Thursday, July 30, 2015

Deflategate Pt. 2: The Race to the Bottom

It has been common to say from the beginning of the real Deflategate madness, the Wells Report and the fallout of that event, was that no one looked good. Then following two rounds of decisions, both the initial and the upholding, Bob Kraft fighting than giving up and fighting again, and now the fallout from the upholding, no one even looks bad - they look awful. This mess has not only smeared Roger Goodell, but I think it has started to smear the Patriots far more. Maybe I'm buying into the NFL's pr-game more than the Patriots one, and maybe I'm biased, but I fervently believe the Patriots side in both Tom Brady and Robert Kraft, are winning the race to the bottom.

First on the NFL. It is absolutely undeniable that they have turned what was likely a small-value infraction into a giant mess that spiraled out of control months ago. They could have nipped this in the bud. They could have swept this under the rug (and remember this point: given the Patriots were about to play in the Super Bowl and the status of the team and Tom Brady, it would have been more prudent to do so in this case). They didn't and then decided to go beserk when they felt the Patriots were not rising to their level of perceived seriousness of the transgression.

That is their right though. The counter is that they should have taken a perceived on-field cheating episode less seriously. They didn't; they decided to investigate a matter they deemed serious - it probably wasn't. They decided to take this as seriously as they had for a lot of also seemingly small offenses. The Patriots seemed either reluctant to engage them seriously, or to unwittingly not engage them.

The NFL looked foolish by ordering the Wells report, by spending money on that research assignment, by coming out with a giant suspension, and then by upholding it. They also look foolish by continuing to use this idea that Roger Goodell can be the guy handling the appeal of his own discipline (but remember, the NFLPA agreed to that). The NFL looked foolish a lot, but at least this time they are only guilty of caring too much. Isn't this what we all wanted when we cried foul at the punishments for Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson, and Greg Hardy? Those were, as horrible as they were, off-field events. This was an on-the-field issue that questioned the integrity of the game - even if it was in a small way. This is something they can spend millions on investigating, and they did.

For all the NFL did wrong, Brady has now started to come off worse. Just as we complain that this is not that serious of an offense that the NFL should not investigate, this wasn't a serious offense that Brady could have admitted guilt, played down the seriousness and put this whole thing behind him. He didn't, he then compounded by not playing ball with the NFL, and is now suspended and fighting a losing PR battle and is looking more and more like someone emulating Lance Armstrong but for a far less serious crime.

Look, I am no Tom Brady fan. I'm reveling in this entire ordeal, just like I did during Spygate (when I wasn't burying my head in them going 18-and-almost-0). But I think I can at least talk about what he's done. What Tom Brady has done is basically take the same defense that steroid guys have taken: deny, deny, deny. And more then that, come up with creative ways to explain things that look bad. For steroid guys, it was saying what they actually were ordering, or why they were calling known dealers. For Brady, it is him always destroying phones, despite his previous phone not being destroyed, or not knowing the two guys, despite the texts with Jastremski the day following. He just comes across as a man who is now pot-committed, at a point where there is a 10% chance he gets out of it, and has put in too much to walk away.

I don't know if Robert Kraft comes off worse, but he definitely comes off the most pitiable. Either he was dumb for giving in to Roger Goodell, or he's dumb for believing Brady. Robert Kraft is a brilliant businessman, but he hasn't always seemed to be the best reader of people. He seemed to think him dropping any potential action against the league would help Brady's appeal, despite Goodell saying it will have no impact. He also has admitted in the past to being duped by Aaron Hernandez, who 'looked into eyes and swore he was innocent'. Robert Kraft may just be being duped again.

No one looks good. The NFL, the Brady camp, even the Patriots who tried to say that when McNally referred to himself as the 'deflator' he meant he was trying to lose weight, something they quietly removed from the website they put up for the sole purpose of picking holes in the Wells report. Even the fans don't look good for putting up with this stuff. It will end though, at some point it will be behind us, but for now we can marvel how all these different parties, with the best legal teams money can buy, can make mistake after arrogant mistake.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Geniuses: MLB

The Calm Genius: Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is not just one of the best pitchers of his generation. He is putting up a resume that should place him as one of the best ever. He's on a five game stretch that basically no one has matched apart from Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux. Those are two of the ~10 best pitchers ever. Those are legends of the game that will last generations. Kershaw is basically going to be that guy. Yet what makes Clayton Kershaw so odd is he doesn't have the filth of Randy Johnson (the 90-mph slider that was nearly unhittable) or the brilliance of Maddux (who's pitches moved more than a politician during the general election - and yes I apologize for that simile). Kershaw throws a fastball at 92-94 MPHs. He has a hilarious curve and a great changeup and a great slider, but other than the curveball he's not the best in MLB at any of them. Yet combine them all and you have a guy who put up a historic 1.83 ERA in 2013, and actually got better in 2014. Kershaw has gotten to play against worse competition than guys did just 10 years ago, but his numbers and his peerless genius are still legendary. The most hilarious part is that he's just 27. Clayton Kershaw has a chance to go down as the next Maddux or Randy Johnson, or even Roger Clemens. He's already the closest to Pedro, in terms of a combination of incredible control and nasty stuff, that we've seen since the Dominican giant. Clayton Kershaw is also an incredible, almost comically good, person. There's really nothing he does less than the best in baseball, a true hero for the 21st Century.

The Perfectionist Genius: Buster Posey

From the day Buster Posey got called up in 2010, the Giants have been the best team in baseball. Not the team with the best record, but the team that has won three World Series. In that time, Buster Posey has won an MVP, have another season in the Top-10, lead the NL in WAR for catchers three times, and put up OBS+'s of 133-116-171-134-145-149. His career OPS+ is 144. He's arguably better now than he was two years ago. He's done this all while also being the best defensive catcher in the NL, and arguably the best pitch framer. He's basically a perfect catcher, the NLs version of Joe Mauer, but with more power. Buster Posey has also done all this while having a classic easy swing, a beautiful way of playing, and combining that all with boy-ish good looks. He's a true American dream, a young, smart, polite kid who does everything well and goes home each night to his gorgeous all-american girl-next-door wife. Buster Posey is a man straight out of literature, straight out of Field of Dreams, the guy who makes us all feel bad about how we are living our lives. Of course, he's also only 28.

