Tostis, Trams and Tulips: Our Week in Amsterdam

As a self-proclaimed expert in all things travel, I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing  tourists into two distinct groups : Box checkers and Absorbers. 2a17imBox checkers are busy. They visit 12 countries in 15 days, stop at every Rick Steves’ recommended tourist trap they can find and constantly harass the concierges with statements like, “we want to go where the locals eat.” Their primary objective is to put a completed stamp through every item on their bucket list including their hand-picked list of destinations without taking the time to actually experience what each place has to offer. This group has also been known to interject their travels into every conversation, think that a pair of Merrells and khaki socks will help them blend in and come home with an annoying habit of saying they had a great “holiday” instead of vacation.

The absorbers are the more laid back, enjoy the scenery, smell the roses type crowd. Their approach to travel is to soak in as much of a destination as possible; really trying to get a feel for every place they choose to visit. Snapseed copy 2This, of course, is the group I more identify with and why I’m not spending a paragraph making fun of their quirks and habits! This trip took my wife and I to Amsterdam, the canal covered, leaning house, jewel of the Netherlands that should absolutely be on the destination list for box checkers and absorbers alike. It’s charming scenery and friendly atmosphere made it a great place to visit; even for pessimistic and overly sarcastic travelers like me!

Alright, let’s get the annoying part over with: No, we didn’t smoke weed nor did we solicit services from the “ladies of the night” while in Amsterdam. I know…weird, right? Who wouldn’t want to travel halfway across the world to use a drug that is readily available everywhere else on the planet and potentially contract a venereal disease. emma-stone-wayfarer-sunglasses-easy-aIt’s a true shame that when you mention that you are traveling to or just returned from Amsterdam, the aforementioned activities are the first things asked about followed by a series of IQ lowering puns and chuckles. Much like the unsuspecting high school girl whose notoriety is sealed after just one back seat handy during the homecoming parade, Amsterdam suffers from a reputation that just never seems to go away. Even if the distinction is without merit (yeah right Nancy…you two were just “talking”), clearing that stink off and starting with a clean slate is a tough thing to do.

All that aside, Amsterdam exceeded our expectations on all fronts. Not that we had bad impressions going in, it’s just been my experience that this city is mostly a stopover on a long European itinerary and never a primary destination. The good impressions started at the airport (of course, I would mention that!). Schiphol Airport is an amazing facility. E8C0974E-5A4F-4617-84C0-B55905412BA2-420-0000001B057EFCA9It’s basically a shopping mall, train depot, supermarket and corporate business park all rolled together with a few hundred planes flying in and out in the background. Even the taxis were impressive. We rolled into town in a brand new Tesla Model X driven by a well-dressed, an extremely efficient chauffeur. It actually makes me feel bad for the Dutch people who visit America only to be met by taxi fleet made up of beaten up, old Buicks and minivans that smell like cigarettes, body odor and bad decisions.

 

I’m not going to bore anyone with every tiny detail of our trip but we our plan was to explore, experience and see as much of the city as we could. We opted out of the over-crowded, mass produced tour boats and instead took a nighttime tour on a private cruiser operated by Leemstar. hdrThis was a great way to see Amsterdam while also learning a good amount of history from our very charming and knowledgeable captain, Arnout. Not only did he point out the various interest spots, he dove into the rich heritage of the city with little anecdotes we never would have picked up on our own. As much as I would have enjoyed being packed in to a glass-topped, floating oven with a hundred of our closest friends, going the route of a classy and very much more pretentious private tour is more my style!

Coming from a car-centric part of the world, I’ve always enjoyed the public transit options in Europe. Amsterdam was no stranger to this and have many to choose from. Buses, trams, trains and even an underground rail (which is hard to believe since the entire country is basically underwater). Snapseed copy 5The trams were definitely our favorites. Think above-ground subways cars, hovering through the streets and completely ran on electricity. They were fast, efficient and you could count the seconds between one taking off and another one approaching. We learned quickly not to be in a hurry to catch the tram…sometimes they were actually sitting on top of each other.

The other transportation phenomenon in Amsterdam are bicycles. Oh my! Bikes were everywhere. They had dedicated lanes all throughout the city just for bikes (and mopeds) which were really where you had to pay the most attention when crossing the road. mr beanFor the safety of everybody in this city, we didn’t even dare rent bikes and try to navigate around. Within the first five minutes I would have caused a massive pile up that would have ended in nothing less than an international incident. The bikes definitely ruled the road and cars would yield to them on demand. That is so much different than in America where we have an unwritten points-system for how many cyclists you can take out on your daily commute!

