Sunday Signs & Symbols: Hindu Temple?

What I love about the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights Elmhurst, Queens (besides the fact that I grew up in Elmhurst) is the fact that that it is a melting pot of so many different cultures.  The local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, apparently has staff that can speak approximately 80 languages and dialects to serve the community.

I was in the neighborhood one day and walked by this Sunoco gas station on Roosevelt Avenue & 72nd Street, I realized that there was one sign out of place from the rest.

Amid the signs for gas prices, state inspections, and washes there was a sign for what I’m guessing is a Hindu temple?  I didn’t have time to explore further so I can’t say exactly what place this sign is advertising.  I will have to come back and find out and let you know!

It is a little odd that a sign like this is mixed in with the gas station signs but maybe for this neighborhood, it makes a lot of sense.  If anyone can read the text, please let me know what this sign says in a comment.  Thank you!!!

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Hindu Temple?

What I love about the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights Elmhurst, Queens (besides the fact that I grew up in Elmhurst) is the fact that that it is a melting pot of so many different cultures.  The local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, apparently has staff that can speak approximately 80 languages and dialects to serve the community.

I was in the neighborhood one day and walked by this Sunoco gas station on Roosevelt Avenue & 72nd Street, I realized that there was one sign out of place from the rest.

Amid the signs for gas prices, state inspections, and washes there was a sign for what I’m guessing is a Hindu temple?  I didn’t have time to explore further so I can’t say exactly what place this sign is advertising.  I will have to come back and find out and let you know!

It is a little odd that a sign like this is mixed in with the gas station signs but maybe for this neighborhood, it makes a lot of sense.  If anyone can read the text, please let me know what this sign says in a comment.  Thank you!!!

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs and Symbols: Sun

In honor of the recent Summer Solstice and my practicing Bikram Yoga in Times Square that day, I think it appropriate to dedicate a Sunday Signs & Symbols post to the sun. The image above depicting a circle with a heavy dot in the middle is an ancient symbol of the sun that is often used in astronomy and astrology.

The sun is such an integral factor to life on earth and it only makes sense that various cultures, disciplines, and religions have various representations for it. Throughout history, you will find groups of people worshiping the sun to varying degrees, in either the literal, metaphorical, or metaphysical sense.

The ancient Egyptians worshiped Ra, the sun god, while the Incans believed that their sun god Inti, was birthed out of a rock on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca, a mountain lake that inhabits both Bolivia and Peru.

"isla del sol", "lake titicaca". bolivia, peruHiking along the top of Isla del Sol with Lake Titicaca in the background.
"isla del sol", "lake titicaca", bolivia, peruThe sacred rock believed to be where Inti, the sun god, was born.

In hatha yoga, students practice sun salutations, a series of postures done in a flow sequence. In fact, the Sanskrit word “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon and put together, “hatha” represents the cosmological balance found in the universe. In Sanskrit, “ha” represents energy, masculinity, and the right side of the body while “tha” represents serenity, femininity, and the left side of the body.

Today’s modern day sun worshipers can be found mainly in Westerners who love to soak in the sun and get a tan. In NYC, locals and tourists alike, flock annually to the streets for several days in the year to watch Manhattanhenge. I actually discovered a lesser known but equally interesting solar event in NYC that I coined Queenshenge.

Sunday, derived from “the sun’s day”, can stir up debate as to whether it is the last or the first day of the week. Nevertheless, it is a testament to our deference to the sun and the word itself embodies how we understand and measure time.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

We Heart Astoria Celebrates its Two Year Anniversary!

We Heart Astoria launched in March 2010 to promote the neighborhood’s restaurants, art and culture scene, shopping, plus news and events.  To celebrate its two-year anniversary, We Heart Astoria teamed up with BEAR Restaurant on May 2nd to host a fabulous party.

The founders of We Heart Astoria (l-r) are: Judith Klein Rich (@Fooditka), Mackenzi Farquer (@SITEnews), and Meg Cotner (@harmoniousbelly).  Each woman brings her own strength to the project, making the site robust and full of information.  Meg is a classical musician with an interest in organic and local food, Mackenzi is an interior designer and storefront owner, and Judith loves food and enjoys sharing her gastronomic adventures with the world.

Siblings Alex and Natasha Pogrebinsky opened Bear Restaurant and Bar approximately 5 months ago.  The food can be described as Russian cuisine with a progressive twist.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet Chef Natasha but Alex (below in the red tie) warmly welcomed us to the restaurant.

