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Archive for June, 2010

Day 133: Graffiti

Art is extremely interesting to me because expression is achieved through so many different mediums.  Take graffiti for example, an art form that has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.  Modern graffiti is usually tied to acts of vandalism, with perpetrators rising out of the underground hip-hop and gang cultures.  But that isn’t always the case – the infamous Banksy, a mysterious and unidentified British graffiti artist, doesn’t come from the underworld.

New York City’s transit system was a huge target for graffiti artists in the 1970s and ‘80s, with many trains and subway cars covered in the art.  The modes of transportation were the victims of graffiti “bombing,” a technique in which “artists” normally painted very quickly with two or three colors, sacrificing aesthetics for speed.  To make matters worse, economic restraints on New York City limited its ability to combat the vandalism with graffiti removal programs or transit maintenance.

It’s fairly rare that I come across graffiti during my ventures around the city (unless it’s been approved and commissioned by the city), with the exception of a truck I see parked along 31st Street nearly every day.  I have no idea who belongs to the truck, but they have made no attempt to combat the graffiti in the nearly 10 months I have been commuting to the city. Or maybe that’s their strategy.  Who am I to judge?

Graffiti Truck

A truck covered in graffiti parked on 31st Street in NYC

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Day 132: Scaffolding

New York City is constantly under construction.  And with construction comes scaffolding.  I don’t usually get bent out of shape about walking under the scaffolding, but it does make you think about the potential for collapse.  I am worried, however, about scaffolding that I walk under nearly every workday to and from my office because it is being secured by duct tape.  I can’t decide if the tape gives me something to worry about or eases my tension.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding Secured by Duct Tape in Midtown Manhattan

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The walk to my office can only be described as monotonous.  I generally exit Penn Station at the corner of 7th Avenue and 31st Street, but decided to change things up and exited on 8th Avenue and 31st Street on this morning (in essence, the rear of Penn Station / MSG).

I entered the street level and quickly noticed a massive building on 8th Avenue, spanning an entire city block.  It was a building that my dad pointed out to me during a previous visit to the city, but I had not thought of it since.  The building is the James A. Farley Building, the main post office building in New York City.  The facility was built in 1912 and has a zip code designation of 10001.

Check out a couple of fun facts about the building:

  • The building is famous for bearing the inscription: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
  • In 1982, the post office was officially designated ‘”The James A. Farley Building'”, as a monument and testament to the political career of the nation’s 53rd Postmaster General.
  • The Farley Post Office is home to “Operation Santa,” made famous in the classic 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street.
James A. Farley Building

The James A. Farley Building in New York City

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I blogged about owner/baker/driver Kim Ima and her Treats Truck on Day 61, a woman credited with pioneering the mobile food trend when her truck hit the New York streets three years ago.  As is the case with any successful venture, the Treats Truck has competition.  I stumbled upon a rival business called Street Sweets near my office in Midtown Manhattan and the resemblance was uncanny.

Street Sweets was founded by Grant Di Mille and Samira Mahboubian in June of 2009 after an inspiring visit to Italy.  Their goal is to provide an alternative to the “same old, pre-packaged offerings found virtually on every corner” in New York City and to fill the streets with the “delicious aroma of freshly-baked sweets.”  The pair offers a variety of treats to satisfy people’s cravings, including muffins, scones, quiches, savory croissants, cookies, brownies and more.  Highlighting the menu, however, are “European-inspired create-your-own croissants—filled with a choice of luscious pastry creams such as mocha, praline, vanilla and chocolate, all natural preserves, honey, and nut butters.”  Plus, they offer coffee, espressos and cappuccinos to pair with your treat.

More information on Street Sweets can be found online, with a solid website and a presence on social media staples Facebook and Twitter.

Street Sweets Truck

The Street Sweets truck in Midtown Manhattan

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The flight back from Europe is not so enjoyable.  It means a full day or travel and a return to reality.  Our flight was scheduled to leave Dublin at 10:55am and arrive at Newark Airport at 1:20pm.  Well, if you can remember back, ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano was continuing to wreak havoc on air travel in Europe.  The airport in Dublin was actually closed a couple days prior, so this had a great potential to really disrupt our travel plans.

The airport was buzzing with rumors, but our flight was on time when we arrived initially.  By the time we got to the gate, however, the flight had already been delayed an hour.  And the rumor was that the airport was set to close again around 4:00pm due to shifting winds.  This, of course, left us with a small margin of error.  The flight was then delayed another hour – making us even more nervous.

The issue now was that all flights were being diverted and the flight pattern was pushed north of Iceland to avoid the ash cloud.  This caused exponential chaos because the shift in flight pattern also meant that the number of “tracks” available for planes was reduced from five to three.  This change in pattern also meant the 7½ hour flight was now 8¼ hours.  We finally boarded the plane, but sat on it for another hour or so before we taxied to the runway for takeoff.  The flight wasn’t terrible as we had an open seat in our row.

We arrived at Newark, collected our baggage and went through customs.  The time was now after 5:00pm and we had been travelling for 15 hours (from the time we left our hotel in Dublin to the time we hit the curb at Newark).  Adding to our luck, we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Newark to our house.  We finally arrived right before 8:00pm – ending an 18 hour travel escapade.  But it was worth it because our trip to Ireland generated a lifetime full of memories.

