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Cities

November 16, 2011 6 comments

My third entry for 30 Days of Indie Travel

Prompt # 15 – Cities

When traveling, I tend to be attracted to big cities.  Given the option of a beach or a city, I will almost always choose the city.  Perhaps this is because cities are usually a bit easier to get to, but I think the bigger reason is that cities are exciting for me.  I love that there is always something to do, always something to see.  The best of a country tends to be drawn to the cities.  That is not to say that there is not good to be found outside of cities, but it is a bit harder to find.

Throughout my travels I have been to many cities that I have loved.  There are the few that I find awful, but this almost always has something to do with something out of the cities control, like weather or my mood at the time.  While each great city has something to offer, these ten rise above the others I have been to.  I am not sure that I can really choose a favorite hence the two number 1’s, so instead I will give a few reasons why each of these have provided some of the best experiences I have had while traveling.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa – Perhaps the most beautiful city I have been to.  Cape Town also features great weather, a great dining scene and so many options of things to do that it was impossible to be bored.                                                                                               
  1. Barcelona, Spain – I wrote about my visit to Barcelona here.  The food, culture and architecture set this apart from most others I have been to.  This is a quintessential city that is so easy to get lost in, enthralled in the sights, sounds and history of the place.
  2. Istanbul, Turkey – Sitting at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Istanbul has reminders of history around every corner.  Add in some fantastic food and good weather and you have a winning combination.
  3. Amsterdam, the Netherlands – I am not sure if I have ever visited a more comfortable city.  It’s charm is simply in being there, experiencing everything it has to offer.  It’s food does not stand out, the weather is chilly and rainy, it is expensive, but I am not sure if there is any other city in the world that I would like to spend an afternoon wandering around.                   
  4. Buenos Aires, Argentina – Great food, a very vibrant culture, good weather and a feel that you are in Europe instead of South America but still with South American passion make for a great place to travel to.
  5. Kyoto, Japan- Of my top 10, this is the one that caught me by surprise.  On my first trip to Japan I was looking forward to the food of Osaka, the modernity of Tokyo and the reminder of past mistakes in Hiroshima but Kyoto won my heart.  The culture and history, combined with good food and beautiful mountains make Kyoto my favorite city in Japan.
  6. Hong Kong, China – This city that feels simultaneously Asian and Western.  If visiting from China (as I have) the western aspects stand out.  If coming from the west, the combination of Asian cultures make for a fantastic Asian experience.  The pace of life, the busyness of a city are all on showcase here along with great food, good shopping and good transportation.                  
  7. Stockholm, Sweden – Set amidst the Stockholm Archipelago, Stockholm takes all of what Scandinavia is well known for and somehow improves on it.  The architecture, design, shopping, and wide range of activities make this a must visit in Summer.  Winter might be a bit cold.
  8. Chicago, U.S.A. – Close to one of my homes, Chicago is a great city with impressive and important architecture, fantastic food, great shopping, amazing museums and a cultural scene that rivals any other city on my list.
  9. Shanghai, China – A 21st century city with a long history.  This is one of the most modern cities on my top 10, but just around the corner from modern skyscrapers you are able to find older neighborhoods.  The food is great, the architecture impressive and the history fascinating.

Honorable Mention – London, Beijing, Moscow, Portland OR, Tokyo, Singapore, Frankfurt, Lhasa

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How I spent 1.5 hours…or 5 minutes…or 44 hours…or 20 hours in Hong Kong


The beginning of my trip to South Africa hit a rocky patch, or, as I believe I said at some point, very nearly did not happen.

When I had one and a half hours to spend there I was going to spend all of my time in the lounge, reading, catching up on odds and ends.  Sadly, due to a weather delay, I did not get one and a half hours in Hong Kong.  Instead, I had five minutes…

Which I spent franticly running to find my gate, only to find that there was no way to get there without a boarding pass which I did not yet have.  Instead, I ran to try to find someone to print me off a boarding pass for the flight that I was in the process of missing.  Needless to say, it did not happen.  I instead made my way to the Dragonair desk to figure out the next move.  The answer I got back after over an hour of searching was that there was nothing they could guarantee for 44 hours.  With only a week to spend in South Africa, this was not looking good.  There was, however, nothing much I could do.  The Typhoon had caused me to miss my flight by the narrowest of margins and since I was so far from Johannesburg there was really only one flight per day.  We checked all of the options, even checking some unusual routes (Hong Kong to Doha, Qatar to Dubai (20 minute flight) to Johannesburg).  No luck.  I had a guaranteed seat two days later and a hotel room offered by Dragonair who went above and beyond to find a solution to the problem.  I finally got to my hotel at around 3:30 in the morning, exhausted and frustrated that I was not on my way to South Africa yet.

I had 44 hours to spend in Hong Kong.  To fill the time I decided to do a few old favorites, and perhaps, if the weather cooperated visit Victoria’s Peak, one of the major destinations that I had never been to.  In my 44 hours I fit in all of my recommendations.  I ate, shopped and wandered my way around Hong Kong.  I also, around 7:00 on Saturday night, made my way to the airport to see if I could get on that night’s flight to Johannesburg.  I got to the airport about 4 hours early to get my name on the list.  Things did not look good, but I had to give it a shot.  I was first on the list.  The next three hours passed agonizingly slowly.  Waiting to find out if I still had another day in Hong Kong or if I could get on the flight that night.  At 10:30 I was told that while business class (what my ticket was for) was full, they did have 1 last economy seat they could offer.  I have never been and probably will never again be so happy to have the middle seat in economy for a 13 hour flight.  I could have waited another day for my confirmed business class seat, but with a day already missing from my trip it just was not worth it.  The
20 hours I had in Hong Kong were enough.  It was time to move on and start my adventure in South Africa.

If you find yourself stranded (or visiting for a short time) in Hong Kong the three things that I suggest you fill your time with are:

1.) Shopping: The national pastime of Hong Kong.  Prices are decent, though not amazing, but the selection rivals any other city on earth.  Hong Kong is lacking in a lot of tourist sites.  It seems to me that most people visit to shop.  Since everyone else was doing it I joined the holiday throngs (China’s National Day) and hit the mall.  I wound up with a few things that I had wanted to the trip was not completely without reason.
2.) Eat: What people in Hong Kong do when they are not shopping.  The food selection here is amazing.  Hong Kong is a city where east meets west and the flavors of both are combined wonderfully in Hong Kong.  Dim Sum, Western, Indian, Chinese and pretty much any other flavor you can think of are represented here and carried out to perfection.3.) Wander:  There are so many hidden wonders that to just wander is a great activity.  From hidden markets to riding the Star Ferry, there is a ton to see.  The city is so full of energy that, even though I did not really want to be there, it is impossible not to get excited about the pace of life.Before this, it had been a few years since I have visited Hong Kong.  This detour reminded me that there are plenty of good reasons to go back, perhaps most of all to finally make it up Victoria’s Peak.

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