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?

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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?

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.

Myth-busting Mississippi

Mississippi may not be very high on most traveler’s itineraries, but all you need for a trip is a little curiosity. And I certainly am a curious person. I have the good fortune of having a friend from New York who lives down in Vicksburg, Mississippi who I spent a long weekend with recently.

Mississippi is a land of perseverance if there ever was any. The weather was beautiful in the winter when I visited but it’s oppressively hot and mosquito ridden the rest of the year. The threat of the mighty Mississippi River is a real one since the Mississippi Delta received the USA’s most damaging recorded flood in the past century back in 2011. Not only that, but Mississippi is also where hurricane territory meets tornado territory. Mississippi suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Evening light on the Mississippi River

Mississippi is both a shocking and surprisingly marvelous state. It’s very informative to visit and experience first hand. Since many parts of Mississippi are impoverished, many buildings are re-purposed or used in duality. In many cities in the northern USA you’ll just see them completely abandoned, even if they appear usable. In Mississippi, you’ll find a hospital that has a 5 star restaurant in it, a country style restaurant doubling as a knickknack store, a gas station that became a restaurant, and a school that became an area for shopping. Nothing goes to waste there. People hold on to possessions for life “just in case they ever need it”. People fix things, instead of throwing it away. Mississippians adjust to their circumstances.

Mississippi is also filled with surprises. I had the pleasure of visiting Natchez, which in the 1850s had the most millionaires than in any other city in the country, and Mississippi being one of the 10 richest states at the time. Thanks to this, Natchez and the state of Mississippi have impressive architecture. It is also worth noting how colorful many of the buildings are also. Natchez has beautiful antebellum mansions in every corner of the town and many have become museums that are open for visitors. It is a town located on a bluff over the Mississippi River giving it amazing scenic views looking at Louisiana on the other side.

Monmouth Plantation

Monmouth Plantation gardens

Finally, you’ll be surprised by how great the food is. You get a mix of southern food and Creole food that comes up the river from southern Louisiana. In Vicksburg, there’sT’Beaux’s Restaurant for delicious shrimp étouffée, gumbo, red beans, and pretty much everything else Creole. And on the road from Vicksburg to Natchez there’s the Old Country Store in Lorman that serves up the best fried chicken and southern food you can imagine in a very hospitable environment. Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s been featured on the Food Network. In Jackson you can even get delicious French pastries and other baked good in the cute Fondren District. La Brioche has great gelato and macaroons.

Mississippi may have many factors that proceed to give it a bad reputation, but when you have low expectations most of the time that just leaves more room for you to be impressed. There are no absolutes when it comes to good and bad destinations to explore. Happy wandering.

Pretty architecture in downtown Jackson

Why I want to be a blogger

Hey guys I’m going underway with this blogging101 course and I wanted to tell you more about myself and my blog’s purpose.

I’m completely obsessed with travel. I’m constantly researching destinations that range from domestic to international, exotic to plain, cities to nature. And I love spreading the positivity with others who love travel or want to travel more. I’m blogging publicly to gain that sort of contact. I would love to connect with others blogging about travel or those who need advice and tips about how to travel more efficiently.

At the MOMA in New York City

I hope to accomplish a lot with this blog.  I want to bring that extra piece of inspiration for the curious person to choose a more obscure destination. I want to get and give recommendations and discuss them. And perhaps most of all I want to be able to blog full time and build a meaningful connection with an audience. And after completely today’s assignment of looking through other blogs it’s interesting to see everyone else beginning their creations as well and I understand the importance of reaching out to others so that you can participate in the community in a better way. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions and do follow! I’ll check out your blog as well.

Happy wanderings!

Ridiculous (and free) first night in Eilat, Israel

It was November 2011 in Israel. I was on a bus heading to Eilat with my crazy travel companion, a beautiful and out of her mind Jewish Argentine girl named Nena. We’re on the bus where we met this Israeli guy named Gus and his friend Azaf, who is a little person. Nena and Gus were smoking a cigarette at a pit stop before we headed into the Negev desert. Nena befriends Gus and gets us free alcohol. Gus and Azaf join us and sit with us, and Gus immediately starts pouring us vodka beverages. At 1pm. We oblige. There was minimal communication with Azaf since he doesn’t speak any English but he’s encouraging enough with his smiles. We’re laughing, and before you know it we obliterated a bottle of vodka between the four of us, and we’re in Eilat. Gus casually says “Ok well we’re going to my best friend’s Mazie’s place you should come join us for dinner”. We oblige, luggage and all, and found ourselves surrounding a coffee table with 12 other Israelis who spoke not a word of English. We were a little uncomfortable but they were feeding us and giving us all this alcohol, which doesn’t need any translation to anyone of the backpacker variety.

Suddenly, all of Mazie’s friends are gone and they suggest we go to the ice bar. Mind you, Nena had 2 shekels in her wallet, and I had 0. Gus and Mazie pay for everything, and next thing we know we have a photoshoot done and there’s 75 pictures of us donned out in the ice bar gear (several of which I was giving Azaf a piggy-back ride). We’re having fun going down the ice slide, taking shots, and taking cheesy photos. While our tour guide was distracted, Nena and I were behind the bar taking even more shots of vodka.

We get back to Mazie’s place at 1.30am. When it looked like we were going to stay in Mazie blurts out NO WE ARE GOING OUT. She calls up her friend “FatBitch” and we go to her place where we continue to drink and smoke shisha (because that’s what all Israelis like to do while pregaming). We go to a club, FatBitch buys us all shots. We are particularly alluring to the club photographer and pursues to take perhaps 40 photos of us. That night is better documented than my high school and college graduation combined, believe me. The club was fun, and the night was a success because Nena and I didn’t spend not even 1 shekel. We are walking back to Mazie’s place where she said we could stay the night. A few blocks before we arrive to Mazie’s place she flirts with a HotGardener. It’s 5am. Mazie gives HotGardener her phone number.

Gus is sleeping in Mazie’s bed, the 4 of us cuddle. We only met half a day ago. Mazie wakes us up at 8am to kick us out of bed. HotGardener is coming over for a booty call. Nena and I proceed to the kitchen. We some cereal bars and fruits. 7 minutes go by and Mazie is kicking HotGardener out of the apartment, turns out he was a one minute man. Eilat is too small of a town for this to not go unnoticed.

We leave to go to the hostel we were supposed to be checked into the night before. The HostelOwner is obviously pissed we didn’t show up. HostelOwner wants to charge us for the night even though we weren’t there. We tell HostelOwner that our bus broke down in the middle of the Negev dessert and we were stranded overnight for 11 hours before a replacement arrived and that we caught colds in the cold of the desert (this comes back to bite us in the ass later). HostelOwner doesn’t buy it. Nena threatens to bring our business elsewhere, HostelOwner abides. Jews outsmarting Jews.

Moral of the story is when traveling, go with the flow and oblige and random things will happen to you. And to travel with someone equally ridiculous and spontaneous as you.

So what was our logical next move? Not to sleep of course but to mount a camel….to be continued.