Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “urban”

First Bite Out of the Big Apple: Weekend in NYC

I’ve visited a fair number of US cities over the years but surprisingly, never New York City. So, when my corporate wunderkind little sis suggested we meet up in the Big Apple for an extended weekend, I was all in.

Ever the planner and trip-maximizer, I happily marched over to the World of Maps shop in Hintonburg to pick up some pre-trip research materials, namely Lonely Planet’s Discover New York City, National Geographic’s Walking New York, a super-handy and compact Popout map of New York, and of course, the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine at my local newsstand. This systematic review of NYC was rounded out by consultations with NYC-savvy friends and colleagues along with studying a vast number of electronic articles and resources.

I figured, rather blusteringly on retrospect, that hey, I organized and executed a solo first trip to Europe last fall by myself, so how hard could it possibly be to take in all of NYC that I wanted to see on a 3 1/2 day extended weekend?

Afterall, I thought, I’m an infinitely curious person with energy to spare (especially when it comes to travel and exploration), I’ve got a keen sense of direction, and am a consummate strategist and contingency planner. Perfect, right? Wrong. Despite all of these desirable qualities for travel in tote, even I would be forced to admit that I am not super-human and this portfolio of assets, though valuable, would still not permit me to simply discard any notion of having to make rational choices or trade-offs and instead live like a hedonist in an economically-lawless utopia (or dystopia, depending on your view).

In the end, in spite of not getting to see everything I wanted to see, I still wound up with a good introduction to NYC. Kind of like making new friends at a meet & greet with a promise to meet up again for more than just wine & apps. Until next time then, here are a few slices out of my Big Apple trip. (More to follow later…)

Waiting for train into Penn Station from Newark Airport

Waiting on the platform for a train into Penn Station from Newark Airport, which was kind of sketchy…

On Broadway Ave outside our hotel in Times Square

Exploring Broadway Avenue outside our hotel in Times Square after rolling my suitcase (with a broken wheel) 14 blocks  through a sea of people to get to our hotel. As my little sis aptly observed, NYC is like ‘Toronto on steroids’. Indeed. Couldn’t have described it better, myself.

Interior of Marriott Hotel in Times Square

Interior of NY Marriott Hotel in Times Square where we stayed  overlooking the lounge below. The whole time, I was trying to figure out whether the design was representational or abstract. My logical-thinking left brain insisted that the repeating pattern of lines & curves was clearly a stylized rendering of musical notes and symbols along bars & staff lines as the hotel’s acknowledgement of being located on Broadway Avenue. Never did get around to validating this theory though…

View of Times Square from hotel window

View of Broadway Avenue/Times Square from our hotel window. It’s true what they say: New York never sleeps, though it was a lot quieter on the Sunday morning.

Grabbing a quick lunch at Pret a Manger near Times Square

When I was in London, UK last fall, an ex-pat friend there had introduced me to the popular Pret a Manger chain for picking up fast, healthy lunches. I was quite pleased to discover it upon arrival in NYC. They post total calorie counts for all their food, which is fantastic for helping one make purchasing decisions. Pax Wholesome Foods was a similar restaurant that posted total calorie counts for everything they sold. My little sis and I visited the Pax shop on Broadway in Midtown a couple of times to pick up lunch/brunch en route to Central Park for an al fresco meal under the trees on a park bench. Thanks to the posted calorie info, we discovered that a half-sandwich along with a small beverage and treat (usually a small cookie) provided ample energy to fuel an afternoon of walking the streets of NYC. It would be nice if restaurants in Canada likewise posted calorie info to help consumers (including travelers without access to home-cooked meals) make better food purchasing decisions.

Thursday evening diners at Eataly

On our first night in NYC, my little sis, her work colleague, and I decided to check out Mario Batali’s Eataly on Fifth Avenue for supper. I was particularly curious since the combination resto-market had come highly recommended by several friends. It did not disappoint! The space is huge and the vibe energetic, sophisticated but unpretentious (thank goodness, since I was not exactly rocking my most chic self in jeans & sneakers). It clearly looked like the go-to spot for the after-work crowd. After hearing we wouldn’t be able to snag a table for supper for close to an hour, we decided to check out the bar scene and soak in the atmosphere in the interim.

