50 Dirhams a Day: New York City

50 Dirhams a Day: New York City

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AED 50 = $13.61

It’s 9 am. You’re in New York City, armed with $14 (50 dirhams) and no plans.

Start your day by walking to to Union Square for the Greenmarket, a farmers’ market that transforms the west side of the square into a cornucopia of fresh produce, artisanal treats, and pleasing chaos. Meander around the market, and you will find New Jersey-picked Honeycrisp apples (75 cents each), sprouted whole-wheat croissants ($3), and New York grapes.

When you’ve had your fill, walk west to the Highline on 10th Avenue. Enjoy the window displays of shops and cafes as you mosey uptown to 20th Street, where you’ll stumble upon the densely populated Chelsea gallery district. Galleries are open to the public and free.

When you’re done Instagramming select works from the galleries, walk east to General Worth Square between Broadway and Fifth (near Madison Square Park). These restaurant tents house every cuisine, from New Orleans style gumbo and Asian-inspired hot dogs to Roberta’s Pizza and Sicilian rice balls. One dish at any of these restaurants should be about $6-7.

For $5, purchase a pay-per-ride Metro Card and take the 6 train uptown to 68th street. Amble west to Madison Avenue and, walking uptown, you will come across the Frick and the Whitney Museums. Flash your NYU student ID and you have free access to an afternoon of art! In addition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 82nd Street is donation-based, so pay what the art is worth to you (as little as one penny). Make sure to head to the roof before 5 pm, where you’ll find arguably the best view of the city along with great drinks and Astroturf made for napping.  Here’s where I leave you: on the top of the Met at sunset. Finish the day by getting lost in Central Park (it’s much easier than you think).

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[Photo credits: Allie Williams. Top: the Highline during the day. Bottom: the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

50 Dirhams a Day: Abu Dhabi

50 Dirhams a Day: Abu Dhabi

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Abu Dhabi offers plenty to do on a sunny afternoon, but it can be difficult to plan budget-friendly excursions. Here, I suggest a plan for an “expat” afternoon without an “expat” salary.

These activities are best enjoyed after 4:30pm, when Abu Dhabi’s merciless heat relents and the sun starts to slowly sink towards the horizon.

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Start at Corniche Gate 6. To the right of the beach entrance is a bike rental shop. Thirty dirhams for an hour-long bike rental is worth spending the majority of your budget. If you do not have a backpack, ask for a bike with a basket.

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Ride towards Gate 4. Enjoy the view of the beach to your right. When you get to the intersection between Corniche Road and 30th Street (Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street), cross the street to the left and bike towards Electra Street. In the corner between Electra and 30th Street, you will find a small desserts place called “Maison Sucre,” which is French for “Sweet House.” When you enter, you’ll think you entered candy heaven. Everything from the ceiling decorations to the aprons hung looks like it’s straight out of a storybook. The bakery has a variety of small desserts including cake balls, cupcakes and macaroons, but keep your eye on the prize – their Nutella cupcake. While there is space for you to dine at Maison Sucre,  I recommend delaying your gratification and ordering your treat to go.

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Hop on your bike and ride back towards the Corniche. When you get there, go to your right, back towards Gate 6. You might forget you are in Abu Dhabi for a moment; the breeze brushing your face and arms assuages the afternoon heat and the tree gauntlet provides a lush veil over  the urban view. You will eventually find a small area with benches overlooking the sea. At this point, the sun will have lowered, shining onto the water. Sit under the tent and savor view—and your cupcake! After this hour-long excursion you will need to return your bike, but don’t worry: you still have an hour until it’s dark, which gives you time to go to the beach and celebrate the end of the day with a beautiful Abu Dhabi sunset.

[Photo credits: Lucia Salem.]

50 Dirhams a Day: Paris

50 Dirhams a Day: Paris

(50 dirhams = 10 euros: December 2013)

The thought of spending 10 euros for an entire day in Paris may strike you as a daunting task, but arm yourself with a map and a good pair of walking shoes, leave the guidebook at home, and set out for a day of wandering.

Start your day at the Tuileries, the one place in Paris that bathes in sunlight no matter the time of year, and walk along the wide, tree-lined paths while the top of the Eiffel Tower peeps out at you between the tree branches. Unless it’s the first Sunday of the month or if you happen to be an E.U. resident (in which case, entry is free), make a mental note to return to the Louvre museum on another day and walk for now past the gilded pyramid, continuing to the shaded streets along the right bank of the Seine. Yield to the smell of baking bread wafting your way and enter any one of the numerous boulangeries, where a freshly baked croissant will set you back about €1.

Munching happily on your croissant, continue along the Seine and take the time to peruse through the old posters and books proffered by the aged owners of the bouquinistes, the green boxes dotting the bank that open up into second-hand, antiquarian shops. A poster of the iconic chat noir costs about €3, and can add a splash of animated color to your walls.

