San Francisco

san-francisco-painted-ladies

Family and I took the opportunity to visit my sister in Mountain View, Calif. as a chance to also visit San Francisco and Monterey.

Photos on Facebook here.

SACM and I rented bicycles for a wonderful tour of SF, including, predictably but wonderfully, over the Golden Gate Bridge to Monterey, and all the way back to the Mission and the StrEAT Market.

We did the cable cars and Uber to a boat out in the Bay (dramamine actually worked for me!). Saw the Condor Club and Chinatown and Ghiradeli Square and all that, after we started down to Monterey for the aquarium and beach-going.

Panama

panama-trip

A week in the dense, central heart of Panama, the small, narrow pathway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was the memorable international trip I was privileged to get the chance to take on this month.

Panama, a country of less than 4 million people on land less than that of Pennsylvania, is best known for its powerful Panama Canal that was American operated until 1999. Until 1989, it was run by the dangerous despot Manuel Noriega but since then democracy has flourished and, with the New York Times profile in toe, is growing its tourism sector to try to compete with more popular Belize and Costa Rica.

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Spain

During my eight days in Spain: three nights in Madrid, one in Burgos and Vivar del Cid, one in Pamplona, one in Sitges and two in Barcelona.

Eight days in the hub of ancient kingdom turned struggling modern Western European stalwart Spain proved to be among the best trips of my life.

I went Running with the Bulls and saw the first bullfight of my life, but I also had suckling pig at the oldest restaurant in the world, saw more Picassas and Dalis than ever before, ordered tapas, sangria and paella in Spanish, swam in the Mediterranean, visited Gaudi and, of course, did so while reading Hemingway’s the Sun Also Rises for the first time.

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Miami Beach for a long weekend

The condos, clubs and art deco architecture of coastal city of Miami Beach, particularly its South Beach neighborhood, was the destination for a weekend jaunt.

Split from Miami city by Biscayne Bay, the city of 80,000 has the reputation for the high-life, but a generous friend let us stay in his condo near the Miami Beach Convention Center for the weekend.

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Birmingham, Alabama for Valentine’s Day

Like cities across the country, 210,000-person Birmingham, Alabama has a growing creative class pocketed among communities of post-industrialization decline (though some of it remains).

Founded in 1870s after the Civil War while much of the leading Southern cities of the era were in shambles, Birmingham grew up as an iron town, as symbolized by the Sloss Furnaces National Park, an elephant-graveyard of production hidden underneath a highway leaving the city center (it had the nickname of Pittsburgh of the South, for its wide-ranging metal production).

But as Birmingham twisted in the wind in the mid-20th century, other took hold of new industries — Atlanta fought to be a air transit hub. Today, that small creative class — aided in part by the University of Alabama at Birmingham — is helping to fuel a few small pockets of the walkable urban ideal.

Yes, what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than a great long weekend in Birmingham, Ala.

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Boston

At the Prudential Tower bar on the 52nd floor, the fog was passing and the view was compelling.

It’s not the first time I’ve been in Boston but it was the longest and most independent time I’ve spent in the beautiful city of 600,000.

Around the annual national Online News Association conference, which I enjoyed thanks to the support of Philadelphia’s new Center for Public Interest Journalism, my colleagues and I sought a more balanced taste of the town.

Most recently in May 2010, I grabbed a cup of Clam Chowder at Sonsie in the Back Back with colleagues after a work event and before then, in January 2008, I visited a high school friend in Amherst, Mass. and we took in some of the tourist spots. In 2003, while looking at a number of colleges in preparation of applying, I visited with family, something we had previously done in the mid 1990s.

This trip, I had the chance of doing even more.

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Utah and Colorado back country hiking road trip

With my good buddy Mike Butler, I just came back from two weeks road tripping and hiking Utah and Colorado and what a trip it was.

Overall, we spent $3,021.85 on the two week trip. That means each of us spent at least $1,510.93 driving some 2,100 miles and visiting six national parks, crashing in four hotels, two campgrounds and lots of tent spots.

Below, find a quick run down with hopes of going into greater detail later.

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Alaska (backpacking through the Last Frontier)

Above the flow of Exit Glacier, part of the Harding Ice field in the Kenai Mountains of south central Alaska. It was a day's hike. Click to enlarge.

In 2005, when I came home from a summer studying in Ghana, I was on the phone with my grandmother, and she said ‘Now all you need to see is Alaska.’

For my grandmother, who died in 2009 as the last of my grandparents, Alaska was truly the last frontier. I found it so interesting that she was so enamored with this distant, oil-producing extension of the United States, of which it accounts for a fifth of its size.

Then you should go see it, I told her. Maybe, she said, but I don’t think so, not now.

So I went.

Today I arrived back from a two-week, backpacking tour through three national parks sandwiched between landing in Fairbanks and departing Anchorage.

Some sights I saw:

Coney Island

Shannon and I visited Coney Island.

We swam, ate at the original Nathan’s, rode the Cyclone and strolled.

I had Coney on my mind after reading a Village Voice while visiting a few months ago.

Seattle: a long-weekend in the Pacific Northwest

Standing on the observation deck of the iconic Space Needle in Seattle.

Early this morning, I got home from a jam-packed, long weekend in Seattle, visiting my friend Matt Sheehan, who was receiving some treatment there.

Some of my favorite experiences:

  • Pike Place Market — The city’s very famous, very cool open-air market near to the. Going there during a weekday was key to seeing it live.
  • Space Needle — As depicted above, I made sure to get to the top of the famed Space Needle.
  • Halibut sandwich — With clam chowder and slaw for lunch, right in one of the stands at Pike Place. Photo here.
  • Nirvana — Yes, man, I listened to the 1990s grunge metal heads who originated here as much as I could.
  • Mass Transit— I rode the trolly — new one, not the old one — and the light rail line from the airport to the center city.
  • Starbucks — The first product I ever bought at any Starbucks was a latte at the original location, near Pike Place.
  • Great Alaskan Salmon sandwich — It might not look like much, but this meal, on a beautiful, little tourist island, was likely one of the best meals I ever had. The Salmon was so fresh, with so many tastes, and played so nicely with the slaw and a buttery ciabatti roll.
  • Eat and drink generally — I had lots of local beer and all the fresh fish I could get my hands on.
  • Iced Coffees — From lots of local places.
  • Sports arenas — Like mass transit, something I am always interested in seeing when visiting other U.S. cities are their altars for sport.
  • University of Washington — I walked the campus and ate on its main strip.
  • Walking, walking walking — It’s what I love to do. I was blessed with beautiful weather!

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