Tag Archives: Adventure Travel

My New York Bucklist: Top 40 Must-Dos in the Big Apple

In no particular order, a girlfriend and I have amassed a gigantic list of all the top things to do in New York City, some of them popular, some of them less known about. This list of best New York attractions is based on information I have been given by locals and other city transplants such as myself. Those crossed out have been completed!

1. Eat artichoke pizza at Artichoke Pizza, walk the Chelsea High Line, go to the Chelsea Market

2. Go to a Yankees and/or Mets game (I heard if you take the water taxi sometime the captains let the girls drive the boats).

Chelsea High Line

3. Run Brooklyn Bridge back and forth

4. Have a picnic at the Bronx Botanical Garden

5. Climb the 354 stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty

6. Have drinks at the rooftop bar at The Met

7. Go to an open air concert at Central Park

8. Go to a concert at Madison Square Garden (Saw Prince and Simbad)

9. Attend a church service in Harlem on Sunday and photograph all the women in their beautiful hats.

10. Take a “free” wine and art tour of all the Chelsea galleries

11. See the secret subway station off the 6 local uptown.

12. Run the perimeter of Central Park

13. Shove my face at Shake Shack

14. Get into the Boom Boom Room at The Standard Hotel

15. Take a trapeze class

16. Go to the Fulton fish market early in the morning and meet the legendary fish mongers

17. Take the gondola to Roosevelt Island

18. Visit the China Town ice cream factory

19. Tour the Chrysler and Empire State buildings

The Chrysler Building

20. Take a dance class at Broadway Dance Center

21. Go to a charity ball.

22. Kayak the Hudson River

23. See a freak show at Coney Island, then ride the roller coaster and eat a hot dog at Nathan’s

24. Get waited on by transvestites at Lucky Cheng’s restaurant

25. Find out about New York’s connection to the bagel and write a story about it

26. Get pampered at the Spa Castle and then visit a Hindu Temple in Flushing, Queens

27. Take singing lessons with someone who trains for Broadway

28. Tour the real Little Italy in the Bronx, stroll Arthur Avenue

29. Do a jazz tour in Harlem

30. Have summertime fun at a water taxi beach

31. Eat at the Latin American food trucks in Red Hook, watch a soccer game

32. Rent a row boat in Central Park and ride across the river

33. Live it up in the Hamptons

34. Gamble in Atlantic City

35. Participate in an Improv Everywhere stunt

36. Volunteer to help replant oysters in New York waterways

37. Participate in at least 10 New York Caresprojects

Coney Island

38. Photograph hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

39. Take a Bollywood dancing class then eat Indian food in Curry Hill

40. Dance salsa under the stars in front of Lincoln Center during the Midsummer Night Swing series. Visit http://midsummernightswing.org/ to see the line up.

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Filed under Culture, Gastronomy, New York City, Travel, Travel Resources, Uncategorized

Change Requires Action, Perhaps Becoming the Cork Dork

In the past couple weeks, I have learned that life change doesn’t mean focusing on getting rid of the things you don’t want, but instead filling your life up with the things you do want until they take up all space. The process of getting where you want to be requires action, forward-moving momentum, at best taken in stride with baby steps: the easiest way to form new habits and change behavior.

Personally, I may not see myself in the restaurant industry forever, but I am doing everything I can to make it a positive experience until I fully progress toward something else. For example, I use downtime before the customer rush to study vocabulary words, which makes me feel more empowered about my writing. So far, I have memorized approximately 135 new words from moiré and lugubrious to obsequious and redolent. And I’ve gotten the other servers involved, bringing out there inner sesquipedalian by holding story writing and word rhyming competitions. We recently debated the difference between decimate, eradicate, extirpate, exterminate, obliterate, annihilate, and eviscerate.

In my most recent endeavor to create something positive in my current lifestyle, I’ve also become the stresstaurant cork dork. In honor of Earth Day, I am collecting all of the corks at the stresstaurant for one week and will either donate them to charities for the creation of green projects or will make them into art projects, sell them, and then donate the money to charity.

If all goes well, I plan to expand and continue running the project.

Why do this? Well, I realized that I write and preach about leading a positive lifestyle, being generous, and giving, but felt I wasn’t fully living this prophecy. Therefore, I wanted to start doing things that would make a difference by starting where I currently am. Action. So much of the time we say, “I will start X as soon as…” or “Someday I will…” But why not start today?

Internationally, 340 tons of cork are produced each year, and it has been painful for me to watch as we send cork after cork to the landfill when I know already that they could easily be reused. Corks can be ground back down to make floor and wall coverings, shoe platforms, moisture-retaining mulch, woodwind instruments, the interior of baseballs, and more.

This for me is about thinking creatively about everyday things, looking at something average and making it extraordinary.

And when it comes to trying something new, start now. Why not? The worst thing that could happen is never having the chance to have tried.

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Starting a Business in Sao Paulo, Brazil: Pipedream or Reality?

In this edition of Real World Meets Girl, small-business owner Sam DeMello recounts how he opened his own English school in one of the world’s travel hot spots: Sao Paulo, Brazil. You go boy! Enter Sam …


I woke up the other day and realized that I am the owner of my own company, doing business in a language that I didn’t speak a year ago, and teaching English in a country that I used to dream about. What a revelation! I moved to Brazil with no connections and very little Portuguese, and after six months I had better friends here than I had in my life back home. It’s the most receptive, warm, happy place I’ve ever been; I feel at home here.

Brazilians can’t understand why a kid from the United States, let alone from California, would want to leave paradise behind to live in the Third World. But I guess there are really two questions here that have very different answers: why did I leave the States in the first place, and why did I decide to stay here?
The first question is easy to answer. I wanted to do something different, to see the world. I continued to travel as much as I could through high school and college, but every time I traveled I felt rushed, as if I had to do as much as possible every day, as if I were always missing out on something, always on the outside looking in. I wanted to really experience a place, spend some time there, get to know the culture, the people, the language, and immerse myself completely. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I decided to teach English — it seemed like a good way to get my foot in the door and, being on a tight budget, it would let me pay my own way. I took a four-week TEFL course at UC Santa Barbara after I completed my undergrad there, and two months later I found myself stepping off a plane into the chaotic traffic of Sao Paulo. Population wise, Sao Paulo Brazil is the seventh largest city in the world behind top three leaders Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; and Mexico City, Mexico.

To be honest, I have no idea how I ended up living in Brazil. Moving to South America seemed cool, I love soccer and Brazilian music, and I figured it was cheap enough that I could live for a while in Sao Paulo on the meager $1,000 in my bank account. There were, of course, a couple small things that I had overlooked in my eagerness to be on my way. I didn’t know anyone in Brazil, my basic Portuguese language skills were apt enough to help me find the bathroom or ask for a check, but not much more than that. Above all of this, I found myself in a city of over 18 million people with neither a place to live nor a job; as the saying goes: God protects fools and drunks. My first week in Brazil, I was definitely both of those.

I got incredibly lucky when I found a blog online by an American guy teaching English in the same city. I managed to track him down during my first week here, and he helped me a ton. He introduced me not only to his boss at a local school, which is where I got my first job teaching English, but also to his landlord, which is how I got my first “apartment” (well, really it was a closet with a mattress on the ground, but it was a start). The first couple of weeks were rough. I didn’t have any friends, I couldn’t communicate with people, I got lost everywhere, and I was working way too much. It was pretty lonely, but at the same time it was the freest I ever felt.

So, how did I end up running my own English school? I wish I could say that I always wanted to be a businessman or that I had some super complex plan with what I was going to do with my life, but the truth is I had no idea what I was doing; in fact, I still have no idea what I’m doing. I just found myself rolling with the punches, and trying to make the best of my situation. As an American citizen, a visa is necessary just to visit Brazil, and work visas are almost impossible to come by. Originally, I entered the country on a tourist visa, which allowed me to stay there legally for six months (as a tourist you can stay three months, and then extend for another three months. At that point, you have to leave the country for six months without return before applying for a new visa). By the end of that term, I could speak Portuguese, had lots of friends, and really didn’t want to leave. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who was a lawyer he suggested we open a company in his name where he would hire me as an employee and therefore I would be granted the necessary work visa. So, we decided to start an English school — not that either of us had any experience operating a company.

We figured it would just be a joke allowing me to continue teaching and living in Brazil legally and for him to put something good on his resume. Hence, Pinnacle English School was born. We opened the company on paper in October 2009, and legal council told me that I would have my visa by Christmas.

Overtime I developed a roll call of employees, albeit they happened to be friends of mine: one from college who had been fired and wanted to travel; one who was teaching In South Korea, but decided Brazil would be a better fit; his girlfriend; and another friend from back home. Even though the business was growing, things did not always go smoothly, and there were a lot of times when I thought the entire project would fail. My visa, for example, ended up being delayed until May. This rendered me illegal, and therefore meant that I couldn’t rent an apartment, open a bank account, or do lots of other things that I took for granted living in the US. Getting new students was also a slow process.

All of us working at Pinnacle English School lived on about two dollars a day for a couple of months, feeling sometimes like a bunch of poor immigrants eating rice and beans every day, but obviously compared to people living in the Sao Paulo slums we were nowhere close to real poverty. To my teammates’ credit, they stuck with it through the hard times, and now we have a successful company. Currently, we have 85 students.

Moving to Brazil has ended up creating tremendous opportunity for me. I honestly don’t know what I would be doing in the United States if I were still there. Now, I love everything about Brazil: the food, the music, the culture. Everything. I love that you can walk down the street at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday and there are guaranteed to be people out on the sidewalks drinking and laughing. I love that almost every single bar, no matter how small or run-down, in a residential neighborhood has live music almost every night of the week. I love going to the beach where the water is warm, the women are beautiful, and you don’t have to worry about great white sharks. I love the trash in the streets, the favelas, the kids on the sidewalk (not that these things are signs of prosperity and wealth, but they feel like the real world. You’re not in a bubble; you see the other side of life). But most of all I love the people.

I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, or what I’m going to be doing tomorrow, but for now I’m enjoying work, enjoying life, and most importantly, I’m learning something new every day.

If I had one piece of advice it would be this: a lot of times we focus on the big picture way too much; we try to plan and organize and get everything ready before we take the first step. Sometimes the best thing to do is take the first step on your own, start your journey, and most of the time you’ll find that things tend to fall into place. It hasn’t always been fun, it for sure hasn’t been easy, but without a doubt it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I’ve learned so much about myself, what I need to be happy, what’s important to me, and what I want out of life just from being in Brazil. I still have no idea what the future holds, but I think that everyday I’m much better prepared to face it.

To contact Sam, please see the information below; he is currently accepting applications for teaching positions.


Sam DeMello
Demello.sam@gmail.com
http://www.pinnacleenglish.com

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Filed under Narratives, Real World Accounts, Travel, Travel Resources, Uncategorized

Horse Horror Stories and Overcoming Fear of the Uncontrolable

Since before I can remember, I have been in love with horses. Throughout my youth, I had a tan canvas bag filled with Grand Champion plastic horses that became a permanent fixture on my shoulder. The bag grew horizontally as I grew vertically, and it was always Megan and Her Horses. Every morning during summertime, when school was out of session, my mom would bring Megan and her Horses to her step class. While she grape-vined and double-cross stepped in her bright pink sweatband and multicolored leotard, I would play with my horses watching her from the sidelines, looking into the mirror and seeing her face smiling and sweating back at me.

Over time, I learned three things. First, plastic horses bear no resemblance to real horses because you are in control of feeble play things. Second: even if you love someone — or something — that affection is not always reciprocated. Third: horses hate me. I reference the following examples to prove my point…

Age 8, Yorba Linda, California. The crickets chirped, the sun sang, and a blue bird sat on my shoulder as my mother and I trotted along the dusty trail during a peaceful afternoon ride. Aunt Jemima and Mr. Rodgers skipped through the field at my right holding hands, each giving me a thumbs up as I passed them by. I smile back at them, but suddenly Mr. Rodgers’ face enshrouds in a dark cloud of terror as he sees my horse’s eyes glow red and its ears lay back flat as a down-turned mailbox flag. It swaggers, side steps, flicks its head, and decides it’s suddenly time for him to retire from his people-totting career  and says, “Screw this, I’m moving to Boca Raton.”

I realized we weren’t in step class any more. “Oh no!” Aunt Jemima screamed. Megan and her horse turned and bolted in the opposite direction leaving my mother and my pride in the dust as I shouted “Stop, no, stop!” but these beasts do not come with emergency breaks. So I clutched the saddle horn in a white-knuckle death grip and apologized to the horse for what the Indians did to its ancestors and lie telling him that the beaches in Boca Raton aren’t that great, but to no avail he kept trotting, cantering, galloping, warp-speeding it down the path until a random man jumped into the path with both arms raised screaming, “Woah!” The horse must have thought he had run all the way to Florida because gracefully he stopped before the stranger as if the guy were holding a paper sign at the airport that read Mr. Ed …. But I still didn’t learn my lesson.

Age 10, Ensenada, Mexico. My my mom’s friend Jan, my mom, and I decide to take a tranquil horseback ride down the beach at sunset while the men drink Coronas at the house. As we trudge along, my heart races, but it’s all fine and dandy because I see neither Mr. Rodgers nor Aunt Jemima. Until, we turn a corner off the beach and in the distance I see Santana plucking a sick sliding scale on his Fender and Frida Kahlo plucking her uni brow. Our tour guides ask us if we’d like to extend our ride up this ambiguous trail, and when we say yes, Santana and Frida glance up at me shaking their heads fervently, no. But we trudge valiantly onward anyway. Within minutes, Jan’s horse stops. Just stops. My mom’s horse bolts, dragging her through trees and low brush and ramming her against a brick wall. My horse bucks and rears and bucks and rears and some how, like last time, I manage to stay on. Our tour guides, who were actually a couple of snot-nosed kids, launch stones at it and scream “Alto, alto alto!” and I scream, “No, alto. No, alto!” thinking they were trying to make it dance instead of stop. There’s a three second lull and I manage to jump off before the horse begins to breathe fire, sprouts wings, and flies away.

I vow for several years never to get on a horse again and resort to feeding carrots to Frank the black friendly stallion at the Orange County swap meet who was securely bolted up behind a sturdy, restricting corral.

Then … age 23, Santa Barbara, California. My boyfriend surprises me for my birthday and we go (dun, dun, dun) horseback riding through the hills. It should have been a hand-holding, jolly, romantic scene as often depicted on the Bachelor, but the only rose I went home with that day was the gargantuan, blooming bud on my left butt cheek after I was launched from the horse’s back hiney-first onto a sharp rock.

What on earth possessed me to get back in the saddle? Purely and simply a desire to overcome the terror of something I’ve always wanted to enjoy. So, naturally I put myself in a position of humble ineptitude, paradoxically leading people in doing something I knew nothing about and was terrified of. On the Funny Farm, I became not only a translator but also a horseback riding trail guide. A captain who had never sailed … good thing there aren’t any icebergs in the wild frontier of Northern Argentina.

What was I thinking?

When we travel, we cover unfamiliar territory, sometimes troupsing along the undiscovered parts of ourselves that we stummble upon and want to challenge to make stronger. And we can push this even farther and do so even in familiar environments. Travel writer Rolf Potts discusses five lessons we learn while traveling that we can apply to our lives back home. Going to another country isn’t always necessary to push yourself. So, spend a day without your phone; answer to that little voice that’s been telling you to take a cooking class. Target something that scares you and go after it fiercly and languish in that feeling of embarressment when you grab hold of the reins and ask, “What am I suppose to do with these?” And then tell me about it.

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Salta, Argentina Bungee Jump

Sofie and Megan take the big leap off the El Dique bridge outside of Salta, Argentina. Big cheer for Sofie for challenging her fear of heights!

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