A Moment of Clarity at Harts Pass

13669128_10207029207068714_3090664755104249383_n

After the storm, a rainbow appeared at our campsite in the Okanogan National Forest.

If you type Harts Pass into the Google search browser, you get a listing of images, videos and websites solidifying the danger of this mountain road. It’s description, according to DangerousRoads.org, is the ‘highest mountain pass that you can drive to in Washington State,’ with a summit of 6,100 feet above sea level. At the peak, you can camp overnight among the mountain meadows and the remains of a once lush forest, now reduced to charred skeleton from years of wildfires blazing through the area.

While dangerous, the hairpin turns along the crag of the mountainside will even out, bringing you to the peak, where there you can rest in complete silence and serenity—besides the few campsites occupied by PCT thru hikers and adventurous families, you are completely alone in the wilderness, devoid of cell service, electricity and the stresses of your daily life.

I’m not much of a person for heights—I admit, that while I love hiking, I still experience the dizzying sensation of my vertigo setting in when I look over a cliff (or, to be more honest, a railing). Even with my feet firmly placed on the ground, the image of falling makes me panic—all it takes is one thought of what ‘could’ happen to trigger it.

The idea, though, of what sparks my vertigo made me wonder: What if this sensation isn’t vertigo, but a branch of my own anxiety? The cause is the same—a simple thought ignites a story in my mind of all the ways things could go wrong. And from there, it overpowers me.

I’ve dealt with extreme anxiety for most of my adult life. At some points, the anxiety is minor, but there have been days, weeks and even months when the feelings are unbearable. Mainly it’s social anxiety I’ve dealt with—I tend to convince myself that my friends are annoyed with me or do not want me around, that even though they haven’t said anything to confirm that suspicion, I convince myself that I am not worthy of their friendship. I isolate myself, shut down when these feelings start to appear. I’ve lost friends because of it, I’ve ended relationships with people I truly cared about, just because I was afraid.

Ninety percent of the time these feelings are wrong—I let my analysis of something consume me, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of this, and I try to push through the anxiety until I can feel better. Once these feelings subside, I’m left with a clearer idea of how happy my future can truly be. But what about that other ten percent? Those are the moments I can’t control, the things that make me doubt myself and my inner strength. It’s a constant, uphill battle, where the roads are narrow and rocky, and the only thing you can do is keep going, even when you are afraid.

That was my last year. My worst fears came true—people I once relied on could not understand my melancholy, and instead of listening, they told me to suck it up. I fell deeper and deeper into the darkness, fighting my own inner demons without a hand to hold. I didn’t know who to trust anymore, who to confide in. I hurt people I cared about, sabotaged my own happiness. I felt completely alone.

Things always seem to get worse before they get better. At Harts Pass, even on the clearest of days the road is treacherous. When I traveled up the road, we had been playing chicken with a thunderstorm in the distance. The hope, of course was that we could make it to the peak before sundown, and that the storm would go over us. But as we pushed closer and closer to the top, it became more evident that the worst was going to happen, that the storm would reach us right on the ridge. We were afraid, alone, without protection. And the only way we could go was up.

It’s important to test your inner strength, to remind yourself of your confidence and your ability to survive. For so long, I had lost that part of myself. I had let my own anxieties take over, obsessing over what others thought of me and why, and let that shape my opinion of myself. But at that moment, with lightning crashing through the clouds outside our car, the wind pushing us closer and closer to danger, I suddenly forgot about the party I wasn’t invited to, the people who made me feel like I didn’t matter. I wanted to survive this, to see this through, and to return with renewed energy and confidence.

As we entered the campground 6,000 feet up, we could finally park and wait the storm out. As the rain patted against the window, and the winds died down, I looked out to the sky to see a sight unlike anything I’ve experienced before—there, above our heads and out on the ridge, was a rainbow. In the Bible, a rainbow was a symbol to Noah representing the promise that God wouldn’t bring another flood. It was a sign that everything would be ok.

That was what that moment brought me—it was a reinforcement of confidence, a promise that with so much change and regret in my life, that I would be ok. It was the push I needed to welcome peace back into my life, and begin again.

This may be an apology to those I hurt in my past. This may be an excuse I use to justify my feelings and my actions. But really, what this is, is a release. I know people don’t always like to talk about their own mental health, myself being the number one offender. Anxiety has always been my own personal demon, something that I was ashamed of for so long. But I’m not ashamed anymore. That’s why I want to open up, to be honest with myself in a form I am comfortable with—writing. This is my rainbow, my moment of clarity, my moment to remind myself that everything is ok.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

13770270_10206975035674463_6800423672688423603_n

I have to remind myself everyday of my strength–it keeps me going.

