New York City’s Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival

New York City is known for its many parades, but the Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival is unique. Everyone is welcome to participate, and there’s no need to register in advance – just show up in your Easter finery, complete with an Easter hat or bonnet, and you are welcome to join in.

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This isn’t a parade in the traditional sense. There are no decorated floats, and no marching bands. In fact, there really isn’t a lot of organization at all. Parade participants and viewers mingle together, and the parade extends for approximately 6 hours, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to attend the entire time. Show up when you want, and leave when you want. There really are almost no rules!)

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Some marchers are dressed for church, wearing hats that are similarly appropriate. Others have created their own hats and coordinating outfits based on any variety of themes, both fun and fantastical.

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The Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival has roots that go back to the 1870s. It is held on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 49th and 57th Streets. If you go next year, be prepared for the crowds. This is truly one of those special New York City experiences that everyone wants to participate in!

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

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When many visitors think of New York City landmarks, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Brooklyn Bridge. Millions of people walk the Brooklyn Bridge each year, making it one of the most popular locations in the city. What makes the bridge so accessible to pedestrians is an elevated walkway which allows pedestrians to remain safe from traffic and offers incredible views of both Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The bridge’s popularity also means that it can be extremely crowded in good weather and during peak times, such as weekends. If possible, try to visit the Brooklyn Bridge early in the day on weekdays (or late in the evening, as you can admire the city lights from the bridge). Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes – the pedestrian path over the Brooklyn Bridge is over 1.1 miles long (about 1.8 kilometers).

The pedestrian walkway is fairly narrow, with one side reserved for cyclists. Be careful not to accidentally step in front of a cyclist, as they fly by at a rapid pace!

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If you look northward from the bridge, you can catch glimpses of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in the distance.

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Looking south, there is the city’s financial district and the Southside Seaport. (You may catch a glimpse of the masts of one of the historic ships moored at the South Street Seaport Museum.)

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As you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, you will have a good view of another iconic New York City bridge as well – the Manhattan Bridge.

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Some visitors attach locks to the bridge to commemorate their love, but New York City’s Department of Transportation discourages this practice and regularly cuts the locks off the bridge. (The locks can do damage to the bridge, and, if someone drops a lock, it can fall onto the lanes of traffic below.)

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How do you get to the Brooklyn Bridge? If coming from Manhattan, there are several subway lines that will bring you close to the entrance to the pedestrian walkway over the bridge. Take the R train to the City Hall station, the 4, 5, or 6 trains to the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall Station, the J, Z, A, or C trains to the Chambers Street stations, or the 2 or 3 trains to Park Place. If starting from the Brooklyn side, take the A or C trains to High Street or the F train to York Street.

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.

Subway Station Art – 14th Street/8th Avenue Station

New York City is home to countless examples of great public art, with many exhibitions located in subway stations. And this art is free to view – assuming that you are traveling by subway. I’ve always enjoyed glimpses of the mosaics and sculptures scattered throughout many of the subway stations in the city, but more recently I’ve started viewing the subway stations as a destination in themselves, miniature art museums, rather than just transportation hubs. As I’ve done so, I’ve been able to learn even more about the public art offerings in New York City.

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The 14th Street/8th Avenue Station is one such destination, containing a large collection of bronze sculptures by artist Tom Otterness, collectively titled “Life Underground.” Some of the sculptures are easy to find, but others require a little more effort. The more you explore the station, the more unique sculptures you will find – some in the most unexpected of places! Check high and low, behind and underneath. You’ll be rewarded for your explorations.

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I found this fun sculpture underneath the stairs on the A/C/E platform. Thankfully, they can’t really saw through the pillar!

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You may have heard the mythological accounts of alligators in the New York City sewers. There are several sculptures like this one, referencing that famous myth.

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Here are a few more examples of the sculptures located on the A/C/E platforms.

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The stairways and ramps between the mezzanine level and the L platform provide opportunities to discover additional sculptures, so make sure you explore all platforms and the mezzanine level in the station. One of my favorite pieces is this one, hanging above the ramp to the L platform. Here’s both the full view and a close-up of that sculpture.

