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Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple

Ten years ago, our Scottish contributor, Adam Fowler came to live and work in the United States. Unfortunately he didn't have a great experience and returned home early. But recently, his work brought him back to the U.S. Find out how the country he had found so difficult to live in held up as a travel destination.

Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple
by Adam Fowler

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Central Park, New York City, in the snow. I've traveled 3,000 miles east and 60 degrees Fahrenheit down to get here and I'm going to sit on this park bench and peel an orange that I picked from a tree in California just two days ago. It doesn't feel that I can be in the same country. It's so difficult for a Scot to get used to the scale of the United States. In fact, at the moment, it's so difficult to get to grips with this orange. My fingers are too cold to peel it. I'm afraid I'm going to have to go in and find some warmth...

St. Thomas

I've come into St. Thomas Church and at the far wall there's a magnificent display of statues: of Jesus and the Apostles and, I don't know, must be about 40 other Saints and Bishops. It's quite extraordinary. And the church looks very old, but apparently it was built in 1913 and what they don't have in age they've certainly made up in magnificence.

That used to annoy me when I lived in the States. It's not old so it has to be big, or loud or, preferably, both. This time around I'm enjoying the fact that America makes so much noise. The clamor of New York excites me, and not just outside on the street.

Waitress: "Hey there, how ya doin'?"

Adam: "I'm doing fine. Thank you very much."

Waitress: "What can I get for you? Would you like a hot coffee or a hot tea?"

Adam: "Um, coffee."

Waitress: "OK."

Pop inside for a cup at tea time and the onslaught to my Scottish sensibilities doesn't stop.

Waitress: "That's it?!"

Adam: "That's it. One day."

Waitress: "You just got here from Scotland? Sing me that song: You Take the High Road, I'll take the Low Road."

central station

Adam: "You want me to sing?!"

Waitress: "Would you do that for me?"

Adam: "I can't sing, not in a restaurant."

Waitress: "Why not? I'm talking in a microphone in a restaurant."

Adam: "I can't do that. I'm British, I don't do that kind of stuff."

Waitress: "Oh, you're in America now. It's time to change. I'll be back."

Maybe I was too British ten years ago. Too resistant to change. Certainly I was blind to the opportunities I had. But most of all I was just scared, clinging on to the reins of a horse galloping out of my control. A decade later I'm back in the saddle and New York's out there for me to discover. And beyond that, anything I choose.

I think of all the cities in the United States, New York is the one that encapsulates for me the excitement I feel in America. And here in the lobby of Grand Central Station is where that essence seems to be at its strongest. Anything is possible here. The vast open space isn't just bigness for the sake of showing off. There's a vibrancy to it, an energy. And it doesn't over-awe me. It inspires me. There's space to breath here even though there's hundreds of people milling around. And if they cast their eyes up to the mural of the constellations, it's enough to make your spirits soar. And this is what I think I missed the last time I was here, just this sense of anything being possible, of progress, of forward-looking. It's a thrilling place in a thrilling city in a country that's thrilling me ten years after I left it with my tail between my legs.

In New York City, I'm Adam Fowler for The Savvy Traveler.


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