NYC Tourism Campaign Spotlights The City’s Lesser-Known Attractions

More than 52 million people visit New York City each year but the vast majority of visitors never stray far from the well-trodden streets of Manhattan. Now, a new tourism initiative is encouraging travelers to take a bigger bite out of the Big Apple by venturing out of the typical tourist hotspots and deep into the city’s five boroughs.

Neighborhood X Neighborhood” will give visitors a list of suggestions on things to do and see ranging from popular tourist activities to hidden gems that only the locals know about. The city’s vast array of restaurants, shops and cultural venues will all be spotlighted in the campaign.

The city’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, says previous efforts to widen the tourist circuit have stimulated development in the neighborhoods. In recent years, more than 70 hotels have sprung up outside Manhattan, catering to visitors who want to get off the beaten path.”We’ve focused on bringing more tourists to neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, and it’s paid off with more hotels being built and tourism-related economic activity happening in those boroughs,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Our neighborhoods are what make New York City unique, and visitors who explore the boroughs beyond the beaten path are sure to be rewarded with unforgettable, only-in-New-York experiences.”

NYC’s neighborhoods are all easily accessible via the city’s extensive transit system and campaign organizers say travelers who veer out of Manhattan and into the more obscure neighborhoods will be rewarded with a more affordable stay.

Bushwick, Fort Greene and Williamsburg are the first neighborhoods to be featured in the tourism initiative, which kicks off today. You can check out the neighborhood highlights here.

[Photo credit: NYC & Company]

The Kimchi-ite: The Almost Forgotten Traditional Homes Of Korea

South Korea rapidly became a modern country. Within the past half-century it has gone from a country mostly of fields to seas of high rises. Over the years, many of these construction projects have caused the demolition of entire neighborhoods of traditional Korean houses, called hanok. Beautiful houses with tile roofs, wood framing and intricate brickwork were discarded to make way for dense apartment complexes. Fortunately, there has been a movement to preserve the hanok that remain.

You can sometimes see hanok straddled right next to apartment buildings or convenience stores scattered around the country. There are a few so-called “Hanok Villages,” places designed for visitors to take in plenty of traditional Korea, sometimes complete with costumed re-enactors.

My favorite is the Bukchon Hanok Village in Samcheong-dong, located in central Seoul, very close to a lot of other great sights such as Gyeongbok Palace and Cheonggye Stream. Bukchon is actually just a residential neighborhood, not originally intended to be a tourist destination. All of the hanok function as actual family homes, so it definitely doesn’t have a tourist trap vibe that some of other Hanok villages have. It’s great to just wander around the hilly neighborhood, looking at the beautiful houses with some great views of the surrounding city.

The best way to get to Bukchon is via subway. Take line 3 to Anguk Station and get out at exit 3. There is a multi-lingual tourist information desk not far from the exit with maps and brochures. Take a map and wander around. Afterwards, head over to the main street of Samcheong-dong offers plenty of trinket shops, cafes, restaurants and art galleries and is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Be sure to check out more on Korean culture from the other Kimchi-ite posts here!

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]

Photo Of The Day: Istanbul Balcony

I’m getting ready to pack up and leave Istanbul tomorrow, after over two years and one baby, so you’ll have to indulge me in a bit of preemptive nostalgia. Amidst the photos of Hagia Sophia and kebab vendors in the Gadling photo pool of Istanbul images, I was surprised to see this photo by Flickr user BrettDresseur, of a view almost identical to my own a few doors down on Vali Konagi Avenue. Taken in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood, she captured the beautiful architecture and European feel of the area. Similar to Manhattan‘s Upper East Side, Nişantaşı is where to find Turkey‘s priciest retail stores (more Chanel suit than carpet seller), Turkish and foreign ladies who lunch, and the childhood home of Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Visitors to Istanbul can now visit the innovative Museum of Innocence, based on his novel of the same name. The museum is near Taksim square in Çukurcuma, but the setting is pure Nişantaşı. I’ll miss this view and the feeling of living inside one of his novels; goodbye for now, Istanbul!

Add your favorite neighborhood shots to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo of the Day.

Knocked up abroad: planning travel with a baby

Let’s get this out of the way: you can travel with a baby. Many new parents feel that once they have a child, their travel days are over, but many parents will tell you that the first six months are the easiest time to travel with a baby. Is it easy? Not exactly, but with enough planning and the right attitude, it’s not as hard as you might think. Is it selfish? Probably, but so is most travel. Again, planning, attitude and a good amount of luck factor in to ensuring that you and baby aren’t a nuisance to other passengers and that you and your child have a safe and healthy trip. My baby is too young to remember her early adventures, but she’s learning to be adaptable and sociable, and does well with travel, new people, and noise. Is it fun? Your carefree days of travel may be over, but you can still enjoy exploring new places, indulging in great food and wine (it might just be at a sidewalk cafe at 4pm instead of a trendy restaurant at 9pm), and engaging with locals more deeply than you ever did before baby. Given the patience, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that I’ve developed while traveling with a baby, I’d say it has made me a better traveler, maybe even a better person.

Living in a foreign country like Turkey puts me at an advantage: I deal with a language and cultural barrier every day and everything is much more complicated and difficult than it would be at home in New York. Because this is not our permanent home and imported items are expensive, we made it through the first few months with little more than a stroller, a baby wrap to carry her, and a portable changing pad, so we already travel light. I say it gives me an advantage because I’m already used to the challenges and unfamiliarity inherent in travel. What makes foreign travel daunting (even without a baby) is the foreignness of it all, which has become my normal (after nearly two years abroad, I can tell you that knowing what’s going on all the time is overrated). The skills I’ve honed as a traveler and an expat — problem-solving, thinking ten steps ahead, and planning an exit strategy — are the same I use as a parent; you can apply the same lessons with a child or on the road.Now with a few trips under my belt with baby both solo and with my husband (and more travel planned in the coming weeks and months), I’ve developed some guidelines to help with traveling with a baby. I’ll be posting some additional articles on how to cope with a baby on a plane and on the ground, travel gear recommendations, as well as some destination-specific info, but first: some tips on planning a trip with a baby.

Choose a baby-friendly destination. You may find that people everywhere are much more understanding and helpful to people traveling with babies than you imagine, but some places are more baby-friendly than others. In my experience, Mediterranean Europe is full of baby-lovers, even if the cobblestones, stairs, and ancient infrastructure presents a lot of challenges. Istanbul can be a nightmare to navigate with a stroller, but there are always friendly Turks willing to help. I’ve also heard babies in Latin America and Southeast Asia are treated like rock stars. Generally, countries with a high birth rate tend to be friendlier than others, though I’ve found the United States to be the most difficult in terms of other people’s attitudes.

-Prepare to pare down: There are a lot of great things about having a baby in the 21st century, but people managed quite well for generations without wipe warmers (really, this is a thing?!) and baby gyms. There are a few items I use at home every day such as a bouncy seat, a nursing pillow, and a folding bathtub, but I’ve done fine without them for weeks at a time while traveling. I know at some point down the line, I’ll need to pack a myriad of toys, snacks, and diversions for my child, but infants need very little. It may help to wean yourself off of baby gear in advance of your trip to see how well you can get along with less. Let the baby get used to a travel cot if you plan to use one, try getting around for a day with just a baby carrier, and introduce toys that can be easily attached to a stroller and then stashed in a pocket. Think about your destination: will a stroller be more of a hinderance than a help or can you get along with another mode of transport? Do you need a car seat or can you rent one? What can serve multiple purposes? I carry a thin Turkish towel that looks like a pashmina and I can use it as a burp cloth, nursing cover, baby blanket, and a scarf. The less you can pack, the better. Really all you can handle is baby in a stroller, one wheeled suitcase, and a purse and/or diaper bag. Anything more and you’ll regret it. Also, keep in mind that babies are born everywhere, and there are few places in the world where you can’t buy diapers, formula, clothes, or other gear. Pack enough in your carry-on to get through the first day and night in case you arrive at your destination after shops close.

