How TBEX Made Me Realize Why I’m in Miami

EWhite TBEX

In teacher-mode at TBEX. Yes, the room was intimidating!

Sometimes, you end up someplace and don’t exactly know why. Obviously, a series of events happens that leads you somewhere, but it’s the existential why, rather than the literal how, which leaves you questioning the reason behind a move. Since repatriating at the beginning of the year, I’ve been wondering what the cosmos had in store for me back in the USA and, particularly, in Miami. Pleasant weather and an oft-fulfilling university teaching position had been the only identifiable high points in a place with soul-sucking traffic and a large proportion of plastic, soulless people. Throw American political asshattery and Trayvon/stop-and-frisk/Oscar Grant on top and all I could think was “why hast Thou banished me to this forsaken land, especially when there’s always Paris?”

A couple of weeks ago, the why revealed itself to me unexpectedly whilst visiting the fair capital city of the Republic of Ireland: Dublin.

At the beginning of October, I participated as a speaker at the world’s largest travel blogging conference, Travel Blog Exchange, or TBEX. Held twice a year – once in North America and once in Europe – TBEX brings together travel bloggers, journalists, entrepreneurs, tourism bureaus, travel tech companies, and the like. As with most professional conferences, TBEX attracts an odd combination of earnest, open-minded participants seeking useful knowledge and meaningful interaction, as well as navel-gazing, self-important douchebags who only crack their mouths or make eye-contact if they think there’s something to be gained materially by demonstrating even the scantest bit of home training, and everything in between. While the Dublin edition did have its share of the latter, I found the overwhelming majority of the participants to be pleasant and engaging, and at the close of every day, nay, every session, I felt all the more inspired and motivated to further develop Fly Brother as my brand and myself as a writer.

During the four-day conference, I spoke twice: once about cultural awareness in travel writing as part of a pre-conference writers workshop (with a powerhouse trifecta comprised of Christine Cantera, David Farley, and one of my longtime travel writing heroes, Leif Pettersen), and then all by my lonesome about the importance of fact-checking and sourcing. While my sessions involved imparting some level of expertise to the attendees, I feel that I gained much more in terms of positive feedback, constructive criticism, meaningful networking (including starting new and deepening old friendships), and, most importantly, the sense that I’m indeed on the right road to greater things.

On my way back to the USofA, I realized what I should have realized from the beginning, but was too paralyzed by reverse culture shock to recognize: that the cosmos brought me here to Miami, at this moment, for personal and professional growth.

The university job, aside from being a phenomenal résumé-builder, lets me use my talents as a communicator to show people desirous of growth how to break through self- and community-imposed barriers. The stability that the job provides allows me to undertake – and complete – my doctoral research studies. The geographical location of Miami puts me closer to my family and friends in the States, places me within a half-day’s journey to three continents, and lets me utilize my hard-won Spanish and Portuguese skills, all with the Atlantic Ocean a mere two blocks away from my apartment. But most importantly, Miami provides me a visible yet accessible base from which to launch Fly Brother as a business in a way that living in São Paulo and Berlin didn’t necessarily provide me, with those cities being exotic enough to render me out of sight, out of mind. From here, I can get to conferences, I can get to coffee meetings with editors, I can get to book signings, and I can get to after-church barbecues with my folks quickly and easily. In other words, I can get to it.

But despite a gang of friends and family members dutifully and repeatedly telling me these things over the last few months, it took going to Dublin and experiencing the tremendous friendliness of our Irish hosts, fellowshipping with a couple hundred amazing, like-minded travelers who think of little else, and soaking up collective inspiration to light the necessary fire.

So, thank you TBEX, Failte Ireland, and my TBEX cronies, old and new, for reminding me of why I’m here. See you next time!

Here’s a look at the opening night reception, thrown by Failte Ireland at the iconic Guinness Storehouse. Unauthorized candid at 0:29. ;-)

 

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A Very Brief Roman Holiday

Outside the Colosseum

                                      Yeh, Bad Angle

There’s not very much one can do on a weekend in Rome if one doesn’t have one’s itinerary planned before one steps off the plane. I was one who hadn’t planned my itinerary in advance, so I missed out on a few of the Eternal City’s eternal attractions: the Papal capital of Vatican City, the shabbily romantic warrens of Trastevere, the noble and numerous Spanish Steps (though I may have walked down them). What I did get to experience, however, was the delightfully unsettling buzz of being in a space so dominated – physically – by a history so pervasive in Western culture that I felt at once connected with a place I’d only seen in books and on film. But despite the easy connection, I had much left to discover in the Italian capital.

I discovered that speaking Spanish with an improvised “Italian” accent gets one through most interactions on the street, and people are generally friendly, except for most older men working in service positions, who are all kinds of surly. I discovered that one’s obvious reluctance to dart across multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic pegs one squarely as a foreigner, if one’s looks and accent doesn’t give one away beforehand. I discovered that one can keep up with the renowned Roman sense of fashion with a dark gray blazer, jeans, button-down shirts, and black leather loafers – I got a few winks and smiles for the trouble. I discovered that the temperature need not be warm for Romans to gorge themselves (sexily) on gelato. I discovered the three-day Roma Pass, which was the absolute best 30 euros one could ever spend: free entry to two historical sites – including the gigantic Colosseum (Yowza! One really has no idea of its sheer size, name notwithstanding!), where one gets to skip all the other losers waiting in the hours-long line because they didn’t get the Roma Pass –, free and unlimited access to the public transportation system, and a rack of other deals and discounts one probably won’t end up using. I discovered that walking aimlessly through the streets of Rome, one feels suddenly urbane and energized, an exotic sophisticate surveying the latest great city to fall at one’s feet, until one’s feet begin to ache and one realizes that leather loafers were never meant for so much aimless walking.

Alas, my Roman holiday proved too short, though I managed to squeeze in a couple of brief, bright meet-ups with street art maven Jessica Stewart of RomePhotoBlog (at her book signing, no less!) and fly sister-slash-interior designer Arlene Gibbs, formerly of travel blog NYC/Caribbean Ragazza. Still, the City of Seven Hills holds many secrets, and once Rome has whispered in one’s ear, one is obliged to return and discover the others as well.

Take a look at some of the admittedly boring pictures of Roman architecture and other random stuff that I like. If you don’t like, then go to Rome and take your own pictures of the stuff you like!!!!! ;-)

Ancient Tile Mural
Rosetta Stone
Coffee and a MapRoman Ruins
Vintage Airline Decals
Really Inside the Colosseum
Shadow and LightTeatro Metropolitano
Vespas Vespas Everywhere

Roman Architecture through the Ages Red Lights
Inside the Colosseum

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Smushis and Sound Guys: My Weekend in Copenhagen

Historic Center, Copenhagen Despite $5 bottles of water and grey, rainy weather for most of the weekend, Copenhagen proved a welcoming and interesting little city, with an outsized cultural scene and friendly people. I arrived into the Danish capital early on a Friday morning and zipped quickly through the stylish and efficient airport terminal only to have my spirits dampened by the uninspiring currency exchange rate and the uninspiring gloomy skies (underscored by an uninspiring high temperature in the low 40s). With the excitement of getting to know a new place somewhat tempered by my aversion to the cold and my fear overspending—hell, of spending any money, really—I caught the bus from the airport to my friend’s house, passing alongside the blue-gray expanse of the Oresund and coursing through quaint little Danish neighborhoods with quaint little Danish houses, all with quaint little Danish flags flying on flagpoles in each yard. Danish Flag My friend Naomi is in Denmark with her son working on a Master’s degree and she was one of the first friends I made in Brasília when I moved there a few years ago. I was hyped about seeing her and speaking Portuguese on the streets of Copenhagen. And speak Portuguese on the streets of Copenhagen we did, with people looking curiously, then smiling at the three of us as we took advantage of the one sunny day that weekend and toured the historic canals by boat, wafted through legal weed smoke in the independent little burg of Christiania, and took in a couple of the offerings at the documentary film festival happening that weekend (specifically, we saw Paul Simon: Under African Skies and Tropicália). There’s something to be said for the way people respond to families with children, as opposed to single (and large) men on the street.

While Naomi and filho were at school, I took to the city alone, marveling at the seemingly large number of brown and black people in town (including several city bus drivers) and hitting up a few quirky coffee shops and eateries in search of what the Danes call hygge, which is roughly translated in English as “coziness.” I had a trio of delicious “smushis” (traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches served in sushi-sized chunks) at The Royal Café, proceeded to choke on the prices for curios at the nearby Royal Copenhagen porcelain store, then warmed up with one of the richest cups of hot chocolate I’ve ever had in life at La Glace, an old school confectionary with enough enticing sweet stuff to warrant an extra hour on the treadmill.

At night, Naomi and I met up with a couple of her school mates at the National Gallery of Denmark and had engaging political debate (Obama vs. Romney, Greece vs. Germany, McDonald’s vs. Burger King) while the DJ spun Scandinavian downtempo and people just sat and watched the light display and drank beer. After chicken curry and shawarmas (at two different places), we ended up at a surprisingly amazing and intimate concert by Alcoholic Faith Mission (had never heard of them); we were being told the happening party we’d stumbled upon was “ladies only” and the concert’s sound guy randomly intervened and invited us upstairs, where the set was already half over. I didn’t get a chance to say it at the time, but cheers, Random Sound Guy!

The weekend ended all too quickly, but I never got around to seeing the Little Mermaid and accidentally left a sweater at Naomi’s house—all the more reason to head back. Copenhagen, you were indeed wonderful. I’ll see you again soon. Save a smushi for me! More photos! Copenhagen Waterfront

The Royal Cafe Smushis

The smushis were good, y’all! (Crabcake, steak, and haddock!)

Golden Eagle, Copenhagen

Get a load of that price tag! This golden eagle is on sale at your local Royal Copenhagen store.

Nordic Sun, Copenhagen Copenhagen Toilet Copenhagen Dusk

Meninos Loucos

“Aiight, no more sugar for you, Li’l Man!”

And special thanks, Henrik at Wonderful Copenhagen, for your humorous and insightful pointers on getting along in “The Kingdom!”

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Next up: Copenhagen

As mentioned in a previous post extolling the virtues of having a hub in Europe, you can get everywhere for a decent price. My round-trip plane ticket from Berlin to Copenhagen two weeks out? 59 Euro (US$76)! Granted, the flight’s only an hour long, but it’s to a whole different country!

That said, I’m looking forward to celebrating the big 3-5 with one of my best friends from Brazil who’s studying (and freezing her tassels off) in the Danish capital. We’ll geek out at a few museums, take pics of The Little Mermaid, catch a couple of screenings at the documentary film festival, maybe hit the Meatpacking District (tee-hee!) for a li’l two-step or whatnot.

We won’t be going to see J.Lo in concert (sorry, Lo…we can stream reruns of In Living Color online for free!). But hopefully, I will get to meet Black Girl on Mars!

I head up to Denmark from November 2-5, so stay tuned for trip details. I’m excited to see what kind of welcome I get from the good people of “Wonderful Copenhagen.”

Image by Alatryste

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Fahrvergnügen mit der Mitfahrgelegenheit

Need to get around Germany but don’t want to cough up a hundred Euros for a one-way plane or train ticket? Get Mitfahrgelegenheit! Meaning “carpool” in German, Mitfahrgelegenheit (roughly pronounced meet-far-guh-LEG-gun-hite) is popular and simple to use, thanks to the website (and Google Translate, considering I have no clue what I’m reading in German 90% of the time). It’s just a matter of searching for a ride between two places at a time that best suits you, comparing options based on the driver’s bio and rating as a reliable user (or not), then meeting at the designated point with cash in-hand and hitting the road. Yes, some measure of blind faith is required, and who knows how likely I’d be to use the system if I were a solo female traveler, but since you usually meet your driver and fellow passengers in a public place, you can address any immediate trepidation by just deciding not to get into the vehicle.

Last week, I mitfahred from Frankfurt to Berlin in a dusty, grey Mercedes minivan with driver and five college students (They looked college age, anyway. We barely spoke beyond initial pleasantries as we were all plugged up to our individual MP3 players). Dude hauled-ass down the autobahn, clocking in at five hours for a normally six-hour drive, with a ten-minute pee/cigarette break. We drove through leafy forests, underneath monstrous industrial windmills, and past Russian-built cargo planes at the Leipzig Airport. We plowed through fog banks and down steep hills and almost sideswiped an 18-wheeler. Halfway to Berlin, the driver stuck his hand back towards us and said in accented English, “Give me my money now, please.” I’m thinking, “Naw, potna. Not until I see a ‘Wilkommen in Berlin’ sign.”

