Exploring Chicago When It’s COLD!!!

In 2008, I took Amtrak across the USA. It put me in Chicago in December. Not the best time to experience the neighborhoods and things that make Chicago a great American city.
The last bit of time in Chicago was okay. The Sears Tower had zero visibility and I was sort of museum weary after The Institute of Art so I just walked through the streets of downtown taking pictures.

Chicago is cool on it’s own, but the downtown area feels a lot like New York, without being New York. My new friends Chad and Emjoy told me that you can’t really appreciate Chicago unless you get into the neighborhoods and my buddy Erik has told me about some incredible experiences to be had in Chicago but honestly, it was my fault for not scheduling enough time in this great MidWest City and coming in the winter. Of course, one thing to keep in mind – it was COLD. Too cold to enjoy.  I have to reserve judgment on this city in terms of having a great time until I can come and spend more time during a nicer time of the year. Still – Chicago has its wonders.

The Federal Reserve Building in Chicago with a nice reflection of some public art called “Flamingo”

I know this though. The architecture is astounding in the city that gave birth to the skyscraper. The Chicago Institute of Art was mind blowing and I’m told that all the rest of the museums  are too. I believe it.  I found Chicago to be too cold and too fast for my tastes. I know, it was January, but the people seemed cold too. Not nearly as friendly as New Yorkers but maybe I just didn’t understand them.

I spoke with a cab driver who had been driving in Chicago for forty years and he told me that he had never seen business as slow as it currently is. He said that even on New Years, he wasn’t as hectic as he should have been. So, from the ground level, the recession is still being felt. He told me that buses and trains are fuller than ever and his usual customers are saving money on a cab and using public transport instead.

I hunkered down in a Cosi Coffee House and caught up on uploading video and pictures, updating existensis, and answering emails for a few hours while it snowed outside. I looked for something to do online and since I am definitely a movie lover, I decided to go to the Gene Siskel Film Center and catch a movie at 6 before catching my train to Boston at 10.

At that point, I got a call from Erin, the couch surf host I was supposed to have surfed with and I asked her if she wanted to join me for the film. She said yes, so we met up at the theater got some popcorn and a couple of beers and watched a very interesting animated fairy tale called Azur and Asmar.

I admit to being a big fan of fairy tales and since about 1/3 of this one was in Arabic, I enjoyed it all the more. The animation was of the sort that I am not a huge fan of, the sort of computer generated graphics that I really am sort of annoyed by. My Arabic is so rusty that I caught less than 1/3 of what was there, none the less, I did catch some of it. That felt pretty good. I think it will come back pretty quickly. The animation of the set was absolutely astounding. So many geometric patterns and middle eastern motifs. In any event, it was definitely enjoyable even though there was a slight feel of  great white hope to it.

After the movie, Erin walked me to Union Station and we searched for a whole foods I thought was in the area without any luck, so I bought three sandwiches for the 24 hour train trip from Potbelly’s. They were damn good sandwiches.

This was by far the worst train I have taken on this trip so far. The seats were not as comfy as the other train seats, the dining car was filled with drunks, one of whom had to be escorted off the train by police because he became so incredibly drunk that he began cussing at the train attendant and heaping verbal abuse on her. The police came on the train at the next stop and he left with them. In the car I was in there was a Jethro type from Missouri who looked more than a little inbred. He sang loudly to himself and stood at the window saying  “Oh my gawd, there ain’t no traffic like this in Missouri. Eight lanes” and other bumpkin phrases. He asked to borrow several people’s cell phones so he could ‘call his ma’ and tried to make friends with me, but I didn’t care to be his friend. You know how sometimes you just know that someone is awful.

I found a seat I liked and a Russian guy sat behind me and began talking loudly on his cell phone. I moved. Not a friendly bunch.

The highlight of the trip was watching a movie my friend Ark had given me called Survive Style 5+. Great film with one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. It also gave me a chance to ignore the freakshow around me.

I was exhausted after not enough sleep the night before and walking around freezing Chicago all day, admittedly not in the best mood of my trip. The grey sky, grey buildings, and leafless brown scenery didn’t improve things. The trip to Boston from Chicago was drab and ugly and my mood was the same. When we finally arrived in Boston, I was relieved to see evergreens, warm brick buildings, colorful houses, and people that actually took the time to smile.

These were the highlights for me from the Chicago Art Institute…can you name them? Can you name the artist?














I also I really thought this Native American sculpture of a story teller was spectacular

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland

OMSI Portland OregonWe love spending time in Portland, Oregon. It has a little bit of everything.

Last trip, we spent nearly the entire day at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – OMSI for short. We went all in for the ultimate explorer package so we got to see a planetarium show, an Imax movie, explore the exhibits, and take a tour of the Blueback submarine.

It made for a full day with the two story outer space explorers exhibit, the gingerbread architecture show, and the regular exhibits plus the extras. For the three of us, the bill including lunch and popcorn came out to right around $100…which was quite a deal. We opted for the Sesame Street planetarium movie – which was safe and fun for Sophia, but probably she could have enjoyed one of the more advanced shows just as much – she’s five but inquisitive and already knew most of what Big Bird and friends taught.

For lunch, we left and grabbed a pizza at the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall , a huge family friendly beer hall with ultra-cheesy delicious pizza and home brewed root beer (plus plenty of adult -beverages and a varied menu and I’ve been told special events on a regular basis) – a super cool, laid back place. Then we went back to Omsi.

OMSI Portland OregonWe watched the Exploring Space IMAX which was a great introduction to the two floors of space related science exhibits and hands on displays. The Blueback tour was interesting if you are interested in military history or life for military submariners but since none of us were – we could have easily skipped that one – the smell of diesel while comforting to me was overwhelming for both Hanane and Sophia and the tour was only mildly interesting for any of us.

OMSI Portland OregonWe were very happy to see a Dr. Who themed Gingerbread house – Tardis actually- and the rest of the space themed structures were equally impressive. Finally, we didn’t spend nearly enough time just playing with the general science areas and hands on experiments – areas in physics, lasers, design, and more. It was a full day and we left feeling like we got much more than our money’s worth.

New York Foodie – The Best Places for Food Shopping in New York City

by Sarah Spigelman exclusive for Vagobond

Murray's Chees Shop

New York isn’t just the best place to eat; it’s one of the best places to shop for food. No need to subscribe to pricey specialty food email lists to obtain the latest in hard-to–source foods.

Stop stockpiling foreign candy that gets you in trouble with customs every time you try to come back from London. And please…let’s say goodbye to big box supermarkets that sell tomatoes that look gorgeous and taste like candle wax.

Here are just a few of Manhattan’s very best food stores, sure to give you everything you need to feast at home.

KalustyanKalustyan’s – this Indian food emporium offers literally anything you will need to make a meal from the subcontinent. There is a wall full of spices so potent that your eyes may tear – but at the same time, your mouth will water. Need paneer, chickpea flour, or kaffir lime? They have it. Or maybe you want a huge bag of Brazil nuts, strained yogurt from Greece, or foreign candy bars. Don’t sweat; they have that here, too. If all else fails, you at least owe it you yourself to try some food at the tiny upstairs café. It might not be fancy, but it is the best Indian food that you can get outside of your Bengali mom’s house.

Eataly—Mario Batali strikes gold again with this humongous Italian emporium. This place isn’t just a supermarket; it is a full-on destination. Along with the piles of exotic mushrooms, Italian dried pastas, and imported fruit like Sicilian blood oranges, you can have cooking lessons or wine classes. There is a European style food hall, with many small restaurants focusing on just one thing – fish, vegetables, pizza, or pasta. Also, stand at counters and try meats, cheese, or wines. Finally, for the ultimate experience, head to Manzo, an acclaimed beef focused restaurant right in the heart of the bustling store.

Zabar’s-come on to the UWS for a little nosh. This is the place where you come for Sunday brunch – for soft, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese,Zabar's and the gest assortment of smoked fish in the city. Smoked salmon, kippered salmon, smoked trout, whitefish salad, and everything else you can imagine to make a fantastic spread. Also load up on gourmet olives, luscious cheeses, homemade hummus, and artisanal crackers and breads. Don’t underestimate the stuff you can get at Zabar’s –they roast their own chickens; have an extensive prepared food section, and a coffee section that carries the aroma of the best Starbucks in the world.

Esposito's Meats by afagenEsposito’s – this old school butcher shop is what NYC used to be like, before the infusion of big chain grocery stores. Esposito’s is a tiny store in Hell’s Kitchen where anything and everything meat can be yours. Shins, marrow bones, veal breast, and whole baby goat – literally, anything that you want is either in stock or will be ordered for you. The fellas behind the counter couldn’t be more accommodating or helpful –they will tell you how to cook that chicken breast so it is tender and flavorful. Pick up some homemade mozzarella and local Italian bread while you are there and make sandwich fit for a king.

Hmart 1 by @JyonnnnHMart—goodbye, USA, hello Korea. This store, where the windows are papered and the location is in the middle of a harried street, houses an entirely different world. A world of 50 lb. bags of rice and dried squid sold like potato chips. A world of thinly sliced sashimi and an entire freezer case filled with dumplings and potstickers. A world of peach flavored gummies, coffee flavored milk, and instant noodles that are way beyond the stuff you had in college. It’s also a world of prepared bibimbap, kimpab, and anything that you might need to take a gustatory trip to Korea.

Luxury Vacation Condo & Private Chef in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Story by Linda Kissam by Vagobond

Gulf Shores AlabamaWho said the experience of a lifetime has to happen in some far off place? Holidaying at a luxury vacation home rental in the USA can be as memorable as anything in Italy, St. Croix, or any other exotic locale. The United States itself is so diverse that it borrows elements from all of the world’s best destinations. What is your idea of the perfect vacation? Is it a whirlwind of activities or a kick-back stay and play? If it’s the later and includes a luxury condo, sugar white beaches, crystal clear waters and a private chef, I have the vacation of a lifetime for you. It was a unique experience for me, and one that I highly recommend for you.

What would you give to stay on the beach and out of the kitchen, unpack once, throw your purse and smart phone on a chair and head out to the water? Ahhh, I sense I have your attention. Think the Dunes Subdivision just 19.5 miles west of Gulf Shores, Alabama on Fort Morgan Parkway. Along with your luxe rental, hire an experienced local, private chef from near-by Orange Beach to prepare gourmet meals customized to your taste buds. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean breezes. No shopping, no meal prep, no cleaning up. Serious luxury living.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefGulf Shores has a distinct food culture that you’ll not find anywhere else in the world and a private chef is guaranteed to bring the best of the Gulf shore directly to your vacation tabletop. A private chef is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of the area’s cuisine without ever leaving the comforts of your villa. Who would I recommend? Chef Chris Sherrill – celebrated chef and owner of EAT! Restaurant and Staycations Catering in Orange Beach.

First things, first. When the sugar white sand beaches and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico start calling your name, Kaiser Realty, Inc. is a good place to start your Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation rentals search. Located in charming Gulf Shores, Kaiser Realty, Inc. welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy a fantastic vacation experience along the Alabama Gulf Coast in one of the areas most luxe rental homes or beach condominiums. With properties sprinkled along the 32 miles of pristine white sand beaches accommodating singles, couples and large groups, you are going to easily find your perfect vacation rental. Kaiser Realty, Inc.’s ability to accommodate groups of any size makes creating a successful beach vacation in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach a breeze. Specializing in romantic getaways, family vacations and large group accommodations, their expert staff will pair you with the best property for you and your idea of the perfect vacation.

Gulf Shores Alabama My condo experience was the “CARPE DIEM:: GULF FRONT” featuring 6 bedrooms and 7 baths. It is a direct Gulf-front property. Off the beaten path between the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, the Fort Morgan Peninsula offers privacy, but easy access to area attractions. All homes within this subdivision have access to a swimming pool, located approximately 1 block north. Carpe Diem is conveniently located to 2 of this area’s finest golf courses. This home features lots of extras including a wet bar, 61″ TV with a home theater system, DVD player. Trust me; this is anybody’s dream vacation home. Here’s some (subject to change) pricing for you. Seven nights in peak summer $7,697.28 (there is a week minimum required in summer and peak season); 7 nights in winter $3,127.26; 4 nights in winter $2,172.46 (there is only a 4 night minimum required in “off” seasons). Adding a private chef to make the meals was a separate cost, but such an excellent decision.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefOnce you find your perfect accommodations, call up Chef Sherrill to let him know what you want. Chef graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C. in 1998 and has been a successful chef and entrepreneur for over 10 years. Chef was selected to be part of eight Gulf-area chefs to participate in the “Spirit of the Gulf, “a series of food and music events specifically designed for the US Olympic team and their families during the 2012 Olympic games.

What does Chef Sherrill do for his vacation condo clients? “We cook condo meals on site. The menu is handpicked by the client and my suggestions per seasonal and fresh product (produce and seafood). We take extra care to make sure food allergies and cultures are taken into consideration.” I asked Chef what Gulf Shores Alabama Private Chefthe benefits of having a personal chef prepare meals at a client’s vacation home. “Benefits? No wait versus standing in line during the summer. Many restaurants are on a 2 hour wait. Drink and eat in the comfort of your condo. Children can be served a separate meal early and the adults can eat at a later time. BEACHFRONT DINING!!!!!” I agree!

 

Resources:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Visitor Info – http://www.gulfshores.com/

NYC Restaurants You Won’t Find On Other Lists – Yet

by Sarah Spigelman for Vagobond.com

NYC EatsNew York is full of fantastic restaurants – not just fancy-pants tasting menu affairs, but also down and dirty hot dog stands, pop up restaurants, and everything in between. The thing is, people know to go to Katz’s for pastrami. They know about PDT for craft cocktails, and if one more person says “gee, have you ever been to Norma’s for breakfast?,” the universe may implode.

There are unexpected places that you can get great meals in the city, from an amazing burger inside a department store (see the pic), to authentic Mission Mexican food up on the rather frigid Upper East Side, to insanely good ramen right on the other side of …Port Authority? Read up on this list of places that you won’t see on Eater’s Hot List any time soon.

Best Department Store Lunch –David Burke in Bloomingdale’s. The food isn’t cheap here, but it is delicious and the portions are humongous. For two people, order one serving of the Juicy Burkey and prepare to be stuffed. This monster burger is two patties, each stuffed with ribbons of tangy cheddar cheese and savory grilled onions. The meat is loosely packed and cooked until rosy but not dripping…an ideal medium rare. The accompanying duck fat fries are crispy outside and fluffy inside, with just enough meaty essence to compete with the burger.

Best UWS Spot that Should Be in the West Village – Vai. Vai in no way feels like it is on the UWS, a neighborhood famous for parents teaching their kids about mergers and acquisitions before they can poop on the toilet. This tiny restaurant is dark, sleek, and romantic, with a large bar and candles illuminating the dark room. The menu is varied, taking influences from Italy, Spain, and France. The crudo is as fresh as that at Dave Pasternack’s esteemed Esca, and the beef duo with short rib and flet mignon is rich, buttery, and multifaceted. Don’t miss the coffee service, which comes with 4 different types of sugars. And, don’t wear a sweatshirt – the crowd here dresses to impress.

NYC FoodieBest Hotel Restaurant – Koi. Hotel restaurants are notoriously hideous – overpriced banquet halls serving up iceberg salad with overcooked prime rib for a small fortune. Koi in the Bryant Park Hotel is stupidly expensive, but it has food that is unparalleled in the city. The signature spicy tuna on crispy rice is a triumph, and worth every penny – fresh, fiery tuna atop crispy, salty, butter-soy-sauced rice cakes. The crowd of beautiful people is as delicious to watch as the food is to eat.

Best Cheap Eats on the UES – Dos Toros. This mini-chain of Californian-Mexican restaurants offers sensational burritos at under $10 a pop – a bargain in the neighborhood of the $28 Ceaser Salad. Get the works, with fresh guacamole, juicy carnitas, and a hit of their own fiery habanero hjot sauce. If you aren’t stuffed yet, grab an ice cold beer and some chpis to go, too.

Ramen in NYCBest Trip to Japan – Tabata. Don’t bother with Ippudom, Totto Ramen, or any of the insanely crowded ramen restaurants to get your n oodle fix. Head to the southwest side of Port Authority for delicious ramen in a less than desireable neighborhood. The ramen here is all chicken-broth based, so it is considerably lighter than most other places, that offer pork based ramen. Go for the “Hellishly Spicy” Geki Kara ramen for a soup that is hot and garlicky, layered with fresh scallions, slices of juicy pork, and a soft boiled egg. Get there early to ensure that you get a seat in the tiny restaurant.

Best Ice Cream – Eddie’s Sweet Shop. Don’t even mention Serendipity in the same breath as this ancient Forest Hills ice cream parlor. Everything here is homemade, from the rich ice cream to the gooey hot chocolate sauce to the pillowy, almost custardy whipped cream. The décor is straight out of a Gibson Girl lithograph, and on a Saturday afternoon you are likely to see families, grandparents, and teenagers on a first date all here at the same time. Ice cream is the great equalizer.

Sarah Spigelman is a New York based food writer, recipe developer, and blogger. She writes for Bites at The Today Show, Whisked Foodie, and Northeast Flavor, among other publications. She loves luxurious hotels, inexpensive clothing, and “Mad Men.” Whenever she is not searching for the spiciest kimchi in NYC, she can be found at her website.

Old Pasadena Walking Food Tour A Melting Pot of Flavors

Pasadena Food TourStory by Linda Kissam for Vagobond.com

What could be better than to taste your way through historic Old Town Pasadena, California?

Thanks to the popularity and growth of food-obsessed walking tours and local Melting Pot Food Tours (based in Southern California) tourists, visitors, and locals can get to know the unique culinary neighborhood that makes up this special city.

On a beautiful June weekend morning, Melting Pot Tours treated a team of press people to an unforgettable 3-hour, 1.5 mile epicurean excursion to enjoy some of the best off the beaten path artisanal restaurants and unique shops in heart of Old Pasadena.

The tour group met in front of a local wine store and was made up of about 10 people from all kinds of places, ages, and walks of life. The tour started promptly with a quick explanation of the day’s itinerary. The walking pace and amount of information given was perfect. My group especially appreciated that owner/tour guide Lisa kept us on task and on schedule. We never felt rushed, but neither did we feel bored at any time.

Pasadena Food TourOld Pasadena is well known for its food. Delicacies of every variety can be found throughout the city, from dim sum to truffles. Our tour took us to an eclectic mixture of nine great shops, cafes, and restaurants. Each tour is different so you can go multiple times and experience something different each time. Ours took us to an old-world boutique chocolate shop, an award-winning gelato shop, an authentic Mexican torta café, a Mediterranean café serving crispy falafel balls, an edgy Asian fusion restaurant (the group’s favorite stop of the day), an exquisite olive store, a delightful family-owned and operated Peruvian style restaurant, a gourmet tea and herb shop—complete with a tea bar- and an upscale soap shop. If there’s one thing the owners of Melting Pot Tours know—it’s good food!

Pasadena Food TourEach place was thoughtfully chosen to be unique and probably not something I would have found on your own. In my opinion Melting Pot delivered on its promise, “…to entertain and educate locals and visitors alike.” At just $53 (adults) and $28 (children) this is the bargain of the century. I’ve taken similar food walking tours for double and triple the price.

A walking food tour is appropriate for almost anyone, but is best suited to adults with a curiosity about local food, architecture and history. The dining experience will provide enough food to satisfy any appetite. Water is the only beverage served, but you can purchase other beverages if you like. My advice is to wear sun block, comfortable shoes and a hat if it’s a hot day. No time has been set aside for shopping, so you’ll most likely have to go back on your own time if you see a special treasure you want. The route is flat, but if you have knee or hip issues, the course will be a challenge for you. Each stop is less than 10 minutes from the next one and you will be spending about 20 minutes or so at each stop.

Pasadena Food TourTours are given year round (except major holidays). Guides are patient, knowledgeable and engaging. Most are day tours, although April – October an evening tour is added on. Feel free to join an already organized group or you can book a private tour with 10 or more people. Advance tickets are required. So come hungry and be excited about the Old Pasadena Walking Tour, as you eat your way through the best restaurants, and shop your way through some of the most unique shops in the diverse, best tasting city in Southern California, Old Pasadena.

Once you finish your foodie tour, think about strolling back over to the Everson Royce (ER) wine shop and tasting bar (named for owner Randy Clement’s two twin boys). The shop is located across from Memorial Park where the food tour started. April Langford and Randy Clement have created a shop that offers small production, high quality, artisanal wines …and a few surprises. For starters, there’s draft wine – from an eight-tap dispenser to be exact. You can find that treat in the tasting section of the wine shop. The taps dispense four California reds (cooled to 60 degrees) and also four California whites (cooled to 43 degrees). Wines change often, but look forward to small lot beauties such as Butternut Chard, Blue Plate Chenin Blanc, Andrew Lane Merlot, and Hobo Zin.

Pasadena Food TourYou can find owner Randy Clement there on most days. You can feel his driving energy and passion for exceptional customer service and value. He also seems to have a knack for choosing the right staff. As Randy told me, “It’s all about customer service; we want to kill our customers with kindness.” I can confirm that. My experience is that the staff is attentive, knowledgeable and engaging.

Once you’ve finished your tasting, there’s a large selection – about 500 bottles – to choose from, from just about everywhere. Prices run from $7 – $2,000 a bottle. Special orders are welcome. Think eastern European wines, Italian, French, Spanish and lots of California wines showcasing whatever you can think of from varietals to blends. Be sure to ask for your 10% off discount off as a participant in the Melting Pot Tour experience.

Until you’re able to take the tour, here’s a quick and refreshing recipe from our first stop Tortas Mexico to tide you over. It was a group favorite.

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Compliments of Tortas Mexico Pasadena
www.TortasPasadena.com

Tortas Mexico Pasadena offers an authentic casual dining experience with recipes from the owner’s homeland of San Juan Yucuita in the Nochixtlan District of Oaxaca. They use only the freshest ingredients and each food item is made to order.

Serves 6

This light, refreshing drink popularized in Mexico is a terrific thirst quencher on a hot summer day. The trick with making agua fresca (Spanish for “fresh water”) is to infuse the water with fruit essence without turning it into a smoothie or slushy drink. Feel free to experiment with other flavors such as strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew.

Ingredients

6 to 8 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups cold water, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon honey (more or less to taste)
Ice cubes

Method

Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process half the watermelon pieces with 1 cup of water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. You should end up with about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and honey. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.

160 calories per serving

The Ultimate Adult Pit Stop at Bravo Farms in Traver, California

Article by Linda Kissam for Vagobond

Bravo FarmsThere’s a lot to be said for the adult “pit stop” on a road trip. Long after the kids have left the backseat empty and are on to their own adventures, there comes a time when adults pile in a car and are off on their own wild escapades. No longer is there the constant whining in the van of, “Are we there yet?” Now, just a mild war cry “Is it wine time yet?” floats melodically through the Mercedes.

The most interesting pit stop I’ve experienced lately is at Exit 106 on Highway 99 at Traver, California. Somewhere on my San Francisco to Porterville road trip I discovered Bravo Farms. I’ve heard it described as a “…small, enhanced Knott’s Berry Farm without the entrance fee.” Maybe. I thought more of a casual Bristol Farms or Whole Foods in a sprawling barn kind of atmosphere. I think it just depends on whether you bring kids or not. We didn’t, so I am sticking with a casual gourmet barn kind of experience.

Bravo Farms could be classified as a tourist destinations so don’t forget to bring your camera and a working credit card. You’re going to find wine, cheese and produce shops. There’s also hundreds, if not thousands of antiques. Get ready to cruise the aisles for old artifacts: barrels, antique advertising signs, bicycles, meat grinders, and so forth. What you may think of as a 30 minute stop will surely whirl its way into a 2-hour extravaganza.

Since my roadies were looking for wine we started at the wine tasting bar. The wine shop is stocked to the gills with hundreds of wines – some local and some not so local. The wine bar is not always open but when they’re pouring enjoy the experience of pre-selected wine and expect to leave with bottles of terrific local wines that qualify as true liquid gems. A slight wine tasting charge is in play, but don’t fret, you’ll get your money’s worth.

There’s also a cheese factory where you can watch cheese being made and a cheese bar where you can sample several different types at your own pace. I liked everything they offered. The chipotle cheddar was tasty, with rich smoky overtones and a nice hit of spiciness. Their sage cheddar surprised me with its herbal notes. I bet it would be magic melted onto toasty slices of artisan bread, olive bread, or a plain French baguette slice. The sharp aged cheddar was also magnificent. Yup, you guessed it…a whole lot of cheese went into our car’s cooler in preparation for a great cheese and wine pairing that night.

Bravo FarmsHaving had our fill of wine and cheese we were off to discover the grocery store area. We found local nuts and olives from the valley, along with an endless assortment of gourmet food including a cold case of prepackaged items. We lingered a bit at the unique nostalgic memorabilia and reproduction signs, greeting cards, seasonal items and garden décor. It was easy to find a gift and score more tasty treats for the road. This is exactly what an adult pit stop should be.

All this sampling primed us for lunch. There’s a couple of ways to go. A stop at the indoor/outdoor 99 restaurant is a good idea. A mix of lively Mexican style dishes as well as Americana staples like sandwiches and burgers are there to please. Or visit the interior patio area for some rocking lip smacking BBQ. I liked the festive picnic atmosphere and the prices were reasonable for the food offered. Leo’s BarBQ is perfect some of the best, slow cooked Tri-Tip or BBQ Chicken roadside stop sandwiches ever. Expect a line…but it moves pretty fast, and its well worth the wait.

Ending our visit we mozied (more like waddled) over to the ice cream shoppe. If creamy ice cream, date shakes, or coffee/lattes/espressos are your thing, it’s a great final stop. It certainly was for us.

If you find yourself with children, these added features will enhance their visit.

Bravo Farms7 Story tree House: 25 cent admission…entered in the Guiness Book of World Records as the Tallest Real Tree House. The kids can climb and climb.

Petting Zoo: A multitude of smaller animals like donkeys, hens and flying rats is sure to amaze and amuse you the kids. For 25 cents, get a handful of grain to feed the animals. You may just get the best parent / grandparent award.

Mini Golf: 9 old time golf holes…some easy, some not so easy. $4round…if the kids get a hole in one on #9, they get a free round and you’ll have time for another bite of cheese.

Shootin’ Gallery: One of the most advanced interactive “shootin” galleries anywhere

Resources

Bravo Farms: http://www.bravofarmstraver.com

Julian, California A Magnificent Four Season Mountain Town

Story by Linda Kissam

So… when I say, “ Julian, California” you probably responded, “Pie.” If that’s what you did then you would be about 10% correct. A recent four-day stay in Julian tells me this place is trending in all the right places: food, wine and unique travel activities… four seasons a year.

The key to getting to know this special place is to stay awhile. It’s about an hour away from San Diego and Palm Springs; add another 30 minutes from Orange County and LA. Coming up for two hours for a cup of cappuccino and a slice of apple pie, just doesn’t make sense. This is a smart hip mountain town that combines all the elements foodies and small-town aficionado’s look for.

Lake Cuyamaca

Think easy to walk downtown area with lots of different shops, a microbrewery, a multitude of incredible restaurants small and large, a charming tea shop, and my favorite of course…wine tasting rooms. Venture out ten minutes past downtown and you’ll find wineries to visit, hill top dining in Wynola, a picturesque fishing lake, an ultra-cool stargazing facility, and killer hiking opportunities like the Pacific Crest Trail. This is Julian? Yup…and there’s even more. Drive 20 minutes from downtown and you’ll be able to do some gold mining, discover a wolf education center, and work those slots and poker tables at a casino. Ahhh, I see I have your attention now.

Here’s a round-up of my favorite places. Use it as a quick guide of what to do and enjoy in and around Julian.

In the Downtown Area
Park your car and enjoy free parking, flat terrain, restaurants, clothing stores, wine tasting and bakery shops. Get your credit card ready, this is a shopper, foodie and wine lovers paradise. Here’s a taste of what to expect.

Julian Lodge Bed & Breakfast – Designed after the Washington Hotel, built in 1885, the affordable Julian Lodge (generally under $90) with modern amenities is just steps away from all things fun: shopping, biking, hiking, dining, wine tasting and afternoon tea. Guests enjoy recently refurbished rooms and a pleasant continental breakfast. Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Open year-round. Be sure to check out their online and walk-in specials. Hikers welcome!

Orchard Hill Country Inn – Book here for a serene and romantic AAA four-diamond experience. I know you’ll love the choice of twenty-two well-appointed rooms, 10 comfy lodge rooms, and 12 secluded cottages near downtown Julian. Stroll the grounds and sit awhile in this lovely mountain top retreat. Enjoy your own personal “Ahhh moment” viewing gorgeous sunsets and wandering through the seasonal gardens. Includes many in-room amenities, Internet, a full breakfast and afternoon hors d’ouevres. Be sure and make reservations for their four-course sophisticated dinner served on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Room rates run from $195 – $450. Check out the Web site for specials and packages.

Julian, California

Julian Tea & Cottage Arts –Despite the name this place is definitely all about the tea. A gracious staff makes your time here a welcome retreat. I loved the way the staff member Jill explained each course and the tea that accompanied it. Tea is served in a charming turn-of-the-century home. Afternoon Tea consists of finger sandwiches, scone with whipped cream, homemade jam and dessert. However, if you just want a cup of tea or tea and cookies, you’ll also be welcomed with open arms. Ask to try the Yorkshire Gold. Seriously, for those of us who love all things afternoon tea, this has to be on your places to visit and do some major shopping.

 

Witch Creek Winery- A boutique winery focusing on quality over quantity, by producing small-lot, handcrafted wines. The result is full-bodied well balanced wines rich in flavor that have earned many medals over the years. Server Tammy told me “We’re all about the Reds.” She was right. Be sure to taste the 2009 Screaming Kitty ($23), the Tre Amici ($29- Gold Medal Winner) and the Cat’s Pajama’s ($21).

Julian, California

Candied Apple Pastry Company –Owner Charles Scott and Executive Pastry Chef Charles Scott bring quality, scratch-made pastries and delicious lunch entrees to Julian. This is the bakery you’ve been longing to find. Sit outside and people watch while munching on unbelievable treats, enjoying unique lunch offerings, sipping some local fresh pressed apple cider (seasonal) or enjoying the full espresso bar. This place has passion for its product and the community it works in. DON’T MISS IT.

 

Bailey Pit BBQ & Julian Brewery – This is the place for dinner and live entertainment. Bailey Barbecue has a big-boy BBQ menu, 16 draft beers, in addition to a full bar. Enjoy live music and dancing every Saturday night and some Friday nights. The place was packed and rocking out when I was there. There’s a special vibe to this place that will call to your artistic side. The Julian Brewing Company (brewing facility located in the garage of the historic Bailey house) has released the first brewed beer in Julian in over 100 years. Trust me, it’s all good – the food, the music, the beer. Check out the Web site for the menu and live entertainment schedule.

Julian Pie Company: You know you’ve come to the right place for apple pie when you find out each one weighs 2.85 pounds –give or take an apple slice. Hot, juicy, luscious come to mind. This is the ultimate apple pie stop, don’t miss it. Think about combing your visit with lunch first. It’s a simple lunch menu that’s offered, but its Big Boy sandwiches at their best…for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. One of my favorite places.

Eagle & High Peak Mine –Just a few blocks from downtown tour one of Julian’s original gold mines. Guides lead you through the intricate path of tunnels in the hard rock mine and share tales of the life of early residents of Julian. Great fun! Perfect for all ages.

Just Outside Town
10 minutes away on a charming country road.

J. Jenkins Winery – This boutique winery is ready to run with the big dogs. With 15 year-old vineyards, their wine has finally come into its own. Currently there are 7 wines to taste, all have merit. There is a $6 fee to taste which allows you get to keep the glass. My jaw dropped at the exquisite 2005 Syrah ($22). Big and bold, this ruby colored wine is complex, expressing both bold fruit and a definite earthy quality. I took this one home intending to share it with my wine club as an example of a great local wine find. Melanie was tending the wine bar. She suggested we try the Dolcezza ($16) (apple wine) made from 100% apples. Light, crisp with a slight effervescence, sipping it out on their patio was quite a treat.

Menghini Winery – Just down the road from J. Jenkins , this winery is surrounded by apple orchards and a six acre vineyard. This is country charm at its best and a major site for many Julian events. The winery produces approximately 4,000 cases of wine annually. I think you’re going to like the 2006 Syrah with its berry notes and hints of oak, and the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc showcasing some grassy notes on the nose and palate. Should be an excellent food wine.

In Nearby Wynola
Surprising dining options on this hill top just a few minutes from downtown Julian

Julian, California

Wynola Pizza Express – Located a mere three miles west of Julian on State Highway 78 and 3.5 miles east of Santa Ysabel this is where you go for the best gourmet wood-fired pizza, a variety of entrees, desserts, wine and beer and lively entertainment. Affordable and great for singles, families, or date-night. There’s a variety of places to dine at, from a bistro-style dining room, to casual booths or a group dining area. My favorite dishes were the Fire-Roasted Artichoke Dip (serves 2-4) $ 9.95. Artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, Romano, provolone and mozzarella cheeses blended with herbs and spiced and served with Buffalo crackers; Sausage Pizza $11.95 Sausage, red onions & bell peppers & mozzarella cheese; and the Sumi Salad (an Asian slaw) – $7.95. Crisp green cabbage tossed with crunchy noodles, scallions, shredded carrots tossed with house rice vinaigrette and topped with toasted sesame seeds and almonds.

 

Jeremy’s on The Hill –Heads up foodies! This family owned and operated business specializes in fresh and sumptuous gourmet foods. Put this experience in the fine-dining category without the pretentious stuff . They take pride in providing an atmosphere that promotes family friendliness while still providing for romantic intimacy. Chef Jeremy is dedicated to using only the finest and freshest ingredients available–most of which are locally provided. Because of that, the menu can often change, while still providing guest favorites. Got to love a place that brings in organically grown produce from Julian, Borrego Springs, Valley Center and other nearby locations. Great wine list and the Sunday Brunch is to die for. Put this 24 year old chef on your “to watch” list.

Chef Jeremy sends his love through a yummy recipe. See below!

Country Cellars- Think and drink local beers, wine and hard ciders with owner Trezette “Trez” Gotfredson. Country Cellars offers $6 tasting which include a mixture of local wine and beer choices. Offerings change weekly so you’ll always be surprised at what Trez is pouring. If you’re lucky you’ll come on a day Trez is offering her mini food & wine pairings. This should be one of your first stops on the way into Julian so you get an idea of what the local microbreweries and wineries have to offer. Plan your tasting AFTER you spend some time here.

A Little Further Out
There’s more unique fun about 20 minutes outside town.

Observer’s Inn Sky Tour – This is going to be an OMG moment for you, guaranteed. One of the best ways to see Julian’s star-filled skies is by taking a sky-tour with owner/innkeeper Mike Leigh. He’s set up a small – but mighty observatory with research-grade telescopes. Mike’s evening sky tours are literally out-of-this world. Mike will guide you through the star clusters and galaxies, pointing out planets and nebulae. This ain’t your boring high school astronomy class. Mike leads a lively presentation challenging everyone to think outside their comfort zone. The best $10/person you’re likely to spend.

California Wolf CenterAhhh, the heart and soul of it all. This place is likely to bring you to tears – happy ones – for all this center does. The California Wolf Center is a one-of-a-kind education, conservation. Founded in 1977 to educate the public about wildlife and ecology, the Center is currently home to several packs of gray wolves, some of which are exhibited for educational purposes. The wolves serve as ambassadors representing wolves in the wild. They also host highly endangered Mexican gray wolves, now being reintroduced into the southwestern United States. A visit to the Center provides a unique close up experience involving one of the most charismatic and controversial species in North American history. Perfect for singles, families, and couples.

Santa Ysabel Casino – Escape to a hidden getaway with intimate gaming, breathtaking views and some of the best craft beer and tequila shots around. Enjoy over 350 of the most popular slots, blackjack, 3-Card Poker, Pai-gow and exciting poker tournaments. Full service restaurant featuring lots of variety.

 

Chef Jeremy’s Crispy Brussel Sprouts & Chickpeas Recipe

Enjoy the following recipe compliments of Chef Jeremy Manley. Chef speaks directly to the reader throughout the recipe in an engaging and interactive format. The instructions come with some cooking tips that are essential to a successful dish. Read carefully all the way through before prepping..

One pot of oil (approx. 8 cups)

1 bamboo skewer

½ cup chick peas

1 cup of quarter Brussels sprouts

1 cup of Ponzu- a citrus soy sauce

2T red wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

1 T red pepper flakes

¼ Cup Brown Sugar

1 garlic clove minced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk rigorously until all combined.

Heat your oil to 350 degrees. Wonder how you can tell what 350 degrees looks like? Once your pot of oil has been sitting on the stove top at a medium high heat for a couple minutes, place a wood skewer in your pot of oil and when the bubbles rise gently gliding up the stick you are at the appropriate temperature. Do not bring to a boil or you will create the biggest mess you have ever seen and burn wounds are dangerous!

Gently place the chickpeas in a wire basket, or straight into the pot. Remember though you must have a tool to fish them out.

After about 30 seconds add your Brussels sprouts and watch out! They will snap crackle and pop on you so protect your eyes! A little grease splat on your arm builds character.

If the risk is too high for you, just come into the restaurant and I’d love to cook you up some local vegetables. Did you know Brussels sprouts are from Belgium and they are a hybrid of the cabbage family. Enjoy!

 

 

Introduction to the Oregon Coast

 

When I brought my family from Morocco in 2013, we were going to settle in the San Francisco Bay Area but I found that no one wanted to hire a guy in his 40s who hadn’t worked at a fortune 500 company unless they wanted to pay far less than it took to live in the Bay Area. We tried to make things work in Sacramento for a few months – but already, the tech plague had caused rents to go up too much there – with resources dwindling, I found the cheapest place on the Oregon Coast and set off to build a business or two. I wrote this shortly after we settled in.

Oregon Coast

Out of all the places in the world – we’ve chosen to live on the Oregon Coast.  This 363 mile (584 km) stretch of mostly undeveloped land on the Pacific Ocean offers long sandy beaches, stunning wild shorelines, and more than a few interesting roadside attractions. What it does not offer – is warm ocean to swim in – which is, perhaps the reason we will eventually leave for warmer climates…but only time will tell.

 

We live in the ‘undiscovered’ city of Reedsport – a bit of a backwater slightly inland from the shore and so a few degrees warmer, less foggy, and slightly less rainy in the winter.  Our town has about 3000 people in it and lies directly between Coos Bay to the south (the largest city on the Oregon Coast with 16,000 residents) and the quaintly hip town of Florence to the north (Florence has book festivals, a great waterfront, and the best indy cinema on the coast). We travel to both cities frequently because Reedsport has only two small grocery stores, a new brewery, and not much else in terms of shopping or entertainment.

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is broken up into three sections – the North Coast which goes from Astoria to Lincoln City, the Central Coast which goes from Newport to Florence, and the South Coast which goes from Reedsport to the California border.  Each section offers unique experience, though, to be honest – there are a few things quite notably lacking such as places you can have a beer and look at the ocean from a deck. Oregon is strange in this way…we are extremely backward when it comes to some simple amenities. I’ve grown used to it but one of the complaints I quite frequently hear from visitors to the Oregon Coast is about how bad our service in restaurants is…you are lucky if someone says hello when you go in and it’s not rare to have to ask for silverware.  Every place has it’s idiosyncrasies…

One of the beauties of Oregon law is the Beach Bill of 1967 which grants free beach access to everyone. You may have to pay for parking, but you won’t have to pay for the beach here. Just bring your jacket or wet suit.

Oregon Coast

 

We live (like most people on the Oregon Coast) about a minute from Hwy 101 which traverses the entire state from North to South. My sister lives less than a mile from Hwy 101 in the Bay Area.. to get from her house to mine she just turns right on 101 and then drives for 10 hours before turning left onto our street.  Along Hwy 101 in Oregon there are over 80 state parks. Along the way there are beaches, lighthouses, the Oregon Dunes, surf breaks, and more than a little wildlife including bears, elk, deer, beavers, birds, salmon, steel head, and more.

Oregon Coast

 

The history of the Oregon Coast stretches from indigenous people arriving in pre-history to the arrival of Lewis and Clark in the early  1800s to the only attack on the mainland USA in World War II when a Japanese midget submarine bombed the Oregon shoreline in an unsuccessful attempt at starting huge forest fires. Today there are great roadside attractions like the Dinosaur park in the south, the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and the Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence.

 

There is a lot to see here…we’ve been exploring for three years now…and we are only getting started.

 

Start Up San Francisco – An Economy Trip to the Capital of Tech in Silicon Valley

Yerba Buena San FranciscoAs those who know me or read Vagobond almost certainly know – I’m a serial business creator – also known as an entrepreneur. When I was around eight-years-old- my grandmother was having a day with me, my siblings, and my cousins – she asked everyone what they wanted to do when they grew up. She chewed on the answers, asked questions, and generally approved. I told her that I wanted to be a scientist and she said “No, that’s wrong. You’re an entrepreneur.” I didn’t know what that was and she told me that it was a person who made things. She was right. I am.

My projects have been many – from a failed beer delivery service in 1995 to Conchsense and Cascadia Magazines in the late 1990s to Sun Sea Adventures in the early 2000s, then to Vagobond itself along with Morocco Blogs, Reedsport Antiques, my little newspaper in Reedsport. I’ve started and run quite a few businesses. Most recently, in the past year, I’ve put together ZguideZ – which aims to automate the tour industry and Iwahai– which lets you record audio on a map. While there has been some aspect of tech in almost every business I’ve started – these two have the distinction of being the most ‘Silicon Valley’ and by extension the most scalable – which is what brings me to San Francisco.

For the past year, I’ve been neck deep in learning what it takes to conceive, build, and scale a start up tech business. I’ve taken part in Hawaii’s East Meets West Conference for two years running, I was one of twelve companies selected for the Hawaii Wefunder Workaway, and I recently graduated from Y-Combinator’s Start Up School. In addition to all of that – I’ve built two pretty amazing tech products and created two corporations from the ground up without anything that could be considered capital. I’ve filled the roles of product manager, CEO, and nearly everything else in my organizations while I have built products that work – even if only in a minimum viable product sense. And this is what brings me to San Francisco.

San Francisco is the global capital of tech finance. There is no event which represents that as well as Tech Crunch Disrupt – a conference where the ‘global elite of tech’ converge to see what the future holds, look for amazing new ventures, and meet the founders of amazing new startups that may become the next big thing – like me.

