May 27th, 2014

Hiking from the Garrison Train Station

by Joanna Eng

Over the weekend, I headed up to the Hudson Valley for another short hike. A trail begins directly off of the south end of the parking lot of the Garrison train station (which is about an hour from Manhattan on Metro-North). A few short and flat trails go along the Hudson River and the train tracks. Worth a bit of exploring if you have extra time.

The trail from the train station leads straight to the Garrison Institute, an old mansion and estate turned into a nonprofit center that hosts meditation workshops, retreats, climate symposiums, and other events based on “the power of contemplation.” The pretty grounds seem welcoming and open to hikers, and we used the restroom inside.

If you cut east through the Garrison Institute grounds and across Route 9D, you’ll find the entrance to Castle Rock Unique Area. Go up the dirt road (Wing and Wing Road), then bear left, and here’s where the real hiking begins. The blue trail leads you through a grassy, bucolic scene with a view of a castle-like mansion at the top of the hill in front of you, but unfortunately the trails won’t bring you any closer to the castle.

Castle Rock Unique Area

After entering the woods and passing a cool gazebo, you’re now in Hudson Highlands State Park. We followed the red-blazed trail up to the top of Sugarloaf Hill (also known as Sugarloaf South). Nice views of the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge from the top.

We headed back down the same way and meandered back to the train station, and the whole thing took about two hours. Much recommended if you only have a few hours to get away from the city. There’s another trail (the blue Osborn Loop) that connects before the top of Sugarloaf Hill if you are looking for a longer hike.

May 21st, 2014

Car-Free Ocean Grove and Asbury Park

by Joanna Eng

Now that it’s almost time to plan this year’s summer getaways, it’s about time I reported on last year’s beach trip. Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, NJ (two towns right next to each other on the Jersey Shore, equally accessible), turned out to be even more convenient from NYC than Cape May, and practically just as charming.

Why it worked without a car

Easy via NJ Transit. The train ride from Penn Station, New York, to Asbury Park, New Jersey, is a little less than two hours with one transfer. The train station is right between the two towns, so whether you’re staying in tiny-quaint Ocean Grove or revitalized-city Asbury Park, it’s only about a 15-minute walk from the station to most hotels, restaurants, and the beach.


Photo by Pete Anderson

Walkability and options. It doesn’t really matter which town you stay in, because you can easily walk to the other one to check out Victorian houses and classic ice cream shops (Ocean Grove) or the old casino, lively boardwalk, and eclectic restaurants (Asbury Park). Plus, everything is close to the beach.

Asbury Park has a diverse, gay-friendly community, and a little bit of a hip vibe. Ocean Grove has a community of Christian summer campers who stay in these cute, cozy platform tent houses (the vibe is reminiscent of the campground cottage area in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard). There isn’t a whole lot to do in either town, but a few days there is perfect, especially if you mostly want to relax on the beach and eat ice cream. No car needed for that.

November 8th, 2013

Hiking off NJ Transit

by Joanna Eng

I have been obsessed with the Hudson Valley for years, but I came across a hiking spot in New Jersey in my go-to guidebook, AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City, that said it was near the Millburn station of the NJ Transit commuter rail—only a 45-minute ride from Penn Station. I got the chance to go last weekend.

The hike was in South Mountain Reservation, and the trailhead was one block from the train station. It couldn’t have been easier to get to. We started on the yellow-blazed Lenape Trail, and enjoyed a moderate trek up and down between the lovely yellow leaves for two hours until we reached Hemlock Falls. The falls were pretty, but kind of a trickle—I’ll have to go back in the springtime when they’re sure to be rushing.

Yellow trees

On the way back we took the flatter River Trail, which was not as interesting as the Lenape, and only took one hour instead of two to get back to the starting point. Afterwards, we checked out a coffee shop in the little town center of Millburn. A refreshing, simple car-free day out of the city!

September 12th, 2013

The Power in a List of Names

by Joanna Eng

Over a year ago, I visited the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t sure how I felt about it as a tourist destination. (Seeing people pose and smile for photos in front of those pits did make me uncomfortable.) But it is worth visiting.

The design is beautifully minimal, and all there is to do is reflect on what happened and read the names of almost 3,000 people who were killed. I didn’t personally know anyone who was listed there; I recognized two names of people that I had heard about through friends and colleagues.

Reading the names of people I didn’t even know made me cry: the sheer number of them, the diversity represented by the surnames, and additional notes such as women who were pregnant (an astounding number). However superficial of a representation of the actual people it might be, that list of names felt so important to me.

I thought, if the attackers had read this list of names before that day, there’s no way they would have wanted to go through with their actions. At least that is my hope for humanity.

I also believe the list of names serves as a powerful, non-political way to educate Americans who may jump to bigoted assumptions after events like 9/11. So, so, so many of those who died in the attacks had names that appear to be Arab, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, etc., showing that the victims (and rescue workers) were a slice of a very diverse America.

June 11th, 2013

One New Thing a Day

by Joanna Eng

Turning 30 gave me another push to make time to explore. A friend of mine blogged about her adventures doing 30 things in the 30 days before turning 30, so I took the idea and made it my own. I had actually already done most of the things on my NYC bucket list before this last month of being 29, so I let myself count some more mundane things among my adventures, like trying new recipes, buying things in my neighborhood, or going running on different routes.

The only rules were that I had to do one thing each day, and each thing: 1) had to be something I hadn’t done before; 2) had to be something I wanted to do (as opposed to something I had to do); and 3) couldn’t involve my computer, phone, or TV.

My 30 days have passed, and I succeeded in trying 30 things. There were only two days towards the end when I failed to do something new (due to work, weather, and museums being closed on Mondays), but I made up for it by doing extra on other days. Here are some of the best things I tried. Thanks to Leah for the inspiration!

Food: OK, I just counted and realized that 14 of my things involved food. Oh, well—I had to eat, right? Best discoveries were delightfully crunchy kri kri peanuts from my local Eastern European market, homemade frozen banana “ice cream” (I added a little milk), and smashed chickpea and avocado salad sandwiches.

Culture: I went to 10 museums, stores, and attractions that were new for me. I recommend checking out the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image (which I counted because it has been completely redone since I went on a middle school trip), the International Center of Photography, The Evolution Store, Steinway Hall, and Music Mondays at Advent Lutheran Church.

Outdoors: I did the other six things outside. New favorite running routes include Astoria Park (starting from the Ditmars stop of the N/Q) and the Meadow Lake path at Flushing Meadows Park. And pianos placed around the city by Sing for Hope came to my rescue later in the month when I was running out of ideas.


Sing for Hope piano at Jamaica AirTrain Terminal. I happened upon this one by mistake, but I counted it, of course!

March 1st, 2013

The Coolest Building in New York State?

by Joanna Eng

While housesitting for friends in Troy, New York, I came across a fascinating new-ish building on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. From the side, it looked like a wooden ship hull suspended inside a huge glass box on a Cornell-like slope.

EMPAC exterior

Once inside, you can see fun details, like these walkways heading into the wooden bubble at different levels.

EMPAC interior

Inside the wooden part, there’s a large, pristine performance space that’s supposed to have amazing acoustics.

EMPAC performance space

Speaking of sounds, throughout the building I could hear a mysterious and seemingly random melody. Upstairs, I discovered the source: an art exhibit that consisted of bowls floating in circular pools of water, clinking against each other in the most perfect way.

EMPAC art installation

It turns out it’s the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), and it opened in 2008. The whole building is specially designed to have innovative acoustic features. Seems like RPI would be a very cool place to study music and sound technology.

February 28th, 2013

More of Quirky New York City

by Joanna Eng

I’ve fallen behind in documenting my local adventures, but here are some highlights from the past few months:

  • The Steinway & Sons piano factory tour was inspiring and educational, probably the best tour I’ve ever been on in my life. And it’s right in Astoria, Queens. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was the only room where photos were allowed because there were no workers.

Steinway piano factory tour

  • In Sleep No More, adventurous theatergoers put on creepy white masks and explore a five-floor building with dim lighting and scary/antique props, all the while chasing around actors who are performing mostly silent scenes in unpredictable locations. I honestly couldn’t piece together much of a plot, but I loved independently wandering the set for three hours.
  • Hangawi is a special dinner spot, an oasis of calm in the middle of the frantic area of Koreatown/Midtown East. Guests take off their shoes and sit on pillows, with their feet in recessed spaces below floor level. The menu is all vegetarian. I also like the less-fancy sister restaurant, Franchia, that’s nearby.
  • Riding the vintage holiday train was a perfect way to brighten a winter day. I love that it runs on the regular subway line, making regular stops, and surprising regular riders who had no idea this was a even a thing.

Vintage holiday train

  • There’s a hidden artsy elevator in an otherwise boring office building about a mile from my house, and I found it!
  • The Amazing Maize Maze at the Queens County Farm Museum made for a fun, rural outing in the city. I’m sure corn mazes are much larger and more challenging when they’re anywhere besides NYC, but this one does the trick for city dwellers.


November 21st, 2012

What I’m Most Grateful for

by Joanna Eng

One of the most useful things my parents instilled in me is an appreciation for spending time outdoors. It’s a simple trait that has had such a profound impact on my life. It has kept me happy, healthy, and even financially stable.

When I was growing up, our weekends and vacations were spent hiking, canoeing, and gardening. We didn’t get candy at the movie theater—we didn’t even go to the movie theater—but we picked wild blueberries and raspberries right off the bushes and popped them in our mouths. After Thanksgiving dinner, we would always go on a long walk in my grandmother’s wooded neighborhood. Last Thanksgiving, we went on a nine-mile hike in Blue Hills Reservation.

In college, instead of drinking myself sick at frat parties like most kids, I spent my free time with friends swimming in gorges, exploring rooftops, roasting marshmallows over campfires, and having fall harvest picnics. (It helped that we were in beautiful Ithaca.) Yes, I was a dork, but I don’t feel that I missed out on anything important.

Now, when I know I need exercise, or time to recharge and relax, I know exactly where to turn. I go for a run or bike ride outside, I bring a book or sandwich to the park and enjoy the view. This natural penchant for the outdoors wards off depression, helps me save money while enjoying life, and gives me fuel for this blog—and will one day make me a content old person.

November 3rd, 2012

The Infrastructure We Take for Granted

by Joanna Eng

For most of us in the New York/New Jersey area, this entire week has been consumed by Hurricane Sandy and its effects. Some have been struggling to get by without electricity, running water, or elevator service on the 20th floor of an apartment building. Some have had their homes and cars destroyed by uprooted trees, flood waters, wind, or fire. Some have lost their lives from electrocution, falling trees, drowning, or lack of power for their medical devices. Others of us (like me and my neighbors) have just been inconvenienced and immobilized by the lack of transportation options due to flooding, power outages, and fuel shortages.

Gas shortage photo by Brian Kingsley

I hope that one effect of Sandy has been that everyone realizes how much we have been taking for granted the incredible infrastructure we use everyday. We have a huge, complex subway and commuter rail system that needs constant maintenance to continue to move us from place to place. We rely on gas stations that provide a steady supply of fuel that has been pumped up from beneath the earth’s surface, processed in a refinery, transported thousands of miles, and put into an easy-to-use machine that takes credit cards. We depend on a nonstop flow of electricity to keep our food cold, our showers warm, and our minds informed and entertained.

Eight years ago, after spending three months in Ocotal, Nicaragua, some of these simple facts dawned on me. The infrastructure in most communities in the United States is absolutely amazing. I mean, we have water hydrants every 500 feet just in case there’s a fire someday. We have a uniform system of addresses and zip codes so that we can expect to receive all mail that has been sent to us. We have stations that list the time that the next bus or train will arrive.

Traveling to a place that’s very different from home is one way to gain a lasting appreciation for these systems that we base our entire lives on. Being in the path of a “superstorm” is another way, apparently.

Maybe Sandy’s aftermath will also push us to develop even better forms of infrastructure that don’t promote the same systems that have caused climate change in the first place.

August 24th, 2012

Before I Leave New York . . .

by Joanna Eng

In my seven years here, I’ve been pretty good about exploring all five boroughs and taking advantage of the fact that you can do absolutely anything in NYC. (Marched with an LGBT group in a Chinese New Year parade? Check. Eaten Japanese/Italian fusion, a kimchi burrito, and a Thai soy hot dog? Check. Biked all five boroughs in a day? Check. Lived in a windowless closet for three months? Check. Made corn tortillas in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant? Check. Scanned Martha Stewart’s ID card at a high-profile conference? Check.)

Running around the reservoir in Central Park. Photo by Ed Yourdon

Here’s what remains on my must-do list:

What’s on your to-explore list for NYC or wherever you live?