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.

I 🎃 NY

New York’s 49th Annual Village Halloween Parade was one for the books!

The NYC Village Halloween Parade connects New Yorkers with their inner child. And, despite having wandered through the city streets and bars on Halloween night throughout the years, I had never experienced it properly.

It all changed this year. I finally understood why NYC Village Halloween is the largest and—should I add—most creative and inspiring of all the city’s yearly parades, including St. Patrick’s, Thanksgiving and LGBTQ Pride.

Part of the magic is the spontaneous nature. Individual marchers have been encouraged since 1974 to show up in costume at the starting point on Canal Street and 6th Avenue and join the fun without registering or paying a fee.

Unlike the boroughs, where kids go trick or treating, the New York City Village parade is almost exclusively an adult affair. Participants wear artistic outfits that’d give Broadway and Hollywood a run for their money.

Equally thrilling are the giant puppets volunteers maneuver throughout the parade’s 1.4-mile route (on Sixth Avenue from Spring Street to 16th Street). This year, they preceded a colorful Dia de Muertos section, complete with mariachis—a testament to New York City’s proud multiculturalism. 

And because—after all—we’re New York, there had to be a healthy dose of costumes with a social commentary, including someone campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin and a group of witches carrying the banner, “Witches Who Vote.”

The participants’ histrionic skills enhance the parade’s energy levels. Monsters, aliens and witches not only look but also act the part. The interactions with the spectators are hair-rising, like witnessing a horror movie in the flesh.

Since 2004, the Thriller Dance has been one of the most expected parts of the parade. The massive flash mob to Michael Jackson’s timeless hit “Thriller” is the parade’s apex of talent and the single most crowd-pleasing goosebumps-inducing moment.

I’ve already started to learn the “Thriller” choreography. Will you join me next year?

What It Was Like to Ride 2020 in NYC

A global pandemic, civil unrest and a contentious election: never forget our Year of Discontent.

Dear New York, I hope you’re doing well
I know a lot’s happened and you’ve been through hell

Beastie Boys

March 2020:

We were told to work from home—perhaps for a couple of weeks—to “flatten the curve.” I tossed the notebooks in my backpack but left photos and other corporate mementos in my cubicle while people around me were coughing and sneezing. Times Square started to feel like a ghost town.

Our favorite downtown restaurant’s closing party was our last hurrah before the lockdown. When we arrived, everyone was hand-sanitizing, social distancing and elbow bumping. By the end of the evening, the place was packed. There were babies on portable bassinets on top of the bar. People were tasting each other’s wines and taking cheek-to-cheek selfies.

Like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day,” we soon were stuck on the same day of back-to-back Zoom meetings and bizarre presidential press briefings. Dinner was the highlight of our day, as was joining our neighbors on the building’s rooftop to salute healthcare workers.

April 2020:

We fell sick. Was it the last days at the office or our downtown soirée? Despite a shortage of tests at the time, we knew it was COVID when a loss of smell and taste was declared an official symptom. Luckily, we didn’t develop the dreaded shortness of breath that would’ve landed us in the hospital, where makeshift morgues in the way of refrigerated trucks started to crowd the surroundings.

Three weeks later, with our energy back, we left the house to encounter a world where you could hear birds chirping during rush hour. Grand Central Station, Madison Square Park and other city landmarks’ film aesthetic had turned post-apocalyptic. The Big Apple was eerie and unrecognizable without her huddled masses.

And yet, there was a budding sense of hope. We started to meet city friends for outdoor dining. As a post-911 New Yorker, I learned that how the city was pulling through this new crisis paralleled how it came back after the horrific terrorist attacks.

May-Sept 2020:

Things would take another wrong turn. I, like hundreds of thousands in the city, got laid off. Civil unrest, triggered by the murder of George Floyd, became the new normal. There was looting resulting in permanent police presence and the boarding up of businesses for months to come. We fell asleep and woke up to the sound of choppers. Was this Kabul or Manhattan?

Equidistant between Union Square and Washington Square Park, we had a front-row seat to the daily action. It started around 5 PM with what looked like students chanting against police violence. As the night fell, a different crowd emerged, welding bicycles and skateboards like weapons and provoking the cops by breaking glass and setting trashcans on fire.

October 2020:

With a contentious presidential election nearing, New Yorkers restored a temporary sense of normalcy by donning their Halloween costumes and marching on Greenwich Village. The iconic parade didn’t occur, but that didn’t stop aliens, harlequins, vampires and witches from making the most of it (refreshingly, there weren’t either pandemic or politics-related costumes).