Still Life

12472464_10206261186508680_8263375623615991986_n

A moment of silence at the end of my street in Costa Rica.

I am by no means a professional photographer. Sure, I have some idea of the basics when it comes to composing a quality shot, but for the most part my portfolio consists of a couple lucky shots taken while on vacation. A big part of composing a quality photo has to do with the subject—you can always pick out a professional because they know how to manipulate lighting and positioning to make even the most mundane subjects stand out. But for the amateurs like me, sometimes our best photos are more because of the location.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I was overcome with inspiration—by just stepping outside of my hotel room I would catch these moments of pure beauty, and would do my best to capture it in a shot. Some moments would slip by—the country is known for its wildlife, so many of my photos cover the blurry movement of a money or the tail of an iguana before it slips back into its hiding place. But, on occasion, I managed to capture a truly one-of-a-kind shot that I wanted to show off.

The rise of social media, specifically photo sharing, has become quite the phenomenon in recent years—our selfies have become a means of placing us in the moment and sharing our joyous occasions with others. For some, seeing photo after photo of an occasion may become a nuisance, but for me, I welcome these pictures. I love seeing people share pictures from their vacations, snapshots of a family event, or even just a funny moment they had on an afternoon walk. The camera was invented to supplement our memories—it gives us the ability to preserve moments in our lives, good and bad, and we should share that with others.

I’ve always loved snapping pictures. Behind each picture there is always a story. To this day, I still take pride in a shot I took on a hiking trail in Italy. For the unknowing viewer, it’s just a sign pointing to a cliffside town. But to me, the photo is a memory of an incredible weekend, where I broke from my comfort zone for the first time and fell in love with that small village on the coast.

Candid shots are another favorite for me. Sure, posing for photos is great, but to capture humans in their most comfortable state, when they are truly happy, or contemplative, or scared, those are the moments that can tell so much of the story without saying a word.

That’s why I try to capture the still moments, the moments that spark memories, that remind us of the life we’ve already lived. My photos may not be award winning, but for me, they are worth more than any souvenir I’ve paid for. They are the physical proof of a life well lived, and as I grow older, I appreciate the reminder of those little moments when I was quick enough to pull my camera out and snap a photo.

The Most Romantic Things to do in New York: Winter Edition

*NOTE: This article originally appeared on the Walks of New York blog.

IMG_1368
As the backdrop for countless romantic movies, New York City has worked its way into the pantheon of incredible places to go for romantic weekend trips. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, here’s our list of the best ways to maximize the romance on your next visit to New York, with tips on what to see and do specifically during these colder winter months.

Take in the City from the Rooftop of the Empire State Building
The 1993 film ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ solidified the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building as one of the most romantic places in New York City. It’s been labeled numerous times in the press as one of the best locations in the city to propose, and each Valentine’s Day, 14 couples are selected to actually get married on the top of the NYC landmark. Unsurprisingly, this spot is known for its large crowds, so if you go make sure to plan enough time there to really take in the sights with your loved one.

Walks Tip: Buy your Empire State Building tickets online—this will save time waiting in the ticket line, and if you purchase an express pass, you can bypass the elevator line as well (you will still have to wait in line to go through security, though). The observatory opens every day at 8 a.m. and closes at 2 a.m., so if you are trying to pack a lot into your weekend, save this part of your trip for first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Plus, this is a great way to wrap up a romantic outing with some of the best views of the city lights.

Try Skating at One of the City’s Rinks
Ice skating at Rockefeller Center is widely considered one of the most romantic things to do in New York during the winter. Unfortunately, this means it’s almost always packed with, well, young people in love. If you don’t want to stand in line (which can be quite long) to get a chance to skate, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options that are just as magical. Bryant Park’s Bank of America Winter Village is another popular rink and can accommodate more people. The downside is that it can be a little expensive to rent skates (even though admission is free). But if you don’t mind splurging, the scenery more than compensates for the price, with the New York Public Library and views of Midtown’s skyscrapers surrounding the rink on all four corners. If you get cold you can always warm up after your skate at the rink-side restaurant, Celsius.
Central Park’s Wollman Rink, located in the southeast corner of the park, has similarly beautiful views of the city. The rink is a little smaller, but prices are cheaper than other rinks for entry and skate rentals. If you’re looking for romance, this is our pick – its intimate setting in Central Park gives you a chance to escape the noise of the city and you’ll have more space to skate. Plus, you can always take advantage of the scenery for some selfies with your date.

Walks Tip: Most rinks have a time limit on how long you can skate in order to accommodate crowds. Also be aware that rinks may become more crowded during the warmest hours of the day.

