Celebrating Christmas and New Year's in Germany, Ties to our Traditions

Contributing Editor: Claire Botsy

Christmas Market in Berlin

Germany is a very special place to be during the holiday season. Think of the Christmas Markets, the snow, and a very festive New Year’s Eve celebrations. Many of the celebratory traditions we embrace so dearly in the US (and beyond) for Christmas and New Year’s Eve have very strong roots in Germany. Christmas in Germany is known as Weihnacht and New Year’s Eve is called Silvester. Much of Germany is blanketed in snow by the time January rolls around, making Germany the perfect environment for a picturesque holiday season.

Celebrating Advent (Nov 30th in 2014) kicks off the season with beautiful wreaths, often homemade, and calendars that involve the participation of the entire family. Christmas markets usually open when Advent starts, allowing everyone to buy their decorations and get into the Christmas spirit early. Singing carols, throwing large feasts, gift-giving, and visits from Santa Claus all have origins and strong ties to German culture.

The best place to see where our traditions come from are the small towns in mountainous areas, such as the Black Forest, where small ski towns mostly inhabited by locals host elaborate Weihnacht markets. These markets have stalls ranging from delectable local favorites to beautiful wooden trinkets and christmas nativity scenes handcrafted by local artisans and craftsmen. And any market would be incomplete without the nationwide winter drink Glühwein, a cousin of sorts to mulled wine. Weihnacht markets happen all over the country though, so you do not have to find yourself in a small village to enjoy what they have to offer. Larger cities, such as Berlin and Munich, hold incredible Weihnacht markets though the elaborateness and authenticity tend to vary.

After the cozy dinners and family activities that bring people together during Weihnacht, focus then shifts to the anticipation of new beginnings brought on by the new year. There are many New Year's Eve traditions, however in one particular city there is more activity than most. Beyond the insane parties that are common place, Berlin is one of the craziest settings you can find yourself on Silvester. The city erupts in fireworks as they are legal only on this day of the entire year. You can hear some people testing them out days before New Year’s eve, however on the actual evening of December 31st the entire city sounds and looks like a war zone. Smoke in the streets and explosions of sound and light confuse the senses. There is no reason to be alarmed however as no one is sending them off in malicious ways, merely in the sense of excitement for the new year. Most locals send them off from their homes, going down to the streets minutes before the clock strikes midnight.

Keeping warm with some Glühwein at the Berlin Weihnacht Market

Though a cold and harsh time of year, the traditions and festivities that revolve around the holiday season make Germany an interesting place to visit. Whether in the city or in the mountains, the locals and tourists are all as equally enthusiastic about their own holiday activities.

Exploring London's Brixton Village

Exploring London's Brixton Village

A locals' favorite, the revitalizied Brixton Village.

Exploring London's Old Spitalfields Market

Exploring London's Old Spitalfields Market

A multifaceted, covered market in East London with over 350 years of history.

A Video Essay: The NYC Subway System - The Conductor's View

One can't think of NYC without thinking of the MTA Subway system.  Next month, on Oct 27th, the NYC Subway turns 110 years old. This old lady is a vital part of the city carrying over 1.7 billion riders to their destination in 2013.

The NYC Subway has its pluses and minuses. It's largest plus in my opinion is its reach and the extensive network of stops especially compared to smaller systems such as DC, LA, and Atlanta. Sadly there are many minuses including the stops can be very hot during the summer with terrible odors, the trains overfill especially during peak travel hours on weekday mornings, and for some reason people feel it is okay to throw trash on the tracks. I thought the trash issue was a byproduct of living in a large city with a large subway system, but one could almost eat off the tracks on the London Underground system... not a sign of trash or rats anywhere on the tracks.

In my 10 years of living in NYC, I've never seen the underworld of NYC like I did a few weeks ago. Typically, there is a semi-transparent window at the front of the first car, however this time I had a clear window and my camera. So... Here's the conductor's view on the NYC Subway system.

I've sped up the portions in between subway stops by 2x.

A Photo Essay: Roof Garden Cáfe and Martini Bar at The Met

It is sad to admit, but it took me 9 long years as a New Yorker before I finally went to the Roof Garden Cáfe and Martini Bar at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). Visiting the Roof Garden was always on my to-do list, but it just never happened. 

Imran Qureshi's Roof Garden Installation in 2013

In August of 2013, after reading about the Roof Garden Installation by Imran Qureshi, I decided I had waited long enough. I stopped by the museum on an overcast weekday and I was delighted to find that I was one of only 10 people up on the expansive roof top that afternoon.

The position of the Roof Garden within the perimeter of Central Park is truly unique and special. As an artist, can you imagine the opportunity to have the Roof Garden as your canvas with one of the most famous parks in one of the most famous cities on this planet framing your work? A very special opportunity to say the least.

Imran's installation was sublime especially given the contrasting green hue of the trees reaching up toward the Roof Garden and the towering cityscape beyond. The installation represented Imran's emotional response to decades of global violence and his hope for lasting peace and regeneration. On the day of my visit, when the place was quiet and mostly void of people, the roof top eerily felt like a murder scene surrounded by a still and silent city whose residents had fled the city streets for a safe haven.

Beyond the emotions triggered by the installation, the Roof Garden was an amazing way to take in the breathtaking view of the tree tops of Central Park and the city beyond the park's perimeter. I kicked myself for waiting so long and I knew I won't wait another 9 years before my next visit.

More pictures of Imran's installation from August 2013:

This August, I went back on a gorgeous Friday evening for drinks with visiting relatives. It was something I wanted to share with them as the views of NYC are second-to-none. I was hopeful that a good sunset was in store for us. 

The installation on the Roof Garden had changed (Dan Graham) as well as the size of the crowd. This time, I was one of two hundred plus. The weather was perfect, the mood was upbeat and festive, and the views were priceless. The energy of the crowd was only matched by the fiery colors of the sun and the sky as the sun approached the horizon.

August of 2014

Old Glory flying in front of the sunset

I will certainly be back as fall takes hold and transforms the color palette of Central Park.

Travel Log - Part 3: My Summer in Europe 2013 - Sant Pere de Rodes

This is multi-segment travel log documenting my summer adventures in Europe last summer. I hope you will follow along and share in my memories and photos from the best summer of my life! Part 1 and Part 2 in case you missed them.

Part 3:

For my last day in Girona, my friend suggested a visit to the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. This former Benedictine monastery is located in the mountains overlooking Port de la Selva and Costa Brava.

The first known writing of the monastery dates back to 878 and it later became a Benedictine monastery in 945. It is said that it reached its maximum splendor in the 11th and 12th centuries before falling to decay in the 17th century.

The monastery has been beautifully restored and offers amazing views of the surrounding area. Walking through the Romanesque-style church, which was consecrated in the year 1022, was simply unreal. If only the walls could talk of the nearly thousand years of history that had passed.

My pictures of the Sant Pere de Rodes:

You can hike up to the pike of the mountain and the ruins of the castle of Sant de Verdera. We took this 45-minute hike and were simply awe struck by the view of the Costa Brava as shown in the panorama below.

The view of Port de la Selva and Costa Brava from above Sant Pere de Rodes.

Afterwards, I drove the 2 hours back to Barcelona for my last evening in Spain. The first chapter of my European journey was coming to a close. There is much to love about the big cities of Spain, such as Madrid and Barcelona, but there really is something special about these smaller towns. Especially those along the Costa Brava!

Next, Paris for an 11-day stay. Only 4 days into my summer trip and my home, NYC, and the time and effort I put into developing my career couldn’t be more happily removed. The beauty of travel!

Girona Trip Planning

Travel Log - Part 2: My Summer in Europe 2013 - Cadaqués and Figueres

This is multi-segment travel log documenting my summer adventures in Europe last summer. I hope you will follow along and share in my memories and photos from the best summer of my life! If you missed Part 1, click here.

Part 2:

Day 1 of my trip started in Barcelona. I've been there on several occasions, thus my travel partner from Barcelona suggested a weekend trip to an town 2 hours north called Cadaqués. I rented a car from the airport, pick her up, and we are on our way. 

Cadaqués is located in the province of Girona and is a two-hour drive north of Barcelona. It is a sleepy and quaint fishing village with a long and rich art history. Salvador Dalí spent time here, as did Picasso, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, and several other notable artists and luminaries.

The small village with its hilly streets and whitewashed buildings hugs the rocky bay along the Costa Brava. As we wandered the hilly streets and walked along the sea, the charm and tranquility of the village washed over me.

