Thinking warm thoughts of Florence

It’s still a little cold here in NYC — we’re no longer shivering in the twenties, and we’ve even made it up to fifty degrees, but thirties and low forties are still on the table for us. It means that if you don’t check the weather before you leave, stepping outside can turn into an unexpected adventure. I’m still congratulating myself on going back for my umbrella on Tuesday morning, because it was pouring on the way home that night.

But spring is on the way! At least that’s what we’re hearing. And so in honor of the warm weather we might see soon, I figured it was time to flash back once more to the last time I spent time outside without a jacket on: my trip to Italy back in October. It feels like a dream because I got back right about five months ago.


Florence was both a really lovely part of the trip and a not so lovely part. The not so lovely happened at the beginning, when my mom lost her camera. It put a bit of a pall over our arrival in Florence, and then I managed to turn my ankle on our way to the Uffizi. Let’s just say we were both very glad to get back to our hotel that night and relax. Also we maybe didn’t appreciate the art as much as we could have.

But we had a lovely time the next day. We went to the Accademia bright and early to see the David. Our hotel that first night was just blocks away from the museum, and our early ticket time meant the crowds weren’t that bad. We got a great view of the David before too many other tourists arrived.


From there we saw the window at the Museo degli Innocenti, which for hundreds of years was an orphanage. Newborn babies used to be passed through the window’s grill to be taken care of at the orphanage. It was both really sad to see, and also very hopeful to think of babies being given a chance at life.


We had to see the Duomo, of course, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. I didn’t make my mom climb to the top, like I did on choir tour in college, but we did stop at a kiosk and pay a few euros to listen to some bits of history. It’s such a beautiful church, and so unique.


One of my favorite parts of the Duomo is the gorgeous 16th century fresco that covers the inside of dome. It depicts the Last Judgement, but it’s so bright and beautiful, it’s easy to forget it depicts such a solemn topic. My camera couldn’t quite do it justice, but I tried!


We wandered for a bit after the Duomo, and of course stopped for lunch. We also went in another church, Santa Maria Novella, which for me was interesting because it houses Masaccio’s painting of the Holy Trinity, which I remembered from my college art history class as being an important work because its three dimensional qualities. My photo isn’t great, but it was neat to see it in person.


One of the highlights of Florence was having dinner with two of my best friends from college, who are both in graduate school in Italy. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant in Otranto, a neighborhood south of the Arno River, called Il Guscio. It was delicious. Another of my best friends from college was in Italy this week and was not only going to see both of those friends, but also was going to get to eat at Il Guscio. (This post is maybe possibly inspired by jealousy after following her photos on Facebook all week. :))

My mom and I took a quick trip OUT of Florence the next day, to see the walled city of Lucca. We didn’t spend a ton of time there, but it was nice to be in a town, instead of a city, since so much of our trip (with the exception of our lovely overnight in Assisi) was spent in cities. We got to see a bit more of the Tuscan countryside from the train, and we spent a few hours walking in the sunshine.


Back in Florence, I spent the next morning with one of my friends. We met outside the Pitti Palace and went directly into the gardens to get a view of Florence from above. It was a gorgeous place — quiet, with fewer tourists. The perfect place to have a real catch up conversations, since this visit was the first time we’d seen each other in over four years.


We had pizza in a square and got some gelato to eat before I went back to meet my mom at the hotel. We had a train to catch to Venice. After a rough start to our Florence leg of the trip, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when it was time to leave. I had loved Florence on my first visit in college, and at first it didn’t quite live up to my memory of it. It’s easy to walk around the main tourist sites in the city, but it meant the city felt like one big attraction to me on our first day or so there. But with our dinner in Otranto, and with our second hotel (the first one was more expensive and only available the one night), which was a little farther from the center of things, and right by the river, I started to feel like there was more to Florence than we’d been seeing.


I could’ve stood by the river in the sunshine all day long — but I had places to go.

