Category Archives: New York City

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

12 hours in Williamsburg BrooklynGetting to know a city is rather a bit like dating. That rush when you find the first thing that grabs your interest. The thrill of newness. Then settling in a bit to really connect on a deeper level.  Every relationship has it’s highs and lows. And then there were those 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

When it comes to New York City, Brooklyn in particular, I’ve a bit of a matchmaker. My husband is a Brooklyn native, born and raised. It wasn’t until after we moved from California to Maryland that I ever set foot in the Empire State. Over a decade later, I’m still enamored of something in each of the five boroughs.

Like anyone when they first start seeing someone, I typically refuse to hear anything bad about my new beau. When dear friends {also life-long New Yorker’s} lament the loss of ‘authenticity’ in their city, I simply turn a deaf ear.  Sure the traffic is lousy and stuff is expensive, but even high-maintenance relationships can be fulfilling

Did Big and Carrie teach us nothing?

Banksy Street Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkOne of the best ‘dates’ I’ve had with New York was 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My eldest daughter came along to meet my muse. We walked for miles, enjoyed outstanding food, fed our artistic spirits, shopped, talked and mingled with the locals. Here are a few things that can’t be missed if you’ve only got a few hours to fall in love. 

Brunch at Marlow & Sons

Fresh. Local. Artisanal. Check! This place is a bit of farm-to-table meets french bistro, though the food is decidedly Americana with a modern twist. The menu changes daily, which makes it  a culinary adventure whenever you go. The baked eggs with ham and chickpeas was a favorite. A perfectly baked egg is an art form.

The Pink Olive

Stationery is my kryptonite. I can’t pass up pretty paper. The Pink Olive is a gift store that has the prettiest of paper, and more. I could have spent the kid’s college fund on tea towels, candles and Salt Road handmade taffy.

Brooklyn Bowl

Classic bowling alley with a trendy twist, like Chesterfield leather sofas and award-winning eats. We stopped in for a quick match {doesn’t take long for me to bowl a few frames of gutter-balls} in the early evening, just after it opened at 6pm. It was quirky, but fun. I can see how it becomes a hot-spot for the grownup types after dark. They feature live bands as well.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkMast Brother’s Chocolate

I’ve long been a fan of Mast Brother’s handcrafted, high-quality, responsibly sourced chocolate bars. When we stumbled upon the shop as we explored, the heady aroma of cacao drew us in like a siren song.

More than a retail location, this is also the factory and bakery. Bags of raw cacao beans line the worn wooden floors. Beautifully wrapped, uniform-sized bars are laid out on a weathered table under harsh lights. They look more like stacked books than decant chocolate. An expert in all things cocoa nib hovers nearby ready to answer questions and hand out small samples… oh yes, there are samples. 

Mast Brother's Chocolate Shop Brooklyn, New YorkA stop here is much like a visit to a museum with friendly docents ready to teach you all about their passions.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten

You like live music? Dig elevated pub grub and a good beer? Go HERE! The vibe here is so nostalgic that you can almost feel the wraiths of early German immigrants to America float among the hops hung to dry from the rafters over your head.

Gritty without being grungy, and featuring excellent German fare as well as a few distinctly American offerings, this is a great place to grab a meal. If you can’t get seated in the open-air biergarten {or if it is a tad too chilly} ask for a window seat. The people watching is as good as the food.

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brookly - BiergartenUrban Market of Williamsburg

At the end of the block – a short walk from Marlow & Sons in the shadow of the Williamsburg bridge– is a foodie nirvana called Urban Market. If you want to taste all the flavors of Brooklyn from Little Italy to China Town this is the place.  Plus there is a parking garage here that doesn’t cost you a mortgage payment.

Park, explore, come back and shop before you leave. We grabbed bread, local cheeses, some french pastries, and the best cocktail bitters outside of my own homemade. {I’m modest like that}

What cities have you fallen in love with, and why?

12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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Visiting The 9/11 Memorial with Kids

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids Times Square. Central Park. The MET, MoMA, and Guggenheim. Manhattan certainly isn’t short on memorable landmarks and iconic attractions. Taking in a Broadway show might mean prepping the kids on theatre etiquette, but how does one prepare the family for a visit to the 9/11 Memorial? How young is too young? What do you tell them about that sunny day in September when the world came crashing down in a cloud of concrete dust and shattered aircraft?

Tough questions, all of them. Do I have the answers? No, not really. Only you can answer for your own family. What I can do is share what I know, and our family’s story in hopes that you’ll find some guidance in it. I will say that even if this post answers none but one question, it should be, “Go. When it’s right for you. Go.”

The first thing you should know is that visitors are admitted to the 9/11 Museum on a timed-entry. You may arrive at 10:00 a.m. and not be able to get a ticket that lets you in until two hours later. Plan for this. My advice is to stop at the memorial first, get your tickets to the museum, and then go explore the area. You’re within walking distance of Battery Park, always a great destination for families.

Once you enter the doors you’re shuttled through a TSA style entry process, complete with bag x-ray and metal detectors. There is a coat check area where you’re encouraged to leave bags and belongings that may get in the way of the crush of people joining you on the journey. Do this, you’ll be glad you did.

Visit the website before you go, they provide all sorts of resources and support for families visiting with children. There are also docents on-site who are happy to point you to resources housed at the memorial.

Steel remains of the girders that once held up one of the Twin Towers. Viewed from between the Freedom Tower rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.
Steel remains of the girders that once held up one of the Twin Towers. Viewed from between the Freedom Tower rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.

In the museum, there is one exhibit that clearly states it may not be appropriate for younger children. Here you’ll find first person audio recordings, see video (some graphic – these are tastefully hidden behind blinds), artifacts, and vignettes displaying everything from the dust covered clothing of a store front frozen in time on that day, to a recount of the first terrorist attempt on the building in 1993.

In that room is were our personal story begins.

My husband is a Native New Yorker, born and raised. His first real job out of college was working as an Import Specialist for the U.S. Customs Service at the World Trade Center.  He was at his desk in 1993 when a bomb detonated in parking garage.

For him this place is so much more than “Ground Zero”, it represents a chapter in his life. One he talks about often, remembering with fondness some of characters he worked with, his city as it was before, and after. With every trip to Manhattan, when we’d pass by the cordoned off remains of the twin towers, the kids would ask him to tell the stories.

I thought these stories would be enough for them, they’d understand when we went, know why it was important to go. I was wrong. Even I was unprepared. Honestly, I don’t believe anyone could ever be prepared for this place.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids
Steel support with “signatures” on it from first responders and recovery workers. To the left, one of the original foundational walls from the towers.

As you descend into museum itself the air starts to shift. An escalator moves visitors downward, passing below the remnants of steel girders that once held up one of the towers. You’re deposited into a concourse where a timeline of the events of September 11th, 2001 begin to unfold in a multimedia presentation. Never have I been in a space with so many people and so little noise.  It is both comforting and unnerving. 

Here is where the questions from the kids started. We find out that the two youngest haven’t learned much in school about 9/11 and we’ve failed as parents in educating them from our experiences.  Yet, I doubt that anything we could have told them, or showed them, would have had as much impact as standing next to a crushed fire engine.

NYFD Ladder 3 sits as a moving reminder of those who went in, giving all to save others.
NYFD Ladder 3 sits as a moving reminder of those who went in, giving all to save others.

The kids knew daddy had worked here, they even knew that his friend Bob – who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald – passed away here that day. They didn’t know so many other things -what Bob looked like, his picture is here on a wall. We just didn’t talk about 9/11 that much. I’m sure some part of me didn’t bring it up as much out of respect for what it meant to my husband on a personal level. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I’m the daughter of a fire chief and can’t help but cry thinking of all the children of firefighters who lost loved ones that day. No matter the reason, we just didn’t talk about it – as a family.

Coming to this place gave us reason – permission – to talk, to cry, to join with the kids in wondering why. Because honestly, who can answer that question, no matter how old we are?

I’ve always believed that travel has a power to educate in a way that no textbook or lecture ever could. Being in the moment, at the site where history occurred, seeing artifacts in person, hearing the story from those who lived it, that is how we learn. It is the gift that travel gives us, that this place gave to my children.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial with Kids So if you ask me if you should take your kids to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I’d have to say yes. Though I’d also tell you that you know your family best, share with them before you go. Find a way to have the hard conversations that will help you tell your own story.  Tell the story. Our children must know, we must never forget.

 

Family Travel Conference: Inspiration in The Big Apple

Two weeks ago I was honored to be in attendance at the inaugural Family Travel Conference, hosted at the both elegant and homey, Omni Berkshire Place in NYC. This wonderful, inspiring conference was the brain child of  gifted and brilliant minds behind Traveling Moms, Family Travel Forum, Taking The Kids and Travel Media Showcase and brought together a bevy of passionate travel writers. 

The mix of writers for spanned the spectrum of journalistic outlets from traditional media, to National Geographic Intelligent Travel: Traveling Family, to book authors, bloggers and travel industry insiders. It not only made for interesting dynamic, but truly valuable insights, advice and guidance. For example, did you know that there are two schools of thought with regard to lead-ins when you are publishing a video you’ve created?

  • One camp suggests that you be sure to start every video by introducing yourself;  “Hi, DiPaola Momma of Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom here…”
  • The other asserts that you should never do that, that viewers are much more interested in the destination than the person sharing. Certainly a “nugget” I’d never thought about.

Beyond videos, the following advice was offered with regard to content:

  • Keep It Short. Not something I’m adept at, as I am sure you may have noticed.
  • SEO. It is certainly your friend, but don’t kill yourself trying to optimize it, content is always king. 
  • Use Bullets. This is for those easily distracted by shiny objects.. ME!
  • Photos. The eye tends to wander if it’s all text. Use photos to break up the text and keep the reader engaged. Like so…
              Now I have your attention again.. right?                 See, it works!

Even as great as the great tips and guidance were, they did not stand alone as what made this an amazing conference for me. The Family Travel Conference was truly about family. I was encouraged to bring along one of the Lil Nuggets, I choose our tween daughter. She would go on to interview the Executive Chef of Virgils BBQ (of both NYC and Atlantis Resorts) and the Omni Berkshire’s Director of Dirt (Director of Housekeeping). The minute she stepped in front of the camera, she came out of her shell. The introverted 12 year old who was mortified when I took the mic -which promptly screeched with feedback- to introduce myself, became this whole new person. Since then, we’ve been working together (I know, OMG huh?!) on editing her video, which I’ll post here soon.

The conference also reaffirmed something for me. Having such a big family -who has yet to hit the lotto- you’d think that travel would be a luxury for us.

It. Is. Not. Nor should it be for any of you.

Travel is part of the fabric that weaves my family together. Traveling allows us to connect in ways that sitting in front of a movie screen or playing the latest video game never could. In an economy, where many families are struggling, there is still a place for travel. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Tuscany or 5 Star Cruise, it can be as simple as being a tourist in your home town. Take yourself out of the everyday. Step away from routines, do something new, explore together, and what you’ll find is that you’ve come full circle back to the reasons that being a part of a family is a true gift.

Thank you Family Travel Conference founders, sponsors and attendees!