Eataly is a combination restaurant-market, so expect to see many people come in for different purposes including to pick up groceries, mingle and enjoy a few after-work drinks with co-workers, or relax over a leisurely supper with friends in the restaurant space. I personally thought Eataly had a magical, almost festive quality about it, making it a potentially great spot for a date or a celebratory outing. Speaking of dates – sort of, I was flattered to be approached by a well-dressed, lean, fit man while waiting in line for some stracciatella gelato on our way out of Eataly.  The guy, a silver-haired, smooth corporate type from Brooklyn, looked exactly like John Slattery of Mad Men fame. He chatted with me in line and then proceeded to buy my gelato. (Guys take note: buying a girl ice cream is always a good call compared to offering a cheesy pick-up line.) ‘John’ happened to also be out with two other variously intoxicated, but well-attired businessmen, who then (like loyal wingmen) proceeded to engage my sis and her colleague in sidebar conversation. After a while, and especially since everyone but me was sporting a wedding ring, we girls decided to conclude the evening festivities, much to our prospective suitors’ dismay. We quickly made our way out into the night, and after failing to hail a yellow cab despite our best efforts, we made a run for the nearest subway station under an inadequately-sized single umbrella as it began to rain again. [Above: The ‘meat market’ at Eataly.]

Wine & appetizers at the Eataly bar

The bar scene: Where we, along with the after-work crowd, initially congregated at Eataly. Small, elevated rectangular tables served as the anchor for delicious food & drink, animated conversation, and  the requisite people-watching. It was standing room only.

Enjoying wine, cheese, and a charcuterie plate

My comparatively more food & wine-savvy little sis & her colleague ordered a nice charcuterie plate with cheese along with some wonderful wine. It would be easy to spend the entire evening simply enjoying these delicacies, as the couple next to us seemed to be doing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & apps and plenty of socializing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & appetizers and lots of socializing at Eataly.

Running route along western side of Central Park

After our memorable, epicurean night out at Eataly, I was keen to get up early and go for a run in Central Park, which I had yet to explore. As someone who much prefers running on quiet trails in the woods to unforgiving asphalt in a noisy, urban, concrete jungle, Central Park turned out to be a little piece of paradise for me. [Above: Running route along western side of Central Park with the famous San Remo apartment cooperative in the background.]

Central Park mall

The lovely Central Park mall, which reminded me of the time I spent walking, running, and cycling through London’s Hyde Park last September, and to some degree, the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. NYC nannies with their precious charges, dog-walkers,visual artists, food and NYC knick-knack vendors, and musicians could all be seen along the route.

Central Park mall

A couple is spotted walking under the protection of their umbrellas along the Central Park mall on a cloudy morning marked by occasional light showers.

View of Bethesda Fountain near upper Terrace

Toward the end of my run, a view of Bethesda Fountain through the trees from the upper Terrace in Central Park.

Central Park St. Bernard puppy

I spotted this gorgeous, 4-month-old St. Bernard puppy named ‘London’ lounging at the  steps to the Lake in front of Bethesda Fountain. Of course, I had to pat him (he was so soft!) and chat with his gracious owner.


'London' contemplating the beauty of Central Park

‘London’, like a Wordsworth, clearly contemplating the inspiring beauty of Central Park (all the while, unaware that I was crafting an elaborate dog-napping plan once I hit upon on a suitable diversionary tactic to distract his owner. ;-)).

Nostalgic gelato shop near south entrance of Central Park

Central Park had made such an impression on me that previous cloudy morning that for the remainder of my stay in NYC, it became somewhat of a ritual for me (and my sis) to visit this urban oasis each morning/early afternoon before hitting the busy streets and shops for a packed day of sight-seeing. [Above: Nostalgic gelato shop located near south entrance of Central Park.]

