Sampling the delights of Astoria, Queens, New York City
What the pandemic didn't do to any plans for international travel, inflation did. Our trips abroad these days are the kind that get us home in time for a late dinner.
We've been to Russia (Brighton Beach), China (Flushing, Queens), India and Ecuador (Jackson Heights, the Dominican Republic (Inwood), and Poland (Greenpoint, Brooklyn).
Now it was time to go back to Greece (Astoria, Queens), a long-time favorite trip.
This “international” expedition began with one of our favorite modes of transportation: a ferry ride. The NYC Ferry Service boasts six routes and costs the princely sum of $4.00 per ride (subsidized no doubt by the city’s onerous tax burden, thankyouverymuch to New York City taxpayers who include, of course, us!).
We learned our lesson, however, which is not to take the ferry from Carl Shurz Park at 90th and the East River to Astoria. That’s only one stop! Next trip we’ll schlep on down to Pier 11 at Wall Street and ride back up the East River to Astoria. That way we're sure to get our money's worth.
Astoria is widely understood throughout the city to be primarily a Greek neighborhood which is less true now than in the years following the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Until that particular bit of legislative magic, Greeks along with Italians, and Eastern Europeans were seen as “undesirable” and even — gasp — Unamerican. Once the doors were flung open, however, something north of 150,000 people from Greece immigrated to the United States with most of them settling in Astoria.
By 1970, Astoria had the largest population of people from Greece outside of the country itself.
That was not particularly in evidence as we stepped off the ferry and made our way down 30th Avenue in search of lunch. And Greece. After all, that’s what put Astoria on the map, right? Everything changes in this city and while there are still plenty of Greek restaurants, there’s a lot of everything else thrown into the mix.
Unlike other markedly ethnic neighborhoods like Brighton Beach or Jackson Heights or Greenpoint, Astoria didn’t boast anything in the way of Greek signage along Steinway Street. Also, finding the mural of Marsha P. Johnson on the side of the King of Queens autobody shop indicated that more influences were at play these days in Astoria.
This didn’t diminish the trip in any way. Point your face or your camera in any direction in this city and something curious and interesting will be there.
After a delectable Greek lunch at Ovelia Greek Grill at 34–01 30th Avenue, we made our way down to Steinway Street which is one of Astoria’s main drags. Contrary to my preference, Steinway Street doesn’t seem to be where Steinway pianos were ever manufactured. Instead, the first big Hellman’s mayonnaise factory called Steinway Street home from 1915 to 1922.
That’s today’s useless bit of trivia. Go wow your friends with that one.
As the sun was setting, we made our way back up 30th Avenue to the subway and headed back to Harlem. If we didn’t exactly feel as if we’d spent the day in some curiously urban Greek neighborhood we did feel as if we’d been far away and that’s good enough.
And being home before dark? Also good enough!
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