Travel magazines can be so disconnected from real travelers and the world they live in.
They tout 30-day adventures that cost as much as a car … luxury experiences that isolate and shelter travelers rather than offer any notion of a step outside the guardrails of everyday life … or round-the-world meanderings that require you to chuck your career. My latest example – a Conde Nast list of Best Cities to Visit in 2013. My friends at BarrelHoppping.com tweeted the link.
I was stoked to see Seoul, South Korea on the list. But my rush of “hell, yeah” disappeared like a mackerel accidentally swimming into a shark convention when I read the entry:
The Gangnam Style phenomenon has turned attention to all things Korean, But apart from Psy and that horse dance, we’ve seen Korean culture making its mark on the fashion, art and food in the U.S. over the past decade. Seoul offers everything you’d want from a major global city: shopping galore, especially in the Gangnam neighborhood, plus fantastic food and great nightlife as well. It’s one of the most vibrant, wired and innovative cities in Asia.
Where to stay: The Park Hyatt Seoul has killer views (even from the bathroom) with rooms in January starting at $330.
I replied “Decent list, but Seoul in January? For $330 a night? I might have to do my own list!”
BarrelHopping.com egged me on, so here are my five cities:
Seoul, South Korea
From running in the Hi Seoul 10K to eating boiled silkworms in Insadong, Seoul is all sorts of fun. People radiate optimism and go out of their way to welcome you. We got lost looking for our hotel; a local walked us right to the door. The subways are clean and convenient. The food is terrific, and shopping is a full-contact sport. Be sure to hit a jim jil bang (Korean-style spa).
We stayed at the Saerim Hotel in Insadong. Perfect place to be close to it all. Our traditional ondol room even had a Linux-based computer. Nothing fancy; clean and nice starting at $65 a night. You’ll have to book through a third-party website, but don’t sweat it. Saerim is legit.
Old World linked with modern Nordic coolness. Lots of shopping (especially for clothes). Helsinki is forward thinking – maybe too much so, since many residents eschew traditional Finnish food for global cuisine. You’ll find museums and sports, plus a cool little amusement park called Linnanmäki. The rail system makes it easy to connect to other cities. Go in the summer.
The Sokos Hotel Albert is comfortable and reasonable at about 165 Euros per night. It includes a sauna and a huge breakfast spread.
Portland, Oregon (U.S.)
Portland embraces its weirdness – which spans farmers markets, food trucks, gourmet donuts, locally owned bookstores and the Timbers Army, perhaps the finest collective of soccer fans in the nation. Did I mention local microbrew and Third Wave coffeehouses everywhere you look? I suggest a nice 45-minute drive southwest to Gaston, where you can overcome your feat of heights at the Tree to Tree Adventure Park.
I consider the Inn at Northrup Station the slickest hotel in the nation: Rooms with a full kitchen, a trolley stop, reasonable prices (about $135 a night), a great location and killer decor.
I wasn’t in Wellington long enough. But I caught glimpses of live entertainment, microbreweries, events, sailing and shopping. The Cuba Street area brings all sorts of creative types and locally owned businesses. The Te Papa Museum is also worth a look, especially if the volcano exhibit is still around. There’s also a ton of authentic Asian food.
We stayed in a restored hotel that’s a touch too close to the downtown revelry. I’m pretty sure it was the Comfort Hotel Wellington.
Cairns, Queensland (Australia)
Even if you never leave the area around Cairns, you’ll still have plenty to see. I arrived to watch a heated road criterium race as it zoomed through the streets. There’s a fun market to serve all your needs for Aussie souvenirs like keychains made from kangaroo scrotums. There’s all sorts of food, including kangaroo burgers at The Green Ant. There’s a train to nearby mountain town Kuranda, plus you’re close to the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
The The Heritage Hotel is just far enough from central Cairns to be quiet. But it’s close enough to walk. Rooms start at $125 Australian per night.
Justin Schmid writes the WanderingJustin.com travel blog. He thinks no trip is complete without running a 10K race and eating a local delicacy that will turn the stomachs of his friends back home.