The Next Genius: Mike Trout

I'm not going to overrate Mike Trout by saying he is the 21st Century Mickey Mantle, a man who is so good at everything it almost seems boring now. It wasn't always boring. In Mike Trout's first full season, he came up in May and basically was the best player in baseball. He was the hero if the new statistical age. Sabermetrics went first from a movement to say that Adam Dunn is better than Juan Pierre, but then became the movement that Mike Trout, the ultimate 5-tool player, was better than Miguel Cabrera, the man with one tool better than any of Trout's tools. Well, three years later, other than Bryce Harper, it looks like no one really has any tool better than Mike Trout. It just looks so easy, so natural, to watch him up at the plate  roping drives to all fields, and often over the fence. Trout's fielding and base-running has gotten worse, but his bat has only gotten better. He has a career  170 OPS+, and he's not even 24. Mike Trout is going to be really good for a long, long time. There is a chance we are talking about someone who could reach Pujols' numbers for his first 10 seasons. We are talking about a guy who if he continues this production for 5 more years may already make the hall of fame. And all of that is because we can capture what Trout does well better than we ever could. Only thing is over time Trout has taken that problem away from us, as now he's just decided to be good at the things we can easily track.

The Lost Genius: Tim Lincecum

Through his first four full seasons ('08-'11), Tim Lincecum averaged the following:

16-9; 2.81 ERA; 220 IPs; 244 Ks; 78 BBs; 143 ERA+

Over the next three-and-a-half seasons ('12-'14), Tim Lincecum has averaged the following:

11-13; 4.76 ERA; 180 IPs; 172 Ks; 76 BBs; 75+

There may not have been a player to have that drastic of a fall off in MLB history, especially someone who did the first four seasons at ages 24-27 and did the last three at 28-30. Tim Lincecum is unlike anyone ever for how bad he became, but he was also unlike anyone ever in how good he was. Everyone expected Lincecum, a man of all of 5'9", to have his arm fall off given his violent, odd, hysterical pitching motion. It never did, and for four years that motion coupled with a 95-MPH fastball and a delirious curve was able to make him one of the three best pitchers in baseball. It was able to make him good enough to pitch one of the great games in MLB history. One day after Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS, Lincecum pitched a game that was in some ways better. Against the Braves, Lincecum threw a complete game shutout, with 14 Ks, 1 walk and two hits. He was electric, he was a wizard with the ball, spinning pitch after pitch by hapless Braves. He ended that postseason with a game about as good. In the World Series clincher in Texas, he threw 8 innings, allowing one run on three hits with 10 Ks. Lincecum was a delight, a fascinating study on exacting science (his carefully crafted delivery) matching up with artistic brilliance. Lincecum had a flair all his own, an almost Pedro-esque personality on the mound. He'll never be that guy again. He will never come close. But we'll always have those four years, those back-to-back Cy Young awards, and those electrifying nights where this little man ruled the world.

The Unwanted Genius: Chris Sale

If you try hard, you can make an argument that Chris Sale is every bit as good as Clayton Kershaw over the past 4+ seasons. He hasn't pitches as much because he's gotten hurt slightly more, but Chris Sale has been phenomenal since becoming a full-time starter in 2012. Since then, his 162-game average has been the following:

16-11; 2.80 ERA; 232 IPs; 259 Ks; 52 BBs; 143 ERA+.

Now, that's not as good as Kershaw, but in many ways Sale has gone about it being the anti-Kershaw. Unlike Clayton's easy power pitching style, Sale is violent, Sale is harmful, Sale is the guy that everyone thought would have blown out that elbow years ago. Chris Sale is 6'6" and 180 lbs. Chris Sale is basically gumby, with an elastic arm to boot. So far he's never had any serious arm issue, and thank God, because watching him twirl those dynamic pitches is a thing of beauty. He is the national air of Randy Johnson, with the height and the lankiness and the strained delivery to boot. Chris Sale recently had 8-straight starts with double digit strikeouts. The two other guys to do that are named Randy and Pedro. Sale belongs at that level when he's at his best. Luckily for us all, he's been at his best for a long time now.

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Airlines

Top-10 Favorite Airlines


Token US Airline: JetBlue

Not Ranked: Air India, British Airways, Korean Air, KLM Royal Dutch, Air Berlin,

10.) Thai Airways (2013)

I took Thai Airways more than any other on my round the world trip, including two long flights (Johannesburg - Bangkok & Melbourne - Bangkok), and a flight aboard their flagship A380 on a flight to Tokyo. Still, I didn't get the greatest experience. The movie selection was fine, if a little less than the other airlines of that time that I took. The food was always decent, but never true Thai food - it never had some of the staple Thai offerings to eat. They also butchered serving me a meat dish on the other flight (Bangkok - Bangalore). I'll give the airline props for having an incredible livery and a great look, including some really nice crew uniforms. Still, I would have rather taken some of the other airlines more.

9.) Lufthansa (1993, 2009)

Obviously, I don't remember the time I took them in 1993, but I remember the two main flights I took in 2009 - which was my school's Orchestra tour of Austria. We took them to Frankfurt on a B747-400, and back from Munich on a stunning Airbus A340-600 (the most beautiful plane for my money). Both flights were very nice, if understated. This was right before AVOD became standard, but the movie choices were still solid if a bit limited. I remember that the plane had really nice blankets, and a really good feel overall. The food was probably not the best, but it wasn't bad either and they had a good bit of in-between meal snacks. Random note, this is probably the last International Flight I took where I was unable to order a drink as I was with school kids.

