Fun For Kids: Roosevelt Island Tram in Manhattan

While we were waiting for our table reservation at Serendipity, the famous ice-cream store in Manhattan, we had a couple of hours to wander around.  The cheapest and easiest option was to take the kids down the street from Serendipity and take the Roosevelt Island tram.  For the price of a New York subway ticket, we got to see Manhattan from a different perspective.

The Roosevelt Island Tram

You get great views over the traffic and buildings in Manhattan from the tram as it crosses the East River.  From Roosevelt Island itself, the skyline of the East Side of Manhattan is spread out before you.

Roosevelt Island tram view

Roosevelt Island tram view

The Roosevelt Island Tram entrance/exit is located at 59th Street and 2nd Avenue.  It only takes a few minutes for the trip and runs regularly.

Kids, of course, will be familiar with the Tram from the climactic scene in Spider-Man (2002) where Spider-Man has to choose between his girl and the passengers on the tram.  Fear not, without the Green Goblin attacking the tram, it is perfectly safe.  Over 26 million people have rode on the tram since it began operating in 1976.

The Four Freedoms Park

The tip of Roosevelt Island is being redeveloped into The Four Freedoms Park, named after the famous quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt from the 1941 State of the Union speech.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…anywhere in the world.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

The park is the last work of the late great Modernist architect, Louis I. Kahn.

Roosevelt Island tram view

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Roosevelt Island tram view

Roosevelt Island, New York City

I had never actually been to Roosevelt Island before I took the kids. This island is located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It had an infamous history as the dumping ground for the undesirables of New York society.  In the 19th century, there was a penitentiary (for criminals) and asylum (for the mentally unstable) located on the island.  There were a lot more women than men in the asylum because it became an easy place to park a wife you didn’t want.  Atlas Obscura has a fascinating piece on the history of the island.

The fact that the authorities dumped both criminals and the mentally ill together tells you exactly what they thought about these people.  Anyway, Nelly Bly in a pioneering piece of investigative journalism, wrote about the horrors of the asylum which helped to close it down.

In the late 20th century, the island was converted to residential housing. It’s name was changed from (the ironic) Welfare Island to Roosevelt Island in honour of the 32nd President who was from New York.  There are about 10,000 residents now living on the island.  Many diplomats choose to live there because of the easy access to the United Nations across the water.  More recently, Cornell University announced that it was building a state-of-the-art technology centre on the island.

Roosevelt Island tram view
A clear view of the UN building

So, in a nutshell, other than the park and the tram, there really isn’t much to see on Roosevelt Island.  On the other hand, the park and the tram are definitely worth experiencing!

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We spent a pleasant afternoon in the park and expended enough energy to feel justified in ordering massively-oversized sundaes at Serendipity!

This post is part of the #TheWeeklyPostcard and #WeekendWanderlust link-ups.

Travel Notes & Beyond
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The Melting Pot in Downtown Manhattan

Lower Manhattan is an excellent place to explore the melting pot history of New York City.  Neighbourhoods such as the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown and Nolita are all an easy walking distance from each other.  And, the best part?  This historical exploration involves lots of food!

On our April trip to New York City, I signed my family up for the Enthusiastic Gourmet food tours of lower Manhattan.  Lead by Susan Rosenbaum, my kids immediately decided they liked her when our first stop of the day was Economy Candy, an Aladdin’s Cave of candy, gum and other sweets.

The Enthusiastic Gourmet
Susan from the Enthusiastic Gourmet at Economy Candy

We took her Melting Pot Tour from the Lower East Side through Chinatown and ending up in Little Italy.  Along the way, we sampled lots of different food and learned about the culture.  She did such a good job of keeping the kids’ attention, they didn’t even realise they were learning all about the history of the area.

The Melting Pot Tour of Manhattan with the Enthusiastic Gourmet

The Jewish Immigrants

The German and Eastern European Jews settled on the Lower East Side.  What did we sample?

Everyone knows about the bagel but there is also the bialys which are a relative of the bagel.  Bialys originated in Bialystok in Poland.  Although both bagels and bialys are made from unbleached white flour with yeast, bialys have roasted onions in the middle where there would be a hole for the bagel.

Susan was such a thorough tour guide she made us try a bialy as well as a bagel so that we could taste the difference.  The bialys are delicious especially if you are a fan of roasted onions like I am.

Another stop on the Jewish food tour was The Pickle Guys on Essex Street.  They are an entire store devoted to pickled food.  My son was in heaven because he loves pickles.  The items are pickled the old-fashioned way by setting them in large barrels in salt for months.  It’s not only pickles that are pickled but also garlic, celery, mushrooms, turnips, olives etc.

The Chinese Immigrants

In 1859, there were barely a couple of dozen men in New York City’s Chinatown.  At its height though there were 150,000 Chinese people living over an area of 50 city blocks.  Now, the Chinese population is about a 100,000 people.

Chinatown in Manhattan is an assault on the senses – the smell of food, the crowded streets, the chatter of people – all make this neighbourhood seem intensely alive.  There are more than 300 Chinese restaurants in the area!  Everywhere you look there are street stalls selling fruit and vegetables, restaurants with ducks hanging in the window and signs for bubble tea.

The Italian Immigrants

The Italians that showed up in New York City actually self- segregated themselves by their destination of origin.  For example, the immigrants from Sicily lived on Elizabeth Street and those from Naples lived on Mulberry Street. You have to remember these immigrants arrived in the days before Italy was a unified country.  As far as someone from Sicily was concerned, a person from Naples was from a different country.

Although the Italians from different regions originally didn’t talk or do business with each other, These prejudices eventually broke down.  Frankly, they had to.  By 1900 there were 100,000 Italians living in the 18-20 blocks that comprised of Little Italy.  Not talking to your neighbour was not an option in such crowded conditions.

Nowadays there are only a couple of hundred Italians who live in the neighbourhood even though there are still many Italian businesses.  Of course, we stopped by Di Palo, the Italian specialty food delicatessen and Ferrara Bakery and Cafe for their delicious cannolis.

The Podcast Episode with Dish Our Town

On a recent Just Go Places Podcast episode, Andrew Tolentino from the food and travel blog, Dish Our Town, mentioned many of the places that he would rate highly in these neighbourhoods.  In case you missed the podcast, here’s an overview of some of the highlights in video form.

You can find the full podcast episode on iTunes at Just Go Places Podcast or on the blog post which contains its show notes.

Downtown Manhattan
Image credit: Dish Our Town

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This post is part of the #TheWeeklyPostcard and #WeekendWanderlust and #wkendtravelinspiration link-ups.

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum With Kids

Sort of like the moon landings for a previous generation, I’m sure our generation will remember where they were when the 9/11 attacks occurred.  My husband and I had just returned from an amazing honeymoon.  September 11, 2001 was the first day back at work for us.  Morning in New York City meant we were just returning to our desks after lunch.

When our computer screens flashed up news of a plane crashing in Manhattan, it seemed surreal.  I worked in the London office of a New York law firm. Many of us were native New Yorkers.  We all gathered in the conference room to watch the unfolding horror on the big screen television.  Everyone was equally shocked.  Our office closed early that day.  No one would have been able to return to work after watching the tragic events happening in our home town.

One World Trade Center

We have talked to our children a bit about the events of 9/11 which occurred before they were born.  We have visited friends who lived in downtown Manhattan.  They had a birds eye view of the building of One World Trade Center.

The building designed by starchitect Daniel Libeskind is stunning visually.  Rising triumphantly over the skyline, the blue sky and sun reflect of the glass, a sparkling testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids_photo of One WTC

Now that my kids are 9 years old, I felt they were old enough to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum itself.