Day 1 of my trip couldn't have started any better! If you are looking for a quiet place to visit outside of Barcelona, Cadaqués comes highly recommended. Some of my pictures from Cadaqués:

We stayed at a lovely and unique hilltop hotel just outside of Cadaqués called Mas Sa Perafita. Unique as the building is over 700 years old and is part boutique hotel and part winery. The grounds and the views of the surrounding countryside were stunning. Some of my pictures of the hotel and the view are included below:

With access to a car, there much to do and see in the area. Thus, on my second day we were off to Figueres to visit the Dalí Museum. As a fan of Dalí's art, this was an excellent opportunity to see more of his work in the town where he was born. Little did I know that Dalí actually designed the museum, worked within the space, and built exhibits specifically for the museum. The museum was a mix of the beautiful and the odd and was a bit of an overcrowded maze as the space was the art at times and couldn't support the large crowds.

After an amazing lunch at a locally-recommended spot called Can Punyetes in Figueres, we were off to check out some nearby vineyards. We stopped at Celler Espelt, but we were disappointed to find that they were not doing tastings. This is where it gets good.... a young, friendly gentleman drives up to the tasting room as we are leaving and speaks to us. Come to find out, he works with this winery and others in the area. We tell him we are looking to do some tastings and ask for a recommendation. Within minutes, he calls another winery, named Coll de Roses, and arranges a private tasting for us on the rooftop of the tasting room. Upon our arrival, we were greeted like family friends and taken up to a gorgeous roof terrance overlooking the vineyard, the nearby mountains, and the sea. And this was no tasting either as they basically started it off as a tasting and then gave us our preferred bottle to drink at our leisure on the terrance.

It's amazing how opportunities like these occur when you simply are friendly and show a genuine curiosity for a shared passion (wine in this instance).  Here's some pictures from the vineyard:

We did more exploring in the area on the subsequent days, but I'll end this blog entry for now. More to come in Part 3 in the near future.

 

Travel Log - Part 1: My Summer in Europe 2013

This is multi-segment travel log documenting my summer adventures in Europe last summer. I hope you will follow along and share in my memories and photos from the best summer of my life!

This time last June I was on my way to Europe. Spain to be specific. 

After 7 amazing years at ESPN, it was time for me to move on. However, before I jumped into my next job, I was taking a little time for myself. I had worked for 17 years post-college and I was taking the summer to follow my true passion... travel. As far as I was concerned, work could wait.

I decided in short order that I was heading to Europe on a one-way ticket. I planned to return, I just didn't know when. Prior to my departure, my first 3 destinations were determined, but the rest of my trip was a blank canvas. I would start in Spain with time in Barcelona and Cadaqués before heading to Paris and Sicily. I would figure out the rest later.

I recall how excited I was as I headed to JFK to catch my flight. I felt as if I was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime gift to put myself first and unburden myself from the daily grind of work. Furthermore, I was extremely blessed as my mother was set to join me in Paris and Sicily. It would be her first time out of the country and I had the honor and privilege of traveling with her aboard and showing her some of my favorite cities. An honor worth its weight in gold!

My departure was delayed and we taxied on the runway for over an hour, but that allowed me to take in one last gorgeous NYC sunset from my window seat on American Airlines Flight 66. I had never left the US for longer than 26 days. This trip would certainly be longer and hopefully the best decision of my life. Tomorrow I wake up in Barcelona!

No upgrade for me!

No upgrade for me!

Goodbye NYC and the US. See you when I see you.



A Photo Essay: The High Line - NYC

Today's blog post is in recognition of the High Line which celebrated its 5th Birthday yesterday. For me, the High Line is one of the best outdoor spaces in NYC and easily one of the best new spaces added to NYC in the last 10+ years. It is loved equally by locals and tourists which is a difficult task for any city to pull off. Every time I visit the High Line, I see something new be it seasonal plants, a new building, a new art exhibition within the High Line, new food vendors, and much much more.

While the full history is available here, I will highlight a couple of key dates:

  • 06.09.2009: Section 1 (Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street) opens to the public.
  • 06.08.2011: Section 2 (West 20th Street to West 30th Street) opens to the public.
  • 09.20.2012: Groundbreaking is celebrated on the High Line at the Rail Yards. Construction proceeds in three phases, with the first phase projected to open in 2014.

I visited the High Line in March when there was still a little snow here and there. And then I visited again as Spring took hold of the city in early May. Here's some of my photos.

The High Line along 17th St and 10th Ave.

The 10th Ave Square - The amphitheater-style seating provides an excellent place to sit and watch the city unfold beneath you and toward Uptown.

The ramp in the foreground is the Northern Spur - Built to carry trains into the adjacent refrigerated warehouse.

The building on the left is the Frank Gehry-designed IAC Headquarters Building which was completed in 2007. Originally, the desire was to build this "sailboat designed" building over the Hudson River, but it was moved inland once building permits were rejected by the numerous authorities.

Two other views of the IAC Building:

Jean Nouvel's Living Building in the background

These winter-friendly plants took a beating over the long, cold and snowy winter.

Chelsea Thicket

This piece of art always reminds me of the Google Doodle.

The 26th St Viewing Spur - Allowing visitors to view the city as if they were watching a film:

Art work exhibited along the High Line.

Love is in the air!

Plenty of real estate prime for re-development along the High Line.

The future section of the High Line extending over the Hudson Rail Yard.

Early May and the promise of Spring on the High Line:

A Photo Essay: A Stroll Through Williamsburg & Greenpoint

Spring is a special time in NYC, especially this year after a snow-filled and chilly winter. As temps warmed, I took a stroll through Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn on a gorgeous day in late March. While I've spent some time in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, I'm not nearly as familiar with these areas as I am with other parts of Brooklyn. So, exploring I went. Here's some of the interesting things I found along the way. I hope you enjoy!

Stickers, stickers, stickers - Bedford Ave, Williamsburg

A tree and light post dancing in McCarren Park, Williamsburg

Metal fencing in front of a row house in Greenpoint

Sweet Gum tree with gumballs that survived the winter - Java St, Greenpoint

Deteriorating graffiti on Java St

A gallery of pictures of the Empire State Building from the East River Waterfront in Greenpoint:

Homeless cat on Java St

Fantastic street art, sidewalk on Java St

Water tower near Milton St and Franklin St in Greenpoint

Amazing graffiti on Franklin St between Meserole Ave and N 15th St 

Interior of Dirck the Norseman in Greenpoint. A brewery (Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co)  and a restaurant. It's a great place for a beer in the late afternoon as the sun pours into the large glass garage doors.

An industrial lot in Greenpoint with a priceless view.

The council of the Manlift Straight Booms, Greenpoint

Graffiti - N 13th St in Greenpoint

The view of Brooklyn and Manhattan including the sunset from Ides Bar at Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg: 

A Photo Essay: The 9/11 Museum

On May 27th, I visited the recently opened 9/11 Museum in Downtown Manhattan. A somber occasion and a moving experience reliving the day that touched just about ever American alive on that horrific day as well as the supportive international community. Walking in the footprint of the towers where so many perished and so many heroes selflessly gave their own lives to help others was a humbling experience and one I would recommend to others living in or visiting NYC.

I've pulled together this photo essay to share my experience at the 9/11 Museum.

The Twin Tower Tridents with Freedom Tower in the background.

The Twin Tower Tridents with Freedom Tower in the background.

Looking down to the bottom floor of the museum. The wall to the left represents where the South Tower once stood. The mangled structure at the end of the hallway is the steel facade just below the point where Flight 11 struck the North Tower. 

Looking down to the bottom floor of the museum. The wall to the left represents where the South Tower once stood. The mangled structure at the end of the hallway is the steel facade just below the point where Flight 11 struck the North Tower. 

Concourse Lobby of the Museum: A model of The Sphere and pictures of it (background) in its original setting next to the Twin Towers. It actually spun in the middle of the fountain and is now located in Battery Park with the damage of the fallen Twin Towers readily evident on the top and sides of the structure.

Concourse Lobby of the Museum: A model of The Sphere and pictures of it (background) in its original setting next to the Twin Towers. It actually spun in the middle of the fountain and is now located in Battery Park with the damage of the fallen Twin Towers readily evident on the top and sides of the structure.

The Last Column, named as it was one of the last elements removed from Ground Zone.

The Last Column, named as it was one of the last elements removed from Ground Zone.

The Slurry Wall: An innovative techniques deploy in the 1960's, based on Italian technical called slurry trenching, with the aim of keeping the Hudson River from flooding the basement of the Twin Towers. 

The Slurry Wall: An innovative techniques deploy in the 1960's, based on Italian technical called slurry trenching, with the aim of keeping the Hudson River from flooding the basement of the Twin Towers. 

The World Trade Center Dedication Pedestal with scars and dents from 9/11.

The World Trade Center Dedication Pedestal with scars and dents from 9/11.

The squares seen at the ground level, to the left, below the imposing structure are the box columns. They are the foundation of the columns that formed the outer framework of the World Trade Center. The imposing structure above represents the footprint of the tower. In this case, the South Tower. 

The squares seen at the ground level, to the left, below the imposing structure are the box columns. They are the foundation of the columns that formed the outer framework of the World Trade Center. The imposing structure above represents the footprint of the tower. In this case, the South Tower. 

A quotation from Virgil's "Aeneld". The letters were constructed from medal salvaged from the Ground Zero site. The blue tiles represent the artist's attempt to recapture the blue color of the NYC sky the morning of 9/11.

A quotation from Virgil's "Aeneld". The letters were constructed from medal salvaged from the Ground Zero site. The blue tiles represent the artist's attempt to recapture the blue color of the NYC sky the morning of 9/11.

A small portion of the radio antenna that resided atop the North Tower.

A small portion of the radio antenna that resided atop the North Tower.

A portion of the North Tower Radio Antenna

A portion of the North Tower Radio Antenna

A remnant of one of the powerful 10,000 pound elevator motors that pushed the World Trade Center express elevators from the lobby to the top of the building in just over a minute.  

A remnant of one of the powerful 10,000 pound elevator motors that pushed the World Trade Center express elevators from the lobby to the top of the building in just over a minute.  

Box column remnants of the South Tower. This is where the foundation of the building was attached to the bedrock of NYC. 

Box column remnants of the South Tower. This is where the foundation of the building was attached to the bedrock of NYC. 

The remnants of the North Tower (box columns) and the museum/structure that represents the footprint of the tower.

The remnants of the North Tower (box columns) and the museum/structure that represents the footprint of the tower.

Images of the 9/11 Memorial Fountains and surrounding World Trade Center buildings.

Locally Experience... The Charlotte/Carolina BBQ Edition

2014.04.23

Those of you who know me, know I'm from the south. Southeast Virginia to be more specific. I'm sure there are many out there who would argue that I'm not a true southern. They might say that Virginia is not the south and that anyone who has lived in NYC for the last 9 years could only be a northern. Putting the argument aside for a moment, my love for Carolina BBQ is true and undeniable.

Today I wrap up a 15-day stay in Charlotte where I tried to uncover the local experience. While I'll share other noteworthy discoveries on another blog update, today's piece is focused on Carolina BBQ.

Seeking the best BBQ, I consulted with friends and locals. During the course of my stay, I tried Queen City Q, Mac's Speed Shop and Midwood Smokehouse.

For me, pulled pork is the only way to go when it comes to BBQ. As far as the sides are concerned, I order based on the recommendation of my waiter/waitress. Thus, all 3 meals where pulled pork, one with a side of collard greens and the other two with a side of mac and cheese.

Hands down... Queen City Q was the best pulled pork sandwich and their mac and cheese was outstanding. Midwood Smokehouse was a close second and to my surprise, Mac's Speed Shop was a distant third place. The collard greens at Midwood Smokehouse were amazing though they fell short in comparison to what my grandmother used to make me.

In closing, two other undeniable facts... First, I'm excited to return home to NYC. However, and secondly, I will sorely miss the amazing southern food scene in Charlotte.

Do you have any Carolina BBQ recommendations?

Signing out from CLT, Cheers! 

 

 

My winner.... Queen City Q enjoyed at the home of the Charlotte Knights

An Amazing Last Minute Weekend in New Paltz, NY

A blog entry with photos from my weekend in New Paltz, NY with friends. We stayed at La Luna Farm. This blog entry includes my review of several restaurants including The Huguenot, A Tavola Trattoria, Café Mio, and Swoon Kitchenbar. Additionally, I review antique stories such as the Antiques Barn at Water Street Market and the many antique shops on Warren St in Hudson, NY.

Welcome to my new website!

Thanks for checking out my new website!

Over the years, many of my friends and family members suggested that I blog about my travel experiences and life in NYC. However, I've never found the time to set up a site until now. It is quite easy to fall back on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Tripadvisor to share status updates, photos, and reviews/recommendations. However, I feel those sites lack intimacy and the ability to curate in a meaningful way. 

A few words about myself for those who don't know me... I'm a passionate traveler and photographer. Professionally, I work in digital media, but I also am a runner, road biker, foodie, a big fan of wine and spirits, love experiencing other cultures and a big believer in the fact that life is better when you find the "local" experience in your travels and in day-to-day life. 

I will share my experiences on this website and I hope you will join me! I plan to update the site with more photos in the near future and offer my services to curate trips to NYC, Paris, and other places where I've been fortunate enough to find the "local" experience.

Please check out my photographs.

Cheers,

Brad!