Not Your Dad’s Miami

Russian and Arab languages now join English and Spanish in the streets.

Florida’s population grew almost 15 percent during the last decade—doubling the overall US population growth rate. 

Miami, the state’s second most-populous city, is home to approximately half a million souls, including snowbirds, Latin American immigrants, and digital nomads.

All drawn by the irresistible combination of excellent weather, multiculturalism, and the lack of a personal income tax.

Gentrification has bridged South Beach with the mainland to form the sprawling city of “Greater Miami and the Beaches.”

On holiday weekends, the town brims with simultaneous events like Art Wynwood, the Miami Boat Show, concerts, fashion shows, and street festivals.

Driving back from Calle Ocho during the last President’s Weekend, I marveled at an unrecognizable skyline more reminiscent of Dubai than the place that welcomed me twenty years ago.

Back then, there were still remnants of the golden age that culminated with the assassination of Gianni Versace.

The mission was to become Urbe’s first foreign correspondent.

The increasingly popular Village Voice-inspired Caracas publication was annoying the new government of Comandante Hugo Chavez with a mix of irreverence and—especially—American pop culture.

My coverage of Madonna’s 2001 “Drowned World Tour” in Fort Lauderdale, FL

We were looking to expand beyond borders, just as the “World Wide Web” began upending our trade by birthing what we know today as the online content industry.

As I executed my first assignments, I watched with trepidation how my country’s government amended the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits.

The writing was on the wall. I embraced my new American life.

Around the time I rented my first studio apartment, a friend gave me his old TV set. The first broadcast images were of skyscrapers collapsing after being hit by passenger jets.

Though early 2000s South Beach still echoed its former glamorous self—drag queens hung out with bodybuilders on Ocean and 12th, scantily-clad rollerbladers handed out flyers on Lincoln Road, and celebrities roamed Española Way—change was in the air.

Season after season, many of the Art Deco District hotels that lodged the rich and famous in the 1920s, soldiers right before WWII, and supermodels in the 1990s crumbled to Mother Nature and the indifference of real estate developers.

The MTV reality show starlet replaced the movie star. Rowdy spring breakers, online influencers, and crypto bros followed.

In Alton Road, a party-kid-turned-middle-aged-dad reminisced about Junior Vasquez’s and Tracy Young’s “dope” music sets of yesteryear at Level and Crobar. The party was officially over.

I became an exile yet again. I was sad to leave good friends and a promising career in hospitality behind. But I had to nurse a chronic tropical hangover and return to my roots as a writer—this time in English.

Three years later, I came back as a visitor. I was ecstatic about the warm weather after a ferocious New York City winter. I shed my coat while skipping like a madman upon landing. The Cuban ladies who sold cafecito in the airport terminal must’ve thought I was loco.

One of my first visits to Miami as a tourist circa 2007

I’d witnessed the city struggle to regain footing on every subsequent trip since. Including during the pandemic, when the local authorities’ laxity might’ve attracted some of the ensuing holiday lawlessness we see in the news today.

But things are finally falling into place once again. Miami seems to be maturing into a world capital where development is ubiquitous and Russian and Arab languages join English and Spanish in the streets.

Old and new friends from around the world met at the heart of Little Havana this winter.

Gays, moms, Cuban refugees—and everyone in between!—danced away and sang along in the street to Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga” and Will Smith’s “Miami.”

Then, the sun beautifully set in this perfectly-unperfect Southern Florida piece of the American Dream.

Isn’t Always Fashion Week in Paris?

We came for the food.

My puffy green jacket was the least stylish garment I could wear this weekend.

At least it kept me warm during Paris’ windy and damp February—isn’t la mode supposed to be all about functionality?

Besides, we came for the food.

We almost didn’t make our Friday evening reservation, though.

Eurostar pulled in Gare Du Nord just in time for the rush hour traffic exacerbated by the global fashionistas commuting to the shows we weren’t going to attend.

But after hopping on the metro, we witnessed a spontaneous, trendy display.

Parisians from all walks of life, from traditional North African to urban fabulous to mime chic, served style on the moving runaway.

So much so that we almost missed our stop at Le Marais, where we promptly checked in Hotel Duo, changed into boring but Michelin star-appropriate button shirts, and headed out to Restaurant Pages.

Chef Teshi’s spot seemed too bright initially, but I soon realized the lighting worked perfectly with the immaculately white walls, smartly dressed staff, and delicately executed French/Japanese cuisine.

Restaurant Pages

A frosty city greeted us the following day. Chinese lanterns commemorating the Lunar New Year lined Rue Chapon on our way to a new favorite: Parcelles.

The child of a bubbly French couple, the restaurant/store was established right before the pandemic and thrived by keeping Parisians fed and boozed via delivery.

Smily servers approach your table, happy to translate the menu and make food and wine recommendations from their inventory and beyond—something only those extremely confident about their offering can do.


