Oversharing Travel & Food

Traveling Violation

Welcome to Mea Culpa Airlines. I’m your pilot, Dave.

I’ve always prided myself on being non-directive when giving travel advice. When someone tells me they’re heading somewhere I’ve been, I never tell them they must do something or go somewhere.

Going to New York? You gotta go to Margaritaville in Times Square!

Instead, I’ll ask if they would like some recommendations. If they say yes, I’ll discuss things the Complimentary Spouse and I have enjoyed and suggest things they might want to do. And I’ll provide an explanation.

  • Going to London? Britt and I really enjoy walking around Shoreditch to see the incredible street art. We find something new every time we’re there. And then we pop over to Brick Lane Beigel Bake for the world’s best salt beef (aka corned beef) sandwiches.
  • Going to Berlin? You might want to check out the Ritter Sport store on Französische Straße since you love chocolate. You can get varieties they don’t see in the U.S. — and even make your own!
  • Going to Barcelona? I think you’d enjoy going to Josep Tarradellas Barcelona – El Prat Airport. That’s where you catch a flight to Madrid, a superior city in every way that matters.

Isn’t that a great approach to giving travel advice? It’s not about me. I’m not ordering people around. I’m sharing information others can consider as they think about what will make their trip meaningful and memorable.

Hold your applause. It turns out that, with some types of travel advice, I’m not nearly as helpful as I thought.

Me too, Bender. Me too.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Now Beginning Our Descent Into Jerkdom

“Wait a second, Dave,” I hear you saying. “Is this one of those way-too-long blog posts in which you drill down into one little flaw and blow everything out of proportion?”

Yes. Fasten your seatbelts. We’re about to hit some turbulence.

A few days ago, as I was trading text messages with someone heading to Europe, I realized how bossy, judgmental, and dismissive I can get about one part of the travel experience: the travel itself.

Sure, I’ll give you thoughtful suggestions and considerate advice for things to do, see, and eat when you actually reach your destination. But sometimes, I’m a fucking asshole aggressively helpful when I talk about how to prepare for your trip, get to your destination, and behave when you’re there.

Here are some examples of things I caught myself saying:

  • I’d never do that.
  • No. one does that.
  • Are you kidding?
  • You can’t wear that in Europe.
  • It’s foolish to bring that much cash with you.
  • It’s even more foolish to exchange the money at a U.S. bank.
  • That’s way too much money to spend on a guided tour.
  • That’s a waste of time.

The other person didn’t call me out explicitly on this bullshit, but he dropped enough hints in his replies for me to realize what I was doing.

Marge Simpson says "I'm not sure your advice was all that helpful."
Yeah, Marge gets it.

Federal Law Prohibits Tampering With, Disabling, or Destroying BS Detectors

According to the Twelve Steps in most recovery programs, I’m supposed to make a list of everyone I’ve wronged by my behavior and make amends. Fortunately, I have a blog, so I’m going to apologize to everyone at once — otherwise, I’d probably have to reach out to anyone I know who has ever been on an airplane. Whew. What a timesaver.

I’m sorry, everyone. I pledge to dial down the intensity and snobbiness for this type of travel advice in the future.

(This is the part when you say, “Oh, Dave, you’re blowing this out of proportion! Even when your advice is couched the wrong way, we know that your goal is to help ensure we love travel as much as you do! How could we not forgive you when you mean well and you’re so handsome?”)

Wow, that was a very nice and unprompted response, everyone. Thank you for being so magnanimous.

I apologized to the person I had berated about his travel plans and said he should do what would make him feel comfortable, prepared, and happy, even if it’s not what I would do.

He said thanks and then added that I was judging myself way too harshly. (I can trust that he’s telling the truth about that last part. He’s an honorable guy and the most judgmental person I know. He’s known for having opinions on everything. It seems like he’s always in the middle of a major dispute. No surprise, then, that he spends so much time in court.)

Dave’s Four Pro Tips for Travel

I still want to help people get the most out of travel, so I’ll continue offering recommendations about these kinds of issues when they’re asked for. But I’ll frame my advice as general guidelines, not commands —  just like all my other travel advice.

In fact, I’ve already prepared some:

Don’t just see a place. Experience it: Explore. Sit. Relax. Watch the people. Soak it all in — not just the sights and sounds, which you can capture with your camera, but the mood, tone, character, pace, and feeling of a place.

Lower the barriers between you and the locals: Search out opportunities to interact with locals and do the things they do. It helps to dress so you don’t stand out too much. You’ll probably still get pegged as a tourist, but not as quickly as the folks wearing Kansas City Chiefs caps, cargo shorts, and Crocs.

Be flexible. Call audibles. Don’t feel like you are stuck with a rigid agenda or need to complete a checklist for your vacation to be a success. No one’s keeping score — you don’t lose points if you skip that thing everyone else at home talks about and decide instead to check out something that piqued your curiosity after you arrived.

Don’t worry too much: I don’t want to minimize the risk of bad things happening — but if you spend too much time preparing for what might go wrong, it’s hard to get into the proper mindset for when things go right. It’s impossible to plan for every contingency, but it is possible to find a solution when one of those contingencies arises. Even in a developing country, you’ll find a way to get more cash if you need it, contact home if you can’t use your phone, get more medicine if you run out, learn the score of last night’s hockey game, and even buy new clothes because the government confiscated your Barcelona T-shirts for being in bad taste. Worst case scenario? Contact an embassy or consulate. No matter what has happened to you, they’ve helped hundreds of other Americans with the same predicament — or worse.

Please permit me to double-click on this last point. Britt and I have dealt with plenty of stuff on trips: emergency room visits, lost wallets and credit cards, flight delays, decrepit hotels, near-death experiences on the road (as pedestrians, drivers, and passengers), missing luggage, not finding anyone who speaks English or Spanish, and so much more — and we’ve always made it home. In fact, these curveballs have provided some of our best travel stories. Anyone can tell you what it’s like to visit Westminster Abbey, but only Britt and I can tell you what it’s like to be wooed by prostitutes in Havana or jump out of a taxi in Istanbul.

This Blog Post Is Taking Forever. Are We There Yet?

Let me offer a final thought:

No matter where you’re headed, I hope your next trip is enjoyable, meaningful, and memorable. If you think I can help make that happen, I’d be delighted to provide advice, suggestions, and recommendations. Wanderlust is contagious. Let me be your Patient Zero.

If you think I’m being unhelpful, overbearing, or inconsiderate, just tell me to go to hell. I’ll take it as an invitation for more travel. If I can survive the insufferability of Barcelona and return home safely, going to hell and back will feel like a walk in the park.

Travel & Food

Sedona Rocks!

Now that you’ve slogged through the megillah about my energy vortex experience, let’s review the rest of my trip to Sedona. Expect more photos and less logorrhea this time.

Scenic Rim and Schnebly Hill Road

Pioneers T.C. and Sedona Schnebly moved to this area in Arizona in the late 1890s. The area was growing rapidly, so they petitioned the U.S. Postmaster General to open a post office, proposing the names Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly Station. They were both rejected as being too long — the preference at the time was for one-word names.

Fortunately, they settled on Sedona, not Schnebly, as the name for the post office. As a consolation prize, the road from Sedona to Flagstaff was named Schnebly Hill Road. It’s a bumpy ride — it wasn’t long before I felt nauseated.

I think my photos are of the Mogollon Rim, but don’t quote me on that.

BTW, if you’re headed to Sedona, I highly recommend Pink Adventure Tours.

Merry-Go-Round Rock
Merry-Go-Round Rock as seen from Schnebly Hill Road
Dave at the Outer Rim
The Outer Rim is outta sight!
Outer Rim with moon in the sky
(In Obi-Wan Kenobi voice) That’s no moon. That’s a space station.

Broken Arrow Trail

Broken Arrow Trail is like Schnebly Hill Road: bumpy and beautiful. Our driver navigated the rocky terrain with aplomb, but I still got jostled around plenty.

Dave leaning against a pink Jeep on the Broken Arrow Trail
Come on Barbie, let’s go Jeeping! Don’t let the Peptol Bismol paint job fool you — this vehicle is rough and rugged.
Red rocks looming over the pink Jeep.
The pink Jeep looks like a Matchbox car next to the rock formations.
Dave leaning against a juniper tree.
Rockin’ around the juniper tree.
Broken Arrow Trail panorama
The view from the Broken Arrow Trail.
Dave gives a thumbs-up on the Broken Arrow Trail
(In Fonzie voice) Aaayyyyy!
Broken Arrow Trail
(in Willie Nelson voice)
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And these Barbie Jeeps make me think of Ken
In Sedona, the off-road trails are as steep as the hotel prices.
Here’s another Jeep descending the same trail.

Sunset at Upper Red Rock Loop Road Overlook

Stunning. I did get a few photos, but most of the time, I set down my phone so I could mute my inner dialogue and be fully present for the experience.

Sunset from Upper Red Rock Loop Road
I’m facing east. As the sun sinks, shadows spread out before me and begin crawling toward the rocks in the distance.
Close-up of a formation seen from the Upper Red Rock Loop Road Overlook.
This rock formation looks like a manmade structure with imposing columns and a great golden dome — like a grand French Baroque palace or a fancy Taco Bell.
Dave at sunset in Sedona
A quick sunset selfie before I dash to the car and crank up the heat because the temperature is now about 35°F and falling.

Sunrise From Somewhere That Is Close to, But Not, the Airport Mesa Overlook

You’d have to be a complete idiot not to find the Airport Mesa Overlook, which is clearly marked and has everything you’d expect to see at a site for tourists: a huge parking lot, paved walkways, outdoor exhibits, coin-operated telescopes, yappy families, and so on.

Fortunately, being a complete idiot sometimes pays off. I parked nowhere near the overlook, lucked upon a rocky trail, followed it for about 25 minutes, and found a secluded spot to watch the sunrise in solitude.

I’m still not sure how I ended up there. Was it the happy accident of a man who got too little sleep, was in a cold, dark, and unfamiliar place, and failed to make sense of the directions on his phone? Or was he drawn in by mysterious vortex energy?

(Of course, it was an accident. However, if I look at the geotags on my photos, it appears that I had stumbled my way into the Airport Mesa Vortex. Cue the Twilight Zone music.)

Sedona sunrise seen from somewhere near the Airport Mesa overlook
As the sun rises, the shadow seems to melt off the tallest peak in the distance. The photos don’t capture how the peak is glowing, as if the reds, golds, and browns are lit from within.

Sunrise in Sonoma
Sunlight continues to trickle down the peak but hasn’t yet hit the town below.
Sunrise in Sonoma, as seen with a wide-angle lens
As the sun continues to rise, the sky becomes bluer and the clouds become whiter.
Dave somewhere in or near the Mesa Airport Vortex
Not a bad way to spend a morning.
A sign that says to close the gate to keep deer off the runway.
One of the many clues that I was, in fact, nowhere near the tourist-friendly official overlook area.

Concerning that last photo, I should point out that my painstaking research (i.e., a cursory scan of Google search results) indicates that deer are quite good at jumping over fences but really bad at reading signs.


What, I’m not allowed a special treat while on vacation?

Donut at coffee at Sedonuts
The place was called Sedonuts. Of course I had to stop in!
Deve eating a donut
This Red Rock Velvet donut didn’t last long. Also highly recommended: the Vortex (a massive cinnamon roll topped with pecans) and the Red Rock Oreo (a red velvet donut topped with crushed Oreos).

Travel & Food

Into the Vortex

My first experience with mystical energy vortices began, as these things sometimes do, under angry gray clouds in the parking lot of the Sedona Public Library.

After parking my rental car (a non-mystical Chevrolet Malibu from non-mystical Alamo in the most decidedly non-mystical Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport), I found my guide Rosane (ten out of ten on the mystical scale) in her white Jeep (mystical level: undetermined).

I clicked with Rosane before I even clicked my seatbelt. She was welcoming, warm, and chatty — just like me — and wasn’t fazed when I told her I was a skeptic. “Don’t worry, I’ve met many skeptics,” she said, with traces of her Brazilian background in her voice. “Maybe you’ll be less of a skeptic when we’re done.”

And Away We Go 

While I wasn’t sure I’d achieve transcendence that afternoon, I was 100% sure I’d experience bad weather. As Rosana drove up the hill to our destination, the sky turned from slate to charcoal. At the security gate — the only way to reach the site was to drive through a gated golf course community (the complete opposite of mysticalness) — we were warned of the possibility of snow.

The precipitation had trailed off when we reached Rachel’s Knoll, the center of a vortex, but the temperature had dropped to about 30°F (-1°C).

One to Beam Up. Energize.

According to Rosane, vortices are places where the earth’s energy converges and swirls — like an eddy in a stream or a tornado in a trailer park. Rachel’s Knoll, like other vortices, functions as both a magnet and a bowl for this energy. Large deposits of quartz and iron attract the energy, and the red rock formations around the site keep the energy in.

So, what does it feel like to be at the center of the vortex, where life, the universe, and all the elements united my body and spirit into a singular being capable of constructing overwrought and pompous sentences such as this one?

Well, it kinda feels like nothing. Not even a tingle of static electricity. The immense power of the universe was swirling around me, yet I couldn’t even charge up my dying phone battery.

And yet … I felt more serene and open than usual. It was like someone turned on the Do Not Disturb mode in my head. The acerbic old man who narrates my inner dialogue decided to step out for a break. I no longer felt fixated by every fleeting thought.

Was there, in fact, some kind of psychic energy coursing through my mind and body? I don’t believe so. But standing there under a heavy gray sky, encircled by rusty red peaks and specks of dark green foliage, and experiencing Mother Nature’s schizophrenia, I knew I was somewhere different and special.

More about the weather later. Let’s first turn to …

My Spiritual Toolbox

Rosane said we’re all born with a spiritual toolbox, but using each tool properly takes knowledge and practice. She led me through a few mental and physical exercises to put the tools to use.

Circle Circle

Rosane traced a circle in the dirt with her shoe. She had me stand in the middle, shout my name into the vortex, and then draw my hands back to my body to welcome any energy coming my way.

Dave in the circle
This is the vortex version of being in the on-deck circle.
Dave shouts into the vortex
Vortex, can you hear me?
Vortex, can you see me?
Vortex, can you find me in the night?
Welcoming the returning energy
Nothing really matters
The vortex is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me

Senses and Sensibility

Rosane challenged me to identify things I could see, hear, feel, smell, and taste at that moment. Sight and sound were easy (mountains and rain). For touch and smell, I crushed some juniper needles in my very cold hands. For taste, Rosane came prepared with a flask of hot tea and some miniature Hershey bars.

Because this exercise is so quick and simple, I find myself using it when I realize I’ve been operating on autopilot.

Walk This Way

Rosane showed me how to connect physical motions to energy flow. First, she had me step backward while pulling my arms into my chest. This helps draw in creative energy and inspiration, she said.

Next, she had me step forward and push outward. This action forces energy back into the world, which leads to confidence and strength.

I’ve started doing some of these movements because they allow me to step away from my desk, move around for a bit, and clear my head. Also, they confuse the dogs, which delights me to no end.

Embiggening My Conciousness

Rosane asked me to focus on where my body ended and the rest of the world began. It seemed like a weird ask, but with a clear mind, it wasn’t hard to feel where my skin met my clothes. Could I push that awareness beyond my body, she asked. With some concentration, I could indeed. Rosane said that I could expand that consciousness even further with some practice. I’m finding this exercise helpful: It’s a mental reset for when I realize I’m acting mindlessly.

Weathering Heights

If a Karen were exploring Rachel’s Knoll with Rosane and me, she’d ask to speak to the manager of weather. (“Do you know who I am?”) The trip started overcast with overcast skies and ended with sunshine, but only after taking a wild detour into a downpour and hail.

The pictures tell the story.

2:22 p.m.

Arriving at Rachel's Knoll
Gray skies and no drizzle as we arrive at Rachel’s Knoll.

3:20 p.m.

Taking refuge under a juniper tree.
Not long after I shouted my name into the vortex (as described above), the vortex responded with drizzle. Before long, it had intensified into a driving rain, forcing Rosane and I to take refuge under a juniper tree — just in time to avoid a short burst of hail. This is where we do our sense-identification exercise and tuck into the chocolate bars and hot tea.
Dave and Rosane enjoy tea and chocolate
Despite the rain, we’re having a great time!

3:35 p.m.

The rain had let up a bit, so we continued exploring Rachel’s Knoll. It it at this point that I realize that it’s not actually a knoll. Knolls don’t have rock ledges and steep cliffs.

About 30 seconds later …

After foolishly posing on wet, slippery rocks for a photo, I turn around and notice a timid ray of light breaking through the clouds. I risk life and limb for another photo, which turned out great.
This is my view.

3:40 p.m.

The sun is out, but there’s a gossamer quality to the light. It is golden yet thin and trepidatious. You will notice in this photo that my pants are soaked. Not pictured: my sopping-wet underpants.

3:47 p.m.

Blue skies at Rachel's Knoll at last
I see skies of blue,
Clouds of white.
This energy vortex
Is quite a sight!
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world
Raindrops on juniper tree needles
Raindrops on juniper tree needles. Hey, not every caption can be witty or insightful (or both). If you don’t like it, start your own blog.

3:54 p.m.

A pretty damn good photo of Dave in Sedona.
Lookin’ good, Dave!

4:02 p.m.

A bridge in the clouds
At first glance, I thought this was a rainbow. It wasn’t. What gave it away was the lack of color. Still, it’s a pretty cool cloud formation. There’s something architectural about that curve.

4:15 p.m.

Rosane gave me her book, “Get Vortexed,” so I could take a little piece of Sedona back home to Florida. I can’t explain why I posed this way. (Other pieces of Sedona I took back to Florida: vortex rocks, a souvenir T-shirt, and about five extra pounds.)

4:19 p.m.

Leaving Rachel's Knoll
One last look before we drive down the hill and leave the vortex behind.

My Vortex Verdict

I came to this vortex a skeptic, and I left a skeptic. But I did experience something close to, but not quite, transcendence atop Rachel’s Knoll. I’d describe it as a combination of awe, stillness, introspection, and openness.

I certainly wasn’t one with the universe. But I was one with myself.

As Douglas Adams once said, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

Take it from a skeptic: A place doesn’t need to be mystical to be magical.

Travel & Food

When Life Gives You Lemons, Eat Cheesesteaks and Make a Playlist

Getting from Camp David to Amsterdam last month was a comedy of errors, minus the comedy. There were delays, downgrades, rerouting, and some truly horrendous customer service.

But two good things happened.

First, I got to enjoy a cheesesteak at Chickie’s & Pete’s during a much longer-than-expected layover at Philadelphia International Airport.1 I even struck up a pleasant conversation with another traveler who had been delayed, which helped distract me from the raucous Phillies fans watching the playoff game.

My cheesesteak sandwich
Not pictured: The other half of the cheesesteak sandwich. (It was in my stomach.)

Second, since I couldn’t sleep on the plane, I had plenty of time to scroll through my music library and rediscover songs I hadn’t heard in a while.

Here’s the playlist. You can listen to it now — you don’t have to wait until you experience your own travel nightmare.

1 Check out my post about Philly cheesesteaks: A Cheesesteak Is a Hug in Sandwich Form.

Travel & Food

Street Art, Minus the Street

This was my immediate reaction when I discovered there’s an entire museum in Amsterdam dedicated to street art and graffiti:

So, now that I’ve been to STRAAT, what did I think?1 I’m a bit conflicted.

On the plus side, STRAAT is undeniably a well-curated museum of the best work from the best artists on the planet. The collection was immense and incredible, featuring a wide range of styles and themes. The building (a converted shipbuilding facility) was roomy, uncrowded, and quiet, so I had plenty of time and space to reflect on the art.

One thing that stood out to me was the size of the art. Here’s how I measure up to a mural by Ox-Alien:

David with a mural by Ox-Alien
I’m 185 cm. Figure out the feet and inches for yourselves, fellow Americans. The imperial measurement system is ridiculous and I refuse to use it outside the United States.

So, with so much to see and enjoy, why did I feel nonplussed? Ironically, the answer was right there in the STRAAT collection — this mural sums up everything I felt was problematic about the museum:

Artist unknown. Actually, the artist is known, but I can’t remember who they are.

The Real Thing?

STRAAT is a zoo for street art. It’s an artificial, organized, viewer-friendly environment with an admission fee and a gift shop. It can’t replicate the experience of finding street art in the real world.

In the wild, street art isn’t curated — no gatekeepers are deciding who gets to create art, and whether it’s noteworthy. It’s integrated into its surroundings. Artists have to deal with constraints like space, time, and weather. Their work is open to criticism (in the form of spray paint) from other artists.

And you never know what you’ll discover around each corner.

Consider these two murals by Cranio, a Brazilian artist who uses art to criticize how capitalism corrupts native values. The Complimentary Spouse and I saw this near Brick Lane in London in 2016:

Cranio mural near Brick Lane
Cranio mural in London

And here’s the Cranio mural at STRAAT:

Cranio mural at STRAAT
Cranio mural at STRAAT

The mural at STRAAT is larger, more complex, and much easier to stand back and appreciate. But the mural in London is more meaningful and authentic — it’s a public statement in a public place, not a piece of art under glass.

I Have Come to Praise STRAAT, Not to Bury It

I don’t want to sound too dismissive about STRAAT. I enjoyed and appreciated my visit, and we must recognize the value of street art just as we would any other art form.2

STRAAT might be a zoo, but zoos play an important role in education and preservation.3 We need more places like STRAAT to validate, catalog, study, and share street art with the world.

The next time I visit a city with a street art museum, I’ll be first in line. But I’ll also look for street art where it was meant to be seen: the streets.

More STRAAT Photos

Cornbread mural
As the world’s first graffiti artist, Cornbread has earned the right to be boastful.
STRAAT gallery
STRAAT is huge. It’s located in a former shipbuilding facility.
Third-floor view of STRAAT gallery
I told you it was huge!
Stencil art by Hugo Kaagman
This awesome stenciled mural by Hugo Kaagman had the biggest Dutch vibe, IMHO.
Painting over Shepard Fairey mural
You don’t often see someone painting over a Shepard Fairey mural. The worker (not in the photo) said that the Fairey was always meant to be temporary, and this space rotates artists frequently.

1 I visited on October 13 during a business trip, so I got to share the experience with my colleagues (and expense the tickets). I always propose a street art-related outing for company meet-ups, and they are always a hit.

2 STRAAT has shifted my opinion of Wynwood Walls in Miami. Now that I’ve seen STRAAT, it’s easy to recognize that Wynwood Walls is pretty much the same thing without a roof. By elevating and drawing attention to street art, Wynwood Walls has attracted more artists to the area — a win-win for everybody.

3 And STRAAT doesn’t keep living beings in captivity, which is one of the things about zoos that really disturbs me.

Travel & Food

He’s No Nostrodomus

I saw the infamous Neil Horan doing his thing in London 10 years ago. He and the Bible got it wrong, but props for hedging his bets with the phrase “very probably.”

Doggos Travel & Food

The Best Laid Plans of Dogs and Men

The hand-off was supposed to go down late at night on November 8, 2019, on Calle Compostela in the old part of Havana.

There he was, resting in a doorway, indifferent to his surroundings. The street wasn’t too busy or bright, so I didn’t have to worry about attracting attention. I dug into my pocket, pulled out a small Ziploc bag, selected one of the items inside, and gripped it carefully.

I didn’t expect what happened next.

I extended my hand and offered the item to him. He ignored me. I waved it under his nose, hoping the smell would convince him it was the good stuff from America. He didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in the slightest.

He didn’t even wag his tail.

Operation Treatos Para Perritos was off to a bad start.

“No gracias.”

Our Plan Went to the Dogs

A few weeks earlier, when the Complimentary Spouse and I were planning our third trip to Cuba, we were discussing the homeless dogs we’d seen on our previous visits. They were friendly and happy, but clearly weren’t getting much food.

We decided to put a box of Milk-Bones in our luggage for the dogs, along with gum, tennis balls, and other little presents we always bring to give to kids.

I named our plan Operation Treatos Para Perritos. We thought the dogs would love it. But, as we leaned quickly on Calle Compostela, they couldn’t care less.

We approached about 30 dogs over three days with Milk-Bones. They loved the attention from Britt and me, but had no enthusiasm for the treats. Just one accepted a treat, but only after a long period of confusion and uncertainty. Instead of eating it in front of us, he took it in his mouth and slowly walked away. I’d like to think he ate it, but it’s more likely that he spit it out.

This dog doesn't want a treat.
“I’m gonna pass.”
This dog doesn't want a treat.
“I’m going to ignore you now.”

The only taker for the Milk-Bones was a woman who saw what I was doing and asked for a few. I explained they were dog treats, and she said she had a dog at home. I gave her a handful.

About half an hour later, we saw her trying to sell the Milk-Bones to people in the street.

Free enterprise will always find a way.

Planning Ahead

So, what went wrong? At first, I thought the dogs didn’t like Milk-Bones — but I quickly realized that was a stupid idea.

Homeless dogs in Havana are not pampered pets like Lucy and Linus. They’re not holding out on the cheap treats because they know there’s leftover steak from Bern’s in the fridge.

No, the most likely explanation is that these dogs wouldn’t recognize any dog treats as real food — from ordinary Milk-Bones to the gourmet $5 biscuits at the dog boutique near our house.

If you were used to scavenging for scraps of leftover food, you’d probably be perplexed by prepackaged, processed, or custom-made dog treats too.

Accordingly, I’m adjusting my strategy for the next Operation Treatos Para Perritos. I’ll test out things like jerky, freeze-dried treats, and rawhide chews.

And, if that doesn’t work, I’ll round up all the dogs and take them home with me. I’ll just have to figure out how to convince Southwest Airlines that I need two dozen comfort animals.

Travel & Food

See Ya Later!

Last week, my company’s revenue team1 descended on New Orleans to talk strategy, share information, and knock back a few hurricanes. We also did some team-building events, and the one I was looking forward to the least — an airboat ride on the swamps of Louisana — turned out to be one of my favorites.

I was anticipating sweat and bugs. Instead, I got to get up close and personal with a few of Louisiana’s three million alligators.

Here are some of the things I learned on our excursion:

Alligators Like Candy

I was shocked to learn that alligators like marshmallows. Yes, marshmallows — the things you put in s’mores and hot chocolate.2

Alligator about to chomp down on a marshmallow.
In David Attenborough’s voice: “The fierce predator stalks its prey.”

The next time I head out to the bayou, I’m going to bring a box of Peeps. I wonder if alligators would prefer chicks or bunnies.

The Swamp Is More Beautiful Than I Expected

I’m the sort of guy who thinks roughing it means staying in a hotel with less than four stars. It’s no surprise, then, that I have never visited a swamp. I expected an ugly, sticky, godforsaken place with banjo music playing in the background.

The swamp was actually more pleasant than I anticipated. It was a comfortable day with low humidity, and we got to experience the golden hour right before sunset.

Not so scary, eh?
Not long before sunset. I’m not sure how I got that awesome lens flare! No filter.

On our way from Lafitte to Lake Salvador, we saw quite a few large homes. We also saw one boat that was less than seaworthy:

This coup failed.

Airboat Captains Are Insane

Meet Captain Danny.

Gators Are Cute (As Long as They’re Small)

About an hour into our trip, Captain Danny opened a blue cooler under his chair and introduced us to his buddy, Little Ed. He was adorable.

I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George.

The trick to holding a baby gator is to grasp the tail firmly with one hand and put the other under his belly.

Airboats Are Pretty Damn Fast

I estimate we were going about 30 mph (18 kph). Perhaps a little more.

I used the Action mode on my iPhone to take this video, so it looks somewhat smooth. Actually, going fast in an airboat is choppy. I’m glad we had seat belts.

Would I Do It Again?

I had more fun than I expected on our airboat ride. I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.

Check out my new noise-cancelling headphones.

1 I can hear you saying, “Hey, Dave, you’re in marketing, not sales!” Yes, you’re right, and thank you for following me on LinkedIn. Since my company is small, marketing and sales are combined into one team and report to the Chief Revenue Officer. This is the first time I’ve worked somewhere that doesn’t have siloed marketing and sales teams, and I love it.

2 Marshmallows are also the form Gozer the Destroyer took when he attacked New York:

Travel & Food

Oops, I Madrid It Again

My eyes light up when people tell me they’re headed to Madrid. The short time I lived there as a kid gave me a long-lasting and deep connection to the city. Like a true Madrileño, I root for Real Madrid and get very defensive when someone suggests Barcelona is a better city. (It’s not.) I still speak with a Castilian accent because that’s what I learned. (The fact that it makes me sound pretentious is just a bonus!)

Last fall, a friend said he and his husband were heading to Madrid. I started firing off suggestions of what to see and do. Then I sent about two dozen texts as more ideas popped into my head. It was a deluge of disorganized information — like giving someone jigsaw puzzle pieces with no picture to help them.

In December, someone else was headed to Madrid. My recommendations were once again a useless jumble of names and places. Not very helpful.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. A colleague told me he and his wife are headed to Madrid this spring, and again I offered to provide some suggestions. This time, I’m going to do it right by writing everything down and providing some structure. Not only is this a more useful approach, but I can use it again when people say they’re going to Madrid.

In true Daily Dave fashion, this list is more verbose than it needs to be. Hey, it’s my blog and I’ll write as much as I want to! 

Eating and Drinking

I’m not a foodie, so you might want to check TripAdvisor for tips. Here are a few things I enjoy:

Casa Mingo: This is an old restaurant known for two things: cider and roast chicken. The cider is made in-house, and it’s unprocessed and unfiltered (which means it’s cloudy). The Complimentary Spouse and I both enjoyed the chicken, but he was a bigger fan of the cider than I was.

Britt drinks cider at Cafe Mingo
Cider-Man, Cider-Man
Does whatever a cider can.

Iberian ham (jamón Ibérico): You’ll find this all over the place. 

The Gourmet Experience at El Corte Inglés (Princesa location): This is a high-end food hall on the ninth floor of a department store. The food is expensive but good. The views are good too. (This El Corte Inglés location spans three buildings. I can’t remember which one the Gourmet Experience is in, but there will be signs.)

Gazpacho: The best gazpacho in the world is made by my mom, but you can’t go wrong ordering it in Madrid.

Sangria: You can get this practically everywhere, from cheap bars to high-end restaurants. I am a purist, so if it’s not red, it’s not real sangria. The word “sangria” comes from “sangre,” which means blood, so why the hell would it be white? Who has white blood?1

Churros y chocolate: Churros are small and folded, unlike the massive sticks you find in the U.S. The chocolate should be so thick that you can float your spoon on top. The most famous place is Chocolatería San Ginés, but there’s usually a line, and you can get good ones elsewhere.

Spoon floating on top of chocolate in Madrid.
When it comes to hot chocolate, you can never be too rich or too thick.
Dave eats a churro
How many churros can you get for a euro?

Helpful tip: Download the Fork app. It’s like OpenTable for Europe.


El Prado: This is where Spanish art, history, and culture come together. We had many a field trip there when I was in school! Two paintings to check out:

  • Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez is the most famous and well-known painting here. I like it because it tells a story about palace life, instead of just being a typical royal portrait. My favorite detail is the mirror: That’s the king and queen, but if it were a real mirror, the viewer would be in the reflection.
  • Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya will haunt your dreams. It’s really, really, really fucked up. You’ve been warned.

Museo Reina Sofía: This is Madrid’s modern art museum. I think it’s right up there with MOMA, the Tate Modern, and Pompidou Center. Picasso’s Guernica is the most famous painting here. It’s huge and there are always crowds milling in front of it, so don’t expect to take a good picture. 

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: Along with El Prado and Reina Sofia, this is part of Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art. It’s not as impressive as the other two, in my opinion.

Museo Sorolla: Well outside the Golden Triangle, this is a small and interesting museum dedicated to Joaquin Sorolla. The building is his former home, which is nicely preserved and has a cute garden. If you visit, you can easily walk to the Salamanca neighborhood and check out Calle Serrano (which I’ll write about below).

Inside of Museo Sorolla
You can study Sorolla’s artwork in Sorolla’s study.
The gardens at Museo Sorolla
Better home and garden.

Historic Sites

Temple de Debod: This is an old Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt piece by piece in Madrid. (There’s no Elgin Marbles controversy here. It was part of a legitimate program to preserve historical monuments.) I haven’t been there at sunset, but I’m told it’s magical then.

The Royal Palace: There are more than 3,000 rooms, which makes me wonder if this happens.2

Plaza Mayor: This is a large historic square in the middle of the city. Since it’s a tourist magnet, you should probably skip the restaurants here. If you do a walking tour, this is probably where it will start.

Dave and Britt in Plaza Mayor
No one named Eloise in this plaza.

Helpful tip: Do a free guided walking tour on your first day. You’ll hit all the historical sites around Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace. There are just too many historical things for me to list.


Casa de Campo: Casa de Campo is huge. Like, really huge. It’s twice the size of Central Park (I think). The area closest to the city center still feels natural and unspoiled, with lots of walking trails and great views of Madrid. Further away, you’ll find an amusement park, zoo, aquarium, soccer stadium, and more things like that. We went on a field trip to the amusement park when I was a kid, and all I remember is that the rides seemed worn out and creaky. I imagine they have been fixed up since then.

If you go to Casa de Campo, check out the area around the lake, which is directly east of the Royal Palace. It’s a great place to stroll around, do some people-watching, and even grab a bite to eat. You can also rent a kayak, which Britt and I would not do because we’re landlubbers.

A path in Casa de Campo. That’s the Royal Palace in the distance on the left.

El Retiro: Whereas Casa de Campo has size, El Retiro has charm. It’s still pretty darn big, but it feels more like a proper European city park, with formal gardens, sculptures, a colonnade, fountains, and such. There are also plenty of places to eat.3

Parque de el Retiro
That’s King Alfonso XII on top of the colonnade. I know nothing about him. I must have skipped history class that day.
Parque de el Retiro
Even cold winter days in Madrid are sunny and beautiful.

Be sure to look for el Palacio de Cristal (The Glass Palace), which is built out of glass and cast iron. I imagine it was what the Crystal Palace in London looked like before it burned down. If you get there late in the afternoon, you’ll be able to see the sun streaming through the windows.

Palacio de Cristal, El Retiro
People who live here shouldn’t throw stones.

Fun side note: The Plaza de la Independencia is located at one of the entrances to el Retiro. There you’ll find two incredibly important and historically significant landmarks: the beautiful Puerto de Alcalá and my dad’s old office building.

A related fun side note: When I took my AP History test in [year redacted], the surprise essay question was about the Spanish Civil War and there was a picture of fighting at the Puerto de Alcalá. I aced the shit out of that essay.

Puerta de Alcala, Madrid
As seen on my AP History exam.

Rio Madrid: When I lived in Madrid, I didn’t even know there was a river running through the city. It was completely blocked in by the M-30, which means my family drove near or around it too many times to count and I never noticed it.

Now, the river is hard to miss. That long stretch of the M-30 has been moved underground, opening both sides of the river to development. It’s now a beautiful linear park with lots of places to walk, run, rest, and have fun. Britt and I first explored Río Madrid on Segways, and went back later that day. We can’t wait to go back.

Quick note: The actual name of the river is Manzanares. And it’s really a stretch to call it a river. It’s more of a dried-up creek. Still, it’s an awesome area to visit.

Britt and Dave in front of the Madrid sign on the Madrid River.
We’re doing embarrassing tourist things!
No one is going to confuse the Manzanares with the Amazon.

Cool Neighborhoods and Streets

Chueca: It’s the gay neighborhood in Madrid. Hell, it might be the gayest neighborhood in the world — and I’ve been to San Francisco and Provincetown! There are so many Pride flags here that you’ll think a rainbow threw up. All that aside, it’s an awesome part of Madrid with great restaurants and bars. Check out Mercado San Antón, an indoor food market with restaurants and a cool bar.

Chueca Metro
In Chueca, even the metro station is gay, gay, gay!

Plaza del Sol: This is literally the center of Madrid. It’s kilometer zero for the entire highway system — all distances are measured from this spot. Look for:

  • The Oso y el Madroño statue: The image of a bear pawing at a strawberry tree has been associated with Madrid for centuries. By the way, guess what no longer lives in Madrid? Bears and strawberry trees.
  • The Tío Pepe sign: Tío Pepe is a brand of sherry. This sign has been there forever.
Bear and Strawberry Tree statue
Lions and tigers and bears and strawberry trees, oh my!

Lavapiés: This is a really cool neighborhood with an alternative vibe. It’s where you’ll find tons of street art. I highly recommend taking a guided street art walking tour.

Street art in Lavapies
Mural by NSN997.
Art by Sara Fratini outside Lavapiés restaurant. The woman holding the little cake is one of the waitresses.
Street art in Lavapies
I love this. It translates to “We are what we do when we change who we are.” Wrap your head around that!

Gran Vía: This is the main road in the middle of Madrid. The architecture is gorgeous. Britt and I usually try to stay somewhere on Gran Vía because it’s centrally located.

Gran Via
A grand view of Gran Vía from our hotel room in 2021.
Gran Via
It’s the golden hour in Madrid.

Calle de Preciados: This is a pedestrian street between Gran Vía and Plaza del Sol. A lot of other nice pedestrian streets branch off of it. You’ll find a huge El Corte Inglés department store here. 

Calle de Preciados at Christmastime
It’s lit! Calle de Preciados during the holidays in 2019.

Calle Fuencanal: You’ll find a little bit of everything on this pedestrian shopping street. It’s often crowded, which makes for great people-watching. It branches off Gran Vía.

Having some fun on C/ Fuencanal.

El Rastro: A massive flea market is held here every Sunday. Keep an eye on your wallet.

Calle Serrano: This is the ritziest shopping in street in Salamanca, the ritziest neighborhood. Basically, it’s the opposite of el Rastro. Here you’ll find Louis Vuitton, Prada, Burberry, and so on. It’s considered to be Madrid’s Fifth Avenue or Champs-Élysées, but I don’t think it’s particularly picturesque.

Day Trips

From Madrid, you can get nearly everywhere quickly on high-speed rail. Here are two places about 30 minutes away:

Toledo: This is a beautiful old city with a gothic cathedral (still in use) and a historic synagogue and mosque (not surprisingly, not in use). The synagogue is now a museum, and the mosque is a church. Toledo used to be known for making steel weapons, so everywhere you go, you can buy full-sized souvenir swords and knives. My brother bought a whole bunch of swords, and I have no idea where they are now.

Cathedral in Toledo
This is the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, which would be a good name for a drag queen.
Inside the cathedral in Toledo
Some of the understated decor in the cathedral.

Segovia: Come for the Roman aqueduct. Stay for the cathedral and fortress! Each of these would be worth a trip on its own, so seeing all three in a day is incredible. 

Aquaduct in Segovia
How do you fix a leaky aqueduct? With aqueduct tape! Who says you have to be a dad to crack dad jokes?
Britt and Dave in Segovia
Who are those two hot guys blocking the view of the Catedral de Segovia?

Here’s a video of Segovia I made on the 30-minute train ride back to Madrid that took forever to make because I am an artiste.

If I had to recommend just one place, it would be Segovia. There are plenty of cities with cathedrals and castles in Spain, but only one has an aqueduct like this.

I hope you enjoyed my unnecessarily long Madrid travel guide. If you didn’t, you only have yourself to blame. You could have stopped reading at any point.

1 I’ve just learned that Antarctic blackfin icefish have white blood. Those guys are allowed to order white sangria. Humans, on the other hand, should be drinking red.

2 What, you thought I wouldn’t be able to work a Simpsons reference into this blog post? You underestimate my powers.

3 There’s also a statue of Satan somewhere in el Retiro, but I don’t remember where.

Travel & Food

I Love to Get High

When I was a lad in London, there was only one way to see the city: from ground level.1 And I never gave that much thought until the Complimentary Spouse and I visited my ancestral homeland in 2004 and took our first spin on the London Eye.

It was a revelation.

I knew all the landmarks — the buildings, the parks, the major roads, the Thames — but had never seen them from this perspective. New shapes and patterns emerged. The scale and sizes of buildings appeared to change, especially the train stations. Who knew they were so big?

Since that first experience on the London Eye, I have gone out of my way to seek out observation decks and wheels. The higher, the better. Here are my thoughts on the places that took me to new heights.

The London Eye

No need to repeat what I’ve said above. Let’s jump straight into some photos and videos!

Our first spin in 2004.
Heading there with the whole fam in 2022.
Inside the capsule in 2022.
From the ground.

In case you’re wondering, my last ride on the Eye was on the same day as my unplanned emergency room visit.

My take: After three whirls, I have little interest in going on the Eye again, but I always recommend it to people visiting London for the first time.

Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock), New York

I vaguely remember visiting the Empire State Building as a child. I remember there were long lines to get in, and it was crowded, cold, and cage-like at the top. So, I’ve never been eager to return.

In 2006, I found another strong reason to avoid the Empire State Building. That’s when Britt and I went to the observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center. It was a cold and windy day, so we didn’t stay outside long. We had a great south-facing view. The space where the World Trade Center once stood was still vacant. So, the only major landmark was the Empire State Building. It was beautiful: Not just an architectural masterpiece, but a symbol of resilience in a skyline transformed violently by terrorism.

I realized then that if you go to the top of the Empire State Building, you can’t see the Empire State Building. And what is the New York skyline without the Empire State Building in it? With so many other observation decks in New York, I don’t see the use of visiting that one.

Top of the Rock wasn’t crowded. Tall, clean sheets of plexiglass kept us safe without compromising our views. It was a good experience, but not so amazing that I feel compelled to go back. 

Brrrrrrr-reathtaking view.
The view. I wish I hadn’t applied a filter.

My take: In any other city, Top of the Rock would be a must-see. In New York, there are better observation decks.

SkyTower, Auckland

SkyTower isn’t just the tallest building in New Zealand. At more than 1,000 feet, It’s one of the tallest buildings in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s so tall that it seems incompatible with the rest of Auckland, standing out like a sole redwood in a field of shrubs.

Britt and I visited in 2005 on our first trip together to New Zealand. It was a little overcast, which was disappointing because you can see up to 50 miles away on a clear day. Even with limited visibility, the views were incredible. I walked away with an appreciation for the balance between urban development and natural beauty.

One thing that’s not visible from the observation deck: how hilly Auckland is. I’d say it compares to San Francisco, Lisbon, and Istanbul regarding steepness. I was very out of shape at the time and had to catch my breath every few blocks.

Oh, I forgot to mention that you can go bungee jumping from the observation deck. This is because Kiwis are crazy. 

You can see SkyTower from anywhere in Auckland. Hey, where’d that elephant come from?
Things are looking up.
Looking down. Britt didn’t want to stand on the glass.
The harbor. Or, as they would write, the harbour.
Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) is famous for some reason I can’t remember.

My take: Me haere koe ki reira mena kei Aotearoa koe.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris

Je suis un crétin!3 When putting this list together, I only remembered the Eiffel Tower at the last minute. I don’t know why. Perhaps the building is so unique that it’s hard to lump it in with anything else.

That being said, the Eiffel Tower has not one, not two, but three observation decks. Britt and I went up one night in the spring of 2008. It was cold and dark. By the time we reached the top level — which is tiny — it had started to rain. Teenagers visiting from Spain were running amok. I was worried about slipping on the wet, slick floor. Honestly, I don’t remember anything about the view. I didn’t even take any photos from up there.

Britt and I have been back to Paris several times since then, and I simply haven’t had an interest in going back up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, even though I know the views on a clear day would be spectacular. I think I’ll just continue to appreciate the Eiffel Tower from ground level.

I told you the Eiffel Tower is best appreciated at ground level.
Is it architecure, engineering, or sculpture? Yes.

The gist: Go. You’ll probably have a better experience than I did.

The Space Needle, Seattle

I live 8,000 miles from Auckland but only 2,500 miles from Seattle.4 It’s surprising then that I had been to Auckland twice before my first trip to Seattle.

When Britt and I went to the Space Needle in 2016, it felt like an older, shorter, slightly more run-down SkyTower. The two buildings look alike at first glance, but SkyTower is more than 400 feet taller and is much roomier at the top.

I’m not knocking the Space Needle. The views are incredible. You can see Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, the Cascades, and the Olympic mountain range. But, as an experience, it simply doesn’t measure up to its successor in the Southern Hemisphere.

Picture perfect.
Look closely and you’ll see 5,231 independent coffee shops in this photo. It’s Seattle!
Looking up.
A picture I took from my hotel room in 2022. Nearby wildfires made the sky deep orange at sunset. There is no filter applied to this photo.

My take: Definitely worth a visit in you’re in Seattle.

The High Roller, Las Vegas

I gambled on the High Roller — and I lost big. Not long after this observation wheel opened on the Strip, I went to Las Vegas for a conference and made plans to check it out. As soon as we cleared the hotels, I knew I was in for disappointment. There is simply no benefit to being 550 feet in the air in Las Vegas. Casino roofs are indistinguishable from warehouse roofs. The mountains look about the same as they do from the ground — far-off and unimpressive.

On my visit, I shared my capsule with a couple who was clearly hoping they’d be by themselves to make out. I wish they had. At least there would have been something interesting to see.

Actually, I take that back. It was a straight couple. Nothing disgusts me more than heterosexuals flaunting their lifestyle in public. Think of the children!

You know you’re in for a bad time when most of the ascent and descent offers views of a parking lot.
I’m crying on the inside.
So much natural beauty.
I wasted half an hour to see this?

My take: Not worth the time or the money … and you might end up being a cockblocker.

The Shard, London

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to visit the observation deck at the Shard. I was anticipating an experience like my first spin on the Eye — this time, seeing entirely different parts of London from a new perspective.

And do you know what I saw?

Grime. Streaks. And my reflection.

The windows were filthy — they hadn’t been cleaned in who knows how long. And instead of using matte glass, they installed reflective glass. It was such a disappointment.

If only the Shard had a window washer and non-reflective glass, the views would have been spectacular — even on the somewhat gloomy day in May 2015 we were there. To the north were all the new towers of London, such as the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie, and the Cheesegrater. A little to the east was the oldest tower of London — i.e., the actual Tower of London — as well as Tower Bridge and the H.M.S. Belfast.

What a dirty shame.

Reflections on London
In the distance, you can see the London Eye, which is where we should have been.
We don’t look very impressed.
The space itself is quite nice, but the dirt and reflections ruined the experience.

My take: I won’t go back until someone assures me that the windows have been replaced and cleaned.

The Summit One Vanderbilt, New York

This was so in-fucking-credible that I will save it for a blog post of its own. 

John Hancock Center (360 Chicago)

Once, in Havana, Britt and I went to the bank to exchange dollars for pesos. We spent forever in line, the building was run down, customer service was terrible, and we ended up getting nothing of value.

The only difference between that experience and our trip to the observation deck at John Hancock Center is that the observation deck also had overpriced, lukewarm beer for sale.

Really, it was terrible. We were there on a family trip with my brother, my cousins, and all our spouses. After grabbing our tickets, we waited in line in a dark basement for an hour before we even got a glimpse of the elevator. The staff was unfriendly and unsympathetic, even when we asked for a chair for someone in our group who needed to sit down.

When we got to the top of the building, half of the observation deck was closed off for renovation (so much for a 360-degree view at 360 Chicago), and the other half probably hadn’t been renovated since the ’80s. 

What about the views? Who the fuck cares? After that experience, all we wanted to do was go back down and find something to drink. 

This is the only photo in which everyone is smiling. That’s because we’re on our way down in the elevator so we know the nightmare is nearly over.

My take: If you give me a choice between a root canal without novocaine and going back to the John Hancock Center, I’ll plug in the drill myself.

Willis Tower, Chicago

When I went here in 2005, it was still called Sears Tower. I guess it didn’t make too much of an impression on me because the only thing I remember is that we had to go down in one of the freight elevators because there was an issue with the passenger elevators. I don’t even have any photos from the top.

I wonder why I don’t recall anything. Perhaps there was a Men in Black incident. 

Before we went up.

My take: I wish I could remember my experience at Willis Tower and use one of those red flashy Men in Black thingies to erase my memories of the John Hancock Center. 

One World Trade Center (One World Observatory), New York

Before Britt and I went to the top of the new World Trade Center in the summer of 2017, we revisited the tragedy of what happened there in 2001 by exploring the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

The museum part is underground, somewhat dimly lit but not gloomy. I left thinking it was too focused on artifacts and not focused enough on people. In hindsight, I was probably drawn to the artifacts because they are less painful to contemplate than the loss of life. A warped steel girder doesn’t have a name, a family, a career, a dream.

But L. Russell Keene III did. 

Russell was Britt’s former student. He worked for KBW and was killed on 9/11. His office was on either the 88th or 89th floor of the South Tower. The plane hit several floors beneath him, which meant all the stairwells were cut off. He died, as did 67 other KBW employees in the office that morning. 

Before we entered the museum, Britt and I found Russell’s name etched on the memorial. We stood silently for a while. And then moved on. 

Rest in power.

Not long after we visited the memorial and museum, we were in the elevator to the top of the new World Trade Center. The doors opened and … wow.  

Observation decks at the tops of older office buildings usually feel like an afterthought — it’s just a regular floor they didn’t lease out to a tenant. The World Trade Center observation deck is nothing at all like that. It’s a thoughtfully designed, light, airy, multistory space that showcases and celebrates New York. You’re high above the city, and yet somehow feel closer to it. 

We could see miles in all directions through the clean and non-reflective5 floor-to-ceiling windows. I stood for a while, just entranced by the cars on the Brooklyn Bridge and the boats on the East River. To our north, the Empire State Building stood proudly over the jumble of buildings in Midtown. The newly completed 432 Park Avenue struck out like a sore thumb. It was the supermodel of condo towers: skinny, tall, expensive, and arrogant. (Since 2017, more supermodels have moved into that area, which is now called Billionaires’ Row.)

One World Trade Center’s observation deck is one of the best. If you’re looking for deep meaning, you’ll find it there. If you’re looking for awesome views, you’ll find them there. If you’re looking for a Swarovski-encrusted necklace in the shape of the building, you’ll find it there (in the gift shop).

The Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
View facing north.
High ceilings, tall windows, and no crowding.

My take: Go there. It will take you less time to visit than it took you to read this rambling blog post. 

What’s Next?

Here are the observation decks I’m looking forward to visiting:

Sky Garden: A lush, airy green space at the top of the Walkie-Talkie in London? Yes, please! We wanted to go on our last trip to London, but we couldn’t get a ticket.6

The Edge: Hudson Yards in New York has the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere. 

Gran Torre Santiago: The tallest building in Latin America wasn’t quite finished when we went to Santiago in 2013. The six-story mall at the bottom was open for business, but the rest of the building — including the observation deck — was not.

Gran Torre, still under construction, as seen from our hotel room.

1 Keep in mind that, unlike New York, there were very few tall buildings in London at that time, and I don’t think any of them had observation decks. The only tall structure I can recall is the Post Office Tower, a communications tower.

2 That’s Māori for “You should go there if you’re in New Zealand.”

3 That’s French for “I am a moron.”

4 Or, if you prefer, I’m 17 time zones away from Auckland and just three from Seattle.

5 You paying attention, Shard folks?

6 Access to the observation deck is free, but you still need to reserve a time to visit.