Queens Pride in Jackson Heights

New York City is quite the destination during gay pride season, seeing as there’s not only a pride festival for each individual borough, but also Harlem as well. My personal favorite is Queens Pride, since not only is it in my all time favorite NYC neighborhood but it’s a very unique setting. Jackson Heights masters the art of gay neighborhood bars and clubs, with a really fun-loving Latino crowd. I’ve been going to these gay bars since 2008, and it’s one of the few places that haven’t been tainted by gentrification, brunch culture, and circuit parties in NYC. That is not to say that it doesn’t get crowded and crazy, I’ve had many fun nights here partying. But the people who go are what really make it special. It’s a mainly low-key Spanish speaking crowd in bars that have drag shows in Spanish, and all types of Latin music. It’s definitely fun to check out if you’ve never experienced it before.

My husband & I at Queens pride

My husband & I at Queens pride

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Various hilarious and creative costumes in the parade

Take the E,F,M,R, or 7 train to 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue to arrive in Jackson Heights. The pride festivities consist of:

  • a parade (that marches down 37th Avenue, 1-2 blocks north of the subway),
  • two main stages with drag shows, dancing & singing performances, and a ton of street carts and vendors (concentrated on 37th Road, 1 block north of the subway),
  • the bars and clubs are spread out but mainly on Roosevelt Avenue in a 12 block radius.

In the parade there are familiar faces (the famed Miss Colombia who appears at just about every parade in NYC), local politicians, and various cultural groups from all over the city – many catering to different groups of color (LGBT North Africans for example), The choices for gay bars include Hombres Lounge (younger crowd, hookahs available), Friend’s Tavern, The Music Box, True Colors (all neighborhood bars, the first 2 having outdoor space), and Club Evolution (3 bars and ample space to dance and socialize). Besides the gay choices, there’s tons of Latino sports and dive bars to hang out at, all very reasonably priced. Queens pride tends to get crowded, but nowhere near as crowded as Manhattan and unlike on Christopher Street there’s much more space for movement in Queens.

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Perfect plumage

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The famed Miss Colombia

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Eat your heart out Lady Gaga circa 2010 #queenswhorecycle

Where Carinval meets Pride!

Where Carinval meets Pride!

And don’t get me started on the food. Jackson Heights is the most diverse zip code in the world, the population being mixed Latino from the Caribbean, Central America, and South American, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and a sprinkling of old-school Italian and Russian communities. Needless to say, it’s a festival in one of the most ethnically blessed neighborhoods ever, the options are unlimited. Colombian empanadas, tacos, momos, curry kebab, rice & beans, and Thai fried rice are just some of your choices here. These are some of the many reasons that I’m proud to show off Queens, and I’m ok with most people living in NYC thinking that it’s lame here since it keeps a more authentic feel to what it means to be from Queens.

Have you been to Jackson Heights? What about Queens pride?

Portland, the perfect city?

What’s to say about Portland, Oregon? It might just be my perfect city. A city that’s not too big, not too small. A city that’s filled with insanely quirky and interesting people. A city filled with endless moments that are indescribable, like where else can you see an annual naked bike ride that attracts thousands of participants? Or perhaps a mini Marilyn Manson act? Only in the PDX baby.

Portland stealing it's twin sister city's Austin's motto

Portland stealing it’s twin sister city’s Austin’s motto

Architecture in Old Town

Architecture in Old Town

Old Town Portland

Old Town Portland near Skidmore Fountain

Portland was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been enchanted. The weather is unlike the northeastern USA with harsh, and cold winters. This winter in Portland it didn’t even snow once! The Pacific Northwest gets temperate winters, with just an abundant amount of rainfall (which contributes to Portland’s amazing greenery in close proximity to the city center). Sure, it may snow in the mountains of Washington and Oregon, but I’ll take a Portland winter over a New York City one any day. One of my favorite spots on my visit was the Pittock Mansion on the inner outskirts of Portland. The drive is beautiful, swerving through steep roads up a mountain, with which you are rewarded with a gorgeous hilltop mansion where you’re able to picnic (we had a delicious vegan picnic with groceries from New Seasons Market) with some views of Portland’s greenery.

Vegan picnic at Pittock Mansion

Vegan picnic at Pittock Mansion

Not to mention there is an incredible variety of food trucks all around the city (dangerous for someone like me). I mean come on…. I had the privilege of trying MAURITIAN food. Who would’ve ever seen that coming? Its cuisine is a mix of Creole, French, Indian, and Chinese. Can you say yum? Be sure to check it out when you come, it’s called Chez Dodo. Portland also has an intimidating amount of organic, farm to table, and vegan/vegetarian foods (of insanely creative varieties). Don’t even get me started on Voodoo Donut! It completely lives up to the hype, luckily I was able to go twice without any insane line. But this place literally has everything, I tried the maple glazed donut, the oreo donut, and the classic voodoo donut which is a voodoo doll complete with a little pretzel which you press into the donut and it bleeds with jelly. They’re also famous for the cock and balls donut, popularized by bachelorette parties in Portland. The aesthetic of the store and the friendly staff, along with the incredible product make this place a classic and just unbeatable. You definitely won’t go hungry in Portland.

Chez Dodo - Mauritian food truck!

Chez Dodo – Mauritian food truck!

Menu at Chez Dodo

Menu at Chez Dodo

Poori on the top, Pulao on the bottom, Delicious all around

Voodoo Donuts!!!!

Voodoo Donuts!!!!

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Voodoo’s interior decor

Creative menu

Creative menu

The selection

The selection

OREO DONUT!!

OREO DONUT!!

Other spots to check out are the N Mississippi Ave and NE Alberta Ave districts, which are filled with quirky shops, tantalizing food carts, outdoor seating restaurants, and much more Portland vibes. Downtown Portland also has Pioneer Square, which is worth a view. Additionally, there’s the Portlandia statue, which is hidden on top of a roof of a building behind some trees, but worth seeking out because it’s much bigger than you’d imagine. It’s also the second largest cast-iron statue in the country after the Statue of Liberty. There’s something almost threatening or menacing about this iron beauty, adding to the charm of Portland.

N Mississippi Avenue

N Mississippi Avenue

N Mississippi Ave

N Mississippi Ave

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Portlandia Statue

Portlandia Statue

Transport in Portland is very easy to navigate with buses, light rail, and ample amount of Car2Go. This was my first experience driving a Car2Go and it was 3 of us, so it was quite humorous all of us squeezing into a smartcar –  felt more like a clown car.

Portland may be in one of the newer states, but it doesn’t mean it’s without its interesting history. Portland was once a den of all types of illegal activity, I learned a lot on a walking tour explaining about underground business and lifestyles in Portland. What’s funny to me is that it seems rather unexpected since the contemporary culture of Portland is very socially conscious, aware, relaxed, and almost wholesome. To see that it was born from a place with a rather sinister history makes it that much cooler to me. The tour was just under 2 hours, you learn a lot about the racist policies that governed Portland and affected its early Chinese, Japanese, and African-American communities. Additionally you learn about the somewhat legal practice of Shanghaiing and how ship captains got away with it, and made profits from it.

One of Portland's many bridges over the Willamette River

One of Portland’s many bridges over the Willamette River

Portland is a prime example of why I’ve been drawn to the culture and the attitudes of the western states. Their ancestors were the opportunists of the time. They rolled with the punches and made their own way in the Wild West. Their laid-back vibe just screams freedom, a healthy antidote to the overworked and sarcastic northeastern culture. I can’t wait to explore the area more.

Have you ever been to Portland? What were your impressions? Recommendations for my next visit?

Way uptown: the unknown part of Manhattan

I’m a New York native, which in NYC is hard to come by. I’m from a boring suburb on the Queens/Long Island border. What I find to be the best part about this city is that you can go to a wide variety of different neighborhoods depending on what you’re in the mood for in terms of vibe, food, nightlife, or anything really. You can go months exploring what the different areas have to offer.

An area of the city I enjoy but don’t visit enough is way uptown in Manhattan. Spanning the area of 155th to 220th street, you have the areas of Washington Heights and Inwood. Washington Heights hails the biggest Dominican population of the city, and also being the area with the highest foreign-born residents in all the five boroughs. Inwood is a much quieter area at Manhattan’s northern tip with a mixed Dominican and Irish population.

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Beautiful apartment building in Inwood

A trip all the way up the A or the 1 train rewards you with fine Dominican cuisine, world class museums, rowdy Dominican bars that party hard, tranquil nature, unbelievable views of the Hudson River, The Bronx, and New Jersey.

I visited The Cloisters a few weeks ago, which is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art perched atop a hill with excellent views over the Hudson River. The museum is dedicated to medieval art and architecture, and it’s quite a collection. The admission is suggested, so you can give what you wish and there are also packages you can buy with tickets to the regular branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other NYC attractions.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

Afterwards, my companions and I had a nice feast at Dyckman Express Restaurant, a no-frills Dominican restaurant right off of the 1 train stop for Dyckman. Top-notch quality Caribbean food which is very fresh and the price is right. The cheese and crab mofongos are delicious and the perfect texture. For those you don’t know what mofongo is, it’s a Caribbean (mostly Puerto Rican) masterpiece of mashed plantains with spices and either a tomato or garlic sauce. The avocados, fried cheese, sweet plantains, cassava, fried, rice, and beans are also big winners. There are also plenty of other options on this street as well as further down Broadway in the 160s.

cheese mofongo & fried cheese

cheese mofongo & fried cheese

Finally, we strolled down Broadway uptown to Inwood Park, a magnificent park that shows the true diversity of New York City since it’s nature with a much quieter atmosphere than Central Park. The views from Inwood Park are not juxtaposed by tall skyscrapers, but rather a creek and a bridge that takes you from Manhattan to the Bronx. The only sound you’ll hear in certain parts of the park are the gentle glide of traffic over the bridge, and in other parts you can almost achieve perfect silence. Kind of eerie thinking you’re still in Manhattan. In fact, one of my best friend’s grandfather experimented with sustainable living off of nature in this very park and managed to do so for about 6 years without rejoining the rest of society. A true example that a New York City experience can be anything you choose.

Inwood Park

Spuyten Duyvil creek at Inwood Park

Other points of interest in the area include the oldest house in Manhattan, the only lighthouse on Manhattan isle, and a bar with a relaxing atmosphere on the river. The Morris-Jumel Mansion is open to visitors Tuesday-Sunday; it’s the oldest house in Manhattan on Jumel Terrace in between 160th and 162nd streets. I have yet to visit, but it’s on my list. Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, aka the little red lighthouse, is in Fort Washington Park almost directly below the George Washington Bridge in the heights. It’s a nice, short hike down to the river to see the lighthouse, you can’t go inside but it’s a pretty sight when placed next to the bridge. Finally, go on a hot summer evening and enjoy the ambiance of La Marina, a bar and restaurant with outdoor seating with great views of the river and the George Washington Bridge in the distance. It is located at the west end of Dyckman Street on the Hudson River, drinks and hookahs are available.

Little red lighthouse under the bridge

Little red lighthouse under the bridge

Have you visited Inwood or Washington Heights? What did you like when you went?

New Year’s in Paris

I visited Paris for a couple of days and celebrated the New Year over there. What can be said that hasn’t already been said before? It’s a world renowned capital filled with culture and good food. A city of great beauty, great attractions, and of a majestic quality. There’s nothing like someone’s first trip to Paris. Except that this was my second trip so I got to enjoy it I feel in a bit of a more authentic way.

In my years of travel I’ve acquired a bit more connections so I had a free Parisian apartment to stay in this time, some friends who live there whose knowledge greatly matched any guidebook, and a better sense of travel than when I went there 3 years earlier. I had an even better time visiting Paris than my first, thanks to the company I was with.

Conciergerie


Arc du triomphe

But, I was there with 2 Paris virgins so of course I still went and saw many of the famous sights. Luckily, the Paris Museum really prevented me from breaking the bank. A 2-day pass only puts me back 42 Euro whereas one entrance alone could cost 18 Euro. And I say it’s nice to have your productive days crunched into a time frame, so that I could fully embrace wandering aimlessly for the rest of my time there. See, I’m a Libra, so balance is very important to me. Sure it’s great to see all the culturally acclaimed things in a city since history has endowed Paris with a lovely cornucopia of museums and sites, but what really interests me is what the city is really like.

Notre Dame

Well I’ll tell you…the city is its delicious food…and of course I don’t only mean French. Paris has absolutely delicious Lebanese, Ethiopian, Cambodian, and Chinese food..among many others I’m sure. What makes Paris great is that in terms of European cosmopolitan melting pots, it’s only rivaled by London. French colonialism has guaranteed a rich array of immigrants from every corner of the world to call this city their home. And although that causes problems to the French sensibility at times, that’s what makes France charming. It’s an very modern and culturally trendsetting country on one hand, and on the other it’s a country extremely steeped in its history and proud traditions of art, language, cuisine, and wine. France plays by its own rules and that’s what makes it an interesting place to visit, no matter how cliché visiting Paris can be.

Eiffel Tower

Been to Paris? What are your thoughts on what’s the best thing to see and do there?

My second home: Puerto Rico

I have the good fortune of visiting Puerto Rico very often and having a lot of connections there, after living there for a year. I’ll probably be posting about it a lot so that you can have the best trip on the island as possible (I’ve already hosted a bunch of friends while living there and helped others plan their trips there since). Here’s some myth-busting and an introduction about what you can expect in my second home, Puerto Rico.

