So grateful to stay with friends who live in an impossibly fab flat facing directly onto the Thames — as I write this, the only sounds are seagulls shrieking.
I took the bus a lot more this time than in previous visits, specifically the 188, (which terminates in elegant Russell Square, a block from the massive British Museum) and the C10 , which terminates in (!), the aptly-named Canada Water, (I’m Canadian.)
Traveling London by bus is fantastic for a few reasons:
— It’s a hectic, crowded city so buses get your weary body off busy streets
— The Tube has a lot of stairs and few escalators or elevators, and a lot of walking between stations and its many different lines, so if you’re tired or have mobility issues, the bus is much less tiring
— The views! The buses, as you likely know, are double-decker, so head upstairs, and if you’re lucky, grab the very front seat for amazing vistas of the city below
— Building details are much easier to see and photograph, as is the stunning skyline.
Here’s some of what I did on this visit (one of many) in London:
The Wallace Collection is a gob-smacking insight into accumulated, inter-generational aristocratic wealth, handed down from one marquess to another — room after room, (25 galleries in all), covered in jewel-colored damask silk — of paintings, sculptures, bronzes, armor, miniatures.
The collection is astonishing in its depth and breadth.
I loved their explanations of how armor was made and custom-fitted; you can even try on (!) some chain mail and helmets for a selfie.
I finally went to the British Museum, with a friend, to see a fantastic show about the later years — ages 60 to 90s — of one of my favorite artists, Hokusai; the show is on until August 18.
He’s one of the legendary Japanese woodblock artists and painters, whose image The Great Wave, remains instantly recognizable centuries later.
I loved this show, and appreciated the way his life was contextualized, with insightful quotes — in 1830 he was terrified of penury (what creative person can’t relate?!) — and the details about how he worked with and lived with his daughter, an accomplished artist in her own right.
Life in the late 1700s was every bit as challenging for this legendary artist as it still is today for so many of us.
Like most British museums, entrance to the collection — 8 million objects — is free.
I also dipped into the Victoria and Albert Museum, checking out their fantastic fashion display and some of their Islamic materials. It’s also huge, so plan accordingly.
While you might see the Tate, Tate Modern, The National Portrait Gallery, the Design Museum, the Imperial War Museum (whew!), the city also has smaller, more intimate spots. Two of my favorites are Freud’s house and Sir John Soane’s House.
If you end up on Oxford Street — filled with every major store imaginable — its crowds can easily overwhelm.
Duck instead into a narrow side street and you’ll find all sorts of lovely discoveries, like St. Christopher’s Place, filled with shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. At Malini, I scored two terrific cotton cardigans (they came in every color) for 39 pounds each ($51 each.)
Try to make time to also check out quieter neighborhoods like Bloomsbury, Marylebone, Primrose Hill — each of which have gorgeous architecture, parks, shops and restaurants.
I got to know Primrose Hill because a relative lives in the area, on a square with every house-front painted the delicious pastels of sugared almonds. Regent’s Park is spectacular, and has wonderful views of the city from wide green hills.
London is a city that rewards slow, focused, observant walking.
I love these places…this trip, I went to Bermondsey Square, (held only on Fridays, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a great bacon and egg sandwich-maker on-site). I snagged a 16th century fragment of ceramic found in the muddy banks of the Thames, thanks to a terrific practice called mudlarking.
I also found a great little Art Deco rhinestone-studded rocket ship, also for 10 pounds — about $13.00.
Arrive as early as possible — 7 .a.m. — and bring lots of cash.
My usual haunts are Camden Passage and Alfie’s, and I’ve even brought home ceramic platters and jugs; (bubble wrap! hand luggage!)
If you want to ask for a lower price, do it gently, very politely and delicately: “What’s your best on this?” is a decent phrase to use. Do not think that disparaging an item will reduce the price — when it just pisses off the person who chose it and set it out for sale.
Even if you don’t buy, some vendors can be friendly and incredibly knowledgeable — I learned a lot more about early sterling silver from one man at Bermondsey while looking at his teaspoons and about 15th. century ceramics from the vendor selling mudlark shards.
I’m now in Istria, the northernmost part of Croatia, only three hours by car from Venice. I’ve booked a week’s stay in the town of Rovinj, hoping to do a lot of nothing — no museums, no shopping, no walking with a bum knee along hot, crowded streets.
I really enjoyed my four days apiece in Budapest and Zagreb, my first visits to both. I’d definitely return to either one, but in spring or autumn.
One of the pleasures of this trip is seeing how different each city is from the next. Budapest is very much not Berlin; its buildings feel older, dirtier, more massive in scale and design.
I stayed with my best friend from University of Toronto, (who lives far from me in the interior of British Columbia), and her 24-year-old daughter in a rented one-bedroom flat in District VII, the former Jewish quarter, which is very lively and filled with bars and restaurants.
The company is called 7 Seasons, on Kiraly Street, (with a Metro stop within a two-minute walk.) I liked the flat very much — although the bedroom didn’t have air conditioning, which in this brutally hot summer, was unpleasant. It had a small balcony with table and chairs, and lots of natural light. facing a huge central courtyard; below were about five restaurants, including a fantastic Middle Eastern one.
Lots of fun shops, including vintage clothing and (!) endless “escape rooms”, whose attractiveness completely eludes me.
A great pleasure of Budapest is how affordable it is, for food, lodging and transport (except taxis!) A great disappointment for me was — because it’s so much more affordable than other European cities — it attracts roving/shouting/shrieking gangs of men and women who’ve flown in cheaply for their “hen” and “stag” do’s, (what North Americans call their bachelor or bachelorette parties.)