When we booked the trip, we were ignorant to many things. One, it was the spring holiday season including May Day (the EU’s version of Labor Day) and the week leading up to Liberation and Remembrance Days. These are times the country celebrates the end of WWII and pays homage to those who lost their lives. Snapseed copyThis was also the height of tulip season which we learned the Netherlands is the largest producer of tulips in the world. We therefore took a day trip to Keukenhof Gardens and were blown away the grounds. Over 7 million bulbs make up the garden and are arranged in very unique and and varying displays which seem to have no end. As beautiful as it was, I think I’ve had my fill of flowers for the next few years!

In conclusion, any chance you get to spend time in Amsterdam…take it and take it all in. History, beauty, good food (tosti’s are the perfect light lunch) and, yes, the ability to sin on multiple levels are all available in one amazing spot. A big thank you to all the great people who helped make this trip a success and we hope this is not the only time we’ll spend time in your city. Until we meet again!

-DPW

Snapseed

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It’s time to stop picking on United

My grandparents used to tell me that when televisions first started becoming popular the news stations had only one job: report the news. It was really simple: here is the story as we factually know it and presto…news! oh-how-the-media-likes-to-sensationalize-things-82123Once the networks realized that sensationalizing a story and essentially beating it into the ground was profitable, there was no stopping them. Everything now is breaking news and having the most up-to-date details, no matter how trivial, can equal millions in extra revenue. This of course means that networks have to continually provide new content and what better way to do so than to go back and further scrutinize a person, business or organization that you have already slammed before. At this point, it’s no longer called news…it’s called bullying…

The easiest way to describe the behaviors of news organizations is by comparing them to a middle school gym class playing dodgeball. The networks are the taller, stronger kids whose pubes have already started sprouting and have the cool parents who let the kids get drunk at their house because they say, “it’s safer under our own roof.” The target organization is the overweight, nearsighted sci-fi nerd who accidentally shit his pants in 4th grade and still hasn’t lived it down. dodgeballOver and over they pound him with red balls and insults, laughing at his cries for mercy and mocking his very existence until he finally cracks and (well, I’m not going to go there…do have some resemblance of a conscience). Celebrities, oil companies, fraternities and sororities, and political parties (varying depending on what channel you watch) are all easy targets that never make it off the bench before taking a round, rubber bullet to the side of their head sending their glasses screeching across the gymnasium. Airlines are in the same boat. Every now and then, one airline will screw up big which will put them in the media drawn crosshairs for at least a few years. Right now it’s United’s turn…and there seems to be no end in sight.

I’m sure United has gone through their share of issues but this particular onslaught seems to have started with one incident which I’m sure we’re all too familiar by now. Let me provide a recap: guy purchases a United ticket from Chicago to Louisville; while buying this ticket he also checks the little box which, paraphrasing, says something like, “I agree with the terms and conditions”; guy gets on United flight; guy is asked to de-plane because of overbooking (here is where those ‘conditions’ come into play); guy refuses (therefore, violating those ‘conditions’); 170410170634-united-airlines-mobile-cut-full-169guy gets dragged off by security allowing another passenger to become a momentary Twitter sensation. Remember that? Immediately following came a serious of unfortunate events including a rabbit dying, two girls not being let on a flight for wearing leggings (or tights…what’s the difference…), a musician fighting a flight attendant and a parent getting pissed for her snot-nosed little brat having to share her seat. All of these things seem to suggest incompetence amongst the airline. However, as bad as they are, this is just the nature of air travel…plain and simple.

Airlines exist for two reasons. To fly passengers and cargo from one point to another and to make a profit while doing it. 26_DrunkPlaneThat’s it…nothing else. And they have to do this while also facing constant public scrutiny, regulations from every government agency on the planet, tight schedules, exhausted employees, new technological breakthroughs, political correctness and the person in seat 30F throwing pretzels down the fuselage because the airport TGIFriday’s served him one to many. Oh and at the same time, do all of this on the cheap because, lord knows, people get pissy when an airline tries to send up a 200,000lb, gasoline filled Megabus across the United States for more than $300.