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Here are two more sculptures from the L platform, although there are still many more for you to discover if you visit!

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Want to see these intriguing sculptures for yourself? You can reach the 14th Street/8th Avenue Station on the A, C, E, and L trains. Once you’re done touring the station, Chelsea Market and the High Line are close by, as well as the NYC neighborhoods of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District.

Staten Island Ferry

For many New Yorkers, the Staten Island Ferry is a means to commute to work, but it can also be an opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. You can take some great photos of the downtown Manhattan skyline from the ferry, and you have two opportunities to do so – as you head away from Manhattan towards Staten Island, and again as you head back to the city on the return trip. And one of the best things about the Staten Island Ferry: it’s absolutely free!

Here are a couple of examples of the photos you can take from the ferry. The day that I took these photos, the air was a bit hazy, but you can still see the possibilities. First, here’s the look back at the Whitehall Terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan, where I boarded the ferry.

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I took this photo of the skyline which shows both the possibilities but also the drawbacks of shooting photos on a hazy day. The tallest building is One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, built near the site of the 9/11 Memorial.

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As the ferry travels further from Manhattan, the perspective changes further.

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You may also get good photos of the Brooklyn Bridge and Governor’s Island, depending on your location on the ferry.

As we traveled further, we passed a ferry going the opposite direction. This is what the Staten Island Ferry looks like.

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The ferry also passes by the Statue of Liberty. She’s still some distance away, but with a good camera you can capture some special shots.

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If you’re thinking of taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, here are some things you should know. First, remember that locals use the ferry to get to work every day. That means that the ferry is most crowded during peak commuting times in the morning and early evening. You will have better views – meaning you will have better photo ops as well – if you travel on the ferry outside of those peak times. You can access the ferry schedule here. The ferry runs 24 hours a day. You will experience great views during daylight hours, but it can also be a magical way to view the city after the sun has set at night. Keep in mind the weather as well. If it is raining, foggy, or hazy, your views will not be as good. If it is cold or windy, make sure you are bundled up. The best views are from the outside deck areas, and the wind is even colder when the ferry is moving.

It’s also helpful to know what to expect at the ferry terminals. There is no waiting in line. When the doors open for boarding, you just work your way with the rest of the crowd to board. If you are uncomfortable in large crowds, you may find the boarding process intimidating. There is some seating where you can wait prior to boarding, as well as decent public restroom facilities.

Where can you catch the Staten Island Ferry? In Manhattan, you can catch the ferry at the Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of the island, near downtown. To get to the Whitehall Terminal, take the 4 or 5 train to the Bowling Green station, the J or Z trains to the Broad Street station, the R train to Whitehall Street station, or the 1 train to South Ferry (make sure you are on one of the first five cars for the 1 train).

From Staten Island, you can take the Staten Island Railroad to the St. George Ferry Terminal. Numerous buses also go to the St. George Ferry Terminal, although some only run on weekdays. For more information about getting to the ferry terminals, please see the Staten Island Ferry’s website here.

Martin Wong at the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Bronx Museum of the Arts for the first time. I know I’ve said this before about other museums I’ve visited, but I think the Bronx Museum may become one of my favorite museums in the city! On this visit, I explored an incredible exhibition – Martin Wong: Human Instamatic. Chinese American painter Martin Wong (1946-1999) was born in Portland, Oregon, but spent his childhood in San Francisco. After moving to New York City in 1978, Wong spent much of the rest of his adult life living and painting in New York City, and his paintings reflect that influence.

The exhibition is truly magnificent, with more than 90 paintings and other materials that span Wong’s career as an artist. It’s clear from his works that the city, with its complexities, its grit, and its diversity, inspired him. I want to give a small sample of those paintings here, but, if you get the chance, you really should go see the entire exhibit yourself. I know I’ll be back before the exhibition ends on February 14, 2016.

This first painting comes from the first gallery in the exhibition, and was painted in the early years after Wong’s move to New York, while he was living in Meyer’s Hotel in lower Manhattan. It is titled “Tell My Troubles to the Eight Ball (Eureka),” dated 1978-1981.

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This second painting, “The Flood,” 1984, has two elements that are repeated in many of Wong’s works: the detailed brickwork, so common in many old New York City tenement buildings, and the firemen. I find this particular painting striking because of the prominent hand of the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high – but made of brick, like the tenements.

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This next painting shows two other elements that Wong often used: American sign language and newspaper headlines about criminal cases.  This painting is titled “Courtroom Shocker: Jimmy the Weasil Sings Like a Canary,” 1981.

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And here’s one final painting from the Martin Wong exhibition, utilizing Chinatown as inspiration. It’s titled “Canal Street,” 1992. If you look closely, you will also see Wong’s small self-portrait in this work.

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While I was at the museum, there was also another excellent exhibition, called (de)(re)construction. The exhibition includes a number of works from the museum’s permanent collection, but is only on exhibit through January 10, 2016. I’ll leave you with one photo of a work from the (de)(re)construction exhibit, Mary Heilmann’s “Monochromatic Chairs,” 2015. One reason why I love this particular work of art actually comes from the description of the piece, which includes this quote by Heilmann: “Museums are places to hang out.” And these chairs invite visitors to do just that!

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To get to the Bronx Museum by subway, take the B or D trains to the 167th Street station. (The D does not stop at 167th Street at all times–double check the MTA website for more information.) You can also take the 4 train to the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium station, but the walk is a bit further. Keep an eye out for the painted murals at the corner of Grand Concourse and 166th Street. The black and white portrait is of DJ Kool Herc, commonly credited as the father of hip hop music in the Bronx in the 1970s. There are several colorful murals as well.

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Unconventional Wreaths at Central Park Arsenal

On the edge of Central Park, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 64th Street, is a building that looks like a medieval fortress: the Arsenal. The Arsenal has served many roles over the years (National Guard munitions depot, police precinct, and the city’s first Museum of Natural History, among them), but now it is part of Central Park.

On the third floor, the Arsenal has a small gallery with rotating exhibits. It’s not really something big enough to make a special trip for, but if you are visiting that part of Central Park, it can be a fun thing to do. Right now, the Arsenal Gallery is host to the 33rd annual exhibition of wreaths made from unconventional materials. The exhibit is something very different – don’t expect traditional holiday decorations here! But it made for a fun visit. Here’s a few of my favorites, based upon their use of unconventional materials and themes.

My favorite, made by Penelope Coe, is called “Lost and Found Gloves.” And that is exactly what it is made of – lost gloves that were found in New York City.

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Although this one definitely doesn’t fit the traditional idea of a Christmas wreath, I also enjoyed it. Made by Edward Gormley, the wreath weaves together power strips and is called “Reset.”

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The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sponsored this wreath, made entirely out of packaged condoms. It was made by Caroline Burwell, Regina Gourdin, Veronica Lewin, Jennifer MacGregor, Jennifer Matsuki, and Estella Yu. Quite unexpected, but also entertaining.

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This last one has an underlying thread of political/social commentary. By Nadia Jarrett, it’s called “I’ll be home for Christmas … maybe.”

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Headed to this part of Central Park by public transportation? The M1, M2, M3, and M4 buses all have stops close to the Arsenal (if going North, on Madison Avenue; if going South, on Fifth Avenue). It’s also not a far walk from the subway. Take the R train to the 5th Avenue/59th Street station, the F train to the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station, or the 6 train to 68th Street/Hunter College.

The Arsenal Gallery is only open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, and the Wreath Exhibit continues until January 7, 2016.

Strolling Through Central Park

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As much as New Yorkers love the hustle and bustle of the city, sometimes we just need a place to recharge our batteries. For me, one of those places is Central Park. One reason why I enjoy Central Park so much is that it is different every time I go. As the seasons change, the trees and flowers change too. Around a corner may be a musician I’ve never heard before or a statue I’ve not noticed previously. There’s always a new path to take. Or, if I want to sit on a bench and watch the world go by, the park is the perfect location for people watching.

During a recent walk through the southern portion of Central Park, I enjoyed the last remnants of Autumn. Although many leaves had already fallen to the ground, the trees still had enough color to make the park picturesque. This was true even though it was a blustery, overcast day.

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I like to explore the park without a plan in mind, choosing paths on a whim and trying to find small treasures I’ve never found before. There are also numerous rock formations that are fun to climb on. They provide a different perspective of the park and surrounding areas.

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Of course, Central Park is also known for its ice skating rinks, which are now open for the season. Here’s a photograph of people skating at the Wollman Rink, located at the southern end of the park. The buildings along 59th Street overlook the location.

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The southern end of Central Park also has some intriguing buildings to explore. First, there is the Chess and Checkers House, located on top of a small hill. Inside the Chess and Checkers House, you can check out chess or checkers pieces and play on the permanent boards located outside. Unfortunately, the day I was there it was a little cold for outdoor checkers! On the weekends, there is also space available to play games inside.

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Nearby is the Dairy, built in 1870. In its early days, it offered milk to the city’s children; now, it hosts a park information kiosk. The Dairy’s ornate gingerbread trim makes it picturesque.

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A third building is located near the Chess and Checkers House as well: the building housing Central Park’s vintage carousel.

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There are quite a number of statues scattered across Central Park, and on this visit I went looking for a few of them. The first one I found was Indian Hunter, an 1866 sculpture by John Quincy Adams Ward. I think it made for a striking photograph, especially with the chartreuse green of the trees behind it.

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Near a statute of Christopher Columbus I stumbled upon a musical performance by a group called the Good Morning Nags. The band has a great sound, somewhat a cross between bluegrass, folk, and rock. (Their Facebook page calls it American roots rock.) A number of people had stopped to listen, and I did too for a couple of songs. It was quite a treat.

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A short distance behind the band was another John Quincy Adams Ward statue, this one of William Shakespeare.

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Another sculpture that caught my eye was Christophe Fratin’s Eagles and Prey. Fratin created the sculpture in 1850, and it was brought to Central Park in 1863. (The Central Park website states that this statue is the oldest known statue in any New York City park.)

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Before I left that day, I decided to head to the Bethesda Terrace and fountain. A series of steps leads downwards to the terrace and fountain, overlooking the Lake. There are beautiful stone details everywhere you look, including some charming and quirky stone carvings.

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Here’s a good photograph of the fountain, with the Lake in the background. You can rent rowboats at the nearby Boathouse if you wish to go out on the lake.

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The interior of the terrace has interesting architectural details. The ceilings are covered in beautiful tiles, and the walls display lovely colored frescoes.

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There was one final bonus as well–A singer, part of a group known as Infinity’s Song, was singing at the bottom of the steps. She had a full, rich voice, and she accompanied herself on the guitar. Her performance made for the perfect end to this particular park walk.

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There never an end to the adventures that can be had in Central Park–I’m sure I’ll have additional posts about other park walks in future posts. Stay tuned!

Discovering the German-American Steuben Parade

If you’ve been in New York City for any length of time, you’ve figured out that New Yorkers throw parades for pretty much anything. They’re always a lot of fun, and you never know what you will see when you attend. Last Saturday, I decided to head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side. As I approached Fifth Avenue near the Met, I stumbled upon the annual German-American Steuben Parade.

Despite some German heritage far back in my family tree, I’ve never attended the Steuben Parade before. It was a great experience, with parade participants and bystanders equally getting into the festive spirit! As you might expect, there was a lot of lederhosen and other traditional German clothing to be seen at the parade, as well as marching bands and various German cultural institutions participating. While I watched the parade, I took numerous photographs. Here is a sampling of what the parade included:

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DSC00534The parade participants showed that age was no boundary:

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Somehow a German-American parade needs to have some representative Volkswagen beetles–here’s one from this parade. I particularly like the vintage suitcases on top.

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Of course, every parade needs at least one fire truck, so here it is:

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Finally, in the spirit of New York City, not everything in this parade was German. What would a NYC parade be without some bagpipers?

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Every parade has a background story, and I was curious about this one. From my research, I’ve learned that the first German-American parade was held in Ridgewood, Queens, in 1956. That parade was so successful that the following year the German-American Steuben Parade was organized in Manhattan, and it’s been held each year since. Wondering about the parade’s name? Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a Prussian general who served with George Washington during the American Revolution and helped to train American troops to fight against the British. If you are interested in learning more about the parade, including next year’s dates, you should check out the parade organization’s website.

I enjoyed the Steuben Parade so much that I’m inspired to find some other parades to watch. Maybe I will see you there!

One place to find out about parades, as well as the road closures associated with them, is on the City of New York’s event website. In addition, the New York City Department of Transportation website lists all road closures in the city each week, including weekends, and there is a specific part of the list for parades and festivals.

Manhattan Sunset from Long Island City

There are countless photographs of the New York City skyline, and multiple ways to recreate those images. One evening this summer, I went searching for the right location to watch the sun go down over Manhattan. I found the perfect spot at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens. From the park there is a beautiful view of midtown Manhattan across the East River. Here is a photograph that I took of the skyline after the sun had set and the skyscraper windows were twinkling.

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We looked up the time for the sunset so that we wouldn’t miss it. The skyline was beautiful even before the sun disappeared, and the longer we waited after the official sunset time, the better the view became. I recommend going on a partly cloudy day. As the sun goes behind the buildings in the distance, the light reflects off the clouds. The view changes minute by minute, making for a spectacular experience. (We’ve now gone several times. Each time the sunset was beautiful and different than the time before. But there was a lot less color to the sky the night the sky was clear.)

One of our visits to Gantry Plaza State Park was at the time of the bi-annual “Manhattanhenge” sunset, also known as the Manhattan Solstice. The Long Island City riverfront is an ideal location for viewing this unique sunset, where the sun lines up with the cross streets of Manhattan as it sets. I captured this picture on that occasion:

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Depending on where you are at along the riverfront, you can see a number of Manhattan landmarks. As you look to your right towards the northern part of the East River, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is in the distance. (It’s not the most picturesque bridge in the city, but still an interesting landmark.) In the middle of the river towards the bridge there is Roosevelt Island, with Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at its tip. (I think I might have to explore this area sometime soon!) Directly across the river in Manhattan is the United Nations. And nestled among the taller buildings spanning the horizon are two iconic skyscrapers: the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

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If you have a little extra time to explore, the park has additional features that make it a unique destination. In the previous photo you may have seen a sign glowing red towards the right—that is the vintage Pepsi Cola sign located on the edge of the park in Long Island City. The sign used to be situated on the roof of a Pepsi bottling company along the riverfront. When the old building was torn down to make way for luxury apartments, the sign was relocated to a prime spot in the park. Here’s a close-up view of the sign, which stretches 8 stories above the grass. (And here’s a link to a New York Times article about the sign.)

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There are also the gantry cranes located next to the piers. Originally used to load and unload materials from boats along the waterfront, today they are another symbol of Long Island City. Here is a view looking back at one of the gantry cranes from the end of the pier, with luxury apartment buildings in the background.

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I took this second photograph of the cranes on another, cloudy evening. This photo shows some of the cranes’ architectural details. As a bonus, Manhattan is across the river in the background.

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If you keep your eyes open, you may even find some other unique photo ops. Here, I caught a view of Manhattan once again, this time framed by one of the gantry cranes and some rosebushes.

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And a short time later, I spied this tiny piece of railroad track. Most likely it was originally part of a railroad line that transported items between boats and nearby factories. But now it makes for a special photograph, literally the “Tracks to Nowhere.”

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What can you do once the sun has totally set? There are numerous restaurants in Long Island City, including several along Vernon Boulevard near the station for the 7 train. On one of our visits to the riverfront, we stopped at the Rockaway Brewing Company to try some local microbrews. I tried their “Black Gold,” a Nitro Stout. It was smooth and rich and creamy. The evening that we visited, the Brewery was hosting a pop-up food venture upstairs above the tap room. It was the perfect place to relax for a while with a beer and a snack after watching the spectacular sunset. Rockaway has an events calendar on their website previewing some of their delicious upcoming events, so check it out! We will definitely visit again.

Getting here by subway? I try to use public transportation whenever possible, and Gantry Plaza State Park is easily accessible by subway. You can take the E or the M to the Court Square-23rd Street Station, the G to the 21st Street-Van Alst Station, or the 7 train to Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue.