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Through The Eyes Of A Local: New York City, USA

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Welcome to Through The Eyes Of A Local! This is a great opportunity to hear from the locals on what we should see in their hometown, why we should visit and their local culture.

This week, we have Talek from Travels With Talek telling us all about her hometown of New York City…

Times Square, New York City

1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and where you come from?

I am a native New Yorker, daughter of Cuban immigrants. Lately I have become a freelance writer, travel consultant and founder of the travel blog, www.travelswithtalek.com.

I am a passionate travel enthusiast and enjoy sharing my travel experiences with others. My personal and professional background has led me to travel to over 100 countries. I have lived and worked throughout the world and speak several languages. I have an MBA and a Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. I live in New York City and Miami, Florida, USA.

In my blog I share information on unique destinations and provide actionable travel tips and advice to help travelers make the most of their time away from home. My focus is on experiential travel, cultural immersion and interaction with local people to help travelers create their own unique travel experiences.

2. How long have you lived in NYC? And what brought you here?

I was born in New York City after my family immigrated from Cuba in search of better economic opportunities.

3. What do you love most about where you live?

My favorite aspect of New York City is its unparalleled multiculturalism. If you walk into Chinatown you can easily convince yourself that you are in Hong Kong. Meander in Little India and you’re in Mumbai.

And if you wander the streets of Jackson Heights you will be strolling in the most ethnically diverse piece of real estate in human history. Hyperbole, you say? The area is over 50% foreign born, 106 different languages are spoken within a few blocks and the street vendors sell food from every corner of the globe. It’s diverse alright. 

My second favorite aspect is how there is a feast of world-class activities and attractions to choose from in New York. Many of them you just can’t do anywhere else. 

4. Is there anything that frustrates or annoys you when tourists visit New York?

We love tourists. We better. In 2016 we received over 60 million visitors who collectively injected over 50 billion dollars into our economy. Even if they were annoying we’d probably just smile and get on with it. Tourists to New York don’t have a bad reputation, anyway. They come over, eat, shop, enjoy our museums and strain their neck muscles looking up at our skyscrapers. That’s how we know they’re tourists.

Tourist Monument, NYC

5. In your opinion, which places should be at the top of any visitor’s wishlist in NYC?

Oh, boy. What a question! Where do you start? I’ll give you MY favorites. Maybe others think likewise:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET)
  • Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
  • The Frick Museum
  • SOHO
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Central Park
  • Greenwich Village
  • Chinatown
  • Lincoln Center
  • Broadway shows

For some unknown reason, in the past few years New Yorkers have taken to telling people that they should “avoid Times Square like the plague.” Apparently, it is now considered tacky, touristy and tre gauche. News flash! We all go there. Some won’t admit it but, not only do we go there, we LOVE it! We love looking at the costumed characters and marveling at their increasingly audacious outfits. We love the legendary neon lights of Broadway. We love the energy, the electricity, the sheer massiveness of it all. Yeah, it’s tacky but it’s still the crossroads of the world and we love being a part of it.

Plus, there are a bunch of excellent restaurants off in the side streets if you know how to avoid the tourist traps. And what about the jazz clubs around Times Square? From the renowned, sophisticated Birdland to the touristy but oh-such-fun B.B. King, the Times Square clubs provide a formula for a good time. Oh, and did I mention that every year for 10 seconds on a freezing December night, the world counts down the new year with us in Times Square?

6. What foods must visitors eat when in New York?

We have goodies from arepas (Colombian ground maize) to ziti (Italian pasta) and everything in between. But here’s a list of our typical New York City eats:

  • Pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard. I guess this is the standard bearer of NYC foods.
  • Bagel with lox and a “schmear” (cream cheese). You must be Jewish to say “schmear” otherwise you’ll sound foolish. Or, just say “cream cheese.”
  • Hot dog with sauerkraut, onions and mustard from a street cart. Ignore the urban legends about the dirty dishwater and rat droppings.
  • The other option for a hot dog is one from any of the Gray’s Papaya stands.
  • Cheeseburger.
  • Shawarma from a food truck.
  • Hot pretzel from a street vendor. I can’t stand these things but people love them.
  • Roasted chestnuts. You must eat this during the holidays. It’s the law.
  • Pizza. It is disappointingly easy to have a mediocre pizza so research the source beforehand.
  • Take-out Chinese. We have been known to subsist on this happily for extended periods of time.

New York City street food dog

7. What’s your favourite word in your local language? And what does it mean?

“Fuhgeddaboutit” (said with an Italian accent and the tips of your fingers touching as you shake your hands up and down, palms up.) This is a utilitarian, multi-purpose expression meaning “forget about it” or “no way, not going to happen, never mind, don’t worry” and dozens more.

8. What advice would you give to somebody moving to New York City from another country?

Do not bring a car anywhere near New York City. Don’t even think about it.

9. If you could describe NYC in just one sentence, what would you say?

An exciting, gritty, multi-ethnic, capitalistic, cultural mecca where you can get a good hot dog.

10. If tourists were to know one thing about your country’s culture, what should that be?

Not really sure about the rest of the country…this is a big place. But culturally, New Yorkers are tolerant, impatient, have a strong sense of fairness, kind, and a bit loud and aggressive versus other groups.

Thanks Talek – we’ve loved getting to know you and NYC better!

If you’d like to learn more about New York City or the rest of Talek’s travels, then you can hop along to her travel blog: Travels With Talek, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.

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Through The Eyes Of A Local: New York City

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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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