Review: The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza

An at one point travel and tourism blog with a look at a hospitality book. What is this world coming to? In truth, this book is equal parts tourism/hospitality and NYC history. The opening of the Plaza in October 1907 at a cost of $12.5m was AN EVENT with the likes of Mark Twain was a spectator. While the idea of hospitality had changed a lot from the hotel’s opening to the writing of this book, it has, it has changed even moreso in the last 25 years. With it, the Plaza has evolved, but this is an interesting look at the hotel that was in the late 80s.

Continue reading

#GoTheDist 2014: Q3 down

where on earth has 2014 gone. Seriously.

Q3 goals:

    • 850,000 steps
    • 375 miles walked
    • 35 miles biked

September  totals

  • 316,214 steps
  • 136.02 miles walked
  • 4.4 miles biked

Q3  totals:

  • 887,280 steps
  • 370.75 miles walked
  • 28.96 miles biked

That’s not bad at all. I didn’t realize I was ultimately so close to the mileage, but I’m honestly not sure I could have found another mile a day this last crazy week, so I’ll take it. I rebounded from an expectedly bad July with a strong August and solid September. I’m proud of myself and I’ll take it. Still need to get better about the gym though.

My official Q4 goal is 200 miles. What I need to hit to finish the year (1100 miles) is: 85 miles. Seriously. I’m at 1014 and I set my goal as 1,100. Yeah, blowing that up

So with an eye to Q4 2013 (642,067 // 269.51 // 55.16), I’m setting my Q4 goals as:

  • Steps: 750,000
  • Mileage: 300

Those also align well with my 2014 Q1 numbers when accounting for the lost data and weather hell.

#GoTheDist 3.2

or nearly…

I’ve finally found the sweet spot between my #GoTheDist goal being a challenge, but an attainable one. I knew that July would be bad, and it was. But I set two goals and I made one of two. The goal was 250K steps and I ended up with 260,908. Mileage goal was 117 and I ended up with 107.44. As good as my typical 300/125? No, but I pushed myself and did it.

August was more of the same with time away and travel time, but I thought I could do it and barring an apocalypse tomorrow, I will.

I set goals of 300,000 steps and 125 miles and I’m currently at 298,454 and 122.49. It wasn’t easy, I spent the end of a few vacation days at the gym and had to push myself to get off the couch on other days, but that’s what a goal should be.

Here’s to closing out Q3 in style…. and getting back to losing. And more reading, 28/40.

2014 revisits 2004

while looking for something else on my ancient LiveJournal, I found this “travel itinerary” from August 18, 2004.

Nearly ten years on, time to revisit it.

Walk El Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Still on the list, although I’m not as passionate about doing it as I once was. It’s now more of a curiosity than a priority/bucket list item. Interesting that it was then atop my list.

Visit Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park and Great Barrier Reef.

Done and done. While I didn’t end up working near the Reef, I snorkeled it twice. By far I preferred the snorkeling off Port Douglas to Cairns. The latter was just too crowded and too cloudy. Prior to my move, the Bungle Bungles weren’t even on my radar and they awed me as much/more than Uluru/Kata Tjuta probable because I hadn’t been over exposed to them.

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway … Also really want to do Cape Point and Cape Peninsula National Park.

This didn’t end up happening because I went back to Japan vs. continuing on to Africa. But it’s still atop the bucket list. The cultural history even within my lifetime with the fall of apartheid fascinates me.

Galapagos Islands

Like Santiago de Compostela, this has somewhat wandered off my bucket list. I like the idea of it, but boats and I don’t get along. At this point I’m more fascinated by a friend’s pictures of her trip to Macchu Picchu than I am of Galapagos.

and then I had the less well defined. The more less well defined “dreams”….

Middle East; specifically Jordan, Isreal and Egypt. Also Greece and Rome because the whole idea of visiting areas that have seen so much history amazes me. Regardless of what religion/gods you believe in, these regions have so much living history.

So somehow I managed to think that Greece and Rome were the Middle East. I did Israel for my 30th birthday and we saw Wadi Rum and Petra. Sometimes a place you’ve dreamed about lets you down… that was not the case with Israel and Jordan. I spent our time there in awe. I did Rome in 2007 while in Prague and it was amazing. A perfect example of “if these buildings could talk”. Living history. Greece is still vaguely on the bucket list.

Orient Express; would love to travel SE Asia.

Over two stints in Japan, I never visited any part of SE Asia besides transiting through Singapore. I don’t know why. I think this is now unlikely given travel time, but we’ll see.

St. Petersburg

This almost happened. I wanted to come home from Japan the second time via the Trans Siberian but then life happened. Life is good at that. Russia is still something I really want to see.

Misc Europe: Poland/Krakow (almost made it there when I was in Prague, in the end it fell through), Bosnia/Sarajevo—inner history buff again, Italy

I finally made it to Auschwitz/Birkenau in summer 2007 and it remains one of the most poignant moments. Awe inspiring. Haven’t made it to the former  Yugoslavia (yet) but doing Poland and Germany within a week? Wow.

US: Mt. Rushmore, Drive Route 66, Grand Canyon, Badlands of South Dakota, Painted Desert, Las Vegas
Well I did Vegas. And now I have a giant US Bucket List map and a goal to see all 50 states before I turn 50.

To be revisited in 2024

#GoTheDist Q2 nearly went

because I know if I wait until tomorrow, this won’t happen.

With two days left in Q2, the numbers are great.

June:

  • 328,083 steps
  • 134,89 miles walked
  • 14.24 miles biked

Final June (they got better)

  • 350,613 steps
  • 144.15 miles walked
  • 14.24 miles biked

Q2:

  •  932,746 steps
  • 383.38 miles walked
  • 35.33 miles biked

Q2 Final:

  • 955,276 steps
  • 392.64 mles walked
  • 35.33 miles biked

2014 halfway point:

  • 1,548988 steps
  • 643.57 miles walked
  • 139.14 miles biked

Wow.

June alone has been amazing with two days over 20K steps. Definitely love the immediacy of the Fitbit numbers in that respect. However, I’m preparing for a letdown. Why?

Because July is going to have too many weekends in suburbia where my numbers are going to be way down. And too much travel time to those destinations. .

Official Q3 goal is 350 miles walked.  My 2013 Q3 results were:

    • 758,057 steps
    • 316.3 miles walked
    • 31.66 miles biked

With that, I’m setting my personal goal as:

    • 850,000 steps
    • 375 miles walked
    • 35 miles biked

A modest increase over Q2, but one that I think will be attainable even if July is a loss. I may reevaluate come August 1.

Oh and speaking of goals, 18/40 books on the year without cheating.

#GoTheDist? Pfft Bridge The Dist

after a renewed interest in bridges of late, I have been on a mission. By borough I have crossed as follows:

Bronx to Manhattan:

  • Macombs Dam Bridge  in May 2013

Manhattan to Brooklyn:

  • Brooklyn Bridge: more times then I can count, also via bike
  • Manhattan Bridge: June 2014
  • Williamsburg Bridge: Summer 2013

Manhattan to Bronx:

  • Macombs Dam Bridge

Queens to Manhattan:

  • Queensboro Bridge, June 2014

Other:

  • GW Bridge and back, July 2013
  • Wards Island Pedestrian Bridge, May 2013
  • Triboro (Randalls Island to Manhattan)

That’s all the major bridges with the exception of the Henry Hudson since there’s no pedestrian access on the Verrazano and the High Bridge has not yet re-opened. I really don’t have an interest in walking to the Rockaways so those are out.

What’s my next Great Manhattan Loop related goal? Riverside Drive! I’ve done it up as far as 125th St. but time to do the northern spur that I skipped in favor of a riverside walk two years ago.

Then and now: Eldridge Street Synagogue

Interior: Museum at Eldridge Street

Interior: Museum at Eldridge Street

“I made a couple of calls and believe the sign will be safe,” she said. And so, for the moment, would be one other vestige of the Jewish Lower East Side.

In reading In Chinatown, Remembering the Origins of a 126 -Year-Old Synagogue I did what I always do and go down a rabbit hole of research.

The Eldridge Street temple, the first synagogue built by Eastern European Jews on the Lower East Side, the was completed in 1887 to the designs of the Herter Brothers, architects. It is the home of Congregation Khal Adath Jeshurun with Anshe Lubtz, another congregation that joined after the building opened.

”An Orthodox synagogue follows the congregation,” Justice Bookson said, ”or the congregation follows the synagogue, because we can’t ride on the Sabbath.”

The Museum at Eldridge Street aka the Eldridge St. Synagogue is one of the prettiest buildings on the Lower East Side and one of the most amazing interiors in the city. It’s sad to think of how far it fell during the time that the Orthodox population of the Lower East Side dwindled. Sad, but not surprising, due to the general state of the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s.

Justice Bookson noted that the temple’s centennial is close to that of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. ”The immigrants passed by the statue,” he said, ”and came right here to this neighborhood. So we’re right on the mark. Of course, we hope to restore the synagogue with a lot less money.”

After the 90-minute gathering yesterday, after the applause and amens, the sanctuary was empty again. For now, it will remain silent. And waiting.

They did that, and even more.

Never mind the 126 year old Congregation, the Friends of the Eldridge Street Project is older than I am. By the time I started to work with the Museum in 2007, it was called the Eldridge Street Project and was in the middle of the grand reopening. The amazing Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival was seven years old and the museum/synagogue was well on the way to being the marquee tourist destination that it is.Kiki Smith’s wonderful window was installed three years later and it seemed as if the restoration was complete in time for the 125th anniversary.

I feel that I’m lucky to work so closely with the museum. I know more about it then the average NYC resident. Maybe even more than the average Culture Vulture, but there’s so much about which I wasn’t aware. The article about the grand reopening is an amazing overview of the building and congregation’s history. We as a city are lucky to still have it as a part of our present.

By the mid-1950s, without funds or a substantial congregation, the main sanctuary was sealed shut; only a remnant of the original congregation continued to use the smaller ground-floor study hall. Then, in 1971, the water-damaged main sanctuary was surveyed with astonishment by Gerald R. Wolfe, a New York University professor, who founded the Friends of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Fifteen years later, the preservationist and journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz was so taken by its latent promise that she started the Eldridge Street Project, helped obtain its landmark status and began a fund-raising drive that gradually brought the sanctuary back to life.

But what purpose could such a place serve if its religious function and community were gone? Rather than leave it a monument to an earlier faith, the Eldridge Street Project turned the building into a symbol of a contemporary, secular faith. In the 1990s, the synagogue, its renovation unfinished, became a museum, a center, in the words of the Project, “for historical reflection, aesthetic inspiration and spiritual renewal.”

I had no idea of the buildings parallels with a series of tenements in Alphabet City. The history of the Lower East Side is really a connected one. The Synagogue’s own restoration led to the discovery of a mikvah on the adjacent property at 5 Allen St (now a Howard Johnson)

A clay pipe or a pottery shard is a fine day’s work for an urban archaeologist. Celia J. Bergoffen found a bathhouse.

I’m fascinated by the Lower East Side’s history. That’s obvious each time I do one of the Conservancy’s tours (and return for more like I did this past Sunday). I contemplate moving there if I win the lotto, but sometimes I wonder if I like its present as much as its past.

Further Reading:

99 places to go

well at least that’s the challenge I saw upon reading Daniel Smith’s 100 Places You Will Never Visit, one of the titles I’ve finished in a recent reading marathon that is bringing my 2014 total toward respectability. I’ve been to one, and if I can get there on a whim (albeit with a tour group), they can’t all be that inaccessible.

While the majority of the military sites are of no interest to me, from a history lover’s point of view, I loved this book. The vignettes about each location tell you enough about each to pique your curiosity without getting too detailed. While it skewed American, I like that he included a range of international locations. My only complaint was that in ebook conversion, the photo captions were rendered almost too small to be legible and increasing font size had no effect as they were treated as part of the image.

Continue reading

#GoTheDist 2.2

About halfway through May I realized that 300,000 steps for the month was doable after just missing it. And then I became a woman on a mission to make it happen. I wasn’t sure if I had since I was away from my spreadsheet but after entering Weds-Sat… I MADE IT!

May Totals:

  • 305, 841 steps
  • 125.05 miles walked
  • 21.09 miles on the bike

Q2 Totals:

  • 604,663 steps
  • 248.49 miles walked
  • 21.09 miles on the bike

2014 Totals:

  • 1,198,375 steps
  • 499.42 miles walked
  • 124.9 miles on the bike

I’m pretty damn happy with that. Check that, very damn happy. I’m 100 miles shy of my official GTD goal and 150 shy of my personal. While those are a little iffy depending on weather, I’m less than 100K steps from my steps goals. I’m doubly excited as June is the first month where I’ll have year on year steps data. [2013 data: 315,031 steps, 132.24 miles walked and 50.1 miles on the bike].

Yep, I’m going to have to bust my hump to get this… but isn’t that what goals are for?

Lower East Side Then and Now

for all the tours I’ve done with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, I had only done a mini tour of the Lower East Side. It was time to fix that, so I joined this weekend’s tour, the Lower East Side Then and Now. Among other things, I was excited that it included Bialystoker, a building about which I’ve been curious for some time.

I can say without a doubt that this was one of the most interesting tours I’ve done, and also one of the most stunning.

It was a perfect spring day with scarcely a cloud in the sky, which I think led to the vibrant light within the buildings we visited, but I also think Bialystoker would be beautiful wrapped in black construction paper.

While Bialystoker is best known for its mazalot (great information and more and photos), I found the architectural history even more amazing. Yes, the presence of zodiac signs in an orthodox shul is slightly surprising, but challenges of dealing with the conversion of what was the Willets St. Church into Bialystoker Synagogue in 1905 was awe inspiring. I also had no idea that the Manhattan Schist from which it was built was from a quarry practically next door on Pitt St. While the building looks distinctly Jewish with its Stars of David, there are telling pieces of its christian history, including the stained glass and an altar-looking Ark of the Torah, for which the congregation received dispensation for it not facing east. That is believed to be one of the reasons for the extensive imagery of Israel in the synagogue’s interior. While I knew Shelly Silver worshipped at Bialystoker, I had no idea it was once home to Bugsy Siegel and Max Lansky, father of Meyer Lansky. Living history, not all positive.

From Bialystoker we headed down E. Broadway past:

  • some of the original buildings of the Henry Street Settlement;
  • the recently landmarked Bialystoker Center (called “one of the last remaining physical reminders of the Jewish Lower East Side”);
  • a few of the remaining shteibl of what was once Shteibl Row;
  • the Forward Building (yep, an interesting mix of then and then with Tatum O’Neal trying to buy crack in Seward Park); and
  • an unexpected view of One World Trade with the Manhattan Municipal Building.

It’s a really striking mix of then and now. While the neighborhood has changed (and will continue to change with SPURA-more on that later), there’s still a swing back that has been going on since 2000. While the old shteibl aren’t expected to survive long term as their congregations die off, the young returners are worshipping at Bialystoker again.

From E. Broadway we had a quick detour up Norfolk Street to Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the shell of the oldest Russian, orthodox congregation in the US. This was the synagogue that first caught my attention back in November and which I’d thought about recently while wondering how much of the neighborhood SUPRA would touch. It turns out that in addition to the building in which the Conservancy’s visitor center is located, SPURA will come right up against the old Norfolk Street Shul. Hopefully the visitor center will find a new home within Essex Crossing, but there’s no doubt the development is going to change the neighborhood. I find it amusing or amazing, not honestly sure which, that both SPURA and the Second Avenue Subway are finally happening.

Our next and final stop was Kehila Kedosha Janina, the only remaining congregation of Romaniote Jews in the Western Hemisphere. Another amazing interior, and the women’s section doubles as a museum.  This was one of the many landmarked places we saw/visited on the tour that it’s going to be interesting to see how the landmarks of the old neighborhood hit among the new SPURA buildings. I found the Museum Director’s explanation that they’re “less neurotically Orthodox” an interesting one. If not for the gorgeous torah scrolls I’m not sure I’d have realized this was an orthodox shul.

With Bialystoker today, Eldridge St. many times over and Stanton St. and Angel Orensanz last November, I think I’ve hit all the iconic synagogues of the Lower East Side. I’ve also seen some of the amazing uptown architecture, but alas I haven’t been in any. I’m especially glad that I was able to visit Angel Orensanz as it is currently closed due to structural issues and there is no timeline for when/if it will reopen.

All in all, another amazing day on the Lower East Side.