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Travel Logs November 2017

The Tenacious Traveler

Travel the World in Just One U.S. Neighborhood

By Victor Block

For many visitors, the greatest appeal is that Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. More than half of its residents were born outside the U.S., immigrated from over 120 counties and speak some 135 languages.

Not hungry enough for a sit-down breakfast, I munched on Tibetan dumplings purchased from a snack truck decorated with a sign that touted "Himalayan Fresh Food." Lunch was a hurried affair at a five-table eatery where the menu special is yak meat washed down by salty yak milk tea.

For dinner, I chose a small restaurant which gives new meaning to the word "eclectic." The Ecuadorean-born chef transforms basic South American fare with hints of Spanish, Chinese and other cuisines from around the world.

This dining experience provided an introduction to a virtual global tour without boarding an airplane or ship. My destination was no further than New York City's borough of Queens, which Lonely Planet travel touted as "Number one U.S. travel destination for 2015." It praised the often-overlooked borough for its "global food culture," exciting museum and art scene, and seaside attractions.

For many visitors, the greatest appeal is that Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. More than half of its residents were born outside the U.S., immigrated from over 120 counties and speak some 135 languages.

A good introduction to this cultural conglomeration comes during walks through its neighborhoods, which are adjacent in geography yet worlds apart in ambience and atmosphere. A stretch of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights would be at home in Central and South America.

The feeling and food are very different in Flushing, the site of a Chinese community larger than Manhattan's Chinatown. Astoria provides an introduction to Greek culture, with magnificent Greek Orthodox churches and tavernas that serve up traditional meze appetizers.

Astoria also is dotted by mini-neighborhoods occupied by immigrants from India, Korea, Romania and other far-flung countries. Given the name it's no surprise that the Jamaica area has strong roots in the Caribbean. Then there are sections known as Little Egypt, Little India, Little Guyana, Little Colombia and Little Manila. 

Not surprisingly, the selection of things to see and do in Queens is varied. For example, fans of baseball and tennis have a rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at landmarks of those games. Tours of the New York Mets' stadium include the dugout, playing field and Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, provides an even more interactive experience. In addition to tours of its facilities, people may reserve time to play on the 12 indoor and 23 outdoor courts.

After several spirited games of tennis, what could be more inviting than a dip in the Atlantic Ocean? One of Queens' biggest surprises is that several miles of inviting beaches line its coast. Rockaway Beach has a seven-mile boardwalk that includes eateries, entertainment venues and more. Jacob Riis Beach offers shorter stretches of landscaped walkways.

Those who prefer indoor pursuits have a welcome choice of more than 30 museums. The Queens Museum is the logical place to begin. The building was erected to house the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair, and its permanent collection includes memorabilia from both that and the 1964 exposition.

The most dramatic exhibit is the Panorama of New York City, a 9,335-square-foot model which encompasses some 900,000 tiny structures built in intricate detail to exact scale. In this mini-metropolis, the Statue of Liberty is less than two inches high while the Empire State Building is a towering 15 inches.

Visitors to the Museum of the Moving Image are immersed in the history, technology and art of movies, television and video games. Set designs, costumes and other exhibits are enhanced by unique experiences like recording voice-over dialogue for a film and choosing sound effects for sequences from well-known movies and TV shows.

If you're still not convinced that Queens warrants a visit, or at least a day trip from Manhattan, add in a bustling Resorts World Casino, a pre-Revolutionary house and working farm, one of the major bird-watching sanctuaries in the Northeast and a 24-square-block arts district.

A sightseeing itinerary also can include homes in which a virtual alphabet of celebrities once lived. Among them were Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X. I left Queens convinced that if it was good enough for them, it's great for me.

For more information about all that Queens has to offer visitors, log onto itsinqueens.com.       

 

Victor Block recommends that if you can’t visit a destination you’d like to, read about it. He’s happy to be your eyes and ears.

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