The one common denominator for all the issues faced by any airline including United are humans. Yes, I know, a rabbit is not human but it was a person who decided that the fucking Easter Bunny needed to fly economy that day. All being said, people are what causes the problems on flights. f129046538de1d7dc688a4e2377ed284People refuse to follow FAA regulations and crew member instructions, people bring their precious animals on board and let them shit all over the aisle, people book tickets way too late leaving them a crappy seat and people dress in provocative clothing and then get mad when it’s brought to their attention. Jerry Seinfeld said it the best, “people are the worst!” He wasn’t kidding.

I have no emotional or economic reason to be defending the airlines but I feel it is necessary to be a voice of reason when it comes to all the bad things we hear about one over another. I’ve had plenty of issues while traveling but never let it get to me. Don’t let the media be your deciding factor when choosing who to board. All airlines are going to have their problems from time to time but for the most part, you’re going to take off, land and live to enjoy your final destination. United we stand (no pun intended) with you through this time. It won’t we long until another carrier screws up enough and you’ll be off the hook for a while. Until then, I’ll see you at the airport!

-DPW

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Five Reasons Americans are the BEST Tourists!

Every six months or so I see an article about the terrible behaviors of American tourists traveling abroad. As a long-time domestic traveler, I just took those at face-value since I wasn’t able to confirm or deny any of the claims made by the authors. Now that my travels have hit the international circuit, I have to say that my perspective has changed and I’m no longer sure that those articles really carried a lot of water. low toleranceAre we really as bad as they say or do the authors just have a low tolerance level for those not from their own homeland? I suspicions are towards the latter and I’ve created this post to explain why.

Americans, like any other visitor to a foreign country, are going to be lost especially in regards to local customs and behaviors that differ from their own culture. No place is every going to be exactly like home and no tourists is ever going to be exactly like a local neighbor. Therefore, I have decided to break the mold of travel writers and provide some evidence on why American are the BEST tourist in the world. I mean, we claim to the best at everything else so why not keep it going on the world stage!

1. Respecting Space
I’ve read that the United States is the land of abundance. Huge food portions, gigantic egos and cars that are bigger than some houses are just a few examples of the American obsession with size. Although, those can be seen outright, one thing we have in great abundance is personal space. According to the World Bank, Americans enjoy 5,000 square meters of open space per resident. This means that every person in the country could spend their time doing donuts in their own personal school parking lot and never hit another car. We like space…a lot!

Many popular travel destinations can be completely opposite. Not only for the country or city itself, but also for those who travel from even more dense areas. People from these places just grow accustom to being so close to everyone else which also means they have no issue violating the personal space of others. close talkerThey’re not doing it to be rude, it’s just they’re way of life. Americans on the other hand will do just about everything we can to maintain the space around us. We also do our best to extend that courtesy to everyone else. Breathing on other people’s necks, touching while riding public transit and even kneeing people in the butt who move too slow (yes, that happened to me) is taboo. If you happen to see some Americans wondering down the streets on your hometown, you can guarantee they will keep their distance. And be thankful!

2. Money to Spend
America has a lot of space while at the same time, we also have a lot of money. We are by no means the richest country in the world (despite what many actually believe) but our personal income does rank in the top five. Add the fact that our tax rate is lower than most of the other countries on the list and you will see that, in most cases, Americans have more expendable income to burn…and we love to spend it!

In 2016, Americans spent over $123 billion on international travel. Only second in the world to China. When we come to your home, we come packing…with cash! Not only do American’s spend, we will buy all the cheap, mass-produced tourist crap you can throw at us with as much of a markup as you can handle. This along with our obsession and having an “authentic” experience is where the locals can rake in the big bucks. leaning towerOf course, by our standards, authentic refers to doing the exact same thing that thousands of other people have already done (and already posted on Instagram) yet for some reason we still think it’s special. Venice gondola drivers figured this out years ago and the price tag for them paddling you down a sulfur smelling canal with 5,000 of your closest friends has skyrocketed. Be on the lookout world, whatever experience spot your locality has to offer then Americans are your cash cow…one photo at a time!

