Tourist Tuesday: Hempstead House

Tourist Tuesday: Hempstead House

On a beautiful, sunny, cold and windy day Lewis and I headed out to Long Island for an eye appointment. Since we were going to be out there, and it was Lewis’s birthday, I decided to make a whole day of it, and concocted a “choose your own adventure” day for Lewis. I’ll map out the choices Lewis had and the ones that he chose.

First up: Lunch or activity first. He chose an activity; I had two ideas ready, either a) a movie or b) an outdoor activity. He chose the outdoor activity. So we went to Hempstead House, which is located in Sands Point Park and Preserve.

Undeveloped land was purchased by Howard Gould (son of the railroad robber baron Jay Gould) in 1900 and 1901, where he built a gigantic 100,000-square-foot medieval castle (modeled after a castle in Ireland) for his wife… however, she did not love it. So he built a much more manageable (I hope you can feel my eye-roll) 50,000-square-foot mansion across the property — the Hempstead House. It did not help, they divorced in 1909.

In 1917 Daniel Guggenheim purchased the property from Gould, in part because two of his brothers owned neighboring properties. In 1923 he gifted his son with 90 acres and the third “house” was built on the property, Falaise (meaning cliff in French since it was built on the bluffs overlooking the Long Island Sound). Daniel and his wife (Florence) utilized the property until his death in 1930, at which point she built a smaller mansion, Mille Fleurs, on the property and relocated there. The house boasted a garden with a “thousand flowers.”

In 1940 the Hempstead House was opened by Florence as a refugee home for 75 British children who were fleeing the war in Europe. Retaining her home, and her son retained his, Florence donated 62 acres, including Hempstead House and Castle Gould to the Institute of Aeronautical Science in 1942, which was then sold to the U.S. Navy in 1946. It remained in the employ of the Navy until 1971 when the land (and three mansions — Hempstead House, Castle Gould, and Falaise) were acquired by Nassau County and turned into a recreational area.

Alas, the Castle isn’t really open to the public, other than a small anteroom where they have a very tiny giftshop. You can tour the Hempstead House, but only during certain times. It was closed for our visit because they are already in wedding season; you can rent out the Mansion for weddings or other activities. Falaise is available for tours three days a week from June until October.

Not getting to see the houses was a bit disappointing, but the grounds are still beautiful. We walked around the Hempstead House and then walked along the pond to the beach. Like I said, the sun was shining, but it was crazy windy, we had a nor’easter a couple of days before and the winds really hadn’t died out despite the sunny weather.

It’s $15.00 per vehicle to enter the park, and then $10.00 per person to tour Hempstead House and $15.00 per person to tour Falaise. Since we didn’t get to do the tours, I can’t say that it’s worth the $30 per person to do the tours, but the $15.00 per vehicle isn’t terrible, especially if you bring a whole care load. The preserve is pet friendly, but leashes are required, so we got to see lots of dogs getting some exercise.

I’d recommend the preserve, especially if you have a whole day to kill and a car full of people to entertain.

After hiking, Lewis had to choose the next part of his adventure: Lunch: a) picnic or b) restaurant. Lewis chose restaurant, so then he had to decide if he wanted to a) eat in Long Island or b) eat in Sheepshead Bay (where we live). Lewis chose Long Island, so we drove to “the view grill” in Glen Cove. The view wasn’t spectacular and the food was just okay, but the staff was friendly, and they had a lot of regulars, and they comped Lewis’s drink since he turned down a dessert for his birthday.

From there, we had to pause the adventure because we both had to work. We were going to take the day off, but that rarely happens for pastors and I had some unexpected work things come up as well. Next, Lewis had to choose a) movie at the theater or b) movie at home. He chose to watch a movie at home The last option for Lewis was dinner: a) I cook or b) delivery. He chose delivery so we enjoyed sushi while we watched a movie.

It was a fun day. “Choose your own” adventure might turn into a tradition for Lewis’s birthday. When I ask him what he wants for his birthday he usually says he wants to spend time with me, so this is a great way to give him what he wants but forces us to go out and have some fun.

