New York, New York

New York. Where do you even start?

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a reason to visit New York. It was a bit of a spur of the moment trip, not entirely planned and at first I was a bit hesitant to spend the money. But then it’s New York. If there’s an opportunity to go, how much of a reason do you need?

New York
Times Square

I don’t even know where to start. What can you say about a city that has just so much of everything. So much energy, excitement and drive. So many people on a tiny, tiny island (or just next to it if you’re in Brooklyn). So many things to do, see and taste. I’ve been to New York twice and each time I’ve left wondering if the city might be a little too much for me. But while I’m there I’m going to do as much as I can.

I won’t take you through a blow by blow recount of my 5 days in New York. But I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite memories.

Central Park, Strawberry Fields and Horrible Coffee
I’ve always really enjoyed Central Park. As a new Vancouverite, I often found New York’s lack of nature a bit daunting. There are small parks here and there, and there is the waterfront. But 90% of the day you won’t be able to see any natural scenery. Unless you’re in Central Park.

Central Park feels like a tiny escape from the craziness of New York. Sitting just outside the park’s border is traffic and road works and million tuk tuk drivers wanting to take you on  a tour. But inside it’s quiet, people are leisurely riding bikes around and it feels strangely isolated for a park that’s only 3.4km2 in area.

New York
Strawberry Fields in Central Park

The Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park  is both dedicated to the life of John Lennon and marks the spot where Yoko Ono scattered his ashes. It’s a really lovely part of the part. A little more crowded with all the tourists taking selfies of themselves on the mosaic. But people’s interest in the memorial helps give the space it’s energy. There were also a number of buskers at the memorial, playing Beatles songs of course, and it was a lovely place to have your morning coffee.

New York
The worse coffee I had in New York, or in a very long time. Disappointing.

The only sad part about the park was my coffee. We did a quick google for the best coffee in the area and came up with The Sensuous Bean on W. 70th St. At first I was very excited. The cafe had the makings of really great coffee. It’s more of a coffee bean wholesaler that happens to also make coffee and it smelt absolutely amazing. Sadly, however, the coffee tasted nothing like the smell. It was easily the worst latte I’ve had in North America. It was weak, thin, bitter and utterly disappointing. The only thing worse was my friends brew coffee, which was so weak she could have been drinking water. Who would have thought you could get coffee that bad in a city like New York?

Musicals
It’s so common it’s almost a cliche isn’t it. Everyone who visits New York goes to a musical. It’d be reasonable to think that, in a city of over 8 million people, there are other things to do than line up with the rest of the camera wearing tourists in Times Square for cheap tickets?

The things is though, musicals are amazing.

I saw Matilda and it absolutely blew me away. I hadn’t read the book since I was a kid and if I’m honest, we only chose this musical because Wicked was sold out. But I was always completely drawn in by the atmosphere and emotion of Tim Minchin’s musical. The play was uplifting, the way the book was when I read it as a child. But it also maintained the dry whit and sarcasm that separates it from other children’s stories. It kind of looks down it’s nose at fluffy, disney tales while still conveying to the audience a sense of hope and possibility.

I think the Youtube clip below says it all. The cast in the clip is the cast in the Broadway production. How can you be anything other than impressed by so much talent from such tiny, tiny children!

Eating Out
Food is everywhere in New York. All those Sex and the City jokes about using your oven for storage must be true. I personally find it hard to imagine a life without cooking. It’s one of my favourite past times and an important way I unwind. But I completely understand that if you lived in like New York, it would be easy to forget how to use your oven.

New York
New York Pizza – Enormous Slices

There’s such a strong culture of eating out in New York. Restaurants are everywhere and open all hours. Best of all there’s a million different choices. You can find cheap street food (like enormous slices of pizza) and gourmet restaurants all jumbled together in the same block. And that applies to almost every block in the city.

Below is a picture of my favourite snack of the trip. It was a really cold day and after many tiring hours of shopping, we stopped by the Northside Bakery in Greenpoint. It’s a classic, unpretentious bakery with a wall of breads and a cabinet of baked treats all ready to tempt you off that diet (no carbs doesn’t work anyway!). It also has a hot food cabinet that serves pierogis and these. I don’t know what it’s called but the dough was poatoey and it was filled with meat. The perfect way to warm up on an autumn day.

New York
The perfect (mystery) autumn snack

High Line
The first time I heard about the High Line was Gary Hustwit’s documentary Urbanized. I was impressed by the way the project brought together so many important urban design issues: issues around reusing spaces while maintaining their history, around revitalising areas while still trying to preserve their own personality. I’ve wanted to visit the High Line ever since.

New York
View From The High Line

The High Line is a public park built on an old, elevated freight line. It’s a stretch of nature that weaves through New York, intermingled with art projects and an often stunning views of the waterfront. It elevation allows you to view the city from a different, slightly removed perspective from which you start to appreciate it’s true enormity and controlled chaos. While the project isn’t criticism free, it has connected with a lot of people and helped start a dialogue about how we want to manage our cities.

It was autumn when I visited so all the seasonal plants were a bit muted and subdued. It would be amazing to visit during the summer. But I think this subdued form, in a way, makes the High Line more authentic. It follows the seasons and allows people to connect to nature within the concrete jungle that is New York.

Brooklyn
One difference between this trip and my other visit to New York was this time I stayed in Brooklyn. It’s got all the fun of the island: the bars, the restaurants and tattoo parlours (there’s on on every block). But it’s not a built up and the skyline is lower. You feel like you have a bit more space in Brooklyn, a bit more room to breath. It’s true that I don’t know much about New York, but Brooklyn was the area that I could most image myself living in.

And if you’re looking for a tattoo, I highly recommend Greenpoint Tattoo. I’m no tattoo aficionado, but they’re friendly, helpful and I really like their classic style.

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Brooklyn. Bitch.

Ahh New York. It’s a city that’s inspired millions; both those who are lucky enough to live there and those lucky enough to visit. And I can’t wait to come back.

Bellingham and Seattle (Part 2)

As I previously mentioned, I had high hopes for my road trip to Bellingham and Seattle. It was a test run for all the road trips I’m hoping to do in North America. So if it didn’t work out, I probably shouldn’t have bought the van.

This was my second time in Seattle and, as much as I enjoyed the nature and scenery of Snoqualmie National Forest, it was great to be back in downtown Seattle.

Seattle
The Seattle Museum of Flight

The city is a lovely mix of bustling action and diversity, and all set with Washington State’s lush and slightly rainy charm.

If I’m honest, I didn’t do a lot of exploring on this trip. I’d already gone up the Space Needle (the view is lovely) and been to the EMP Museum (a museum of music, sci fi and popular culture, lots of fun and very interesting). So instead my boyfriend and I spent the whole day indulging our senses at the Pike Place Market.

Seattle
Exotic produce at the Pike Place Markets

The Pike Place Market is a Seattle institution and tourist attraction in it’s own right. It’s a hub of local speciality food and craft stores, a farmers market and seafood restaurants all rolled into one. In some ways it’s the perfect tourist attraction. There’s a lot to see and do, it says a lot about Seattle’s culture and with all the free samples it’s cheap fun.

We started the day with chocolate croissants and coffee at Le Panier bakery. Don’t be put off by the huge line. It moves quickly and the chocolate croissant was worth it. Then after sampling cheeses and truffle oil, we had a peek at the first ever Starbucks. I have to put it out there: I didn’t know Starbucks started at Pike Place until we arrived. But once we went inside I understood why people were queuing. This is where Starbucks started. It’s like you’re average, local café. Except it went on to take over the world. It’s crazy when you think about it.

Seattle
Starbucks: Established in 1971

After Starbucks we perused local farmer’s produce, wandered through isles of spices and watched the fish monger show, which is another Seattle institution. I won’t ruin it for you with spoilers, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a look.

Seattle
All the spices in the world!
Seattle
The famous fish mongers

The next day we did do one proper tourist activity: the Museum of Flight. My boyfriend and I both work with technology (i.e. are nerds), so the museum of flight was perfect for us. All the history and interactive exhibitions are great, particularly the World War 1 and World War 2 exhibitions. But what I loved the most was being able to get up close, and sometimes even inside, the planes. My favourites were the UAV and the Space Simulator (pictured at the top of the page).

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A UAV at the Museum of Flight

Maybe the best part of visiting Seattle was knowing that, now we live in Vancouver, we’re bound to come back. And soon. There’s so much to do and only 3 hours drive from Vancouver, so there’s plenty of time to do it at a proper leisurely pace.

Bellingham and Seattle (Part 1)

Ever realised you’ve set out on a trip with dangerously high expectations? Just a few weeks ago, I realised I did.

Glacier
Glacier, Washington State

My boyfriend and I recently took the leap and bought a road tripping van. The plan is to take it anywhere in North America we’ve ever dreamed of going: Monument Valley, The Grand Canyon, Banff, the works! Bundled up in the van is a mattress, lots of camping gear, a basketball we inherited and my hopes for experiencing the open road.

We set out on our first test run to Bellingham and Seattle a few weeks ago and as much as I was excited, I also started getting a bit nervous. I realised I had pretty high hopes for my trip and began to wonder if I was going to be let down. Because it’s a bit of a contradiction isn’t it, having things you want to experience on a road trip. To have visions for the unexpected.

But I did have visions for my trip (and be warned, clichés are coming up ahead). I wanted to discover small towns with giant personalities and eat in diners from another era. I wanted to see spectacular natural wonders and enjoy tiny highway stops that were famous for nothing at all. Because isn’t that the beauty of a road trip; the journeying into the unknown and all the unexpected things you find on the way. The only question was could my trip to Bellingham and Seattle deliver?

Bellingham has about 80,000 people and, with its short distance from the US/Canada border, a surprising amount of retail. When you mention Bellingham to people in Vancouver, shopping is the first (and only) thing most of them know about the city. And Bellingham definitely delivers. On the way into town we drove past more Costcos, factory outlets and strip malls than I’ve ever seen.

Bellingham
Yarn Bombing in Bellingham

That doesn’t sound particularly enticing does it? Do not let it’s reputation for Canadian border shopping fool you; Bellingham has much more to offer. You just have to go a little further in. The town’s centre has lots of cute, locally owned businesses and cafes. My favourites were Mallard Ice Cream (which had a delicious avocado ice cream, definitely a must) and NW Handspun Yarns (great service and very reasonable prices for quality wool). There was more than enough small town personality to meet even my inflated expectations.

Snoqualmie National Park
Snoqualmie National Park

Also if you are planning a stop in Bellingham, I’d also recommend visiting the Tourist Information Centre. We went in knowing we wanted to do some hiking, but not much else. The volunteer tourist guide spent over half an hour going through all the different local hikes we could do, the easiest routes to get there and where the best sandwiches were along the way. He was an older gentleman who’d spent his entire life in Bellingham and volunteered so he could share the things he loved about his town with visitors. Right there and then, I knew that I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Isn’t that exactly what you want when you visit a new place, locals excited to share it with you?

Hiking is another reason to visit Bellingham and North Washington State in general. We decided to do a shorter hike in Snoqualmie National Park that was famous for its view of Mt Baker.  Just driving to the start was a lot of fun. The area is a mix of picturesque farmland and beautiful forests. The trees are unimaginably tall, the path well marked and when we reached the clearing the view of Mt Baker was truly worth it.

Snoqualimie National Park
Snoqualmie National Park

Overall, I’m happy to say that my first road trip was exactly what I was looking for. Lots of small town fun, mixed in with scenic nature and wide open spaces (and that was only half the first half, Seattle was still to come). If this is what I can expect from North America, then I can’t wait for more!