Mariana is 26 years old and was living in New York for 6 months in 2015 with Inov Contacto program as a Brand Ambassador for a wine distribution company. While she was there I had the opportunity to visit her and she accompanied me through Central Park and Guggenheim!
First question, because we always want to know, why did you decide to leave Portugal?
I had already had several international experiences, had done Erasmus in France, an exchange during the master’s degree in Brazil, volunteering work in Mozambique… And I knew I wanted to have even more experiences like this (I got the “bug”). When I heard about Inov Contacto program, I immediately knew that I had to apply. It was the ideal international experience for those who had just left university and wanted to enter the working world.
What expectations did you have of the city and the country before arriving? Is the reality similar to these expectations?
The Inov Contacto program has a long recruitment process but we only know our destination a few weeks before we go. I didn’t know which country and city I would go to, I could go to Spain as well as to China, Cape Verde or Brazil… It could be any place! As soon as I heard that I was going to the United States, I was completely taken by surprise but I was sure that I would love New York. Expectations were high and the reality still exceeded those expectations. New York is either a city that you love or you hate, I think that there can be no middle ground. It was a dream for me! I thought I would feel like an ant in the middle of such a big city, but I didn’t feel anything like that, I felt that I belonged there, that that was my city!
What do you like most about New York?
I love the city as a whole! The fact that there is always so much to do and for all tastes. Museums, nightlife, restaurants, tours, shops, … you can do what you want and when you want. The diversity of cultures you find there is something that also enriches this city.
And what do you like least?
Rats!! It is a panic that I have and unfortunately or fortunately (it depends on the point of view), New York helped me to overcome this panic because I saw so many that it almost became something normal to happen. We found them on the street, but mostly on the metro lines at night. I was still very nervous but I no longer cried like crazy, as soon as I saw one.
How do you characterize New Yorkers?
In New York it is difficult to find New Yorkers, born and raised there. It is a city in which you will find all possible and imagined nationalities and cultures. I never thought that when looking lost in the metro, someone would come to me and ask if I needed help, in a city like this, where we have the idea that everyone is just worried with themselves! But it did happen several times!
How was a normal day for you there?
My internship was at a wine distributor. During the morning I always took the bus to the office (it took 15 minutes, a rarity in New York, to get to work so fast). In the afternoon I went to restaurants and wine stores (in NY wine and spirits are not sold in supermarkets, as in Portugal, so there are numerous liquor stores in the city). This allowed me to get to know New York very well, because every day I walked on the street, I knew different areas, new people, every day ended up being different.
If someone were to visit New York and had only 3 days what would you suggest seeing?
With so much to see and do, I suggest staying more than 3 days. At least a week is what this city deserves to be visited.
Climb one of the main skyscrapers to see the city from above (One World, Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center), get lost in the shops in Times Square, stroll through Central Park, see the Statue of Liberty, visit Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial, cross Brooklyn Bridge, marveling at the Central Station and the National Library, and if you have time to go to museums like MOMA, Guggenheim, Natural History Museum, etc. All examples of things not to be missed in New York.
Do you have any tips on how to save money in New York?
It is possible to visit virtually all museums and attractions in NY for free (or as they call it, Pay what you wish), there is always a day and a period of time when this is possible (for example, at MOMA it is on Fridays between 4 pm and 6 pm). It is possible to have this information on the websites of the museums. Do not be alarmed by the huge lines as they move fast. You can also see the Statue of Liberty up close, for example, by taking the free ferry that connects NY to Staten Island.
It is also good to be mentally prepared to eat a lot of fast food (Healthy food is very expensive in New York, even fruit in the supermarket …).
What is the biggest tourist trap in the city?
The bull of Wall Street. I have never been able to perceive the adoration of Asians for such a statue. Of all the times I went there with people who came to visit me, I was never able to take a photo where at least three tourists did not appear!
In which areas of the city should we look for accommodation and why?
I would say to stay in Manhattan because it is the heart of the city, where everything happens, and being in the center there is an easier way to get anywhere. Preferably up to 90th street. (In Manhattan, the higher the street number, the more degraded and unsafe the area is). Brooklyn will also be a good alternative, this area is increasingly attractive, but consequently more expensive.
What are the best places to go out at night?
No doubt going to a rooftop disco. What’s better than having a great night overlooking the city lights? I recommend the 230 Fifth and Le Bain. It is necessary to be careful with the clothes and always take your ID on any night out in the city. Ah, most clubs close at 4am (after all, the city that never sleeps, still sleeps a few hours … :))
The Union Pool in Brooklyn was also one of my favorite places. It has an outdoor area where you can eat some great Mexican tacos, and two dance floors with different types of music, the typical trendy bar in Brooklyn.
What is your favorite place (neighborhood, building, cafe, bookshop …) in the city?
Times Square is without a doubt my favorite place in NY. It was one of the first places I went to and it was the last I went when I said goodbye to the city.
I also loved going to Central Park. I got there in 10 minutes on foot from my house and went almost every weekend, it was almost a ritual.
What would you answer if someone asked “You can’t leave New York without …?”
Go to Times Square, climb to a rooftop and eat a burger at Shake Shack 🙂
Thank you, Mariana, for your tips and stories! I believe it will be very useful for anyone who wants to visit New York!