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Two days ago, I found myself flipping through the pages of A Day’s Tour, a travel narrative written by Percy Fitzgerald circa 1887. Travel writing has evolved over the years, but certain scenic impressions and sentiments remain timeless.
“We long to be away, to be crossing over that night- enjoying a cool fresh passage, all troubles and monotony left behind.”
I found my footing when I stumbled across this passage. This sentiment binds us, travelers, sojourners, from all corners of the globe and walks of life. The desire to step purposefully, to experience life in the moment, to have the senses engaged by new places and spaces is universal. Whether discovering for the first time, the town next door, or the continent next door, the art of travel in many ways is the art of being in the moment.
I’m in Brooklyn right now, in the middle of a writing class and finishing up a photography class, but I can’t wait to hit the road again. Here’s a glimpse at what’s to come:
Charlotte, North Carolina
New Haven, Connecticut
Rochester, New York
The Marshall Islands
As always, if you have tips pertaining to any of these locations or know wine loving’ friendly folks who reside in these areas, don’t hold out.
My site, Sojourner’s Sojourns, will also be getting a much-needed face-lift in the coming two weeks. I’m excited for her big reveal.
Be present. Step forth.
I wish I were a natural green thumb. I crave green leafy goodness to enliven the dull slate that characterizes city living. Despite my best intentions, I am the curator of a string of failed urban garden attempts. Luckily, my longing to see vibrant green, eye-popping red and creamy yellow was satisfied today with a trip to the Macy’s Flower Show.
A Herald Square tradition since 1953, the Springtime show features an aromatic and beguiling array of flowers and plants making it the perfect anecdote to the gray rainy haze that regularly parades itself as Springtime in New York.
The theme of this years show is “Brasil: Gardens in Paradise.” Running from March 25- April 7, “Brasil: Gardens in Paradise” is free to the public and well worth the twenty minutes or so you’ll most likely spend on line.
The show is housed inside a large tent (spanning just under a block) located in front of the main entrance to Macy’s at Herald Square.
The windows at Macy’s, similar to the pomp and circumstance of the Christmas season, are decked out in the festive fashion of Brazilian Carnival. Allow your feet to shuffle and step as Samba music escapes onto the street.
One step inside the show tent, and one is greeted with warm humid air, the smell of earth and greenery, the sound of birds and running water, and a colorful quilt of exotic plants and flowers.
Designed to resemble various floral landscapes in Brazil, you will be transported from a waterfall beside a bridge, to a porch in Rio, to a market square and on and on as you stroll through the tent. Sensual and compelling, “Brasil: Gardens in Paradise” is a journey that transcends time and place.
*Note: The Flower Show hours are the same as the Macy’s store hours.
“The Town Mouse said to his friend: “You live here the life of the ants, while in my house is the horn of plenty. I am surrounded by every luxury, and if you will come with me, as I much wish you would, you shall have an ample share of my dainties.”
The Country Mouse was easily persuaded, and returned to town with his friend. On his arrival, the Town Mouse placed before him bread, barley, beans, dried figs, honey, raisins, and, last of all, brought a dainty piece of cheese from a basket. The Country Mouse, being much delighted at the sight of such good cheer, expressed his satisfaction in warm terms and lamented his own hard fate.
Just as they were beginning to eat, someone opened the door, and they both ran off squeaking, as fast as they could, to a hole so narrow that two could only find room in it by squeezing. They had scarcely begun their repast when someone else entered to take something out of a cupboard, on which the two Mice, more frightened than before, ran away and hid themselves. At last the Country Mouse, almost famished, thus addressed his friend: “Although you have prepared for me so dainty a feast, I must leave you to enjoy it by yourself. It is surrounded by too many dangers to please me.” – The Country Mouse and the Town Mouse
Despite spending the majority of my time in New York, I am at heart a country mouse. While I enjoy the sophisticated pleasures and conveniences of city living, I am most at home strolling barefoot over a carpet of moss and grass, gazing at stars in a midnight sky, falling asleep to the hum of insects and waking up to a chorus of birds.
When crazy New York gets the best of me (and that is quite often), I like to retreat to my home in Brandywine for a dose of balance, perspective and old fashioned country charm.
I had so much fun experimenting with my camera to churn out these old fashioned photographs. Sorry, no actual house photos.
When it comes to planning a New York City vacation, there are numerous accommodation styles worth considering. From hostels, to bed and breakfasts, to hotels and motels, you can find a little bit of everything in Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs. But did you know that there is also a booming rental market for city guests? Whether you’re in town for a weekend, a week, or an extended stay, apartments and condos can be rented for a comfortable and authentic New York experience.
I met up with Fred Owens, a licensed New York real estate agent partnered with Kian Realty NYC where we got the chance to talk holiday/vacation rentals and tour some available units.
Sojourner: Why should visitors to New York City consider renting apartments as opposed to staying in hotels?
Fred: While visitors from all over the world dream of one day waking up in the “city that never sleeps,” the cost of lodging in New York often prevents travelers from experiencing some of the most quintessential attractions the city has to offer such as a Broadway show or a night out on the town. So, in order for visitors to get the most out of a New York City vacation without taking out a second mortgage to stay at a top hotel, vacation rentals can be a lower-cost alternative. Choosing a vacation rental makes a lot of sense for travelers who prefer a home away from home environment. Whether traveling with children or with more than a few guests, sharing space, a kitchen, laundry, private bedrooms, and all the amenities of home makes for a more comfortable and pleasurable vacation experience.
S: Are apartment rentals easy to come by? What is the process of renting an apartment?
F: Vacation rentals are very easy to attain, however, it is very important for visitors to understand what they’re getting. Travelers should be sure to ask the landlord key questions such as: A) What is the pet and children policy? B) What is the cancellation and payment policy? C) How many people can stay? D) When/Where you’ll need to pick up the apartment keys? E) Is daily maid service included?
If the landlord does not offer one, always request a rental agreement/contract. This usually covers payment (such as security deposits and refunds), check-in and checkout information, fees, and other details. This can help protect you should a disagreement arise.
As with any other lodging, travelers will have the most options for location and amenities the further in advance they reserve accommodations. It’s also important for travelers to keep in mind that they will most often be staying in an apartment building where people live full time. Being courteous is a must.
S: Does a visitor have to be in New York for an extended stay for these rentals to be worthwhile?
F: No. The average hotel price in New York City is $300 per night. Most vacation rentals are often less expensive than hotels, there’s more space and more amenities. Also, staying in a vacation rental can give travelers the sense of living in New York City instead of just visiting.
S: What amenities do rentals come with?
F: Amenities vary; however usually standard is a kitchen with cooking utensils, refrigerator, bed/s, linens, Wi-Fi, and Cable/Satellite TV.
S: How would someone go about finding apartment rental listings?
F: There are many websites, which travelers can use to seek vacation rentals in the city. One of my favorites is VRBO.com. When travelers are exploring the various sites, it is important that they be aware of rental scams, which are an unfortunate part of the vacation rental industry. Employing the services of a local licensed real estate agent, such as myself can help provide travelers with keen insight on safe and desirable areas of the city as well as landlords who can legally provide vacation rentals.
S: Are there listings across the five boroughs?
F: Yes. While every borough has vacation rental options, the most desired rentals tend to me in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
*If you have questions or would like to search for a rental, Fred can be reached via email at email@example.com or via phone at 212.757.8268 x126.
I recently, in honor of Black History month and out of genuine curiosity took an African Ancestry DNA test. A test similar to the ones famously taken by Oprah, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Blair Underwood (to name a few). It turns out part of my story (matrilineal) began in Cameroon, a small Western African country that up until this point, I had not thought much about. Knowledge is quite a motivator, and armed with my fragmented piece of the missing puzzle, I am making plans to visit my newly discovered country of partial origin.
A genetic match with the Tikar people, my ancestors made a home for themselves in the North Western region of the country. The ruling class, they controlled their region and the accompanying trade routes enjoying relative prosperity. When the Europeans pushed into Cameroon, many young Tikar people were captured and taken aboard slave ships.
According to records, the majority of the Tikar who survived the middle passage were females (the men, had a very high suicide rate). Transported heavily to the state of Virginia, where they became numbers and mules instead of people with stories. Records chronicling their journeys, their existence were burned upon emancipation, a torched legacy that has kept the past, a painful and infuriating mystery to many black Americans who in its wake have been forced to forge an identity without a clear understanding of where they came from.
Grateful to modern science and the prevalence of African genealogy tests, I now have a point of reference. I am a descendant of a Tikar woman, who several centuries ago, survived the unthinkable, landing safely on American soil, where she gave birth to generations thriving to this day. I am not going to buy a Cameroonian flag to wave out of my window; I’m not going to blast Cameroonian music or cheer extra loud for their football team during the world cup. I’m not going to travel to Cameroon with hopes of a large dramatic homecoming filled with hugs from cousins centuries removed, drumming, dance, and a grand welcome from the chief. I simply stand grounded in my newfound knowledge and am grateful that I have a detailed past to pass on to my son- my future generations.
In 2005, I first made my way to the continent of Africa. I went to Ghana, on the western coast to volunteer at an orphanage. In many ways, this journey was an attempt to understand the mysteries of the past as I spent a vast majority of my time researching and touring the abandoned slave forts at the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles.
A few years back, I wrote a piece originally published by Pilot Guides, about my experience touring the Cape Coast Castle. It is as follows:
Ghana has a smell. It’s familiar and distant, like plants, humidity, smoke and burning wood. It’s an earthy comforting aroma. As comforting as the dusty red road that leaves its residue on my bare feet and ankles. I came to Ghana to take in all the sights and sounds of its Cape Coast region. Today I would take in the Cape Coast Castle, a beautiful white colonial structure adorned with fading black cannons overlooking a beach. I purchased a guided tour. I wanted the full experience.
I had a 20-minute wait before my tour began and took that time to browse the artisan shops near the entrance. There are a wonderful variety of shops selling carvings, kente cloth, drums, music, art and jewelry. I weave quickly in and out of the shops, taking in their colours and textures.
Once a small crowd of tourists has formed, our tour begins. Our guide is a young Ghanaian man whose English is soft and unwavering. We assemble on the veranda and get a brief history lesson.
The Swedish Africa Company erected the Cape Coast Castle in 1653. The Castle underwent many changes as it grew with the slave trade. Most of the slaves that came to the Americas exited through this site. We learned how slaves were shackled and held in dark, cold dungeons until there were enough slaves for a voyage.
I wondered how difficult it was for our guide to speak so eloquently about this dark moment in history. How many tours had this young man given to be able to speak in such a matter of fact manner as tourists wept touched by his words. Our history lesson complete, we headed onto what would be the most haunting leg of our tour. We were led into the dark dingy brick dungeons that once centuries ago held hundreds of frightened shackled slaves.
We were taken into the women’s dungeons first. Our only light was a flashlight. It was a cold dark room. We were silent. Outside, the sound of waves hitting the shore echoed throughout the small room. Inside it was cold, dark, and haunting. Our guide pointed out a faint line on the brick about a foot high. The line indicated that stagnant water was inside as well. Slaves were herded into these rooms for days, weeks, with no food, fresh air or light, they were forced to urinate and defecate in the water that surrounded their ankles, which ultimately left the markings that spoke of their misery.
Slowly we went into the male dungeons. They were almost identical. The same water markings existed. Shining his flashlight, our guide also pointed out markings on the brick that were made by the shackles of the slaves, slaves who had rubbed their shackles on the brick in an attempt to escape or etch warnings to others in their tribal languages. A place like this, takes your breath away slowly. There is no way to fully process the horrors that went on in this space. Many on the tour wept openly.
After the dungeons, we were guided through winding corridors, into rooms that would have housed governors and other officers. We were led outside, up to the balcony where it was hard to adjust to the activity below of fishermen casting out colourful nets, blue water crashing against boulders and sand and laughter.
We examined the canons and were shown the space, a rectangular opening, where unruly slaves were thrown to their deaths from the castle onto the jagged wet rocks below.
Finally we were taken back inside through our final corridor that led to the “door of no return”. This was the last door that slaves had to pass through before they were boarded onto ships, never to return. A shrine had been made in a room before the door. A simple structure in two tiers draped in white cloth. Offerings were placed on and around it.
I was struck by the desire to do something but I had nothing to leave at the shrine as some of the others in my group did. I felt overwhelmed with the need to honour this site, but how? I was at a loss. I wanted to scream out, cry, bathe the space with peace. After standing in silence, I approached our guide with a favour. I asked him to permit me to exit through the door of no return. To my surprise he agreed to open it to me, but on one condition, the condition that I, unlike so many who went through before, walked back through.
© Sojourner Walker
I am not sure what I will discover when I finally make it to North Western Cameroon, but I look forward the opportunity to embrace the past and re-claim a piece of my story – that figurative door of no return.
-If any of you are interested, I have been asked to speak at the Sojourner Truth Research Library in Washington, D.C., this May on the topic of the Door of No Return in the Cape Coast Castle. I will post more about this engagement in April.
Hazy and hopeful with a pinch of spice, San Antonio, Texas is a great weekend destination. With a thriving arts scene and a strong historical tradition, there are a number of things to see and enjoy (many for free). Whether you’re all about great food, Mexican culture, the rodeo, romantic walks along moonlit canals, or super-sized malls, San Antonio has got it all.
The San Antonio Riverwalk is one of the city’s proud main attractions. A portion of the Riverwalk surrounds an actual river with a mud bottom, hence, the murky brown water. Three feet deep in this section, there are apparently snakes and fish lurking below. Further down the Riverwalk, there is a damn with a drop-off, a man-made river continues from here.
I know the water looks dirty, but apparently it is really clean. Locals say you can see fish in the water when the sun is shinning. I don’t know if I buy in to that one? One really cool thing about the water though, is that people are allowed to bring out their canoes and paddle boats for a nice afternoon ride.
San Antonio was so clearly laid out. A pedestrian friendly city, everywhere we went, there were signs directing us to main attractions. Finally, a city I can navigate easily. I have a notoriously poor sense of direction, but I didn’t get lost here.
There is so much colonial history in San Antonio. Its a city seeped deeply in history in general. So many things happened here. So many characters of ole’ floated through this town, from Davey Crockett, to O. Henry – who knew? Texas, to this New Yorker, is as exotic as any foreign country.
There was a remarkable variety in the architecture. Some buildings looked Old Hollywood, while others were Spanish and French colonial. Then there were small cottages left over from the early German settlers. It was all very interesting to take in.
Now we’re looking at the front of O. Henry’s house. I didn’t take pictures inside out of respect for the museum, but it has been left as it was. To the right there is a small bed and towards the back there is a kitchen and writing desk. So quaint, so cute- O. Henry!
I loved this part of town. Historic Market Square in La Villita, was very Mexican and very artsy. The streets were festive and full of restaurants, shops, a farmer’s market, a museum and an artisans bazaar. This is the largest Mexican marketplace north of the Rio Grande.
The family shrine in the lobby of Mi Tierra restaurant. This place is a fun time (great atmosphere, not the best food to be honest, but hey…). Make sure you stop by the bakery for dessert though, the bakery is extraordinary. If you are a fan of good Mexican food, there are tons of local places to go to, to satisfy your craving. The locals are more than happy to point you in the right direction.
The Museo Alameda was fantastic! Affiliated with the Smithsonian, the museum chronicled the Mexican Revolution through documents, artifacts and (best of all) some of the most compelling oil paintings. The paintings were absolutely breathtaking. I know I’m a big museum nerd, but this one is a must-see if you are in San Antonio. I learned so much about the Mexican Revolution and the subsequent renaissance. Being a New Yorker, I knew very little about either.
On top of every building there seemed to fly the Texas flag. The lonestar state is a mighty proud place. I’ve lived in New York state for the majority of my life and could not tell you what our state flag looks like.
Eating lunch at Mi Tierra in La Villita. Can you spot the baby? Behind us was a beautiful mural depicting important Mexican American figures. Sadly, I must admit, I was not able to identify most of them.
“I’m going to recommend, if you still want to breast feed, due to the nature of Ohm’s allergies, that you adapt a total elimination diet so that we can determine the source of his irritation.”
“What does an elimination diet entail?”
“No dairy, no eggs, no nuts, no soy and no wheat.”
“Absolutely no dairy, eggs, nuts, soy or wheat.”
“What can I eat?”
“Not very much. I suggest you stick to the hypo-allergenic baby formula.”
And there I was, standing beneath the fluorescent bulb of the examination room, my diaper clad infant splayed across my lap, six red raised splotches on his back, confirmation that he was indeed allergic to everything. I had a decision to make. I was being forced pledge ideological mommy allegiance. To breast feed or to formula feed. I was a breast feeder. I believe firmly that a mother’s milk is best. I nursed my son through the early pain and frustration until it became a comfortable part of our daily bonding. But after three and a half months, Ohm began to break out in horrible hives and eczema patches began to take over his soft baby skin. I was referred to a pediatric allergy specialist where I received the devastating news: no dairy, eggs, nuts, soy or wheat if I were to continue breast-feeding.