Father and son watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park

Father and son contentedly watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Four children gather at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Scooters and children seemed to be everywhere in Central Park. Here, four young children pause from their spirited play at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

Talented children's singing ensemble performing in the Terrace Arcade in Central Park

Soaring, angelic voices could be heard from the ornate Bethesda Terrace Arcade in Central Park from a talented children’s musical ensemble. We encountered performers  of all sorts in the Park, including a lone saxophonist and a lively crew of very athletic tumblers.

View of the San Remo  across the Lake in Central Park

Wherever we walked in Central Park, I always found myself drawn back to the Lake to admire the scene of dozens of rowboats before me. It brought back fond memories of the all-too-brief afternoon I spent in Oxford, UK, last fall when I happened upon punters under the Magdalene Bridge. (Now, that was romantic on a scale of Lord Byron. (sigh)) [Above: Couples and families enjoying leisurely paddle across the Lake in Central Park with a view of the San Remo in the background.]

Fit couple in foreground enjoy leisurely paddle on the Lake in Central Park

A very fit, tanned, attractive middle-aged couple in the foreground articulates the romance of a paddle on the Lake perfectly, particularly as the woman enjoys a chauffered ride on the water like Cleopatra with her Mark Antony on the Nile.

Young boy stares longingly at the remote-control sailboats on the Conservatory Water in Central Park

I came upon another lovely water scene at the Conservatory Water in Central Park, where a young boy stares longingly at the remote-controlled model sailboats gliding atop the pond in Central Park. A model sailboat-hire kiosk was located nearby, where children and adults alike indulged in this time-honored activity dating back to more than 135 years. Even E.B. White‘s beloved Stuart Little sailed these storied waters.


Structure and Function: Line, Light and Shadow in the Byward Market

Fire Escape, Lower Town, Ottawa

Fire Escape

Fire Escape, Lower Town, Ottawa

Fire Escape

Fire Escape, Lower Town, Ottawa

Fire Escape

Church railing

Church railing

Church railing

Church railing

Bricks & bike rack

Bricks & railings

Fountain spray


Wrought-iron fence


U.S. Embassy, Ottawa

U.S. Embassy, Ottawa

After the Rain: An Early Evening Stroll through Major’s Hill Park, Ottawa

Here are some more photos I took after the mini-monsoon we had last Wednesday night in Ottawa. As I mentioned in my last post, I got completely soaked while riding my bike downtown to my photography class that night. I was lucky the air remained warm and the sun only slowly sinking below the horizon as our class was given a 2-hour street photography assignment to complete for that evening’s class.

One of the locations I chose to explore while wandering about was the lush, green, urban oasis of Major’s Hill Park nestled between Parliament Hill and the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa.

The picture below shows a group of planters located at the entrance to the park accessed from MacKenzie Avenue, which I crossed after climbing the stone steps from Sussex Drive. In my last post, I had remarked upon some similarities I had noted between Ottawa’s Lowertown neighborhood in the Byward Market and Paris, France. Major’s Hill Park likewise provided a few reminders of my trip to France last fall.

planters & benches

Below is a picture taken a few steps into the park. You can see the Peace Tower from Parliament Hill in the background. A lone woman is seen walking toward the statue of Colonel John By.

figure & Peace Tower in park_sepia

The setting sun casts long shadows through the tree canopy onto a brightly lit stone drinking water fountain just inside the park.

water fountain

Fittingly, a decorative rail line draws the eye to the luxurious, French-inspired Fairmont Château Laurier, seen in the background. This premier Ottawa hotel conveniently situated next to Parliament Hill was constructed by Charles Melville Hays of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and opened on June 1, 1912, less than two months after his tragic death aboard the ill-fated Titanic. The style, grandeur, and scale of this hotel would not be out of keeping – except by architectural era – among the lavish French castles I visited while in France, in particular the fairy tale Château de Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley.

