Unframed Ellis Island, an Art Installation by JR

While visiting Ellis Island a few weeks ago, we got to see a new art exhibit titled “Unframed – Ellis Island”  by French artist JR. The exhibit includes a number of life size and larger than life historic photographs of immigrants who came through Ellis Island, pasted onto the walls of 16 rooms.  The artist’s intent is to evoke a sense of time and place and give context to the human lives that were touched by their time at Ellis Island.

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Real faces of immigrants on the broken windows

A boy with his bags moving down the hall

A boy with his bags moving down the hall

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The images are only semi-permanent. They are pasted to the walls in a way that is meant to disintegrate over the time. To me this neatly mirrors the transitory nature of the island and the many people who came through over the years.

Tongue in cheek image of the copper kitchen hood with the juxtaposition of an image of a steam ship that would have carried immigrants to Ellis Island

Tongue in cheek image of the copper kitchen hood with the juxtaposition of an image of a steam ship that would have carried immigrants to Ellis Island

Part of the pasted photo is already coming off, as it is intended

Part of the pasted photo is already coming off, as it is intended

To me, the installation was really powerful. It brought a kind of life and realism to the seemingly fantastical sites of the hard hat tour. It puts faces to the experiences of the immigrants that came through the island and spent time detained in quarantine. It also made me think more about the people who spent their lives on the island as staff. Doctors, nurses, maids, kitchen staff and administrators lived on the island to facilitate its needs. These people did what they could to ease the stress of the process and take care of those who were sick or injured.

A medical team

A surgical team

Images of nurses on a surgery room wall

Images of doctors and nurses on a surgery room wall

An image of a doctor

An image of a doctor

JR is known around the world for his his “Pervasive Art” exhibitions which are designed to raise questions through juxtaposition and their placement. Though he is traditionally a street artist, he has also partnered with the likes of the New York City Ballet in 2014 (http://www.nycballet.com/Videos/Evergreen-Special/JR-Art-Series.aspx).

He received the TED Prize in 2011 for his Inside Out project. See http://www.insideoutproject.net/en for more details.

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Ellis Island, The Hard Hat Edition

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I celebrated my birthday by going to the hard hat tour of Ellis Island. This tour, offed by the Save Ellis Island organization,  has only recently been introduced and takes visitors through dilapidated yet stabilized areas of the island’s facilities that had previously been closed to the public. Hard hats are seriously required.We booked the tour three months in advance, but were lucky to have a beautiful but cold day for our visit.

To get you Ellis Island you take a ferry either from NY’s Battery Park or New Jersey’s Liberty State Park. The views on the way are worth the trip alone.

Lady Liberty in all her glory

Lady Liberty in all her glory

In 1954 the federal government declared Ellis Island “surplus government property” and the site was abandoned. They considered selling or redeveloping the island, but nothing moved forward. Without and funding the buildings sat for thirty years until the 1980’s when the Main Building and a few other structures were designated for restoration and money was provided for their stabilization.

The buildings that we toured had certainly withstood the test of time, but not without major wear and tear. Ceilings had caved in, walls collapsed, windows were blown out and Hurricane Sandy took its toll. Nature had begun to reclaim the structures with trees and plants growing indoors.

To me, the most incredible part of the tour was getting a glimpse into the lives of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island in its years of operation (1892 – 1934). About 12 million people came through Ellis Island during those years. While most were able to enter the United States without holdup, about 1% of the people were quarantined on the island for treatment  or deported. I can only imagine their fear of being sent home or separated from their families.

To lose these buildings to neglect would be a tragedy. I am happy to report that in recent years more attention has been paid to preservation and funding for the Island has been increased. Ellis Island has shaped the experiences of so many of our ancestors. Its a story and history worth preserving.

What follows are my photos from the tour. As they largely speak for themselves, I wanted to share them without too much editorializing.

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Linen and Cloth Room

Damaged hallway in the midst of reconstruction

Damaged hallway in the midst of reconstruction

Morgue and Autopsy stadium for teaching

Morgue and Autopsy stadium for teaching

Crumbling dining Hall

Crumbling Hospital wing

What a view

What a view

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Seriously damaged hallway

Staff housing

Staff housing

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more staff apartments

Laundry machinery

Laundry machinery

Rusted Circuit Breaker

Rusted Circuit Breaker

If you interested in visiting the island or taking a tour, go to http://www.saveellisisland.org/visit/. Be sure to make your bookings far in advance as tours book up early.

If you found this interesting, come back next week to see a second post about an important art installation called Unframed Ellis Island by JR.

Costa Rica Part 3 – Samara and San Juan

The next leg of our Costa Rica trip started with a 5 hour overland drive from Santa Elena/Monteverde as we headed down the Nicoya Peninsula to the coastal town of Samara. Samara is on the Pacific Coast and boasts a long beach with a gentle surf. Neighboring beach towns have bigger waves and a bigger surf contingent, but Samara suited us perfectly.

Monkeys in the trees on our way into Samara

Monkeys in the trees on our way into Samara

my new friend

my new friend

We stayed at the Mirador de Samara which is a bit older, but offered us some space to spread out. Our hotel suite included a beautiful double terrace, kitchen, living room, bed room and spacious bathroom. We were just a few steps away from the pool which allowed me to start and end each day with a dip. The hotel is situated up the hill from the beach which made for excellent views.

Sunset view from the Hotel

Sunset view from the Hotel

Day view of the ocean from our terrace

Day view of the ocean from our terrace

The only down side to our hotel was the many stairs we had to climb each day after a long day in the sun.

Just some of the  many steps at the Mirador de Samara

Just some of the many steps at the Mirador de Samara

Samara is known for its low key vibes and a little bit of a hippie presence. There are a lot of young western backpackers in the area. The downtown of Samara offers a variety of restaurants and bars as well as a “Natural Center” with  vegetarian foods, organic markets, spas, and other businesses.

Evidence of the bohemian presence in Samara

Evidence of the bohemian presence in Samara

The Samara Natural Center

The Samara Natural Center

Being an early riser, I started taking morning walks on the beach before my travel companions were awake. It was lovely to enjoy the beach before the peak heat of the day and before many people were out. Many of my favorite photos from the trip were taken on those morning walks.

The tide going out in the morning

The tide going out in the morning

Squiggles in the sand from the crabs retreating in the morning heat.

Squiggles in the sand from the crabs retreating in the morning heat.

A local fishing boat beached after the mornings catch

A local fishing boat beached after the mornings catch

Shells on the beach

Shells on the beach

The beach in Samara was wonderful and very spacious. Palm trees offered much needed shade and the cove was large enough that you could spread out if you wanted.  The waves were large enough to be fun but small enough to float and relax.

The view from my towel on the beach

The view from my towel on the beach

While in Samara we mostly relaxed and enjoyed the local food and drinks. After 6 days  of hiking, climbing, zip lining, canyoning and rappelling we were ready for the chill portion of our trip. However, we did manage to get up the energy to take a kayak trip down the Rio Ora to it’s ocean end point at Playa Camaronal. Playa Camaronal is an animal refuge area with focuses its preservation efforts on the sea turtle. Unfortunately we weren’t there during hatching season so we didn’t see any turtles. Nonetheless, the untouched and natural windswept beach was a lovely place to rest before kayaking back.

Kayaking out to

Kayaking down Rio Oro with the surf of Playa Camaronal in the distance

The natural and more rugged beach at  Playa Camaronal

The natural and more rugged beach at Playa Camaronal

Leaving Samara was hard to do, as it signaled the beginning of the end of our vacation. But, after three days of fun in the sun, it was time to return to San Jose for one last day before our departure.