Stroll Through Central Park
If the cold doesn’t turn you away, Central Park is perennially one of the most romantic places in New York, and with a fresh coat of snow, it becomes a winter wonderland. With bridges, fountains, and scenic paths popping up around every bend, you and your date can dedicate as much time as you want to see the sights. The Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, located next to the The Lake (Yes, it’s really just called “The Lake”), is a perfect spot to take some photos. In fact, this is such a popular spot for romantic shots if you go on a Saturday afternoon you will most likely spot at least one bridal party. A little north of the Bethesda Terrace is Belvedere Castle, a stone folly (a medieval-looking building constructed for decoration) set on the highest point of the park that is now used as an observation deck and the official weather station for the park. From the tower, you can see the entire park and surrounding buildings, and figure out where that winding path you found actually leads.
When you start to get cold, you can always pop into the Tavern on the Green or the elegant Loeb Boathouse lakeside restaurant for some food and drinks while you warm up.

Walks Tip: Central Park spans 40 blocks north to south, and four east to west, takes up approximately 843 acres, and contains countless curving paths. It’s easy to get lost. Be sure to grab a map of the park before heading out on your walk, and make a note of the spots you want to see on your self-guided tour.

Dinner and a Show
Sometimes romance is as simple as sticking to the classics, and there’s no more classic NYC date than dinner at one of many romantic restaurants in New York and show for dessert. A lot of restaurants have dinner and theater deals, so talk with your hotel concierge about what kinds of reservations you can book to make sure you get to your show on time. Our favorite romantic restaurant in NYC that also accommodates theater is The Haven Rooftop, located on the roof of the Sanctuary Hotel (132 West 47th St.). It offers a prix fixe menu for theater goers, with three courses for $45. It’s a great deal, and you can’t beat the location in the heart of the theater district. If you are feeling rushed, you can come back after your show to get your dessert!
For the show, if there is something specific you want to see, we’d recommend reserving your tickets online at Broadway.com, but if you want to try your luck at finding cheaper seats, you can always check out the TKTS booth, located on Broadway and 49th Street in the heart of Times Square (They offer discounted tickets on the day of the show, so when you arrive you can choose from what’s available. It’s a great way to save some money, and still get to see a show on Broadway!).

Walks Tip: Most shows offer matinee performances on Sundays, so if you’re concerned about time, you can always see the show first and eat dinner afterwards to keep stress levels down while you enjoy your day. Check out this blog post for more tips on seeing a show on Broadway.

Learn Together at a Museum
New York City’s museum circuit offers something for everyone—if it’s classic art, we have the Met. If you’re looking for history, we recommend the New York Historical Society. And all movie buffs, should take the N or Q trains out to Queens to visit The Museum of the Moving Image. But when it comes to romantic things to do in NYC, museums can also offer you some of the most surprising options.
When you think of romance, flowers often spring to mind, and a trip to the New York Botanical Garden elevates them from a pre-date gift to an entire experience. Located in the Bronx, the Garden is open year-round and is home to over 1 million living plants from all climates and regions of the world. The museum sits a little beyond the other main attractions in NYC, but its absolutely worth it. Just take the B, D, or 4 train up to the Bedford Park Blvd. station in the Bronx.
For something closer to your hotel, we recommend the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. You can take the B or C trains right up to the museum on 81st street, or walk over after a stroll through Central Park, and spend the afternoon looking at every exhibit or browsing the highlights. To ramp up the romance we recommend a visit to the Butterfly Conservatory, open seasonally from September to May. Here, you can learn about the thousands of butterfly and moth species, their life cycles, and more, all while mingling with the more than 500 live butterflies that inhabit this exhibit. It’s a captivating experience that will be the highlight of any romantic weekend.
For those with an eye on the sky, the museum is also home to the Hayden Planetarium, where you can get a virtual tour of the cosmos. Admission costs extra, so be sure to purchase tickets to both the main museum and the planetarium. For more info on visiting the museum, check out our guide to what to see and do and in Museum of Natural History.

Walks Tip: Some museums (but not all) follow a ‘suggested admission’ approach. This means that while it’s recommended to spend the full suggested price (for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests $25 for admission), you can still get admission for your own price if you pay in cash. This is great if you are hoping to save a little cash, or if you have a short amount of time to see the museum. Just remember, these museums rely on admission fees, so paying the full amount helps keep cultural programs going throughout the year.