We visited the 99-year-old Gellert Baths, (about $20 for admission; bring your own bathing suit, cap and towel), and savored the warm waters of its two indoor thermal baths. I didn’t try the sauna or swimming pool but dipped my toes into the frigid cold bath.
The place is astounding and well worth a visit to spend a few hours lolling beneath its stained glass and mosaics.
Budapest’s Houses of Parliament
Loved our night cruise on the Danube, choosing a 10:00 p.m. boat so the sky would be completely dark. Like Paris and New York, Budapest is a city of bridges, each with its own history and character.
One hot afternoon I managed to walk for ages (!) in the opposite direction to my goal, passing every embassy on Andrassy Avenue, which terminates in Hero’s Square.
Desperately tired and thirsty, I staggered into a shady seat in a cafe…full of men smoking hookahs! I got chatting to a man beside me, about my age, and happily puffing away on his after-work treat. We had a great conversation: he was born in Lebanon, raised in Kuwait, studied to his PhD in India and had worked with NGOs in Africa before coming to IBM. Hussein was a sweetie and I so enjoyed meeting him.
So far, perhaps, my favorite city for its relaxed quality: Berlin’s blocks are very, very long (so tiring to navigate) and Budapest was just too full of bro’s.
Zagreb — with only 790,000 people, (to B and B’s 3 million or so) — felt just right.
I liked my hotel very much, The Palace, and my small room with its quiet garden view; (the street-side is busy with tram traffic.) Had a phenomenal massage in their wellness center for $60 — about half what it costs in New York.
Zagreb feels lived-in, in a good way. I was very struck by how clean the streets are, and its many green, flower-filled parks. No graffiti, at least not in the central areas — something Berlin is covered with.
The city’s many cafes were full of people actually talking and laughing with one another —- not staring grimly into laptops.
Food is a mix of Eastern European (lots of meat!), Italian and Balkan, with various kinds of cheese and cottage cheese I’d never seen before.
Loved the Dolac, the central daily farmer’s market that runs from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m, filled with fruit and vegetables and flowers and cheeses and nuts and lavender and local shoppers with their wheelie carts. The square is edged by cafes, so you can take a break as you head home laden with cherries!
Loved the city’s many blue trams, making it quick, easy and comfortable to get around.
Loved its architecture and ocher and yellow-painted walls.
Loved most the Upper Town, silent and breeze-blown, with a spectacular church. I visited two museums there and loved both — the atelier of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous artist. His sculpture is exquisite, in marble and bronze and his home, built in the 1920s, a lovely space as well. If you like Rodin/Giacometti and/or the work of Diego Rivera, you’ll like this.
The Museum of Naive Art, a block away in Upper Town, is fantastic — filled with works on paper and many done on glass. A small museum, maybe four or five rooms, (a docent told me they have 1,900 items with only 75 on display), it’s really special. (Word of warning, though: both of these museums have steep narrow staircases to enter and to see everything in the Mestrovic site. Those with mobility issues might not be able to enjoy them.)
The city has 37 hotels — and 33 (!) hostels, making it an accessible place for all budgets.
I mostly loved seeing how people enjoy their city — guys playing badminton in the park, little girls rollerblading, people just sitting on the many pretty benches to chill out in the shade.
Marveled at Walter Konig bookstore, just one of many amazing Berlin bookshops, specializing in art, photography, architecture and design; I bought books twice here.
Ate sausages, drank beer.
Loved this cafe, a block from my hotel on Fasanenstrasse in Charlottenburg, and ate/drank there often; (they have wifi.)
This cafe is amazing — with a stunning selection of coffee, tea and chocolate — on a quiet, shaded street in Charlottenburg, in the quieter, more staid part of the city.
Took lots and lots of photos, my favorite activity.
Some random impressions:
— It’s really hot!
To my surprise, (and I admit, discomfort and dismay), air conditioning is not much done here. My room, in a 60-year-old hotel, the Savoy, (which I love) gave me a small rotating fan on my first night and it’s been a godsend.
Stores, whose frigid interiors offer reliable relief in most North American cities, are no better, usually with one fan aimed at the poor staffer. A long day of walking on hot streets without much shade is enervating.
— Parks! Lakes! Nature!
My favorite day here, and one of my happiest days anywhere, ever, was Sunday, when — with thousands of others — I took public transit to Schlachtensee, a lake just outside the city limits. Berlin has many such lakes, clean and accessible, and this was the perfect place to rest, snooze, sunbathe, picnic and swim.
One guy near me showed up with an entire inflatable raft, which, un-inflated, he carried home in a massive blue Ikea shopping bag.
People were there in rowboats, paddle-boarding, on floats and rafts, of every age, from babies learning to walk to seniors. I was impressed with how well-behaved people were, even lying within a few feet of one another on the grass.
Tiergarten is simply amazing — a huge central park where you can sit by a lake, rent a rowboat, enjoy one of several beer gardens (serving very good food), picnic, wander, even stare at some of the animals next door in the Zoo.
— Bicycles rule. Look out!!
Like Amsterdam, Berlin is a city of cyclists: ladies in pretty dresses (no helmet); men in elegant suits (no helmet) and many hapless tourists like me, who’ve rented a bike for the day for 12 euros. Locals go really fast and are pissed off when people like me (the rental bikes are sub-optimal) wobble or stop suddenly in a narrow and busy bike lane.
— It’s a massive city
City blocks here are often very long, so your map can be misleading.