The 9/11 Memorial Plaza

The 9/11 Memorial is a plaza with twin reflecting pools.  Each pool is set in the footprint of one of the Twin Towers.  Needless to say, the waterfall pits are massive – about an acre each.

9/11 Memorial reflecting pool

Names of the victims are inscribed onto the sides of the pools.

9/11 memorial reflecting pool inscription

The plaza and other buildings are still a work in progress.

9/11 memorial construction

The 9/11 Museum

The 9/11 Museum is pretty much underground.  The original Twin Towers had foundations with retaining walls that kept the Hudson River from flooding into the building.  Despite the destruction aboveground, the retaining walls remained strong.  (A mercy or otherwise the flooding in Lower Manhattan would have caused even more destruction).    The Museum is housed within these remaining foundations.

9/11 Museum basement foundation

You descend down staircases and ramps into the basement.  The light from the beautiful atrium overlooking Freedom Tower is soon lost as you head down into the heart of darkness/depths of despair etc.  The symbolism is not subtle.

escalator to exhibits at 9/11 museum

Although the museum is sombre, my children did not find it creepy.  Everything is carefully curated so nothing feels overwhelming.  The museum is about 110,000 s.f. so there is definitely plenty of room to spread out.

9/11 museum twin towers foundations

The Virgil quote from The Aeneid is part of an art installation in Memorial Hall.  The letters are cut from steel taken from the fallen Twin Towers.  Someone (not a classicist) thought the quote was appropriate but many people have criticised the quote for being taken out of context.  In the Aeneid, the quote refers to murderous gay lovers who have hacked their enemies to death in their sleep.

Virgil quote 9/11 museum

Artist Spencer Finch created 2983 pages of water-colour for the installation.  The shades of blue represent the artist trying to remember what colour the sky was on that fateful day.  Surrounding the Virgil quote, I’m sure some bright spark thought the art could take attention away from the offending quote itself.  It doesn’t.

The 9/11 Museum Exhibits

You walk past the remains of the ‘Survivor Stairs’ where many people were able to escape the building onto Vesey Street.

9/11 museum vesey steps

The mangled remains of fire trucks, ambulances etc. are on display.  You can clearly see the force of the blast and the power of the heat.  All of it is testament to the courage of the people who did not flinch but ran towards the disaster to help.

9/11 museum fire truck

We looked at some of the portraits of the 3000 people who had died on the day.  They were from all walks of life, young and old. My son was struck by the story of one heroic worker who rescued 18 people but died himself when the building collapsed as he went to rescue another person.

My children were a little perturbed by the missing posters exhibition.  Someone can go into work one day just like any other day but then never come home.  It’s a lot to take on board.

9/11 museum missing posters

The Last Column was the last piece of structural steel to be removed from the Twin Towers in the spring of 2002.

9/11 Museum The Last Column

On this piece of steel, rescue workers and others had attached messages and missing posters.  The Last Column was brought back to the museum as a permanent exhibit.

9/11 Museum The Last Column messages

Personal exhibits are also on display of people who perished on the day.  This motorcycle was a wreck bought by one of the fireman who died. He had intended to restore it. His colleagues from the fire company restored it for him and placed it in memory of him at the museum.

9/11 musem firefighter motorcycle

One exhibition section goes into specific details on the events of the day itself.  It is not recommended for children under the age of 10.  My children insisted on going inside but I did whisk them through some of the materials.

There are eyewitness accounts, television broadcasts and lots of other multimedia materials.  I’m sure the newsreels showed some of the clips of people jumping from the Twin Towers which I did not want my children to see.  I am haunted by those images still to this day.  And, I am not ready to get into a discussion on when murder becomes suicide.

9/11 Museum quilt God Bless America

I’m sure a lot went over my children’s heads but it was a good introduction to the events of the day.  I think what happened on 9/11 is so tragic and overwhelming, it is best consumed in small doses.  I am sure we will return when they are older and we can discuss in more detail what happened.

Helpful Tips For Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum:

The 9/11 Memorial does not require tickets. Both the memorial and museum are open daily.  The Museum is free on Tuesday nights after 5pm.  Otherwise, the museum costs $24 for adults and children from 7 to 17 are $15.  Other discounts apply as well.

You should get tickets for a timed entry to the 9/11 Museum online. There are lines for either the top of the hour or the bottom of the hour where you can wait.  Don’t bother!  You can waltz in a few minutes after your allocated time slot when the lines have cleared.  There’s plenty of room inside and being the last to go inside on your time slot has no impact on your visit to the museum.

Our visit took us a little over 2 hours.  You could easily have spent another 2 hours if you spent more time in the enclosed ‘for older visitors’ only area.

I thought my children at 9 years of age were ready for this museum.  They would not have understood as much if they were younger.  They did not see all of the exhibits because I managed to evade some parts of the museum. Adult discretion is definitely advised.

Drama while Dining at Ninja New York

I am not surprised that The New York Times food critic wrote a scathing review of Ninja New York.  Ninja is a Japanese ninja-themed restaurant in TriBeCa.  Unless you have experienced the hell that is a Chuck E. Cheese or similar, you will not appreciate how high up in the children’s theme restaurant scale Ninja New York truly is.

Japanese Ninja-theme restaurant Ninja New York

Ninja is a kid-friendly restaurant that isn’t specifically geared for kids.  My children loved Ninja!  It was not only dinner but also entertainment.

Ninja New York restaurant

We had a magician come to our table and do tricks.  The waiters, dressed as ninjas, would jump out from behind doors and scare us.  Their enthusiasm and good attitude was infectious.

The Japanese menu had a small section for the kids.  Our children just ordered from the main menu.  More importantly, adults are treated to an extensive beer/sake section. Certain dishes came with special effects such as edamame on a bed of dry ice.

Ninja New York edamame

The interior of the restaurant is set up as a medieval stone and timber Japanese village.  We had our own little Japanese house which was nice for family conversation.  You had a fair bit of privacy thanks to each table being an individual house.

Ninja New York table

Everyone discovered early that my kids don’t scare easily.  Much to my children’s delight, I shrieked every time a ninja jumped out from behind a door.  What can I say?  I am used to whining at dinner time not yelping.

Ninja New York waiter

The kids were given assorted little treats and stickers which they liked.  Our favourite gift were the fake knives that retract into their handle.  We are still trying to figure out how best to use the knives as a Halloween prop.

Ninja New York game

We thought the food was expensive but fine.  Sure you can get better Japanese food elsewhere especially in Manhattan.  But you won’t get the theatrics at a ‘real’ Japanese restaurant.  Don’t come here expecting fine Japanese dining.  Unlike the pizza at a Chuck E. Cheese, the food at Ninja was actually edible.

Ninja New York menu

Like the New York Times reviewer, adults will find the food disappointing and expensive.  I would be too without my children in tow. We did see lots of adults only parties at the restaurant.  In my opinion, Ninja is a dining experience that you should enjoy with the children.

Much like Disneyland, The Hard Rock Cafe, etc. Ninja New York is overpriced.  You are paying for the whole Ninja New York experience.  Like many theme restaurants, Ninja is expensive and perfect for a special event.  We heard lots of ‘happy birthdays’ being sung.  If you go in with an open mind and a big fat wallet, you will enjoy Ninja.

Ninja New York is located at 25 Hudson Street in Manhattan.  Reservations are advised.

Kids Can’t Say No to Serendipity

Having heard about the delicious desserts, my children have been begging me to visit Serendipity III every time we are in New York City.  Although we did not order the famous Golden Opulence Sundae, we ate plenty of other delicious desserts.  Never mind the kids, I can’t say no to a Serendipity sundae!

The Attraction of its Fame

Serendipity III, established in the 1950’s, was named after three princes from Sri Lanka (the country formerly known also as Serendip).  In real life, the three princes were three roommates who met in a downtown Manhattan dance class.  They created a frothy confection of a cafe out of a basement in uptown Manhattan.

serendipity III ceiling

Serendipity has seen its fair share of famous people.  A New York institution pretty much from the outset, the cafe was a favourite with Andy Warhol who would pay for food with artwork.  It was also popular with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and also her husband’s mistress, Marilyn Monroe.

serendipity III new york city
Andy Warhol hung from the ceiling.

More recent famous visitors have included an eclectic bunch ranging from Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, Beyonce to the Gossip Girl cast.  The interiors have been used in television and the movies, most notably the 2001 romantic movie Serendipity starring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack.

Serendipity III

The Attraction of its Food and Interiors

It does seem the restaurant just kept adding to its decor without the benefit of a good de-clutter every once in a while. I occasionally felt like I was visiting an aged Holly Golightly (from Breakfast at Tiffanys) in her New York apartment after the dementia had started.  How many Tiffany lamps does one need?

Serendipity III
An abundance of Tiffany lights

Serendipity celebrated it’s 50th birthday in 2007 by creating the Golden Opulence Sundae, a $1000 sundae  made from Armagnac, edible gold, sweet caviar and chocolate from Venezuela. It is the most expensive dessert in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Serendipity III menu

Pre-ordered two days in advance, the Golden Opulence Sundae is served in a crystal goblet with a gold spoon.  I forgot to ask the waiter if for the $1000 you get to keep the goblet and the spoon.

We ordered the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate which was indeed as delicious as its reputation.

Serendipity III
The frozen hot chocolate

My son had a Banana Split (believe it or not this is the small version).

Serendipity III
A small Banana Split

The rest of us stuck to assorted sundaes which were massive in size.  The sundaes are three scoops of ice-cream with your choice of topping, whipped cream and a cherry, all of it decadently overflowing from its glass goblet.  The Can’t Say No Sundae came with a a bit of peanut butter pie because this is the sort of place that believes too much is never enough.

Serendipity III, a cafe and sweet shop, in Manhattan

Although there are sandwiches and salads on offer, we did not try them.  The table next door to us told us that they thought the food was nothing special.  The tables indeed are so close together that you can have a conversation with your neighbours.

Serendipity III new york city

Visiting Serendipity III

Serendipity III is located at 225 East 60th Street (between 2nd and 3rd avenues).  Unless you make reservations you will most likely face a lengthy wait outside the restaurant.  Serendipity III is heaving with people not put off by the cramped interiors or expensive offerings.  Having said that, I think it is definitely a fun place to take the children.  Even if you skip the food part, you can’t say no to the sundaes and frozen hot chocolate.

A Kid in a New York City Candy Store

It’s no secret that the children and I have a sweet tooth.  In the spirit of exhaustive research into the global phenomenon known as a ‘sugar rush’, we have munched our way through French candiesParisian sweet shops and Viennese cakes.  We bring you now the New York edition which is a match between two candy stores.

 A comparison of two of the best candy stores in NYC

Dylan’s Candy Bar

On the right hand side, we have an upscale store in uptown Manhattan, Dylan’s Candy Bar.  All the sweets are beautifully presented and displayed.  The staff wear nice uniforms and always greet you with a smile.  Everything is branded so you don’t forget where you are!

Dylan's Candy Bar

Dylan’s Candy Bar was started in 2001 by Dylan Lauren, the daughter of Ralph Lauren.  Yes, that Ralph Lauren.  Dylan wanted to merge ‘the worlds of art, fashion and pop culture with candy.’  Pretentious moi?

The flagship store is located right near Bloomingdales on the Upper East Side.  Spread out over 3 floors, including a candy cafe, this store is a visual treat as well as candy heaven.

Dylan's Candy Bar

Dylan’s Candy Bar now has 10 stores including two retails locations in Manhattan.  No doubt helped by connections through daddy’s retail empire, Dylan’s has also expanded into lifestyle apparel and gifts.  Needless to say, Dylan’s is setting up for her own empire.

Dylan's Candy Bar

With the rise in diabetes in the United States, I am not sure a whole host of candy bars is exactly what the country needs.  On the other hand, you could say it is marketing genius to cater to what the people want.  Look at the size of these lollipops!

Dylan's Candy Bar

By the way, Dylan’s Candy Bar does candy parties for both children and adults in their candy party room.  I can’t imagine how much I would be hated by the other mothers if I threw a candy party for my children’s birthdays and send the guests home hopped up on a sugar high to beat all sugar highs.

Economy Candy

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the downtown contender, Economy Candy.  It was established in 1937 even before Dylan’s daddy was born as Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx.  You know, back in the day when a candy bar was an actual rectangle of something and not a bar where you can choose candy.

Economy Candy has become an institution on the Lower East Side.  What you miss in atmosphere at Economy Candy, you more than make up for in variety, bulk and price.

economy candy new york city

I couldn’t believe how cheap the candies were!  Or, maybe I couldn’t believe how much I overpaid at Dylan’s Candy Bar.  I had a direct comparison since they chose to buy a push-pop at each store.

economy candy new york city

You had a choice of pick-n-mix candy as well as individual packaged candies and bulk buys.  There is also a good selection of ethnic specialties like dried fruit and nuts and Turkish delight.

economy candy new york city

The children found the usual candy but I also found some stuff that I remember from my childhood.  I even found ‘cigarette’ candy (remember those?) but did not draw the children’s attention to that bit of nostalgia.

economy candy new york city

This place would be great for buying in bulk for those Halloween parties or birthday party bags.  You can buy bags of kisses, M&M’s, lollipops, gummy bears etc. all of which are in rainbow colours.

economy candy new york city

You can get gifts here at Economy Candy as well.  They have a completely random selection of gag gifts such as these packages of gums which made me laugh.  There are also items like nostalgia tins of mints or pez dispensers.  I knew about sugar-free candy for diabetics but did you know you can get kosher candy?

economy candy new york city

Details:

Dylans Candy Bar has several locations in the United States including terminal 5 of JFK Airport.  Open seven days a week, the Manhattan flagship store is located at 1011 Third Avenue (at 60th Street).

Open seven days a week, Economy Candy is located at 107 Rivington Street in Manhattan.

Architecture and Geometry at the Guggenheim Museum

Visiting the Guggenheim Museum was an easy sell to my kids because they remember the museum from the family movie with Jim Carrey, Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  In the movie, the penguins that Mr. Popper inherits run amok in the museum.

Visiting the Guggenheim Museum in New York with kids

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is one of the most important works of Frank Lloyd Wright, widely recognised by many as the greatest of the American architects.

The Guggenheim is an inverted ziggurat shape which took years to build.  Among the delays were redesigns of the building and the onset of World War II.  The museum was finally opened in October 1959 by which time not only had Wright died but also the man who commissioned the museum itself, Solomon Guggenheim.

Guggenheim museum

The building quickly became a landmark in New York City and as famous as the priceless works of art it held.

 

The building has no floors just a spiral ramp which was a concept completely fascinating to my children.  The spiral ramp leads your eye up to the glass dome that is the ceiling 92 feet above your head.  People think Wright was influenced by a nautilus shell when he designed the ramp and a spider web when he designed the centre light well.

Guggenheim Museum Nyc

The artworks are actually hidden behind this ramp so all you really see from the centre of the building is the shape of the structure itself.

Guggenheim Museum NYC

Wright was heavily influenced by geometric shapes.  The activity booklet they give children at the entrance to the museum really highlights this aspect of the building.

Guggenheim Museum NYC

I think my children had more fun finding the different geometric shapes than actually focusing on the art on the walls.  Apparently this point was one of the criticisms of the building. Important art can find itself playing second fiddle to the building itself.

Guggenheim Museum NYC

We found lots of different shapes – triangles, circles, ovals, squares, and spirals – everywhere from the light panels to the patterns on the floor.

