Colombian Food, Italian Ice & Taiwanese Snacks Along the 7 Train

There are plenty of great Asian restaurants in Flushing, but the most impressive site I’ve seen there is the food court at the New World Mall.

Mention of the 7 train elicits mixed reactions. Only 6 of the 22 stations connect to other lines and it’s the only subway line that serves Manhattan and Queens (it does not go out to Brooklyn). On September 13, 2015 the first new station of the new millennium opened on the 7 line near the Javits Center. This is very convenient for anyone arriving by boat from New Jersey.

Queens is known as NYC’s most international borough. Over 1,000,000 of the more than 2,300.000 residents are said to be foreign born. If you like food, culture and some nature, you can spend an exciting day along the 7 train.

During my most recent trip, I started at the new 34 St-Hudson Yards station and took the 7 train to 82 St-Jackson Hts. I’ve been to and blogged about this area before. There’s such an amazing selection of Latin American food along Roosevelt Ave. For lunch, I chose La Pequeña Colombia on the corner of 83rd & Roosevelt. I asked their friendly staff what seafood dishes people eat in Colombia and they suggested Pargo Rojo Marinado, which is more prominent is the coastal areas. $27.95 may sound like a lot of money, but most people would not need an appetizer or dessert with this entrée. It’s a whole red snapper over a bed of seafood in a creamy white sauce. A side of yuca with rice is only $3.95 and makes an excellent addition to the sauce after you’ve finished the seafood.

After a meal like that, some walking is in order. I did not have room for any of their hearty desserts and you may not either. My next destination was Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s the fourth largest park in NYC and if you are using the 7 train, there’s a couple different ways to get there. I chose to take the train two stops from 90 St-Elmhurst Av to 103 St-Corona Plaza. Although this is a bit west of the park entrance on 111th Street, you can pass by The Lemon Ice King of Corona if you just walk east to 108th St and go 12 (short) blocks south to 52nd Ave. They are open all year round and have more than 30 flavors. Small cups cost $1.50 each. They do not mix flavors, so it’s worth buying a few different small cups to sample the flavors.

From there, you can walk east on 52nd Ave to 111th Street, which will put you near the main entrance to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s more exciting in the warmer months, but you can still spend hours there in the winter. If you go to the nearby museums, you can spend days.

My last stop in the park was the Unisphere. From there, the 111 St and Mets-Willets Point stops along the 7 train are just a short walk north. The one you take will depend on whether or not you are going east or west. The last stop to the east is Flushing-Main St, which will leave you in the heart of what some call the largest Chinatown in NYC. It’s certainly the largest in Queens and is different from the more famous Chinatown in Manhattan in that most of the people there are Mandarin speaking.

There are plenty of great Asian restaurants in Flushing, but the most impressive site I’ve seen there is the food court at the New World Mall. Although the Chinatown in Flushing is generally not as crowded as the one in Manhattan, the food court in the New World Mall is. There’s an amazing selection of Asian food there and it really did remind me of my numerous trips there. There’s bubble tea, Korean, Thai and everything in between, but I always liked Tea Twitter. I first discovered them at the Queens International Night Market and they have excellent Taiwanese fast food. I’ve had salt & pepper chicken at numerous places (including Taichung and Taipei) and theirs is as good as any.

Flushing gives you the advantage of two different transit options back to Manhattan. The 7 train ends in Flushing and the Long Island Railroad has a stop there as well. From Flushing-Main St. you can be at Penn Station in 20 minutes with only a couple stops between if you take the LIRR.

If you follow my itinerary, you can eat Asian, European and Latin American food and also visit an iconic park in less than one full day using one subway line. Of course you should make sure there is no construction on the 7 line, especially if you are visiting on a weekend. The subway would cost you $11 ($2.75 X 4 rides) if you start and finish in Manhattan. Taking the Long Island Railroad back from Flushing will cost more than the subway and unlike the subway, the cost varies depending on when you are riding. On weekends, the City Ticket is the best option at $4.25 one way.

