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So one weekend I’m lounging on a private boat in 85-degree weather, sipping rum punch and snorkeling in warm Caribbean waters, and the next weekend? Wine from a plastic cup in a Marriott in East Syracuse, New York.
Wait, it gets better. I’m here to watch my brother compete in the New York State competition for college diving…and I’m with my recently-separated parents. I’m also here the weekend of the Syracuse U./Villanova college basketball game, and the city is expecting the largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history. Oh, by the way…I hate sports. The Brady Bunch wished they had weekends like this.
Being born and raised in New York, I never thought about it as a travel destination. I always brush off the wide, blinking eyes and dropped jaws from people I meet on my travels when I tell them I am from New York City. It never seems like such a big deal to me. It is just home. But after comparing it to cities all over the world I see that there really is no contest, if you know how to do NYC right. So here are a few tips from a local to help you get the most out of your Big Apple experience.
1. No one from New York calls it the Big Apple, so before you set foot, be sure to eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary.
2. Subways after dark are harmless. You may hear the shadow of a quiver in the voices of your elders, warning you about taking the subways at night. But these pearls of wisdom are coming from a generation when crime was rampant and hookers hung out in droves on the corner where my freshman year college dorm now sits (Third Ave. and East 11th Street, Third North, NYU….go Violets). Now, let me be clear because I don’t want any fuming e-mails from people saying they were mugged on subways after dark. Be smart about it. Don’t travel to neighborhoods way out in the outer buroughs. And ladies, don’t stumble on drunk with your purses hanging wide open.
3. Times Square doesn’t exist to New Yorkers. It’s a blank spot on a map, a black hole to be avoided at all costs. The only time a true New Yorker goes to Times Square is when connecting to another subway line (Times Square is a major subway hub, home to the 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, N, R, Q, W, S and 7 trains), and even then they never surface above ground. If you are going to go to Times Square, you might as well stay in suburbia where you can still eat at Applebee’s or Olive Garden.
4. It’s okay to spend $6 on a beer. When Paul Rudd mocks “$9 beer night” in the movie 40 Year Old Virgin, he wasn’t far off from describing New York. Now, I don’t expect you to know where to go to find the best beer deals on your first trip to NYC. While they definitely do exist (another blog post for another day), some of the best bars that I know have a pretty pricey menu when compared to bars across the country (I’m thinking of you, $2.50 Heineken at Snyder’s Tavern in West Shokan, New York). Your best bet is to start at Happy Hour (typically between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.), when there are often two-for-one deals.
5. Williamsburg sucks. That’s right, I said it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Williamsburg, it was once a seedy, blue-collar neighborhood in Brooklyn, right across the East River. Slowly more and more young people moved there to take advantage of the low rents. It became a trendy, artistic community, which at one time was probably a funky and bohemian scene. And then word caught on. Gentrification reared its ugly head and rents sky-rocketed. And now? Williamsburg is a breeding ground for the uber-hipster – the kind that spends a ton of money to look like they have none, and in an attempt to be different from everyone else, they all look the same. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can escape Manhattan by heading to Williamsburg. Try other neighbs in Brooklyn like Fort Greene. And on a short trip, you really can’t go wrong just staying in Manhattan. There will be other visits to the city, I’m sure.
6. Don’t let a cab driver tell you that his credit card machine is broken. It’s not. They just want tips in cash. If they tell you it’s broken from the get-go, get out and find a new cab. If they don’t tell you until the end of your ride, that cab trip is on the house, baby.
These are just a few tricks of the trade that I picked up all these years in the city. I’m sure on your own trip you’ll discover a few for yourself. Enjoy.
A lot of my single friends say I’m crazy for being in a relationship. You’re 22, they say. You should be out doing the “single & mingle” scene. You’re only seeing one guy? Life is too short!
Ok, so maybe they have some points. But, then again, none of them have ever dated a travel writer – and one who just so happens to whisk me off to exotic locations whenever he can. We just got back from a three day tryst to the British Virgin Islands, where we stayed at Scrub Island Resort, a brand new luxury property on a private island. The bill was comped, the booze was flowing and the sun was oh-so-hot. Relationships don’t look so bad now, do they?
This is a shot of our one-bedroom suite. The resort wasn’t completely finished when we were there (the fella was sent on assignment for the pre-opening to review the property) but all of the guest rooms were complete. Ours was equipped with a full kitchen, living room, two flatscreen televisions and two bathrooms.
Me posing Sports Illustrated-style outside The Baths, huge rock formations that are a major draw of the British Virgin Islands. I’m no 10 out of 10 but come on…now that’s a picture. Well done, boyfriend. Well done.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Spelunking through The Baths, snorkeling in the crystal clear Caribbean water (swimming so close to neon-colored fish that they practically copped a feel), dining on fresh mahi mahi, seared tuna, conch fritters and endless glasses of wine and spending each day cruising tiny islands on a private boat (with bottomless glasses of rum punch) were certainly highlights. But the part of the trip I’ll always remember didn’t happen at the resort. Hell, it happened at a seedy boat-house bar where everyone went barefoot and pictures of topless girls and bare man-ass plastered the walls: Willy T’s.
As part of the “true” British Virgin Island experience, we were taken to this popular Caribbean hotspot, where nudity (and I’m certain STDs) are as common as the Caribbean mosquitos. Here we downed the traditional BVI drink, a “painkiller,” composed of coconut milk, pineapple juice, orange juice and a lethal serving of rum. After several of these and a trip down the slopes with the shot ski (a contraption designed for four people to take a shot at once) I was ready to get a little crazy. Relax, there was no nudity. I still want to make Mom proud.
But I did get inspired to jump off the roof of the boat. Now, I’m no dare devil. I snuck out of the house when I was 16 once…and I walked to the end of the block, got scared and walked back. So this was a big deal for me. And I have to tell you, the rush for the four seconds that I was airborne was totally worth it. I felt invigorated. The fella and I decided to jump at the same time, “you jump, I jump, Jack”-style. We wasted no minutes. One, two, three….jump. That’s the memory I’ll take home with me.
So for all of you who have written off relationships, here is my word of advice: don’t rule them out completely. Just pick a travel writer. Oh…and make sure to fly separately. That way you can feel free to chat up the adorable surfer on his way home from Costa Rica at the Orlando Airport bar…not that I did that or anything.