Biking (Southern) Staten Island

Staten Island isn’t exactly known for its bicycle friendliness. Nevertheless, over the past few years, several bicycling improvements have been made. Much of this has occurred in the northeastern section of the island by its most popular beaches. This area is still on my to-do list.

In the southern section of the island is home to Wolfe’s Pond Park, itself home to one of the three New York City mountain biking courses. Seeing that I had recently visiting Cunningham Park in Queens, one of the other two, I thought starting a trip here would be an interesting followup.

Getting There

Lower Level of the Staten Island Ferry

Riding on the lowest level of the Staten Island Ferry

Unless you live on Staten Island, getting to Wolfe’s Pond Park is quite the adventure as well. From northern Brooklyn I ended up taking the East River Ferry to Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan, followed by a relatively quick trip over the Staten Island Ferry terminal. This portion should only take three minutes (it did on my return), but during the daytime when the weather is nice, this can take a few minutes more due to crowding by tourists and other pedestrians.

As a bicycle-riding passenger, you get to ride on the bottom level of the ship. Many ferries, including the most modern ones built in recent years, are equipped to transport cars. However, some of these ferries have never even done so as they’ve been banned since 9/11. There is no fee for either you or your bike.

With a bicycle on the Manhattan side, you enter the terminal and walk your bike straight through to the former car holding area below the second level (which is only for bike-less passengers). After a police dog has determined your bike safe of anything suspicious, you are asked to wait in a sheltered bike waiting area. Once all passengers have exited, a ferry worker will yell “bikes!” and you can now board the lowest level of the ferry where you will find some bike racks. In theory, you are now free to do whatever you want during the 25-minute trip, including visiting the other levels, the restrooms, and the snack bar.

Once arriving on the Staten Island side of the bay, you exit on the lower level of the ferry to former car waiting area of the Staten Island terminal. From here, you actually need to enter the terminal via an elevator to get to the Staten Island Railroad (SIR), which will be used for the rest of the journey.

Once inside the terminal you follow the signs and eventually descend half a level down to the SIR station. Here, if an agent is present, you can swipe your MetroCard, turn the turnstile with your hand, and they’ll open the gate for you. If there is no agent, well, enjoy lifting your bike over the turnstile. I have reached out to the MTA on what the proper procedure should be in this case. Note that since the SIR only has turnstiles at the northernmost two stations, you’ll have to repeat this on the way back as well.

Once you’re on the SIR, the ride is pretty much a 23-minute subway ride to Prince’s Bay station. From here you exit the station, ride one block left, take a left onto the uninhabited Herbert Street, which leads you right into the trails.

Wolfe’s Pond Park

Wolfe's Pond Park North

Wolfe's Pond Park North

The mountain biking trails in Wolfe’s Pond Park are divided by Hylan Boulevard, and the two sections have a significant riding experience. The northern section is not particularly well marked but has lots of long relatively flat sections. I thought I was following a path when I almost rode into a lake. I couldn’t tell whether the path continued along the lake or not and the immense mud caused me to backtrack and find myself another (or perhaps the intended trail). Aside from this lake mishap, nothing I encountered up in this section was particularly difficult.

Once reaching Hylan Boulevard, you can cross into the southern section of the park by biking west (to the right when you exit the park) until the next intersection and then crossing the boulevard there. Here you’ll find a small entrance.

Wolfe's Pond Park South

Wolfe's Pond Park South

The southern section of Wolfe’s Pond Park is very clearly marked with pink ribbons hung from the trees and shrubs. The terrain is also much more challenging and you’ll often encounter downed trees in your way, probably leftover from Hurricane Irene. Hurricane Irene also destroyed the park’s major pond, and seeing it devoid of water is rather depressing.

It appears that more runners than bicyclists are using this section of the park as I encountered numerous.

down to tottenville

Hylan Boulevard

Hylan Boulevard

Once you’ve had your fun on the trails, it’s possible to explore Staten Island a bit further by biking south on Hylan Boulevard, which has painted bike lanes. It’s a pretty uneventful segment, save for the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin at Mount Loretto, which has an impressive property.

