A cyclist rides between the semi-truck tracks while carrying an umbrella in the snow.
Crystal City’s bland underground corridors double as a magnificent photography exhibition featuring amateur shooters who’ve made magnificent images of wondrous places and unimaginable beauty, as if to tell those of us wandering these banal hallways on breaks from our corporate cubicles that life happens anywhere—everywhere—but here.
The sun sets over Lafayette Square and the White House in late January during the federal government shutdown.
When we arrived in Oswiecim, Poland, on December 1, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to breathe. Americans take good air quality for granted, but in southern Poland, where residents burn coal, trash and various other things in their furnaces for heat in the cold, dark winters, smoke hangs in the air, forming halos over the street lamps. Towns smell like blacksmith shops, and lungs burn in the acrid pall.Read More
My husband Jacob and I spent the first week of September exploring Ireland and Northern Ireland, in part to discover my family’s roots in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
I grew up in suburban Charleston, South Carolina, on James Island in a neighborhood called Lawton Bluff, where I lived until I was 23. What I didn't know then was that the neighborhood was named after the Lawton Plantation, and that beneath the Kentucky bluegrass of our average American front yards was the sweat of countless slaves who picked cotton here as the first shot of the Civil War rang out from Fort Johnson, only a few miles away.
The Lawton Plantation was adjacent to the McLeod Plantation, whose slave quarters only a few feet from Folly Road formed the backdrop of my commute to school and work, and even our grocery shopping for many years. The McLeod Plantation was closed to the public until just two years ago, when Charleston County opened it as a historic site meant to tell the stories of the slaves who worked these fields and lived in these shacks visible to the tens of thousands who drive Folly Road every day.
I visited the plantation for the first time today, and learned that this plantation is unique because the direct descendants of the slaves who worked the fields here lived in these shacks until 1990, when the last member of the McLeod family, Willie McLeod, who attended the church I went to as a kid, died at the age of 104.
Think about that: The McLeod Plantation slaves remained here after emancipation, and their families lived in these shacks without running water or plumbing of any kind, using only nearby outhouses, until just 27 years ago. And they lived here as my friends and I and rode by in our parents' minivans every day, hardly noticing the history beneath us, as if the vestiges of America's Original Sin were the wallpaper of Charleston's suburbs.
Today, you can eat lunch at a taco joint in a strip mall across the street and look out at the slave quarters and easily think this is just an average Southern suburban scene. But the reality is that slavery is baked into the land beneath the trappings of corporate suburbia — James Island's bustling Harris Teeters, CVS pharmacies and tract housing — which go far to annihilate a sense of place and history. The suburbanites who are flocking to Charleston would do well to learn and appreciate the power of its past and the ghosts of toil and struggle beneath their feet.
Slow travel on the California Zephyr really is an antidote to the accumulated stress and strain of numerous recent trips and work deadlines. You’re forced to socialize with your fellow travelers, and see the country in ways you can’t see it if you’re flying over it or driving 80 mph on a freeway across it.Read More
When the California Zephyr’s dining car crew made the daily lunch call at noon today, I grabbed a window seat to watch the Colorado River scroll by, and soon found myself accompanied by three elderly women.
One of them said she’s riding Amtrak from Connecticut to California, and the other two are riding only between Denver and Grand Junction. One of the Colorado ladies is a journalist running a local news website in Montrose, Colo., and the other has worked with my former editors in Grand Junction.
So of course we spent the next hour talking shop. They both knew my former editors at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, and we exchanged stories of life and taking copious notes as reporters on the Western Slope. It was a delightful and unexpected hour in the dining car debating journalistic objectivity, the Flint water crisis and the perils of chasing tweets — all as the Colorado River meandered beneath redrock cliffs, canary-yellow aspen trees and a bluebird sky just outside the train window.
Such serendipity doesn’t often happen on airplanes. That’s why people ride Amtrak.
