I can almost hear the sound of bicycle bells, shoes clicking along the streets of the Jordaan and the sound of houseboats rocking on canals. “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin."
ASHEVILLE - How to
Asheville, you're a little crunchy, there's lots of plaid and beards and skirts and kilts and sandals. You're a little 1968 and a little 2026; you're twangy and refined, you're Waffle House and seersucker suits with sandals. Most people fall in love with you, even though nothing about them is inherently Ashevillian.
BANGKOK: How to wai when don’t really know how
Frenetic, motorcycles revving, temple bells ringing, a permanent haze in the air, a permanent sweat streaming down your neck and back; ramen noodles of electrical wires draping old buildings; steam from street vendors' pots, the wonderful smell of fish and lemongrass broth alongside luxury buildings with suited doormen, and river boats lit like Siamese roofs grinding along the murky river, dodging the flotsam of palm fronds and vegetable throw-a-ways. This is Bangkok. After monsoon rains comes a patch of blue sky and the air all hot and steamy. Tuk-tuks move alongside the lime green and bright pink colored taxis, and the motorcycles add the music of the streets that is this mix of high-rise and holy on the muddy Chao Praya. There was never a bigger emporium of consumerism than at Chatuchak Weekend Market - and you need a map to get around the place. When you pass the vintage clothing and the rows of kitchen utensils, just beyond the second hand furniture, you’ll arrive at the pet section with puppies sitting in empty wire cages, and bunnies all done up in little dresses. (1) It doesn't matter how long you spend in icy air-conditioned places, the minute you walk outside, the sweat just comes back with a vengeance; (2) No Sir, this Wat is not closed because of the monks' prayers/high water/cleaning and no, I will not take your tuk-tuk to this other Wat which is next to your cousin's jewelry store for 100 Baht; (3) those fried things on the street that look like baby chicks - are in fact, baby chicks complete with their eyes, so no- none of that; (3) wiping off the sweat doesn't help - see rule #1; (4) if it looks like it will rain, it will pour; and (5) using New York street walking savvy does nothing here - just accept the fact that grandma and her 17 bags come first, because it's that or getting hit by a scooter - or a bus. And the addendum to the rules: it's hot and you're still sweating. Otherwise, it's a great city!
BARCELONA - How to
Any city which can seamlessly combine styles from four centuries, embraces a spirit of life, is blessed by tons of sunshine and is sits alongside the blue Mediterranean, has got it together.
BERLIN - How to
BERMUDA - How to
Bermuda isn’t an island, it’s hundreds of them, all connected by stone bridges and pastel pink walls. It’s rum swizzlers and a plate of wahoo served with a smile. It’s Harbour Nights in Hamilton and Gombey dancers and an uplifting story told in an accent part British, part Chesapeake Bay and part pirate.
BRATISLAVA - How to
Whatever you do, don’t call Bratislava “Prague light.”
BUENOS AIRES - How to tango on uneven cobblestones
It’s Buenos Aires, or ’Baires or even BsAs but don’t call it B.A. It’s streets of irregular cobblestones, maneuvering around those missing and dogs' calling cards. Buses swerving around corners, speeding up as the corner nears, defying centrifugal force with a will and confidence that only this city can muster. The European charm of two finely dressed men greeting each with a single kiss - the double-sided kiss is too European for Porteños. A cold Quilmes beer on a hot summer afternoon, or skinny croissants balanced on cups filled with robust coffee, or licking the melted chocolate from alfajores from your fingertips. Money changers hawking 'cambio, cambio' along Florida with the rhythm of a Bach fugue. Graffiti and street art on every corner. Dogs rule in San Telmo, cats in Recoleta. Political banners being put up just as fast on the Plaza de Mayo as new apartments in Palermo. Police dressed for combat, calmly strolling in pairs along quiet, leafy streets. Messi, Pope Francisco and Mafalda are constant reminders of local heroes but it’s the elegant older woman with the blond pulled back hair like Evita standing on a steamy metro platform who doesn't even break a sweat. The Obelisco always somewhere in the distance; church bells and clocks chime while parrilla grills sizzle. The corner of Santa Fe and Callao iseveryone's meeting point, and even the tourist can fantasize that a chance rendezvous on this corner could change the course of their life. This is Buenos Aires, and for a moment, everyone gets to feel it's 'theirs' no matter where they are from.
CAPE TOWN: How to be color blind when color is all around you
It's not the UK or Australia. Just because the official language is English, doesn't necessarily mean you're going to understand what people say. Part of the fun is learning the language. No matter how "enlightened" you may think you are about racism - we're all either white, black or coloured. The enlightenment isn't fighting the fact you may be boxed into a label, the enlightenment is to live in a box without any outer walls. Yes, people will say someone is white, black or coloured; the third category does exist, and it's not a slur, but a reflection of Cape Malay culture and migratory history. Enough about racial politics for now - you will experience it constantly, so just be aware it's a running theme and no one born under Euro/American roots can say there's no racist thread within them. Don't even try- it runs too deep. Speaking of Cape Malay culture, try every local dish; the food is amazing, and if I could have bobotie with blatjang every week, life would be great. Cape Town isn't a war zone (that may be Jo'burg), but try not to walk alone at night, but if you do, walk with a purpose. Don't let the deserted sidewalks scare you - like L.A., people just don't walk here, and for some who do, just keep an eye open. You won't be mugged and slaughtered by setting foot outside, just use city smarts...or Uber - it's very accessible and very cheap. Cape Town is, no exaggeration, possibly the most beautiful city on earth thanks to its natural surroundings. Nothing puts things more into perspective than looking at modern skyscrapers completely dwarfed by Table Mountain, Lion's Head, or the range of mountains surrounding the city. Penguins are very cute, but they reek and are not cuddly. Don't expect them to smile back. Baboons along the rural roads as well - don't stop for a photo session, they're not your friends. Please support legitimate game reserves which protect African wildlife rather than rogue safari companies. It might not be like the NatGeo channel - you won't see a pride of lions tearing a zebra apart, but you know you're protecting wildlife from poachers, canned hunters, exploiters and others who are out to make money. Cape Town is diversity dressed in bright colors sandwiched between ocean and mountains. It's a polyglot party from English to Afrikaans to the clicks of Xhosa on the bus; it's curries and burgers and springbok ribs, pale ales to artisanal coffee blends; it's the scammers on Long Street and the surfers in wet suits on Hout Bay to the calls to prayer from the mosques in Bo-Kaap; the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highways and the hipsters in De Waterkant; from the heart-wrenching poverty of the townships to the malls of Century City; and the red-winged blackbirds flying over everything, keeping watch. Cape Town is a city both at the very bottom of a misunderstood continent and on the very top of symbolic peak; and it's a place to which I'd return in a heartbeat. There are two ways of saying "now" in South Africa: there's "just now" and "now now." Saying "just now" doesn't mean what we think it is, or what Facebook says when you have just posted - it means soon, relatively 'now' but not immediately; "now now" means now, like right now. There are three capitals of South Africa - Pretoria is the seat of the president and cabinet, Bloemfontein is the seat of the supreme court, and Cape Town is the parliamentary capital. First impressions: 24 hours on South African soil, the beauty is overwhelming, but I think especially for Americans, some first impressions are a powerful mirror; sort of like walking around with a mole and seeing someone else with a mole, and thinking, 'damn, that's a big mole.' So first impressions. The huge plane to Jo'burg, a major African city, was, I kid you not, 100% white. Outside of Cape Town airport, you pass a township with houses like metal ship containers and dirt roads, a little farther down the highway, there's a gorgeous, verdant luxury golf course - all with the striking mountains behind. Apartheid is gone and echoes (and statues) of Mandela are everywhere, but like old trolley tracks which still run through a city street, you still feel it. Packed cafes, pubs, restaurants, stores - white patrons, non-white workers. Just takes a minute to sink in and like a mirror for an American, takes a minute to realize what organized racism has done. We may be off the drugs and in rehab, but the tracks are still there on our arms. With every mountain view, or Capetonian smile, the past dissolves a little more each time, but it's still there. Besides the gorgeous views and experiences to come over the next couple of weeks, I have a feeling this trip might help me understand and despise racism a little more.
CARTAGENA - How to
What's good is that it's like a photo op on every corner (especially in the Old Town); what's better is that the weather is stunning and people are friendly; and what's the best? Around the corner from where we are is an artisanal coffee bar/lab with over 100 varieties of the stuff. Yea, I think I like this place.