rail line to Chateau Laurier

I was struck by how much the scene below suddenly transported me back to my first full day in Paris. After checking out a bustling Parisian street market in the 7th arrondissement, I remember walking for some time in the direction of the Eiffel Tower until I came upon the Champs-de-Mars. The sun-drenched wide open green space of Major’s Hill Park with dense, leafy trees on the periphery giving way to the National Gallery of Canada‘s glass-paned Great Hall* in the distance was the kind of dramatic framing that I experienced as I gazed upon the Eiffel Tower from the long, carefully manicured grounds of the Champs-de-Mars. In Paris, however, the lawn was not so deserted of people as it is here in Ottawa. (*Note: The Great Hall is currently shrouded in scaffolding as its glass pyramid-like structure undergoes some needed maintenance work.) On Canada Day, you can expect to see Major’s Hill Park teeming with people late into the night since the park serves as a prime location for hosting festivities and for viewing the evening’s fireworks display.

NGC from park

Yet another Paris reminiscence… While exploring the City of Light one afternoon, I wandered into the Jardin du Luxembourg, and came upon a similar scene where a lone man in business attire sat quietly, slightly hunched over on a park bench, as if to take refuge from the heat of the day under the shade of a great leafy tree.  By comparison, in the scene below in Major’s Hill Park, the man – perhaps a public servant – seated on the park bench appeared to be completely unaware of time, leisurely absorbing the last rays of sunshine – or mentally reviewing the work day that was – before retiring to a nearby pub or an upscale condo in the Byward Market.

man on bench_sepia

This tree-lined, winding section of the park adjacent the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River with its benches and traditional lamp posts was a déja-vu for me as I recalled how hurriedly I had walked along along the Seine one late afternoon, rushing to catch a ride on a departing bâteau-mouche to tour Paris from the water before the light faded to night…

Couple in park_sepia

Before Sunset: Reflections through the Byward Market

Last night was the second class of an SLR photography course I am taking at the School of Photographic Arts in downtown Ottawa. I’d taken and really enjoyed an introductory course there last summer, borrowing a friend’s old, but reliable, Nikon camera. This time around, however, I decided to invest in a comparatively beastly Canon EOS 60D camera, the operation of which, I am still getting familiar. It’s been like going from an old flip phone to a smartphone!

After getting completely drenched during the 7-km bike commute to class from a short but intense rainstorm, I was grateful to learn that we would be spending the majority of the evening roaming the streets of the Byward Market to shoot street scenes. The specific focus for this night’s class was to photograph buildings or their geometric features (e.g., windows, doors, etc), varying the angle of view by alternating between a long versus wide lens. We were given a generous 2 hours for this assignment, ample time for my rain-soaked clothes and hair to dry in the setting sun and warm early evening air.

Eager students, we all ventured off in separate directions, as if on a competitive scavenger hunt, searching for that perfect architectural gem among the many specimens we would collect. Fortunately for us, there is no shortage of interesting architecture, particularly of a historical nature, in the Lowertown district of the Byward Market. At the end of the first hour, I had easily amassed a respectful number of shots for the assignment and so began to turn my attention toward the more whimsical. The following is a sample of some of the self-directed shots I took after completing my ‘homework’.

The image below is a shot of the famous Notre-Dame Basilica located on Sussex Drive opposite the National Gallery of Canada taken at dusk from the corner of avenue Guigues and avenue Parent in Lowertown. I was struck by how much this church reminded me of the beautiful chapel of the ancient Pontlevoy Abbey in France’s Loire Valley, which I had the pleasure of visiting in September 2012. Surprisingly, I found myself transported back to Paris and the Loire Valley several times during this walk as I encountered urban parks, squares and the Château Laurier reminiscent of this inaugural trip to Europe. (Perhaps a sign that I must get back to sorting through my Europe trip pictures for a future posting!)

steeples at sunset

France continued as the theme of the night, as I found myself drawn to a puddle left over by that earlier rainstorm on the steps leading up to verdant Major’s Hill Park from Sussex Drive. The water showed a reflection of the Connaught Building, which resembled an Impressionist painting not unlike an inverted version of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral.