Our plane on the tarmac

Our plane on the tarmac

Greenland

A view of Greenland from 35,000 feet

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We dedicated Day 128 to checking out Dublin.  The 3-day bus pass we used was good for the Dublin Bus Tour, a fleet of green hop on, hop off buses that stopped at nearly 30 tourist traps throughout the city.  We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel located directly across the street from one of the 30 stops – the Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison turned museum.

We “hopped on” at the Kilmainham Gaol and got off at the first stop – Heuston Rail Station – to grab a quick breakfast on the go.  We lucked out because the next bus had a live tour guide, whereas the first bus had a recorded tour available in 12 different languages to cater to the non-English speaking tourists.  The tour guide on the second bus was great – interweaving the history of Dublin with fun facts, humor and the occasional pun.

We took this bus nearly the full route before getting off at our first stop of the day – the Guinness Storehouse, which is located at St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin.  Courtney and I had been previously (during a drunken weekend in our college days), but we took the tour at a much slower pace this time around.  The interactive museum brings visitors through both the history of Guinness and the stout’s brewing process.  We really enjoyed the tour, which included the opportunity to sample a half pint midway through the journey.  At the end, visitors have a choice to enjoy a pint of Guinness one of two ways – (1) you can learn how to and then pour the perfect pint of the stout or (2) you can enjoy a pint at the Gravity Bar, a location at the top of the storehouse that offers 360 views of the city of Dublin.  Since we didn’t have the first option back in 2002, I opted to pour the perfect pint this time and it was delicious.  We did stop up at the Gravity Bar for the view, but the huge crowd of people took away from the atmosphere.  Overall, the Guinness Storehouse is a must if you spend any time in Dublin.

We then grabbed a quick lunch before hopping back on the bus.  We initially discussed taking the Jameson Distillery tour – another stop on the route – but didn’t want to spend anymore of the day inside.  The next and final stop for us on the route was the historic Trinity College.  Founded in 1592, Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university.  We entered the grounds and were greeted by a completely different vibe that was found outside the gates of the institution of higher learning.  The organized chaos of the Dublin city streets was replaced with a serenity that almost can’t be described in words.  We walked around Parliament Square and then toured the rest of the grounds at a leisurely pace.  This is also a must-see if you visit the city.

We eschewed pub fare once again for dinner.  Instead, we opted for a very cliché, yet familiar dinner at the Hard Rock Café.  After eight or so days of the unknown, the expected was appreciated.  We grabbed a final pint after dinner at the Ha’ Penny Bridge Pub, which was fittingly at the foot of the Ha’ Penny Bridge.  It was a very laid back pub that was worried more about pouring a good pint than creating a phony atmosphere.  It was a nice place to enjoy our last drinks.

Guinness Storehouse exterior

A view of the exterior of the Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse Interior

The view of the interior of the Guinness Storehouse

Perfect Pint

The "Perfect Pint" I poured at the Guinness Storehouse

Trinity College Statue

A view of a statue near the entrance to Trinity College

Parliament Square

Parliament Square on the campus of Trinity College

The Ha'penny Bridge

The Ha'penny Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey

Last Pints

We drank our last pints at the The Ha'penny Bridge Inn

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Day 127 was, for all intents and purposes, a travel day.  We enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hotel before heading back on the road.  I did some research on the the League of Ireland – the primary national soccer league of Ireland – before we left for our trip and discovered that the Bray Wanderers played a home match on the Friday of our trip.  The eight-club league pales in comparison to the English Premier League, but I looked at it as an opportunity to take in some football in Europe.  So, we travelled from Cork to the coastal city of Bray to visit the grounds and investigate purchasing tickets.  There was little to no security and we actually walked through the “stadium” to find a ticket office.  The ticket office was out to lunch, so we never did connect with them.  Plus, the weather was especially cold and windy, so we opted to grab lunch and skip town.

Our detour to Bray and stop for lunch put us in a great position to drive through Dublin at the height of rush hour on a Friday.  The previous week of driving prepared me for true city driving as we navigated the streets to make our way to the airport to return the car.  It was quite the experience, but I saw the finish line and was ecstatic to get rid of the car.  It was well worth it to rent the car, but finally returning it to Budget was a very freeing experience.

We made our way back to the terminal area to locate transportation to our hotel.  I noticed an offer for a 3-day bus pass when we initially arrived in Dublin, so we decided to investigate further.  As it turned out, the city of Dublin did offer a 3-day pass that included all city buses and the popular hop on, hop off buses.  This was a no-brainer for us to purchase for €25 because it represented a significant cost savings over purchasing transportation à la carte.  Plus, it afforded us the flexibility to take advantage of the entire bus system to get to the city centre and around the city once we were there.

After taking a bus to our hotel, we dropped our bags and headed back into the city centre.  We walked around for a while before grabbing some dinner and pints.  It had been a long day of driving, so we retired back to our hotel relatively early to prepare for the next day of Dublin sightseeing.

Cow

A cow we encountered on our drive from Kilkenny to Bray

soccer pitch

The soccer pitch at the home grounds of the Bray Wanderers

Bray Coast

A view of the east coast of Ireland in the city of Bray

Dublin at Night

The quiet streets of Dublin at night

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