CHIANG RAI and the GOLDEN TRIANGLE - How to
The big orange sun just rose, the air is cool, sky a pastel blue, the river is babbling along and herons, kingfishers, doves and a whole bunch of other unidentified birds make up this morning orchestra. This has to be one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I've ever seen. Everyone should find one place somewhere and save it in their souls for their go-to happy place. I think I've just found mine. The sun is up in full force here in Mae Chan, Chiang Rai Province. In the distance, a farmer is harvesting rice in a paddy and strange birds are walking on the roof. Toto, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore
CHICAGO - How to
Busy streets, skyscrapers, dodging people...like New York, but not; a rogue twerker puts on a show in the middle of State and Lake...and everyone stops and films and stares like they've never seen anything like it before...not like New York. Night at the theatre, ushers, playbills, full orchestra...like home; getting an e-mail after midnight from the theatre thanking you for your patronage....not like New York. Walking back to your hotel late at night along a deserted street...young woman walking by pretty fast with a purpose in the opposite direction...like New York; young woman says "have a good night, guys." Chicago. In the land of pop, Italian beef sandwiches, flat a accents and a lake...big lake
CIENFUEGOS - How to
Every park and square in this country is a wifi park and every bench is filled with people online in a narrow broadband country. The Cubans say it's cool because it's winter, but this is heaven. I've learned some important rules here- roosters crow at night, in fact they crow constantly here; cigars smell really good here; stores always look closed even when they're open; you can't walk one block anywhere without reminders of Che, Fidel or Jose Marti; being in a place where we're offline more than we've been in years is a nice escape from home, winter and politics. And lastly, Cuba may very well have problems, but Cuba is more libre than I thought it would be.
COSTA RICA - How to
Beautiful morning, alarm clock courtesy of howler monkeys, interior lighting provided by sunshine, visuals courtesy of a lone dolphin in Culebra Bay, and energy courtesy of Cafe Britt tres rios coffee, french press method. We will miss you Costa Rica...too short a stay but until next time I noticed the Papagayo peninsula is actually very similar to Fire Island - there is a stretch of woods you have to walk through to get from one beach to another - and in these woods, there's a lot of activity, rustling in the foliage, grunts, barks and other weird noises, and of course, the one perched on a rock, just lurking all day.
CUSCO AND THE SACRED VALLEY - How to
DRESDEN - How to
DUBLIN - How to
Walking alone in Malahide, looked left and crossed a small bayside road. A car stopped short, someone loudly gasped in the distance and I felt embarrassed. The American looked the wrong way! Funny though, why was the driver so shaken and I not? A day later, I noticed an ominous-looking bruise on my side. I was actually hit by the rear-view mirror of a car and never knew it. Adrenaline? The magic of Ireland. Erin go Bragh. I don't love the color green, and you won't find an Irish harp or tin whistle in my lineage, but I love Ireland and the Irish. I love the humor, I think the accent is the sexiest in the English speaking world, and I love how everyone feels welcome the minute you land in Ireland. Sure, there are stereotypes - like getting free shots of Irish whisky at 7:30 in the morning in Dublin Airport followed by a hearty "welcome to Ireland." There is a magic about being there, not like a 'magically delicious' leprechaun, but a sort of twinkle.
FLORENCE - How to
GRANADA, NICARAGUA - How to xxxxxx
GUAYAQUIL - How to xxxxxx
HAVANA - How to look to the future when you're riding in a 1956 Ford xxxxxx
HIROSHIMA- How to
it's an intense place to visit- especially for an American. I was lucky to have visited Hiroshima nine years ago - and being at the memorial ceremony on August 6. The Prime Minister spoke, the UN Secretary General spoke, a choir sang, and I sat there alone (next to a random Aussie couple I met on the bus), one of only three westerners, and watched doves fly overhead while the bell chimed at the exact time the atomic bomb detonated, killing 140,000 people and destroying a city. Like the president today, I was there not to apologize or be a representative of American guilt, but to honor and respect. After the ceremony, I got to meet a Hibakusha, a survivor of the bomb. She was 88-year old Kinue Mitsui. I bowed, said (in the honorific Japanese tense I learned) 'nice to meet you' and said through a translator, that as an American, I couldn't help feeling overwhelmingly sad being here. She smiled and hugged me, which in Japanese culture, a stranger doesn't do. I can't help thinking of my experience while reading about President Obama being there today. I also can't help thinking of the climate we're in right now of hate and fear. If there's one thing to learn about Hiroshima (besides never, ever using nuclear weapons again). there is no 'us' and 'them.' There never was, we just allowed fear get to get the better of us and allowed those who are afraid, to manipulate us. And convince us there was a 'them.'
JERUSALEM - - How to
People say they know Jerusalem but many don't really "get" it. Put down your old and new testaments, put down your Qurans, put down your political theory textbooks - the secrets of this city aren't there. Jerusalem is a petri dish of humanity, and in the right culture of peace, it will grow. If you add poison to the culture, cut the dish in half or keep passing it around for more studying, it will die.
