got my order I went straight to the cash desk to pay, but the guy looked at me like I was totally out of my mind and said: "You sit and eat and when you are ready to go you come over and pay."  Ooookay - no problem. And in fact ... everybody got the food, sat down, ate, laughed with family and friends, got another coffee, more food and at the very end usually one person would get up and pay for the table. I'll be back tomorrow - that's for sure.

After breakfast I went down the road to the subway station and took the train to South Ferry ready to ignore the cold and get on the Staten Island Ferry. I arrived perfectly in time and could just go ahead straight through the terminal building on the boat. I even managed to get a place on the right side (the one which would face the Statue of Liberty). It was wonderful - the sun was shining and the view from the ferry is incredible.
The only problem: I was (like all other passengers) dressed up like an Inuit with big winter jacket, scarf, hat, hood over hat, all buttons and zippers closed, gloves and sun glasses to protect the eyes against the wind. I could barely move, but it was absolutely necessary. The next problem: I cannot handle my small SONY camera with gloves. So I had to take the right one off. And I am not kidding you ... after some skyline shots and two decent pics of the statue my right hand hurt so badly that I could not hold the camera anymore and had to go inside and out of the wind.

When the pain finally went away I decided to try to go outside at the other side of the ferry. Contra: no skyline and no statue. Pro: No wind
Gosh - what a difference the lee side can make. Without the wind it was simply wonderful - sunny, warm enough to stay outside, the sea sparkling the sunlight. 

Sad enough the ferry on the way back was constructed differently and there was no gallery on the sides to go outside and the windows were so dirty that I could not take any pictures although we had the best view with the statue and all the skyline all at ones. But hey - the ferry is for free and who would complain about something you do not even pay for?

When I got off the boat I spontaneously decided to walk to the relatively close by Ground Zero. That sounds easier than it is because due to the various construction sites all kind of roads around the place are blocked and sidewalks closed. So I walked along the redirection signs and ended up in the deserted World Financial Center at the Hudson River shore. I enjoyed the silence, the sun and the stunning view before I was facing Ground Zero again from the other side.

Most impressing here was the St. Paul's Chapel. That's the oldest church in Manhattan and it is really tiny - and directly across the street from Ground Zero. It is definitely a miracle that nothing happened to the place on 9-11.  It is SO CLOSE. The story why nothing happened is really amazing: A huge tree in the churchyard kind of absorbed the shock wave - not even the windows of the chapel broke. The tree on the other hand did not survive. Only its root - the so called "trinity root" is left. During 9-11 and the following days the chapel was the shelter for the firemen, paramedics, policemen and all the people who tried to save lives and help. And I guess many of us still remember the churchyard fence. That was the place were people put the pictures of missed family members, flowers, memorial letters. In front of the chapel is a bell placed. Cast by the same foundry like the bell of Big Ben the "Bell of Hope" is a gift of the people of London to the people of Manhattan. The bell rings every year on 9-11.

Although  the sun was still shining I definitely had to get out of the cold and so I took the train in Northern direction to part two of my art marathon and went to the Upper Eastside to enter the museum mile and visit the Guggenheim Museum

Let's start with the first impression from outside: it is much smaller than it looks in all those pictures, but the architecture is really nice and special. The museum was very crowded (cold weather + Sunday) and it was sometimes hard to get a calm second to really look at an artwork.

The collection is dominated by European artists like Kandinsky, Chagall, Marc, Mondrian, Modigliani, Picasso and many more. Sad enough taking pictures is not allowed at Guggenheim, but you can see parts of the collection here online.  It's fantastic, but for me personally not as touching as the one at MOMA.

By the way, dear ex-coworkers from - I guess I have seen in the last 24 hours the originals of like 80% off our all time bestsellers from Monet's "Water Lillies" to Hopper's "Gas Station" to - hold your breath - Kandinsky's "Composition No. 8".  For those who never worked in a retail company for art prints: None of us likes this painting anymore because we have seen it a million times and are so tired of it. It is an all time classic and we sold thousands of  it. 

What I really liked about Guggenheim was the educational approach. Between the artworks you have several times huge displays which give an overview about the cultural and political context of  the art around.  And when I entered the special room with "Composition No. 8" and some additional also very popular Kandinsky paintings I found a lot of kids participating the kids program of the museum. Everywhere on the floor right between the multi-million $ artworks the kids sat on the floor with paper and pens and were playing around with graphic form and colors. Lovely.

