I have so so many thoughts about my trip to New York and so so few photos (37 total, including a bunch of duplicates). I had planned on taking a bajillion pictures, but then I got there and realized that I didn’t really want to. Partly because everyone is photographing everything constantly, and I didn’t really want to be that person. Partly because it was really sunny a lot of the time, and I didn’t think my photos would come out well. Partly because I didn’t think my photos would capture the reality of what I was seeing, or they would capture too much reality (i.e. parked cars, garbage, ugly street signs) when in my mind, I was able to filter a lot of that noise out and just see the beauty of the buildings and the people. But mostly, I decided that I just wanted to be present, which sounds totally new-agey but is somehow true for this occasion. So if you want gorgeous New York photos, you’re going to have to find them elsewhere.
I left on a Friday night and arrived at JFK around 6 am Saturday morning. I had hoped to sleep on the plane, but that didn’t really happen, so I was a little rough around the edges that day. Because JetBlue gives you one checked bag for free, I decided to pack a bunch of cutting boards to give away, so I had to lug around two big, heavy duffle bags and a small backpack. My plan was to take the subway from the airport to my Airbnb in Brooklyn, and after a false start (riding the AirTrain around in circles for a while), I made it to the Howard Beach subway station. I knew the AirTrain had its own fare separate from the regular subway fees, but there were a few flustering minutes of me paying the AirTrain fee and then trying to use the same card unsuccessfully to get on the regular subway while several transit employees were staring at me and shaking their heads like I was a total idiot. I did finally figure things out, though I paid an extra $10 for a card when I really wanted an unlimited week pass. Thankfully, that was the most embarrassed and confused moment of the whole trip.
By the time I got to the Airbnb (on Union Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), my arms were about to fall off, and my hands literally were developing blisters from carrying around those stupid heavy bags. I checked in okay (more on the Airbnb in a while), and then took off on the L train for the Union Square Greenmarket.
At Union Square, I had a prearranged meeting with Lisa (@woodshedcoffee on Instagram) and her three-year-old son. Lisa is a farmer, but she and her husband recently gave up their own farm in rural Virginia and moved to New York state to work on Keith’s Farm in Orange County. Lisa and I have been talking farms/goats/kids/blogs for over a year on Instagram and Facebook, so it was really fun to meet her. We walked around the Greenmarket (definitely nice but not as impressive as, say, the Portland Saturday farmers’ market at this time of year) and hung out in this amazing playground at Union Square while her kid ran around doing his kid thing.
After a while, Lisa and I parted ways because she was off to another engagement, so I headed uptown to explore. I tried to get lunch at the Shake Shack, but it was a beautiful day and the line was absurdly long, so I decided it wasn’t worth it. I did a little shopping in the area (bought some cheap sunglasses and earrings at the street fair on 8th Ave. and a shirt at H & M) and wandered around taking in the sights.
Eventually, I made it to The High Line that I’d heard so much about, but Saturday afternoon + beautiful sunny weather meant it was so crowded. I walked most of it, and it was fine, but I think that’s the point when I realized that I really didn’t come to New York to see parks and nature; I’ve got plenty of that at home. I’d much rather experience crowded sidewalks and subway cars than a park with throngs of people funneling through. The High Line was the first and last touristy thing I did on my trip, and that was just fine with me.
I met up with Lisa again for a great pizza dinner near Tompkin’s Square Park. My iphone’s battery died during dinner, so I had to make it to the subway station and back to my Airbnb room without any digital assistance. It worked out fine, but after that, I was kind of paranoid about charging my phone at any opportunity, so I wouldn’t be stuck without it.
I have to admit that at the end of the day on Saturday I was pretty homesick. I think the combination of sleep deprivation, crazy busy Manhattan, and spending time with Lisa’s cute kid left me wondering what the heck I was doing there so far from home on such a self-indulgent vacation.
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up on Sunday refreshed and totally stoked about being on vacation. I had great coffee and a perfect pastry at Blue Bottle Coffee, which is a really really pretty and hip place to spend an early morning hour. (Nearly every place I ate was on Nicole Franzen‘s “My New York” list. I so appreciated her recommendations.) I strolled through the Williamsburg Flea and was tempted to buy a bunch of stuff that I didn’t need. Then through the power of Instagram, I found out Amelie (ameliemancini on Instagram) was just a block away, so we found each other and had a great chat on a bench by the East River. Amelie sells her quirky cool linocut prints at the Williamsburg Flea every weekend (as well as online), so we got to talk about online retail vs. craft fairs, booth setup, what brought her to New York (from France), and lots of other stuff.
After a long walk around Greenpoint, I headed back to Williamsburg for lunch at Saltie. Saltie was another place on Nicole Franzen‘s list. It’s tiny, and there’s a board on the wall that lists the names of the sandwiches, but unfortunately, the names (“Scuttlebutt”, “Spanish Armada”, “Balmy”, etc.) are not particularly descriptive of what’s in them. I stared at the list for a while and then decided, ‘what the heck’. I’m just going to order something with no idea what’s on it and see what happens. I chose the “Clean Slate”, which I thought sounded reminiscent of cleansing or vegetarian something, and that turned out to be exactly what it was and exactly what I wanted: naan with hummus, quinoa, beets, and a whole pile of pickled vegetables.
Sunday evening, I walked back to Greenpoint to meet up with Amy (emersonmerrick on Instagram) and Anne (anne_parker on Instagram) at Amy’s gorgeous florist studio. I’d met Anne before in Portland, but she happened to be visiting New York at the same time as me, and she’s good friends with Amy, who I’d only communicated with on Instagram. We drank wine and ate pie and talked and talked for a couple hours before finally going out to eat great tacos at a Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint. Amy is a hoot, by the way, at least as interesting as she seems to be in her online presence, and Anne is someone I feel strangely drawn to and connected with even though we’ve only known each other for a short time. I took the train back to Williamsburg at 10:30 pm without incident.
On Monday, I had vague plans to take an epic walk around Brooklyn, but I woke up to a drizzly rain. I bought a newspaper just for the crossword and then got coffee and a pastry at Bakeri, which I think was my favorite of the places I ate breakfast in New York. Bakeri is very casual, cute, comfortable, and not a bit snobby. I was sort of at a loss for what to do that day, so I said a little prayer to the Instagram gods, took a photo of my breakfast, and put out a call for Brooklynites to come hang out with me.
Clair (clamlab on Instagram) was the first to chime in, so we agreed to meet up at Roebling Tea Room. Over tea, we discussed Clair’s beautiful ceramics and how she’s able to make it work in high-pressure, über-expensive New York, and she schooled me on the politics and finances of gentrification and hipsterification in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. I first saw Clair’s name when she was an Etsy Featured Seller a while back, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised that she was even warmer in person that I could have expected. I’m so glad we had a chance to connect.
Next, I headed south for a late lunch at Diner with two florists Taylor (foxfodderfarm on Instagram) and Brittany (brittanyasch on Instagram). I follow these two on Instagram, but mostly they post photos of flowers, so I really didn’t know anything about their personal lives. They, however, seemed really excited to meet me and talk goats, farms, etc., so I somewhat reluctantly agreed. I had a bit of a weird blind-date moment, walking in and scoping everyone out because I didn’t know what Taylor and Brittany looked like, but as soon as we sat down, all that awkwardness dissolved, and we started talking like old friends. Over a great burger and fries, I told all sorts of old personal stories, and they shared floristing tales and the whys behind moving to New York. A couple hours later, there were hugs and promises to meet again, maybe in Portland, maybe in New York.
That night, I was still pretty full from lunch, so I decided to just walk around in the heart of Williamsburg. Eventually, I bought a big piece of chocolate cake from a bakery, sat on a bench by the water, and ate the whole thing. That’s what vacation is all about, right?
Tuesday turned out to be my biggest walking day of the whole trip. I started with coffee and a croissant at Toby’s Estate in Williamsburg. Toby’s was a little on the coffee snobbish/expensive side for my preferences, but it all tasted good, so I wasn’t too put off. From there, I headed south and then west through Hasidic and industrial areas to Brooklyn Heights. All of my great grandparents on my mom’s side were Jewish immigrants from various Eastern European countries who came first to New York and then eventually San Francisco. I don’t have family or a whole lot of connection to the Jewish community in New York, but there was something kind of interesting about passing through and seeing it with my own eyes. It was a little less interesting when I almost got run over by a yeshiva school bus running a red light, but still…
From Brooklyn Heights, I kept walking south through Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, window shopping and taking in the sights of Smith Street. Lunch was juice and a good sandwich at Smith Canteen.
Before I flew to New York, I scheduled an appointment to tour the Etsy office in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Etsy has been such a huge influence on the course of my life in the past few years, that I figured it would be a good idea to see the place and meet the people that make things happen if I was already going to be in the neighborhood. I’m not exactly sure what I was hoping for in that afternoon meeting, but what I got was pretty disappointing, actually the biggest letdown of the whole trip.
First let me say, though, that the Etsy office is pretty gorgeous. Warm wood floors, stunning views, and friendly work stations made the place very inviting. I was happy to be physically present in the office, but what I was most interested in was connecting with the people, being asked for feedback, learning about what the Etsy employees were doing to improve my experience as a seller, and possibly being let in on some secrets or tools still in the development phase. Instead, I got a tour with a heavy emphasis on incomprehensible inside jokes, quirky/ironic/narwal-themed artwork purchased from Etsy sellers to decorate the office, and a general sense of ‘Look how cool we are! Aren’t we just the hippest hipster thing that ever existed?’. It is nice to know that Etsy is supportive of (some) artists, but when my guide started talking about all the custom furniture being built for them and all the fancy aesthetic upgrades they’ve made to the space, all I can think about is how expensive that must be and how that has seemingly no baring on my experience as a seller. I’m glad that Etsy employees have a nice environment in which to work, but I’d almost rather hear about their generous health insurance benefits than learn the details of how they commissioned the Austin Knitting Guild to knit a giant cozy for the ductwork in the office (no joke).
Eventually, my guides asked if I had any questions, and as respectfully as I could muster, I launched into a mini version of some of my concerns and struggles with the current state of Etsy and my Etsy shop. I sort of think that took them by surprise, and they weren’t all that sympathetic to my case. I do realize that the Etsy staff is working on what they think is for the greater good of Etsy corporate and the majority of sellers and customers, and I fully support that, but it seems like some Etsy employees may have overlooked the fact that particular new features on Etsy and the new organization of the Etsy community may not be good for some individual sellers such as myself. The tour was over in less than an hour, and I was left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
I have to say that since I got home, I sent a follow up email to Etsy employee Cheyne, and she responded with a few tips for boosting my shop’s relevancy, and I’ve emailed back and forth a couple times with Alison about some opportunities. Both of these women seem super nice and supportive, so I don’t want to write off Etsy as a whole just yet.
I was pretty exhausted from all of the day’s walking, so I took the G train back to Williamsburg in the late afternoon. That night I went out for pizza at Best Pizza (which I’d heard so many good things about but wasn’t super impressed by), and then I rode the J train just for fun over the Williamsburg Bridge and back to take in the views.
On Wednesday morning, I took the L train into the city and met up with Liza (lizalubell on Instagram) at Buvette in the West Village. Liza and I talked goats, florist pricing, growing up in Manhattan, owning a flower shop in Portland, and more over americanos and miniature croissants with butter and raspberry jam.
In the afternoon, I walked from Williamsburg to Greenpoint for a prearranged lunch at Yossy‘s beautiful apartment (yossyarefi on Instagram) with Amelie and Ariele (arielealasko on Instagram). Yossy had cooked up a pretty amazing spread of grain salad, beets, bread with dips, and watermelon lemonade followed by buckwheat strawberry shortcakes. Ariele brought over her super cute new dog, and we spent the afternoon chatting about rescuing dogs, DIY upgrades to rented New York apartments, international shipping rates, and the weather.
Later that evening when I was sitting around at the Airbnb, I realized that I had forgotten to give Yossy the several pounds of rhubarb I had picked from our garden and carried all the across the country. I pulled it out of the fridge, got a quick piece of pizza at Sal’s Pizzeria (which was cheap, greasy, and delicious), and then took the train back to Yossy‘s apartment in Greenpoint to drop off the rhubarb. I was glad to have an extra opportunity to get an insider’s perspective on freelance photography and writing from someone as nice and honest as Yossy. You can now see two different recipes that Yossy created with my rhubarb here and here.
Thursday was my last day in New York. I woke up early and headed to Manhattan to meet up with Camille B. (camillebecerra on Instagram) for breakfast at The City Bakery. Camille recommended that I get a pretzel croissant, and I’m so happy I did. It was amazingly crusty, salty, flakey, and buttery. Camile was a gem (and it’s not too often that I meet another Camille). I didn’t know if we would have anything to talk about, but somehow two hours flew by.
My last scheduled date of the trip was short but special. I walked over to NYU to meet the amazing Lily (lilystockman on Instagram) in her painting studio. Lily was just the character I expected her to be: warm, funny, witty, and honest. We sipped iced coffee and gazed at New York’s oldest wisteria in full bloom out her studio window. (She’s got a photo of it on Instagram.)
After a quick hug on the L train as Lily hopped out at her stop, I was on my own for a few hours before I had to get to the airport. I bought another sandwich at Saltie and ate it sitting on a bench in East River Park. Thankfully, I had less to pack and carry on the way home, but taking the subway back to the airport was stressful, though not problematic. After plane to airport shuttle to car, I rolled into my very own driveway around 3:00 Friday morning.
a few more random thoughts…
The Airbnb where I stayed was awesome. It was a little less private than I had imagined (because I guess I didn’t really understand the concept of a railroad apartment and the fact that my room would be in the middle), but the two women living there were super nice and easy going, so I wasn’t all that worried about having lots of alone time. It was clean and comfortable with lots of light. The closest subway station was only a few blocks away, and all of the notable sights, coffee shops, stores, and restaurants of Williamsburg were within easy walking distance. You can see the listing for the place here, and if you have reason to stay in Brooklyn, you should definitely consider it.
I brought two comfortable pairs of shoes on my trip (these and these in purple), but after two days in New York, I decided to buy a pair of Minnetonka moccasins (in navy blue), and they were absolutely the best for walking a million miles a day. I think I saw them originally on A Cup of Jo, and they were truly perfect for the rest of my vacation. And they’re relatively cheap, which I can appreciate.
I do not understand dog culture in New York at all. It all reminds me of Ira Glass’s story about Piney.
Many of my conversations with Brooklynites involved a lot of label-dropping like “artisan” this and “local” that, but at some point when everything was described as organic/reclaimed/sustainable/salvaged/free-range/wildcrafted/natural/grass fed/shade grown/fair trade/eco friendly/blah/blah/blah, I just got really turned off. I’m honestly glad that they’re trying to live more sustainably (whatever that means), but after a while, the use of so many buzz words indicates to me that either people are too far removed from the source of their food or their stuff, and they just really don’t know where it comes from, or they do know, and they’re way too excited about that. Maybe I’m just being cynical…
New York is dirty, really dirty, but you won’t catch me complaining about all that trash on the streets. I’m certainly no fan of garbage, but I do like the fact that people see the consequences of that kind of population density, and they’re constrained in their consumption by physical and financial limitations. In my head, I keep comparing New York to my recent stay in Southern California’s resort town of La Quinta. This might be a huge overgeneralization, but it seems to me that people in Southern California live in a culture of conspicuous consumption with big cars and big houses and lots of stuff, but (at least in some areas) they don’t face the consequences of that overconsumption. In La Quinta, crews of (probably underpaid) workers sweep in overnight, trimming gardens and picking up litter in a way that seems to simply erase any trace of human excess. In New York, the mess is there whether you like it or not. Also the fact that everyone’s apartments are so tiny prevents people from accumulating a ton of stuff. (I love Erin’s Life in a Tiny Apartment series on her blog.) Sure, it’s still easy to spend a lot of money on food, drinks, entertainment, and such, but a lot of those dollars go to local businesses and actual people performing those services instead of to giant corporations and overseas factory owners.
I think every American should travel to New York City at least once in his or her lifetime. Just being there for a short while helps explain so much about American culture including food, fashion, movies, music, ideas, etc. I don’t want to give New Yorkers too much credit and say that every trend comes directly from New York, but it’s widely know that a whole lot of them do. Even for a country bumpkin like me with seemingly no connection to that part of the world, I realized that so many little things make more sense now, and I have to admit that I even feel a little bit ahead of the curve now that I’m back in small town Oregon.
I was never once concerned about my personal safety. My biggest worry was that I would do something to make myself look stupid, but that didn’t happen too often.
I’m usually pretty shy about meeting new people, but somehow in New York I was able to act so completely out of character that I initiated meetings with no less than 13 near-total strangers. At one point when I was talking to Taylor and Brittany, I told them, “I’m not really a very outgoing person,” and they literally laughed at me. I’m not sure how I pulled it off, but maybe this newfound sociability will stick.
Overall, I had a fabulously good time. Except for the first day, I wasn’t homesick at all, especially because I kept checking in with Henry and my mom, and they told me that my kids were doing fine and barely even missed me. I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be going on another solo adventure will be, but this one was just exactly what I needed. Thanks, New York! xoxo
I feel really ridiculous and narcissistic for thinking that anyone cares enough to read this whole beastly post, but maybe I wrote it more for myself than anyone else. whatever.
In other news, you can find my pickled beet recipe on Food in Jars, and I was quoted in this article in The Atlantic because I once named a goat after a public radio host (though the actual story is a little more subtle that it’s made out to be in the article).