Friday, September 24, 2010

Introduction to New York City and Grand Central Station

Luis (without his Mickey Mouse ears) and Sim atop Belvedere Castle, Central Park, NYC

Our next trip isn't scheduled until December, when we visit Torres del Paine, Chile, so I am taking the opportunity to backtrack a bit and share our travel adventures from our trip to the U.S. last year. Luis and I crossed the country for three months, from September to December, visiting friends and family, cities, national parks and historic sites. Although I was born in England and raised in Canada, I have lived in the US for most of my life and for many years in Manhattan. Luis' only visit to the U.S. prior to this trip was many years ago, when his family visited Disney World, a trip apparently required by Venezuelan law since I have yet to meet a Venezuelan who hasn't been there. Since birth, South Americans, particularly Venezuelans, are inundated with images of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck (Raton Mickey and Pato Donald in Spanish) and all the other Disney characters, until Disney World becomes a kind of mecca that must be visited at least once in one's life. I thought that it was high time that Luis visited the rest of the country, as Disney World is hardly representative of the U.S. as a whole (at least, one would hope), so he left his mouse ears at home and we set out to explore places that were generally devoid of large, fuzzy talking rodents and waterfowl, like New York City and The Grand Canyon, that were closer to my idea of the "happiest place on earth".  


     Still loaded up with backpacks after a long flight, our first stop in NYC: Columbus Circle (photo by Luis Bastardo)

We decided to start in New York City, the most populous city in the U.S. with more than eight million people, and the place that I know best, so we flew into JFK, took the subway from the airport and emerged at the Columbus Circle stop near Central Park. New York is an easy city to explore due to the excellent and extensive public transportation system and the fact that the city is so walkable. Since the avenues and streets north of 1st Street are numbered, even someone such as myself, with no sense of direction whatsoever, can easily navigate New York. Although we were still feeling the effects of our long flight from Buenos Aires, we were anxious to start exploring, so we grabbed a cab to our friend's apartment situated in a great location in the Tudor City complex right across from the United Nations, dropped our backpacks, and headed out.


The view of the United Nations from our apartment in Tudor City, NYC (photo by Luis Bastardo)

I have to admit that, even though I love Buenos Aires, I can feel quite homesick at times for Seattle and NYC, the two places in the world where I feel most at home, so I was overjoyed to be walking Manhattan streets once again. Having lived in Argentina for four years, it took me a while to readjust to speaking English on a full-time basis again though; I kept wondering how to say what I wanted to say in Spanish, then remembered that in the U.S. I could just speak in my native language. Luis was a little nervous about visiting "Gringolandia" as it is known in Latin America, because he is a native Spanish speaker and is sometimes unsure of his English. It turned out to be a non-issue, since I was able to translate most things and practically everyone in NYC speaks at least some Spanish, so he felt right at home. 


Firefighters dousing a car fire, NYC (photo by Luis Bastardo)


One of the many things that I love about NYC is that there is always something interesting happening or about to happen. We started exploring by walking around the blocks near our apartment to orient ourselves and almost immediately ran into our first excitement of the trip, FDNY firefighters putting out a car fire. After watching for a few minutes, we visited the United Nations to buy tickets to the Spanish-speaking tour for the next day, then walked to Grand Central Station to visit the Oyster Bar for a quick lunch of Fried Oyster Po' Boys (a type of hero or hoagie sandwich) and an Olde Brooklyn Root Beer, two New York treats which Luis had never heard of, much less tasted. Most people don't like root beer the first time they try it, but to my surprise, Luis liked it right away and he thought that the fried oysters were absolutely delicious. He had never heard of anyone frying oysters and he couldn't wait to tell his family all about the exotic American food he had tried when he called them that night. I had to laugh at his excitement over something so banal, but then I realized that this was the first time that the tables had been turned for us: in Argentina, he is usually the language translator and I am usually the one excited about the exotic South American food, which is completely ordinary to Luis. We returned several times that week so Luis could get his fill of "ostras fritas" (fried oysters).     
  

Luis' first root beer and fried oyster po' boy, Grand Central Oyster Bar, NYC (photo by Simone Cannon)


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