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By now, your tiring feet may be calling for a pause, so take a break and spend about €2 on an espresso at any café of your choosing, and make sure to ask for a seat on the patio. You can stay and wind down for as long as you like, so lose track of time by people-watching or by filling in your travel journal. Entrance to the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral is free, and if you’re lucky you might catch one of the mesmerizing afternoon sermons. If the long line and large crowds dissuade you, however, just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral is the fabled Shakespeare & Company bookstore, a delightful place to while away a lazy afternoon.

Paris by night is in an entirely different realm from Paris by day, so allow yourself to be distracted by little side-streets, large squares and other diversions as you, eventually, meander your way to a jazz club: several places, such as the Caveau des Oubliettes often have free concerts. Congratulate yourself as you realize, while rummaging through the coins in your pocket, that you have enough money left for a crèpe or a drink, and let the music wash over your ears as you relax.

As your day in Paris comes to a close, you may not have gotten your picture in front of the  Mona Lisa, but between the numerous monuments and museums dispersed around Paris are the small pockets where, it seems, time moves slower and the moment becomes more real: cafés, bookstores, gardens. Maybe tomorrow, when you have a camera in your hand and more than 50 dirhams in your pocket, you might visit the Louvre or you might climb the Eiffel Tower, but make sure not to walk too quickly.

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50 Dirhams a Day: Buenos Aires

50 Dirhams a Day: Buenos Aires

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50 AED = 70 Argetine pesos (April 2013)

You’ve got seventy Argentine pesos in your pocket, and the day ahead of you. Where to start?

Wherever you wake up, you can surely find a coffee and a croissant nearby – café y medialunas are the most Argentine way to start the day. Café Josephine in Recoleta, Delicious Café closer to the NYU site or even Oui Oui in Palermo all do the job nicely, and you’ll only have spent fifteen or so of your hard-earned pesos.

Take a stroll down Avenida Figueroa Alcorta in the midday sun, stopping off in Plaza de las Naciones Unidas to admire Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano’s giant steel sculpture, Floralis Genérica (ab0ve). Cool off in the contemporary Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (sixteen pesos with your student ID) or Museo Nacional de Buenos Aires (free!) before heading over to Recoleta for the afternoon.

Stop by a sandwichería to pick up something to keep you going – try Mon Oncle on Avenida Pueyrredón and practice your Spanish with the couple behind the counter. Head over to Recoleta’s famous cemetery (below) and spend a free hour or so wandering amongst the stunning monuments. Snap yourself out of your reverie with a café cortado at Clásica y Moderna and bring a book – you’ve still got a while before dinnertime.

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Buenos Aires runs late. Head to eat out at a restaurant before 10:30PM and you’ll probably be surrounded by small children. Maybe grab a siesta and then stop by Social de Lechuza later on for an authentic Argentine steak, but maybe split one with a friend – the steaks are huge, and you want to keep a few of those pesos for the night ahead.

You’ve still got a while, as nightlife in Buenos Aires doesn’t wind down until about 6AM. From Lechuza, you can walk into Palermo Soho and find your own favorite nightspot. Dance the night away mixing with pretty porteños (Buenos Aires natives), and then head home to grab some sleep before another day in the city. Recount the night’s adventures to your friends over more coffee and croissants the next morning, and then head to a park. The food may be excellent, and the museums may be great, but a day spent with friends in a park is the true Buenos Aires life.

[Photos by Jason Lester]

50 Dirhams a Day: Abu Dhabi

50 Dirhams a Day: Abu Dhabi

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You will want to start early; Abu Dhabi is savored best before noon. Depending on how sympathetic the weather is to your flâneur spirit, you could walk to Al Khaleej Bakery down Hamdan and Salaam street (or you could take a taxi). Inside the bakery, the clientele stands at the counter, looking through the window behind the counter, where half a dozen men knead and balance paddles of dough into a large wood-fire oven. Above, there is a sign in Arabic that reads to the effect of “Cleanliness is from Faith.” I recommenced the cheese manakeesh (4.5 dhs), but there are other options, like za’tar, spinach or minced meat.

You will emerge from the bakery soaked to the bone with steam and the smell of bread, ready to take on this relatively sterilized side of the road. I’ll leave it in your hands to find somewhere to get chai (1 dirham) –chai kiosks are everywhere, and your status as a local depends on your ability to find them. Here’s a tip—you could try Afrah Refreshments, across the street near the Russian embassy.  Then make your way to Capital Gardens. (You might wish that you’d brought a sturdier covered mug with you, to accommodate all this walking, but hey, casually sipping from a styrofoam cup makes you look more like a local than toting a Starbucks mug.)

Once you enter the park (walking beneath two tilted ibrik sculptures definitely justifies the one-dirham entrance fee), find a place to sit by the fountain, maybe near the flowers or some moody-looking teen couples. Politely decline the horse keeper’s offer of a horseback ride (or accept it, but then you might not have enough money left at the end of the day for ice cream) and peruse the charming—if not confusing—grafitti plastered on the electricity vaults .

