Stumptown

There are three kinds of responses you get when you tell someone your headed to Portland. The confused one: ‘Portland, in Maine?’; the dismissive one: ‘Why Portland? Never heard of anyone who goes there’; and finally the favourable one: ‘Oh, Portland – great city, you’ll love it’. I had a good enough hunch about the place to begin with, and, thanks in no small measure to the NY Times, there were New Yorkers a plenty who gave me a thumbs up for my decision to head ‘all the way west’.

Admittedly, and for the uninitiated, Portland (in the state of Oregon!) is best known for being home to two of the most popular brands in the world – Nike and Intel! The Intel part of my trip was somewhat taken care of by hanging out with a friend who works with them, while the Nike part involved an actual visit to their campus in Beaverton – first stop on day 1!

Needless to say, the campus was everything I could have imagined and more – the kind that makes you instantly want to be employed by them! A sprawling campus – 200 beautifully landscaped acres of it no less – including a man made lake, a protected wetland and a running trail that encircles it all. 17 well designed buildings – each named after a Nike athlete – dot the lush campus and include 2 state of the art (hate that term!) recreational centres, one of which – aptly, the Lance Armstrong centre – I swam in!

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Tee Dot

They say that grass is always greener on the other side. Earlier this month, I set out to find out exactly how. The other side being Canada (since Swine Flu had ruled out Mexico!) and the city visited – Toronto – in the state of Ontario, abbreviated as T.O., and referred to locally by a much cooler name – the Tee Dot!

The French influence, I’m told, wears thin as you drive away from the state of Quebec but that didn’t seem to deter Toronto’s Pearson International Airport from having signs in French! That’s probably the first thing that hits you as you step of the plane. The second, and more impressive thing, is a snag free passage through immigration. There are no separate lines for Canadians – therefore your not likely to find signs marked ‘aliens’; the wait time is minimal; you’re greeted with a smile; the questions asked are not in the least bit offensive and before you know it your already at Baggage Claim!!

They also say that comparisons are odious and I couldn’t agree more. Prior to my departure for Canada, a handful of sources insisted that Toronto was nothing but ‘a smaller version of NYC’ or worse still, ‘a poor wannabe cousin of the Big Apple’. Trying to keep these biases at bay, I decided that a weekend in the Tee Dot should be enough for me to arrive at my own verdict.

First stop on a heavily overcast Saturday morning was St.Lawrence Market, where we managed to duck for cover seconds before a Bombay style rain shower pelted the street outside!

A mid 19th century building which once housed the City Hall and Jail House, St.Lawrence Market is today home to over 100 vendors spread across 2 levels, specialising in everything from fine cheeses to exotic meats, from coffee beans sourced across the globe to varieties of mustard that you never even dreamt of!!!

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Journaux Parisiens

Parlez-vous anglais?” “Little” came the reply. “How much time for the next train?”, I asked. “20 to 40 minutes”, he said. The location: Aulnay-sous-Bois, a suburb in northeast Paris. No good reason to be there except that we had just been offloaded from our train and would now have to wait another 40 minutes for the next one to take us on to Gare du Nord in downtown Paris. I was tired, sleep deprived and irritable from my overnight flight, struggling with the few words of French that I knew, and frustrated that I was losing precious time in transit, on a trip that was short to begin with!

An hour or so later, I had checked in, showered and made my way to the deck of my hostel, which was by the Canal Saint-Martin – made famous in the film, Amélie. It was a glorious day outside, with the temperature flirting with the 20s (of the Celsius variety) – ‘tee-shirt weather’ as I like to call it! As I sipped on my Cafe Creme and awaited a Croque Madame, I watched as the 19th century lift bridge was raised, to allow a canal boat to pass, ever so often. Aulnay-sous-Bois suddenly seemed like a very distant dream. It was time to pinch myself awake – I was finally in Paris 😉

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SoBe it!

When people talk about holidaying in Miami, chances are, they are most likely referring to Miami Beach. In fact, Miami and Miami Beach are two separate cities! Probably a good thing cause not only are they separated physically (by the Bay of Biscayne) but also culturally, socially, emotionally and economically!

In many ways, Miami Beach is far removed from reality – not just the reality of it’s namesake – and dull – city on the mainland, but from the very reality of living a routine, week in and week out! It is the perfect getaway, the ultimate unwind destination. One could quite easily say the same about Vegas, but Miami has what Vegas doesn’t – the magic of the ocean 😉

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Half a Century and change!

The 19th day of October ’08 marked a full year since I began partaking in cycling tours across NYC. Around the same time last year, I did my first ever 25 mile (40 km) ride – the Tour De Bronx. Last Sunday, I rode the Bronx tour again and with it culminated a year full of tours for me.

The Five Borough ride in May, with its 42 grueling miles (67 km), had been precedent setting – for me – at the very least. That was followed by the Tour De Brooklyn (18 miles – bah!) and Tour De Queens (a tad more at 20 but with unforgiving heat for company!). And then, the weekend before I left for India, came the big one – the NYC Century! The mileage options were plentiful with 100 obviously being the ultimate. I chose the more conservative 55, although, that in itself was going to be quite a big step up for me!

And so it came to be.. the early morning of Sunday, September the 7th. The location: North end of Central Park. The start time: 7:15 am.

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To the High Bridge and beyond..

Summer Streets ’08 – the Bloomberg administration’s answer to Albany’s ineptitude at passing the Congestion Pricing Bill! Seven miles of prime Manhattan roadway, off limits to automobiles, for three consecutive Saturdays! The results, overwhelming! The highlight for me, being able to bike up the ramp leading to Grand Central station – a road which is out of bounds for pedestrians and bikers on every other day!

That was Saturday # 2 of the city’s experimental car-free-streets initiative but I was headed much further north on that particular day – to the very northern tip of Manhattan. The plan was to ride north along the Harlem River on Manhattan’s east side, reach the tip and then ride down along the Hudson River on the island’s west side.

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How Far to Rock Away?

The ‘A’ train offers the longest single ride (30 miles / 50 km) one can possibly take on New York’s humongous subway system. But most people have rarely ridden it past Howard Beach! With no beach to its credit, unfortunately, Howard Beach is better known for being the transit stop closest to JFK airport! Ride 7 stops further and you reach Far Rockaway – the eastern tip of Queens, bordering Nassau County in Long Island, and also the last stop on the ‘A’ train.

Welcome to ‘The Rockaways‘! Oft known as the ‘Playground of New York’, the Rockaways refer to the peninsula with a south west projection off Long Island. Once a popular resort area, it is mostly residential today with housing ranging in type from modern apartment blocks to old bungalows. Being a peninsula, it is surrounded by water on most sides – its south side forming a 10 mile long coast line along the Atlantic Ocean.

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A Bronx Island Tale

Probably the two most well known Hollywood films set in the Bronx are ‘Taking of Pelham 123‘ and ‘A Bronx Tale‘. I’ve appropriated the title of the latter to suit this blog and I mention the former for good reason to. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘123’ in the film’s title does not refer to the 1, 2, 3 subway lines of NYC. Quite simply because those lines do not serve Pelham! It actually refers to the time (1:23) in the plot when the train departs Pelham! It is the no.6 train that serves Pelham and as I write this, a remake of the film is underway! A few Saturdays ago, I rode the 6 to its very last stop – Pelham Bay Park.

The Bronx is host to the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) experiment – the BX12 Select Bus Service or SBS. It runs from Inwood in upper Manhattan to Pelham Bay Park in north east Bronx and on alighting from our train, it was the very first thing that caught my eye!

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Tour De Queens

Three consecutive days with highs in the mid 30s (~ 100 F) is considered a ‘heat wave’ in NYC. Laughable if you come from India but not so humorous when you take into account how sudden the transition was. From a low of 14C (60F) one day to a high of 36C (97F) the next! Add to that a humidity index of over 70% and you’ve got the best of Indian summer scorching down at you!

So it was with some trepidation that I set off from home on the second Sunday of June to join 500 other bicyclists on the first annual Tour De Queens. The venue: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, right by the Queens Museum of Art and in the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, where tour marshals braced themselves to lead riders on a 20 mile route through the largest borough of NYC.

The route would take riders through the western perimeter of Queens along waterfront greenways, parks and a gamut of neighbourhoods ranging from residential to historic to the industrial, finally ending back where we began. Ten neighbourhoods in all – most of which I had never seen before!

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Tour De Brooklyn

On the 22nd of May 2008, the city of New York, amidst much fanfare, fireworks and a Navy fly past, celebrated the 125th Birthday of Brooklyn Bridge. To coincide with the event, the 4th annual Tour De Brooklyn was moved ahead by a few weeks. And befitting such an occasion was the location chosen for the flag off – on Water St right under the glorious bridge itself!

The event recorded the largest turnout to date – topping out at a little over 2000 riders. While not nearly as large as the 5 Borough event or even the Tour De Bronx for that matter, the enthusiasm amongst the riders more than made up for the numbers. And at a cool 24C (80F), they couldn’t have asked for better weather to ride in.

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