East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part I)

This past weekend marked an extraordinary event in New York City and more than 200 other cities around the world: Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is named after Jane Jacobs, a journalist and urban activist who pushed city governments to include local residents in decisions regarding neighborhood development. As part of her efforts, she is often credited with leading opposition to the proposed construction of an expressway through Greenwich Village in Manhattan in the late 1960s, preserving that neighborhood’s character to this day. Now, every year, local volunteers take people on free tours of their neighborhoods. In New York City, those tours are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society, which also offers other tours throughout the year.

This year, there were 68 pages worth of Jane’s Walks to choose from in New York City. I decided to explore the neighborhood of East Harlem in Manhattan, also sometimes known as El Barrio. I actually took 2 walks on Saturday, both in that same neighborhood but focusing on different themes and traveling on different streets. My feet hurt by the end of it, but both walks offered rich treasures.

The first walk, which I will focus on in this post, was named “The Heritage of Italian East Harlem.” It was led by LuLu LoLo, an artist, playwright, and actor who traces her family history in East Harlem back more than 100 years. Here’s a photo of our fabulous guide for the walk.

I knew that this was going to be a fun walk, as it was like we were all great friends from the start. (Well, some people actually did know each other already – this tour attracted a number of walkers whose families had lived in the neighborhood.) Although we had plenty to see on this walk, what made it special was LuLo’s stories about growing up in the neighborhood, and her explanation of how the neighborhood has evolved over time. Much has changed in recent decades, but LuLo brought old family photos to provide a bridge between the present and her childhood memories of East Harlem.

From our starting point, LuLu drew our attention to a faded advertisement for Bloomingdales Department Store located on the side of a nearby brick building. Although the sign has faded beyond legibility, it has been there since LuLu’s earliest memories. (And LuLu admitted, upon one walker’s nosy question, that she is in her early 70s.) See if you can make out the weathered sign in the photo below.

LuLu spent some time describing the early makeup of the neighborhood, where immigrants had settled next to others from their old communities. On this street, on this block, lived the Italians from the province of Basilicata. Another street was home to Germans, another Irish, another Russian. Over here were Puerto Ricans, and shops owned by Jewish immigrants, with living quarters behind the storefronts, were there. Further down were African-American residents. I quickly came to appreciate the diversity, the complexity of East Harlem.

Along with the diverse population came complex politics. This corner, and a neighboring one before it, were known as “Lucky Corner,” the place where a stage was set up during campaign season for candidates to speak to the crowds. Want to gain the votes of the people in the neighborhood? Then you knew you had to come to Lucky Corner.

We learned about Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who earned a reputation as the protector of the working class, regardless of race or ethnicity. LuLu shared precious childhood memories of the congressman, who died of a heart attack at a young age, as well as Leonard Covello, an educator who became principal of a local high school and persuaded immigrant families to let their children go to school. As we walked along 116th Street, LuLu pointed out where these and other Italian Americans of note lived, as well as the music store that has been in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, the building formerly home to the Cosmo Theater, a row of tenement buildings where immigrant families have live generation after generation.

Soon we pass a community art project. Along one side of the art project, there is a suggestion box. Members of the community are invited to make suggestions about what the next version of the art walls will look like. The current theme: environmental concerns.

As we walk further, LuLu tells us more about her parents, Rose and Peter Pascale, who were long-time community activists. For many years, Peter ran Haarlem House, a settlement house that served the immigrant community of East Harlem. In recognition of his years of service, part of the street has been renamed Pete Pascale Place.

Here, our group stands in front of La Guardia Memorial House, built on the site of the old Haarlem House after the city determined that it needed replaced. The new community building is named after Fiorello La Guardia, onetime mayor of New York City. A senior center located on site is named after former Commissioner of Immigration Edward Corsi, another of East Harlem’s past residents.

On the side of this building we found this beautiful mosaic mural commemorating Dr. Antonia Pantoja, who spent her professional life taking care of the community of East Harlem. The mosaic is the work of local artist Manny Vega.

