Sunday, March 27, 2011

My (travel) books: February 2011

As you can imagine February was not much of a reading month for me, because it was more or less completely dedicated to my US vacation:
The days before leaving with preperation, then the trip itself and finally with coming back home and readjusting to my normal life (and getting teary every time I see New York on TV, which btw happens daily, and seeing / reading pictures and stories from Pittsburgh - also daily thanks to my lovely Tweeps).

I know that some of you plan to travel soon as well - and some even to New York and Pittsburgh. So my obvious choice for this book edition is to present you the books and maps I used for my travels.

Let's start with my daily travel buddy for New York City:

Streetwise Map - Manhattan


I got my first Streewise Map a while ago from my friend Katharina. She had a spare one of San Francisco, which she gave to me. I used it while being in Northern California in April 2010 and liked it a lot.

Based on my positive experience I put the Manhattan and the subway / bus map for New York on my last Christmas wish list and they did not dissapoint me.

The maps from Streetwise are very easy to use. They have a small format and are folded in a way that you are always able to open the map for the part of the city you need without unfolding it to full size and handle a huge and flattery paper map. So if you - just like me - love to hide the fact that you are a tourist this is the map you need. Additionally the it is made from a thicker than normal paper and is laminated. You can check it in pouring rain and it won't be a problem.

I love these maps and before I buy any other I will always there is a Streetwise Map for the city I plan to visit.  BTW ... there is none for Pittsburgh and I had to use a regular city map, which was very uncomfortable in direct comparison.

Streetwise Maps are not expensive. The Manhattan map costs at Amazon (Germany) only 5,10 EUR and the subway / bus map only 1,40 EUR. I strongly recommend to spend this few EUR / $ and get excellent maps, which will help to make your trip easier and safer.


DK Eyewitness Travel - New York City


Of course there a millions of travel guides available for NYC - small ones, big ones, specialized ones (like art guides) ... what ever you want. I used two German books from ADAC mostly for reading before the trip and while being on the road I took The New York City edition of the DK Eyewitness series with me.

I just love these DK books. The general information sections are (if you have a recent edition of course) very precise and up to date. The combination of information presented city area by city area is ideal for my needs and easy to navigate. You find for every part of the city information about historic landmarks, museums, shopping, special attractions of the neighborhood and little stories and urband legends. The layout is very lively with lots of pictures in different sizes, little maps and drawings, but the clear structure of the copy makes it easy to find what you are looking for.

I am a person, who works a lot with the keyword index and I liked a lot that the index was very detailed and the information always easy to locate on the indicated pages.

At the moment I am flipping through my New York City DK and all the pictures and bits of info I catch by randomly looking into it make me want to go back - right now.

Moon Handbook - Pittsburgh


I can tell you that it is not easy to get good travel literature about Pittsburgh. In German language there is simply - nothing.  So dear travel book publishing companies .... if you are looking for somebody to write a German one, I would consider doing it if the money is right ;).

Before my trip I ordered "The Insider's Guide Pittsburgh" and "Seeing Pittsburgh" by Barringer Fifield and Michael Eastman. The second one is pretty old (1996), which means that some of the stuff is kind of outdated because Pittsburgh is a quick changing place. It is also not a classic travel guide with all the general information. It presents the city in form of neighborhood walks and provides a lot of stories, pictures and information. Especially when it comes to historic landmarks it is still interesting and helpful.

The Insider's Guide is ... well ... simply boring. The books is quite big (450 pages) and yes - it has a lot of information and is useful, but with almost no images and the very serious way the content is presented it is not exactly making you feel like "YAY travelling to Pittsburgh looks like FUN!".

Thank god I am a lucky girl at least sometimes. And so at a Barnes & Nobles in New York while looking for something totally different I climbed some stairs and randomly looked around and saw the back of the Insider's Guide in the travel book shelf for US cities. I thought that when the Insider's Guide is there some more books about Pittsburgh could be there as well and I might finally find a good one - and I did.

I found and bought the Moon Handbook Pittsburgh by Dan Eldrige and I like it a lot. If you know the city and the people at least a bit you realize by the first few pages that this was written by a Burgher (not a native one, but one who lived many years in Pittsburgh and graduated from PITT). The language, the humor, the little stories, the charateristics of the different neighborhoods - all very nice and to the point. Little chapters like "Pittsburgh on  a rainy day" and the fact that the sports chapter is BIG show also that the man knows what he is talking about ;).

But what made the book really perfect for me was, that it had a lot of information for people like me who visit the city without a car. It even has a map with all major bus lines which the lady at the Visit Pittsburgh Office commented with "WOW - I have never seen something like this before." And that is because the Port Authority is able to give you flyers about the schedule and stops of every single line but no overview map. Seriously ... but Port Authority Pittsburgh (and especially the recent bus service cuts) is a topic for itsef anyway...

To give you another example: I was wondering how I could go to the inclines without a car. I knew it must be possible, but I thought I would have to figure out while being in Pittsburgh and not beforehand. It was the Moon Handbook which gave the simple info that the Monongahela Incline is just accross Station Square, where you can go by T, bus or just walking Smithfield Street Bridge. Sounds banal but none of the other books was telling me this and it is hard to get an idea of distances when you never were at the actual place before.

Although the Moon Handbook is not comparable to the big and colorful travel books you may be used to - like the DK New York City - I can strongly recommend it.

BUT .... folks ... dear travel book publishers, writers, designers, layouter ... WHY all three book about Pittsburgh I could get have only black and white pictures??? Common ... Pittsburgh is great and should presented in bright and beautiful color pictures.

If you are planning your trips to one of the cities in the near future and feel like I might have some tipps and recommendations for you, just drop me a line at and I will share all my knowledge and experience and will try to help although I am for sure not the biggest expert neither for New York nor for Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pittsburgh, PA - The complete stories & pictures

Sorry for re-using such an old gag with adding the "PA" to Pittsburgh. It's just what I still hear all the time here in Germany. 

It's like people want to make sure they understand me right, when I tell about my trip like "You really went to Pittsbugh, PA???" It sounds like they want to make sure that they did not miss the existence of another Pittsburgh in California or on Hawai.

And yes - of course we talk about Pittsburgh, PA. But why? To answer the question, I could tell you here a lot about the Pens, the Steelers (and yes - even the Pirates, but not sure you want to hear that one), the people and the city itself - all alone worth the trip (and lots more), but instead I go for a quote this time:

"Pittsburgh, hard-bitten and practical though it seems, is a magical place. It's weird and warped and beautiful and it makes you want to fight for it." 
(David Conrad, "Civic Arena: crime scene", Feb 11 2011, Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

It's kind of hard to explain, but that's very much it.

At my last day in New York my camera broke. The whole thing vibrates when I switch it on and makes blurry, shaky pictures. The only chance to get a real picture out of it was to switch it on and off all the time because every 10th try it worked more or less.
So I spent my four days in Pittsburgh mostly with switching on and off the camera because I wanted pictures so badly. And I got quite a few although I missed a lot of shots I would have done otherwise like one of the trains slowing down on the railway above Liberty Avenue and much more. I am especially sad that all night shots are pretty bad although this was what my cam could do best. SAD PANDA - looks like I have to go back to make better pictures ;)

But here is what I got fighting down the technical problems:
  • For all my pics (lots of) from the game Pittsburgh Penguins vs San Jose Sharks click here
  • For all my city shots click here
All albums are on Facebook but public so that you can access them without a login. My Facebook profile you can find here.

And of course I was writing my travel diary in Pittsburgh just like I did the days before in New York: 

And ZOOOoooosh goes the puck in Pittsburgh - PGH day 1

Regardlessly awesome - PGH Day 2

Gritty but pretty - PGH Day 3

And there was light - PGH Day 4

And my "hangover" back home posting:
Still "Walking in Pittsburgh" ... in my mind

And here you can go to my Pittsburgh tag at the blog with all related posts before the trip (like the Super Bowl Edition) and afterwards with the one about watching "The Next Three Days" last weekend in an empty cinema and the (temporary) freeze of the PA Film Tax Credit Program.

If there is something to say in addition to this then it would be that the time in Pittsburgh was way too short.

I did not made it to any other museum than the Warhol - not even to the Mattress Factory although it was high on my list and in walking distance from my hotel.
I did not visit the murals of the Croatian artist
Maxo Vanka at St. Nicholas in Millvale, although that was a must do as well.
And believe it or not ... I saw (kind of) the Cathedral of Learning only driving by at night and totally missed Oakland at daylight.
Many other neighborhoods I could not visit at all in this short time (and shitty weather) and even to the ones I visited I have to go to again ... I mean, it was cold and rainy in Lawrenceville and I only made a short stop at Wildcard and in pretty Shadyside it was pitch black night (evening).
And I did not go out of town yet for example to visit Fallingwater - something I definitely want to do as well.

And sports ... I definitely need to see more Pens games live (addictive stuff!), want to see the Steelers at Heinz Field and well ... a friend of mine even wants me to see the Buccos one day at PNC Park (imaging / dreaming a nice summer afternoon, enough drinks and Popcorn to throw at my neighbours for entertainment it could be fun, too).

And drinks and food ... I did not even get really started here.

I did not meet Matt from Espresso A Mano, who is voted by diverse sources as the best barista in town. I had no time to try the cupcakes from Dozen (That makes two good reasons for another stop in Lawrenceville) or check out the diverse other great bakeries in town and I did not even made it into one Pamela's.

Not speaking about all the great places in the Strip I only passed by because I was already FULL like Reyna Food and the ones I would love to go back to tomorrow morning for a late breakfast like La Prima or Enrico Biscotti Company.

And I would also love to visit Bocktown for a beer tasting, great food and fun as well as Las Velas, which will be open again, when I am around next time, for magaritas and tacos. And I'd like to try the award winnning / nominated stars of the Pittsburgh restaurant scene like Salt of The Earth, Habitat or Kaya and check out the fancy places on Mt. Washington with the related Burgh Bits & Bites Tour.  

List to be continued ....

So much left to do. Time to invent teleporting ;)

PS: All New York postings and pictures can be found here.  
PPS: Just in case you do not follow me on Twitter @CKapaun, where I post updates, yet - you are very welcome to do so and I'll of course follow back. 

New York, New York - The complete stories and pictures

Lots of you were following me walking through New York City, when I was there for my vacation in February, and it was so much fun to read all your comments, mails and Facebook messages. Thanks so much for taking the reading time and sending all the feedback.

Just in the case you missed some of the stories or are not friends with me on Facebook , where I have my photo albums, I decided to put the links to all stories and pictures here together at one place.

All pictures are uploaded on Facebook, but the album is public and to access without login. You just need to click here to see all my pictures.

And that's the list of all New York travel diary blog posts:

Unreal - NYC Day 1
Reloaded - NYC Day 2
Got ya! - NYC Day 3
Slowmotion - NYC Day 4
Burn, baby, burn - NYC Day 5
And here you can access all blog posts, which have a New York tag.

Just in case you do not follow me on Twitter @CKapaun, where I post regular updates, yet - you are very welcome to do so and I'll of course follow back.

PS: All Pittsburgh stories and pictures can be found here

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Random thoughts about "The Next Three Days"

I am back from Pittsburgh for about a little less than a week now and I still find myself with a box of chocolate covered Oreos (already no biscotti left - some I ate, some I sent around the country for friends and family to try them - and make them also Pittsburgh biscotti addicts ;)  sitting on my couch feeling slightly desoriented and misplaced.

I was out last night on a great party (wine testing, Croatian style sea food followed by music and dancing) and after sleeping in I had a lazy evening on my schedule when something came into my mind what the lovely Secret Agent L always says when she hasn't seen some friends in a while: "I miss your face."  And I felt all like "Pittsburgh, I miss your face".

So what to do? CINEMA! 
"The Next Three Days" was still on the late night schedule and I did not watch it yet - and so I went off for some onscreen Pittsburgh.

I just came back home and while listening to the Pens game on the radio I decided to share some random thoughts about the movie with you.

  • I still do not like Russel Crowe much although the various Pittsburgh gear he was wearing made him look nicer ;)
  • The movie wasn't mindblowing good but not super bad either, had some nice twists and asked the question of how far you would go for a loved one in quite an interesting way
  • It had Liam Neeson and I liked his scene a lot - one of the best
  • Fantastic day and night shots from Grandview, which made me melt away
  • Some more great shots all over the city
  • It did rain a lot - I guess this was to make it feel real. It worked ;)
  • Escaping with The T??? Common ... that is almost funny.
  • Making them "dissapear" with dressing up in black and yellow in a sports crowd was a "must have" move, but why the hell did they make him wear Buccos gear in a Pens crowd?? Call me picky, but I hate unnecessary bugs like that. I mean ... it would not have been a big effort to give him some Pens gear like a Crosby jersey instead of the black and yellow jacket and Pirates hat. Right? And it looks a bit too warm (summer) for hockey season, too. Anyway ...
  • I had to laugh out loud when I saw the polar bear swimming and diving in the zoo scene. I guess that was shot exclusively for @JanePitt to proof her that the bears are swimming for real - even in the PGH Zoo.
BTW ... right before the movie started they were showing the trailer for "I am Number 4" - another movie filmed in Pittsburgh. LOVED IT!

That's brings me to another point: The PA Film Tax Credit Program is frozen and brings the whole "Pittsburgh is the new Hollywood" thing to full stop for now. This puts a couple of new productions which were planned to be filmed in PGH like the new Batman (!) movie and with them a lot of jobs and upcoming job opportunities in danger. It also makes Pittsburgh look bad and unattractive in a situation where the city was something like a rising star on the movie production sky - bringing in some really positive reputation and nice money for the city and its people.

If you like to read more about it and consider standing up against the freeze, visit the site of Boring Pittsburgh now.

I put my 5 Cents in already.

PS: Tuesday, March 15: The money is up again and already two new movies are set up to be filmed in PGH. All good :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Still "Walking in Pittsburgh" ... in my mind

I am back home. The trip was long and exhausting, but just passed by without any problem or trouble, which is good. I had a couple of hours to kill at JFK, which was a bit boring but I got myself a seat where I could stare at the far away skyline in the sun.

On the transatlantic flight I managed to sleep two hours (better than nothing) and watched some movies.

"Morning Glory" - not bad, but not really good either, BUT all scenes outside were filmed on 6th (mostly) and 5th Avenue between 42nd Street and Central Park in Manhattan and I knew almost all the places from my trip only days ago. That was really nice.

"Due Date" - totally over the top and sometimes funny, but - OH BOY - I could stare with no probem for hours without blinking at the handsome awesomeness of Robert Downey Jr.. Seriously.

Flying in general is weird. I mean on one hand it is of course awesome. Without airplanes there would not be no way to travel around the world in an acceptable timeframe and for an affordable amount of money. We woud not be able to visit places and meet peope in other countries or even continents. You can tell I love flying (well not so much the process itself although it is not scaring me, but the result of it). 

On the other hand by sitting in a metal tube for a couple of hours with barely any conscious awareness of the speed and the distance travelled, you get sucked in on one side of the planet and spit out on the other one. It's disturbing and it takes a while to adjust to the changed enviroment.

And that is happening for me at the moment. Of course I am home and I know everything around me and all is like it was when I left. But it's still not easy. It goes from English back to German although I kept talking in English to myself half of the day like "Let's go for groceries shopping. The fridge is empty." 
It is a visual shift from Pittsburgh to New York to Munich.  It goes from "Nice sweater M'am!" to "Why is this lady running around with a giant skating Penguin all over her chest?".  I have to make it from "vacation" mood to "work" and "daily life" mood by tomorrow morning (maybe the toughest).

I am not good with that. It will take me a while. For now I am still "Walking in Pittsburgh" in my mind. If you watch the fantastic video of Tim Ruff, you will understand why I chose the picture at the top. I was at all the places in the  video - so I can easily follow Tim now.

For all local Pittsburgh readers:
Tim Ruff is playing a show this Friday night, March 4, at the Club Cafe (56S, 12th Street) . If you can - go and cheer for me. I would LOVE to go myself, but I can't. I am walking in Munich again for now. Just for now - because I will be back for sure.