Sunday, September 26, 2010

2010 'Fab! Festival' showcases East Village art, dance, music (photos)

I was heading to the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn on Saturday when I hit a detour in the East Village.

Mike Estabrook and Ernest Concepcion work on a large pastel drawing, part of their "Kangarok" series.
(Photo: Leslie Koch)

East 4th Street was filled with people, performers, craft tables and food stands. Artists were creating a masterpiece in oil pastels right on the street.

A man in a pink bodysuit silently danced and crawled through the crowd, stopping occasionally to strike a bizarre pose.

The Fab! Festival was in full force. This free event showcased local artists, musicians and dancers who perform in the neighborhood's cultural venues.

Needless to say, I did not make it to DUMBO yesterday!

>> More photos! Click here: Photo Album: 2010 East Village "Fab! Festival" and Block Party

Children stare at performers in Lycra suits who danced and crawled their way through the crowd.  (Photo: Leslie Koch)

Spotlight on local arts

The Fab! Festival was a refreshing change from the fairs that normally shut down Manhattan streets.

Gone were the out of town vendors selling fried dough or sausage and peppers.  I couldn't find a single stand selling $2 plastic earrings or pseudo-Guatemalan clothing.

This was not a commercial street fair, but a cultural festival celebrating Lower Manhattan's art scene.

I recently attended a Fringe Festival performance on this same block-- East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery. I was impressed by the wide variety of theaters and cultural centers crammed into such a small area.
Dancers perform on Center Stage at the 2010 Fab! Festival. (photo: Leslie Koch)

It turns out this block is a "cultural district" established by the non-profit group Fourth Arts Block (FAB).

"Home to more than a dozen arts groups, 10 cultural facilities and 17 performances and rehearsal venues, the East 4th Street Cultural District attracts an annual audience of 200,000, serves 1,200 artists and provides more square feet of active cultural use than any other block in New York," boasts the FAB website.

The Fab! Festival served as a preview to FAB's upcoming fall season. Hundreds of community residents gathered to watch emerging artists performing for free on two stages.

However, not everyone was happy with the offerings.

"There are no activities for children! You should be ashamed of yourself! Where are the balloon animals?" shouted a crazed woman.  She gestured wildly at no one in particular.

Art Cart NYC made its debut at the Fab! Festival. This mobile gallery brings art to the streets. (Photo: Leslie Koch)


The Fab! Festival featured a wide variety of street art and performances. Among the most intriguing:

* The "What is todo vanguardia?" cube. A Kabuki- style performer paced inside of a giant box, apparently acting out a scene from an opera. If you know what this is about, please fill me in!

* The Art Cart NYC mobile gallery, housed in a converted U-Haul. It brought the food truck craze to a whole new level.

* The Shining Mantis artists drawing an epic battle in oil pastels, right on the street.

* The random gyrations of the man wearing a pink Lycra bodysuit and crawling through the crowd.

A performer inside a sealed box labeled, "What is todo vanguardia?" (Photo: Leslie Koch)

>> For more information on the Fab! Festival check out the Fourth Arts Block (FAB) website and Twitter page (@fourthartsblock).

>> For additional photos visit the LeslieTravel Facebook page: Photo Album: 2010 East Village "Fab! Festival" and Block Party

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Art in Park Slope: Farm City and G Train Salon

On Sunday I explored the art scene in Park Slope, Brooklyn with Krista Saunders as my trusty guide.

Krista curates the G Train Salon and has a show running at Urban Alchemist, a design co-op located on 5th Street off of 5th Avenue.

After checking out Jae Hi Ahn's exhibit at Urban Alchemist we ran into 'social sculpture' artist Tattfoo Tan at the Old Stone House.

@LeslieTravel checking out Kim Holleman's "Trailer Park" at Park Slope's Old Stone House.
Tattfoo was in Park Slope to demonstrate his SOS mobile classroom at the "Brooklyn Utopia: Farm City" show.

Farm City included two amazing mobile gardens, one created from a silver bullet trailer ("Trailer Park") and another fashioned from a pick-up truck ("Farm Truck").

>> View photos from my Park Slope art walk on the Leslie Travel Facebook page:

Photo album: Art in Park Slope: G Train Salon + Farm City

>> For details of the Farm City show check out my latest NY Destinations article:

‘Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City’ raises awareness of urban agriculture 

>> To learn more about artist Tattfoo Tan check out my story on his Arario Gallery show:

NYC artist Tattfoo Tan turns compost into art at Chelsea's Arario Gallery

@LeslieTravel, @Tattfoo and Krista of @GTrainSalon pose with a live hen behind the SOS mobile classroom.

What do you think of the Park Slope art scene? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

1 year anniversary of the 'NY Destinations' column: My top stories

This month marks the one year anniversary of my New York Destinations column on

It's been a year marked by change, both personally and professionally. I got married, changed careers, moved back to Manhattan, landed a cover story in a New York City newspaper, went on my first press trip and became a Twitter addict.

Not too shabby-- considering I was backpacking around the world a little over a year ago, wearing the same shirt every single day and negotiating with street vendors to save 50 cents!

Of the 127 articles I've written for the NY Destinations column, the following are my most popular (as measured by Google Analytics).

Travel Safety

Several of my best read articles are breaking news stories with original reporting. They appeared at the top of Google, Bing and Yahoo news searches and most of the readers were unique visitors.

Three of my top articles deal with the impact of violence and terrorism on tourism. Travel safety in Bangkok, Mexico and Uganda was clearly at the top of readers' minds this past year.

Street Artists

Three of my top 10 stories are investigative reports about street artists who sell their work in Manhattan parks. My articles appeared in NY Destinations and were picked up by several blogs and online newspapers.

The artists are fighting new Parks Department restrictions on "expressive matter" vendors, which drastically reduced the number of art vendors in the city's most popular parks. In researching this story, I spoke with dozens of street artists, community activists, parks advocates and the Parks Department.

After hearing that artists sometimes sleep in the park or pay homeless people to secure spots, I decided to take a closer look. I arrived at Union Square Park at 4 am on a Saturday and shadowed a park artist as he reserved his space, attended an artist rally, and dealt with customers.

It was a fascinating experience and resulted in my first cover story, which appeared in the print edition of the NY Press.

Ice Skating Diva

Not all of my top stories are hard-hitting news reports about travel safety and politics. One of my favorite feature articles, "Destination Johnny Weir," made the top 10 list.

During the Olympics I became a die hard fan of American figure skater Johnny Weir. I enjoyed watching him apply his makeup, take a bubble bath with his male roommate, and assume the character of a Russian woman on his reality TV show Be Good Johnny Weir.

Weir was proud of who he was and seemed to have a great relationship with his parents, who hailed from rural Pennsylvania. I wrote about the places that shaped Johnny Weir-- from his boyhood in Quarryville, PA to his first real apartment in Lyndhurst, NJ.

This article apparently resonated with Weir fans. It was re-posted to a Yahoo group and received a fair amount of Google traffic.

NY Destinations Top Stories
Sept. 2009- Sept. 2010

1. Twitter provides latest news on Bangkok political violence
Tourists and expats in Bangkok turned to Twitter on Wednesday for the latest news on clashes between the Thai army and political protesters. English-speakers used their smart phones and laptops to access Twitter and find out which streets were safe from the violence.
>> Keep Reading

2. Travel safety: Mexico welcomes Spring Break visitors as drug violence threatens tourism
Mexico remains a popular spring break destination despite the recent murder of an American couple and a State Department travel warning. However, tourism revenues for 2010 may be affected by increasing drug violence in Mexico.
>> Keep Reading

3. Union Square artist market threatened by new Parks Department rules
The Parks Department has proposed new regulations that would drastically limit the number of artists allowed to sell their work in Union Square and other Manhattan parks. The Parks Department claims the rules will decrease congestion, but critics accuse the city of pushing out independent street artists in order to replace them with more lucrative vendors.
>> Keep Reading

4. Destination Johnny Weir: The places that shaped the Olympic ice skater
Johnny Weir awaited his Olympic scores with a crown of roses on his head, clutching a lush bouquet of red and white flowers that spelled out his first initial. Weir managed to top his previous appearance at the Olympic rink's "kiss and cry" station, when he hugged a heart-shaped pillow that matched his ruffled, pink-trimmed and tasseled skating costume.
>> Keep Reading

5. Travel Safety: Uganda says Kampala safe for tourists despite terrorist bombings
Travelers are second guessing their safari plans after a terrorist attack gripped Uganda on Sunday night, killing an estimated 74 people. At least one American was killed in the bombings, which took place at a restaurant and rugby club in Kampala where crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup. Ugandan officials are urging foreigners not to cancel their travel plans.
>> Keep Reading

6. Bangkok restaurant creates Tiger Woods statue out of condoms
A Bangkok restaurant has immortalized Tiger Woods with a life-size statue-- made of condoms. Cabbages & Condoms is a popular restaurant in Bangkok which serves traditional Thai cuisine and promotes safe sex. The restaurant's motto is "our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy." Woods himself could learn from this message. According to Woods' mistresses, the golf great did not wear condoms.
>> Keep Reading

7. Free camping in Central Park this summer
You can camp out in Central Park this summer for free - and you won't even have to bring supplies! The Urban Park Rangers have scheduled three nights of free camping in Central Park this summer: June 5, July 3, and August 7. This is an amazing deal, given the high price of lodging in New York City.
>> Keep Reading

8. Strange foods from around the world: Crocodiles, dogs, worms and... human flesh?!
Dogs, crocodiles, ants and even raw chicken are popular dishes from around the world that seem outright bizarre to most Americans. The next time you are traveling to Asia, Australia or South Africa, check out one of these tantalizing local favorites. With a bit of courage (and a strong constitution), you could be the next Andrew Zimmern.
>> Keep Reading

9. New York Daily News calls street artists 'freeloaders'
Art vendors are “freeloaders” who misuse city parks for commercial gain, claim prominent supporters of a Parks Department plan to restrict expressive matter vendors in public parks. This argument is detailed in a recent Daily News editorial, a New York Times op-ed, and a WNYC radio interview with senior Parks Department officials.
>> Keep Reading

10. New York street artists unveil anti-Bloomberg poster in fight against Parks Department rules
New York City street artists are escalating their fight against the proposed Parks Department regulations on expressive matter vendors. In Union Square Park, vendors started displaying "Artist Power!" signs on their stands last weekend. Robert Lederman, president of advocacy group A.R.T.I.S.T., unveiled a new poster today that accuses Mayor Bloomberg of violating street artists' First Amendment rights.
>> Keep Reading

Do you have a favorite NY Destinations article? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Check out my guest post on Cumi and Ciki - NYC's Top 5 Cheap Eats!

When Ciki approached me on Twitter to write a guest post for the Cumi and Ciki blog, I was excited-- and a bit nervous.

Cumi and Ciki is a sleek food and travel blog with the best food photography on the web. The posts always include tantalizing close-ups of exotic dishes. Malaysian chicken rice, scallop carpaccio and prawn tempura are just a few recent selections.

My assignment was a topic I knew a lot about: New York City's "cheap eats".

As a freelance writer (aka hustler) and bargain hunter, my dining tastes skew towards the ultra affordable. My diet consists mainly of $1 pizza and bubble tea-- with a side dose of San Loco tacos and $2 falafel.

>> Click here to read my guest post: "Top 5 cheap eats in Lower Manhattan"

LeslieTravel doing "research" for her 'Cumi and Ciki' guest post!
I was confident that I could write about NYC's cheap eats but was nervous about the photos.  I'd never taken close-up shots of food that came out well. Usually the flash created a blur of white instead of showing a sumptuous meal.  When I skipped the flash, the food would look grainy or out of focus.

After picking up some photography tips from Ciki (@agentcikay) and her Facebook friends, I set out with my Canon G11 to photograph Lower Manhattan's best budget meals.

This post was a great excuse to visit my favorite restaurants under the guise of "research." My first food photographs didn't come out well, so I ended up revisiting some of these inexpensive spots. I wasn't complaining-- although my waistline was rapidly expanding!

I discovered that my old compact camera, a Canon PowerShot Elph, has a "macro" setting (marked with a flower icon) that is perfect for up-close food photography. I managed to get some good shots of tasty burgers, tandoori chicken and bubble tea.

What do you think of my food photography- am I ready for a Gourmet magazine spread?

>> Guest Post: Top 5 cheap eats in Lower Manhattan (dine like a real New Yorker)


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Sunday, September 12, 2010

2010 'Art Around the Park' brings colorful murals to the East Village (photos)

Visitors to Tompkins Square Park this weekend saw an unfamiliar sight: the entire perimeter of the park was covered in art.

On Saturday artists were hard at work filling the 50"-60" square foot panels attached to the outer fence. Artwork ranged from paintings and drawings to collages.

One artist was attaching clothing in the shape of a human figure to his panel. Children helped the adults on some projects, and adorable dogs were on hand for moral support.

>> Scroll down for photos of the artists at work

The artists were taking part in the 14th annual "Art Around the Park" event, which is part of the Howl! Festival. According to the festival's website over 140 artists participated this year. In total they created over 8,000 square feet of art.

Mural on St Marks Place advertising the Howl! Festival (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)
"Art Around the Park" in Tompkins Square Park, New York City. September 11, 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Photo Album: TBEX Chapter Kick-off Party in Manhattan

Open bar, free bobbleheads, travel chat and Andrew Zimmern-- what more could you ask for?

My encounter with Andrew Zimmern at the TBEX kick-off party in NYC.
Last night's TBEX kick-off party was a blast.  I met interesting travelers and got face time with Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern. He autographed a copy of his new book The Bizarre Truth.

Unfortunately, Zimmern did not eat any boar scrotum or frog brains during the event. (Hors d'oeuvres at the Hotel Giraffe were fairly standard).

Still, good times were had by all.  And considering the cost of a ticket-- a little over $13-- the kick-off was a great value.

Count me in for the next TBEX event!

>> Check out the LeslieTravel Facebook page for more photos of the TBEX event.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Spotlight on Cambodia: The beaches of Sihanoukville (photos)

White sand. Crystal clear water. The widespread use of English. Located just 115 miles from the capital city.

On paper, the beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia seem to have all the characteristics of an upscale resort community.

In reality, this growing city is unlike anything most travelers have experienced before.

An isolated stretch of Independence beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, in 2008.


The main beach, Serendipity, is lined with family-run restaurants and is popular with foreign tourists.

But it's nearly impossible to finish a beachfront meal without confronting the outstretched hand of a begging man or woman, usually missing limbs and often with a toddler in tow.

Children who should be in elementary school comb the beach selling food, souvenirs and just about any service you can imagine.

The entrance to Serendipity beach in Sihanoukville is crowded with tuk tuks and touts.
Retired men from Europe and Australia walk hand in hand with young Cambodian women.

The government has cracked down on child sex tourism and billboards warn of penalties for sex offenders.

Restaurants promote "happy" dishes sprinkled with weed-- a popular option for backpackers and expats alike.

Restaurant/bars line the sand at Serendipity beach in Sihanoukville.

Traveler's dilemma

Sihanoukville is a melting pot for a diverse collection of people-- handicapped beggars, child vendors, local business owners, older expats and globetrotting backpackers.

It's nearly impossible to spend time in Sihanoukville without reflecting on social inequalities, poverty, and the impact of tourism on Cambodian society. On a more personal level, you'll be forced to question your own attitudes and behavior towards the less fortunate.

For a thoughtful analysis of this "traveler's dilemma," check out the article "Compassion In Cambodia" on The Expeditioner website (Twitter: @TheExpeditioner).

Otres beach was much more relaxed than Serendipity beach, at least when visited in 2008.
Laid back

Sihanoukville takes some getting used to, but it has its charms. In fact, after spending a few days in this laid-back beach town you may find it hard to leave!

It's easy to spend an entire day on the beach using a restaurant as home base. You can lounge in a wicker chair, swim in the ocean and alternate between drinking fresh fruit shakes and beer.

You'll come to know the proprietors and their families. It doesn't take long to become a regular here.

In 2008, large swaths of Otres beach were undeveloped.

Low prices

While Sihanoukville lacks the comforts of an upscale beach community, it's also much less expensive.

You can dine on a platter of fresh seafood for US $3, right on the beach. The vegetable amok-- the main vegetarian dish served throughout town-- is delicious and hearty.

And for $20 you can stay in a clean a room with AC and cable TV-- in a brand new hotel.

Fishing boats mark the horizon during a Sihanoukville sunset.

Off the beaten path

By renting a moped it's possible to get off the tourist trail and discover less crowded beaches and hidden attractions.

My boyfriend (now husband) Jake and I visited Sihanoukville in November 2008.  We stayed in a hotel near town and rode a motorbike to Otres beach.

Unlike Serendipity beach, Otres beach was just starting to develop its tourist offerings. A smattering of bungalows and restaurants dotted this long stretch of white sand. Fewer tourists meant fewer touts, and it was possible to enjoy a day at the beach with only minor interruptions.

Another local attraction, Independence beach, was completely deserted during our visit. It was apparently closed to make way for the development of a private resort.

We ventured into a sculpture garden near Independence beach and spotted the deity Hanuman among the decaying statues.

Statue of Hanuman in Sihanoukville's decaying sculpture garden.

Rapid development

In 2008, it was clear that the once 'hidden gem' of Sihanoukville was firmly on the backpacker trail.

There were still some stunning stretches of untouched coastline, but new hotels and resorts were being constructed throughout the beach areas. Over-development loomed on the horizon.

How has Sihanoukville changed in the last two years?

I'm not sure, since I haven't been back. I'd love to know if development has continued at a frenzied pace.

>> Have you been to the Cambodian coast recently? Feel free to share your experience by leaving a comment below.

@LeslieTravel relaxing on Serendipity beach in Sihanoukville, 2008.

Recommended reads

Blogger and world traveler Jiyeon Juno Kim (@RunawayJuno) is heading to Cambodia shortly. She's focusing on Siem Reap, not the beaches, but it will be interesting to see her take on the "traveler's dilemma." Stay tuned to the Runaway Juno website for Cambodia posts.

Check out the Jake and Leslie travel blog for more info on Sihanoukville and other Cambodian destinations.

Traveler Gary Arndt (@EverywhereTrip) has written about his journey to the Tonlé Sap river in Cambodia. Visit the Everything Everywhere website for stunning photos of his trip.

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