Needless to say, we made it safely, and I’m open to giving Mitfahrgelegenheit another whirl. I just need to memorize the German phrase for “slow the hell down, mannn!” Or am I just getting old?

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Berlin vs. São Paulo: The Power of Two

Often in my travels, people ask me which of my two home bases I prefer—Berlin or São Paulo. Like any place, each has its pros and cons and sometimes, at different times, I might need more of what one has to offer than the other. No two cities could be more unalike or more enthralling to my sensibilities as a lover of urban spaces, and I’ve identified three factors about each place that speak to why I spend much of my year there.

Berlin

  • History at the heart of Europe: Having been the biggest prize to be won during World War II, a pawn between superpowers during the Cold War, and the capital of a centuries-old nation, Berlin’s history is vivid and palpable on every street. All the museums help, too. And with all the convenient air and rail links to the rest of Europe—Madrid, Istanbul, or London in two hours or less—Berlin’s my undisputed access point to the Continent, past and present.
  • Cheap and easy culture: On any given afternoon, you can hear Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring played by buck nekkid musicians, then grab a doner kebab en route to an exhibition about Pac Man at the Video Game Museum before dancing under a bridge until the sun comes up. And all for about five euro or less.
  • My circle of black American expat friends: Whereas in São Paulo, I know maybe two black Americans, I know a rack of ‘em in Berlin. We get together at restaurants where people give us funny looks for being loud and raucous, and we just ignore them, loudly and raucously reenacting scenes from Coming to America like we were at some Saturday afternoon barbecue in Atlanta. There’s no place like “home.”

São Paulo

  • My friends, period: Brazilian, non-Brazilian, wherever they come from, I’ve been blessed with some of the coolest, warmest, most open-hearted, dynamic, interesting friends on the planet, all in São Paulo. Whenever I’m in town, even if schedules don’t allow for a lengthy reunion, I still get a hearty welcome and the humbling feeling of being appreciated and loved. That’s what friends are for!
  • Brazilian affability: São Paulo might be the “New York of Brazil,” but paulistanos have all the friendliness and affability of the rest of the country, easily offering directions and assistance when needed, quick to smile and generally polite. In a metro area of 20 million people, it’s shocking that anyone’s nice at all, but here, I just feel at home. Included.
  • The skyline: New York’s skyline is iconic but finite. Hong Kong’s skyline is dramatic but hemmed-in. São Paulo’s skyline is forever—forever expanding, forever changing, forever mesmerizing me for hours on end, regardless of the angle or point of view.

Are you torn between two cities? If so, which ones?

 

Images by Robby van Moor and cjggbella.

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When in Berlin: Hüttenpalast hotel

Berlin is known for being a hotbed of experimentation‬—in art, in music, even in hotel accommodations. In the edgy Neukölln district, intrepid travelers can capture the spirit of the open road at Hüttenpalast. Literally “hut palace,” this innovative little inn is housed inside an old vacuum cleaner factory, with throwback trailers (called caravans) and customized bungalows (called huts) arranged in a large, glass-enclosed “campground.” The small, but aerodynamic trailers harken back to family road trips in postwar Germany, while the bungalows—one shaped like a church altar, another like a house made of wooden blocks—evoke children’s toys. The vast common area features a library of hip coffee table books and art magazines, as well as the shared bathroom facilities (very common in European budget hotels). Traditional hotel rooms are also on offer for those wanting a more conventional experience or a little more wiggle room, but it’s sleeping in a retro-futuristic aluminum trailer that’s half the fun. After all, no one ever says “If the hotel room’s rockin’, don’t come knockin’.”

Inside the larger confines of the factory is a much-lauded garden, a summertime respite of flowers and trees where guests can eat, drink, and make merry. In colder seasons, the action moves inside, but the atmosphere is all about fostering social interaction among visiting guests and the surrounding neighborhood, which is why the hotel facilitates activities and requires Friday night guests to book Saturday night as well and make a weekend out of it. Breakfast is not included in the nightly rate for the hotel rooms, but the café serves up tasty, inexpensive fare. Also, like many places in Berlin, credit cards are not accepted, so be prepared to pay cash for all services.

For a uniquely Berlinesque hotel experience at a reasonable price, check in to the Hüttenpalast, and don’t forget to hang that “…don’t come ‘knockin’” sign up on the trailer door.

Hüttenpalast
Hobrechtstraße 66
12047 Berlin
tel. +49 (0)30-37 30 58 06
www.huettenpalast.de

Rates (July 2012):
caravans/huts – 45€ single/65€ double – croissant + coffee included
hotel rooms – from 65€ single/85€ double

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5 Target Destinations for the Next 6 Months

Between July and December 2012, I’ve got five specific destinations on my to-do list. Being on the list doesn’t mean that I’ll actually make it there by the end of the year, but I’m going to try my darnedest. All of these destinations are new for me and I’m definitely hyped about discovering each one for myself!

Bangkok, Thailand
The Bangkok ticket is already purchased and part of my upcoming Whirlwind Southeast Asia Grand Tour 2012. Though I’ve been to the region before, I’ve never been to Thailand and I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into the exhilarating chaos that is Bangkok. I love Thai food, so there’s a start right there!

Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish capital has been calling me for a while, and since one of my very good friends from Brasília will be moving there for graduate school, I’ve got no reason to postpone a trip any longer. I have indeed spent a couple of hours changing planes at the cozy-yet-bustling airport and I’m eager to see how the city measures up to my favorite Scandinavian capital, Stockholm.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have only heard amazing things about Addis from my friends that have been there, and I’m definitely looking forward to snagging one of the under-500 euro airfares to Ethiopia during the second half of the year. As my Ghana trip recently fell through, this would then be my first sub-Saharan African destination. I’m stoked just thinking about the ridiculous music scene there.

Toronto, Canada
Oh, Canada. Despite knowing mad-cool peeps who hail from within your borders, I’ve never visited you. It is time. I’ll be swinging through “Tron-O” in a few weeks to meet up with a good buddy of mine from my Colombia days who’s since gone corporate and has a couple of rugrats. My girl Oneika the Traveller says the T is off the heezy…only time will tell.

Esmeraldas, Ecuador
As part of a lengthy writing excursion to Ecuador, I’ll be popping over to the Pacific Coast and the verdant region of Esmeraldas (literally, Emeralds). Not only does the place lay claim to black sand beaches and a breathtaking coastline, but Esmeraldas is also the center of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian community. Yes, it’s where most of the brothers on the Ecuadorian soccer team come from.

Make sure you stay tuned to Fly-Brother.com and get lifted with me.

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Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.

No Amsterdam

This week, my travel plans unexpectedly took an exciting turn, manifesting itself as a flight connection in Amsterdam. With three days free before heading off to Ghana, I was suddenly faced with the intriguing prospect of spending two days in the Dutch capital. I immediately hopped on CouchSurfing to check for a host, hoping to have some local insight into a city I’d never been to before. I immediately became disheartened when seeing the discussion boards about Amsterdam being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe with a mere 800,000 people, and every local member of CouchSurfing receiving “10-15 requests each day.” Yowza. The stats were not in my favor.

Why CouchSurfing, you may ask? Well, a last-minute hotel room isn’t always in the budget and I’m just not a hostel kinda guy. Besides, what better way to get to know a place and make friends than crashing with someone from the area, or at least someone who lives in the city? When I can’t find a host who’s a native of the particular country I’m going to, I end up looking for Brazilians living in the area because, nine times out of ten, they’re just affable enough to host a visiting foreigner. That said, I contacted a few Amsterdam-based CSers who said in their profiles that they were willing to accept last-minute requests. After three very polite declines (which is better than what many people get; the Amsterdam CS community acknowledging that with the volume of requests being so high, some people never even get a “sorry, can’t do it” message).

Needless to say, my two-day blitz of Amsterdam never materialized and instead, I went home to see the kinfolk in Florida. But I haven’t given up on the ‘dam just yet. It’ll happen.

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