I took the 10:20AM Empire Service from New York Penn Station to Albany on Thanksgiving this year, as I do every year. Making stops in Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, and Albany Rensselaer (at 12:45PM).
As always, I roll out of my house with my suitcase and walk toward the N train, an annual ritual that puts me in the holiday spirit. As soon as I step outside, I can feel Thanksgiving in the air. It’s not that the city is empty. It’s only a little later than the time I usually take this walk each weekday morning, and the streets are hardly deserted. On Thanksgiving Day in Astoria, Queens, life is not too different than any other Thursday. The trains may be running on a Sunday schedule, but city life proceeds at its typical pace.
A man is walking his dog down the sidewalk. A car slows down and an ancient gentleman leans his head out his window and says a few words in Greek to a friend sitting on a stoop. Two elderly Italian ladies in long black coats, sensible black pumps, and floral headscarves walk past me. These passerby instill me with a sense of serenity, lacking, as they do, the hunched shoulders and long strides of the workaday commuters rushing to midtown offices.
This ten minute Thanksgiving walk is filled with pleasures and delights. For me, the holiday’s greatest joy comes from my imagination, as I assign stories to the strangers I observe around me. The man who walks into Lots O Bagels, newspaper under his arm, is having a light meal and a bit of alone time before a huge dinner with his parents in their apartment further out in Queens. The girl with the floral quilted overnight bag who sits across from me on the train and gets off at 57th Street Seventh Avenue is meeting her boyfriend at his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen before they flee the city in his convertible, hopping on the West Side Highway and veering across the George Washington bridge for dinner with his family in North Jersey.
I get off the N train at 34th Street. As always, the main exits by 34th street are closed, patrolled by police officers who stare down at their phones, perhaps looking at other people’s Thanksgivings on Facebook. I glance up the stairs that lead to the street in front of Macy’s, envisioning floats filled with red sequined showgirls and spandex-clad young men leaping and singing.
As always, I climb the stairs at 32nd street and turn toward Eighth Avenue, pausing on Sixth to stand on my tip toes and peer at the balloons floating two blocks away. All I can see are two gold stars. As I pull my suitcase west, I think: it’s the best way to watch the parade.
If you think a Corgi wouldn’t enjoy a 20 mile bike ride through New York City’s most diverse borough, you’d be wrong.
The pup was practically grinning when we passed him Sunday around mile 13 of the Tour de Queens, bike-focused nonprofit Transportation Alternatives‘ annual 20-mile jaunt across Queens. He was strapped into a blue backpack worn by a rider, and he was clearly having an incredible time.
He wasn’t the only dog in the race. Check out this happy furred friend:
So were the rest of us, for the most part. Billed as the biking equivalent of a “fun run,” the Tour de Queens featured a route that rambled from its departure point at Astoria Park under the RFK Bridge down Vernon Boulevard past Gantry Park, along Woodhaven Blvd out through Elmhurst, Corona, and Forest Hills and then back to Astoria.
1300 riders gathered at the start early Sunday morning and the tour departed with great fanfare and little actual forward motion at 9:30AM (see video above). Bicycle backlog was a significant challenge throughout the day; we pigpiled up at least four different times during the three and a half hour ride for ten to fifteen minutes each time. “This is more like the three mile an hour tour of Queens,” one cyclist grumbled.
Yet the opportunity to discover the less-travelled, mostly residential streets of Queens, home to citizens from every single country in the world, made the inconvenience worth it. The mood was certainly lighthearted as we pushed up a few gentle slopes and glided down others, passing several parks and stopping for our 10-mile break and snacks in a Juniper Valley park in Middle Village. In particular, the beautiful homes and gardens of Forest Hills made an impression on me.
Offering a relaxing break for those of us accustomed to riding through traffic on the way to and from work each day, Transportation Alternatives shut down streets for the Tour de Queens, making the ride safer but causing audible frustration to the drivers who were stopped, waiting for the tour to pass. Police escorts and volunteer marshals in bright oranges vests rode along the left side of the group, keeping us in line. The volunteer marshals (but not, surprisingly, the police officers) patrolled the intersections and were responsible for maintaining crowd control — not among cyclists, but among the vehicles that were piled up waiting for the tour to pass so that they could move forward.
Loud honking could be heard at many of these, and in one neighborhood in Corona, I observed a driver exit his vehicle and walk angrily toward a marshal in what appeared to be a menacing manner. But you can’t stop on a group ride, or you endanger the riders behind and around you — so I missed out on what happened next.
Trans Alt’s next group ride is the NYC Century (“A Ride of Passage”), which I rode in last September. I did the 35 mile version, but I’m planning on going for the 100 miles this year!
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to see the cherry blossom festival in Washington, D.C. I am thrilled that this year, I did.
It was even more beautiful than I expected. I felt as though I were walking through clouds of pink, yellow, and white blossoms. This weekend was the first warm and sunny one in DC and it was clearly the height of the festival. In addition to the cherry blossoms, we enjoyed brightly blooming forsythia as well as fluffy almond and elegant magnolia trees.
In case you didn’t know, the National Cherry Blossom Festival each year celebrates the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the United States from Japan in 1912. The gift commemorates the friendship between the two nations.
Thanks to my wonderful friend Desi for hosting this great adventure!
He says yes.
It’s just another sunny, extremely windy day at Breezy Point. You can’t walk ten steps without nearly getting blown over.
But it’s worth it to run through the waves in February with the Financial District looming on the horizon. An ever-present, yet distant memory as you tumble wind-blown across the sand and ice.
From January 2014.
I am building up a fortress of small happinesses, constructing a palace of particular pleasures that apply only to me.
I am being thoroughly, luxuriously selfish, and utterly relishing in it. I am sleeping late, dreaming large, lingering in loungewear, dressing down to go out, dating none, entrancing many, exploring new worlds, buying plants.
I am laying a foundation of memories, a pillowy buffer that pushes the past further from my mind. I am me! I am finally, actually, truly me! I make plans and keep them. I’m early. I go home when I’m sleepy. I read a novel and no one interrupts me. I meet likeminded people. I plan adventures.
I am collecting cavernous moments.
I wander alone and alive, in awe at the plain majesty of this city, of this world.
I don’t think I truly saw New York until I saw it from the seat of my bicycle. Suspended between air, tires, and pavement, I occupy the transcendant space between man and machine. Now that I have a bike, New York has become a giant playground. Forget crowded subways, dark tunnels, cramped, stuffy platforms. Say hello to the wind in your face, the river at your side, the sunniness of the streets, and seeing skyscrapers from every angle.
This is the first of several suggested biking itineraries I’ll be posting on When Nutmeg Met Basil. All you need is a bike, a helmet, a backpack, a bike lock, and a free day. If you are lucky enough to have a biking buddy like I do, then make sure to bring them along.
If you love photography, your bike can take you to the best photo spots in the city. I’ve noted these in the itinerary below.
Itinerary One: East River Jaunt
Start in Astoria, Queens and pedal west toward Vernon Boulevard and the East River. Stop off at Socrates Sculpture Park, where you can explore EAF2014, the annual Emerging Artists Fellowship exhibition, which was installed in early September.You may want to play on the sculptures. Lots of photos to be taken here.
Continue down Vernon past the Queensboro bridge until you reach the LIC Flea & Food. Lock your bike at the rear entrance to the fair and sample local snacks from Khao Man Gai NY or the King of Falafel — or enjoy the simple pleasure of frolicking with the pumpkins. Do take a moment to master the bean toss – it will give you a sense of accomplishment that will prove useful on the rest of your ride.
Grab your bike and proceed to Gantry Park. Photo opportunities abound as you ride or walk down the waterfront into Hunter’s Point Park South, which opened for the first time last fall. Kahn’s new Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island stands in between you and Manhattan’s East River skyline. You’ll pass plenty of places to sit and take in the view. If you’d like, you can stop at all of them.
Note: Bathroom break available in the trailer to the side of the park. You’ll reach it about halfway through the walkway.
If you’re feeling sleepy, pause for a coffee at LIC Landing by COFFEED, the outdoor café at the end of the park. Linger on a wooden deck chair. New York is your playground. There’s no rush!
As you exit the riverwalk, follow signs for the bike route over the Pulaski bridge. Welcome to Brooklyn! More waterfront cycling awaits you in this bike-friendly borough. Make a right on DuPont and a left on Franklin. Continue south on Franklin until you reach Bushwick Inlet Park, where I recommend stopping to dance in the sprinklers, enjoy the view, or use the public restrooms.
A few blocks ahead lies the legendary Smorgasburg… brave the Stumptown-fueled crowds fighting for a ramen burger if you dare!
Continue on to Kent Avenue and sail past cars, pedestrians, trees, buildings, and dogs. You’ll leave the waterfront and chart a direct course for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which offers a welcome respite from traffic and marks your half-way spot.
Once you arrive, search for bike parking on the sidewalk in front of the Washington Avenue entrance. Enter and proceed directly to the Rose Garden. You’ll want to check out the the Shakespeare garden (several rows of plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays), if you’re an English major slash plant nerd like me. Take a walk through the Japanese garden, as well, and pass through the lilypad plaza in front of the conservatory.
You’re on your way to the vast expanse of open green where you can collapse, with an ice cream bar from the café if you feel you deserve it. Take as long as you need to lie back in the grass contemplating the trees and reveling in the peace of this rare urban oasis.
Back on your bike! You’re off to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge bike path. Careful — pedestrians crossing the bridge often fail to observe rules and tend to wander into the bike lane. Even the bikers can be difficult to accomodate. I was riding behind a grandfather who crawled across the bridge while constantly shouting instructions at the two grandkids in front of him. “Slow down! You’re right up on her!”
Over the bridge and through the park and across lower Manhattan, you’ll find yourself at the ferry, where $3.50 buys yourself and your bike passage on a three minute voyage to downtown Jersey City. This is convenient if you have friends that live there, as I do. If so, I highly recommend tacos and margaritas at Taqueria Downtown followed by ice cream at Milk + Sugar. If not, you may want to skip the ferry and stop for dinner instead at the nearby Shake Shack. Either way, make sure to refuel. You’ve earned it!