Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Love Hate Relationship with New York City

I've been living a wonderful dream these last two weeks and have been enjoying every single minute of it, to the point where I return to my hotel, feeling completely fulfilled, thankful, and too exhausted to write at the end of each day. The reason being that after 7 years, I was reunited with my host family from Brazil, Telma, Adel, Marcelo, and Tia Eliane (that's not the whole crew) and together, we embarked on a 14-day journey to visit 7 cities in the U.S. (lots of logistical planning involved ahead of time). It all began in New York City with many kisses, embraces, and happy tears -- truly a reunion to remember. Everyone was anxious, nervous, tired after long flights, but most of all, excited -- excited to be with each other again, excited to explore America, excited to experience the hustle and bustle the Big Apple. I've been to the City several times before -- each time feeling super stoked about finding new things to do in this melting pot, but each time leaving with some uncertainty and anxiety about returning. I've decided I have a love hate relationship with NYC and I'll share a little bit of why that is.


l. Statue of Liberty -
This is the symbol of freedom and opportunity to the whole world, so of course I had to take my host family there. We got on a ferry from Jersey's Liberty State Park and floated along the Hudson on windy day (I sweat it's always windy there) to see Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. We made it to only the pedestal museum because the tickets to get up to Lady Liberty's crown was sold out about 2 months in advance. My family was still super glad they got to see her for themselves and learn a little bit more. My dad was so fascinated by the making of her and how the French got her over here. There is pretty cool info at the museum with videos, moldings, etc. And Lady Liberty herself, well, she's magnificent. She's one of the few exceptions to the staring rule because she's absolutely beautiful and one simply can't get enough of her in one glance, literally. The ferry and pedestal are wheelchair accessible, unfortunately the crown is not. It's still worth it to have a look at what you can.

2. Empire State Building -
The second tallest building in NYC after the World Trade Center. I love the view of NYC from the 86th floor observatory. You can see just about everything - high rises, central park, the Statue of Liberty, the rivers, bridges, and ant-sized people. It really makes me feel like I'm on top of the world. It's really hard to take a picture of yourself up there when you're trying to get the tip of the building in too. We died laughing when my host dad tried to get a picture of me and the top of the Empire, but just kept cutting me out of the shot because he couldn't get both me and the tip in. Thanks, Dad. haha. I also love that it's wheelchair accessible, although the lines to get from place to place in a wheelchair is a little confusing if unguided. I've gone to the Empire State on separate visits once at night and once during the day, and each offers a different view. During the day, you're able to see buildings and landmarks more clearly, however, at night you get to see the busy nightlife and lights of NYC. Both are exceptional.

3. Times Square -
Wow! What a busy, busy place ALWAYS with people of all sorts, traffic jams, large stores like M&M World and Disney, and advertisements and huge telemonitors everywhere. We're pretty small town people so this kind of fast paced stuff is crazy and exciting. My family really liked the far-out costumes and street performers.

4. Broadway -
I LOVE Broadway. I could spend forever just watching a show a day and be completely content in New York. I was a bit concerned with which shows I could take my family to that didn't require too much English knowledge. I was thrilled when they chose Mamma Mia, which included music from their time and an already produced film they could watch beforehand to get the story. I called Telecharge for wheelchair accessible tickets and got really well-placed and well-priced tickets. The show was phenomenal to the point where my host mom cried during the show because she thought it was so good and my host dad still doesn't believe it was all live performance (there's no convincing him). It was that good. We were singing the songs for the rest of the trip. Such a memorable experience.


Sam from the cast of Mamma Miawww.diaryofatravelingwheelchair.comwww.diaryofatravelingwheelchair.com

5. Central Park -
We had a really nice walk and did some shopping along the way to Central Park. However, when we made it there, we didn't actually go in because everyone was starving and we had to stop for dinner. But I do love Central Park because it's one of the best places in NYC to relax with your family, exercise, walk around forever, or people watch. You get to see a bit of the multicultural aspect of NYC. We even thought of taking a carriage ride around the park, but will save that for next time.

6. Madame Toussauds Wax Museum -
This was my first time visiting one of these museums and wouldn't have even thought of it had it not been for my host mom who loves all things art. I reluctantly went along because most celebrities don't interest me and seeing wax models of them didn't sound very thrilling. Surprisingly, it was cool. I impressed by how close to real they looked and there were tons of them including political and religious figures such as JFK, Obama as well as the Pope and Dalai Lama. So yes, it was cool and worth a look.

"All you need is Love" - The Beatles

With the Obamas
Obsessed with Marvel!

7. 9/11 Memorial -
I remember this day so well, back to where I was and what I was doing when it happened. It makes me sad thinking of all the lives that were lost then. However, the Memorial offers a place of serenity to reflect of the good that came from everyone around the world uniting and the strength that saw us all through. We didn't head here this time, but tickets are free. The new museum just opened up this year. Check here for ticket details.

8. NY Skyline and Battery Park -

Signs of a big city, certainly different from our small town.


9. Shopping -
I'm not a huge shopper but shopping in New York? Yes, please! If anything, there is plenty of eye candy. Fifth Avenue is packed with chic style inspirations and is home to a HUGE H&M, Lego store and some great deals. I heard that black Friday here is shopping heaven. One day...
One cool shopping place we went to this trip was B&H Photo to find a specific camera my host brother wanted that was sold only in select stores. This was a crazy large and packed electronics store like I've never seen before.  There is a system there where you wait in line at one section of the store, let your helper know what you want, he finds it in the system places the order, you pay for it and get a receipt, and then you wait in another line to pick it up. Another fascinating fact is that all employees were sporting Jewish yamakas, vests, and side curls, and some spoke Portuguese which was very helpful to my parents. So cool! It's quite an interesting system and definitely a sight.

10. Dining -
There are so many "best of" places here so you can hit up the restaurants you see on t.v. But there's also a long wait list for those as well. Because my family wasn't too familiar with those and we didn't have reservations, we hit up some other local places. You know, BK, McD's...just kidding. We ate out quite a bit and really enjoyed our dining experience here.

One night, we had sliders, salads, and a variety of appetizers at the Stonerose Lounge at the Shops at Columbus Circle, right kiddy corner from Central Park. That was an interesting experience because it really was a lounge, dimmer lights, bar, and scantily clad dressed waitresses, but families were there (this must be normal?). The food was good, but definitely priced according to its upper end location.


We had dinner at Bill's Bar & Burger off of Fifth Ave and absolutely loved the food. Burgers, fiesta nachos, steak salad, Chicago dog, Esplanade milkshake -- all were a treat for the palate. Also a large variety of vine and beer.

Another great place we went to was the Heartland Brewery and Rotisserie right outside of the Empire State Building (The entryway for wheelchairs is right from the Empire lobby). They offer such great variety of salads, burgers, steak, buffalo chicken wings, fried calamari, must I go on? It's just filled with delicious food! Plus, a large selection of beer, which my host dad really appreciated.

1. Taxis -

NYC lived up to its fame of being an extremely expensive city. With 5 suitcases, 5 people and 1 wheelchair, we had to take 2 taxis to get to our hotel in Seacaucus, NJ and within just a few minutes, $200 plus tip vanished right before our eyes. I would certainly check out New York Port Authority-bound buses from your hotel, staying in a central location, or renting a car if you're traveling with a bunch of people and suitcases (I believe renting a car and paying parking fees might be worth while if you have lots of things, but you'll be risking driving with crazy New Yorkers and have to find parking in limited space). We used this Wheelchair Dispatch for accessible taxis that aren't supposed to charge more for their service because you're in a wheelchair, however, cab drivers were sometimes quite rude and unpleasant. On our last day, we had the hardest time flagging down a taxi to get to the airport and almost missed our flight. Let's just say although NYC is the city of risks and opportunities, don't chance catching a cab to the airport in New York traffic.

2. Lack of Storage Space -

On our last day in NYC, we ran into a situation where we had already checked out of our hotel and needed a place to store our belongings until our late flight because we wanted to keep exploring. It was harder for us in this case to leave our belongings at the hotel because of the wheelchair taking lots of taxi space and not wanting to back-track into NJ. We were super limited in storage options around Manhattan (so lame). After asking around Port Authority and the Grand Central Station and finding out there were no options, we found out about this place, Schwartz Travel & Storage just a few blocks away where we could store our suitcases while we were out and about. This place didn't seem too reliable because of its appearance, but they have a good system down, the staff was friendly, and its located in a convenience spot, plus, the price isn't shabby either ~$10 cash no credit card. I would definitely use them again. If you're traveling somewhere via Amtrak, there is storage space you can rent from at Penn Station where we've used and they're reliable as well.

3. Inaccessible Metro -

One summer, soon after my accident, I visited New York with some friends and decided to take the metro. We got on easily at one stop and but when we got off at another, we searched and searched for an elevator to find that there wasn't one. What happened to ADA? Well…grandfather clause and it's unfortunate that one of the most popular cities in the U.S. haven't address this issue yet. So you have to do some research on what options of metro stops you can use if in a wheelchair on the MTA website and plan accordingly.

4. Too Busy -

It goes with saying that New York City is a busy city. There are tons of movement year round because it is the icon of the U.S. I love visiting, but would not like to live here. As much as I love seeing what's going on in Times Square, it's also rough for someone in a wheelchair because people are too involved in what they're doing that they don't watch out and often run into me (I know, and I'm the one in the wheelchair) or fall on me. Not a pleasant thing. It's also hard to get help sometimes because people are on the go most of the time. It's a little intense for a small-town girl like me.

**For international visitors: I recommend getting a burn phone or an unlocked phone with a U.S. sim card to communicate easier. We ran into lots of issues here where the Brazilian phone service provider didn't work here in the States and we relied heavily on Wifi, but that wasn't always available or an option when we need it. That limited what we could do independently of each other because we didn't have a way of contact. I will definitely do that next time.

As you can see, there are many things I love about NYC and only a few things to complain about. It's a fun city to visit not to live, at least not for me. Needless to say, we had an amazing time in New York City. I think it totally fulfilled my host family's grand image of the city and there was definitely more we would have liked to do. But there should always be things to come back for, right? I can't wait til next time. Maybe a late night show with Jimmy Fallon or a Yankees game?

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