Forest Hills, Queens - Special Tour

On Wednesday, November 8 at 10am, I'm doing a special walking tour outside my usual roster... a tour of historic Forest Hills, in Queens. You can book online via Viator.

New York City has few more beautiful neighborhoods than this. Planned on the model of the garden communities of England, on most days it feels like a place out of time.
It is also a neighborhood steeped in history. Its famed West Side Tennis Club was once home to the US Open and has housed concerts from stars like TheBeatles, Bob Dylan, and The Who. Forest Hills is the birthplace of a lotof talent–- Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, the Ramones, Billy Eichner, Carroll O’Connor, the fictional Spider-Man, & more.
 We will explore the history of this neighborhood, and its home borough, as we walk through this gorgeous neighborhood.
This special walking tour is for those who love unique residential architecture and nature hidden in a large urban area.  This will be a relaxing stroll through tree-lined streets in the peak of Autumn color.

(If interested in this tour on other dates, please contact me to arrange a private tour.)

New tour added: Street Art in Queens!

Many tour companies (including us!) offer tours of the amazing street art scene in Brooklyn... we are proud to be the first to offer a tour of the growing art scene along the Queens waterfront!

This tour will explore Long Island City (former home of 5Pointz-- NYC's original graffiti mecca), seeing how the art there is evolving, encounter the best views of the Manhattan skyline, and journey by ferry to the growing Welling Court Mural Project. Guests will also have an opportunity to visit the Socrates Sculpture Park.

This is a great tour for urban explores, artists, and photographers! Tour fee includes a scenic ferry ride back to Manhattan.

Inquire for available dates or custom tours!


Special Tour for US Open Fans!

The US Open is coming up soon, and Queens is getting ready for one of its biggest annual events!

For attendees & fans of the tennis tournament, I am offering a special version of my World's Fair-themed tour of Flushing Meadows Park on Saturday, September 2 at 11am. This tour will explore numerous World's Fair landmarks, discuss the history of the US Open, and end with a visit to the famous Panorama of the City of New York.

Interested in other dates? Inquire for a private tour!

We All Scream For Ice Cream

Ask any New Yorker what the city's best ice cream is, and the two words you'll hear most are: Ample Hills. The Brooklyn-founded company (their name derives from a Walt Whitman poem about the borough) has several locations around the city... plus one at the Walt Disney World resort. For the past two Summers, the company has offered a challenge: visit all NYC locations in one day, and join the ranks of their illustrious Hillionaires Club (with glory and swag as your prizes). And for the past two Summers, I have completed this challenge.

I love challenges like this-- such as the recent Wave Walk-- because they encourage New Yorkers to explore their city in fun ways.

Of the 7 NYC Ample Hills locations, the hardest to reach is their summer pop-up at Riis Beach, way out on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. I began my journey, this year with a friend, around 11am in lower Manhattan, where I boarded a ferry to Rockaway Beach (*cue Ramones song here*). This hour-long ferry ride has some scenic views...



The view from the ferry as it zooms past Coney Island.

The view from the ferry as it zooms past Coney Island.

We then take the complimentary shuttle bus from the ferry over to Riis Beach. At stop #1, we were given our Tour de Hills card which would be stamped and signed by an employee at each stop after purchasing one scoop. I opt for the location's exclusive flavor, the cherry lime rickey sorbet.



From here, we board the Q35 bus from the Rockaways up to Brooklyn. Once we reach that borough, there will be less distance to travel. In Brooklyn, we board a subway at Brooklyn College up to Prospect Heights, where we make our second stop at the company's original location. At this point, it is about 2pm. Here, I get their exclusive flavor, the Commodore (salted honey vanilla ice cream with homemade honeycomb candy and chocolate-covered potato chips.)

It all started here.

It all started here.

For the remainder of the Brooklyn locations, we walked from one to the other. We started by walking down historic Flatbush Avenue, through downtown Brooklyn, to the new Dekalb Market Hall, where Ample Hills is one of many vendors. Their exclusive flavor here is Harry & Eigel's Marbled and Malted (chocolate malted ice cream with crushed malt balls and chunks Juniors cheesecake).

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

From here, we wandered past Borough Hall (built in 1848!) and wander through NYC's first historic district... Brooklyn Heights. I showed my friend Steve the historic Plymouth Church, which under the leadership of preacher Henry Ward Beecher, was a key abolitionist site in the mid-1800s. We then take the newly reopened Squibb Bridge down to Brooklyn Bridge Park. At the park's Pier 5, we find one of Ample Hill's other seasonal shops. Their special flavor? The Coffee of Kings.

By now, my stomach is like, "More ice cream, really?"

By now, my stomach is like, "More ice cream, really?"