Guggenheim Museum NYC

The kids and I had a lot of fun doing the activity book and looking for shapes.  I had thought we’d be learning about art at the Guggenheim but instead we had an interesting lesson in geometry and modern architecture!

Guggenheim Museum NYC

Visiting the Guggenheim Museum in New York City

The Guggenheim Museum is located at 1071 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 89th street in Manhattan.  It is open every day except Thursday.  Admission is a steep $25 for adults but children under the age of 12 go free.  The museum houses a collection of famous works starting with the Impressionists all the way to contemporary artists as well as special exhibitions.

Christmas Festivities in Paris

Other than the window displays at the big department stores, how else does Paris jazz itself up?  Well, the CIty of Lights is big on lights, naturally.

street lights

We went to the Christmas market on the Champs Elysses.  It was fun and very crowded.  Not particularly oozing in charm but it had the essentials — random Christmas treats and mulled wine.   We munched out way through crepes, waffles, sugar-coated pretzels and some marshmallowy/chocolatey French delicacy.

We enjoyed riding on the giant ferris wheel which gave unsurpassed views over Paris.  More by luck than planning, we were on the ferris wheel just at the right time before the sunset.  The golden hour was beautiful and by the time we were done, the lights had come on the Eiffel Tower.

There are ice rinks dotted around the city, including the Champs Elysses Christmas market and in front of the Hotel de Ville.  The carousels are free over Christmas too.

carousel

We stumbled across some revelers for Santacon, too.  They seemed remarkably civilised for a Santacon on a Saturday  night in Paris.  In case you don’t know, Santacon is an annual meet-up for people dressed up as Santas to party and to spread Christmas cheer. Occasionally, Santacon descends into a raucous, drunken mess by night’s end.  This year, Santacon covered 320 cities in 44 countries across the world.

santa con

The Parisians Santas were infinitely better behaved than the Santacon crowd in New York City (see the video here) or even those Santas here in London.

London, UK. 14th of December 2013 Santa Con hits London

For a more traditional Christmas activity, we visited Notre Dame for their famous Nativity which was beautiful and quite modern.  Visitors were asked to fill out a prayer for peace which I thought was a nice touch.  Apparently over 2 million people visit this Nativity scene every Christmas.

notre dame nativité

We were at the Cathedral at the same time as a Scouts Mass.  The voices of the choir echoed throughout the church as they had done for hundreds of years past.  As impressed as I was, I can see how it would have been incredible and uplifting for people in the Middle Ages to have been enveloped by such beauty.

We enjoyed our trip to Paris in the festive season very much.  In fact, however, I’ve not told you about the best part of our trip – the Cartier:  Style and History exhibit at the Grand Palais which was just stunning.  Even my son thought it was cool.  More on that exhibit coming soon!!

Travel Moment: The Sony Wonder Technology Lab

I’ve linked up with the lovely Selena and her blog “Oh, The Places We Will Go” to bring you a travel moment.  It’s supposed to be a moment that really makes you stop and feel.  Since I am not particularly prone to introspection and am as shallow as they come, those moments are rare.  So rare that I can’t even remember one.

I will, however, share a memory of fun and laughter that the children and I had last year. We went to The Sony Wonder Technology Lab in New York City which is a free museum that showcases Sony products.  Sony shows off their technology and the visitors get to use interactive exhibits demonstrating lots of cool stuff.

sony tech lab

The children messed around with adding graphics to photos, voice manipulation and robotics features.

You can dance in a booth and have a robot follow your moves.

The children did a broadcast ‘on air’ (complete with cue cards and an interview)  which then got shown on a television as if it were a real broadcast.

I was supposed to operate the video but that was boring.  So I decided to be disruptive across the screen.  You can see the shock on their faces because they are usually the ones who get to act silly while I am serious.

streaker

My son loved the medical technology lab where you get to perform ultrasounds on objects or perform medical feats of wonder with laser technology.  He is convinced to this day that he can do open heart surgery just because he practiced on the keyhole surgery machine at the centre.  Luckily, he hasn’t had the opportunity to put his skills to use.

Other fun things included mixing your own music with the interactive Music Mixer exhibit.  You can do fun things to Alicia Keys’ song about New York City, Empire State of Mind .

music mixer

Of course, there were regular games and a playstation centre too, but that paled in comparison to the rest of the exhibits.

console

The Sony Lab was a lot of fun! It was a different sort of museum than the children were expecting.  We still like to talk about what a good time we had.  It was definitely a travel moment of sheer joy for us as a family.

 

One Fine Stay, Indeed

NYC appleOn our recent trip to New York City we rented a flat through the London-based company One Fine Stay.  They rent flats in New York City and London which are privately-owned.  For whatever reason, the owner isn’t using their flat during the time it’s available for rental.  Each flat is well-described on the company’s website and also includes a bit of information about the owner and any known downsides.  Overall, the flats seem to be modern, well-maintained pied-a-terres owned by professionals or retirees.

We chose a 2 bedroom apartment near Gramercy Park primarily for the location.  My husband would work out of his firm’s New York office in mid-town and the children and I would explore downtown.

The building itself was a charming brownstone with a wrought iron staircase and exposed brick walls.  The apartment was on the ground floor (handy since there’s no elevator in the building).  Although small, the flat was well laid out.  Out of the kitchen window is a quintessential New York view – an air shaft.  I felt I was home.  In fact, in my 15 years of living abroad, this apartment in New York was the only time I felt homesick for my younger Manhattan lifestyle.

photo:  One Fine Stay
photo: One Fine Stay
The kitchen is tiny and has no dishwasher reflecting another New York apartment feature — most people tend to eat out or do take away.  I don’t understand how New Yorkers eat out so much and still stay thin – even with all the carb-avoidance, it must be that they either work out like fiends and/or have plastic surgery.
photo:  One Fine Stay
photo: One Fine Stay
Although listed as suitable for 6 people, I would think that many people would be a tight squeeze because you would have to use the sofa bed in the living area.  It’s certainly comfortable for 4 people (or 2 adults/3 kids) in the two bedrooms.   The closet space is limited but adequate (another New York feature!).
photo:  One Fine Stay
photo: One Fine Stay

Our location, near Union Square, was convenient for transportation and everyday shopping.  Nearby, there is a Whole Foods Supermarket and Trader Joe’s for groceries, a Duane Reade for pharmacy items and a Best Buy for small electrical items you may have forgotten to pack.  We also found a little playground at 19th Street and 2nd Avenue.
brownstones

What else?  The apartment didn’t have laundry facilities but Prestige II laundromat is located across the street.  At 80 cents per pound and same day service, I found them good value and reliable.  Your clothes come back clean and neatly folded, perfect for packing!
Evaluation survey
All flats come with a iPhone which was very handy for local calls as well as navigation and local tips.  I found the New York One Fine Stay staff welcoming and responsive to questions.  We had no problems anyway, except the occasional minor WiFi hiccup.
new message

I had asked to see another 2 bedroom flat a couple of streets away that One Fine Stay also rent.  This flat was listed as unsuitable for children and I soon found out why – the art installation on the mantlepiece was broken wine glasses!  There are only 2 apartments in the buildings.  The foyer was beautiful with antique pieces mixed in with the scooters and mail.  You had a real sense of it being someone’s home.  The apartment itself was beautiful with a little terrace area.  If you are travelling as a group of adult friends, this apartment is definitely a nice alternative to staying at an impersonal hotel.  (I’m thinking Christmas shopping trip!!).
broken glass
So what’s the verdict?  We found One Fine Stay provided a smooth and easy experience and we would certainly rent one of their flats again. As a former New Yorker, I can vouch that I felt less like a tourist and more like I belonged again.  Perhaps you CAN go home again, even if only for short trips.