-Schedule travel around baby: Babies are adaptable, but when it comes to travel, especially flying, make it as easy on yourself as possible. My baby generally wakes up early to eat, then goes back to sleep for a few hours, and sleeps through most of the night. Therefore, I’ve tried to book flights for early in the morning or overnight so she’s awake as little as possible. In the six flights we took to and from the US and domestically, the only one we had any trouble with was a 45-minute Boston to New York flight in the early evening, when she tends to be cranky. It’s hard to comfort a baby when you’re standing in line or getting ready to board a flight, so if your baby is already asleep at the airport, that’s half the battle. There used to be nothing I hated more than getting to the airport at the crack of dawn, but traveling with a sleeping, and more importantly, quiet baby is worth getting up early.

-Consider an apartment rental: With the popularity of websites such as AirBnB (even after the home trashing scandal), renting an apartment for even a short stay is an increasingly viable option when planning a trip. It not only gives you more space and a more home-like environment, it can also help you to get to know a place more through the neighborhood and markets when you buy food to cook on your trip. For a parent, an apartment has several key advantages over a hotel room. Having access to laundry while traveling can be a huge help and reduce your packing load significantly. Likewise, whether you are breastfeeding or using formula, having a kitchen with a fridge can be a necessity with a baby. If you’re set on a hotel stay (daily room-cleaning could be a big help too!), make sure your room has a minibar fridge to stash bottles inside and a bathtub if your baby is too big for the sink, and get info on the closest laundromat.

-Do your research: The last thing you want when traveling is to be standing on a subway platform with a crying baby, after hauling a heavy stroller up a flight of stairs, only to discover the train is bypassing your station. Before I travel next week to Slovenia and Italy, I’m looking up everything from how to cross the border by taxi, to what train stations have elevators, to public bathrooms in Venice with baby-changing stations (though I’ve managed many times on the top of a toilet seat lid and a changing pad). All the stuff about a destination you could wait to figure out until you arrived before you had a baby will help you a lot to plan in advance. Here’s some examples of things to research before you go, the more prepared you can be, the better.

Stay tuned for more tips on travel with a baby, in the air and on the ground plus destination guides for foreign travel with a baby. Waiting for baby to arrive? Check out past Knocked Up Abroad articles on traveling while pregnant and what to expect when you’re expecting in Turkey.

10 things to do in St. Louis: how to enjoy the city like a local

Whether you like jazz or opera, historic sites or popular entertainment, the visual arts or dance, there’s something to satisfy every taste in St. Louis, Missouri. Centrally located, yet exotic in its quirkiness, this city on the Mississippi occupies a unique spot in our nation’s history as the Gateway to the West. The graciousness of the south meets the hustle-bustle of the north in “the Lou.” It’s a family-friendly town where kids and adults never run out of places to go and things to do.

Here are ten things to do in St. Louis that will make you feel like a local.

Walk through the belly of a whale in the City Museum.
Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company (701 North 15th Street), the City Museum defies categorization. Dress comfortably in closed toe shoes so you can climb, slide, and explore.

Built with such recycled materials as a shoe factory’s conveyor belt, this stunning feast-for-the-eyes includes a museum-within-a-museum of architectural wonders, an art area where you can try your hand at being creative, and hands on circus entertainment. Need a pedicure? Visit the World Aquarium on the second floor and let the doctor fish (Garra rufa) nibble away your dead skin.

