Off to the Beach!

Coney Island

Today I was in for a shock by goofing around and checking my chances of returning for a visit back home during the late summer months and/or early fall season… When I read the prices at first I had a hard time blinking (and evidently also a hard time swallowing): 900 Dollars for a flight from JFK to FRA, and this price was among the cheapest! Not to mention the 1200 Dollars and above for flying during August or July… Before seeing this amount I had seriously considered going back for a week or two. I am not sure if I mentioned this before, but I haven’t been back ever since I set foot in New York and would fairly well not mind seeing some familiar faces I haven’t got together with for over an entire year. At this moment I would have to think about a back-up plan, though, since $900 just bust my budget.
I remember the time when I bought my ticket 3 weeks ahead of boarding and only had to scrape 450 Euro (the equivalent of roughly 600 bucks) from my hard-earned savings together. This was in 2010. Yes, I understand gas prices have jumped and there have been several strikes in the air industry, but why do ordinary people like I have to suffer from this?! Well, we will see how it goes and I am crossing my fingers that some wonder happens (besides me finding $900 lying around on the street) which will give me the chance to see my common folks again – preferably this year.

Today, aside from me being in for a shock, has also brought along some lovely sunshine and a nice warm breeze back into the New York life. One year ago on today’s date this city was warding off an early heat wave, but this year summer has been having a hard time showing up. I had the chance to do my very first beach trip this year on Sunday (it had been April in 2010) and it made me wonderfully happy. A positive aspect about living here is that New York is surrounded by beaches you can visit during the spring/summer/even fall months. Yes, I know, hard to believe, but you definitely can make your summer over here as fun as possible by just packing a beach bag, hopping on a train or subway, and heading off towards a nice cool sea breeze. What is a man-made lake or ugly Baltic and cold North Sea in Germany compared to the beautiful Jersey shores and Long Island sand? Exactly, not too much! And even in Brooklyn you are close to the water. I could hardly believe my luck when I found out that I was only a 20 to 30 min metro ride from Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and Manhattan Beach. Last year I had lived on the B and Q line, which was convenient as I could stop at either beach. You just take both rains to the Brighton Beach stop (last stop on the B) and in an instant you are surrounded by Little Russia.

Brighton Beach

This culture is not entirely new to me as we have many Russian immigrants and so-called Russian-Germans living in my home country and I was friends to a fair amount of Olgas, Elenas, Julias, Dimitris, and Natalias in Germany. However, the culture in Brooklyn is very different from what I have found in Deutschland, as it appears that they are seemingly living out their Russian (or Belarussian, Kazakhstanian, Ukrainian, and so on) roots in their self-made community. I even heard Russian teenagers, who had been raised in the US for their entire lives, speak English with a Russian accent. Growing up bilingual is a great thing – I myself was raised speaking two different languages- but I have never been as intensely exposed to the American culture to the same degree Russians are recreating their roots in Brighton Beach.
Aside from language being a strong factor when gaining a cultural understanding, the area also offers many stores and businesses that enhance their culture and are directly geared towards their community. My current roommates are from Belarus (not surprisingly their names are Olga and Yulia) and they go to the Brighton Beach Bazaar at least twice a month just to stock up on their food. It is a big grocery store which offers a variety of food from Eastern European countries and many packages are labeled in Russian. For me going there by myself and not understanding too much of this language was quite an experiment. I was constantly talked and blabbed to in Russian and the demeanor of the cashiers changed completely once they noticed I was not one of them. I would not call it unfriendly per se, but it was not the politest encounter I had with one or two. Their manners are different, rougher, than from what I am used to. Even though Germany is not considered the nicest country in the world, I am now assured that cultures exist which can be considered ruder than ours. What I really enjoyed about the same area was the smaller stores and the great deals you can get when buying some fresh fruits or vegetables. The prices resemble the ones in New Jersey or cheaper and the taste stays the same. When walking around during some hot summer months, I usually became hungry from a trip to the beach and I stopped to get something you would have a hard time looking for in other spots: Fried pockets stuffed with a variable of things, such as spinach, meat, cheese, or even marmalade for the sweet tooth. They are sold by older Russian females who are standing right outside of the train station or on your way to the boardwalk.

While making my way out to the beach, I had some encounters with Russian boys trying to flirt or make an effort to talk to me, which they at first glance took me for a fellow Russian-speaker (you cannot be simply American over here, you have to be something exotic, right?!). I usually just warded them off by simply ignoring their efforts of planting their beach towel right next to me and intrusively peering over my shoulder to see what book I was reading. After a while they went away and tried for another eligible young female. At times I found their gestures amusing, but at others it was plain nerve-wracking for I really just wanted to sit by myself to tan. Sometimes I brought a German guy with me, which stalled complete interaction with any other man. More about this later, though.

This Sunday I rode past Brighton Beach or not even past it at all, since I live on the infamous F line now (a train which makes local stops) and took it all the way through to the Coney Island stop. You can take either -the F, Q, D, and N – and it will be the final stop on all four trains. As soon as I stepped out of the open door a salty ocean breeze surrounded me and led me to the long-longed-for beach. At this time of the year the people tend to not travel there as many times as they do in June, July, and August. Which makes the season until Memorial Day the best to just stop by and enjoy the sand without too much trash stuck in it. After poking my foot into the ocean I sensed that the water was still ice-cold and I hardly saw anyone go for a swim yet. Since we are right on the Atlantic coast, this makes us prone to receive cool Atlantic water year-long. I do not think the water ever really warms up like it does in the Mediterranean Sea, but you can get used to a jump in cold water when the heat wave gets you in July and August. Another thing Europeans just have to consider when traveling state-side is the fact that the sun really burns you fast. The sun is stronger than in Middle-Europe and it gets you when least expected. Even though I was only out for about 2 hours, I had brought with me a nice tan line on my arms and shoulders and a pinkish burn starting from my neck down. Ouch! Sunscreen, please!

It turned out to be a nice Sunday: The weather was a joy, a moderate amount of people was swarming around, and Coney Island was just right – not too crowded, not too deserted. The special thing about this place is that it offers attractions for every age group. Right on the water you find a form of amusement park for the small and grown-ups. I have never seen this anywhere else but would be happy to find out if any other part of the world came up with an idea similar to this one. I consider it a splendid idea, by the way, and the atmosphere makes you want to check out some of the rides. Besides the oldest wooden roller coaster in America, the place offers adventures that loop you around, water rides, merry-go-rounds, the famous “Wonder Wheel”,

The Wonder Wheel

and a park for children (Lunapark). Aside from the rides, you can buy some snacks at numerous stands or sweets at about the same amount sellers. And last, but not least, you find the popular “Nathan’s” built up right there on the beach: The spot which hosts the yearly hotdog contest on July 4th, the spot with the gourmet fast food you won’t find anywhere else… Well, it seems rather infamous when walking past, just a yellow cottage employing mostly Asian people in the summer, who barely speak English. But such is New York: You have something small that offers something people want and will talk about, and – boom – you will not be able to ward off the stream of individuals who came from 5 hours away just to try this one little thing a freak discovered… Is that a got sentence to end this blog? I think so. The end.

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