Saturday, May 31, 2014

Coney Island: Sharing a local treat

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Coney Island Boardwalk
As per Wikipedia, Coney Island is one of the oldest amusement areas in the world. Seaside resorts, traveling fairs and carnivals, world's fairs along with the Industrial Revolution (resulting in rides) and an increase of the masses having money to spend on entertainment gave rise to amusement parks. Coney Island, being near the shore, was a natural location for NYC to have its own. One could say that Coney Island was one of the original staycations, easily accessible by subway from Manhattan yet far enough to feel like you're out of town, literally at the seashore, staying at one of the fabulous resort hotels that were popular in the mid to late 1800s.
The Cyclone
The name Coney comes from the Spanish "conejo," which means rabbit. Apparently, the peninsula was full of the little bunnies until development limited their numbers. "Coney" was a nickname that stuck.

Popular before World War II, Coney Island descended into almost a delicious seediness, where only hardy NY locals would dare to go. Nathan's, the famous hot dog stand, the Cyclone, one of the grandfathers of all roller coasters, the Deno's Wonder Wheel and the inactive 1939 World's Fair souvenir, the red Parachute Jump managed to survive despite the disintegration of the 1960s and 1970s. New York State may not have the best of everything but we do have almost one of everything and city folk in particular patronize the beach and enjoy the boardwalk with the best of them.
Surf Avenue
Meanwhile, an entire community built up around the resort area, complete with houses, housing projects, schools, churches and supermarkets. Street names like Neptune, Surf and Mermaid pay tribute to the seaside theme, but make no mistake, Coney Island is a real neighborhood and a vital part of NYC.

Coney Island limped along until the 1980s revitalization started. Despite the fact that it can seem like one big business, Coney Island was always actually several independently owned parks, the most famous seemingly being Deno's, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park. You can read about the process on Wikipedia, but now, 30 years later, thanks to local politicians and developers, the area is a hot spot.
The new Thunderbolt, Coney Island (editorial usage)
Locals, however, are not giving it up to the tourists so easily, however. NYC can promote it to the out-of-towners all it wants but Coney Island belongs to us, always has and always will. When you visit, just remember you're in our house and our rules apply. But don't worry, there is plenty of NYPD to keep everyone in line. The place seems to be even more alive after dark: with everything lit up and the noise of the games spilling out onto Surf Avenue.
Nathan's Famous
You can make a day or weekend of coming to this part of Brooklyn. Get there early, and visit the NY Aquarium. Still rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy, there is enough to do and enjoy while you interact with marine life and learn about conservation. Next, stroll down the street and take in a few rides. The amusement parks still operate old school: admission is free and you buy tickets (or books of tickets) to ride the attractions. Old and new games are there, also: bring lots of cash, they are not as cheap as they used to be! You'll find Luna Park, Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and more! Comprehensive info can be found at Coney Island Fun Guide.
Soaring Eagle
Believe it or not, the sideshow still exists. I've never been in to see if there really were freaks of nature, but take a chance if you dare and enjoy a relic of the old carnivals. You can also visit a museum dedicated to "defending the honor of American popular culture!" Coney Island USA.
Wonder Wheel (trademarked, editorial usage)
Cut through the parks and head to the famous boardwalk, immortalized in many movies, including the building in the film Two Weeks Notice at 21st Street and the Boardwalk. Warning: NYC waters never really warm up, our season is too short, but the Parks Department is making an effort to keep the beaches clean and you are guaranteed to be totally entertained by the locals. It's never boring. Official season is Memorial Day to Labor Day for the life guards and they mean it. In the winter, dare to dive in with local polar bear clubs, especially on New Year's Day.
The Boardwalk
When you get hungry and thirsty, this is the best place to fall so far off your diet that you have no choice but to walk it off on the entire boardwalk. Custard ice cream, seafood, candy, popcorn and all sorts of interesting drinks tempt you along the boardwalk and Surf Avenue. Of course, the most well-known is Nathan's Famous. Many New Yorkers will not eat Nathan's anyplace else. Somehow, it tastes better down here. However, the other spots are just as good, particularly since Nathan's can seem slow and the lines can be very long.
MCU Park (editorial usage)
In the evening, take in future sports stars at Municipal Credit Union (MCU) Park and cheer on the Brooklyn Cyclones, one of our local minor league baseball teams. Like any other sports venue, you do not have to be a sports fan to enjoy an outing at the ballpark. With the mascot running around and all the fun things in between innings, a minor league game becomes quite intimate. The park is smaller, the players are accessible and the crowd is fun. It is certainly cheaper.
Williams Candy Store, next to Nathan's, Surf Ave

Afterwards, stroll back to Williams Candy store and take home one of the famous candy apples or get some more ice cream.
Subway Station
Getting there: the old BMT lines, now known as the MTA F, Q, N, D trains will take you to the area. The main buses would be the B36 and B68. By car, it gets a little complicated and parking between June and September is ridiculous, but for a small fortune, you can park in privately owned lots without running out to the meter every 15 minutes.

So, come on down to our very own seashore resort area and take a few moments to enjoy yourself.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kids, Travel and You: Part 3 Basic Activities in Europe

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

Europe is often a dream vacation for many people. This could be that we common folk envied the upper classes of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries who often sent their young people on the Grand Tour as a rite of passage, introducing them to the experiences and cultures of various countries. In more recent times, college or high school junior year abroad through exchange student programs and backpacking across Europe has made traveling to be more reachable to the masses.

Now that traveling abroad seems more doable than ever, it can still be expensive, but it does not have to be the vacation that you put off until later. It is possible that you will be traveling with your family, with children of various ages. In this 3rd part of our series, we explore basic activities to do (with a more specific activities next time).
Capri, Italy

1. Plan in advance

As we stated in the first two parts, a successful family vacation depends on your already established family dynamics and how much prep you put into the process. This gives you plenty of time to plan local activities that will introduce your child to the culture they will see: restaurants, museums, US cities that resemble European cities and maybe some apps that introduce the language.
Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain
2. Is it the right for everyone?

It is difficult to travel with children, but even more so with children under 3. I would think long and hard before going to Europe (unless it is an offer you simply cannot refuse or you have relatives there). You will also have to do a lot of research before planning a trip with children (or adults) with disabilities. We are very fortunate (and spoiled) with the laws and regulations regarding accessibility here in the USA. While we were in Venice and Amalfi, we often thought about mobility issues as we navigated stairs, canals, cobblestone alleys, steep streets and hotels and train stations without no elevators. Wheel chairs, strollers, canes and crutches were often not accommodated. Sad, but true.

Amalfi Coast, Italy
3. Will it be the right time of year?

Take into account the time of year. Remember, the seasons are reversed past the equator (it's summer in Australia in February). Summer in Europe is hot and the down time is August. Some attractions have reduced hours but some hotels may have reduced rates. However, beaches are crowded and beach hotel rates are high. Spring Break as the best time. It can still be crowded. But not every school has their spring recess at the same exact time. Weather can be a gamble, but that's what museums are for.

Window display in pizza restaurant, Notting Hill, London

4. What to do?

Basic: playing on-going games. Challenge your child to say hello, please, thank you, good-bye and their menu choice in the target language. In Italy, we did not go inside every church but we got a kick out of the fact that every city and town called their big church "Il Duomo." So we started comparing the architecture, taking snapshots with our phones or tablets and pointing out the differences. Ditto the many piazzas (plazas) with their bell towers. We got lucky with several of the plazas: there were street fairs, vendors, musicians, performers and carousels. Wander through Firenze (Florence) on an afternoon and you will be surprised (count the Vespas).
St. James Park, Loondon

Gardens: Springtime brings flowers and butterflies and rolling hills. I have traveled with pre-teen rambunctious little boys who turn into the most curious students at farms and gardens. Any place that encourages touching and participation is a guaranteed hit. Some museums are also gardens: your kids will want to pose by each sculpture at the Musee Rodin.  At Versailles, rather than touring each palace, opt for only Marie Antoinette's Estate and pay extra for the musical fountain show in the gardens in the evening.
Musee Rodin, Paris

Ferris Wheels ("Eyes"): They seem to be all the rage: London, Paris, Niagara Falls (Canada), a few places in Japan. We're even building one in NYC.  These are outside of the theme parks and there are often attractions surrounding them as add-ons.

Wax museums: Keep your children's ages in mind for these. Some have horror themes. For the others, it can be spooky standing next to a life size statue that looks like it may come alive at any moment. But, wax museums can be good history lessons and certainly a lot of fun.
Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate), Barcelona, Spain
Children's Museums: they are popping up more and more in Europe. The USA seems to be the place that is child-centered and places around the world are on the band wagon. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence (there's one in Milan, too) is hands on.  

Canals and steps and bridges, in Venice, oh, my!

Boat Rides: Venice, Capri, Versailles. If you have ever taken a ferry, your kids can handle this!

Buckingham Palace, London
Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain
Forts, castles and palaces: These are always a hit with kids: castles and cannons and towers and tales of pirates and adventures, oh my! Sometimes, they're coupled with a park or a fair may be happening. They can be dusty, so don't wear your best clothing. Montjuic in Barcelona comes to mind.
Roland Garros: Site of the French Tennis Open, Paris, 
Olympic and Sports Museum, Barcelona

Sports arenas and museums: Many Olympic sites have been converted for public use, one can visit the four famous tennis open stadiums, or it could be high season for the local favorite. Check your local listings, as they say.
School bus in Positano, Italy
Schools: Depending on the age of your child, just walk by a local school. Seeing kids play in the yard somehow always links the cultures of the similarities, makes a city seem more real. For the older ones, walk by a famous university.
Magnet Butterflies

Shopping: Depending on the age group, this can be dangerous, but setting down some ground rules can make this possible. Compare prices of their favorite sneakers and make them do the conversion, look at the language of the foods in a market and note the lack of huge supermarkets. Check out the many neighborhood marts and how people still shop daily for dinner. Finally, you may run into one of the farmer's markets. Paris!

Restaurants: Eating can be a challenge, but while world cuisine is one reason to travel, at the same time, it's universal. Restaurants are realizing that people are traveling with their kids and are starting to accommodate them. Encourage kids to try new things but almost every place has fries (believe it or not). 

Arc de Triomf in Ciutadella Park, Barcelona, Spain
Tuileries Garden, near the Louvre, Paris

Central parks: When you have seen the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo's David (which you should certainly do), take some down time, get ice cream (yes, break the nutrition rules and always try a local kid's snack) and walk in the park. Outside of the Louvre you have Tuileries Gardens, up the street from Buckingham Palace is St. James Park or visit one of the 8 Royal Gardens. Madrid has it's Parque de Retiro.
Piccadilly Circus, London

Night Time: Cities come alive and lights are fantastic at twilight. Make sure your lodging is in a well lit and well populated area. The Eiffel Tower actually gives a light show, vendors sell little toys with lights in Florence and Venice, London's Piccadilly Circus looks like Times Square and Barcelona's Ramblas seems to never sleep as you window shop. Fountains are lit up, families are taking strolls and you can walk off your dinner before putting the little ones to sleep.
Street artist in Siena, Italy
In the hotel room: Television programming is likely to be limited and children's programming may be sparse. I would suggest bringing a tablet with downloaded books, games and movies. If you have wi-fi, make it your child's job to research the next day's agenda and let him find it on the map. Keeping your child active will likely make her tired, so TV may be a non-issue anyway.

All in all, taking children on a trip to Europe can be fun, educational and an adventure for all with just a few adjustments and some pre-planning.

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Jamaica, Queens: A Jewel in the Crown of NYC

Baisley Pond Park, Jamaica, Queens, NYC


One of the most challenging boroughs to navigate (you will hear Brooklyn and Bronx people loudly grumbling about how they hate to come to Queens and the feeling is mutual), it seems oxymoronic that a borough with numbered-named streets can be easy to get lost in. Not only that, if you take a Queens person out of their neighborhood, they'd be lost. The street naming system was designed to so that we would never run out of names so it seems that the streets have the same name: 149 Street, 149 Road, 149 Place, etc. But the address system is ingenious: the first 3 numbers indicate the cross street and the last two indicate actual building number. It was GPS before there was GPS. 

Unfortunately, when travel guides shout-out Queens, they almost always leave out the Southeast area: Jamaica and the Rockaways (unless there's a storm). But, take a chance, jump on the E train, and swing by for a visit.