From the park, it is a half-hour walk over to their flagship Gowanus location, where all of their ice cream is also produced. Their special flavor pays homage to the nearby Gowanus Canal, which is one of the most polluted canals in the United States. (Believe it or not, that "honor" is helping draw lots of new residents and development to the area).... This flavor-- 'It Came from Gowanus'-- is salted dark chocolate ice cream with hazelnut crack cookies topped with white chocolate pearls and orange-scented brownies.

The flagship location has a party room and a rooftop deck.

The flagship location has a party room and a rooftop deck.

Finally, we were finished with Brooklyn and rewarded ourselves with a long (and air-conditioned) subway ride to Manhattan. We get off the train at Times Square where we walked over to Hells Kitchen, to the Gotham West food hall. This is the final stretch. Their special flavor is the Hells Kitchen Sink (dark chocolate and Guinness extra stout with chili-spiced brownies and toffee bars). This was the only exclusive flavor that was a mixed bag.

Almost done!

Almost done!

One more to go! From Hells Kitchen, we walked down to 34th St and headed down the High Line. This 1.5-mile long park is just the breather we need before our final stop. At the end of the Line (literally), we enter the Meatpacking District, where we encounter our 7th stop of the day... Ample Hills' location next to Bubby's on Gansevoort Street. At this point, it is about 7pm. I go, of course, for their exclusive flavor, 'Floating Along the High Line' (root beer ice cream with mini-marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles). Here, the employees validate our cards and present us with our prize pack.

The finish line.

The finish line.



This was followed by a subway ride home with a stomach full of ice cream. See you again next Summer, Ample Hills! In the meantime, if anyone knows of any other crazy NYC challenges, send them my way. There's nothing more I enjoy doing on my days off from touring than racing from one end of New York to the other!

Tips for Taxis!

While the subway remains the cheapest and most efficient way to get around this city, for many visitors, taxis feel like a more private and safer option. So here are our tips for navigating New York's taxi system.

  1. Know your taxis!
    There are many types of cabs available in New York City... including private towncars, livery cabs, ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lyft, and even dollar vans. But the classic yellow taxi remains the most ubiquitous. 

    But there are also now the green taxis. The difference? Yellow taxis can take you anywhere in New York City. The green taxis, designed to better serve the outer boroughs, however, have certain restrictions... they cannot accept pickups in Manhattan below 110th St. on the West Side, and below 96th St. on the East Side, or at either LaGuardia or JFK airports. If you hail one in an outer borough, they are allowed to make dropoffs, though, in those areas.

  2. Getting a taxi at the airport.
    The most important rule of getting a taxi at the airport is to never accept a ride from someone inside the terminal, or outside, offering you a ride. These solicited services are illegal. For a safe & legal ride, get in the official taxi queue outside the terminal. The line may seem long, but often they move quickly. Taking a cab back to the airport? Cabs provide a flat-rate for this service.

    (Side-note: Check traffic reports before you go. Public transit-- ie. the AirTrain-- may be the better option.)

  3. Know your rights!
    Passengers in NYC taxis have certain legal rights. Know yours, and you can protect yourself from unprofessional drivers. These include the ability to go anywhere in NYC that you request... a cab driver cannot legally refuse to take you to a destination once he has pulled over for you. You can also request a specific route or roads. You can also request the driver turn off a radio or turn on/off an AC, etc.

    For the full Taxicab Passenger Bill of Rights, or to file a complaint, see their official website.

  4. Tipping!
    Tipping your driver is customary in the United States. Your average tip ranges from 15-20% of the final fare, depending on your satisfaction. If paying by credit card, most cab credit machine screens have an option to automatically add on the tip % you decide on, and provide you with a complete receipt.

  5. How to hail a taxi!
    We often see tourists with their hands out on the curb, attempting to hail a taxi, growing frustrated as numerous taxis pass them by without stopping. That driver is (probably) not ignoring you... he likely is either off-duty or already has a passenger. There is a very simple way to tell if a taxi is available: look to see that their light (the four-digit identifier code on the roof) is on. If yes, hail away. If no, keep an eye out for the next available one.

    You are looking for this:

We hope this helps!



A Guide To NYC Public Transportation

I've been working on a series here for tips for common tourist concerns. I recently did a post on the most common street scams to avoid in NYC (hint: anyone tries to hand you anything? keep walking!). Today, I present my tips & guide to using public transportation in New York.

  1. Know the map.
    Download a copy of the NYC subway map to your smartphone (physical copies are available at most station booths, if you can find one). A PDF is here. Keep track of service changes on the MTA website. Weekend-specific changes are available here. Google Maps also now provides a public transit option, in addition to car and walking directions.

