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Culture, Destinations, North America, Travel Tips

A Day in the Park

October 26, 2017 • By

I’ve lived in New York City the greater part of 16 years and I never tire walking through Central Park. It’s my favorite spot to seek solace and tranquility in an otherwise hectic environment.

Fantasy Aisle, Central Park, the heart of New York City

Central Park, the heart of New York City

A few weeks ago with summer bleeding into fall, I explored the park as if it was my first time. I entered 72nd Street on the east side (off limits to cars on weekends) and joined the hoards of runners and bicyclists moving uptown along their respective paths. It was hot and humid and I admired the fitness levels of those zipping past me. People dressed in sponsored training attire, fathers and mothers pushing strollers, friends talking to friends and others like me making the most of a morning in the park.

Fantasy Aisle, Early morning runners and walkers

Early morning runners and walkers

The falling leaves signal the change in seasons as shady areas succumb to open patches of golden yellow and blazing red. The squirrels don’t mind because this is their territory and they out number people. They move quickly popping in and out of pathways diving into the leaves–they are not shy.

I venture off the crowded pathway into the “Ramble” where winding walkways lead to a man-made forest within a city. The sounds of fire engines and traffic disappear and I weave around huffing and puffing in silence until I spy a couple kissing passionately. I startle them. How long have they been hiding? This is the perfect place to seek shade, read a book, grab a pair of binoculars and bird watch. I hesitate but then continue with my goal to make the 6.02-mile loop around the park.

Next, I take in an adult soccer game on the Great Lawn. They see me lurking and put on a good performance before I find myself zig-zagging on another walkway to reach the Shuman Running Path bordering the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The direction for runners and walkers remains unchanged year after year and I make a mental note to voice my opinion.

Fantasy Aisle, The pesky Central Park squirrel

The pesky Central Park squirrel

At the north end of the reservoir, the city skyline comes into view. There is a slight fog obscuring the tallest skyscrapers but it provides a simple backdrop to the simplicity of the calming water and the fall foliage. I walk half of the 1.58 mile-loop and exit to a bridge I’ve crossed a hundred times. It’s an antique straight out of the chalk drawing in the “Mary Poppins” Jolly Holiday scene.

Fantasy Aisle, Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

I take a quick bathroom break at the tennis courts and watch a match in progress. The courts both clay and hard are filled with people of all ages and levels. If only I brought my racquet, I could practice my serve.

My feet ache for a timeout but I push myself through the Conservatory Garden. A beckoning bench reads, “Take time to sit and smell the flowers,” useful and timely advice.

Fantasy Aisle, Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Now on the West Side of the park and the sun bearing down on me, I wipe my sweat and duck into the North Meadow walking briskly to Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden. The tourists are awake and occupy the castle’s landing with cameras and tripods. I check to make sure the turtles are still roaming freely at Turtle Pond and remember my first performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” during the 2014 season of Shakespeare in the Park.

Fantasy Aisle, Empty swings await

Empty swings await

Fatigue sets in and I’m counting the 40+ blocks I need to finish the 6.02-mile loop. The joy has vanished from my face and my walk transformed from a leisurely activity into a mission of sorts. I notice a woman on a swing and move to take her picture but pause. We exchange pleasantries and I admit I haven’t sat on a swing in ages. She tells me to give it a try and I do. I’m kicking my legs faster and faster and soaring into the air. We swing together but not in unison. She is in her 60s I guess and loves the park for the swings. She stops, waves and bids me a good day. I let my hair blow in the wind and push higher and higher until I am scared and slow my pace. A child inhabited my body and I jump off the swing making a skittish landing on the sand. I recover. That was fun.

Fantasy Aisle, A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

Central Park serves as an open-air museum and events center to New Yorkers and its guests. There is something for everyone whether it’s catching rays of sun in Sheep Meadow, paddling a rowboat on the pond near the Loeb Boat House, pledging wedding vows at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain or listening to the talented musicians scattered along Literary Walk, a day in the park is only the beginning.

When I bought a park map from Karina, a 24-year-old student from the Bronx, I asked her what she enjoyed most about the park and she answered, “Literary Walkduh. I finished my adventure along the Mall admiring the statues of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott and talking with Shayneh Starks, a native of Newport Beach, CA who has been visiting Central Park for the last 20 some years. She sits and listens to the magical music of Ralph U. Williams who is a talent on the saxophone. We discuss her first visit to the park with her mother when she was 21-years-old and I tell her I love zooming around the park on my bike but early on weekends before the tourists arrive. I ask her what she likes most.  She pauses and with passion and a smile answers, “The best part of Central Park is the fireflies.”

Fantasy Aisle, The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

I agree. I thank Shayneh for the conversation and hunt for an empty bench in front of Kerbs Boathouse. The next few hours I bask in the sun reading my book and forgetting I live in a city with 8.5 million people.

My Favorite Spots in Central Park

The Pond at sunrise.  Take in the view of the Gapstow Bridge and a glimpse of the city’s skyline

 

Sip a coffee or a grab a drink at Kerbs Boathouse/Conservatory Water

Walk/Run the 1.58 mile loop around the Reservoir

Fancy a game of tennis?

Camp out all night for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater (I usually cheat and become a member of the public theater)

Take a break at Strawberry Fields and listen to the Beatles greatest hits played by visiting musicians

Enjoy paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse

Read a book and fall asleep in Sheep Meadow

Enjoy an outdoor lunch at Tavern on the Green

Let someone else do the driving on a romantic Horse Carriage Ride through the park

Breathe in the sounds and sights of Literary Walk/the Mall

Catch a free movie night in the Park

Plan for a Concert in the Park

Snap pictures of the Boathouse and people getting married at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

Fun for kids and parents

Make some figure eights at the Wollman Rink

Get dizzy on the Carousel

Pet an animal or two at the Tisch Children’s Zoo

Go paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse and take in city views


North America

Visit Puerto Vallarta: Live it to believe it

January 12, 2016 • By

It’s 6:00 am in Puerto Vallarta and I begin to stir in my bed clinging desperately to whatever moments are left before the hillside roosters awaken me. There it is “ra roo ra roo” (warming up their chords) and then “cock-a-doodle-doo” and rooster cries give way to barking dogs and it’s like an entire chorus of animals participate in nature’s alarm clock. It will be another hour and a half before sunrise over the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range but the beautiful and tranquil Banderas Bay invites me to its shores and I hurry to dress and experience the Malecón (seafront) crowd free.

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The symbol of the city of Puerto Vallarta, the Seahorse on the Malecón

As I hit the Malecón, I find a mix of locals and tourists exercising, bicycling, mingling over coffee, walking dogs and chatting about yesterday’s news.  Shop and restaurant workers prepare to open for the day readying their businesses by cleaning floors and windows and tidying up merchandise and setting tables. A crowd gathers outside Starbucks as anxious tourists wait for coffee they trust and free Wi-Fi. It may be a holiday for me but it’s prime season for locals where tourism accounts for 50 percent of the city’s business.

Puerto Vallarta, nestled in a bay on the Pacific Coast, is a top tourist destination in Mexico.  To borrow the city’s tagline, “Live It To Believe It” only tells half the story. It’s a city where people live modestly, work dutifully and retire blissfully.  Although not founded until the 1850s, Puerto Vallarta once acted as a supply point for ships traveling from the Philippines to Spain in the 1500s and 1600s and a hiding spot for smugglers and pirates.

Today, Puerto Vallarta is a top destination for cruise ships and for tourists seeking respite from the chilling temperatures of their homelands. It’s a place to splash in the water, play a game of tennis or a round of golf and absorb the guaranteed 80-85F (26-29C) temperatures. You can lounge by the pool, kick up your heels in the sand, sip margaritas and piña coladas and buy bottles of tequila as souvenirs but considering stepping outside the comfort of your all-inclusive hotel and experience the heart of Puerto Vallarta.

The heart of the real Puerto Vallarta beats in the City Center and the Romantic Zone.

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Old Lady of Guadalupe, Catholic Church, Main Square in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Start by walking the Malecón and observing the tranquility of the bay, stop and admire the architecture of the main plaza easily located by finding Our Lady of Guadalupe Church or simply look for the tower adorned with a decorative crown and containing the bell and clock. It’s visible from a distance. Be sure to note the bronze sculptures and flower beds scattered along the water’s shores and sneak a picture with the city’s icon, the seahorse. From the City Center, walk south along the Malecón toward the Romantic Zone. Here you will find a flurry of activity no matter the time of day. There are beach vendors, restaurants, bars, tourist shops, jewelry stores, art galleries and more. Depending on the time of day, you should grab a drink or bit to eat on the beach, sit for a massage, have your hair braided and banter with the vendors selling everything from wood carved turtles and painted bowels to sunglasses and silver jewelry. The “No Gracias” signs fitted at nearby tables will give you an immediate idea for what you are in for but it’s all part of the fun.

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Malecón at sunset in Puerto Vallarta, View of the main square

It’s a small world in Puerto Vallarta where generations of families live and work. My parents “Joyce and Michael from Chicago” are locals or snowbirds from November until May when they escape Chicago’s harsh winters for the warmth of the Pacific coastline. I am a beneficiary of my parent’s 2008 whimsical purchase and while I may not understand the allure at times I certainly know the magic of Puerto Vallarta is the people.

My parent’s house manager, Ivon, works three jobs to ensure her boys have the best possible education and countless opportunities. My non-Spanish speaking parents would be absolutely lost without her.  Her oldest son recently found out he has been accepted to a university near Manchester, UK and will be leaving Puerto Vallarta at the end of the month.  When I asked Ivon if she thought her son would come home, she said with the face of a concerned mother, “I hope not.”

When I asked Ivon if she thought her son would come home, she said with the face of a concerned mother, “I hope not.”

The local people in Puerto Vallarta are my parent’s friends and family. Other than the sunshine, they are the main reason my parents come back year after year. My parents look forward to lunch on the beach to see Mel, the silver vendor, Carmello who sells sunglasses or runs with my dad at the city’s track and Arelligo whose wife makes handmade bowls often of professional sports teams like the Seahawks or the Blackhawks and my favorite team, the Michigan State Spartans. There is Emma and Chico at Daiquiri Dicks restaurant who greet my parents with hugs.  I can hear the chatter up and down the beach now, “Michael from Chicago is back in PV.”

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Clear skies, courts are empty, Let’s play tennis at the Sheraton, Puerto Vallarta

I play tennis with Martin at the Sheraton Hotel. His daughter is in year seven of a 10-year program for pediatric medicine. She wins awards all over the country for her work.  He is a proud father. He is my friend. We play a little tennis and laugh a lot more. At Yoga Vallarta, I am Joyce’s daughter. Despite my mom’s recent hip surgery, she delights in the classes and the friendships she has made there. Sometimes I am not sure if I take classes for exercise or to hear all the stories I have missed since my last visit.

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My parents celebrating that their company is leaving the next day. On the rooftop at Bistro Teresa’s Puerto Vallarta

For me, Puerto Vallarta is a place where I can explore, shop, eat, relax and practice my Spanish. It’s my home away from home but I rarely unpack my bags.  There are many organized and worthwhile tours available for tourists. You can hire a water taxi to visit the islands, walk the plank with the pirates, catch a boat to see the whales blasting out of the water and soaring through the air or if adventure is your thing, there are zip lining trips where you can fly through the trees of the Sierras.  I prefer to wander the cobblestone streets in desperate need of repair, courageously play hopscotch with the buses and visit with the local shop owners and buy, buy, buy whenever possible.  My drawers are filled with silver rings and bracelets from Mel, my kitchen stacked with colorful handmade serving bowls from Arelligo and my dad owns more sunglasses from Carmello than the Sunglass Hut produces in a year (I borrow from his collection).

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Ready for our pirate adventure. Megan and Danielle in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a vacation spot, it’s a destination, and it’s a place to mess up your passport and escape for a time.  Together, this city of locals, retirees, ex-pats and transplants make up one working, thriving community of people making the most of life.

Book your flights now, Puerto Vallarta beckons and maybe if you are lucky the Love Boat will be making another run…

$1 USD is 17.92 Pesos, the Looney is 12.65 Pesos and 1Euro is 19.58 Pesos.  There are direct flights from Chicago, Houston, Newark, Seattle, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Edmonton and Calgary.  Hurry, snow is in the forecast.

My Favorite Spots in Puerto Vallarta

Eating

(Full disclosure: I’ve never had a bad meal in PV just better meals)

Casa Naranjo – Family run.  Try the pork chop or the sea bass.  Quiet off the beaten path spot

Bistro Teresa’s – Location location location and great food (new spot off the main square).  See the view stay for the food

Tapas Barcelona – A view is worth a thousand words and so are the dates wrapped in bacon and the potato salad

Vitea – Great spot to watch the sunset.  My personal favorite Mojito and red snapper dish

Trio – Take me back to the days of Humphrey Bogart and the kitchen with Julia Child

Joe Jack’s Fish Shack – Ask for a rooftop table and don’t miss the macaroni and cheese and bucket(s) of shrimp

Daiquiri Dick’s – Stellar service and friendly staff, ideal location, strong drinks. Food is so-so.  Make it a beach day

River Cafe – Nestled under palm trees along the river, a nice romantic spot for brunch or dinner.  Live music

Lindo Mar Resort – Location further south from Romantic Zone in Conchas Chinas stunning views for a drink or snack

La Dolce Vita – Delicious salads and pizza with a margarita to wash it down the hatch.  Off the Malecón

Shopping

Mercado Isle Cuale and Mercado Municipal Cuale

The Farmer’s Market with crafts and food – Saturday mornings in the Romantic Zone – Main Square (by Daiquiri Dick’s)

River Cafe Jewelry Store

Elements of Design – Home decorating, pillows, rugs, beautiful merchandise

Cassandra Shaw Jewelry – Eclectic and every day jewelry emphasis on bold silver pieces

Galleria Dante – Serves as a pseudo museum as well as a place to buy tasteful pieces of art

Sonia Borrmann Design – Hand made jewelry that resembles works of art and Sonia is a lovely person

No Name Boutique – Linen dress and bathing suits

Myskova – Beachwear several locations

POPOS – Men and women’s Swimwear, clothing and crazy sandals

Playing

Yoga Vallarta – Yoga and spinning classes

Sheraton – Tennis lessons or put your name in for a match

Fit Club – Clean, nice equipment – typical gym

Vallarta Adventures – Whale watching, zip lining, visit other islands

Pirate Ship – Children should cruise during the day, the ship comes alive for adults in the evening.  Fun show

Art Walk – Hit the galleries and sip some wine.  Wednesday’s starting around 6:00 pm.

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