JORDAN (Petra and wadi rum) - How to
KOH CHANG - How to
Whoever invented snorkeling was a genius...adventurous and amateurish at the same time. After a long day of driving on some of the curviest, mountainous roads on this island, complete with wild monkeys, and one giant boar, we made it to four different islands off Koh Chang
KÖLN- How to
KYOTO- How to
LA PAZ, Bolivia- How to
LAKE TITIKAKA- How to
In Bolivia, they have a holiday called Day of the Sea - a day which marks Bolivia's loss of the coastal territory (Litoral) in the war against Chile. Although now completely landlocked, Bolivia still maintains a navy which trains and drills along Lake Titikaka. Besides its tradition, sometimes keeping something going which might seem useless to others, is a way to say to the world, 'I'm not defeated just changed.
LIMA- How to
LISBON - How to Steep streets covered in slippery tiled sidewalks on 60º angles which could be the natural enemy of rain or high heels (luckily didn't have either); Beautiful corrugated roofs in both their pristine and dilapidated states; The sun as strong as a goblet of gin and tonic, both of which could knock you out for a good long siesta; A beautiful language but spoken so fast, it's impossible to understand; Plazas filled with people by day and almost deserted by night;
LONDON- How to
sunshine on Bromptom Road; Kensington and London are awake in all its glory. The sound of coffee makers, big black taxis speeding and unfortunately, too soon, "this stop is Gloucester Road. This is the train to Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5. Mind the gap." After a handful of times of having been here, I think I can add my two cents about Londoners, an unusual species. Londoners are funny without realizing they're funny. They like to drink and they do it well and often; they'll wait on the curb (or 'kerb') lawfully for the light to change, but will teeter into the street by groups of ten in front of pub after a few pints. Londoners can be loud when they shouldn't be and quiet when they don't have to. Londoners may have limited tube sense (they'll stand at the door areas, just like New Yorkers or other overstressed species) but unlike their US counterparts, will politely move and start clearing a path before the train stops. Londoners can suffer from "resting bitch face" but when they do smile, they sparkle; and Londoners don't roll their eyes anywhere near the rate New Yorkers do, since sarcasm is very American. It's irony which is British. And the little things Londoners do which go unnoticed by them, are precisely what makes non-Londoners fall in love with their city.
The difference between the old world versus the new: in the old world, 1,050 years ago on this day, Westminster Abbey was consecrated, becoming the focal point of all British history and the home to coronations, weddings, burials and historical events. In the new world - you plunk down £20, snake your way through being elbowed by hundreds of badly dressed tourists, and their loud children, sneaking photos even though there are 'no photography' signs everywhere, and count how many clueless people try to locate Princess Diana's tomb in the guide while blocking the entrance to the gift shop.
The second time I was in London (back in the late 90's), I discreetly eavesdropped on two teenage girls from literally one end of Victoria Station to the other as they were role-playing Patsy Stone and Edwina Monsoon. They never noticed, and as they turned towards the Coach Station, and I kept going, I had two thoughts...these were two creative teens, and London is so cool. Since then, there've been countless opportunities to use the perfect Pats/Eddie quotes - "right, cheers, thanks a lot," "names, names..." or even "champagne for Lulu." Even last summer, I could sense Benny was channeling Eddie while walking through Harrods and past Harvey Nichols, and was grateful he behaved. (We don't always give in to our inner Br-ID-ish...I did write "while" instead of "whilst") but plan on it tonight because AbFab the movie is here, and we, like half of my feeds on social media, are seeing it. So from my breakfast table (and a jar of Marmite next to the bread knife) wishing you a wonderful day filled with your favourite things. Cheers.
LOS ANGELES- How to
Marine haze starting to burn off, nice cool breeze, ravens squawking, slight scent of bougainvillea in the air, and pick-up trucks with gardening equipment roll up the hill for another work day. This isn't just an L.A. morning, it's a Joni Mitchell song waiting to be written. Up until the mid-1950's, people used to pronounce the city of Los Angeles as either "los an-juh-leez' or 'los an-guh-less' and you never heard people saying "L.A."
MADRID- How to be a 10 on kilometro 0
the agenda today is fine art - masterpieces at the Prado followed by two scoops of violet, and ricotta and fig gelato at Labonata - steps from our door People call it a cultural metropolis, the center of the Iberian Peninsula, but I still like some people’s take on it- "Madrid is Barcelona's slutty cousin...fun, a little evil, and always up for a good time."
MILAN- How to
MONTRÉAL- How to
MÜNCHEN- How to
There's this small church in Munich called the Asamkirche which is filled with gold and marble and murals and paintings and sculpture and trompe l'oeil to the point where it looks like a group of Rococo artists just exploded all over the place. Sometimes having so much to look at on the surface takes away the ability to focus in on the small things, which often get overlooked or even missed completely. Rain, church bells and the hum of a coffee machine. Sunday morning Munich.
NAMIBIA (Swakopmund and Walvis Bay)- How to
There's a Namibian proverb which says "the earth is not ours, it is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations. " The Namib Desert might be one of the few places left on earth with zero signs of humanity. To see nothing but sand and hear nothing but the wind is something most never experience. If you really want to tap into the prehistoric (or even extra-terrestrial), stand on a Namibian dune and look out into the distance. Landing in Walvis Bay. As you can see, it’s all desert. Almost like landing on another planet
NEW ORLEANS- How to
I raise a hurricane in a big ole' Pat O'Brien's glass, take a big bite of king cake and throw a handful of doubloons over a wrought iron balcony. Where yat, N'awlins. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.” (Chris Rose, '1 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories'). If you've never been to New Orleans, many imagine a city with the best, worst, most original and most disturbing of everything all in one place. It's so America, and it's not; it's so N'awlins and it's not; it's so divided, and it's not; and it's such a victim of hardship...and it's not.
PARIS- How to
Sitting at an open window in a courtyard somewhere in le Marais. The sky is blue-grey; sounds of clinking coffee cups, an occasional church bell, a siren and heels on cobblestones are my soundtrack. Bon jour Paris, bon jour à tout. Everyone has a purpose in Paris, it's a real city with real people who have real lives. Still, in the midst of daily life, Parisians seem to have time to stop at a corner bistro...and those who don't and still rush around texting like a lot of us, still have a carefree air about them. Maybe it's just this place...maybe it's a non-Parisian being a little envious of Parisians. Either way, every corner is a tableaux and every tableaux is picture.
PRAHA- How to
QUÉBEC CITY- How to
QUITO- How to
ROME- How to cross a busy intersection with the bravery of a gladiator
early evening sun showers in Rome. Sitting on the terrace- basil, oregano and geraniums plants all around. Che bella! the scent of pine trees and lilac; the sound of tires speeding over cobblestone avenues; the deluge of ringtones and 'pronto'; the sweet taste of stracciatella gelato and the rush when espresso hits your taste buds in the morning. This is Italia. And what a beautiful place
ROVINJ and PULA, Croatia- How to
SALZBURG- How to
Mozart couldn't have composed a nicer Salzburg night
SAN FRANCISCO- How to
Good morning city by the bay! As the quote says, "San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality." And the Sunday style award goes to: the old, craggy, bearded man walking down a crowded Castro Street under sunny skies - wearing a green sock. One green sock. And not on his foot. And that was it. And no one even looked twice.
TEL AVIV- How to
TOKYO- How to
TOLEDO, SPAIN- How to
Everywhere you look here, you see the world through El Greco's eyes. He also must have had very strong legs, since the city is all steep hills and lots of stairs.
TRINIDAD, Cuba - How to
VANCOUVER- How to
VENICE- How to row upstream against the current of tourists
After dinner stroll on the Ponte dell'Accademia. No traffic on the Grand Canal, guitarist on the bridge adding a soundtrack to a Venice night. Buona notte a tutti
VERONA - How to
VIENNA- How to sip coffee in 3/4 time
You didn't invent music, but you embody music on your every street. You didn't invent ornate architecture, but you made it into a living art. You didn't invent cobblestone streets and beautiful parks and gardens and streetcars and coffee and ice cream cafés and palaces and celebrations, but you made them all better and made them all your own. And here are the top five things which will greet you in the center of Vienna: (5) Russian women with way too tight clothes and way too big hair stopping dead in their tracks to take a selfie, usually on stairs or in an entranceway (4) A gaggle of Muslim women in burqas (and often mouth guards) in a line, stopping dead in their tracks to call one or more of their 15 children who are running amok, usually on stairs or in an entranceway (3) That older tourist couple who hobble along, at times stopping dead in their tracks to try each other's gelato, usually on stairs or in an entranceway (2) The group of 20-something guys (usually from Italy or Spain), gorgeous but sporting man buns, at times stopping dead in their tracks just because they're young, immortal and they want to, usually on stairs or in an entranceway. and (1) the tour guide, leading approximately 1,000 Japanese tourists, all carrying sun umbrellas, into the streets for photo ops and a short description of who Mozart was when all their care about is buying bags of chocolate-marzipan Mozartkugeln and stopping dead in their tracks to soak in the atmosphere, usually on stairs or in an entranceway.