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First time travelling to the Big Apple

I live in beautiful Barbados, literally the land of white pristine sandy beaches, turquoise waters, tropical fruit trees and lots of coconut trees. I live in a country where it is impossible to never see greenery, with hills and pastures stretching for seeming miles, all lush with thick flora, so imagine my shock when I first traveled to New York City for a two week vacation and could not see anything but concrete and insane squirrels.

Green monkey in a tree in Barbados
Green monkey in a tree in Barbados

It was a culture shock for sure, but I was ready for the adventure!

Hopped up on the amazing stories from the TV shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, I was beyond excited to get this vacation going. I had plans on shopping and a lot of eating. Now I’m not a ‘travelholic’ and this trip to the Big Apple was something that I had dreamt of, but had not actually considered doing.

While I was excited to go over there and I had of course air marked few places I wanted to go to because I was all about that sales shopping life and had dreamt of running around in huge malls, I also had to make sure I took care of a couple of things.

First time on the train was such an experience!

Now not many of you may have to ever worry whether the bank you use is accessible in another country, or that your credit card may not work, but as it turned out, these were things I had to make sure of and have a plan of attack finances wise.

Sorted all of it and before I knew it I was in the air on my way to the concrete jungle and thus began my sojourn into the world of USA.

I rode my very first train and was freaking out because, it was more or less punctual and people were so casual about the fact that they were on a train going underground, but for me, I was legit in a whole new world. I fell in love with the graffiti, with the characters on every train and the total ease of movement. I became lost in the Museum of Natural History, geeking out about dinosaurs and the cosmos and then could not for the life of me figure out how to leave the building.

And let’s talk food. My first deep dish pizza, my first time at an IHOP and saw the massive amount of pancakes they offered. The drinks that I was incapable of finishing!

It was like going to a new world!

I went out a lot. I don’t think I even spent one day in my hotel room. One of my friends made sure that i experienced authentic Chinese food and Japanese food. I took a bus for the longest bus ride of my life- a whole two hours and ended up in a mall that as you can imagine I also for one heart stopping moment was sure I was stuck in because I could not find my way back to the ground floor. It seemed to go on forever!

I was able to see my friends going about their daily lives and explore different parts of New York, all culminating for me in Brooklyn, where I went to an art party and ended up ‘palancing’ ( a Trinidadian dance) with over a hundred people on the main floor of the art museum.

My time in the Big Apple was exactly what I thought it would be: awesome, inspiring and eye-opening.

I came back to Barbados full of ideas, but also with a very real appreciation for how calm and slow paced life really is on the island and how much I also enjoy that.

The french airport passport challenge (Pt 1)

I’m about to be very dramatic. It can’t be helped really, as I found out the hard way that having a Caribbean passport in some countries, doesn’t give you a leg up at customs.

This stage-play unfolded as I made my way from Barbados to England. New country, new life, new terrifying experiences.

Okay, let me back up and bring you up to speed. In late March I decided to quit procrastinating about moving to jolly old England, and just do it. What resulted was a flurry of activity, saving and absolute madness – but sure enough I was on a plane to Martinique by August. I can almost hear you ask – Martinique? Thought you said England? That brings me to part two of this backstory.

I’m a lover of deals and in this case, all I had to do for a cheaper fare was find my butt in two other airports before ever setting eyes on balls of fluff – sheep – from above the British countryside. Caught up? Okay, moving on.

After nearly missing my connecting flight in Martinique, as Air Antilles was late, I enjoyed a welcome respite on my XL Airways flight to France. So innocent then, I believed transitioning from flight to customs would be a breeze.

Wrong.

In the past while I’ve travelled on my British passport, I’ve never had any problems and gave no thought that it could be different on the Barbadian blue.

After heading into the security check line for what would be my first challenge, I took my passport out and shuffled on until it was my turn.

The officer took a long, puzzled look at my Barbadian passport, then me, before inquiring about my business in France. I chirpily explained I wasn’t staying and would be leaving in a few hours. He continued to stare at the passport, before asking me where Barbados was, and wondering aloud if I would need a visa to continue. Nonetheless, I managed to pass the inquisition and was promptly off to baggage claim.

Note, I had one piece of carryon luggage and my handbag . . . that’s it. As I approached baggage, I saw people flashing passports and rolling on through. From the looks of it most were British or European (EU) and I figured it’d be the same for me, so I flashed mine like I was on a cop show.

Denied.

This massive officer stopped me in my tracks and carted me over for a more intense check. To be fair, the guy who unpacked everything was pretty nice, even with the added difficulty of the language barrier, since I did not speak French nor did he speak English.

He did a thorough check and all was well, until he came to my makeup brushes. The moment he took them out I knew I’d have another problem. Following a discussion – in French – with his colleague, he went over to the X-ray machine to check my brushes one by one. So I’m standing there, praying to the makeup gods that the manufacturers didn’t have any suspicious-looking substances in the handles for better balance or whatever. I look serene as ever, while in my head I’m like – it’s okay, YOU’RE OKAY!  and explosions of fear are detonating within my stomach.

He didn’t find anything, and after making a bad joke that he didn’t understand, I hurriedly repacked and trotted off – finally -into the main airport area where I almost ended up being lost in translation.

Part 2: Nosey sniffer dogs, men with guns, and you just might have to stay in France.

 

 

 

Heritage Minute reveals immigrant culture of Kensington Market

Kensington Market in the heart of downtown Toronto has always felt like home to me. As an immigrant, I relate to its uniqueness as well as the essence and the spirit of the shop owners. I’ve walked around there, ate there, shopped there, and even partied there. There is something for everyone in the Kensington Market.

Canada’s latest Heritage Minute pays tribute to this immigrant-friendly neighbourhood. It’s also very much different than past Heritage Minutes —  instead of focusing on a single character and hiring an actor or actress to play the part, this Heritage Minute is an animation, depicting the journey of one shop over five decades.

Heritage Minutes are 60-second stories that use actors and costumes to mark an important part of Canadian history. This latest Kensington Market animation piece is the 88th presentation put together by Historica Canada and it is classed as a short documentary film.

The idea for the Kensington Market special came from filmmaker Michael Goldlist, who wrote and pitched the new Heritage Minute inspired by his personal family history. Goldlist’s grandfather, Charles Goldlist, opened a chicken shop in the market after he emigrated from Poland in 1948 as a Holocaust survivor. Goldlist ran the shop for decades and  lived among many other Jewish families who settled in the neighbourhood. The large immigrant population in Kensington Market opened the way to other cultures, as the chicken shop was later replaced by a Portuguese fish market, followed by a Jamaican music store. There is so much history to be found in the Victorian style buildings that not only housed immigrant business, but homes and families as well.

Next to Goldlist’s chicken shop, his neighbour William Mihalik opened a clothing store after he emigrated from Hungary in 1958, and today the clothing store takes over both properties. Tom’s Place is still thriving and very much family run by Tom Mihalik, his son Tom Jr., and his daughter Anett.

Tom was only 12 when his father started the second-hand clothing store, but he grew up in Kensington where he was surrounded by different nationalities. Today, Tom’s Place offers top-quality business suits.

The Heritage Minute was scripted by Goldlist and narrated by Tom Mihalik

“They thought my voice was very, very fitting because I still have an accent and they thought that somebody with my understanding of the area could speak from his heart, which I did.”

The stories of immigrants who found their first home and their first business in Kensington Market won’t end here, as there are many similar stories and experiences to be found. All you have to do is walk through the narrow streets and take in the bursts of different cultures.

Check out the latest Heritage Minute below:

What’s your favourite shop at Kensington Market? Let us know in the comments below!