Friday, May 15, 2009

Travel Diary: A week in Brooklyn, New York

This week I find myself in Broolkyn, New York, a borough of NYC that I had mostly heard of and seen in movies and TV serials and sitcoms. I chose Brooklyn because I had some business work and meetings to attend in mid-town Manhattan but didn’t want to spend my limited expense account on a pricy hotel downtown, especially in this economy. Brooklyn hotels relatively less expensive and the commute to NYC is not bad. The accessibility of subways, busses and ubiquitous yellow-cabs also means that I didn’t have to rent a car unlike what I do in other cities while traveling on business.

I flew in from Europe on Saturday, cleared customs and immigration and took a yellow-cab to the Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn. The cab (not surprisingly?) was driven by an elderly Sardar, immigrant from Punjab. He did his bit to draw me out of my jetlagged stupor, especially after he realized that I could understand Hindi. He kept the conversation flowing with his mix of Pujnabi and Hindi, talking about the economy (has had little impact on yellow-cabs in NYC), elections in India and his religious guru back in India who supports people trying to overcome life's adversities. Thankful for the small tip I gave him, he helped me unload my luggage and gave a friendly piece of advice: always hail a yellow-cab in NYC since they are licensed, and charge less.

I have spent the past few years living in large multicultural cities in the west – London, Toronto, Mississauga and Basel in Switzerland – so NYC and Brooklyn wasn't as overwhelming to me as it may have been to someone just in from a small town. I could feel a distinct slimily between life in Brooklyn and other large cities, especially with Toronto, which is equally multi-cultural and lively.

To really get a feel for a place, one has to spend over a week, walk around the streets of downtown, and observe the day-to-day lives of "locals" and reflect. I decided to walk around the streets of Brooklyn during the evenings I spent there though my first outing was more focused: I needed an electric converter plug to enable my European plug for my laptop to be used in the American socket in the hotel. Too bad the hotel didn't have a spare plug: the receptionist pointed me to a shopping mall a few blocks from the hotel. The Travel section of Target, located in a mall nearby had what I needed (and more) The converter kit costing $30 can be used for travelers to and from any place in the world: more than what I needed for now.

In many of my travels, especially if I am going to spend a few days or more in a place, I make it a point to check out the local library. I googled and found that the central branch of Brooklyn Public library was about a mile from my hotel. It is nice walk on a bright spring day so I made the trek one evening before dinner. What stuck me was the fact that the library was busy; I have been to crowded public libraries in India while growing up but most of the city and public libraries in western cities I have been to haven't been as crowded as the one I saw in Brooklyn. A measure of how busy it is? The library has dozens of internet enabled computers but there is still an average wait time of 5-10 minutes. At any point in time are at least half-dozen people registered and waiting for their turn, though many more bring in their own laptops and use the wi-fi.

The streets of Brooklyn, especially between 4th Avenue and Prospect park (where the Central library is) are busy and lively. On a typical May afternoon, a lot of people are out and about, making for a lively atmosphere. The 5th, 7th and other streets are especially busy with shops and apartments and old houses lining the cross roads.

I am vegetarian by upbringing and have remained so by choice. Though to some, this can be a bit of hindrance while experiencing local cuisines while traveling, it has not been a showstopper for me. The main streets of Brooklyn are lined with pizza shops, New York style deli’s and a sprinkling of chains: McDonalds, subways etc. I got a flyer for Tomato N Basil, a local pizza place at the hotel’s reception and decided to try it out and was hooked. For the next few nights, I had a choice of New York Style veggie pizzas for dinner: cheese, mushroom and olives, Veggie topping (light crust with heavy veggie toppings). And a walk back for a few blocks perhaps helped digest my dinner.

My flight out of JFK is at 5 PM so I have requested a late checkout and will logoff from my room by about 2 PM and take a cab to the airport. Goodbye for now Brooklyn.



Brooklyn blogs and local bloggers: onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn, Brooklyn's 5th Avenue, brooklynian.com, amNewYork