Eat “concrete.”
Under the green and yellow awning at Ted Drewes (two locations: 4224 S. Grand Blvd. or 6726 Chippewa St.) you’ll discover a “concrete,” a milkshake so thick you can turn it upside down. It’s the granddaddy of thick, frozen desserts. Don’t panic if you arrive to find a policeman directing the traffic overflow; the lines move quickly. Try the hometown favorite Terramizzou, a blend of frozen custard, chocolate, and pistachio nuts. (“Mizzou” is a nickname for University of Missouri.) Send up a cheer!
Rated by The Sporting News as one of the best sports cities in the US, St. Louis is home to outstanding professional baseball (the Cardinals), football (the Rams), hockey (the Blues), and soccer (AC St. Louis) teams. On game days, the whole city turns out in team colors.

Prefer motor sports? East of the city you can watch NHRA drag races or NASCAR races at Gateway International Raceway (Madison, IL).

Marvel at the more than 7,000 colors of mosaic tiles at the “New” Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
The “New” Cathedral Basilica (ground was broken in 1907) boasts the world’s largest mosaic installation. Many were designed by Tiffany. When you visit, be sure to look for the red Cardinals’ caps (galeri) hanging from the ceiling. Legend has it that when a cap crumbles to dust, the soul of its former owner goes on to heaven.

Get down and funky in “the Loop.”

Named for an old streetcar turnaround, this unique neighborhood runs from 6000 to 6600 Delmar. Stop for dinner at one of its 45 restaurants, including Chuck Berry’s famous Blueberry Hill, where the vintage toy collection is sure to bring back memories. Enjoy the 140 unique shops located along Delmar’s “Walk of Fame,” where brass stars in the sidewalk commemorate such St. Louis-connected luminaries as Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, Kevin Klein, and Redd Foxx.

Eat toasted ravioli on “The Hill.”
Toasted ravioli is a St. Louis specialty. Your order will come with a rich tomato sauce for dipping. “The Hill” is a historically Italian neighborhood best known for its fine dining. Visit Trattoria Marcella (3600 Watson), and do like the locals. Order the lobster risotto even if it’s not on the menu!

Imagine an elephant running down the middle of a highway.
For more than 100 years, the St. Louis Zoo has thrilled animal lovers the world over. In 1997, the zoo celebrated the birth of its first Asian elephant, Raja. A few years later, the city’s favorite (pachyderm) son broke out of his enclosure, opened a zookeeper’s wallet and ate all the man’s cash. Dire predictions followed that Raja would escape the zoo grounds and wind up dodging cars on Highway 40. Today, you’ll visit Raja at the River’s Edge, his new enclosure.

Ride your bike “down in the Valley.”
Once submerged in the Flood of 1993, the low lands along Highway 40 (I-64/40) have been revitalized. Today the area known as “the Valley” hosts two million square feet of retail space, making it the longest outdoor strip mall in the country. Not only can you shop ’til you drop, you can also bike or walk the Chesterfield Monarch Levee Trail, which will eventually become a 17-mile loop directly behind the shops. When you get hungry, stop in at the Smoke House Market (16806 Chesterfield Airport Road), for a pastrami sandwich it takes two hands to hold.

Admire the Spirit of St. Louis.
Charles A. Lindbergh’s non-stop flight in 1927 from New York City to Paris was financed by two St. Louis businessmen. You can see a replica of the young pilot’s Ryan B-1 Brougham at the Missouri History Museum (5700 Lindell Boulevard). The museum also features the gifts and trophies presented to Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Ask, “What high school did you go to?”

St. Louis boasts more private schools than Chicago, which is four times its size. By hearing which high school you attended — if you attended locally — the questioner can figure out your religious preference, your ethnic background, your test score results, how wealthy your parents were, and whether or not you are “old” St. Louis. Bluff your way into the “old family” category by saying you attended MICDS or John Burroughs.

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, which is set in St. Louis, Missouri. Her first novel, Paper, Scissors, Death, was an Agatha Award Finalist. Read her blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | Adam_d_; Mike Schmid; dyobmit; Clara S]