3. We Don’t Hold Grudges
One thing America is really good at is pissing off the rest of the world (there I said it!). We come by this naturally. Our country started because a bunch of old, business men got tired of drinking tea and decided to chuck boxes of it into the ocean and start a war. peaceFrom that point on, it was just one fight after another. Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Vietnam, Iraq…you name, we’ve fought it. Yet despite all this aggression, we for some reason have a burning desire to visit the countries we have either beaten down, or those who have handed us our own asses and told us to go packing. It seems like we have a middle school mentality when it comes to warfare; you fight, get up, shake hands and move on to get a juice box!

Out of the top international destinations for American travelers, the ones where we have fought extensive and bloody wars have steadily grown in popularity. Over the last few years, American tourism to Vietnam has increased over 30% making it one of the most popular places in Asia. And it’s not just the generations to come after the war traveling to these areas. Many veterans and even tours specifically for veterans of foreign wars are the ones heading there the most. This just shows that although we may be the world bully ever now and then, we’ll eventually let our defenses down and go enjoy the destination…maybe as a way to say, “Hey man, I’m sorry!”

4. Obsession with Sanitation
Every suitcase, carryon, backpack, purse, fanny pack or satchel either carried, dragged or worn by an American tourist contains one item in common…hand sanitizer. You will never find an American anywhere in this world without at least one tube of jellied alcohol stashed somewhere in their luggage. 457821This is just a single example of how crazy we are about sanitation and the lengths we will go to so that nothing funky from somewhere else in the world enters our bodies without at least having to wade through a sea of anti-bacterial, -viral, -parasitic concoctions.

Like Starbucks, shopping malls or commercials advertising pharmaceuticals, sanitation is just part of the American lifestyle. It’s forced-fed into our brains from the minute we pop out of the womb and continues throughout our lifetime. We take this mentality with us when we travel overseas by means of anti-bacterial products, preventative medications, water filters and even face-masks on some occasions. Of course, there are plenty of locations where precautions are needed and anyone traveling to these regions should take heed. Americans just seem to take this (like everything else) to the next level. Another tip to the locals: If you want a quick hand wash without going to the restroom, just look for the nearest Yank…we got you covered!

5. Discovering our Roots
One hot-button political issue in America over the last decade has been immigration. Depending on whichever polarizing media outlet you choose to frequent, this can either be a good or bad thing. The funny thing about U.S. immigration is that if you really stop and think about it, we’re all immigrants from somewhere (and no, that is not me taking a position…). That very fact (although, hated by one side of the aisle) makes for a great reason to travel. Americans, by and large, want to discover our heritage. And we will travel far and wide to find it.

Nothing solidifies this argument more than the impressive growth in genealogy services and products sweeping their way across the U.S. 4thCousinEvery day you see a new commercial advertising a different type of service allowing you to spread your DNA on some sort of swab or piece of paper and send it back to a lab for analysis. Of course, a red-headed mick like me doesn’t have to think too hard about where my ancestors originated but for many, this is a mystery. Once their newly found heritage is revealed, the next part of the journey is to travel to your soul’s original destination and pretend like you fit in. This American sense of discovery seems like a trivial matter, but I can’t help but think the rise in new popular tourist destinations isn’t at least somehow connected to this phenomenon.

So, there you have it. Solid and not at all sarcastically opinionated reasons why Americans are the best tourists. Although, I will concede that the occasional American jack-ass will ruin our image for some unsuspecting locals, in the grand scheme of things, we’re really not that bad. Having people visit from other parts of the world, wherever it is, is always a treat for both the tourists and the hosts. The hope is that we all continue to learn from each other and create a more unified global community. Ha, ha…yeah right. Let’s just do our best not to start another war!

-DPW

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Membership has its Perks!

I know it’s a tad cliché but the phrase “Membership has its perks” is never more relevant than when travel as often as I do. Obtaining even the most minimum level of status on any airline, rental car company or hotel chain transforms your experience especially in certain situations. Most associate this to getting upgraded to something better than what you reserved. However, other times it is what you are allowed to avoid which makes these programs worth it.

