About me, the traveler


Trip 1 - India, Nepal, and China

Trip 2 - Southeast Asia

Trip 3 - Mongolia to Eastern Europe

Trip 4 - Middle South America

Trip 5 - Southern Africa

Trip 6 - Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Greenland

Trip 7 - The Balkans

Trip 8 - Morocco and Southern Spain

Trip 9 - Western India

Trip 10 - Outer Indochina

Trip 11 - Ethiopia and Dubai

Trip 12 - Iceland

Trip 13 - Japan

Trip 14 - Caucasus

Trip 15 - Central & East Asia

Trip 16 - Inner Indochina and Japan

Tales From the Tour (a running travelogue)

Top-five lists

New York City excursions

Cheap East Coast bus alternatives


New York City Excursions

I've lived in Manhattan since 1996, but I've barely begun to delve into all of the neighborhoods in and around New York City. When I have a day off, I'll often take the subway out to some station I've never been to before and see what's there. Sometimes I'll do research beforehand and set out intending to reach a certain destination. Or sometimes I'll just walk and see how far I get.

I've discovered four destinations that make for great one-day getaways. All of them are accessible by subway or a subway-and-bus combination. Sometimes a bit of walking is involved, and I do love to walk around the city (on a particularly beautiful October day in 2000, I walked the 21 miles from my apartment to a friend's party in New Rochelle), but I don't think any of the following will leave anyone with sore feet.

City Island, Bronx

City Island feels like a New England seaport town. Reached from mainland Bronx via the City Island Bridge, the island runs north-south for a couple of miles and is noted for its seafood restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and antique shops.

It takes about a half-hour to walk from one end of the island to the other. There's only one main street, City Island Avenue, and everything of interest is on that street. As you enter the island you see a few seafood restaurants and boat slips, and you soon pass Le Refuge Inn, an upscale restaurant and lovely bed and breakfast. The middle of the island is where the antique stores are found; there's also a good vintage-record shop. This is also where you see supermarkets and schools - people do live on City Island. At the southern end are the more upscale restaurants, with the better views, as well as a food court of sorts, where you can pick up cheap fried seafood at windows and take it to a central seating area.

My favorite place to eat is the Crab Shanty, midway through the island. The place is friendly and simple, just as a casual seafood place should be. Everyone is started off with a few pickled vegetables and some excellent bread. A lobster with a few go-withs is around $15, and there's a good cocktail menu. It's also just about the only place in New York City that serves hard-shell crabs (other than City Crab, which is expensive).

Directions: Take the 6 subway line to the end (Pelham Bay Park). Cross over the long access bridge and transfer to the Bx29 bus going to City Island. The bus trip takes less than 10 minutes to the City Island Bridge and about 15 minutes to the end of City Island. If the bus schedule doesn't suit you, or if you're up for a hike, you can walk for about 40 minutes through Pelham Bay Park: After crossing over the access bridge, walk up Shore Road to the north. You'll go through Pelham Bay Park and over one bridge; bear right at a roundabout, following the signs to the City Island Bridge. Don't walk through Pelham Bay Park at night.

Sunset Park, Brooklyn

I owe my exploration of Sunset Park to Ellen Freudenheim's guidebook Brooklyn! A Soup-to-Nuts Guide. Sunset Park is a relatively little-known section of Brooklyn north of Bay Ridge, and its population is largely Hispanic and Chinese.

The subway runs down Fourth Avenue, stopping at 53rd and 59th Streets. It's a block's walk to a stretch of Fifth Avenue noted for its decent Hispanic restaurants, bakeries, and music stores. The avenue bustles with the sounds of Hispanic songs.

Take your pick of the attractive residential side streets to walk from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, and you'll feel the segue from Hispanic to Chinese. Eighth Avenue is Brooklyn's Chinatown, with excellent dim sum, Asian supermarkets, and thrift shops. My pick of the dim sum places is Ocean Palace, at the corner of 55th Street. Here I saw things I'd never seen in Manhattan's Chinatown, such as a dim sum cart equipped with a fryer, which ensured that the dishes were always piping hot. Among other dishes, I tried what I can refer to only as an innards-and-oddities sampler: tripe, liver, octopus, and various similar goodies.

South on Eighth Avenue, at 59th Street, is the attractive Fatih Camii Mosque; next door is an Arab supermarket selling excellent baklava and other Middle Eastern pastries. When I visited the mosque, a friendly Muslim a little younger than me showed me around, and we had a pleasant, peaceful discussion about Islam and Judaism.

Further south on Eighth Avenue is a branch of the Hong Kong Supermarket, which is worth a pop inside even if you don't intend to buy anything. I find that it's very easy to buy a lot: hot wasabi roasted peas (a great snack), dried fish (another great snack), a huge collection of Asian sauces, canned rambutans and lychees, quail eggs, $2.99-per-pound salmon steaks, frozen dumplings (the Prime Foods brand is by far the best), and even durians, the foul-smelling, sweet-tasting fruit. Near the entrance to the store is a counter selling cheap, tasty rolls filled with pork, sausage, taro, and other ingredients. There are other Asian supermarkets in the area that have slightly cheaper prices for some items, but the Hong Kong Supermarket's variety is unmatched, and the prices are pretty decent.

The main attraction in the area is the Greenwood Cemetery, a small trek back up to 25th Street; the entrance is at Fifth Avenue. Hundreds of people of historical note are buried here, and the place is also a pleasant park. On the way up, you can stop at Sunset Park itself, at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue; this park is not particularly large, but its height makes it worth a few minutes' pause for watching the street life below.

Directions: For the Hispanic area and Chinatown, take the N or R subway train to 53rd or 59th Street in Brooklyn (the N usually skips 53rd). When you emerge on Fourth Avenue, you can see the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway over Third Avenue, so you can walk in the opposite direction for Fifth and Eighth Avenues. For Greenwood Cemetery, take the R to 25th Street. For Sunset Park, take the R to 45th Street.

Coney Island to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

Obviously, Coney Island and Brighton Beach are so well-known that I can't claim to have discovered them as attractions - but combining them into a single excursion makes for a very pleasant day.

I like to start at Coney Island. I'm not much of a fan of amusement parks, so I go for the atmosphere, a lot of which is retained. There's also an interesting museum with old Coney Island memorabilia, most of which is fascinating. Last I checked, admission to the museum was 99 cents. More expensive, but still worth the fee, is the New York Aquarium, a few minutes' walk east along the boardwalk.

Past the aquarium, walk up Brighton Beach Avenue to reach the Russian neighborhood of Brighton Beach. Here is food to suit every budget, from 50-cent pirozhki (meat-, mushroom-, or cabbage-filled Russian dumplings) sold on the street to places where $20 gets you a satisfying quartet of appetizers to posh nightclub-restaurants where a dozen-course meal with vodka and dancing can set you back $75. For a casual, cheap, filling meal, I like Primorski, which usually has live music. The National is one of the fancy places, and it's best with a big group. (I'm told Rasputin, a couple of miles away, is better, but I've never been there.)

Then there are the Russian supermarkets, where you can get all kinds of canned fish and smoked fish and - of course - caviar. There's also a wide selection of imported chocolates and snacks.

Directions: For Coney Island, take the F, Q, or W subway train to the end of the line. The Q runs above Brighton Beach Avenue, so keep that in view as you head to Brighton Beach. The Ocean Parkway and Brighton Beach stations on the Q line are best for the Russian shops and restaurants, which you can see from the train.

McLean Avenue, Yonkers

McLean Avenue is a little taste of Ireland just outside the New York City border, in Yonkers. I discovered it one day when, finding myself in the northern part of New York City, I headed north until I found something interesting. It didn't take long.

McLean Avenue is lined with Irish pubs, shops selling Irish trinkets, and travel agents specializing in deals to Ireland. The pubs aren't like the pseudo-Irish places in Manhattan, the ones that tack up a picture of a shamrock and advertise Guinness. These are the real thing, the kind of places that have a neighborhood, everybody-knows-your-name feel, serve draft beer (or is that draught beer?) at decent prices, and feature occasional music.

I seem to be there only when the shops and travel agencies are closed, but they seem to be the real thing as well. Tip for people flying to Ireland: Try Air Malta, which has deals from JFK to Shannon.

The area around McLean Avenue is also pleasant. Not far to the south is Van Cortlandt Park, and the houses are small but attractive. It's also interesting to see how the high-numbered streets of New York City segue into the named streets of Yonkers.

Directions: Take the 2 subway line to Nereid Avenue (238th Street). Walk west (the train will have been going north) along Nereid Avenue and cross the bridge over the Bronx River Parkway. In a few minutes you'll enter Yonkers, and the main road will bear to the right as McLean Avenue. If you've just been to the Bronx Zoo, Nereid Avenue is a convenient hour's walk north along the rather desolate road flanking the Bronx River Parkway.