My Hometown: New York City, NY
Who: Olivia Balsinger, Deputy Editor
Where is your hometown? Were you born here or did you move here?
I moved to New York City—the East Village to be precise—four years ago from Connecticut.
What makes you consider it home?
New York City is familiar in that I grew up just an hour away in Connecticut. I would visit all the time in high school—my sister went to New York University—but I would always come and go with a “tourist mindset.” (You know—Times Square, picture with the Empire State Building in background, yadda yadda). Now New York City has a whole new layer of familiarity to me, but that is because it doesn’t intimidate me anymore and I am not a tourist. I know every bodega on Avenue A, have a favorite dumpling shop (shout out to Vanessa’s Dumpling House!) and I have (finally) mastered the subway system.
What is your favorite local dish and/or place to eat?
Besides Vanessa’s Dumpling House? ;). I love all the small, hole-in-the-wall Thai and sushi places in the East Villages—the kind you would miss entirely if you weren’t looking for them. Less hidden is an Indian Restaurant named Panna II, which I also enjoy. A rumored favorite of Beyonce, this restaurant is ridiculous in the best way—it has holiday lights 365 days a year, displays flags of almost every nation and serves a mean naan bread.
What is your favorite place to stay when you are “home”?
Honestly, being a travel writer and always on the road, my “home” aka my sixth floor walkup in the East Village is always welcoming for me. Though its not entirely glam, it gives me brief salvation from the craze of New York City, and that is much appreciated. I build up momentum to go out and explore once more.
And where do you suggest that travelers stay to feel “local”?
Though Air BnB is technically forbidden in New York City, I think any chance one has to spend time with a local in a neighborhood that isn’t touristy would be ideal. NYC can seem so intimidating when you are looking out from the Marriott’s 40th floor onto bustling Times Square. But the reality is, most of the neighborhoods are quaint and have their own stories to tell.
What unexpected activities can you experience in your hometown?
Well, New York City is probably an outlier to this question, as you can experience basically anything under the sun here. However, I think that getting lost in Central Park is always unexpected for tourists. Even though its smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, Central Park has 16,283 acres and is the largest public park in the USA—there are certain woodsy trails, especially uptown, where you can’t see any buildings in the horizon and you could honestly be in remote Maine or New Hampshire. I love the suprising tranquility of it.
What’s a neighborhood I need to explore off the tourist map?
I personally need to explore ALL of the other bouroughs more, even though there is still so much of Manhattan to see! (#NYCproblems). I have heard delightful things about Queens and the up-and-coming brewery scene in Long Island City. I also want to take the free (!!) Staten Island Ferry and explore this borough in more depth.
What makes your hometown special/unique?
New York City is perhaps the most recognizable city in the entire world, but even I find myself surprised by it’s uniqueness each and every day. Neighborhoods have such different and distinct personalities that require days of exploring to even skim the surface. Whenever I have a guest in town, I will take them to Chinatown for dinner and then two avenues over and suddenly we are in the midst of Italy—Little Italy, that is! Because who can say no to a cannoli for dessert?
What is your favorite memory in your hometown? Why?
My favorite memory in my hometown is hard to pick. If I had to narrow down, however, I would say it is the annual Tompkins Square Park Doggie Halloween Parade. Why? Besides the obvious of enjoying fur babies dressed up like penguins and robots, I think it showcases the importance of tradition and neighborhood pride.
Why would someone want to visit your hometown?
NYC has something for everyone. Much to many outsider’s disbelief, there are plenty of free things to do if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg. You’ll never be bored, never go hungry looking for a good restaurant and you’ll certainly get your workout in walking from one end of Manhattan to the other.
What song best represents your hometown?
There are so many songs that try and capture the energy and the (beautiful) madness of New York City. My personal favorite is Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York.” The song came out right when I moved to the city—an eerie but lovely coincidence and it resonated deeply. “…searching for a song we haven’t heard before.” That’s why we all come here. To search for a new adventure, to grow and, of course, to discover the world’s best bagels.