After leaving Guggenheim I made a short walk across the street to Central Park to get some pictures with the gorgeous view over the frozen lake to the Upper Westside skyline.

At this point I was already very tired, but I did not want to skip the last one on my list - the close by "Whitney Museum of American Art". First of all ... when I should become a billionaire one day and should after saving the world still have some money left, I would donate a new air conditioning system to the Whitney Museum. It's awful - on a crowded day like today you can hardly breath.

One of my personal highlights here was definitely the Edward Hopper exhibition including the famous Gas Station. You would maybe guess that for a fan of abstract art like me the realist Hopper is not the right thing, but it's the opposite. I really like his work. His paintings often have an amazingly intense atmosphere and they are silent. Not silent in the way that there is no meaning, but silent like catching this moment in the sunset when the wind slows down, the cicadas become quiet and the creatures of the night did not yet wake up.

I was also touched by some of the photographs in the collection like the portraits of Peter Hujar or the self portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe (I need to link here as well since no cameras were allowed at the Whitney Museum). The original is much better than you would guess here from the internet picture I linked to. He created it when he already knew that he had AIDS. The skull in his hand is totally crisp and sharp while his face is slightly blurry and some parts of his body (black dressed in front of a black background) visually disappear.  It is a picture of a person between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Generally AIDS is a very present topic when you browse the collection from Hujar's pictures to Felix Pratz's portrait of his dead friend AA Bronson. This one is hard to look at without crying for everybody who ever stayed with a dying loved one and had seen this kind of expression before. Dying is not always a mild and peaceful process.

As you can imagine after Whitney I was DONE ... I just walked into a beautiful orange and pink sunset down 5th Avenue, stopped again at the Mexican place close to my hotel for a chicken burrito and now I am here at my room and can barely keep my eyes open.

Tomorrow I will take things easy. I guess I will just do a short walk to Times Square and finally start the SHOPPING  ;)  In the afternoon I plan to visit a dear friend at her neighborhood north of Central Park and have a cozy girl's day with lots of chatting and a some pots of hot tea.

BTW ... if you ever wondered how a snowy  New York looks like - there is a good chance that I can show you tomorrow night with my pictures of the day. The weather forecast says it will snow this night and tomorrow. Stay tuned :)

The three pictures of the day:

The Statue of Liberty. Enjoy the picture - it almost cost me my right hand ;)

Ground Zero in the sun ...

The famous rotunda at the Guggenheim Museum - funny enough it looks empty although it was packed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reloaded - NYC Day 2

Alternative title: I am walking.

Let me roughly calculate how much I walked today .... a little more than 70 blocks. YIKES - surprisingly I am still alive though, but - a lot less surprisingly - my feet and my back hurt like hell.

But let's start from the beginning. When I woke up around 7.30 am this morning I switched the local TV on and the weather lady told me something about a lot lower temperature and nasty winds, but the morning should be kind of sunny with more clouds in the afternoon. My plan for today was to take the Staten Island Ferry and finally take the picture of the Statue of Liberty I did not take when I was here 10 years ago. I watched the weather report and just thought: "No problem. I have a warm jacket and nasty wind is fine - then the ferry will be less crowded."  I might suffer from vertigo, but I have no motion sickness and I am a tough cookie when it comes to sea travel - usually the fun starts for me, where it ends for normal people.

Well - NO. When I left the hotel just to cross the street and get some breakfast I almost got freezer burns. I was shock frosted. Seriously - I think that I spent the evening yesterday - when I sat without any jacket for an hour outside enjoying Times Square - at a kind of a parallel universe version of New York and woke up to the real east coast winter version this morning. Not funny. For a while I was thinking about taking the ferry anyway, but after walking the first few blocks it was totally clear that I would get sick with a bad cold if I would ever make it alive and not frozen to death off the boat again. So that is postponed. Maybe I'll try tomorrow. The weather report says the wind will slow down in the morning hours.

My plan B was - and this is why this is called reloaded - to visit some of the places again I liked a lot when I was here 10 years ago. I decided to start with the Empire State Building and the platform on the 86th floor. Of course "nasty winds" is a problem here as well, but for 10 minutes it's okay - much better than about an hour on a ferry.
When I got there it was not very busy. In general New York is quite empty (which still means it beats out easily any German city, but it is not more packed and busy than London for example) at the moment. When I arrived at the 80th floor, where the  express elevator ends and you need to wait for another one for the final 6 levels the service person suddenly asked us to walk up. Well - if you wonder how the staircase of the Empire State Building looks like: It is tiny and has wooden steps. It is vibrating all the time, you feel the building moving (at least it seems so) and it makes all kind of creaky noises. It is very creepy.
At the platform the ice-cold wind was very, very, very bad. At the side of the building, which was exposed directly to the storm, the platform was closed for visitors and even if you got only close to the corner the wind would knock you almost off your feet. I took my pictures and escaped to the elevator downstairs. By the way - no vertigo issue up there - the balustrades are high enough.

Down again I was looking down 5th Avenue and the Flatiron Building looked pretty close and so I decided to walk some more blocks to take some pictures of the Flatiron District. When I got there I also walked into foodie heaven aka Eataly (owned by Mario Batali, Lidia & Joe Bastianich and Oskar Farinetti). Click the link to learn more about the shop and the restaurant. I was cold and so I decided to go for a Cioccolata. It does not really translate to "Hot Chocolate" because most people think of "hot chocolate" as glass of hot milk with some chocolate powder in there for flavor. The Eataly Ciccolata is melted chocolate - means other consistency and very different taste. It is death by chocolate - heavenly, but to manage the full cup (and I even got the smallest one) you must be a choco monster. I could not drink it completely although it broke my heart.

Walking up the 5th Avenue again towards the Barnes & Noble bookstore on 5th Avenue / 46th Street it got even colder than before. The wind bit me in the face and .... it started SNOWING. A parallel universe yesterday - I tell you. After a few blocks I was in the need of a break and went into a Pret A Manger to get some vitamins (fruit salad) and a apple-cranberry-juice which looked much better than it tasted. I also got just out of curiosity a small carrot cake to find out if the US version is different from the English Pret A Manger one (yes it is very different but still good - it was my desert after dinner tonight). That was a smart move because while sitting there the weather calmed down a bit.

On a sidenote: I am proud of myself. I was at two Barnes & Noble (to get a gift for a friend) and the MOMA bookstore and I got out without spending much money! How I did that? I was telling myself all the time "You have a Kindle AND you have a luggage weight limit for your flights!"  The sad fact that Jonathan Safran Foer's "Tree of Code" is still not available and that the line at the cash desk of MOMA was too long helped as well.
But one question: Why do books in Germany have to look so boring (mostly) and look all so precious here in the USA? For me the bookshops here look like candy shops full of beautifully designed books. The covers are so different and much more attractive. I mean ... I almost got myself a copy of Dante's "Divine Comedy" because the book was soooo pretty. And Germany? Reclam .... oh boy.

Since the bookshop is just around the corner from my hotel I took the chance for a short break at my room, change from sneakers to winter boots and get my scarf, gloves (the nice ones my sister gave me for my birthday) and hat to be better protected against the weather.

My next goal - walking up 6th Avenue passing by the famous Magnolia Bakery, Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center was the Central Park Zoo. When I was here 10 years ago it was a hot summer week. When we went to the zoo I fell in love with Gus and Ida, the polar bears. The two were the first polar bears I ever watched swimming and diving and that is the most beautiful thing you can imagine.
The zoo is small but it is really, really nice. Gus and Ida did not swim today because it was perfect polar bear weather anyway *brrrrr* and they did not need the water to cool down. But they are still simply great. I had also fun with the Penguins upppps penguins, I mean (skateless animals ;), and the free flying birds in the tropical house. For all "Madagaskar" fans ... there are no lions, giraffes and hippos at all at the zoo. But they got lemurs ("I like to move it!") and the way the place looks like is very much like in the movie.

My final spot for the day (except walking a long way to another Barnes & Noble to finally get the book I wanted) after the zoo was MOMA.
What should I say? It is beyond amazing. The collection is simply overwhelming. I was there at my first NY visit (reloaded), but this collection never gets boring. If it would not be so expansive (20$) I would seriously go there every day. I mean ... honestly I cannot take much more than one floor per day when I would REALLY look at all the artwork. So today I quite rushed along bigger parts of the collection and focused on my favorite - the "Abstract Expressionist - New York" exhibition on the 4th floor, which is incredible. And I spent a lot of time in the marvelous Contemporary Galleries. It contains also a fantastic Robert Rauschenberg artwork from 1970 I haven't seen before. It is a huge (several meters even going around a corner) collage of newspaper articles. John Steinbeck in "Travels with Charley" mentions at one point (cannot quote exactly because I left the book at home) that he sometimes rushes through a museum he has been to before because he wants to see a piece he especially likes. He calls it "visiting a friend". Funny enough this is exactly the expression I usually use, when I wander around art collections to see the local Robert Rauschenberg artwork(s) (and get pissed when it is hanged badly like at Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich). That was exactly the feeling I had today again. For tomorrow I plan to go the Whitney Museum of American Art to make new friends.

