NYC-By-Bike: Operation Riga Balzams

From a series of posts on exploring New York's neighborhoods, bike lanes and parks.
I've been neglecting my bike for the last few months.
As it began to snow and the roads got nasty, I had flashbacks of last winter when I refused to let cold weather or treacherous riding conditions force me on the subway. In particular I remember one bitterly cold February day when the West Side bike path was a solid sheet of ice and I spent my entire commute hoping I wouldn't have to suddenly turn or stop.
This year, I decided this year to play it safer and not ride when there was snow or ice on the edges of the streets. But last week, as the snow started to melt, I started itching to ride again.
A benefit of my new self-employed lifestyle is that I now have plenty of lovely, non-rush hour daylight hours. I've always wanted to take the time to explore more neighborhoods in New York, and so after training a few days on the Prospect Park loop to get my bike-legs back, this morning I began Day 1 of my efforts to explore the city by bike.

I started biking east from Red Hook on 9th Street, crossed the Gowanus Canal and then headed down through Sunset Park on 5th Avenue. I was initially worried about this part of the trip because it seemed like a lot of blocks to cover on a busy commercial street, but thanks to rampant double-parking and a large section along Greenwood Cemetery that was being re-surfaced, traffic actually moved at a reasonably safe pace. Heading west on 69th Street, I arrived at the Shore Parkway Greenway (Photo 1) and pedaled south under the Verrazano Bridge to Coney Island. This was a terrific stretch of bike path - tremendous views and so little bike and pedestrian traffic that compared to the West Side bike path, it felt like Siberia.
The greenway ended at Bay Parkway and I endured a few somewhat sketchy minutes of cycling down Cropsey before arriving to the Coney Island boardwalk (Photo 2) where, to my amazement, there were already aging bikini-clad couples tanning in the weak March sun.
I had an ulterior motive for coming to Brighton Beach. My husband is Latvian and heard from his sister who heard from a Latvian coworker that a store in this neighborhood sells Riga Balzams, the medicinal-tasting "national liquor" of Latvia (Photo 3).
The store, Joseph's Discount Liquors, was located under the tracks on Brighton Avenue, a few blocks east of Ocean Parkway. As I anticipated, the owners were entertained by the fact that I'd biked to Brighton Beach in search of the balsams, and even more intrigued when I demonstrated the amazing liquor-carrying capacity of my camel-back pack (Photo 4).
I headed home via the separated bike path on Ocean Parkway. The first mile or so of this path was miserable. The concrete slabs were cracked and jutted up at tire-puncturing angles. I also found intersections harrowing as cars barreling along the parkway often ran lights and sped through right turns across the bike path (Photo 5). Finally, around Avenue M the concrete slabs were replaced by a paved asphalt surface, and so I was able to pick up speed as I headed north. The weather was so lovely, I couldn't resist a quick loop through Prospect Park before coasting home down 9th Street.
Stay tuned. I'm planning trip up Route 9 tomorrow and to the Rockaways later this week. And if you have suggestions for other fun, long, and mostly safe bike routes around the city, let me know.

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