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A Pennsylvania Native Spends His First Day in Pittsburgh After 36 Years

When I meet someone who’s not from my home state, I tell them “I’m from Pennsylvania.” The east coast people tend to ask how close to “Philly” I am, while everyone else asks if I live near Pittsburgh. Until recently, my answer was that I’d never been there, as it’s on the other end of the state. I’ve always been curious, so for the first weekend of the New Year, I finally explored Pittsburgh.

When I meet someone who’s not from my home state, I tell them “I’m from Pennsylvania.” The east coast people tend to ask how close to “Philly” I am, while everyone else asks if I live near Pittsburgh. Until recently, my answer was that I’d never been there, as it’s on the other end of the state. I grew up in Luzerne County (eastern Pennsylvania) and can drive from there to the George Washington Bridge and back before I can get to Pittsburgh. I’ve always been curious, so for the first weekend of the New Year, I finally explored Pittsburgh. Lonely Planet served as a guide for what I would do there and there were enough sights and activities to easily fill a day.

I started off at the Duquesne Incline with the idea that I would ride one incline in the light and the other in the dark. The Duquesne is not operated by Port Authority and rides must be paid for in cash. When you get to the top, there are some exhibits as well as an observation deck with excellent views.

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My next destination was the Heinz History Center, which is on the southwestern border of the strip district. With seven floors (five open to visitors), you can easily spend a day there. Admission for an adult is $16. AAA will get you $1 off, but student admission is only $6.50.

The Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War 1754-1763, From Slavery to Freedom, Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation and We Can Do It: WWII were my personal favorites. I went through the museum in two hours, but you can easily turn that into three or four, depending on how fast you read and how varied your interests are.

From the museum, I walked to Penn Ave and through the strip district. There’s plenty of shopping there and different restaurants as well. Pittsburgh Popcorn Co is located on the corner of 21st Street and Spring Way. They have new flavors every week and offer samples. I bought a bag of cinnamon toast, which nobody else that was in front of me seemed interested in. Oh well, their loss, because it was delicious!

For lunch, I went to Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria, near the Gateway subway stop and then visited Fort Pitt Museum. Although the Heinz History Center is much more extensive, the area around Fort Pitt is great for walking and photo ops. At Fort Pitt, you can learn about the natives of Pittsburgh as well as how the 2nd largest city in Pennsylvania got its name. It was not named after Brad!

Pittsburgh skyline from Fort Pitt

I don’t believe that a visit to any city is complete without using some form or public transportation. I finally used the underground in Philadelphia last summer and since Fort Pitt is near the Gateway station, I boarded the train there and took it across the Monongahela River to the Station Square stop. The stops between Gateway and First Avenue are part of a Free Zone, but I had to pay since I was crossing the river to Station Square. Like the Los Angeles Metro, you buy a card, add value and “tap” when you enter the train. Before arriving at the First Avenue station, the train ascends above ground, so you get to see the river as it crosses.

From Station Square, it’s a short walk to the Monongahela Incline. It was dark by this time and the ride ($2.50 one-way, but only $1 extra if you make the return trip within three hours) only took a minute or two, just like the Duquesne. There’s an observation deck outside the upper station, where I took some excellent photos of the city at night.

After collecting my car, I headed to I Tea Café (Taiwanese) for dinner. They have one of my recent favorites (salt and pepper chicken) with different flavor options. I chose seaweed and also got French fries (something I don’t associate with Taiwan) of the same flavor as well as bubble tea. Everything was excellent and I had room for dessert, so I ordered glass jelly and homemade coconut toast. They are separate on the menu but go very well together. Try it!

Most decent sized cities have at least a bakery or two that sells French macarons. I found Gaby et Jules on Yelp and stopped there to get a box of six. They have the standard flavors as well as ones I’d either rarely or never seen before. I got nutella and salted caramel, which most places sell, but also tried Bailey’s Irish Cream and white chocolate basil.