LuLu pointed out the former Benjamin Franklin High School building, where Leonard Covello was once principal. The building is now home to a specialized public high school known as the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

Our final stop was the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of only four Roman Catholic Churches designated as Pontifical Shrines in the Western Hemisphere. LuLu explained that Italian workmen labored to build the church in their off hours, but in the church’s early history the Italians were relegated to the basement for religious services and not allowed to worship in the main sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church’s exterior is concealed by construction scaffolding as the building undergoes repairs, so the only photo I could get outside was of this intriguing bulb-lit sign. (The shrine’s website has a photo of the building without the scaffolding, if you are interested.)

The interior was beautiful though, and here are some photos of the sanctuary and adjoining space.

At this point, the walk disbanded, and each of us went our own way. Despite my tired feet (walking on concrete has that effect!), I trekked to my next Jane’s Walk – also located in East Harlem – which was due to start soon. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

As I think about it, a Jane’s Walk is a perfect fit for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Columbia University’s Beautiful Campus

If you’ve never been to the campus of Columbia University, it is definitely worth a visit.Visitors are welcome to tour the campus grounds, using self-guided tour materials offered on the university’s website here. Columbia University has a long history, at least by American terms – it was founded by royal charter from King George the II in 1754, when New York was still an English colony. First known as King’s College, the university’s name was changed to Columbia after the American Revolution.

Columbia University moved to its current location in the Manhattan neighborhood of Morningside Heights in 1897, and the buildings you will see on a walking tour have all been built since that time. One of the first buildings you will see as you enter campus is this one, the Low Library. Low Library is the oldest building on campus and now serves as the university administration’s headquarters. It’s also home to the Visitor Center, and you can pick up a map for your journey. (This is also one of only two buildings open to the public – other campus buildings require a university ID card for entry.)

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In front of Low Library is this statue, titled Alma Mater. The sculpture was created by artist Daniel Chester French, known best for his larger-than-life statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

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Another early building constructed on the new campus was Earl Hall, which from the first has housed diverse religious groups. From the tour materials, I learned that the building also contains the offices of community services organizations.

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Of course there are numerous academic buildings to see, but some of my favorite discoveries were public art. There was this statue by George Grey Barnard titled The Great God Pan.

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In contrast, there was also this modern bronze sculpture, Reclining Figure, by Henry Moore.

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A short distance away is Scholars Lion, by Greg Wyatt.

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Scholars Lion is a real contrast with another nearby sculpture, Clement Meadmore’s The Curl.

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As I continued walking, I found this statue titled Le Marteleur (not mentioned in the Visitor’s Guide), as well as a bronze casting of Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur.

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Even smaller ornaments such as urns, light posts, and fountains – some simple, others ornate – are beautiful.

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Finally, a couple of photos of other distinctive campus buildings: St. Paul’s Chapel, which appeared to be undergoing some restoration, and Butler Library, the center of the university’s library system since the 1930s.

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It is easy to get to Columbia University by public transportation. Take the 1 train to the 116th Street station. The station is located next to the university’s entrance.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Although St. Patrick’s Cathedral is not one of the oldest churches in New York City, and certainly not nearly as old as the famous cathedrals in Europe, it is still an interesting example of neo-Gothic architecture. The original St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in Lower Manhattan in the early nineteenth century, but in the 1850s the archbishop determined that the city should have a grander cathedral, one more in keeping with the growth of the Roman Catholic community in New York City. The cathedral’s architect was James Renwick, and it was constructed between 1858 and 1879. (The American Civil War greatly affected the cathedral’s financing and construction schedule.) Although the location chosen for this new cathedral was barely part of the city in the 1850s, today St. Patrick’s Cathedral is situated in one of the busiest areas of Manhattan, bordered by Fifth Avenue on the West and Madison Avenue on the East, 50th Street to the South and 51st to the North.

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The Cathedral’s bronze front doors are large and imposing, with intricate details of religious figures.