Brunch warmed our hearts and fueled us with calories for a chilly stroll.

We saw Instagram models posing next to the Louvre Pyramid and tourists taking selfies against the Yayoi Kusama installation at the Louis Vuitton Champs-Élysées store.

Louis Vuitton Champs-Élysées Store

As temperatures continued to decrease that evening, we corroborated that no one makes comfort food like the French.

A warm staff, top-notch wine, and succulent roasted lamb shoulder with seasonal vegetable casserole welcomed us to an old favorite: Le Villaret.

Le Villaret

On Sunday noon, we enjoyed a walk through the neighborhood.

The advanced stage of Notre Dame’s restoration was reassuring, as was spotting the Hôtel de Ville decked out with the Olympic Rings in anticipation of the Paris 2024 Summer Games.

Hôtel de Ville

Next, we were off to the 15th arrondissement, home to Le Cagouille, our last culinary stop before catching the Eurostar back to London.

One of the world’s freshest fish and seafood restaurants, with superb wine pairings, is also the best spot to watch the locals enjoy Sunday brunch with their friends and families.

Seeing kids on the neighboring tables tackling coloring books instead of iPads made our day.

La Cagouille

Back in Gare du Nord, we realized beautiful creatures had invaded the place.

Supermodels of all genders and races looked even more stunning, fresh off couture, waiting for the train like the other mortals.

They rubbed off us with some of the glitz and glamour of this ever-magical and romantic City of Light.

The Unchanged Cabo Sunsets

Ringing in the new year where the desert meets the sea.

At 23:35, we retrieved the bubbles, a couple of red solo cups and rushed for the beach.

The local kids were already sitting on the sand, lit by their parked car’s beam lights, looking like a 1980s MTV video. 

Live music from the nearby clubs disrupted an almost spiritual vibe: the beachgoers looked into the sky with anticipation—like someone who waits for the passing of a comet.

We realized we’d forgotten the grapes. I felt liberated. The last couple of years taught us how naive end-of-year wishes could be.

Still, I felt cautious joy when the countdown began: 3, 2…1! All the fireworks in the world shot into the sky, and suddenly it was daytime on Palmilla Bay.

We’d arrived four days earlier, after a gelid New York City Christmas. The JFK-San Jose del Cabo flight took us from -10F to 80F in just over six hours, and it felt like a miracle.

Feeling the sand between our toes, sipping that glorious first margarita, hiking to the Big Cross: Cabo’s always been about holiday traditions for over a decade.

And, during that time, we’ve also seen the town change.

Lola, who came thirty years ago, has witnessed an even more profound transformation. Back then, there were only two shacky hotels and a landing strip. Lola loved it so much that she never returned to her native Yucatan. 

To those who came before her, she was that annoying newcomer. A decade ago, it was her turn to frown upon us. It goes on and on.

Lola worries about reckless drivers along The Corridor, the same road where the many resorts built in recent years have progressively blocked the sea view. 

We loved admiring the water back when we drove to and from San Jose’s Art Thursdays to check out works from local artists and sip free gallery wine. 

Those days you still could see Steven Spielberg speeding down the road in a golf cart, Enrique Iglesias donning a poncho in 80-degree weather, and Leonardo DiCaprio denying he was Leonardo DiCaprio in Agua Bar.

That was well before COVID, which feels like a lifetime ago. Once American politics spilled onto the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, it was not rare to spot drunken, sunburnt tourists decrying “plandemic” and “stolen election.”

There goes the neighborhood.

Luckily, Cabo’s natural beauty remains as mesmerizing as the first time Steinbeck and Ricketts sailed past El Arco and spotted whales and dolphins in the open ocean.

I felt the same exhilaration on New Year’s Day as that first boat ride from about eight years ago. This time, we anchored in Chileno Bay and jumped into the crystal-clear waters for a swim.

The captain tossed us snorkeling goggles, so we could see the colorful fish blissfully swimming amongst us. On the way back, the crew made us fajitas, which we wolfed down with some deliciously cold Pacificos

A massive seal, unbothered by the many vessels, including a couple of titanic cruise ships, goofily swam by as we approached the marina.

We reached the hotel in time to experience the first sunset of the year. The timeless yellow and orange hues colored the Sea of Cortez like thousands of years hadn’t passed, and the Spanish conquistador—the first annoying newcomer of them all—didn’t dare to rename it. 

Christmas Carols & Middle Eastern Music on Oxford Street

The melting pot doesn’t end in London, though.

“Immigrants have been coming here for over a thousand years,” said our guide, Debbie. The self-professed “London girl” also warned us that we’d all be foreigners in Kent, England, our destination 44 miles southeast of London.

We started in the historic Leeds Castle, owned by monarchs and lords from the 13th through the 19th centuries and purchased and restored by American heiress Lady Olive Baillie in the 1920s.

Leeds Castle, Kent, England

After she died in 1974, Lady Baillie left the property to a foundation created to preserve it for posterity. The building, grounds and personal effects are evidence of a time when American industrialists and cash-strapped European nobility were a match made in heaven. 

Lady Baillie’s Apartments

Up next, Debbie and our lovely coach’s driver, Joan, took us to the historic White Cliffs of Dover. The white chalk natural monuments are as much a homecoming sight for those sailing back to England today as once they were for “Dunkirk” survivors amid WWII.

White Cliffs of Dover

For the third and final leg of our day trip, we made it to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Canterbury. Syrian, Thai and Mexican food trucks—and even a Bolivian guy selling Andes-themed Christmas sweaters—lined the street market leading up to the medieval Canterbury Cathedral Gate.

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

The breathtaking Canterbury Cathedral, also known as “England in Stone,” has witnessed the country’s history for centuries. Magna Carta negotiations, royal weddings and funerals, WWII bombings and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket are some of the momentous events that happened within its walls. 

Canterbury Cathedral

Back in London, holiday angels flew over locals and visitors from all walks of life at the tune of Christmas carols and Middle Eastern music played by stores and the ubiquitous pedicabs from Oxford Street to Spitalfields Market.

Spitalfields Market.

The deliciously-looking Brazilian Bolinhos de Bacalhau, Napolitan pizzettas and other international delicatessen tempted me as I walked through the market and towards Brick Lane, the district famous for its Indian and Bangladeshi curry houses. 

Brick Lane, East London

London will treat you to the world’s flavors on one corner and its grand heritage on the next. Holborn Bars, a Victorian red terracotta building in Camden, stands on the site of a former Inn where Charles Dickens lived and worked.

Holborn Bars

Built by the Knights Templar, Temple Church is another national treasure. The official house worship of the Inner and Middle Temples, two of London’s four ancient legal colleges, holds the tombs of prominent jurists, knights and priceless works of art like the Blitz-surviving 12th-century Victorian tiles. 

Temple Church

The railings of another historic church, Holy Sepulchre London, preserve London’s First Drinking Fountain. The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association built it in 1859 to end the cholera outbreaks that had plagued the city until then.

London’s First Drinking Fountain

Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of those underrated London treasures. The former Lincoln Inn Fields, home of the famous Neo-classical architect, remains untouched since the Victorian days, and it’s renowned for its sepulchral chamber with the Egyptian sarcophagus. 

Sir John Soane’s Museum

While Central London’s Christmas decorations are a must, it’s worth taking the trek to Christmas at Kew, where talented artists combined the botanical beauty with neon lights and holiday music to achieve spectacular, immersive experiences like The Palm House and The Cathedral.

Christmas at Kew

Last but not least, visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter was genuinely magical, as was witnessing how the phenomenon based on J. K. Rowling’s famous books keeps bringing together people of all nationalities, races and generations.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter

Happy Christmas, England!

Protect Venice at All Costs

“La Serenissima,” which thrived over a thousand years despite plagues, wars and invasions, might face its most formidable challenge yet with dangerous rising sea levels or “Acqua Alta.”

In third grade, I learned that, in 1499, Amerigo Vespucci sailed westward along the northernmost coast of present-day South America, where palafitos built on stilts on the shores of Lake Maracaibo reminded him of Venetian homes (hence the name Venezuela).

Over five centuries later, a Venezuelan would come full circle by visiting La Serenissima and marveling at its seemingly floating palazzos, historic domes and romantic gondolas. Essentially unchanged since the times it ruled the world, rising sea levels threaten the city’s existence.

Grand Canal

Either by public ferry or private water taxi, the entrance into the city from Marco Polo Airport via the Grand Canal is a triumphant one. Unmistakable landmarks like Palazzo GrassiRialto Bridge and Santa Maria della Salute will welcome you.

Rialto Bridge

The latter, Saint Mary of Health, was our stop. The republic dedicated the two-dome, two bell-towered octagonal basilica as an offering of deliverance from the Black Plague that killed 50 thousand—a third of the population—in the 1630s.

Santa Maria della Salute

Across the Grand Canal, one Vaporetto stop or a short Traghetto ride away sits the historic St. Mark’s Square with the Doge’s Palace. The residential and administrative compound of the Duke of Venice, built in 1340 and modified through the centuries until it became a museum in 1923, houses the Doge’s apartments, institutional chambers and infamous prisons.

Doge’s Palace

A structure stands out: the Bridge of Sighs. This white limestone overpass connected the interrogation rooms with the cells over the Rio di Palazzo and provided prisoners’ final look at freedom. They peered through the small windows and saw the Ponte della Paglia with the Lagoon in the background.

Bridge of Sighs

Next door, St. Mark’s Basilica houses the relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the city’s patron saint, smuggled out of Alexandria in 828. The current building is the third version modeled after the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, modified to meet structural needs and embellished with spoils from the Fourth Crusade to reflect the republic’s wealth and power.

St Mark’s Basilica

Its bell tower, St. Mark’s Campanile, stands alone in the square near the front of the basilica. The contemporary structure, a square brick shaft with vertical pillars initially intended as a watch tower, was reconstructed after the original one collapsed in 1902. Historically, the campanile signaled government assemblies and public executions, among other civic and religious events.

St. Mark’s Campanile

That evening, a beautiful full moon glowed over the Laguna and bathed the city in an almost supernatural light. After dinner, we took Il Vaporetto, hopped off at the Rialto Bridge stop and headed to Campo Bella Vienna. In this ancient piazza, local kids enjoyed music, Aperol Spritzes, beers and cigarettes. I felt transported to the “Call Me by Your Name” dance scene

Campo Bella Vienna

We started our second day by visiting Gianni Basso Stampatore. The legend showed us around his traditional printing shop and next-door museum, including the hand-operated machines with which he and his son produce beautiful cards and stationery. Signor Basso proudly displays thank you notes from satisfied celebrity customers like the late Queen Elizabeth II. He also told us how they spent six months repairing the shop after it was severely flooded in 2019.

Gianni Basso Stampatore

Up next, we experienced our “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” moment at the iconic Rialto Fish Market, which it’s been operating in the San Polo district for almost a thousand years. Five minutes away, through a maze of charming medieval streets, we found the CNN-famous All’Arco. We queued for half an hour to try the traditional Cicchetti or Venetian tapas (totally worth it!). 

Rialto Fish Market

Then it was onto Gallerie dell’Accademia for the Anish Kapoor retrospective, presented during the Venice International Art Biennale. Beyond the exhibition, I loved the juxtaposition of contemporary art and the classic building. I see it as a city’s commitment to preserving its past while looking toward the future.

Gallerie dell’Accademia

And speaking of using art to preserve the past while looking toward the future, London’s Maritime Museum showed last August the temporary exhibition “Canaletto’s Venice Revisited,” with works the acclaimed Venetian artist painted in the 1730s and how these inspired art, culture and generations of travelers. 

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at London’s Maritime Museum

The curators also examined Venice’s social and environmental challenges. Overtourism, while contributing to the city’s coffers, also exacerbates rising sea levels, or Acqua Alta, making plastic boots one of the best-sold souvenirs and ultimately threatening the way of life depicted by Canaletto in his paintings.

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at London’s Maritime Museum

Venice, which against all odds, thrived and survived plagues, wars and invasions, may be facing its most challenging test yet. And perhaps, its traditionally representative way of government, guaranteed by a robust system of checks and balances, could be the key to its survival.

Ciao, Venezia!

Last year, after intense activism, the city finally banned large cruise ships from sailing through the iconic St. Mark’s Square. These monstrous vessels now have to reroute and dock on the mainland: a win for Venetians and one step further for La Serenissima to look more like its former self.

Canaletto would be proud.

Guten Tag, Italia

Witnessing the magnificent and peaceful Dolomites, it’s hard to fathom that over a hundred years ago, they were the bloodiest theater of war the world ever knew.

Parla Italiano?

After a 9-hour red-eye flight into Venice, a hot day dragging my suitcase through various tourist traps and an intense 4-hour night drive to Avelengo, the hotel’s welcoming felt like an Alpine pond.

Beautiful but gelid, MiraMonti Boutique Hotel received us with aloof bell boys and abrasive maître d’s. German street signs and Bavarian-inspired chalets confirmed what our Milanese friend had told us about the former Astro-Hungarian territory, annexed to Italy after the WW1 Treaty of London: “Make no mistake, it’s still Austria.”

MiraMonti Boutique Hotel

The following day, after sleeping like babies and enjoying a delicious breakfast, we had a fresh perspective enhanced by the neighboring sight of the “Sound of Music-esque” St. Catherine Church and the beautiful Haflinger horses pasturing in the contiguous hill.

Legend says a giant constructed it by sharing a hammer with a colossus from an adjacent town that they’d throw at each other in turns. But, following an argument, the neighbor hurled a rock that missed its target, landing in a nearby meadow where it still rests. 

St. Catherine Church

We knew from the get-go we’d be barely scratching the surface of this UNESCO World Heritage site, especially when staying a two-hour drive west of the most famous landmarks. But that’s the beauty of the Dolomites; there’s something for everyone: skiers and snowboarders (in winter), hikers, climbers, cyclists, bikers and—us—drivers in the summertime. 

And we started our aesthetically orgasmic road trip with a bang: Lake Braies. Also known as the “Pearl of the Alps,” Pragser Wildsee (as it’s known in German) rests at the base of the striking Seekofel mountain. The backdrop of the WW2 climax it’s surrounded by a two-mile trail, which gives a panorama of shifting emerald waters and breathtaking backgrounds.

Lake Braies

After Würste and beers, we continued with another picturesque 17-mile southeast drive to the dazzling shores of another wonder: Lago di Landro. Resting between the Braies and the Sesto Dolomites, Dürrensee awards visitors not only with its turquoise beauty but with privileged and Instagrammable views of Monte Paterno and Tre Cime.

Another scenic theater of war during WW1, Lago di Landro witnessed bloody fighting between Austrians and Italians, some of whom were skiing and hiking partners before the conflict. Today, mountain bikers from the two countries—and the rest of the world—can tour the trenches and tunnels that survive as proof of the first global conflict on an industrialized scale.

Lago di Landro

Lago di Landro is an obligatory stop on one’s way to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the jet set/aristocracy-frequented ski/hiking resort 12 miles southwest in the heart of the Veneto region. Its undeniable beauty has made it film location of movies like “The Pink Panther” (1963), “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) and “Cliffhanger” (1993). 

Full of charm and history, Cortina was awarded the 1944 Winter Olympics, but the outbreak of WW2 changed plans. In 1956, it successfully hosted thirty-two nations (the largest number until then) in the groundbreaking VII Winter Olympic Games, which was also the first to depend significantly on corporate sponsorship for funding. Along with Milan, the town will host for the second time in 2026.

Cortina d’Ampezzo

After a bit of window shopping and a couple of espressos, our little Fiat 500 rental was about to undergo its major test with a 3-hour drive through the spectacular Great Dolomites Road and another 3 hours back to our digs in the Avelengo/Merano area. 

The Grande Strada Delle Dolomiti crosses three alpine passes across imposing peaks, dormant ski resorts and lovely villages. It affords unique views that keep shifting with one’s point of view and threaten to substantially lengthen the journey as one can’t help but stop along the way to take it all in and capture as much content as possible. 

Great Dolomites Road

It was well into the night when we returned to Avelengo. We barely made it in time for dinner and a well-deserved glass of wine at the hotel terrace overlooking Merano. The weather service forecasted a lousy climate for the next 24 hours, so we decided to park, relax and sample the local cuisine.

Despite a spotty service, MiraMonti’s wellness-geared amenities are outstanding. Aside from the iconic terrace and infinity pool with dreamy views of Merano, the mountain and the church mentioned above, we enjoyed private access to the Hafling hiking trail, which virtually starts at your room’s doorstep in the back of the hotel.

Hafling Mountain

The next afternoon back on the road, we drove 47 miles westbound to Ortisei, a picture-perfect village located in the center of Val Gardena. Famous for the spectacular Seceda Viewpoint and traditional religious woodcarving, 80% of the population speaks neither German nor Italian but Ladin (not to be confused with Latin).

The plan was to take the two cable cars to Seceda, but a combination of poor visibility and reasonable fear of what looked like terrifying rides changed our minds. We made a U-turn and headed 11 miles southeast back to the Great Road, hoping some clouds would dissipate in time for our next stop: the Sella Pass.

Ride back from the Seceda lift after chickening out

Unlike Seceda, one can drive closer to Sella Pass. A moderate hiking trail takes you up close to the glorious peaks after parking. At 7 thousand feet above the sea, the clouds started to clear, and we immediately understood why Sellajoch is a popular spot among cyclists, bikers and everyone who visits this enchanted part of the world.

The mountains between South Tyrol and the province of Trentino that connect the Val Gardena with Canazei forming the Dolomiti Superski resort seemed to greet us. As we approached, condensation dissipated, letting the sunshine on these rocky wonders produce distinctive yellow and pink hues. 

Sella Pass

The religious experience extended 29 miles southeast into Val di Funes. Hikers completed their pilgrimage to the otherworldly valley surrounded by velvety slopes where St. Magdalena Church stands against the dramatic peaks.

When witnessing the peaceful Dolomites, it’s hard to fathom that over a hundred years ago, they were the bloodiest theater of war the world ever knew. And a forgotten one, as the world keeps substituting it with newer horrors.

St. Magdalena Church

George Santayana’s quote, “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it,” is more relevant than ever.


The British Museum Is Not My Favorite

Here are other London museums to visit instead.

The British Museum (photo featured) is not very popular.

It’s not only because they hold the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Parthenon Marbles, both of which have had official repatriation claims from Egypt and Greece, respectively (to be fair, other American and European museums rightfully face similar requests).

Parthenon Marbles

Despite boasting an imposing building and a carefully curated collection, it feels sterile, almost corporate, as though not honoring the global cultures but Britain’s bygone imperialism.

The Rosetta Stone

But, as Bill Bryson wrote in “Notes from a Small Island,” “Museums, particularly small, unlikely museums, are something the British do remarkably well.”

And there’s no shortage of them in this fascinating city.

London Transport Museum

Like the London Transport Museum, which awakens the inner child, it shows the history of the transport system—from the first boats that crossed the River Thames to tube stations used as bomb shelters during the two World Wars. 

The Cartoon Museum

Or, The Cartoon Museum and its collection of political satire, from the Industrial Revolution to Brexit.

Museum of Brands

Another favorite, The Museum of Brands, will quench your nostalgia thirst with the history of consumer products and their influence on British culture.

Museum of London

History nerds will gag at The Museum of London, documenting the city’s existence from pre-historic times to the present—including a remnant of the Roman wall.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

For private eye fans, the Sherlock Holmes Museum offers quite the immersive experience at 221B Baker Street, “one of the world’s most famous addresses.” 

Churchill War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms, located in the bunker where the then prime minister directed WW2 during Hitler’s advance on Europe, is the next best thing to a time machine.

Natural History Museum

Also known as “The Cathedral of Nature” because of its larger-than-life skeletons and Charles Darwin-collected specimens, the Natural History Museum will take your breath away.

The Wallace Collection

Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, left The Wallace Collection to his illegitimate son. The widow of the latter donated it on the condition that the nation would exhibit it free of charge. 

Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich is worth the hike not only for the dramatic 1893 equatorial telescope but also because the historic Prime Meridian passes through it.

National Gallery

There’s something to be said about walking, free of charge, into one of the world’s most flawless painting collections, with works from the mid-13th through the 19th century, from Giotto to Cézanne. Hat tip to The National Gallery.

V&A Museum

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum‘s most impressive part is its fashion collection of over 14 thousand outfits and accessories from the 1600s to the present. The Met Gala could never.

Somerset House

Somerset House, the Neoclassical complex built on the site of a Tudor Palace, refreshingly hosts exhibitions about current topics like climate change and colonization.

Royal Academy

The Royal Academy (RA) of Arts is an independent and privately funded institution led by artists in its iconically gorgeous Burlington House building.

After I did visit the British Museum, I took a cab back home. 

Assuming I didn’t speak English—even though I had indicated my address before boarding, as it’s custom in London—the driver looked through the mirror and slowly (and loudly) modulated, “WH-ERE-AR-E-YO-U-FRO-M?” 

When I replied, “New Yawk City,” he somewhat mortified apologized, “I’m sorry, sir. I thought you were from the Arab states!” 

“Don’t apologize. I take it as a compliment,” I replied, for Arabs are not only beautiful people, but their civilization’s achievements are second to none.

Dreaming of Dragons in Dubrovnik

The Pearl of the Adriatic will always be King’s Landing to this “Game of Thrones” fan.

Although HBO switched film locations for the recently premiered “House of the Dragon,” the prequel to “Game of Thrones,” the Croatian city will live on as the original capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

And from Fort Lovrijenac and the Pile Harbor (photo featured) to the Old Town Walls, the Pearl of the Adriatic has a history that rivals George R. R. Martin’s fantasy drama.

Fort Lovrijenac

Like the fondly remembered by “GoT” fans as the Red Keep, Fort Lovrijenac oversees the city’s maritime entrance from the western wall, and it’s famous for remaining a bastion of Croatian identity during the Venetian rule

Me at the Old Town Walls

The citadel and the ubiquitous red rooftops (where the “smallfolk” live in the series) are visible from the Old Town Walls, guarded by the City Watch

Dating from the Middle Ages, UNESCO declared the history-rich building a World Heritage Site in 1979.

Dubrovnik from the Old City Walls

It still hurt to watch when the Mother of Dragons burnt King’s Landing to the ground in season 8, including the town outside the wall.

In real life, however, the city has survived the Roman Empire, the Byzantines, Frankish, Muslims and the Balkan and Bosnian wars of the 20th century.

In fact, businesses in the Stradun, the Old Town’s main street, display pictures of smoky stores to remember the most recent conflict.

Of course, the limestone-paved pedestrian thoroughfare is where Cersei Lannister completes her Walk of Shame in season 5.  

Stradun Street

It is also where the Sponza Palace stands.

The 16th-century Gothic and Renaissance building was the cultural center of the Republic of Ragusa.

Since surviving the devastating earthquake of 1667, it has served as the town armory, treasury and bank, among other civic institutions. 

Sponza Palace

Blending with the Old City Walls and crowning St Dominic Street, where the protest speech against the Lannisters in season 5 took place, is the Dominican Monastery. 

Construction of the abbey started in 1228 and included Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Currently, the complex houses work from the schools of painting from the 15th, 16th and 20th centuries. 

Dominican Monastery

Last but not least, we arrived at the West Pier.

The popular spot among swimmers and sunbathers doubles as “Blackwater Bay.”

It was an essential point of entry to the city, perhaps because of its proximity to the Pile Gate.

Dubrovnik West Pier

Korčula and Lokrum

Come for “Game of Thrones” and stay for everything else this beautiful part of the world has to offer, including day trips to the islands of Korčula and Lokrum—both accessible by ferry.

The most inhabited one, Korčula has a historical center and sandy beaches famous for Greek and Roman archeological findings.

It’s also believed to be Marco Polo’s homeland and, as such, contains a museum dedicated to the life and work of the famous explorer and writer.

Lusher and populated only by peacocks, Lokrum, the second isle, has spectacular rocky beaches (including a clothing-optional one).

According to popular superstition, evicted 11th-century Benedictine monks cursed the island before departing.

Explore the abandoned monastery at your own risk.



The shortest trip you’d ever need your passport for, Montenegro is a eurozone country, formerly part of Yugoslavia, and from 2003 to 2006, of the Serbia and Montenegro federation.


A popular day trip from Dubrovnik (about a 2-hour+ drive each way), the geographically tiny but historically huge republic has picturesque medieval towns, clear, warm Adriatic waters, Mediterranean weather, and alluring rocky mountains.


The Venetian Old Town in Kotor, Lipa Cave and the Budva Riviera are some highlights of this enchanted land.

Me in Kotor, Montenegro

As we began the journey back from this distant part of the world the Venetians called “Black Mountain,” the lines between fantasy and reality started to blur.

It would’ve not surprised us to spot a giant, fire-breathing reptile flying across the impossibly blue sky.

Looking for the Mighty Hercules in Greece

Why I experienced deja vu and a feeling that time stands still in “the cradle of civilization.”

In the pilot of my favorite childhood cartoon, “The Mighty Hercules,” the Demigod defeats his friend Theseus (slayer of the Minotaur and founder of Athens) in a foot race and a wrestling match.

As a reward, he asks Zeus to send him to defend humans against evil and injustice. His father reminds him he’d become a mere mortal on Earth—unless he wears a magic ring endowed with His Thunder.

From ancient mythology, the story trickled down through literature, music and film to the classically-animated television series that entertained my childhood’s Sunday mornings—and perhaps catalyzed my sexual awakening.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

We owe Greece so much: democracy, philosophy, politics and tragedy, to name just a few. Its influence is so pervasive that when I finally reached “the cradle of civilization,” I experienced deja vu

And a feeling that time stands still, particularly at the Acropolis, home of legendary ruins like the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

The Roman senator built the musical venue in 161 AD to memorialize his wife, whom he allegedly killed in one of the first episodes of domestic violence.

The Slavic invasion of 267 AD destroyed it. It wasn’t until 1950 that the city restored it and used it to host the Athens Festival and performances by the likes of Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri and Luciano Pavarotti.

Ancient Agora of Athens

The nearby Ancient Agora of Athens was the center of political, commercial, religious and social activity for free-born citizens.

Destroyed by the Persian invasion of 480 BC and rebuilt by Pericles, the building has witnessed history’s most infamous episodes, like Socrates’ death sentence for impiety in 399 BC. 

Although the Agora kept its function through the early Roman period, the Germanic Heruli destroyed it in 267 CE.

In 1931, the American School of Classical Studies started restoration with a grant from the Greek government, the Marshall Plan and the Rockefeller Foundation. 

Emperor Hadrian Statue at Ancient Agora

A larger-than-life, headless statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian also basks in the timeless light of the Agora.

The sculpture wears a chest plate featuring Athena standing on top of a she-wolf that feeds Romulus and Remus.

The scene represents the founding of Rome and Hadrian’s vision of Greece as the cultural capital of the empire.

Hadrian, emperor from 117 to 138 AD, encouraged military might and personally supervised numerous buildings in virtually every corner of the empire (including Rome’s Pantheon).

He’s also famous for his relationship with Greek youth Antinous, to whom he memorialized with the founding of a city—Antinopolis—after his untimely death by drowning in Egypt. 

Arch of Hadrian

To the west of the Acropolis, Athens erected The Arch of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD to honor the Roman emperor’s visit.

An inscription on the western side of the gate reads, “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus.” On the eastern side, “This is the city of Hadrian, not of Theseus.”

Scholars think it means the arch dividing the city between “old Athens” and “new Athens.”

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The adjacent Temple of Zeus (photo featured) was one of the largest in all of Greece, probably constructed around 470 BC.

Sculptures of the early Classical style, including a chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus, adorned it. 

The most magnificent of them was Phidias’ 42-foot golden statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.

The monument represented the god seated on an elaborate throne. Sadly, an earthquake of biblical proportions destroyed it around the 5th century CE.

Panathenaic Stadium

A ten-minute walk away, The Panathenaic Stadium stands on the site of an ancient racecourse. 

Lykurgus built it in 338 BC for the Panathenaic Games, where nude male athletes competed in track and athletics. 

Under the reign of Emperor Hadrian, Herodes Atticus rebuilt it in marble as a 50 thousand-seat sports arena. 

The advent of Christianity and a ban on pagan events around the 4th century AD rendered it obsolete and eventually abandoned.

In the late 1800s, benefactor Evangelos Zappas, encouraged by French aristocrat and founder of the 1894 International Olympic Conference, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, sponsored the Zappas Olympics, the precursor to the first modern Olympic Games. 


Like most European capitals, Athens empties in the summer. That’s why we hopped on the ferry to the quaint island of Hydra, a nearby oasis with no roads, cars or bikes—but with plenty of charm, water taxis and donkeys.

What Hydra lacks in size, it makes for in popular culture relevance. 

After Sophia Loren played a “wild Greek island girl” in her 1957 English film debut “Boy on a Dolphin,” shot on the island, celebrities, writers and aristocrats flocked. 

Even First Lady Jackie Kennedy made it!


Following Jackie O’s Greek summer journey of ’61, we went to Mykonos next, where I found the most spectacular sunsets on Earth—and scores of men with Herculean proportions.

Mykonos sunset

Mykonos is, according to mythology, the site of Gigantomachy, or the battle between the Olympian gods and the Giants. 

The epic face-off symbolizes the struggle between the cosmic order and the forces of chaos.

Enter Hercules, who—thanks to his status as a Demigod—could defeat and kill the Giants, whose dead bodies became the mass of rocks that form the island.



See the World, Free Your Mind

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world can be a transformational experience.

To Eric, my first editor

In third grade, a girl from my school died in a car accident.

I vividly remember hopping on the yellow bus with a few dozen other kids to go to her service without knowing what to expect. We probably were just vaguely excited about skipping class.

After seeing the face of a sleeping doll with pigtails in her open casket, the mood was decidedly different. On the way back, we were quiet and silent—profoundly changed by the funerary field trip.

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world on a sad or happy occasion can be a transformational experience: the physical commuting triggers an inner journey that continues unfolding for the rest of our lives.

In “The Philosophy of Travel, ” George Santayana wrote,” “Locomotion—the privilege of animals—is perhaps the key to intelligence.” Seeing the world with an open heart and mind, as kids usually do, is critical to transcend propaganda.

Visit the locations of our history books to learn what they don’t teach you in school. Being in “the room where it happened,” whether Charleston‘s Old Slave Mart Museum or Lisbon‘s Monument of the Discoveries, shatters stereotypes.

Like going to Mexico City and realizing its world-class museums and cosmopolitan rooftop bars have nothing to do with the dodgy picture delivered by American media, or traveling to Bourdeaux and finding the friendliest locals appreciative of your efforts to communicate in broken French.

“We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate,” wrote Pico Iyer in “Why We Travel.”

After visiting the Faroe Islands, online trolls scolded me. “Congratulations on supporting animal cruelty,” they said, referring to the ancient practice of whaling. But going beyond bloody YouTube videos and into the heart of the foggy Northern European archipelago was illuminating. It taught me their hunting is non-commercial, humane and environmentally sustainable. 

Touring Seville‘s Bullring Real Maestranza Museum was uneasy until we discovered the chapel where matadors pray before facing the magnificent beast with reverence. Learning more about the solemn ritual shifted my perception. And, though I probably still wouldn’t attend a bullfight, I found myself capable of respecting a different cultural practice. 

“The world never quits growing on us. It’s just as vast as ever, and it reinvents itself every day,” Bill Bryson aptly wrote in “The Best American Travel 2000.” And, though rewarding, the experience can be an unsettling one.

The images of the falling Wall from my teenage years colored my first visit to Berlin in 2007. I was delighted with a sense of optimism and possibility, different from my post-social media/COVID trip to the German city (photo featured), shaped by the historical and geographical proximity to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The French election of a lifetime, between President Emmanuel Macron and rightwing hardliner Marine Le Pen, was also momentous. Fresh off the Trump years, an American in Paris was an ominous walking-and-talking warning. So much was a stake for France, the European Union and the world. We dodged a bullet, for now.

The most important lessons? Progress is not a straight line. And, as John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charlie: In Search of America,” “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

At a trying time for millions of Americans’ rights, including women and LGBTQ+ families, celebrating the old USA’s birthday in Provincetown, the birthplace of American freedom, still committed to liberty after more than four centuries, was reaffirming.

I wish cultural warriors had a peak at so much love between people from all walks of life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” wrote Mark Twain in “The Innocents Abroad.”

Perhaps, I’m overly optimistic and, as Maya Angelou said, “travel cannot prevent bigotry.” But even the legendary poet and civil-rights activist believed there could be hope. “[…] by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends,” she concluded.