Winter Skate

Wells-Fargo-Winter-Skate-BroomballThe first time I drove into downtown Saint Paul, Minn., it was New Years Day, 1999. I was trying to find my way to a place called the Saint Paul Union Depot for the opening of the Titanic exhibition. Even though I was lost, I was distracted by the fact the area I now know as Lowertown, looked like New York City. I had never been to New York, but in my head, at that moment, I felt like I was in New York.

When I had the opportunity to move to the Twin Cities later that same year, I knew exactly where I wanted to live – the place that made me feel like I was in the West Village of New York.

As a 14 year resident of the Lowertown district of Saint Paul, I have watched the city blossom into a beautiful, mature lady. One event that has been in Saint Paul even longer than me is the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. Minnesotans take their winters seriously. They complain about the cold and the snowy commutes like the best of them, but at the end of the day, they celebrate winter. So much so, each January, they put on a two-week party called Saint Paul Winter Carnival.

As part of Winter Carnival, the city lights the parks, decks the halls, and sets up outdoor activities for all to enjoy during the cold months both before and after the carnival. One of these outdoor activities, that reminds me so much of New York (now that I’ve been there many times), is a pop up skating rink. The Wells Fargo Winter Skate is open to the public for skating, broomball, which you see in the picture above, and youth hockey events.

It’s classic and romantic and fun. I hope to bump into you sometime in my northern Midwest version of New York sometime.

Bryant Park Winter Village


Pop-up markets, especially around the holidays, are one of the unique and wonderful things that help make New York, New York. Union Square Holiday Market is big and bright and smells like pine cones and peanut brittle. Artisans sell their jewelry and handmade products, and vendors offers spices, herbs, oils and sweets. On the weekends the park is packed with locals and tourists alike.

I prefer a quieter pop-up market, and I was reminded of this on my recent trip to NYC. Bryant Park Winter Village isn’t as large as its competition, but there are still 125 booths with high class finery. Better yet, if you are looking to avoid the crush at Rockefeller Center, there is a skating rink, warming house and restaurant, all with a spectacular view of a huge, decked out Christmas tree.

Bryant Park Winter Village is located behind the New York Public Library, 5th Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018. Want to read more about New York? Visit a summary of all Travel Snapshot New York posts.

Frequent flier

For the first time in my life I arrived home from New York, unpacked my bag, and left the suitcase out because I’m going to start packing for my next adventure this weekend. Incredibly grateful.

This is day 156 of Photo 365.

Chrysler Building

This is the week before Saint Paul Art Crawl, which means our house is full of photography prints, canvases and stationary as husband prepares his studio for the weekend. One of my favorite photos in this year’s collection is a foggy, blurred scene of the Chrysler Building he took the last time we were in New York. And it’s day 114 of Photo 365.


I struggled a little with this last installment about New York City because I didn’t want to talk about it at first. It’s not sexy. It’s not romantic. It’s about business.

When you work in the 10022 ZIP code, you are in the heart of Midtown East, home of Madison Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Rockefeller Center is just one ZIP code over. Central Park and the Theater District are close by. But after a long day of meetings, taking a cab or walking far seems cumbersome. Staying in your postage stamp size room is also not an option. Okay bright lights, big city – NOW what?

Of all the places in Manhattan, Midtown East is what I know best. I stay in 10022 every time I’m in town and have learned where to find my favorite morning bialy (PAX on E. 51st and 3rd Ave) and which street cart has the freshest knish. If you are doing business in Midtown East and don’t want to walk 15 blocks for dinner or a drink, here are my favs close to most 10022 hotels.

NY Luncheonette: This diner gets mixed reviews on Yelp, but I love it. It’s not gourmet, it’s not expensive. It’s clean, has fast service and the food is hearty and good. If you don’t want to eat in a dull hotel restaurant, this little diner comes with New York flare. At lunch it’s full of office workers, so you may have to belly up to the old fashioned counter, but that seems like a prize, not a punishment. Tip – try the veggie burger, even if you’re not a vegetarian. It’s the size of your face and made with avocado. Delish. (E. 50th and Lexington)

Bill’s Gay Nineties: This is probably the first speakeasy I’ve ever been in, but that’s not what makes Bill’s glorious. The converted brownstone mansion has transformed the first level parlor into a piano bar. Narrow and dark, you can sit at the bar or at one of the few tables, if you’re lucky enough to find a seat. And jammed into the corner is an upright piano with a crooner belting out Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. Grab a martini and feel free to sing along. (E. 54th and Madison Ave.)