The bike lanes ends at Paige Avenue, where you can take a right and bike down to its intersection at Amboy Road, where you’ll find some shops, including a convenience store, which is great for picking up a refreshment.

Amboy Road is not recommended for biking, as its very narrow. Cutting through the parking lot of the strip mall across from the convince store (Tottenville Square), however, you can almost entirely avoid it. Watch for a gap in traffic and zip the 100 feet over to the next intersection, Bethel Avenue. Now you can relax. Welcome to a suburban residential neighborhood. Four blocks in you’ll find Craig Avenue, which will take you into Tottenville proper.

At Main Street, you can check out this cute old former village, and then at Bentley Street you ride downhill to the dead end and view the Arthur Kill and New Jersey across it. You are now next to the Tottenville SIR station and will find a smooth ramp up to your train back to St. George Ferry Terminal.

Tottenville Station

Tottenville Station

Biking in Queens

Scanning the NYC Bike Map recently, I came across Cunningham Park in Queens, which has a big blurb on the map regarding mountain biking. I own a mountain bike, but, much like the Jeep owners that never experience much more than a pothole, I had never really taken advantage of the fact that I owned a mountain bike. In fact, I had obtained more road-worthy tires and over the past few months even considered buying more of a road bike.

Nevertheless, I thought mountain biking could be fun, so my next task was to figure out how to get there. Cunningham Park is in a far corner of Queens, not far from the Nassau County border, but, thankfully, it’s also not too far from the F-Train’s terminus at 179th Street and Hillside Avenue.

Jamaica Estates

Jamaica Estates

Once you exit this huge station closer to the 180th Street side of it (there’s even an elevator), you’ll be facing a large residential boulevard called “Midland Parkway”. This is the most official-looking entrance to a neighborhood called Jamaica Estates. In fact, Donald Trump grew up on this “parkway”[*].

Midland Parkway doesn’t have a bike lane, but honestly, it doesn’t really need it. It has one very wide lane in each direction and on-street parking that’s barely used. You’ll pass some grand houses including one that even has a sizable waterfall trickling down the front yard. Midland Parkway will take you to 188th Street, which, while not as nice to ride on, didn’t appear to have too much traffic on the Sunday that I tried it out. Taking a left and heading north, you’ll quickly reach 73rd Avenue, which has bike lanes in each direction.

Vanderbilt (Long Island Motor) Parkway over 73rd Avenue

Vanderbilt Parkway over 73rd Avenue

I love the streets in Queens. They’re ridiculously wide, often with medians, an indicator they were built with traffic in mind. Taking a right on 73rd Avenue, you’ll soon reach an overpass at 199th Street. This is not a railroad or even an active expressway, but rather the world’s first highway built exclusively for motor vehicles. It opened in 1908 but was already severely outdated soon after and closed in 1938. It went by the names Vanderbilt Parkway and Long Island Motor Parkway and stretched from roughly around here to roughly around Ronkonkoma out in the middle of Long Island.

All this is relevant because the portion that remains in Queens is essentially a limited-access bikeway (ok, pedestrians are allowed too). You could even call it Queens’ version of Manhattan’s High Line… except with bikes, less landscaping, and forest.

Vanderbilt Parkway (East End) in Queens

Vanderbilt Parkway continues no more...

You can enter this bikeway half a block south in a patch of Cunningham Park and you can use it to head east towards the mountain bike trail. You’ll head over some overpasses,  weave through some sections of woods, and cross under the Clearview Expressway in a tunnel. Then you reach a straightaway that can take you two miles east to Alley Pond Park before abruptly ending at a missing bridge (there is a way out through the park there though).

