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Big Apple Unpeeled 8th October - 8th November 2010

Monday, 27 December 2010

Visiting the 911 Memorial Preview Site

Coincidentally, on the morning I decided to visit the 9/11 site it was in the local news that a generous benefactor had made a big cash donation to the Memorial Preview Site.

I caught a bus down town, taking in all the streets scenes that passed me by, and got off at the World Financial Centre. This distracted me somewhat from my route to the 911 site and I decided to explore the area a little.

There were lots of business-type people and office workers and stepping inside I was greeted by an array of restaurants. I walked through the lobby and out the other side which brought me to an open area which over looks the North Cove Marina.

View from the World Financial Centre Plaza, Manhattan, NYC by Karen Strunks

It seemed like a tourist free area, apart from myself, and the tourist helicopter passing by periodically, which broke the peace and quiet.

I gathered my bearings on my map and back tracked out of the World Financial Centre, took a right and walked over a bridge that led the the 9/11 building site. I stopped at a gateway of the construction site and got chatting to a construction worker. He told me he had his own business, but had put that on hold to work on the new site. He seemed genuinely happy to be working there and excited about the plans. Telling me that the new tower he was working on was going up at the rate of one floor a week (at least), he compared the building work to a jigsaw puzzle; once you have the initial pieces in place, it's easy to just slot in the rest.

There was some police presence around the site, but having said that, Manhattan seems to be pretty well policed all over. There had recently been some furore about the 'Ground Zero Mosque' and community centre, with opposers creating quite an ugly scene about it. I'm with Mayor Bloomberg on this one.

I made my way to the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, and made a (rather emotional) video of that experience.

You can view photos from the book I refer to, Here Is New York, on their website.

I'll leave you with some of the images from my time at Ground Zero.

Building work at the former World Trade Centre, NYC by Karen Strunks

American Flag flying over the 911 site by Karen Strunks

Defy This World Deny Yourself, NYC by Karen Strunks

From the 911 Memorial Centre, NYC by Karen Strunks

Model of the new buildings planned for the September 11 site, New York, by Karen Strunks

Helmet Mickey Kross of Engine 16, FDNY

Here is New York Book 911 Photographs, NYC by Karen Strunksrs

Grieving at 911 Memorial Centre, NYC

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Friday, 17 December 2010

The Grand Central Terminal Experience

Continuing my walk along 42nd Street, my next stop was Grand Central Terminal.

If you haven't been there in person, you will certainly have caught glimpses of it in movies such as Carlito's Way, North By Northwest, The Taking Of Pelham 123 to name just a few.

It was early evening by the time I reached Grand Central and peak rush hour.

Grand Central Terminal, NYC, NY by Karen Strunks

I stood on 42nd Street just observing and trying to get my bearings and figuring out the way in. That bit was easy, I just had to follow the crowds.

Surprisingly to the entrance had swing doors that needed to be pushed or pulled, which although kept with the traditional features of the building, didn't do much to ease congestion at this busy time of the day. I made a note to try not to get in anyone's way; keep moving, don't stop suddenly or a commuter might run into me, step to one side if I have to stop and look around before taking up a position to take photos.

Without much of a plan or knowing the layout I stepped from the street into the terminal and paused.... Walking past some shops (there are 68 retails stores inside) and following the crowd I found myself in the entrance tunnel lit by beautiful chandeliers.

Grand Central Train Terminal, NYC, New York

This led to the food hall which hosts food outlets that can satisfy any taste bud, from Chinese, to salads, to bagels and pretzels to Mexican and everything in between.

Feeling a little peckish I decided to stop and re-fuel and take in the atmosphere. I grabbed a bite to eat and a drink and wandered around with my tray looking for a spare seat, which I found underneath a stone archway.

People watching, I noticed the couple holding hands across a coffee cup strewn table, perhaps an illicit encounter I imagined. Parents trying to calm two unruly and overtired children. The homeless guy rummaging through the bin, looking inside discarded food containers for tonight's dinner.

To my left were a couple of business gents in their smart suits. One was particularly vocal, his voice resonating around the stone archway; sales figures, the big deal, overseas contracts, the team. He went on and on. "I'm a big wig" his talked seemed to want to tell everyone within earshot. I exchanged looks with his quiet partner who was fiddling with his empty coffee cup; Me: Poor you, he does go on doesn't he? Him: Yep! I wish he'd shut up about himself so I can get home and salvage what's left of the evening!

Finishing my diet coke and gathering my bags, someone was already waiting in the wings to take my seat.

I can't quite remember how now, but I managed to make my way to the upper level of Grand Central, the main concourse.

It's huge, it's beautiful, it's splendid. It echoes with the sound of rushed foot steps and the murmur of hundreds of voices in unison, occasionally interrupted by announcements on the tannoy.

Grand Central Train Terminal, NYC, New York by Karen Strunks

I took my place upon the steps that lead up to Charlie Parlmer's Metrazor restaurant (strictly no sitting on the steps!). With my view raised above the concourse I soaked it all in.

Grand Central Train Terminal, NYC, New York by Karen Strunks

It was a regret that I didn't bring a tripod that day, but having since read more on Grand Central's terminal it's seems you need to give a weeks notice if you have the intention of photographing or filming with a trip. The sun was getting low and I had lost the light of the day, so my photo capturing had to be done with a steady hand, as fast a shutter speed I could manage, and with the occasional help of a ledge to rest my camera on.

I thought it would be a good chance to experiment with some time lapse video. Again, forgive the camera shakes, I will get better!

As with my visit to the New York Public Library earlier in the day, I wondered about the history and all the people that have journeyed through the terminal. The station would have seen many happy reunions and sad goodbye's.

I intrepidly stepped through the arch of track 25, not sure if I was allowed there without a ticket. No one seemed to notice. The tracks were darker, the walls covered in a build up of grime and pollution, but yet that gave it another appeal to me. It's funny how New York dirt adds to the character of the place, but in the UK it's just grime!

Train on Platform 24 at Grand Central Terminal

Empty train track at Grand Central Station, NYC, New York by Karen Strunks

Taking another turn I noticed an entrance into long neon lit pedestrian tunnel. Hmm...was this for the station's staff? Should I go in? Ah, someone will trow me out if I'm not meant to be there!

Public Payphones at Grand Central Terminal, NYC, New York by Karen Strunks

A few seconds later I was walking against a stream of commuters rushing to catch their trains. Walking against the tide of people I shot from the hip.

New York Commuters Running for trains at Grand Central Station

Then I noticed some doorways onto some train tracks and I secreted myself just inside and clicked away unseen.

New York Commuters Running for train at Grand Central Station by Karen Strunks

New York Commuters Running for train at Grand Central Station by Karen Strunks

New York Commuters Running for train at Grand Central Station by Karen Strunks

New York Commuters Running for train at Grand Central Station by Karen Strunks

I walked the length of the long corridor, which, if I remember correctly, took me out at around 45th Street. It was dark now and getting cooler, but not cool enough to put me off walking back to my apartment and soak in some more of the beautiful city of New York.

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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Exporing New York Public Library on 42nd Street

It was a bright and sunny Tuesday, when I decided to take a walk down the infamous 42nd Street. Having consulted the map I figured I could fit in the New York Public Library, Empire State Building and Grand Central Terminal.

I took a right out of my apartment, a right onto 9th Avenue and walked the seven blocks south to 42nd Street, the whole while I had the 42nd Street song from the musical playing in my head. I sang along (to myself!), but could only remember the lyrics, "Come and meet those dancing feet, on the avenue I'm taking you too, forty second street", but that was enough to keep me happy as I headed into and passed Times Square.

I took a little detour into Bryant Park and stopped to take some photographs of some very speedy chess players, who were deep in concentration.

Now, New York Public Library actually consists of lots of different branches, which consist of 87 libraries altogether! They serve the New York boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.

The main library that was my destination that morning, was built between 1902 and 1910, and has 75 MILES of shelves!

New York Public Library, 42nd Street, NYC

Upon entering the library and a security guard giving a cursory glance into my bag, the first thing I noticed was an unattended empty cloak room. I love old buildings and began to imagine the people who must have handed in their coats to the attendant over the years; the academics and the students. Perhaps grand events were held there and society ladies would undrape their furs and hand them in to the cloak room in return for a ticket.

Cloak Room in New York Public Library, 42nd Street, NYC by Karen Strunks

Not knowing the layout or having any particular plan, I just followed my nose along a corridor and found myself in what I think would be called a reference room. One side of the room was filled with metal shelves of heavy reference books, the other side hosted tables with lamps and studious looking people with their noses in books.

Reference Room in New York Public Library, 42nd Street, NYC

I started to take some photos with my DSLR which makes a clicking sound as the shutter opens and closes. This noise managed to raise a few heads from books and I was given some annoyed glances. Hmmm...

....I switched over to my Canon G9, my more compact, and quieter camera.

Now I must reveal my ignorance! When all the immigrants from other countries arrived in Ne York, I had no idea their details were so meticulously recorded! But here was the evidence, before my eyes.

Record of Famine Immigrants - New York Public Library 1846

Germans to America list of passengers arriving in USA ports

I was more or less just looking at these records randomly, though with hindsight I wish I had spent more time in this section of the library.

New York Times Obituaries 1858-1968 New York Public Library

With Strunks being such an unusual name, I though I would see if I could find some possible ancestors.

But with no luck! I'm sure if I had of delved into a few more books, particularly the German immigrant books, I would have found a Strunks or two.

Moving on, and up a flight of stairs I found this sun drenched area.

Artwork in hallway of the New York Public Library rs

And looking up, this hand painted ceiling.

Ceiling artwork inside New York Public Library, 42nd Street, NYC by Karen Strunks

Further exploration made me stumble across a photography gallery. I imagine this space is always reserved for photography. Near the couple standing to the right of the photo is a water fountain. There seemed to be a few of these dotted about the corridors.

Photography gallery in corridor of New York Public Library (NYPL), 42nd Street, NYC by Karen Strunks

I was trying to find the reading room, but didn't want to ask for directions. There is a certain pleasure to be gained from getting lost from time to time!

Eventually heading in the right direction, I stopped to capture this message engraved above the door that lead towards to the reading room.

New York Public Library, NYC

"A good Booke is the pretious life blood of a mafter fpirit, imbalm'd and treafur'd up on purpofe to a life beyond life"

Actually, there are two reading rooms, though one is marked 'no photography'. Perhaps the reading room that does allow photography attracts a less shy library user!

The reading room inside New York Public Library (NYPL), 42nd Street, NYC by Karen Strunks

Although the room is lined with reference books, the main thing that people were looking at were their laptop and computer screens.

The reading room inside New York Public Library (NYPL), 42nd Street, NYC by Karen Strunks

As you can see, the room is lit my some beautiful chandeliers, as well as the light that streams in from the window. Floor to ceiling it measure 52ft!

The reading room inside New York Public Library (NYPL), 42nd Street, NYC by Karen Strunks

I tried a little time lapse photography.

Click to view video on youtube.

And I put the photos to music, if you like that sort of thing!

It was certainly worth a visit, I just wish I had allowed myself a little more time there to explore all the books!

Say hello on twitter!

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

FAO Schwarz brings out the big kid in me

I had promised myself a visit to the iconic New York toy store, FAO Schwarz.

It was a chilly day, and I wrapped up against the cold and walked from my apartment on W 49th Street (between 9th & 10th) to 5th Avenue & 58th Street to the flagship store, which, by the way, is the only bricks and mortar store with the other FAO Schwarz outlets being housed in existing department stores.

As I approached the store I was surprised at how modern it looked with floor to ceiling windows. I guess I was expecting an older more traditional looking store, with lots of fancy brickwork and wood paneling inside.

FAO has quite a history. It was found in Balitmore in 1862 by German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz, and he opened the New York store around 1870. Back then it was called Schwarz Toy Bazaar. FAO has had a few moves over the years around the city before it settled in it's current location. It originally dealt in unique European toys, but it is certainly more main stream in it's toy selection now.

I received a very friendly greeting from Carlos, who is a FAO toy soldier/greeter/doorman - you'll meet him in the video!

So enthused by Carlos' enthusiasm I went exploring with my flip camera. There was certainly enough going on in there to please every child big or small! All the staff were really friendly and I was soon getting hands-on with the toys and games! My friend Karmadillo set me the challenge of 'playing' the Big Piano and having a light saber fight with someone. Oh I do like a little challenge!

After swooping around most of the store and playing with toys, I set forth to find the Big Piano. In the end I had to ask someone where it was & I found it on the second floor. In the Big Piano's heyday I imagine it was in a more prominent position at the front of the store.

I didn't feel silly at all taking my shoes off and trampling the colourful keys and being the only grown up there who wasn't with a child and standing on the side lines watching! I found a Dad nearby who kindly became a photographer and videographer.

Hey! Get outta my way kid! (Whoops, my new New York attitude slipped out there!)

That's better!

I can tell you this, Tom Hanks was lucky to get that piano to himself! ;)

Sadly I couldn't find any light sabers. I guess they are just not in the toy fashion at the moment.

These little fellas were my favourite thing in FAO. I really wish I had brought one home with me, but I was aware that my suitcases were filled up to the max going over to NY and was afraid I wouldn't be able to squeeze one in for my return journey :(

So, say hello to Carlos and step inside FAO Schwarz!

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Saturday, 20 November 2010

Decompressing from New York!

I've been home from New York for about 10 days already and I am adjusting back to Birmingham life.

How does one get over the best trip they've ever had to the best city in the world?

Well, it isn't easy! First the jet lag to contend with, which pretty much kept my brain numb for a bout a week. I think that might have been a good thing as it probably kept the post holiday blues at bay. Next letting the New York experience sink it. Did that really happen?!

Now I have in front of me the pretty huge task of photo selecting and editing and of course, video too! I'm getting there and am about a third of the way through.

So watch this space. I'll be telling you my tales from the Big Apple. From the people I met and the friends I made. To getting lost and having adventures. To all the sights, sounds and energy of a city like no other!

New York! I miss you! :)

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Sunday, 17 October 2010

The 4am Project in The Big Apple

4am Project Photographers In Times Square, NYC 17th October 2010

Well the day I had been gearing up to for months has now passed. The 4am Project world wide photography date happened at 4am, calling photographers from around the world to shake themselves awake and take a picture of their view of the world at 4am.

As part of that I organised a 4am Photo walk in Times Square, NYC. I think this could probably be classed as my most ambitious endeavor yet! I had no idea how it would go or if, indeed, anybody would turn up!

I did my best to do my own PR for the event and was over the moon that Time Out NYC covered the event online and in their magazine. The New York Times had promised to write about it, but unfortunately didn't in the end. Hey ho, I'm learning as I go!

So, as you can see from the photo above, people DID come along! 11 people in total - though not everyone is pictured. Two of the attendees came along without a camera, but just wanted to see what the photo walk was all about. One a young guy from out of town who was visiting NYC for the weekend, and the other a gentleman from New Yorker magazine, both kept me company as I snapped away.

We all reconvened at Starbucks for a warming coffee afterwards. It was great to meet everyone. From the New Yorkers who said they wouldn't have thought about exploring their city at that time, to a photographer called Ricky who has taken part in the 4am Project since it began and who I have been tweeting with for 18 months.

Here are my photos from this morning. You can view the whole 4am Project photo stream over on Flickr. There's some great early morning photographs there. Definitely worth checking out :)

So, my New York adventure continues. I didn't quite make it to Brooklyn the other day! I thought I did, but it turns out I hadn't left Manhattan. But what a city to get lost in!

I'm still trying to get into a routine with my blogging. Although my mifi device is great for updates on my iPhone, it tends to be very slow on my laptops. So, my new plan is do to small, bite sized updates here, providing snippets of New York life as I go through my day. I am realising that I don't want to be stuck in my apartment or Starbucks tied to the internet trying to get blog post out when there is a big city out there for me to explore. So small and frequent is the way to go, and when I feel like I have the time, then a longer blog post. And of course, when I get back home there'll be plenty of time to blog!

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

How to buy a New York Subway Ticket!

I've been in New York city for 4 days and I've finally bought my subway ticket! It's been so easy to walk where I have wanted to get to so far; Central Park about 30 minutes, 5th Avenue - 25 mins, Times Square - 15 mins.

I've made a little instructional video which I hope you will find useful. It might shave a few seconds off your purchase time when you are feeling under pressure with a queue of impatient New Yorkers standing behind you ;)

Now it's time to venture further afield! My metro ticket will get me on the subway and the buses. There's are pros and cons to both. Subway = faster, but obviously underneath the city. Bus = see the city as you go, but it's going to be a bit slower. But hey, I'm on vacation right? What's the rush? ;)

I've just asked my friends on followers on twitter where they would like to virtually go today; Brooklyn or Staten Island. Seems Brooklyn is the popular choice, so watch this space!

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

St Columbus Day Parade, 5th Avenue, New York City

It was an official holiday yesterday as the country celebrated St Columbus day.

New York City has been host to the annual St Columbus day parade since 1929. It's a huge event with 35,000 people taking part in the parade itself with countless spectators lining 5th Avenue.

It was a beautiful 80 degree day, and I took a walk from Hell's Kitchen to 5th Avenue to catch some of the action. My walk there gave me my first view of Times Square (where I am hosting the 4am Project photo walk this Sunday) and the Rockerfeller centre.

I found a break in the crowds and took my place. I hope you enjoy the video!

view embeded video here

And here are some photographs of the parade too.

From 80 degrees during the day, to the most magnificent thunder, lightning and hailstorm at night! I captured some video from my apartment window.

view embeded video here

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Monday, 11 October 2010

Ebracing New York City Life


Thought I would never get to blog! Technical difficulties I think they are called. But that's for another post.

So, here I am. Living in the heart of the Manhattan for the next month. I am not sure I can still quite believe it. It's been a year or longer since I first decided to make this trip, then when I booked my flights about 10 weeks ago it's been a manic time of planning which has included announcing the next global 4am Project date and plans for hosting an event in Times Square on the 17th. During this time I was so busy I never had the chance to sit down and imagine what it would be like to be here.

Now I am here, and it feels strangely familiar. Yes, I did go to New York for a few days about 8 years ago, and of course the imagery is all over the TV and films etc. It just feels so natural to be here, and already a month doesn't seem long enough.

Despite promising myself an early night before I set off for New York, I couldn't sleep. I had a 4am start so of course had to take a photo!

It paid to get to the airport extra early and I managed to avoid queuing to check in and to go through security. As I was waiting to board the flight, nerves finally kicked in. I sent last minute tweets to my friends and texted my best friend and mum. That's it, I was finally going!

The Continental flight was good enough and I passed the 7 hours by watching films, and chatting to the passengers in my row, a group of men who are American classic car fanatics who were heading to LA for a road trip.

At Newark Airport

After much studying of my accommodation options for my month long stay, I opted to rent an apartment. Firstly due to cost. It was the most economical way for me to stay in Manhattan, especially for this length of time. Secondly, I thought it might be handy when watching my budget to be able to made something to eat in the kitchenette from time to time. Thirdly, I really wanted to feel like I'm living in NY, and I don't think I would have got that feeling as a guest in hotel.

I did so much research after hearing stories about people being scammed with apartment rentals. Also, not every apartment can be legally rented. For a lot of them it's illegal for residents to sublet them. So again, this was a factor I had to look into. I didn't want to find myself staying somewhere I should and finding myself without a roof over my head halfway through my stay!

Anyway, welcome to my Manhattan apartment! What do you think? I'm really pleased with it. It's more spacious than I thought it would be too, and the fold down bed is proving quite a challenge in strength! ;)

I'm staying in the Hell's Kitchen area. At the end of my street are restaurants that would satisfy every taste, lot's of bars, and some amazing deli's. Hell's Kitchen is becoming the new gay area of the city. I love it here. And luckily there doesn't seem to be too many tourists! ;)

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