Sunday, January 30, 2011

Favorite Places A-Z-A rare travel article

Akranes, Iceland-A small little seaside town of about 7,000 people with exactly one restaurant, one internet café/coffee shop, and one club (I imagine one-night stands with someone you met at the club must have difficult repercussions). Also has absolutely gorgeous seaside views, a fish factory that I’ve toured, a soccer team and a gym/water wonderland. I stayed for two weeks in the gym while working on a forestry project and found it a very welcoming place.

Baltimore, Maryland-This city 45 minutes from my own home city, is a place I’ve always seen as the ideal American city but then again I’ve spent very little time in the section that The Wire is based on. I just go occasionally to visit the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, the Aquarium, the State Fair or the Science Museum so I just see it from a bright lights perspective (as in people being attracted to the city because of its flashier attractions). I also see things in Baltimore that are attractive because they’re not necessarily Washingtonian things. Washington is basically a company town with the company some monstrous entity that hires IT, non-profit fundraising, lawyers and lawyer wanna-be’s, event planning, and schmoozing. Baltimore is a real city with heavy industries and subsequently, it's much lighter on the B.S.

Calgary, Alberta-This city is approximately 90 years old which actually makes a lot of difference because it’s a really clean city. It doesn’t have a lot of rind or soot on the buildings. It just also feels young. I visited the Olympic Park, Basin and Cave National Park and the Railroad depot. I also remember the Canadian Pacific fascinating me with a certain romanticism that people hold for the Orient Express or Wes Anderson so obviously held for the Darjeeling Limited when he made that movie.

Delft, Holland and Dublin, Ireland-The only time I’m going to put two here. I found Dublin really charming. The greenness that Ireland is (probably) famous for is visible all throughout this urban landscape. There were also very cool looking castles in this city superimposed on top of everything else.

Since I realized that I don’t have anything from my trip to Holland when I was 10 and I don’t have a Z, I thought I’d include Delft, Holland. That bluish pottery you think of when you think of Dutch pottery comes from Delft, Holland. It was a lot like Amsterdam but cozier and more compact. People rode bicycles often and there were canals.

Edmonton, Alberta-With so many places in the world, I hate to go back to Alberta again, but Edmonton was pretty exciting in different ways than Calgary and very few cities fall into the "E" category. The city had two remarkable sites. The first, Fort Edmonton, is a living history museum divided into four sections that called Fort Edmonton that seemed much better designed than Colonial Williamsburg. the West Edmonton Mall which is either the first or second biggest mall in the world (it’s in an arms race with Mall of America). Just like how Ft. Edmonton is cooler than Williamsburg, the West Edmonton Mall is (sorry to my American friends, especially the Minnesotans) bigger and bolder than the Mall of America and if you’d went there, you’d see it for yourself. The Mall of America is basically a mall with a cool amusement park and legoland display in the middle. The West Edmonton Mall is a combination mall and theme park. Paramount Kings Dominion wishes they could integrate storefront space and rides as well as WEM does. It’s segregated into different neighborhoods with themes and stuff. This place is a monument of human achievement: It’s ability to get people to go and spend on things they don’t need is unparalleled.

Flagstaff, Arizona-A change of pace temperature-wise from the rest of Arizona. It’s very cool and surrounded by forests. Nearby is Slide Rock State Park. It was also the place where Pluto was discovered and you can see the observatory and look at the very photographic plates where it was discovered.

Grand Banks, Ontario-I briefly stopped here with my friends Garret and Victor on an ambitious road trip through the Northeastern section of North America. It’s a charming beach town in the middle of Canada and on the banks of Lake Ontario which I found to be quite surprising. I would not have pictured a beach town in the middle of Ontario from looking at the globe, would you?

Haifa, Israel-Where my mom was born. The 3rd biggest city in Israel is where I spent at least 2-3 months combined when I was 6 and 8. Do not remember much except the pool, the playgrounds and malls my grandmother would take me too and the elevation. I distinctly remember the view and looking down at the Mediterranean Sea.

Indianapolis, Indiana-I went here with my dad once and then went here with Victor and Garret. I was sort of stranded there for four days while Victor and Garret attended a convention but I came to find the place charming. Sort of like the guy in Local Hero or Music Man. Every state (except maybe New Jersey) has its own uniqueness that it brings to the table, and I got the feeling that the state of Indiana is a little more attuned to its uniqueness than anywhere else. Maybe that’s why I found it charming. Also, a lot of people don’t really talk about Indiana so I felt like I was discovering a hidden treasure when I was over there.

Jerusalem, Israel-Honestly, it’s the lack of J’s that is making me go with Jerusalem. I prefer the more urban parts of Israel. Jerusalem is soooo holy, it’s a little intimidating. It’s like a casual Jew going to visit the synagogue for an ice cream social and then getting invited to lead services on Yom Kippur. At least that’s the way I felt the first couple trips to Israel when I was 6 and 8. Fortunately, I had a great tour guide which showed me all the aspects of Jerusalem and it’s not to say I wasn’t in awe at Jerusalem. I still see Jerusalem more as a living museum than a city. I do remember our secondary guide on my birthright trip, Tamar, had a couple friends who lived in the city and there was a marketplace, so I might have yet to see that side of the city where people might actually lead normal lives rather than living in some constant state of holiness.

Key Largo, Florida-The Florida Keys are my favorite place in the world, hands-down. Key West is the most famous point in the Keys and people associate it with drinking margaritas, partying and experiencing nightlife, but that’s an anomaly and just not the point of the Keys. The Keys is about living this easy slow-paced simple life with the occasional water-skiing or boating adventure. It’s like a stripped-down version of civilization with one highway and never more than a quarter mile on either side of it until you reach the ocean. There are tiki bars all over, but I’ve never associated them with a wild time, usually people are very sedate watching the sunset. Oh, yeah, and fishing’s big.

London, England-Went there when I was ten on the same trip as Holland. I have a lot of pictures that I was recently looking through and that big giant Ferris wheel I recently saw isn’t there. London has a lot to see and a rich history. And there’s that proper British way of doing things. Eating breakfast at the hotel felt like Anne Hathaway suddenly being confronted with royal life in the Princess Diaries (I swear I’ve never seen the movie, just the preview)…there were sugar cubes of different colors and toasts, and crumpets and teas and everything. And one of those guys outside the palace with the really tall hats heckled me because I asked a dumb question (I asked “what’s the purpose to the Tower of London”). I thought they weren’t supposed to talk, right, yeah, I know. Also, the theater district was pretty cool. Up until I was in my 20s I’d only been to Broadway once and it sucked and the two plays I saw in London I still vividly remember to this day as great experiences.

London might possibly be the most important city in the world, when you consider that New York as important as it is just the cultural and financial capital of one country and London is slowly becoming a center of a massively expanding European Union that includes many countries full of people who are trying to rapidly learn English (and not American English but the Queen’s English, I might add).

Mexico City,Mexico-So many to choose from. I spent a summer in Minneapolis and had the best study-abroad experience ever in Merida, Mexico, but Mexico City is quite possibly one of the most exciting cities in the world. So much activity on every street corner with demonstrations, peddlers, beggars, native Americans offering healing potions, street magicians and performers, people playing music for no discernible reason. Needless to say, the city was very lively. Every street was filled with some historic cathedral or building that had existed for 500 years situated next to a drug store situated next to an apartment, situated next to something else. It was completely random. Aztec ruins were there right in the middle of the city. I was only here for four or five days on a study-abroad trip but I remember when we were being shuttled around town how much interesting stuff there was to look at on the streets.

New Orleans, Louisiana-There’s a very good reason that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina lasted longer than it did and we didn’t just clear out the city: That city meant something to those people, and for good reason. New Orleans isn’t just a collection of houses on a piece of land: It was something special and it is a one-of-a-kind place. The cultural roots of the city were historically unique but that culture is still thriving and it’s been preserved very well. One thing that stuck out at me when I was in New Orleans was how well-versed people were about the local history. In some cases, it was kind of the stuff of legend and folklore.

When I volunteered in New Orleans, I worked with Common Ground and Camp Hope. If you want to know what they're working on with the rebuilding effort check those websites.

Orlando, Florida-Disneyworld and all. What more is there to say. I’ve never been to Disneyland so I suppose this is the Gold standard of amusement parks. Last was there when I was 9, so hopefully it’s still just as fun.

Park City, Utah-I love skiing so sooner or later, we’d get to a ski place. Park City is very much a small town. It’s got one big main street where all the glamorous shops are and a pretty efficient bus system that gets you everywhere. It’s amazing that such a small place holds the biggest stars in the world every January for the film festival. I also have a mild interest in what mining was like, and they had a recreated gold mine from what I remember. They also had an Olympic museum that we didn’t go in because I was disgusted that the museum wouldn’t acknowledge how corrupt the SLC Olympics were. They also had three ski resorts and one (Deer Valley) was literally on the edge of town.

Quebec, Canada-I was 5 when I was here, so can’t say I remember too much but it’s a Q. Even though the capital is in Ottawa, I believe that there was a changing of the guard eventgoing on here.

Reykjavik, Iceland-Reykjavik is a really cool place except when I was there the price of everything was ridiculously expensive. I don’t know economics well, but I hear with all the currency problems it might have gotten cheaper. Where to begin with the coolness of Reykjavik: The sun was only up for 7 hours a day in January, so it’s like a really surreal thing that everyone was going to work in the middle of the night. Then when I was there in the summer, it was daylight for literally all 26 hours. People stayed up pretty much all night on the club scene and it really wasn’t that hard. It’s almost like a college town and I literally walked from one end of Reykjavik to the other many times, almost daily in fact, and I even remember bumping into the same people fairly often in my short stays there. The town also had an interesting look. The houses were all painted different colors and I don’t know much about architecture but there was definitely something funky going on there in a lot of Reykjavik but there were also buildings that looked like they were built in the 60’s.

Sun Valley, Idaho-It’s the country’s first ski resort, more or less. It is the country’s first ski resort with a chairlift, I can definitively say, because the first chairlift is a statue with a plaque. The skier’s village at the bottom, therefore has that added historical authenticity. There’s a luxurious ice skating rink, a big ice statue of a sun, one of those shops specializing in chocolate and fudge, and a theater that has weekly screenings of the film Sun Valley Serenade which featured the town in the 1940’s. The ski resort itself also has that touch of class with fancy rugs and intricate wood carvings on the doors. The walks outside the ski mountain are also geothermically heated. At the ski lodge you can also see pictures and autographs of a lot of famous people from the last 70 years and I have a feeling that Sun Valley has a more impressive list than anything else.

Toronto, Canada-I think it’s funny that Americans don’t like to admit there might be things Canada does that are better than us. Like build a better city. For one, Toronto is a true melting pot but with very little racial tension compared to its American counterparts (that I know of). Toronto’s CN Tower is also taller than any American building. They also have lured the film industry away from LA and…..[I don’t remember what went in the second half of this sentence, my computer crashed in the middle of the Toronto entry]

Uxmal and Chichen Itza, Mexico-Say what you want about Mexico lagging behind America but their Natives would beat the crap out of our natives. The Mayans were constructing large cities, using astronomy and psychedelic shrooms to subjugate the working class. They also developed calendars that are more accurate to today’s standards and went all the way up to 2012 while our Natives built a bunch of wigwams and sang about the Colors of the Wind.

Villa Soleadad, Honduras-No other city named V has the distinction of being built by a friend of mine. No other city in the world for that matter. So this is an easy one. I have a friend who went on a trip to Honduras, was touched by the unending poverty he saw, and vowed to do something about it. A hurricane hit Honduras in 1998 from which they never recovered. He raised funds and started a non-profit with his sister to build a new set of houses at higher elevations for one of the towns stuck in the flood plains. It was a really incredible experience to be a part of it last summer.

The organization is called

Mt Washington, New Hampshire (this entry includes Northern New Hampshire: Bathe/Bretton Woods/Franconia Notch/Cannon Mountain)-(Kind of cheating a bit here but my other W’s were a little problematic. My other options were Williamsburg which pails in comparison to Fort Edmonton, Wayzata, Minnesota which satisfies the requirement of putting something from Minnesota on the map but is kind of small and not notable except for a cross-country skiing venue, and Whistler which is a good representative of the Pacific Northwest but just another ski resort town)

Anyways, I’ve been to this Northern New Hampshire area twice: Once with my dad on our first and last camping trip when I was 10, and once with my whole family twenty years later.

Mt Washington has a cog railway and is important for some reason my dad always stresses that I can’t remember. Hold on a minute, let me ask my dad….Mt Washington has the highest wind speed ever recorded outside of Antarctica. Oh, ok. There’s that. Now I got my dad babbling about wind and if they theoretically could measure a wind station at the top of Mount Everest, I don’t know what his obsession with wind speed is all about, oh boy…

There’s also Franconia Notch where the Man on the Mountain was (see the back of the state quarter), the great skier Bode Miller’s hometown, a really interesting ski museum where I learned a lot about how ski resorts started in this country and looked at some old pictures of people skiing, which I find to be a constant source of diversion. Overall, it’s just a nice place. It’s bed-and-breakfastish but not so desolate that things aren’t open past 6 pm (a problem with neighboring Vermont)

Xoxicalco, Mexico-It’s another city of Mexican ruins very high up. Advantages over Chichen Itza are that there were a lot more signs to show you around, making it possible to see the place without a guide (although we did foolishly hire a false guide, my friend David can tell you more about that story), and the view is incredible. It’s situated way above this forest.

Yorktown, Virginia-Kind of like Colonial Williamsburg but without all the hype and hubbub. The historical district is maybe 3 blocks wide, has very consistent bus service that shuttles you to every stop, and it has a nice beach. There’s also a preserved shipwreck which is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Z-Racked my head trying to find a Z with no luck.

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