I did this slight extra trip and it was rather fun heading over overpasses, under expressways, and through long stretches of forest. I then U-turned and bike back to an intersection close to the Clearview, which is an unlabeled 210th Street (you can see the street sign at a nearby road intersection if your eyes are good enough)

210th Street is another ridiculously wide residential street that will take you over to the trailhead of the mountain bike run (intersection of 67th Avenue).

Cunningham Park Mountain Bike Trails Sign

Follow the rules... (Trail Map)

You’ll see a sign for the trails that has all sorts of warnings, rules and etiquette on it. It also has a map. Glance at it and then get going into the woods.

The trails are decently marked, but it’s easy to miss a marker. I had originally intended to do the “less difficult” loop through the park, but sometime after cross the Clearview Expressway I found myself on a “more difficult” trail. At first some of the obstacles seemed a little daunting, but I quickly got used to them. In fact, there weren’t many. The route I took was mostly about winding around trees, climbing small hills, dropping into small valleys and then repeating again. I had some difficulties with some of the steeper hills since the tuning has been off on my bike and I can’t even get into the lowest gears.

A "More Difficult" mountain bike trail in Cunningham Park

Trail - "More Difficult"

Overall it was a lot of fun and I was exhausted much quicker than I thought I would. After less than three miles of actual mountain biking (the course has around seven miles), I found myself back at the exit and searching my phone for the nearest deli to obtain some Gatorade. Luckily, there’s a little business district not far away, at the corner of 215th Street and 73rd Avenue.

After picking up a Gatorade at a tiny stationary store (there’s also a CVS and a kosher deli), I made my way back to the F-Train. I could have actually stayed on 73rd Avenue (that’s the one with the bike lane, remember?), but I decided to give that “motor parkway” one more shot and re-accessed it on 210th Street. Around three miles later I found myself back on the subway, exhausted but satisfied.

Cunningham Park Bike Access from Subway

Area map (and where I biked)

Biking Through Brooklyn

"To Subway" Bike Sign

Sometimes there is even bike-specific signage!

On several occasions each year I uncover my mammoth chrome mountain bike and go for a ride. My destination is generally the Howard Beach – JFK subway station in Queens. After mentioning this to people I’m often asked for details. I think that my mention of such a trip conjures up images of me biking through heavy traffic for dozens of miles. But actually, it’s a very serene ride. Here’s how it’s done:

The first thing you’ll want to do is check out the latest version of the NYC Bike Map. Besides a giant PDF, there is also a route finder feature on the site. New York City has added hundreds of miles of bike lanes over the last couple years and they fall into three categories:

  1. Bike route – Simple markings on a normal driving lane. These are generally used when adding a full lane would take up too much space. They might put drivers into the mindset that they might encounter bicyclists, and they can help you get back to the nearest full bike lane, but they don’t offer much more than that.
  2. Bike lane – A designated lane that motor vehicle drivers are not supposed to drive or park on. This is pretty much ignored, particularly for parking. However, riding in one of these does give you an extra feeling of safety. Some even feature buffer zones between the bike and driving lanes.
  3. Protected bike lane (aka Greenway) – A bike lane that’s physically separated from motor vehicle traffic. Often this is done with parked cars or by allowing bikes on extra wide sidewalks.

The more you stick to categories two and (particularly) three, the more enjoyable your ride will be.

 

Bike Ride to JFK via Rockaways

My preferred route

I’m up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, close to McCarren Park. A couple of blocks over is Leonard Avenue, which has a bike lane. After Broadway, where Leonard ends, there is some signage and pavement markings to direct me over to Tompkins Avenue, which I follow to Dekalb Avenue, which has nice bike lane with buffer area.

Due to the street grid in this part of Brooklyn, I actually go quite a bit out of my way to use these bike lanes. Similar to the G-Train it’s a southeast route that shifts to a southwest route to essentially get to a point south of where I started.