8.) All Nippon Airways (2013)

I only took one flight on All Nippon, a sort four hour jaunt from Tokyo to Bangkok. All Nippon is regarded as one of the best airlines in the world, and the ranking would likely increase if I took them again (and I may well do so one day if I fly to Tokyo straight). Still, in just four hours on what was obviously not a premier route for them (the flight was on a Boeing B767-300 - not a premier plane), I could tell what a good airline this is. They had ice-cold Asahi beer; a great movie selection (it was a small screen though - again, this is likely due to the aircraft) and a really good level of service overall. Japan has long had the world's second most advanced aviation industry after the US - and it's main airline is a good representative for that.

7.) South African Airways (2013)


The longest flight I have personally been on was the non-stop between New York JFK and Johannesburg - a 15:15 flight that leaves at 11:00 AM, and arrives at 8:00 AM the next day. Despite leaving before noon, the flight is somehow in darkness for a good 11-12 of the 15 hours. As for the flight, it was on a gorgeous plane (the Airbus A340-600) and I had the fortune of having a half full flight with 2-3 seats to myself. A few notes about the airline: they had great mood lighting, great music, a really large movie selection (to be fair, this was before I realized this had become standard), and good, but not great, food. South African was a great start to my trip, and a great airline that due to price and inability to pick up mileage tickets I may never take again.

6.) Iberia (2009) 

Iberia is another airline I've taken just one time, but that was on one of its premier routes - the overnight flight from New York to Madrid on a stunning little plane I like to call the Airbus A340-600. The flight was notable as it was the first international flight I took as an adult - ergo, first flight I drank on, and it was a great one. They had really nice seats that seemed to recline more than normal. There was a really good movie selection, but more than that a really great food selection. I've flown enough 10+ hour flights that these red-eyes to Europe are no longer as fun, but this was a great one. Sure, I love almost all things Spanish, but Iberia deserved it.

5.) Swiss International (2003, 2004, 2007, 2011)

I've taken Swiss a few more times than I should have, but that means I've taken them at different times in aviation - when it was operated by an Airbus A340-300, and an Airbus A330-300. I've also taken them on premier routes (New York to Zurich), and secondary routes (Zurich to Mumbai)... and they were all really good. The airline really has the Swiss efficiency down, from really comfortable seats, very good and well presented food, a nice selection of movies, and little chocolate squares that they hand out 3-4 times during the flight. I became pretty used to their peerless service. Swiss is easily the best European Airline I've taken - one that would be well at home in Asia.

4.) Emirates Airline (2015)

I took Emirates for the first time this year to Italy. Of course that means that I've taken Emirates but not flown through Dubai, and I've taken Emirates but not flown on their A380. No, it was a solid aircraft, the Boeing B777-300ER, the most efficient long-haul plane flying today. The flight was everything I had hoped in terms of the food (probably the largest food serving I've had), and the movie selection (probably Top-3 in terms of number of choices). Their only failing was a slow meal service that took a good 2 hours on the 8 hour flight to Milan. That may be an aberration, though. Everything I've seen is that this is a fantastic airline that lived up to expectations.

3.) Cathay Pacific (2003)

What's amazing about Cathay Pacific is I've only taken them in 2003 - that was long enough ago that the route to India was New York -> Vancouver -> Hong Kong (switch planes) -> Bangkok -> Mumbai. That was long enough ago that there was no AVOD, but they did have seat-back video screens. This was my first trip that I remember on a B747-400 which was exciting, but it was also my first time flying over the Pacific, which was really exciting. It helped that Cathay was just great though. They had more food options than I've ever had in a flight, including a mid-flight round of 'Cup of Noodles'. They had really good drink selections, really nice seats, and just a great overall quality of service and look. I really need to take them again, as by all reports Cathay has gotten even better in the year's since.

2.) Etihad Airways (2010, 2011, 2015)

I've dropped Etihad in my thinking after my most recent trip to India, but that is more about just how close these Top-2 are. Etihad was about as good this time as it was last time. Their food is constantly fantastic, with a great lamb or fish offering during every leg of the flight. There are just small problems here and there. They don't have the best beer selection. They take way too long to start up the AVOD system after take-off. The B777-300ERs that they now use to operate the New York - Abu Dhabi flight do not have the amazing mood lighting that their A340-500's did when I flew them previously. Again, these are not big issues; they don't outweigh the best food I've had on a plane, and great service and great movie selection. They're just small imperfections that drop Etihad below my new #1.

1.) Singapore Airlines (2013)

My dad often talked about how amazing Singapore Airlines was. He took them at an age where cost-cutting wasn't as big as it was when I took them. Still, he's absolutely right. This is the only airline that served me a drink when still on the ground, that had their own specialty cocktail selection for economy passengers, that had an amazing economy seating section on the upper deck that I was lucky enough to nab for my flight from Singapore to Melbourne. Singapore Airlines also adds into that an exhaustive movie selection and a great food selection including beef rendang and short rib. There's really nothing that I can pick on when considering my five flights on Singapore Airlines. Given that they've essentially taken away all mileage seats for United MileagePlus customer's, I may never take them again, but what an amazing experience.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Geniuses: MLB Past

The Flawed Genius: Alex Rodriguez

I've already detailed Alex Rodriguez's strange return to baseball, but what is obvious, now that he's finished half a season with an OPS over .900 and being the best hitter on a playoff-team, is that Alex Rodriguez, despite him taking steroids at a level that might make Lance Armstrong blush, is an incredible goliath at hitting a baseball. Alex Rodriguez had an OPS north of 1.000 as a 21-year old. He was the best player in baseball by 26, and remained that guy for another 10 years. Alex Rodriguez somehow made a $252,000,000 worth it (or at least compared to a lot of guys who got 9 figure contracts. But then there's that thing of him causing more problems than he helped. Hard to say that is true with a guy who was a consistent 9+ WAR player, but he was a weird guy. He had no real personality, or at least one crafted to be the oddest possible. He didn't play well in a lot of playoff series, series that obscured the impact of the series he was really good in. He went to play for David in New York, and was able to somehow piss off even more people, including New Yorkers. His attitude never endeared him to anyone, but Alex Rodriguez was so good at getting in that hole of his, with blinders on for all those who hated him, and threw up season after season with an OPS+ of 150. Alex Rodriguez simple swing belied that complicated brilliance. Alex Rodriguez was many things, a lot of them wrong, a lot of them an affront to those who liked to dwell on 'honor', on 'grace', on peerless brilliance, but what beyond all that he still was a great, great player who could play baseball better than all of like 20 guys ever.

The Superhuman Genius: Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was like Alex Rodriguez amplified. He was a stranger, more aloof, more unlikeable person, for whom steroids was an ever bigger black mark, but he was also better. And not just slightly better, but empirically, evidentially and anecdotally better. Barry Bonds was so good from 2001-2004 that it is really hard to describe. He put up four straight years where he averaged the following line:

.349/.559/.809; 256 OPS+; 52 HR, 189 BBs; 60 Ks.

That is the greatest four game stretch in MLB history. Some of it was comical, particularly the intentional walks, but most of it was a guy that basically solved baseball. His batting eye was so incredible, so exact, that it seemed he never swung at a pitch out of the zone, and when he did swing, he hit the ball further than anyone has ever hit a baseball. Barry Bonds was essentially a God playing baseball those four years. His average OBP was better than the league average SLG. Of course, Barry Bonds was kind of a good player before 2001 also. In the 11 years before 2001 (1990-2000), Barry Bonds averaged this:

.302/.435/.609; 180 OPS+; 37 HR; 115 BBs; 75 Ks

That's basically one of the greatest 11-year stretches in MLB history. That stretch included winning three MVPs, leading MLB in OBP five times, leading in OPS+ five times. Of course in that stretch he also won 8 gold gloves and managed to steal 350 bases. Barry Bonds had an 11-year stretch of greatness that is matched by maybe 8-10 players, and then followed that with the greatest four year stretch in the history of baseball. There will never be another Barry Bonds. There will likely never be anyone who comes close. Barry Bonds was so good it was impossible to really comprehend what he was doing, like Tiger in 2000, or Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky. He was playing a different sport, or he was playing at a different level. Whatever he was playing though, no one else was and no one else will.

The Robot Genius: Albert Pujols

I just went over an 11-year stretch for Barry Bonds before he became a hulk and started dominating worlds. Well, Albert Pujols also has a nice little 11-year stretch. He was one of those guys that could match Barry:

.328/.420/.617; 170 OPS+; 40 HR; 89 BBs; 64 BBs

Pujols also won three MVP awards, along with two World Series and millions of people had the same reaction: is this guy human. Unlike Bonds, where people either went "He solved baseball" or "He's on the roids", for Pujols it was more "He's clearly not a human being." Pujols had this weird ax-wielding swing that seemed both robotic and beautiful and easy all at the same time. I often asked "why doesn't everyone just do THAT." Albert Pujols was a destroyer of worlds. He was a terrifying batter; one that could do things like shut up a frenzied Minute Maid Park by hitting a Brad Lidge slider further than anyone has ever hit anything. His 3-home run performance in Game 5 of the 2011 World Series was a perfect example of Albert Pujols showing his ability to ruin dreams. Overtime, Pujols got bigger, got a tad slower and a tad more human, but all he really needed was time for the robot to develop some new code. His power resurgence in 2015 is a sign of that process being complete. The Destroyer of Worlds is back.

The One-Trick Pony Genius: Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera threw one pitch. He threw that pitch about 10,000 times, and there were slight variations between the way some of those balls moved, but essentially it was 10,000 variations of the cut fastball. Each one was a small piece of performance art. This lithe, limbered man would stand and the rubber, his right arm twitching beside his frame, and then uncorked an easy swinging motion towards the plate. It was such a work of art to watch Mariano Rivera throw cutter after cutter after cutter, all between 92-95 MPH, against the best hitters in the world and see them all do absolutely nothing with it. Mariano Rivera became the Yankees closer in 1997, and over the 17 years that he was the closer, he had an ERA+ of 221, he had a WHIP under 1.00, and an ERA of 2.02. Mariano Rivera actually seemed to get better as he aged. How else do you explain having a sub-2.00 ERA for every year apart from one between 2003 and 2011, his age 33-41 seasons. Mariano Rivera, somehow, was even better in the postseason, with an ERA of 0.70. That is not a misprint, that is not wrong. That is literally the ERA Mariano Rivera, a man with one pitch, a pitch that would not be described as 'nasty' or 'filthy', in the playoffs. That is not a real number. Nothing Mariano Rivera did seemed real. It was fitting that the thing that finally made him seem human, his injury in 2012, came when shagging fly balls and not from having arm issues. He never really had arm issues. He never had any issues. Mariano did more, and when I say more I mean be the most dominant relief pitcher ever, with less, and when I say less I mean do exactly one thing over and over and over, than anyone has ever.

The Wizarding Genius: Pedro Martinez

If you want to give any pitcher the label of genius, it really would be either Greg Maddux, or Pedro Martinez. Maddux's genius was more heady, more steely, more reserved. Pedro's genius was true genius. He combined a brash attitude and a fiery personality, with a beautiful arsenal of pitches that were unmatched. Pedro Martinez's comps are the great improvisers, the great soloists. He was the pitching equivalent of Eddie Van Halen, a man with a strange personality and a fiery life, but behind that a sheer unparalleled genius that will span generations. Pedro Martinez, like Eddie, did things once thought imagineable. Martinez's change-up was like Eddie's tapping. Martinez's curveball had movement that evoked the great Koufax or Gibson. Martinez combined elements of all great pitchers, but added to it a small frame that made him seem even more historic. The stats are ludicrous. In a 7-year stretch, at the absolute height of the steroid era, Pedro averaged (162-gm average) the following:

17-5; 2.20 ERA; 0.940 WHIP; 252 Ks; 45 BBs.

Martinez's season in 2000, where he had an ERA of 1.74 (league average was 4.80), might be the best pitching season ever. For a comparison, by ERA+, he was 30% better than Bonds was in his 2001 season. Martinez faced a collection of hitters in a period where hitting was never made easier, and made them all look silly. Pedro Martinez did what Koufax did, but did it differently, combine fire and ice, fury and magic, brilliance and brawn. Pedro was a true genius, one that we may never see again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My 30 Favorite International Cities

The last time I did this was late in 2013, following my Round the Trip world. I don't know why I'm choosing now to update the list, but it is now expanded to 30 cities, and adds four new places that I've visited the last two years, and then an additional forgotten gem from my Round the World Trip.

I’m going to rank my top-30 cities to visit that I have been to. Take this more of a recommendation list, as in I would recommend the cities in the following order to someone who hasn’t visited them based on my experience visiting them. With that, obviously, only cities I have visited make the list, and visited means more than two days. I’m rating them on the following criteria: the places to see in the city, the ease of access of the city (public transport – much more important internationally when renting a car is more of a precarious idea – and the city’s airport or entrance system), their joi de vievre (a fancy way of saying ‘how would this city be to just chill out in), their weather and overall appearance, and some other factors. There’s no formula here, though.
This is heavily weighted by the amount of time I’ve spent in a city, and what age I was when I visited there. These rules hurt London, while help Madrid, because I’ve spent all of three days in London as a person of legal age, while spent more time in Madrid. It really hurts some other European cities, like Frankfurt, Zurich, Rome, Milan, places I’ve been to as a kid of 9-11.

Again, these are ranked as cities I would visit (all of them I have visited), not where I would live. I would live in Geneva, but probably not visit again because there isn’t much to do, it is cold, and some other reasons. There are places that I wish I could rank because from what I’ve heard from family/friends that have been there they seem really good, like Moscow, Berlin and Hamburg, and when I visit them, I will update this list. Also irrelevant is the ease of getting to this city. Singapore isn’t hurt because it is the farthest commonly visited location from NYC than any other place, and London isn’t helped because it is 6 hours away.

A city includes sites and destinations that are a reasonable distance away, so Barcelona won’t get credit for the Playas that are 2-3 hours away (and are closer to Valencia), and Athens won’t get credit for Ephesus which is 3 hours away, but London would get credit for Stratford (or whatever it’s called where Shakespeare is from, or Oxford – and Rome gets credit for the Vatican, which for being a different country, is totally part of Rome) which is reasonably close.

30.) Da Lat (2013)

The little hamlet high above the Vietnamese hills, Da Lat was probably the most pleasant surprise of any place on my trip. The city itself is modeled after European cities, with parks, downtown circles and even a model Eiffel Tower. The surrounding areas houses more traditional Vietnamese fair, like temples, Buddhas, waterfalls and even roller coasters, all underneath a cool mountain air. Da Lat's hills hide many nice restaurants, bars and clubs. It isn't nearly as loud or as famous as Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang or Hanoi, but Da Lat may be the most pure mix of Asia and Europe that I have seen. Also, it has an incredibly nice airport given the just six flights that fly there each day.

29.) Penang (2013)

There are positives and negatives to Penang, and depending how important the positives are relative to the negatives to you, Penang could rise or fall on your rankings. Personally, food and culture are really important to me, and Penang has both in spades. It may be a little overrated with food, but the seafood night markets that litter both Georgetown (the main city) and the beaches (all within an hour or so from Georgetown) are wonderful. The Nyonya food in Penang is far better than that in Kuala Lumpur. There is enough to see, including a nice little trek in Georgetown to some interesting historical buildings (the Cheong Fat Tze is a nice highlight). Of course, Penang is also very crowded, slightly dirty and the beaches themselves are quite barren. In the end, I find this fair for what I still consider a great eating spot.

28.) Hong Kong (2003)

Hong Kong has little to do in terms of historical sights. With a couple countries claiming ownership of Hong Kong, they have done a nice job removing any ties to any country. Still, it has arguably the best skyline in the world (though after the new WTC complex is finished in all its glory, NYC will have a good claim to that spot), and being situated in front of and on a mountain gives it some excellent views. Their airport in universally hailed as great, and the gambling capital of Asia (Macau) is just a ferry ride away. But still, picking a place to be higher than 15th given its total lack of history, or its lack of any particular brand of brilliance other than its propensity to build really tall buildings just feels wrong.

27.) Udaipur (2013)

Our first new city on the list is my 2nd Indian city on the list. As somehow who hated traveling in India, picking a city that is in one of the hottest areas in the country, and a city I visited during their hot dry season, this high might seem surprising. Well, I can't recommend Udaipur, along with Rajasthan as a hole, enough. The city has some beautiful scenery being built on a far more hilly area of the country than you would expect. They have famous lakes that hold famous hotels built on famous castles. They have nice food and street shows that line the corridors of the inner city. THere's the strange love for the movie Octopussy, where screenings are shown nightly. There's a beautiful palace inside the city. And I'll stretch my 'sites withing 1.5 hours count' rule by saying that the Jain Temple at Ranakpur was incredible - and in any modern country it would be within 1.5 hours.

26.) Florence (2003)

I’ll admit that Florence should probably be higher on this list, but it is my list of favorite cities that I would recommend. This is a strange combination, because personal favorites are wholly subjective, while cities that you recommend should be somewhat objective. Anyway, my problem with Florence is I’m not really into art, and if you aren’t than there is little to do in Florence. If you like art, specifically really detailed portraits from the renaissance era, then you will love Florence. If you don’t, then it will be something of a bore to a disappointment.

25.) Munich (2000 & 2009)

I have a strange history with quite a few international cities, and Munich is another one. I had both my 9th and 18th Birthday in Munich (in related news, I’m pretty sure where you can find me on April 7th, 2018). The first during my initial trip to that part of the world, and the 2nd on the penultimate day of our Orchestra’s tour of Austria (we flew out of Munich). Berlin is supposedly a great, modern city, but out of all the cities I have been to in Germany, Munich is by far the best. It is incredibly modern, and getting increasingly so, with modern architecture abound. It is the only European city with a skyline that can compare to those in the US (not a crucial factor, but still nice). The downside is there is little to see and that German food isn’t that good. Either way, Munich will always be the place to spend any birthday that is a multiple of nine, and for that alone, it gets on the list.

24.) Paris (2006) 

There’s obviously a ton to see in Paris, and the city center around the Eifel Tower, on either side of River Sein, is beautiful. Paris is a probably a city that certain people would love, but I am not one of them. Of course, I liked it enough to put ahead of some damn good cities, mostly on the ridiculous amounts of things to see alone. I actually don’t remember much of my Paris trip, which is strange given its relative recency, but I do remember thinking one day in the Louvre was far from enough, and the city center of Paris containing some of the best architecture of any European city. A lot of these European cities are impacted by my like or dislike of footballers from that region (I know, that sounds stupid, and it is), and Paris gets a boost for being the hometown to Zinedine Zidane.

23.) Mexico City (2014)

I put 2014 there, but I went to Mexico City two different times, staying in two different areas of that expansive, massive, festive city. Far safer than most areas of Mexico, La Cuidad is incredibly impressive. There are tons of historical sites, like the entire Zocalo, the Chapultepec, and La Reforma. Mexico City also has a wealth of food options, with incredibly authentic Mexican fare from around the country, including the incredible Oaxacan food. Really fun night spot as well. Mexico City blew me away also with its strange, mysterious beer culture. The City is a sprawling testament to how secretly, behind the dangerous cartels that line the exterior, the soft interior of Mexico is a gorgeous, cultural attraction that is bettered by so few cities.

22 & 21.) Prague/Budapest (2000)

These two are kind of blended together for me. I visited them essentially right after each other, both 13 years ago so my memory of each is a little hazy. I remember both for mainly positives. They are both beautiful cities, with lovely rivers running through them. They have some stuff to see, but not a whole lot. They are more affordable than the major cities in Western Europe, which is a plus (but also English –at least then – is not very transferrable to there). Budapest has some great food (Goulash!), while Prague is a pilgrimage for Catholics. 

20.) Phnom Penh (2013)

I lied when I said that Da Lat was the biggest surprise of the trip. Phnom Penh was. I wasn't expecting too much from Canbodia's capital, but the mix of history, good and bad, food, nightlife and surprising urbanity made Phnom Penh a real highlight for me. I really loved Cambodian food, and it was at its best in Phnom Penh, a perfect mix of Malay and Thai cuisine. Phnom Penh itself embraced its own history, not shying away from the terrible acts of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, maintaining multiple areas in the city to pay tribute to those who died. The rest of the city pays tribute to the rich culture of Cambodia that preceded the destruction, with large pagodas in beautiful parks and nice museums. Phnom Penh also has a nice riverfront area that is really, really lively at night. Add into all of this that the currency of choice in the Dollar, and you get a really nice, underrated city.

19.) Panama City (2012)

My highest ranking Caribbean city probably could be higher, but I’ve been to a lot of great European cities so I don’t want to get crazy. I went to Panama with really low expectations, and I was blown away. It has a really impressive skyline, one that holds its own even if you forget that it is a poor latin country. It has great food of different cuisines. It has a ton to see, with the Panama Canal and the rainforest both falling into its sights. Other than Calgary (which I talked about in the last list) I don’t know if any trip I’ve gone on has been such a surprise as Panama, the Caribbean’s only truly modern city.

18.) Berlin (2014)

Berlin is the only German city I've gone to as an adult, and from what I read it was a good one to pick. The city is sprawling, and has covered it's whole 'we had a giant wall' thing with some really modern buildings and a few nice memorials. But what it also hides is an incredible city. The main squares, or platzes are all incredible, including that entire stretch between the Brandenburg Gate, through the Tiergarten, and ending with the Berlin Island. There are various areas of the city with incredible churches, restaurants, bars (and bars, and bars) and historical buildings. The city houses some fascinating museums that touch on the long, varying history of Germany is a country. Berlin as a city is too big to do in 3 days like I did, but it is definitely alluring enough to go back.

17.) Melbourne (2013)

Melbourne could be a Top-10 city to spend four or five days in. There is not too much to do, but enough to keep you occupied. If you like sports, which I do, then it is even better. Melbourne tries to lay claim to the Sporting Capital of the World, and when you mix together one of Tennis' four main tournaments with the 2nd most famous Cricket Ground (and most famous Aussie Rules ground) in the world right next door, it is hard to argue. Melbourne's riverfront is a beautiful area, with amazing views of the city around it. It's food options are endless, with really good Asian cuisine throughout the city. The nightlife seemed nice enough. It also has some really beautiful scenery around an hour of its boundaries, with beautiful parks, wine regions and the Great Ocean Road. Add into that Philipp Island, which just hits the cutoff to be included with Melbourne, and you get a solid, Top-15 city.

16.) Turin (2015)

I was close to picking Parma, as then I could include the Parma cheese factories, but picking Turin allows me to count the Piedmont wine country, and those little towns that dot it. Turin the city though, is a understated version of how incredible Italy is. It has the requisite churches and squares, but also has the open palacial squares and river-fronts that you normally associate with other countries in Europe. It has some incredible little hamlets of food, with great options for eating throughout the day (some excellent tea joints). My favorite place in Turin actually wasn't one of the two main squares, but Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one that borders the river with an amazing view of the city behind it. It was the last place we went to in Turin, an incredible capper to an unexpected amazing day in a great city.

15.) Tokyo (2013)

As a tourist, I don't care what the work and life culture are of the people in the city, and good thing, because if I did I may hate Tokyo. To see people in full suit in the subway at 11 PM coming home from work is jarring. But this isn't about any of that, it is about Tokyo the city, and it is a really fabulous metropolis. Tokyo is sprawling, in a way that makes New York seem small. There are really bustling regions like Shinjuku, really fun late night spots like Roppongi. There is a ton to see, and great food options. The food may be more corporate than traditional and homestyle in Tokyo, but that isn't all bad. The biggest complaint with Tokyo is just the size. It is so big that it is tiring to navigate at times, getting from one end to the other. Even with the reliability and the local JR Train lines, it takes time to get around. Good thing that most regions have enough to do to spend half a day there anyway. One last point, I thought Times Square was bright, until I went to Ginza.

14.) Vienna (2000 & 2009)

The 2nd time I went to Vienna was on my high school’s Orchestra’s tour of Austria during my Senior year, and much of my high ranking for Vienna is based on that trip. There is a ton of history in Vienna, with the music scene being located there (Mozart and Beethoven’s houses), with the adjoining arts scene with a bevy of theatres. If you like classical music, then Vienna is heaven. I am including the adorable little town of …… where we performed, which was half an hour outside Vienna. The best part of Vienna is how modern it is. The city center has some of the largest streets and public squares of anywhere in Europe, with grand architecture all around. The food isn’t great, but it is no worse than Germany and Switzerland, and Austria is generally less expensive. It took a second trip to get acclimated with Vienna’s charms, but they are there, and plentiful.

13.) Bangkok (2003 & 2013)

Here’s the gist of what I remember from Bangkok: nice Wats to see, incredible food, up all night, eating all the time. Bangkok is a food-lover’s paradise, especially for those who like Thai food. Bangkok is also close to areas where you can do all those Asia type things like ride elephants and see the jungle. The weather is surprisingly decent for a city in Southeast Asia, and from what I remember it is pretty easy to navigate. My thoughts regarding Bangkok have indeed changed with my one-plus day visit. The city is better than I remembered, with sprawling malls, an advanced metro system, and new urban centers. The weather isn’t quite as good, as it is still hard to get to different parts of the city, but the city center of Bangkok is about as good as any I’ve seen in Asia.

12.) Goa (2011 & 2013)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, my initial ranking of Goa was a little ridiculous. It was built off of an admittedly awesome trip to Goa in 2011, but that was a perfect storm. We were staying in the best part of Goa for a first timer who loves food on beaches at 2 AM. I was fresh off of an alcohol cleanse (which of course came after the opposite of an alcohol cleanse), and was greeted with $0.50 beer. Goa still has all those things, but I quickly realized upon my second visit that the area of Goa you stay in makes a huge difference. Stay too far South and you get isolated beaches, which I am sure are nice to some, but they don't have the same nightlife and food options littering the beach. Instead, they have litter littering the beach. Stay in the right part of Goa and it is amazing, the wrong part and it is merely OK. Still, it is unlike anything else in India, and for that it will always be in my part.

11.) London (1999, 2000 & 2010)

I probably should just go to London more, because both my Dad and my Sister, who lived there, swear by London as an incredible city. But again, I’m not ranking this by how livable they are, but how good they are as tourist destinations. London definitely has enough to see, including the nicely compact Royal stuff (palace, parliament, other stuff), and a neatly packed city center (West End, Trafalgar Square, other stuff I’m forgetting), but it is a little too big. It’s subway system is clean, but doesn’t have the expansiveness that it needs (something I give huge credit to the NYC Subway System for, no matter how dirty it is). Of course, it is damn expensive, and the weather is mostly lousy. It may get better with more trips, but I think London is too big for its own good, and a little too confused, as it tries to be both Rome and New York.

10.) Krakow (2014)

By rule I like smaller cities over sprawling ones. Well, while there are expanses to Krakow that extend in all directions, almost everything worth seeing in the city is in a 10x10 block radius circling the best city square (Rynek Glowny) I have seen in Europe. When you get a city that has (their claim) more bars per capita than any in the world, combine that with amazing open space and roadside/streetside restaurants, and an economy that does not use the Euro and is far cheaper than comparale cities in Western Europe, you get a pretty fantastic city. Also, you want history near its borders, you get Auschwitz about 2 hours away. Krakow is an incredible secondary city, arguably the best secondary city I've ever been to. The beer, food and endless beautiful women makes it Top-25; the sites, easily walkable goegraphy, and amazing history (Copernicus lived there too) makes it Top-10.

9.) Kyoto (2013)

Kyoto is the 3rd biggest City in Japan, but resembles so little of Tokyo (the biggest city) that makes it seem like a different country. Sure, the food options and the bustle is still there, but Kyoto, in some ways, is like a supersized Siem Reap. The real highlight of Kyoto is the ridiculous amounts of Temples and historical Japanese buildings. All of these are encircling the downtown area of Kyoto. Of course, that downtown is quite large, with beautiful malls, tall buildings with summer beer gardens (umlimited beer buffets for $30) and plentiful up-scale food options. Kyoto even has the most expansive Geisha area of Japan. Kyoto is the perfect city to experience what people's idea of Japan is, temples and pagodas and sushi, oh my!

8.) Rome (2003)

Speaking of Rome, history’s most famous city checks in next. I haven’t spent any time in Rome as an adult, but I don’t think Rome is the type of city that would change much from an adult’s perspective. It is good for its history and sites first, and if you like Italian cuisine, the food second. If you include the Vatican, and as a Catholic I do, in Rome, then there is even more to see, as you have two different parts of history, the formation of the Catholic Church in the awe-inspiring Vatican grounds near and inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Roman history which is very well kept up. I can’t remember how their public transport was, and we went in December, so the weather was bad, but I don’t think it is a very big city. And then there is that food. I don’t want personal biases like my ambivalence towards Italian food to sway this. Many do like Italian food, and the city is even better for those people. That said, what hurts Rome in my book is I think it is too dependent on the sites, and if you aren’t there on a religious pilgrimage, I can’t imagine the allure of going to Rome more than once.

7.) Athens (2010)

So Athens is very much like its historical partner, Rome, with a few less sites, a lot less crowds, less expensive, and with better weather. So does that whole equation spit out a better city? In my mind, it does. Part of this has to do with visiting Athens at the perfect time (19, during March) and Rome not (13, during December), but Athens has it all. It has a lot to see, but not so much that sightseeing takes over the trip. It has a city that is hard to navigate by car and by walking, but has an adequate subway system. It has excellent food, and a great environment that bursts with fun and enjoyment. Just a grand old time in Athens, as I’m sure it was 2,500 years ago.

6.) Singapore (2012 & 2013)

Singapore is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. There is no city any cleaner. There is no city as tightly situated while having enough external attractions. There is no city better built for a short stay. What doesn’t Singapore have? It has a theme park for kids. A bird park (highly recommended) and a night safari for kids and adults. It has a brand new casino for adults. It has a centralized bar/pub/club area near the waterfront. It has a preponderance of food from really, really cheap to really expensive. It has livable weather year-round. It also has the most interesting and enjoyable airport I’ve ever been to (there is a pool and gym that everyone can use for free in it!), and the cleanest, best organized subway system I’ve seen. So why is Singapore only #3? Because there isn’t that much to do, and Singapore’s not cheap enough to just sit around and eat/drink/do nothing. The sights have no historical resonance, and are replicated in other cities. Still, for a period less than a week, there is no better city to visit.

5.) Sydney (2013) 

Take the weather and leisurely attitude of Australia, combine the waterfront facade of a Chicago, add some pub and club nightlife of any city in Europe and you get Sydney, a city that combines the great aspects of every major city I have been too. It doesn't have a true culture of its own which hurts it in my mind. What I really mean by that is, much like the problems I have with England, there are too many similarities to the US. You don't really feel you are in a foreign city too much. Of course, that all changes when you walk towards the Opera House, or go to the night spots with the Australians out partying, or eat great meats. Sydney is a wonderful city, probably the most livable of any in the Top-10 (of course, it is helped by being English-Speaking), but sometimes I would sacrifice livability for uniqueness, which is why it isn't any higher.

4.) Barcelona (2007)

I really want to go to Barcelona again, because it could easily be #1. All the ingredients are there. Pristine weather. A people who don’t care about life, making the tourist experience more fun. Good beaches within reach. Stuff to see. An airport that is easily reachable and a city that is easily maneuverable. My issues with Barcelona (other than my dislike for the Blaugrana) are simple. There isn’t a lot to see in terms of history, mainly because the Catalans want their own history so they destroyed or shunned any Spanish national history. Barcelona is a nice city in terms of seeing the sights for a day or two and then doing nothing the rest of the time, but I do want more from my cities.

3.) Istanbul (2007)

Istanbul is kind of a secret still, but there is really nothing to complain about. It has a waterfront, an easily accessible city center, a lot to see (the palaces, the Bosphuros, the Red & Blue Mosques). Istanbul also has a brilliant food scene, with both Muslim and Meditterannean influences but all sorts of bases (including a ton of seafood). There is little to separate any of the cities this high in the list. My only knock on Istanbul would be the public transport is lacking without a proper Subway (this could have changed since my last visit). Overall, Istanbul combines the palate and affordability of Asia, with the energy and cleanliness of Europe, the best of both worlds.

2.) Cape Town (2013)

I've been wondering whether doing Cape Town first helped increase my perceptions of it. I was at my most curious and excited at the start of the trip. Then, I remember everything amazing about Cape Town, like the incredible scenery and breathtaking views, the active harbor and Long Street areas (for the youngsters among us), the great food of every type and the wine region to one side with the Cape of Good Hope below it. Cape Town is a special place on the total other side of the word (laterally speaking). I've really never been any place quite like it, which is why I want to go back there more than any place in the world.

1.) Madrid (2001 & 2010)

I’ll never forget Madrid. It was where I turned 10 years old, in April of 2001. It was where I saw my first naked woman in real life, as I saw two nude woman near the pool in Madrid (given my age and their age, this wasn’t a good thing). It was where I first traveled alone, and where I learned the inherent joy of visiting a place a 2nd time. Barcelona might be more ‘fun’, but I can’t think of a place that combines everything I want from a city more than Madrid. Madrid has a dependable airport, and a dependable subway system. More than that, the city is small enough in its center that you can easily walk from the Prado side on the East, to the Palace on the West and not break a sweat. It has some of Spain’s best museums. There is more than enough to see. And, of course, you are still very much in Spain. It isn’t as relaxed as Barcelona, but is just as Spanish, with open squares, easy food and drink,  a lot of youngsters (and a lively area for them at night). This wasn’t a criteria, but a lot of people speak English there to boot. Madrid is basically a perfect city. Small enough to walk, with enough sites to not get bored, enough food to not go hungry, and a relaxed, but not too relaxed nature that you won’t ever get tired of doing nothing for an afternoon or two.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.