We sampled selected items from the restaurant’s menu including hot passed hor d’oeuvres.

Bear’s mixologists even created a unique cocktail for the night, appropriately named “We Heart Astoria” and made up of orange juice, vodka, simple syrup, sparkling shiraz, and garnished with a blackberry and cherry.

Many Queens-centric bloggers were there that night.  Several members of the Queens Love posse came to represent (clockwise starting with me):  Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting), Stella Dacuma Schour (@Stellaaa), Bradley Hawks (@BradleyHawks), and Jeff Orlick (@JeffreyTastes)!  I am honored to be a contributor to this online project that visually highlights the many reasons why Queens is so awesome.

The best thing about attending these events is finally being able to meet people I’ve followed for so long on Twitter.  What joy to finally meet Sue of @tastoriaqueens who writes about her many food meals in Astoria!  We talked about our lives, jobs, food, and our mutual admiration of each other’s work.

Anne Noyes Saini represents one-half of @CitySpoonful with Clare Trapasso.  City Spoonful focuses on New York City’s food and culture, particularly the outer boroughs.  Anne is another person I finally got to meet in person!  For several months, we have been trying to coordinate on Twitter to meet over an Indonesian meal but could never find a mutual time.  Below, Stella sneaks into the shot of me and Anne.

Kicking off its inaugural event last April 10th, QNSalon is the newest kid on the e-block.  Created by Sarah Burningham (@sarahburningham) and Chrissy Festa (@chrissylf), QNSalon seeks to create networking opportunities for professional women in the borough; the next event is being planned for the summer.  So great to see you again ladies!

Finally, these two women — Madeline Leung (@restaurantbaby) on the left and Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting) on the right — have been incredibly supportive of me and ActionJoJo.  Together, we meet twice a month for our women’s writing workshop.  Many of the blog posts that you have read these last few months have been drafted in the presence of these women during our two-hour workshop.  We meet not only to write but more importantly, to support each other in a writing process that can often be solitary and daunting.  At the end of the night, attendees received fantastic swag that included discounts and items from various merchants throughout the neighborhood.  My favorite gift was this one on the left, a wallet likened to a NYC icon:  the Greek diner to-go, paper coffee cup.  This wallet is compliments of SITE, a home decor store owned by Mackenzi.

Congratulations to We Heart Astoria for its 2 year online presence!  May you continue to be a strong voice in the Queens online community in the years ahead.  It is thrilling to be a part of an active group of people so committed to promoting Queens.

 

BEAR
12-14 31st Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
(917) 396-4939
www.bearnyc.com

SITE
35-11 34th Avenue
Astoria, NY  11106
(718) 626-6030
www.sitenyc.com

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Utopia Parkway

Australian native James Clark of Nomadic Notes has been traveling the world for the last eight years. In February 2011, I wrote this post declaring my intention to be Queens-centric when writing about my hometown of NYC.  I suggested that Queens is a pretty awesome borough because it has a major thoroughfare with the coolest name ever.

As a Fountains of Wayne fan and curious world traveler, James read my post and was convinced to visit Queens the next time he planned to be in NYC!  By July, I met James in Vancouver at a travel blogger conference and in one month, he visited Queens.  I showed him around Flushing (he said he felt like he was back in China) and we ate in Astoria.  While he was here, we had to take a trip down the street that helped us become friends.

I think he was a happy man that day, able to experience a different slice of the Big Apple as well as finally being able to walk down the street singing the Fountains of Wayne song of the same name.

I got it made
I got it down
I am the king of this island / goddamn town
I’m on my own
I’m on my way
Down Utopia Parkway

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

New York City elicits images of an urban jungle:   concrete sidewalks, honking horns, yellow taxicabs, tall skyscrapers, and seas of people moving with determined purpose.  This frenetic energy makes the city attractive to locals and tourists alike.  People seeking an escape from the Manhattan jungle head to Central Park, a haven from the asphalt and glass.  While Central Park may be the most highly recognizable park in town, it is only the 5th largest park in New York City according to the Parks & Recreation department.

In 1938, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses put much of the Jamaica Bay area in southern Queens under the supervision of the Parks Department because of his interest in preserving the region’s wetlands.  In particular, he was interested in building a freshwater bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay.  By 1951, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was formed and in 1972, the park fell under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service.  The refuge along with 10 other parks in Queens, Staten Island, and New Jersey comprise the Gateway National Urban Recreation Area (indicated in green in the map below).

Cross Bay Boulevard bisects the refuge and a large fresh water pond (unimaginatively named East Pond and West Pond) exists on each side of the road with an adjacent trail.  Register first at the Visitor’s Center and learn more about the park from the current exhibits and public lectures.  Park rangers can also inform you which wildlife can be seen that day.  For approximately 60 years, the refuge has served as a rest stop for migrating birds such as the brown osprey and orange tree swallow during the spring and autumn seasons.  Some birds remain in the area all year long such as the green-mourning doves, cardinals, and robins.  There are many birds to encounter along the trails but binoculars will come in handy should you be interested in seeing smaller, rarer birds in the brush.

Just as the NYC urban jungle assaults your five senses, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge also does the same.  As you walk along the marshes, you see cactus plants and holly bushes.  Broken clam shells reflect sunlight as they litter the ground creating a shimmery path.  Birds dig up the clams and drop them from the sky, allowing gravity to crack them open for consumption.  Constant squawks, squeals, and chirps can be heard overhead as the ground crunches beneath your feet.  The wind rustles leaves and makes surrounding tree branches squeak.  Scattered throughout the park are birds nests and birdhouses offering refuge for adult birds and their offspring.It is easy to relax in the refuge’s serenity even though the distant Manhattan skyline peeks above the marsh tips, cars whiz by on Cross Bay Boulevard, and humanity’s constructed jumbo birds take off and land at nearby John F. Kennedy Airport.  Despite these urban reminders, you can taste the salty smell of the ocean on your tongue and hear the rhythmic lapping water of the freshwater ponds.  I visited on a sunny yet windy day so the sun gave me welcome warmth against the cold ocean wind.  I passed a group of birders in their tell-tale khaki vests and hiking boots carrying their huge binoculars, long tripods, and expensive cameras.  Led by a park ranger, the group participated in one of the park’s free tours.

A Single Swan in East Pond with the JFK Control Tower in the Background
West Pond with the Manhattan Skyline in Background

A peaceful calm descended on me and I took a moment to acknowledge the human intervention needed to make this place possible.  This refuge would not exist without the foresight to preserve and create a natural bird habitat as land increasingly developed in New York City.  It is hard to believe that this haven for both birds and humans exists approximately 15 miles away from downtown Manhattan.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Cross Bay Boulevard
Broad Channel, Queens
(718) 318-4340
http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/jaba.html
Trails:  Open daily, dawn to dusk.
Visitor Center:  Open daily, 8:30am-5pm

Take a Queens-bound (Lefferts Boulevard) A train to Rockaway Boulevard and transfer to a Rockaway Park-bound Q53 bus from Cross Bay Boulevard & Liberty Avenue to Wildlife Refuge stop.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: In the Event of a Tsunami

In College Point, a NYC neighborhood on the northern shore of Queens, this sign is in the town center (14th Avenue & College Point Boulevard) away from the shore.  No other sign with this image can be found in the neighborhood so I am left to wonder what it means.  Is this location where people are to gather OR escape from in the event of a pending tsunami?  What do you think?  Leave them in your comments below.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

St. Joseph’s Feast Day, A Sicilian Tradition Alive in Queens

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!!!

My hunch is that you’ve most likely heard of St. Patrick’s Day but St. Joseph’s Day? Not so much.

As the husband of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus, St. Joseph is the patron saint of families and heads of families, workers, and for a peaceful death. We know very little about his life according to the Gospel texts but the small bits of information we do have indicate a life where he had to make some pretty tough decisions. It has been argued that he lived in an age of anxiety, much like we do today.

Popular lore says that Sicilians beseeched St. Joseph for rain during a severe drought in the Middle Ages. In response to answered prayers, they celebrated his feast day on March 19 by attending Mass and preparing a table filled with an abundance of food. This table has come to be known as a St. Joseph’s Altar, full of loaves of bread and baked goods shaped into popular Christian symbols. It also includes wine, fish, and other symbols that typically represent St. Joseph such as lilies, hammers, and nails. Even breadcrumbs may be found on the table representing the sawdust of a carpenter. Meat is absent from the altar because the feast day falls during the season of Lent when Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. Altars are a physical space used to create a connection between the human and divine worlds. In this case, believers use the St. Joseph altar to place a petition or give thanks for prayers answered.  This tradition arrived in America with the Sicilian immigrants but it has spread to other ethnic groups who are interested in celebrating St. Joseph.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the creation of a St. Joseph altar is shared by many members of the Catholic community.

In my household, we celebrate St. Joseph’s Day for several reasons. My Italian-American husband is one-quarter Sicilian and he and many of his ancestors are named Joseph. Today, we eat a traditional dessert called Sfinge di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s cream puff), a puff pastry filled with either a vanilla custard or ricotta cream (think cannoli) filling.  To buy my pastries, I head to the quintessential Queens neighborhood known for its large Italian-American population, Howard Beach, home to American Idol contestant Pia Toscano and the late John Gotti, former head of the Gambino organized crime family.  Here, I go to Pasticceria La Torre for deliciously fresh and authentic Italian pastries and baked goods.  Their St. Joseph’s cakes are no exception (below left is one filled with vanilla custard and on the right is the one filled with ricotta cream)!

I also cook Pasta con Sarde or in Sicilian, Pasta chi Sardi, a traditional Sicilian pasta dish with sardines and fennel. It is said that wild fennel and sardines are abundant at this time of year all throughout the island. In Palermo, this dish is called Pasta di San Giuseppe in honor of St. Joseph.  The recipe I use is from Micheal Franco‘s blog, Live to Eat.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe!

Pasticceria La Torre
158-12 Crossbay Boulevard
Howard Beach, NY  11414
(718) 843-2306
http://www.latorrebakery.com

Flower Petal Blooming

Happy New Year friends!

And so it begins again.  A new year.  A new promise.  A new resolution.

Last year, I resolved to write a blog post once a week.  I was doing well for  a few months but eventually that goal became surprisingly unmanageable.  So much of my life changed last year as result of both choice and serendipity.  My husband lost his job about a year ago at this time.  I voluntarily left my comfortable job in September to pursue my dream of becoming self‑employed.  If you described to me my current life at this time last year, I would have labeled you certifiably mad.  Yet life has a beautiful way of unfolding itself at precisely the right time.  What was once a seemingly unimaginable road became the only viable option in the end.

As I started blogging more seriously in early 2011 about my travels, about culture, and about my home – New York City, and more specifically, the borough of Queens – I discovered joy in the act of writing and in the act of sharing what I knew with others.  After a few weeks, I was getting recognition for my work.  In July, I attended my very first conference for travelers and bloggers in Vancouver.  People at the conference encouraged me to do more.  The seed that I once planted years ago about self-employment began to flourish and grow.

When I hopped on that plane to Los Angeles in September, I had no idea what 9 weeks of full-time Bikram yoga teacher certification would be like.  All I knew was the conviction I felt in my heart that I was doing the right thing even if it was unconventional.  Those 9 weeks challenged me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  All of my strengths and weaknesses were made bare for me to face with no place to hide.  As trainees, we were encouraged to “trust the process” even though our hearts screamed out, “F*$K the process!!!”  Breakdowns happened gradually as did the breakthroughs.  By November, I came out a changed person, shedding layers of myself that no longer served me.

In Bikram yoga, the first of the 26 postures is half moon pose where students bend to the right or left creating a crescent shape with their bodies. As a teacher, my job is to remind my students of proper alignment as they hold the posture. In half moon pose, I instruct them to adjust their shoulders so they can “open up their chest like a flower petal blooming.” This tiny adjustment leads to a gradual opening of the upper body where the chest lifts up exposing the heart, the piece of ourselves we shield and protect the most.

Half Moon Pose at LAX: My Love for Yoga & Travel Intersect

Life is like that flower petal blooming. Change happens so incrementally that often we don’t notice it has happened.  Only when we look back and see the distance traversed do we marvel at its occurrence.  So here’s to the accomplishments, the failures, the struggles, and the discoveries of 2011. Together, they form the stepping stones to the unwritten events of 2012. Wherever life leads me this year, I am going to trust the process.

Without judgment and without attachment, I accept that I did not achieve my blogging goal for 2011. Yet once again, I have set a goal that I will write more and blog regularly.

“Never too late, never too old, never too bad, and never too sick, to start from the scratch once again.” ~ Bikram Choudhury

A Weekend in Queens in Pursuit of the American Dream

This post is my entry into the TBEX Blog Carnival Contest sponsored by Choice Hotels International Services Corporation.  UPDATE:  On July 18, TBEX tweeted this announcement that I was one of the three winners!  Thank you to TBEX and Choice Hotels! 

In honor of Independence Day (July 4th) in the United States, I want to celebrate one of the many things that makes this nation great:  its people.  All of us who have ever lived in this country can trace our histories back–even the Native Americans, who crossed on land over what is now the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia–to that first arrival in America from a different shore.  Some came of their own volition while others by force.

For centuries, New York City has been the destination of choice for explorers, traders, immigrants, and tourists.  But a visit to New York City today is too often limited to the borough of Manhattan.  Even people who live here are hard pressed to explore the vast city they live in!  So hop on the subway, bus, or ferry and cross the East River to visit Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the United States!  Below I have tailored a special weekend itinerary in Queens that celebrates New York City’s past and present, and honors the people who have settled here in search of the American dream.

Strap on your walking shoes, prepare your senses, and come on an empty stomach!  Queens will enthrall you.

SATURDAY:  WESTERN QUEENS
Ride the N or Q train to the first stop and walk to the remaining destinations.  Travel time is built into the itinerary.

8:00 am – Breakfast at Artopolis Bakery (Greek)
[23-18 31st Street, Astoria]

As a teenager, all my high school Greek friends hailed from Astoria.  Before the Greeks arrived in the mid-20th century, the area had previously been settled by the Dutch, Germans, Irish, and Italians.  Since those high school days nearly 20 years ago, people from the Middle East (particularly Egypt), Brazil, Japan, the newly formed Eastern European countries, plus whites escaping escalating rents in Manhattan and Brooklyn all flocked to Astoria, due to its close proximity & easy access to Manhattan.  Despite this diversification, Astoria is still synonymous with Greek immigrants.  For the 2004 Olympic Summer Games, the Olympic Flame first traveled all over the world before arriving in Athens.  As one of four US cities to host the Olympic Torch, it only made sense to commence the NYC relay in Astoria, in Athens Square Park.

Start your day off at what is arguably the best Greek pastry shop in the neighborhood!  Your eyes will be bigger than your stomach when you see the seemingly endless displays of cookies, pastries, bread, and delicacies.  Remember to order a coffee!  The bakery is located in a mall, just follow your nose.

Coffee at Artopolis - Photo Courtesy of Petit Hiboux (Flickr)

9:00 am – Steinway Piano Factory Tour (German)
[1 Steinway Place, Astoria]

Walk through a residential part of Astoria to get to the industrialized northern tip of the neighborhood.  The famous piano maker still creates and refurbishes Steinways in its original Queens factory.  Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (later anglicized to “Steinway”), emigrated from Germany with his family in the mid 19th century.  Shortly thereafter, Steinway started manufacturing pianos and by the 1880s, the Steinway family built its new factory and village in Astoria.  The Steinways were influential in the development of the neighborhood, hence a major thoroughfare is named after them.  The three-hour tour highlights the history of the family and the neighborhood, the one-of-a-kind quality of each instrument, and the craftsmanship of the workers past and present reminding you that historically, Western Queens was a major manufacturing area as a result of its close proximity to the East River.

1:00 pm – Lunch at the Bohemian Beer Garden (Czech & Slovak)
[29-19 24th Avenue, Astoria]

Established in 1910, the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is the oldest beer garden in the City.  Munch on grilled kielbasa or bratwurst and wash it down with one of the Czech or Slovak beers on tap.  My personal favorite?  The Krušovice tmavé (dark) for its roasted, malty flavor.  The scene is always packed on weekends and it is not uncommon to see families enjoying themselves while they let their young children run round.  Many of the outdoor picnic tables are shaded by old trees, allowing for a relaxing and refreshing afternoon break from the summer heat.

Photo Courtesy of WallyG (Flickr)

3:30 pm – The Noguchi Museum (Japanese/American)
[9-01 33rd Road, Long Island City]

If you are not a lover of sculpture, a visit to the Noguchi Museum may just change your mind.  Born to a Japanese father and a white American mother in 1904, Isamu Noguchi lived in Japan as a child and moved to America as a teenager.  By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was in his late 30s living in NYC as a sculptor.  He created the Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy in 1942, a group dedicated to raising awareness of Japanese-American patriotism.  He also asked to be interned as an act of solidarity with his brethren Japanese-Americans.  He spent 7 months in an internment camp and his work during this period clearly reflected his personal turmoil and sadness.  The gallery, which includes an outdoor garden, was created by Noguchi.  His primary studio was across the street, which he often biked to from his Manhattan residence; he also maintained a studio in Japan.  His pieces are strategically placed so that you sometimes feel like they belong in the “natural” landscape.  Somehow, serenity manages to envelop you during your visit.

Photo Courtesy of RocketLass (Flickr)

7:00 pm – Gantry State Park at Dusk
[Center Boulevard between 47th Road & 49th Avenue, Long Island City]

View the Manhattan skyline while strolling along the now refurbished waterfront piers of Long Island City, where the landscaped park offers you welcoming chairs to take in the scenery.  Watch as the sun sets behind the skyscrapers, feel the last rays of the day hit your face, and listen to the river lapping on the shore.  If you’re lucky, sometimes hammocks are there.  Snag one, close your eyes, and take in the silence.  Burn this memory into your brain:  you are swinging in a hammock, by the water, in NEW YORK CITY!

Manhattan Skyline from Gantry State Park

8:30 pm Dinner at Manducatis Rustica (Italian)
[13-27 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City]

On the outside, this squat Flatiron-shaped building looks like a residential house with a non-descript white door.  The only possible clue offered is its big bay window with curtains pulled shut and a sign.  Blink and you could miss it.  Once inside, you still feel like you are entering a residence, since in many ways, you are.  Couple Vincenzo and Ida Cerbone, have been feeding artists and working-class folks from the neighborhood for approximately 20 years, well before the arrival of the sleek luxury condos and chic, hip restaurants that now inhabit the area.  Let them and their staff welcome you and help you pair the right kind of wine with your Neapolitan meal.  Try to resist the urge to plant a kiss on each check when you say good-bye, but if you can’t, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.

If you still have some energy left and want an after-dinner drink, there are a bevy of bars within several blocks of each other, including Domaine Wine Bar, Dominie’s Hoek, Dutch Kills, and LIC Bar.  You could even stroll back to Gantry State Park to view the lights of the Manhattan skyline at night.

SUNDAY:  CENTRAL QUEENS
The second day, you’ll ride the 7 train and hop on and off in both directions.  Again, travel time is built into the itinerary.

8 am – Breakfast at Ihawan (Filipino)
[40-06 70th Street, Woodside]

Filipino food reflects the countries that have heavily influenced the culture,  usually China, Malaysia, Spain, and the United States.  It comes together clearly in a typical Filipino breakfast, consisting of a cured meat or fish (tapa), garlic-fried rice (sinangag), and eggs over easy (itlog).  Combine each underlined portion of the Tagalog words and you come up with its name: tapsilog.  Ihawan is run by the Bacani Family, who hail from the province of Pampanga in the Philippines, widely accepted amongst most Filipinos as the home of the best cooks in the country.  Fuel up now, because you’ll need it for your next stop.

Photo Courtesy of Kitakitts (Flickr)

9:30 am – Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Once the site of the “valley of ashes” as described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his novel The Great Gatsby, a rush of urban beautification measures in the early 20th century created this 1,255-acre park, and site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs.  Today, the park offers many outdoor activities.  Walk, or even better, rent a bike to cover more ground.  You’ll definitely want to see remnants from the World’s Fair such as the Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion observation towers, more recently made famous in the movie Men in Black as the place the aliens apparently hid their spaceships.  Be sure to stop by the Queens Museum of Art where you’ll see the Panorama of the City of New York, a 3D model of the city’s buildings and structures since 1992.  See also the memorabilia from both World’s Fairs and the exhibit on Tiffany glass, produced in neighboring Corona.  The park is also home to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, host of the US Open and Citi Field, home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.

The Unisphere with Observation Towers in the Background

1:30 pm – Flushing (Chinese, Korean, Dutch, English)
[137-16 Northern Boulevard, Flushing]

Wander around the neighborhood that is home to Queens’ Chinatown and Koreatown.  If you are feeling peckish from your time at the park, you could get some cheap street food to tide you over to dinner.  You’ll find the majority of storefront signs here not in English, and perhaps you’ll start to wonder if you’re in another country.  Before your mind starts playing tricks on you, stop by the Flushing Quaker Meeting House, built near the end of the 17th century, and considered to be the oldest house of worship in New York State.  Even back when Flushing (then known by its original name, Vlissengen) was a Dutch colony, residents clamored for religious freedom in response to rampant discrimination by the colonial Dutch government.  This vocal protest resulted in the signing of the Flushing Remonstrance by local residents in the mid-17th century, a document that inspired the right to freedom of worship as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.

Signs along Union Street between Northern Boulevard & 37th Avenue

4pm – Louis Armstrong House Museum (African-American)
[34-56 107th Street, Corona]

Catch the last tour of the day at the home of jazz legend Louis Armstrong.  He and his wife, Daisy, lived in their modest Corona home for nearly 30 years, from 1943 to his death in 1971.  No one has resided in the house since then and the interior decorations have been preserved to show how the Armstrongs lived.  Listen to audio clips as you walk through the home and wander through their Japanese inspired garden.  See photographs and learn about the man whose career spanned a time in American history when racial discrimination blatantly segregated blacks and whites in society.

5:30 pm – Dinner at Rincon Criollo (Cuban)
[40-09 Junction Boulevard, Corona]

In recent decades, Corona became the home to people from all over Latin America.  And while you may have your pick of cuisines from Guatemalan fast food to Mexican chain restaurants, I recommend Rincon Criollo because it has been around for 30 years and the story of the family who owns and runs it exemplifies the American Dream realized.  The Acosta Brothers opened the original Rincon Criollo in Cuba in the 1950s as a modest room consisting of four wooden planks for its floor and palm branches as its roof.  Years of hard work led to the restaurant’s successful growth and expansion, while becoming a favorite of Cuban celebrities.  However, life changed dramatically in Cuba as the brothers had their restaurants seized following the Cuban revolution of 1962.  Fourteen years later, the brothers re-opened Rincon Criollo in Corona, Queens.  The restaurant walls are lined with photos from the old country, a reminder of their past and their roots.  Regular patrons of Rincon Criollo have been coming with their families for years, savoring the tastes of a home that exists today only in their memories or in the stories of their [grand]parents.

The Acosta Brothers and all the people and families who have been highlighted on this tour of Queens are living testaments to what we celebrate most visibly on July 4th:  the American spirit of innovation, creativity, hard-work, determination and hope.  Regardless of their backgrounds, immigrants have come to America with a dream for a better life for themselves and their families, and millions have started that dream right here in Queens.

Artopolis Bakery
23-18 31st Street
Astoria, NY 11105
(718) 728-8484
www.artopolis.net
N, Q train to Ditmars Boulevard

Steinway & Sons Factory
1 Steinway Place
Astoria, NY  11105
(718) 721-2600
http://steinway.com/
N, Q train to Ditmars Boulevard
Call in advance to schedule a tour.

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
29-19 24th Avenue
Astoria, NY  11102
(718) 274-4925
www.bohemianhall.com
N, Q train to Astoria Boulevard

The Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Road
Long Island City, NY  11106
(718) 204-7088
www.noguchi.org

Gantry Plaza State Park
Center Boulevard between 47th Road & 49th Avenue
Long Island City, NY  11109
7 Train to Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue or
G Train to 21st Street/Jackson Avenue
http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/149/details.aspx

Manducatis Rustica
13-27 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY  11101
(718) 729-4602
7 train to Hunters Point Avenue or
G train to 21st Street

Domaine Wine Bar
50-04 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, NY  11101
(718) 784-2350
www.domainewinebar.com

Dominie’s Hoek
48-17 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, NY  11101
(718) 706-6531
www.dominieshoek.com

Dutch Kills
27-24 Jackson Ave
Long Island City, NY  11101
(718) 383-2724
www.dutchkillsbar.com

LIC Bar
45-58 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, NY  11101
(718) 786-5400
www.longislandcitybar.com

Ihawan
40-06 70th Street
Woodside, NY  11377
(718) 205-1480
7 train to 69th Street
www.ihawan2.com

Flushing Meadows Corona Park
7 train to Mets-Willets Point

Flushing Quaker Meeting House
137-16 Northern Boulevard
Flushing, NY  11354
718-358-9636
7 train to Main Street
http://www.nyym.org/flushing/hmh.html

Louis Armstrong House Museum
34-56 107th Street
Corona, NY  11368
718-478-8274
7 train to 103rd Street-Corona Plaza
www.louisarmstronghouse.org

Rincon Criollo
40-09 Junction Boulevard
Corona, NY  11368
(718) 639-8158
7 train to 103rd Street-Corona Plaza