No such thing: “The best place to visit”

Now that I’ve come back to the United Stated permanently, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people where I’ve been and why I ask so seemingly inane questions (“How long ago was it when the flu shot needles changed to these things?” “What is the sales tax again?” “Are those parking rules new?” “When did you change your menu?” “You don’t accept these frequent drink punch cards anymore?”). Inevitably, a lot of people ask me “where’s the best place to go?”

Whew. Where do I start? There is no such thing. At least for me. Some people may fall in love with a particular place. Many do, and continue to purchase vacation or retirement homes in those locations. But I’m not that person. I want to see as much of the world as possible. It takes a lot to convince me to revisit a place when there are other places I want to explore. My philosophy is that no matter how poor or different each place is, there is some inherent beauty to it and I always find those features. There is a top destinations list, but each made it to that list for a very different reason.

The worst part about that question is each person’s idea of vacation is different. So many people want to lounge by the beach and go no further than 10 feet from bedroom to beach. I hate it. To me, I can’t imagine a more boring and expensive way to blow through a budget. I pounce through places like Myanmar and Egypt. I don’t define exotic by palm trees and sand. The poorer the country, the more intriguing to me. My to-do list includes Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet. So to ask me to make a recommendation to a beach-goer is asking for a disaster.

I do realize I travel so much more than an average person, regardless of nationality. I do have so much more experience in a large variety of destinations. I realize that knowledge alone is precious. I continue to travel a lot, even domestically. I have so much more freedom and time in taking off somewhere than a majority of my peers. So, when you ask me “Where is the best place to go for vacation”.. be ready to sit down for a good 20 minutes while I drill you on your preferences before getting around to answer your question.

Photography 101: Landscape

A majority of tourists make a beeline to UNESCO site Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia. But while most people focused on taking pictures of the famous site, I was absorbed taking pictures from the bridge.

I was surprisingly pleased with this photo. I struggled to find a way to capture both sides of the river, the famed divide between the Christian and Muslim communities. The river itself was quite wide and I didn’t quite have the right lens . Instead, the beautiful nature, green foliage on the banks, and mountains jutting out behind shone.


I should have know it was going to be beautiful. Our stretch stop at a tiny town of Pocitelj afforded this gorgeous view from the fort ruins, which would have stretched all the way to the Adriatic coast had it been a clear day.


Photography 101: Swarm

Many of us had moments when we were in a crowded place and the sheer volume of people was just too much to handle. But I challenge that most of us don’t really know what “too much” truly is until we travel to a developing country where safety codes are meager if they even exist.

Admit it. When we read the news about horrific tragedies such as a stampeded killed more people than the cause of the stampede itself, some of us wonder how that’s even possible. Filing out of a door in an orderly manner is something we’ve been doing all our lives, right?


Traveling and living in developing countries gave me perspective and understanding how those events happen. As mentioned, in many of these places crowd control is not a known discipline. Not in terms of movement and flow. More often, any policing would be focused on thugs, crime, and disorderly behavior. The idea of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands depending on the event, needing to move fluidly is not necessarily a priority.

One event where I and my traveling companions got seriously concerned about our safety sole because of the crowd was during the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown of Bangkok, Thailand. One end of the street where the festivities took place was completely taken up by the stage, with a narrow sidewalk on one side for exit and entering if you were to approach that end. The sides of the streets were completely taken up by vendor stalls. We were wrapping up our evening, trying to get out as the crowd ballooned in size from the after-work and Friday evening crowd.

Another thing about these cultures is there is no sense of queuing. A lot of the mentality if focused on grabbing your space because no one was going to offer it if you just stood by. There is no giving half of the space for traffic going the opposite direction. Crowds do not have a sense of courtesy or unspoken traffic flow rules. Free space is space to be claimed. So people started pushing forward in a narrow sidewalk. A building wall on one side, a chain link fence on the other.

We were pushing, body to body for space. Even if we didn’t want to move, we were being pushed from behind. It took almost half an hour to get through ten feet of distance. When we finally broke free, we admitted to each other that we each were eyeing the chain link fence in case we needed to hang on in an event of a stampede.

After that, almost any crowd in the Western countries pales in comparison.


Restaurant Review: Acadia in Chicago where being that difficult diner doesn’t faze

Since my trip to Sweden a couple years ago, I’ve taken to indulging in fine dining, especially if there’s a chef’s tasting menu.

I’ve also started declaring my lactose intolerance to restaurants when asked about dietary restrictions. I’ve half shrugged off my intolerance for many years. Sure, I’ve cut back on some things. I drink my coffee black, I don’t buy ice cream, I leave out cream when cooking recipes that included it. But I eat cheeses by the fistful, slather full butter shamelessly on my baked bread, and love clotted cream on my scones.

I have been inconsistent in declaring my intolerance when dining out. Too often, the substitutions feel rather lame or incomplete. I am especially conflicted when there is a tasting menu option. I want to experience the chef’s style and vision of what a perfect meal is but I’m afraid being that difficult diner results with hastily modified dishes that make seem lacking, then leaving both the chef and diner unsatisfied. I once waited over 45 minutes for a dessert.. only to get basically half the components of a cake in a “deconstructed” dish. Nice try, but, really? Or how about the one time I got a fruit bowl for dessert.. in a two-starred Michelin restaurant.

Man, I always thought my lactose intolerance was just a minor nuisance. That people who have serious nut allergies or gluten intolerance have it worse. Now I’m not so sure. No, I don’t risk death with accidental ingestion so I can’t compare on that score. Do you realize how much butter and cream goes into those restaurant dishes? The hardest was explaining how I can handle certain types of products but not others. Some assume just because I “cheat” a little, I don’t need any modifications, resulting with so much dairy intake that I become miserable for the rest of the time. Others are so flustered and overly worried that they eliminate all dairy completely, giving me disjointed dishes that often lack a decent sauce.

I splurged for a meal at Acadia restaurant, Chicago. Acadia boasts a Michelin star and it proved to be one of my best fine dining experiences. It’s in a rather odd location. The neighborhood seemed nice, but it wasn’t in a particularly busy area. I’m not familiar with the city too much but it’s surrounded by a retirement community, construction, large open parking lot.

Service was great, but the highlight was the food. The staff acknowledged my lactose restriction from the get go. The kitchen made modifications that demonstrated great understanding of my intolerance. The ice cream was put in a separate bowl but still available for me to choose how much I dared to sample. The one dish with a cream-based sauce, the server poured just a drop for me to taste without having too much. But the real thing is at no point did I feel like I was missing out in any part of the food. Each dish was so well composed, so complete and so fulfilling. And it was one of the best balance of portions in a tasting menu that stuffed me without being at the point of feeling ill.

I liked the fact that they didn’t have a printed tasting menu, acknowledging that dishes changed all the time but especially appreciated the fact that they printed one out at the end of the meal for me to take home as a parting gift.

The menu:

Lobster Roll
Pemaquid Oyster, Caviar, Cream
Pig Heart Tartare
Duck Crouton
Winter Squash Chawanmushi

red curry, coconut rice, shiso

parsley root, salsify, orange, matsutake, mastic

root beer, hoja santa, black garlic

spaghetti squash, pork belly, green tea milk, soy caramel

chestnut, creme fraiche, apple, brown butter balsamic

lobster, artichoke, parisian gnocchi, maitake

pickled fennel sorbet, apricot jam, candied cocoa nibs

pumpkin seed, apple sorbet


Honestly, I don’t know what a good chunk of those words are :) It was just all yummy.