Dekalb Avenue is easy to ride. It’s rather flat and the traffic isn’t that noticeable. I continue on Dekalb until Vanderbilt Avenue, where I take a left and start heading south. This section of Vanderbilt is only one of those “bike routes” (#1 in the list above), so it’s not as nice to ride on, but this is a short stretch. After Fulton Street a bike lane develops and this takes you all the way up a gradual hill to Grand Army Plaza in front of Prospect Park. The bike lane takes you around the outer circle and guide you into the park. Note that it’s also possible to use a completely separated bike lane along Prospect Park West. But the park is a little bit more fun in my opinion.

Heading south in the park, the route is mostly downhill. This is generally the fastest portion of my trip. It’s easy to miss the exit to Machate Circle, which you’ll want to use to get over to Ocean Parkway.

The routing here can be a little confusing. You want to cross Prospect Park Southwest and then Ocean Parkway (so essentially diagonally across from where you exit the park). There you’re allowed to ride on the sidewalk. This section is already called Ocean Parkway, which is confusing, since it’s a little street. You’ll ride along a couple of blocks high above the Prospect Expressway until that ends and you’re on Ocean Parkway proper. You need to cross over Ocean Parkway using the Church Avenue intersection to get to the bike path (riding is only allowed on that side). The bike path doesn’t actually officially start until a couple yards south (where the railing begins).

Ocean Parkway

The start of the Ocean Parkway Greenway

The Ocean Parkway ride is pretty nice. The railing separates pedestrians from bicycles, and most people obey this. The only annoyance is that you’re still crossing every intersection and will frequently need to stop. When you do have a green light (technically you’re using the pedestrian light) you still could encounter turning vehicles, however, for some reason, I seldomly see any vehicles doing this, except, notably, at Bay Parkway which diagonally starts out of Ocean Parkway at an intersection that does not have a traffic light.

Ocean Parkway will take you all the way down to Coney Island, where you can either stop at the Boardwalk or take a left on Neptune Avenue and continue eastward to Sheepshead Bay. This, once again, is just a bike route and the traffic can be a little annoying. But luckily  this section is less than two miles. You pass a fishing marina and the southern end of Bedford Avenue, the longest street in Brooklyn. Right before you get to the Belt Parkway, there is a deli on the opposite side of the street. I have recent begun to use this as it’s the last chance to get some Gatorade or water before your journey outside of civilization.

The entrance to the Belt Parkway Greenway is a little hidden. You want to make to not head up the onramp onto the Belt Parkway. Instead, you take a right on Brigham Street and then enter from there.

Now you’ve reached easy riding… Oh, well I did forget about the beach erosion. Shortly after you enter the greenway you’ll get to Plumb Beach, which is essentially a highway rest stop (with no facilities) that allows access to small beach (no swimming, too polluted). Shortly before this exit a small section of the beach and the greenway washed away around 2010, so you have to bike on the grass to the left of the path. This is only for maybe 200 feet and then you reach the parking lot and from there you can get back on the greenway.

From here you will quickly reach the Flatbush Avenue exit. Here is where you can take a detour via the Rockaways (and add about five miles to your trip) or continue on the Belt Parkway Greenway.

Belt Parkway - Old BridgeBelt Parkway - New Bridge

An old bridge (top) with narrow sidewalk and a new bridge (bottom) with a full-sized sidewalk

If you continue on the Belt Parkway Greenway, you will pass over a series of bridges. Some have tiny sidewalks that can only realistic be ridden in one direction at a time (so you’ll have to co-ordinate with fellow bicyclists). The newer ones, however, have full width bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. Eventually you’ll reach Queens and can then take a right on 84th Street (the end of the greenway). At the next intersection you take a left and then follow the bike bath and signs to the Howard Beach – JFK subway station.

The detour to the Rockaways is a little more scenic and I recommend taking it if you have time. You cross the Marine Parkway Bridge and ride through Jacob Riis Beach (bicycling is always allowed on that Boardwalk, presumably since it doesn’t get much use).

