Posts Tagged With: Washington

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.

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten!

Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the terrorists attacks in the United States. To me it feels as if it happened yesterday.

I remember where I was – living in Portland, Oregon, where I worked as a reporter for the state’s largest newspaper, The Oregonian. That previous week, I had worked long days and extra hours, so I had been granted a day off to catch up on some much-needed rest. I was in a deep sleep when the first phone call of the day came from a colleague. She didn’t bother with the usual “hello”. Her immediate frantic words were: “Mike, New York is under attack!”

Groggy and still half-asleep, I gently protested that she woke me up and asked what in the world was this about. She told me to put on the news. I turned on the television and didn’t have to switch the channel to find the unfolding drama as every television channel was broadcasting it live. Still, I switched to CNN, because what I was seeing on the television seemed unreal, like a Hollywood movie. Soon after I had tuned in, right there on live television, the second airplane crashed into the second World Trade Center tower.

I tried to call my family in New York to see if everyone was okay and out of harm’s way, but the phone calls would not go through. The phone lines were either jammed or down.

As I watched this insanity unfold, the second phone call came, this one from my editor who said he realized that it was my day off, but “we need all hands on deck.”

As I made my way to the office, I caught my first surreal image of a nation at war: A pickup truck sped up Broadway, one of the main downtown streets, with a man in the back holding high a very large American flag. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at him, struggling to hold the flag high in the wind and to the truck’s jerky movements. As the truck slowed at a traffic signal, he looked dead at me and said nothing. There was fire in his eyes. He seemed ready for a fight. I guess it was his way of sending a message to the terrorists.

September 11, 2001, touched me in much deeper ways – an attack on a city that I love filled with family and friends who worked either in the towers or the World Trade Center area. My hometown, where as a teenager in Brooklyn I would stare at the Manhattan skyline dominated by the Twin Towers. Those attacks affected friends and family in unimaginable ways. Some are simply not the same people. I’m not the same person. I still travel and will never stop traveling, but like so many, I am wary. I study every passenger who comes aboard a flight I’m on and think about what I could and would do in the event of a terrorist act aboard. It’s the new reality we live in.

At one point that day 10 years ago, I ended up in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Downtown Portland, sitting alone and being comforted by a complete stranger – A woman who didn’t have to ask what was wrong. On that day, 300 million Americans grieved over the same loss and the rest of the world joined in that grief.

So I take this day to remember those nearly 3,000 people from all walks of life; representing dozens of nationalities, who lost their lives 10 years ago. And I pray that these evil men who profess to follow the teachings of a holy book and yet kill helpless men, women and children in the name of religion, are defeated once and for all. Evil is evil, no matter how they try to wrap it.

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