New York City, USA – May 1999

So, I hate to start off my first slice of New York with a list of the conventional, but that is what May seems to bring out in residents of this town: a celebration of the (suddenly more livable) every-day.

Regulars of dark and tucked-away dives and basement clubs filter into the streets of the Village, students and 9-to-5ers emerge from hibernation to sip coffee outdoors, weekend trippers fill the sidewalk tables of Little Italy, and even the Wall Street suits venture into the borders of the park for lunch hour.

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A collective awareness comes over us: Maybe there are reasons we love this place. You see, although most New Yorkers will defend their metropolis with unparalleled stubbornness, the long months of winter take their toll.

After the first few weeks of seeing nothing but strips of gray clouds between the skyscrapers, one tends to forget that this is quite possibly the most excellent city on earth.

And then suddenly, the sky is blue, the air is warm, and the crucial transition is made from drinking-to-forget to drinking-to-celebrate.

The best place to witness re-awakened New Yorkers in action is outdoors. Head for NYU (for those of you used to universities in the rest of the world, this "campus" is distinguished only by the sudden abundance of purple flags) and spend some afternoon hours in Washington Square Park.

With sidewalk artists, practicing guitarists, and the world’s only (as far as I know) comedy venue-fountain, it’s a great place to get a feel for the city. Dendur

For a more "wilderness" experience (NYC style) there is, of course, Central Park: home, I would venture, to the most diverse group of park-goers ever assembled. Bring a picnic, dance to an improvised Cuban drum performance, go rollerblading, restore childlike wonder at the 4pm sealion feeding in the zoo, pay tribute to John Lennon, or listen to the rain cascade onto the broad windows of the Met’s Temple of Dendur.

If all of the Starbuck’s of Manhattan are getting to you, and you seek a reminder that New York is, in fact, inhabited by individuals, a worthwhile trek is in order to the rarely visited community gardens of Roosevelt Island.

Take the tram from 59th St. and 2nd Ave, enjoy the view over the East River, and walk up to the northern end of the island. There stretches a beautiful garden composed of tiny squares, each maintained by an individual or family who lives on the island. It’s one of the small glimpses of community you find in a city of nine million.

For an outdoor, all-American experience in a different kind of park, now is the perfect time of year to catch a baseball game. (Think crowds, hot dogs, and all the excitement a game of cricket lacks). Head to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for a Yankees game – or, for a slightly less rowdy and exciting experience – Shea Stadium, home of the Mets.

Bleacher seats can be purchased on the day of the game for under $10, but be prepared to spend an equal amount on two "beers" (Bud Light).

If you’re not an English speaker, a Yankee game in the bleachers is a great opportunity to pick up some expressions you won’t find in your phrase book, as other loyal fans provide helpful suggestions to the umpire and the away team.

If all of your exploring has made you hungry, there are endless choices for dining in the city. For a filling meal for $4, try the breakfast special at La Rosita – where you will seldom, if ever, find a single tourist. The special of this local place at 111th St. and Broadway includes a plate piled with rice, beans and eggs (or plantains), buttered bread, and a cup of coffee.

Across the street at Tom’s diner are the best milkshakes in existence.

If your budget is a bit larger, the most delicious Indian food I have found in the city is at Poona, 72nd St. between Broadway and Amsterdam. For a unique atmosphere and delicious Ethiopian food, there is Abyssinia, at Grant St. and Thompson in Soho.

All of the above have vegetarian choices, but for a completely vegetarian experience try Zen Palate: one at 34 Union Square, and the other at 2170 Broadway, around 76th St.

After dinner, there are countless coffee and dessert places in the village, or head up to my personal favorite, Cafe Lalo (three words: chocolate truffle cake), on 83rd St. between Broadway and Amsterdam.

To top off the evening go bar hopping almost anywhere… pick a street in the village, or stroll (wobble/stagger) up Amsterdam Ave in the 80s. There’s always tomorrow…

General Info Section

New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps.

Home of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Village, Broadway.

Hundreds of "Gap’s", thousands of suicidal taxi drivers, millions of residents, and – for those of you uninterested in any of the above – infinite places to get a cold beer.

Pack light: you can buy anything you’ve forgotten at an exorbitant price. Longing for Milo or Vegemite? Try Chinatown. Unable to sleep without your foreign brew? Try Peculiar Pub. Looking for company? Just step outside…

NYC is comprised of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

Most travelers stick to Manhattan, but the more adventurous (and those with a few more days here) will find that exploring the outer boroughs is about as "off-the-beaten-track" as you can get here.

Whatever your scene may be, you will not be disappointed: museum goers, fine diners, people watchers, tormented writers, sight-seers, all-night clubbers… this is the place.

Descend into the smoky depths of a no-cover jazz club, retrace the steps of your favorite Seinfeld episode, enjoy lo mein while being serenaded by scantily clad transvestites. Be brave. Blend in. (it’s hard to stand out). And don’t sleep too much… you’ll miss something.

When you arrive, check out the tourist office in Times Square. Grab a subway map and get oriented. Figure out your priorities, drop off your pack, and set out.

Some helpful sites on NYC:

Try New York sidewalk.com for more mainstream current info. There’s always the Village Voice, although picking up an actual copy (free) would be better, because the real scoop is in the ads.

The "Official" NYC site.

New York related sites (museums, teams, etc).

For listings of arts events in the city, try the front of The New Yorker magazine.

As for me, I’ve spent the last 5 years here in Manhattan. I’m originally from Philadelphia.

Despite my love of NYC, I take every possible opportunity to flee the country. It’s part of a running dilemma I have, choosing between streams/stars and public transport/great used book stores.

Currently I teach science in Brooklyn, but I am eagerly awaiting my unemployment in June so I can un-settle down.

As a warning, I am slightly biased towards places of interest for people-watching, hiking, stout beer, and all things chocolate.

Happy travels!

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