Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Do This For Me If I Die.....


    Well first, I am not planning on dying anytime soon. Based on the way I eat, train, and lack of medical problems, some of these online calculators don't kick me off this Earth for another 50-70 years. I got two great grandparents that made it to the 100's, but I have others in my family that didn't make it past their thirties. So you never know when your card is going to be pulled.

    I have had the pleasure and the gift to have traveled to six of the seven continents on this Earth through many countries, many more cities, and countless villages. I've seen literally millions of people. I've seen the strength in humanity, and the weakness of humanity. At my job I've seen countless deaths, and unfortunately off duty I have seen countless deaths as well, including some of the people closest to me. So on a night like this as I write this and I look back, I wonder if I had any kids, or anyone really that wanted to know what I thought about life and what advice I would give on living in this wonderful world, what would I say?

     The thing I would say I think would surprise many people, and that is,

                                         WATCH LESS TV

     Most people probably think from my blogs I'd say to travel, see the world, workout, eat good, maybe more deep like spend time with your family or people you love. But I wouldn't say that. To me that's common sense, exploration is a birth instinct, so is health and love. And maybe for some people travel is not an option, or they don't enjoy the gym or whatever. In 2003 as I was set to enter the police academy in a few months, I quickly realized that I'd have to cut bills since at the time and unfortunately now as well the starting pay in the NYPD was so low. It was easy then to say, ok, I don't need cable. At the time it was definitely a minor hassle, but I was working so much it didn't matter terribly, I was bartending, working on an ambo, and working in the gym. During the academy I wouldn't have side jobs, and after cops are not allowed to bartend in NYC at all, so good bye cable. It was a minor hassle.... But little did I know how much it would change my life.

     On the money end, I've saved over $10,000, I don't know the exact number because since I haven't watch TV in over 12 years I don't know how much cable costs. I am not in a total tunnel, I have netflix and occasionally watch it while I eat lunch if I'm alone. But if lunch is done first the show can be watched later, I go to the movies as well, and definitely watch movies on any flight over 3 hours! But if I miss whatever is the hottest show now, I could care less. And it's beyond money, the joys and things I have gotten to do from not having TV is priceless.

    I think back to 2003, and I think the last popular TV show I watched was the Soprano's, rest in peace James Gandolfini. The Soprano's was a great show on HBO. And if on my next 10+ hour international flight it's an option to watch a season of it, I surely will. It'll pass the time. But when I remember 2003, if I could go back and to it all again, as great as the show was, I wouldn't watch a single episode. 2003 I was testing for the NYPD, I was working on an amublance and that was the first year that I did CPR and actually brought the patient back with the crew I was working on. 2003 was the first time I visited -at the time a foreign place to me- called Arizona, which to this day I now call my home. The fun times I had with friends who I'd never see again, taking the fire department test, training in my old gym, learning to flair bartend, the girls I dated, dinners or coffee with my Mother, places I explored even just in New York City where I lived that are no longer there. Of all those moments I had in 2003, if I could go back, I don't think I'd need to watch the Soprano's again. And I'm sure had I watched TV in the last 13 years I'd feel exactly the same about any show.

    So if I die, my small favor for the readers of this blog, friends, and family. Watch less TV.

***Bonus for direct family members, U2 Windows In The Sky played at my funeral or memorial, not my fav U2 song but it will be for my death.

                     


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Thursday, June 18, 2015

What To Do For One Day In Downtown Phoenix


*This is part of the Arizona section of my world travel blog, dedicated to my new home state! Be sure to check out the whole blog when you are done here!*

     So when I came to Phoenix 6 years ago, downtown had a few homeless guys pandering around, a few high rises, and a good pizzeria across the street from the diamond backs stadium. All of those are still there, but luckily downtown is growing, and continues to grow! It's really became a great part of the valley to hang out in (it's about time for a city of 4,000,000 people), and I hope it keeps it's artistic, unique, and diverse style, and doesn't get overcome by a ton of chain restaurants as it grows. So if you are visiting Phoenix, or maybe even live here and want to do a whole day downtown, here's my recommendation starting from bright and early:

From Sky Harbor if you are flying in:

Take the light rail to Roosevelt/Central Station, if you are coming by car there is ample parking in downtown,  the Arizona Center validates parking if you buy anything, a Starbucks, a souvenir, an ice cream cone, you get the point.

  • Start the day off at Matt's Big Breakfast on the northeast corner of 1st street and Garfield. Load up on some classic American breakfast or downtown Phoenix style dishes. Unknown if Matt will be there, actually I don't even know who Matt is, but the breakfast is good!
  • For your next stop decide between culture or science... To learn about the native Americans of the southwest and a bit more about the history of Phoenix head to the Heard Museum. If Science is more your taste check out the Arizona Science Center, with constant changing exhibitions, this is my preferred choice.
  • At some point you will cross N Central Avenue and Roosevelt and see the Release The Fear Sculpture. To my knowledge it is the only sculpture that size built out of used firearms. Take a quick pic and move on.
  • Decide next between literature or music, you can peek your head into the independent publish Lawn Gnome Publishing, you may even be lucky enough to catch an open mic or poetry reading. If music is more your edge head to Revolver Records, this has to be one of the last record stores in the state as vinyl dies a slow death, so hop in before it's too late! If you are lucky you may catch some local musicians practicing on the patio out front.
  • For lunch if you have time head to Heritage Square and get in line at Pizzeria Bianco. They make their own cheese, grow some of the vegetables, and it all at a very fair price for such a popular downtown restaurant, due to the wait, you will probably head to the wine bar next door which is converted from an old little house as a lot of places downtown are. The wait may only be 20 minutes but sometimes can be over two hours, so if it's too long don't worry, plenty of other dining options all around the area! Heritage Square also has some neat historic homes. It's only accessible on foot, so don't kill yourself looking for parking there.
  • At some point you are going to pass this, Her Secret is Patience sculpture. It's probably the biggest sculpture in the state, it cost a lot of money, so take a pic to make the tax payers happy.

  • If you are feeling it is time for a recharge head to Jobot Coffee on 5th Street. It's in an old house and has a nice piano there in what used to be the living room, you are welcome to play if you have the skills. The building is so old the bathroom still has a shower tub.
  • Ok since, I am big on fitness as well, it would be a sin, not to give credit to the best gym in downtown Phoenix, if you have time to lift, go to Gold's Gym by City Scape. Call for day pass pricing.
Now as it is getting later, this is when you can catch the real spirit of downtown Phoenix... This is just a short list of ideas....
  • You can try to catch an independent flick at Film Bar. Besides a great bar and the usual movie popcorn, they also allow you to bring your own food in too! You don't have to sneak it in your shirt or pocketbook like the other movie theaters you go to!
  • Catch a live music show or a beer at The Lost Leaf. They boast 150 beers available! Great date spot too. Great feel for the Seattle or San Fran types.
  • For more of the LA/NYC feel, head to the roof top pool bar of the Palomar Hotel by City Scape. Plush lounge chairs, great drink menu, and great sky line views.
  • Hopefully you are there on a first Friday and it's open at night, but if not earlier in the day make time for the Phoenix Art Museum, local and international artists, sometimes serving wine as well. Don't miss the fireflies exhibit on the top floor!
  • Sports are more your thing? Check out Alice Cooperstown. Owned by Alice Cooper himself, this place is desolate on non-game nights, but packed on local team and big sporting event nights. Alice Cooper himself is often there.
  • If you want a huge crowd and different styles of music, any weekend stop in The Crescent Ballroom. The food is okay, but the drinks and bands are great! They open the back patio which is huge on weekends, expect over 400 people on a big night here.
  • As you walk all around you will catch little art galleries or studios, some may be open to the public, some may not be, you may catch an artist at work on a new piece, or be one of the first to check out a new exhibit, these places are ALL OVER Roosevelt and the downtown area, too many to mention!
  • Or... you can make your own art at Brush Party. This new little spot is group art studio, paint with everyone or bring in your own idea and paint it, oh did I mention you get to BYOB too!!! 
  • Is it a boxing place? Is it a bar? Is it a club? Is it a gym? What the hell is The Duce? This place was once a busy warehouse that made crap, now it's a bit of everything. This is the only bar I know of in the world that sells antiques and has a boxing ring, which you are free to climb in on non boxing event nights! They have great food and an extremely unique drink menu. Some bigger name bands have played here and if you have any chance to catch one you like I highly recommend it!
"You want to fight on the first date?"
  • If performing arts are more your cup of tea, check the schedule at The Orpheum Theater. Ballet, plays, performing arts, etc. Let me know how it is, because I've never been there!
  • I have however been to the The Comerica Theater. Big bands play here, and it is a small venue! Great acoustics, probably my favorite place to catch a show in all of AZ, and all of the western USA really.
  • Finish the night off... if you are not a partier anyway, at the top of the city... well sort of... The Compass Grill on top of the Hyatt is a rotating restaurant. It's a bit expensive to eat here, but it has a great reverse happy hour nightly if you just want to enjoy a drink and sit down at the restaurant slowly turns giving you a birds eye view of the whole valley.
  • But... if it's a nice night, which it pretty much is every night here! You can also go to the outdoor roof deck at the Clarendon Hotel. They also do yoga classes here in the mornings, check for times!
     There are plenty of great hotels downtown to stay in, from Classic to Contemporary to high rise Modern. With enough requests I'll write about that, but for now that is just a bit of downtown, there are constantly events, art festivals, parades, etc going on depending on the time of year you are there. Hopefully you have more than one day here, but if not I hope this article helped! Feel free to leave a comment or check out the rest of my page! Thanks for reading!

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Should I Invest Or Travel?


    Well a money guy would say invest now, travel later. A travel guy would say the opposite... But it's not so simple... I have friends that have done Europe on student loans or credit card debt. My friends that own rental properties in New York City would say that's insane, and they definitely have more money than the guys who went to Europe. But it's not always a black and white answer, you need to decide for yourself what is best for you. But I will say that I always hear the investors say, I will travel later in life... In my travels to 6 of the 7 continents, I rarely meet a traveler over 40, and barely meet travelers in their 30's... It just doesn't happen. The longer you are on this Earth the more things that will come up that you can't travel, spouses, mortgages, children, etc. But on the flip side, you don't want to have a rocking trip to South East Asia only to return home and rent a crappy apartment for the rest of your life while your friends bought sweet houses... So lets take a look at things to consider:
  • Are you really going to travel later in life?
  • Do you really need to do the American dream of going somewhere for a whole month when all your friends will be off and it will be the greatest trip ever with an unlimited budget and nothing will go wrong? Are you waiting for Santa on Christmas and the Easter Bunny also? Could maybe a 5 day trip suffice just in case the latter never comes?
  • Do you need to save money for children?
  • Are your children old enough to travel? Although I don't have kids, my rule is > 14 international. < 14 domestic.
  • Why are you saving and investing now? Is it to build a home? A business? Or is it to have money to travel later in your 60's when you will be on medications and not able to enjoy it as much?
  • Are you really going to travel later in life?
  • What is the interest rate on your debt? 
  • What can you give up to travel? Cable, fancy car, dining out for awhile.
  • What's more valuable to you, money, or memories?
  • Is debt in the future worth travel now?
  • Are you really going to travel later in life?
    I will tell you personally, I have a decent mortgage payment now, but I am also paying PMI, I drive a shitty car, I have not had cable for 12 years, and only recently got a smart phone after years of verbal abuse for rocking the flip. Had I not traveled in the USA in my early 20's I would have bought a home by age 25 easily (ironically the market collapsed anyway and I would've foreclosed or been underwater). Had I not traveled internationally in the last 4 years my mortgage payment would be cheaper than some of my friends car payments. I'd probably be driving an Audi, Lexus, or at the very least a nicer sedan. I'd have a bigger savings account, and more financial security. But when I look back at the last decade of travel, if say I could've saved $30,000, maybe more with compounding interest, I wouldn't have given up the times I've had, the people I met, and the experiences I've had for double that number, even triple. We don't live to work. We work to live.


    If I hadn't traveled when I was younger I would have never came across this beautiful state Arizona and made it my home. I wouldn't have bungy jumped off the Auckland bridge in New Zealand into frozen waters. I wouldn't have toasted vodka in Red Square Moscow & St. Petersburg with Russian friends. I wouldn't have eaten bamboo in China, pet a cheetah in South Africa, swam with a whale shark in Mozambique, seen Machuu Pichu, surfed Bondi Beach, snorkeled the waters of Fiji, vomited tequilla shots in Mexico, got thrown off an elephant in Thailand into a lake after walking a tiger, road a camel through a sandstorm on a 4,000 year old trade route, watched the World Cup in Brazil, visited the birth place of Jesus Christ, seen the Parthenon with my morning coffee, drank wine in an electrical blacked out Santiago, got naked in earth's waters of a Japanese onsen, I wouldn't have tasted cheeses in Paris, touched the Berlin wall in Germany, rode a sleeper train thru Europe, pet a kangaroo, almost get my butt kicked in Colombia, scuba dived Ecuador... I wouldn't have climbed thru caves, climbed thru crowded subways, swam in waterfalls, rivers, every ocean (except the arctic), learned some Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and even British! I wouldn't have met life long friends. I wouldn't have had experiences that no amount of money can buy. I wouldn't have learned so much about other people and other cultures. I wouldn't have had my breath taken away time and time again by too many things that I don't have enough space to write about here. Because just when you think you've seen it all, the world becomes so much of a bigger, and so much of a better place to see and appreciate. For even the bad places you travel to you learn about strength in the soul of the human being, seeing people in these 3rd worlds that are just as content if not more content than your friends that obsess over the mighty dollar. We have a lot of the world to see and experience, but we don't have a lot of time in our lives left on this Earth for it. Smell the flowers while you still can.

