Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day Trip to Fire Island, New York (Long Island)

Kirsten in front of Fire Island Lighthouse

Kirsten and I went to Fire island today. I did a little research about it on someone else’s blog and it helped me decide how I was going to do this little sojourn so this blog entry is to return the favor to those out there wondering about how best to get to, and enjoy Fire Island.

I was fortunate enough to be able to have weekend access one of my Luzzo’s cycling team mate’s car equipped with roof racks. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be more affordable to drive there or take public transportation. So I did some research.

Costs of getting there

Turns out if your party is 2 or more people and you have a car, I think driving there is the most affordable (and fastest) option
Round Trip Car Expenses from Manhattan: $28 (Tolls $11.00, Gas $10, Parking $7)
Round Trip Using Public Transportation (per person): $26 (Rail: $12, Ferry:$14)

Fire Island

I had heard that there is extremely limited automobile access to Fire Island. Being a cyclist, I got excited about this thinking it could be a possible cyclist’s paradise. Since we had the roof racks on the car, I loaded up our road bikes with tires fit for riding on dirt surfaces.
The road to Robert Moses across the bay.

We drove from our place in Northern Manhattan to Robert Moses State Park where there are at least 3 huge parking fields with convenient beach access. We made a point of leaving by 8:30am on Saturday morning to ensure we were beating most of the hung over city-dwellers that may have had the same idea. We got there in about 50 minutes – no problems with traffic. Easy.

There was plenty of parking at Robert Moses State Park. We parked, and took off on the bikes north. Riding was easy at first – hard-packed dirt roads which passed the lighthouse.

However, shortly after the ranger’s station (about 10 minutes from the parking lot) the road gets too sandy to even ride a mountain bike. We had to walk the bikes for about 10 minutes until the edge of Saltaire, the first town north of the parking area. No cars, other than the local’s, are allowed here.

(above) Sandy roads not suited for a bikes - this is one of the barriers the locals use protect their towns from annoying bikers, I guess. The other is not to allow bikes aboard the ferries.

Walkway to a quiet beach in Saltaire

A modest-looking abode in Saltaire

Fences protecting the dunes on quiet beach in Saltaire. I can't believe we are less than 1 hour from the city!
Looks like it's time to clean the camera's sensor.

We spoke with one local who had been there for some time to get some perspective on what living on Fire Island is like. He loved it. Said that getting on and off the island was a little bit of a bother, though. During peak tourist seasons, residents are only allowed to come on and off the island one time per day with a car (minus some exceptions such as a woman with a child needing an excessive amount of chauffeur service for her daughter who was being educated at a private school on the “mainland”. In Saltaire I only saw about 2 cars, though.
Brian being awkward with his bike in "downtown" Saltaire
Although I am not sure, judging from the number of boats on the bayside, I think that most of the residents have their own boat transportation to/from the island and park their cars on the mainland. We did a little tour of the docks and found some pretty impressive boats.give me 1/4 of what this boat costs and I'll get more positive utility from it than its owner. Below are shaded, wooded walkways of Saltaire.

Houses in Fire Island seem modest relative to how much they actually cost. Some of the pictures show that “simple” seems to be the common theme around Saltaire. I perused the local grocery store and didn’t see anything truly gourmet and the small restaurants seemed to be geared for day tourists. Most of the locals may shop inland. A good number of the homes that we saw were for rent.

The Beach

After checking out Saltaire, we headed back to field 5 where the car was parked, went to the beach and enjoyed the larger-than-usual waves and sun.

Kirsten relaxing on the more crowded beach of "field 5", Robert Moses State Park

Some decent waves at Robert Moses Beach

Our return trip home wasn’t as fast. We left at 3:30pm and it took us about 2 hours to get home; we got stuck in a little traffic. Before heading home, I recommend that you stop by an Italian Ice Cream shop in West Babylon called “Ralph’s Italian Ices” – great, lighter ice cream with a ton of flavors to choose from (1363 Deer Park Ave North Babylon, NY 11703). I read that this is a ice cream chain but I have never seen any others.

Truly, a great trip and hard to believe this place is less than an hour away from our little apartment hidden in the concrete jungle of Manhattan. Next time we go, however, I’ll leave the bikes at home and enjoy the island on foot.

For more information about fire island click the link below:
Detailed cost information

If you have any information to share please post it for us! Thanks.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Last Rambles Walk, La Boqueria, Museu d’História de la Ciutat

Last walk down the Ramblas and visit to La Boqueria

Yesterday I took my final walk down the rambles to check out the Mercat St. Josep (a.k.a. La Boqueria). This market was first opened in the early 13th century and primarily sold meat. Today, however, the market sells just about everything. Strolling through it I saw fish, fruits, vegetables, pastas, wine, cheese, eggs, and meat of all kinds.
My Brazilian grandma would love this salted codfish

Here are some Croquetes which remind me of my grandma. She made the best ones.

There are also small bars where visitors can eat and drink with the larger bars actually having tables on the perimeter of the market, which is essentially the size of a medium-sized block. When I come back and spend more time here (and when my Spanish is a little stronger) I would like to ask some of the vendors about their perspective of the market and how it has changed in their lifetime.

On the way down to La Boqueria, I took a few pictures on Las Ramblas. I caught a photo of illegal street vendors selling bootleg items.
a paranoid seller

These guys open up their sheets and sell items for as long as they can before the police pass by. When the police come, they make a Santa Claus escape by grabbing the four corners of their sheets and running off with what looks like a large, white sack. It would be cool to get the police’s perspective on these characters.

Although too touristy for my tastes, the Ramblas has street performers which are entertaining to watch and imagine what they must be thinking day to day.
what's the shelf-life of a street performer?

As one makes his way down the Ramblas, there are definitely genres of merchants clustered together. I am not sure the meaning of this - seems like it would promote unwanted competition. First there are clusters of pet stores then flower shops and then (expensive) tapas restaurants.
pet shops on Las Rambles (above); flower shops (below)

The Cathedral

The next stop was the city’s old Cathedral, which seems to be essentially dedicated to a young girl named Eulalia (Barcelona’s patron saint) who was tortured and crucified by the Romans at the age of 13 for her faith. Her body remains in an elaborately decorated sarcophagus below the high altar of the church shown below.
Old mixed with modern conveniences

Carvings in the Cathedral

I also got a chance to go up to the roof of the Cathedral and check out the views from above. There also seems to be a lot of construction and renovation going on.

The roof of the cathedral overlooking the mess of the old city

Replacement of the old roof with newer material

Celebrity shot: Rick Steves taking pictures for his new guide.

Museu d’História de la Ciutat
The final stop of the day was my favorite - the Museu d’História de la Ciutat (City History Museum). The tour started with an elevator, which descended to ruins discovered under the street level, some of which appear to be still in the process of excavation.
outside of the city museum, which consists of multiple levels - the lowest ones dating back to 14 B.C.

I wasn't allowed to bring my camera into the museum but I recorded some interesting facts:

Interesting fact 1: The Domus
The wealthiest homes in the city (those of nobles) were called “Domus(es)” – which is a closed, inward-facing home. These homes were built with an Atrium and the Peristylum (garden), both that were open to the sky and contained inward slanting roofs to collect rainwater.

Interesting fact 2: Urine, ash, and lime to wash clothes
Laundry facilities in ancient Barcelona were influenced by the Romans. Outside the clothes washing facility would be a place where locals were encouraged to urinate. Urine was combined with lime and allowed to decompose to form ammonia (bleach). This was used with ash to clean clothes.

Interesting fact 3: Fish cleaning and processing facilities
Similar to laundry facilities, fish would be processed (chopped and washed) in their own facility. Fish blood and intestines were placed into a vessels called maceration tanks and allowed to ferment for 2-3 months. The product was called garum, which was a tasty, very expensive sauce enjoyed by the wealthy. Sounds pretty gross to me.

Interesting fact 4: ½ to ¾ liters per day!
Wine making was a huge deal here in and adults and children consumed it in large quantities (½ to ¾ liter per person per day). It was thought to have medicinal properties so I guess that made it all the more acceptable to drink. Much of the ruins unearthed (600 sq. meters), which were included in the museum, were that of wine making and storing facility.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kirsten goes home, Brian to cheap hotel

Bellvitge Hotel Stay

On Friday Kirsten left me for the United States – a sad day for me. I wanted to fly home with her since the program was canceled but couldn’t find a reasonable price on a ticket; peak vacation time creates the lack of coach seats immediately available. So prices are better for Monday or Tuesday of next week. If I flew out earlier, I would have paid nearly $1,650 one way.

So, I decided to stay in Barcelona for 4 nights at the cheapest, reasonable hotel I could find: The Heperia Fira Suites which was $64/night located near the second to the last stop on the L1 metro. This is about a 15-minute ride into the heart of the tourist district (The Ramblas). In short, the place is like a little one room apartment in Manhattan, with a separate bedroom and bathroom and one larger room containing the kitchen and living room. The shower is super fancy with multiple sprayers coming out of the wall. The hotel's location is strange, though; it's located in a working-class neighborhood.

The living room

Bathroom - wow. I dig the multiple shower heads

Balcony - Pretty cool... but it does look over the front walking space of a large

electronics store (like Best Buy).

I am staying right under the Large "M" in the "Media" sign on the roof.

The neighborhood - boring but quaint, practical and safe

And a boring but practical dinner - Ravioli with veggies and meatballs.

Wasn't I eating out last week? What the $%&* happened here?

What's that above the fruit shop?

Staying on the edge of town, which has allowed me to see what life is like outside of the rich, tourist-infested center of Barcelona. Here are some observations (some of which parallel those I have noticed between different socioeconomic areas in Manhattan):

First: gone are the small apartment buildings with cute balconies and windows. Apartment buildings here have an industrial look and feel to them that suggests utility is the number one concern.

typical residences in this area. Reminds me of the projects in Manhattan but this area feels safe

Living institutionalized

Second: In the city center there are many fit, young men and women walking around in stylish clothes. Here, there are mainly older people and families. Lots of children fill the open park spaces on the weekend and men frequent the “real” tapas bars at night. Also, over-weight people are more prevalent here.

Third: No clubs, fancy restaurants, or neat shops. Grocery stores, bakeries, odds and ends shops, working class tapas bars, and schools make up what is around here. This place is really community focused, not tourist-focused.

Friday Morning: retired men playing in the park

Saturday fun: A family picnic in the park - roped off to create sense of cozy party space?

One other family did this roping off thing as well; wish I were invited

The community feel, makes this place feel safer. I heard families outside of my apartment with small children playing until 12:30am. Otherwise, it’s quiet.