puddle painting 2

This is another shot of that same reflected image of the Connaught Building, but with pedestrians making their way down the steps toward Sussex Drive. I love this photo because it’s so whimsical and looks like the people are walking over a fresh painting. One could easily imagine them jumping through the image, like characters from Mary Poppins, to land at any one of the many French castles dotting the countryside of the bucolic Loire Valley.

puddle painting 1

This last photo is a reflection of a show-stopping blue wedding gown fit for a princess on display in the window of  the high-end wedding boutique, McCaffrey Haute Couture along Sussex Drive. (The American Embassy located on the opposite side of the street can also be seen reflected through the glass.)  I could imagine the late fashion icon, Grace Kelly, making a grand entrance to a royal ball in this lavish frock as smiling courtesans gaze admiringly upon her.

blue wedding dress

An Adam Gopnik-inspired afternoon in the park

Ottawa is a city of hidden gems, I have discovered. Having arrived here almost four years ago (somewhat skeptically) from my beloved Montreal via a short lay-over in my hometown of southern New Brunswick, I had my own preconceived notions of what life in Ottawa would be like. A staid city of stuffy government workers and politicians and extreme athletes with no artistic sensibility, no doubt. The antithesis to Montreal. Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong about the existence of some stuffy government people and extreme athletes, but Ottawa is (surprisingly) so much more than that. Among its many attributes, including a vibrant arts community and flourishing food scene, it boasts some lovely green spaces, particularly urban parks. Happily for this nature-loving, ex-pat Maritimer, many of  these parks also include waterways where all manner of paddling activities can be enjoyed either through direct participation or on-shore observation.

One one recent, sunny, hot Saturday afternoon, I was invited to join my aunt and my cousin’s toddler (=my first cousin once removed?) at ‘their’ park. Knowing I was taking a photography course, my aunt thought it would be an opportunity for me to hone my skills in shooting some action or unposed portrait photography with my (borrowed) DSLR Nikon (D40) camera. At the same time, I would be able to capture some of those precious, fleeting moments shared between a devoted nanna and her wide-eyed, energetic granddaughter.

This park was their urban oasis or ‘secret garden’ to which they ventured every day to play since the apartment building in which they resided only had minimal green space, a trade-off that many urban-dwellers accept in order to live in the city instead of the outlying suburbs. I had not spent any amount of time in this park, other than enjoying a lovely, crisp, winter walk along the snowy river paths with my aunt one late January afternoon. Even then with its bare trees and frozen ground, the park was beautiful, and so I did not hesitate to join them on this summer July day.

Below are a selection of pictures that I took, originally shot in color, but which I transformed into black & white using Photoshop. (I have a real penchant for the artistry of black & white photography.) I shot well over 200 pictures, wanting to ensure I ended up with some good pictures in the bunch. A mid-afternoon outing, it was challenging at times adjusting the exposure to fit the changing light conditions. I also should have increased my shutter speed to freeze the motion on the swings and capture the elusive, parsimonious smiles instead of slowing my shutter speed in a bid to show motion through a blur; these pictures did not turn out, unfortunately. However, there were (thankfully) quite a few others I did like; among them a couple of color photos that just had to be retained as color images in order to appreciate their full effect.  Throughout my largely successful attempts at being the unobtrusive, roving photographer, I was struck by how the scenes playing out before me kept reminding me of the wonderful imagery described so eloquently by Adam Gopnik in his highly acclaimed memoir — Paris to the Moon — of his years spent living in Paris with his family and raising his young son. Ottawa is definitely not Paris but this park had a certain charm to it, perhaps not unlike that of the famous Jardin du Luxembourg, where Adam Gopnik would take his son to play.

Getting set to tame the teeter-totter

Contemplating the stairs to the slide

Hunting for her rock in the sandbox

Passionate about balls, a budding young striker develops her dribbling skills

Giving her beloved soccer ball some love

Exchanging a handful of flowers

Seeking comfort from Nanna

Getting a closer look at the curious case of the blue chair in the pond

Making their way home after another long, warm, sunny afternoon in their favorite park

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