Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Swiss countryside

Cities are humanity.  They are where we grab great dinners, check out storied art, meet other "cool" people, and stroll around while connecting dots and curiously peering in windows.  When "we" travel, especially in Europe, it seems the city is the institution that we visit.  Sure, the countryside races by on rolling train rides between Europe's great centers, but it is the city that grabs the traveler.  Paris, Barcelona, London, Prague - the city is the reward and destination, the places we write home about.  But to know the whole story of any country, one must read passed the opening chapter.  One must travel beyond the city walls.

The edge of the city does not announce itself, and through years of travel, I have grown appreciative of the subtleties of reaching open space, which is both dramatic in relativism and quiet in introduction.  After days of bathing in humanity and the shuffle of urban life, I find myself looking longingly at maps for quaint places that I have never heard of, picturing peace, simplicity, and adventure.  Rivers look curious, lakes have a sort of splendid solidarity, and national parks invite the traveler with a promise of wild edges and marooned corners of ecological decadence too wild to birth civilization.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The world's creepiest abandoned cities

I wrote this piece right before Kristin and I married, almost 2 years ago.  Over a million people read it, and I just noticed that I never published it on goboogo.  So, here it is.  Here is the original run.

Some cities die. The people leave, the streets go quiet, and the isolation takes on the macabre shape of a forlorn ghost-town - crumbling with haunting neglect and urban decay. From Taiwan to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, these abandoned cities lurk in the shadows of civilization. Their histories are carried in hushed whispers and futures stillborn from the day of their collapse. Some have fallen victim to catastrophe while others simply outlive their function. I think we can all agree on one thing - they are all very creepy.

abandoned cities

Location: Pripyat, Ukraine - 100km from Kiev
Story: On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl reactor began its tragic meltdown. The incident was a huge blow to the viability of the nuclear energy platform, and still today, the town of Pripyat is an abandoned shell of a city frozen in a 1980's Soviet time-warp. While the failed reactor has been entombed in a an appropriate sounding casing called a "sarcophagus," the area remains unsafe for human life. The town has thrived in one aspect though. Wildlife has returned to the area in droves. Wolves silently hunt among the towering apartment buildings, and boars forage for food in the abandoned amusement park - which strangely opened the day after the reactor explosion in the midst of evacuation.
Abandoned since: 1986

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tokyo Kawaii - Overdosing on cute in the heart of Japan

Kristin and I jumped over to Tokyo for a few nights last summer.  While there, we had a great time, checking out a bunch of amazing stuff.  Tokyo immediately vaulted towards the top of our list of favorite cities.  I took thousands of pictures, but some of my favorites are from the cute, or kawaii, side of Tokyo.

We prowled the shopping district of Ginza, bathing our eyes in untouchable Hermes bags, eating delicious baked sweets, and racing into toy stores to buy stuffed capybaras and to gawk at the multiverse of cute shoehorned into every floor.  We hit the apex of cute at Hakuhinkan Toy Park and just sort of rode the tide all the way back to the Haneda airport, where we departed, better for having visited Tokyo.

You start seeing things and it just seems normal.  "Of course," you think, why wouldn't Elmo be sitting at a table inside a bank seemingly in the middle of a conversation about CDs?  Why wouldn't the emergency exit explanation in the subway include an exit diagram with dinosaurs and other interesting trappings?  Japan seems to stamp some badge of character onto anything, and it is refreshing, and usually pretty damn cute. 

Enjoy the pictures.

The ten oldest bars and restaurants in the world

I once drank at a pub in Ireland where Vikings had commiserated after invading the Green Isle.  It was older than you or I, our great grandparents, or even the Magna Carta.  It was from the dark ages for sure, and where once Vikings swilled brews, today, tourists eat fish and chips while locals complain about Eurozone politics.  If you look closely enough and kind of squint at the Brazen Head, you can just barely picture middle ages Dublin.  You can almost smell the smoke.  If those walls could talk, they would tell the tale of mankind's ascent into a sophisticated society, for better and worse.  I wondered while I sat at the bar scribbling into my little notebook, how many other really old places are out there?

It is rare for a restaurant or bar to last a very long time - where a long time is determined with a measuring stick notched in decades.  The public houses, inns, and restaurants on this list evade conventional measurement, lasting centuries atop centuries.  These are places where arguments took place about the events we only read about in history class.  The oldest companies in the world are Japanese, but every spot on this list is European.  The Germanic people, it seems, are especially adept at building things that last a very long time. They dominate this list.

Monday, January 7, 2013

All travel is just beyond the edge

When we were young, we would explore the edges of our suburban sprawl.  We would take our bikes through neighborhoods passed gas stations and soccer fields and gargantuan power lines pumping a modern lifestyle into thousands of mcmansions, lined up like fractals from the sky.  We would ride as far as our fears would allow, conjuring myths about abandoned houses and devil worshipers, about high schoolers and coyotes.  We would push into seemingly fantastic realms, into fields untouched by development, where the fractals did not reach.  We would explore the edges, because the edges were there.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Hard to believe it has been two years since we have been to Cambodia - enjoy this picture of a lake scene on Tonle Sap from Summer of 2010.  Maybe next year we will head back to this interesting and beautiful land.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The world's best airports

The are roughly 50,000 airports in the world, of which about a quarter are in the United States.  A few weeks ago, Skytrax bravely released their list of the best 100 based on customer surveys.  Like most Skytrax surveys, the United States is noticeably absent from the top of the list making its first appearance with Cincinnati at 24th.   What is number 1? I will give you a hint; it is not this.

The list gives no points to unique airports like Male International. The Male airport is buffeted on all sides by some of the most beautiful ocean in the world; reef sharks swim just beyond luggage cart check, and the cab line is an eclectic mixture of boats and water planes.  It is like an airport from a strange dream, and yet it is really there. 

There are some great airports on this list.  Hong Kong's airport on Lantau island is a modern showpiece that is 30 minutes from the past (Tai O) and 30 minutes from the future (Central).  Singapore lives up to its billing as a the most talked about airport in the world with so many cool options.  Adults can enjoy a Singapore sling by the Crowne Plaza swimming pool (one of several pool options), and kids have access to a 4 storey swirling monster slide - the tallest in Singapore.  Schiphol in Amsterdam is perfect on account of its robust cheese selection and lodging options, such as Yotel Hotel, a by the hour type of micro-hotel with soft blankets and nice showers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The town of Rapperswil, Switzerland

Rapperswil is a great place to get lost.  Back-roads lead to quaint restaurants and quiet squares, and a castle looms uber alles reminding you that this place has been in business for a very long time.  In fact this place was booming when a map of the world looked like this.  

Located at the southern end of Lake Zurich, boats line the banks surrounding the town, and 600 different kinds of roses bloom throughout the city from June to October - a feat that granted Rapperswil the title of Rosenstadt or town of roses.  It is a town frozen in time yet functionally efficient to the modern era traveler.  One can explore medieval alleyways, inspect a 13th century castle, and order McDonald's all within a matter of 30 minutes.  It is a great place to get lost, but a better place to find. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

United offers deal of the decade: 4 miles to Hong Kong

Idiots!  Apparently some bad code in United's award travel reservation  system caused users to easily book flights to Hong Kong for only 4 miles.  Normally, such a trip would cost about 60,000 miles, but for some lucky customers this weekend, they were able to use just 4 simple miles.  That is a 99.993% discount!

Word spread across the internet about "the glitch" and many customers grabbed the incredible deal.  United is attempting to cancel the tickets.  The DOT is saying not so fast and may require United to uphold the deals.  Regardless of what happens, United appears to be in a serious free fall since merging with Continental, and perhaps this Hong Kong fare deal will mark the humorous bottom to their struggles. But, probably not.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

World's top airlines

Skytrax has released their airlines ranking for 2012, and it is no surprise that no U.S. based carrier is anywhere to be found in the top 20.  This list is similar to what you would expect with a few surprises.  Garuda almost inches into the top 10 despite being banned from flying in Europe just three years ago.  SpiceJet ranks higher than American Airlines.  Virgin Australia jumped 20 spots.  Royal Jordanian and  EgyptAir rank higher than Aerlingus - I have flown all three and would never have guessed that.

Kristin and I have flown over 30 of these carriers and I am left scratching my head more often than not. So how does this happen?  What is the methodology?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Malls of Dubai

 Dubai Malls

Every country has its own culture of shopping. Italy has the pedigree, with worn estate leather goods from Tuscany and glittering catwalks fueling Milan's couture. America boasts 5th Avenue, the biggest week in fashion, and the cookie-cutter malls of middle-America. Shopping in Paris is as elegant as it is expensive, where visiting the temples of Chanel, Dior, and Hermes is like a Hajj for fashionistas. Getting fitted for a suit on Savile Row in London is a gentlemanly apex, one that is best achieved while gently pulling on a cherry-wood pipe and commenting on cheeky matters from a pink-tinged page of the Financial Times.

In Dubai, The malls are king. Vast expanses of high end extravagance, these oases from the draping emirate heat are stocked with Gucci, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, and any other brand that peddles four-figure handbags to the jet set. Just as America brought the shopping mall to retail prominence, Dubai has perfected the art, blown it up, and put it all back together with megatons of glitter, pomp, and reckless luxury. But more so than brands and shine, the malls of Dubai also have other extraordinary features. A skating rink and a movie theater? That is so 20th century. How about scuba diving, snow skiing, and visiting the tallest building in the world? Welcome to the malls of Dubai.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

St. Lucia drifting between the Pitons

St.  Lucia is a wild breast of green land hunkered down on a line that extends across the Caribbean down to South America, an ancient mountain chain that just peaks above the water line to say hello.   Virgin forests overgrow the quiet asphalt roads that lead to black sand beaches and quiet jungle trails. Steaming collapsed calderas lurk inland, and Afro-Caribbean dancehalls fill the humid nights with the thumping jams of reggaeton.  The oft-used dancehall air horn blasts across the tear shaped island and out towards the Atlantic from decaying colonial outposts like Soufriere.  It feels like a unifying blast of something, though I never pinpointed what that something was.  It is perhaps a revelry that has taken many forms since the colonial overlords left centuries ago, shape-shifting the island into a post-colonial sliver of decay.  Or more likely, it is simply a blast that accompanies a great time at a crowded club next to a beach, under the gaze of the pitons, where tomorrow will be hot and freedom is cheap.