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Archives for September 2010

The Levys’ Unique New York Go CANADIAN!

Mark and Matt at Toronto's "Flatiron Building"

We love Canadians. Not only are we neighbors (New York is one of only 9 states lucky enough to be buddies with this most neighborly of neighbors. Quiz time: name the other 8!) With their open hearts, their pleasant, self-deprecating sense of humour and peculiar placements of the letter “u,” there’s hardly anything about them that we don’t  like. We’ve been all over Canada: Mark’s been to Expo 67 and the Olympics in Montreal and visited Calgary, Halifax and Saint John; Matt’s attended an *ahem* bachelor party in Montreal and drove through the Northwest & Yukon territories plus Alberta on a drive from Alaska to Brooklyn; both of us have been to Vancouver and Whistler for the SYTA convention. But neither of us have ever been to Toronto.

Mark enjoys a beer in the Kensington Market Neighbourhood

A big reason why we love Canada is that some of our biggest and best clients are there.   So last week we drove up to visit our clients, drum up some new business, and be tourists! Smart tourists of course – sightseeing with a local guide, eat awesome ethnic food, drink local craft beer (since our business trip coincided with Toronto Beer Week!) and adventure through the “Upper North Side.”

Wacky Brit Brian Steffensen and his biggest fan, Matt. Check out that ribbon!

We stayed with the wackiest Mississaugan in Ontario, Brian Steffensen: an ex-pat Brit / Physical Geography teacher at St Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Secondary School and (most importantly) the 2010 recipient of our annual “Greg Sherwood Coolest Teacher Honorary Ribbon” (proudly displayed on his chest here) and sycophantic fan of LUNY! who oh-so-graciously put Mark and myself up in his basement rec room.

Jason and Matt - Tour Guys in Toronto.

Our primary host in Toronto is an old friend, Jason Kuchewary, who runs Tour Guys – the number one sightseeing attraction in TO on Yelp! Jason was quite generous and toured us around Toronto by foot and subway, pointing out the sights and explaining the city’s history. One of Jason’s most popular tours is Beer Makes History Better and involves stopping for a few pints while absorbing local color and stories.

We visited our client Comfort Travel and received a wonderful gift package filled with Canadian goodies like Whiskey and ice-wine chocolates! We took our ladies from Brightspark out to lunch and talked business. We had a meeting with and Edutravel about our Unique Tours like From Graffiti to Galleries. But most exciting was our trip out to Exeter, Ontario, two-and-a-half  hours west of Toronto, to visit one of our best and most dedicated clients, Ellison Tours and Travel.

Mark and Matt holding court amongst the student tour planners of Ellison Tours

Exeter is a tiny farm town near Lake Huron with a population of only 4300 and is known mostly for their famous “white squirrels” that dig around in the neatly manicured lawns. Ellison was founded by Doug Ellison, a energetic former HS principal, and is one of  most successful student tour operators in Canada, who’s been working with us with us since we began.

Ellison ladies and gents sporting LUNY! fashion in Exeter!

As a thank you for all the business, we took 14 of their travel agents out to lunch. That’s Mark and myself holding court amogst our fans. And not only did we drive 2.5 hours out to Exeter to meet them, but we brought them Brooklyn cheesecake AND our newly minted LUNY t shirts.

Along with meeting new clients and solidifying our current client relationships, other than eating great food and drinking awesome craft beer, besides shopping for cheap Canadian whiskey and learning all about Canadian history including the battle of Queenston Heights, what else did we do?

Mark and Matt tear it up on Segways in the Historic Distillery District

Ride Segways through the Historic Distillery District. Because thats how we Levys’ roll. Canada, we love you!

By Matt Levy

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City Boy Becomes Brooklyn Farmer

Mark and the Beanstalk!

I’m a city boy from The Bronx, born n’ bred near Yankee Stadium (during the Mickey Mantle years)  and dirt lots were for stickball, not growing things. But now, half a century later I’m a farmer in Brooklyn. I’ve owned a beautiful Victorian house in Ditmas Park, Flatbush for a quarter-century and raising a rambunctious family didn’t leave much time or energy for pastoral pursuits. The personal shift happened a few years ago; I remember looking at our hardly-used backyard, coupled with my empty nesthood and I thought, “Maybe I should grow some tomatoes.”

The Lefferts Historic House is from the late 1700s and in Prospect Park!

Brooklyn has a plentiful history of agriculture. In the 18th and 19th Century, Brooklyn was the breadbasket for New York. The Dutch towns of Vlackbos (Flatbush) Midwout (Midwood) and Bostwick (Bushwick) were farm villages. In 1879, Queens and Kings Counties produced more garden vegetables than any two other counties in the USA! As late as 1959, there were 147 contented cows producing over 300,000 gallons of milk in Brooklyn. But the onward march of urban development and the rise of industrial farming in the Midwest doomed the pastures of Brooklyn.

Hand-built Garden Soil Beds!

That first year I just dug out grass to create rectangular plots, planted some tomatoes, battled weeds and ended up with some tasty gazpacho mid-summer.  My knowledge base didn’t go past seeds, dirt, water and sun. The next year I bought some books, joined the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and took classes. Last year I went big time: Raised Beds!! Coney Island Ave provided the lumber and 10 yards of topsoil, ordered over the phone and dumped in my driveway.  Oh boy, I was hooked on the greenery of my garden. Next up: participating in the giant Floyd Bennett Field Gardens Association.

Red Hook Community Farm employs urban youth from the nearby Red Hook Houses

And I’m far from alone these days. There are probably thousands of backyard Brooklyn farmers, in every neighborhood, many far more ambitious than I. Community Gardens, a feature of many neighborhoods since the 1970’s are raking in the excitement. And locavore Brooklynites are making a more personal connection with NY’s regional farms by joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), like our local Ditmas Park CSA.  Commercial farming with a twist is also making a modest resurgence, mostly as a key element in job training and community development. Ambitious and progressive enterprises such as the Added Value Red Hook Farms and East New York Farms combine youth empowerment, skills training and smart nutrition.

Take a look at my gorgeous growing garden!

So my backyard can hardly be called a “farm” by anything other than my vivid imagination. On second thought, maybe my roster of edibles would prove me right: tomatoes, red and green peppers, Pole beans, snow peas, arugula, swiss chard, kale, melon, radishes, and a variety of herbs. And my favorite part isnt the good food (though that comes close) but rather, the cool early mornings when I inspect my greens and pull weeds and then again in the soft western light of late afternoons, encouraging greatness amongst the garden.

Hey Da Bronx, take a look at me here!

By Mark Levy

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Rock-Rock-Rockaway, Rockaway Vacay!

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At the extreme southern end of Queens, Rockaway Beach is a stretch from New York City. It takes one train, two shuttles and an hour and a half to get to the Rockaways from midtown. The ride is one of the most incredible subway trips in the world, coasting above houses in southeastern Queens and zooming over two subway rails (and not much else) through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. This kind of geographic isolation means two things – 1) NYC is the only place in the world where the beachfront property is dirt cheap; and 2) It makes for an incredible vacation, to get away from the city while staying in the five boroughs.

Pink Palace - ours is the third floor patio.

Which is exactly what we did, two weeks back. 3 couples, all close friends,  rented a third floor 3 BR condo in the middle of the Rockaways for one week. 214 Beach 102nd street was 2 blocks from the beach, 5 blocks from the locavore-alicious Rockaway Taco Shack, 3 blocks from the A shuttle train at Beach 105, 3 blocks from a supermarket, but most importantly, miles away, both physically and mentally, from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.  Rent was cheap. How cheap? Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you how cheap.

Matt on the balcony of the Pink Palace with a lunchtime beer, beach in the background

We’d kick off each morning with an 8am swim. Return to the pad, drink the cold-brewed coffee and have a bagel, put in 3-4 hours of work – with most of the residents freelancing or working remotely, our dining area turned into a cute work station. Lunchtime meant either a fish taco or homemade sandwich, then it was back to the beach for the rest of the afternoon. Evening meant BBQ or an adventure in Nassau county, looking for fried fish shacks and clam raw bars. Oftentimes we had beer o’clock in the afternoon. Vacation!

Out of over 7000 bungalows, less than 350 remain. So small and cute!

The Rockaways have an incredible history. Developed as a middle-class alternative to Coney Island’s Nickel Paradise, entire NY neighborhoods flocked to the Rockaways from the 1880s up to World War II. Irish, Jewish, Italian, and African-American families, with each group living in their own ethnic enclave in snug, sturdy bungalows. There were over 7000 of these Rockaway Bungalows – the standard unit of housing along the beach – which fostered a rare community spirit, bonding families regardless of ethnic lines.

Josh, Ben and Matt took a bike ride through the Rockaway Wasteland

Enter Robert Moses and NYC’s Urban Renewal era, circa 1950s. With highways leading to the suburbs and a plan to tear down the tiny bungalows and replace them with modern housing, the city started this project by ripping out the bungalows but not replacing them with anything due to budget restraints. 40 years went by, and although there is some new development in the Rockaways (notably Arverne by the Sea,) there are still miles and miles of wasteland along the ocean. Less than 300 bungalows remain.

Matt and Emily enjoying tacos on the beach

As much as we wanted to rent a bungalow for our vacation, it proved impossible to find, so instead the Pink Palace condo sufficed. And boy did we vacation, without leaving New York City. Beach-time every day, with newly acquired boogie boards; Rockaway Tacos for lunch; friends jumped on the A train and came to visit; fellow NY adventurer Josh Bernstein and I drove to brand new Barrier Brewery in Oceanside, as well as a big feast at Bigelow’s New England Fried Clam Shack in Rockville Center; and Friday night a Next Shabbat sponsored BBQ dinner. All in all it was an incredible vacation, and one that become a yearly tradition.

By Matt Levy

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