Riham's Blog

New York, I love you.

If you lived here, you'd be home now.

I came here today hoping to write a post about Dublin. This post was supposed to help me readjust to life here, remind me why I am in fact happy in Dublin.

See, a little over a week ago, I went to my dream city New York, and I instantly absolutely fell in love with it. All the thoughts that it might be disappointing because of all the expectations I had built up for it were not true. Then I came back to my dear old Dublin, with one idea in mind: this is not the city I want to live in forever. I do love Dublin, I would be lying if I said I did not, but seeing New York confirmed that it is not the city for me. So I decided to write about New York instead to explain why I loved it so much. It is a cliche to love New York, it is expected to be in awe in front of all what it has to offer, and everything I will say has definitely been said before, but I want to say them again nonetheless.

  • City with a soul – One thing that people often criticize about cities in the United States is that since it is relatively a new country, you can’t see ancient history in it, you can’t walk and visit where old civilizations have previously lived. This is also often said about Dubai, since that city is actually very new. When I was in Dubai, I agreed with everyone that said that it was fake, and I didn’t really have a problem with that; I liked the city nonetheless. However, when it comes to New York, I did not think it was fake, and I certainly did not think of it as being empty. You can definitely sense a certain culture in this city, maybe not in the same way you would if you were walking in Rome for instance, but there is something to it. It feels like it’s more than just a city where everything is big and well-lit. It isn’t like Dubai where the common principle is “The bigger the better”, but it feels like New York is what it is. The other cliche about it that “everything is possible” is something I did feel there, hopefully not because that’s what pop culture has been feeding me my whole life. Every building and every person on the street sends a vibe that says “You can do whatever the hell you want.”
  • Rough & intimidating – This city is not your typical welcoming city. It is certainly very rough and can be extremely intimidating. It is crystal clear that it is not for everybody and you can see that from your very first steps. Everything moves fast, everyone moves fast, no one stops for you, no one gives you all the time you need. Buildings are big, streets are noisy, advertising, billboards and commercials are literally everywhere. It is definitely a city that moves fast, and you can easily be left behind if you are not moving at the right pace, both physically and mentally. It is overwhelming, and I absolutely loved that. Who needs serenity when you can have exciting?
  • Overwhelming feeling of familiarity – I’ve heard this from a couple of people before I went there, I heard it from my friends there and I thought it while I was walking those streets. You really feel like you know this city, like you’ve been here before. It makes it a lot less intimidating. You’ve seen it on TV, you know these landmarks. On my third day there, I was able to locate myself easily, my sense of direction was working perfectly fine in a massive and supposedly unknown city. In addition to that, on my third day, it felt like we had been there for a long time. The week I spent there did not go really fast as is usually the case on vacations, it felt long because I was in a city that I kind of knew, if that makes sense.
  • City of opposites & extremes – How many extremes can you fit in one city? It is just amazing how many there are. From the posh areas, to the less fancy areas. You can totally see it clearly on the buildings and how the streets are. From the people walking with the Chanel bags and the Manolo Blahniks, to the homeless literally sleeping on the ground. The fabulous gay men, to the crossdressers. The fancy restaurants, the disgusting fast-food places, to the carts selling Middle Eastern food everywhere. The guys running half naked, to the old lady wearing the craziest thing and walking on the street, not caring if people are looking, especially since most of the time, they’re not looking because they simple don’t care. Not to mention listening to two local New Yorkers discussing one of the many famous hobos, who choose a certain subway station or a park as their preferred location. They are known to push you as soon as they see you, and when I said that this sounds terrifying, the response is “It is the first time.” People know and accept that. They live among these contradictions and find them normal.
  • One stereotype corrected – New Yorkers are actually nice. They walk fast, they shove you on the street to get to their destination, but if you need help and you ask for it, they will help you and be nice to you. It isn’t like Beirut where every single person on the street will jump to your rescue without you even asking, but contrary to what stereotypes say about them, they are nice when you ask for help and won’t totally ignore you.
I could go on forever with reasons why I fell in love with this city. But all I have to say is that I do not like it when people assume that I am saying this as a crazy tourist who was merely in awe. I don’t like hearing people tell me that of course you’d love it on a vacation, but living there would be different. I realize it is a rough city, and I realize that it is not for everyone, and I also realize that it is most likely stressful to live there. But it is not Times Square that I loved, it is everything that this city represented. The stress, the hurry, the noise, the pushing, the roughness and the beauty.

So, what was Dubai like?

I was in Dubai for five days last week, and it was my first visit. People say Dubai is artificial, but I thought it was part of what it is. It was a pretty cool city to be in. There’s lack of any “touristic” sights, but a lot of activities to do nonetheless. I would just like to share some things I saw/liked/hated/noticed in no logical order.

You can take the kid out of Lebanon, but you can’t take Lebanon out of the kid – Credit to whoever said that expression in front of me, as it allows me to share a funny story. Now I have been to other countries and taken taxis there, so I am aware of the fact that the whole “taxi drivers choose whether or not to drive you” thing is specific to Lebanon. However, one tends to forget. A cab stopped for my friend & I, and before she had the chance to get in the car, she saw me asking the driver if he would take us. A “what the hell are you doing? Get in!” was uttered, and embarrassment was felt!

Everything is big – Ever since I stepped foot in that city, the one word that came to mind and pretty much stayed there for the whole trip was the word “Grandiose”. Everything is huge, everything is exaggerated, so much space everywhere. Large highways, high towers, ridiculous ideas for towers.

Malls are not meant for shopping – Following up on the previous point, malls are huge. I’ve seen some big malls, but none of them compared. There was so much to do, so much to see in each one, that it got overwhelming at some point. I do not know how to shop like that. There were some things I wanted to buy, but I barely stepped into any shops. This was mostly the case in Dubai mall. Finding shops is impossible, walking from one to the other takes a whole lot of walking and a whole lot of time. And who needs to shop anyway when you have fish to see? Emirates mall is much easier for shopping, as it is much smaller. Another interesting thing I found was how the high brand names are located right next to other shops. It felt like it makes you more likely to purchase from them. If you can afford that top from Zara, why not that brand name from the shop next door?

Everything is possible – It just seems like there is (well, for now was) nothing they stopped at. Ski in a shopping mall? Done. Aquarium in a shopping mall? Done. A (sort of lame, actually) glass boat ride in the aquarium in the shopping mall? Done. Water that dances around to music every 15 minutes? why the hell not. I love that and hate that at the same time. I like the fact that they tried to push it as further as they could, but also dislike it because it was bound to explode in their face.

Is Dubai smelly? – I’ve heard this from more than one person, and read it in different reviews and articles about Dubai. However, I honestly did not feel it.

Atlantis – This was probably my favorite part of Dubai. I don’t know if it’s the fact they had an amazing international buffet, or if it’s the child in me who had never been to water parks. This hotel may have been going for “fancy”, but to me it screamed FUN. I love the sea, but I am not a beach person. After all the water park fun was had, my friend and I headed to the beach part of Aquaventure. It was extremely quiet. I laid on the chair that actually covers you from the sun light (dream come true) and fell asleep. That NEVER happens. Fun, relaxing, just amazing!

Palm island – I am very much against the idea of the Palm Island, and I don’t know what happened to the project of creating a cedar version of it here in Lebanon, but I’d hate for that to happen. However, the houses on that island are just amazing. They have a back door right on the beach, and the actual buildings are extremely beautiful.

Towers are impressive – If Dubai’s towers impressed me that much, I can hardly wait to see what I would think when I visit my dream city/NYC. I loved staying in a tower, I loved driving (well, being driven?) around them.

Burj Khalifa, not as impressive – For some reason, I was not impressed with Burj Khalifa. It is extremely high, sure, but it also isn’t very wide, which seemed to reduce of its “grandeur”. I have visited Petronas twin towers in Malaysia before, and they were much more impressive. The tour inside the burj though was pretty interesting, and showed how luxurious it actually is.

Expensive city – Usually, on vacations, you get in a mood where you feel like money doesn’t matter, and you indulge in whatever you like. At least I do. However, I do not think this was the case for Dubai. Everything is more expensive than in Beirut, and money gets spent extremely easily. If I were living there, I’d probably be spending at the same pace. It is true what they say, Dubai is not a city where you can save money.

They still have dance floors! AKA Night life – First and foremost, to me, pubs win clubs any day of the week. Everyone says that nothing compares to Beirut’s night life, but I just really liked that you can actually dance in Dubai’s clubs when you go dancing. In Beirut, the “dancing” is mostly shaking your body around tables that are stuck to each other, while you are way too close to the strangers on the next table. I liked that the one place we went to had a dance floor, I hadn’t seen that in a while (but I’m not much of a clubber so what the hell do I know?). Pubs however win so much. Extremely crowded, with drinks that have interesting names!

Postcards; small gate to a big world

I have recently mentioned in front of someone that I collect postcards, and they found it to be a weird thing to collect. This was kind of surprising as I would think a lot of people buy them when they travel.

Whenever work or life suffocates us, we tend to go other places in our minds. Merely thinking of a better time, of something we want to accomplish, a place we want to visit. Being the travel lover that I am, I enjoy remembering old trips, and thinking of places I want to go to, and I do that through postcards (okay fine, and occasionally tripadvisor.com, I admit it). They are nice and comforting to look at. If you bought them yourself, you are able to remember the nice days you spent there. If they were sent to you by someone else, you get to discover a nice spot in a country you may have never been. It’s just awesome any way you look at it. This is why I decided to share a few of my favorite postcards.

Alicante, Spain

The first one is from when I went to Alicante way back in 2005. We used to hang out in this particular spot, and it was such a beautiful place. Spain being one of the best trips I’ve been on, this postcard reminds me of nice days. This is also the wallpaper of my work laptop.

Palau de la Musica, Valencia, Spain

The next one comes from the same trip. We spent a day in Valencia, and it was also such a beautiful city.This postcard is great because of the colors and the lights.

Coat of arms of the house of Schwarzenberg

I remember receiving this one, mostly because it traumatized me in a “Wow, impressive and weird!!” kind of way. A friend from the internet sent it, and this is what she wrote on it.
“Some crazy baroque artist dug up 40000 plague victims and decorated a chapel with them. This is the coat of arms of the family that funded it. It’s all made of human bones”

Not sure I’d want to go there, though. You can see the clear image here.

Snow view of Golden Pavilion, Rokuonji Temple, Japan

This one is pretty much one of my absolute favorites. I received it the last day I was presenting the final year exams at high school, and it was from an internet friend who has moved from the US to Japan. I remember sitting in the car looking at it absolutely amazed while my mother was throwing questions all over the place on whether I did well. It’s such a beautiful image, and it’s probably this particular postcard that made me want to visit Japan. Clear image here.

Another postcard I love is one I received from one of my best friends. Since I love puzzles, it is basically a puzzle. I couldn’t read what it said or see it unless I put it together. It was great because it combined two things I love.

Paris, je t'aime!

As you may already know, the awesome @FunkyOzzi gave me some postcards from New York and Turkey. This poster was part of them, and it’s from Paris.  Unfortunately, I have not visited Paris yet, but I loved this poster.

Did I convince you of my love for postcards? I hope that means you’ll remember me next time you travel!