Drink With Me
We won’t say that all the bars in NYC are equally romantic, but there is something for everyone and the most romantic bars in New York are better than any in the world. Quite possibly one of the best is in the restaurant One If By Land, Two If By Sea. It’s located in the heart of Greenwich Village in an old carriage house that dates back to the 18th century, and is another one of the city’s most popular spots for engagement proposals. While getting a table here can be tough, a stop at their bar still gives you the chance to enjoy your date’s company in the beautiful historic setting, and also gives you a good reason to dress up.
If it’s views you’re looking for, the newly-opened Pier A Harbor House offers just that. This bar/restaurant/event space has two bar options with food and drink specials stretching late into the night. The space is a bit more casual, but the views of New York Harbor are stunning. You can see everything from the Statue of Liberty, to Ellis Island, and even Staten Island, all from the warmth of your bar stool.
For a more secluded option look into the backrooms and secret doors of NYC’s speakeasies. New York City was a hub for the clandestined drinking of prohibition-era America and modern-day New York is keeping this tradition alive with hard-to-spot bars dotted throughout the city. The Back Room in the Lower East Side is a popular locale, with its classic 1920s theme and drinks served in teacups. Other options are The Bathtub Gin in Chelsea (complete with dark seating and, yup, a bathtub in the center); Little Branch in the West Village, which offers some carefully crafted cocktails that are vaunted by most NYC drink snobs; and if you want to have a great story when you return home, visit PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a speakeasy hidden within Crif Dogs restaurant on St. Marks Place.
If cocktails are you thing, don’t miss our blog on the best craft cocktails in NYC.

Watch Out for Traps
New York City has a lot to see in just a short amount of time, so you need to be wary of some of the bigger tourist traps that can drag down a trip. If you and your date have a sweet tooth, and are looking for a romantic cafe, try popping into a lesser-known spot versus waiting hours for a table at Serendipity III or standing in the cold at Magnolia’s Bakery. Our favorite cafe for an intimate dessert is Lady M, with locations on W. 40th Street near Bryant Park, W. 58th Street, and E. 78th Street. The crepe cake – 20 layers of thin crepes stacked with a custard cream – is a dream come true..
Beware of pedicab drivers. While taking a romantic trip on the back of a bike may sound fun, it can be a huge waste of time and money. Prices are steep for short distances, and pedicab drivers are known for scams, including tacking on a $100-per-person fee on unsuspecting tourists. It’s better to skip this option and ride the subway.
Finally, one of the biggest hubs for tourist traps in New York City is still Times Square. This doesn’t mean you should avoid it – it’s an iconic landmark in the city that you need to experience at least once. But be aware that you’ll be harassed by comedy clubs, costumed characters offering to take pictures, and a number of overpriced cafes, restaurants, and shops – all experiences that may not be enjoyable if you’re looking for the perfect day/night of romance. It’s best to make this spot a sight to see, but don’t base an entire day around it if you’re in the mood for love.

How to See Live Music in NYC

*Note: This article originally written and published for the Walks of New York website.

If the streets of New York could sing, they would play a rock opera. Or maybe a Broadway musical – something grand enough and detailed enough to encompass the many layers and facets of the city’s rich musical history. As a hub for live music, New York City provides a vast variety of options for visitors looking to hear the sounds of the city. With big name acts regularly selling out the city’s two main arenas, historic theaters welcoming a plethora of modern acts, and up-and-coming musicians vying for a time slot in the city’s smaller clubs, there’s a venue for every music fan. But with almost too many options, how do you decide what show to see? We’ve put together this guide to Live Music in NYC to help you sniff out the best venues when you come for a visit. It doesn’t matter if you want to catch the next big thing in the Lower East Side or take in a Kanye West show at Madison Square Garden, this guide will tell you where to go to enjoy whatever type of music tickles your fancy.

All That Jazz

IMG_4302

Outside the Blue Note Jazz Club.

New York jazz clubs historically played a significant role in the development of modern jazz by providing venues for some of the biggest names in the genre. Today the city still hosts an incredible lineup of small clubs packed with talent. The Village Vanguard in the West Village may be the best option for the jazz fanatics looking to see a classic-feeling gig in NYC, as this historic club has played host to some of the genre’s legends, including Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and more. This small theater just celebrated its 80th anniversary and offers nightly performances for only $25 plus a one drink minimum. Seating is on a first-come, first serve basis, so be sure to arrive early.

Insider tip: With smaller clubs, you may be required to buy a certain number of (alcoholic) drinks during the show, especially if the club offers a free show. Standard minimums are usually two drinks. You can often work around it, but remember that the arts in New York are funded by people who love them, like yourself, so if you don’t want to drink ask how you might contribute money otherwise. Often if the club serves food you can swap that to meet your requirement.