I am an eater. I love food. With no allergies or food sensitivities, my system has never let me down; I have never known what it means to do without. Determined not to back down and give in to formula feeding my son, I gathered my list of things I must do without and attempted to move forward, cold turkey.
I’m lucky, to live part-time in New York where I have access to an enormous variety of niche foods and options.
A dessert girl through and through, the most difficult thing for me to give up was my thirst for baked goods and tasty sweet treats. After a little research however, I was able to find several bakeries with delicious alternatives to cater to my vegan, gluten-free, egg free, soy free and nut free needs. To my surprise, not only did I have options, I had a plethora of delicious and alluring desserts to choose from.
If you are faced with a similar plight as mine, or are on a strict diet, or simply want to sample a twist on your baked goods classics, here are some New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn) bakeries sure to satisfy your sweet cravings.
Sun In Bloom: Vegan, Gluten-Free and Raw Kitchen in (Park Slope)
460 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
My favorite things here are the chocolate-chip whoopee pies and the cupcakes.
Luv Tea Café (Clinton Hill)
14 Putnam Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11238
You will find gluten-free/vegan snacks amongst the regular snacks. Everything is clearly marked. My favorite is the flourless dark chocolate cookies.
176 Ainslie St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
248 Broome Street (Btwn Orchard & Ludlow)
New York City, NY 10002
Try the cinnamon buns, they are fabulous! You’ve also got to taste the cookies.
Of course there are other fine establishments, but these are the ones that I frequent. I’d love more tips to update my list if you have any.
* Side note, despite indulging in sweets, clear skin and weight loss are great side effects of the elimination diet!
“Sigourney? Like the actress from Aliens?” “No.”
I grew up with a large and inaccurate variety of names. It was inevitable that during the course of a day, I would have to correct its pronunciation at least five times.
As a child I wanted nothing more than to blend in seamlessly. In kindergarten I wore the requisite pigtails tied with pink bows. In first grade I took ballet and tap classes, pirouetting and shuffle ball changing my way to popularity. In second grade I read the Ramona Quimby books just like my peers and chatted with them endlessly about the indignities of being seven in a world designed for thirteen year olds. My attempts to blend continued for years, yet despite my efforts to glide peacefully through my early life, my name was always there to trip me up.
I cursed my parents for not giving me a good sensible name like Jennifer or Samantha. Jennifer and Samantha were my favorite names. All of my dolls (and I had quite an extensive collection) had Jennifer or Samantha as either a first or middle name. I had no choice but to live vicariously through them.
It’s uncanny how our names, long or short, complicated or easy to pronounce define us. Like mantras repeated several times a day, we become subtly attuned to the vibration of our sound.
My parents decided to name me Sojourner. This was my father’s idea actually and I wonder if he thought it through.
A history professor, I know where he was trying to go with my name. From those who could actually place where my name was derived, I often heard “Sojourner! As in Sojourner Truth? What great shoes you have to fill.” These people almost always pronounced my name correctly and were rewarded almost always with a relieved smile.
Names like people evolve. Somewhere around my sophomore year of high school, I began to appreciate the unique sound of my name and the meaning behind its soft j and staccato o.
Sojourner Truth, was a lovely and accomplished woman, however, I saw myself in my name in a different way. I saw the romance of a canoe trip down the Nile. I saw the brilliance of the sunset across the Serengeti. I was called to the cobblestone narrow streets of Montmartre.
Sojourner, taken from the French word sojourn meaning to travel for a brief period was how I identified with my name. Having volunteered, worked and journeyed my way across 21 countries and counting, I am in every sense of the word Sojourner. My name has grown with me over the years, guiding, me, giving me permission to grow and evolve. My name allowed me to see the beauty in being different.
I chuckle now when I hear the familiar “Honey, where are you going now? Why can’t you just stay put?”
“Dad, you named me Sojourner, now let me sojourn.”
A name is always chosen for you, but you choose which aspect of that name defines you. I choose to sojourn, to be a sojourner.