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Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

20 lessons New Yorkers learn

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on January 27, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you visited or lived in New York City?

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It’s a great place, but — oy!

The city resembles a small child, at best bursting with charm, all winning smiles and irresistible, 24/7 energy. At worst? Projectile vomit, much throwing of small, sharp objects and/or prolonged shrieking at high volume.

You never know which city you’ll get.

After 25+ years of living and working around New York City, here’s a random list of 20 things I’ve learned:

— After an exhausting day at a conference or trade show at the Javits Center, a hulking structure on the western edge of town, your poor feet are raw, since there’s almost nowhere there to sit down. Food is crazy expensive and not very good. When it’s time to go home, you head for the taxi rank, naively expecting, (hello, it’s a taxi rank), to find…you know, taxis! Lined up, lots of them, eager for business. Wrong! You will give up and trek long blocks in the pouring rain in search of one, praying you don’t miss your flight home.

— If you actually need a NYC taxi between 4 and 5:00 pm. — also known in most cities as rush hour — fuhgeddaboudit. There are 20 percent fewer cabs on the street then, as that’s the drivers’ shift change. But, if you beg, really nicely, sometimes a driver will in fact take you. Will you get a safe and experienced taxi driver? I once got into a cab, barked “Laguardia” and got a quizzical glance. (It’s one of NYC’s two major airports.) I directed him to the right tollbooth where the collector said “Take the BQE”, (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a major artery). That didn’t register either.

– NYC — huh? — has shockingly lousy radio. We have WNYC, and the fab Brian Lehrer, (talk, call-in, 10-12 each weekday morning),  and Leonard Lopate, (talk, culture, noon to 2pm, weekdays), and Jonathan Schwartz (American songbook, Saturdays and Sundays.). We have WFUV and WKCR, Columbia University’s station,  (love their eclectic schedule — from troubadours to 60s reggae and ska),  and WQXR. Then…WBGO, a jazz station from Newark, NJ.

– Be very, very careful if you choose to cycle or even cross the street here; a shocking number of people, including children, are killed here every year by careless drivers. Don’t be stupid and focus on your device while trying to navigate the crosswalk, if there even is a crosswalk — that text you’re reading or sending could well be your last.

Here’s a heartbreaking story about a family whose 12-year-old son died this wayAnd a bicycle deliveryman. Four people were recently killed by vehicles in just one weekend.

— Getting a traffic or parking ticket of any kind in New York City is really expensive; I recently got my first-ever ticket, for going through a stop sign — $138. (If I’d run a red light in Manhattan, it would have been $270.)

— But the cop who slapped me with my $138 fine also confided, since it was my first offense, how to get out of paying it. (I paid anyway.)

— If you see a taut line of fishing wire atop lamp posts along certain streets, an eruv, it was placed there, at a cost of $100,000 by several Jewish congregations, for religious reasons.

— To enjoy the terrific skating rink erected for a few winter months in Bryant Park without being knocked down by people who can’t skate, get there as soon as it opens for the day. It has great music and an easy-to-reach midtown location. It’s also gorgeous at dusk as the city lights up all around it. I like it much better than the costly, tiny rink at Rockefeller Center or crowded Wollman Rink in Central Park.

— Tourists. Gah! We hate freaking tourists, especially when they walk three or four abreast, slowly, entirely blocking the sidewalk for the rest of us. It’s totally awesome you have all bloody day to stroll, chat and stare. We don’t. Speedupalready!

– Yes, we can tell just by looking that you’re tourists. It’s not just your maps and foreign-language guidebooks. It’s your hair color/cut, choice of pastel clothing and/or white sneakers and/or lots of purple and pink and/or the volume of your conversations. Also, that glazed look.

– Please, do not whine about what things cost here. Yes, the prices are insane — $50 to park for four hours in a garage or $20 for a midtown cocktail, $8 to cross the George Washington Bridge, $10 for dessert or $15 for an appetizer. We know how expensive it is. We also pay a shitload of taxes to a state and city government forever sending its elected officials to court or prison for fraud, sexual harassment or corruption. I once simply drove my mother to the airport — $13 for tolls and 20 minutes parking. Puhleeze.

– The suggested donation at the Metropolitan Museum really is only a suggestion, no matter how intimidating its full fare of $25. If you can muster the chutzpah, offer 25 cents or a dollar.

– Even the most mundane blocks offer fascinating bits of history. This midtown firehouse, on its upper stories, has deeply incised salamanders — which have a deep and historic link to fire. Isn’t it glorious?

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– The city has a few early cemeteries where you’d least expect to find them, like these three ancient Jewish graveyards, all within walking distance of downtown shops, homes and modern day offices. Bronx students recently found a possible slave burial ground.

– Two places you can always find a bit of peace? The many pocket parks and plazas dotting the city and the pews of any church.

– You’ll see an entirely new city with each season, and softer or sharper, less or more angled sunlight it brings. I was walking south on Park Avenue the other day — at 2:30 on a sunny January afternoon — and passed a 1960s building I’ve seen hundreds of times. But I saw it wholly anew, as the light’s angle created pockets of shadow clearly intended by the architect, in metal indentations below each window. It was lovely.

Do you know about Manhattanhenge? Very cool!

– Museums charge a fortune, like $14 or $18 admission, but they all have a night of free admission.

– Here’s a terrific daily update of free/cheap/fun stuff to do in the city, The Skint, created by my friend Elizabeth who, natch, is also the lead singer in this amazing band playing 1920s tunes, The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel and Joe’s Pub.

You can even, for a week in late January every year, watch world-class champions playing squash in a glass-walled court inside Grand Central Station. Crazy!

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– There  is beauty in almost every single block, if you look carefully. It might be a hanging lamp, a brass marker inlaid in the concrete, a gargoyle, a church spire, leaded windows, exquisite ironwork, a tiny snowman with pretzel hair. Despite its insane rushrushrush, New York City is actually a place that rewards a slower pace, (off the busiest streets!)

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– New Yorkers may look mean, tough, unfriendly. We’re really not. We are usually in a hurry, (knowing the taxi, if we can even find one, will take forever to get there or the subway will break down). We’re probably rushing somewhere to get more something: money, opportunities, friends, whatever. But so many of us have come here from somewhere else that we get what it feels like to be scared, overwhelmed, lonely — and thrilled to finally master this place, even for a while.

Or…am I completely meshugannah?

Feel free to argue loudly. Hey, it’s what we do!

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Why travel?

In behavior, cities, culture, education, entertainment, life, travel, urban life, US, women on August 5, 2013 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Travel Guides

Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

It’s fascinating, and sad, to me that so many people are reluctant, even fearful of leaving their home — whether their familiar surroundings of city/town/farm or the greater adventure of exploring their county/state/province, country or continent.

One of the most popular posts I’ve written, which gets views almost daily, is this one, with 12 tips for women traveling alone.

And this one, with ten things you’ll learn by traveling by yourself.

Why is the notion of “travel” so unappealing to some people?

I think because it really includes a raft of expectations, fears and assumptions, like:

Travel is dangerous

It can be. So can staying at home, never trying or experiencing anything new!

There are multiple forms of danger to consider, mitigate or avoid.

These include physical (is that boat safe?); emotional (what if someone shouts at me on the street?); political (is there an advisory against travel to that place right now?); criminal (if an object is that financially valuable, leave it at home or insure it.)

The worst crimes I’ve suffered — break-in and assault (Toronto); break-in and burglary (Montreal); fraud (New York) and auto theft (New York) all happened at home. Too ironic. (Well, we did lose everything from the trunk of our rental car at the Pont du Gard in France. That was nasty.)

Yet I’ve been alone, young and female in places like Istanbul and Bangkok, with no incident.

Travel is lonely

Only if you want it to be! The single best way to meet fun, cool fellow adventurers — even within your own state or province — is to take a tour (walking, bus, boat, bike, horseback) or stay at a hostel.

Travel poster for rail service from Paris to R...

Travel poster for rail service from Paris to Rome via Lyon, 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel is too difficult

That depends on you, really. If you have multiple, tiny, exhausted children and/or are ill or in pain, travel can really be a nightmare. But even the stupidest annoyances can sometimes be re-framed as an adventure when they happen to you in Sicily or Singapore.

Travel means speaking to strangers

Of course it does! What that really means is making an effort — to be kind, to look people in the eye and hold their gaze, (when culturally appropriate) and greet them. If you have ever visited France, you learn within days that every time you enter and leave a shop, you say “Bonjour, monsieur/dame!, Au revoir, Monsieur/dame!”

People are often delighted, if you try to speak their language and show pleasure in their world, to help. But you won’t know until you try.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel means trusting in the unfamiliar

That can be frightening if you’ve so far had little experience beyond your own culture.

American “news” of foreign countries is usually only that of political unrest, war, fires, floods, crashes, famines, tornadoes, hurricanes or lurid crimes involving Americans.

It’s crazy, inaccurate and bigoted. If all non-Americans ever heard about the U.S. was as grim and depressing, I doubt that millions would flock to New York or Miami or L.A. or the Grand Canyon, as they do every year.

If you’re hoping to visit a place totally unfamiliar to you, do some homework! Read the local press and/or listen to local radio (on the web.)

Visit a tourist bureau, consulate or embassy to find out more. Find some people who are from that place and ask them for their advice, insights and recommendations. Read travel blogs and magazines for insight.

Morocco and Spain (NASA, International Space S...

Morocco and Spain (NASA, International Space Station, 12/31/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

Travel means relying on systems and organizations you don’t know to be safe or reliable

Given the recent tragedy of the train crash and derailment in Spain, this is a biggie.

I will admit to a few white-knuckled moments when on planes in Venezuela and Peru, for example. Do as much homework as you can so you are making the wisest choices possible.

Ironically, cruise ships, which people choose for being predictably fun, are proving to be fairly dangerous environments; many passengers are unaware of the crime rate aboard these ships and how very difficult it is to get redress or action if you or someone you know is a victim.

English: Travel Air 3000

English: Travel Air 3000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel for any length of time is too expensive

That depends on you, your taste, your family’s tastes and where you go. As anyone who’s been to Asia or India knows, you can live on $50 a day or less.

In New York or L.A. or Paris or Montreal, you can spend that on a few cocktails or lunch.

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Travel means if I get sick I will not find a doctor or (safe, effective) treatment

Not necessarily.

I’ve been ill in France, Holland, Turkey and Canada, and had excellent care in all of those places. It’s pretty clear that any rural or isolated area is going to make this more difficult, although I was able to find a terrific, well-staffed clinic at the Grand Canyon for an exam and a tetanus shot.

If you’re heading into an area known for certain illnesses (malaria, cholera, plague), be sure to get the necessary inoculations and pack a small medical kit for emergencies.

Travel away from my work means I will never find another job

That depends on a range of factors. What sort of work do you do? How well-developed or in-demand are your skills? How strong is your network of contacts?

Travel means I will lose all my freelance clients

Not if you use social media, the Internet and are willing to do enough to keep your hand in.

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My magic carpet!

Travel will alienate me from my friends, family, sweetie and pet(s)

This is actually a real fear and one that I’ve lived. People who choose to venture out, repeatedly and further each time, into the wider world — during college, for vacation, for months or years, doing NGO or non-profit or volunteer work — are a different breed from those whose pulse races at the latest TV line-up, not a fresh new passport or plane ticket.

Thanks to social media, you can stay in touch. Those who get it will really appreciate your decision.

Besides, check out these 20 amazing words and phrases that have no equivalent in English, from Buzzfeed — like voorpret, fernweh and depaysement,

Why do you travel?

What fears have you found groundless — and which are worth paying attention to?

Where in the world to go next?

In behavior, culture, life, travel, world on June 10, 2013 at 12:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been lucky enough, from infancy, to travel the world. My parents, then living in Vancouver, B.C. where I was born, removed a car’s back seat, put in my crib, and drove to Mexico. Raised as an only child, I was also lucky enough to be affordably portable in later years.

Aqueduct City of Mexico

Aqueduct City of Mexico (Photo credit: SMU Central University Libraries)

No wonder I’m at my happiest when traveling and/or in motion! One of my favorite smells is the distinct aroma of jet fuel. Takeoff!

I took my first solo airplane flight at seven, meeting my mother in Antigua.

Since then, I’ve visited 37 countries, some of them alone.

I’ve visited some with my mother, father, friends or boyfriends/husbands: England, France, Mexico, Sweden, Montserrat, Jamaica, Colombia, Peru, Fiji, Ireland, Thailand, Venezuela.

I’ve also traveled widely on assignment for magazine and newspaper stories and while researching my books. In those instances, I’m almost always alone, whether in a tiny hill town in Sicily, small Texas towns like Waco, San Angelo, Fredericksburg or Silver City (aka the middle of nowhere!) or navigating major cities from Bangkok to Rome to Istanbul.

Favorites:

I dearly love and miss Mexico, a place I lived for six months at 14, in Cuernavaca, with my mother. I love everything about the place and have been back many times, but not since May 2005, when we toured for three weeks to Mexico City, Queretaro, Patzcuaro, Oaxaca and Cuernavaca.

English: View of Jardin Juarez in downtown Cue...

English: View of Jardin Juarez in downtown Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. This picture makes me homesick! I used to buy licuados here when I was a teenager! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cry with relief and excitement when I return each time to Paris, a city I lived in at 25 for eight months on  life-changing journalism fellowship. I’ve seen a bit of the south — the Camargue, the Cote d-Azur — and Normandy. Corsica is one of the loveliest places on earth!

London, where we lived when I was little for a few years. I love Spitalfields, where silk weavers settled in the 17th century.

But there are still so many places I’m dying to see, including:

— Returning to Thailand, France, New Zealand, Ireland, Tunisia, Italy, England, Denmark, Austria and Sweden

– Exploring the fjords of Norway by boat

– Riding across the plains of Mongolia

– Budapest

– Gros Morne National Park, (A UNESCO site), in Newfoundland

– The Galapagos

– Bryce and Zion National Parks, Utah

– The Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar and Zanzibar

Venezuela and Brazil: Stamps

Venezuela and Brazil: Stamps (Photo credit: Sem Paradeiro)

– The Hebrides

– Berlin

– Exploring Brazil

– Croatia, especially the island of Hvar

– The Greek islands, especially Paros and Corfu

– South Africa

– Morocco, especially the Sahara

– Japan — all of it! I love classic Japanese art and design

– Jordan (Petra)

– Lebanon

– Switzerland

Here is a round-up of reviews of eight new travel books – seven (sigh) written by men — from The New York Times.

And seven more, from their 2011 round-up, also with only one book written by a woman.

And, if you’re hungry for serious adventure, here’s an essay naming some earlier writers who really traveled far and wide, often alone, like Freya Stark.

What are some of your best-loved places and fun/interesting things to do there?

My 30-hour train journey: New York to Minneapolis

In beauty, books, cities, culture, journalism, life, photography, travel, urban life, US, work, world on October 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm

As some of you may know, a hurricane is due to hit the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. sometime this morning. I’m giving a speech Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm in Minneapolis, Minnesota so Friday night, Jose suggested I jump on a train to make sure I actually got there in time, as all of New York’s public transit was being shut down, and flights were sure to be canceled.  By Sunday evening — as I was almost at my destination on Amtrak — the wait time to speak to a customer service rep for Delta airlines was between seven and ten hours…

I bought a $227 one-way ticket (with nowhere to sleep but sitting up in my chair) and hoped for the best.

So, here I am, writing this from my Minneapolis hotel room, and here’s my story…

I left from Croton-Harmon, the Amtrak station about 15 minutes drive north of our home, to get to Albany, a two-hour journey, where I changed trains for the 15 hour trip to Chicago. I initially boarded the Ethan Allen Express, named for a Vermont hero.

The Hudson Valley, where I begin this trip, is one of the prettiest places in the United States, its trees now a blast of red, yellow, orange, brown and crimson — all likely to disappear after the hurricane blows through this week. The train tracks hug the eastern shore of the Hudson River, speeding (a relative word — crawling, compared to a TGV) past 18th. century towns and landmarks like West Point, the military academy. We passed Our Lady of Restoration Chapel, built in 1840 facing the river, where I was married (the first time) in May 1992.

The car is filled with students. A young girl is busy rolling cigarettes on her notebook, carefully adding filters. The girl behind her is knitting a gray scarf. Two young men behind me discuss their friends.

“She married a prince of some foreign country! That’s crazy. She’ll never have to work and someday she’ll be a queen.”

The train for Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited, leaves Albany at 7:05 p.m. and I settle into my aisle seat, a large woman in the window seat whose bum will press up against mine (and vice versa) for the next 15 hours, even though we don’t speak. The train is packed, and I can hear many people saying they, too, are fleeing Hurricane Sandy and whatever havoc it might wreak.

I sit in the lounge car, now that it’s dark, and watch a DVD on my laptop,  Frozen River, an excellent 2008 feature film about two desperately poor women who smuggle illegal immigrants in their car trunk across the St. Lawrence between the U.S. and Canada. It’s an apt choice because at Syracuse, two hours north of Albany (and 1.5 hours south of the Canadian border) immigration officials climb aboard and check some people’s identification. I overhear them say they are removing someone with all their luggage.

In the lounge car, a bearded young Aussie in a black hoodie is yammering on to a pretty young Hispanic girl who, with great pride, tells him she passed an employer’s drug test by using her mother’s urine.

We all sleep in whatever position we can manage within our seats, but no one bothers to pull the dark blue curtains so the brilliant orange lights of the passing landscape keep flickering through the glass. My soft challis scarf makes a perfect eye-shade wrapped around my head and my wool cape is long enough to make a warm blanket and small pillow.

I fall asleep at 1:00 a.m. but am awake at 4:00 as we stop in Cleveland, Ohio. A man three rows ahead of me is reading his laptop, the screen blindingly bright in the darkness.

The train crosses northern New York, a narrow sliver of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and into Illinois. A man got on in Albany struggling to carry a huge ice chest filled with food, as well as his rolling suitcase, black fabric covered with pink flamingos, so full he cannot zip it closed. He looks poor and scrawny and tired, like many of the passengers. This is the America that will vote in a week for their new President.

Who will they choose?

This is a whole other America, one I rare see in my affluent suburban bubble near Manhattan, where a devastating moment is your kid not getting into Harvard or Yale.

At sunrise, around 7:00 a.m., we straggle to the lounge car for coffee and tea. One woman’s hair (like mine) is squashed and crimped from behind — bedhead.

Trainhead?

I sip my tea and eat my pain au chocolat that Jose packed for me, and watch the sun gilding the shorn cornfields of Indiana, a vegetative high and tight. It seeps across the pick-up trucks and barns and silos and quiet farmhouses. Cows and horses stand in their paddocks, waiting for the day to begin.

We barrel through this quiet landscape, timeless, lovely, calm.

Chicago!

I have a four hour layover, from 9:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. until my train leaves for Minneapolis, (its final destination is Seattle). I buy a locker (using a scanner that takes my fingerprint! for $12) and stuff my things into it. I buy my three usual weekend newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Financial Times, and head out into the sunshine.

Right outside the train station is the Chicago River, crossed by a number of bridges. This is the view from the Adams Street bridge.

I was in Chicago in November 2011 for the first time, so I know where I am and where to go, which I consider such a luxury — feeling at home in a place far away. I head toward Lake Michigan to find a spot for breakfast, to settle in and read my newspapers.

But first, I want to say hello to my history, and head a few blocks over to State Street, to this white tower, built in 1912, developed by my great grandfather Louis M. Stumer. The architects, Holabird and Roche, did many of the city’s grandest buildings. I love having a personal connection to this great city and a building that still stands at its heart.

100 years old, thanks great-grandDad Louis Stumer!

A fantastic art supply store, Blick, is their main tenant. If you love great paper, notebooks, pens — go! I stocked up there last time.

I settle in for breakfast at the Corner Bakery, and pick up a sandwich for the rest of my journey, another 8.5 hours further west to Minneapolis.

I board the Empire Builder, a two-storey train I last took from here in August 2002, (heading to Vancouver, Canada to see my mother through brain surgery) that goes all the way west through another half-dozen enormous states, to Seattle, where its final miles of track are mere feet from the Pacific Ocean. (I was then in Dayton, Ohio researching my first book, about women and guns, when the surgeon told me to get there as fast as I could. Last-minute airfares are so costly, I went by bus and train.)

This time I’m seated beside a woman who is a retired archeologist, whose late husband was an astronomer whose experiments rode inside two space missions. She did work in Michoacan, a state in Mexico I’ve also visited and knows Santa Fe, NM well, where my husband was born, so we have lots to discuss.

But I soon withdraw into music on my laptop and an empty two-chair spot, to sleep as much as I can. I listen to Briton John Renbourn’s acoustic guitar and Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan, — gentle, meditative — both a perfect soundtrack as the sun sets over the fields of Wisconsin. We stand still — waiting, every time for a freight train ahead of us — as the fading light paints a stand of white birch trees to our right a soft pink.

The train rattles along, through towns like Red Wing, Minnesota and Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Here’s a photo of the station at Columbia, Wisconsin; a few minutes later a small parade of kids came by in their Hallowe’en costumes.

As I walk the car’s narrow aisle, I see a group of women knitting the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen. “Are those…feathers?” I ask one. “Yup. It’s going to be a cowl,” she says, showing me creamy wool with gleaming feathers sticking out of it. “This ain’t your grandma’s knitting!”

I get to talking to two of the women — 38 of them belong to a passionate Minneapolis group that’s just gone to Chicago for a three-day knitting conference. Their fingers are all flying: an orange sweater, a pale pink sock, a black hat. One offers to make me a muffler, complete with feathers, if I pay for the materials. Yay!

One woman lived for years in Pakistan, and her friend has been to Afghanistan and Thailand and Pakistan. People are amazing. You never know who’s sitting beside you or behind you or in front of you — until you find out.

We stop for a brief break somewhere in the Wisconsin/Minnesota? darkness. People are eager for fresh air, a cigarette, a chance to walk around a bit.

This is a Santa Fe car parked on the tracks beside us as we took our micro-liberty.

“All aboard!”

We shuffle back in and climb the narrow stairs, as this train has two levels, including my favorite — the observation car — whose individual seats face outwards. When I did this trip in 2002, and came all the way from Seattle back to NY, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

You really can have no idea how beautiful the U.S. until it has flashed past you for days and nights on end, mile after mile after mile: farms and fields and rivers and cities and ducks on still ponds and flying geese and abandoned factories and slick college campuses and huge mansions atop hills…

I ask a conductor if Minneapolis is halfway across.

“Oh, no! That might be in Montana.”

We are late, hardly unusual for Amtrak. Americans don’t like the train much, (or, to be correct the wealthy and powerful lobbyists for the auto and airline industry do not), so the system and its cars is slow, outdated and inefficient.

We pull into Minneapolis at 11:00 p.m. Sunday night. I started my trip at 3:58 p.m. Saturday in New York.

A man with two enormous incisions, with fresh black thread sticking out of his stitches, his right hand swollen like a balloon, clutches his small, trembling reddish dog against his enormous stomach. “She doesn’t like stairs,” he tells us.

We de-train.

I stumble into a taxi and head for my hotel. I’ll have two full days to recover before I speak about my book, Malled, and retail, to 100+ students at the University of Minnesota.

Made it!

A cloudy fall Manhattan afternoon

In beauty, behavior, cities, life, urban life, US on October 26, 2012 at 12:03 am
English: McNulty's Tea & Coffee - located on 1...

English: McNulty’s Tea & Coffee – located on 109 Christopher Street . This is one of my favorite stores. Go!! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I take the subway south to Christopher Street from Grand Central Station.

Across from me on the train is a lean, tall, attractive woman in her 40s, maybe 50s. Not an ounce of body fat. Her male companion is equally attractive, equally lean. She’s wearing white skinny jeans tucked into low red suede boots. His hair is salt and pepper, very well cut.

Tourists.

There are always clues — his messenger bag has an unfamiliar label. They are unusually quiet, speaking so low I can barely hear them, in what sounds like Dutch.

I get out of the subway and cross Seventh Avenue to my hairdresser, whose three-chair salon feels like home. I found him more than a decade ago through my husband, (now bald), who came to him when he had hair and Alex was over on Carmine Street. Now he’s on Grove, in the West Village, my favorite Manhattan neighborhood of all, with its low 19th and 18th century buildings, narrow and cobblestoned streets, sheltering trees, its cozy cafes and well-loved indie bookstores tucked into battered little spaces with pressed tin ceilings and worn wooden floors — a place whose intimacy is best experienced on foot, walking slowly, noticing things.

My hairdresser is a classic New Yorker, a gruff guy in his late 40s, maybe early 50s. No bullshit. Someone calls him and starts asking the prices of every possible service. “Are you starting your own salon and looking for pricing?” he asks.

And yet I’ve seen him bend over and offer a gentle, shy kiss to his clients, outer-borough women in their 70s and beyond, one of whom came in a wheelchair with her attendant. Everyone comes to Hairhoppers: trendy young bankers, lawyers, museum curators, a few Uptown blonds. We remember all his assistants, and ask after them, even years after they’ve left, like Brie, who moved to San Diego and got married, and Eddie, who now works uptown, and John.

This day, I’m sharing the space with a state attorney and a retired English teacher. We’re soon deep into passionate conversation about the economy, hard to avoid as we’re all barely feet from one another. There’s no brittle status anxiety here, but one of those rare and special places where strangers immediately feel comfortable, often trading phone numbers after a lively exchange. The teacher and I are talking so much I keep turning my head and Alex gives up cutting. He’s pissed. Chastened, I stare straight into the mirror, and talk to her reflection.

I cross Seventh and head to one of my favorite restaurants, Morandi, to eat outside, even though it’s gray and drizzly. A man with two sons sits nearby, someone famous in a baseball cap, but I can’t remember who.

A blond man in a T-shirt is pacing the sidewalk, on his cellphone, deeply disturbed. “But can he sing? I have to find an arranger, and book a studio and I don’t even know if he can sing. He can’t?”

A man in a black suit, carrying a garment bag, joins his companion behind me. Lawyers, one of whom seems to want to change jobs. “If Romney wins, my heart just won’t be in this work anymore.” They discuss the machinations of the Senate. Can’t tell if they mean state or federal. I love eavesdropping, and look as though I’m reading a book, which I also am.

Two Town Cars pull up, waiting, rain-beaded. A handsome stocky man exits the restaurant with his son, maybe 11, his blond wife with her $1,200 Stella McCartney handbag, and another woman. They jump into the Town Cars and drive away.  I wonder how the world appears to a young boy for whom so luxurious a life  — a $50 lunch, an idling limousine and driver — is routine, expected.

I stop into Greenwich Letterpress to sigh over the beauty of their work, and pick up a price list for their business cards. The samples offer many familiar names, of writers, designers, photographers. I finally feel a bit like a New Yorker, knowing who they are. They’ll charge $340 for 250 cards. Hmmm, is every contact I meet worth $1.36?

I suspect it would take me more than a year to distribute that many cards. In today’s melting-ice-floe economy, who knows which professional identity I’ll be using by then?

Running late for my 3:20 train, I cab it to Grand Central and am so late I have to buy my ticket on the train — paying double the price, punished for my tardiness. In the space of six hours, I’ve spent more than $250, grateful I can afford it right now.

Manhattan often feels like an expensive lover who, exquisitely and charmingly and with great certainty of purpose, shakes your pockets empty.

I dive into “Canada”, Richard Ford’s new novel, as the Hudson River flashes by on my left, the fall colors muted in the mist.

Where In The World Have You Been?

In behavior, cities, life, travel on November 21, 2011 at 1:36 am
North America - Satellite image - PlanetObserver

And yet, despite my loathing of turbulence, I live to travel.

This calendar year, so far, I’ve been to Victoria, Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C., Banff, Alberta, Toronto, D.C., Minneapolis, Peterborough (Ontario) and Chicago. In January I’ll be in Tucson and thereabouts for two weeks (while my husband teaches a photo workshop there), then go to New Orleans on the 25th to speak at a retailers’ conference.

Spoiled by years of international — i.e. off the North American continent — travel, I still have a huge jones to go somewhere, soon, they don’t speak English as a first language.

I’ve been, so far, to 37 countries, from Fiji to Turkey, Thailand to New Zealand. In 1982, I won an eight-month journalism fellowship that required (heaven!) funded solo travel on 10-day reporting trips all over Europe. I went to Denmark, England and Sicily and did an eight-day trip in a truck from Perpignan to Istanbul with a French trucker who spoke not a word of English.

Some favorites, so far, include:

the Coromandel coast of New Zealand

Melbourne

Paris

Corsica (nice piece in a recent New York Times travel section; here’s my fun piece about it from The Wall Street Journal)

Mexico — Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Patzcuaro, Acapulco, Taxco, Merida, Queretaro

Ko Phi Phi and Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Galway

Savannah, Georgia

The Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.

High on the list of places I’m eager to visit:

Argentina, Morocco, Laos, Berlin, northern Brazil, the Hebrides, Jordan, Lebanon, Mongolia. And repeat visits to Paris, London, Italy, Corsica and many others…

Where are you dying to go, and why?

What have been your favorite trips, and why?

Here’s a gorgeous blog written by a woman as enamored of world travel (and a fellow New Yorker) as I.

Twelve Tips For Women Traveling Alone

In behavior, cities, Crime, Health, life, travel, urban life, women on May 24, 2011 at 11:35 am
Waikawau Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel, in New Zealand...Heaven on earth! Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been alone in many places: D.C., Vancouver, Istanbul, Ko Phi Phi, Palermo, Key West, Tunis. I live to travel and, many times, there’s no one with the same budget, interests, schedule or passions with whom to share a journey.

So I happily go alone.

My mother traveled the world alone for many years — all throughout Latin America in her 40s, the South Pacific, overland from London to the Mideast, India. She taught me not only to be (safely) fearless, but to keep a current passport and a passion for using it.

Here are twelve tips for solo women travelers of all ages:

Know where you’re going. What are their underlying beliefs, customs, rituals, dress? The countryside of Portugal, for example, was even tougher than urban Istanbul for relentless male attention or harassment. Even catching someone’s gaze was unwise. Some cities have their own codes of dress: wear Easter egg pastels, baggy sweats, white athletic shoes or nude hose in downtown Manhattan (or Paris!) and, yes, you’ll be viewed as a tourist and treated accordingly.

Do your homework and decide how much you want to stand out or blend in; as a woman alone, blending in is usually the wiser, safer option. (Headscarves, long sleeves, a salwar kameez, etc.) It shows respect for where you are, which will often be returned with more welcoming treatment. Speaking some of the local language is also a key way to signal this.

Do your homework. There are many ways to determine which areas, streets or neighborhoods are more or less safe for a solo woman. One of my favorite resources is The Thorn Tree, an online bulletin board on the Lonely Planet website. When I and my then best friend, two blonds from NY (albeit savvy and well-traveled) were heading off to Venezuela for a week, we posted some specific questions there and found fantastic, detailed answers (even a local travel agent we used) from a British ex-pat then in Mexico.

Read the local newspaper. Find out what’s happening, and not just on-line. Read the editorials and op-eds; what are people talking about there and why? Read letters to the editor. What sort of fun events are listed for the weekend? Key: if you’re in a part of the world where men are relentlessly going to try to catch your eye and chat you up, hiding behind a spread-out broadsheet is a great choice. Worked for me in Spain and Portugal.

Unplug from technology. For several reasons. If you’re in a poorer, rural environment, be sensitive to the lives of people who may be living on $1 -2 per day. If you’re going somewhere to see, smell, taste and hear it, be there. Remain open to it in every way possible.

A set of earbuds shuts you off from potential conversation, advice — and warnings. I would never ever walk around plugged in, alone, in many parts of the world. You must remain aware of your surroundings to stay safe.

Pay attention. This will make your trip more social, fun and interesting, but will also keep you safe. Look around — are there other women there as well? Are they safe? What are they wearing? How are they behaving? In many more socially conservative parts of the world, women don’t leave their home without the officially sanctioned accompaniment of a child, husband or parent.

A woman alone there, to the larger culture, often reads: looking…sexual…naive. Even if you’re not.

Do some of your favorite activities. I took a ballet class in Paris, and mid back-bend, stared up into hand-painted 18th-century ceiling beams. In Coayacan, a suburb of Mexico City, I took a watercolor class and finally learned how to work more effectively on larger pieces. In Los Angeles, I galloped through the dusty hills of Griffiths Park at sunset, then danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, an 80-year-old nightclub in Santa Monica. Heaven!

Take a yoga, spinning or dance class. Attend service at a local church or synagogue.

Take a hike! Get into nature, wherever you end up: walk along the river or lakeside; rent a canoe or kayak or sailboat; go for a bike ride. Pack a pair of running shoes and some comfy workout clothes so you can take advantage of the great outdoors wherever you are. Great way to meet locals — and their dogs.

Plan your evenings. I admit it, evenings can be tougher when you’re alone and female. Do you really want to venture out alone, for a meal, a show, a concert? Yes! But use your hotel concierge — or even a youth hostel’s evening group events — to help you make safe, wise, fun choices. I always search for concerts and museum shows at every city I plan to visit, and build in time to enjoy what the locals love. Splurge on cabs when necessary.

Sit at the bar. That’s where people on their own are often happiest and most comfortable, not just boozers chatting up the bartender. I had a great conversation in a dive bar in Atlanta with a young man working in finance as we whiled away the early evening. Many of a city’s best restaurants serve meals at the bar, where you can feel less obvious and self-conscious as a woman out alone, and a good barkeep will keep an eye on you.

Plan for the beach. I always take a small plastic case I can tuck into my bathing suit, which will hold my credit card/debit card/cash, freeing me to swim or snorkel without worrying someone is nabbing my stuff. If you like to sail, kayak, canoe, snorkel, surf….check out local facilities and build them into your trip; always take a bathing suit, windbreaker and golf or baseball cap to protect your head.

Stay sober. Seriously. Only once in my life (boring, but true) have I gotten really drunk, at a bar in San Francisco (not on purpose  — long day, empty stomach) and was able to stagger safely the few blocks back to my hotel. Insanity. True insanity.

No matter how lonely, depressed or vacay-ish you’re feeling, getting drunk or stoned around strangers is a profoundly stupid and potentially life-threatening choice. You’re alone. Who’s going to offer your medical history to the EMTs or ER? Or the police?

Be open to meeting people. I’ve enjoyed meals and even overnight stays in the homes of strangers I’ve met along the way, from the Cote d’Azur to the Coromandel Peninsula. One of the greatest pleasures of traveling alone, as a woman, is how many people are happy to welcome you into their lives and homes. I met a flight attendant from Paraguay at Honolulu airport, shared a cab with her and, realizing how cheaply she got her hotel room, buddied up with her for the week. In New Zealand, four lovely kids in their 20s met me at the youth hostel, adopted me, took me to a beach house, then home to a hill-top mansion outside Auckland. When they all waved goodbye to me at the airport, it was terribly hard to leave!

Not every man is out to get you or jump you! Not every friendly conversation is some sort of trap.

But some are.

Learning to quickly and accurately suss out the good ‘uns will keep you safe and send you back home with indelible, amazing memories.(My very worst experiences, i.e. criminal ones, happened in my suburban New York town. Maybe because my guard was down?)

Here’s a great website with resources for solo female travelers and here’s a list with six other smart tips.

What tips have you found helpful in your journeys?

20 Fun Things To Bring Home From A Canadian Vacation

In travel on July 20, 2010 at 12:50 am
Mountain Equipment Co-op in Vancouver, Canada.

The MEC Vancouver store. Image via Wikipedia

I’m finishing up a two-week vacation in Canada, two days in my native Toronto and the rest in British Columbia: Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops. In June I spent five days in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, just south of Montreal.

From this trip, I’m carrying home a new strategy for gin rummy (thanks, Mom!), some new clothes and shoes, two Olympics hats. Nothing fancy. But I know where to shop and what I can’t (yes, really) find in New York City.

I grew up in Canada and go back several times a year, stocking up on favorite items, some of which we natives know all about, but visitors might not.

Some you might find fun or useful:

222s. It sounds like ammunition, and in sense, it is — a powerful headache pill that contains codeine. They are not sold on the drugstore shelf but you have to ask the pharmacist for them. They really do the trick.

Beer. While you can find some Canadian beers in the U.S., there are many great microbreweries. We love the apricot-flavored beer we find in Quebec. Sleeman’s is another favorite. After you’ve tried some of our best, weak dreck like Coors or Budweiser will never cross your lips again.

MEC. It stands for Mountain Equipment Co-Op, and there is one in every major Canadian city; similar to an REI or EMS, offering everything you might need for outdoor adventures. Their duffel bags and backpacks are well made, good-looking and affordable. I always know someone’s from Canada if I see them in NY or Europe with an MEC pack. It’s a co-operative, which keeps prices low, and you can join it too. They also have a full-time executive charged with ethical sourcing.

Something Mountie-related. They’re everywhere…T-shirts, mugs, caps. They are a 137-year-old mythical part of Canada’s history and unique in this respect — Americans don’t wear FBI T-shirts or buy FBI bears or drink from FBI mugs, but Mounties are well-loved. I especially like them because they saved my Mom’s life, busting in her door when she lived alone in a small town and needed rescue. (This is part of what they do, filling in for local or provincial police.)

Voltaren. I took it as an oral steroid for my arthritic hip but in Canada (not the U.S.) it comes in a tube as a topical cream, also something you have to ask a pharmacist for.

Algemarin. My favorite product, ever — a German-made, dark blue, sea-smelling bath gel that turns your bath into a grotto. I’ve never found it in the States.

Canadian candy. Crunchie, Aero, Big Turk, Crispy Crunch, Macintosh Toffee. All are amazing. The chocolate is much smoother and sweeter than anything made by Hershey. Try it once and you’ll be hooked for life.

Miss Vickie’s chips. The best potato chips ever.

Butter tarts. Not made of butter. A sort of molasses/raisin filling, so gooey they can’t be eaten tidily. So good!

Tuques. A simple wool pull-on hat, the type you can tuck into your purse or pocket. I snagged two Vancouver 2010 Olympic ones on sale at a rest stop.

Peameal bacon. Americans call it Canadian bacon; we call it back bacon or peameal bacon. If you get to Toronto, go to the St. Lawrence Market and have a peameal bacon sandwich.

Aboriginal art, sculpture or jewelry. It might be Indian or Eskimo (the correct word is Inuit, pronounced In-weet), but there are many lovely examples to be found, whether lithographs, silkscreen prints, soapstone or bone sculptures, scarves, silver jewelry. I grew up surrounded by Inuit prints and sculpture and love it; a small soapstone bear, so tiny he fits into my palm, sits on my bedside table, a gift when I was a child.

A U of T T-shirt or cap. OK, it’s my alma mater — but Malcolm Gladwell went there too. It’s Canada’s Harvard. Americans have only heard of McGill, but U of T kicks its butt. (That’s U of Toronto.)

A maple leaf sticker, badge, luggage tag or decal. If you plan to travel in parts of the world where Americans are unwelcome, this is a standard trick — look like a Canadian.

A newfound taste for Canadian media. Pick up The Globe and Mail or The National Post, or magazines Macleans (newsweekly) or The Walrus or Maisonneuve (sort of Harper’s-ish) or Adbusters or Azure, the shelter magazine. Listen to CBC Radio, especially and see how differently (or not) stories are conceptualized and reported. You’ll never find Canadian magazines in the U.S. (except for a few libraries) and if you like the radio you hear, you can keep up with it on-line.

A loonie and a toonie. Our $1 and $2 coins, good souvenirs.

Appreciation of a nation with cradle-to-grave government-supplied and run healthcare for everyone and $5,000 a year tuition at the nation’s best universities. That’s where the new, dreaded HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and all those taxes on liquor and gas and stamps goes. Payback!

A Roots or M0851 bag. Both are made of gorgeous leather in a small but simple/cool array of styles. Both have their own stores in many Canadian cities, selling everything from a tiny change or makeup purse to weekend duffels and dopp kits. Tough to resist. (They sell leather jackets, too.)

A Holt’s bag. They’re now bright fuchsia. Holt Renfrew is Canada’s (only) answer to Saks/Neiman-Marcus/Barney’s/Bergdorf. Even if you just buy a pair of socks or a lipstick, it’s worth a visit to their elegant stores. The Toronto one has a lovely quiet cafe on the top floor. The Montreal store has terrific period Art Deco doors. (Their accessories department is small but offers excellent, European options — I saw Keira Knightley there a few years back, and admired her Chanel sandals.) Holt’s is in several Canadian cities.

Re-Set Your Odometer — Hike The Grand Canyon

In nature, travel on April 11, 2010 at 10:05 am
Grand Canyon

Image by http2007 via Flickr

I loved this recent paean to the Grand Canyon in The Guardian:

Only 5% of visitors, according to park rangers, venture anywhere down the canyon trails; iconic paths like Bright Angel and Kaibab. A far smaller percentage go down to Plateau Point, or, beyond that, to the river itself, its frigid waters fed by snow melt.

At the top of the canyon, it’s all noise and chaos; bus-loads of tourists pulling up to the rim just long enough to snap a few photos and move on. It’s easy to get contemptuous of the tourism culture up at the Village. It’s overly commercial, everything’s handed to visitors on a plate, it’s superficial and so on and so forth. There are an awful lot of people at the top who seem to view the majesty of nature as something to be absorbed at speed, in between visits to snack stands and trinket stalls, for subsequent conversion into a screen saver…But in the canyon itself, it’s quiet; you can still hear birds chirping, you can put your backpack down and luxuriate in the silence, the emptiness, the vastness.

I go to the Grand Canyon every few years to hike; do it too often, and you lose the sense of awe that’s such an essential part of the experience. Do it too infrequently and one loses sight of the grandeur, one short-changes oneself on a truly awesome spectacle. It replenishes me, gives me a sense of perspective. When things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket politically or economically, there’s nothing like an all-day trek into the canyon to help get the soul back into a sort of equilibrium.

I hiked the Canyon in June 1995 and, as I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, fell in love with it with the same intensity as Sasha Abramsky, writing above. If you’ve been, and descended below its rim, you know. If you haven’t yet — and five million people visit each year — add it to your life list and put it in your top 10. It is almost impossible to convey its beauty, what it’s like to hike down through two billion years of geological history, fossils embedded in the walls around you, foxes leaping the narrow, rocky paths.

Of all the places I’ve visited, this sits firmly in the top five, probably top three. But you must go into it to really experience it. There is an intimacy here with the earth, and millennia, only possible by leaving the rims’ chaos behind.

It’s not easy! You must take a lot of (heavy) water to stay hydrated. The paths are narrow and rocky and have no guardrails or handrails. Parts of it are desert.

It takes twice as long to hike back up as it does to descend. I went to the Plateau, after four hours steady hiking and arrived at noon — in June, broiling and dangerously overheated. It took me eight grueling hours to climb back up again, my backpack straps white with the dried salt of my sweat. The silence is profound, the light — like that of the Arctic — ever-changing, the colors shifting as it does.

Go!

Afghanistan's Ambitious First Woman Governor

In women, world on October 19, 2009 at 3:27 pm
Habiba Sarabi

Image via Wikipedia

Most Westerners know of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province thanks to the massive stone Buddhas blown up there in 2001 by the Taliban.  Today it’s home to the nation’s first woman governor, Habiba Sarabi.

A province of 60,000 people, Bamiyan hopes to attract tourists. “Bamiyan people are very open,” Sarabi recently told the Financial Times.

A former pharmacist and minister of women’s affairs, she’s optimistic her gender will prove advantageous in her work, she told the Times:

“Always men think that they are leaders, they are the commanders, so they can do anything they want…If there will be  conflict between  two tribes, I will go to them and talk with them, they respect me as a sister, as a mother.”

Her province, she tells the Times, has 110,000 girl students — the highest rate in the country. Here’s a video (albeit 19 minutes long) that features her. Time magazine named her an environmental hero in 2008 for creating  Afghanistan’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, which opened in May.

The park has six spectacular lakes, a deep and striking shade of turquoise and the area was, in the 1970s, part of the “hippie trail”. My mom made the journey there then and was fortunate enough to have seen the Buddhas in their undamaged splendor. I’ve always wanted to visit Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see when or how tourism returns as a viable form of industry there.

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