Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge Bike Path Sign

Spontaneous Fun With Citibikes

Last Saturday, my wife and I were in Long Island City. We wanted to head to Central Park to get some exercise, so I opened Google Maps to plan out our route. I noticed that there was a nearby bridge and I thought to myself that walking into Manhattan could be great exercise. I ran the idea by my wife and she agreed, so we started making our way towards the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge via Queens Boulevard. Near the base of the bridge, I noticed that the path indicated on the map is a bike path and there is a Citibike stand nearby.

Citibike bicycle stand on the Queens side of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
Citibike bicycle stand on the Queens side of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

I don’t know why, but I was suddenly very interested in the idea of riding a bicycle over the bridge. I hadn’t been on a bike in about 9 years. The last time I rode one was when I was living in Singapore. Every so often, my wife and I will take a walk in Central Park and we’ll see people riding their bicycles and we’ll talk briefly about buying bicycles for ourselves to use for fun and exercise, but we never quite make it into a store. Standing there, looking at those bicycles and the bike path and the bridge ahead of us, I think everything sort of just clicked and we decided to stop thinking about riding bicycles again and to just do it instead.

Figuring out the process for renting a Citibike wasn’t too hard. The instructions are clearly printed on the machines that take payment and provide access codes to unlock the bicycles from the stands. Once you take the bike out, you’re responsible for bringing it back. Each one has a unique identifying number. Failing to return the bike would result in a huge fine. I think it is about $1000.00. You also have to put a $101.00 deposit down on the rental that is charged against the card you use. It sits there as a pending purchase for a few days. The most annoying part about renting a Citibike is that you have to dock it at the same or another station within 30 minutes of checking it out or you incur additional charges. That can be challenging if you haven’t memorized where all of the Citibike locations are. Thankfully, there are apps like Citymapper for Android that help out with that problem.

As for actually riding the bicycle? I thought I was going to die, pedaling my way up that bridge. I felt cramps in muscles I didn’t realize I had. I regretted all the desserts I’d recently eaten and all the times I put off starting up an exercise routine again. Hitting the downhill side of the bridge, where it crests over Roosevelt Island and descends into Manhattan, was a relief. It was also a bit dangerous though because the path is narrow and I had to share it with pedestrians and other cyclists going in both directions. There’s also a really dangerous U-turn at the bottom of the ramp. I can’t imagine there haven’t been accidents there.

Once we got into Manhattan, we were a little nervous. Riding a bicycle over a bridge is one thing, but riding a bicycle on New York City streets is on a whole other level. There were Citibike racks nearby, so we could have just parked the bicycles and moved on, but we had paid for 24-hour access. We wanted our money’s worth and we also wanted more than just a little taste of the thrill of speeding around on a bicycle. I suggested we continue to Central Park so we could use the bicycle paths there. My wife agreed, so off we went up 1st Avenue.

Looking at Google Maps now, we should have followed 1st Avenue to 70th or 71st Street and then used the cross-town bicycle path to head towards Central Park but by the time we hit 66th Street, I had begun to wonder if there were any nearby cross-town paths. I was trying to juggle finding the next Citibike station to dock our bicycles with figuring out where the bicycle paths are. I didn’t notice a way to turn on bicycle paths in the mobile Google Maps app, though it must be there because I can see it on desktop, so I gave up and we rode crosstown on 66th. Maybe Citibike should consider posting maps of nearby bicycle routes on bicycle stand kiosks?

When we hit the park at 5th Avenue, we walked our bicycles along the sidewalk until we found an entrance that could get us to East Drive. I think we were the only ones following the rules. It’s illegal to ride bicycles on the sidewalks and on most of the paths in Central Park, but everyone else I saw was doing it anyway. I don’t want to be the one that gets a ticket, though, so I did the right thing anyway and walked the bicycle where I was supposed to walk it. I also walked my Citibike in places where most people were riding, namely up some of the steeper hills along East Drive and West Drive. The Citibikes seem kind of heavy. That along with the fact that I’m not a seasoned cyclist wore me down pretty quickly. I still had a blast though.

Here I am, rolling through Central Park, struggling a bit near the crest of a hill.
Here I am, rolling through Central Park, struggling a bit near the crest of a hill.