I had the opportunity to live and work in Puerto Rico for a year, and it’s a place that is very special to me. I want people to enjoy Puerto Rico’s splendors, but I also think it’s important to bring awareness to the complex situation of this U.S. commonwealth.

A photography of Old San Juan.

The marvelous Old San Juan

Most people do not realize a few things about Puerto Rico:

  1. Puerto Ricans are US citizens.
  2. Its cosmopolitan capital, San Juan, is home to a mixture of Americans, Latinos, Europeans, Caribbean Islanders, and Asians.
  3. It is not a third world country, by any means.
  4. Puerto Ricans invented Spanglish.
  5. It has political parties with conflicting visions for the commonwealth’s future: some Puerto Ricans advocate for U.S. Statehood, some for independence from the U.S., and some would like Puerto Rico to remain exactly as it is.
A photograph of Cueva Ventana

Cueva Ventana

Puerto Rico is a true adventurer’s paradise, and a great first trip for people who want to explore more outside the continental U.S.A. It’s convenient, too! You don’t need a passport, the currency is the U.S. dollar, and Puerto Ricans typically speak a good mix of familiar English as well as Spanish. The people are beyond friendly, the weather is consistently great, and goods and services are inexpensive.

Puerto Rico is big enough to explore, but small enough that you can see it all in one visit. I’d recommend renting a car and driving through the countryside, where the real treasures await. Puerto Rico offers a diverse landscape, including: mountains, beaches, caves, rainforest, and desert. You can go zip-lining, check out some beautiful architecture, and sample the delectable foods and exciting nightlife.

Playa Flamenco, Culebra

I met so many people with different personalities, and from different walks of life. It’s a lot of diversity set in one small island. And everyone seems to live in relative harmony, it really feels like to be Puerto Rican is to have true brethren. Also, even though my Spanish was limited when I first arrived (and Puerto Rican Spanish isn’t the easiest to learn), I always felt welcome. Once I started making friends and my conversational Spanish improved, I really felt I had found my second home.

3El Yunque

El Yunque rainforest

San Juan gets many visitors from all over the world, and since it’s a small city, you always end up meeting a lot of new people. I’ve made great connections there with islanders and non-islanders alike. I also think that spending time in Puerto Rico provides a valuable lesson for a U.S. citizen, because it helps you to realize more fully how diverse your own country’s borders can be. The attitude change can especially be valuable for a New Yorker, since living in Puerto Rico forces you to learn how to slow down, relax, and appreciate what you have in the present. Aka acclimating and embracing island time, whether you like it or not (but how can you not like it?). Living there for only a year has profoundly affected how I view my life, now.

Here are some recommendations for your visit to Puerto Rico:

To eat:

  • Fefo’s or El Jibarito in Old San Juan for Puerto Rican food – try the mofongo/trifongo.
  • Tayzan in Condado for sushi and other Asian food – try the sweet plaintain sushi.
  • Café la Princesa in Old San Juan, for a nice date ambiance and a little bit of everything – try the seafood paella.
  • Piñones (in the beach area close to Isla Verde) for Puerto Rican food – my favorites are seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas, among many others
  • Luquillo kiosks (in the beach area close to El Yunque) for Puerto Rican food – for even more seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas (and many others)!

To drink:

  • Medalla – a brand of Puerto Rican beer (not the best, but classic to the island)
  • Chichaito – sweet shots of many flavors, which you can split with a group (available at 3 Cuernos bar in Old San Juan)
  • Acerola – a sweet cherry juice, special to Puerto Rico

Nightlife:

  • Club Brava in Isla Verde – for a night out on the club
  • La Taberna Lupulo – a bar with many microbrews and good mix of locals and tourists, in Old San Juan
  • Small Bar – the name says it all, in Condado
  • Circo – a gay club in Santurce

Sightseeing:

  • Cueva Ventana & Cueva del Indio – 2 caves to go hiking in, in Arecibo; beautiful and simple ways to enjoy nature, and just a quick 45 minute drive from San Juan
  • Bioluminescent Bay – I think the one in Vieques Island is much better, but the one in Fajardo is more accessible
  • Beaches – El Escambron in San Juan, La Montserrate in Luquillo, Crashboat in Aguadilla, Cerro Gordo in Vega Alta, Playa Sucia in Cabo Rojo, Playa Flamenco in Culebra, Sun Bay in Vieques, and Playa Escondida in Vieques
One of the many intimate natural escapes.

Waterfall in Maricao, Puerto Rico

Basically, a trip to Puerto Rico cannot disappoint. It’s a hospitable environment, with great weather, and with such a wide range of activities and adventures, there’s sure to be something for everyone. How could you go wrong?

Washington, D.C.: Capital paradise

In the last few months I returned to one of my favorite cities in the entire world, Washington, D.C. after 3 years of not visiting.

Washington, D.C. is so much more than politics and business. Sure, they bring an interesting and unique dynamic to the city, but that’s not all there is. My best friend lived there for 5 years, so I had the pleasure of visiting a bunch of times. It’s the type of city that every time you visit, you love it more. It’s a myriad of cultures mixed together. Outdoorsy like the Pacific Northwest, somewhat Southern, extremely European elegance, residents from multiple states, and nationalities from all over the globe. It really is a fair representation of the USA, since it has a little bit of everything.

The preferred mode of transport for many DC residents is bike. Cycling is an easy means of commuting, and a favorite activity for the many outdoor enthusiasts. Everywhere you go you see people cycling and jogging, it’s a city filled with fitness. Nearby hiking trails in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland are favorites to the city residents.

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Biking in Georgetown

My husband and I were visiting a friend of ours in DC, and we braved out the rain and decided to bike through Georgetown and the National Mall to see the monuments. It’s much bigger than people imagine, so walking it can possibly take more than half of a day. So we decided biking was more convenient, especially when wanting to cross the winding Tidal Basin to get to the Jefferson Memorial.

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Drizzly day at the Washington Monument

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Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial

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On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking at the Washington Memorial

What’s also nice about DC is that you can meet people from any state there. I’ve met people from Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Alaska just to name a few. Some being the only people I’ve met from those  states. You really get a sense that it is the capital of the country. At the same time you get glimpses of southernness, even though it doesn’t look or feel southern (other than its crazy summer heat). But then you notice the slower pace, friendly locals, Chesapeake seafood, humid weather, jazz, southern BBQ and many residents from the southern states and you start to think otherwise… And of course, it’s got immigrants from all over. Most notable are the residents from El Salvador, Korea, India, Mexico, and Vietnam, which constitute the 5 largest. For a curveball, there’s an increasing amount of immigrants from the UK arriving, and there’s a good amount of Ethiopians as well.

In fact, DC is supposed to have some of the best Ethiopian food in the country, and I believe it. Little Ethiopia is concentrated on 9th street between U & T street. My favorite spot is Zenebech Injera for no-frills hearty and authentic Ethiopian cuisine. My favorite being the vegetarian combo which contains tomatoes, red lentils, collard greens, chickpea stew, cabbage, yellow split peas with the unique injera bread. For those who haven’t had Ethiopian food before, you eat everything with your hands. You wrap up the rest of the food by scooping it into the injera bread. It’s very flavorful, blending spices and tastes from East Africa and India.

Ethiopian food

My favorite part about DC is just how lovely and stroll worthy it is. It’s one of the best cities to just take a relaxing walk through, especially in the summer in the evening.

Have you been to Washington DC? What’s your favorite part about it?

Happy wanderings,

Wanderlust Guru

Saint Patrick’s Day in Savannah

Wow what a blast! Hailing from New York and attending Saint Patrick’s Day in Rockaway, NY (a very very Irish neighborhood) almost every year, I thought I knew all about the wonders of Irish-American shenanigans. But boy was my mind expanded. Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day was in a complete league of its own. Unfortunately I attended during a road trip and wasn’t able to get there in time for the parade, so that was a miss. But the party was still going really strong at 4pm when I arrived, and throughout the whole night.

Getting ready for Savannah Saint Patrick's Day

Getting ready for Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day

There’s music everywhere, people wandering the streets making new friends, and just general good fun going on. The activity was revolving around the street right along the river and also in Savannah’s plethora of squares (I’ve never seen so many squares outside of a European city). The city is absolutely beautiful and everyone is having a great time, and the best part is you can drink openly on the streets legally just as long as it’s not in a glass bottle and it’s contained to a 16 oz cup (but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more supplies in a small knapsack as well).

Monument in one of Savannah's squares

Monument in one of Savannah’s squares

River street in Savannah

River street in Savannah

The festival has a lot of great dancing, people-watching, and food (the shrimp gumbo!!) but above all the people were really friendly and fantastic to meet. None of the bars had covers, and I found that the drinks were pretty cheap also. It definitely lives up to the hype, and I would dare to say that it’s more fun than the ones here in New York City.

Keeping it classy in a kilt

Keeping it classy in a kilt

Has anyone ever been to Savannah for Saint Patrick’s Day before? I would highly recommend keeping it in mind for next year.