Arguably America’s must beautiful city, San Francisco has long lured travelers with its stunning scenery, fresh air, striking bridges, and – as these vintage travel posters indicate – the exotic delights of Chinatown. While the themes may be repetitive in this modest compendium, the charms of the City by the Bay never get old. When you go, don’t forget that flower.
Despite its setting amid a flat, wildly sprawling car-topia, Miami International Airport is an aviation geek’s dream. Airliners from places as far away as Moscow and Buenos Aires or as close as Key West and Nassau, cargo planes all the way from China, the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft – riding heavy over Biscayne Bay on its way across the Atlantic; if you look in the sky long enough, you’ll see it all. And unlike most big-city airports relegated to the boondocks, MIA is right in the heart of town.
Vantage points are everywhere: you can catch the afternoon arrivals from Europe at the LA Fitness on Northwest 12th Street, the planes so low you can almost touch them – Iberia, Alitalia, Virgin, Swiss, and British all in a row. Commuters on the Dolphin Expressway course alongside the south runway, sometimes racing TAM to Brazil, LAN to Chile, or Copa to Panama. Delta and United and Avianca and TACA and FedEx and UPS skirt the towers of downtown Miami throughout the day. But all-day, everyday, it’s American – old American, new American, big American, small American – it could be to Tallahassee or Tegucigalpa, somebody’s going somewhere on American.
Nearby Fort Lauderdale might have the most dramatic landings in the region, jets just barely missing the tops of the semis speeding up and down I-95. But Miami’s got the most diverse range of aircraft, airlines, landing patterns, and striking silhouettes of any city I’ve ever lived in.
So if you’re driving past the airport and see someone creeping along on the expressway at 5 miles an hour trying to snap a shot of a departing AirBerlin jet on their phone, it’s probably me. I really have to stop that; it’s just not safe.
Oh…and is anybody else but me excited that Qatar Airways will be flying here come next June?! Nobody? Bueller?
This rambles, but…that’s the way love goes.
It may be gauche for an American to compare a distinctly non-American city to an American one, but indulge me for a moment, please. Imagine, if you will, New York in summer – without the iconic but overbearing skyscrapers or the ubiquitous scent of urine in the subways, but with the oft-stifling humidity. And the multiple, simultaneous music and cultural festivals happening any given weekend. And the walkable, energy-filled neighborhoods. And the intensely striking variation of skin tones and ethnic origins. And the taxed but generally efficient transport system connecting all the good stuff on offer. Comparing the place to New York would be the easiest, admittedly most half-hearted way to describe Canada’s second- and Quebec’s largest city, Montreal. So I’ll try to do better in the next paragraph.
During one oh-so-short weekend, I trekked up to the summit of Mount Royal, only to trek back down again and cool off at the rooftop pool of a nearby gym (pools are big in landlocked Montreal) surrounded by dozens of sun worshippers soaking it all up while they could. I ate spicy Lebanese sausage and yellow Thai curry and chicken shawarma slathered in hummus and brick-oven pizza and organic bread with unprocessed butter (tasted funny) and a heaping plate of that local French fries/gravy/cheese curd combo called poutine. I discovered my summer anthem (by British electro phenoms Disclosure) and twisted my foot fooling around to a Romanian brass band at the Jazz Fest and recovered in time for a romp at the Piknic Électronik, followed by an all-night afterparty with a clutch of new friends in a three-story rowhouse with a wrought-iron balcony. I asked “Parlez-vous anglais?” to Middle Eastern first aid responders (my foot, remember?) and black convenience store cashiers and Chinese-Malagasy waitresses and sweet little old white ladies in souvenir shops and received a “yes” (or a reflexive “oui”) and a smile every single time. I discussed American politics and Brazilian politics and Quebecois politics and the Quebecois independence movement and the Quebecois fascination with wintering in South Florida and summering in New England. I spent an afternoon marveling at the city with a fellow Murkin travel writer who had just spent a month in Paris and proclaimed her love for Montreal within a week of arriving in the Western Hemisphere’s largest French-speaking city. I responded to her with my own profession of love for Montreal.
Before last weekend, I didn’t know much about Montreal. I didn’t know that the city was as multicultural as it is, with all types of French being spoken by folks with roots all over the globe. I didn’t know that Montreal’s particular brand of French was so appealingly full-bodied, brash, and funky. I didn’t know that its people would be so unfailingly attractive, with Old World style, New World swagger, and a visible profusion of good genes. I didn’t know that many Quebecois do still feel a deep disconnect from the rest of Anglophone Canada as a marginalized people (boy, how I can relate to that!). I didn’t know that I could walk down the street in Montreal and fit right into the mosaic as if I belonged. I didn’t know I’d feel as if I belonged in Montreal. But I did, and Montreal smiled.
