Until this year, I was one of those poor, deprived travellers who have only been to New York once (please read that sentence again with healthy splash of sarcasm so I don’t sounds like a monster). Exactly ten years ago, my best friend Lottie and I did a five-day power-visit of the Big Apple, armed with a laundry list of museums to visit, buildings to scale, stores to envy, and restaurants to fill our bellies (shhhh... truthfully we succumbed to a tourist trap or two due to unforeseen ravenous hunger and a lack of good sense). Our schedule would have classified as a frantic even for a New Yorker. And at the end our last day, after stumbling to the Guggenheim on the only day of the week it’s closed (blarg!), we had to resign ourselves that it is impossible to “see” New York in one visit.
So this time around, I’m making up for lost time...
It is solved by walking
“A long walk on the streets of New York City is therapy and entertainment all in one.”
My first day out exploring, I strolled – no, strutted – around the streets feeling as though Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York was pulsing through my veins. A light dusting of winter snow made all the more picturesque.
However, navigating in NYC was a perfect storm. Firstly, I made a “frugal traveller” decision and opted to travel without data on my phone (eek!) so I didn’t have Siri’s play-by-play instructions to re-route after every wrong turn. This was compounded by the fact that I completely forgot to pick up a guidebook (the crutch of all travelers) in my haste to pack up in Vancouver. Further intensified by the lack of omnipresent mountains to tell me which direction is north and my newly diagnosed Uptown/Downtown dyslexia meant for a lot of detours. I can’t tell you the number of times, I popped up from the subway station, consulted my map, and then with great conviction that I finally have it right, marched off in the wrong direction... but at least I marched confidently.
The chill of wet feet and icy wind tunnels is an unexpected downside. While initially this can be sorted by stopping for hot tea, eventually you’ve had more cups of tea than your bladder can hold and you have to get creative. I came up with another free strategy, warming up in hotels lobbies – most of which happened to be Marriott hotels strangely. To blend in like Liu Bolin, play on your phone so you look like you’re waiting for someone and then ask a question of front desk so you seem sincere and then, before you know it, your feet are dry and warm again and ready to continue exploring.
Talking to strangers
The brilliant part of travelling without a data plan on my phone was that I actually had to ask people to re-orient me when I’ve lost sight of the Empire State building or where to chow down (circa 2003... pre-Google Maps & pre-Yelp). And in that experience, I share in a temporary moment of human connection. I miss these moments that used to define travel, when the traveler and local were like two interlocking Lego pieces. My other nostalgic travel memory is asking someone to take your photo. The rise of the selfie means that we are more likely to risk an chin-to-shoulder border on our photo or a squinty did-it-take?oh-wait-its-on-video face than risk asking a random passerby to take our photo (after all, they might steal your camera!?!!?). Personally, I have been on a mission to offer to take as many photos of strangers, creating these moments of fleeting intimacy, as my own little civic contribution to a kinder humanity. And while in New York I continued this trend, asking and offering as much as I could. The classiest example being when I asked a man in a strip club sandwich sign to take a picture of me in front of the Robert Indiana’s pop-art HOPE sculpture. If that's not ironic...
New York is a city where lots of people are out-and-about on their own so being solo never felt like a solitary experience. But to my surprise, I also have more connections in NYC than I realized. (Truthfully, I think I was emboldened to reach out to people that I had lost touch with because I knew the city would be more fun with friends). I saw friends from high school who have become bonafide Manhattanites; LSE alumnae who live in New York or were passing through for work; a former volunteer from the Downtown Eastside (who generously showed me around her building at NYU and it was sooooo cool that it inspired to me to think about going back to school); THNK alumnae; as well as a cast of friend-of-friends on speed-dial. I was blessed with an endless supply of fascinating people to share a happy hour drink with or a spicy carnitas taco.
In many ways New York and I are still strangers chatting tentatively at the subway stop, trying to figure out how to become "real" friends. New York City has energy and personality like no other, and she is constantly reinventing herself so a visit here will ensure a distinctly unique experience each and every time... and I’m learning the truth of that every day that I am here.
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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