Tourist Tuesday: Central Park Part 1 – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

Tourist Tuesday: Central Park Part 1 – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

I’m back! Honestly, the weather the last few weeks has just been gray and dull, and I had zero motivation to get out of the house, plus I’ve been super busy at work. But I couldn’t go another week without heading out for somewhere touristy.

Of course I picked the day we had a nor’easter blowing through. We were just starting to see signs of spring too!

Since we were on the Upper East Side I figured I’d start my series on Central Park. Central Park is massive! It’s 843 acres, and there is a ton to see in this park, so there’s no way to see it all in one day. So I might feature other sites in between, but expect a bunch of posts on Central Park. Starting in Midtown, the park continues to Harlem in north Manhattan. The park covers six percent of Manhattan’s land area and is 2.5 miles long and half a mile wide. There are 42 arches and bridges in the park (30 are ornamental and 13 that are unnamed that carry park traffic over transverse roads).

The first landscaped park in the United States, the New York state legislature authorized the acquisition of land in the center of Manhattan in 1853 (the debate began three years prior). The Reservoir was built in 1862, it was to supply the city with clean water. The Reservoir covers approximately 1/8th of the park, and holds over a billion gallons of water. It’s not used to supply the city with water any longer, but does distribute water to other Central Park attractions (the Pool, the Loch, and the Harlem Meer).

There is a 1.58 mile track encircling the 106-acre body of water, which offers awesome views of the city. The Reservoir was officially named after Jackie O (a frequent jogger around the track) in 1994.

So back to today… it was so windy, and so cold; we ended up only walking a small portion of the loop, enough to get some photos and enjoy the view of the city before hightailing it for the subway home. Once springtime really hits and we’re not in a Nor’easter, I definitely recommend a walk (or jog) around the reservoir. However, be prepared for hordes of people; as I’ve mentioned before, New Yorkers flock to the outdoors at even the slightest hint of nice weather. If you like the snow and wind, it’s still a pleasant walk in the wintertime.

Snow and spring

Tourist Tuesday: A Small Disappointment

Tourist Tuesday: A Small Disappointment

This past week was my last few days with my family in Texas. So I took Monday and Tuesday off so I could maximize my time. My sister (Rita) was a total rockstar these last few weeks trying to make sure I had somewhere to feature on my blog.

I am not originally from Texas, nor is my sister, but she married a Texan and she is a Texan through and through. She’s very proud of her state, and the small town where she has made her life. I love that about her. I also love that she actively seeks out interesting things and places where she lives. That’s really what this portion of my blog is about, appreciating the places around you. Be a tourist in your own town and find the hidden gems that make your home your home.

My sister was super excited to take me to Mrs. Lee’s Daffodil Garden. It was it’s first weekend open of the season and it’s definitely a unique experience for Gladewater. On Sunday they had proclaimed on their Facebook page that they were open for business, so Monday morning we took care of some errands in the morning, then picked up a couple of pizzas to eat as we drove through the beautiful daffodils… only to discover that they had decided that morning not to open. It was so disappointing.

My three year old nephew was really disappointed that he didn’t get to see Mrs. Lees, so we decided to regroup at Gladewater Lake and let Brayden get some time running around in the sunshine. The weather was beautiful, the lake was pleasant, and there was a decent playground for the kiddos. My sister thought Camp Ford would be a great place to visit for Tourist Tuesday. So we picked my niece up from school before heading out of Gladewater to Tyler.

Camp Ford is an historical park where a Civil War P.O.W. Camp once stood. I really want to say that it’s a beautiful park and totally worth the trip to Tyler… but I’d be lying. Maybe sometime in the past, but it has fallen into disrepair; a couple of the trails were closed off for what appeared to be pretty unsafe conditions (one bridge had completely collapsed). Obviously it’s the end of winter, so the trees were still dead, and the ground was covered with fallen leaves, my guess is it’s quite beautiful in the spring and summer with all the foliage on full display.

In spite of the rather dilapidated appearance of the park, it’s historical significance is interesting, and there were plenty of plaques with information regarding the usage and history of the camp. I had never considered prisoners of war during the Civil War, but they existed, and (apparently) the South held more prisoners than the North. The Union would have preferred to execute them for treason, but they were compelled to hold prisoners for exchange since the Confederacy held so many prisoners.

