Category Archives: Travel

A Wisconsin Summer With The People Who Matter Most

As I entered the baggage claim, I heard an old friend’s voice calling my name. But where was he?

My head swiveled around, confused. Then, Matt* rolled up to me in a purloined wheelchair with a big smile on his face.

That’s when I knew this would be an interesting trip.

A mural in Milwaukee celebrating the great Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks!

One of the greatest things about the world today is how we’re getting back to the moments we used to love. In person events, concerts, and travel are finally returning to brighten our lives after a long absence.

I’m back today from the most wonderful vacation I’ve had in a long time! I got to see my mother and my old friends in Wisconsin for the first time since COVID.

I began with a visit with Matt in Milwaukee.

We’ve known each other since the 8th grade. I’m lucky to have such a longstanding friendship.

It had been nearly three years since we’d seen each other, but we didn’t miss a beat! We laughed all the way home from the airport, always on an adventure no matter what we’re doing.

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Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge

Dinner was airy spanikopita and delicate baklava at Sts. Constantine and Helen Grecian Fest. Milwaukee is known as the City of Festivals, and in the warmer months there are celebrations of heritage and food almost every day.

The next day, I grabbed the bus north to my mother’s house. Getting to hug her after nearly three years apart felt like the end to the difficult period the world has been in for the last several years.

Or…almost the end. Ironically, we both got COVID for the first time as soon as I arrived!

Luckily, our symptoms were mild and we’ve made full recoveries. And on the bright side, COVID kept us close to home and enjoying the simple things, like reading on the glider as deer and chipmunks passed by.

Deer in the yard
The view from the glider

We played cards with the same deck we used with my great grandpa 30 years ago. We walked slowly down the streets at sunset, just happy to be together again.

Frozen custard at Culver’s a Wisconsin must!

After about a week, I came back to Milwaukee to meet Matt again, joined by our friend Brian* from Madison. When we all lived in the same neighborhood shortly after college, we were an inseparable trio.

But we hadn’t been together all at once since 2018. We ambled down the charming industrial streets like the Three Musketeers, always more excited when it’s all three of us together.

When they dropped me at the airport to go home to New York, I wanted nothing more than to stay! But they have work they need to get back to, and so do I.

There’s only so many times I can go three or four years without seeing friends and family. At that interval, I might see them a dozen more times at most before we’re all gone.

So I plan to come more often and enjoy that special feeling of being around those I love and have known the longest. As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home.

More on travel:

A Special Weekend in Stokes State Forest

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

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*Names have been changed


The Tremendous Tapas of Barcelona!

My wife and I just returned from a wonderful vacation in Barcelona! It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

The warm weather, palm trees, beaches and museums make for an outstanding visit. But what stands out most is the food!

Spain has a tradition of small dishes called tapas that let you sample many tasty morsels at a single meal. I indulged big time.

The spot I’d recommend is Txapela. There are several around Barcelona and Madrid, all with delicious food at an excellent price.

Above are a couple of my favorites. Camembert cheese and truffle oil atop thinly sliced apple and toothsome bread (foreground) and a piquant shrimp dish (background).

Txapela also excels at patatas bravas, a classic Spanish potato dish with an unctuous mayonnaise sauce. The potatoes are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, perfect.

Since Txapela is Basque, their small dishes are technically pintxos, not tapas. But the concept of sampling many small plates is the same.

These small plates aren’t actually all that small…I was full after just two pintxos and an order of patatas bravas. Total bill: about $12.

Spain, I love you. 🙂

But Spain has far more to offer than tapas. Behold the paella at El Corte Ingles, the greatest department store on the planet.

Its depth of flavor, likely coming from shrimp stock, blew away any paella I’ve had in the US.

Some times, you just have to go to the source.

Spain also turns out an incredible breakfast. And at the H10 Art Gallery hotel where we stayed (highly recommended), this smorgasbord was on the house!

My favorite was the pork pate (right). I found myself getting up over and over for “just one more piece.”

If you haven’t been to Barcelona, I can’t recommend it highly enough! Great weather, great food, and far cheaper than the US!

Do you have any recommended spots in Barcelona? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Great to be back!

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

More on travel:

I Went to Japan’s Magical Kingdom of Eyeglasses

Where I Was Last New Year’s

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

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Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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Where I Was Last New Year’s

We have made it through a challenging year. And now I’m starting to reflect. Lately, I find myself thinking back to where I was last New Year’s, and where I’ll be next one.

As this year began, I was walking up the steps of a beautiful shrine in Tokyo, Japan in perfect blue sunlight. Just ahead of me were my wife and my sister-in-law, with her newborn in her arms. We made the traditional New Year’s Day visit to the shrine, where they asked for blessings for the coming year. Me, I mostly just looked around in wonder at the beautiful shrine and the clear blue above.

Today, my wife is in Japan again with her family, my family. I cannot be there by law. They won’t be doing the shrine visit this year because of the crowds. But they still plan to eat sushi at the same place we went to last year. 🙂

My little nephew is walking now. He actually remembered my wife! I wonder if he’ll remember me. Even if he doesn’t, we can start making new memories together.

At the beginning of 2020, I could never have predicted how this year would unfold. But here we are. We survived and we have new hope heading into 2021. We have not recovered everything we’ve lost…I cannot be in my second home with my wife’s family, nor can I go see my mother or grandmother. But the difficult days are, at last, numbered.

Where will I, where will we, be next new year’s? I don’t know. But I think we will have beaten this. And we will be feeling great joy at being together once again!

Until then, don’t give up the fight.

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I Went to Japan’s Magical Kingdom of Eyeglasses

I’ve worn glasses since I was four years old…30 years. As I write this, I’m wearing what is probably the best pair I’ve ever owned. They cost me about $50 and the eye exam was free.

How did I pay 1/10th of what some of you are paying? I went to Zoff, an outstanding eyeglasses store that’s omnipresent in Japan and rapidly expanding throughout Asia.

I went in, sat down right away with an extremely polite young man, and looked into a machine I’ve never seen before in America. It showed a small picture and gave an instant estimate of my prescription. The employee, who was little more than 20, took me through just a couple standard “is this lens better?” questions and then produced tester glasses for me to try.

His estimates were dead on, and I saw beautifully. In a couple of days, I picked up my new glasses (along with a pair of prescription sunglasses I also ordered). I paid about $50 equivalent, or around 5,000 yen, per pair. Eye exam: $0.00.

How can Zoff sell so cheaply? The employees, like those in most countries aside from the US, are not optometrists. But they are well trained and extraordinarily nice and this, my 3rd pair of Zoff’s now, is first rate as always. I bought my latest pairs in January 2020 (you know, before the world stopped), and they’re still going strong!

US law requires an optometrist to examine you and issue a prescription. Japanese law does not. It has good company: Germany, the UK, Italy, and countless other nations. Is everyone in these countries seeing poorly and dying of rare eye ailments the optometrist didn’t catch? Doubt it.

But we insist on Americans seeing an optometrist, who goes to school for 8 years and commands an average wage of $106,000, largely to diagnose rare eye problems. However, how many people are deterred from buying newer glasses with a more appropriate prescription due to the high cost? Then they don’t get the new glasses or the optometry exam either. It’s a lose-lose, and we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I suggest a different model: regulate the way Japan and countless other leading nations do. Let people get their glasses and contacts without a prescription, and they can see an optometrist from time to time, like how they see any other doctor.

What if ibuprofen required a prescription from a doctor the way eyeglasses do? There would be a lot of untreated pain and unnecessary suffering. We don’t do that, and yet, people still get check-ups. Is this about the patient, or is it really about regulatory capture?

My experience at Zoff was so good that I e-mailed them to thank them for their excellent work. They responded promptly (in English!) saying that they would congratulate the employees and “praise them firmly.” That kind of made it sound like they were in trouble, but I understood what they meant. 🙂

Zoff is doing a wonderful thing in providing real care to those who need it at an affordable price, while also giving great opportunities to a young and hardworking staff. I can’t think of a better way to do business.