I know this is a tech blog, and I’m a computer nerd who spends most of my waking hours behind a screen, but every once in a while, it’s healthy to give your eyes and brain a rest and breath some fresh air. One of my passions is traveling, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled extensively for both work and leisure across the globe.
If you are like me and spend many hours each week slaving away at the mercy of your technology, the grind will eventually wear you down. To prevent burnout, it is highly recommended that you disconnect from your screens every once in a while, and go out and recharge your own, internal batteries. So, here is a list of recommendations of my favorite places to disconnect from the daily grind and tech overload in order to reboot the juice’s in my mind, body and soul.
[Note: This is not scientific or by any means comprehensive because there’s large swaths of the globe to which I’ve never been, like Africa or East Asia.]
Miami is a cosmopolitan, multicultural and sensual overload of sand, sun and sexiness. It’s the best of Latin American and Southern European culture in the good ole US of A. I’m normally in Miami several times a year mostly because my entire family (parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.) live in South Florida, but it never gets old, nor does it stop me from living it up. The Art Deco and MiMO districts of South Beach are not to be missed, nor is the superb nightlife. Theirs miles of sandy gorgeous beaches to work up a tan, and the people watching is next to none. Furthermore, it’s a feast of different languages, cultures, cuisines and arts fused into an environment that is utterly unique. Miami is the most energetic and international city you could find in North America
Prague is the (no longer hidden) gem of Central Europe. Capital of the Czech Republic, it’s a fairy-tale wonderland full of maze-like medieval alleys, medieval and early modern baroque architecture, and cozy taverns serving those famed Czech beers. Being one of the only European capitals that came out of both World Wars relatively unscathed physically, every inch of the city packs an authentic punch loaded full of history. There’s the medieval Astronomical Clock, the world’s largest (and one of it’s oldest) castles, the blockbuster famed Charles Bridge connecting the Castle to the lower town, and the preserved Jewish quarter (famed home of the legendary Golum), Prague is a clean, vibrant, and historical destination with a surprisingly advanced and modern infrastructure. Simply put, Prague is one of the best towns in Europe for a traveler to explore.
Being in tech, I travel to the San Francisco Bay Area a lot for work, and every time I arrive, I’m immensely surprised by it’s sheer beauty. Despite it’s seven hills, San Francisco is one of the most walkable cities in car-crazy North America. The quantity and quality of the cultural options are next to none, and the public transit is quite efficient and extensive. Being a three century old colonial town, there’s a lot of history packed into its tiny area, more so than you’d expect from a western US city. While it might be too expensive for most people on a normal (or even high) income to live there, it’s an excellent tourist destination, With it’s Victorian architecture, combined with such reknown and internationally recognized landmarks as Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill, Coit Tower, the Mission District, Alcatraz Island, Ghirardelli Square and the Ferry Terminal Market, and it’s location on a peninsula bound on one side by mountains, and the other three sides by the bay and the Pacific, there is not a location within the city that doesn’t look like a postcard. It also possesses the Americas’ largest Chinatown, reminding visitors of the city’s east-meets-west cultural and demographic fusion. If you end up feeling claustrophobic by the dense compactness of the city, all you need to do is traverse the Golden Gate Bridge across the channel north towards the vineyards of Napa.
Saint Thomas is both a beach lover and history lover’s paradise. Along with Saint John and Saint Croix, Saint Thomas is one of the three main islands that forms the United States Virgin Islands. Bound to the east by the Spanish Virgin Islands (politically a part of Puerto Rico), and to the west by the British Virgin Islands, each of the three major islands has a population of slightly over 50,000 people. With miles of beautiful beaches, a sheltered harbor, beautiful jungle-covered mountains and the tropical climate typical of the Caribbean, Saint Thomas is an idyllic vacation getaway. Being a part of the United States, there’s easy domestic airliner access from the mainland with no need to go through customs. If you get tired of laying on a beach, snorkeling in the reefs, and hiking the mountain trails all day, the capital city, Charlotte Amelie, has many historic offerings, including the colonial old town, the old fort, Black Beard’s Castle, many historic plantation homes, the USVI Rum Distillery, a pirate museum, and the largest Amber Wall in the Americas. Caution to the American driver though, one of the vestiges of the USVI’s Danish colonial legacy is the reality that it’s the only part of the United States where cars drive on the left side of the road.
More than just a Messi-led soccer team, Barcelona is the pearl of the western Mediterranean. The Catalan capital might be politically restive as the regional government debates it’s future within Spain, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out the beautiful beachside metropolis. Famed for the lighthearted dancing ginger-breadesque works by the architect Antoni Gaudi, who has influenced the look of his city like no other architect before or since, edifices such as Parque Guell, Casa Mills and the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia contribute to a defining visual style uniquely Barcelona’s own. Barcelona is an art-lover’s paradise; you could get lost for weeks in it’s many esteemed museums. There’s the Salvador Dali museum, the Museo Picasso and the Museum of Contemporary Art, just to name a few. Just like every other European city, Barcelona has a long history to fall back on. Take a walk in the famed medieval Gothic Quarter, and enjoy it’s night life by sampling the tapas and listening to the flamenco as generations of Catalan poets, artists and authors have before. If the hustle and bustle of the city gets overwhelming, the beachfront is one of the best in Europe to relax upon.
Regardless of your politics, there’s no denying that Jerusalem is one of the oldest, holiest and most intriguing cities in the world. With a history dating back at least 5,000 years (if not more), Jerusalem is one of the most important destinations for the history lover. With an old city skyline dotted with mosque minarets, church steeples, and synagogue domes, Jerusalem lies at the intersection of the three largest Abrahamic faiths. When you factor in the nature of recent waves of immigrations (and expulsions) of Palestinians from across the Levant and Jews from around the world, you get a soup of cultural, religious, and racial plurality and diversity that makes Jerusalem a surprisingly cosmopolitan and modern city for it’s age and contestation. While the media portrays Israel and the West Bank as the Wild West of old, they are actually quite safe for travelers. With sites popularized by the Bible, Torah and Quran, such as the Western Wall, David’s Citadel, the Dome of the Rock, Holy Sepulchre, Old City souq, Damascus Gate, Via Delarosa, Mary’s Tomb and the Mount of Olives, along with newer attractions such as the Israel Museum, Yad Veshem, Mount Herzl, Biblical Zoo, Museum of the Bible Land, and the Rockefeller museum, Jerusalem is the ultimate destination for the historian since the tumultuous religious and military history of region (and further afield) have heavily influenced the modern city. However, despite it’s antiquity, Jerusalem does not lack for the amenities of a modern capital city. The one thing that struck me most about Jerusalem is that, even with it’s antiquity and issues with the regional neighborhood, it feels exactly like any standard European capital.
The Caribbean island of Saint Martin/Sint Marteen is divided between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the French Republic. However, since both those nations are part of the European Union, there is no physical barrier or enforced boundary between the two polities. Like many Caribbean islands, what draws tourists to Saint Martin/Sint Marteen is the beaches, and the island has arguably the best beaches in the region (some of which are swimsuit optional). Furthermore, being an intimate yet culturally divided island, there’s a cosmopolitan sophistication that’s unique to the Caribbean. With European cultural influences, great shopping, and eco-tourism attractions setting a standard across the Caribbean, there’s also two colonial old towns (one on the Dutch side and one on the French), as well as several colonial forts to explore. However, the one must on this island is Maho Beach. Situated just outside the perimeter fence to the Princess Julianna International Airport runway, landing jetliners please and entertain beach goers at Maho Beach as their landing approach flies them overhead just barely out of reach of those on the beach.
Last year I spent a week in Greece (the Christian Holy Week as it so happens), with 3 days each in Athens and Santorini (and one in Epidavros, but that’s unrelated). If I could do it again, I would only spend one or two days in Athens and the remainder in Santorini. Everything I wanted to do in Athens I did in a day. There is so much I wanted to do in Santorini that I didn’t have time for all of it. A volcanic explosion 3000 years ago wiped out the local Minoan inhabitants, devestating their empire in the process. However, the same explosion gabr Santorini it’s iconic croissant shape, cliff-walled coldera, and sheltered blue bay that makes it so famous. With the port town of Thira at center of the island and Oia at the tip of the northern arm, the white-walled/blue roof Cycladic architecture is the instantly recognizable image of the Greek islands. There’s an amazing hiking trail that follows the coldera for 10 kilometers starting in Thira and working north through scenic villages, orthodox monostaries, and successive low lying mountains before descending into Oia that is single most stunning hike I have ever encountered (and I live in the Rockies!). For those willing to venture off the beaten path (i.e. to the less touristy southern end of the island), there’s the black beach of Kamari, which lies just north of Mt. Mesa Vuano (the highest peak on the Island). For the outdoors enthusiast, there’s a trail that goes up the mountain from Kamari, at the peak is the archeological ruins of the Ancient Greek city state of Thera, as well as a spectacular view of dozens of miles on a clear day (including the island of Anafi on the eastern horizon). Descending the other side of the mountain takes you into the laid-back beach town of Parissa. Also check out the hidden gem that is the Venetian Castle in Akrotiri (a residential town, hidden away from the throng of tourists). The castle is home to a Greek Bagpipe museum and has a tower that is one of the best spots to watch the famed sunsets. For those who don’t like hiking, there’s a reliable and very affordable public bus system that operates to and from all corners of the island from the central hub in Thira.
A ninety minute drive northeast of Mexico City, the capital of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, Pachuca de Soto, is an off-the-beaten-path destination. Pachuca is a lively university town with friendly locals, a festive atmosphere and a unique, Cornish influenced culture. If a couple of my favorite childhood friends hadn’t settled here, I never would have discovered the charm that is Pachuca. The serene central plaza hosts the city’s primary landmark: a century old monumental clock tower. The surrounding old town is full of lively shops, cafes, arcades and bistros. Built upon a legacy of mining, the city honor’s it’s roots through the Museo de Minero mining museum. The Cornish miners who the mine owners imported in the 19th century brought with them a passion for soccer, founding the first soccer club in the Americas (today’s Liga MX club C.F. Pachuca). This soccer legacy can be explored at the city’s Soccer Museum and Hall of Fame. The Cornish miners also influenced the local cuisine, giving rise to the signature dish of Pachuca and Hidalgo, the savory, meat-filled Paste pastries. In the nearby mountains is the scenic former mining village and present artist colony of Mineral de Monte. With cobblestone streets, postercard pastel villas, charming plazas and vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys, it’s worth the day trip. With a major university accounting for a chunk of its economic activity, the standard fare of affordable bars, restaurants, shops, entertainment venues and clubs indicative of a student town are plentiful in Pachuca, allowing for a fun night life. Indeed, Pachuca de Soto is the ideal destination for those wanting to get off the beaten path and avoid throngs of tourists, while still visiting a quality cultural destination.
My grandmother’s home town, Strasbourg was the capital of the historic region and former French state of Alsace, and has been the capital of the French state of Grand Est since the territorial reforms of 2016. Lying on the Rhine river opposite of the German city of Offenburg, Strasbourg is a strategic border city that has been long fought over by France and Germany, changing hands no less than 8 times in the past 200 years. The unique position Strasbourg holds as a major city on the boundary between Germany and France means it has a unique culture borrowing features from both cultures, including the local Alsatian language which borrows features from both French and German. With a large and inviting old town, the original medieval core of the city is located on an island formed by the confluence of the Ill and Rhine Rivers. The old town is guarded by medieval towers, walls and drawbridges, which protect access to its picturesque white and brown timber-framed homes and businesses. In the center of the old town is the esteemed Strasbourg Cathedral, which includes a medieval astronomical clock, and a steeple which held the record for the tallest building in the world from its construction in the 15th century until it was surpassed by St Nicholas Church in Hamburg some 400 years later in 1874. The roof of the steeple is a popular viewing deck that gives a commanding panorama of the surrounding French and German countryside. Come holiday season, Strasbourg’s Christmasmarket is one of the best in Europe, while during the rest of the year, the large university and student population affords the opportunity for many concerts and cultural events. While it’s position between Germany and France created a violent and tumultuous history for Strasbourg, it did also make Strasbourg the logical choice to host the European Parliament, meaning Strasbourg is the legislative capital of the European Union (while Brussels is the executive capital and Luxembourg is the judicial capital). Befitting of a capital of a large supranational superpower, Strasbourg has a modern infrastructure, with a well connected and architecturally significant train station, a streetcar system, and a light rail system in the otherwise mostly pedestrian only center of the old town. There is also a developed water taxi system in the canals and river ways connecting the newer parts of the city. Strasbourg is a unique and gorgeous corner of France that will enchant your imagination.
Working with computers and technology can be a rewarding and thrilling career, but if you don’t get out and smell the roses every once and a while, you are setting yourself up to burnout. If there’s any travel spots you love to go to when you want to get away from it all and recharge, please share in comments below!