The three pictures of  the day:

Downtown Manhattan 10 years after my first shot of the same view at the same place, but this time without the towers of the World Trade Center (I was was there two months before IT happened).

The penguins at Central Park Zoo. No skates, but no random penguins either because these guys were the role model for some of the coolest animated characters ever - the penguins from the movie "Madagaskar" ... "Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave!"

At the MOMA I was walking along the Rauschenberg collage to find the part I would like most and finally found this great one. It has a picture of Johnny Cash and a newsletter headline saying "YOUR HEART AND HOW TO LIVE WITH IT". Seriously ... sometimes I would love to know how to live with my heart and I (and I guess also Rauschenberg) am not talking about medical issues here.

What do you say? We had already three pictures? Well ... I am quoting once again @JanePitt of "That's Church": "That's my blog. I make the rules and I break them" ;)

When I passed by the Magnolia Bakery I tried to take a picture because it looks really pretty. That did not work out really well, but LOOK (click to enlarge!) who sneaked in :))))

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Unreal - NYC Day 1

Hello, dear friends, from New York City! Midtown Manhattan to be exact.
I am sitting in my hotel room with my brand new baby computer (netbook).

Last night I did not get much sleep. I worked for too long because 1000 things came into my mind, which I had to prepare, forward, explain to the people, who help out when I away (thank you so much!). And the other reason is: I suck packing suitcases. I always overpack, I always need so much time to select stuff, I have so much electronic and paper stuff from Kindle to diary to carry around with me. I am too focused on things - I know :(. Well ... this time I did at least not overpack so badly. There was space in my suitcase left although I have gifts for friends with me.

The flight itself starting this morning was eventless. I just have to say that after flying a few times Munich-San Francisco-Munich the trip to NYC with "only" 8 hours was an easy one.  As usual the food was horrible, but the movie collection was okay.

I watched (finally!)  "Social Network", which was really good and I have to admit that I liked the performance of Justin Timberlake a lot. I guess there are "DROP THE THE" Shirts available outside? I might consider getting one. It was just bad, that the plane had no inflight internet (boooo) although Lufthansa sent mails that it would be available on some transatlantic flights. While watching the movie I felt a strong desire to get my phone and check and post on FB and Twitter. Addict? Yes, I think so.

The 2nd movie I chose was "Any given Sunday" (Oliver Stone movie with Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz). I liked it, but don't watch it when you are not into American Football. You will hardly get what is going on and it will bore the shit out of you, when you don't care about the sport. If you do it's not a bad one. Jamie Foxx was really impressive - again.
But to everybody who watched the movie.... EYEBALL, I mean ... seriously EYEBALL? I almost fainted.

Finally we arrived in New York and in the sunshine and incredible 20°C. I took a cap to the hotel and here I am. I of course wanted to catch the rest of the daylight and so I just dropped my luggage and went for a first walk .. just with a hoodie over my shirt. I did not even need my jeans jacket which I had with me just in case it would get colder after sunset.

For better communication with my local friends I went straight to the Telekom shop and got myself an US phone number and SIM card. That is kinda cool. I mean - it is nothing special. Everybody can have it for like 30$ - no big deal. But having my American number just feels good and will make life cheaper and easier. That is for sure.

When I came out of the shop at 6th Avenue the sun went down quickly and I could see wild lights shining only a few meters ago - TIMES SQUARE. So I just crossed the street and set down on the stairs, which are just there to give people a place to sit and watch and make pictures. I watched the daylight fade and the lights and ads lit up to full power.

Up from now I will try to tell you everyday shortly the highlights of the day and to upload three pictures. I cannot promise 100% because the one or the other evening I might be home a little late, but I'll try.

And here you go for today with the 5th Avenue - right next corner from my hotel - and Times Square.