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First time travelling to the Big Apple

I live in beautiful Barbados, literally the land of white pristine sandy beaches, turquoise waters, tropical fruit trees and lots of coconut trees. I live in a country where it is impossible to never see greenery, with hills and pastures stretching for seeming miles, all lush with thick flora, so imagine my shock when I first traveled to New York City for a two week vacation and could not see anything but concrete and insane squirrels.

Green monkey in a tree in Barbados
Green monkey in a tree in Barbados

It was a culture shock for sure, but I was ready for the adventure!

Hopped up on the amazing stories from the TV shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, I was beyond excited to get this vacation going. I had plans on shopping and a lot of eating. Now I’m not a ‘travelholic’ and this trip to the Big Apple was something that I had dreamt of, but had not actually considered doing.

While I was excited to go over there and I had of course air marked few places I wanted to go to because I was all about that sales shopping life and had dreamt of running around in huge malls, I also had to make sure I took care of a couple of things.

First time on the train was such an experience!

Now not many of you may have to ever worry whether the bank you use is accessible in another country, or that your credit card may not work, but as it turned out, these were things I had to make sure of and have a plan of attack finances wise.

Sorted all of it and before I knew it I was in the air on my way to the concrete jungle and thus began my sojourn into the world of USA.

I rode my very first train and was freaking out because, it was more or less punctual and people were so casual about the fact that they were on a train going underground, but for me, I was legit in a whole new world. I fell in love with the graffiti, with the characters on every train and the total ease of movement. I became lost in the Museum of Natural History, geeking out about dinosaurs and the cosmos and then could not for the life of me figure out how to leave the building.

And let’s talk food. My first deep dish pizza, my first time at an IHOP and saw the massive amount of pancakes they offered. The drinks that I was incapable of finishing!

It was like going to a new world!

I went out a lot. I don’t think I even spent one day in my hotel room. One of my friends made sure that i experienced authentic Chinese food and Japanese food. I took a bus for the longest bus ride of my life- a whole two hours and ended up in a mall that as you can imagine I also for one heart stopping moment was sure I was stuck in because I could not find my way back to the ground floor. It seemed to go on forever!

I was able to see my friends going about their daily lives and explore different parts of New York, all culminating for me in Brooklyn, where I went to an art party and ended up ‘palancing’ ( a Trinidadian dance) with over a hundred people on the main floor of the art museum.

My time in the Big Apple was exactly what I thought it would be: awesome, inspiring and eye-opening.

I came back to Barbados full of ideas, but also with a very real appreciation for how calm and slow paced life really is on the island and how much I also enjoy that.

Barcelona: Sorry, closed for August

Barcelona is a city of colour, vibrant culture, and a selection of shops and restaurants that leave visitors and locals alike spoilt for choice.

When they’re open that is.

This summer I was probably one of the many visiting Barcelona that wasn’t up to speed as it relates to a certain practice –“city-wide vacation”. During August, many stores close up shop. Personnel essentially take their vacation in one of the world’s peak travel months.

Usually I do my research before travelling to new places, but in this case I hadn’t made the time to. Though I was staying with a local – another expat – I hadn’t even considered this concept and as such, didn’t think to ask if stores would be open or not. Imagine my surprise when even some bakeries, popular Spanish clothing, grocery, hardware, and a variety of other stores high-end and otherwise, were shut up tight, but promised their return in September.

Street fair in Barcelona. Photo credit Jackie Jones.

Coming from Barbados, a country that currently relies heavily on tourism, the idea of this practice in the busy months was shocking to me. I wondered how these businesses managed to avoid what I saw as potential financial fallout. When you think about it though, if all your competition is closed too, you’re in the clear.

To add to their epic relaxation vibe, tourists or not, when restaurants decide it’s time for siesta, hunger pains can wait. I recall my partner and I searching for a place to eat after exploring the city for a few hours. Early afternoon seemed a good time for this.Or so I thought. One by one restaurants along a busy street boasted closed kitchens until 5 pm or 8 pm. It didn’t matter what kind of food you were in the mood for – there was no room at the inn.

This may sound like a bit of a downer if you’re planning to head to Barcelona some August. Don’t let the closed shops fool you though, there’s tons more to enjoy in the city. Remember, not everything shuts down; major chains, American-style bistros, and more are open all year round. Though I had disappointments wanting to visit stores I couldn’t, just being in Barcelona and experiencing the slower pace, beautiful scenery, and of course, delectable pastries, made it worth my while.

Amazing architecture! Photo credit Jackie Jones.

 

Places of interest like the incredibly detailed work of art,Casa Vicens, known as Antoni Gaudi’s first major work, are open to the public for small fees. Casa Vicens was one I visited and as a fan of architectural triumphs, this was truly a treat for me. Like this building, Barcelona’s landmarks are easy to get to if you’re staying in the city, or even if you’re on the outskirts. If you’re not within walking distance, trains, buses, and trams are available, or just look out for taxis with the green light on, as this signals they’re free and you can hail away.

Closed signs aren’t the end-all of your Barcelona August visit. Take a gamble and experience this luscious city for yourself.