We rode those Citibikes around Central Park for about 2.5 hours, checking them in here and there at the Citibike stations along the edges of the park on 5th Avenue and Central Park West. It was an amazing workout and it was good fun. It redoubled our interest in purchasing bicycles of our own to use, even if we have to throw out our couch to make room for them in our apartment.

View of the Statue of Liberty in the distance from the water taxi to Red Hook, Brooklyn from Pier 11 Slip A in Manhattan.

The Water Taxi Ride from Manhattan Pier 11 Slip A to Red Hook IKEA/Fairways

On the weekends, there is a free water taxi that travels between Pier 11, Slip A, in Manhattan and piers at Fairways and IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn on a regular schedule. It also operates on weekdays but it’s not free. On weekdays, each ticket is $5, but if you keep your ticket receipt and make a purchase at IKEA they’ll deduct that $5, making the ride to the store essentially free.

These are some pictures from the ride there and back:

Water Taxi from Manhattan to Brooklyn and Back Again
On the way out, it started raining right as we boarded, but the boat traveled out from under the clouds and I took a few pictures. On the way back it was much nicer.The boat passes Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty is visible in the distance, though I wouldn’t recommend this ride as a good way to get a close, free view of that statue. You’re better off riding the Staten Island Ferry for that, which is also free and passes close to Ellis Island.

The boat passes Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty is visible in the distance. I don’t recommend riding this water taxi for a free view of the Statue of Liberty, though. It’s too far away. You’re better off riding the Staten Island Ferry for that, which is also free and passes close to Ellis Island. You just have to make sure you board near the front of the line and stand on the balcony on the correct side of the boat.

When we exited the boat at IKEA, a lot of families walked straight to the parking lot and got in their cars to leave. It looks like they used IKEA’s parking lot for free parking and the boat for a free ride into the city. It makes sense, from a money point of view. Parking isn’t cheap in NYC and the boat drops you off a short walk from Battery Park and quite a few museums.

I also noticed that when you’re leaving the IKEA pier, you pass an NYPD impound lot on the left. There are hundreds of vehicles there, including lots of motorcycles. The motorcycles weren’t covered and they were right by the ocean. I can’t imagine the salt water spray is very good for them.

Anyhow, the water taxi ride is a great way to have some free fun if you’re on your way to IKEA, Fairways, or just Brooklyn in general and you have the time. Or if the trains aren’t running between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn on the weekend, which is almost every weekend.

Museum Challenge: Arms & Armor of the Islamic World at the Met

On the same day that I saw the Year of the Rooster exhibit at the Met, I also decided to take a look at the Arms & Armor of the Islamic World exhibit. Most of my undergrad studies focused on Middle Eastern history so it’s an area I’m generally interested in. Plus, I grew up reading sword and sorcery fantasy novels like the Dragonlance series of books, the Lord of the Rings, and Song of Ice and Fire, among others. The Wheel of Time series is also pretty good. Anyway, seeing arms and armor in person isn’t as dramatic as those stories, or watching Game of Thrones, but it’s pretty cool anyway. The Arms & Armor hall in the Met is one of my favorite exhibits. I was hoping the Arms & Armor of the Islamic World exhibit would be just as impressive.

Books on my "fantasy-epic" read shelf on Goodreads
Books on my “fantasy-epic” read shelf on Goodreads

It really wasn’t though.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Hercules Segers, Arms & Armor
The exhibit consisted of a few items packed into one small room, along with a sign saying, “Oh by the way, there’s some other stuff scattered around the rest of the museum that generally falls into this category but we couldn’t be assed to actually put it all together into a coherent display for you, but wanted to get more people into the museum and get more money so we pretended to set up a full exhibit and put it on our website and brochures.” Or something along those lines.

Disappointment in the size and scattered nature of the special exhibit aside, I took great pleasure in examining what was actually there and in looking at the regular items on display.

Next time I head to the Met, I think I’ll go take another look at the Islamic Lands wing. I haven’t been there since shortly after I opened, in 2012 I think it was.

Museum Challenge: Celebrating the Year of the Rooster @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the Chinese calendar, it’s the Year of the Rooster. I didn’t even realize that until I saw an exhibit listed to celebrate the Rooster in the Chinese galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I tried to guess at how they could put together an entire gallery of roosters. Rows and rows of roosters, in all mediums. Oil paintings of roosters, clay statues of roosters, pottery with roosters on it. Big roosters, tiny roosters. In my imagination, it was glorious, so of course, I made it a point to go check it out.

I had to ask for help finding the exhibit because I was standing where it was marked on the museum’s map, but I only saw one lonely rooster (pictured above). Unfortunately, that one lonely rooster was almost all there was to look at. There was also one wall display box with a few pieces of art in it and a wall placard explaining the significance of the Chinese zodiac animals.

When I think of an exhibit, I think of something substantial. I honestly felt like the advertisement was a bait and switch just to get people into the museum, which feels cheap and unworthy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an institution. Or maybe I’m just sad because I was hoping for something exciting or impressive. Something more. I guess I hold the museum to a higher standard because I hold it in such high regard.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Year of the Rooster and Asian Art Gallery (March 2017)
Anyway, I did see some really old artifacts from China while walking back out of the Asian galleries that caught my interest. They were objects placed in burial chambers for royalty. They looked like buildings and servants and objects for service and entertainment. It’s a lot like what Pharaohs were buried with in Egypt. It’s odd how similar ideas were popping up all around the world in roughly the same time period. I was reminded of how the pyramids were built in Egypt, but that there were also pyramids being built in Central America. There are the remains of ziggurats in the Middle East, but there are also remains of similar structures on the ocean floor near Japan. I wonder how they’re all connected?

Also, turns out I was born in the year of the Rooster. Gong xi fa cai!

No pole dancing allowed

Museum Challenge: The New York Transit Museum – Fun and Interesting

Of all the museums I’ve visited in New York City, the New York Transit Museum was the most fun, even though it’s also (so far) the smallest. The museum is designed in a way that allows for interaction with many of the exhibits. There was a whole class of children on a field trip playing with the turnstiles when I first got there. I think the museum staff was aiming for making the place a popular field-trip destination. Besides all of the interactive exhibits, there is also a cafeteria/classroom area.Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though.

Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.
Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.

Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though. On the first floor or first basement level, depending on how you look at it, there are old buses or portions of buses that you can walk into and sit in. The driver’s seats are accessible and you can have a friend take your photo through the windshield. The newer buses are definitely designed better. The driver’s seat and the angle of the pedals were much more comfortable than an older model I tried out, which required me to keep my leg elevated all the time to press the pedals. I have no idea how people actually drove those older buses all day. Their right legs must have been twice the size of their left legs.

The bottom floor of the basement is where all of the old train cars are. They had everything from A trains, supposedly mid-90s to 2010 (some of which I still see on the A line, not sure why it’s in the museum), to trains from the early 1900s. A lot of the train cars looked similar inside. Even some of the same advertisements spanned decades. It was interesting to see how the seat configurations changed over time. I also thought it was interesting to see ceiling or rotating fans in some of the older train cars. Once a year, New York City runs some of these older trains on the 7 line (I think).

Vintage train advertisement.
Vintage train advertisement.

What really interested me, though, were the old advertisements. I’d like to go back and just spend a few hours studying them. You can tell a lot about people during a certain time period based on the products they were buying and how the appeals made by advertisers were framed. It’s also just neat to see the artwork styles.

Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.
Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.

 

More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.
More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.

Another awesome exhibit in the museum is of signs meant to regulate the behavior of passengers. The signs are from multiple transit systems around the world. Some of them are hilarious; all of them are necessary. Or at least, the ones for the New York transit system are necessary. I remember being shocked by how clean the trains and buses in Singapore were when I first moved there. The trains were so clean that sometimes people would sit on the floor, something that is totally out of the question in New York City trains. The buses in New York City are usually just as filthy as the trains. People litter everywhere here; they spit everywhere here. It’s a shame. The city would be so much nicer if people would take care of it, but they don’t. They just complain about how dirty the city is while contributing to the problem.

Anyhow, the New York Transit Museum is pretty awesome and I’ll definitely be going back at least one more time in the future. Take a look through the photo gallery below for more images of exhibits in the museum:

 

The New York Transit Museum