Jacob Riis Beach

Jacob Riis Beach

At the end of Jacob Riis Beach you take Rockaway Beach Boulevard for 33 blocks. This is a quiet residential artery street with very generous bike paths. Since you’re on the primary road and there is very little cross traffic and there are very little traffic lights, this section is very enjoyable. At Beach 116th Street, the main business street in Rockaway Park, I generally take a right and head down to the boardwalk. This is a city boardwalk and it doesn’t allow bike riding after 10am May – September, so during this time it’s advisable to continue on Rockaway Beach Boulevard until Beach 108th Street and then take a right to the Shore Front Parkway, which parallels the boardwalk and has very generous bike lanes. A fun fact is that this was built to be part of an intended actual highway, which luckily never happened.

At Beach 94th Street you can take a left and head across the peninsula to the Cross Bay Bridge which will take you over to a nature preserve. For more than three miles this bike path passes through nothingness! It can actually get kind of boring.

You eventually cross the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge and return to civilization, where you’re actually faced with a mile or so of sharing the road with traffic. There aren’t even bike route markings. Luckily the boulevard is very wide here and you can use the parking lane to avoid much interaction with motorists. At 157th Avenue, a right turn will guide you on your way to the Howard Beach – JFK station.

Howard Beach - JFK Subway Station

Waiting for the subway at the end of a long bike ride

The Howard Beach – JFK station is a modern station that’s ADA (and bike) accessible. An elevator will take you to the fare control area, where, after turning the turnstile with your hand, the station agent will electronically open the service gate for you. You then take another elevator down to the platform. In the summer it is advisable to go to the front of the platform as the rear cars of the A-train tend to be packed with beachgoers returning from the beach.

And that’s how you get 25-30 miles of biking in Brooklyn (and Queens) without dealing with too much traffic.

Bike to JFK - May 1, 2011 - 01Bike to JFK - May 1, 2011 - 02Bike to JFK - May 1, 2011 - 03Bike to JFK - May 1, 2011 - 04Bike to JFK - May 1, 2011 - 05Bike to JFK - May 1, 2011 - 06
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Bike to JFK – May 1, 2011, a set on Flickr.

TWA Flight Center Open House

The annual Open House New York happened to be a couple Sundays ago (10/16). Usually I only find a a handful of events that I’m interested in and usually they require a reservation, which I’m always too late for.

This year there was one event I was interested in that didn’t require a reservation: The TWA Flight Center Open House at JFK Airport.

This building has been closed since 2001, when American bought the struggling TWA. Much of the complex (concourses and gates) was torn down to make room for the new JetBlue Terminal 5, which now sits behind the historic building, also known as the Eero Saarinen Head House.

Unlike all other classic JFK terminals such as the Pan Am Worldport and the National Airlines Sundrome, this building has landmark status and will stick around. But there currently isn’t a clear plan on what to do with it. The building’s famous passenger tubes now connect (in an awkward way) to the the JetBlue terminal’s arrival area. Occasionally it is mentioned that this terminal could be used as an optional check-in facility for JetBlue, but that plan seems to have gone nowhere in the three years the new Terminal 5 has been open. Interestingly enough, there are two out-of-service self-check-in machines sitting in the historic building’s lobby.

The other plan the has been surfacing as of late is to construct a hotel behind the building. I am no architect, but I fail to see how this would work without destroying the already limited view out of the back of the terminal. I would love to see the building used as an aviation museum, however, the location isn’t exactly the most accessible in the city.

Full set on Flickr

TWA Flight Center Open House NYC - 10/16/2011 (HDR) - 01TWA Flight Center Open House NYC - 10/16/2011 - 01TWA Flight Center Open House NYC - 10/16/2011 - 02TWA Flight Center Open House NYC - 10/16/2011 - 03TWA Flight Center Open House NYC - 10/16/2011 - 04TWA Flight Center Open House NYC - 10/16/2011 - 05
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The Journey to Vienna Has Begun

I’m probably approaching 50 lifetime trips to/from Vienna. Amazingly I’ve never experienced any serious travel disturbances. About the worst that has happened so far is that I got into Syracuse at 2:45am instead of 10pm back when I was in college.