The Blue Note, one of the New York’s most popular music venues, brings some of today’s top jazz performers to the small stage, creating that up close and personal vibe only found at the best live music gigs. With performances held every night, and a Sunday brunch special, this may be your best option for ‘dinner and a live show.’ You can find the same intimate vibe at a number of small venues throughout the city, including Birdland, a jazz club that boasts “The Jazz Corner of the World;” The Iridium, a Midtown West club that still dominates the city’s jazz scene; and Smoke, a club on the Upper West Side that has held onto that, well, ‘smoky’ jazz vibe of the old days (Smoke is a personal favorite of ours. Prices are a little steep with the food and drink minimum, but the ambiance is incomparable).

If it’s big names and big jazz you’re looking for in your NYC music gigs, be sure to check out some of New York’s larger venues, including Jazz at Lincoln Center, an indoor amphitheater overlooking Columbus Circle and the southwest corner of Central Park. With three rooms to choose from, the Rose Theater, which holds 1,233, the Appel Room, with 483 seats, and the Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, with 140 seats, you can have your pick of the experience.

Gospel Word
Christian Gospel music can be traced back as early as the 17th century, stemming from the oral traditions of African Americans. As the music evolved, it became a full spiritual experience. We recently created a phenomenal list of specific churches where you can see gospel performances, but you can also catch a show at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Apollo.

Did you know: Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater is one of the most historically significant in the entire city. It has hosted performances by artists including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, and more. Aside from the stars it hosts, the Apollo also runs a legendary Amateur Night where stars have been born and more than a few outsized egos put firmly in their places.

Latin Moves
Among the live music bars in NYC, perhaps the best to go to if you want ample room to dance along to the band are the Latin music clubs. The most famous of these is in Manhattan’s SoHo district – SOBs has hosted latin legends including Marc Antony, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz & Eddie Palmieri, and today offers concerts by popular world music artists. The club has a full restaurant, bar, and dance floor, so whether you want to cut a rug or just kick back and watch the action, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself.

If you’re looking to really immerse yourself in the dancing, Club Cache, located on 39th street just off of Times Square, offers weekly latin and bachata nights, with free bachata classes at 8 p.m. It’s famous for its salsa dancing Thursday, with live bands playing for the hundreds of people who stop by. Other popular spots for latin dancing and live music include Copacabana New York and Iguana New York.

Avoid the biggest mispronunciation made by NYC tourists: SoHo stands for “South of Houston”, referring to the East to West-running thoroughfare that has long acted as a boundary between many of Lower Manhattan’s most famous neighborhoods. It is pronounced “How-ston” NOT “Hyoo-ston.” This is because, unlike the city in Texas of the same spelling, its name is a corruption of the Continental Congress delegate William Houstoun, not a homage to the American war hero Samuel Houston.

Classical Approach
We could write an entire article about classical music venues in New York, but for now we’ll just hit a few of the big ones. As a classical musician, you know you’ve made it in your career when you play at Carnegie Hall. The building, an eclectic mix of Italian Renaissance and pan-European influences, is almost as attractive as the music within, a fact that once inspired the violinist Isaac Stern to quip: “Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception—Carnegie Hall enhances the music.” Before designing it in the late 1800’s the architect William Burnet Tuthill (who was also an amateur musician) traveled Europe to not only collect design influences for the facade, but also to learn the secrets of creating great acoustic spaces. In the end he came up with a deceptively simple design that purposefully avoided baroque elements like frescoes and elaborate moulding that are commonplace in many theaters, but can hurt sound quality. In doing so he created a space that has been called “the crown jewel” of American concert halls.

Year round, Carnegie Hall hosts everything from symphonic performances and new age perspectives to jazz and world music played by today’s greatest musicians. It’s one of the most varied and diverse places to see live music in NYC. If you’re planning to visit, be sure to check out their website to look into discount ticket prices–they have options for general admission, students, young music enthusiasts, and more, which can help reduce your ticket price to as low as $10.

If you’re interested in catching a show, read our visitors’ guide to Carnegie Hall.
Another option that is often just as good, if lacking some of the historic cachet, is The New York Philharmonic, which has a residency at the David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Plaza, and offers a number of affordable performances every week, including free Thursdays with a few members of the orchestra – one of the best experiences of free live music in New York.

Pro tip: You can catch a rehearsal for $20 the morning before a performance, if you’re looking for a cheaper option or an inside look at the preparation before a show.

Pop, Rock, Etc.
Bowery Presents, a NYC concert management company, has, for years, run the top the small- to mid-sized venues in NYC —Terminal 5, Music Hall of Williamsburg, The Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, and Rough Trade. Catering mainly to a younger crowd, these venues are all essentially NYC live music bars that host some of pop and rock music’s biggest names,as well as amazing underground acts and up and comers.

Terminal 5 and Music Hall of Williamsburg bring in the most famous acts. If you’re looking for big name rock, hip hop, or pop acts performing in an intimate (i.e., not an arena) space these are your go to’s. The audio system at Terminal 5 is second to none but get there early if you want to actually see the performers on the stage. Unless you splurge on VIP seating, it’s standing room only and its three level, horseshoe shape makes it hard to see the stage from the back. But for ticket prices ranging from $25 to $75, the shows are almost always worth the hassle. Music Hall of Williamsburg also has an amazing audio system but is slightly more intimate and generally has a more low-key feel. If we had to choose, it would be our pick of the two.

Mercury Lounge is a more affordable option if you are looking to catch a show. It’s located in the perennially hip Lower East Side, and is one of the few clubs to survive the neighborhood’s rent hikes of recent years. Artists are often a little lesser-known, but that often works to your advantage because you can catch an amazing show by a band that is set to blow up in the next few years. And it’s all under the backdrop of the grungy music scene the LES used to dominate.

Lastly, Rough Trade is a spot to check out, even if you don’t get to see a performance. It’s a Brooklyn joint par-excellence that functions as a record store by day and a live performance hall by night, giving you the full NYC-music-scene experience in one spot. The acts tend to fall into the more eclectic spectrum, but that’s half the fun – this is music nerd heaven.

Iconic New York
New York’s cache of historic live music venues stretches far beyond its theater district and is led by its iconic Radio City Music Hall. No trip to New York is complete without at least a stop at this theater, even if you are just snapping pictures next to the neon signs floating above 6th Ave. Those who actually get to catch a show inside are in for a real treat. The venue, originally opened in 1932 and converted over the years from a live theater, to film house, and back to a stage, has always been a contender for the best-sounding venue in the city. This is because during renovations, the designers hired some of the best acousticians to create a perfect-sounding theater to compliment the Art Deco style, making your experience just as much about the place as it is about the music.
If you want to see historic theaters beyond Radio City, we suggest checking out the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side or Town Hall, a midtown theater that is also an acoustic gem.

You also can’t forget the titans of New York’s music scene — Madison Square Garden and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Both arenas play host to all sorts of events, but if you’re here to see your favorite superstar, most likely you’ll do so at one of these locations. If you go there are two important things to remember: first, food and drinks will be expensive, consider it part of the experience. Second, and more importantly, don’t be afraid splurge on the good seats—acoustics get a little touchy in the nosebleed seats, and when you can’t hear half of the frequencies coming from Jack White’s guitar, it can be disappointing (we’re speaking from experience on this one).

How To Ticket
With any live music venues in New York, the easiest way to score tickets is by visiting the venue’s website or Ticketmaster.com. Tickets typically go on sale a few months before the show, but depending on the artist, you can usually land tickets online through StubHub or the venue’s website right before your trip (unless you are looking for Adele tickets. She sold out pretty fast).

Avoid buying tickets from scalpers at all costs. While there are isolated instances in which this is harmless, it’s not uncommon to get forged tickets, in which case you aren’t getting into your show and you have just given away a probably-sizable chunk of money. Resale sites like StubHub.com are a little more reliable, since they will actually guarantee the validity of your tickets, but keep in mind that they make more money from the ticket you buy from them than the artist does. Today’s musicians make most of their money at live shows through ticket and merchandise sales while scalpers and resellers are taking away from that profit. This may not be a serious issue for the Taylor Swifts of the world, but for the smaller performers it can be a big hit. But if ticket price will make the difference between seeing and not seeing the show, your best friends are local coupon programs like Groupon or Living Social. Classical venues run lottery deals, and most venues will run deals and discount nights at certain times of the year. A little exploring online can usually go a long way.

It’s Quiet Uptown

IMG_4251

A rainy Sunday outing to the Hamilton Grange National Memorial left me a little too excited.

In the second act of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Revolutionary (ha ha ha) musical, ‘Hamilton,’ the title character and his wife, grieving from the loss of their son, move to uptown Manhattan to learn to deal with their pain. The song itself, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” gives us a snapshot of this grief, set to the backdrop of Manhattan in the early 1800s, when everything north of Canal Street was still farmland.

It’s strange to picture Manhattan being anything but skyscrapers and brownstones, yet beneath the concrete of the city’s present lies hints to its past—one most relevant in the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the preserved home of our favorite founding father, Alexander Hamilton.

This house, located now on the northern edge of St. Nicolas Park at 141st Street in Hamilton Heights, is the only home Hamilton owned during his lifetime. It was designed by architect John McComb Jr. and completed in 1802, just two years before Hamilton died in a duel against then Vice President, Aaron Burr.

IMG_4249

A statue of Alexander Hamilton stands at the site of the second location for his home.

Over the last 200 plus years, the historic memorial has moved twice, once in 1889 when it was acquired by nearby St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, who moved the house next to the church on Convent Ave. The house was moved a second time in 2008 to its current location, where historic preservationists and the U.S. National Parks Service restored the home based on original design blueprints. It now stands as a museum commemorating the life and legacy of Hamilton.

I’ve already written about my love (obsession?) for Manuel’s musical depiction of Hamilton’s story, so I won’t repeat myself. But what really brought me up to the Grange this past weekend was a craving for a little exploration. My timing was a little too perfect—Hamilton’s birthday is today (January 11), and because of the rain yesterday, the usual crowds that have flocked to the memorial since the show’s success all decided to stay indoors for the day, leaving me with a chance to have a private, intimate experience with the former home of my historic crush.

In terms of historic preservation and replication, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial transports you right back to the 1800s, when farmland would surround the home, and the commute to downtown took an hour and half by horse and carriage (today, you can get to the Financial District in roughly the same time, just by subway instead of carriage). Original pieces once owned by Hamilton mingle with replicas—Philip Hamilton’s original piano, where he and his younger sister, Angelica, would play duets together still rests in the sitting room, while Alexander’s office captures that energy you would expect from a man who played such a vital role in the creation of our country.

Still, the most interesting part of the tour is the story of moving this building. As it was handed over to the care of the National Parks Service, they carefully planned to raise the entire house in one piece over the church, and then onto the hill. That alone, is terrifying to execute—one slip and you could lose this historic landmark. And yet, with careful maneuvering, and very strong equipment, the move was successful and we now have the ability to experience a piece of history (and maybe drop a few song lyrics during the guided tour).

IMG_4236

Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1789. To celebrate, the National Parks Service set out a card to sign at the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

For my fellow urban hikers, this is a great way to spend a day—Hamilton Heights in itself is a gorgeous area, with plenty of sights to see. I’d suggest starting at the Grange and poking around there first, then moving on to some simple wandering around the neighborhood until you stumble upon a cute café for lunch.

And for my fellow Hamilton Heads—indulge yourself in an hour of historic obsessing over the fact that you are standing on the same foundation where that young, scrappy, and hungry man once lived.

YOLO Walk to Canada (Or Why You Should Always Go Exploring)

The first glimpse of Niagara Falls.

The first glimpse of Niagara Falls.

I can’t remember the exact moment I added Niagara Falls to my bucket list. I think it was after binge-watching ‘The Office’ for the 100th time—you know the episode, when Jim and Pam have to get married on the tour boat because everything was going wrong back at the church. I remember thinking, “Wow, Niagara Falls is such a cool spot. It’s beautiful, natural, and only six hours from me. So why haven’t I seen it yet?”

In college and my early twenties, I took a lot of time to explore other countries. I trekked around Italy, ate Sushi in Japan, drank beer in Germany, hiked through Greece, but there was so much about my own country that I needed to explore. So, I made it a goal to try to see more of my own country, putting Niagara at the top of my list. I didn’t really have a deadline, but more of a ‘when I can I will’ type of attitude, with the hope that one day I could stand at the top of the falls and watch the water rush over the side.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a career that sends me to many industry events around the country, and this has allowed me to explore cities that normally I’d never actively seek out. In many cases, I may only have a few hours to spend in a location before hopping back onto a flight, so I rely heavily on the Internet to lead me to the must-see spots. Such was the case with my most recent business trip up to Buffalo, NY, with one exception—I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

I always say that when given the opportunity to explore somewhere new, you should always accept. Maybe it’s my wanderlust attitude, or just my love for adventure, but put me in a new location for a few hours and I will easily entertain myself.

My lovely poncho post-tour boat ride.

My lovely poncho post-tour boat ride. I managed to fit this into my afternoon at the falls.

For this particular trip, I did all of my planning on the fly. I knew I wanted to see the falls, so getting there just required a quick recommendation from my hotel. I stayed at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott, which is tucked between Niagara and Buffalo, so it made more sense to rent a car instead of rely on taxis to get around—it also gave me more freedom. Being a city girl, driving isn’t something I do on a daily basis, so getting behind the wheel was invigorating. It just added to the excitement of what was already going to be a tremendous day.

With trips like this, it’s important to take in as much as you can in the time frame you are given. For me, travel always gives me a kind of natural high, so I actively seek out adventure, but in short time frames, sometimes I have to compromise the big adventure with something within my means. Luckily for this trip, I had all afternoon to explore, so I really got to take in everything the falls had to offer.

I'm on a boat.

I’m on a boat.

