After being in countries that are quite different from Canada, then getting (somewhat) climatized back to something familiar in Europe ……being back in North America was quite strange. My first habit when I land somewhere new is to ask ‘Do you speak English? I need to find a way to get to…..’. Well….I felt pretty silly asking someone in JFK airport if they spoke English. D’OH! Realized I could also stop carrying tissues in my bag for bathrooms, I can stop asking for an English menu, and I will not be woken up at 4:45am with calls for prayer.
New York is always very energizing, vibrant and very multifaceted. It doesn’t matter what you are into, you will NEVER be bored in NY. A friend once said ‘If you’re bored in NY, it’s your own fault’, how true.
First stop in NY was to meet up with my Vancouver bestie Loreena who recently relocated to the East Coast. We have each been going though quite a bit of change in our lives within the past few months and I was eager to catch up! Loreena also has an adventurous spirit and we usually end up meeting interesting people or getting into trouble somehow.
As I waited in the hotel pub for Loreena, I started chatting with a group of older men, travelling together as friends. One person was asleep in his chair and his friends complained ‘he always falls asleep on us, we have a pile of pictures of him sleeping on this trip!’. I motioned for him to get his camera ready as I snuck up on his sleeping friend and planted a big kiss on his cheek as he slept. His friends LOVED it! The poor man still did not wake up after that so I ended up chatting with his friends some more as they bought me drinks. After Loreena arrived, the sleeping man woke up and his friends showed him the picture to take back to his wife. He loved it and bought Loreena and I drinks as we both planted more kisses on his cheek now that he was awake. Always great to make new friends.
After catching up and grabbing dinner, we quickly passed out to rest up for a day of shopping in Manhattan! Amsterdam was not the shopping hub I had hoped it would be for tall people and Paris is way too expensive. While NY is not cheap, the variety can not be beaten. Walking around the streets you feel very surrounded and almost protected among the giant, stunning buildings. Grand is the only word that comes to mind trying to describe the Manhattan skyline. Most buildings are quite old, Art Deco in style and very grand in stature. Grabbing a bite in Eatly, replacing some of the clothes and shoes I got sick of and thew out after 4 months of wearing consistently, we ended our day at the train station to go back to Loreena’s home in another state. Felt like a homeless person dragging all my shopping bags from the day, luggage from the past 4 months and laptop onto the train. Oh well, at least I had a great pair of new shoes and got properly fitted for some great bras!
Spent the next couple days unwinding at Loreena’s home in a picturesque farm setting and checking out the local town before going on a quick road trip to Baltimore, Maryland! Still unsure how we decided upon Baltimore, but I always admire Loreena’s willingness to try anything new. Baltimore is located on the seaside, with east coast, old world style buildings and everyone we met was super friendly. After walking around all day in our new shoes we each got huge blisters and had to take a break to load up on bandages and a couple of cocktails. Drinking wine helps blisters right?? ; )
There’s an abundance of great local shops along the waterfront and we saw every one of them. Got fitted again at a local bra shop. I am sensing a pattern of having women I do not know either scrub, massage, apply mud to or shove my breasts into a bra. My North American modesty is now long gone. A quick drive back to Loreena’s place and then I hopped a train to my hotel in Manhattan!
Had to get up early on Sunday morning as I wanted to go check out a Gospel church service in Harlem. Heard visitors were always welcome to Sunday service in Harlem and it was a very lively, heartwarming experience. After visiting so many temples, mosques, synagogues and churches in the past few months the one thing I did not find in any of them is joy. Quite a few were very meditative and inspiring but I was looking to find joy in a house of worship. I checked out a few websites before deciding on First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC). A good tip is to go to the first service as there will be less tourists.
Well, I wanted joy and I got an abundance of it at FCBC! Everyone was super friendly and kind, the singers performing at the beginning of the service had booming, clear, powerful voices and got everyone (including myself) up clapping and singing along within a couple of minutes of hitting the stage. Received an abundance of hugs from people in the congregation and listened to a passionate minister speak about agape love. Love, kindness, loving others, loving our enemies, “it embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance”. Very inspirational.
Met an awesome couple while in the Galapagos who live about 2 hours outside NY and we were able to meet up and check out the Warhol exhibition at the Whitney Museum! This is a fairly new location for the Whitney, close to the Highline, so after exploring the huge exhibit we took in all the people and buildings on the Highline route. The Highline is about 1.5 miles, elevated park built over an unused portion of rail tracks. It’s a public park with public art, gardens and great architecture along the elevated pathway. Checked out the Meatpacking District and grabbed a bite to eat afterwards. It was so great to reconnect with Jennifer and Steve! What was an awesome stroke of luck was seeing a billboard promoting the Galapagos in the skyline and getting our picture with it!
After being in NY for a few days already, I felt a bit guilty that I had not gone to see my friend and inspiration, Vincent at the MOMA. His Starry Night is my starting point for falling in love with art. I bawled the first time I saw it in person a few years ago and still love how it affects people to this day. The MOMA always has a wonderful collection of modern art and this time I fell in love with Joan Mitchell’s work on display.
Now it was time to meet up with friends Judy & Dave from Morocco! Judy is a fellow art lover as well and a perfect companion to go to the Guggenheim to see the Hilma af Klint exhibit along with selected Robert Mapplethorpe pictures. Hila is a Swedish artist born before her time. Most of her work was created between 1906 – 1915 and she incorporates mindfulness, sacred geometry with a large does of spiritual elements in her work. Very colourful and diverse. A quick peek in the Neue Gallery and lunch in their stunning restaurant, David then took me for a guided walk in Central Park. They both have such great knowledge of New York, it’s history and architecture. We were able to catch up some more at a fabulous Italian restaurant Morso under the 59th Street bridge. The night view of the bridge, the wonderful food, friendly and colourful staff, awesome company and it was a perfect night!
Checked out the Apple store across from Central Park. Heard it was open 24/7/365. I was chatting with a sales rep and she told me ‘we are building a new store to replace this one. It will be as big as a football field.’ WHOA! New York does everything BIG!! Next up was to tackle the Metropolitan Museum of art! I say ‘tackle’ because the museum is MASSIVE with a wide range of art, antiquities and exhibits to see. It can easily take a week to see everything here and I did not have that much time…to be honest, I do not have much interest in Egyptian antiquities either so it was easy to skip over that section. I wanted to concentrate on old favourites like Impressionism and the new exhibit on Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera. While I am not a huge fan of Abstract Expressionism, Judy was a wonderful companion as she coached me to “sit with it, observe it, there’s a lot going on there in the lines, texture, colour and shape”. She was able to give me a new perspective and appreciate that genre more than I would have in the past. Saw some more Joan Mitchell and fell in love a wee bit more.
Spending the day with Judy, checking out Strand Books (a MUST if you are a book lover) and having her guide me through the Rubin Museum of Art exhibit on the Power of Intention: Reinventing the (prayer) wheel was a highlight. I was not overly optimistic at first as the Rubin is known more for Tibetan art, which is not an area I was excited about at first. Seeing how the stories of Ganesh, Buddha and all other Gods are intertwined is always interesting. Had an great interaction while waiting for Judy. A class of grade 3/4 kids are finishing their tour. One boy comes up to me and says ‘Hi’, I ask how he liked the tour, he said ‘I loved it but no one has been able to answer my question’. What’s that I ask? “Why are humans put on this earth?” (Deep question for a kid around 9). I said ‘I like to think we all have a unique gift. It’s our job to find out what that gift is and then give it to the world’. His friend says ‘my gift is singing! And playing the drums, I’m a good thinker too.’ Another says ‘my gift is video games!’ The first boy said ‘but the world will end in a million years’. I responded ‘then you have a lot of time to figure out what your gift is’. He nodded and liked my response.
One thing I love doing in Manhattan is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Try to go early to avoid the crowds or go during sunset to see a spectacular view of the skyline. You will still have lots of crowds, but the view is always worth it. Lots of vendors, people posing for their Instagram pictures and always colourful crowds. The stunning architecture, wires and lines on the bridge offer a unique look at a NY classic structure.
Was lucky enough to go with Judy and Dave to Lincoln Center for an opera and chamber music recital! A friend was unable to go so I was the lucky recipient of the extra ticket! Never been inside the centre before or really explored the neighbourhood very much. There is so much culture and variety of art in NY, I almost felt spoiled. I have aways had an appreciation for opera but not much exposure to chamber music. I am so grateful for such a wonderful opportunity to broaden my horizons and appreciate something new with great friends.
The next day I heard there was a cat within a few miles of my hotel that I had not yet met and needed another admirer. The Algonquin Hotel has a resident cat/manager named Hamlet (after customer John Barrymore’s most famous stage role). He is a super calm, very soft, orange tabby who casually greets people at the reservations desk in the front lobby before leaving to fulfill his day of ‘doing nothing’. The hotel has a variety of cat sized passageways cut into the doors around the front desk for Hamlet to have easy access whenever he gets bored of his admirers and wants to leave.
Hamlet was exactly the distraction I was looking for after receiving the news earlier that my mom had passed. We had spoken a couple of days prior and I knew how excited and happy she was for me to be on this adventure. My relationship with my mom has never been an easy one. Thankfully we had made our peace before I left and she encouraged me to go on this adventure and explore life while her’s was ending. While her passing was not a surprise, it was still surprising.
Thankfully I was able to meet up with Loreena in Manhattan again before leaving for Vancouver. Such a surreal thought…..going back to Vancouver. But first, I had to get to JFK. Did some research on how to get to the airport as my flight was leaving at 7am so I should be there by 4am to 4:30am. Cabs are regulated and cost about $60USD, car from the hotel is $80USD, too early to struggle with the subway while I was 1/2 asleep so I settled on a shuttle for $25USD. So cheap! It sits about 8 people so I figured even if I have to wait while the driver picks up others it would not be a big deal. Got a notification that the shuttle would pick me up between 3:30am to 3:45am. Whoa, that’s early! OK, set the alarm clock, plan time for a shower and spent the night packing and seeing what would fit into my suitcase and what would have to be left behind. 3:10am rolls around and I get a text that the shuttle is outside waiting for me!!!! CRAP!!!! Just out of the shower!!! FUUUUUUCK HE’S EARLY!!!!! As I run around dressing, drying my hair, calling the front desk to ask him to get the driver to wait, wrestle with all my bags downstairs, have my jewelry hanging out of my mouth to put on in the van, ensure with the front desk I am paid and good to go as I trip out the front door to the van thinking ‘he’s early, at least we can pick up the other passengers now’……as I enter the van, I was the last person to be picked up. I had left EVERYONE waiting for about 10-15 minutes. CRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAP! Tried to start a conversation with ‘So where is everyone from?’ but no one was buying it.
In quite a few ways, I do not look at Vancouver as ‘home’ anymore. One thing travel has given me is the appreciation for some wonderful things in Vancouver/Canada and also the ability to see the city for what it is….stunningly rich in natural beauty and not much else. A friend commented ‘Vancouver is a tough city. Hard to meet people, not much art, history or culture’, realizing this is quite true. I am grateful for living most of my life here, having great access to the ocean, parks, trees, mountains and nature. Also realizing, ‘home’ is wherever I am. My friends and family are always close by. Now it is time to look at something bigger. What to do and what city to do it in is the next question.
Some Things I Miss Already
- Being in countries that do not speak English. Being lost in crowds and not understanding the conversations around me. Kinda nice not listening to mundane conversations.
- Most countries do not use or even know what a facecloth is.
- In most countries the lobby is considered floor 0, the floor above it is 1 (the first floor). Messed me up a BUNCH of times trying to find places
- Seeing older women in Europe aging naturally and looking AWESOME! They do not appear to have lots of fillers/surgery or try and look like they are 20something. They seem to embrace who they are, their age and their awesomeness.
- Do not miss having strong police/security /military presence. Hotels outside North America will have a scanner and security checking bags upon entry. Every museum I have been in has a strong police presence, some with scanners. The Old City in Israel has multiple UN/police/security/military screenings everywhere you go. Grand Central Station has a large military presence at entrances. Understand the need for it and while it is not threatening….it is draining.
- Getting out of my comfort zone is a WONDERFUL and scary thing
- After spending 4 months pretty much by myself, you really realize what you do/don’t need, what is necessary, what your triggers are, what can fall away and what can stay
- There is so much beauty and joy in the world!!
- Everything will be fine. EVERYTHING.
- We are so much more alike than we are different.
- Don’t overthink things or NOTHING will get done. I don’t need to know the entire path before starting, it will emerge with each step I take.
Stats to date
21 flights, 16 airports, 63 097km+ flown (!!!)
Maps.me – you need wifi to download maps for anywhere in the world and then you can navigate while off line. No wifi or data required! You only need to download the map once and it will be on file for future use.
Citymapper -will plug into ANY transit system to let you know your best options for getting around. I used this in Amsterdam, Paris and NY and it’s SO easy to use! Will tell you what exit to take, route to walk, transit price…everything! If will give you the best transit combinations (subway, bus, train), time it will take to get there, how often they run …..EVERYTHING. Most times you can just enter a destination (ie Grouse Mountain), not an address and it has it on file. Only draw back, you do need wifi/data to use