Costa Rica Part 2 – Monteverde Cloud Forest and Santa Elena

Our journey from la Fortuna to the Santa Elena/Monteverde areaincluded two very bumpy van rides and a wet boat ride across Lake Arenal. Believe it or not, that was the quickest way of getting across the various jungle and cloud forest areas. Many of the roads in the more remote areas of Costa Rica are rugged dirt roads and they can be incredibly steep. There were a few moments where it didn’t seem like our vehicle was going to make it up the hill and at least one hill that we couldn’t conquer. I can only say that I’m glad someone else was driving.

Our "ferry" to Monteverde

Our “ferry” to Monteverde

Rainbow viewed from the van as we were pulling into Monteverde

Rainbow viewed from the van as we were pulling into Monteverde

Monteverde is home to one of Costa Rica’s cloud forests and an incredible biological preserve. Cloud forests are different than rain forests in that they a characterized by persistent low-level clouds whereas a rain forest is characterized by consistent heavy rainfall in a tropical environment. Essentially, a cloud forest is a tropical or subtropical forest in the clouds. This kind of environment allows for lush forests and biodiversity.

We chose a more rustic hotel, La Colina Lodge close to the Biological Preserve to have a fully immersed experience. It was a beautiful property with a lodge like feel and plenty of wildlife just outside.

La Colina Lodge

La Colina Lodge

The main attraction in Monteverde is the incredible zip lining and suspended walkways through the cloud forest. For me, this was why I traveled to Costa for and what I had dreamed of since I was a child. So, we dove right in with an  adrenaline packed day zipping along 12 zip lines and 18 platforms for 2.5 hours at the Selvatura Adventure Park. We started with some basic instructions and practice on small zip lines. Pretty quickly, we were ready to shoot off into the clouds. In many sections, the clouds would swallow you up just a few feet off the platform.

zip lining through the trees and into the cloud mist

Zip lining through the trees and into the mist of the clouds

Coming in for landing at one of the platforms

Coming in for landing at one of the platforms

After zip lining, we took  the chilled out option of walking the suspended bridges through the cloud forest. The bridges were peaceful though they did sway with each step. They offered the opportunity to slowly take in the forest from above with only the occasional interruption of a zip liner zipping by above us.

Long Bridge into the clouds

Long Bridge into the clouds

Can you find the zip liner in the background?

Can you find the zip liner in the background? He is just a tiny speck

We finished up our adventure packed time in Monteverde with a night hike tour. Along our way, many people had recommended the nigh hike as something not to be missed. However, I was slightly nervous about the proliferation of vipers and snakes in the forest. When our guide arrived, he was wearing heavy rubber boots and pants. He then showed us a tarantula in its hole not far from where we were standing.

A tarantula in its burrow

A tarantula in its burrow

This did not instill much faith in the protection of my capri running pants and light sneakers. I asked our guide if we were going to be okay as we were dressed. He answered after a long and disconcerting pause  that we should just step only where he steps. Not long after heading into the forest, he pointed out a gigantic viper in the trees. After that, you bet your ass that I stepped only exactly where he stepped. That is… until we got word of a sloth in the area.

Now, I love sloths deeply. They are my spirit animal and I was desperate to see on in the wild while in CR. So, news of a sloth took away all my fear and I took off like a shot into the trees to see my slothy friends. Indeed it was glorious to see him in the trees. As our hike was ending, we got doubly lucky and immersed from the woods to see a sloth hanging out on the telephone wires by the tour office. It was just awesome to see one out in the open moving along the wires up close.

Sloth on the wires in the darkness

Sloth on the wires in the darkness

With that, I was ready to leave Monteverde feeling accomplished. From there were were to take our longest journey yet (5 hours on the road)and head to the coastal town of Samara for some rest and relaxation in the sun and surf.

Costa Rica Part 1 – La Fortuna & Arenal

Just about a year ago, I set off to Costa Rica for a 9 day adventure. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of  zipping through the cloud forests and visiting the land that inspired Jurassic Park. While we were gone, NYC had 4 separate snow storms, so I can only believe that we traveled at the perfect time. Seriously, we were living the dream.