— Safe, quick, clean public transit
It operates on the honor system, (with a 60 euro fine if you cheat and are caught). You buy a ticket, validate it and get on, with a two-hour limit for transfers. But (oddly?!), there are no conductors or station agents, so you better figure it all out for yourself.
— Anything goes
Lots of tattoos and half-naked people. Lots of suited businessmen. It’s a busy place, pop. 3 million, but with a relaxed attitude, a nice change from Paris, where elegance really matters.
— Great architecture, whether classic/baroque or starkly modern
— Rudeness hinging on what-the-fuck?! aggressiveness
I wanted to love Berlin, and I liked it very much, enough to want to return, but holy shit, people can be shockingly mean! I’ve lived and worked in/near New York City for decades, but have rarely seen behavior with this kind of nasty edge there.
In New York City, it’s often said that the locals are actually quite friendly. Provincials who arrive to New York are the ones who insecurely perform the stereotypical New York sass. Being in the City, in the anonymity of the metropolis, is an opportunity to insult your fellow citizens indiscriminately, when they get in your way or you don’t like how they look at you. After you’ve exhausted your creative vocabulary, you can really feel like you belong. The line between “acting like a local” and la violence gratuite can be awfully thin. I sometimes wonder how many of those Berliners who give you sass aren’t from here at all, just like Claire Waldoff.
This leaves us with a number of aperçus: Berliner sass is a problem of historic proportions, insult masqueraded as humour (ok, I might just admit it’s funny), a commercial invention packaged as a local speciality in the 20s, a stereotype sold by the provincials to the capital, yet somehow linked to the city’s local dialect. Berliner Schnauze is a sham, but it bites you in the ass all the time.
Overall, I’m really glad I came and gave Berlin so much time.
I’ve made new friends and left plenty of things still to explore for next time, preferably some September, when it’s cooler and less crowded, to see more of it with Jose.
It’s 2.5 years since I was last here, in the depths of winter.
My husband Jose and I came for my birthday, and three friends joined us that evening, one from her home in London, her partner from visiting his parents in Sweden and a journalism colleague stationed here. Some had never met one another, and I had never met two of them, but it was a terrific evening.
We ate at this gorgeous restaurants in the Marais, Les Chouettes (The Owls.)
I lived in Paris for a year when I was 25, on a journalism fellowship, so the city feels like home to me. I speak French and have been back many times since then, four times in the past decade.
The city is a feast in every way: great food, beautiful colors everywhere — flowers, doors, women’s clothing — millennia of history, gorgeous architecture, reams of culture, tremendous racial and ethnic diversity.
Most visitors spend their time in the 1st through 11th arrondissements — with possible visits to the quieter, chi-chi, residential 16th. (Balzac’s home is there) and the grittier 18th, 19th and 20th. The buses and subways are clean and efficient and many taxi drivers now speak English.
Some photos of our week:
Jose planned a terrific Sunday jazz brunch at La Bellevilloise, a 100+ year-old building that’s been re-purposed into a cultural center in the funky 20th arrondissement (neighborhood), with great views of the city. The buffet style food was delicious, the music Django-esque, and the crowd a mix of all ages, tourists and Parisians.
I recommend it highly; you must make reservations!
The flat we’ve rented, from a journalism colleague of Jose’s, is in a trendy nabe, the Marais, (literally, as it once was, the swamp), an area filled with indie boutiques, bars and restaurants lining its narrow streets, with fantastic names like “the street of bad boys” and “the street of the white coats.”
The view from our flat’s living room
Our rented flat is on the first floor at the end of a tree-filled cul-de-sac, so it’s blessedly silent at night.
My Paris isn’t typical.
I don’t feel compelled to fight the crowds and see all the official sights: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Tuilieries, the Eiffel Tower.
I treat it instead like an old, familiar friend, as one more big city I enjoy.
Some tourists stagger along with pontoons of shopping bags from Chanel and Vuitton and Hermes. Instead, I’ve bought everything here from eyeglasses to bathmats; the colors on offer are so distinctive and these things bring us daily pleasure at home for years afterward.
We have a few favorite restaurants, like this one, Les Fous de L’Ile, on the Ile St, Louis, (where we rented a flat for two previous visits) and love to try new ones.
We tasted two whites and two reds, with matching types of cheese and baguette and water to help us not get too drunk and learned a lot.
Paris has changed, of course, since I’ve been coming here, and five new things I notice this time:
— people jogging in the streets in Spandex and Fitbits, (once unheard of)
— far fewer smokers, more vapers
— so many people speaking excellent English, happily, from cabbies to store clerks and restaurant staff.
— Everyone’s wearing “les baskets” — sneakers — and a good thing, too! This is a city that demands and rewards hours of walking, but ohhhh, your feet will get tired if you don’t wear comfortable and supportive shoes.
— This visit, too, I’m much more aware, all the time, of our surroundings and every possible egress; with terrorism attacks in various European cities, including the massacre here at the club Bataclan, you can’t be stupid and tune out. A policemen was attacked with a hammer outside Notre Dame on Tuesday.
We live in weird and frightening times. I came out of a department store to find a large crowd and a lot of security guards and thought…ohhhhh, shit.But it was only (!?) people waiting for some American actor/celebrity to show up; apparently Tom Cruise has been here filming the latest Mission Impossible.
On a more sober note, one thing you’ll notice here, if you pay attention and look at the doorways of residential buildings, is the number of signs and monuments to the men, women and children who died during the Resistance and in WWII.