As I write, I’m riding the rails between Denver and Sacramento — taking the slow-travel route to the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in California. I flew to Denver so I could pick up the California Zephyr for its best stretch — the mountains and desert between Denver and San Francisco. I’ve explored Colorado more than most people, but I’ve never seen it by train.
SEJ’s annual conference is often an opportunity for exploration and a needed solo trip to new places. I suspect that traveling to SEJ via train may become something of a tradition for me.
Last year, I flew to San Antonio, visited family, and then boarded an Amtrak train to SEJ in Norman, Okla. Next year, riding the rails to Pittsburgh will be a no-brainer.
The California Zephyr is pulling into Grand Junction now. My only regret is that I can’t spend the night here, visit friends as I did in Denver, and swill some Kannah Creek beer.
A photographic meditation on Berlin. February, 2016.Read More
Images of Ground Zero and the World Trade Center on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.Read More
As the main tourist attraction in Sydney and one of the most iconic symbols of Australia, the Sydney Opera House speaks for itself. During our Australia trip last month, Jacob and I mostly avoided major tourist attractions in favor of seeing Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra on their own terms.
But, just like a first visit to New York City in incomplete without at least a brief visit to the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center or the World Trade Center, a first visit to Sydney would be incomplete without at least a stroll by the Opera House if for no other reason than to admire the geometry of the building's roof. These images are the best I could muster with my iPhone SE:
Welcome to Colorful Colorado. That's the greeting you see upon crossing into Colorado on the highway, recalling the Wild West and a distant romantic era of roadtripping that seems to have gone the way of Route 66.Read More
I grew up in the South, so I love BBQ by default. It is, after all, religion unto itself. In a perfect world, I'd be vegetarian, but I'm not because there's barbecue. Suggest to a Southerner that your barbecue recipe more authentic or delicious than theirs, or the planet would be better off if we'd all just give up eating brisket, well, them's fightin' words.
Barbecue traditions span the continent, and word of amazing kosher barbecue drew us to Brooklyn, where Izzy's Smokehouse peddles serious addictions in Crown Heights.
Jacob and I trekked one hour and 40 minutes on the subway from Marble Hill to northern Brooklyn to eat barbecue with our friend David, who lives in a truly fascinating part of New York City (what part isn't fascinating?). Crown heights is replete with Jewish yeshivas and trendy bagel shops and odd body-shaping practices and Caribbean delis and Trinidadian roti restaurants. There is much to explore, but with the balmy winter suddenly turning frigid, barbecue was our main reason for riding the 4 Train all the way to its eastern terminus today.
Let's get this out of the way: Izzy's has by far the most tender and delicious barbecue I can recall eating, at least since I moved from South Carolina 15 years ago.
My family lives in Texas, where barbecue, like a country twang, is in people's DNA. I've eaten a lot of barbecue Austin and San Antonio and Midland and Big Spring. All of it has been tasty at best, not the stuff of legend, though it's natural for Texans to boast otherwise regardless of the evidence. I'm paying the Great State another visit in a few months, so Texas, I challenge you to serve up some 'cue more outrageously tender and tangy than the sliced wonders Izzy's put on my plate today. Are you up to the challenge? My money says Izzy's wins the bet.
Who knew barbecue was a thing in New York City? BBQ joints are popping up all over the place. There's Mighty Quinn's in the East Village and scattered about Manhattan. Hill Country over on 26th St. There's even a barbecue joint inside the Whole Foods on Bowery. And there are many, many more. Izzy's opened in Crown Heights last summer.
At Izzy's, the three of us split a 1/2 pound order of brisket and a 1/2 pound order of smoked turkey, which tasted deep fried to me. However they prepared it, both meats damn near melted in my mouth. The brisket wasn't even overly fatty. It's a good thing this kosher 'cue was extraordinarily tasty, because Izzy's isn't exactly a cheap date. Our pound of meat cost $32.50 and change, plus more than three hours of roundtrip transit time from home.
It really was that good. That's the thing about good barbecue: The lengths you'll go to find it may be immense and unreasonable and insane, but like a good whisky, it's addicting and amazing and you care about little else than the preciously ephemeral flavor of that damn good food in front of you.
Q'Kachapa looks like little more than a fast-food joint jammed between a KFC, a pre-paid cell phone store, a super sketchy Chinese place called "Panda" and a bodega on a bustling stretch of Broadway beneath the 1 Train in the Bronx. I walk by it every week on the way from Marble Hill to the Garden Gourmet grocery store one block north.
The distinction between Marble Hill (technically in Manhattan) and Kingsbridge in the Bronx is pretty fuzzy. The neighborhoods blend into each other, and many people who live there are Latin American, mainly Dominican. Kingsbridge is the next neighborhood in the Bronx north of Marble Hill, generally straddling Broadway between Riverdale and the Major Deegan Expressway, or I-87. It's an interesting place because Riverdale to the west is the most affluent section of the Bronx. The boundaries are so fluid that Garden Gourmet uses Riverdale as its mailing address.
I've always assumed that Q'Kachapa is Dominican, given that the front window advertises mofongo, a crushed plantain dish rooted in the fufu found in West Africa. But Q'Kachapa's menu says it's a Venezuelan restaurant, and indeed, its offerings span Latin America. Burritos, tacos, quesadillas and nachos are featured next to pabellon criollo, arepas, kachapas, patacon and pepitos.
Since moving to Marble Hill, we've been a little remiss in exploring the many, many local restaurants lining Broadway between 225th St. and 242nd St., which is roughly the northern extent of Broadway's bustling commercial strip.
So after a quick trip to the supermarket, I stopped in at Q'Kachapa and ordered a grilled chicken arepa and three mofonguitos, which featured chicken, cheddar cheese and a tangy sauce encased in a crushed plantain shell. The arepa is a sweet corn cake sandwich with lettuce, grilled chicken, a fried egg and a Thousand Island dressing-like sauce.
I ordered takeout, so instead of walking the chilly eight tenths of a mile back home, I hopped on the 1 Train at 231st St. as way to cut 10 minutes or so off the trek down to 225th St. I should have walked because once the 1 Train arrived at the 225 St. station, an "unruly passenger" had jumped onto the tracks ahead of the train, and I ended up getting stuck on the train for 20 minutes or so until they opened the doors and let us out.
That meant my arepa and mofonguitos were lukewarm when I got them home. But they were tasty anyway. The corn cake on the arepa was sweet and tasty, but the sandwich was generally overpowered by the taste of the Thousand Island-like sauce. I ended up scraping some of it off and throwing out about a third of the sandwich.
There are better places in the area to get mofongo, but for a quick Caribbean-inspired dinner, my mofonguitos were pretty tasty and filling. It looked and tasted quite a lot like what I'd expect of Latin American street food.
I have no idea how authentic Q'Kachapa is. But the locals like it: The place was packed with folks from the neighborhood. I was very clearly the only non-Spanish speaker in the place.
Total cost: $11. Not bad.
There are many ways to explore the city. Some choose stick to their own neighborhood and daily route to work. Others stray far and wide, exploring the subway system or specific neighborhoods as they look for architectural wonders or obscure artifacts of history.
In 2016, my goal is to explore New York City and its neighborhoods through its food, mainly ethnic cuisine. Where else can you find Egyptian, French and Greek restaurants on the same block?
So long as we live in New York City this year, I plan to visit at least one new international restaurant each week — or 52 cuisines in 52 weeks. It could be the Dominican bakery around the corner from my apartment in Marble Hill, a unique Halal food stand in Midtown, a quick workday lunch at a Caribbean place I just learned about on Houston Street or a Georgian restaurant in a distant Brooklyn neighborhood.
We kicked this project off today with a long hike through the Bronx.
Week 1: Bangladeshi Food in Parkchester and Pastries in the Bronx's Little Italy
The goal for today was Neerob, a Bangladeshi restaurant in Parkchester praised in the New York Times in 2011 for being one of the only places in the city where true Bangladeshi food is served. We decided to walk from Marble Hill to Parkchester in the east Bronx through the Bronx's Little Italy, hiking along Kingsbridge Road, Fordham Road, Arthur Avenue, and eventually below the Bronx Zoo and over to Unionport Road and Starling Ave. — a 5.2 mile hike.