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At the top of the door are Jesus and the Apostles.

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The door panels include the following people:

  1. Top left: Saint Joseph, Patron of the Church;
  2. Top right: St. Patrick, Patron of the Church (and the Cathedral’s namesake);
  3. Middle left: Father Isaac Jogues, a Catholic martyr and saint who was the first priest to come to Manhattan Island in the seventeenth century (when New York was still a Dutch colony and Manhattan was known as New Amsterdam);
  4. Middle right: Saint Francis X. Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and known for her ministry to Italian immigrants to the United States;
  5. Bottom left: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, the first Native American woman to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church; and
  6. Bottom right: Mother Elizabeth Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity and first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized (and referred to on the door panel as the “Daughter of New York.”

Here are close-up views of a couple of those panels, the ones for St. Patrick (with a little bit of Saint Francis X. Cabrini) and Mother Elizabeth Seton.

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Inside the Cathedral, there is much to see. The white marble is striking, and the numerous stained glass windows allow in a lot of light.

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There’s an imposing organ, which according to the tour has 7,855 pipes! (Not all are visible in this photo, obviously!)

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There are numerous smaller altars along the sides of the Cathedral, dedicated to various saints.

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There is this very different statue of Mother Elizabeth Seton. I found it interesting how it didn’t really fit with the other altars, but its simplicity was striking.

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Even if you are not Roman Catholic (as I am not), a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral is interesting. The Cathedral also has a Tour app for Apple and Android devices – there are versions for adults or children, as well as a Spanish-language version. As a warning though, there may be times were a funeral or other religious service is going on, and the Cathedral may be closed to visitors during those times, especially if prominent people are attending and security is a concern. For other services, visitors are still allowed to come in but are directed to the aisles along the edges. I personally found it a bit disconcerting when I realized that a small funeral service was being held, and here I had been snapping photos across the nave! I was not alone though, as there were probably more than a hundred other visitors there at the time, doing the same thing. The funeral service let out not long after I arrived, thankfully, so I had not gone very far before I realized what was happening.

If you wish to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral yourself, the closest subway stations are the Fifth Avenue/53rd Street station (E and M trains), and the 47-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center station (B, D, F, and M trains).

Top to Bottom Mural Project in Long Island City

Many people don’t realize it, but Long Island City, located across the East River from Manhattan in the borough of Queens, is host to some amazing art museums – including experimental art museum MoMA PS1, the Sculpture Center, and the Noguchi Museum. There’s also free public art, particularly street art and murals. One of the latest mural projects, curated by Art Org NYC, is known as Top to Bottom.

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Top to Bottom is a series of murals by more than 50 artists, painted on the three-story exterior of a building that takes up a city block in Long Island City. If you go, make sure that you walk all the way around the building, looking both high and low – there’s a lot to see! And regardless your taste in art, you are likely to find murals you like, as there is such a variety. (There’s even a poem painted along the top edge of the building!)

Here are some of my favorites. (More photos are available in my Instagram gallery @findingnyc1.) I’ve previously featured a mural by artist Alice Mizrachi at the Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria, but there’s another one of her murals here. Like her other mural, I found this one both beautiful and compelling.

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There are also two wheatpaste murals by artist lmnopi, including this beautiful one titled, “Welcome.” This artist’s work always has so much power, such a strong social message, commenting on themes related to human rights, refugees, child labor, and immigration.

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I was also excited to find this mural by Chris “Daze” Ellis. (You may recall, Daze has a major exhibition going on right now at the Museum of the City of New York, which I previously explored here.) This is the first time I’ve seen one of his public art pieces.

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There was this graffiti heart mural by Bio TATS Cru.

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This one is by Case McLaim.

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I love how this mural, by Oksana Propopenko, seems to reference the art deco style of the building’s doors.

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And don’t forget to look up! Here are some interesting figures up high on the second and third stories of the building, painted by street artist Cern.

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This mural, by WERC, is detailed and vibrant – the more I look at it, the more I notice the small details in this piece.

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I loved the colors and personality of this owl mural, perched up high on the building. This one is by Brazilian street artist Binho Ribeiro.

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Or how about the details from this cartoon-like mural, painted by Yes2.

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Finally, here’s a part of the fabulously detailed mural by Magda Love.

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Interested in seeing the Top to Bottom murals yourself? (And you really should!) The building is located at 43-01 21st Street in Long Island City. There are multiple subway stations nearby. You can take the E train to Court Square-23rd Street (the M train also stops at this station on weekdays). Or you can take the 7 train to Court Square or Queensborough Plaza, or the F train to the 21st Street-Queensbridge station. From this area, you will have a great view of the Queensborough Bridge, as well as Silvercup Studios, with its iconic neon sign that is visible from above-ground trains and major roadways.

Discovering Street Art in Astoria, Queens

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Mural by Alice Mizrachi (@am_nyc), Welling Court Mural Project

Love art but looking for something different to do in New York City? Of course, there are amazing art museums in the city – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Bronx Art Museum, and the Queens Museum, just to name a few. But New York City is also known for amazing street art and graffiti, and murals are spread across the city. If you appreciate public art in its many forms, a walking tour of of some the city’s murals is a great way to see part of the city for a couple of hours (or more, depending on your interests).

One place where you can view a huge number of murals within a relatively small area is Astoria, Queens. I recently toured the murals of the Welling Court Mural Project, which is located in Astoria. The Welling Court Murals Project has been going on for six years, and each year it gets bigger and bigger – this last year’s project led to the creation of more than 130 murals! It is really kind of magical. Each time I came to an intersection, I could look around the corner and see more murals! There are murals on the sides of buildings, murals in the alleys, even a small poster/mural on the side of a dumpster! Some murals have political messages; others very much come from the graffiti tradition. And the murals encompass a variety of styles guaranteed to satisfy any art lover.

Here are some of my favorites. This first one is a beautiful, powerful mural that focuses on the plight of Yazidi women, enslaved, tortured, and killed by the Islamic State in the Middle East.

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Collaboration by Lexi Bella, Danielle Mastrione, and 2esae

This next mural is very different, a colorful one by street artist Andy Golub. His work is distinctive – so it’s easy to recognize his work no matter where it’s found. In fact, if you look closely as you walk through Welling Court, you will see another of his murals (but in a different set of colors). See if you can find it!

Mural by Andy Golub
Mural by Andy Golub

There’s this beautiful mural by Dasic Fernández.

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Mural by Dasic Fernandez

And this geometric work by Jonathan Villoch, who goes by the street name Depoe (Instagram account @depoh).

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Mural by Jonathan Villoch, street name Depoe

Here’s another colorful, fun piece. It’s a collaboration by Australian street artist Crisp, who is currently based in Bogotá, Colombia, and Praxis, a street artist who works in both New York City and Bogotá.

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Mural collaboration by Crisp and Praxis

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Here’s an example of one of the graffiti murals. This one is by street artist Isoking.

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Mural by street artist Isoking

There’s also this Marilyn Monroe mural, painted by street artist JC.

Mural by JC (Instragram @JCBKNYC)
Mural by JC (Instragram @JCBKNYC)

Street artist Sinned painted this unique mural.

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Mural by street artist Sinned

And this final one, painted on a gate by Bishop203, also known on Instagram as @lowbrow_bk – it’s bright color will capture your attention. (There’s another one as well, located close by. You won’t be able to miss it!)

Mural by Bishop203 (JAT1) (Instagram @lowbrow_bk)
Mural by Bishop203 (JAT1) (Instagram @lowbrow_bk)

There are so many murals at Welling Court that I could only feature some of them here. If you are interested in seeing more, I’ve posted a lot more photos here on Instagram. You should also remember that street art is usually temporary. Because the murals are outside, they are weathered by the rain and snow. Eventually, most will likely be painted over with new murals – which means that you probably have a limited time to see many of the murals I’ve included here, but there will be more to view in the future. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes street art exciting. You can go back again and again, and yet see something new each time!

If you’re planning to tour the Welling Court Mural Project, make sure that you wear comfortable shoes. The murals are in a concentrated area, but you will be walking quite a bit. The good news is you’ll be so caught up looking at the murals that you won’t even notice how much you’re walking!

If you are traveling by public transportation (my preference, as you know!) you can take the N or Q train to 30th Avenue in Astoria. Although these lines start out underground in Manhattan, they move above ground once they’re in Queens, so it gives you another perspective of the city. From the train station, walk northwest on 30th Avenue (the cross streets will get smaller as you go). When you have walked about 10 minutes, you will start seeing murals in the distance. The more that you walk around the neighborhood, the more murals you will discover!

Visiting Rockaway Brewing Company

I recently learned that an English travel blogger I’ve been corresponding with, Marion, was traveling to New York City for the first time with her son Mark. (You can find Marion’s blog, Love Travelling, here.) We arranged to meet in person while Marion was here. I wanted to take them somewhere beyond the usual tourist destinations in the city and decided that Long Island City would be our starting point. The plan was to taste some beer at Rockaway Brewing Company’s taproom before walking the short distance to Gantry Plaza State Park, by the East River, and watching the sunset over Manhattan.

Rockaway Brewing Company is located in an old brick manufacturing building that has some great murals painted on the side.

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Here are a couple of photos of the murals on the side of the building.

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A sign painted on the side of the building appears to explain the bicycle theme:

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Because we arrived at the taproom at 3:00 pm on a Thursday, right after it opened, we had the place to ourselves for a little while. We took advantage of the intimate atmosphere, talking about Marion and Mark’s adventures in New York City to that point and learning more about the beer. Rockaway offers 8 beers on tap, as well as a couple of special beers, as demonstrated by their chalkboard. Some of the beers are always available, while others are seasonal. Here’s the list of what was on tap during our visit. (They also serve draft cider from Descendant Cider, a local cider maker – a great option if you are with someone who doesn’t like beer.)

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The brewery has two set tasting flights: the “classic” flight, which consists of beers that are regularly available, and the “other” flight, which are the seasonal beers. You can also choose to mix and match. On this occasion, I decided to create my own flight, as seen in the photo below. From left to right, we have the Helles, the Winter Whistler, the Extra Stout, and the Nitro Black Gold Stout.

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All four beers were delicious. Rockaway makes very drinkable beers. As you can probably tell from the tasting flight I selected, I have a soft spot for stouts. Both of these stouts were absolutely delicious and still distinctly different from each other. They had a smoothness, with the Extra Stout having more distinct chocolate notes, and the Black Gold having a lovely suggestion of coffee so often present in a good stout. I would definitely order any of the beers I tried again. The bar manager also gave us bags of Cape Cod kettle chips to snack on, which was a nice touch.

It was a cold day out, and the tap room was nice and cozy. There’s nice seating in the bar area, but there is also another space upstairs which is perfect if you come with a small group of people. Another fun thing about Rockaway – they often host pop-up dining options that change regularly. The food is usually available on weekends only, so we didn’t get to sample anything during our Thursday visit – but that just provides an excuse to come back again! Check the brewery’s events calendar if you’re interested in one of Rockaway Brewing’s pop-up food events.

On the weekend, the brewery also offers tours of their brewing room. I actually went back last weekend to take the tour since it wasn’t offered during our Thursday visit. (The second visit also gave me the chance to try beers I didn’t try the first time! They were all delicious too.) The tour was interesting and informative, and I was left with a new appreciation for the process of putting beers into cans! Here are a couple of photos I took from the tour.

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Rockaway Brewing is one of my favorite places to go in Long Island City, and a great destination to take visitors. If traveling by subway, take the E or the M to the Court Square-23rd Street Station (the M train only runs Monday through Friday), the G to the 21st Street-Van Alst Station, or the 7 train to Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue.

Traveling Back in Time: Vintage Subway Ride

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If you read Finding NYC on a regular basis, you know I’m a fan of public transportation. So when I heard that MTA was running vintage subway trains every Sunday during December, I was first in line to check it out. The trains are made up of R1/9 subway cars; the car I rode was an R6. (From my research, I’ve discovered that R6 cars were built in 1935 and 1936. Some remained in regular service until the 1970s.)

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The outside of the cars sets the tone for for the experience. They are riveted metal, painted dark green with “City of New York” stenciled in gold. It was fun pulling up to each station and watching the reactions of people who were waiting for the train. You could always tell when people had no advance warning that the vintage trains were running because of the surprised looks on their faces.

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There are many aspects that make riding in these vintage subway cars very different than the usual subway riders’ experience today. The overhead light bulbs would occasionally flicker, and ceiling fans kept the air circulating throughout the car. The seats had cushions filled with springs, making for a slightly bouncy ride. Vintage advertising stretched overhead – although the form is similar to what riders still see today, the content reflected days gone by. Another reminder that times have changed: the vintage subway cars have no intercom system, and subway workers stepped out on the platform each stop to announce, “This is the M Train to Queens Plaza! M Train to Queens Plaza!”

Here’s one of the route signs for the vintage subway train – it’s not correct, as the train started at the 2nd Street F Station, not the Houston-2nd Avenue Station, and it ended at the Queens Plaza Station, not Forest Hills.

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There were quite a variety of riders, from those who hadn’t known that vintage trains were riding but still hopped on when they had the opportunity, to families with children and train aficionados. I also saw a couple of young women dressed in vintage outfits, like this one here.

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If you have the chance to ride one of the vintage trains, I definitely recommend it. The ride was a lot of fun, and it costs the same as any other subway ride in New York City – $2.75. The MTA website has the list of departure times and stops. (It also mentions the vintage buses that are serving the M42 route on certain days this month!)

Picturing Manhattan: Views from a Boat Tour

One way to get some great photographs of Manhattan is from the water. A few weeks ago, we decided to take a boat tour around the city. It was a bright, sunny day. Unfortunately, the warmer temperatures combined with the sun made the sky a little hazy. I was able to capture some good photographs, particularly of some of the bridges, but the skyline photographs were not as clear. Still, I think even those turned out pretty interesting!

There’s no better way to see the bridges of New York City than from a boat. I got some good shots of some of the most iconic ones. First, here are a couple of different views of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Next, here is one of the George Washington Bridge. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the George Washington Bridge, claims that it is the busiest bridge in the world–but you couldn’t tell that from this photograph!

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The Manhattan Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Chinatown, makes for a good photograph or two.

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And here’s the Williamsburg Bridge, connecting the lower east side of Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn:

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And finally the Washington Bridge (not to be confused with the George Washington Bridge), connecting the Bronx to Manhattan. I like the combination of stone and steel on this bridge, which was built in built in the 1880s.

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It’s possible to get some interesting angles for photographs of the downtown skyline, including good view of One World Trade Center, now the tallest building in the Western hemisphere.

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If you go on the right day, you may even get some photographs of sailboats on the water.

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Of course, Manhattan boat tours also include the opportunity to take photographs of the Statute of Liberty, so here are a couple of those:

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Here’s one last shot from the back of the boat, as we traveled down the Hudson River during the tour.

Hudson River from the boat

A little bit more about the tour: There are a lot of boat tours out there. We chose a tour that went all the way around the island of Manhattan because we had never had the opportunity to see the northern part from that vantage point. The tour lasted 2 1/2 hours, which to be honest is too long, especially in the sun. We splurged and upgraded our tickets with the promise of better, reserved seating, no lines, and free water. The seats were still not that comfortable, but they probably made it easier to get good photographs. For most people, a shorter tour that goes around the southern end of Manhattan would be sufficient–you still have the opportunity to see many of the bridges and the Statue of Liberty, and there are plenty of awe-inspiring views of Manhattan.