Queenshenge

Manhattanhenge.  Heard of it?

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History wrote an essay and starred in a short NOVA Science Now video to describe how a few days in the year, the sun aligns with the street grid of Manhattan.  On these days, you could stand on the east-west cross streets of Manhattan, look west, and (if it’s not cloudy) watch the sun appear to set in the center of the street, flanked by skyscrapers.  Tyson even postulated, “Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball,” since the two sunset alignment days fall equidistantly before and after the summer solstice (May 30/Memorial Day and July 12/Major League Baseball’s All Star break).

Manhattanhenge as seen from across the East River in Long Island City, Queens.
Photo by Pabo76*

While Manhattenhenge is popularized by the dramatic sunset photos taken by modern-day druids, the sun also aligns to the Manhattan street grid on certain days at sunrise.  Due to the grid’s orientation, the lesser known occurrences of Manhattanhenge happen days before and after the winter solstice (December 5 and January 8).  At these times, you could once again stand on the east-west cross streets of Manhattan, look east, and watch the sun rise over the horizon flanked with buildings.  But who wants to get up early in the morning in the middle of winter when you could just as easily see this phenomenon when it’s warm and at the end of the day?

Thanks to this week’s challenge, I turn Manhattanhenge on its head!  Watching the sun rise may never be as popular as watching the sun set.  And I definitely agree that Manhattan takes the top prize for its dramatic urban canyon effect during Manhattanhenge sunsets.  But if you’re willing to buck these two popular trends and be different, then I believe Queens has something to offer an intrepid traveler that Manhattan can never offer:  a double sunrise.

On February 20th, I stood in Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City before dawn.  The Manhattan skyline was dark and as sunrise approached, the sky started to take on light pink and purple hues.  These colors softly casted the skyline in a way never seen at other times of the day.  This beautiful sight was worth the early wake-up time but in a short while, I learned that it was not the main attraction…

As time passed, I faced west to see the Manhattan skyline aglow.  I then turned towards the east, and witnessed the sun rising perfectly from the center of the street and between the twin monolithic condo towers on 48th Avenue.

As if this moment of serendipity was not enough, I turned once again to face west and Manhattan.  I was presented with a grand surprise—the sun rose over Queens precisely between the Long Island City condo towers, and it was reflected in the Manhattan skyscrapers and the East River thereby creating the illusion of a second sunrise!  Taking a cue from Dr. Tyson, I hereby coin the term “Queenshenge” to describe this phenomenon.

If these topics of sun orientation and urban landscape interests you, I suggest you check out this fascinating project called LIC Sundial, where artist Heidi Neilson treated the solitary Citibank building in Long Island City as a sundial to explore the shadows it cast within a year.  In fact, she even designed a poster to describe Manhattanhenge.

Gantry Plaza State Park
Center Boulevard between 47th Road and 49th Avenue
Long Island City, Queens

7 Train to Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue or
G Train to 21st Street/Jackson Avenue
FREE / Hours:  Dawn to Dusk

*More of Pabo76’s work can be found on his flickr page.

Aerial View of NYC

Welcome to the first week in a 12-week travel series on Queens, New York City’s most ethnically diverse borough!  This first week starts off with a bang!  Charged with viewing my city from above, I headed straight to the Queens Museum of Art for the very first time in my life…and I’m a Queens native!  Inside, I bee-lined straight to the museum’s permanent and most popular exhibit.

Behold, the Panorama of the City of New York!!!

The boroughs are labeled in this picture for your easy reference.

Without rising more than 20 feet, I saw the entire city’s five boroughs spread before me.  And I didn’t have to worry about wind conditions, precipitation, cloud cover, crowds, and steep admission prices!

In 1939 and 1964, New York City hosted the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the museum is currently located.  Commissioned by the city’s most famous urban planner,  Robert Moses,  the panorama was built for the 1964 fair and the project was spearheaded by an architectural model making firm.  It took 100 people to build it in 3 years.  At present, the model is 9,335 square feet and contains every NYC building built before 1992 to total 895,000 individual structures.  Sure enough, I even managed to pinpoint my own house built in the 1920s!

Midtown Manhattan with Queens & the Bronx in the background,all connected by the Robert F. Kennedy (formerly, the Triboro) Bridge

Lower Manhattan with the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges& the World Trade Center (RIP)

Islands in the Harbor (clockwise starting at top right): Governors, Liberty, Ellis

View of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn & Staten Island& the Atlantic Ocean beyond

The panorama has remained open to the public ever since its debut in 1964.   If you are an architecture, history, or NYC buff, you’ll definitely love this exhibit.  As a native New Yorker, it was fun for me to point out the changes that have occurred in the city since 1992.  For example, the building construction of the AOL Time Warner Center, 4 Times Square/Condé Naste, and the glass addition to the Hearst building, the rezoning and subsequent development of the Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts particularly in the neighborhoods of  Long Island City, Williamsburg, DUMBO, and more recently Red Hook, and the gentrification of the Lower East Side, Harlem, and Meatpacking District was yet to happen.  Heck, even Battery Park City, created by filling in an area of the Hudson River with the rocks and soil excavated from the World Trade Center construction site, was in the panorama but without any buildings.  The panorama certainly cannot keep up with the constant, fast paced changes of NYC yet it still manages to capture the incredible vastness and diversity of the place.  To see more pictures of the panorama, click here.

Before you leave the museum, make sure to check out the other worthwhile exhibits.  The small Tiffany glass exhibit is worth a stop.  Artist, Louis Tiffany had his studio and furnace in neighboring Corona.  And the World’s Fair memorabilia from both 1939 and 1964 are telling indicators of life within the United States and the world during those periods.


Queens Museum of Art
New York City Building
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Queens, NY 11368-3398
Wed – Sun: 12 – 6pm
Suggested Donation: Adults $5; Seniors & Children $2.50; Members & Children Under 5 FREE
7 Train to either 111th Street or Mets-Willets Point

www.queensmuseum.org

Aerial View of NYC

Welcome to the first week in a 12-week travel series on Queens, New York City’s most ethnically diverse borough!  This first week starts off with a bang!  Charged with viewing my city from above, I headed straight to the Queens Museum of Art for the very first time in my life…and I’m a Queens native!  Inside, I bee-lined straight to the museum’s permanent and most popular exhibit.

Behold, the Panorama of the City of New York!!!

The boroughs are labeled in this picture for your easy reference.

Without rising more than 20 feet, I saw the entire city’s five boroughs spread before me.  And I didn’t have to worry about wind conditions, precipitation, cloud cover, crowds, and steep admission prices!

In 1939 and 1964, New York City hosted the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the museum is currently located.  Commissioned by the city’s most famous urban planner,  Robert Moses,  the panorama was built for the 1964 fair and the project was spearheaded by an architectural model making firm.  It took 100 people to build it in 3 years.  At present, the model is 9,335 square feet and contains every NYC building built before 1992 to total 895,000 individual structures.  Sure enough, I even managed to pinpoint my own house built in the 1920s!

Midtown Manhattan with Queens & the Bronx in the background,all connected by the Robert F. Kennedy (formerly, the Triboro) Bridge

Lower Manhattan with the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges& the World Trade Center (RIP)

Islands in the Harbor (clockwise starting at top right): Governors, Liberty, Ellis

View of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn & Staten Island& the Atlantic Ocean beyond

The panorama has remained open to the public ever since its debut in 1964.   If you are an architecture, history, or NYC buff, you’ll definitely love this exhibit.  As a native New Yorker, it was fun for me to point out the changes that have occurred in the city since 1992.  For example, the building construction of the AOL Time Warner Center, 4 Times Square/Condé Naste, and the glass addition to the Hearst building, the rezoning and subsequent development of the Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts particularly in the neighborhoods of  Long Island City, Williamsburg, DUMBO, and more recently Red Hook, and the gentrification of the Lower East Side, Harlem, and Meatpacking District was yet to happen.  Heck, even Battery Park City, created by filling in an area of the Hudson River with the rocks and soil excavated from the World Trade Center construction site, was in the panorama but without any buildings.  The panorama certainly cannot keep up with the constant, fast paced changes of NYC yet it still manages to capture the incredible vastness and diversity of the place.  To see more pictures of the panorama, click here.

Before you leave the museum, make sure to check out the other worthwhile exhibits.  The small Tiffany glass exhibit is worth a stop.  Artist, Louis Tiffany had his studio and furnace in neighboring Corona.  And the World’s Fair memorabilia from both 1939 and 1964 are telling indicators of life within the United States and the world during those periods.


Queens Museum of Art
New York City Building
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Queens, NY 11368-3398
Wed – Sun: 12 – 6pm
Suggested Donation: Adults $5; Seniors & Children $2.50; Members & Children Under 5 FREE
7 Train to either 111th Street or Mets-Willets Point

www.queensmuseum.org

Take Me to Queens at Once!

The title of this post is a line from a movie.  Can you name it?  Bonus points for character, actor, and scene.  You have until the end of this post to guess your answer.

Six weeks of the WordPress Post-A-Week challenge has been very good in getting me to blog regularly this year!  While I did say that would I write about travel, culture, food, New York City, and bikram yoga, I have yet to figure out the common thread(s) that would pull all these disparate interests together to make an interesting and worthwhile read for visitors.  Ultimately, I am trying to figure out what my unique contribution will be to the online community.

Last Thursday, I saw travel blogger Vagabond3‘s tweet on a current weekly blog feature:  a 12 week challenge centered on the theme of  traveling within your own hometown.  Immediately, I thought this challenge would be a perfect way to complement my Post-A-Week challenge and the goals I hope to accomplish!  So once again, I declare to the world my intent to participate in this excellent idea to write about New York City…but with a *TWIST*.   I’m going to focus all future articles for this challenge on only 1 of the 5 boroughs of New York City:  Queens.

A Manhattan-ite once wrote on her Facebook status update, “Only reason to go to Queens is the airport.”  While the borough does house the city’s two airports, as a Queens native, it absolutely PAINS ME to hear this statement!  Yes, Queens gets very little love in the hearts and minds of many people when compared to limelight-stealing Manhattan and trendy, hipster Brooklyn.  While the Bronx gets little attention too and Staten Island is barely on the radar for most tourists and New Yorkers alike, I believe Queens to be a real gem as New York City’s most ethnically diverse borough and arguably, the most ethnically diverse county in the United States.

So if you are a tourist visiting New York City interested in getting-off-the-beaten-Manhattan-path or a city resident hesitant to cross the river, check back here every week as I spotlight Queens.  I hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone and explore another layer of this wondrous city.  And as much as I love the westernmost neighborhoods of Queens — Astoria and Long Island City — that border the East River and are closest to Manhattan, I’m going to do my best to focus on lesser known neighborhoods in the borough that are equally interesting but don’t get very much publicity.

Eddie Murphy & Arsenio Hall in Coming to America* (Paramount Pictures)

“What better place to find a queen than the city of Queens?” Prince Akeem asks Semmi, his friend and cousin in the 1988 movie “Coming to America”.  In fact, this movie holds a special place in my heart.  McDowell’s Restaurant was, and still is, a Wendy’s restaurant in Elmhurst, where I grew up.  Filmed in 1987, I will always remember my elementary school classmates coming into school one morning excitedly talking about their bus ride home the afternoon before.  Apparently, they hollered and frantically banged on the bus’s windows to get the attention of Eddie Murphy & Arsenio Hall as they filmed on the street.  Little did I know that in 6 short years, I would hold a part-time job in high school at this Wendy’s.  The hallway was lined with black and white photos of the cast.  Heck, I eventually dated my first boyfriend who also worked there and took him to my prom.

Personal tidbits aside, name me another borough that has a major thoroughfare with the coolest street name ever.

*Movie still picture found on Slowly Going Bald.

Evacuate, Escape!

As the protests in Egypt continue, my heart goes out to the people.  What must be going through the hearts of Egyptians as their country remains embroiled and embattled?  What will be the outcome?  Will a new Egypt emerge out of these demonstrations?

But there are other people to think about too.  Foreign journalists in the last several days have told audiences around the world that they have been harassed, attacked, and detained.  And of course, there are other foreigners:  the tourists, the expats, the students, the volunteer workers.  What has happened to them?  What happens when events within a place occur without a moment’s notice and the decision between staying or leaving becomes extremely urgent?

The New York Times recently wrote an article about stranded Americans in Egypt.  The United States State Department created a public service announcement (PSA) and tweeted evacuation instructions for American citizens wishing to leave the country.  I travel overseas at least once a year and as I prepare for my trip, I always pause to consider registering my name with the US Embassy in the country I am visiting.  Then I usually shake my head and shove the idea aside because really, what could possibly go wrong that the embassy would need to know my presence in country X?

Well, Egypt has reminded me of the reason why I should do so.  It is an extreme case of what is possible.  Highly unlikely, yes.  But possible nonetheless.  Besides political unrest, I can think of other instances when the need to escape while traveling becomes compelling.

Natural Disaster: In 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caught people completely by surprise along the coasts of several Asian and even African countries.  Devastating tsunamis struck and killed hundreds of thousands of people, most of them in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

Mechanical Difficulties: US Airways Flight #1549 departed from NYC’s La Guardia Airport and shortly after take-off collided with a flock of Canadian geese that resulted in a loss of thrust in both engines.  Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed the plane in the Hudson River.  All 155 passengers and crew survived.

Disease Outbreak: In 2003, an outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) began in mainland China and spread to other areas such as Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Acts of Terrorism: Sadly, this is the reality of the world we live in — the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2008 coordinated attacks in different parts of Mumbai,  and just last month a suicide attack in the Moscow airport.

I am so blessed and very grateful that I’ve not yet found myself in a situation where I’ve had to evacuate.  The closest I’ve come to civil unrest was in La Paz, Bolivia in 2003 when my bus was re-routed because a group of strikers blocked the roads.  Despite these possibilities, it has not deterred me from traveling.  In fact, it can be argued that these devastated places are precisely the ones we should travel to because they could benefit greatly from our tourism money.  I recall the Kenyan safari companies encouraging all Westerners to visit after ethnic violence erupted in 2008 due to the controversial outcome of the presidential election in December 2007.

In your travels, were you confronted with a circumstance that required you to decide whether to stay or leave?  What happened and where?  What factors led to making your decision?  Please share your story in the comment section below.  I look forward to hearing them.