The first stop was the less famous but much larger Little Italy along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the city with one of the region's highest concentrations of Italian meat markets, bakeries and shops.
That's where we found Gino's Pastry Shop, where I ate a pastry called sfogliatella, or "lobster tail," a pastry with resembling a lobster tail made with thin leaves of pastry.
Delicious. Jacob ate a cannoli, and soon we found ourselves wandering through the bustling Arthur Ave. Market, which is replete with vendors hawking olive oil, fresh vegetables, pizza and "This is the Bronx" hats and T-shirts, each of which is probably aimed at tourists.
From there, we wandered through the central Bronx and over to Parkchester, a planned development of uniform housing towers built by Met Life just before World War II. Neerob is in a Bangladeshi district just a couple of blocks away from the housing towers.
As we walked into the restaurant, there were cases of mostly unlabeled food on the right, and seating in an adjacent room on the left. Is there table service? Do we order at the counter? And what exactly were they serving? Except for the clearly-labeled biryanis, or rice dishes, in the case, we couldn't tell for sure. That's what stands out about this place: You're supposed to know what the food in the display case is, and you shouldn't need labels or a menu to help you identify it. Its deliciousness is supposed to be self evident.
And it was. We were seated, and we ordered from a takeout menu, and when we got our food, the flavor was as bursting as we'd expected.
Jacob ordered goat curry, and I had channa dal and chicken korma with garlic naan and mango lassi, an Indian yogurt drink.
Each dish was rich and spicy, and totally unlike any korma or dal I've had at any Indian restaurant in town. Most customers in the restaurant ate with their hands, but as the only obvious Westerners in the restaurant, we were given utensils.
Delicious. Of course. Some of the best South Asian food I've had in NYC so far.
The real treat, aside from the food, was visiting this part of the Bronx, which is so far removed from the typical tourist track that you'll be unlikely to ever see one here, a trait it shares with Marble Hill and much of far Uptown Manhattan.
My first Texas Amtrak ride ended like this:
The guy across from me on the Heartland Flyer — the Amtrak train running from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City — held a cell phone in one hand and cold fries in the other, rambling on the phone for more than a half hour about the various ways to chop off turkey legs and the sundry implements required.
After the Amtrak conductor called a "power smoke break" at the last stop, the guy's phone conversations became more and more colorful, describing the opulence of Amtrak compared to Greyhound.
The bus, he said into the phone, keeps you caged in all day, prohibiting smokin' and swillin' until you get off the bus. Compared to Greyhound, Amtrak is pure luxury, complete with smoke breaks and a snack bar peddling Bud Light and stale pretzels.
"You can get your eatin' on, you can get your drink on, you can get your whatever on!" he said into the phone.
Twenty minutes later, the Heartland Flyer pulled into the station at Norman, Okla., depositing me onto a darkened platform at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, not another person in sight. I called a cab, and within a half hour, I was let off at a suburban Embassy Suites for a professional conference at the edge of a big box-laden "lifestyle center" whose roadways were unmarred by sidewalks and its drivers undistracted by pedestrians. If there were a country called Generica, and Anywhere, USA, were its capital, this might be its suburb, where cars are king and train travelers are just a step above untouchables.
Amtrak occupies a unique place in Middle America. Train geeks, retirees, those for whom both their home and travel destination exist near the rails and maybe hipsters opposed to more polluting forms of transportation all gather on the Sunset Limited or the Palmetto or Heartland Flyer, each enduring hours of power smoke breaks, stops in dusty forlorn towns on the Great Plains and obnoxious phone conversations about disemboweling turkeys in order to avoid more popular and much faster forms of transportation.
In other words, Amtrak riders are hardly those who live a place called Generica, and it's worth the slow ride between cities to hear their stories.