I should also mention that I did this trip to Niagara Falls by myself. Under no circumstances should you ever let being alone prevent you from doing something you love. For me, seeing new places is important, so I’ve learned to enjoy my alone time. So what if I was hopping on a tour boat by myself? I did it because I wanted to, because the regret of not going was bigger than people feeling sorry for me because I was by myself. These trips have become almost therapeutic for me—when reality starts to overwhelm me, I tend to travel not exactly to get away, but to remind myself of the beauty in this world. Niagara was able to give me just that, and it came at such a perfect time. Plus, I wasn’t sure when I would get this close to the falls again, and I really wanted to go.

And I am so glad I did.

Niagara Falls is a wonder that everyone should see. The site is stunning—just think about the first settlers to come across it. You travel for miles along mountain ranges, coming to the flat valleys near the lakes, and suddenly…BOOM! The river you were following suddenly drops. Today, the site is surrounded by commercial properties—casinos, hotels, dinosaur mini golf—but it’s the falls that still sticks in your mind.

So, as I mentioned before, you should always say yes to an adventure. When I saw that I could walk across a bridge to the Canadian side of the falls, I was ecstatic that I had brought my passport—it was time to cross into another country simply because I could. Sometimes that is the only reason you need to do something—because you can. And when it comes to travel, saying yes to adventure is important, because the reward is ALWAYS worth it. You only live once, so walk to Canada.

The most tempting sign ever.

The most tempting sign ever.

That New York Hiker Life

A rare glimpse of yours truly on the trail.

A rare glimpse of yours truly on the trail.

Have you ever heard of the New York City bubble? Maybe it’s a new term I just invented, or maybe you have a different name for it, but no matter. My point is that at times us New Yorkers can get a little wrapped up in our own world that we forget about everything outside of the five boroughs. It happens far more often than we realize too—I mean, we have so much here that we forget to explore other places. The realization creeps up on you too—I remember one year I didn’t leave Manhattan for three months, and that included crossing the East River into Brooklyn or Queens. It wasn’t until I was traveling back up to Massachusetts to visit family that my Manhattan hermit status revealed itself.

However, even without traveling outside of my home city, I never lost my desire to explore. I’m a wanderer by nature—comfort stresses me out, and when I start to fall back into a routine, the little travel bug in my head starts subtly directing me to Google travel deals (see my future post on Chicago 2015).

New York City also forces you to keep a tight budget, so while the impulsive half of me is ready to book a flight to Europe next week, the practical side is screaming ‘YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO EAT IF YOU DO THIS!’ The practical side always wins. But even on a New York budget, this doesn’t mean you can’t be impulsive. There’s plenty of day trips outside of the city that won’t break the bank, but will still silence that need for adventure for a short period of time. That’s how I stumbled upon my newest obsession: hiking.

Well, my love for hiking isn’t new. I grew up in central Massachusetts, where scaling a mountain is a pretty common recreational activity. It was part of my lifestyle, and I loved it. Moving to New York, you don’t necessarily think of hiking as a common activity—my first year living here helped me coin my own version of ‘Urban Hiking,’ where I pushed myself to trek for miles through the city streets. I traded in cascading waterfalls and pristine mountain views for meandering paths through Central Park and photo opportunities along 5th Ave. I would still get my exercise, just in a different environment. Eventually, however, my love of the great outdoors would resurface, and I’d hear the mountains calling me back home.

The MetroNorth drops you right at the trail head for Breakneck Ridge.

The MetroNorth drops you right at the trail head for Breakneck Ridge.

Lucky for me, even without a car, I can still fulfill my craving on a whim—New York City’s vast network of public transportation can bring me to some of the area’s best hiking destinations in just a few short hours. The popular Breakneck Ridge trail requires just a $28 round trip ticket that drops you right at the trailhead on the weekends (the MetroNorth stops at the Breakneck Ridge stop right after Cold Spring twice a day on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and picks you up again at two times in the afternoon, although the trail does lead right into Cold Spring, offering you a chance to explore the town’s restaurants and antique shops). So, for less than what you probably pay for a night out at the bar, you get an experience of a lifetime with some of the most beautiful views of the Hudson Valley. It’s well worth the trip.

New Jersey’s public transit also offers some breathtaking adventures, and for those on a very limited budget, you can even find places to hike in and around the city (my yearly pilgrimage to the Cloister Museum is still one of my favorite occasions for scenic views).

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous and you have a car (or Zipcar), there are plenty of trails within an hour or two of the city. It just takes a little exploring on the Web to find exactly what you are looking for, and to head out on the open road.

Once you get to the top of a very steep climb, the view is absolutely worth the effort.

Once you get to the top of a very steep climb, the view is absolutely worth the effort.