In November I had the opportunity to pack myself into a car with four other people and drive the many hours first to Bainbridge New York, then down to Queens for several days to practice my au pair skills with Roman and Mimi on their business trip. Now, spending 24 hours in a car with two kiddies and then babysitting them for several days in a wee New York apartment may not sound like the most fun to you, but I have learned several things in life that made this an easy yes.
#1. Always go to New York City with Roman and Mimi. You will eat like a king and probably gain several pounds but it will all be so delicious you won’t care even a little bit. Mimi’s years of living in Flushing have made her savvy about all the best places, and really, you should probably just hire her for your own trip there instead of relying on Yelp.
#2. New York City in the fall is magical. Brilliantly golden trees and “bouquets of sharpened pencils” and crisp air that turns your cheeks into strawberries- it’s lovely.
So, I went along and we crashed for several days at a friend’s house in Bayside, the outskirts of Queens. It’s quiet there, with almost a small-town feel on certain streets, and very lovely.
We started our stay with a luxurious meal at a Szechuan restaurant tucked into the top floor of the mall in Flushing. Mimi’s friend met us there and together they combed the menu, ordering us a massive spread of food- cumin crusted lamb, spicy tofu, fried rice cakes, egg with shrimp- it just kept coming and coming. Everything was amazing, but the lamb was especially so- tender and falling off the bone but still crispy and packed with flavor. Mimi was sure it was a little tough, and Roman and I looked at each other in amazement, wondering how anything could possibly be more delicious.
Then for the next few days I kept the babes occupied while Roman and Mimi did their thing. We bundled up and wandered about Bayside, hanging out at the playground full of crunchy leaf piles, eating pizza and drinking bubble tea at tiny shops in downtown, and loudly belting “O Come, O Come, Emanuel” for the bystanders’ benefit. (Hudson, not me. The looks he got were hilarious though.)
It’s stretching to keep two little boys entertained, warm, and out of harm’s way in a bustling and unfamiliar city, but nobody got hit by a bus or had a mental breakdown, and the babes still love me, so over all I felt fairly accomplished. 🙂
Saturday came and Roman and Mimi were done with their business, so I bundled up and headed off to do some exploring on my own. First stop, Forest Hills, a neighborhood in Queens I had accidentally stumbled upon on Google maps and been longing to explore ever since. Does anybody else cruise around on Google maps street view to find new places? From idyllic little villages on the English countryside to amazing beach views along the coasts of Italy and California- it’s pretty cool what you’ll find. Anyhow, the subway dropped me off and I began to explore.
It’s a gem of a neighborhood. The ritziest houses, but in an antique sort of way rather than glam. Stone walls and climbing ivy abounded, and the streets were littered with the bits of sunshine dropping off the laden trees. The street signs were fancier than elsewhere, and even the scarecrow I found was posh!
I wandered about a while until my soul was full of beauty, then I hopped back on the subway and headed toward its polar opposite, Sunset Park. Now, Sunset Park is pretty too, but in a gritty, beating the odds, determined kind of way. The park in the middle of the neighborhood provides a lovely glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, and there are streets with stately brownstones, if you know where to find them.
I strolled down the main street and popped into a little Mexican shop for a bite to eat. The shop was tiny and cluttered, just the kind of place you might find a cook who really knows what he’s doing. And I did; the pork tostaditas I ordered were cheap and delicious, and very reminiscent of the Honduran enchiladas I grew up requesting for every birthday meal. Score.
I meandered through Brooklyn, stopping off in Bensonhurst to drool over the shops packed with fresh vegetables in tantalizing displays and to wish I could do my weekly shopping there. Then, on to Coney Island, the popular beach boardwalk and amusement park. Have you ever visited an amusement park on a quiet winter day when it’s deserted and the icy wind whips about you and the handful of other people braving the beach? Eerie, that’s the most apt description. It felt like being on a movie set or something, like anything was bound to happen.
I was too chilled to stay long at the beach, so after warming up with a luscious hot chocolate in Flatbush, I took the long subway ride into midtown Manhattan for a burger at a pub we had found and loved on our girls’ trip the previous year. Connolly’s didn’t disappoint. It feels like sitting in your friend’s comfy living room to chat, and the staff is witty and attentive. And have I mentioned how delicious the burgers are there? I sat alone at my booth and pretended to like watching football as I scarfed down my hefty plateful of hot fries and a drippy burger. Score again.
A bit more exploring through Bryant Park, and I ended my day cold, exhausted, and happy. As much as I love having company on jaunts like this, there is something wonderful about exploring a city by oneself. You can go where the wind blows you and there’s such a feeling of possibility. The world is your oyster, and anything really could happen!
Our trip ended with one last foodie fling at a barbeque joint in Flushing. We had an open fire in the middle of our table on which the waiter grilled our strips of meat. You take a freshly seared strip and wrap it in a lettuce leaf along with kimchi or onions and any of the variety of sauces you have, and your tastebuds will think they’ve died and gone to Heaven. It was the perfect finale to our stay.
Special thanks to Roman and Mimi for letting me tag along and eat delicious food, and to Homy for letting us invade her house like so many squatters for days on end and plying us with pastries from the local French bakery instead of kicking us out. You guys are the best!