I am a total REI and gear junkie, so of course there was no packing light for this trip. Besides, we were going to be zip lining, kayaking, hiking up volcanoes, swimming in waterfalls, canyoning and going on nigh hikes through the jungle. One must be prepared for anything and everything.

Me and my pack

Me and my pack

After hours of travel, we arrived in San Juan which is not much to write home about. That is, except for the churros. For just a few bucks, you could buy a fresh hot churro filled with your choice of dulce de leche or chocolate sauce. It still is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

So much delicousness

So much deliciousness

From San Juan, we traveled three hours by van to La Fortuna, which is the principal gateway to the Arenal Volcano. Our hotel, the Vista Del Cerro was wonderful. The staff helped us so much with tips and discounts and the pool with a view of the volcano was all I needed at the end of every day. The cow neighbors weren’t bad either.

The pool at  Vista Del Cerro with the volcano in the background

The pool at Vista Del Cerro with the volcano in the background

The neighbors

The neighbors

It is also home to several hot springs hotels and resorts where you can relax in the warm water or choose to be pummeled by a waterfall to work out the knots.  Arriving around 6pm, we headed straight to the Baldi Hot springs to unwind after our travels.

The entrance to the springs

The entrance to the springs

Baldi offers 25 thermo-mineral hot water pools flowing naturally from the base of the volcano at temperatures ranging from 93, 100, 102, 104, 109, 110, 113, 116, 152. For the more adventurous, they also have a variety of slides and rides. My favorite part was to stand under the waterfalls and let the pressure of the water work out any kinks or knots in your muscles. It was a perfect start to the trip. https://www.baldihotsprings.cr/

Just one of the many pools

Just one of the many pools at Baldi

On our second day in La Fortuna, we had the morning to kill and decided to take a taxi up a very bumpy road to experience the Fortuna Waterfall. Getting to the waterfall requires walking down a lot of very slippery wooden stairs, but it is certainly worth the trip. The waterfall is about 200 feet high and emerges from the jungle out of no where. The water is chilly and the current is strong enough that they have a lifeguard stationed there. It  was so invigorating to swim in the waters with such a powerful force behind us.

La Fortuna Waterfall - the people in the picture show its sheer height

La Fortuna Waterfall

Coati rummaging through trash near the falls

Coati rummaging through trash near the falls

After the waterfall, we went on a hike to the Arenal volcano and through the surrounding jungle. Though we couldn’t see the glow of the volcano because of the cloud cover, it was a wonderful hike with lots of monkeys, toucans and other flora and fauna.

View of Arenal

View of Arenal

On our last day in La Fortuna, there was a mix up with our transportation and we were graciously given a free canyoning and rappelling tour through the rain forest. Its certainly not for the faint hearted, but it was perfect for our itinerary. This essential meant a hike through a jungle river with rappelling down waterfalls, the longest of which was 200 feet tall. As they say, you will get wet.

Working my way down a waterfall

Working my way down a waterfall

Part of our group getting bombarded in a mini waterfall

Part of our group getting bombarded in a mini waterfall

From there, we had a quick opportunity to freshen up before heading off to our next location, the Monteverde Cloud Forrest which I’ll cover in my next post.

Hot Springs Season

About a year ago, I traveled to Colorado for a winter trip. I’m not a skier anymore but I had a friend working as a ski instructor in Steamboat Springs so it was the perfect opportunity to get a taste of winter out west.  I was lucky in my travels to get to see the snow covered mountains without having to travel in any snow storms and blizzards. Believe me, my rental car wouldn’t have been able to handle it. It could barely make it up and down the mountains on dry roads.

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As a child of the Northeast, I thought that I could handle the cold, but every day brought subzero temperatures. I quickly learned that the only way for me to enjoy the out doors  was in short bursts or from the soothing waters of a hot spring.

Fortunately, Colorado has lots of hot springs and I had the opportunity to enjoy  a few of them. The hot springs in the Rocky Mountains are mostly geothermal hot springs. Water from rainfall filters into the ground though porous sedimentary rocks. The deeper it goes, the more minerals it picks up and the more heated it becomes from the earth’s core. The water eventually ascends through thrust faults or cracks in the earth’s surface, usually through limestone, which can form pools or hot spots. Many of these hot springs have been built out into spas and resorts.

The first set of springs that I visited was the Strawberry Park Hot Springs which is located about 7 miles outside of Steamboat Springs. It probably wise to use their transportation services as you have to travel up a long, rutted dirt road that would be rough on any smaller vehicle.  The park has several pools of varying temperatures and an absolutely beautiful setting in the mountains. http://strawberryhotsprings.com/

Tibetan Prayer flags at the Strawberry Park entrance

Tibetan Prayer flags at the Strawberry Park entrance

A view of the springs from up the hill

A view of the springs from up the hill

A view of the springs

A view of the springs

It was utterly relaxing and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. On the drive up we saw reindeer on the snowy hilled woods. Set away from the main town, it was peaceful and beautiful. Though the springs are built up, there was a sense of untouched nature to the place.

Snowy chairs to cool  off in

Snowy chairs to cool off in. Notice the steam venting from the cliff above

A changing teepee at Strawberry Park

A changing teepee at Strawberry Park

The next stop on my trip was Glenwood Springs, which is a  three hour journey from Steamboat. Glenwood Springs is famous for his historical hot spring resort which was founded in 1888. However, for centuries before the spa’s opening, the Ute Indians had utilized the springs with a yearly pilgrimage to the site which they believed to be sacred. Today the resort is the home of the world’s largest natural hot spring pool.   There are two pools which are 90-93 degrees and 102-104 degrees respectively. http://www.hotspringspool.com/

The pools in Glenwood have more of a sulfuric odor than the pools at Strawberry park. However, this added mineral content is touted for his health benefits. After a few minutes soaking in the waters, you get used to the smell and can easily start to relax.

The Glenwood Springs Resort, shortly after its 1888 grand opening

The Glenwood Springs Resort, shortly after its 1888 grand opening

Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs with a view of the mountains and resort

Another view of the Glenwood Springs pool

Another view of the Glenwood Springs pool

Last, I headed out to drive a portion of the West Elk Loop Drive. This scenic drive takes you down from Carbondale, up into the McClure Pass through Crested Butte and looping through the West Elk Mountains Wilderness Area. In the winter much of the drive is closed due to the extreme weather and road conditions but what I got to experience was beautiful.

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The first bit of the West Elk Loop follows the Crystal River, which is where I found the Penny Hot Springs. These springs are much more natural and rustic. They are tucked along the banks of the Crystal River and the pool is simply formed by a circular formation of stacked large rocks. You can see the steam coming off the river from the road, and you simple pull off and hike down to the springs. Only about 12 people can fit in the pool. It was once a popular spot for nudists in the sixties but now bathing suits are officially required.

Unfortunately work was being done on the springs the day I came through, so I wasn’t able to enjoy the springs. You can get a sense of them from the pictures below.

Penny Hot Springs

Penny Hot Springs

Steam coming off Crystal River

Steam coming off Crystal River

There were so many awesome sights and experiences on my trip to Colorado, but the springs were certainly a highlight. If you’ve never been to hot springs before, I highly recommend that you jump at the opportunity. They are lovely in the summer and winter and offer a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors while relaxing and pampering your muscles and joints.

First Snow 2015

They city always looks so fresh and new after a snowfall. That is, until the snow turns to slush and the white fades into the sooty shades of gray.  Last week I was fortunate enough to be home right after a snowfall in Brooklyn and was able to enjoy Prospect Park while the snow was still fresh, white and largely untouched.

This first snow may have only been an  inch or two, but it was worth the wander through the cold. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed the day.

Snow covered bridge

Snow covered bridge

Making paths

Making paths

The ducks found a small as yet unfrozen pond in the lake

The ducks found a small as yet unfrozen pond in the lake

Bridge and overlook

Bridge and overlook

The frozen lake

The frozen lake

Chilly waterfall

Chilly waterfall