I can’t wait to go back someday soon and look for all the bits of the city I missed — I know there’s more to see. In the meantime, this New York winter HAS to be on its way out, and once it is, I’ll be more than ready to spend time enjoying the sunshine and beauty in my own city. Where are you taking a mental vacation right now, and what can’t you wait to do once it’s spring?


Out of the city and away to Charleston

First posted March 28, 2014.

Note: This is a re-post from last March. I figured that even if I haven’t actually made a break for it and gotten out of the nasty NYC weather, I can at least bask in sunny memories — and share them with you! It’s especially appropriate because my trip to Charleston for a friend’s wedding was like a mini college reunion, and yesterday we got the schedule for our actual college reunion!

This past weekend I escaped the cold and headed to Charleston, South Carolina. Sure, there were highs of 50 here in NYC (ed. Dear God, I hope we have highs of 50 this month!), but in Charleston the temperature never dipped below 50, and most of the weekend it was in the 60s and even low 70s, so Charleston wins.

A house on King Street
I was there for the wedding of a lovely college friend, and I’d been looking forward to this weekend ever since she sent the save the date email last spring. She’d invited a number of college buddies so the weekend was basically a mini reunion, and I loved every minute, especially all the ones where we were able to spend time with the bride. It was a beautiful set of wedding events and a perfect vacation weekend.
On Friday afternoon I wandered the historic district and saw some of the gorgeous houses on King Street on my way down toward the Battery, where I stared out at

the water and wished there were benches to sit on. On my walk, I bought a chocolate truffle at a shop near the market, visited the Gibbs Museum of Art, said hello to a woman gardening along the beautiful and eerie Charleston Gateway Walk, and picked up a pair of flip flops on my way back up King Street, when my feet finally started to hurt.


Churchyard, part of the Gateway walk
The view from the Battery

I had dinner with friends at Two Boroughs Larder before we met up with the bridal party at Stars Rooftop Bar. It was a little chilly, but heat lamps helped! Saturday was packed with wonderful wedding festivities, ending with an after-party at Mynt (I was too tired to stay long!). Sunday wrapped up our time with the bride and groom with a brunch at Fuel, a gas station-turned-restaurant where waffles gave us delicious flashbacks to brunches in college.

Sunday continued with a visit to Cypress Gardens, a swamp garden where I wandered the paths with a few friends before checking out their birds, butterflies, and the animals in their “swamparium” or swamp aquarium.

Favorite moment: seeing the alligators in the pen near the swamparium stay as still as statues, except some eye movement, for several minutes and then slowly start to move their feet. Beautiful and terrifically creepy, all at once.

And then it was time for the short flight back to NYC and the long over-priced taxi ride that got me home just at the moment Once Upon a Time began. I fell asleep thirty minutes after it ended and went to bed similarly early the following night.

But it was all worth it to see my dear friend get married, to catch up with people I haven’t really seen since college, and to explore Charleston while soaking up some beautiful weather. You can pack a lot into a three day trip, and I hope to plan more short-but-sweet adventures soon!

Thinking back on this mini trip, I realized that there were four key factors that it made it feel like a real vacation.

  1. Tourist time.I took Friday off from work and got an 8 a.m. flight. This meant I arrived in Charleston around 10:30 a.m. and had several hours to myself, since the first official wedding-related event I was attending wasn’t until after dinner.
  1. Semi-swanky accommodations. I booked a room at the Cannonboro Inn. Many of my friends stayed at the Not So Hostel, which was a perfectly fine choice, but I realized I’d sleep better, not to mention feel less stressed about getting ready for the wedding, at a B&B. And while I didn’t get to take much advantage of their breakfast or their wine and tea at 4 p.m. (too busy!), I did have a delicious parfait before rushing out to brunch one morning.
  1. Easy airport transportation. I splurged and took a car service to JFK and a taxi home. Next time I’ll take a car service each way – the cab fare was atrocious – but it was important to me not to have to stress about getting to the airport early in the morning on the subway, or about getting home on Sunday evening. I also bummed a LOT of car rides from friends all weekend. Thanks, guys – you are seriously the best!
  1. Sleep. I slept as much as I could, given how busy the weekend was. I knew if I wanted to enjoy myself each day – not to mention function at work on Monday! – I needed to be well-rested.

It would have been easy to keep this trip to a lower budget – subway travel, only staying one night, a room at the hostel, etc. etc. But I think vacations are important, and while I’m all for saving money where you can, travel is one of the few things I’m willing to spend a little extra on. I’m tired after this trip, but I spent the weekend feeling relaxed and comfortable. While most of the credit is due to the fabulous celebrations I was invited to attend, allowing myself time and space to really enjoy them also helped.

Where have you gone on your own weekend vacations, and what did you love most about being away?

Warm up with the hot chocolate festival at City Bakery

First posted February 14, 2014.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. If you like hot chocolate, you should go to City Bakery this month. It’s located at 3 West 18th Street in Manhattan, and right now they’re in the midst of their annual hot chocolate festival. Each day in the month of February they offer a different flavor of hot chocolate, from banana peel hot chocolate to bourbon hot chocolate to something called Ode to the Polar Bear hot chocolate. It’s definitely a good Valentine’s-Day-month activity, if you’re looking for a date idea — or just a delicious outing to do with friends!

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a hot chocolate purist. And by purist, I mean reverse snob, because I often prefer cocoa mixed with water to fancier, thicker, hot chocolate. In Italy I had hot chocolate so dense it resembled warm brownie batter. Don’t get me wrong, I love brownie batter, but not when I want hot chocolate.

But City Bakery’s flavors are fun and adventurous, and in this cold, cold month, what could be better than a nice warm cup of cocoa? What’s the most interesting kind of cocoa you’ve ever sampled? And should I someday go to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate? Discuss!


NOT from City Bakery (from Max Brenner) but man, those marshmallows were delicious!

Murder mystery marathon

I have a problem.

Okay, it is not necessarily a real problem. And it’s one I’ve dealt with before. But it’s still a problem. And that problem is, I’m obsessed with a TV show.

I was coming back from a friend’s house right before sitting down to write this and as I walked up the stairs I thought, “I can squeeze one more episode in before bed.” But then I remembered that I was already a day off schedule with blogging this week, and I told myself I needed to write something tonight since I didn’t get anything written over the long weekend.

Why not, you ask? I’d like to say it was the movie night with friends or the long brunch yesterday, and yes, those definitely contributed. But the real reason is, I can’t stop watching “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” And the actual problem is, I only have a few episodes left.

I’ve never been good at rationing TV shows when they’re available to binge, and I do have an addictive personality when it comes to narrative. I mean, I recently watched ten seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy”, getting far past the seasons where things actually made sense, because I just needed to know what happened to all those characters. Watching “Grey’s” didn’t stimulate me, though, in the way that marathoning “The West Wing” did a couple years ago, and it certainly didn’t make me laugh the way “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” does.Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - woman in a bob haircut with bangs and a crystal headpiece and a gold gun

You might think that a show about murder wouldn’t have me laughing and smiling throughout, but Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective (it’s 1920s Australia, and she’s kind of a flapper, so deal with it) is just so freaking awesome, I can’t help it. Her confidence, her intelligence, her bad-ass nature, and her ability to always have a great time, even — no, especially — when chasing criminals around Melbourne in spectacular clothing makes every episode a pleasure to watch.

Her sidekicks are also a lot of fun, as is her crime-solving partner, Inspector Detective Jack Robinson. Phryne and Jack have some delicious chemistry, but she’s also having a fabulous time sleeping with attractive men who she meets along the way. She has a rich, fulfilling life, and it’s so much fun to watch.

