Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mike’s Top 10 Must-See Cities In The United States

Mike's must-see U.S. cities

                                                                              

I have been to most of the 50 states that comprise the United States of America – 49 of them to be exact – with Alaska the only one I’m yet to visit. I missed dozens of chances to visit Alaska when I lived in the state of Oregon, from which there were several daily flights to Alaska. So now Alaska tops my list of places I must visit in the United States. I will get there in due course.

Because of my having been to 49 of the 50 states, I am often asked which is my favorite or which ones are worth a visit. My simple answer is all of them – every state has something unique to offer. Some states, of course, have more to see and do than others and even more important, some welcome tourists and outsiders with open arms. In other words, the people are super friendly and welcoming.

The second question I get asked most is which American cities are the best to visit. Again, every city is different. But I do have my own Top 10 list of favorite U.S. cities and I often suggest they are not to be missed. Since everybody from Lonely Planet to  Conde Nast have been producing lists of places to visit, why not me? 🙂 So here’s my list, of Top 10 U.S. cities to visit, in order of which you should try to visit first. I have spent a great deal of time in all these cities, and so I know them from fairly to very well. (click on the links on the corresponding links for more about each city). So drum roll, the cities in the United States not to be missed are:

New York, New York: So nice, they named it twice

New York, New York: So nice, they named it twice

1.  New York  – New York City is the largest city in the United States – with 8 million people chasing after something. It is my hometown, so you might say I am biased in my assessment of New York being the greatest city on Earth. I have been to cities large and small on every continent (except Australia – getting there!) and I am yet to experience a city like New York. Paris may be the most visited city on Earth but it does not hold a candle to New York and what New York offers. New York is indeed a city that never sleeps. You can do anything you want in New York at any time of day or night: Feel like going to a party at 10 in the morning? There’s one just getting started. Feeling sick from all that alcohol you’ve consumed? There’s a 24-hour drug store. Had a fight with your girlfriend at 2 in the morning and want to buy her flowers at 3 a.m.? There’s the florist selling flowers at that hour. Feel like breakfast at any hour of the day? You got it. Want to see a show? No problem. On and on. The city brims with excitement. And there’s so much free stuff happening in the city, it’s amusing to me that people say New York is expensive. It is to tourists who don’t do their homework – or know a local connected and in-the-know. The excitement from people chasing after something in New York indeed never stops.

2.  Washington, D.C. – The nation’s capital, it’s packed with things to see and do year-round. Washington boasts monuments that are a must-see; cool neighborhoods with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes; and like New York, people from all over the world. It is also the nerve center of politics. Your embassy is highly likely somewhere in Washington. As a teenager, I spent summers  in Washington, staying with an uncle and other relatives who live there. And as an adult, there always seemed a reason to return to Washington, either for work or for pleasure, sometimes both.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

3.  San Francisco – One of America’s most beautiful cities. Also one of its most progressive and easy-going. It’s home to the famed Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars that roll along its hilly streets.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This city by the bay is definitely my favorite in terms of the cool, kick back, light ’em up vibe. Not far from the city you can see giant sequoia trees, trees so massive in size they boggle the mind. I always enjoy getting back to San Francisco, but mostly in summer as the city tends to be foggy and damp and cold come winter.

4.  Chicago – I used to go to Chicago only for conferences or other job-related reasons. Then during one of those conventions, I decided to stick around and actually see the city. It was summer and so I rented a bicycle and off I went. That’s when I gained a real appreciation for Chicago. Lots of outdoor activities, the lakefront beaches, the thriving neighborhoods; a bustling center, great restaurants! Once, I even decided to spend a winter in Chicago for the sheer experience. The Windy City lived up to its reputation, with temperatures dropping to below freezing and lots of snow falling and I loved it. Bundle up in winter and you should be fine. There are enough cafes to keep you warm. Take a trip to the top of what until recently was the tallest building in the United States – the Willis Tower – for spectacular views.

My kind of town...Chicago!

My kind of town…Chicago!

5.  Seattle – I will never forget this: I was driving from Vancouver, Canada, back to Portland, Oregon, and when I reached Seattle at a point on Interstate 5, my jaw dropped. Before me was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen: The City of Seattle. It was striking, with snow-blanketed volcanoes looming large, the harbor, the gleaming buildings, the city lights. I felt as if I needed to share this picturesque moment with someone, so I got on the phone and called my friend Teresa to describe what I was seeing. Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, is a great city with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. It’s just a few hours drive to Vancouver, Canada, and a pleasant ferry ride to Victoria, Canada. It’s home to many hi-tech companies, including the behemoth Microsoft. The people of Seattle, as Pacific Northwestern folk tend to be, are among the most friendly and helpful and polite in the United States. Bring your walking shoes and take a trip into the woods or up a mountain. Mount Rainier is mesmerizing – an active volcano so close to the city – is worth seeing.

