New York was the final Nestless and Restless stop, and a struggle to get there, two hours to get from the main highway over the many bridges to Queens. Having visited New York before, the idea was to experience New York as an average New Yorker does. We also had a car; and parking a car in Manhattan requires funds which are better spent on restaurants. Well, the average New Yorker’s day involves spending hours in uncomfortable, dirty transportation. It is wonderful for people-watching though. Here are some of my favourites:
- A Jewish teenager wearing a kippa and a t-shirt advertising the Coco Bongo Nightclub
- A petite Latina with a t-shirt reading: ‘I told my cycologist about you’
- A Bambi-like young woman in shorts and wedge-heeled ankle boots sashaying down the subway platform as if on stilts
- The accounting professor on the Uptown subway who told us which platform we needed on the subway and a synopsis of her academic career without being asked for either all between 49th Street and Lexington Avenue and without drawing a breath
- Lewis the delivery driver in the Hasidic Jewish section of Williamsburg, who has a sideline in stand-up comedy with his partner Luda and told us he speaks ten languages (“two words in each language” quipped his work mate). He also told us they love Donald Trump in New York, and that Justin Trudeau is gay.
- The Rastafarian who gave our group of Caucasian and Israeli tourists the Black Power salute and said: “Welcome to Harlem. You black while you here.”
- The meet-up group of ladies knitting and crocheting in a craft beer pub near Central Park. Making a dog coat, a pair of socks and a sweater, and chatting about their IT jobs.
On this visit to New York, we wanted to see areas which were new to us. We started in Queens experiencing the hustle, surging noise and wicked smells of Chinatown. The Queens Chinatown is one of the largest in North America and it certainly feels as though Shanghai has been transported to New York. MLH and I stuck out in the crowds. A walking tour of Williamsburg in Brooklyn followed. This was a delicious foody tour where we ate:
- Potato knishes
- Rainbow bagels
- Chinese dumplings
- Sicilian pizza
- New York cheesecake
While eating, we learned about the history of the newly gentrified area. We also walked the Brooklyn Bridge and later did a tour of Harlem with a guide who is an actor. She could sing the Billie Holiday songs and scat like Ella Fitzgerald. Harlem was surprisingly grand, with wide streets and gracious buildings. That is because it was built for the Rockefeller’s and their ilk, not black people. At the end of the tour, the guide gave very detailed instructions of how to get out of Harlem. When we said we were going to stay to eat lunch, she looked a bit horrified. As we wandered off the main street in search of public loos, we saw why. It’s really the only place in New York I felt uncomfortable. Thank goodness for public libraries with public toilets is all I can say.
Two more spots in the city were not there when we visited before: the 9/11 Memorial and The Highline Park. Both were well worth the visit. The Highline is built on an old railway line above the streets in the Meatpacking District. It is well used and full of plants and art sellers; and gives wonderful views of the West side of the city. It is also on the Southern migration path of the Monarch butterfly. What a joy to see them. The 9/11 Memorial is a must-do stop on most tourist itineraries. We had deliberately not gone to the site before. I think it is impossible not to be moved by it. It was slightly jarring to see people taking selfies and smiling as the water flows continuously down the black granite walls into the vast footprints of the buildings.
On October 26th, it took us another two hours to navigate the bridges and roads out of Greater New York. Once out of the city, we had a peaceful drive through Pennsylvania and New York State, enjoying the countryside and the dabs of velvety rust red, green, orange and yellow of the forests; colours imitated in hotel carpet weave the world over. “You’ve had your ‘Fall Fix’” noted MLH. Yes, thank goodness, I had.
We drove into Canada via the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. In typical low-key Canadian fashion, no huge maple leaf flags stretched and snapped in the wind. We simply drove up to the customs gate where the customs officer who greeted us in both official languages could not hide her disbelief that we had not bought any goods in the US to bring back. “You didn’t even go to the Duty-Free store?” She asked. Which proves my contention that whereas Napoleon declared Britain ‘a nation of shopkeepers’; Canada is a nation of shoppers.
The official waved us through, and our five-month, 25,000-kilometre (15,500-mile) trip was over; and so is this season of Nestless and Restless. Thank you for sharing the journey with me. If you read every word of every blog, or only some of the first, I am grateful. Knowing at least one person was reading this over the last five months helped me put everything in perspective and added a richness to the experience I would not have had otherwise. Most importantly though, it helped me stay connected to family, friends and home.
Toronto, October 2017