While this blog is heavily focused on passport-required travel, sometimes it only takes a $2.75 single-fare subway ride to feel like you are in a different country. I’m speaking on the borough of Queens, 30-45 minutes from where I live, one of the most diverse populations in the world and home of numerous attractions that aren’t self-evident on the 7 local or the Queens Midtown Tunnel (this link will make you chuckle!) until I hit the search engines.
Here’s what I found.
Food? Astoria is known for Greek, Corona for Ecuadorian, Jamaica for Bangladeshi, and Flushing, of course, for Chinese. That’s a week’s worth of grub across 4 continents. I’ve linked the best restaurants for each cuisine, according to Yelp. Of course, you can always just ask local folks.
Stuff to do? The Mets play at Citi Field, St. John’s basketball plays at the campus in Jamaica (as well as Madison Square Garden) and the Rockaways are the Hamptons for New Yorkers wanting to stay local. You can watch planes at JFK or LaGuardia airports and birds at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. You can also kayak the East River, sample various cultural events at Queens College and celebrate Lunar New Year. Despite what the “Shit New Yorkers Say” video, well, said (go to 1:14), Queens is popping!
I actually went for reasons different than those. First, as you hopefully are aware, the masterpiece of cinema entitled Men in Black has the denouement at the site of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s the scene with the spaceships and the big guns and Vincent D’Onofrio as the Bug, fully bugged out. I’ve gone to numerous Mets games and seen the towers since Citi Field is across the street, but I hadn’t yet taken the time to view them up close.
The second reason was to see the handily adjacent Queens Museum, née Queens Museum of Art, which just reopened after a two-year $69 million renovation. I had just read a positive New York Times article concerning the Museum and had been wanting to explore more of the outer boroughs, so I thought “I’m going!”
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is a a gem. It’s Central Park with more fields, more views, and most importantly, more empanada stands. By these stands are multiple, manicured soccer fields with intense amateur adult league matches. I spent a little bit of time at each one and, while I wasn’t sure what nationality was playing at each field, it was fun to see different cultures taking pleasure in the same sport.
I then walked over to the World’s Fair remains and was most impressed, surprisingly, with not the spaceships – although cool and a check-mark off the personal “things to see” list, but the Unisphere, a gigantic globe dedicated to “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” and surrounded by a circle of fountains. It’s a awe-inspiring sight, especially for people like me (and hopefully you!) who have taken advantage of the credit card game to really shrink the distances between travel dreams and actualities. Mostly, I was just reminded that I still have a long way to go to join the Traveler’s Century Club – Africa, I’m coming.
I wasn’t the only one impressed. Families of all ages and races, including a Korean wedding, took the time to appreciate the grandeur of Earth on a steel canvas. The scene had a calming effect on me that I can’t easily access in New York and I again appreciated my decision to hike out here.
The Unisphere is located right next to the Queens Museum, so I paid the museum’s suggested donation – $8, not $25 or whatever, like the Met – and came in to a caucuphonic Day of the Dead-esque band with large monster costumes, Mexican dragon floats (shouts to Flushing). I listened for awhile, but it was freaking loud, so I searched out the main exhibit – the Panorama of the City of New York.
It’s a 9,300 square foot, 1:1200 scale rendering of New York – all neighborhoods, all airports, all bridges, all parks – everything, even Staten Island. Created by Robert Moses for the 1939 World’s Fair (interesting time for a Fair), I finally grasped how astoundingly large New York City really is. There are multiple platforms, both high and low, on which to take in the Panorama. I was appreciative of this – it gave me both the god’s eye and the “local” viewing options. Take a look at the photos below and you will understand!
Pretty cool, no?
There were other exhibits there, as well, including one on Cuban Diaspora art, and several workshops with artists leading discussions.
The other exhibit the Queens Museum is famous for is the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass. Consisting primarily of lamps and interesting historical facts (Did you know Tiffany was one of the first people to employ women on a managerial and design basis?), it’s another welcome, local exhibit – Tiffany’s factories were located in Corona. It’s a traditionally beautiful exhibit and I’m sorry I didn’t take any photos!
After viewing the collection, I picked up my coat from the free coat check and headed back to the Willets Point-Mets subway stop – it was getting on in the day. I had had a great time and will be going back again – this time with friends…I think it’s easier to convince someone to take any outer borough all the way out once you have already done it. If you are in New York, however, and have a free afternoon, check out the Museum, the 1964 World’s Fair ruins and Corona Park – it’s an affordable and enlightening experience that most tourists don’t get a chance to see!