Category Archives: New York

Ellis Island: The Front Door to America    

We should all be thankful our government decided to preserve Ellis Island.

It almost didn’t survive, and that would have been a real shame since 40% of Americans can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Now under the stewardship of the National Park Service, it is an interesting and iconic memorial to our country’s heritage.

It is, however, still a work-in-progress. While on this visit to NYC, we did the Hard Hat Tour of the hospitals on the island that are now under restoration. A project of the Save Ellis Island Foundation, one facility was a general hospital and the other for infectious diseases. Of course, their roles evolved throughout history as the island was eventually used more for detention, and more patients were confined with mental issues.  The facilities also housed sick and injured veterans from WWII.

White area on bricks shows the waterline from mega-storm Sandy.

Part of the “Unframed-Ellis Island” art installation by French artist JR.

Super Storm Sandy really set back the restoration, and as you can see in the picture here, the storm surge was quite dramatic. The current art installation (see photo) provides an interesting feel as you are led through the long hallways and into the various rooms. Each scene is created from original historic photos.

We tromped around soggy grounds, dodging showers and it was COLD. I was surprised to learn they used to keep their oversized windows open 24/7 since the experts of the time thought fresh air was better for a cure. Of course, we know fresh air is good – but it must’ve been freezing in those wards. Also of note, none of the staff contracted any of the infectious diseases they treated, and most patients did eventually find their way to the mainland of the United States.

The one remaining cage used to restrict mental patients needing fresh air.

First and second-class passengers got to skip the entire process of the Ellis Island Registry Room since they were processed on board their ships. Only third-class passengers were screened.  Most were healthy because the steamship companies were responsible for return transport and fined for passengers not allowed to stay. As a result, they did their own screening before allowing passengers to board.

I particularly enjoyed the Treasurers from Home Exhibit, which features items brought by immigrants. They had little room and brought select personal treasures from their homelands.  Families have donated the items on display, including beautiful needlework, clothing, photos, musical instruments and more. Can you imagine what items you would select to take if you knew you could never come back?

If you are searching for relatives who came through Ellis Island, you can buy 30 minutes ($7) on the computers at the American Family Immigration History Center.  You can also access the Center’s info free online, but it was nice to interchange with the staff and we did find some new material. We were continuing to document information about my husband’s family who came from Russia and Austria at the beginning of the 1900s. I love the hunt for information.

My favorite trivia of the day:

Ellis Island is mostly in New Jersey.

Only the 3 acres where part of the main building sits is in New York.  The remaining 90% of the island, including part of the main building and the hospital facilities, is in New Jersey. The 160-year-old fight between the two states was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998.



The adults-only Hard Hat Tour includes your ferry ticket and is $58.50, $54 for seniors.  Regular adult tickets include an audio tour of the main facility and are $18.50, $14 for seniors; children 4-12 are $9. Plan 90 minutes to get through the airport-style security line and ferry ride to the island, and that’s if you have already bought your ticket online.  Allow more time if you have to buy a ticket. If you buy online, go to:  Many other sites will charge more, and be wary of ticket sellers on the street, they are reported to sell counterfeit tickets.

To get to Battery Park and the ferry station, you need the South Ferry stop on the 1 Line; this is the same as the Whitehall Street stop on the 6 Line, some subway signage doesn’t name South Ferry.

There is a cafeteria-style Café on site.

Routine armed escort from NYC to Ellis Island.


Downton Abbey NYC Exhibition


If you loved PBS’s Downton Abbey series and really miss it like I do . . . good news.  The Downton Abbey Exhibition in New York City is extended until September 3rd, 2018.

Enough said, enjoy the pictures. 



NYC: The Frick Collection

IMG_5852    IMG_5853

Just realized I never actually posted this item I wrote while in NYC last week, just saw it lurking in a draft folder . . .

