Tag Archives: 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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Just Keep on Tangoing … Tina Ferrari on Being an International Nomad

Self-described world nomad Tina Ferrari: tango dance instructor, DJ, English-Italian translator, citizen of the world. She has created for herself a lifestyle that suits her peripatetic soul just right — living in Italy, as well as other countries, and covering just as many miles as her popularized racecar last name, though she actually bears no relation Enzo Ferrari. Except, perhaps, a desire to be on the road. And the fruition of all these great things took only one bold decision: to just go… and then in the end, feeling at home in the world and with herself.

By Tina Ferrari

All my life I wanted to be one of those people who lived abroad. When my father and I watched movies filmed elsewhere in the world, he would get out the globe and we would find the city or country where the film was set. I guess you could say I got an early start in understanding that the world is small enough to navigate. As I grew up, the occasional friend would return from a year in France or Italy, and I would be so envious. I finally decided to stop being envious, create an opportunity for myself, and just go. Now, I’ve lived in Switzerland working as an au pair, Italy twice, as well as Argentina.

I can imagine people will wonder what kind of life I live. I’ve had people say interesting things to me on the subject, particularly, “Oh, must be nice!  Do you come from money?” And it couldn’t be farther from the truth. For most people, at least those I know, being an expat involves stressing out about money approximately 90% of the time. We are compelled to live elsewhere for so many reasons that have nothing to do with money. Me, I’m just a natural nomad, and I would be so sad if I couldn’t allow myself to do this.  But am I rich? No way, at least not economically.

I’m a 33 year-old citizen of the world currently living in Italy in the beautiful region of Puglia, Italy where I split my time between cities Lecce and Bari. If you look at the boot-shaped map of Italy, I’m in the heel. I’m a tango dancer, teacher, DJ, and a freelance translator.

I left Seattle “for good” in 2006 to study in Perugia, Italy. Eventually, I became an Italian citizen due to a direct bloodline (my great-grandfather came to the States, never renounced his citizenship, and it was thus passed down to my grandfather and my father, and then to me.) At this time, I was still waiting for my Italian citizenship to go through, so initially I went on a study visa. I had visited Italy so many times before, including a short stint when I studied in Siena, and I knew I just had to live there. I already spoke Italian after having been exposed to it through my family and studying it extensively, but I wanted to improve, and I dreamed of becoming a translator. So, I enrolled in a program at the University for Foreigners of Perugia that involved linguistics and translation. I wound up staying there only six months because I felt a sudden, profound longing to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I went for a month or so with a boyfriend before heading back to Seattle, where I stayed for eight months and finally took the leap into the world of full-time freelance translation, so I could maintain my nomadic life without quitting jobs all the time.

After an initial visit to Argentina, I ended up going back to live there for about a year and a half. Buenos Aires is one of those cities that just takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s hard to put into words what my experience in Buenos Aires entailed, though you can imagine there was a lot of tango! I had already been dancing tango since 2003. But while living in Buenos Aires, I took lessons here and there, danced a couple of times a week, and in the afternoon helped out a milonguero named Pedro Sanchez with his students. I did more than just dance tango of course, but it played an important role in my experience. I loved it so much that I felt at home. I remember sitting at my computer one day and looking out the window at the sunny sky and saying, “this is my home. I’m here now. I’m immigrating. This is it. This is really it.” Famous last words?

Unfortunately, with the global economic crisis, my translation work slowed down to a very sad halt. Not to mention the apartment I was sharing with others began to fall apart: my bedroom door fell off, there wasn’t gas in the apartment for 21 days, our faucet ran even when off, and the apartment manager didn’t have the funds to fix anything. In addition to some other personal matters I won’t mention, life suddenly turned not-so-pretty in every way. Except for one thing: while all of this was going on, my Italian citizenship came through! As much as the decision killed me, I had to leave Argentina to tie up loose ends in America and finally move to Italy. At this juncture, it made sense to be in Italy and reestablish my career as a translator as all my clients were there. While I would have preferred to stay in Argentina, I had to think about my survival.

Those transitional six months I passed in Seattle were horrible. I felt so sad – like a failure. Here I was, the fabulous nomad who was supposed to be conquering the world and had nothing to show for it. I wound up broken hearted and without a penny in my pocket. People around me at least had homes, jobs, spouses. Me, I had nothing. Just a newly obtained Italian passport and hope that I could turn things around. It was a bad time. Not having any money is not a nice feeling – and I’m saying that I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee. I know there are probably a lot of people who have felt similar in recent years; it’s not an easy time for the world.

Since I had been teaching tango with Pedro in Buenos Aires, I decided that I would continue teaching tango in Seattle and Italy, and get more into DJing at milongas, or tango dance salons. I loved it so much, and I must say it really did save me while my translation business healed. Tango in itself is therapeutic because it is based on a loving embrace. The income it brought me, while not a lot, enabled me to eat and live.

I continued giving tango dance lessons after I moved to Italy and tried to resuscitate my translation business. I wound up living in Lecce and teaching with a partner, who has since left. I’m now traveling quite a bit to DJ at milongas around Italy, and now my translation work is coming in almost too quickly, one after the other. I’m a very, very busy girl with little free time!

Sometimes I have to remember to stop for a few minutes and look back at all that has happened. I’m thankful that things have turned out for the better, and thankful that I can go back to Buenos Aires when I want. My quality of life in Italy is high, and I’m healthy. I have finally accomplished my dream of living internationally and doing work that I love. And, I can save up.

Looking back, I must confess that I sometimes miss that transition period in Seattle. It was hard and depressing, but the growth I went through was incredible. I struggled every day, looking forward with the simple goal of being happy. I learned a lot during that time and deepened some very important friendships.

The lesson I have learned from all of this: there is no straightforward path to your dreams. And that’s not a bad thing. We get so impatient sometimes and forget to consider the journey; I know I have in the past. But just when you think it’s all going wrong, just when you think it’s hopeless and you feel like giving up, that’s precisely the moment in which you should take a deep breath, and just relax and wait. Either the situation will take a turn for the better or you’ll suddenly have the idea of the century on what to do next! And that is a beautiful moment.

You can read more about Tina on her blog, or if you speak Italian, you can also visit her tango site at www.tinaferraritango.com.

Think you might be eligible for Italian citizenship? Tina recommends www.expatsinitaly.com as a helpful resource to learn more.

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Sam’s Top Ten Sao Paulo

By Sam DeMello

In his last post on teaching English in Sao Paulo, Sam DeMello recounted his success story on how a bold journey became a life change. Now, after having lived in Sao Paulo, he shares with us his favorite things in the city he loves.

1. Hanging out at the Mercado Municipal

The central market of Sao Paulo is awesome. It’s in the center of the city, surrounded by 20 square blocks of street vendors selling everything from pirated movies and fake Gucci to illegal fireworks. I’m pretty sure that if you knew where to look, you would find human organs. Be sure to scarf down a mortadella sandwhich as featured on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.

2. Eating Feijoada
Feijoada is the traditional dish of Sao Paulo. It’s a super heavy black bean stew with lots of different pig parts, most of them unidentifiable. At local restaurants it’s only offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And since it sits in your stomach like a rock afterward, I would recommend going on the weekend when you have time to relax and digest. For me dining in Brazil is an experience: go out with friends, start drinking at 11 a.m., arrive at the restaurant around 1 p.m., eat and continue drinking until 3 p.m., return to a friends house and pass out until 6 p.m., wake up slowly and watch a soccer game, continue drinking, then go out to a bar or club. Now that, personally, I think is the perfect Saturday in Sao Paulo.

3. Going to Soccer Games
There are three big soccer teams in the city proper: Sao Paulo FC, Palmeiras, and Corinthians. Without a doubt, I think the best game to go to is Corinthians. They are like the Oakland Raiders of Brazil, the team of the favela.  The tickets are cheap, the beer is cheaper, and the food outside the stadium is awesome, although sometimes a little risky. You’ll spend the entire time on your feet dancing, singing, chanting as loudly as a howler monkey, and, if the home team scores a goal, getting bear-hugged by every beer-bellied lunatic in the vicinity. Also, soccer games are the best places to learn how to properly curse in Portuguese. Bring your notebook.

4. Going to the Beach
The closest beach to the city is in Santos about 40 minutes away, but I would recommend venturing even a little farther out. It doesn’t really matter where you go, everywhere the beaches are awesome, and the eye candy is as well. As I’m sure everyone knows already, there is nothing smaller than a Brazilian bikini; however, every girl wears one and I mean … every girl. So, even grandmothers show a lot of skin. A note to the ladies: the tsunga (men’s speedo) is also in fashion, especially the white one if you’re a real boss tycoon.

5. Eating Sushi!
This might sound kinda strange, but Brazil actually has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. The first Japanese immigrants came to Brazil in 1908 in search of better living conditions after the end of feudalism, which had worsened living standards for poorer populations in Japan. Many of them sought jobs on Brazilian coffee plantations. Today, this immigration influx is reflected in the number of Sushi places in Sao Paulo. The quality is great, but the price is even better.  They have a system here called Rodizio where you pay a flat price, usually about $25 US, and you eat all you want, usually until someone throws up.

6. Chilling in Parque Ibirapuera
This pseudo-natural wonder resembles Golden Gate Park or Central Park as it is filled with museums, soccer fields, basketball courts, and music venues. My roommates and I like to have picnics there, which usually involves a five-liter jug of Sangue de Boi (Bull’s Blood), as far as wines go just imagine a worse Carlo Rossi.

7. Perusing Liberdade
Liberdade is Japanese Town in Sao Paulo, and it’s especially cool on the weekends when there’s an open air market with crafts and specialty foods. Also a great place to get, as mentioned prior, Sushi!

8. Heading to the Countryside
This one’s a little harder to do unless you know somebody, but lots of Brazilians have Sitios, or small country houses. It’s  a great place to relax, enjoy Brazilian BBQ, and play some soccer. So, start making friends upon arrival.

9. Rocking Out to Live Music
It doesn’t matter where you are, almost every little bar has live music resounding through the streets almost every night of the week. There’s a small neighborhood called Villa Madalena, which is a great place to have a drink and catch some Bossa Nova. Two of my favorite places are Bar do Bardot and Odoborodongodo.

10. Visiting Museums
This one’s not necessarily my cup of tea, but I know other people dig them. MASP, the Museum of Modern Art, is free on Tuesdays. Also check out the Museum of Football, Museu do Futebol located in the Sao Paulo Municipal Stadium.

For more tips on what to do in Sao Paulo, Brazil, check out The New York Times Travel article Weekend in São Paulo.

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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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How to Be an Argentine Gaucho (and other horseriding tips)

On another adventure at the Funny Farm in Northern Argentina, Megan Snedden and Sofie Petri Spang-Hensen give expert lessons on how to be a real Gaucho. Watch and learn. More to come at Real World Meets Girl.

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Enrique’s Guns

We found out the other day that Enrique hides seven guns around his house. One he keeps on top of the large armoire in the kitchen, another I know he keeps hidden somewhere near his pillow at night. The other five I’d have to go on a scavenger hunt to locate because he said they are hidden in places that no one would expect. Perhaps between the collection of Danish butter cookie tins along the shelf in the kitchen; perhaps between the old cigar boxes and alcohol bottles and cigarette packets in the living room; perhaps tucked away behind the things that hang on the walls: large metal pots, an alligator skin, twenty different cowboy hats.

Enrique is a collector, just like his father. He gathers antique memorabilia, gifts, lessons. Objects that tell stories. And he speaks on their behalf as I speak on his behalf, simply passing his words from one language to another so he, and his collection, can be understood.

These things, he hangs them on walls, he lines them in careful rows on shelves, arranges “just so” on tables, and organizes them by shape and color and design and age. One of his most prideful collections fills the entire living room: guns. According to Enrique, he only owns half of the weaponry that he inherited from his father, and it is one of the most important collections of guns in Argentina. His brother, he said, has the other half.

The other night, one of our guests, who was from Vermont, asked Enrique to tell stories which Sofie and I had not memorized. Enrique shoved his chair away from the table making room for his belly, pressed himself up out of the chair, and trotted to the gun room. He came back with an unloaded (thank God) black pistol and passed it around the table.

“This was a gift from my father when I turned 18,” he said. “Whenever I left home, I used to keep it hidden in a canvas sling under my right arm. One night years later, my future father-in-law and I were driving along together and we passed through this small town with one bar in it, and we decided to have a drink. We walked in and took a seat at one of the tables. Behind the bar, the wall was lined with hundreds of wine bottles of different varietals. The cocktail waitress approached the table to take our order. ‘What can I bring you,’ she asked. His father-in-law extracted a gun from his belt, undid the safety, aimed straight at the bar, and POW! Shot one of the bottles behind the bar. ‘I’ll take a bottle of that kind of wine,’ he said. Then, shaken, the waitress turned to young Enrique and asked, ‘For you sir?’ Enrique reached under his arm for the leather sling, extracted his pistol, undid the safety, aimed straight at the bar, and POW! Shot the bottle right next to the other broken one. ‘I’ll take one of those bottles as well,’ he said. His father-in-law leapt up, grabbed Enrique by the fist, jerked his arm into the air, and shouted, ‘This is my future f*cking son-in-law!”  

 We passed the gun around the table, observing the patchwork on the leather case that he claims he made himself.

Enrique is in the habit of showing not only the guns in the gunroom but also his guns.

            “Feel my arm,” he says, “Now that’s solid rock, and I don’t even go to the gym. I have extremely well-balanced blood levels, and don’t have cholesterol.” I reminded him that we all have cholesterol, but his level is most likely healthy and reasonable, although I don’t believe him. For breakfast, Enrique drinks mate, for lunch Enrique eats cow ribs, sausage, and onions, for dinner Enrique eats whatever beef is left over from the lunchtime asado along with mayonnaise and white bread. And every night before he goes to sleep, he drinks at least one glass of whiskey. “I am as strong as an ox,” he says. “Here, feel my stomach, its solid too.” And I poke his round belly with my pointer finger to affirm that it is in fact solid. “Well, at least we know that if someone were to poke you with a pin you wouldn’t pop,” I told him. “Hey!” he shouted, and then punched me in the arm, and it throbbed with the impact of his gun-strength. “I know already that I’m an ugly son of a bitch, but I love myself,” he said.

“You’re right Enrique,” I say. “I love myself too, even though I don’t have guns like you do,” and I flex at him with an adoring smile. “No,” he says, “You love yourself because you are a spoiled, snob from Southern California with a personal chef, a chauffeur, and a limousine.”

I roll my eyes and shake my head, and as always he wraps me up in his guns, gives me a breath-taking anaconda squeeze, and says, “No really, I love you because you are a big son of bitch just like me.”

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