November 2020:

After a global pandemic, the de facto militarization of the streets and a toxic political campaign, America would elect a new president. In hindsight, expecting a different administration to usher in a new era in this politically polarized world feels naive. The nation would witness more troublesome events, chiefly the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

But at least for a day, when the networks called the result, a sense of joy and catharsis descended upon New York City. Unseasonably warm and bright weather provided the perfect backdrop for people to take to the streets for the first time in months not to protest but to celebrate turning a corner in this Year of Discontent.

It’s up to You…and New York

Can you make it there? It all depends on the story in which you’re bound to star.

The TikTok video shows a group of young Venezuelan migrants dancing salsa in Times Square after a long and treacherous journey through the Darién Gap and the Rio Grande.

“Winter is coming,” comments someone implying the summer clothing-clad youngsters should go somewhere else before the Big Apple chews them up and spits them out.

Like the rest of us, they followed the brochure. “The whole If You Can Make It There business,” as Colson Whitehead wrote.

“King Kong” climbing the Empire State Building, “Friends” sipping coffee in Central Perk and the Schuyler sisters looking around in “Hamilton” are part of the brochure.

With a virtually infinite list of cultural references, all the brochure’s roads lead to New York City. But is it the real or the fictitious one? Walker Percy would say the latter. 

In his 1975 essay “The Loss of the Creature,” he described the traveler’s “symbolic complex.”

Why is it almost impossible to gaze directly at the Grand Canyon … and see it for what it is … the thing … has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s mind … by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon.

Walker Percy

Percy says travelers are set for disappointment as the real thing will never live up to the expectations set by their books, songs, movies, etc.

El George Harris uses the politically incorrect language of stand-up comedy to make the same point. 

He jokes in Spanish that his New York City movie-induced fascination shattered when he first saw “the ecosystem of crackheads, prostitutes and homeless persons.”

Similarly, David Sedaris shares Big Apple reality check stories throughout his work.

Raised in North Carolina, he moved to New York City dreaming about working as a writer for his favorite soap opera on day one

Instead, years before becoming a published author, he made a living as a housekeeper—and a Christmas Elf in the department store Macy’s Santaland.

I didn’t know it at the time, but rock en Español band Mecano’s 1998 song “No Hay Marcha en Nueva York” (“No Party in New York”) also illustrates Percy’s “symbolic complex.”

After fulfilling their lifelong dream of visiting the Big Apple, the band’s frontperson grew disappointed, blaming the TV series for deceiving them all along.

But the mythology is so strong that these counter-narratives do nothing but increase the gravitational pull for some of us.

My brochure was heavy on “Sex and the City,” which my Miami friends and I binged in the pre-Netflix years. 

The more episodes we watched, the more obsessed I became with Carrie Bradshaw’s town and the crazier they thought I was for wanting to trade a tropical paradise for “crazy” New York City.

“You’ll freeze in the winter,” “people are rude,” and “the streets smell” were just some of the things they said from their experience.

And (for the most part) they weren’t wrong. But neither was I. The City That Never Sleeps is not for everyone. And all those things that drive some away pull in others.

It all depends on the story in which you’re bound to star.

Provincetown: The (Re) Birth of a Nation

The American experiment lives on in the land where the Pilgrims signed their first self-governing document.

Provincetown, Massachusetts, has been committed to freedom for over four centuries.

The New England town, located at the extreme tip of Cape Cod and where the Pilgrims drew up the Mayflower Compact, continues to be a safe harbor for immigrants, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

P-Town is delightfully eclectic, as evidenced by the juxtaposition of its quaint architecture and political activism.

Commercial Street, Provincetown

Take a quick stroll through Commercial Street, and you’ll see charming cottages with signs that read “shoot loads, not guns” and “48 years grateful for my abortion.”

Adam’s Nest, Provincetown

Passing lobster shacks and pedicabs on one’s way to the Pilgrim Monument is like stepping on a time machine.

Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, MA

Turn of the century writers and artists flocked to the town, paving the way for 1960s hippies and 1970s gays who keep it bright and colorful—even during the bitter winter months.

Provincetown Public Library

Going back in time, one can almost see the sailors from The Azores attracted by the fishing industry, which explains P-Town’s Portuguese influence—as seen in restaurants, bakeries and the ubiquitous flags.

A-House, Provincetwon

As a bonafide gay Mecca, P-Town boasts a vibrant nightlife dating back to the 1950s. A-House, The Vault, The Monkey Bar and the iconic T Dance at The Boatslip are favorites among locals and visitors alike. 

The Lobster Pot, Commerce Street

Home to the late Anthony Bourdain, Provincetown is also one of America’s culinary capitals. The Mews Restaurant and Cafe, Strangers & Saints, The Lobster Pot, Governor Bradford and Joon Bar and Kitchen are some of the most famous eateries.

Cape Cod National Sea Shore

The area is also (in) famous for being the film location of the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie “Jaws.” In case you were skeptical of Hollywood “anti-shark propaganda” like me, a sobering sign will convince you. 

The dunes, Cape Cod National Sea Shore

For those willing to enjoy safely, the Cape Cod National Sea Shore offers gorgeous landscapes, like its dunes: a perfect place for a beach hike.

The Human Rights Campaign Store, Provincetown

P-Town was the last stop of a 3-week work/holiday trip before driving back home to New York City.

It was also the first time we reentered the United States after the Supreme Court reversed women’s rights and threatened to follow up with marriage equality.

Discussing with one of the P-Town shopkeepers, we agreed that perhaps there was a silver lining.

The grim prospect prevents us from becoming complacent and galvanizes us to keep fighting for our freedoms: as our forefathers (and mothers!) did all those years ago.

5 LGBTQ+ Prides Around the World

Five hot spots in the world, how they celebrate Pride Month, and what it all means.

It’s that time of the year again. 

The celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally+ acceptance, achievements and legal rights is here. 

The event, which takes place in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots, has grown into a global phenomenon. 

And, as the US and some parts of the world (d)evolve, some of these events continue to be part festivity and part resistance. 

Here’s how I have experienced them in five global cities and my expectations for this year and beyond.

1. Miami Beach:

The State of Florida and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs sponsor Miami Beach Pride.

Its mission: “to envision, plan and execute a roster of events and activities as diverse as the community itself.”

And, like everything else in this part of the world, the parade through Ocean Drive has a bright and tropical flavor.

In late March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, banning public teachers from “holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity”—from kindergarten through 3rd grade.

The Trevor Project, and others, have criticized the bill, arguing that it erases LGBTQ identity, history, culture and students themselves.

They’ve also cited studies that show that LGBTQ youth face higher health and suicide risks than their straight counterparts and that the lack of safe spaces could exacerbate the trend.  

2. Copenhagen

Copenhagen Gay Pride dubs itself “Denmark’s largest human rights (and LGBTQ) festival” and the Danish pride themselves on being the first country to recognize same-sex unions.

The overall community embraces the celebration. It departs from Frederiksberg Town Hall, culminating with an open-air concert at Copenhagen City Hall Square.

The progressive Danish have been keenly aware of Russia’s law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” also known as “gay propaganda law” and “anti-gay law.”

Some of the pride festival’s kiosks displayed the “Gay Clown Putin” meme in what I see as an act of resistance.  

3. London

Pride in London is the UK’s most prominent. Its mission: “to raise awareness of LGBT+ issues and campaign for the freedoms that will allow them to live their lives on a genuinely equal footing.” 

The event emphasizes the inclusion of “every race, faith and disability status.” The parade starts at Hyde Park Corner, continues to Piccadilly Circus, and culminates with a big Trafalgar Square party.

The United Kingdom has come a long way since the 1952 prosecution of WWII codebreaker Alan Turing for “homosexual acts.” 

In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the “appalling treatment.” Despite being hailed a hero by King George VI for helping defeat the Nazis, Turing died a “criminal” just for being a gay man. 

In 2021, the Bank of England featured him in the new £50 notes.

4. Amsterdam

Pride Amsterdam‘s focus for 2022, “My Gender, My Pride,” seeks to broaden Gay Pride’s traditional plea from “being allowed to love who we want” to “be allowed to be how we feel.” 

Another progressive Northern European country where Pride is a city-wide affair. The parade takes place on boats over the canals, and everyone, from kids to grandmas (who place their chairs on the front porches of their homes), participates.

The Netherlands has been one of the most progressive nations regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

The country legalized same-sexual activity in 1811. In 1973, it declassified gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and lifted a ban on the military.

The Equal Treatment Act of 1994 banned discrimination on account of sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations, extending it in 2019 to include discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

5. New York

NYC Pride organizes Heritage of Pride, an event “to gather and engage in activism, protest, celebration, and advocacy.” 

Its mission: is to work towards a future “where all people have equal rights under the law,” which still is a goal in the US. 

Historically, the parade has started in midtown, working its way down through Fifth Avenue and finalizing on the West Village, near the historic Stonewall Inn.

As Pride has gone mainstream, and brands wrap themselves in rainbow flags, some Queer Activists have criticized what they see as an over-commercialization of the event, organizing alternative marches without corporate sponsorships under the motto “it’s a march, not a parade.”

Tell Me You’re in California, without Telling Me

Diverse landscapes, renewable energy and respect for your fellow human being: that’s my California dreamin.

Disclaimer: California is massive. So, I understand it offers as many experiences as inhabitants and visitors. This is mine.

We landed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on a rainy afternoon, and I felt the same as I did all those years ago when I flew to the West Coast for the first time.

“Is this the same country? Even the same continent?”

After almost six hours in the air and landing in a different time zone, the common currency is a few of the welcome indicators that we’re still in the good old USA.

With its foundational Spanish past, eclectic architecture spanning styles and topographies, romantic cable car system and its status as the birthplace of social justice, St Francis feels neither American nor European. It is a unique utopia.

Market Street, San Francisco

We stayed with family in San Jose, about 48 miles southeast of San Francisco. The largest city in Northern California and the de facto capital of Silicon Valley, it’s where the major global tech companies are headquartered. Proof that multiculturalism breeds innovation.

We were to spend our nights here and take day trips to “The City” (not me thinking all this time that the moniker applied only to New York) and to try some excellent wine in the world-famous Napa Valley.

As a testament to the area’s progressivism, I was elated to find front yard signs like the one below every time I’d go for a morning run.

One of my favorite day trips was to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) to see the Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective.

Born in 1887 in rural Wisconsin, the Mother of American Modernism was such a trailblazer.

At the age of 10, she had already decided to be an artist. And she lived life on her terms since and until her passing in 1986.

Her New Mexico landscapes touched me. I read she was fond of “peering through planes’ windows” as an avid traveler well into her 70s.

“I’ve been flying a lot lately […] I went around the world—and I noticed a surprising number of deserts and wonderful rivers. The rivers actually seem to come up and hit you in the eye,” she said in an interview.

I’m not the only one.

Georgia O’Keeffe

After the culture came the libations. We drove 99 miles north to Napa Valley. I couldn’t help but feel familiar with the road until it clicked! I realized it looked just like the classic Microsoft screensaver.

“Hey Siri, where was the old Windows background taken?”

The original Windows XP desktop image, known commonly to the tech world as ‘Bliss,’ was taken in 1996 on a road that cuts through California’s wine country.


After the gorgeous drive, we started with a lovely wine tasting at The Prisoner Wine Company, inspired by the drawing “Le Petit Prisonnier” by Francisco Goya. 

Since its founding in 2000, The Prisoner Wine Company “has stood in solidarity with the fight against racism, mass incarceration and the systematic oppression of Black communities.” 

After working up an appetite through the tasting, we headed to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch

The ranch was established in the late 1800s and thrived with vines, olive groves and dairy products. The property fell dormant during the Prohibition years and was engulfed by Mother Nature. 

In 1989, the Hall family bought, rescued and turned the property into a farm-to-table establishment, popular for wedding receptions in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains.

But as good as the food and the wine were, the sunset that the region treated us with as we drove back home was spectacular.

Napa sunset

The next morning, we took Alaska Airlines’ inaugural flight from San Jose to Palm Springs.

And, once again, I channeled Georgia O’Keeffe from my window seat as the lush Santa Cruz mountains turned into arid plains.

As we approached the Palm Springs International Airport, I noticed many windmills, especially at the airport’s periphery.

Later, when we drove back from Joshua Tree National Park at the end of the day, we were greeted by dozens of TV antennas with a red light on top.

They weren’t antennas. That’s how the windmills signaled their location, so nocturnal landing airplanes wouldn’t hit them.

The second thing I noticed was its unique landscape of tall and skinny palm trees and snowy mountain peaks in the background.

I learned that this land with rich pre-colonial history turned health retreat in the early 1900s and then Hollywood celebrity playground mid-20th century.

Ace Hotel, Palm Springs

After enjoying brunch at the iconic Ace Hotel, we took a delightful drive through Indian Canyons, the Movie Colony, Sunrise Park and Vista Las Palmas.

We admired some of the beautiful and famous houses, including celebrity ones like Frank Sinatra’s and Elvis Presley’s (which recently sold and it’s undergoing renovations).

Elvis Presley’s house, Palm Springs

As another testament to its Golden Hollywood Bonafide, The Palm Springs Art Museum became the forever home of Seward Johnson’s 2011 statue “Forever Marilyn.”

The 26-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture depicts the beloved star in one of her most famous scenes, from the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch.”

It was previously displayed in Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey, and even Australia before making it to its new permanent home—where we saw it in all her splendor.

“Forever Marilyn” by Seward Johnson

And finally, the day came: I would visit my first American National Park. Named after the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) native to the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree became a National Park in 1994.

Slightly more extensive than the state of Rhode Island, the park includes varied ecosystems: wilderness, part of two deserts (Mojave and Colorado) and The Little San Bernardino Mountains.

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree Park

We drove through Driving Park Boulevard, the best way to see the park highlights in about one afternoon. You can enter through the north (Twentynine Palms) or west (town of Joshua Tree).

Either way, you should be able to stop briefly at some of the highlights, which include stunning rock formations, the famous Cholla Cactus Garden and Joshua tree groves—which turn even more beautiful as the sunset hits them.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree was the icing on the massive and delicious cake that it’s California. And, as I said before, I realize this is nothing but a tiny slice of said cake.

As we headed back to the Northeast, I thought about how this beautiful North American continent was colonized: westwards. And about these mountains, deserts, valleys and rocky formations that were here before we thought about walking the face of the earth and will still be here way after all of us are gone.

25 Instagrammable Things to Do in New York City

Here’s your guide to 25 of the most recognizable places and how to get there via Subway.

Like everything else, social media has transformed the traveling experience.

For a few years now, the phrase, “if it’s not on the ‘gram, it didn’t happen,” has been the official mantra.

And nowhere it’s this more accurate than in New York City, the most Instagrammed place in the world.

1. Times Square:

Where: The intersection between 42nd Street, Seventh Avenue and Broadway.

Subways/Stops: 1, 2, 3, 7, A, F, N and Q to 42nd Street/Times Square. 

Famous for: Brightly lit by numerous billboards and advertisements, New Year’s Eve Time Square Ball and the theater district.

Price: Free if you don’t shop, eat or go to the theater. Street performers pose for photos for tips.

2. Empire State Building:

Where: 20 West 34th Street (Fifth Avenue).

Subways/Stops: F, D and W to Herald Square and 6 to 33rd Street.

Famous for: Art Deco design, observation deck and featured in the film “King Kong” (1933).

Price: Observation Deck tickets from $44 up to $129.

3. The Vessel:

Where: 20 Hudson Yards.

Subways/Stops: 7 to 34th Street Hudson Yards.

Famous for: $200 million, structure with 16 stories and 154 flights of stairs offered “remarkable” views of the Hudson River until it was indefinitely closed to due to a series of suicides.

Price: Free

4. Grand Central Station:

Where: 89 East 42nd Street.

Subways/Stops: 4, 5, 6 and 7 to Grand Central.

Famous for: Has been the set and background of many films and its main concourse clock is depicted in NBC’s show “Saturday Night Live.”

Price: Free if you’re not taking the Metro-North or Subway.

5. Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

Where: Central Park (72nd Street).

Subways/Stops: B to 72 Street or 6 to 68th Street Hunter College.

Famous for: Designed by Emma Stebbins, the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in New York City, in 1868.

Price: Free

6. Brooklyn Bridge

Where: East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Subways/Stops: 4, 5, or 6 to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall or J or Z to Chambers St.

Famous for: Scenic backdrops of the city for pedestrians, bikers.

Price: Free.

7. Statue of Liberty:

Where: Liberty Island, New York Harbor.

How to Get There: Via ferry from Battery Park (New York) or Liberty State Park (New Jersey).

Famous for: Being a gift from the people of France, which metal framework was built by Gustave Eiffel, and for the sonnet “The New Colossus” written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”). 

Price: Tickets, including the ferry ride, are $23.80 for adults, and there are discounts for children and senior citizens.

8. Christopher Street Pier:

Where: Hudson River Park (west 10th Street and West Side Highway).

Subway/Stops: 1 to Christopher Street.

Famous for: Unparalleled views of the World Trade Center and Jersey City for pedestrians, runners and bikers.

Price: Free.

9. Central Park:

Where: From 59th to 110th Streets between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West.

Subways/Stops: 1, 2, A, B, C and D to Columbus Circle or R, W to 5th Ave/59th St.

Famous for: Blueprint for American urban parks and most filmed location in the world.

Price: Free.

10. Union Square:

Where: From 14th through 17th Streets between Union Square West and East.

Subway/Stops: 4, 5, 6, L, N, R and Q to 14th Street-Union Square.

Famous for: Historic surrounding buildings, statues, markets, street performers, artists, chess players and demonstrations.

Price: Free, though the Green Market is pricey.

11. Flatiron Building:

Where: 175 Fifth Avenue.

Subways/Stops: R, W and 6 to 23rd Street.

Famous for: Sitting on a triangular block formed by Fifth Avenue to the west, Broadway to the east, and East 22nd Street to the south resembling a clothes iron.

Price: You can enter the lobby for free, but can’t go upstairs.

12. The National September 11 Museum:

Where: 180 Greenwich Street.

Subways/Stops: 1 to Cortland Street, 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J and Z to Fulton Street and R, W to Rector Street.

Famous for: Commemorating the September 11, 2001 attacks, which killed 2,977 people.

Price: Tickets go from $26 up to $46 for adults with discounts for children, college students, senior citizens and veterans.

13. Whitney Museum of American Art:

Where: 99 Gansevoort Street.

Subway/Stops: L and M to 14th Street-Sixth Avenue.

Famous for: Patron and socialite Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded it in 1930 to promote modern American artists tired of the Eurocentric Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, which kept relegating her gifts to the storage room.

Price: Tickets are $25 for adults.

14. Bryant Park:

Where: 40th and 42nd Streets between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas.

Subways/Stops: D, F and M to 42th Street-Bryant Park. 

Famous for: Outdoor Movie Nights.

Price: Free.

15. Bloomingdale’s:

Where: 1000 Third Avenue.

Subways/Stops: 4, 5, 6, N, R and W to 59th Street-Lexington Avenue.

Famous for: 161-years old high-end retail store with iconic window displays and Christmas decorations.

Price: Free to window-shop.

16. Oculus:

Where: World Trade Center.

Subways/Stops: 1, R, W to Cortland Street or 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, Z to Fulton Street or E to Park Place.

Famous for: $4 billion Santiago Calatrava-designed World Trade Center PATH terminal station opened in 2016.

Price: Free, aside from the subway o PATH fares.

17. Moynihan Train Hall:

Where: 351 West 31st Street.

Subways/Stops: 1, 2, 3, A, C, E to 34th Street-Penn Station.

Famous for: Recovering some of the splendor of the original Penn Station, controversially demolished in the early 1960s by its builder Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), for the construction of Madison Square Garden.

Price: Free if you’re not using the trains or shopping.

18. Little Island:

Where: Pier 55 at Hudson River Park.

Subways/Stops: A, C, E, L to 14th Street-Eight Avenue or 1, 2, 3 to 14th Street-Seventh Avenue.

Famous for: $260 million artificial island park supported by 132 pot-shaped structures called “tulips,” one of the city’s newest landmarks.

Price: Free, although timed-reservations for peak hours are needed. Some amphitheater’s performances are paid.

19. Foley Square:

Where: Lafayette, Worth and Centre Streets, south of Chinatown and East of Tribeca.

Subways/Stops: 4 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.

Famous for: Also know as Federal Plaza, it contains a small triangular park named Thomas Paine Park and is surrounded by various civic buildings, including the United States Courthouse and the New York County Courthouse.

Price: Free.

20. Little Ukraine:

Where: East Village between Houston and 14th Street, and Third Avenue and Avenue A.

Subways/Stops: 6 to Astor place or R, W to 8th Street-NYU.

Famous for: Historic cultural epicenter for Ukrainian Americans in New York City. It contains the St. George’s Catholic Church, the Ukrainian Museum and McSorley’s the oldest Irish Pub in the city (established in 1854).

Price: The Ukrainian Museum admission for adults is $8.

21. Washington Square Park:

Where: At the base of Fifth Avenue, bordered by Waverly Place, University Place, West 4th Street, and MacDougal Street.

Subways/Stops: A, B, C, D, E, F and M to West 4th Street.

Famous for: Downtown icon that serves as a meeting place for cultural activity, recognized by The Washington Square Arch, its Fountain and surrounded by various New York University buildings.

Price: Free.

22. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt:

Where: East 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue.

Subways/Stops: 4, 5, 6, 7 and S to Grand Central.

Famous for: New York City’s fourth-tallest building with a glass-bottom observation deck.

Price: Tickets go from abut $30 and up to $70 depending on the “experience.”

23. Chrysler Building:

Where: 405 Lexington Avenue.

Subways/Stops: 4, 5, 6, 7 and S to Grand Central.

Famous for: One of the most recognizable buildings globally and classic American example of Art Deco architecture, it’s the world’s tallest brick building with a steel framework.

Price: Visitors are welcomed in the lobby for free.

24. Edge:

Where: 30 Hudson Yards.

Subways/Stops: 7 to 34th Street-Hudson Yards or 1, 2, 3, A, B, M, N, W to 34th Street-Penn Station.

Famous for: It’s the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere, with a protruding 100-stories-high observation deck, glass floor, and a 360-degree view of New York City.

Price: Tickets go from around $38 and up to $73.

25. The “Jenga Building”:

Where: 56 Leonard Street.

Subways/Stops: 6 and R to Canal Street.

Famous for: Described as “a house stacked in the sky,” it has 145 condominium residences priced between US$3.5 million and US$50 million (yep, you read that right).

Price: Free to watch and photograph.

I Didn’t Bring my “PJs” to Aspen

Aspen will make you feel poor. Then its priceless landscapes will make you believe you are the wealthiest person walking on the face of Earth.

America never looked more beautiful.

The flight from Phoenix to Aspen is an hour and a half spectacle of SIMM-like arid landscapes, dramatically beautiful mountain ranges and majestic rivers.

All perfectly enhanced by crisp and sunny winter skies.

We were still processing the first post-COVID family holiday we had just spent in the Bay Area when the Colorado River greeted us.

The Colorado River

Next, the real-life map turned snowy as the landscape’s elevation increased, and the Aspen trees appeared as though you could reach out and touch them.

As we overflew the town of Aspen, we saw the last windmills and solar panels of a journey that had taken us from the California skies through Arizona and now the Colorado ones.

“Who knew the US was that much into renewable energy,” I thought with pride.

As visibility was good, and our United Airlines pilot was highly skilled, the much-expected landing at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (one of America’s “most extreme” with its 7815 feet above sea level) was nice and smooth.

It was my first time in town, and my first impression was feeling increasingly poor as we deplaned, claimed our luggage and picked up our rental car.

Here, “PJs” didn’t mean pajamas but private jets.

But whatever feeling of inadequacy at the terminal quickly dissipated when we hit the road and saw one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes.

“Priceless! I can only imagine what it is like in the summer,” I said.

Breathtaking Aspen

We stayed with good friends, which was a welcome change from hotels and AirBnBs and prolonged the theme of familial hospitality that we began during the Christmas holiday.

Besides, their place is fabulous.

I’m not an expert skier (not even an intermediate one), but the main point of the trip was for my partner (a much better skier) and our friends (excellent ones) to hit the slopes.

My goal was to make it to “apres-ski” in one piece.

That usually happened after the children tired of watching me fall in my butt all day at Buttermilk, the easiest ski mountain in the region. 

My partner and friends glided with the big boys and girls at Aspen and Snowmass

A caveat: Buttermilk hosts the famous X Games, which were going to take place in two weeks. So, at least, it was cool to say, “I was just there,” while watching from the comfort of my warm home back in New York City. 

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Creek Valley from the top of Buttermilk

Although I only experienced one mountain, I branched out about the after ski activities.

Aspen Pie Shop was a young and casual place to get excellent pizza and beer. Plus the dining room has a lovely view of the doggie park with the gorgeous Aspen mountain in the background.

There’s something about puppies romping happily in the snow.

The second establishment, The Wine Bar (formerly Chair 9) at The Little Nell was more upscale. The wine list and gourmet snacks were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the fondue, oysters and wagyu beef sliders (we ordered two portions).

Aspen Mountain

The Aspen Art Museum was temporarily closed, an excuse to come back in the Summer. Perhaps during the FOOD & WINE Classic or one of the Aspen Institute events.

Two more culinary experiences you should try: Betula Aspen was a delightful “French Pan-American” dinner. I loved the Ceviche “Bonito” and the Peruvian Lomo Saltado. 

For Sunday brunch, we tried Element 47. Also part of The Little Nell, this posh-chic place serves delicious gourmet food and has a good wine program.

I had the duck ramen, which tasted even better as the powdery snow fell outside, but I was told the element 47 wagyu burger was also delicious.

Eagle County Regional Airport

It was time to come back to reality.

We drove 65 miles to Gypsum, where the Eagle County Regional Airport sits, and from where United Airlines operates a non-stop flight to New York La Guardia.

The ruggedly beautiful Colorado mountains that streamed on our windshield for an hour and a half lend themselves to reflection.

On the radio, a single mother shared tips on making ends meet during a global pandemic.

You Can Have Charleston

Stunning architecture, world-class gastronomy and a complicated past: I’m glad I checked the South Carolinian capital off my bucket list.

I don’t know how they do it.

Charleston is immaculately clean despite the number of horses drawing pretty carriages all over the city at all times.

As a history geek and gastronomy lover, I was excited to check out the South Carolinian capital.

And “Chucktown” didn’t disappoint.

For starters, the namesake town of King Charles II treasures its past.

Which is delightful to a Northerner horrified by New York City’s eagerness to destroy icons and give way to sterile monuments to gentrification.

Like London, Charleston memorializes virtually every other corner with markers telling visitors about its rich history.

City Carriage Tours are one of the best ways to learn about the charming Southern town’s history

The examples are abundant. Not only in obviously historical places, like The Battery and The City Market.

But also in restaurants or hotels, former dwellings of legendary figures.

Like Zero Hotel and Restaurant on George Street, former home of Captain George Anson (1697-1762), commander of the H.M.S. Scarborough and defender of Charleston Harbor.

And speaking of traditions, we arrived in time for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Upon checking out the charming parade, we were also determined to experience the many food recommendations our friends had made.

First stop: 167 Raw Oyster Bar.

Let me tell you something about this place.

Just about anywhere in Charleston you will get an outstanding meal.

From Market Street Deli’s killer Classic Club Sandwich to the more upscale Charleston Grill (best wine list in town) and everything in between.

But, if you had to go to just one place, make sure it’s Raw Oyster Bar, and be ready to get blown away by the freshest oysters, spectacular ceviche, and a lobster roll that makes the Maine ones run for their money.

Located on King Street, 167 Raw doesn’t take reservations, though.

Your best bet is to put your name down on the list and go on a stroll.

Or, as we did, have a glass of wine at Bin 152 down the street, which has a pretty decent program. 

Rest assured that in an hour or so, depending on how busy they are, the maître d’ will text you via Resy. 

Not to be confused with the Old Slave Market, Charleston’s City Market is one of the most iconic sights

City Carriage Tours or pedicabs are an excellent way to get around.

But you can walk or even bike if you feel like burning the extra calories from all those delicious meals.

Head to The Battery, the iconic seawall and promenade along the Charleston peninsula, to admire the gorgeous homes surrounding White Point Garden.

Continue north on East Bay Street through the South of Broad neighborhood, and you’ll eventually run into the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

The former prisoner of war facility operated by British forces during the American Revolutionary War is now a museum run by the Daughters of the American Revolution no less.

Next, you’ll find the Old Slave Mart Museum almost around the corner on Chalmers Street.

Built in 1859, it once housed a slave auction gallery. And it’s a vivid reminder with plenty of painful details about the antebellum era.

Old Slave Mart Museum

Tough to experience, it also contains this uplifting quote:

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again

Maya Angelou

The Charleston Museum, in the Wraggborough neighborhood, is also worth a visit. 

It collects historical artifacts, natural history, and decorative arts.

It also contains a replica of the CSS Hunley, the submarine of the Confederate States of America used in the Civil War. 

So much history opened up our appetite again. And, this time, Butcher & Bee was the answer.

Located in Morrison Drive, a 25-minute drive from the town’s historical center, the popular spot resembles a Los Angeles brunch joint, and it’s known for its burgers and artisanal beers.

We also had to throw in some nightlife for good measure

Luckily, Dudley’s at Ann Street was happy to oblige with a good old Southern drag show, Saint Patrick’s Weekend Edition.

The revue included one of the divas performing to Cranberries “Zombie,” which the whole bar sang along. It was refreshing.

Fort Sumter, where the first shots that started the Civil War were fired

We couldn’t leave Charleston without visiting Fort Sumter.

The tour, via ferry, departs from either Downtown Charleston or Mount Pleasant. It costs $32 for adults, and it lasts 2+ hours. 

Highlights include the original canons, brick fortifications, and Union and Confederate flags.

On the ride back, we had the following exchange:

Fort Sumter Ferry Boy: “How did y’all like the tour?”

Us: “Very interesting. Tons of history!”

Him: “They changed some things a little.” (shows us what he says is a 2013 iPhone photo of flags, including the Confederate one, flying on the fort) 

Us: “How come?”

Him: (shrugs) “Things change, I guess. I don’t necessarily agree with it if you ask me.”

Us: (Google “Fort Sumter flags”)

USA Today, June 2015: “South Carolina lawmakers have been asked to decide the future of the Confederate flag flying at the Statehouse after nine people attending Bible study were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17. Alleged shooter Dylann Roof posted Confederate-inspired messages on social media.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

The following day on our way to the airport, we stopped at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to pay our respects and think about the future of our country.

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