If you like the mansions in Newport or the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, you will love visiting The Frick.  The wonderful European art on display seems like a bonus.  Located on 5th Avenue, across from Central Park, I don’t know how I never tuned into this beautiful building before.

Finished in 1914, the home was built on property that once housed the Lenox Library, behind the property was a chicken farm.  Henry Frick bequeathed his home and art collection so the public would always have access, and after the death of his wife, it opened to the public in 1935.

Much of the furniture is in place and the art is hung as it would have been in the home, eye level and without barriers.  It’s wonderful and intimate; a very relaxing way to enjoy such beautiful old masters.   Frick like beauty and avoided art that was violent or disturbing, so there is an emphasis on portraits and landscapes.  At the moment there is a major exhibition of Van Dyke’s work.

Of course, visitors can’t take pictures, so you will have to go on-line for details, but I enjoyed the Van Dykes as well as paintings by Vermeer, Degas, Velazquez, Reuben, Taylor, Rembrandt and many, many more.  Not to mention the gorgeous carpets, Limoges enamels, bronzes, porcelains and French furniture.  At the grand stairway, you can look up and see the massive organ installed in the home.  Frick employed his own organist who performed concerts twice a week. There are plans underway to restore the upper floors and eventually allow visitors.

You are truly transported to the Gilded Age during a visit to The Frick.

Details:  A free audio tour is available.  Docents give presentations several times a day about the history of the Fricks and the home, as well as how the collection was put together.  There is also a short movie that explains much of the same information.

The small gift shop has a terrific selection of art books, as well as a nice assortment of specialty items.

The Frick is open six days a week (closed on Mondays), and due to the accessibility of the art, does not allow children under 10.  Hours: Tue – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM; Sundays 11 AM – 5 PM.  Adults $20; seniors $15; students $10.  Sunday from 11 AM – 1 PM pay what you wish.




NYC: Rolling on the River(s)


As we conclude our most recent trip to NYC, I thought I’d finished with anything blog-worthy, and then we went on a brunch cruise around Manhattan with Classic Harbor Line.

There are plenty of ways you can navigate around this amazing island and there are options for every pocket-book. But you do get what you pay for, and today we had a really special experience. IMG_5887

The Classic Harbor Line uses old-world style yachts in the Roaring Twenties-style. For the brunch cruise, the maximum number of guests is 40, and everyone has a window seat.  Their brochure states they are “classically designed for contemporary experiences” and that is very well said.

Our trip was on the Manhattan II, just one year old, but built to resemble a vintage yacht. I’ll let my photos tell that story.

As we cruised up the East River and down the Hudson, we ate. Brunch was a delicious four-course affair, served buffet-style.  First with bagels, lox, pastries and self-made waffles, followed by frittata and incredibly good pork sausage (which we are seriously trying to locate for purchase). Spiral-cut ham, potatoes and salad were followed by a wonderful fruit assortment, puff pastries, small napoleons and cannolis.  A glass of Champagne, Mimosa, or Bloody Mary was included along with soft drinks and coffee; a full bar was also available.

The author & husband, Fred.

The author & husband, Fred.

The crew was amazing.  They could not have been nicer or more helpful. The Captain’s commentary was interesting but not intrusive.  Many of the passengers also asked the knowledgeable crew for more information about what we were seeing.

It didn’t hurt that it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful day.  We ventured outside for some photo-ops, and often pulled back the large sliding picture windows by our comfortable table to snap a good iPhone shot.

The entire 2.75 hour trip was quiet, relaxing, un-hurried, interesting and very scenic. A perfect adventure for all the ages in our group, from 30-something to 85.


Classic Harbor Lines is the same company that offers architectural harbor tours narrated by the AIA NY and sailings on majestic schooners. Boats leave from Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers, and Pier 5 at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina. Check out the options at: or call 888.215.1739.  You may also be able to find a discount voucher if you search on-line.  BTW, the bathrooms on board are comfortable and pristine.






Lower East Side History Project: Mafia Walking Tour




This was a great tour.  Led by fourth generation Italian-American, Eric Ferrara, we really gained an insight and understanding into the origins and evolution of the five major New York crime families and the history of New York City’s Little Italy.

Eric founded the Lower East Side History Project and has consulted on several projects including programs for TV’s History Channel, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the recent Great Gatsby movie and the Mafia Museum. He has written several books including the Manhattan Mafia Guide. Eric has not only researched his topic, he has lived it.  He was clearly very comfortable in the area and able to tell many personal stories about his life and that of his family members.

There are a lot of similar tours available, but what I liked about this tour was the focus on fact versus sensationalism and media-driven urban legends.  Eric set the record straight about many misconceptions and put a face on the daily struggle faced by the vast majority of the men involved with the Cosa Nostra.  We learned about the speakeasies, the social clubs, early investment in the drag clubs of NYC, and the lynching of Italians. Eric had photos and newspaper articles to help tell the story and visualize the past.

I was surprised that what was once known as Little Italy is really now only about four one-street blocks of very tourist-oriented restaurants.  Once a large and thriving section of town, it was eventually cleaned-up by NY Mayor Giuliani and has now become gentrified, with expensive boutiques and new construction. It was sad to learn that much of the area’s original character has been erased.

The tour was interesting, educational and, as a bonus, we found out which were the better area restaurants with the most authentic family history.  We all received an information sheet summarizing key spots visited and follow-up resources.

We ended our two-hour tour in the restaurant area.  Eric stopped to say hi to actor Tony Danza, who was just hanging out, sitting outside by a cannoli vendor, reading a paper.

After the tour we took a break and enjoyed some pizza at the Mulberry Street Bar. This restaurant was the setting for regular scenes on the Sopranos and has appeared in Donny Brasco, Godfather III, and Law & Order.  We made one more quick stop to grab a cannoli (for me) and gelato (for my husband), before we headed back uptown.  Do you think Tony is an investor in that cannoli stand?

Tours are offered twice a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays at noon and generally last 1.5 hours. For more info, check out:

Who's hanging out on Mulberry Street?

Who’s hanging out on Mulberry Street?

IMG_5824 - Copy

Tony Danza.

The Cloisters: A Medieval Sanctuary


This charming enclave of The Met is housed in a re-constructed ensemble designed to resemble a medieval-era monastery on four acres in Fort Tryon Park.  Located in the Bronx, the lovely park runs along the Hudson, with views across the river of the New Jersey Palisades’ plateau, and is beautiful in the spring.

The museum focuses on medieval art, architecture and gardens with the main focus on religious artifacts. It’s not large, but beautifully appointed and you truly feel you are transported to a hilltop somewhere in Europe.  It’s hard to believe you are a short subway ride from the middle of Manhattan.

Open since 1938, The Met Cloisters has been heavily endowed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., including the gift of the famous Unicorn Tapestries, my favorite. There is an incredible collection of striking tapestries on display.  Exhibits span from the Romanesque through the Gothic periods. IMG_5754

If You Go:

Open seven days a week, during the day from 10 AM, closing hours vary slightly by season, so check the website for up-to-date details.  Adults $25; seniors $17; Students $12 and children under 12 free.  Tickets also entitle same-day admission to other Met museums. If you go by subway, take the “A” train to the 190 Street stop and walk through the gardens to the museum.  Or, grab an Uber to 99 Margaret Corbin Drive.  There is a nice gift shop as well as a café (open April – October) on premises.


NYC: Elements

A few interesting scenes from around the city.

Central Park with orchid sculpture in the distance.

Central Park with orchid sculpture in the distance.

Although the bas relief motifs seem like they should be on Communist Party headquarters, this Art Deco loft building was built in 1925. Located in SoHo, the building now houses a variety of companies, including the agency my daughter works for. The images are an interesting collection: weighing metal? fabricating? shaving wood or metal? mixing chemicals? Originally known as the Green Building, I'm still searching for answers about its early use.

Although the bas-relief motifs seem like they should be on Communist Party headquarters, this Art Deco loft building was built in 1925. Located in SoHo, the building now houses a variety of companies, including the agency my daughter works for. The images are an interesting collection: weighing metal? fabricating? shaving wood or metal? mixing chemicals? Originally known as the Green Building, I’m still searching for answers about its early use.

While researching the art on the SOHO building above, I came across a great blog called Ephemeral NY: Chronicling an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts. Fellow history-lovers will enjoy it:

Love the entry portals to the diamond district.

Love the entry portals to the diamond district.


The photo is not skewed, this gargoyle is one of two over doorways, Upper East Side.

Current sculpture at Rockefeller Center, "Van Gogh's Ear." Really?

Current sculpture at Rockefeller Center, “Van Gogh’s Ear.” Really?


NYC, Riverside


Yes, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.  No, it was not my idea.

For the record, I do not like heights. But on a last-minute trip to NYC to visit our daughter, I got a bit outside my comfort zone.

We began the outing by taking the East River Ferry (@ 34th St), to the East River State Park in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.  Williamsburg is a gentrified area very popular with young families. On Saturdays during the warmer months, locals swarm the “Smorgasburg” held in the park

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

just off the ferry landing. Dubbed by the NY Times as “The Woodstock of Eating”, it features more than 100 gourmet booths offering every imaginable type of food. We sampled Texas-style moist beef brisket, Maine lobster rolls, hummus, red velvet cake, and a salted chocolate ice cream sandwich.  All delicious.

Once fortified, we launched an ill-fated search for some great local chocolate bobka.  Despite conflicting info on their website, and failure to get them on the phone, we gave it a try.  We ended up with a nice ride through the Russian Hasidic community (and men with their giant cylindrical fur hats), and ended up at a closed, red-brick warehouse . . . hmmm, no bobka for us.  Good thing we weren’t hungry.

Walking to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Walking to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Our daughter announced she would like to return to Manhattan by way of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. My husband was 100% enthusiastic, so I kept quiet and off we went.

It was actually a lot of fun.  The Bridge is an impressively majestic, historic structure that made me feel pretty safe. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the views north towards the midtown skyline and south towards the new Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty were chamber-of-commerce perfect.  I’m happy to say I did it!



Waterfront Dining Tips

View from the Boat Basin Cafe.

View from the Boat Basin Cafe.

Our daughter is still a Florida gal at heart and doesn’t miss a chance to be around water when possible.  This trip, she took us to the Boat Basin Café on the Hudson (Upper West Side at W 79th St), for a beautiful sunset, drinks and a casual dinner overlooking the marina and river. Don’t get caught walking along the river with an open drink, you will be fined (we weren’t caught).

We had a great late lunch-break from our chores at The Water Club’s Crow’s Nest on the East River at 30th.

The main restaurant has a nice bar and indoor dining, and the Crow’s Nest offers roof-top drinks and lighter fare (classic NY hot dogs, lobster rolls,  salads, etc), paired with a super view across the river and the 59th St Bridge to the north.  Word has it, it’s also a great spot for happy hour. BTW, our city friends tell us, it’s also great because they have parking.

The Water Club; Crow's Nest on top.

The Water Club; Crow’s Nest on top.


NYC Notes:

Brooklyn also has a TKTS office for discount tickets.  Just like the office at the South Street Seaport, it opens at 11 AM and also offers tickets to the matinees the following day (the Times Square ticket windows open at 3 and don’t offer next day matinée tickets).  While in Brooklyn, we stopped by for Broadway tickets and literally walked up the window, no wait.

There is no charge to walk or bike across the Bridge. It is about a mile once you are on the Bridge and from the Brooklyn side, a least a mile from downtown to get to the starting point.  On the Manhattan side, the Bridge is close to the subway station.

The Smorgasburg event has expanded throughout the boroughs on different days with different names.  Can’t vouch for the other locations, but you can find more food on Sundays in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5 (near Manhattan’s NY City Hall); and just this weekend a location opened in Long Island City, Queens on Saturdays.  All open 11 AM – 6 PM.

Fans of the Carnegie Deli will be disappointed they are temporarily closed (since late April) and surprised to find out it’s been reported they’ve been stealing about half the gas they use for cooking and heating – for five years. Apparently, once they pay their fines, they can make repairs and Con Edison will turn on their gas again.

Step Back in Time at the NY Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side on Orchard Street.

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side on Orchard Street.

My obsession with has been renewed during our recent visit to the New York Tenement Museum.  This salvaged treasure offers a glimpse into the lives of a sampling of early immigrant families, German, Irish, Russian/Jewish and Italian. From 1863 through the Great Depression, this small Lower East Side building housed thousands of residents passing through its 22 apartments.

Originally, there were gas lights, no plumbing, few windows and shared outhouses.  Innovations and local laws would eventually result in windows between rooms (to help prevent TB), running water, electricity and a shared toilet on each floor!

Our informative, charming guide did a fantastic job bringing history to life, as we toured two floors and visited apartments of two Jewish immigrant families.  Known as the “Sweatshop Workers” tour, these families worked in the garment industry, turning their tiny 3-room (just over 400’) homes into workshops to piece together clothing sold in department stores and catalogues.

You see the state of disrepair in which the building was found, the stages of décor throughout the decades and, finally, the re-creation of how the apartments looked during the timeframe of the tour.

Make no mistake, these are real families that are profiled, and some of their artifacts and photos are also displayed.

There are lots of tour options at the Tenement Museum, including stories about German, Italian and Irish families, as well as the shops and neighborhood itself. On certain days they feature actors, lectures and special programs about restoration, etc.

If you had relatives pass through New York when they came to the US, this museum is extra-special. But whether your family arrived on the Mayflower, or on a 777 last month, this museum offers a must-see slice of American history.

As for me, I’ve now successfully located address for all family that immigrated through New York and have a few new stories of my own.

Tips: You do need to be able to walk up stairs and you do stand during the tour, but folding chairs are available for anyone needing to sit. Be forewarned, since there is no A/C, it would be best to visit on cooler days. Adult Tickets are $25, $20 for Seniors & Students.  Not all tours are appropriate for young children, so check out the website for special children’s programming.  103 Orchard Street

New York, New York, even when it's freezing, I love it.

New York, New York, even when it’s freezing, I love it.

Break This Code: we dah os hcum nuf!

What is she trying to tell us?

What is she trying to tell us?

ACCOMPLICE New York, an Immersive Theatrical Experience

If you love scavenger hunts, laughing, surprises, fun, new experiences and meeting people this is your kind of adventure.  Oh yeah, you also have to like to walk!

Our group of three braved a cold and cloudy day, soon forgot the weather and just had fun. We made seven new friends, many of whom were local or from the area (I was the exception in our group).

You just see a city differently when you do something like this and we all thoroughly enjoyed the perspective.  I won’t give away the secrets here, but we got to locations by solving puzzles, breaking codes and interpreting clues. It was campy and the actors were great (a couple of us just might be in love with Joseph . . .”do svidaniya”)!

For those who are not from NYC, and are not sure how they define “downtown”, think Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Little Italy, etc.  Very historic and great neighborhoods to explore.

We hear they are starting one just for kids in Central Park.

Put on your walking shoes and enjoy.

Need to Know:  They have 2 NYC events, one in the Village (2 hrs) and one Downtown (3 hrs).  We did the downtown version and I would allow a bit more than 3 hrs and if you do have time, there is a good spot to relax afterwards and watch other groups finish. For details and reservations visit:

Could this be a clue?

Could this be a clue?

%d bloggers like this: