As someone totally new to life on the East Coast, I also have an insatiable desire to experience as much as I can during my time here. The close proximity to so many nearby states is pretty fascinating. In less than an hour, I could walk from my apartment in Manhattan to a subway station and take a train to the state of New Jersey. For perspective, it can take at least an hour to just get from West Hollywood to Santa Monica during rush hour.
For better or worse, the first thing I associate with New Jersey is the show The Jersey Shore. Well, I wasn’t planning to head to the beaches of New Jersey, but I was going to check out a nearby city aptly called Jersey City. It was recommended to me by a friend of a friend, so I figured it would be a nice, easy day trip for my New Jersey tourist adventure.
From Manhattan, I took the PATH train from the 32nd St. Station toward Journal Square. When planning my trip to Jersey City, I had been told by Google Maps to take the train to the final stop at Journal Square, so that was my plan.
Upon arriving at Journal Square, I walked out of the subway station and well, didn’t see much at all. Sure, there were some buildings around but not much going on. I kept calm and figured the ‘exciting’ portion was probably a little bit of a walk away.
I walked, and I walked some more. Instead of finally finding something interesting, I was honked at three times and wandered into an even-more desolate part of town that had me slightly fearful for life. My first impression of Jersey was not so good.
I now understand why they had Kevin McAllister get lost in Manhattan. If they had him get lost where I was, it could have easily been turned into a far-less fun ½ hour PBS special.
I messaged my contact who had originally recommended Jersey City to ask where exactly I should be heading to, since it was safe to assume I was not at the right spot. I finally got my answer: Grove Street.
Important note: when heading to Jersey City via the PATH train, get off at Grove Street, not Journal Square.
I walked the two miles to Grove Street and found some cute restaurants, bars, and shopping. At Grove Street and Columbus, there is a farmer’s market Monday-Thursday from 4-8 p.m. and live music Wednesday evenings from 6-9 p.m.
By the time I actually made it there, I was pretty tuckered out. I wandered around for a bit but eventually made my way back home to Manhattan.
While I was glad I could cross visiting New Jersey off my bucket list, I also realized that there’s probably some other great parts worth seeing too, and you shouldn’t judge an entire state by one city – or a reality television show.
Every March, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan comes together for LaughFest. This community-based comedy festival features local performers and events around town. Comedy events and shows include: films, stand-up, improvisation, and sketch. Local comedians have the opportunity to perform for the community and in addition, the festival also brings in big-name talent like Trevor Noah, Tiffany Haddish, John Mulaney, Anjelah Johnson, Joel McHale, Howie Mandel, Kathy Griffin, Seth Meyers, and George Lopez – just to name a few.
2018 was the first time I was actually back in Michigan for LaughFest. I had the opportunity to see Grand Rapids comedy all-stars like AnnaFlora Somers, Sean Francis, and Joe Anderson perform. Grand Rapids has a thriving arts community worth checking out if you live there or find yourself visiting GR someday.
LaughFest also includes unique events that aren’t just about comedy performances, but the joy of laughter and humor. One of those, Laughter Yoga, was something that I had the opportunity to do with my good friend Allison. I knew of yoga and laughter, but not Laughter Yoga. I was intrigued and thought it would be something fun to try. The best part is that my friend Allison also happens to be the person I love to make laugh the most, so I knew it would be perfect for the both of us to experience together.
Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids is the charitable non-profit organization that puts on LaughFest every year. It offers free emotional support for cancer patients, family members, and friends. The great thing about LaughFest is that it is not just a comedy festival; It also raises money for Gilda’s Club to continue to help those affected by cancer. It’s a truly amazing event, because it brings the community of Grand Rapids together for a good cause.
Our adventure with Laughter Yoga took place on the very last day of the LaughFest program. It was a Sunday afternoon, and this event was going to be held at the actual Gilda’s Club location. I had never been there before, so I was excited to see it. Our group included people of all ages and backgrounds. Allison and I prepared by wearing out workout attire to this event, assuming there would be actual yoga work involved. Although we did a bunch of laughter exercises, the best way to describe our experience was very similar to that of a basic improvisation class more so than a yoga class.
Because laughter reduces stress, as does yoga, it would make sense to combine the two. I definitely felt the positive effects of all the laughing that we did that day, but I do think the marketing is a little misleading. It’s a free event so harm no foul, and more importantly, it was fun to do something with my friend and the Grand Rapids community. The thing is though, we were expecting more of a yoga-type class that included laughter. For marketing purposes, yoga sounds more appealing, but I would keep in mind that Laughter Yoga is more similar to that of an improv or intro-level theater class, than a fitness format.
At the end of the day though, being in my hometown and spending the day with one of my best friends made it a really great experience.
New York City is full of diverse museums to check out. From Ellis Island and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to even a Museum of Sex (I kid you not), there really is something for everyone here.
I love museums but visiting them can take a toll financially after a while. That’s why when I discovered that some of the museums in New York offer free entry on Friday evenings, I was ecstatic. My first free-entry-Friday was at the Museum of Modern Art, aka MoMA, in Midtown Manhattan. This isn’t just your standard museum full of paintings. It also features interpretive, unique art pieces, which included videos and photographs on display.
After looking at the museum's brochure further, I learned that one of the most iconic paintings of all-time and my personal favorite, Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, was on display there. I was floored. I had been in Paris last summer and had heard that Starry Night was at another art museum I didn’t have a chance to get to, so when I realized that my favorite painting was a mere two escalator rides up from where I was standing, it was a surreal moment.
When it comes to seeing the more-famous paintings at a museum, always follow the crowds. While at the Museum of Modern Art, I knew that when I saw a bigger crowd standing around a certain painting, I knew it was the one. Starry Night was just as beautiful as I had imagined. I know that sounds cheesy but it really was. I love the color pattern and the connection with nature that it reflects. I’m a big nature person, so perhaps that is why I respond to this one more than others. No offense Mona Lisa; You are cool too.
I will say though, when it comes to traveling with young kids, I probably wouldn’t take them to this particular art museum if some edgier material may make anyone uncomfortable. It’s not that the museum is out of control with controversial artwork, but just some of the artwork was a little more graphic.
The fact that people in New York City can see Starry Night for free - at least for the near future - completely blows my mind. It’s a great deal!
If you are interested in visiting the Museum of Modern Art, free entry is every Friday from 4pm-8pm.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com