I saw this glass monument in the park next to Le Bon Marché, an elegant, high-end department store — steps away from a brightly-lit carousel filled with happy children
It honors two little girls who perished in Nazi death camps and I found it deeply moving,
Arrested by the police of the Vichy (occupation) government, complicit with the Nazi occupiers, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942 and 1944, and assassinated at Auschwitz because they were born Jewish. Several of them lived in Paris, in the 7th arrondissement and among those two “very little ones” who hadn’t even started attending school.
As you pass by, read their name because your memory is their only resting place.
A great joy of summer here is the huge amount of sunlight. Paris is much further north than you might expect — 48.8 degrees north, (the Canadian border with the U.S.) — and the sun isn’t setting right now until 9:45 or later, so there’s a long, lovely dusk.
I’ve been, so far, to all of my native Canada except Nunavut, PEI, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, to 38 of the 50 United States and 38 (soon to be 40) countries.
Here’s an alphabet of some favorites:
Andalusia is an absolute must-see, even though most people choose (rightly!) Madrid or Barcelona when first visiting Spain. I began my trip through Spain, (alone), in Huelva, arriving by train from Portugal, visiting Seville, Cordoba, Granada and Ronda. The region, which spans the entire south of Spain, is heavily influenced by Moorish design and architecture, from the Mezquita of Cordoba with its red and white stone arches to the white beauty of the Alhambra. Ronda is simply spectacular — a town set high upon a cliff.
I loved Auckland: great food, lovely setting, friendly people, easy access to countryside. New Zealand, a costly/long air journey to reach, is worth every penny. One of my happiest trips anywhere, ever.
Picture “Blade Runner”, with a river and amazing food. I spent much time on the narrow boats traveling up and down the Chao Phraya River, enjoying the breeze and watching people. The late Jim Thompson, whose textile company is still in business, has a house there, open to tourists. The city can feel crazy, but I loved it.
I spent 10 days in Copenhagen and could easily have stayed longer: compact, beautiful, set on the water. Not to mention Tivoli, its famous amusement park.
Corsica, of every place I’ve ever seen, remains one of the most breathtaking in its rugged, mountainous beauty. I traveled around the north by mo-ped, alone, inhaling the scent of sun-warmed maquis, its scrubby herbal underbrush. I loved everything about this French island, lesser known to North Americans than Europeans.
My great-grandfather was the schoolteacher in Rathmullan, in this northwestern-most county of Ireland. The attendance records from his one-room schoolhouse include his record of bad behavior — with my grandfather scolded for “persistent talking.”
We rented a cottage in Dungloe and did day-trips around the county. It’s Ireland at its wildest, wind whipping in from the Atlantic, sheep grazing at the very edges of steep cliffs. I’ve been to Ireland five times, and this bit quickly became a favorite.
Just south of Montreal, a 90-minute drive, lie the gently rolling hills and small towns of L’Estrie or the Eastern Townships. We’ve been many times since 2001, staying every time (splurge!) at Manoir Hovey, a family-owned resort on Lake Massawippi. Intimate and elegant but not stuffy, perfect for a romantic or restful weekend.
I ended up in Fiji thanks to my peripatetic mother, who spent years traveling the world alone. Blue starfish! Cricket matches! Lush green landscapes!
I’ve been to this small funky college town in northern Arizona a few times, en route to the Grand Canyon. I stayed last time at the Monte Vista, built in 1927, and ate breakfast at the bar, watching a local cabbie have his first Bloody Mary at 8:00 a.m.
Gros Morne National Park/Grand Canyon/Grand Central Terminal
We still haven’t made it to Gros Morne, a UNESCO world heritage site, and one that looks like Norway — in Newfoundland — but it’s high on our list.
The Grand Canyon is everything you want or hope it will be: majestic, awe-inspiring, stunning. The best way to experience it is to hike deep into the canyon, (starting very early in the morning to avoid summer heat and carrying a lot of water), to truly appreciate its flora, fauna and silence.
GCT, (my station!), is truly a cathedral of commutation. Filled with great restaurants and shops, it’s a jewel of New York City with its star-studded turquoise arched ceiling.
My home of several decades. Visitors to New York City should set aside even one day to take the train, (Metro-North, a commuter railroad), north along the eastern edge of the Hudson River. It’s so beautiful! The western shore are steep rocky cliffs called the Palisades, the eastern edge a mix of New York’s second-largest city, Yonkers, and the “river towns”, small, historic villages set like beads on a string at the water’s edge, including mine, Tarrytown. Most have great restaurants and shops, and you can see Manhattan to the south, glittering like Oz. One of the most spectacular towns is quaint Cold Spring, where the river narrows dramatically and you can rent kayaks.
I spent only three days in Istanbul, while working, but it’s unlike any other city I’ve seen. Where else can you ferry between Europe and Asia? Its minarets and muezzins alone create a skyline/soundscape distinctive from anything Western. I spent an entire day in the Grand Bazaar sipping mint tea and looking at rugs.
I’ll be in Istria this summer, for the first time, really excited to explore a new-to-me part of the world; 89 percent of it lies in northern Croatia, where I’ll be visiting the towns of Rovinj and Bale. From there, it’s a quick trip northwest to Venice.
I couldn’t think of anywhere I’ve been yet that starts with J! But living in New York, this is one of our two major international airports, so it’s key to international air travel.
Key West/Ko Phi Phi
Key West, Florida, the southernmost point in the United States, is funky, offbeat and a great spot for a long weekend. No sandy beaches, but lots of fun bars and restaurants. Best of all — rent a bike or walk everywhere.
It’s been a long time since I landed on Ko Phi Phi, but it remains in my top five most indelible travel experiences. A two-hour boat ride from Krabi, in southern Thailand, Phi Phi was tiny and gorgeous — I hope it still is.