I first heard about the show on the awesome romance novel site, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and I knew it was something I’d enjoy. In some ways it reminds me of the other murder mystery show I follow, “Castle” — it’s about a somewhat by-the-book police detective and an over-the-top civilian solving cases together, with wonderful chemistry. Only the gender roles are swapped and Phryne is way more capable than Castle is. My favorite thing about it? Phryne and Jack are such equal partners, they almost always run into danger together. He knows better than to try to protect her or make her stay back, because she can handle anything that comes her way!

It’s winter, and it’s cold here in NYC, so if you’re looking for something to curl up and watch with some tea or cocoa in hand, check out “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. There are two seasons on Netflix, and a third in production.

Now I’m off, because I really have to start this episode before it gets too late!

P.S. The series is based on a book series, so I might check that out, too!

P.P.S. Came back after watching the episode to add this:

A City Singing at Christmas concert, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 12/18

First posted on December 13, 2013. Updated with new details.

To continue on the Christmas tradition theme, I have to tell you about a concert that’s happening this Thursday, December 18, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s the 35th annual A City Singing at Christmas concert, and this year it features the St Patrick’s Cathedral  Choir, the Young People’s Chorus of New York, and the choir I sing with, the New York City Master Chorale. This is the second year since I joined the choir that we’ve been invited to sing at this concert, and I am hugely excited.

If you’ve never been to St. Patrick’s—well, I’ll save talking about it for another post. But, you should go, and this concert is a perfect time. Three choirs perform beautiful Christmas-themed sets, with sing-a-long carols interspersed, and it’s free! The most magical part is at the end of the concert, when all three choirs sing “Silent Night” together. The lights are turned off in the cathedral, the audience and the singers are given candles, and then the singers process down and back up the aisles. According to a friend of mine, one year, when as the concert came to its end the back doors were opened, she looked out on the cinematic sight of snow falling gently on the Atlas statue on Fifth Ave.
If you want to attend on Thursday, December 18, make sure to get there early. The concert starts at 7 p.m., but the line will begin a while before that. Two years ago my mom went to 5:30 mass and that helped her to secure a seat. Seating is limited this year due to construction, so it’s especially important to beat the crowd.
Music is, for me, the most important part of the season—or at least right up there with Christmas tree and lights. I’m sure it’s different for anyone—what’s your favorite sign that the holidays have arrived?
Looking for more holiday inspiration? Check out the marathon reading of A Christmas Carol at Housing Works this Saturday, December 20 (and my post about it from last year), or visit Bryant Park and go shopping and ice skating (read about it from last year here!) Or check out the NYC Master Chorale’s other holiday concert this Friday at St. Mary the Virgin, where we’ll be performing Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”. 

Avoiding the Rockefeller tree lighting

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree -- but NOT during the tree lighting!

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree — but NOT during the tree lighting!

First posted on December 3, 2013. Updated with current information.

The number one thing you should not do tomorrow night (Wednesday, December 3) under any circumstances? Go anywhere near Rockefeller Center.

Tomorrow is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree, and according to the events website, tens of thousands of people will crowd the sidewalk in an attempt to see the tree be lit and to catch some of the performances. While the lineup is impressive, even if I didn’t have a choir rehearsal I would be staying away from the tree tomorrow evening.

One year while in college I happened to be in the city on the Wednesday of the tree lighting and I decided to wander by Rockefeller Center on my way back to Grand Central. I never got close enough to even see the tree, let alone find a spot to settle in and hear some music. The sidewalks were packed with a tide of people relentlessly moving toward Rockefeller Center, where they’d stop and I’d be squished in the crowd–without even being able to see anything. I took myself out of the flow, stopped in a pizza place for a slice, and headed back to the train station.

Last year a friend told me that there are usually police barriers up on the streets, forcing people to walk single file, and they put all the spectators in pens. So while it may be possible, if obnoxious, to be near Rockefeller Center tomorrow evening, I’d still say, skip the tree lighting. Who wants to be in a pen?

But the tree—and the skating rink—at Rockefeller Center are a NYC Christmas tradition, as much as the Rockettes (of whose performance, which I saw when I was little, I remember…well, little. Mostly I remember the wand with a snow globe on its end that I got my parents to buy me). The tree is huge, covered in colored lights, and lovely, so I do recommend visiting it. The rink (which is a bit of a rip off compared to Bryant Park and even Wollman, which I refuse to call Trump Rink) is open till midnight, and the tree is usually lit till 11:30, so while it may thin out a bit later in the evenings, your best bet for having slightly fewer tourists to deal with is probably to go early in the week.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something on Wednesday night, consider staying home and watching the tree lighting from the comfort of your own couch! And then tell me how it was, because I’ll be in rehearsal.

Any other NYC tourist spots to avoid this week and check out another time?

Freezing winter night

….not yet, I know. I’ve been wearing my winter coat, but we’re not quite there yet in New York, it’s still November and it hasn’t snowed. But walking home last night I looked up at the sky and saw the constellation Orion shining brightly above the buildings, each star clear and distinct against the black sky, and I remembered learning as a child that Orion is a winter constellation. So the night sky thinks it’s winter.

I wanted to take a picture but my camera couldn’t handle it and would’ve showed a deep black sky with no pinpricks of light marking out the great hunter’s shoulders and tunic and belt of three stars. The light pollution in New York is such that only these brightest stars are visible — the photos of Orion you’ll find on Google often show all the other stars around and in between the constellation, but in New York you can’t see most of them.

Sometimes I miss the quiet of life outside the city and the true darkness of the sky that you can never quite achieve here. In college my choir would always go on a fall retreat in the middle of nowhere for a weekend and have a bonfire under the stars. We’d sing together and eat s’mores, and I usually took a few minutes to lie on my back and look up. The stars in New York are flat against the sky but out away from the city you can start to see the depth of the universe, and you start thinking about the fact that you’re looking at the distant light of the past.

Yesterday an unmanned spacecraft landed on a comet hundreds of millions of miles away and started sending information back to Earth. There’s so much wonder out there, so much to learn, and I bet all of the scientists working on the project would say that they’re doing what they do now because one day, a long time ago, they decided to look up.

Freezing Winter Night, A Ceremony of Carols, Benjamin Britten

In the limbo between winter and spring

Yesterday I bundled up like it was winter again. The temperature was in the upper thirties in the morning today as well — not terribly cold when you figure in all the weeks of temps in the twenties and even the teens, but I pulled on my gloves and covered my ears like there was a Polar Vortex, because I don’t do well when the weather changes quickly. A thirty-degree drop in temperature or a quick shift from dry weather to wet can bring on an attack of the sneezes. A quick Google search shows I’m not the onlyone to deal with this.

So far I’m sniffle-free, with only a hint of a sore throat, so I’m hoping to stay allergy-free for a little while longer, but I’ve been thinking about the way the seasons impact my motivations.

I’ve been going to the gym on and off (mostly on!) since last summer, even through some of the very cold weeks this winter, but after experiencing the warmth of last week it’s been easy to give myself a pass these cold mornings. It should get easier as the weather gets nicer, but I’ve also known myself to become inert once the weather’s been nice for a while. Too many hot, busy days and I’ll stay at home in front of the AC even on a perfectly pleasant day because I’m too lazy to leave home.

I think this means I should always live somewhere that has seasons. If I lived someplace where the weather was nice all the time, I’d eventually get complacent and never leave the apartment, knowing I could always do it the next day. And if the weather was terrible all the time – well, you get the picture. I can be a bit of a homebody when left entirely to my own devices, so it’s good I have the contrasting seasons to remind me to step outside.

