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Your Hometown Is Someone Else's Exotic Destination

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Get this: by the time I was 20, I had spent meaningful time in France, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and a bunch more, all before ever setting foot in…Mexico.

Mexico. Our neighbor. How could I travel so far afield, without even going next door? (And, when I finally went, I was blown away).

At this moment when international travel remains suppressed, I was reminded of this pattern last week - not because I was traveling overseas - but because I had a eureka moment during an adventure at home.

Stefan carries his bike down steps lined with greenery.


The Opportunities Are There

I’d venture that no matter where we live, it’s possible to create a rewarding experience through exploration.

I know NYC is not a completely fair comparison, but if you live in a place that’s also a tourist destination you’ll understand that the crowds of Times Square - or even just travelling in midtown - can sap a local’s will to live. And no matter where you live, you might easily fall into a routine that avoids new sights in the day-to-day.

This is why it is important to intentionally mix up our habits - to follow a different path - and to consciously re-approach a hometown like a traveler.

And, I would argue that gratifying sights and culture exist everywhere.

 

Look At My Oversight

In the past couple of weeks, I had made numerous trips to Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, and Queens. But, I completely overlooked The Bronx. In fact, I have never been to the more nearby destination of Arthur Avenue, which was just as close if not easier to reach.

Map of my bike routes in NYC, showing Arthur Ave in the Bronx, Domino Park, Long Island City, and Governor's Island.


What I Found

Here, I have to confess, Little Italy was never my place. My favorite part about it were the bullet holes in the door of Umberto’s Clam Bar, where a mob hit went down. We never ate there. I found Arthur Avenue to be different. Known as New York City’s “real Little Italy”, it’s like stepping into a special place that is unique and surprising in all its own.

Stretching more than a mile, with an Italian immigrant heritage that dates back to the 1850s, it’s known not only for its authentic and delicious Italian food but for its old-world charm, community pride and welcoming atmosphere.

While there, I…

  • Drank coffee in an outdoor cafe on Prince Street
  • Picked up fruit and vegetables in the covered market
  • Ate freshly shucked oysters from four different waters standing at the stainless steel bar outdoors
  • Got a loaf of bread in a corner bakery that I can’t imagine has changed one single bit since maybe the 1920s
  • Ate salami and prosciutto in the Pork Store
  • Picked up a hand rolled cigar at the humidor place - where they even let me light it inside, as long as I took it outdoors

This was a solo scouting adventure that I made on a weekday. Which means the proprietors had extra time to spend with me. Like at the pork store, talking about how thin and healthy all of the workers are, because the food makes them so happy. I dang near sold my soul on the spot. But, I expect this warmth to be there anytime I visit - and I am already planning how to make the trek with my family - who love prosciutto and oysters, alike.

Italian bakery storefront
Colorful apartment buildings.Shucked oysters on ice.
 

The Recipe

Here’s the recipe, for how to make simple magic come to life -

STEP ONE - find something that’s interesting to you. A type of restaurant or cultural neighborhood is an easy bet. An interesting shop - like a place that repairs toy trains - an overlooked museum, or special park work too.

STEP TWO - Plan for the journey of getting there to be part of the experience. You know how I feel about bikes… but, long walks or even local bus rides can do the trick too. This buffer - between your normal life and the special place - is part of the transformation.

LASTLY -  and this is important - leave some slack in the day. The destination should be a goal, but not so rigid that you aren’t willing to drop it to go with the flow. Your job is to leave room for unexpected wonderful things to happen. And, to bask in the moment, even if they don’t. 

That’s travel, right? Exploring new lands, learning something new about yourself, and being in the moment…

With that, you too can create a slice of travel at home.

 

 

Stefan Loble

  

 

 

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