1. Roy Wilkins Park: virtually a country club with an indoor pool; tennis, handball and basketball courts; fitness center; community center with events and activities; a track and the best site to see future NFL players. The venue of many concerts, fairs and carnivals and the home to the Black Spectrum Theatre Company and its 425 seat theater. Truly, this is one of the best parks and recreation centers in the city. Merrick Blvd between 115 Ave and Baisley Blvd. 718-276-8686.

2. Baisley Pond Park: The majestic looking August Martin High School seems to stand as a mansion over the estate that is Baisley Pond Park. Paved paths, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts surround the pond as people catch and release fish. The park actually continues across Rockaway Blvd to more tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds and a track. The feature that sets it apart are the cricket matches you are likely to see on the weekend.

3. Thomasina's: a catering hall that hosts its own events and buffets for holidays and special occasions, such as  Mother's Day, New Year's Eve, etc. 205-35 Linden Blvd, St. Albans. 718-525-5273.

4. Greater Allen AME Cathedral Church, Rev. Dr. Floyd H. Flake, Senior Pastor, a former Congressman, who has been instrumental in securing funds for more buildings and businesses along Merrick Blvd and the surrounding area. Outside of Harlem and Brooklyn, there is no stronger fellowship of interdenominational churches than Southeast Queens. Allen hosts concerts and other events in addition their usual church services and meetings. 110-31 Merrick Blvd, Jamaica. 718-206-4600.

5. York College, CUNY: small business workshops, lectures, plays, concerts and an athletic center. Check the website for the latest info. 94-20 Guy R. Brewer Blvd, Jamaica (corner Liberty Ave). 718-262-2000.

6. Rufus King House and Park: historic house/museum, lectures, tours, programs and events. A NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission landmark and a National Register of Historic Place, the King Manor Association focuses on the role of Rufus King and family and their role in the early ant-slavery movement. Jamaica Ave between 150 and 153 Streets, Jamaica. 

The LIRR offers reduced rates on the weekends via the City Ticket, for stops within NYC

Transportation hubs: 
~Long Island Railroad and the AirTrain JFK at Sutphin Blvd and Archer Ave, along with the E train. Local tip: one of the best fish markets is one block up toward Jamaica Ave. 
~The Jamaica Bus Terminal is at 165th Street, and Merrick Ave, where you can catch 10 different city bus lines and 6 Nassau County buses. From there you can walk to the F train on Hillside or to the E train at Parsons and Archer.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kids, Travel and You: Part 2: Ages 18-21


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Our last entry touched upon prepping for a trip with children. In this case, children can refer to anyone ages 0-21. This entry is about traveling with 18-21 year olds.

1. Who Pays? Traveling with the 18-21 year old group is tricky. Parents may be reluctant to leave them at home. Kids may not want to go...or, since you're paying, they might.  If a child is working, it should be clear who is paying for what. If the parents invited the child, then it is probably expected they will pay for transportation, lodging, food and entry fees. Kids should kick in for their clothes, souvenirs and snacks. If a child is not working and the parent invited the child, then the parent pays for all.

2. Ground Rules.  Before the car rolls away from the house on the way to the airport or the turnpike, get the ground rules down: there have to be curfews at resorts or hotels; your child should not drive rental cars, period; kids have to respect the rules of the cruise ship night clubs (some are for 18 and over and some are for 21 and over); drinking is prohibited on cruises for those 20 and younger; in other countries, if it's legal, you should decide if your child will drink. Also, establish if the older sibling may have to watch over younger ones at least one night so that mom and dad can go out.

3. What to do?: the destination. Since traveling with children is usually a family vacation, this goes back to what I mentioned in Part 1 of this series. It is tricky, but a family vacation should incorporate something that all will enjoy at some point. If you have an established relationship with your children as far as your family dynamics, this is not an issue.

4. Bonding. traveling with the 18-21 age group can be rewarding if you respect them for the young adults they are. This is a fragile time in your family as you set the stage for the adult relationship you will have as you both grow older. Who knows? This may be the beginning of a beautiful adult traveling friendship with none other than your own kids!

Part 3 of this series: Travel to Europe with Kids. Read Part 1, the intro

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