Spontaneous Fun With Citibikes

Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge Bike Path Sign

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.

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

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

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.

Fashion: Functionality or Art? – Isaac Mizrahi, The Jewish Museum

In August of last year, I was able to catch the Isaac Mizrahi exhibit at The Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue during its last weekend. The previous month, I’d gone to see the Manus x Machina exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was very impressive. Assuming I would see something just as beautiful and fascinating, I was pretty excited to catch the Mizrahi exhibit before it closed.

I was somewhat disappointed. I think it’s because my expectations were high after seeing what the Met had to offer. The dresses on display at the Met were impressive, intricate, attractive, and, for the most part, they were outfits that I could picture people wearing in real situations. Mizrahi’s outfits bordered on the impractical or the odd, the sort of things you see in runway fashion shows but would laugh about if you saw on an actual person in the street.

Then there were things like this:

Unusual outfits at the Isaac Mizrahi exhibit at the Jewish Museum in August, 2016
Unusual outfits at the Isaac Mizrahi exhibit at the Jewish Museum in August, 2016

I was pretty put off by the whole experience. I found the most interesting parts of the exhibit to be the wall of cloth scraps in the featured image above and the chandeliers in the museum lobby. On the other hand, the exhibit made me re-evaluate my understanding of fashion. Does fashion need to be functional, or can it be art? Can it be both at the same time? Or one or the other?

Isaac Mizrahi Fashion Exhibit at the Jewish Museum - 2016
I suppose clothing can be art, rather than something that’s worn regularly or even occasionally. Even so, Mizrahi’s work didn’t appeal to me, but that’s a matter of personal preference. He’s obviously very talented.

“Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last Saturday, I went over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue to conduct a scavenger hunt for certain types of items in this exhibit and then drafted up an essay response, but I thought it might be useful to people thinking about going to see the exhibit itself, so I’m posting it here as well.


The exhibit, “Jerusalem: 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven,” is being shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 26, 2016 to January 8, 2017. Like the title of the exhibit implies, the selection of art being displayed includes pieces that are representative of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the “People Under Heaven” in the Abrahamic tradition.

Jerusalem 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven
 

One of the displays contains a set of astrolabes, which, according to the description, were devices that were “used to answer questions related to time, geography, and the position of the stars.” The three astrolabes on display were all created in Andalusia and include the city of Jerusalem. The text on the astrolabes were written in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew and Latin. Another interesting item with text in multiple languages is “Slaughter of the Amalekites and Saul’s Last Stand,” which contains marginal notes in Latin, Persian and Judeo-Persian, written by subsequent owners of the book.

Most of the items were in pretty common languages used in the area, like those mentioned above, though there were exceptions. There is a text called “The Book of Kings” which I assume is written in an Ethiopian language, but I cannot be sure because the language used is not included in the description. More clearly labeled is a Copto-Arabic Book of Prayers, written in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic Egyptian. There is also a Book of Saints’ Lives written in what I can only assume is Georgian, again because the description is not clear.

There is a very large variety of items on display. There were at least three different versions of the Bible: a Samaritan Bible from 1232 CE in Yavneh, a Bible from northern Europe, ca. 1300, and a Bible from 13th century Rome or Bologna. There are also Jewish liturgical books like “Opening Prayer for Shabbat Parah” from 1257-58 CE, “The Catalan Mahzor” from 1280 CE, and “Next Year in Jerusalem,” a Haggadah from 1360-1370 CE. There were also choir books, swords, vases, amazing Jewish wedding rings, pillar capitals and reliquaries.

Two items that really caught my attention were the “A Knight of the d’Aluye Family” and the “’Umra Certificate.” The “Knight” sculpture was the covering of a burial place for a Crusader, dated to between 1248-1267 CE. What piqued my interest was the sword depicted in the sculpture, which is Chinese in appearance. It was fascinating to see actual proof of the exchange of items between Europe and Asia during that period. The ‘umra certificate from 1433 CE, which belonged to Sayyid Yusuf bin Sayyid Shihab al-Din Mawara al-Nahri, fascinated me because it emphasized just how important pilgrimage was and perhaps continues to be in the Islamic tradition. Going on the Hajj to Mecca had a direct impact on a Muslim’s social standing and warranted adding the honorific al-Hajj or al-Hajjah to one’s name. The ‘umra scroll shows that pilgrimage to areas in and around Jerusalem were nearly as important and warranted their being added to a certificate that could be displayed when the pilgrim returned home.

The exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is definitely worth attending. It shows the central importance that Jerusalem played to a huge range of areas between 1000 and 1400, with items on display from Africa, Europe, Persia, and various places in the Middle East. It would be nice if there were translations of the texts on display, or if the languages being shown were at least clearly labeled. The grouping of the items could have been somewhat clearer as well, either chronologically or thematically. On the other hand, the items were displayed in a way that made them easy to view and appreciate. It is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon.

An Afternoon at the Museum

Another week done. On the one hand, I feel like I should value my time more, but on the other, I’m always so glad when another work week is finished. Sometimes we’re too worn out to do anything on the weekend and we spend most of our time at home, just relaxing. This weekend, we’d made plans to try to get out and enjoy some art. We had originally planned to go to the Guggenheim on Saturday night. I did a little research on their website and found out that if you go between 5:45 PM and 7:45 PM on a Saturday night, you can pay whatever you want for admission, instead of the usual $25 apiece. I don’t mind paying to see art, but I can’t see paying $50.00 (the Met has the same suggested rate for adults, though it’s just a suggested rate) every time we decide to spend an hour or two inside a museum. We’re not tourists, after all.

We never made it out of the house on Saturday afternoon, so when we got ready to go out on Sunday we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art instead. We can go visit the Guggenheim next Saturday, if we’re not doing something else. Our plan was to go to the second floor and look at the 19th and early 20th century European paintings, but we got sidetracked when we stumbled into the “Manus x Machina” special exhibit behind the medieval European art section of the first floor. We were actually heading to the restrooms at the time. The exhibit wasn’t too big so we figured we’d take a look before heading upstairs. It was incredible how many people were in that small area. In a few places I felt like I was wading through the herds of people that are always moving through Times Square.

The dresses on display were way beyond what I was expecting. I didn’t think I would be impressed, because I’m not seriously into fashion, but looking at the dresses on display there, I think I finally understood that sometimes fashion can be art too, as cheesy as that sounds.

Some of the dresses were fascinating:

IMG_8385

Some were terrifying (this one is made with real gull skulls):

IMG_8384

Others were whimsical:

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A few more images in a Flickr gallery:

Manus X Machina
We finally found our way upstairs, but immediately got lost in the 1600-1800s era galleries. It wasn’t until we were about to leave that we finally found ourselves looking at Van Gogh, Degas, and Gauguin. After having visited so many times, I got overconfident in my ability to navigate to the area we were looking for. Next time I’ll just download the app before we go so I have a map in my pocket.

I’d hoped to spend 20 minutes or so in the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia gallery, but I think I was being too ambitious considering how late it was when we got there, but there’s always next time.

We polished off the evening with some awesome burgers over at Shake Shack. It was a pretty good end to the weekend.