If you’re interested in reading some of the history I’m including photos of the plaques here:

Tourist Tuesday: Mineola Nature Preserve on the Sabine River

Tourist Tuesday: Mineola Nature Preserve on the Sabine River

Well… that’s a mouthful. I am still traveling, so I’m featuring another new city! After having a mini-reunion with my former roommates down in Austin, I headed to the piney woods of East Texas to visit my parents and my sister and her family. They live in the thriving metropolis of Gladewater, TX… and by thriving metropolis I mean cute little town of 6,134 (actually probably 6,133 since my nephew is currently living in Ohio for school) haha!

It’s definitely smaller than any town I’ve ever lived in, but it’s a great place to raise a family. My brother-in-law grew up here, and my sister moved here 21 years ago after they got married. My parents moved here about eight years ago, and live right next door to my sister, which is super convenient for visits.

So, when I first arrived in Texas it was freezing… I was so annoyed. But by Sunday it was sunny and 70°F (21°C), which was a perfect excuse to get outside! So we headed to the Mineola Nature Preserve on the Sabine River. Construction on the preserve began in 2002, it encompasses 2,911 acres and it home to native species of animals and plant life. There are hiking trails, mountain bike trails, horseback riding trails, camping, playgrounds, wetlands, woods, and frisbee golf. There’s even a swampy area that they warn you to beware of alligators. We didn’t see a single alligator, but we saw lots of cute turtles sunning themselves.

There’s pretty much something for everyone. We were there just to hike, especially since we had a little one with us. We walked less than I thought we would, but more than my sister thought we would, partly because a couple of trails were waterlogged, so we had to just backtrack rather than making a circuit around the park.

The preserve is actually ranked in the top 15 city parks in the nation for it’s size. I highly recommend checking it out if you happen to find yourself in the piney woods.

Tourist Tuesday: Little Island

Tourist Tuesday: Little Island

I had Monday off this week, and an extra day off is a perfect excuse to head out for another installment of Tourist Tuesdays.

Lewis is out of town for work right now (he’s in Zimbabwe finalizing some details of the purchase of some land for the congregation there), so I had to head out alone.

Whenever I do anything alone (driving, grocery shopping, taking the subway) I always feel more grown up… to be clear, I’m quite obviously a middle aged woman, but I don’t feel like a grownup. It sneaks up on you kids, one minute you’re a young adult trying to figure life out, the next you’re on the other side of “over-the-hill” wondering how the heck you got there. So anyway, I always feel like a grownup when I take the subway by myself.

Some things to know about the subway. In Manhattan it is fully subterranean, but when you get to the outer boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx) some of the lines are subterranean, but other parts of the lines are elevated, but it’s still the same system. So, when we have visitors we’ll tell them to catch the subway at the such and such stop and they get confused because it’s elevated. Don’t ask me, I didn’t design the system.

I don’t know how people navigated the subway before smartphones and GPS. I mean, I know the lines in my neighborhood, and how to get to lots of places in the city without using GPS, but going outside of those very specific train lines gets very confusing. Apple Maps works quite well, Google Maps also. I like to use CityMapper, it tells you what part of the train to sit on so it’s easier to access transfers or exits.

Also, the subway is relatively cheap to ride, it’s $2.75 no matter where you are going in the city. Southern Brooklyn (where we live) to northern Bronx, still $2.75. Need to transfer to multiples lines to get where you’re going? As long as you don’t leave the station, still just $2.75. And if you take more than 12 rides in a week (using the same credit card) every ride after that for the week is free.

So enough about the subway already! For Tourist Tuesday I caught the B train to Manhattan, with a transfer to the D to the Meatpacking district (just south of Chelsea and northwest of the West Village) to visit Little Island.