It can feel enormous and overwhelming, so take it slowly, neighborhood by neighborhood. Stroll the Thames. Have tea! Stop for a pint at a pub. Visit Primrose Hill for a great city view, and enjoy the shops and restaurants along Regent’s Park Road; PH is a lovely residential area with pastel-colored villas. Visit Hamley’s toy store and Liberty, possibly the prettiest retail store in the world. Visit Freud’s house and marvel at his odd office chair!
It’s everything you think — timeless, breathtaking, mysterious. Watching the sun rise over the Andes, light spilling into valley after valley after valley…
I love Maine and have been back many times. The coastline is rugged and beautiful, its small towns varied and interesting, Acadia National Park worth a visit. Blueberries, antiques, ocean and lobster — what’s not to like?
What Eden must have looked like. You reach it after descending for an hour of hairpin turns, and see animals spread out for miles. This stunning landscape lies in northern Tanzania; damned expensive to get to from almost anywhere, but worth every single penny.
Mexico, one of my favorite places; both the city and the state.
Regular readers here know how much I love Paris, where I lived at 25 in a student dorm in the 15th, and have returned to many times, usually renting a flat on the Ile St. Louis or in the Marais. In any season, (but especially fall), it’s a city that always rewards the flaneur/euse — the meandering explorer with no set agenda.
Especially (brrrrr!) mid-winter. Set high on a cliff above the St. Lawrence River, Quebec City is a taste of Europe without crossing an ocean. Narrow, winding cobble-stoned streets, (treacherous when icy). Delicious French food. Some shopping. Have a drink at the bar of the elegant, classic Chateau Frontenac hotel.
I know, you expected Rome! I’m headed to this town in Istria/Northern Croatia, eager to explore its narrow, lovely cobble-stoned streets and deep sense of history. I’ve never been to Croatia and am so looking forward to it.
Savannah, Georgia is a perfect weekend getaway — charming, elegant, historic. Great food and shopping. The city is a series of small squares; earthier and less manicured than Charleston.
San Francisco…swoon. Small enough to feel manageable but large enough to offer a variety of museums, restaurants, great shopping and architecture. Sacramento Street, for sure. The Presidio. Drive out into Marin County, filled with perfect small towns and lush green hills.
Sintra is a resort town in Portugal, a day trip from Lisbon, that feels like a children’s book illustration — steep wooded hillsides and castles filled with glorious Portuguese tile, azulejos. Simply astounding.
New Mexico, (where my husband was born and raised) is one of the most beautiful states of the U.S. — the light, the landscapes, the mountains. Taos is a small town but feels like, and is, a place people actually live; (Santa Fe is gorgeous but expensive and touristy.)
I went to Tucson for work, and loved it. A small city with some great restaurants, an 18th century mission and (geek alert!) The Pima Air & Space Museum. I love aircraft — and what less likely place to see a MiG?
My hometown. Not the prettiest city, but great food, several very good museums and, my favorite, the Islands, reached by ferry within about 15 minutes, year-round. Set in the harbor, they offer a great view of the skyline at sunset, several cafes and bike rentals — and beaches. Check out Kensington Market (funky/vintage/ethnic foods) and St. Lawrence Market (huge, amazing.)
Maybe the best part of travel — heading into new places for new adventures.
Few cities have so spectacular a setting as Vancouver, my birthplace — with mountains to the east one side and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The local art gallery is small but has a great cafe. Take a day to enjoy Granville Island, with shops, artists, food markets and restaurants. Stanley Park is fantastic; rent a bike and do the circuit, allowing time for the most YVR of experiences, watching seaplanes landing and taking off.
All that you think — mysterious, crumbling, narrow alleyways, the enormous piazza of St. Mark’s Cathedral. One of my favorite spots is the studio of Spanish textile designer and inventor, Mariano Fortuny. I spent my 21st birthday here, alone, staying at the legendary Gritti Palace.
It’s easy to spend days here just visiting every one of its many museums and art galleries. But it’s also a city that rewards walking, to appreciate its low-slung, elegant layout, created by a Frenchman, Pierre L’Enfant, in 1791. Enjoy its smaller neighborhoods as well, and take the Metro — you’ll see the city’s unique mix of uniformed military, eager young interns with their badges and lanyards, students and government workers.
On my to-do list, on the Mexican Caribbean coast. I’ve been to Mexico many times, and love it, but not yet to that part of the country.
I’m going to cheat here and go with YUL — the airport code for Montreal. One of my favorites, a city I’ve lived in twice, as a child and as an adult. Summer offers the Jazz Festival and a comedy festival and winter is really cold and windy. But ohhhhh, the restaurants! The shopping! The city never disappoints. Small enough to scoot around by cab or public transit.
I’ve never been, but will be there this summer as part of my six-week journey through some of Europe.
My former employer, The Globe and Mail, an espresso and a yogurt — a typical breakfast!
I love trying new things, and am often easily bored by routine.
It’s why I generally do better being self-employed, as any truly tedious gig is easily-enough ditched, soon to be replaced with something more interesting and challenging.
But, like everyone, I also find real comfort in the familiar, the tried and true, the reliable and known.
It’s one reason, I confess, I return on vacation to places I already know — my hometown, Toronto; Montreal, Mexico, Paris and London (all of which I’ve lived in), D.C. (to visit friends) and New Mexico (where Jose was born and raised.)
My recent week in Toronto offered both; I deliberately chose to stay in a downtown rented flat, the location and the apartment a novel choice for me. Loved it!
I tried a few new-to-me restaurants and cafes, and also enjoyed a cafe I’ve been eating at since I left the city for good in 1986, The Queen Mother Cafe. I love its booths, its oddly Asian menu and ohhhh, the cakes!
One afternoon I headed out, looking forward to trying a new-to-me restaurant — only to find it empty and closed. So much for novelty! That’s the challenge of a city with rapidly-accelerating property values and rents. Your beloved whatever may well be gone the next time you visit a favorite city or town.
In daily life, it’s a challenge to keep mixing it up, balancing a thirst for the new with the stability of reliably knowing that some things won’t change, at least for a while.
Between birth and age 30 I changed cities four times, countries four times. I’d attended five schools. I’d lived in 13 different homes, from apartments in Cuernavaca and Montreal to a student dorm in Paris to a stone cottage in Scotland; (this doesn’t include five years in a Toronto boarding school and nine summers spent at four Ontario summer camps.)
I’ve now stayed in the same one bedroom apartment since moving to the U.S. in 1989.
The thought of packing/sorting/moving/adapting again? Brrrrrr!
I was burned out from moving too often too quickly; between 1982 and 1989 I’d moved Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-NH-NY. I was fried. I wanted roots. I wanted to find and nurture new professional and personal relationships, which I have.
I’m still using the same doctors, hair salon, library since I arrived and am 17 years into my (happier!) second marriage.
But these days, finally, I’m feeling a bit restless and so I’m actively seeking out some novel experiences.
A favorite Toronto store. I always visit and always find something fun to buy
This week, (however small it may seem), I’m reading a collection, a best-of 2015’s science fiction and fantasy. Loving it! As someone whose normal media diet is news and non-fiction, reading in this genre is a stretch for me but one that’s really proven pleasurable.
I’m now absorbing less news, unusual for me.
I may (gulp) sign up for a decorative arts course in London this summer, as I’ll be there anyway. It’s not cheap, but it’s focused on two of my passions, combined — antique textiles and Asian art.
One of Broadside’s most faithful followers — Rami Ungar, whose blog is here –– is moving into his first apartment on his own as he starts his first post-college full-time job.
The view from my friend’s studio apartment on East 81st, in Manhattan
How do you make rice? Boil an egg?
I’ll never forget (does anyone?) my first apartment where I lived alone for the first time. A studio, with a sleeping alcove just big enough for my double mattress (on the floor), it was on the ground floor of a building facing an alleyway in a not-very-good part of Toronto.
The rent? $160/month — while my monthly income was $350.
I was so broke! But it was mine, all mine, even still sleeping in my childhood bed, under my red and yellow and blue patchwork quilt.
I was an undergrad, in my second year at University of Toronto, an easy walk to our downtown campus.
It was really, looking back, a terrible choice for a single woman, not safe at all.
I ended up having to move out within six months after one spring evening, when — my bathroom window open to the breeze — a man (yes, really) leaned into my bathroom window, at his waist height, and tried to pull me out of the bathtub.
I moved next into a gorgeous studio on a much nicer street, on the 6th floor, with a balcony facing over the lush treetops of a nearby park.
No one could get at me.
Ever since that first first-floor home, I’ve lived on a building’s sixth, and usually highest, floor, usually facing trees — both beautiful and with zero possibility of a stranger accessing my door or windows.
But living alone is such heady stuff!
Everything is up to you: when and where and what to eat. Buying and cooking groceries. Learning to cook. Deciding who to bring home for how long and how often. Are they safe?
Doing laundry. (Or lack of same.)
You’re now negotiating your home’s care and safety directly with strangers — your landlord, maybe a superintendent or janitor.
Your rent is due exactly when they expect it. Every month. In full!
I was out on my own at 19, which, in retrospect was pretty young to be on my own in a major city. But I didn’t want to live in a dorm — after years spent sharing space with people at boarding school and summer camp.
Some people loathe the solitude and loneliness of solo life. For a while, I loved it.
Now, having been with my husband for 16 years, I really cherish the comfort and company of married life. I’d find it difficult to be alone now. (Not to mention his help getting things off those higher shelves.)
It’s a nice place for a sleepover. The 302-square-foot unit I stayed in rents for $2,670 a month, furnished, which includes convertible and small-space objects from Resource Furniture. That company’s sofa-wall bed combination called Penelope (my destiny?), made in Italy by Clei, is the linchpin of the space: a Murphy-style bed, surrounded by deep cabinets, that unfolds over a diminutive charcoal-gray sofa.
I spent a good half-hour practicing opening and closing that bed, which is heavier and trickier than anything Bernadette Castro ever tackled, but much, much more comfortable, because it has a proper-size mattress and a firm base. (The two photographers who had accompanied me on my mission declined to help, perhaps taking their journalistic ethics too seriously.)
I know, I know….that’s about the size of some people’s walk-in closets!
I also loved the writer’s nostalgia for her first apartment:
My first single-person’s apartment in New York City was a studio on Christopher Street, in a prewar tenement building with a hallway that smelled of cat and scorched garlic. There was a kitchen of sorts in a cubby space with a tiny Royal Rose stove, a sink and a mini fridge — but I never cooked there.
I was no Laurie Colwin (I don’t recall owning a pot) and anyway, the Korean market on Bleecker Street was my cafeteria. It was 1984; on weekends, the young men who came downtown to showboat kept me awake until 5 a.m., but I didn’t care. When I wasn’t cursing them, I loved watching the performance.
The kitchen and bathroom windows looked out onto a grimy air shaft, and right into my neighbors’ apartments, so at night I did a lot of ducking, being too slack to install a shade or even tack up a sheet. If you closed the bathroom door, you’d be stuck until a PATH train rumbled past and shook it free. (My first night in the apartment, I spent two hours trapped in there, having closed the door firmly to clean the black and white herringbone tile floor.)
Mostly, my tiny apartment was a launching pad, and I was thrilled to be living alone.
You can always see the famous icons of New York City, on postcards and T-shirts and in movies and television.
It can make you feel like you know the city even if you’ve never been here.
But, like every major city, it’s a place of many facets, most of which tourists will never see.
One of the coolest aspects of New York — and one so easy for pedestrians, drivers and tourists to forget — is that it’s a busy, working harbor.
The East and Hudson Rivers are as crowded with marine traffic as there is vehicular madness on the FDR (highway on the East Side), the BQE (heading out to Brooklyn and Queens) and the West Side Highway.
Every day dozens of tug boats are pushing barges somewhere — or guiding enormous cruise ships through a harbor filled with treacherously narrow and shallow channels.
I spent one of the happiest days of my work life here aboard a tug boat and came away in awe of these workhorses, each worth a ton of money and able to keep the city moving in ways no other craft can.
One of my favorite sights is seeing a tugboat at night, its lights stacked high like a mini wedding cake as it chugs along the river.
Broadway is still a real treat.
Despite crazy-high prices and the impossibility of getting tickets for some shows like Hamilton, seeing a performance in one of these classic, small, intimate theaters is well worth doing and can create a lifetime memory.
My favorite? Attending, of all things, Mamma Mia, with my husband’s Buddhist lama (yes, really)…Namaste on Broadway!
And Lincoln Center; this is the David Koch Theater. What a pleasure to wait for the house lights and the jewel-shaped lamps fronting each balcony to dim, the hush as the curtain rises on another ballet.
The entire building is delicate and lovely and ethereal — very early 1960s with all that white marble and gold — and makes an event there feel, as it is, like a special occasion.
This is a classic! One of my favorite shopping streets, East Ninth.
There are, still, a very few streets left in Manhattan, (more in Brooklyn now), that are funky and filled with quirky independent shops.
Rents skyrocket daily, forcing many long-time renters and businesses to shut and leave, sometimes to close for good.
A gas station at Houston and Broadway, one of a very small handful of gas stations in Manhattan, is soon to be torn down and replaced with….what else?…more million-dollar condominiums.
Hey, who needs gas anyway? Just thousands of working cabbies, to start with.
One of my favorite cafes, Cafe Angelique, (now on Bleecker’s eastern end) had to vacate its spot in the West Village when the landlord jacked the rent to…$45,000 a month.
Find — and support — the indies while you can!
Never forget — this is a city of incredible, rising income inequality.
The photo above, of a space that dwarfs airplane hangars, is filled with food, all of it destined for the city’s poorest inhabitants, many of them elderly.
You can enjoy the High Line and Times Square, dear tourists, but it’s only one tiny sliver of New York City.
The film-maker of The Wolfpack literally found her documentary subject on the sidewalk — passing this group of handsome young men — and wondering who on earth they were.
Their story is almost unimaginable, raised inside their Manhattan apartment by a fiercely controlling father.
If you like shopping, you might enjoy a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. I like eating lunch there, and enjoying this view.
Or, getting up to dance with 800 strangers at 7 in the morning.
Yes, I’ve done it, several times.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see all sorts of elegance and beauty in the least likely places. This is a lamp on a private college campus in Brooklyn.
And this tea and coffee shop, here since 1907, makes me happy. I stagger out every time laden with pounds of beans and tea.
The pattern of a metal plate on a Soho street…This is a city that still truly rewards a close look and sustained attention.
The back of a store on Spring Street in Soho. Speaking of quirky…
My birthday month…a facade in midtown Manhattan. Note the twins of Gemini.
A firehouse. How gorgeous is this?!
Nope, not Rome or Florence or Paris…Soho, Manhattan. The cast-iron facades downtown are a terrific reminder of the city’s past, not just the gleaming multi-million dollar condo towers.
And for those who still dream of becoming journalists…Columbia Journalism School.
I studied here in the 1990s — now I teach writing there!
How can you resist? The city is filled with delicious bakeries and temptations…
If you come, make time to walk sloooooowly and savor all these sights.
The view north from her apartment, East 81st. Street.
Thanks to my friend D, who lent me her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan while she was out of town, I just enjoyed four days wandering the city, staying overnight.
What a luxury!
I’ve been living near New York City since 1989 but have never lived in it; paying a ton of money for a very small amount of room doesn’t appeal to me.
But, having grown up in Toronto, Montreal, Paris and London, I’m used to — and really miss — the energy of living in the middle of a major city with ready access to culture, museums, shopping and restaurants.
These are glass circles inlaid into the sidewalk, to allow for illumination below. At night, they were lit up. You’ll find these in Soho, downtown, and they’re often purple as the magnesium in the glass has changed color over the years.
Not to mention the pleasure of not driving everywhere, which I consider the worst curse of suburban life. It’s polluting, isolating and expensive. And makes you fat.
You can’t help but stay in city-shape, thanks to climbing all those subway stairs and walking long cross-town blocks.
(There’s also been a recent, terrifying and unresolved series of slashings and stabbings in and near the subway here, making cabs and walking and buses even more attractive.)
Walk even a few blocks in New York City, and notice all the details as every building, old or new, has some sort of decoration — glazed bricks, carved gargoyle faces on either side of the entrance, lacy wrought-iron over the glass doors, windowboxes filled with daffodils and ivy.
You also see the city as it’s lived, not jammed into a throng of fellow tourists.
As I stopped into Cafe Anneliese for my morning coffee, several uniformed police officers emerged, arms piled high with pizza boxes.
At 9:00 a.m.? Turns out the 19th precinct was having a bake sale.
Those are the sort of intimate details you’ll never see wandering midtown or Times Square.
Some of my observations:
So many people!
Turns out New York is now the biggest and fastest growing it’s been since the 1920s. Some eight million people now live here.
I never quite grasped the density that entails, but walk just a few long blocks filled with 10, 20 and 40-storey apartment buildings and you start to get the picture.
So many kids!
In these four days I realized, because we don’t have children, how little daily exposure to them we have; suburban kids are either in school, being driven somewhere, at some organized activity or at home.
They’re not, at least in my town, playing on the street or swarming a playground.
In the city, I saw them sitting on the bus, (like the four-year-old girl wearing silver leather boots!) and subway and sidewalk, running through the park, chattering to their mom or, as one little girl was, fast asleep on her nanny’s lap.
So many dogs!
If you’re a tourist in New York City, you might not even notice all the dogs. But if you live here, even for a few days in a residential neighborhood like the Upper East Side, it’s dog city! I had a great time watching all the dog-walkers with their furry charges.
Met two gorgeous fox terrier puppies, one wire-haired named Tulip, one smooth-haired named Panda.
I was also impressed at how spotless the sidewalks were; people definitely seem to be picking up after their pets.
So many tourists!
I barely heard a word of English in four days, and in a variety of neighborhoods. Instead, I overheard Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and an Eastern European language I didn’t recognize spoken by four young women, all wearing black, sitting beside me at the bar of an Indian restaurant on Bleecker Street.
One of our games is “guess the tourist”. They don’t need to be holding a map or guidebook for us to know who you are:
1) You’re wearing nice clothes. On weekends, certainly, everyone who lives here is wearing what I wore: leggings, athletic shoes and a jacket or T-shirt. i.e. not an outfit or shred of elegance. It’s all about comfort.
2) You move realllllllly slowly. Jesus, people, move it!
3) You stand still, blocking the exits and entrances to subway stairs, stores and restaurants — or spread your entourage across the entire sidewalk. Please don’t! We move fast and hate it when we can’t.
4) You’re wearing an I Love NY or FDNY T-shirt or sweatshirt. Or, like the young German couple on the uptown 6 train, scrubbing their hands with sanitizer.
So many flowers!
This year — hello, global warming?! — the trees are already blossoming: cherry, magnolia and others bursting into white and pink glory about two months too soon. The parks are filled with daffodils and tulips soon to join them.
Not to mention all the flower shops and corner delis filled with plants and flowers to take home.
Al Dente, a pretty, quiet Italian restaurant at 80th and Amsterdam
Some of the many activities I enjoyed (all of which you can too, as a visitor here):
Surya, (Indian on Bleecker Street); Virgil’s (barbecue, on 44th St.), Al Dente, (Italian, corner of 80th and Amsterdam, UWS), Patisserie Claude (West 4th, West village.)
Got a haircut:
At Hairhoppers, my go-to salon for the past 16 years, on Grove Street in the West Village. With only three chairs, it’s tiny and fun, always an unlikely mix of age, gender and kinds of people. On various occasions, I’ve sat beside a Grammy-nominated musician, a Brooklyn museum curator and an I-banker off to the Bahamas.
Alex is the owner, Benny his assistant. My cut was $100, (I can hear you gasping), but I know what rent he pays — and it’s a fair price for terrific work.
Enjoyed a park
You might not think of parks, beyond Central Park, when you think of New York. But the city has far more green space than Paris, and many lovely pockets of greenery and silence around the city, like Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side, topped at its northern end by Gracie Mansion, the elegant official home of the city’s mayor.
In an overwhelmingly residential neighborhood, it offers the city at its best — clean, manicured, right on the East River so you can watch the barges and police boats and DEP crews zipping past.
Downtown, before my haircut, I sat for a while in Sheridan Square’s park, marked with several life-size white statues that commemorate a piece of history for the city’s gay population, the Stonewall Inn, which sits just outside the park.
Be sure to just sit still for a while and savor the incredible variety of people who work, live and play here.
Chatted with a stranger
One morning at the corner coffee shop, we got into a conversation with an older woman sitting beside us. Turns out — of course! — she and my husband knew someone in common.
Even in such an enormous city, it happens.
This is the single best way to enjoy New York City.
There’s such great architecture almost everywhere; (walk 42d Street from the East River to Fifth Avenue to see Tudor City, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal and the Public Library. Be sure to go inside GCT and the library.) If you love the Bourne films as much as I do, you’ll recognize Tudor City– an elegant series of apartment buildings and a park — as a key scene in one of them.
Took the bus
The subway? Fuhgeddaboutit!
Buses are by far the best way to see the city without getting crushed, trampled or having your I-phone grabbed out of your hand. If you have mobility issues, buses easily accommodate travelers using wheelchairs and walkers, by “kneeling”, lowering almost to pavement level and with a special lift for access.
Saw a few shows:
I had never been to Le Poisson Rouge, a concert venue on Bleecker St. near NYU. For an admission fee of $10 and sipping a $10 glass of Malbec, I listened to two of the three bands on that evening. Really enjoyed it.
Its location — a block north of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and a few blocks from all the major banks and (once) investment houses — locates it in the center of New York power and money. It was founded in 1835 but the current building went up in 1918.
I hope this offers you some inspiration for your next visit here!