Dawat: If you’re a foodie who wants to have a reasonably priced meal in Midtown, Dawat is your spot for flavorful Northern Indian fare. Internationally acclaimed chef Madhur Jaffrey owns the establishment and avoids the traditional Indian feel with a more upscale atmosphere. Try the Dal or Masala dishes for a guaranteed party in your mouth. (E. 58th and 2nd Ave.)

Fusia Asian Cuisine: You may think Fusia is a mistake when you walk in. It has an any-man’s-Chinese-buffet feel about it, but when the beautifully decorated plates arrive and you take that first bite, you know it’s going to be okay. Wonderful flavors of hot, piping food await. (E. 56th and Lexington)

Pretty much anything you find on 2nd Ave. between E. 58th and E. 48th are going to have good food and atmosphere. There are tiny French bistros and Latin cafes that spill out on the sidewalk in the summer. There are Irish pubs, English pubs and sports pubs. The crowd is typically a mix of locals, internationals and business travelers, which makes for a pleasantly eclectic atmosphere.

Winds of New York

The beauty and the bane of living or working in Manhattan is walking from point A to point B. It  could be a glorious spring day or a frightful winter wasteland. Even on a 50 degree December day, it can feel cold. A Minnesotan who now lives in The Big Apple summed it up best. “In Minneapolis you leave your heated office and take the heated skyway to your heated parking garage. In New York you leave your heated office and go out into the elements.”

The first weekend in December was actually quite nice by New York standards – perfect for roaming if well dressed. Husband and I decided to make a day of walking to Ground Zero. But as we strolled, the temperature (and sun) began to dip.

There is a Starbucks every 50 yards in Midtown. As you move toward more residential areas of lower Manhattan, the coffee shops begin to thin. By the time we reached Washington Square Park we weren’t cold as much as in severe need of a bathroom. Pointing ourselves toward Bleecker Street, we had to find a warm coffee house with a loud espresso machine waiting to greet us. But after passing night clubs and standing-only restaurants, we were desperate and dashed into a white linen cafe.

Two cups of coffee and nearly $10 later, we emerged. It was one of the most expensive pit stops on record.

We pushed forward with our camera backpacks through Soho and TriBeCa to Ground Zero. We viewed the construction site, walked through St. Paul’s Chapel Cemetery across the street, bought a $5 scarf for husband on the street, and turned back toward Midtown.

My face was numb by TriBeCa. But we trudged on, determined to get to Soho. There had to be a Starbucks in Soho.

In the center of Soho we didn’t see a Starbucks or anything that resembled a coffee shop. With no legitimate option for warmth in the middle of the afternoon, we opted for the best option within a few feet of us.

Toad Hall, a bar on a sleepy street in Soho, was dark with rustic English decor and a pool table in back. It was also warm and full of people chatting or reading alone while drinking coffee. Of course! They don’t drink coffee at Starbucks. Too tourist. Too ordinary. The residents of New York were in the bar for their cup o’ Joe.

After thawing in Toad Hall we agreed to keep the walking more tempered. In TriBeCa we tried our luck again, this time at Broome Street Bar, which also had piping hot clear glasses of coffee and cappuccinos. Again, conversation and book reading at the tables. It was never a scene I expected to find there, in the bars off West Broadway, but it feels like a graduation of sorts. After many trips to New York, I know where the locals find the best cheap coffee.

New York iReport

My goal of live blogging from the streets of New York was abandoned by a patchy 3G signal and less than stellar battery life. I have a future blog in mind from the trip, but until then, here is a delayed report told by my iPhone Hipstamatic app.

NY Luncheonette

The Plaza Hotel

Central Park artists

Central Park Ice Skating Rink


Bill’s Gay Nineties in Midtown East

Brooklyn Bridge and New York skyline

New York Times Square

Hello Kitty!

The lobby of The Pod Hotel