    Also note that some subway stations have separate entrances (and platforms) for uptown trains versus downtown trains. Check signs to make sure you are headed the right way.
  2. Metrocard.
    First thing you must know is that NYC has a flat-fare system. Unlike most cities where your fare is based on zones/distance traveled, there is one flat fare for NYC, no matter you destination. Simply swipe in to the system, and you are in at that one fare until you exit... transfers to other lines (through connected stations) have no additional cost. Within around 2 hours, you can also transfer to a bus with your Metrocard at no additional cost. The standard fare is now $2.75

    You can purchase Metrocards in every station at the vending machines, or from an attended booth. Some station entrances may not have a machine, if so, simply go back out and enter the station at the main entrance.

    There are a couple of different types of Metrocards available (info here). The first is the Pay-Per-Ride Metrocard, in which you put a certain amount of $$ on the card, and your fare total is deducted for every swipe. This is good for several people to share. The second type is an Unlimited Metrocard, in which you pay a flat fee and get unlimited swipes for a certain period... 7 days, or 30 days. These unlimited cards can not be shared as, after your swipe, the card will be locked out for about 15 minutes. If you will be in NYC for around a week, we highly recommend purchasing the 7-day Unlimited Metrocard for every member of your group or family.

    When swiping your Metrocard at a turnstile, a swift and straight swipe will avoid read errors.
  3. JFK AirTrain.
    The AirTrain monorail system provides a connection between JFK airport and two nearby transit hubs (check signs to make sure you are headed the right way)... Howard Beach (with access to the A train), and Jamaica (access to E and J lines, plus access to Long Island Railroad). Payment for the AirTrain is by Metrocard (pay-per-ride cards only). It is $5 each way.

    It also provides connections between terminals inside the airport at no cost.
  4. The different systems.
    The main NYC transit system-- ie. what your Metrocard will pay for-- consists of the following: the subways, city bus lines, and the Roosevelt Island tramway (info on the latter here). But there are several other transportation options in the city that your Metrocard will not cover, and will require separate fares. Here's a primer:

    A) NYC Ferry: NYC's new, official ferry service is a great way to travel between the city's waterfront areas. The fare is the same price as a subway ride-- $2.75-- but requires a separate ticket. 

    There are also other ferry options, such as NY Waterway and NY Water Taxi.
    (not even including the many sightseeing boat/cruise companies)

    B) Long Island Rail Road: The LIRR is a commuter train system that connects NYC to the suburbs of Nassau and Suffolk Counties (collectively known as Long Island). To ride this system, a separate ticket must be purchased at stations. If you do wish to ride a LIRR train, please buy a ticket in advance, as purchasing tickets on board is almost double the cost of an advance ticket.

    C) Metro-North: Metro-North railroad connects NYC to its far outer suburbs of upstate New York and Connecticut. As with LIRR, tickets should be purchased before boarding. 

    D) PATH: Path trains connect certain lower Manhattan neighborhoods to specific areas of New Jersey popular with cross-state commuters... Hoboken, Jersey City, and access to Newark Airport. The Path system does take Metrocards, but only pay-per-ride cards (unlimited Metrocards not accepted), though there is no free transfer between Path and the NYC transit system.

    E) NJ Transit: NJ Transit is a commuter rail system that connects NYC (via Penn Station) to cities all across New Jersey.

    F) Staten Island Ferry: The commuter boat between Manhattan and Staten Island. This one, as you may know, is free and requires no tickets.
  5. Getting help.
    Should you find yourself with questions during your travels, you have many options. First is to just ask! Contrary to stereotypes, most New Yorkers are very friendly and happy to assist (except maybe during rush hour). Second, check the web! All underground stations now have free wifi service. Finally, find an MTA employee! It is their job to help point you in the right direction.

We hope this helps, and safe travels!

Prospect Park

Prospect Park turned 150 years old this year!

This Brooklyn park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux after their completion of Central Park, in Manhattan. At the time, Brooklyn was still an independent city (the 3rd largest city in America). Olmsted was on the record of stating his preferred work was Prospect Park. He felt that the grid-system-mandated borders of Central Park were too creatively restrictive, that Manhattan politicians wanted too much say in his work there, and also felt his work on that park helped prepare him to better create his Brooklyn masterpiece. Wandering through Prospect Park today, you can see many similarities (in Vaux's beautiful arches & bridges, in Olmsted's layouts), but many differences. Prospect Park has more of a lived-in feel today, with weekend barbecues, picnics, music, and other activities not allowed in its Manhattan counterpart. One other difference... while tens of millions of NYC visitors each year visit Central Park, only a small fraction of that find their way to this area of Brooklyn. The Prospect Park Alliance is working to change that.

The park is also bordered by numerous historic, gorgeous neighborhoods such as Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Windsor Terrace, and Flatbush. Each worth a visit in their own right.

Interested in discovering more? Contact me for a custom tour!

Bushwick Street Art

Years before I even became a tour guide, I have been visiting Bushwick, Brooklyn, to photograph its vibrant street art scene. I've been collecting my photos in a Flickr album for 3 years. Many of these pieces are long gone, replaced by new murals and new artists. Click the image below to view a gallery of years-worth of Brooklyn street art.

And interested in seeing the area's current art? Check out my walking tour!

The Thrill of the Chase

As I noted in a previous entry, I love a good challenge. Art events or promotions that get New Yorkers to go around and explore all corners of the city are a favorite of mine. In the past, New Yorkers have been asked to run around hunting for cows, baseball statues, and (appropriately) easter eggs.

The current event is one is called the La Mer Wave Walk, sponsored by La Mer and Project Zero, to draw attention to ocean conservation efforts. 54 wave sculptures have been installed across all 5 NYC boroughs, in anticipation of United Nations Oceans Day on June 8. The wave sculptures will be removed and auctioned off after June 21. Some of the people who designed the sculptures include: Richard Branson, Bernard Fowler, Queen Noor of Jordan, Vivienne Westwood, Keith Richards, and many others. This page has a map where all the waves are placed.

I am attempting to photograph all 54 waves over the next week or so. As I find them, I will be uploading my photos to the Flickr account linked in the image below:

Street Smarts

The cliché old New York street hussle is a guy with a sidewalk table challenging passers-by to a game of three-card monte. But today's hussles involve homemade CDs, fake monks, and more.  They are based more on abusing your politeness to get your money. I'll outline the most prominent, so you know how to avoid them.

  • The fake monks.
    While the Elmos and Doras of Times Square get more press, there are far more insidious costumed menaces roaming the city... the fake monks. You will spot them all over the high-traffic areas of Central Park, and occasionally in popular spots like the Financial District or the High Line. Dressed as Buddhist monks, these beggars will approach you, hand you a trinket, and then ask for money. They hope you will be too polite or embarrassed to just hand it back and walk away. But that's what you should do.

    Your best bet: When you see someone in NYC walk up to you, and attempt to hand you something, keep your hands at your side, and just walking. If they verbally attempt to demand your attention, just ignore it. No response is the best response here.
  • The CD guys.
    That above advice goes double for the CD guys. The "monks" will at least treat your rejection politely. That's often not the case here. Here's how this goes down: a young man will approach you, telling you he's a breakout musician, and will practically shove a homemade CD into your hand. He will then demand payment for the CD. If you don't pay, the CD guys often become verbally aggressive, until you pay up, just to get away. They tend to congregate mostly around Times Square, but are ever expanding.

    Again, your best is to never take anything someone attempts to hand you in NYC.
  • The Battery Park ticket sellers.
    Battery Park is a lovely park in lower Manhattan, with views of the harbor, Statue of Liberty, and downtown skyscrapers like the World Trade Center. It is also your waterway portal to harbor cruises, the (free) Staten Island Ferry, boats to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, the Governors Island Ferry, & more. But in recent years, the park has become plagued by third-party ticket sellers, many unlicensed, who harass visitors into purchasing boat tickets. Many of them lie to, and scam, visitors about what the ticket they purchased is for. One dispute between two sellers recently lead to a shooting in the park.

    Your best bet: Do not purchase tickets from anyone on the street. Buy your ticket from the booth or building where the company is based. If you see aggressive ticket sellers, find and inform the nearest police officer.
  • The Ground Zero street sellers.
    Technically, this is less a scam, and more just predatory sales. But it's a pet peeve of mine, so I'm including it here. Near the World Trade Center (usually on Church St, between Fulton & Vesey), street sellers gather to sell 9/11 photo books, and similar "souvenirs" to tourists in the area. They are not affiliated with any official organization, and certainly not with the memorial. They are vultures, who are profiting off a tragedy. Please do not buy from them.

    Interested in purchasing books related to the World Trade Center? The memorial & museum have an official gift shop & kiosks... where the money goes to a good cause.

But please don't let this scare you! 99% of New Yorkers are polite, helpful, and are happy to welcome you to our city! But it is important to be aware of these scams, and have the confidence to avoid them.

Someone on the street trying to hand or sell you something? Just keep walking!

Someone on the street trying to hand or sell you something? Just keep walking!

Bonus tip: Street vendors in NYC, from pedicabs to food carts, are required to have prices posted clearly (to avoid gouging). Try and avoid any such vendor with no clear prices. When in doubt, ask the closest New York local for advice!