There is nothing cheap about San Francisco and there is nothing rich about my bank account or finances. The name of this website is Vagobond and that comes because I am one of the modern masters of making something out of nothing. As a quick reminder – in 2000, I became a homeless person by intent to show the world that it was possible to live a life without being beholden to corporate masters – from that point forward I traveled to more than fifty countries, moved to Hawaii, started a family, and have started multiple businesses. I’ve got to tell you though – it’s fucking exhausting making ends meet on the fly and always having to hustle to meet expenses.

So, ironically, here I am asking the masters of global capital to invest in my startups so I can scale them. I had to do it on a budget though. I paid for my flight using my Hawaiian Miles points which I’ve accumulated through paying for nearly everything with my Bank of Hawaii Mastercard. I was able to get a ticket to the 3-day conference for around $300 because I’m a startup founder (regular price is $1500+) and as for hotel – I tried to find a Couchsurfing host without luck and had to get a room but after searching for deals managed to get a room for right around $110 a night near Union Square which usually has hotel rooms for somewhere in the $300-$500 per night range. Four nights of that gave me enough to get a room using Hilton points for another night and finally, I found a room for my last night near the airport for $120.

In terms of meals, I’ve worked the system as best I could. Coffee in the hotel is free. The conference had several invite luncheon sessions where I was able to get the proverbial free lunch while listening to pitches for Taiwan or from big financial services companies. A nearby restaurant offered $10 credit to conference attendees (so lunch was $4). I skipped breakfast and enjoyed modestly priced dinners – a slice of pizza, some Indonesian fried rice, a burrito, some Japanese ramen. Grand total on food has been right around $80. I’ve got a few days left and I expect that I’ll probably spend another $100 on food. I’ve had to use Uber a few times and that has added up to about $70 total.

So, for those not keeping track – here are my totals for a week long trip from Hawaii to San Francisco to one of the most expensive tech conferences in the world.

Conference Ticket: $295

Flights: $0

Hotel: $580

Food: $180

Uber: $70

Grand Total: $1125

I will probably spend a couple hundred dollars on entertainment and tourist stuff while I’m here, but maybe not. In any event, I feel like the price was well worth it. If I’d wanted to go further into savings I could have aggressively hunted for a couch to surf, skimped further on food, and volunteered at the conference for a free ticket – but I’m almost 48 years old and just don’t have the energy to be that cheap any more.

Opportunities – well hopefully they will translate into being worth millions, but we’ll have to see.

 

Vagobond Travel Videos and Vagobond Youtube Channel

It’s a little hard to believe – but I’ve pretty much ignored video as a medium. This isn’t because I don’t believe in the power of video – but mainly because of technological issues. After all, in 2008 when I graduated from the University of Hawaii – my main focus was anthropology and my secondary focus was film making through the Academy of Creative Media. But here is where the issues with technology arose. I left Hawaii with a small suitcase (carry  on) and a backpack. I brought a Sony Handycam and a Vaio laptop with me. I had a huge and heavy external hard drive that I left behind. I had professional grade software for film editing on the Vaio but the storage technology in 2008 was such that importing and using raw video files wasn’t really something that could be done on a rig as light as mine. When my Vaio failed in 2009, I opted to go lighter and moved all of my web work to an Acer Netbook with a 10-inch screen. My Razr Flip-phone took video and I would sometimes take video with my 8, 10, or 12 megapixel cameras – but mostly the quality was terrible and the editing I was now doing on a Windows Movie Maker freeeware program was sub-optimal.

It was during this time from 2008-2012 that Youtube as a platform took off. While I was building Vagobond and writing a half dozen books on my netbook – the pay off for struggling to make bad video just wasn’t worth it. And, to be honest, I was a bit camera shy which probably didn’t help. Moving back to the USA in 2013, my priority became building my antique shop, my small community newspaper, and moving my family to Hawaii.

It’s only now – a decade after I left Hawaii that I find myself with the proper technology and time to sort through my old video and put them together as something hopefully interesting. The sound I recorded on my flip-phone, my cameras, the handy cam, and then my progressively better smartphones was terrible – so in many cases I’ve cut the sound and replaced it with music. I’m still not some rich guy with great tech – but I recently bought a Macbook Air and my iPhone 6s does decent video – so hopefully the quality of these videos will improve as time goes on. My mission is to first sort through and use my old footage and then to start creating new videos. I’m less camera shy now – so you’ll probably see more of me in future videos.

I’ve created a new YouTube Channel “Vagobond Travels’ – the name is a bear until I get 100 subscribers, but then I can change it to something easier to remember. So, please click through now and pound that ‘Subscribe’ button.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvV2_3gHVl6NKf6jBBSnHzw

Unfortunately, right now if you search for it on Youtube or Google, Google automatically corrects the spelling to Vagabond so you get lots of other peoples channels.  I’ve also started to put my older videos on a specific page here Vagobond Travel Videos

To get you started – here is the first video I’ve put together from my old clips – it has a few clips from Hawaii and my trip across the USA before I left for Spain in January 2009.

 

and here’s an old favorite called Hawaii Chicken – if you skip to the end you will see how I got to Hawaii

10 Largest Cities in the World by Population

2019 Largest Cities in the World

The world has changed a lot since I originally wrote this article back in 2011. Almost a decade later – populations have shifted significantly along with everything else. I’ve got this idea in my head these days that I want to visit all of the largest cities in the world. I’ve been to some of them – but not all – so this might be a good focus for my travel plans in the near future. The hard part is finding a list that is accurate – this is the best I could come up with but I found at least five very different lists all based on the same criteria! New York City, Jakarta, Manila, Chengdu, and a few other cities made it to different lists fo the Top 10 largest, but the cities below were the ones that seemed to be the most consistent in terms of reported population.

The world is growing at an alarming rate. There are a huge number of estimates on the number of cities in the world, but it certainly would be safe to say that there are more than 300,000 cities in the world currently. Of course, this depends on what one defines a city. In most cases, a city is considered to be a place that is large and well-populated, and assumes more importance than a village or town. Now assuming more importance leads to several things, like better living conditions, more choice in all respects of life, and so on. These are what lure people to cities, and make cities experience population growth. Because of the large population, cities are generally managed by an authority, which in most cases is the municipal corporation of the particular city, and this body looks into all the things that make up the city. A typical city consists of further sub-areas, called districts or precincts in most places. This division of a city into smaller parts helps in better administration and ultimately leads to providing better living conditions.

For the traveler, the largest cities in the world can be an intense experience as the sights, smells, sounds, and sometimes the feel of the population can be exhilarating.

World’s Largest City by Population – Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, JapanTokyo is still the largest city in the world with a population of approximately 37.5 million people. Formerly named  Edo, the Tokyo Metropolis formed from the merger of Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is referred to as a metropolitan prefecture or a MegaCity.

On 1 July 1943, the twenty-three special wards of Tokyo merged with Tokyo Prefecture to become the Tokyo Metropolis. The residential area of Tokyo proper has 13,617,445 residents. The rest of the population lives in the Tokyo ‘burbs’.

World’s Second Largest City Delhi, India 

Delhi

Back in 2011, this rapidly growing city was fourth but today it has jumped the que to second. Delhi is one of the oldest cities of India, and is home to the Parliament and Supreme Court of India.Delhi rose from the fourth largest city in the world, to the second! The population of this city went up by more than five million people. With a population of about 29.3 million. Delhi’s NCT boundaries include Faridabad, Noida, Sonipat, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad known as Central National Capital Region which is the third-largest urban area according to the United Nations. Delhi is also the wealthiest city in India after Mumbai. It is home to several billionaires.

World’s Third Largest City – Shanghai, China

Shanghai

Back in 2011, Shanghai was the second largest city, but today it has dropped to third with an estimated population of  26.5 million people.

Shanghai has been the largest city in China for quite some time. Once just a fishing and textiles town, Shanghai grew quickly because of its port, and it is the world’s largest cargo port since 2005. Shanghai attracts millions of tourists every year, who flock to the city, which has got many attractions, with the City God Temple, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and many more. It is a major transport hub, with the busiest container port in the world. Shanghai gained recognition worldwide due to its trade and strong economic potential. During the First Opium War, a victory of the British over China forced China to open its foreign trade. The subsequent treaty of Nanking and the treaty of Whampoa allowed Shanghai to spread its trade all over the world. Shanghai is home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in the world by Market Capitalization. Additionally, Shanghai has numerous Industrial, Economic, and Technological zones.

World’s Fourth Largest City – Sao Paolo, Brazil 

Sao Paolo Brazil

Sao Paolo grew from the seventh largest population in 2011  to the 4th largest today. Sao Paulo is also known as Alpha City. It is the largest city in Brazil. The city has a strong influence in arts, finance, commerce and entertainment. Current population is about 21.9 million residents. It is the largest city in Brazil, and is named to honor Saint Paul. It has one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world.  Sao Paulo is famous for its majestic skyscrapers.

World’s Fifth Largest City – Mexico City, Mexico 

Mexico City is home to around 21.7 million people and they live over 2,137Km square area. The rate of population growth is lower compared to New Delhi at 0.6% annually. Mexico City is the fifth largest city in the world.

World’s Sixth Largest City – Cairo, Egypt

Cairo

Cairo has a population of about 20.5 million residents.

World’s Seventh Largest City – Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaka

Dhaka is the seventh largest city in the world. It has been a commercial center since the 17th century. With a population of 20.2 million (from 13.5 a decade ago!). Dhaka is considered one of the most important cities of South Asia.

World’s Eighth Largest City – Mumbai, India

Mumbai

Mumbai has 20.1 million residents. It is the wealthiest city in India with more billionaires and millionaires than all the other cities of India combined. Mumbai is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Elephanta Caves, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the city’s distinctive ensemble of Victory and Art Deco Buildings. Mumbai is the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of India and has several financial institutions such as RBI, the Bombay Stock Exchange, National Stock Exchange, And SEBI. Mumbai used to be known as Bombay.It  is the entertainment capital of India, home to Bollywood and many architectural wonders.

World’s Ninth Largest City – Beijing, China 

Beijing

Back in 2011, Beijing was the 3rd largest city. Today in 2019 with a population of approximately 20 million it has dropped to the 9th largest cities in the world. Beijing is an important city in terms of business, politics, education, finance, economy, culture. Beijing is a megacity. It is home to the headquarters of China’s state-owned companies. It is also a major hub for the national highway, expressway, and high-speed rail networks. Beijing International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world. Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage sites – Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Great Canal, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian.

World’s Tenth Largest City – Osaka, Japan

Osaka

Osaka is home to around 19.2  million people in 2019. That number is growing by about 0.04 percent yearly, The total area of Osaka is mere 2,720 Km square and that means the city is pretty crowded. Osaka is 10th in the list of largest cities in the world.

Places I’ve Lived #24 – Reedsport, Oregon

Reedsport, OregonSince leaving Turkey (and even while I lived there), I’ve watched a beautiful country on the verge of an amazing future start to dismantle itself, create sectarian conflicts, and become something ugly through extremist religion and ideology. What does that have to do with Reedsport, Oregon?

During the election of 2016 and the aftermath of that disaster- I watched this little town do something similar. A beautiful little place filled with good neighbors became a place where one kind of person was welcome and another kind wasn’t. But that comes later…

I found Reedsport, Oregon when I realized that I didn’t have enough or earn enough to find a house with a yard that wasn’t too far from the beach in California or Washington. The two areas I would have preferred to settle would have been the San Francisco Bay Area (extending east to Sacramento, North to Santa Rosa, and south to San Luis Obispo) or the area from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham, Washington. I just didn’t have the income or savings to rent a house in those areas and starting a business seemed unlikely given the startup costs.

Reedsport, OregonSo, I focused in between.  Reedsport sits about 20-miles south of Florence, Oregon and even though it was in the same county as both Myrtle Creek and Canyonville – it was far from both. I found a nice little 3-bedroom house with a big back yard for $675/month. It was an older house, but it was near a good grade school and in a friendly neighborhood. Reedsport was mostly a retirement community but had a health food store, a good coffee shop, and a quirky vibe that I liked. It was a fishing town with the Umpqua River going through it and a big Elk preserve nearby. The Oregon Dunes extended into it on the coast and the little village of Winchester Bay was just a couple of miles from our house. I was in love with Reedsport, to be honest. It was a little slice of heaven.

Reedsport, OregonNow, to be fair – there’s a lot of poverty in Reedsport. The education level is on the lower end of the spectrum. The winters are long and grey and rainy. And…people tended to be white, conservative, and a bit on the racist side – which wasn’t obvious at first (the racist part) but came out as we drew closer to electing a racist president.

My credit was good. Between Ebay and online work – I was earning more than enough to pay the rent. The landlord looked at my application and instantly approved it “Most people around here don’t have a credit score anywhere near that, ” she said. I was surprised – it wasn’t that good, really. Somewhere in the 700 range.

So we packed up our estate sale accumulations and moved from the squat house in Sacramento to a place with our names on the lease in Reedsport, Oregon. My wife took a job cleaning in a hotel and I started working for Banker’s Life Insurance – which didn’t suit me at all. I got certified, made a little money, and then said ‘fuck this’. Selling bad life insurance to senior citizens wasn’t something I could do. So, instead of that, I jumped back into buying and selling.

Reedsport, OregonI opened a little antique shop on the main drag in Reedsport. My rent was $300/mo and I caught all the travelers driving down the Coastal 101 Freeway. I became a regular at all the estate sales (and garage sales) and soon began to run estate sales for other people (which is where the money really is). The little town paper ‘Coffee Talk’ announced it was shutting down and I began putting together an alternative. As soon as Coffee Talk sent out its last issue, I was at every advertiser they had offering a new paper Reedsport.info. I was able to create a website version and figured out how to print a weekly version, where to distribute it, and within a very short time – I was earning more from the ad revenue than I was making in my antique shop.

Reedsport, OregonI needed a bigger shop and rented a big abandoned storefront in Reedsport’s dying downtown. There was not much there. The only book store in town was closing down and was right across the street from me. I bought his shelves, his fixtures, his neon ‘Books’ sign, and everything else I could get. It was fire sale prices. In my little newspaper, I was a big advocate for  marijuana after Oregon legalized it. I suggested that Reedsport could enjoy a huge benefit from bringing in dispensaries and catering to weed tourists. This didn’t win me any fans. I had several advertisers threaten to pull out if I continued to make jokes about ‘Weedsport’ – so I toned it down.

On a whim, I decided to enter politics. I ran for Umpqua Port Commissioner, a county level post. I got nearly 40% of the vote without really doing anything. It was becoming increasingly clear that my ‘liberal California’ ways were not loved by most of the folks in Reedsport. My wife (thankfully) had left the hotel job and gotten a job as an educational assistant at the elementary school. She began the process of getting certified to work with special needs children. We were doing pretty good, actually. Our daughter was in kindergarten, our businesses (and her job) were earning us a nice income, a brewery had opened up across the street from my shop, and the little downtown was coming back to life. This was late 2015 and early 2016.

Reedsport, OregonThat’s when things started to get ugly. My wife is Muslim, technically, I converted so I am too, but I’m not a religionist on any level. First the Trump rhetoric started on the campaign trail. His hate talk towards Muslims activated people. His racist talk made people feel it was okay to be racist. I began having more and more old white men come into my shop, see that I was a small town white guy, and start saying hateful, mean, violent, and racist things about President Obama, about Muslims, and about immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, and Jewish people. They just assumed I was part of their club – I shut them down the best I could and generally raised the prices from where they might have been. Great thing with an antique shop is that your prices are generally set 200% above what you really want – I would only let these guys give me a large profit for the stuff they wanted. Their racism cost them.

Reedsport started to feel much less inviting. The health food store closed, the cool little quirky coffee shop closed, the book store had already closed. A marijuana dispensary opened and then quickly closed. I started to get some bizarre harassment because of a chainsaw statue I had bought and put on the street in front of my shop – it was an attempt at the famous David and the nudity offended people – even though his privates were covered with a leaf.

I became hyper-alert and anxious because I was living in a town where my wife and my child were targets because they weren’t white or Christian. I didn’t need to worry about my 5 year old getting harassed for saying “Allah” in kindergarten, but that time was coming. I knew what small town bullying looked like. I watched with disbelief as Trump got more and more support. My fellow townspeople loved him! They actually carved chainsaw statues of him and put them up on the three roads coming into town. To me it screamed “We’re racist here!” One of the guys who worked for the state highway department began driving around with a huge confederate flag flying from the back of his pickup truck.

Reedsport, OregonI was an early Bernie supporter. My “Feel the Bern” signs didn’t bother anyone too much though a couple of old guys  felt the need to explain that I was supporting a ‘Jew Communist’ -but when Hillary got the nomination – the ugliness of 2016 really came out. “Hillary = WWIII” “Lock the Bitch Up” – these were actual signs I saw people put out in their yards or bumper stickers on cars. I was never a huge Hillary supporter, but of course I was going to vote for her because the alternative (Trump) was so much worse. There were a few signs that went up supporting her that I saw on my drive to work one day – on the drive home, they had been stomped, broken, or thrown in the river. This happened multiple times. I was still trying to do business in this town, so I didn’t put Hillary signs up in my shop – but I did start selling bumper stickers that said “Vote Neither in 2016 because WTF….NOOOOO!”  – I would have made a killing selling Trump hats and stickers, but I refused.

The town was filled with Trump signs and Trump supporters. More and more old white people were saying things to me like “When he gets in there, the (N-word) are going to have to pay”  or “He’s going to lock that (N-word) Obama up”. I lived it, on the ground as a white person at Trump ground zero – I know why they voted for him. People voted for Trump because they are racist. Period. You don’t vote for a racist because he is a good business person unless you are a racist. And by the way, he’s a terrible business person.

Reedsport, OregonYou know the story, Trump won. I had seen the dirty souls of the people around me. I no longer felt like my family was safe.  I listed my shop and my newspaper for sale and hoped that a buyer would come along. That buyer did show up and right around the same time – our landlord informed us she was selling the house we had been renting. It was all the confirmation I needed.

I couldn’t leave fast enough. We closed the deal on the shop and paper, had a huge sell off garage sale at our house, and I packed a trailer and shipped it to Hawaii. Honolulu may not be perfect – but it’s filled with a diversity of people and racism isn’t a big problem like it is on the continent. Hawaii is the least violent place in America, and Hawaii voted 70+% against Trump. Plus, and this is true – Hawaii had always felt like it was home to me – I finally had enough money to get my family there and give us a start.

I made a quick trip to Honolulu, landed a job as an archaeologist, rented a little apartment – and then went back to Reedsport for the last time to pack up my family and bring them to Hawaii. In a way, this was the conclusion of the trip I’d started back in 2008 when I left Honolulu to see the world. I’d come full circle.

To be honest, the whole thing with Reedsport really broke my heart. I loved that little town. I loved the location, the outdoors, and the untapped potential. I liked living in a friendly small town (before Trump). We had a lot of friends there. Our businesses were doing good. I’m not sad that we came back to Hawaii – but I’m sad that things went they way they did. The fact that a government worker was allowed to drive around flying that confederate flag and the awful Trump statues proclaiming ignorance and racism – and making the families there who weren’t white, Christian, straight, or Republican feel like they weren’t welcome. Those racist old white dudes suddenly feeling like it was okay to throw the n-word around in public – all of it – it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. There are some great people in Reedsport. It’s a cute little place with a huge potential – but as much as I loved it – it wasn’t worth having my family in a situation where we were at the mercy of heavily armed bigots. On a strange note – the David statue has been converted to a Trump statue by the new owners of my old shop and now sits in front of their shop without the city offering any protest.

Reedsport, Oregon

Reedsport, OregonIncorporated in 1919 near the confluence of three rivers – the Umpqua, the Smith, and the Scholfield, the City of Reedsport is located on the beautiful Oregon Coast on Highways 101 and 38 on the banks of the Umpqua River – the largest river between the Sacramento and the Columbia. Located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, Reedsport is in close proximity to over 17 freshwater lakes and is just four miles from Winchester Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  Reedsport is the home of the Umpqua Discovery Center a Natural and Cultural Interpretive Center.  It has a population of about 4500 people.

Reedsport is located in Douglas County on the central Oregon coast at the intersection of Oregon Highway 38 and U.S. Highway 101. The City is approximately 195 miles south of Portland, 87 miles southwest of Eugene, 70 miles west of Roseburg, 25 miles north of Coos Bay, and 21 miles south of Florence.

 

Places I’ve Lived #23 – Sacramento, California – Squatting in Arden Arcade

Once we had my wife’s green card, I made a plan. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan. I bought our plane tickets – me, wife, and baby. We were flying from Morocco to Dubai then to San Francisco. Using some travel contacts, I managed to get us a three night stay in Dubai at the Atlantis Resort – we were going to do the desert safari, visit the Burj Khalifa, and many other things. However, since Dubai has apparently had a problem with Moroccan residents not going back to Morocco – they require all Moroccan residents to have a return flight to Morocco. This was ridiculous as we were flying onward to the USA – but they wouldn’t budge – my wife would not be allowed to leave the airport unless we bought her a return ticket. Emirates allowed me to change the flight to a 10-hour layover and we missed our chance to do anything in Dubai except wander through the mall-like airport and look at the night lights shining where we couldn’t visit them.

My plan then involved landing in San Francisco where my sister had said we could stay for up to a month while we figured out housing, jobs, etc. Unfortunately, she was going through a nasty divorce and had moved into a security building with uptight rules and my brother and his family had come out to visit at the same time. We had a hotel for the first couple of nights and then tried to stay with her – but it was a small place, there were four small kids there and five adults. My plan was to find a job in a startup – to put my blogging, social media, writing, editing, and magazine publishing skills to work in the USA the same way I had in Turkey, Morocco, and Europe.

Instead, crazy culture shock, astounding jet lag, and dysfunctional family dynamics led us to Redding where not only did I not want to be, but we were very quickly made to feel not welcome at the other place we had been assured would ‘always have an open door for us’. I ran into an old high school friend that I’d always gotten along with. He told me how he and his girlfriend had been squatting in 2008 foreclosures in Sacramento for years. Honestly, my plans had not involved emigrating to America, demonstrating my dysfunctional family to my wife, and then squatting in foreclosed houses with my wife and infant child – but we didn’t really have a choice. Redding was a very unpleasant dead end. We couldn’t afford to rent in San Francisco because no one would rent to me without a job or a million in the bank. I figured we could squat in Sacramento, I could continue job hunting in San Francisco, and we would find a place to rent before we were evicted by law enforcement.

To be fair – it was a very nice house. My friends were going through a process where they were trying to legally claim the house by paying utilities, keeping the yard up, taking care of appearances etc. They were attempting to use loopholes in the legal system to take a house from the banks who had taken the house from someone else with loopholes. I helped to file some of the writs and papers. We were in the Arden Arcade neighborhood of Sacramento. It was a great neighborhood. We made friends, I looked for work, we had fun and enjoyed life there. I mowed the grass, we planted a little garden, and all in all – it was good. However, the uncertainty of the situation was hard on my little family.

I turned to how I always made money in the past – writing, buying & selling things on craigslist, through classifieds, reselling books from garage sales, and then I started to realize there was a lot of cash being left on the table at the many estate and yard sales in Sacramento. I became a professional picker and I did good at it. I educated myself on what sold and what didn’t, I learned about antiques, collectibles, furniture, gems, jewelry, watches, and art. I began buying and selling a lot. But not enough to pay the first, last, and security deposit on a house in Sacramento (let alone San Francisco) – It was going to be $8000 to move into a place – we’d moved to the USA with right around $5000 after all the flights, the expenses of the green card, and more. I just didn’t have it. I applied for multiple tech jobs in San Francisco and Sacramento but the salaries were always less than my expenses would be. I couldn’t do it.

I was making enough with Ebay, Amazon books, and garage sales – that I figured out that I could afford to move to the cheapest town on the Oregon Coast, rent a decent house, and have a pretty good life for my family without being too far from the ocean – which, for some reason, is important to me. I found a three bedroom house in Reedsport, Oregon just in time – the squat was going to have to be abandoned. The legal maneuvers had failed.

We’d accumulated a lot of stuff from estate sales and garage sales. I rented a trailer and we filled it up and headed up to our new life in Reedsport, Oregon. We squatted in Sacramento from April to August of 2013. It wasn’t part of my plan at all – but I’m grateful that we found someplace to live when my entire plan and backup plans had completely fallen apart.

Sacramento, California

SacreamentoSacramento is the capital of California – which, were it not a part of the USA, would be the fifth largest economy in the world ahead of France, the UK, and India. Without California, the U.S. would fall to just about the same GDP as China – so, Sacramento is a pretty important city. Founded in 1808 by Spanish Missionaries – the city has about a half million people. It rose to importance when John Sutter found gold there in 1848 – Sutter was a Mexican-Swiss citizen and his find led to the eventual stealing of California from Mexico by the United States.  It’s interesting to note that California was an independent nation “The Bear Republic” from 1846-1848 before Mexico re-established control and then the U.S. claimed it. For three months each year, Sacramento is the sunniest place on the planet – and during those months – it’s best to hide inside with air-conditioning. Old Town Sacramento is an area of the city that has preserved many of the buildings from the 1850s and 1860s. It’s a fun tourist area. Sacramento is filled with parks, universities, museums, and a growing tech scene – but the primary business in Sac is and always will be one thing – government. Sacramento is home to the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the Sacramento Republic Football Club.

Places I’ve Lived #17 – Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon PowellsAs a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.

When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.Portland, OregonI was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer  and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”

I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.

Portland, OregonI bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket.  I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.

Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me.  I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, OregonPortland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.

%d bloggers like this: