Moving on Over, To the West Side

After a glorious 14 years in East Harlem, it was finally time for a change. Now I’m not going to lie — leaving was tough. We lived in an amazing building with fantastic neighbors that we will truly miss. The neighborhood was a real home for us (just take a look at our blog posts!), and we have so many good memories of the people and places that we came in contact with everyday. But 2020 arrived and changed a lot of outlooks for everyone across the city and the world. Looking ahead, it was hard to imagine climbing 5 flights of stairs forever (approximately 107,000 steps in my estimate over 14 years), and plus, sometimes change is just what you need in your life.

At our new home, we’re even closer to Central Park with more space, and even more important, closer to my dad who has lived on the Upper West Side since 2017. So we already had a good sense of the new neighborhood before we made the move. Being as close to family seems more important than ever after the last 12 months.

The funny thing is that, even after a move across the park, we are still located “Across 106th Street.” So the blog name will remain despite the change of address!

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Somewhere over the Rainbow on the Upper West Side

Ever since my father moved to New York in the summer of 2017, I’ve come to embrace the Upper West Side as my second neighborhood. I just have to walk through Central Park from East Harlem, and I’m at his place in no time. Having family close by has been a real blessing, especially during a global pandemic that doesn’t look like it is going away any time soon.

We try to have Sunday suppers (or “suppahs” as they say in Boston) together as much as possible, and we lucked out on Sunday, June 28th when we were treated to an incredible show in the sky. It was coincidentally the same day as the 50th anniversary of Pride NYC no less. On top of that, “Somehwere Over the Rainbow” was one of my mom’s favorite songs, so I felt like she was there in spirit with us as we watched the rainbow form right in front of our eyes. Here’s the view from high up on Amsterdam Avenue.

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Finding Solace and Beauty at the Conservatory Garden

Even during these stressful times in New York City, you can still enjoy a few moments of calm and solitude. One step into the Conservatory Garden, and you’ll feel the stress start to fade away. Located along Fifth Avenue on the northern end of Central Park, this oasis is particularly spectacular during the bloom times of spring. Even as the city faces one of its toughest times, nature still keeps moving forward and shares its beauty. It is a gift we gladly accept everyday as we stroll through this lovely garden.

Here are a few photos that capture the scene.

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Conservatory Garden Tulips

Conservatory Garden Tulips 3

Fountain 2

Conservatory Gardens Tulips 2

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New York, New York in Lockdown

Since moving to New York City in 2005, I imagined many different lives unfolding in this great city for myself, my family, and my friends. Except this.

Right now New Yorkers are just trying to survive day by day, picking up food at the grocery store and going to work if you’re one of the city’s new heroes — health care professionals, cops, FDNY, delivery people, grocery store clerks, laundromat staff, pharmacy employees, and even liquor store workers.

For the most part, people are doing their best to social distance as much as they can. Needless to say, this is a hard place to keep away from people when you head out the door.

Here are a few scenes from the city during week 1 of the lockdown in New York.

Sheep Meadow

The Sheep Meadow in Central Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Meatpacking District

An empty Meatpacking District except for a few vintage cars in front of the Apple Store.

Turtles at the Harlem Meer

Nature doesn’t stop: Turtles on the edge of the Harlem Meer.

Central Park Daffodils

A very quiet Central Park with the daffodils starting to bloom.


The Guggenheim: Only admired from the outside for the time being.

Park Avenue

Park Avenue on the Upper East Side.

Empty Central Park

An empty Central Park with the San Remo in the background.

Museum Mile

The Museum Mile in bloom along Fifth Avenue.

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Parisian Sandwich Bliss at Chez Alain Miam Miam

Chez Alain Miam MiamHave you ever traveled to a city just for a sandwich? With all of the incredible food in Paris, the last thing you might expect to find is a life-changing sandwich (that wasn’t falafel). But’s that’s exactly what happened when I first visited Chez Alain Miam Miam in the Marché des Enfants Rouges. And with news about it finding a new permanent home, I thought it might be fun to look back on the best little sandwich stand in Paris.

Pizza may be my first love but sandwiches are close behind. I have traveled great distances to taste po’ boys in New Orleans, panini in Florence, chicken sandwiches in Oakland, kebabs in Berlin, and now I can add Chez Alain Miam Miam to my list. (I’ve been there three times and counting!)

Chez Alain Miam Miam Crepe

Just don’t expect to just roll into Marché des Enfants Rouges and be strolling out with a sandwich in five minutes. If you really want to enjoy a sandwich, you should plan an extra few hours into your schedule.

If you can come when he first opens, it might be the best strategy. The other skill you need when going to Chez Alain Miam Miam? Lots of patience. The line moves slowly because each crepe or sandwich is carefully constructed and cooked to perfection. With only a couple of griddles to use, there’s not a lot of space so even just a few orders can take a long time.

You have to wait your turn in line, but Alain is a character, sharing stories as he carefully composes your sandwich or crepe. I find the experience to be half of the fun and I’m not usually a big fan of lines.

Chez Alain Miam Miam Cooking 2

Chez Alain offers both buckwheat crepes (called “Galettes”) and sandwiches. The crepes are worth ordering with choices that include ham stuffed beauties and delicious (and healthy) vegetarian options. But don’t fill up on them, because the main attraction is the sandwich.

The beef is excellent but I think the jambon cru might be my favorite. The saltiness of the ham (think French prosciutto) mixed with the fresh toppings like tomato, lettuce, avocado or mushrooms makes for a sublime bite.

Top it with your choice of Comté or Cantal cheese that Alain will shave by hand right on top of your sandwich. Then he places them on the griddle for a good long toasting. Have a bottle of wine ready and grab a seat in the market or head to the nearby park Square du Temple. Lunch is served!

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Exploring the Back Streets of Reykjavík

Reykjavík has become one of the most visited places on the planet with millions of people walking down Laugavegur, the city’s main drag, every year. Today, gleaming new buildings line the waterfront and modern hotels rise across the city.

But veer off the main streets of Reykjavík, and you’ll uncover a different side of the city: Small alleys, whimsical murals, rundown apartments, and old-school bars. These won’t last forever (in fact, they might be already gone by the time you read this), so I thought it was worth posting these photos of the Icelandic capital that you might not find in a guidebook.

Reykjavik 1

Corner of Vitastígur and Skúlagata, in 101. Photo: Craig Nelson

Reykjavik 2

Ölstofan Kormáks & Skjaldar bar, Vegamótastígur, 101 Reykjavík. Photo: Craig Nelson

Reykjavik 5

Mushroom, Sara Riel, Hverfisgata 42, in 101. Photo: Craig Nelson

Reykjavik 4

Njálsgata 10, in 101. Photo: Craig Nelson

Reykjavik 3

Njálsgata 10. Photo: Craig Nelson

Reykjavik 6

A tunnel alley in 101. Photo: Craig Nelson

Reykjavik 7

Furry Flight by Sara Riel, Njálsgata 4. Photo: Craig Nelson

Special thanks to Toby Wikström for helping to identify the locations and artists.

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Scenes from Bulgaria: Plovdiv, Sofia & the Rhodope Mountains

Kosovo Village

The lovely village of Kosovo, Bulgaria nestled in the Rhodope Mountains.

This past year I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Bulgaria for the first time. Thanks to a trip arranged by the Kosovo Houses (check out my profile of this mountain retreat on EuroCheapo), I was able to explore the beautiful Rhodope Mountains, the charming city of Plovdiv (where I stayed at Guest House Old Plovdiv), and the vibrant capital city of Sofia.

Another bonus of Bulgaria are the very low costs. If you had the chance to backpack around Europe in the 1990s like I did, you’ll feel like you’re on a trip back in time with beers for $1 and good hotel rooms for $30 or less. Both Plovdiv and Sofia have fantastic walking tours that I highly recommend — check out Free Plovdiv Tour and Free Sofia Tour for more information.

Here are just a few of the scenes I wandered upon during my trip. With warm people and stunning scenery both in the countryside and cities, you should add Bulgaria to your travel list in 2017.

Wonderful Bridges

The Wonderful Bridges, a magnificent rock formation in the Rhodope Mountains.

Plovdiv View

Overlooking historic Plovdiv from one of the highest points in the city.

Ethnographic Museum in Plovdiv

The Plovdiv Regional Ethnographic Museum is housed in a mansion from 1847.

The Guards in Sofia

The guards in front of the Bulgarian Presidential Offices.

Communist Headquarters

The former Communist Party headquarters in Sofia.


Walking up a stone path towards Kosovo Houses.

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The Bachkovo Monastery that dates back to 1083.

Asenovgrad Fortress.JPG

Asenovgrad Fortress perched high in the Rhodope Mountains.


Guest House Old Plovdiv offers charming and affordable rooms.


A tram running through Sofia.


Ancient Roman ruins near the central mosque in Sofia.

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Walking from the train station to central Sofia.

Waterfall Rhodope Mountains.jpg

Hiking past a beautiful waterfall in the Rhodope Mountains.

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A stone chapel in the mountains above Kosovo village.


A relaxing afternoon at the charming Kosovo Houses.



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Sally’s Apizza & Frank Pepe: A New Haven Pizza Pilgrimage

Sallys Pizza 5

A medium plain mozzarella pie at Sally’s Apizza can easily feed three hungry diners.

Pizza. While many Americans declare pizza to be an unhealthy obsession, I can eat it almost every night of the week. In fact, the one time we visited Napoli, Italy, we did just that, eating one Neapolitan pie per day for five days straight at legendary spots like Da Michele and Di Matteo. And now that I’ve finally visited Sally’s Apizza in New Haven, I can safely say I would eat there five days in a row with no problem at all.

To get to the point: The plain mozzarella pie at Sally’s is one of the best pizzas that I’ve ever had. Oblong in shape but perfect in taste with a beautiful and crisp crust, tangy sauce and bubbling cheese. And the pizzeria oozes old-school charm with 1970s booths,  no-nonsense waiters, and prices that make the wait worthwhile.

Sallys Dining Room

The old-school dining room of Sally’s Apizza. Photo: Craig Nelson

Sallys Menu

The tomato pies are the way to go at Sally’s. Photo: Craig Nelson

Pepes Clam Pie 3

A medium White Clam Pizza at Frank Pepe in New Haven. Photo: Craig Nelson

If you’re still hungry, just walk down the block to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and get in line. The atmosphere and menu are a little more modern (think salads and bright lighting), but the pizza is still old-world, especially the White Clam pie. Plump, freshly shucked clams are piled on top of melted grated cheese and garlic on a crunchy crust that’s been wood fired. It’s a simple yet brilliant combination that brings out the brininess of New England shellfish.

Pepes Dining Room

The dining room booths at Frank Pepe. Photo: Craig Nelson

Pepes Oven

The brick oven at Frank Pepe. Photo: Craig Nelson

Pepes Sign 2

The scene outside of Frank Pepe on a Saturday night. Photo: Craig Nelson

Before you think it’s a big trek or the train tickets will throw your budget off, think about this: two round-trip MetroNorth tickets from Grand Central to New Haven Union Station and a medium plain mozzarella pie at Sally’s with a couple of beers puts your total bill under $100. That’s still cheaper than a regular dinner in modern day Manhattan!

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Drifting in Daylight: A Magical Moment along the Harlem Meer

Harlem Meer

The S.S. Hangover floating along a peaceful Harlem Meer. Photo: C. Nelson, 2015.

The Harlem Meer is one of my favorite places — not only in New York but the whole world. It’s a calming oasis to escape the noise and grit of the Manhattan grid where tourists rarely venture and locals cherish as their own backyard. Creative Time, a groundbreaking arts organization started in 1973, has recently launched a six-week outdoor exhibition called Drifting in Daylight featuring everything from sunset-flavored ice cream (for free) to dance performances on the Great Hill. My favorite part is the roving boat named S.S. Hangover that circles the meer playing hauntingly beautiful brass music. The video doesn’t do it justice. You have to experience it in person to feel the fresh air against your skin as you take in the beautiful sounds. This work of art by Ragnar Kjartansson makes this urban retreat even more special.

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Step Back in Time in the Back Room at Irish Haven

Irish Haven 2

The back room of Irish Haven. That tile floor is gorgeous. Photo: Craig Nelson

Although it’s a long trek by subway from Upper Manhattan, I love traveling out to Sunset Park in Brooklyn. It’s a great neighborhood filled with tacos, dim sum, an old-school bowling alley, and incredible views, of yes, the sunset. But somehow I had never been to Irish Haven, a perfectly-preserved dive bar with friendly folks behind the bar and on the stools. The cheap beer doesn’t hurt either. And as pointed out by my friend Clay, it was a shooting location for The Departed. Yes, that famous Boston-set gangster movie had many scenes filmed in New York. Who knew? But even more impressive are the vintage phone booths and foosball table in the back room. Hanging out back there felt like home, even though it was my first time in the place. Now I just need to figure out how to get there quicker. I wonder if the Second Avenue subway will add a Sunset Park extension in 2043?

Foosball Irish Haven 2

The coolest foosball table in New York City. Photo: Craig Nelson

Irish Haven 3Foosball Irish Have

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