So maybe I’m due for some travel insanity. I just got on a New York Trailways bus heading to New York City. By the time this gets there around 1:30 a blizzard is supposed to have reached the city.

While the Austrian Airlines plane that I plan to take to Vienna is supposed to land at JFK around this time and will probably have no trouble doing so, the challenge is going to be dealing with the four-hours-worth of snow that will fall before the scheduled return trip to Vienna.

I plan on getting to the airport around 2:30pm. Hopefully I’ll be able to get out before the snow becomes overwhelming.

Graffiti from the 1940s

Lainzer Tiergarten's Hubertuswarte's EngravingsI’ve taken a series of walks through the Lainzer Tiergarten, a huge nature reserve in Vienna. I mainly did this to get some form of exercise and to get out of the apartment during the day. On most recent wandering, on September 14, I hiked up to the highest point of the reserve, Hubertuswarte, which is about 800 meters (2625 feet) above sea level. Back in the 1920s, the city decided to build a 50-meter (164 foot) observation tower on this peak.
It apparently was the ultimate place to take your sweetheart in Vienna for the next couple decades, since nearly all the carvings into the metal paneling are from the 1930s through 1960s. Seeing that you have to walk for over an hour to the nearest gate of the preserve, I suppose it’s not the coolest place to go anymore. In any case, I took a lot of photos, since 60-year-old graffiti is hard to come by.
You can see the entire collection here.

Scandinavian Break 2006

Scandinavian Break 2006Staying true to my character, I put off posting about my spring break for over two weeks, simply because I realized that it would require a lot of writing. But now the time has come.
We left Friday morning (March 10) at around 9 am. We were shocked by the heat as we stepped out of our apartment, as it was around 60°F (16°C). After driving both our cars down to my parents’ house in Vestal and having breakfast, we continued on in my car to the Newark Airport, where, after a time-consuming parking spot hunt, we took the monorail to the proper terminal and checked in. By now it was well over 70°F (21°C).
As we had been unable to previously reserve exit row seats or even seats next to each other, I got in line about 30 minutes before the gate counter opened. This proved somewhat successful, as we both received aisle seats across from each other. The flight was delayed coming in and delayed pushing back, but was otherwise good. Once landing in Copenhagen, we were delayed docking to the gate as some Thai Airlines plane was delayed leaving the gate.
Once getting into the airport, however, things went great. We got through the airport really quickly (the wood flooring is amazing by the way), and got a ticket for a train into the city that left almost immediately. As we got out of the train at Copenhagen Central Station, Jesper was coming down the stairs to great us. After a hilarious cab ride, we arrived at his apartment in Frederiksberg. After watching about an hour of random Danish television, Mike and I took a nap to work off some our missed sleep.
After waking up we ordered some pizza from the local “Pizza Burger House” (with assistance of course). We ate quite a lot from that place the first coupled days. Shortly after seven that evening we headed out to what would be a very long night. It all started at this place called L.A. Bar, which at this early hour and due to its small size looked like a neighborhood bar. The only customers for the first hour or so were Jesper, Mike, myself, and this Danish dude who had lived in California or something.
I gave Karen a call, and she showed up shortly afterwards. That’s when I found out that L.A. Bar is pretty well known (although I still didn’t understand why at this point). All of us went upstairs where I was surprised to find a dancefloor, which was completely empty at this early hour though. Emil showed up around this time too. For the first time in my life I had friends from Vestal, Vienna, and Syracuse, all at the same table.
We stayed at L.A. Bar a good while longer, until other people actually started showing up there! We eventually went to a place next door called Moose, which is like the Chuck’s (Syracuse) or Paddy’s (Vienna) of Copenhagen. After about an hour there, we went back to L.A. Bar, which had now heated up to the point that there was a line out the door and a coat check.
Many hours later, when I finally wanted to leave this fine establishment, I noticed that I had lost my coat check ticket. Despite my pleas, the staff wouldn’t give me my coat back. Fortunately Jesper was able to work it out. It had also helped that I had a post-it note with my name on it inside one of my pockets. After a long subway ride and walk, Jesper and I made it back to his place. It was quite the way to start a vacation.
As could be imagined, not much was going on with us the next day. A lot of Danish TV and more Pizza Burger House pizza! The evening (although later this time), we went to Rub ‘A Dub, apparently the place to be Sunday nights. This live reggae joint was pretty cool. We only stayed until one or two though, as Jesper had class in the morning, and Mike and I were pretty tired as well.
Monday Mike and I locked ourselves out of Jesper’s apartment for four hours, as apparently we were ringing the wrong doorbell. We wandered around Frederiksberg (an independent enclave in Copenhagen) to kill time, checking out a supermarket (which had several kinds of Brooklyn Beer from Utica, amazingly) and a pharmacy (long line). After finding out the correct button to push, which was achieved by calling Jesper’s cell phone from a phone booth (I had left my phone in the apartment but luckily had his number on a sheet of paper), we were able to get back into the apartment. After Jesper got home we took an approximately forty-minute walk from his apartment to Christiania (via downtown).
Christiania is quite possibly one of the shadiest places in the developed world, and we left shortly after entering. It is nevertheless worthwhile to see if you visit Copenhagen, although you might prefer doing so in daylight. We subsequently took the subway back to Frederiksberg and went to sleep not much later after that.
Tuesday morning it was time to leave Copenhagen in order to check out Sweden. We got on a train around two, and about twenty minutes later were at the Malmö South Railway station. We picked up our rental car keys (they didn’t even ask for ID), and started the six-hour trip to Stockholm. Since Mike had been sick since Sunday night, I drove the entire way, which was further complicated by some snow during the last hour or so.
To make a long story short, we were screwed over by Travelocity, because it turns out our hotel was located in the probably furthest-out suburb of Stockholm, Södertälje. Luckily the hotel was located adjacent to a terminus of the Greater Stockholm commuter rail system (Stockholms pendeltåg). We took advantage of this train for two roundtrips: The first was Wednesday for stereotypical sightseeing, and the second was Thursday night to check out the nightlife.
Stockholm is a very confusing city, especially for nightlife. Thursday night we took the train to Södermalm (Stockholm South Station) and wandered around on the supposedly happenin’ street. Unfortunately it didn’t seem too exciting, and the prices were ridiculous. Correctly assuming that there would be cheaper places down side roads, we wondered around until we found a “decently priced” establishment, where we had a couple beers.
By 9:30 the next morning we were on our way to Gothenburg, a ride that included a stretch of annoying alternating three-lane highway between Jönköping and Borås. Additionally, our car ran out of washer fluid, and we had to pay the equivalent of $7 for a tiny bottle.
Upon arriving in Gothenburg, we helplessly drove around trying to find the street called Kungsportsavenyn or simple “Avenyn,” the main street of this city. After a stop at a 7-Eleven, we were able to find it. I’m pretty sure that at one point I drove down the middle of a pedestrian zone!
In Gothenburg we were located in the Best Western Mornington Hotel, the most centrally located hotel of all. Quite a difference from our Södertälje experience! Shortly after arriving I called up Johanna, and we had coffee with her and two of her friends in a small shopping mall. Subsequently, Mike and I killed a couple hours writing postcards and essentially watching American TV with subtitles (Scandinavia is saturated with it). Around eleven we then went out looking for a decently priced location to celebrate St. Paddy’s day. We found a place two blocks from our hotel and stayed there until two. At least I can tell you that Gothenburg has a healthy nightlife scene. I still heard life outside at 5:30 am, after waking up in the middle of the night.
Around noon the next morning we left to return the car to Malmö and get back to Copenhagen. It was a very uneventful ride until Mälmo, where it took us ages to find the train station we had rented the car from. Finally around three it was back across the Oresund Bridge to Copenhagen, where we were this time picked up by Emil at the Østerbro station. As Emil correctly stated, everything in Østerbro is “about ten minutes” away. We walked to his apartment and then shortly afterwards to this food place where I bought the largest burger of my life.
We went out pretty late that night (around midnight). We missed the last normal bus by about ten seconds and had to thus walk about twenty minutes to catch a nightbus. This took us out to the suburb where the house party we were going to was. Along the way several of Emil’s (in these circles known as ‘Buff’) friends got on. The party was pretty cool as we were able to hang out with cool Danes, including members of the band Pix Lips, which Emil/Buff is the guitarist of.
After leaving this party, the night wasn’t over yet! We got on a cab and headed downtown to a bar, where we stayed until closing time (5 am). After hardly any sleep, and oversleeping by over an hour, we frantically left Emil’s apartment and started hurrying towards a main road to catch a cab. I guess we had forgotten about the “about ten minutes” rule of Østerbro, as we came across its train station and realized we were actually making good time and could take the train.
We checked in on time and got to the gate before most people, and everything went fine from there. After stopping by my parents’ house so Mike could pick up his car around eight that evening, we made it back to Syracuse around 9:30.
Despite having its low points, our “Scandinavian Break” was great. We got to see several cities of Scandinavaia, I got to see a total of four of my Vestal and Vienna friends, and we were able to spend sometime in the quite possibly coolest continent on Earth… Although as Johanna and I still both agree, nothing can match Vienna’s status as the best city in the world!
Special thanks are in order to Emil and Jesper, who housed us for a total of four nights and went out of their way to make it a great trip for us. This includes Jesper getting up at an early hour to pick us up form the train station and going out with us on a Sunday night despite having class the next morning. And of course there’s Emil, who picked us up from Østerbro on very short notice and who went out with us on very late notice! And if it hadn’t been for Jesper’s coat-negoiating skills, I would have been very, very, cold the first Saturday night!
Now I’m back in Syracuse, in well, I suppose the best city in Upstate New York, hah. Oh well, its not all that bad. If a cocktail of required chemistry and calculus classes didn’t plague me, maybe I could actually enjoy it more.
On a side note, at over 1900 words, this is most certainly the longest weblog entry I have ever written. Hopefully I’ll keep this thing updated on a more daily basis, so it won’t have to come to this again. But knowing myself, it most certainly will!
Want a retro trip report? How about Vienna Trip II from three years ago (March 2003). Those were the days…

