When Victoria and I went on our trip in March, we didn’t expect many things that would happen over the course of the holiday, we didn’t expect our first day to be a bit stressful and we most certainly did not expect to fall in love with being in a big city such as New York. So today I wanted to speak a little about felling at home in a big city.
Before we get to the meat of this sandwich I should start off by saying how I have gone for long holidays in countries and felt comfortable in small villages etc. I love the outdoors and small towns, my best memories of my 4 week trip in Italy wasn’t being in Rome or Milan (I actually did not enjoy Milan as much as I thought I would) but it was the little journeys such as spending a few days around Lake Como or visiting the towns along the Amalfi Coast that made the trip. It was the same in Iceland, while I thoroughly enjoyed being in Reykjavik I had a lot of fun in the small towns and villages around the country. So, coming to New York I will admit I had a little trepidation about just being in one city (even if that city is bigger than my country). But it hit me even during the first night how much I would enjoy and miss being there.
That first walk to the restaurant made me realise something that I hate about my own home city. Practically everything shuts down after 6 pm other than the usual restaurants, cinemas and supermarkets. It is thoroughly depressing for someone in a 9-5 job. As I have to wait until the weekend to do something interesting. I have never understood why it has stayed this way as surely there would be some form of market for people who want to go to café’s/coffee shops to chat with friends instead of always having to lump out for a restaurant?
In Belfast, this has been found to be true with a couple of areas, places like Ballyhackamore and Lisburn Road do not adhere to the in my eyes archaic structures we have. But in Belfast City Centre unless it is a bar, there are very few places open after 6 pm and it is just stupid, especially considering we have a booming tourist market where people will want to do things other than for a set 8 hours.
After I had an hours rest to get over my, what I can only assume was jet lag we popped out to see the area we were to be staying in for the week. We chose a place on the Upper West Side as we did not want to be smack bang in the middle of the touristy areas. We knew there was a great vegan restaurant a few blocks up and just wandered to it. So many things were still open. Even a number of greengrocers were open. What was this madness?! Finding out coffee shops, bookshops practically everything was open later to suit those who worked normal office hours. It was just nice to know that we didn’t have to hurry ourselves to a certain timeframe… We literally had all day.
Seeing everything open didn’t just start and end with New York, it was also the case in Toronto. On Sundays, we experienced that rare thing… Seeing places that in Northern Ireland have to stick to a 1 pm – 6 pm timeframe able to open in the morning and close around 7 pm was great for us.
This was a pretty big one for Victoria and myself if I am truly honest. In Northern Ireland, we are still just getting a bit of a mix in diversity here, but for the most part, it is non-existent and a small minority are pretty behind the times in regards to people of colour or even from a different country being here. Whereas Diversity was alive and well in New York and Toronto. It did make me think at least how unfortunate we are in Belfast at the moment not to have such a range in people living on our Island as we do. Yes, it is growing, but should it not have grown by a good rate of knots already?
Enough of me talking about opening hours and how it made me a happy little lamb! More about other things! I also loved the hustle and bustle of the cities. Of course, during peak times places would be packed (subways places for lunch) that is to be expected, but when we went into what is known as the residential areas, there was still the feeling of things were going on, there was something to explore etc. Back home you really don’t get that, it is all fairly expected on what is around that corner as all of the business is located in centralised streets. I mean on a random street just near Williamsburg Bridge on Manhattan we found the perfect bakery for Victoria. It had so many options for her, but in Belfast, this would be on the main street somewhere and not down a small side street. Plus that bakery was open til 11 pm… 11 PM!!!!
When I had stayed in London and Rome it felt very much like this, you would find little treasures and everyone would be fairly positive about things. One thing that surprised me was the old adage that people do not have time for others in New York. Victoria and I found that to be the opposite, and we found that out almost immediately. When we were stressed and lost on our first day almost at every turn we had people approach us to assist us. We were lead the right way every time and even as we were looking for our hotel a lovely guy stopped to talk to us and give us directions and where to go after for a coffee. It was little things like that that gave us a positive feeling towards being in a big city. We rarely encountered angry people (well people who were angry at our direction) as every time we needed that bit of help or had the look that we needed help, it was given to us.
Luckily in Toronto, we had two terrific guides (Victoria’s best friend Whitney and her husband Mat) so we didn’t need too much help on the lost department, but there was always assistance as even their friend gave us some tips on how to get around Toronto (turns out underground walking is a big thing there). As I said little things like that mount up and I am not too sure that if we were tourists in Northern Ireland that we would have immediately have received the same treatment in return. Which is a little said in my opinion as I always want to help out, but that is the way it is. I see people from Belfast moan and get annoyed at all the tourists we now get into the country (thanks Game of Thrones) whereas I see it as a chance for us to be more like a larger city and expand and evolve. Something I doubt Belfast will do for a few more generations (change is almost scoffed upon at times). Hopefully, it gets there though.
Boy, where to even begin with this one? I have a hate-hate relationship with Northern Irish public transport. It is an absolute shocker of a service that is rarely on time and if it is it is only because no one is at work and the students are off on their holibobs. Knowing that on a night out we could get the subway was so, so comforting. We didn’t have to worry about waiting for hours for a taxi or even having to pre-book the damn thing. We went to a fun night out one Friday and had a 5-minute walk to the subway and we were sorted. No-fuss in the slightest. Toronto’s went on until around 1.30am which is still good!
The frequency of the transport was something I didn’t expect either. I am pretty sure the longest we waited was like 10 minutes which was nothing. Knowing that we could just get a subway at any point throughout the day if we needed to get somewhere a little quicker for such a good price was great as well. I love a good bargain and we didn’t pay much at all transport wise when in the cities.
In both cities, everything was just… Supersized rarely were their buildings under 10 stories, it seemed like life was happening everywhere and it was constant. Central Park was so much bigger and bigger than I imagined, and the same could be said for Riverside Park. As a runner, they were dream places to go to and explore on a morning run and they did not disappoint. We kept seeing the city grow with all the construction still going on. Whereas in Belfast we are only starting to expand and grow as a city. Sadly some developments have been given push backs as some people want the city to stay the same. It can’t if you want a city to expand and its citizens to be better off in the long term it has to grow. Will there be sacrifices? Of course, that is to be expected in this day and age. But, it will happen and most importantly should happen.
I am waffling I know, but when I came home from the trip I walked into work and I was thoroughly sad at how far we have been left behind in comparison to say even Dublin. Everything in Belfast seemed small and I hated it. They say sometimes bigger doesn’t actually mean better, but in this case, to me at least it does.
So, that’s it from me today, a bit of a mess of a post I know, but this had been in my head for a couple of months and I always feel better if I splurge it out when I get the chance. I hope you enjoyed and if like me you are from Belfast, sorry if you are offended by my negativity towards the city, I do love Belfast, I just wish it was better, though it is still trying to be something that isn’t backwards. In time it will be grand… Until next time.