This week took me to Phoenix and the self-titled “America’s Friendliest Airport “, Sky Harbor International. When I arrived at gate at quickly noticed (actually heard) two separate groups who were getting ready to board the same flight. On my right was a group of women going on girl’s trip. girls guys tripThey really didn’t even have to say it because they were all wearing matching T-shirts that read “Don’t Panic, It’s Just a Girl’s Trip.” Can’t get any more subtle than that.  Although as entertaining as they were, on my left was another group. This time it was a bunch of fashion-challenged men (see Dudes) who were off on their own adventure which we later learned (again heard loudly), it was a fishing trip to Mexico. It was 6am, the collective volume had already reached club-level and I thought to myself this was going to be a long flight…

This is where the perks come in. Given my status with the airline was able to upgrade to a premium economy seat which not only had more leg room, but was also in the very front of the plan. I smiled heavily as I watched both groups march south heading towards the rear in what I could only assume was about to be a bloody-mary fueled festival in the sky. empty sinkSources in back tell me they all talked the entire flight 3.5 hours. Any I’m being generous with the word “talked.” Apparently when you’re in an enclosed space with a couple hundred other people, yelling to the person sitting right next to you is not appropriate behavior. For a moment, I felt bad that I had a nice quiet seat with an open one between me and the window and no distracting assbags to deal with. No I’m just kidding…that’s their problem!

-DPW

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Airport Judgement Calls

A lot that goes into air travel is routine. Once you get into doing it more often, everything becomes second nature. How you pack your bags, the timing you set to get to the airport and, of course, the airport itself is just one routine after another. You just really don’t have to think much about anything which makes the process much less painful and it makes you a more efficient passenger.

Although there a plenty amount of good that can come out of routines, having situations arise that break them up can cause serious anxiety. routinesThings can always go wrong; there’s no way around that. Issues with transportation, delayed flights…yada, yada, yada…all can mess with your grand plan and throw you into a spiral. But it’s the times when you, yourself, could possibly cause the routine to collapse are the ones that seem to be the worst. This is what makes me bring up the idea of judgement calls and how sometimes your routine can go to hell!

There are plenty of judgement calls an individual will have to make during air travel. Some big, some little. Do you order a salad or the colossal burger with fries? Little. Do you take the stall with the broken lock because you don’t want to wiggle you and your luggage out to find another one? Again, little. Do you inform the proper authorities that a potential terrorist attack may be about to happen? Yeah, let’s call that a big one.

As you can imagine, I’m writing about something that recently happened to me before a flight. On this particular occasion, I get to the airport like usual and go through all my, and the airport’s routines before getting to the gate. I find my usual preferred seat; always facing the gate agent and never around children (don’t you judge me!) and then go about my other routine of getting out my iPad and wasting some time on Reddit before boarding.

This day, I happened to look over by the window and I saw a piece of luggage sitting all by itself. Usually I wouldn’t notice something like this but the bag was the brightest shade of pink you could possibly imagine. You couldn’t miss it. The best way to describe it would be if Hello Kitty vomited and some genius decided that this would be the perfect color for a carryon set. hello kittyAnyway, it was sitting at the end of the aisle with no one evenly remotely nearby. Immediately my mind went into panic mode thanks to the media/politician fueled rhetoric, force feeding us the idea that another attack is imminent. That and I couldn’t help but think, if ISIS was to blow up an American airport terminal, of course they would use a pink suitcase.

So here is where the judgement call comes to in play. Do I…a responsible citizen and frequent visitor to the airport…tell someone what I’m seeing or do I ignore it and go about my own business? Now, I know what you’re thinking, “hey Dr. Dumbass…tell someone. You’ve seen the billboards (if you see something, say something), there are lots of people around and you will obviously be deemed a hero if you thwart a nuclear detonation” (not that the hero thing matters to me…). report activityBut you don’t know the whole story. I was in Indianapolis…in January. It was 12 degrees outside. If I tell someone that the suspicious looking pink bag could turn this place into an ash-filled crater, I’d probably have to go stand outside for at least an hour. You see where I’m going with this?

Therefore, my options are, A: Report the bag and freeze my ass off. Or, B: Risk being blown to smithereens and…well, I guess that is about the worst that can happen here. I mean, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Given my proximity, the percussion shock would probably kill me instantly and I really wouldn’t be facing some blazing inferno (that would’ve been Terminal A…they’d been screwed). So, am I wrong to do nothing? Well in this case, my conscience got the best of me and I set off to find the nearest whatever officer. I didn’t even have a scarf and knew this was going to suck but better to be safe than sorry.