Tokyo Bay 2009

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Layover Trips To Zurich and Geneva Switzerland


    As I have written before, there is no reason for a layover to be the boring worst part of your trip. With careful planning and intentionally extending a layover can be the best part! This was the case for me for both Zurich and Geneva on my way to and from Greece for New Years 2015. I used my flight strategy to have a full day in both cities! And it was a great decision, particularly for Zurich, unfortunately, Zurich is one of the most expensive cities I have ever been to, but by doing a layover I was able to be there for a day, rather than never be there at all. You won't have much time, so here's my tips:

  • As usual, if you can do the trip with just a carry on I HIGHLY recommend this. I will be writing an article soon on how I spent a month overseas with only a small carry on. Other wise both airports have lockers where you can keep your large luggage and roll out with just a day bag.
  • Getting to and from Zurich and Geneva is very easy by a short train ride, don't waste money on a taxi or hired car
  • You won't have time for much, so just head downtown in both cities, do some shopping, or just window shopping
  • The down part about the carry on to consider, if you want a genuine one of these you may not want a carry on only!

Genuine Swiss knives
  • I recently got into watches, but stylish knock offs and genuine watches, so I decided to treat myself to a real Swiss Watch, I quickly realized this wasn't gonna happen. While it was watch heaven in both cities, and there is nothing like a great Swiss Watch we unfortunately live in a globalized world. Every watch I found that I liked I was able to quickly google and see that I could buy the same one at home for several hundred dollars less. So if you are a budget traveler instead of laying out $10,000 for a Hublot, save that for your next flight or adventure and buy a nice watch when you get home for $100. 99% of people won't know the difference anyway.

    Watch heaven for the eyes, but not for the wallet!
  • A swiss french press though is never a bad investment!

                                             
  • Have some tea at one of the many tea stands, for both Zurich and Geneva you will want to walk to the lakes, this is where all the shops, stores, and night life for the lay over are. And be sure to have some fondue for lunch or dinner!

    Great tea with locals, though I don't speak German many people there spoke Italian or English so I was able to get by with that.
  • Zurich airbnb or a hostel is almost necessary with the prices, Geneva was my last night of the month journey so I treated myself to a hotel, the prices in Geneva are significantly cheaper.
  • Oh Speaking of Geneva, if you feel up for it, rent a bike or take a long walk... To France.


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Monday, March 2, 2015

New Year's In Greece & Travel Tips

Good morning, 1st day of 2015
       What an amazing country and amazing time Greece was!!!! As New Year's is my favorite holiday Greece was going to be the perfect way to ring in 2015. It fit my quota for travel, off peak season, great deals, and great people. Here's how my Greece trip came to fruition...

    The flight was only around $800. A few months prior I paid $500 to fly just to North Carolina! And of course I manipulated the lay overs to hit both Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland free of charge (the flights anyway). Athens was set as my home base for the first half of the trip, the second half was going to be left open to stay somewhere else in Greece, but I loved Athens so much I stayed there the whole time! Right in the heart of Monastraki square for only $40 a night for my own apartment! Unfortunately for Greece, the economy is terrible right now, but for the budget traveler that makes it a favorable time to go. Food, drink, and tourism right now in Greece is the best prices amongst most of Southern Europe. Here's my tips and advice to make your trip to Greece an unforgettable experience!

                                       

  • Don't disregard Athens and the mainland, the few people I know that have been to Greece advocated landing and hopping off to the islands, Athens offers to much, the capital definitely deserves more time.
  • If staying in Athens do everything you can to stay in Plaka, particularly in Monastraki Square or Syntagma square. I definitely favor Monastraki though personally.
  • In Monastraki square is the legendary A For Athens Hotel, it's not exactly the best deal for a budget traveler, but the roof bar and restaurant is open to non-guests, needless to say I was there quite often for a beer or cappuccino, and had my New Years dinner there. It has the greatest views of the Acropolis you can imagine, speaking of which...
  • The Acropolis: I've seen a lot in my travels, but the Acropolis really took my breath away, the beautiful photos I took do not do it justice, even the locals told me sometimes they just have to stop and stare. A whole day can be spent in the Acropolis, and another day can be spent exploring the historical sites surrounding it.
  • The Islands: Of course you want to hit the Greek isles, there are many within a couple of hours from Athens, if you are venturing to Mykonos or Santorini the boats and ferries can take quite some time, it may be more advisable to book a flight as the prices are not much different.

     
     
  • Don't drive in Athens... just take the bus or the train... trust me.
  • Greek food is delicious, this was the best food trip of my life, admittedly I am biased and already love Greek food, but you can eat in quality restaurants with views of the Parthenon for around $10 USD!

  • Don't forget about that other Greek city... Sparta is a short bus ride from Athens, it's a beautiful city and you certainly don't have as much of the economy crashing feel in Sparta, there you can explore Mystras castle! I highly advice on arrival to Sparta just to take a taxi to the Mystras, you can catch a bus back, but it takes some time to get there and unfortunately by the time I got there I only had about 30 minutes for Mystras, which should have around 3 hours. The bus takes about 3 hours, and the taxi will take 10 minutes, the local bus takes about an hour because it stops so much!

  • Taking the train around Athens is super easy, you will not need taxi's at all except for bar or club nights.
      As usual I did my best to hang out with the locals in Athens, one particular night I was at A For Athens with some Greeks talking about the usual wonderful things in life, travel, music, art, food, and wine. And one asked me why I had come in the winter, why not come in the summer when you can enjoy the beaches of the island, hang out with other foreign tourists, party on spring break, and have good weather? I answered, that I live in good weather all year round in my home country, and I didn't come to party, to meet other tourists, and to see just the beaches, I came to see Greece.




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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One Day In Istanbul

The Blue Mosque
     Got a long lay over in Istanbul, or maybe just starting your journey in Turkey but don't want to spend too much time around the capital? Here's how I made the most of about 18 hours there.

      I was excited to see on a flight between Greece and Israel I could manipulate the flight to do a layover trip to Istanbul, I got my Visa beforehand online for only $40 and was ready to see this beautiful city! I landed in the evening around 11pm, took a cab which I got ripped off on for about 35 Euros, it was 20 the next day, but I was freezing and anxious to get some sleep for the next days adventures. Since I landed so late I actually stayed in a hotel, but it was only $40 a night.

     I woke up at the crack of dawn to catch a city bus to Rumeli Fortress, it was not recommended if you didn't have a lot of time because it's off the main tourist path, but my heart was drawn to it, and I have no clue why it's not recommended it's a bit further than the rest of the main Istanbul sites, but it's one train, and a bus that runs along the pier to get there, so a pleasant view for the short ride. And the fortress was well worth it!


Inside Rumeli Fortress 

   After Rumeli I doubled back to the main part of the city, which by the way is only about 20-30 minutes from the airport. I also en route had my real cup of Turkish coffee, which was dumped after a few sips.... In just 19 hours including time to sleep and check in, I was able to do and see all of this:


Vile Turkish coffee!
The Blue Mosque: How can you be in Istanbul and skip it? Entry was either free or really cheap, because I don't remember paying anything. Once you are in downtown Istanbul it's impossible to miss this one. 



Galata Bridge: Legendary in Turkish folklore and literature I enjoyed it both by public transport and on foot catching the morning fishermen make some catches.

Galata Tower: As you may guess, if you found the bridge, you found the tower.

            

Hagia Sophia: It's literally right next to the Blue Mosque, so you won't miss it!


The Basilica Cistern: I had no idea how cool this would be, and my pictures don't do it justice, built around 300 AD, it's an ancient cistern, and underground water receptacle built by slaves of that era. 


The place is somewhat huge, but also a quick easy tour of 20 minutes to an hour if you are in a rush. 

The Spice Baazar: I was planning on skipping this unless I had time, and it turns out I had time, after a quick and delicious Turkish lunch I went in the spice baazar and got a magnet, I had close to 20 Turks try and sell me a rug.


And of course Rumeli, I hadn't realized it, but correct me if I'm wrong, Yedikule Castle? Was on the way to the airport, I could have squeezed that in too, oh well, next time!



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Monday, February 23, 2015

Toilets Around The World

      Ever wonder what it's like to take dump or go to the john around the world, here's some high, and very low lights of international toilet action!!!!


Good old brazil, if the wait is too long for the porta potty, go behind it!

Japan, make sure you have it turned off before you get up!

Your standard Asain squat toilet.
Brazil again, just covering up the basics, and it means 4 people can piss at a time rather than 1!
The Turks are on the right trail with the sanitary nozzle, but do they realize the back splash it will get from number 1?

Middle East, noted by camels.
Rolling Stones/Russia urinals


Vile and disgusting Thai toilet, no toilet paper, and you flush it with the bucket on the right.

More south east Asia action, nozzle to spray but no toilet paper.

Winner of the dirty dozen! No toilet paper, and you flush with the bucket! This award winner was in Bangkok Thailand.
And of course, my toilet, Japan won my heart!

Buy it here!
                                                           


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