I’ll be getting out this weekend to go see a show with a friend, but I also want to take a walk and see how the tiny park near my apartment is doing. I spotted some daffodils last weekend; I hope the frost hasn’t hurt them. About a year ago, on a warm, sunny, April morning, I had an appointment to see my apartment for a second time and ultimately to put down a deposit. On my way over I walked by this tiny park. I’d walked by it many times before, but I’d never been there in spring, and I managed to catch it while it was in full bloom. There was a full palette of colors and flower varieties, and I just sat on a bench and took it all in. By the time I got to the apartment, my vision was a little rosy, and the sunlight streaming in through the windows didn’t hurt either. It was a good decision even so.

The temperature is supposed to climb back up to 63 degrees on Saturday. I can hardly wait.

Has everyone recovered from the winter? What are you most looking forward to about spring?

And, a post by me about that Toughest Job in the World video over at F’d in Park Slope.

Six months and fifty posts

This is my fiftieth post on this blog! Since I started it on September 7, it’s been just about exactly six months of blogging regularly. In that time I have written about pretty much every interesting thing I have ever done in New York, so I guess it’s time to move on to something new.

Okay, not really. But I’ve written about a lot of things I’ve done, so clearly I need to go check out more places around the city. There are many, many museums I’ve yet to set foot in, neighborhoods I’ve never explored, and parks I’ve never gotten lost in. Thank goodness it’s almost springtime and I totally will want to spend time outside soon. There’s no way we’ll get more snow this month, right? Right?
Before I started this blog, I wasn’t writing very much. Now I write every week, usually multiple times a week. I’ve even started writing occasional posts for F’ed in Park Slope, and I’ve picked back up a fiction project I stalled out on. In the last month or so, I’ve started pitching pieces elsewhere and had one accepted (more on that when it’s published!). I haven’t had this kind of discipline or drive with my writing since college, and really, since before college. I’m excited about writing again, and I hope to keep moving forward.
So thanks to everyone who’s reading this! Thanks especially to everyone who has commented, here or on Facebook or in real life and told me you’re enjoying my posts. You’ve helped me stay on track and stay motivated, and I’m so grateful to you! The goal for this blog has always been for it to appeal to both readers in New York who might go out and do the things I mention and to readers outside New York who want to live vicariously or create a list of things to check out the next time they visit.
Have I succeeded? This is your official invitation to come out of the woodwork and let me know what you’d like to see more of! More write-ups of places you can check out any time, or more about current exhibits and shows? More reviews of things I’ve done or gone to? More slice-of-life posts? Or something else entirely? Any and all suggestions – including specific topics! – welcome.
Let me know in the comments! And thanks for reading!

Errands in the snow

On Saturday I put on my coat and boots and stepped outside with a mission in mind: I was off to Rite Aid to buy some day-after-Valentine’s-Day candy. It was early afternoon and as I closed the door behind me I realized that it had started to snow, the tiny, sharp kind of snow that blows into your face but doesn’t prevent you from seeing where you’re going. It was cold, and I was glad I had bundled up, but it was warmer than some snowy days have been this winter, and as I walked along one of the main avenues in Park Slope I saw lots of people out and about.

Some were running errands like I was, groceries in hand or kids in strollers ahead of them. I saw more than one pair of childless adults pulling a sled – what a good idea! – and countless people waiting for the bus. I know life in New York doesn’t stop when it snows – I’ve struggled to and from work in enough snow and slush to be sure of that – but there was something neat about being out in a weekend afternoon snowstorm and seeing that everyone else was out too. Maybe it’s cabin fever, maybe it’s that when the temperature is right at freezing it starts to feel warmto us now, or maybe we just all have things to do regardless of what precipitation is falling from the sky.

But weirdly, this mid-February snowstorm made me feel like spring might finally come, that the days of holing up with Netflix might almost be over, and that today’s snowstorm could be the last. I mean, the end of the week is supposed to be fifty degrees!

What do you think – is spring coming?