A Day in Budapest

Yesterday, I spent the day in Budapest. It was quite a fun change of atmosphere from sitting around in my apartment all day. It takes a little under three hours to drive there. I hadn’t been there since 1994, and it has changed a lot. If you ignore the difference in language, Budapest isn’t all that different from Vienna anymore. It has really modernized.
Driving there went pretty well. I found out I had to buy a €7 vignette for four days, which is the shortest one, to use the highways. In total I exchanged €23, which I easily used up, especially since my appetite is back stronger than ever. I first stopped at a Subway, and ate a 12-inch sub meal. Then I found my way to the “Citadel” hill, where I had also been with my parents eleven years ago. They tried to extort an entrance fee for the actual structure, which I didn’t want to go into anyway. I ended up taking a lower path around this area, and found my way to the scenic view point without paying. After this I bought some stuff at a supermarket, and then walked along the Danube for a bit and then found the main shopping street. I then ate at Burger King (I’m horrible), after which I tried driving home. I took a wrong turn, which led me across a bridge that I should have crossed the opposite direction, because it would have led me home. I noticed this and tried to find some way to turn around, but, like Vienna, this is pretty hard, because the main entrance/exit roads don’t allow any turns.
So I ended up wasting another 45 minutes or so getting lost in communist-built ghettos. I then eventually got on a semi-highway, which eventually led me to the right highway a couple of miles outside the city. I got home around nine.
The photos can be found here.