know before you go: JFK

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I have a complex relationship with JFK, as I do with LAX.  Being the two most populous international arrival airports, they should be more inviting and welcoming than they are.  Instead, customs lines are long, people aren’t the friendliest, and they both could be cleaner for sure.  Plus, at JFK, you have to leave security to go terminal to terminal!  There’s no way that’s not confusing to a foreign visitor, or even to a local for that matter.

Perhaps we’re trying to give foreign visitors a picture of what America’s truly like?  Confusing and crowded and sweaty.  At least it’s still better than LaGuardia?

JFK is located in Queens, about 16 miles south of Manhattan.  There are 6 terminals with about 128 gates.  Terminal one serves a bevy of international carriers (Air France, Korean, Lufthansa, JAL, Turkish, Norwegian, WOWAir, Alitalia, Air China, China Eastern).  Terminal 2 is for Delta, Four is for Delta and Skyteam (including Aeromexico, China Airlines, China Southern, KLM; JetBlue, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore and Virgin amongst many others).  Terminal 5 is a club in NYC and it also serves JetBlue.  Terminal 7 has British Airways, Alaska, LOT, Icelandair and Qatar.  Terminal 8 is for American.

Remember: ✈️ = ny i love you but you’re bringing me down to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = welcome to new york (it’s been waiting for you)

Transportation to the airport:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (metro, bus, taxi, car, airporter, lots of options)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️ (just the fact that you have to exit and re-enter security sucks)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (it goes as fast as it can with the sheer volume of passenger traffic; customs lines can be brutal here)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s lots of options, but it’s inconsistent; like some terminals have McDonald’s and Starbucks, some don’t.  Some have Peet’s and don’t get me started, eesh.  7-Eleven in a few, and Terminal 4 has two Shake Shacks while the others don’t have any.  Some have Dunkin Donuts and Buffalo Wild Wings/Panda Express!  Why so cruel, JFK?  And since it’s NY, so I’m kind of expecting elevated dining, but there isn’t much beyond fast casual)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (please don’t judge us by the bathrooms in this airport)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi — didn’t always used to be the case)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (again, inconsistent luxury shopping between international terminals.  Tumi, Cartier, Hermes, Mont Blanc — do people need last minute fountain pens as gifts? Good luck in Terminal 2, there’s like a Best Buy kiosk for shopping and that’s it.  Lots of international flights means lots of lounges {except for the last one shutting down in Terminal 5}, but don’t expect any yoga or meditation/prayer rooms in this airport, there’s no real estate for that)

hometown hits: orange, california

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Orange County, California is more than housewives and McMansions. Granted, we do have our fair share of overly plasticized people, sprawling estates and vapid teenagers, but anyone who visits will encounter a far different vantage than what you might have seen in a show.

What they don’t show on TV is a 3 million + populated area filled with cultures from all corners of the world.  There’s Little Saigon, Korean District, and Little Arabia to name a few neighborhoods around.

But, what started it all, and what was most attractive to settlers to this part of Southern California was its miles and miles of orange groves, hence the name of the county.

Before Walt stuck his spike down to create Disneyland, this whole area was filled with ranches amongst the fruit trees.  And in some pockets of the area, you can still unearth some of the history of this county, especially in appropriately named Orange, California.

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on the fringe: day trip to edinburgh

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Edinburgh is the perfect city for a day trip/long layover…especially during the month of August, when the city celebrates its nearly month-long creative arts and entertainment based Fringe Festival.

Even if you’re not visiting for the Fringe benefits (see what I did there?), it’s manageable, transit is well planned and there’s a lot to see and do in a small area.  For being a smaller capital city, Edinburgh’s history is just so rich and jam packed with notable figures and events.  Just don’t be like me and not realize that they use British pounds instead of Euros.  Doh.

Tartan up!

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know before you go: London Gatwick (LGW)

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London Gatwick may be my favorite airport in London (only because Heathrow is the LAX of London.  Sure, no American carriers are there, but it’s quaint and manageable. Even though it’s a smaller scale, it still has tons of amenities.  A sizeable Harrod’s!  A lot of seating! A Nandos, which is HUGE!

It’s located about 30 miles south of central London, but the Gatwick express will get you there from Victoria station in a jiffy (for about £20).

There are two terminals, North and South that are connected pre-security by a people mover.  There’s 115 gates split amongst both terminals.  North serves EasyJet, Air Canada, Emirates, Virgin, West Jet and Icelandair.  South serves British Airways, and everyone else (Norwegian, Cathay Pacific, Aer Lingus, etc).

Remember: ✈️ = london fog to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = london calling

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (Gatwick express is speedy, but spendy. i got to the train early and still didn’t have a seat either)

Security: ✈️ (if you print your boarding pass there, be forewarned, it probably won’t work too well in the self-check first security gate)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (5 planes for Nandos.  I love Nandos, and the fact that they serve their take away in containers making it easy to eat on the go is SO convenient –sorry seat mates on plane, I’m eating my pitta. There’s also Starbucks, Jamie Oliver Italian, wagamama, and wetherspoon)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (for some reason, never encountered a line)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, fair amount of charging)

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️✈️ (a bunch of lounges, British Airways and Virgin especially; Harrod’s, multi-faith prayer rooms, on site hotels and conference centers)

3 days in Reykjavik

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As we all swelter in the blazing sun today, all I can do is dream of the perpetually cool, crisp air in Reykjavik.  While I dream of my next trip to somewhere more brisk, here’s a little #tbt to cooler weather in Iceland.

Iceland is super trendy.  In the past decade, there’s been a >300% increase in the amount of visitors to Iceland — it’s almost to the point where you barely see any locals.  Because I have the worst FOMO ever, I needed to go here before tourists overrun everything and American chains start moving in.  Everyone in my family had already gone (which is not a reason to travel, but again, FOMO), so off I headed to Reykjavik for an Icelandic adventure.

all is full of love…

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weekender in LA: good as gold

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If you’ve ever read food writing in or about any city other than Los Angeles, then you’ve probably never truly experienced how transcendent and indispensable the Counter Intelligence column was to food and culture…and to life in Los Angeles.  Its author was a king in the food world, imparting a Midas touch on any eatery he liked, no exaggeration, as his name was appropriately, Jonathan Gold.

(That was my piss poor attempt to write second person as he did so well).

As a lifelong Southern Californian, hearing about Mr. Gold’s sudden passing was heartbreaking.  You can’t really know how pervasive and revered his opinion was unless you lived and breathed and ate what he ate.  He ate, and ate…real food.

He believed that it was the stick to your soul, sizzling off the wok, fatty soup belly that creates the indelible memories and experiences of a grand food life lived.  And of course, he was right!  Jonathan Gold was the one who would gently steer you in this direction, showing you the light, making things that seemed inaccessible or scary become familiar and expected.

Mr. Gold brought to the masses what all children of immigrants in SoCal have known for years…that the best meals happen in somewhat shabby strip malls, in the sticky dining rooms of mom and pop shops — often times with no white linen table cloths in sight.  Although he wasn’t that discerning, there was a time and place for those experiences, too.  He taught us that all types of cuisine, and on a larger scale, all types of people could and should be celebrated.

He was a champion of the unadorned, the unpretentious, whilst peppering his reviews with esoteric references that elevated the intelligence of his reader.  Only a true master of his craft could achieve such a feat.  And he was recognized for it, having been the only food critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize for food writing.

He was a legend in a city of stars.  Undoubtedly, one of its most influential characters; after all, it was often his opinion that brought everyone to the table.

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know before you go: SFO airport

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I left more than my heart in San Francisco (SFO).  Mainly, my patience.

Honestly, SFO is never my airport of choice to fly into or out of, and there’s one reason for that.  The morning fog that chills the air…turns out I DO care, Tony Bennett.  I care because I’ve never had a morning flight that was not delayed due to nature’s wet blanket.

But, it’s one of the busiest airports in America as it is a gateway to the East and Europe, so sometimes its inevitable. It’s about 13 miles from Downtown SF, which is basically a year away, approximated for traffic.  The exterior reminds me of NY JFK, and the interior is also reminiscent.  That’s not a compliment for either airport.

There are 4 terminals and 7 concourses with about 85-90 functioning gates.  Terminal 1  (Delta, Frontier, Southwest); Terminal 2 is Virgin and American, Terminal 3 is United, and then there’s international (for some reason Hawaiian and JetBlue are grouped in here) which is another ballgame.

The thing I do appreciate, however, is the dining and shopping options.  There’s a real focus on local brands amongst the national chain restaurants, and lots to see in the duty free shopping portals (2 Gucci stores!  Most cities don’t have one Gucci store!).  There’s a Three Twins Ice Cream, which almost makes up for the delays… almost.  Of course, as a huge international hub, there are 17 airline lounges.

It’s not the worst and it’s not the best place to have a layover, depending on the area.

Remember: ✈️ = basically alcatraz to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = bae area

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️ (it’s the largest airport in CA, larger than LAX which is HUGE)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (there’s a lot of people which slows things)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (so many local options: Gott’s, Dogpatch, Gordon Biersch–from Palo Alto, Boudin, 24th & Mission–but, at local prices)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (as with any major airport, could be cleaner)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi but it is shotty at best)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (yoga rooms, kids areas, museums, airline lounges, Xpresspas, a Ghiradelli store, luxury shopping–which is very good in International, did I mention there’s 2 Gucci stores?)

day trippin’ dubrovnik: world cup edition

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GOOOOAAALLLL! It’s going to be Croatia vs France in the World Cup Finals on Sunday, so what better way to prepare for what is going to undoubtedly be a nailbiter, then to highlight the two nations?  I’ve already written extensively about the best of Paris, France, but congratulations to Croatia for making it to their first ever FIFA final!  You kinda have to root for the underdog, right?  I’m just happy I get to write about one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

I visited Dubrovnik a really long time ago.  Like, we’re talking, I barely had my driver’s license/independence, and they barely had theirs.  It’s obviously changed quite a bit.  Back then, being in Dubrovnik was so memorable because it was a relatively unbothered by tourism (except cruise ships, which is how I came to visit).  Croatia had only declared independence from the former Yugoslavia republic in 1991, gaining that right in 1995 after winning their war.  I visited 5 years later, so the nation was a baby.

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mt srd then…scroll down for mt srd now

But babies grow up…and turn into popular teenagers.

Like really popular…instagram-influencer-status teenagers.  Seems like it is the hot destination of the moment, and I’m glad it’s getting its day in the limelight.  There’s a bustling tourism trade, especially due to its location as a jewel on the Adriatic Sea.  The coastline is one of the most gorgeous you will see, with its orange rooftops and imposing fortresses.  I guess some really popular TV show filmed there too — thrones something or other (wink wink), and that draws a lot of people, too.

As it has been some years, I’ve enlisted the help of my pal (and fellow traveling doc) BD, who has graciously let me use some of his photos and given me some updated tips.

it’s a nice day for a red wedding…

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know before you go: Bali (DPS)

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Bali is an otherworldly oasis, tucked away in the pacific island nation of Indonesia.  It’s paradise found for many who flock there for romantic getaways and family vacations.  To get there can be tricky, but there is an airport that serves this area: Ngurah Rai airport (DPS).  Named after a Balinese hero who fought the Dutch, this airport is about 12 km from Denpasar (the capital of Bali) and about 2.5 km from Kuta, a main resort area.

It is Indonesia’s third busiest airport, although a share of passengers has been shifted away to Lombok Airport.  There are two terminals (split into Domestic and International) with about 25 gates serving mostly Asian and Australian carriers and destinations. Domestic mostly serves Garuda, Batik, Indonesia, Citilink NAM, and Siriwaja.  International carriers include Cathay, China, China Eastern and Southern, Emirates, Qatar, KLM, Korean, Qantas, Thai and Virgin Australia.

Remember: ✈️ = bally total fitness to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = bally’s las vegas

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ = not too far, but as in any Asian country, beware of swindlers and pickpockets.  Taxis are notorious for overcharging and cheating tourists, so get a shuttle to your hotel if possible or take the bus transport.

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ : some western options (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza hut, Haagen Daz, Hard Rock Cafe), but take this opportunity to explore some interesting Asian eateries with the best names: The Duck King, Beard Papa, Coffee Club.  The traditional Indonesian fare looks amazing: Kantin Modern, Singgalang Jaya, Bakso Lapangan Tembak Senayan.

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ : tidy, could have more

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ : free wifi, but not a ton of charging areas

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️: balinese architecture is beautiful, these decent dining options, Garuda Executive lounge, spa, the shopping could be better and more luxurious

 

 

know before you go: Palm Springs (PSP)

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Palm Springs, formerly the hotbed of older celebrities: Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby.  Now still pretty well used by the jetset for quick getaways (and Coachella).  Located about 2 hours from LA, this small regional airport gets its mileage from the tons of events that happen year round…and its proximity to some top desert resorts.

There are only 20 gates, and two runway, but there is a lot of sun in its open floorplan.  There is a main terminal, but the gates are split into Sonny Bono and an unnamed concourse.  Sonny Bono was the former mayor of the city, and congressman…also he was a half of Sonny & Cher, duh. American, Allegiant, Alaska, Delta, United and Westjet all fly regular flights out of this airport. Air Canada, Frontier, JetBlue and Sun Country fly seasonal flights in the winter.  Who knew Canadians came down here so often?

Remember: ✈️ = the beat goes on to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = i got you babe

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ = 2 miles away from downtown Palm Springs, and security is a breeze

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (they know their audience: 2 starbucks, golf themed restaurant and a winery; Celebrity Bistro has a beautiful, prime location in the center of the courtyard)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (clean, not very notable)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi available, not as much charging, but it’s a small airport)

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️ (PGA store, some sundries shops, mainly you’re here for the peaceful outdoor courtyard)