5 great day-trip towns near major cities

6 Apr

However touristy, certain tourist towns in the world just get things right. They have great attractions, a distinct feel and history, and are just enjoyable places to stroll around or visit. It’s even better when these sorts of towns are located near major tourist cities. WIthout further ado, here’s five great day-trip towns near major tourist cities.

Salem, Massachusetts, United States

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Let’s start with somewhere close to my home. Salem is a short ferry ride or commuter rail journey from Boston. Salem’s a charming kind of place that makes you glad you visited New England. It has a rich history, distinct from that of its nearby major city, Boston. The most well known event in its history was the Salem Witch Trials, in which 20 people (mostly women) were executed after false accusations of witchcraft. Because of this, many tourist attractions and souvenir shops here have a tacky but appropriate witchcraft theme.

Nikko, Japan

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Tokyo’s great but it can get overwhelming with all its crowded department stores, confusing tangles of subway lines, and busy streets. When you need to get away from it all and visit serene temples up in the mountains, it’s hard to beat Nikko. Nikko is a mountain town with some incredible temples. It’s known for one of my favorite ever regional food specialities, Yuba Noodle Soup. Yuba is basically sheets of the outer skin of tofu, rolled up into balls and served in a delicious soup. To get to Nikko from Tokyo, there are two options: 1, take the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya and change for a regional train to Nikko JR station or 2, take the privately-run Nikko Tobu train from Asakusa in Tokyo.

 

Yokohama, Japan

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Like Nikko, Yokohama’s a great getaway for a day from Tokyo, though you probably won’t spend up spending as much time here. It’s got a great port museum and a ship which you can explore, as well as a fantastic Chinatown, one of the Tokyo area’s few non-Japanese neighborhoods. The city developed as a major port city after the era of isolationist Japan, and was one of the first places in Japan to open to Western influences. To get to Yokohama, there are several combinations of regional train routes from Tokyo.

Sterling, Scotland

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Sterling is 50 minutes by train from Edinburgh, and well worth the journey, many would say. It has a beautiful old town as well as Scotland’s best castle, though the place is also a contemporary university city. Stirling has a rich history and was granted city status in 2002.

The Hague, the Netherlands

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Only 50 minutes by train from Amsterdam, the Hague is one of those great Dutch cities that’s near the capital, yet has managed to maintain its own personality. It’s well known for the international court of justice where many war criminals are tried today. The city itself has that classic Dutch feel, complete with canals and some great museums; but is far less heavily touristed than Amsterdam.

 

 

Cross a continent in 45 minutes

17 Mar

These days, it seems like every day there’s some new tech startup being reported on. Some are for innovative types of gadgets, others are for video games, and others are for smartphone apps. Every so often, however, I read about some sort of technological enterprise that I believe could change the world with effects far greater than those of another Instagram or some sort of smartwatch-type gadget.

What I’m talking about here is a transportation revolution that’s perfectly doable. I’m talking about something that would change the way humanity lives, works, and travels with an influence like nothing ever before. I’m talking of course, about ET3. ET3 is a newly designed mode of transportation.

The concept of ET3 is not to be confused with that of Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s idea, to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco with a 600-mph tube system, from August 2013, was one that many journalists got mixed up with ET3. Though Hyperloop has a similar “tube” concept to ET3, the similarities pretty much end there. ET3 is a far superior idea for a system, because it is more flexible in how it could be implemented, allows faster travel times, is cheaper to build, and would be easier to use for the traveler.

So what is ET3, exactly? Here’s how it works: car-sized capsules would travel using a maglev levitation system in vacuum tubes, with the air taken out of them by airlocks placed along the tube route. Using this method, the capsules could be used at speeds of 250 mph for in-state trips, 600 mph for longer domestic trips, and 4000 mph for transcontinental or long international trips. The tubes could be routed like highways, so the tubes could easily switch to another route. Stations, also called access portals would be placed at the cities along the tube. There’s many safety concerns someone could bring up, such as earthquakes or terrorism, but ET3 has emergency solutions built into the system. Read the FAQ at http://et3.com/faq for more information on the mechanics of the system.

Currently, ET3 is trying to raise money to get a test system built, to demonstrate the technology and show that it is safe. But once it catches on, ET3′s system could be built across the world, allowing travel times of two hours from New York to Beijing, for a far cheaper cost (as well as far less of an environmental impact) than air travel. I look forward to the day when an international visitor to America can visit New York and Los Angeles on the same weekend, or when people across the world can order Chinese take-out from China. But don’t just take my word for it. Look online. Support ET3 at http://et3.com/ and http://et3.net/.

Why it’s okay to learn a “useless” foreign language in high school

16 Mar

My educational background, when it comes to learning foreign languages is not quite as rich as it should be. I’m a high school student whose only just started learning a foreign language in high school. Previously, I had learned Spanish in Middle School and Elementary School. Today, I am learning Japanese as my foreign language.

My decision to learn Japanese was a decision I made spontaneously. I was talking to the foreign language counselor at my school about the different languages that were available to learn. Spanish was one of them, and the one I’d been studying on my own on-and-off for a long time. Another was French, for which I had little interest in the culture or language (I love France but there’s other cultures I find more interesting), then there was mandarin Chinese, and finally, Japanese. I had my heart set on Mandarin Chinese. And then, right before the counselor wrote me down for the Chinese class, I changed my mind. I wanted to study Japanese.

I knew I’d always had a high appreciation for the Japanese culture, ever since I ate sushi for the first time. This interest grew when I first attempted to fold origami cranes, and later, when I started watching anime. Many family and friends I knew whom I’d asked about this “which language should I learn?” question had advised me against choosing Japanese. They said I’d never be able to practice it, and that it’s useless since it’s only spoken in one country. And just as I made that decision in that counselor’s room, I realized something: I didn’t care what others thought. I cared far more about my interest in a language than how useful it is. And because of that, I realized, I’d be far more motivated to earn good grades in a Japanese class than a Spanish class.

Obviously, it’s great to learn a more useful language such as Spanish. But when I’d learned it in the past, in middle school and elementary school, it just didn’t captivate me the way Japanese does today. I viewed the Spanish class as a chore rather than something to look forward to. I had a far more difficult time learning the grammar rules in Spanish back then, than I do in Japanese today, even though Spanish is a less complex language to learn and a younger child’s brain is better at learning languages.

So if you find yourself choosing between learning a “useful” language that’s not as interesting to you, or a “useless” language where the culture is a lot more interesting to you, here’s my advice: go with the “useless” one. There may be less opportunities to practice it in home soil, but sooner or later, if you can raise the money and aren’t afraid to get on a plane, you’ll probably have an opportunity, at some point in your life, to practice it. Being interested in a language makes it far more fun to learn, and your grades will probably reflect that. And if you really need to know a bit of Spanish too, you can always learn the basics in it along the way.

The 25 great nations of Earth

5 Mar

There are about 196 nations in the world. Some are nations of old-world, great civilizations that have existed for thousands of years, such as China. Others are immigrant nations of the New World, such as the United States. Others are patchworks of fascinating indigenous ethnic groups, such as Tanzania. And others are nations of an ethnic group that, like many of those in Eastern Europe, for a long time, never had their own nation until some point in the last few centuries. 

I originally wanted to make a list of seven nation wonders of the world. These would be seven major countries that would each be part of a different world region, that were highlights from a travel perspective. These countries would be known to have particularly rich cultures, or a immense role in history, and they’d all be lots of fun to travel in. But I could never quite choose what seven nations to choose. So the list ended up expanding to 25. If an alien was visiting 25 countries on Earth to get to know its history, I’d recommend they’d visit these 25 countries for the following reasons.

The USA: For its fascinating “melting pot” of immigrant ethnicities and iconic national parks.

Panama: For its fascinating biodiversity.

Peru: For its beautiful scenery and ruins of the Inca civilization.

Brazil: For its fascinating melting pot of indigenous and immigrant cultures, as well as the mind-boggling biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest.

Australia: For its beautiful weather, wildlife and scenery.

United Kingdom: For its incredibly influential role in global history.

Germany: For its blend of old-world charm and 21st century modernity.

Spain: For its unique culture, unique landscape, and great food. 

Italy: For its rich sightseeing opportunities.

France: For its diversity, and its capital which ranks among the world’s greatest cities.

Russia: For its vast size and incredible natural beauty.

Turkey: For its fascinating history and lively capital whose culture is a mix of east and west.

China: For its natural diversity, great cuisine, and its history as one of the greatest and most unique civilizations on Earth.

Japan: For its fascinating ancient traditions that today coexist with the technology and living standards of the 21st century. The food is incredible too.

India: For its incredible diversity, food, history, and size.

Thailand: For its friendly locals, great activities for tourists, and great food.

Indonesia: For its incredible diversity and natural beauty, spread out across many islands.

South Africa: For its interesting patchwork of cultures and beautiful scenery.

Tanzania: For its highest peak, also the highest in Africa (Kilimanjaro), and its fascinating indigenous cultures.

Morocco: For its rich culture, food, scenery, and history.

Ethiopia: For its fascinating historic sites, great cuisine, and rich culture.

Iceland: For its incredibly unique ever-changing landscape.

Poland: For its old-world charm and unique position between East and West.

The Netherlands: For its gorgeous towns and canals.

Nepal: For its immense peaks.

Also, I am aware that there are more reasons to visit these countries than the reasons above, and I do not want to generalize. These countries, I believe, are great to visit, however, and in large part, the reasons listed above help them stand out.

 

Which world region interests you the most?

1 Mar

US culture for foreign tourists: about American cities

24 Feb

As I’m back home in the US after a great trip to Budapest, Hungary, I thought I’d do a post about the pros and cons of US cities, and how they differ from cities in other parts of the world (in good and bad ways). So, without further delay, here are some fundamental qualities of US cities that every foreign tourist should know before they visit a US city for the first time. I will do this for other world regions’ cities too.

1. US cities are diverse but segregated

While many of America’s more left-leaning citizens boast that their country’s cities are “melting pots” of many cultures from around the world, the reality is a bit more complex than that. US cities are diverse indeed, and every city has its own unique demographic pie. In many ways, however, the average US city is more of a lumpy stew than a melting pot. The cities are heavily divided among racial, class, and ethnic lines, and people from neighborhoods of very different races and cultures don’t interact so much. This is especially true in the suburban areas. Even the bigger, denser cities, like New York, have a lot of divisions between neighborhoods. It’s just harder to notice these divisions on a crowded subway train full of many types of people, or in a tourist area like Times Square.

2. Most US Cities are car-dependent, although some are improving their public transit options

There are many US cities where if you’re poor, you ride the bus, and if you’re not, you drive. End of story. It’s a very snobby thing rooted in classism. Cities with subways or trams rather than just buses tend to have less of this snobbery, because trains generally attract a more diverse set of riders. The car dependence of many us cities is a result of the mass migration of wealthy (usually white) families out to suburbs that took place in the 1950′s. In these suburbs, there simply wasn’t enough density for people to see much need to keep public transportation a few decades later. Today more American cities, like Denver and Los Angeles, are reviving their tram systems and metro systems, although there is still a long way to go.

3. American cities are modern in some ways, and old-fashioned in others

The cities of America generally have more modern buildings in their centers than those of Europe, but do all these cities have the modern liberal attitudes and public infrastructure that characterizes those quaint European cities? Unfortunately not. Many US cities are sadly deeply divided, and the culture here is generally more conservative and religious than that of western Europe. Even San Francisco, Boston and New York aren’t as left-wing as western Europe. There is more crime, and more paranoia as a result of that crime. There is less of a welfare system. There isn’t as much tolerance, and people live more insular lives.

4. It’s not all ugly, make sure to still visit US cities!

Not everything about US cities is bad. US cities generally have a lot of interesting diversity, a good amount of international cuisine, a somewhat prosperous feel in the nicer areas, and some very interesting attractions. The museums in New York are great, as are the ones in San Francisco and Chicago. The best cities to visit are Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans, Savannah, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

5. Crime is less of a concern now than in the 1980′s

While it’s true that places like Detroit, and certain parts of many other cities are definitely places to stay away from, crime in US cities has gone down for the most part, and it’s good news for travelers. From my experience, I’ve felt pretty safe in most major US cities, and crime rates have gone way down in places like New York. The peak of crime was the 1980′s. Thankfully we are now living in a less violent time in America.

A farewell to Central Europe. For now.

22 Feb

Today I depart Budapest and go back to normal life at home. While every traveler must do this at some point, this particular “goodbye”, for me, is a particularly thought-provoking one. What I mean by that is that I’ve got plenty more to see before I’m likely to set foot in this part of Europe again. It will be a while before I return to Central Europe, and not because it is a bad place to travel, but because there’s so many more regions I want to see. As such, I took sometime to reflect on my travels in this region.

Over the summer, I traveled far and wide across the Eastern part of Central Europe, through the Baltic States down to Prague, then over into Austria. The first thing that I remember as being particularly striking about this region is the architecture. The old-town architecture in this region is, without a doubt, my favorite style in Europe. The second thing that truly struck me was just how untouched and beautiful the rural areas are. Unlike in say, Britain, the rural parts of this region are not cut-across by loads of highways and quilts of suburban patchwork. They really do feel like rural areas.

If there’s any piece of advice I’d give to a traveler visiting this region, here’s what it would be: more than in most parts of the world I’ve visited, I’d tell the average traveler planning a trip here to keep an open mind. It is generally not “exotic” enough to be strikingly enticing to adventurous travelers the way, say East Asia is. On the other hand, it is far too exotic for many American tourists whose only dream destinations would be Paris and Disneyworld. This region is not the off-the-beaten-track adventure it once was, nor is it as touristy as Paris. Rather, it is something in between.

 

 

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