Duck into Thrift, one of the few second-hand book shops you’re likely to find in Abu Dhabi. The books are incredibly cheap (averaging between 9-18 AED) and amidst all the would-be bestsellers, there are some legitimately unique finds. Linger for a while, buy something if you like, then be on your way. There are a few options at this point: you could get your free art fix of the day and hang out at the Cultural Foundation, check out Ghaf Gallery, or Acento Gallery at the Mina. If you’re hungry, then follow Hamdan Street in the general direction of NYU’s Downtown Campus, but turn into the alley two buildings before the Crowne Plaza, where you’ll find Hatam at-Tae’i.

Named after a Pre-Islamic Arabian poet known for his extravagant generosity, this aptly titled restaurant knows their stuff. They offer 25-dirham specials of Persian-style meat/fish/vegetable combos with rice. Sit down, and savor the place in all its yellow-walled, TV-documentary showing glory. If you didn’t buy a book or a horse ride, then you probably have enough to buy some ice cream (15 dhs). If you don’t have any extra dirham, then forego dinner in favor of ice cream. The ice cream here is not just any ice cream: it is thick, vaguely chewy, oh so refreshing saffron ice cream and its clean taste is the perfect companion to a hazy Abu Dhabi evening.  Take the ice cream to go—you should be outside for such a transformative experience—and walk or take a taxi to the mina, then sit by the dhow harbor and watch the sunset.

50 Dirhams at Night: Accra

50 Dirhams at Night: Accra

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50 AED = 28 cedis [GH₵] (April 2013)

Perhaps you spent the day at school, immersed in the Pan-African theories of Ghana’s founder, Kwame Nkrumah, or at your internship for the nearby hospital. Or maybe you sweated your way through the sprawling open-air Makola Market, purchasing off-brand toothpaste and colorful African print to add to your ever-growing fabric collection. Maybe you tasted the plantain chips, roasted yams, groundnut paste (essentially, peanut butter), and impossibly sweet pineapples sold at the stands on the side of the road.

You might think you’ve seen all Accra has to offer.

As the sun goes down, however, Accra’s vibrant arts, music and literature scene comes alive. Twenty-eight cedis in your pocket is all you need to immerse yourself in that world.

First, before leaving your neighborhood, catch a bite to eat at the famed Auntie Muni’s. Widely touted as the best waakye (a beans and rice dish) joint in all of Accra, this budget-friendly meal will run you no more than seven cedis. If you’ve already grabbed dinner, or are in the mood for something sweet, the recently opened Italian-style gelateria, Arlecchino, on bustling Oxford Street, offers some exotic flavors, including cashew, for around the same price.

While you’re in the trendy Osu neighborhood, consider stopping by +233 Jazz Bar and Grill (so named for Accra’s mobile area code). For five cedis, you’ll hear Ghanaian and other African musicians live. Or bring your five cedis to The Republic, where one night you might hear a Nigerian band cover “Wonderwall” and “Use Somebody”, and the next cheer for an expat college student as she opens for a local jazz band. Either way, five cedis well spent.

Afterwards, swing by Reggae Night at Labadi Beach, where another five cedis will get you a slightly grungier and certainly sandier experience, or head to an event at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium like the Independence Day concert, which featured dozens of West African artists. Ask anyone to teach you the azonto, the newest Ghanaian dance craze that’s sweeping the West African and international music scene.

By now, you’ve heard everything from American pop covers to traditional Ghanaian high-life to reggae. How about some spoken word?

It can be tricky finding out about art events and exhibits in Accra, where art galleries and theaters are fairly recent and their websites outdated and unhelpful. Here’s a trick: head to Facebook and other social media platforms for the most up-to-date information.

The Goethe-Institut, Alliance-Francaise, Nubuke Foundation, and the Dei Centre all put on exceptional exhibits and events, most of which you can discover through their Facebook pages if not their websites. For example, the arts collective Ehalakasa hosts monthly “Talk Parties” at the Nubuke Foundation – essentially open mic nights. For ten cedis, you’ll get to hear and rub shoulders with some of Ghana’s most well-recognized performers, including Mutombo da Poet and WanLov the Kubolor.

If you didn’t buy a gelato earlier, you’ll have a few cedis left over, which you can use to pick up a CD from one of the artists you heard tonight. The CD purchase will support the Ghanaian arts scene and be a lasting memento of the evening—a unique souvenir of your time in Accra. Just make sure to keep back a few cedis so that you can split the cost of a taxi home with some friends.

With its colorful markets and rich heritage sites, Accra during the day is something to see. But Accra at night, that’s something to experience.

[Photo credit: Lauren Horst. Independence Day concert at Ohene Djan Sports Stadium]

 

 

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