Seattle

Seattle

6.  Portland – Ah, Portland. No, not Portland, Maine, but Portland, Oregon. This city is the most civil I’ve ever lived in in the United States, though some complain it has changed somewhat with the influx of the not-so-civil Californians 🙂 Still, Portland is a well-run city, a mini version of Seattle. Portland is also neighborhoods with shops and cafes.

Downtown Portland

Downtown Portland

Coffee fuels this town (as it does Seattle). And microbreweries. The city has a thriving nightlife, and a healthy rotation of monthly happenings. During the Rose Festival the city is even more alive. Have a stroll along Waterfront Park, or take a drive to Multnomah Falls for  a nice hike. The city blends urban and nature well, with the largest urban forest in the United States, Forrest Park. I love Portland. I spent nearly 10 years living there and will always consider it my second hometown. On clear days, stare at Mount Hood. Everyone does.

7.  Miami – Oh Miami. First of all, let’s get one thing straight: There is Miami and there is Miami Beach. The two are different cities that tend to be lumped together, but they couldn’t  be more different. One – Miami Beach – is on a barrier island where the famed South Beach is located. Miami – the larger – is on the mainland and home to Little Havana and Little Haiti. Together, they are one gigantic thriving metropolis focused on fun, fun, fun. People come here for the weather, the beaches, the parties, the nightlife. You come to Miami/Miami Beach to let the good times roll. Miami/Miami Beach is definitely a playground for grown ups, with exposed hot bods everywhere. Try to connect with a local to find the bargains or learn where the best places are to not overspend. Drinks here are outrageously expensive, if you don’t know where to look. Enjoy the sun! And bring your Spanish to this heavily Latin city. It helps.

8.  New Orleans – Let’s not talk about New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Wow-wee! Suffice to say it’s an anything goes, alcohol-fueled, sexy party. The French Quarter is where it all happens. There’s great music here, including some of the best jazz you’ll ever hear. And the food is uniquely New Orleans. Gumbo, anyone?  I love the architecture in the French Quarter. And the uninhibited nature of things. I think I’ve seen it all here. If The United States had an Amsterdam, New Orleans would be it. Or would that be San Francisco? 🙂

The madness of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter

The madness of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter

9.  San Diego – A quick dash to Tijuana on the Mexican border, San Diego is a nice city with nice weather and perhaps some of the nicest people in California. I’ve made several trips here and I always felt relaxed in the city. It doesn’t have that hustle and bustle that other U.S. cities have. Or at least I’ve never sensed it. Come enjoy its beaches, its restaurants and its chilled nightlife. One of the few places in the United States you can actually swim in the Pacific Ocean and not feel you will freeze to death.

10. Los Angeles – Okay, anybody who knows me knows that I have little love for Los Angeles. It’s my least favorite large cities in the United States. I’ve never been impressed with the city, with its congested highways and smoggy air. Take away Hollywood and L.A. is even less impressive. But one year I saw L.A. with locals and I was more in tune with the city that I had ever been. There were a few cool bars without the pretentiousness that permeates this city. And I actually felt a new appreciation for the city. But it remains low on my list but still worth a visit because, after all, how can you deny Venice Beach? Or Santa Monica? Or several other sites and sounds of the city worth experiencing. Just good luck getting there with the traffic.

Categories: posts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Through Ups And Downs, Walking Shoes Come Undone

Got flip flops, now how about  new walking shoes?

Got flip flops, now how about new walking shoes?

Things fall apart – or are lost – or are simply intentionally left behind.

I’ve lost many items along the way, some through theft, others through carelessness, but the bulk of it all I happily gave away to someone in need. Traveling for a long time you shed things but you also somehow gain things. The trick is to carry just what you need. Your spinal column and aching shoulders sure appreciate it.

Among the things that have mysteriously vanished or I’ve had to let go: a laptop that was nothing but trouble from Day One; two cell phones; a beloved Swiss Army knife; items of clothing for all sorts of climates; shoulder bags and backpacks for day trips; and on and on. Some I’ve replaced. Some, such as the laptop, I still need to replace. And now, one of the few items that has been with me from the first day of this long journey – my trusted walking shoes – must be retired.

It’s been a good run for my New Balance MW955’s. They weren’t built for running, but I ran in them hundreds of times trying to catch some bus or train or boat or plane. Or just trying to catch up and keep up on some uphill trail or jagged mountain slope. In them I’ve sloshed across rivers and streams, their Gore-Tex technology effectively keeping my feet dry. For more than three years, they served me well on rocky trails and city streets. And they even showed their nimbleness on a few dance floors :). In rain or snow, from the beaches of Tayrona in Colombia, to the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia, to the high reaches of the Andes in Argentina, these shoes have seen it all. In a deep freeze or extreme heat, they’ve  done their job with magnificent comfort. (Wow, do I sound like an advert or what? 🙂

Over desert sand and mountain snow; these shoes have covered some serious ground

Over desert sand and mountain snow; these shoes have covered some serious ground

But seriously, shoes, any season traveler will tell you, are probably the most important purchase you will make toward fulfilling your travel goals. If your shoes are uncomfortable,  so will your trip, plain and simple. So it was important to me to have the proper shoes for a journey that would involved every conceivable type of terrain and weather condition. A shoe that would hold up over time to overuse and overexposure even to things one could not have imagined. Oil spill? Yeah, I saw that coming! Raw sewage all over the ground? Ah ha. Ice and snow on the desert sand? Very funny, Mother Nature!

I went to an REI store in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., in anticipation of this journey.The store clerk said these shoes would stand up to any harsh environment and golly gee, they did. But nothing lasts forever. They’ve now started to crumble at the soles and comp apart at the seams. As I set out on a short hike recently in Lagos, Portugal, I felt a dampness at the bottom of my feet and at that point realized the shoes were disintegrating. Now they must go – or risk grave injury to my dear ol’ feet. We can’t have that, now, can we?

For those curious or with a deep interest in shoes, a bit more specifics about the walking shoes I chose, as described here on Amazon.com:

  • Leather and mesh
  • Rubber sole
  • ABZORB provides a superior blend of cushioning and compression set features with Dupont Engage and Isoprene rubber for the ultimate ride
  • C-CAP is a compression-molded EVA for superior midsole cushioning and flexibility
  • Gore-Tex
  • ROLLBAR TPU posting system minimizes rear-foot movement that, when combined with TS2 system, achieves the ultimate in motion control
  • 3/4 ROCK STOP plate utilizes a flexible protective layer that protects feet from rocks and shock, minimizing pressure, and dispersing shock energy

Now doesn’t all that sound badass?

A hole in my sole

A hole in my sole

This week I am off to a outdoor store to find a new pair of proper walking shoes. It won’t be easy – shopping for shoes outside of the United States has never been easy for me – because I have big feet, size 13’s to be exact. For years I had been squeezing my feet uncomfortably into size 12’s or even 11 and a halves depending on the cut, in denial that I have big feet. But in the REI store in Portland, the sales clerk was not shy about dishing out a huge dose of reality: “You are size 13,” she said. “Buy size 13 or your extended trip won’t last beyond the airport departure gate.” When I slipped on the shoes I was wowed by that new feeling of shoe comfort, after years of torturing my feet. Heck, I trip over them often enough, how could I possibly deny them?

Just last week here in Portugal, I was shopping for flip flops at the local surf shop where they had hundreds of them on display. But only one pair in my size. One pair! If I didn’t jump on them, I would be out of luck if another guy with oversize feet walked in to buy them. That’s been my challenge with shoes traveling abroad. Big American feet don’t get a break. And Europe isn’t half as bad as South America! I once tried to buy dress shoes in Chile for a special occasion and it became a shopping expedition that lasted weeks through several stores. I finally settled on the largest size one store had buried deep in the stock room – size 12’s – with the sales clerk assuring me that they would stretch after several wears. Yeah, right. After I squeezed my feet into them, not without discomfort, I was out of them before the evening was through, dancing in my socks at one point instead. Everywhere I went I was told there isn’t much of a demand for size 13’s in much of South America where much of the population is indigenous, small in stature, and have small feet. Even South Americans of European descent as a whole can’t touch size 13. Nevertheless, off we will go in Portugal to shop for new walking shoes. I can’t travel the world shoeless, can I? Hmmmm….

Thanks for the amazing treks!

Size 13’s, anyone?

Categories: asides, posts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Look To Asia, Not Europe, To Live Abroad

WANT TO LIVE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY? A newly released study says Asia is your best bet and Western Europe your worst

WANT TO LIVE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY? A newly released study says Asia is your best bet and Western Europe your worst. CLICK map for story.

 

Categories: asides, posts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: