Destinations

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Today, I joined the good folks at Up In the Air Life, luxury excursion planners extraordinaire, for a four-day cruise along the Upper Nile River from Luxor to Aswan amid some of Ancient Egypt’s most spectacular sites. Aboard the five-star Sun Boat IV, operated by Sanctuary Retreats, a group of 66 adventurous American travelers mix relaxation with exploration, tackling the striking Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the impactful Temple of Horus, while enjoying sumptuous meals, friendly service, and, yes, a DJ imported from New York. After the cruise, we’ll participate in a fabulous last-night all-white affair at Le Meridien Cairo’s elegant Sequoia Restaurant before returning to the States. Full disclosure: Up In the Air Life is covering my participation in the trip, but don’t think I can be easily swayed from writing the truth.

Be sure to follow my dispatches from the road—or rio, rather—here at Fly Brother and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

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This week, I’ll be heading east for an eclectic, exciting three-week sojourn to England, South Africa, and Egypt. The trip is ostensibly for work—I’ve got a media event happening in each place—but there’s obviously a bit of fun to be had as well. Here’s the rundown…

Transit Brunch in NYC with Oneika the Traveller
On Friday, I stop through the Big Apple en route from Miami to London just long enough to catch up with my girl Oneika the Traveller, who, probably against her better judgment, agreed to be a guest on the Fly Brother Radio Show. You can catch the episode this Saturday morning at 10AM Eastern on the Ndustry Entertainment Network.

World Travel Market in London
From Saturday til Tuesday, I’ll be hanging out in Londontowne at the biggest B2B travel fair on the planet, World Travel Market. There will be hobnobbing and schmoozing with tourism bureaus and travel companies from around the world, but also with journalists, bloggers, travelers, and the bartenders and waitstaff, too. It’s a great place for interaction and networking with decision makers in the travel industry, and the event is free.

Victoria Dock by Bill Tyne via Flickr
Victoria Dock from ExCeL London by Bill Tyne via Flickr

Essence Fest in Durban
After WTM and a few afternoons connecting with England-based friends, I’ll head down to the city of the Southern sun, Durban. The first international edition of the Essence Music Festival is happening there next week, which I’ll be covering for the Fly Brother Radio Show. Still, Durbs has other charms, including an intense culinary scene centered around Indian cuisine and a lengthy history as the center of Zulu culture. Quietly, sun-splashed Durban is one of my favorite cities in Africa.

central-durban-by-ernest-white-ii
Central Durban by Ernest White II

Nile River Cruise from Luxor to Aswan
Finally, I head due north to Luxor, site of the historic Egyptian city of Thebes and home to some of the greatest preserved temples and monuments of Ancient Egypt. From there, I’ll sail into Upper Egypt with a group of fly folks on a multiday Nile River cruise organized by travel collective Up in the Air Life, covering the trip in words and images here at FLY, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The cruise ends with a stop in the venerable market town of Aswan before I continue on to chaotic Cairo and home.

temple-of-luxor-by-vasenkaphotography-via-flickr
Temple of Luxor by VasenkaPhotography via Flickr

Be sure to follow along on all the social medias! Have you ever been to any of these places?

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In Venezuela, the Médanos de Coro fan across the northern coast of Falcón state like a scarf in a perpetual breeze. Rippling, undulating, incessantly moving waves of sand rise and fall with the crest and trough of every dune. Grains of sand sparkle in the tropical sun as the expanse of tan and beige and gold stretches toward the horizon, broken only occasionally by fingers of bright green shrubs in interstitial spaces where plants took root before the rainwater could dry. The Médanos lap dangerously at the edge of the crumbling town of Santa Ana de Coro, threatening to swallow the place grain by grain just as the sands of time swallowed the Colombian village of Macondo. Or did that only happen in a book?

Medanos de Coro _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 1 _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 2 _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 3 _ Ernest White II

Medanos de Coro 4 _ Ernest White II

 

The Médanos de Coro begin just north of the town of Santa Ana de Coro, Venezuela, located three hours east of Maracaibo by bus. American Airlines flies nonstop to Maracaibo (MAR) from Miami.

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The beauty of Stockholm is most vivid in the city’s quiet interstices: the shush of an electric blue pendeltåg as it shoots down the railroad track and into a tunnel, the muted hum of designer baby stroller wheels on concrete, the hush of smoke wafting from a cup of coffee caressed in slender, pale fingers. Yes, train horns wail, babies cry, and coffee drinkers chat, but the quietness that permeates the noise in the Swedish capital wraps around you like a blanket against the Nordic air, something warm and sustaining, not stifling.

I experienced this quiet riot first hand, going into a local supermarket for a few grocery items—mjölk for my tea and coffee, and smör with which to cook the eggs and spread on the Wasa multigrain crackers I was also buying. Sweden has several different thicknesses of milk, the least desirable of which, in my opinion, having the consistency of Elmer’s Glue. But I’d learned the names of milk with acceptable levels of viscosity years ago and asked the tall, fashion-forward stockboy where I could find some in the well-stocked but shoebox-sized store. I prefaced my question with a humble, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Swedish,” and he prefaced his response a quiet, reassuring smile completely unexpected from a person under 30. I sensed a combination of pride in his own English proficiency and the surprise of an encounter with a wayward American with a voice vaguely reminiscent of Will Smith’s (so I’ve been told).

Once I scored the right milk, the stockboy peeked around the corner to ask if I’d found everything I needed, his calm, bright solicitousness another example of the quiet beauty that undergirds life in the north. He made me feel welcome in his store, his city, his country, as did the many other newsstand cashiers, coffee baristas, restaurant waiters, postal clerks, and airport bus service reps with whom I interacted in the city. Those quiet spaces between words are when the welcome is warmest.

That is the beauty of Stockholm.

 

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN
Fly | Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) | nonstops from the USA on Delta, Norwegian, SAS, United
Eat | The Hairy Pig or Stockholms Gastabud (Swedish) | Chili Masala (Indian) | Farang (East Asian)
Stay | First – Nobis Hotel | Biz – Lydmar Hotel | Econ – Ånedin Hostel
See | Gamla Stan, Djurgården, Fotografiska, Historiska Museet, the Stockholm Archipelago
Play | Summer: Trädgården and Patricia for clubbing | Year-round: music and/or dancing at Södra Teatern, Stampen, Fasching, Marie Laveau, Bambaataa Bambaataa at Le Bon Palais, The Can Jam at the Hard Rock Café

 

Image by Thomas Fabian via Flickr.

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An hour south of Geneva, where the Swiss Alps meet the French Alps, lies the splendid little city of Annecy. In winter, Annecy’s lake—opaque and unfrozen—reflects snowy peaks down which the begoggled and besweatered whoosh on skis, powered by adrenaline and hot chocolate. But in summer, Annecy itself is the attraction, its lake sparkling and turquoise in the bright Alpine sun, its winding streets humming with tourists from Lyon or Paris, yes, but also with first-year university students from Metz, middle-aged café owners who au paired in New York, pensioners who remember the end of the war, young professionals who commute to day jobs in Switzerland.

Laced with narrow canals, flower-lined palisades, sidewalk cafés, and arcaded boutiques, Annecy’s old quarter looks picture perfect. The preserved, ship-like island prison, the wrought-iron balconies above the pavement, and the commanding Château d’Annecy seem almost Disneyfied in their perfection. But that appearance is only because of the pride the residents take in making sure their town is attractive to visitors and residents alike, a pride which seeps into pleasant, warm interactions that feel downright quaint when held against Parisian aloofness: Anneciens are glad you’re here.

With the opulent L’Impérial Palace hotel and casino crowning its northern extremity, the lake of Annecy becomes the town’s locus of activity during the daytime, especially when the sun is shining: renting a bike or a kayak is the only way to soak in the vibrant energy of the lake, if you don’t know anyone with a catamaran or motorboat. In the evenings, regional French and international cuisines entice hungry diners into intimate eateries and a mix of cocktail lounges, wine bars, and sports bars keep the libations pouring and the interaction lively. Don’t worry if your French is rusty or non-existent; Annecy’s a great place to pick up a few French kisses, I mean, phrases. 😉 And before you go, stop by Chez Apo for a tasty kebab—owners Beatrice and Apo will take good care of you.

Annecy (pronounced ‘an-SEE’), France, is located 22 miles south of Geneva, Switzerland. Fly into GVA non-stop from North America via Air Canada, Swiss International Air Lines, or United Airlines, then take the bus or popular rideshare service to Annecy.

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Table Mountain, Cape Town

“I live in the most beautiful city in the world,” said my buddy Rob, a long-time expat American living in Cape Town. He’s been saying this, in one way or another, for the past several years. And it only took until this year for me to visit and, sooner rather than later, for me to agree with him.

Cape Town spills around the bottom of Africa, just north of where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, so far away as to be on another planet. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and Cape Point stand, alternately shrouded and ominous or windswept and proud, testifying to the city’s singular place in the world and daring any other pretenders to make themselves known.

Yet despite this singularity of place, Cape Town recalls at once California and Florida and the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and Rio de Janeiro and Savannah: the arid mountains, the pastel buildings and turquoise waters, the lingering sun and undulating landscape, the laid-back atmosphere, the luxury hotels and marinas full of yachts, the unresolved social inequality and unearned entitlement hard-baked into the South African soil, a Southern soil if there ever was one.

The secret to Cape Town’s beauty isn’t that it is so immediately apparent; it’s the elements of the familiar and the unique that reveal the city’s kaleidoscopic aura. I sensed this aura on the rocky flats atop Table Mountain and in the sapphire surf that plays on the beach at Sea Point. I sensed it on the buzzing commercial strips of Bo-Kaap and Brooklyn, districts containing all the various and new South Africas, where the intrepid shopper could procure any good or service, legal or otherwise. I sensed it in laughter- and light-filled conversations with Xhosa radio DJs and Afrikaner waiters, Coloured publicists and Indian receptionists, French journalists and American models, portending, possibly, nascent lifelong friendships.

Which brings me back to Rob, who I’ve known for a decade. Well-versed in my cultural and intellectual leanings, he’s been championing South Africa to me for years, even as I moved to other continents. But it only took a single fantastical moment, stepping off of Rob’s porch at twilight, Table Mountain looming black and matte against a watercolor sky, for Cape Town to prove him right. He lives in the most beautiful city in the world.

—–

Oh yeah, did I mention that I went to Cape Town Fashion Week, and associated parties?
🙂

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In Maine, in late summer, the cool breezes off the sapphire-blue Atlantic temper the warmth of a pale sun, the air free of the asphyxiating humidity of more southerly latitudes. Despite being a son of the South, and tethered naturally to the cultures and climates therein, I always find myself drawn to the northern parts of the globe in summer.

Maybe it’s some sort of symbolic retracing of the Great Migration, seeking respite ‘neath the warmth of other suns. Whatever the rhyme or the reason, my two days in Portland, largest city in Maine, proved invigorating and refreshing, not unlike a good breath mint.

maine1895I joined my good pal of 18 years (!), Rod, at his family’s summer cottage (!), driving around, scandalizing the locals with our belly laughs, watching movies, discovering music, frying chicken (!), and playing the dozens between doling out unsolicited advice as good friends are wont to do.

I returned to Florida having pinned a new city on my travel map and with fond memories of my two days in Maine. When a place stays with you, that’s magic.

Have a look at some of the sights and listen to some of the sounds I encountered in the great state of Maine:

Cape Elizabeth Maine Porches in Portland Portland City HallAtlantic Ocean at Cape Elizabeth Maine Enchanted Forest Maine

Rod and Fly
Me and Rod squinting into the sun because the light is better. #TeamOver35



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“Welcome Home” was a refrain I heard often during my two week trip through South Africa.

I heard it from Sandro, our tour van driver who was built like a linebacker and hipped me to house music maestro and native son Black Coffee. I heard it from a young travel assistant with cornrows who rerouted my return from Cape Town so I’d be able to visit the beach city of Durban. I heard it from porters on the Blue Train, from fellow diners at an eatery in Soweto, anywhere there were people who recognized me as black American and conscious enough of our shared histories. It might have been a throwaway line for some, but it felt good to hear; I’ve only been “Welcome[d] Home” to the United States twice, ever.

Despite my desire to visit sub-Saharan Africa, the country of South Africa was perhaps a strong third or fourth place on the list: I felt a visit to Ghana or Nigeria or Senegal first would better speak to my own cultural history as a black American and give me more of an authentic, and admittedly ill-defined, “African” experience than would a country which only emerged from tyrannical white-minority rule a mere two decades ago and had been listed alongside Brazil, Russia, India, and China among the world’s biggest emerging economies. Oh, what a foolish assumption to make.

What I found was a country with a people so rich in complexions, ethnicities, and languages that I didn’t feel out of place for a moment. I found a country with an incredible music scene, including Zulu-and-Indian-influenced, and an accompanying love for black American soul divas. I found a country with wizened grandmas serving the side-eye of life, and saucy young things dropping English attitude with “swee-ty” and “this one chick” and “Can we organize some coffee here?” I found a country with terrain both otherworldly and intimately familiar, a country of silver mornings and golden afternoons, of moon rocks and Georgia clay.

And I found a country where the younger generations, no matter the complexion or ethnicity or language or even previous forced homeland, feel like they each have a hand in building a new nation.

To them, all of South Africa is home.

This rambles, but…that’s the way love goes.

It may be gauche for an American to compare a distinctly non-American city to an American one, but indulge me for a moment, please. Imagine, if you will, New York in summer – without the iconic but overbearing skyscrapers or the ubiquitous scent of urine in the subways, but with the oft-stifling humidity. And the multiple, simultaneous music and cultural festivals happening any given weekend. And the walkable, energy-filled neighborhoods. And the intensely striking variation of skin tones and ethnic origins. And the taxed but generally efficient transport system connecting all the good stuff on offer. Comparing the place to New York would be the easiest, admittedly most half-hearted way to describe Canada’s second- and Quebec’s largest city, Montreal. So I’ll try to do better in the next paragraph.

During one oh-so-short weekend, I trekked up to the summit of Mount Royal, only to trek back down again and cool off at the rooftop pool of a nearby gym (pools are big in landlocked Montreal) surrounded by dozens of sun worshippers soaking it all up while they could. I ate spicy Lebanese sausage and yellow Thai curry and chicken shawarma slathered in hummus and brick-oven pizza and organic bread with unprocessed butter (tasted funny) and a heaping plate of that local French fries/gravy/cheese curd combo called poutine. I discovered my summer anthem (by British electro phenoms Disclosure) and twisted my foot fooling around to a Romanian brass band at the Jazz Fest and recovered in time for a romp at the Piknic Électronik, followed by an all-night afterparty with a clutch of new friends in a three-story rowhouse with a wrought-iron balcony. I asked “Parlez-vous anglais?” to Middle Eastern first aid responders (my foot, remember?) and black convenience store cashiers and Chinese-Malagasy waitresses and sweet little old white ladies in souvenir shops and received a “yes” (or a reflexive “oui”) and a smile every single time. I discussed American politics and Brazilian politics and Quebecois politics and the Quebecois independence movement and the Quebecois fascination with wintering in South Florida and summering in New England. I spent an afternoon marveling at the city with a fellow Murkin travel writer who had just spent a month in Paris and proclaimed her love for Montreal within a week of arriving in the Western Hemisphere’s largest French-speaking city. I responded to her with my own profession of love for Montreal.

Before last weekend, I didn’t know much about Montreal. I didn’t know that the city was as multicultural as it is, with all types of French being spoken by folks with roots all over the globe. I didn’t know that Montreal’s particular brand of French was so appealingly full-bodied, brash, and funky. I didn’t know that its people would be so unfailingly attractive, with Old World style, New World swagger, and a visible profusion of good genes. I didn’t know that many Quebecois do still feel a deep disconnect from the rest of Anglophone Canada as a marginalized people (boy, how I can relate to that!). I didn’t know that I could walk down the street in Montreal and fit right into the mosaic as if I belonged. I didn’t know I’d feel as if I belonged in Montreal. But I did, and Montreal smiled.

Forget Paris. Montreal, je t’aime.

Poutine (with pepperoni)
Poutine (with pepperoni) and a Coke Zero. Avoid empty calories.
Coccinelle cider
Coccinelle cider. It refreshes!
First aid station
My foot hurts and you laughin’, MF?!
Old and New Montreal
Something old, something new.
Montreal subway swag
Montreal subway swag.

Shaky video of the Piknic Électronik:

The Fly Brother Summer Anthem 2013:

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Despite $5 bottles of water and grey, rainy weather for most of the weekend, Copenhagen proved a welcoming and interesting little city, with an outsized cultural scene and friendly people. I arrived into the Danish capital early on a Friday morning and zipped quickly through the stylish and efficient airport terminal only to have my spirits dampened by the uninspiring currency exchange rate and the uninspiring gloomy skies (underscored by an uninspiring high temperature in the low 40s). With the excitement of getting to know a new place somewhat tempered by my aversion to the cold and my fear overspending—hell, of spending any money, really—I caught the bus from the airport to my friend’s house, passing alongside the blue-gray expanse of the Oresund and coursing through quaint little Danish neighborhoods with quaint little Danish houses, all with quaint little Danish flags flying on flagpoles in each yard. Danish Flag My friend Naomi is in Denmark with her son working on a Master’s degree and she was one of the first friends I made in Brasília when I moved there a few years ago. I was hyped about seeing her and speaking Portuguese on the streets of Copenhagen. And speak Portuguese on the streets of Copenhagen we did, with people looking curiously, then smiling at the three of us as we took advantage of the one sunny day that weekend and toured the historic canals by boat, wafted through legal weed smoke in the independent little burg of Christiania, and took in a couple of the offerings at the documentary film festival happening that weekend (specifically, we saw Paul Simon: Under African Skies and Tropicália). There’s something to be said for the way people respond to families with children, as opposed to single (and large) men on the street.

While Naomi and filho were at school, I took to the city alone, marveling at the seemingly large number of brown and black people in town (including several city bus drivers) and hitting up a few quirky coffee shops and eateries in search of what the Danes call hygge, which is roughly translated in English as “coziness.” I had a trio of delicious “smushis” (traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches served in sushi-sized chunks) at The Royal Café, proceeded to choke on the prices for curios at the nearby Royal Copenhagen porcelain store, then warmed up with one of the richest cups of hot chocolate I’ve ever had in life at La Glace, an old school confectionary with enough enticing sweet stuff to warrant an extra hour on the treadmill.

At night, Naomi and I met up with a couple of her school mates at the National Gallery of Denmark and had engaging political debate (Obama vs. Romney, Greece vs. Germany, McDonald’s vs. Burger King) while the DJ spun Scandinavian downtempo and people just sat and watched the light display and drank beer. After chicken curry and shawarmas (at two different places), we ended up at a surprisingly amazing and intimate concert by Alcoholic Faith Mission (had never heard of them); we were being told the happening party we’d stumbled upon was “ladies only” and the concert’s sound guy randomly intervened and invited us upstairs, where the set was already half over. I didn’t get a chance to say it at the time, but cheers, Random Sound Guy!

The weekend ended all too quickly, but I never got around to seeing the Little Mermaid and accidentally left a sweater at Naomi’s house—all the more reason to head back. Copenhagen, you were indeed wonderful. I’ll see you again soon. Save a smushi for me! More photos! Copenhagen Waterfront

The Royal Cafe Smushis
The smushis were good, y’all! (Crabcake, steak, and haddock!)
Golden Eagle, Copenhagen
Get a load of that price tag! This golden eagle is on sale at your local Royal Copenhagen store.

Nordic Sun, Copenhagen Copenhagen Toilet Copenhagen Dusk

Meninos Loucos
“Aiight, no more sugar for you, Li’l Man!”

And special thanks, Henrik at Wonderful Copenhagen, for your humorous and insightful pointers on getting along in “The Kingdom!”

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