Heinz Field

After spending my first full day in Pennsylvania’s second city, I can understand why it’s been voted the most livable city in America multiple times. It has professional sports teams, world class museums, a great food scene, more than ten colleges and universities yet does not feel overwhelming. Furthermore, my favorite bands usually stopped in Pittsburgh when they went on tour! Like most major cities, parking is a issue in the center, but unlike other cities with subways, you can ride theirs for free in the most congested areas. Pittsburgh has some great architecture along their ample waterfront, but it’s the inclines that really allow the visitor to fully appreciate it.

The 2016 New York Times Travel Show

The New York Times Travel Show is a great opportunity to meet other travelers, speak to industry people from destinations you may or may not be interested in as well as attend seminars and meet the travel celebs.

The New York Times Travel Show is a great opportunity to meet other travelers, speak to industry people from destinations you may or may not be interested in as well as attend seminars and meet the travel celebs. While it’s always held within the first few months of the year (when the weather is unpredictable), you can buy tickets the day of the event. The fact that a new subway station opened across the street from the Javits Center since the 2015 show, makes it even more convenient for people to attend.

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A two-day pass is preferable if you are attending seminars. Attending seminars can take up the better part of the day, leaving little time to explore the booths. The cost to add a day to your pass is minimal and reduces the likelihood of you missing anything.

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2016 was the first year I attended the show since 2012. Last time, I had to make the long walk from Penn Station both days, but this time I took the Hudson River Ferry from Port Imperial in Weehawken and used the 7 train to get to the Hyatt Herald Square, where I stayed.

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At 11AM, I attended the Major New Developments in Travel seminar by Arthur and Pauline Frommer. Afterwards, I bought their Israel guidebook and got it signed. I let everyone get in front of me so I had a few minutes to chat at the end. Getting my picture taken with the Frommers was the highlight of the show for me. From there, I moved on to Richard Wiese’s seminar, Travel That You Cannot Find in the Guidebooks.

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After exploring the floor and getting something some vegan tacos for lunch, I attended The Top New Travel Destinations seminar (again by the Frommers). The final seminars of the day were at 4PM and I chose How I Traveled to Every Country in the World by Lee Abbamonte. Since it was in the same room as The Top New Travel Destinations, I got a great seat up front and listened to the most interesting seminar of the day. I never heard of Lee before watching him speak, but he had an impressive slide show and great stories to match. It made me feel a bit amateurish since he’s not much older than me and has visited all 193 countries recognized by the Travelers Century Club.

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Lee Abbamonte (youngest person to visit all 193 countries recognized by Century Club)

As the show was closing for the day, I boarded the 7 train at the new subway station across the street from the Javits Center. Not having to walk halfway across town was a welcome change. I had dinner at Ichiumi for the first time in years.

Afterwards, I attended the CultureTrav meetup at the Hyatt Herald Square, where I was also staying for the night. It was great to meet some fellow travel bloggers and the hotel is brilliantly designed with an excellent location. The meetup group had people from as far north as Boston and as far south as North Carolina.

The following day, I had an early lunch at Forcella’s Park Avenue location before heading back to the show. The first seminar I watched was The Luxury of Train Travel Around the World by Supinder Singh and Robert Stewart. Having gone on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago in 2010 as well as the Coast Starlight and Acela Express in subsequent years, I’m familiar with the Amtrak routes. It was the international routes that looked the most appealing.

The Travel Writing Basics and How to Shoot Better Travel Photos seminar was given by Max Hartshorne and Paul Shoul. Both were very friendly and willing to give advice to aspiring travel writers after the speech. Even after the room cleared out, they took questions in the hallway.

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Train Travel Seminar by Supinder Singh

The last seminar I attended was Travel Like a Rock Star by Johnny Jet and Chris McGinnis. After listening to their tips I did my first real extensive walk of the floor and headed back to Weehawken via the Hudson River Ferry.

I had a great time, ate great food (if you go to NYC and are not eating great food, you are doing something wrong!) and met some fellow travel writers with great stories.

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watching the sun set on Manhattan from  Molos Restaurant in Weehawken

Before leaving Weehawken, I had dinner at Molos Restaurant, which has a mainly Greek menu and overlooks the Hudson River. I was eating as the sun was setting and the Manhattan skyline looked stunning.

 

 

Chinatown & Chelsea

I woke up to an amazing view of Pike Street and the Manhattan Bridge. Chinatown is to the west and if you are lucky enough to get a room that faces the Manhattan Bridge, you can have a wonderful view while showering.

I woke up to an amazing view of Pike Street and the Manhattan Bridge. New York City (especially Manhattan hotels) don’t have the best reputation as far as offering value for your money is concerned, but I highly recommend the Howard Johnson Soho. It has a modern look and convenient location, with East Broadway (F train) being the nearest subway stop. Chinatown is to the west and if you are lucky enough to get a room that faces the Manhattan Bridge, you can have a wonderful view while showering.

My first dim sum was at the Golden Unicorn back in June. I had a Chinese friend to guide me along and my last food tour started at Jing Fong. At the suggestion of Simon Tung (from Macaron Parlour), I tried 88 Palace, which is less than five minutes from the HoJo Soho. Although 88 Palace is not as well-known as Jing Fong or Golden Unicorn, it was extremely crowded when I arrived (just before noon). Tables are round and the place gets way too crowded to let any seats go to waste. Unless you are in a large group, plan on sharing a table with people you’ve never met.

The servers come around with their carts and you pick what you want. They can offer a basic description, but it’s way too busy for any of the staff to spend too much time on one person. I ate the things that I enjoyed the other times I had dim sum, most of which were made with shrimp. Like the other two times, I managed to spend under $20.

One of my favorite ice cream shops is Ice and Vice, which is just a couple blocks east of the East Broadway stop on the F line. That was my next destination. They have a very eclectic selection, but I narrowed it down to three flavors: tea dance, opium den and love & hate. As the names suggest, they tend to get creative with the ingredients. I enjoyed all three, but was upset that they discontinued gold digger, which was an olive oil and kalamansi sorbet. When I jokingly complained, I was told that it just wasn’t that popular.

Welcome to Chinatown Manhattan 12-27-2015

From East Broadway, I took the F train up to 23rd street for some snacking and shopping. La Maison du Macaron is just outside of the 23rd Street F M train stop as well as the PATH. Their flavors change, which can be good and bad. No blood orange or mango this time, but they had speculoos, which I’d never seen there before.

Chinatown Manhattan 12-27-2015

I’d read about LA Burdick before and wanted to try their chocolates. I went there next and bought a box of nine. When I saw their desserts, I wanted to try. I had a difficult time deciding between chocolate lemon and hazelnut orange cakes, so I ordered both. I had to wait a few minutes until one of the few tables became available. LA Burdick gets very crowded and has an upscale feel. Finishing two pieces of cake was not a problem since (like the chocolates I bought) they were small. Both were good enough to make me want to visit again.

My next (and final) stop was the Gansevoort Market, which I just discovered at the beginning of December 2015. Most of my favorite things are packed inside that small market. Luzzo’s Pizza, Royce Chocolates and Dana’s Bakery have stands there. There’s also a ceviche bar, creperie and gelateria as well as Thai, Mediterranean and other food options. I got pizza from Luzzo’s as well as a box of macarons from Dana’s and called it a day.

Eating Along the L Train & Going for a Boat Ride

As enjoyable as a walk around the East Village always is, riding the East River Ferry at night was the highlight of the day. I hope to visit Williamsburg next year and go further into Brooklyn on the L train as well.

During my first visit to Williamsburg, I walked across the Williamsburg Bridge and had lunch at Motorino. It was January 2015 and the weather was so cold that both my iPad and iPhone shut off. I managed to get some nice pictures, but it was not the most comfortable experience. Like much of the travel I do, I had an urge and was not going to let cold weather get in the way.

For my second visit to Williamsburg, all I had to wear was a t-shirt and light jacket. It was around 50 degrees the day after Christmas. I remember it being warm like that in Cleveland around December 2006, but for a lifelong East Coast guy, that’s still a rarity.

I started by taking the L train from 6th Ave to Bedford Ave. Normally, when I take the L train, I get off at 1 Av to visit my favorite neighborhood (East Village). This time, I took it one more stop (into Brooklyn). As soon as I arrived in Williamsburg, I realized it warranted further exploration. The area looked “up and coming.”

I stopped for lunch at Fornino which had been on my list of pizzerias to try since earlier in the year. I was there for their pizza, but they had some interesting appetizers and I had a friend to share with.

We started with eggplant rustica, then had baked clams, followed by portabella mushrooms (with goat cheese) and finally, a margherita pizza. For dessert, we shared the lemon & olive oil cake with strawberry sorbet. Nothing went to waste and I would be interested in trying their Greenpoint location next time I’m in that area.

Walking east on North 7th Ave will lead you to Woops (on Driggs Ave). They have around a dozen French macaron flavors and the place gets pretty crowded. Konditori (Swedish Expresso) has a location on North 7th Ave as well.

Artists & Fleas Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015
Pin Your Home City

West of the Bedford Ave stop on North 7th Ave. is Artists & Fleas’ Williamsburg location (there’s another inside the Chelsea Market). Compared to the Cheslea Market, Williamsburg was much less crowded. I bought my favorite necklace (preserved dragonfruit) from Glitter Limes at the Chelsea location last year and it’s still my favorite.

East River from East River Park in Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015

East River Park is northwest of Artists & Fleas and provides some great photo ops. It’s not as impressive at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, but still worth a visit. Oddfellows Ice Cream is along Kent Ave, but they were closed for the holidays.

For a light snack, we stopped at Rosarito Fish Shack. The place looks very interesting from the outside and the same is true of the interior. We shared a salmon ceviche as well as the carne asada tacos (each order comes with two).

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The East River Ferry Arrives

The East River Ferry Terminal is northwest of Oddfellows. I decided that this would be a good (first) time to take a boat across the East River. It was getting cold outside and neither my friend, nor I felt like walking back to Bedford Ave to catch the L train. While waiting for the ferry, we walked around the Northside Piers and took some pictures. While walking, we saw a man showing his friends around explaining how back in the 1990s, cab drivers often refused to take people to Williamsburg. I heard a similar story while walking around Gantry Plaza State Park a couple months earlier.

East River Ferry Terminal in Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015
Northside Pier

Most of the East River Ferry stops are in Brooklyn. There is one (Long Island City) in Queens and two in Manhattan. Our choices were to go to either East 34th Street or Wall Street. We chose the first boat that arrived (Wall Street). The ride is quick. In our case, it stopped in South Williamsburg, DUMBO, then Wall Street. Although a ferry ride is more than double the cost of a subway or bus ride, it’s much more scenic. We got to ride under the BMW (or WMB since we were going south) bridges. It was dark outside, so the city was well lit.

It’s easy to get the M15 bus north from Water Street, which is just two short blocks west of the ferry stop at Wall Street. Our destination was the East Village (my favorite neighborhood). The bus stops at East 8th Street (Saint Mark’s Place) and 1st Ave. We stopped at Macaron Parlour at ended up getting advice from Simon Tung on where to go for dim sum in Chinatown.

potato shrimp at Ramen Setagaya East Village 12-26-2015
Potato Shrimp at Ramen Setagaya

There are great places to eat all along 1st Avenue, but 2nd Ave has plenty as well. After you cross 2nd Ave, you can have gelato at DF Mavens, Belgian fries at Friterie, bubble tea at CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice and ramen at Ramen Setagaya without even making it halfway to 3rd Ave.

As enjoyable as a walk around the East Village always is, riding the East River Ferry at night was the highlight of the day. I hope to visit Williamsburg next year and go further into Brooklyn on the L train as well.