Little Island is a new park in NYC that opened in May 2021. But the area, like most places in the city, has a long history. Built on the Hudson River, this area of the Meatpacking district has been been a busy port of entry and/or trade dating back to the early colonization of the area with the Lenape tribe using the area as a seasonal encampment for hunting, fishing, and trade along the river. Multiple piers up and down the river were establish in the 19th and 20th centuries. Pier 54 (the site of Little Island) operated the British Cunard-White Star line. The Titanic was supposed to make port at Pier 54, instead the survivors arrived aboard the RMS Carpathia rescue liner. Just three years later the RMS Lusitania departed from Pier 54, only to be sunk off the coast of Ireland five days later. Because of this, superstitious people claim that the pier is cursed.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit NYC, leaving heavy damage in her wake, including Pier 54. In 2013 the Hudson River Park Trust partnered with the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation to begin development on a whole new kind of park. The park is literally built in the river; comprised of 132 “tulip pots” (giant columns with bowls at the top sunk into the river to form the base of the park). The park covers 2.4 acres filled with trees, shrubs, grasses, and bulbs. There’s an amphitheater, trails, tables and chairs, in the summer there are a couple of food trucks, and some benches scattered about.

The park has fantastic views of the river, New Jersey, and Manhattan (you can see the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center from the park).

I highly recommend checking out the park, but be prepared for big crowds, especially when it’s warm… really any time that it’s sunny, there’s going to be a crowd. Personally, I love the river when it’s foggy and overcast, it’s magical to see the fog floating over the river, shrouding the buildings mist. On this day it was incredibly sunny. I’ll try to post photos from the park when it’s foggy if I ever get the chance. The park is free, and opens at 6 a.m. Closing time varies throughout the year.

Tourist Tuesday: Brighton Beach

Tourist Tuesday: Brighton Beach

Since I’m actually headed out of town this week, I decided to stay a little closer to home for this week’s installment of Tourist Tuesday.

So, we live between the neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. I love our neighborhood. It’s relatively quiet… I mean, as quiet as a New York City neighborhood gets. Our apartment is within walking distance of two train stations, the beach, grocery stores, and restaurants.

Once characterized by the New York Times as the “grumpy neighbor” of Coney Island, Brighton Beach is a small mostly Russian neighborhood (it’s also known as “Little Odessa,”) though the demographics have shifted some in recent years, with more immigrants settling from the Middle East and Asian countries.

Until 1868 the area was mostly farmland, but William A Engeman purchasable 39 lots and converted the area into a resort. By 1919 the demographics of the area had shifted such, that most in the neighborhood were first or second-generation Jewish Americans; this number only grew from the influx of Holocaust survivors that settled in the area.

In the 1980’s a new influx of immigrants began to arrive from Russia, transforming the neighborhood from a primarily Jewish neighborhood to a Russian neighborhood.

As for my visit to Brighton Beach, the beach itself is pretty quiet in the wintertime, but the scenery is no less captivating. The beach is a great place to go to escape the overcrowded city streets.

Tourist Tuesday: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Tourist Tuesday: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I recently read an article that designated NYC (tied with Singapore) as the most expensive city to live in… yay for winning! And seriously, a lot of things are really expensive (housing, food, fuel, tolls, parking, entertainment… I think that covers just about everything), however…, big ol’ however, there are some things you can find to do for free sometimes.

We’ve lived in NYC for almost five years (our five-year anniversary is in February) and we have never stepped foot in the Botanic Garden. Partly because time, but partly because money. It’s $18 per adult, which isn’t crazy, but I can walk to the beach for free or take the subway and visit Central Park for free… there are just a lot of free options around

People have been encouraging us to go since we got here. Well, we recently discovered that we can get “affiliate” tickets to some attractions for free with our library card through the Culture Pass. They don’t make it particularly easy, and some of them are limited to once a calendar year, but FREE! YES! And the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of those attractions. So you have to reserve the ticket through the library, and then you have to use that ticket to purchase a ticket from the attraction. Also, and I’m going to bold this for any of the New Yorkers that might be reading this and don’t know, the culture pass ticket will indicate that you reserve for a specific day, but you can use the tickets anytime in a 30-day period, this is a lie! You HAVE TO USE THE TICKETS ON THE SPECIFIC DAY. We learned this the hard way when we arrived and they wouldn’t honor my husband’s tickets. He had made a reservation for him and his mom on one day, and then realized we weren’t going to be able to go on that day, so when I got my ticket I booked it for the right day. So we had two tickets they wouldn’t honor and two tickets that they would. It was confusing but worked out okay in the end.

Obviously, a botanic garden is going to be more exciting in the spring and summer, and maybe the fall with the leaves changing color, but don’t let that deter you from visiting in the winter, there is still plenty of beautiful things to see in the winter (but I will for sure be back in the springtime… I want to see the cherry blossoms).

So, on a chilly, rainy Sunday morning we headed off to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Since it was raining and we had my mother-in-law with us we decided to drive rather than take the subway. Traffic wasn’t terrible and there is a paid parking lot right next door (shared with the Brooklyn museum). We paid just over $10 for around three hours. Which is super cheap parking in the city.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is comprised of 52 acres and officially opened in 1911 with native plants being the first display created.

The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is one of the first stops in the garden, the design was completed in 1915 making it one of the first public Japanese gardens in the U.S. (it’s one of the oldest outside of Japan), and it is a lovely, peaceful place to sit and enjoy being in nature. The area is wooded with evergreen trees (cedar trees, Japanese white pine, eastern white pine, Japanese red pine), and lots of maple and cherry trees.

The Cherry Esplanade was closed, and we skipped the rose garden since there aren’t any roses this time of year (seriously, I can’t wait to go back in the spring) so we walked through the Rock Garden. There were some lovely trees and lots of plants to enjoy, but I was a little disappointed in the rock portion of this garden. I love rocks, so I was hoping for a big variety, with lots of identification tags, but alas, just a few were identified, it was mostly trees and plants around some boulders.

The Herb Garden, on the other hand, was fabulous; tons of plants with descriptions along with the medicinal uses of the plants or historical origins/uses. Granted, a lot of the plants were cut down for the winter, but the identifications were still there!

At this point, it was cold and rainy and we were in need of a bathroom break, so we cut through the Water Garden to go to the Steinhardt Conservatory. The conservatory was completed in 1988 and its collections are amazing. I feel like I’m using a lot of superlatives, but really, if you enjoy outdoor spaces or plants, it’s hard not to geek out over all the things.

The conservatory is made up of six areas. The Trail of Plant Evolution is on the main level; the room is warm and brimming with plants from all over, including a baby Baobab tree from Africa. Baobab trees have a spot in my heart from my time in Malawi. They’re stunning majestic trees, and how they survive drought conditions is rather marvelous (they are a “stem-succulent” tree and they store water in their stems [trunks] Also on the main level is the Bonsai Museum. I’ve been fascinated by bonsai since I was a little kid; I still have the book my mom bought me when I was ten on how to grow bonsai, it’s a cheesy book written in the 70’s, but I love it. Across from the Bonsai Museum is the Warm Temperate Pavilion… I’m not saying it was boring, but I just saw the place a day ago and I can’t really remember what the room was like.

The downstairs pavilions include the Aquatic House and Orchid Collection, the Desert Pavillion, and the Tropical Pavilion. I could live in these rooms. There is something so special about being surrounded by so many plants. The air in each of the pavilions is conditioned specifically to support the plant life… humidity levels, air circulation, temperature, and the air just felt good, like you could breathe more deeply.

10/10 go visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens any time of year. I’ll probably post an update when I go in the spring or summer.



Sometimes nature is a little… too naturey.

I’ve started taking daily morning walks. I live about half a mile from Brighton Beach, it’s a beautiful place to start my day.

This morning’s walk started out like a nice normal walk… it was a perfect spring day. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The ocean was sparkling. Seriously… the perfect spring day. And Lola only tried to pick a fight with one pit bull.

As I was strolling away from the beach, back toward home, I clipped my sunnies onto my glasses and put my headphones on to listen to an audiobook. Lola was walking a little slower on the way home, having worn herself out sniffing at birds and “protecting” me from pit bulls. So we were walking at a fairly sedate pace.

I approached the crosswalk when out of nowhere something slaps onto my glasses. At first I thought a leaf had blown onto me, but shaking my head didn’t loosen the object and it was pretty much windless.

BUG! My brain shouted at me. I pulled my glasses off to try and hasten the departure of this leaf-sized bug clinging to my glasses.

It was not a bug.

Remember those singing birds? One of those sky rats… birds torpedoed a poop directly onto my glasses.

Maybe a little too much nature on my walk today.

The soiled spectacles