As I made my way down the terminal I looked over and noticed a young woman, sitting by herself with a backpack the identical shade of pink as the TNT filled roll aboard near the window. I stopped and asked her if that was her bag. She looked at me as if I had told her that monkeys were crawling out of her ass and in an almost inaudible tone, responded “uh huh.” its-public-shaming-time-n00bIn my head I gave her the public berating of a lifetime and shamed her into finally turning into an active participant in this little thing we call a society…but I didn’t. Instead, I gave her the look of “alright stupid” and walked away relieved by the fact that I was neither going to freeze to death or be splattered into a million pieces across southwest Indianapolis.

The moral of the story is, my good judgement along with my heightened peripheral vision saved the day even though nothing actually needed to be saved. Plus, my overall airport routine was not disrupted too much so win, win! Let’s just hope that next time I’m faced with the possibility of being the person between mass causalities and a happy ending, that we at least have good weather!

-DPW

Hello-kitty-bye-bye-terrorist-Terrorists-Meme

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P.S. Atlanta…I’m Really Starting to Like You!

Any frequent traveler will tell you that loyalty programs have great benefits and reward handsomely those who stick with one particular brand through thick and thin. It’s not always because the hotel, airline or rental car company gives you the best service (although, the hope is to at least like them) or even have the best options, it’s an opportunity for both the company and the consumer to mutually benefit from a long term relationship which is rewarded through consistent use and free stuff. dems vs repubsI mean let’s be honest here, the travel based companies aren’t exactly mom-and-pop style operations. They’re more like trying to compare Applebee’s to TGI Friday’s. They’re the exact same thing just packaged differently and each serve unhealthy portions of absolute crap (I guess the same goes for U.S political parties!). Therefore, it’s best to pick which crap you’d rather shovel down and stick with it. At least with the airlines and hotels, you’ll eventually be granted better access or free flights/rooms instead of a constant need for Imodium.

My current brand loyalties are to Marriott, Avis and American Airlines. When I started flying, I was in and out of Philadelphia which consistently put me on U.S Airways. loyalty programsAfter they merged with American in 2015 my miles transferred over and I’ve been sticking it out ever since. The one problem with loyalty programs is of course the times when you have to go with another brand either out of convenience, price or just the general lack of options. This is the case when I fly to Atlanta because Delta has a lock on the area and the convenience of it over the other carriers far outweighs the perks associated with my home brand. I’ve never had an issue with Delta so losing one flight of miles is no big deal. Plus, it was a fairly new 737 with in-seat entertainment so kudos there.

Beyond the perks, loyalty programs feed on the psychological in-group/out-group dynamics that is prevalent in human behavior. Take a biteOnce you sign on to these programs, you’re not just choosing a brand for potential free rooms, flights or cars, you’re also joining a club of sorts that binds you with the others that have chosen those same companies. Even if we are treated poorly or have a bad experience, we are part of a club and will defend the decision to use their services again because of the fear of being abandoned into the abyss of lost travelers. I know, I’m getting a little deep here but for business travelers especially, this belonging can be a layer of comfort in an otherwise lonely experience. When I walk into a Marriott or step on an American flight, there is a little piece of me that feels at home…and that’s worth all the points in the world. (George gif your one of us you’ll take a bite)

On the flight down, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the poor bastard in front of me who was seated in a row of Outsider teens who had obviously never been on an airplane. Just the boarding process was input overload for these two as they picked, pushed and prodded at every little moveable (and removable) part of the seating area. I guess no one explained to them that the flight attendant call button was a neither a bell for their personal butler or (to their disappointment it seems) a self-destruct button. airsickGrandma must have given them a plate full of snicker doodles and a case of Red Bull pre-flight which would explain why they were so awake at 5:45am. To make things worse, the kid in the window seat bolted to the lavatory before we even hit 10,000 feet as we later learned he had severe motion sickness. During a 90-minute flight, this was repeated 3 times including us actually landing while he was still in the bathroom. I watched all this from the comfort of the aisle with an empty middle seat to my left. I guess I could’ve offered it up to help this situation…but come on…why would I do that!

Before this year, Atlanta was always just a pass through city and I never really had the chance to explore it much. I have to say, after just three visits I’m really starting to enjoy this place and can see why it has experienced a population explosion over the last few decades. Yes, I know, the traffic is a mess and the last time I was in town the interstate caught fire but that has not deterred the impressions that the rest of the city has made on me to date. Most of my time has been spent in Buckhead and Midtown but I’ve also been able to explore others areas like Decatur, Westside, the northern suburbs, Old Fourth Ward and finally downtown. Atlanta has a ton of stuff to offer for just about any area of personal interest and the amount of construction that can be seem throughout the skyline means that there is only more to come.

I think I should be given a medal on this trip because for the first time, I actually spent more time walking than driving.

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Buckhead Station

Any chance not to put a 4,000 pound, gas-powered bullet on the Georgia highways should be met with celebration. This was possible because of MARTA and another opportunity for me to nerd out on a train system. MARTA is a small but efficient system consisting of just four different train lines running either north/south or east/west. It does provide a line directly to the airport which I think is a plus that every major city should consider at some point (I’m looking at you Indianapolis…).

As much as I enjoy the experience of the cities, every now and then I need to cut loose, get some fresh air and stretch my legs by finding a hiking spot that is both challenging and convenient. SnapseedI had several hours to kill before my flight home so I spent them at appropriately named Sweetwater Creek State Park located about 20 miles outside of Atlanta. The 2,500-acre park is divided in two by…you guessed it…the Sweetwater Creek and his home to the New Manchester Mills Ruins site, an old civil war era cotton mill that was set on fire after being captured by the Union Army. The red trail which runs along the creek and by the Mill site was amazing, especially after reaching the 1-mile point where most of the families turned around and went back to the trailhead. SnapseedThe trail continued past the creek rapids and eventually turned westward into the woods. The white trail which traversed the western perimeter was actually a little disappointing since it mostly consisted of an old access road and didn’t exactly provide much challenge. I can’t be too disappointed because I got my steps in for the day, burned some time and reconnected with mother nature (whatever that means).

Back at the airport, everything was pretty routine. Unhealthy food, people talking way to loudly on their phones for 9pm and the anticipation of heading home once again. I’m not sure why the nice but slightly geriatric gate agent decided to provide more details into the boarding process than was actually necessary. She was like one of those White House tour guides: “we’re walking, we’re walking, now we’re stopping.” Late night flights on Friday’s aren’t exactly for the first time travelers but no one seemed to mind. sheldon brain betterUsing the power of airline apps I once again scored an empty row in a fairly full flight. It’s all about timing and a little bit of luck.

Thank you again Atlanta…we’ll be in touch!

-DPW

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5 Cities, 5 “Go-To” Restaurants

One great thing about traveling is the chance to experience new things. New sites, new people, new cultures and, of course, new cuisines. When I’m on the road, I always try and eat a places that I cannot get at home or sample the local delicacy as a way of trying to grasp a real understanding of where I’m at. I’ve had real Philly Cheesesteaks (I prefer provolone, not Cheese Whiz), Maine lobsters, New Mexico Chile’s, New England Clam Chowder and all the great American BBQ (Texas Spicy, Memphis dry-rub and, still my favorite, Sweet Kansas City). I still have a lot of new flavors to try which is another reason my wander lust has never really gone away.

Although, new is good, sometimes familiarity is a nice thing as well since traveling itself is not always the pleasure-filled adventure us bloggers make it out to be. With this in mind, if there is a city I go back to often, I love having a “go-to” restaurant which brings forth good food, consistent service and a sense of comfort that you don’t always get from a hotel or airport. Whether it’s a simple coffee shop or a place of fine dining, this list is a sample of the restaurants I consistently visit when I’m jet-setting around the U.S.


New York, NY
NoHo Star
(330 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012)
New York has over 24,000 restaurants just in the Manhattan area alone which means you could visit a new one every day for the next 65 years and never eat at the same place twice. For someone like me who visits about four times a year, I’d have to live to be over 2,000 years old before I could even make it to midtown. As much as I love exploring new places and new areas of the city, NoHo Star is still one of my favorite places to go for breakfast, lunch or just relax with a cup of coffee.

noho-star07Located in the neighborhood of (you guessed it…) NoHo, NoHo Star sits on the corner of Lafayette and Bleeker streets and offers a diverse menu consisting of breakfast stables, interesting sandwiches and even Chinese options for dinner. The food has always been fresh and they have an outside dining area that adds to the people watching experience. I personally prefer their breakfast/brunch menu with basil scrambled eggs, omelets or even avocado toast (eat shit Tim Gurner). Top that off with some homemade jams and fresh coffee and I’m good to go for wandering around the streets of NYC. This is definitely a place to try on your next trip east.

Chicago, IL
Francesca’s on Chestnut
(200 E Chestnut St, Chicago, IL 60611)
Nothing says comfort more than a great Italian meal and I always to try to grab one at my favorite place in Chicago. Francesca’s has been a staple of the Chicagoland area for over 25 years with 19 locations scattered throughout the region. Because my work usually brings me downtown, I mainly stick to the location on Chestnut street a block away from the Water Tower Place and the Hancock Building.

francescasFrancesca’s is open for both lunch and dinner (brunch in some locations) and has a wide array of Italian antipasti’s, pizza, pasta dishes and fresh meat courses. They have a vast wine selection to fit every palate and I have found that their sommeliers are very accommodating when helping you find the perfect bottle in your price range. Add on a great dessert menu and you’ll leave needing to walk the entire downtown loop before attempting the buckle your pants again. It’s best to make reservations especially for dinner but don’t be afraid to walk up to the bar if you’re in town on your own. You won’t be disappointed…my guarantee!

San Francisco, CA
Brioche Bakery & Café
(210 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133)
Sometimes simplicity is key when you’re out on the road and in need of a quick meal or pick me up. Brioche Bakery & Café, located on the fringes of Jackson Square, Chinatown and the Financial District, is a small but well established place to just stop and relax amongst the fast pace of the city. They’re limited seating, which extends outside along Columbus Avenue, gives it a cozy atmosphere to enjoy lunch, a light breakfast or just a cup of coffee. They also have free Wi-Fi and decent bathrooms which is a luxury in many cities this size.

brioche1Brioche offers a great selection of brunch items, hot and cold sandwiches, salads and other entries. Of course, being a bakery, you can also grab a freshly baked pastry, dessert or an assortment of artisanal breads all reasonably priced for downtown . They even have cakes you can order in advance although I’ve never been in the need on a trip to the Bay area. When the weather is nice, you can grab a drink and sit out on the sidewalk watching the always entertaining San Fran population go about their daily business. Drop in sometime and tell them Dr. People Watcher sent you…they won’t know what the hell that means but I can still pretend!

Fort Lauderdale, FL
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine
(7015 W Broward Blvd, Plantation, FL 33317)
Ok, technically this place is located in Plantation, just west of Fort Lauderdale but for the sake of geographical referencing I’m leaving it be for this post. When I’m in the area, I can’t help but get a craving for Cuban food which I believe is a celebration of the culture this misunderstood population has brought to southeast Florida. Add to it the fact that every dish comes with a side of fried plantains and I’m hooked and coming back every chance I get.

lasvegas_plantation_insideLas Vegas Cuban Cuisine has been in business since 1984 when the Vilariño family decided to open their first location in Hollywood, Florida. What started as a small family restaurant has now exploded into 15 locations in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas. They offer traditional Cuban staples including Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), Masas de Cerdo (marinated, fried pork cubes), several different Emparedados (sandwiches) and much more. Their friendly service and family like atmosphere makes even the most naïve gringo (like me) feel right at home every time I return. I recommend stepping out of your culinary comfort zone and give Cuban food a try. You’ll be rethinking that embargo in no time!

Nashville, TN
The Local Taco
(4501 Murphy Rd, Nashville, TN 37209)
My obsession with this restaurant began in college at the University of Kentucky which I was excited didn’t have to end after graduation. With locations peppered across several cities in the south, I can get my taco fix without returning to Lexington and having to wade through a sea of college students, administrators and people I pissed off before heading north (it’s a family trait!).

local tacoThere are three locations in Nashville alone so no matter where I end up, I’m steps away from great food and great music. What else do you need? This small, but charming chain offers unique taco combinations, amazing tomatillo salsa and great sides that keep me coming back for more. Everything is made fresh and the company prides itself on acquiring local meat and produce in order to support the communities where their stores are located. Even as an order-at-the-counter style restaurant, the service has always been great and efficient which only adds to the quality of experience you can expect. If you find yourself in the country music capital of the world, go grab some great tacos before hitting up the honky-tonks. This is a winning combination all around!


Hopefully you’ll swing by one of these establishments or find a place yourself that becomes a go-to. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below and maybe it will make the next list in the future!

-DPW

Like my judgmental and pessimistic view of the airport world, then follow me on FacebookTwitterInstagram or Tumbler. You never know, you may be next!