Monthly Archives: January 2015

If You Suffer from Low Self Esteem, Don’t Go to Buenos Aires

Got architecture? Buenos Aires, Argentina

Got architecture? Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires may be known for its tango, steakhouses and European vibe, but in my book there’s something else that embodies it more than any of these.

The people, simply put, are the best-looking on Earth.

This description applies to a disproportionate percentage of the local population – both male and female, leaving one to wonder if they’re visiting a city full of models or a modeling agency the size of a city. Spotting the tourists is embarrassingly easy – just look for the ugly ones.

I’m not quite sure why this is the case. It could be the relatively carefree Latin vibe that keeps everyone looking healthy. It could also be a favorable combination of Spanish, Italian and German heritage. Or maybe all that tangoing keeps a person in good shape. In any case, at one point I just wanted to shout out “Okay! You’re all sexy! We get it!!!” but I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was clearly a tourist, even if I never opened my mouth.

Buenos Aires is a major city unlike any other I have visited. I say this because I really enjoyed it despite the fact that it doesn’t have any ‘real’ attractions. Most of my enjoyment I attribute to the intangible vibe that permeates the city, which somehow makes you feel cooler just by being there. This nicely counteracts the inevitable feelings of insecurity brought on by walking around with people right out of the set of a calendar shoot.

Located on the western shore of the muddy Rio de la Plata separating Argentina from Uruguay, Buenos Aires is among the largest and most-visited cities in South America. Considering its lack of world-renown monuments or dramatic setting, that’s quite an accomplishment. An even greater accomplishment is me pointing out what’s worth seeing in a city with nothing in particular to see.

The Obelisk & Plaza de la Republica

IMG_1910If anything could be considered the “icon” of Buenos Aires, I suppose that would be the Obelisco (obelisk) de Buenos Aires, situated in spacious Plaza de la Republica. Commemorating the first founding of the city, this area aspires to be the Argentine version of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus.

The Neighborhoods

With no strong points of interest, you can say that Buenos Aires’ appeal is an ensemble performance. This is particularly evident in an area called the Barrio Norte, encompassing the leafy residential areas of Recoleta, Retiro and Palermo. There are gardens, sculptures, restaurants and clubs to be found throughout, but many visitors come to the area in pilgrimage to the grave of Eva Peron, located in the Recoleta Cemetery. If you’re now singing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, I can assure you that you need not worry. Argentina didn’t seem the least bit upset when I left. They weren’t even misty-eyed. That’s what I get for not looking my best.

Calle Florida 

Stretching down from Plaza San Martin is popular and pedestrian-only Florida Street, known locally as Calle Florida. This is a bustling cluster of shopping arcades and restaurants and a great place to pick up some souvenirs. Come nightfall this is also a happening place to be, as it’s filled with those same shops and restaurants with the addition of street performers, many of whom will be dancing the tango (apparently it really does take two to do so). As an established tourist destination, you might have some slightly less good-looking people to deal with, but be ready for lots of eye candy all the same.

I should also mention that for architecture buffs, you could also spend many a day taking in the mishmash of European styles prominently displayed all over the city. I don’t know many of the finer points, but I will say that it kept my camera lens more than adequately occupied.

Getting around Buenos Aires is a cinch. Taxis are plentiful and many neighborhoods aren’t too long of a walk for someone with energy. There’s also a subway system call the Subte that connects all areas that would be of interest to visitors.

A visit to Buenos Aires is a must for anyone coming to Argentina – so long as you don’t suffer from a really poor self-image. You will be enchanted by the rhythms of the tango; your palate will be tantalized by tasty steaks and empanadas; and yes, you will be surrounded by some of the most attractive people to be found anywhere. So pack your dancing shoes, your appetite and above all, your best clothes. This is one city where you really don’t want to stand out as a tourist.

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Reflections of Shirley (And Don’t Call Us Shirley)

IMG_2137When it comes to prestigious Long Island towns, Shirley comes in somewhere near the bottom. It’s not really fair, actually, considering that ‘prestige’ is based primarily on economic merit; not what a place has to offer. This small town along with neighboring hamlets Mastic and Mastic Beach are known as working class neighborhoods on the lower edges of the middle class, and are one of the last affordable places to live on the island. But what it lacks in zip code envy, it makes up for in natural beauty – so long as you visit the area’s three main parks: Fire Island National Seashore, Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and Southaven County Park.

I write this piece after spending an afternoon packing in preparation for my upcoming move to Texas. While I grew up less than ten miles away in Medford, NY, for the past 11 years Shirley has been my home, and like any good homeowner, I made it a point to familiarize myself with my property. Now, as I prepare to leave, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few of my favorite places for anyone who might be passing through and willing to make a stop between New York City and the Hamptons.

Fire Island National Seashore

Ranger Station with a View - Fire Island National Seashore

Ranger Station with a View – Fire Island National Seashore

Abutting Smith’s Point County Park and accessible via the Smith’s Point Bridge, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across a large strip of this narrow barrier island. Preserving the fragile ecosystem and providing a playground for sun worshippers in the summer, this place draws lots of visitors looking for wide swaths of sand and surf. There is a small ranger’s building where guests can learn more about the wildlife and history, but most people just take a stroll on the newly-restored boardwalk through the dunes (replacing the one destroyed by Hurricane Sandy) to find their own private stretch of sand. Just a note: the further west you go, the greater the chance you’ll find clothing optional sunbathers. Learned that the hard way (just look at the sand).

On a personal note, I have many fond memories of coming here after 5 o’clock (when you no longer have to pay for parking) and watching the sun set to the sound of crashing surf. It’s a great place to think, pray, or just talk to some of the friendly people who pass you by while doing the same thing. You will also realize that Long Island beaches are famous for a reason.

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge

IMG_1670As incongruous as the idea of Shirley hosting even one national park may seem to people coming from more prestigious neighborhoods, is the fact that they’re are actually two national park facilities (more if you count the satellite William Floyd Estate as a separate entity). Situated on the marshy Carmans River, the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge is one of several on the island devoted to preserving wetlands particularly important to bird migration. With a new visitors center and a few well-maintained trails, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon. If you’re fortunate you’ll see deer, fox and all sorts of birds – including osprey, who nest along the banks of the river. Various lookouts provide panoramas over the marshes and outside the park you can rent canoes or kayaks to see it from water level.

Many times I would take a few minutes to stop in to peruse the visitor center and peek at the slow-moving water filter down into the Great South Bay. Yosemite it is not, but if you’re looking for a tranquil spot to eat your lunch, the views on Long Island don’t get much better than this.

Southaven County Park

Southaven Park Oct2003 042Following the Carmans River north across Sunrise Highway is Southaven County Park. This park boasts an array of different activities for a wide range of tastes. You can rent a canoe or rowboat and go paddling among the ducks and swans. There’s a shooting range and hunting area for firearm enthusiasts. Horse lovers come from all around to explore the miles of trails. And there’s even a miniature steam engine club based out of the park which come summer offers free rides on the narrow gauge track. Plus, there’s loads of room for picnics and ball games with plenty of tables, fields and bathroom facilities.

While the scenery isn’t earth-shattering (mostly scrub oaks and maples with the exception of a grove of towering pines at the riverfront) I think this is the place I will miss the most. This is where my mom and grandparents used to take us for hikes as kids. This is where for years I’ve spent many a Sunday having impromptu barbecues with dear friends. This is also where I proposed to my wife, and being young and lacking in good judgment, she said yes (over by the dam near the camping area). This was a constant of my life so far; a place that has undergone far less change than I have over the years. When I come back to visit it will be like seeing an old friend, and, I suppose, a living photograph of my past. Great – now I’m misty-eyed.

If you too would like to experience these less ‘prestigious’ locales in Shirley, getting there is quite simple. The Long Island Railroad offers service to the Mastic station (which is just across William Floyd Parkway near some of the best Chinese food on Long Island) but this would require you to hire a taxi (or do a whole lot of walking with your beach gear). It is predominantly accessible by car via Exit 58 off Sunrise Highway or Exit 68 off the Long Island Expressway. And if you just happen to have our own private aircraft, Brookhaven Calabro Airport services the Mastic/Shirley area.

Though it is extremely unlikely that you’ll be seeing an episode of “The Real Housewives of Shirley, NY” that doesn’t mean there’s nothing here worth seeing. If you look past the rampant development and homogenous dining/shopping venues, there are some really great natural places for those who love the outdoors. As any real Long Islander can tell you, the real Long Island lies between the city and the Hamptons. You may call me biased or even call me crazy. But as the late, great Leslie Neilson once said, “Don’t call me Shirley.”

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Happiness is Pinning a Giant, Oversized Map

Size does matter

Size does matter

Vanity, thy name is a giant, oversized wall map.

It is an intrinsic part of human nature to show off. I’m not saying it’s a good part; just that it exists. Whether it be displaying a trophy or hanging a certificate on the wall, they all share a common element – we want others to acknowledge what we’ve done.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong in taking a measure of pride in one’s achievements so long as you don’t go overboard. For the traveler who takes pride in their activity, there’s possibly no greater medium to passively announce your travel accomplishments than a wall map. If you’re feeling particularly proud; make that a giant, oversized wall map.

Having such a map on display in your office, living room, or wherever is a subtle method to alert visitors to your international prowess. A giant oversized map may be less subtle, but it’s an even better source for striking up a conversation. However, to be in a position to create and display such a showpiece, there are a few simple requirements, which I will list for you now.

1) A wall. This is standard equipment in most homes, but a requirement all the same. If you’re going for the giant, oversized map, it is important that you not only have a wall, but one of sufficient size to accommodate it. In my case, the map was larger than the wall, forcing me to wrap it around the corner. It’s not ideal, but still looks pretty cool. When it comes to maps, size does matter.

2) You have to go somewhere. While a blank wall map can be a tasteful decoration and inspiration to look at, to make it count you should really go somewhere. Marking the places you’ve visited with pins is a great way to put it all in context and serves as incentive to get back out there in order to add more.

3) Pins. It’s hard to pin a map when you don’t have any pins. I can tell you from experience that there is profound satisfaction to be had when returning home from a voyage abroad and feeling the sensation of a pin entering the wall (or backing). Doing so allows you to trace your journeys, and in a sense, tell the story of your life. Each pin has its own story, and serves as a memory marker to experiences great and small. It’s not just vanity; it’s memory, and that’s something worth preserving.

Eventually, the desire to insert more pins on your map regardless of size will become a greater factor the more you travel. Besides showing off, it is also human nature to focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do. No matter how many pins may adorn your map, your eyes will always drift toward the empty spaces. Not to worry, though – with time and effort (and a whole lot of money) you can fill those blank spots until there aren’t any left. And if you do cover it all, take comfort in the knowledge that by the time you manage to do that, we might be able to visit the moon; which is a whole other adventure – and more importantly – a whole new map to fill.

Ahhh, Pssst, Pin It! P-Pin it real good!

Ahhh, Pssst, Pin It! P-Pin it real good!

Categories: Travel Tips

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