Best Place Ever

This blog entry was originally posted on April 18, 2005.

Not surprisingly, the most frequently asked question I get is, “So, what’s the best place you’ve been?”  This of course is a loaded question, and rather than go into a tiff about how it is in fact a loaded and unfair question, my automatic quick answer is “Bolivia.”  I then continue briefly about how jungles, villages, and cities begin to look the same across continents, but it was unique sight of Bolivia’s reflective salt pans of Uyuni that I have not seen anywhere else.

This is of course the short answer, so I can move off the subject and go back to attend to my beer.  However, the long answer is, “Well, I can’t really single out one Best Place Ever because there’s so much diversity out there.  I’d have to put it into categories first, and only then could I tell you about the best stuff I’ve seen that’s out there in the world.”

And so, here’s the continuation of that long answer, based on my travels on TGT1 and TGT2:

BEST TREK:  For me, trekking is always better when there’s a goal to be reached, so you feel like you have some sort of purpose in walking for days, instead of wandering around aimlessly like an illiterate locked in a library.  One particular goal comes to mind, the “lost” city of Machu Picchu, at the end of the four-day trek on the Inca Trail (TGT1) in the Peruvian Andes.  The four days of undulating paths through the cloud forest — including a day of altitude sickness (no surprise there) — is worth it once you gaze down on the ancient ruins from the old Incan Sun Gate.

Honorable mention goes to the Mount Kilimanjaro trek on the Marangu Route, not just because the goal at the end is the top of Africa’s highest mountain peak, but because of the variety of environments on the way.  In four days, you go through five different ecosystems:  tropical rainforest, mountain forest, moorland, desert, and glacier.  (The downside to that is that you have to lug the clothing for all such environments).

BEST BEACH:  From what I’ve seen, I’ll give this honor to White Beach on the island of Boracay in the Philippines.  Honorable mention goes to Kendwa Beach on the northwest corner of Zanzibar, Tanzania.  Mind you I was at both of these places during their low tourist seasons, so it wasn’t that tainted with crowds of people.  But with the smoothest, silkiest white sands I’ve graced my bare feet on, what’s not to like either way?

MOST LAID BACK PLACE:  Without a doubt, Dahab, Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula.  It is the answer to the frequently asked question, “What’s one place you’d definitely go back to?”  Situated on the coast of the Red Sea, what Dahab lacks in a sandy beach, it makes up for in pillow lounges.  Picture a mile-long stretch of just blankets and pillows on the floor under thatched roofs for you to just veg out in with warm breezes, good food, great smokes, and really awesome milkshakes and lassis, all served to you by friendly people that don’t hassle you as nearly enough as the locals swarming the ancient Egyptian tourist sites on the mainland.  I’m told the Australian guy Greg I met up with there in June 2004, was still there in February 2005 because he just couldn’t leave.  It’s just that kind of a place.

BEST DIVE:  Let’s break it down:

  • BEST CORAL DIVE:  Mnemba Atoll, off the northeast coast of Zanzibar Island, Tanzania.  I lucked out diving on a sunny day with great visibility; all around me, all I could see were tropical fish and fields and fields of coral showing off all the colors of the spectrum.  Honorable mention goes to the Great Barrier Reef (TGT1) off the coast of Cairns, Australia, also with the most amazing coral down under, down under.

  • BEST WRECK DIVE:  I don’t have that much experience with wrecks, but I have to say I really did enjoy the “King Cruiser” wreck site in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand.  A big sunken ship with no presence of Leonardo DiCaprio is always a good thing.

  • BEST DEEP DIVE:  “Canyon” in the Red Sea, off the coast of Dahab, Egypt. Sinking down 90 ft. underwater through a narrow chasm is always an adventure; coming back up — slowly — is fun too.  I should mention that “Canyon” is nearby the famous “Blue Hole” dive site, which is so deep, many divers have died in their attempts to reach the bottom.  Many plaques on-shore have been erected in their memory, and attest to Blue Hole’s danger.  (Haha, I said, “erected.”)

  • BEST MARINE LIFE DIVE:  I could say the great white shark dive I did off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa, was the most exciting marine life dive, but that doesn’t really count because I was in a cage without an air tank and the shark wrangler lured sharks over as best he could (in accordance with the government-set rules of eco-tourism). 

    And so, the best real dives rich in marine life are in and around the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.  Reef sharks, schools of hammerheads, turtles, rays, and seas otters that swim right up to you — it’s like swimming in an aquarium without the annoying tourists flashing pictures behind a glass.

BEST SAFARI DESTINATION:  The Okavango River, which begins somewhere in Angola, doesn’t spill out into the ocean, a big lake or sea; it simply ends in the middle of Botswana, and disperses into a huge swampland known as the Okavango Delta (TGT1), where all the animals come to feed and drink.  The Okavango was my first safari experience, and perhaps the most magical; all subsequent safaris weren’t as special after that first one.  (Once you’ve seen a giraffe, you’ve seen them all, no matter where you are.)  I’m sure if I went to the Serengeti in Tanzania first, my answer would be different, but then again, if you’ve read, my experience in the Serengeti was the safari from hell, when I was stranded for hours under the hot, beating sun with this Italian couple, while we waited for our shady safari guide who abandoned us, to look for help for our truck stuck in the mud.  Vultures literally circled above us that day — not the thing you really want to see on a safari when you don’t know if your guide is still alive.

Honorable mention goes to the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania right next to the Serengeti, where most of the animals of Africa are found all in one convenient central area, inside the grasslands at the bottom of a collapsed volcano.  (Coincidentally, the Ngorongoro Crater was a place that our car didn’t break down.)

HOTTEST WOMEN:  Ah, so many hotties around the world, but if I had to specify a country with the highest concentration of them, I’ll to say Argentina.  There’s just something about their blend of Spanish, native South American, and some German genes that makes them bursting with sex appeal.  A very close second goes to the women of Spain, the country that I have to say has the highest concentration of MILFs.  As one of my friends said on the subject of Spanish women on his trip to Spain:  “Check out that girl?  That girl?  F that, look at her mom!”

Honorable mention of worldly beauties goes to the Ethiopian women, and that’s not a joke or an act of tokenism.  At the crossroads of the Middle East and Africa, Ethiopia women have this really attractive blend of both worlds, with big alluring eyes, nice cheek-bones, and a great coffee-colored skin tone.  Apparently the photogenic qualities of Ethiopians apply to men too, so I’m told by my cousin-in-law Tatjana in Luxembourg, who raved about how beautiful her male Ethiopian colleagues were.

While we’re on the subject of HOTTEST WOMEN, I’ll say the SEXIEST ACCENT has got to be when German girls speak English.  That and the South African accent.  Remember that chick in Lethal Weapon 2?  Mmmm…

BEST AIRLINE:  You can throw China Airlines’ less-than-stellar safety track record out the window at 30,000 ft.; Dude, they have the best in-flight entertainment I’ve seen short of a lap dance.  On my 9-hr. flight from Taipei to Vancouver, I was thoroughly entertained with my own entertainment unit, in coach, where I could watch movies from a decent selection, as well as TV shows (including that one obligatory episode of Friends that seems to be on all flights these days) — and all on demand.  I’ve seen selectable in-flight movies before, but they went through a loop and you had to wait for a cycle to finish in order to start from the beginning.  But on this flight I could fast forward, rewind, stop, and play, and not only play movies;  the unit had video games — even multi-player ones — plus a decent selection of a variety of MP3s that you could put in your own customized playlist so you’re not tied into their own playlists with those annoying in-flight pre-recorded DJs.  With so much to do, I almost wished that flight was longer.

(Almost.  I mean, c’mon, it was still a pretty long flight.)

BEST TRAINS:  With a month-long unlimited Eurail pass, you can use all of the trains in western Europe for a one-time fee (minus the small extra costs for sleeper reservations on overnight trains).  In my post-college European backpacking trek before I turned 26, the Eurail youth pass I had only allowed me to ride in second class.  But on TGT2, at the age of 29, I had no choice but to get the standard Eurail pass, which is for first class.  As far as I’d seen, the best of the first classes was on the InterCity Express of Germany, with its electrical power outlets, individual TV monitors, tables, office rooms, coffee and beer service.  Honorable mention goes to the Shinkansen of Japan, the “bullet train” faster than a speeding train, which is so fast, I can definitely see how it instills a sensation of vertigo in some people.

BEST BUSES:  The best buses, as far as I’ve experienced, are in Brazil.  Air-conditioning, comfy cushiony seats, foot rests, leg rests — it’s like a bunch of Laz-y-Boys on wheels.  I didn’t see the buses in Argentina, but I’ve heard raves about them from fellow backpackers.  These buses sure beat the buses in Peru, which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep on playing the same Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal movies over and over on the monitors.

I should mention that I’ve heard there is new competitive bus service in and between Singapore and Malaysia, where the seats on the buses are actual motorized massage chairs.

BEST FOOD:  Ah, another loaded question.  This too needs to be broken down in categories; here are some that immediately come to mind:

  • BEST STEAK:  The best steaks are in Argentina, more specifically at the Chiquilin restaurant in Buenos Aires.  The gauchos of the countryside haven’t busted their asses for years so that their beef could be second best — and it shows.

  • BEST FISH:  The best fish I’ve had is in Tokyo sushi.  There, you can get it so fresh, it literally still twitches on the table in front of you (and on occasion, in your mouth), whether it be fugu or live shrimp.

  • BEST VEGETARIAN DISH:  The falafels in the Arab world were good, but the best falafel I had was from Dada’s Falafel in Berlin, a city with a huge Turkish immigrant population.

  • BEST CHINESE FOOD:  It’s in China.  But there they just call it “food.”

  • BEST GAME MEAT:  Warthog, and it doesn’t taste gamey at all.  It’s like pork, but a lot leaner and more tender, at least the way I had it prepared for me in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (TGT1).  Since it’s not exactly from a pig, it’s technically not pork, so I dare even Jews to try it.  So good.

    (By the way, while we’re on the subject, try saying “Best Game Meat” out loud and undoubtedly it sounds like “Best Gay Meat.”  I had a similar problem in pronunciation when I once needed a hint for a PlayStation 2 game in 2002, and I was walking with my friend and Blogreader LovePenny and told him that I wanted to stop at a newsstand and get a “game magazine.”  You could imagine the confused look on his face when I said it.)

  • BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK (before the U.S. dollar sunk to embarrassingly low values):  If you really want a good value and with really good non-fast food, head for the night markets in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.  Fish, squid, lobster, crabs, prawns — all caught fresh from local fishermen.  You point to it, and it’s put on the grill.  Average price for a big plate of food is about two to three bucks (American).  At that price it’s a steal, and yet, I’ve seen backpackers complain it’s still too much and bargain it down even more — but c’mon, really now; lobster for that price?  Sure, I’ll pay the two bucks.

    Honorable mention goes to the night-time food stands in the Place Djemaa el-Fna in the old medina of Marrakesh, Morocco.  Seafood, lamb, salads, and couscous galore, and plenty of it.

  • BEST INTERNATIONAL MCDONALD’S FOOD ITEM NOT OFFERED IN THE U.S.A.:  Yes, I made it a point to check out a local McDonald’s (a.k.a. “the American embassy”) in most of the countries I’ve been.  Overseas, McDonald’s must cater to a different audience with a different taste palate, and sometimes things are just a little different.  Example:  in Paris, you can get a beer, and I’m not talking about no paper cup, I’m talking about a glass of beer.  And do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?  They got the metric system; they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.  They call it a “Royale with cheese.”  A Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it “Le Big Mac.”

    All Pulp Fiction aside, the tastiest thing I’ve had overseas not offered in the U.S.A. has got to be McDonald’s of India’s Chicken Maharaja Mac.  Who says McDonald’s can’t survive in a Hindu country where cows are sacred?  Replacing the two all beef patties are two spicy curry chicken patties, which is only ameliorated with the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, (tomatoes,) on a sesame seed bun. 

    Honorable mention goes to McDonald’s of Canada’s Toasted Deli Sandwiches, which I was surprised to not find back in the States.  I’d only had the Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, which was spicy but not overwhelming, on a long toasted roll.  Other sandwiches offered were the Turkey BLT, Beef ‘n Provolone, Grilled Veggie Melt, New York Reuben, and the Leaning Tower Italian.  So good, you almost forget you’re in McDonald’s — until you tell them, “Super-Size Me.”

BEST BEER:  Ah, so many to choose from.  I’ll go with the heifeweizens in Berlin.  Any brand will do after a couple (if you know what I mean), and in Germany they are always poured by barmaids that give it a really good head (if you know what I mean).  I didn’t go to Belgium, but honorable mention goes to Belgian Trappist Ales anyway because they’re just so good in any country, plus southeast Asia’s Tiger Beer, Namibia’s Windhoek Special Lager, and some other brews that I was probably too drunk to remember.  It’s fitting to mention here that the Guinness brewed by the Guinness Anchor brewery in Malaysia brews Guinness with 8.0% alcohol by volume, 1.1% higher than the original Guinness in Ireland (6.9%).

BIGGEST ADRENALINE RUSH:  Forget bungie jumping; that’s all mathematically calculated with the Laws of Physics for safety.  But the Running of the Bulls; no math can predict the nature of bulls stampeding down the narrow streets of Pamplona, closed off from side streets until the finish line.  Does 69(3.14x + yr2) = getting gored in the ass by a bull horn?  Who knows?  Math also can’t predict the nature of drunken revelers running/stumbling along with you in that tight space.  As people have said (and will continue to say), the real threat of injury during the run comes not from the bulls, but from the people instead.

BEST CLUB:  I originally thought La Paz would be this small Spanish colonial city in the middle of Bolivia with perhaps a central plaza, a Spanish-influenced cathedral, and a few red-roofed buildings.  On the contrary, La Paz turned out to be this bustling modern metropolis situated at the bottom of a canyon.  Think New York inside the Grand Canyon and you have La Paz.  With that said, it was even more surprising to me when, with the help of two local girls that fellow traveler and Dutchman Gilbert met, we discovered the Dedekos nightclub in a residential area where one wouldn’t expect a nightclub to be.  Nightclubs come and go, so there’s no guarantee it’s still there at the time of writing this, but the hidden, secret aspect of it was part of its appeal.  In a little alley way, one small door that looked like it led into a house actually led down into this huge underground space modeled to look like an old, multi-leveled miner’s cavern, where the crowd was mostly young trendy locals, drinks were strong and cheap, and drugs were readily available if you were into them.  Needless to say I got thoroughly trashed there dancing to the mix of techno, hip hop, lounge, and 80s classics, and lost my voice screaming the lyrics to Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (a favorite both by locals and the few gringos that had also discovered the club’s “secret” location).

Honorable mention goes to No Bar in Quito, Ecuador, with arguably the wildest bar-dancing crowd in the Andean countries of South America.  The bar is set on fire nightly.  Need I explain more?

WILDEST PARTY:  As far as I’ve seen, Parties Gone Wild is at Pamplona’s San Fermin Festival in Spain.  More commonly known as “the Running of the Bulls,” this festival is much more than the releasing of bulls every morning promptly at 8:00 a.m.; it is a full-on, non-stop 24/7 party, and I mean that quite literally.  At any given time for the eight-day event, it’s not surprising to see a marching band go down one of the streets, followed by a crowd of drunken street dancers, whether it be two in the afternoon or three in the morning.  There’s a line to get inside one of the big fancy nightclubs almost around-the-clock as far as I saw, which really didn’t matter because you can drink and dance just about anywhere in the city.  Sure other world festivals may have this craziness too, but do they have San Fermin’s Txupinazo?  It’s the opening ceremony in which thousands of people jam into a space about the size of a basketball court, bouncing beach balls and soccer balls off the walls of buildings and go around with Super Soaker water guns filled with sangria.  And contrary to what some travel purists may think, this festival is not overridden by foreigners inspired by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises; as far as I saw, the event is still authentically a Spanish one. 

Honorable mention goes to Rio de Janiero’s Carnival — the impromptu street parties more than the official parade in the Sambadrome itself (which is a lot more organized).  With it’s crazy street dancing, live samba bands, and foam parties, Rio’s Carnival was actually my answer to this category until I went to the San Fermin. 

BEST NIGHTLIFE:  Overall, I’ll say the best nightlife is in Bangkok, Thailand.  As the song goes, “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster” and there’s a lot of truth in that (assuming you get in the bar or club you want to).  If you’re into the red light scene, Patpong’s sex shows are there for you every night.  If you want to go bar hopping or clubbing, everything is right next to each other in the Khaosan Road district, the center of farang backpackers, whose nightlife audience has expanded in recent years to include trendy young locals.  Some other cities might have just as good a night scene as Bangkok’s, but as far as I’ve experienced, it’s only on Bangkok’s Khaosan Road that you can just hang out on the street at night and have a good time drinking at a makeshift bar on the curb, all before stuffing your face with a sobering, freshly made banana pancake fried up by a street vendor.

SLICKEST CITY:  Without a doubt, Tokyo.  Tokyo was everything I imagined it would be and then some, without the giant monsters like Godzilla mucking about.  A never-ending place of stimulation, this city of neon lights, fast trains, beverage vending machines on every corner, pachinko parlors, and hard-core porn in the regular daily newspapers, breaks all stereotypes that the Japanese are all shy, reserved people.  The sound effects and chimes on the trains make it feel like you’re in a video game.  I once asked Blogreader and friend wheat (who had done a foreign student exchange program there), “Where’s that neighborhood that looks like Times Square?”  His reply:  “Uh, all of them look like Times Square.”

BEST “WONDER OF THE WORLD”:  According to Wikipedia, there are six different sets of “Seven Wonders of the World” lists:  ancient, medieval, natural, underwater, modern, and new.  All lists aside, the best “Wonder of the World” that I’ve seen is the Great Wall of China because, let’s face it, with what other Wonder of the World can you drink a beer on, right before sliding down a zip-line?

MOST OVERRATED PLACE:  Thailand has become known to be the first-time place for the newbie backpacker, as it is a cheap destination far from home where most people speak English, that has a very developed travel infrastructure and many Western conveniences.  For this reason I feel it is overrated because before, during, and after this trip, I still hear people raving about Thailand like it’s a big deal, when in reality it’s not.  If the world backpacking circuit was like a video game (as it sometimes feels), Thailand would be Level Two, only after Level One (English-speaking Australia).  In fact, The Other Erik from Vancouver told me in the Philippines that Thailand probably wouldn’t appeal to me and other well-traveled people because there’s no challenge, and I wholeheartedly agreed with him. 

Don’t get me wrong; Thailand’s great for what it is; it’s easy.  If you’re new to backpacking or just want to “go on vacation” (as opposed to “travel”), or you’re the type of “experienced backpacker” that just travels from Irish pub to Irish pub, then I wholeheartedly recommend it.  The jungle treks are great, the historic sights are awe-inspiring, and the beaches world class — plus they have a pretty nifty king whose picture is everywhere.  I guess I’m bitter because to this day I still hear “Thailand this” and “Thailand that,” and “You guys should go to Thailand” — when I know there are other places out there with a more “authentic” experience, and Thailand is just hogging up all the action.  Not to generalize, but the Thais have really embraced tourism and have become dependent on it, most going out of their way for farangs (provided they have the cash).  In a way I sort of feel Thailand is the sell-out of southeast Asia — no offense to you Thais outside the tourism industry — and I’ve actually felt bad about thinking that — until I went to a Thai artists’ exhibit in the Singapore Art Museum, which displayed similar statements from Thais concerned about the state of greed in their homeland:

“Thailand is a Buddhist country where people are not supposed to exploit each other but when you look around, all you see are greed and consumerism everywhere.”—Chatchai Puipia

“It’s too easy to use the West as a scapegoat; it’s the whole system that’s at fault.  Greed swallowed us up both inside and out.  Having never lived under colonial rule, we were inexperienced and incapable of protecting ourselves in such a climate.  But the biggest doubt is whether we’ve actually learnt from our mistakes.”—Manit Sriwanichpoom

I understand that in developing countries, tourism is a necessity to keep an economy going.  Just keep in mind that in the long run, it’s not the locals who ruin a country’s “authenticity,” it is the tourists.

BEST PLACE WITH A BAD REPUTATION:  India has been a backpacker destination for decades, since the days the hippies came in the 60s to do drugs and get all spiritual.  (Some of them haven’t left, and by the smell of things, haven’t showered.)  In today’s new wave of backpackers, who tote digital cameras and mobile phones, and hang out in metrosexual bars, India has become a sort of eye-opening, and sometimes depressing destination for some.  Most newcomers arrive and are immediately appalled to see the state of poverty, the pollution, and the constant haggling and scamming by locals.  I won’t ignore the fact that this is present in India, but I must say it isn’t the only thing that’s there.  India does have its charm, with its historic, religious and modern monuments, but above all, it has a very friendly people, as long as you find them.  Now I don’t know if I got a less-than-average hassle because of the color of my skin, but I definitely saw that many Indians are not scam artists and are good guys.  It’s not all litter, smog, and scrawny cows in the street neither.  From my experience, India can actually be a classy place; Mumbai reminded me of Miami with its art deco buildings and lack of tuk-tuks, and the southwest coast of India boasts casinos and a fancy beach scene.

I promote India here because I’m irritated when I meet travelers who have told me they would never go to India after reading that book, Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe, which really plays up the annoying aspects of traveling in India.  I can’t really bash this book since I haven’t read it myself, but all I know is, Lara (the Brit in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil) and Lot (the Dutchie in northern Thailand) both refused to go to India after believing everything they read the book.  If India’s Ministry of Tourism could do anything about it, they should put out a smear campaign on the book, instead of concentrating their “Incredible India!” campaign.  Or, if anyone in the country is caught reading it, they should scold him/her by saying, “This is not a library.”

COUNTRY THAT SURPRISED ME THE MOST:  Forget the image of a nation of starving children; Ethiopia is “up and coming” on the tourist radar, and the Ministry of Tourism there knows it, playing up Ethiopia’s rich history angle.  Ethiopia, the birthplace of humanity, was once the homeland of the Abyssian Empire, a once powerful civilization as glorious as the ancient Egyptians or Nubians.  After seeing the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the castles of “Africa’s Camelot” in Gondar, and the temple believed to hold the actual Ark of the Covenant in Axum, no longer is my image of Ethiopia that of a Sally Struthers television ad.  It would seem that in Ethiopia, “they” were the world before “we” were.

PLACE I THINK I COULD LIVE OTHER THAN NEW YORK:  Majority opinion would leave you to believe the ideal place would be a bungalow on a secluded beach or something, but truthfully, I have to say I’m not much of a beach person.  Don’t get me wrong, I like being on the beach, but the thing is, I get bored easily, and with all my melanin, I don’t exactly need to sit out like a beach bum to get a tan.  I thought I was the oddball out until I saw an episode of Ian Wright Live! on my China Airlines’ flight (host of the Lonely Planet/Globe Trekker show, in his own solo travel-oriented variety show), who said something to the effect that all you do on the beach is get sunburn while trying to read a book, but then end up just falling asleep and getting sand all over you. 

Picking a place to live and not just to getaway are two different things, at least in my short-attention span mind.  I hate it when people talk about how good a place is to live and mention, “They have really good bars and stuff.”  Uh, I hate to say it, but bars aren’t the only thing in Life.  (They’re a big part, not just the only factor.)  Unlike most backpackers, I’m usually excited about big cities as I am with nature trails, provided the city has a buzz, a vibe, an energy that you feel around you all the time to keep you stimulated.  With that and the fact that I’d like to live in a place that doesn’t require you to have a car, I’ll say my answer is BerlinParis is a close second — their Metro system is also extensive and convenient — but it’s Berlin that, like New York City, is more of a multicultural international city as far as I’d seen.  (Plus, a lot more people speak English.)  In fact, ask any German living outside of Berlin about their capital city and they’ll most likely say “Ich mag Bier und wienerschnitzel” (“I like beer and wienerschnitzel”), followed by “Berlin ist nicht ein Teil von Deutschland” (“Berlin is not a part of Germany”).  Like New York, “New Berlin” (as some call it) is a world city unlike the rest of the country, with many different cultures in the mix — something I really respect because multiculturalism has come to be a big requirement for me (if not the biggest) in the place I could live.  Berlin has this multicultural vibe; in fact, many of the Berliners I met were of some other ethnic descent.

Aside from the multicultural aspect, Berlin, like New York, is an ever-changing city of blending the old with the new; classic buildings stand near post-modern futuristic-looking ones.  The music scene isn’t dependent on the mainstream, ranging from roots in classical to the present day DJ breakbeat scene.  Old and new design is omnipresent too, and there’s even a longtime indie film scene.  And if that’s not enough, they have really good bars and stuff.  (It’s not the only thing they have, but it’s definitely a plus.)

* * * * *

SO THERE YOU GO; my long answer to the Best Place(s) Ever.  I’m aware my answers don’t cover the entire world; it’s just what I’ve experienced myself.  Have you seen that 1,000 Places Before You Die book by Patricia Schultz?  I’ve barely put a dent in that list after all that I’ve seen so far.  It’s actually a sort of depressing thing for me to browse through that book.  There are so many other places out there that may or may not be better than the places mentioned in my “Best Of…” list above, but c’mon, cut me some slack; it’s a big world after all, no matter what Disney may tell you.

Next entry: Special Delivery

Previous entry: If It Wasn’t Entertaining, It Wouldn’t Be P.C.

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Comments for “Best Place Ever”

  • I hope this extremely long entry ties you all over for a while; it’s the longest one I’ve written to date. 

    Feel free to comment, discuss, or put in your two cents.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/18  at  11:14 PM

  • Best City: NYC
    Best tour guide: ERT

    Thanks Erik I had a blast checking out NYC! I love that city!

    Posted by anthony  on  04/19  at  03:16 AM

  • Well done, buddy. I think that as I travelled along with you (vicariously, of course), I knew what your answers would be here. Very cool synopsis of a huge trip, best of style. That should peak the interest of all your new-comer blog readers.  For this Blog-Hog, a trip down memory lane, and an inspiration for those quick 2-week corporate US vacations.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  05:24 AM

  • CHRISTY:  There you are; I was starting to worry if you were still reading after 503.  N’awlins, huh?  Now YOU put up a blog with photos, and if at the very least, just share it with ME.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  04:07 PM

  • Eric, thanks for the last 2 entries….I will make my 1st choice Paris. A vibrant city mixing old and new, I could live there the rest of my life. My dream is to retire and find a apartment on one of the off beat streets and drink wine, have great food and have the time to discover every back street and corner of this city.  Thanks for taking the time to compile the lists.  Great read!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  05:38 PM

  • ROSE:  Yeah, Paris a very close second, if not tied with Berlin.  The first time I went to Paris I didn’t like it as much as this second time around; the first time I just did the tourist thing.  This time, running errands and stuff like venturing into the outer boroughs to get my Chinese visa, I felt more in tune with being a resident there, and I quite enjoyed it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  05:49 PM

  • Exactly how I feel about Paris.  First time toursty things, second time I just hung out and it was great.

    Erik I also agree about the Thailand thing.  I enjoyed it a lot but after Vietnam it felt so touristy.  It’s a nice jumping point for SE Asia though and I’ll be back for the beaches and food!

    Africa - I gotta go sometime but plane tickets are SO expensive!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  06:08 PM

  • i am sure even if i got to travel around the world, i’ll end up living in nyc for the rest of my life. there’s no other city in the world like this. now if only we can declare ourselves separate from the rest of the bush-cheney country and restructure the mta, we would be doing just fine.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  07:02 PM

  • As this one had Pulp Fiction stuff in it I just had to comment. Belated congrats on finishing an epic journey in one piece Erik. And thanks 4 many hours of wishing I was back on the road since I came back from South America exactly one year ago (damn time flies). For what it’s worth, I agree with you on the Argentinian women. And I could definitely settle down in Buenos Aires if I had to leave Amsterdam (which is conspiciously missing from your list ...).
    Take care,

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  09:05 PM

  • Nice list… my fave comment is: BEST CHINESE FOOD: It’s in China. But there they just call it “food.”

    Hee hee hee… I know many people who’ve been to Africa, and I can’t wait to get there - maybe I’ll skip the EU for a while. Sri Lanka is next for me!!

    I do have to say that wandering around in BKK with Suthee and Wendy made it a completely different city than it would have been for me if I hadn’t met up with them. It sounds like that is relatively similar to the way you felt about Paris this time.

    peace out, yo.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  02:22 AM

  • Erik, I am so glad you named India as the best place with a bad rep.  I thoroughly enjoyed your India entries!  I have also loved the last two episodes of AR that have been in India.  I am currently re-reading a book (A Fine Balance) by an India/Canadian author by the name of Rohinton Mistry…..your entries and AR have brought a completely new perspective for me. 

    India is now on the top of my list of places to someday see!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  03:33 AM

  • Erik, I am glad you named India as the best place with a bad rep.  I thoroughly enjoyed your India entries.  I am currently re-reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (India/Canadian author)....your entries and the last two episodes of AR have given me a completely new perspective on India.  I can’t wait to visit someday!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  03:48 AM

  • oops… computer kept freezing last night….I didn’t think either post was saved!  Oh well….it shows that I really really like what you said about India!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  04:32 PM

  • Hey Mr. E
    Thanks for your comments on India. Till date I havent seen this book on home soil, but if I do ... grrr.. tell me what should i do to the reader? Lisa, thanks for your inputs as well. Hope you get to visit India soon. Then you can probably try Mcdonalds and give ur comments. Aloo tikka (yes a spicy potato cutlet in a bun) is my favourite, followed by coconut water (not yet available at Mc donalds)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  08:11 PM

  • Hey Mr. E
    Thanks for your comments on India. Till date I havent seen this book on home soil, but if I do ... grrr.. tell me what should i do to the reader? Lisa, thanks for your inputs as well. Hope you get to visit India soon. Then you can probably try Mcdonalds and give ur comments. Aloo tikka (yes a spicy potato cutlet in a bun) is my favourite, followed by coconut water (not yet available at Mc donalds)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  08:11 PM

  • Hey Mr. E
    Thanks for your comments on India. Till date I havent seen this book on home soil, but if I do ... grrr.. tell me what should i do to the reader? Lisa, thanks for your inputs as well. Hope you get to visit India soon. Then you can probably try Mcdonalds and give ur comments. Aloo tikka (yes a spicy potato cutlet in a bun) is my favourite, followed by coconut water (not yet available at Mc donalds)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  08:12 PM

  • DUSTY:  Don’t you mean the McAloo Tikka?

    If you see someone reading “Are You Experienced?” you should take the book from him/her and feed it to the nearest cow (they eat anything from what I’ve seen).  Then call him/her a “Jive Turkey,” followed by busting out into a spontaneous breakdancing routine.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  08:17 PM

  • Okay, notice has been given to work.  I’m going to do this round the world thing.  I hope your proud of yourself.  No pressure, but if this thing sucks I’m going to blame you.  Only kidding, well sort of.  Would you prefer questions via the comments section or via e-mail?  That’s right, your now a part of this.  Only kidding, well sort of. 


    Question 1.  So is it customary to start a blog on the date you quit/fired/let go or can you start earlier?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  12:48 AM

  • STEVE:  The drivel of 90% of the Blogs out there “started earlier”... and there’s not even a trip around the world involved.  So, yes.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  01:08 AM

  • Hi eric I am vineet I have just seen your MOVIE, I just loved it. I am now in the third grade and we have summer holidays till june.
    It must be nice to be home. I have got two post cards from you, thank you.
    See you in India this diwali.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  10:13 PM

  • You Yanks don’t have the McDeli sandwiches?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  11:50 PM

  • Hey I remember Vineet from your India entires with the firecrackers!  Diwali looked like so much fun.

    Welcome to the blog hogs, Vineet!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  11:57 PM

  • Too bad we don’t have mc Deli sandwiches…  What could be better after watching some curling?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  12:01 AM

  • TDOT/SARA:  Do you have McGriddles?  It was featured in the “Super-Size Me” movie.  I recently just saw it again and all I could think about while watching it was going out for McDonald’s…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  12:32 AM

  • VINEET:  Hello!  Welcome aboard!  Will you still be wearing your motorcycle jacket in the summer?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  12:33 AM

  • Great new stuff!! 

    So I almost got fired this week…seems I was one of those at the top of the ‘internet surfing list’, and they had just started looking. 

    The owner of the company, a multi-million $$ old fart who treats people like his furniture, called me over to his office to show me…..WHAT THE HELL?? 

    Erik’s Global Trip site on his computer screen!??! 

    “Maybe I wanna go work for ‘him’‘, he says, ‘since I seem to spend so much of my day at his site, and others’  (Window is minimized on my desktop most of the day)

    The old fart looked so smugg, thinking I was shocked that he could ‘see’ what I was doing on my computer, big deal you dic, it was seeing just how far the Global site was getting that shocked me, it was even here now in your giant office with all the leather furniture!  (Jeez, I hope he didn’t become a fan…well, if he did, I guess I’ll find out on Monday, lol)

    So now work is very boring, and the time ticks very very slowly…but, I’m saving my $$, and one day, that old fart is gonna get the bird!!

    -Just thought I’d share that here;

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  02:10 AM

  • Harry….too funny!

    Vineet….glad you made it here!  Can I come to India for diwali?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  03:55 AM

  • HARRY:  Wow, that’s awesome!  I can totally hear your boss saying those words.  What kind of a stuffy place do you work at anyway? 

    My condolences for not getting fired right then and there. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  04:46 PM

  • HARRY’S BOSS:  Excuse me, sir, but Harry was really just doing his job.  In fact, he was just in the middle of filing in his TPS report.  As a matter of fact, it’s right here.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  04:51 PM

  • Hi everyone,
    Hello Sara my firecracker bag is emty now. This year I will bring deadlier crackers then the preves year. Which country do you stay in?
    Hi Lisa, you coud com to India for diwali- It is the festival of lights- you can stay with us.
    Hi eric my motorcycle jacket is lost otherwise I would not take it off summer or winter.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/23  at  10:12 AM

  • Congratulations Eric on completing your trip and your blog. We are currently on our 12 month journey and know how hard it is to keep up the blog entries. I started reading your blog toward the end of 2004 just before our trip started. Your entries excited us for the year that lay ahead and inspired our blog.
    Thank You.
    Nige & Kel

    Posted by Nige & Kel  on  04/23  at  03:19 PM

  • NIGEL & KEL:  Hey, thanks!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/23  at  10:10 PM

  • It’s a -privatly owned- company.  I work as CSR in the light bulb dept., behind hound-dog type salesman who sell lights to electrical contractors who in turn re-sell them at totally ridiculous prices, so that union electricians can install them at ridiculously high rates per hour, oh, but not between 12 and 2pm (lunch-beer break), and they are gone at 3:30!

    Not very interesting, and a far cry my previous career in travel!  Ten years ago at this time I was in a Costa Rican cloud forest retreat, and getting paid for it:(  -Where I didn’t have to be wearing a suit to go to work even though I’m just sitting in a cubical talking to clients on the phone! >Tommow morning:(

    I almost wish I did get fired… ‘Your doing great here, and thats the reason why I’m not letting you go here and now.’ he says.  Hmm..Maybe a few of those bulbs going to Athens GA will go to Athens Greece this week…lol…

    For now, I need the $$ & insurance, so I’m taking it, but only by constantly reminding myself that I won’t be there for too long.  and that that owner WILL be getting the bird from me one day!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/23  at  11:43 PM

  • Erik - I DID watch it while eating Mc Donalds!  My friend and I brought our Mc Donalds into the theater.  They actually let us do it because they thought we were funny!?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/24  at  06:38 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

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Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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The views and opinions written on The Global Trip blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official views and opinions of the any affiliated publications.
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