Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Have you ever stopped to think about the fantastical imagery of Star Wars?  I know I hadn’t until I went to see a Smithsonian Institution Traveling exhibit in New York City entitled, Star Wars:  The Power of Costume.  The exhibit is currently at Discovery Times Square, a building that served as the previous home of The New York Times.

A look at the multi-cultural references in the Star Wars Costumes as shown in an Smithsonian Institution Exhibit

Like every perfectionist, George Lucas imbued meaning in all of his Star Wars imagery including the costumes.  The costumes have cultural references around the world, from the American Wild West, to pre-Raphaelite Europe, Mongolian Queens and Japanese samurai.  The outfits were meant to humanise the characters so that they look vaguely familiar and less alien.  On the other hand, a futuristic film could not attribute its characters to a specific human culture.

The costumes in the exhibit are the actual outfits worn by the actors in the 7 movies to date.  There are more than 70 costumes on display.

 Trivia:  Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can’t go to an exhibit and not walk away with a treasury of trivia. For example,

  • Obi-Wan’s robes are reminiscent of both the rough ascetic of monk’s robes and the elegant silk of Japanese kimonos.  Lucas wanted Obi-Wan to be part monk and part warrior.
  • The throne room royal outfit of Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace was influenced by the Chinese Imperial court.  The bottom of the gown was made from perspex so that it would support the weight of the fabric and yet still glide across the room. A car battery powered the lights so that the perspex would glow.
  • The Jedi costumes were plain and muted to convey purity, asceticism and integrity.  The Sith robes, alternatively, were sleek flowing black.
  • The design fro C3P0 was heavily influenced by the robot Maria from the 1926 film Metropolis.
  • Queen Amidala and her court’s outfits were influenced by clothes from Chinese imperial outfits, Japanese kimonos, Mongolian crowns and European medieval fabrics.  The whole menage is intended to convey the impression of royalty without actually referencing any one specify culture or country.
  • The stormtroopers appear efficient and totalitarian with a complete lack of independent thought.   A type of futuristic Nazi in their shiny plastic outfits, they are identical and interchangeable.
  • The rebel forces, on the other hand, evoke the American west or U.S. Marines. (Of course, the Americans are the good guys – this is Hollywood!).
  • The entire budget for the 1977 Star Wars film was $220,000 and $93,000 went to the stormtroopers outfits.  Hence, poor Princess Leia spent a lot of time in one white outfit.
  • Han Solo is meant to evoke a cowboy hero from a Western movie.  He wears boots, vest and a gun belt like any other gunslinger.  The outfit is simple and the materials natural reminiscent of a U.S. cavalry uniform. Although starting off as an outlaw, he proves that when times get tough, he is ready to fight for justice.
  • Chewie’s outfit is made from yak hair and mohair.  He’s a combination of a monkey, a dog and a cat.  They must’ve done something right because my kids adore Chewie.
  • Princess Padme had 18 outfits which took months of work to create.  She had dresses, gowns, corsets, uniforms and, of course, the wedding gown.  Padme’s wedding gown was made from pieces of a vintage Italian lace bedspread.
  • In the Force Awakens, the costumes easily separate the goodies from the baddies.  The First Order is in sleek outfits and cold colours – blacks, greys, blues and metallics.  The Resistance is dressed in natural fabrics in warm colours – khakis, olives and oranges.

Photo Gallery:  Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Once you are told, it’s easy to see the Japanese samurai influences.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

R2D2 at times actually had a human actor inside him.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can see the blend of cultural references in this outfit.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The Senators needed to look both alien and yet familiar at the same time.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Propaganda poster for the stormtroopers.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Darth Vader propoganda poster.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Carrie Fisher famously called this outfit ‘the bikini from hell.”

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

A frozen Han Solo determined to break free.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The seductive side of Padme.

 

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can easily see the specialist artisanal work needed for Padme’s outfits.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The wedding gown for an illicit marriage.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

An intentional reference to pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

All black because he is pure evil.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The new set of good guys wears natural fabrics and earth tones.

Video:  Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Visiting the Star Wars Costume Exhibit

The exhibit will be travelling through the United States (and hopefully around the world) through 2019.  The Discovery Times Square centre will show the exhibit until September 2016.  From November 2016, the exhibit will be at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado.  Tickets in New York are $27.50 for adults with discounts for the under-12s and seniors.

You can keep track of which city the exhibit will appear through their twitter feed or through the website.  The exhibit is very child-friendly (obviously – to hook in another generation of children into the Star Wars folklore).  My children LOVED it so I’d say the attempt was very successful.  Not only are there certain interactive elements for kids, you can also download activity sheets to take with you to the exhibit.

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Travel Inspiration.

Weekend Travel Inspiration

A Modern Masterpiece at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills

A Modern Masterpiece at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills

Who turns down a free Matisse stained glass window?  The church goers at Pocantico Hills did. They thought the art was just too ‘modern’.  The Chagall was a gift to the Union Church in Pocantico Hills in New York from the Rockefeller family who lived nearby in their Kykuit estate.   Not use to hearing no, the Rockefellers persevered and eventually got to install their artwork. Eventually all the other windows at the Union Church in Pocantico Hills became stained glass works from Chagall and Matisse as well.

Union Church of Pocantico Hills in New York has all of its stained glass done by modern masters, Matisse and Chagall

The Union Church in Pocantico Hills

The Union Church in Pocantico Hills is today a modern art masterpiece. You know you live in a swish area when the stained glass windows of your local church were made by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.

The Union Church of Pocantico Hills, a non-denominational Protestant church, is a small stone structure built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1921.  The interior is a pared down Neo-gothic style.  It was the local church of the Rockefellers who had their country estate, Kykuit, nearby.

Union Church

Union Church
Photo: Richard Chen

The Rockefeller Family & Philanthropy

Unless you are American, you may not know that the Rockefellers are a very rich and powerful American family who built their fortunes in the oil business in the late 19th century.  The family patriarch John D. Rockefeller Sr was the first American to become a billionaire.  If you account for inflation, he is considered the richest man in history!!

John D. Rockefeller Jr. (usually known as Junior to distinguish from his father) was careful with his father’s legacy.  You probably recognise the family name from the New York City landmark Junior built, Rockefeller Center.  He bought the land along the East River in New York that he later donated to become the United Nations Headquarters.  His generosity helped fund the creation of Yellowstone National Park.  In addition, he bought the land that was the Teton National Park and donated it to the government. In all, Junior Rockefeller donated approximately $535 million dollars to charity during his life.

Junior’s wife, Abby, was one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1929.  Abby was a force to be reckoned with as well.  Junior hated modern art and Abby promoted her love of modern art through networking with powerful individuals and corporations.

Today, several members of the Rockefeller family still live around Pocantico Hills.

The Chagall and Matisse Stained Glass

The only adornment in the tiny church are the stained glass windows which are simply stunning.  The light filtering through the windows even on a cloudy day like the day I went was spectacular.  It reminded me of Saint Chapelle in Paris in that respect – a small jewel box of colour.

union chapel

Union Church Interior
photo: Jaime Martorano

The Matisse Window

The Matisse is behind the altar in the Union Church.  It was commissioned as a memorial to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller who was a big fan of the artist.  She collected his work and entertained him in her home in New York city.

The Matisse window is the last work of the artist.  Poor Matisse was wheelchair bound and very ill and tried to refuse the commission.  No one says no to a Rockefeller though.  Get the general drift here??

Matisse Window

Matisse Window
Photo: geoffreyzheng

The Chagall Windows

The first Chagall window was in honour of Junior whose children installed a large stained glass window depicting the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan in his memory.  I guess they didn’t care that dear old dad hated modern art!

Chagall

The Good Samaritan Window
photo: Jassy-50

The other 8 Chagall windows are memorials to other members of the Rockefeller family, including Nelson Rockefeller who had a political career as New York Governor (1959-1973) and as Vice President under President Ford.  In case you think the Rockefeller family were all squeaky clean do-gooders, Nelson died in 1979 while ‘entertaining’ a 25 year old girlfriend.

Chagall and his wife had fled the Nazis to arrive in New York due to a Rockefeller-funded program which rescued over 2000 prominent artists whose lives were at risk.  The other Chagall stained glass windows depict scenes from the Old Testament, such as prophets and the angels guarding the Garden of Eden, in deference to his Jewish faith.

Prophet Joel

The Prophet Joel
Photo: geoffreyzheng

In the 1950’s Picasso was quoted as saying:

When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.

This church shows off these two masters’ understanding of colour to great effect.  The stained glass windows are an inspiring harmony of colours.  I personally find it is easier to believe in the divine when you are surrounded by such beauty.

Visiting the Union Church

The Union Church of Pocantico Hills is one of the many treasures along the Hudson Valley which is an area in New York state just north of New York City bordering alone the Hudson River.  In the summer, you could also visit Kykuit Estate itself.

The Union Church is still a working church for the town with regular Sunday services.  We drove to the Church which is located at 555 Bedford Road in Pocantico Hills.  I don’t think it’s very easy to get to by public transport.  It is very near the other Rockefeller bequest which we visited, Stone Barns, which is a renowned farm-to-table foodie destination.

Union Church has its own free smartphone app which allows you tour the artwork from the comfort your own home.  They don’t allow photographs inside the chapel itself.  My children received a small kid-friendly pamphlet of activities which kept them amused for the limited time we spent at the chapel.

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Brookfield Place in Manhattan, A Steel and Glass Lazarus

Brookfield Place in Manhattan, A Steel and Glass Lazarus

Everyone remembers the tragic details of 9/11 and the fall of the World Trade Center buildings.  There were other buildings associated with that disaster which were severely damaged  at the time.  They just didn’t have the spectacular televised downfall of the North and South Towers.  Brookfield Place in Manhattan has emerged from the ashes of one such complex of buildings, the World Financial Center.

Brookfield Place for food, shopping and family fun in Lower Manhattan

After visiting the One World Observatory (aka Freedom Tower), we went across the street to check out Brookfield Place.  It’s very slick looking – definitely slicker than the rather dated 80’s-looking World Financial Center.  The original complex was built on landfill from the construction of the World Trade Center buildings.

After the 9/11 attacks, the World Financial Center was severely damaged. The winter garden atrium in the middle has been restored. The whole expanse itself has been enlarged to be both office and retail space. It’s part of a whole renovation of lower Manhattan to drive tourism to that part of the city.

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

A steel and glass Lazarus

Ice-Skating at Brookfield Place

Both the Wollman Ice Rink and the Rockefeller Ice Rink are well known fixtures in the Manhattan winter scene.  Both of these ice rinks, though, can get really busy.  Brookfield Place has an ice rink also which is a lot less busy.

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

Skating at Brookfield Place

Ice skates are available for rental and sessions run for 2 hours at a time. The rink overlooks New York harbour.  We had a grand time skating in the sunshine. Unlike busier ice rinks, we didn’t have to worry about beginner skaters crashing into us.  Instead, we got to be the ones that the other skaters avoided!

Foodies at Brookfield Place

Brookfield Place is also quite the foodie destination. The downstairs has a food hall, Le District, based on the idea of a French shopping area.  The food hall is very similar to what you’d find at Harrods in London or Galleries Lafayettes in Paris.  I would love to have this food hall be my local grocery!

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

The very French Le District

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

Groceries beautifully presented

Upstairs in the atrium, you get a floor of small restaurants including a taqueria and a sushi bar.  There’s also Hudson Eats, a luxury version of a food court separate places that sell stuff like  cupcakes, sandwiches and pizza. The floor-to-ceiling windows have great views over the New York harbour.

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

Chocolate cake on its way to being served!

Having to decide what to eat was quite tough.  In the end, we opted for crepes which fit the bill for something both sweet but filling.

Shopping at Brookfield Place

You also have a series of upscale stores, both European and American (e.g., Tory Burch, Bottega Veneta, Michael Kors and Burberry).  Not all the stores had opened when we visited in December.  We did do some serious damage at J.Crew though.

Overall, I was really impressed with Brookfield Place.  The design is light and airy – very open and grand but still intimate in feel.  The food choices are wonderful.  Especially when you are travelling with children, having a choice of eateries can make the difference between a pleasant lunch and one where somebody is sulking (not very) quietly.

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

Great design details

Events at Brookfield Place

Brookfield Place also does assorted events for the community.  For example, I know there was a Santa where you could bring your kids.  Hudson Eats also hosts saturday morning shows for children and their parents.  Over the holidays, the Winter Garden was also the setting for the art installation, Luminaries by the Rockwell Group.

The Luminaries installation in the Winter Garden

The Luminaries installation in the Winter Garden

Interestingly, I ran into an old friend, his wife and two kids that I had not seen in nearly 20 years.  He lives nearby in one of the many apartments in Lower Manhattan.  They had come to Le District to pick up coffee for the adults and snacks for the kids.

Brookfield Place in Manhattan

In the old days, I did not know anyone with children who lived in the financial district that was downtown Manhattan.  People worked or socialised in lower Manhattan, but the family homes were definitely further uptown.  I give two thumbs up to Brookfield Place and the renovation that’s happening in Battery Park.  I think making a place family-friendly makes a place more vibrant (and not just because I have kids myself!).

Visiting Brookfield Place

Brookfield Place in Manhattan is located at 230 Vesey Street in Battery Park City.  The entrance is pretty much opposite the entrance to One World Observatory. It has dedicated parking but also easy access via the local subway lines.

We received our ice-skating tickets complimentary from Brookfield Place. My words and opinion, however, remain my own and were in no way influenced by this fact.

This post is linked with Weekend Wanderlust.

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A Pictoral Fairytale of New York

A Pictoral Fairytale of New York

I’m not ready for Christmas to be over.  There is such a long lead-time towards the big day and then ‘poof’ it’s over.  The British at least have Boxing Day the day after Christmas day itself to drag out the celebrations a bit longer.

A Fairytale of New York - recycled cups creating a snowman

The British also have the Pogues song ‘Fairytale of New York‘ playing on endless repeat on the radio.  In fact it is the most played Christmas song in the UK in the 21st century.  I realised in New York City, Fairy Tale of New York is not as popular as in the UK.  Maybe it’s too bleak to be a real fairy tale.  Americans like their anodyne fairy tales. Plus, some of the language is questionable for children to hear.

I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

New York City is for dreams, especially at Christmas.  The city that never sleeps sparkles and shines like at no other time.  A siren song for the young and the ambitious, New York will dash the hopes of many against its steel and glass towers.  I followed the call of New York in my 20’s but now I’m simply happy to be one of the tourists that visit.

They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me.

Wandering around New York City last week, I tried to capture the magic of the city at Christmas.  Here are my efforts:

Fairytale of New York

The tree at Brookfield Place overlooks World Trade Observatory

Fairytale of New York

The Saks Fifth Avenue window displays reflected the theme of Winter Palace

fairytale of new york

Fifth Avenue tarted up for the holidays

giant candy canes in Manhattan

Giant candy canes hanging off a building – magical!

Fairytale of New York

A gingerbread house at the Plaza Hotel

fairytale of new york

The old and the new coexist.

fairytale of New York

The only angels that exist in Manhattan.

The Pogues’ song veers between sentimental and bittersweet similar to the feelings of the couple referenced in the lyrics.

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you.

I think it is a fitting tribute to Christmas.  A whole lot of sentimentality with an undercurrent of disquiet.  No one has a perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas even though the pressure is there to have one.

 

 

A Luxury Christmas at Bergdorf NYC

A Luxury Christmas at Bergdorf NYC

Bergdorf Goodman is the grande dame of New York luxury retailers.  Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th streets since 1899, she is the only New York-centric luxury store left in the city.  All the other department stores have spread their influence outside of New York. (I’m looking at you Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys).  For me, Bergdorf NYC is quintessential Manhattan style, class and luxury.  After all, it was one of Carrie Bradshaw’s favourite stores in Sex and The City.

Christmas at Bergdorf Goodman, an iconic luxury store in NYC

What better way to celebrate Christmas in Manhattan than to check out how it’s being done at Bergdorfs?

Bergdorf’s Christmas Windows

The store windows at Bergdorf NYC this Christmas was all about the sparkle.  Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl would have approved.

Bergdorf NYC

A Swarovski ice cream? Why, of course, darling. No carbs.

Bergdorf NYC

Puss in Boots says ‘You shall make me very rich.”

Bergdorf NYC

Dahling I do hope my pet lion and my handbag dog get along.

Bergdorf NYC

It’s raining diamonds! so much better than raining men.

Bergdorf NYC

It’s so awkward when Grandpapa insists on wearing his pearl bodysuit to dinner.

Bergdorf NYC

If Barbie and her friends had more money, they’d party like this.

Bergdorf’s Christmas Department

The Christmas department at Bergdorf NYC is small but exquisite.  Everything is beautifully detailed with prices to reflect such craftsmanship.

I heard a fair bit of Russian while browsing this part of the store.  Presumably people have so much space they need life size animatronic polar bears and Santa Clauses to fill their Manhattan penthouses.  I love the fact that the Santa Claus statues are in magnificent robes.  No, red velour for these Santas.

Bergdorf NYC santa

I loved the look of these bejewelled velvet tree skirts and matching (!) socks.  One or the other as Oprah would say or it will look too match-matchy.  Unless, of course, that is the look you are going for.

I have a thing for shoes on Christmas trees and fell in love with the gold sneaker ornaments.  My daughter, of course, wanted the gold heels.

Check out these beautiful ornaments in a short movie clip.

 

Visiting Bergdorf NYC

Bergdorf Goodman is located on 5th Avenue on 57th and 58th streets.  You can’t miss it.  It’s a giant mansion at the very top of Fifth Avenue on the side of the street that becomes Central Park.  In fact the near-perfect location was the site for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s home during the Gilded Age.

Next stop after Bergdorf is the Plaza Hotel.  We spent time at Bergdorf’s then had tea in the Plaza Hotel atrium.  My kids know the Plaza Hotel from the Eloise books as well as the movie, Home Alone 2. So mama was happy and so were the kids.  Daddy just suffered along, carried shopping bags and complained about the prices.

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and Pierced Wonderings.

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A Winter Wonderland of Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

A Winter Wonderland of Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

In New York for Christmas and thinking about visiting the Christmas lights at Rockefeller Center?  Fuhgettaboudit.  In New York City, the spectacle you need to see are the Christmas lights in Brooklyn.

Our guide, Marc, from A Slice of Brooklyn showed us a side of Brooklyn that I had never seen and that enthralled my children.  We visited three neighbourhoods in Brooklyn but the most amazing was Dyker Heights which is completely over the top for the month of December.

Touring the Amazing Displays of Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

Tasteful?  Depends on what your definition of tasteful is. Sometimes I felt like I was in a Real Housewives of New Jersey episode.  As Marc pointed out, this tour really does bring out all the stereotypes.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

Not everywhere in Brooklyn goes crazy for Christmas lights.  You need to head out to the old Italian neighbourhoods which are places not easily accessible by public transportation.

Blue Christmas House

Bay Ridge has multi-million dollar homes facing the waterfront.  Many of the lighting decorations are tastefully done.  Our favourite has to be the Blue Christmas house.  The husband is Italian-Catholic, his wife Jewish and they compromised on blue lights.  (Blue and white are the colours traditionally associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah).  And, is this house ever blue!

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

It’s gonna be a Blue Christmas but not because they are Elvis fans.

At Blue Christmas house, you can just about also make out the Christmas tree which is hung upside down.  An upside down tree makes a more significant triangle which is supposed to signify the Christian Trinity.  Even with a drop-free needles tree, I bet that tree sheds a lot.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

The tree is hung from the ceiling and the stockings from the chimney.

I wonder if this is where Galeries Lafayette in Paris got their idea of an upside down Christmas tree for their store last year.

Sammy the Greek

Sammy the Greek has a house that is Vegas meets Brooklyn.  And, he’s Greek, in case you missed the Greek flag, or the Greek words spelling out Merry Christmas on the front.  Note the cultural diversity in a predominantly Italian neighbourhood.  Sammy’s got his own radio station which plays Christmas tunes coordinated with his light show.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

Greek, proud and announcing it loud

He’s also got a Christmas village set up in a protective glass case on the front lawn.  We noticed other people did too, but maybe not to Sammy’s scale.  At least now I know who buys those Christmas village things.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

More a Christmas city than a Christmas village

Lucy Spata’s House

The grandmama of the Christmas lights tradition is Lucy Spata’s house.  Lucy put up 40 angels to commemorate the passing of her mother in the 1980’s.  The neighbours were sympathetic at first, but then they started complaining.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

The original trendsetter

With true Brooklyn attitude, Lucy told them to stick their complaints where the sun don’t shine.  The neighbours called the cops on her.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

I think you’re going to need a bigger lawn.

Then it was WAR.  Not Sopranos style but the Christmas edition. But like in the Godfather movies, I’m sure it involved lots of tasty pasta sauce. Lucy hired carol singers for her front lawn.  The neighbours decided the lights may be bright but at least they were quiet.

And, lo, unto them, a tradition was born.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn Photo Gallery

Eventually, more and more of Dyker Heights got into Lucy Spata’s Christmas spirit.  Here are some of my favourite sights.

B&R are professional Christmas lights decorators.  So, of course, their family house looked amazing.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

Right on trend with mixed metallics

People may have their houses go dark during Christmas if there has been a death in the family. Or, they may choose to commemorate their family member (even the four legged kind).

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

All dogs go to heaven.

What price Christmas festive lights you may ask?  One man has admitted his December electricity bill comes in at $5000.  Yowza.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

Some of the homes have animatronics.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

This creepy snowman reminded us of Dr Who cyborgs.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

On donut duty, in the ‘hood.

Christmas Lights in Brooklyn

Simple (relatively) but effective

Taking the Christmas Lights Tour

I’d never seen these lights before because you really need private transport to get to these neighbourhoods.  Our Slice of Brooklyn tour bus left from the very convenient Union Square.  Taking about 3.5 hours total, it was fun, easy and hassle-free.

Our guide Marc was terrific – amusing with the right amount of respect.  After all, he’s from Brooklyn and will need to show his face in the ‘hood.  It’s a small family-run operation expertly run by another Brooklyn native son, Tony Muia, for the last 10 years.

A Slice of Brooklyn takes about 90,000 visitors a year to see the non-trendy, authentic side of Brooklyn that exists outside of hipsters, Williamsburg and Girls.  Tickets for the tours are $50/adult and $40/children. Our tour bus was full so you really need to book in advance.

We received complimentary tickets from A Slice of Brooklyn.  All words and opinions are strictly my own.  And, yes, I would pay to do this tour again.