Forget Paris. Montreal, je t’aime.
Shaky video of the Piknic Électronik:
“He’s baaaack!” Yes, good people: Fly Brother has emerged healthy and unscathed from that electronic limbo called “Taking A Break From The Internets.” After December’s quick and last-minute escape from Europe because of the 90-day tourist visa rule, I ended up back in Florida to await the processing for my student visa to Germany, where I’d be earning my PhD. Subsequently, I ended up helping a friend take care of her autistic 7-year-old and unexpectedly landing a full-time university teaching position in Miami, two situations that, along with my freelance writing commitments, demanded total and complete energy and attention. As a result, the blog suffered.
As much as I love traveling at moment’s notice, there’s much to be said for stability. Re-hubbing in South Florida, a cultural mishmash with amazing weather and hordes of cockroaches, means rebuilding my financial foundation, recommitting to an intense workout regimen, advancing professionally—which includes working on the PhD remotely—, and re-entering American society after seven years abroad. There is, indeed, a lot about the US that remains unattractive—race relations, consumerism, traffic—but it’s nice to be back on familiar soil as I reboot, regroup, reconnect with myself, my family and friends, and my country.
Right now, I’m sharing a house with my friend and her child in the sterile flats of Broward County, but I hope to move a few exits down into Miami, capital of Latin America, in a few months. The commute to work is shorter and I don’t get the suspicious looks in Miami the way I do up in the United States (by that, I mean Broward County). Make sure you all give me a shout whenever headed this way. In the meantime, I’ll be posting the travel- and culture-related musings you used to get regularly here at Fly Brother. So, as they say down here in “The Bottom:” Lehgo!
PS – Recently, I was asked what happened to my dream city of São Paulo. In a word: inflation. I still love that place more than any other on Earth, and I plan to always have a presence there. Right now, though, it’s more expensive than New York and it’s just not the time for us. One day, we shall be together again.
Last week, representatives of the US and Brazilian governments agreed to research the feasibility of visa waivers for Brazilian citizens. The US Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens of 36 different countries—mostly in Europe, Asia, and Oceania—to visit the States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a pre-arranged visa. Brazil could soon be added to the list, which could mean a mix of positive and negative changes for American travelers:
1. Sustained Boon to the US Economy
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion, around $5,000 per person, while visiting the United States. This kind of spending—mainly on luxury goods, upscale condos in New York and Miami, and electronics and household staples that cost three times as much back in Brazil—creates jobs and makes up for the fact that many, many Americans are broke as hell and aren’t really spending the little money they do have on these items. And while the vast majority of Brazilians who apply for visas to the US get approved, eliminating the hassle of scheduling an appointment and trekking to one of only four consulates to be asked annoying, invasive personal questions will surely attract even more upper-class (not middle…upper-class and super-rich) Brazilians to come and spend their money in the States.
2. Visa-Free Travel to Brazil
Brazil’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program would not only mean that Brazilian citizens could merely buy a plane ticket at the last minute and jet off to the States for a wee bit of shopping, but US citizens would regain visa-free entry to Brazil as well (we used to have it a few years ago).
3. Higher, then Lower Airfares
Brazil’s biggest international gateways—São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Rio’s Galeão airports—are overtaxed and inefficient, and both are subject to regulations that limit the number of routes and flight frequencies airlines can fly to and from the US. This will change as the “Open Skies” bilateral treaty comes completely online in 2015, allowing airlines to plan routes and schedules according to market forces. If Brazil is accepted into the Visa Waiver Program before 2015, increased demand for a limited number of airplane seats will cause already high fares to skyrocket before increased competition and decreased regulation theoretically bring down prices. Of course, Olympic fever and rickety infrastructure incapable of handling more traffic could prove me wrong.
4. Increased Number of Douchebags on Ipanema
With less hoops to jump through, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fancies himself Snoop Dogg will be saving up a couple paychecks to go whoremongering on the beaches in Rio and Salvador. True, this happens the world over, but the unfettered increase in the amount of losers heading down to Brazil who’d rather pay for poon than use their natural wit and charm to attract women just makes for an unattractive atmosphere, in my opinion.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.
In an effort to see as many friends in New York as possible during Fly Brother Week, while simultaneously attempting to keep expenditures down to a bare minimum, I challenged some of my local peeps to take me to their favorite place for food and drink costing $10 or less. Several of my friends met the challenge handily, unveiling their neighborhood faves, serving up engaging convo, and helping me fill my belly at the same time. Here’s some of the highlights.
* Salacious Southern gul Uche of Hip Hop is for Lovers invited me to The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had the succulent, spicy pork balls with creamy Parmesan sauce over pickled veggie salad for $9. Then I cheated and ordered a $2 cream soda, which tipped the scale over the price ceiling, especially with tax and tip. Stick with the free tap water if you want to stay on budget.
* Budding film producer and college classmate CJ of The Dream Factory Productions lured me over to the far end of Restaurant Row, near Times Square at 46th and 9th, with the promise of cheap and tasty Thai at Yum Yum Bangkok. Lunch portions of salad and beef Panang, with a Thai iced tea, clocked in at under $8 including tax.
* Another college bud and fellow Floridian, Amery (who doesn’t blog), took me to Café Au Bon Goût (276 5th Ave) near his job in Koreatown. Among the ample salad and hot food bars stocked full of tummy-filling goodness, I had a half rotisserie chicken, heapin’ helpins of veggies and sweet potatoes, and a canned soda for $6.35. That’s good eatin’.
* Art enthusiast and uptown girl Jenna of hrlm guide (and other endeavors) quickly whisked me up to Harlem on the A Train, where after bandying several options about, we settled on Doug E.’s (yes, as in Fresh, located at 2245 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.) for chicken wings and fries, pretty much the only thing on the menu not over $10. I did indeed lick my fingers.
* Connecticut Yankee and former rowing coach (in fact, my former rowing coach), Adam of 3 Chords & the Truth enticed me with a thick, juicy, succulent, meaty, off-the-hook burger and sweet potato fries at Black Shack Burger in Murray Hill. There’s no picture of the food because, well, I forgot my camera, so you also get an old photo of me and Coach.
* Journalist and fly sister Stacy had me braving the student throngs of the East Village to dine at Mud, where I had a tasty half-an-egg-salad sandwich and salad. Needless to say, I was hungry shortly thereafter, but the intellectual sustenance I acquired during my conversation with Stacy tided me over until I was able to grab a slice uptown.
* But the coup de grace of the whole shebang came from Bronx-native Brian (you rock, son!) of No Debt World Travel. This fool took me to Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown, where I had ten scrumdiddlyumptious—and filling—lightly fried pork dumplings for TOO DOLLAZ! An older Chinese lady apparently affiliated with the joint insisted that I return the next day for more, especially since they’d been given an A rating by the city health department. Don’t worry, ma’am; I’ll be back soon. Shouts to Cat for gracing us with her effusive presence.
Stay tuned for Good Food in NYC for $10 or Less, Vol. 2, which will be posted in a few weeks, immediately following my next sojourn to Gotham.
Very long story short, two hours before scheduled departure, my flight to Accra was canceled, with technical issues cited. With the possibility of getting to Ghana before Tuesday at the earliest now alarmingly slim, and with absolutely having to be back in the U.S. for a work project on July 1, I just couldn’t fathom flying all the way to Africa to spend less than a week there. Alas, my brethren and sistren, Ghana has been indefinitely postponed, this go round.
Now, it may look like that Fly Brother’s been knocked down for the count, first with Amsterdam not working out and now this, but don’t shed too many tears, good people: 95% of the trips I plan, I end up taking. Ghana being canceled, though, was a disappointment. Ah well. Next!
Fly Brother Week
On the brighter note, I found myself marooned in the glorious city of New York (above, formerly known as New Amsterdam) for the remainder of the week. This presented a challenge—how to see as many of my friends in town as possible and how to keep daily costs down to what I had expected to spend in, well, Ghana. A surprisingly simple solution arose: get my friends to take me to their favorite local cheap eatery (meaning meal + beverage for $10 or less) and I’d tweet and blog about it!
So, for the rest of this week, I’ll be tripping the light fantastic all over town, grubbing on the cheap with good peeps, and telling you all about it. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook for live updates and definitely stop by the blog next Monday for the Fly Brother Week Recap!
In commemoration of my recent weekend in The City, VTP (Vintage Travel Posters) is back with a few artistic flights of fancy that enticed travelers from the world over to spend a weekend in … The City!
This weekend, I popped over to San Francisco on business and caught a bit of the city’s kinda underwhelming Cinco de Mayo celebration at Dolores Park (I think there was a ban on alcohol at the event. While I’m no drinker, I do concede the libation’s role as social lubricant and crowd loosener-upper). The standout presentation was the traditional Mexican dance company Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco, which gave an impressive performance of the various regional dances of Mexico.
Here’s a brief clip: