Barcelona’s Best Export Isn’t Tapas, It’s the ‘Ramblas’: Urban Boulevards of Oasis

I have a soft spot for the charming Mediterranean city of Barcelona, because it’s where I spent my junior year of university when I swapped New England’s Boston College for two semesters for Catalunya’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra.  And I realized in my last visit a few weeks ago that one of the most seductive traits of this high-quality of life city is it’s urban layout and specifically the ‘ramblas phenomenon.’ What is a rambla? Very simply a ‘rambla’ is an urban boulevard, which seamlessly blends together pedestrians, buses, taxis, cars and scooters in a safe, calm and very walkable layout, which has the feel of tying together the loose ends of a neighborhood: the sides-streets, alleys, passage-ways into an elegant boulevard for everyone in the city to use, tying together the city’s urban and social fiber into an urban pod of oasis. Roughly speaking this is what an rambla looks like if you are standing right in the middle, facing north and to your east and west you have the buildings and sidewalks of either side of the street. 1. the rambla: is a wide pavement in the center of the street like a 30-foot wide sidewalk.  Instead of having a huge urban boulevard with four car-lanes.  The rambla is the center point taking over 50% of the width of the street. 2. traffic lanes: then there are two traffic lanes, one one each of the rambla, the one to your east for example with one-lane of auto traffic: buses, taxis, scooters, cars – quietly (at 25mph or less) heading in the northbound direction AND on the other side of...

The Greek Brain Drain + Attica Riviera = Global Niche Conferences

Over 200,000 young professionals have left Greece over the past six years in the highly lamented Greek brain drain. In the fragmented globalized world we live in where many opportunities and career growth are usually to be found in select global cities – this seems like this migration is inevitable anyway. The on-going financial downturn simply amplified the phenomenon. Young professionals across the world leave their local cities and small towns everyday, from inland China to try their luck in Shanghai or from Pennsylvania to strike opportunities in NYC. What is the right question to ask: Diaspora engagement and ‘brain circulation’ I think the question for Greeks, diaspora and philhellenes is not how do we bring these 200,000 (and counting) people back – the question is how do we engage them in the new global transnational cultural and economic models unraveling in our generation? Global Conferences The topic I’d like to talk about here, since I work in this industry, is conferences. I’m a conference producer in London and I’m fascinated by the high-quality niche conferences throughout the world which professionals flock to, to learn from innovative case-studies, network with others from their ‘professional tribes’, recruit talent and pursue investment deals. From the Web Summit in Ireland, Aspen Ideas Festival, to Cannes Lions, SxSW in Austin, Davos, Milken Institute, mobile conferences in Barcelona, gaming conferences in Finland and consumer electronics conferences in Las Vegas, there are many high-quality gatherings where thousands flock to on annual pilgrimages. The Web Summit alone is reckoned to bring $130 million annually into the Dublin economy. I read an article recently by Gillian Tett...

Second-hand smoke, closed-society and low collective standards: the root causes of the crisis in Greece

Doing the rounds catching up with my friends in Athens, I met up with Andreas, a buddy from an improv comedy group we were in last year. We sat on a side-street in the gritty and lively historic center, enjoying the bright Attic sun and simultaneously also the fumes of second-hand smoke from the table next to us. I asked Andreas, hoping for a miracle since my last visit in September, “this ban on smoking in public places still isn’t being enforced in Greece, is it?” He took the opportunity to enlighten me on a observation that has more substance than any New York Times editorial I have read about the Greek financial-political situation, “The day you come to Athens and the ban on public smoking is being observed, will be one small step for Greek man, one giant step for Greek mankind,” he said as I observed inquisitively the two puffing Neanderthals next to us and wondered what their brain-processing capabilities were. “This attitude of me-first, I don’t care, it’s my right to impose my attitude on others, I’m a special exemption.  This behavior of imposing yourself on others, is the very cause of why we have political, financial instability and chaos in this country,” he exclaimed, as the heirs to Pericles and Aristotle next to us, continued rolling, licking and smoking another round of the hand-made ubiquitous rolled cigarettes across Athens. I reflected what is it that makes this behavior acceptable here, in Greece, and thought about the common rhetorical question many Greek emigrants abroad lament, “Why do Greeks prosper everywhere, from Sydney to San Francisco, but not within Greece’s borders?” I...

Idea: 24/7/365 Intellectual Entertainment London Venue

When the inevitable text message exchange pop-ups on my phone on a Thursday afternoon and I juggle back and forth with friends, “any plans for tonight – where should we meet?”, I aim to suggest something different than simply “going out for a drink” but surfing through Time Out London, Londonist or one of the city guides for inspiration, I quickly become overwhelmed with too-much-choice anxiety.  I also conclude that although many of these options sound unique and quirky, the truth is I really don’t want to enroll in a glass-blowing workshop this weekend, nor visit the botanical gardens, neither am I in the mood to try a new Basque-Burmese pop-up fusion restaurant where the tapas are designed like tulips. What I think there is more of a need for in big, diverse cities like London and New York with deep, diverse and sophisticated demographics are more well-curated, late-night, social, intellectual entertainment events. An ideal formula I believe should have three ingredients: intellectual entertainment: a purpose to a gathering needs a back-drop, something that will stimulate thought and a conversation: like a short film, a performance, a guest speaker, journalist, an author, inspiring entrepreneur cool food & wine venue: the topic isn’t the only thing that creates an atmosphere and generic coffee and croissants of a static hotel bar won’t do.  But some simple, high-quality food and wine and good tunes will encourage a crowd to linger on, chat and feel like they’re having fun, not at a stuffy work conference. demographic: who is in the room is also a key-factor. A live audience and a smart crowd will enhance a Q&A session, offer...

Two Passports – Two Open Doors: Get Yours If You Are Eligible

You’re some type of dual-nationality, Greek-American, Greek-Australian or another Euro-combo and you’re probably not thinking of moving abroad to Greece or your ancestral country permanently.  You’re settled comfortably in your life in New York, Boston or Chicago with a good job, maybe married with a family and you think why the hell would I go through the bureaucratic headache to get a Greek passport, ha!  Well, my response to that is, I got you, I agree – but don’t get it for yourself, get it for your children and when they turn eighteen, instead of buying them their first car, surprise them with a ‘carte blanche’ to go work, live, study (reduced tuition) and travel visa-free to London, Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and oh, Athens too! It made me realize how undervalued this privilege is and people don’t formalize it, when I was speaking to a new Brazilian-Portuguese friend the other day over a coffee.  She said to me, “You know I’m here by accident, in London!” What do you mean, I poked her for more information, “Well, I’m Brazilian right? We have the same parents with my older brother, but he only has one passport, a Brazilian one. What happened was, my grandfather on my father’s side, who was came from Portugal back in the 1940’s- when I was born, he said “You know what?” to my parents, “I’m gonna go downtown to the Portuguese Consulate and register Eva’s birth there.”  And my parents looked at him and rolled their eyes like typical confident cariocas (nickname for Rio residents), back then in the early 1980’s, “Come on this is Brasil: Sao Paolo,...

Opinion: Spending More Time In Each Destination And Less Sightseeing

I was out with a group of friends at a pub chatting the other night when the conversation turned to traveling.  I mentioned a few things that impressed me about Japan and a girl who I had just met and had also been to Japan quizzed me, “Did you climb Mt. Fuji, did you see a sumo wrestling match, did you go to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market at 4AM?”  I hadn’t done any of that stuff, and it didn’t occur to me, as I was more interested in meeting some local friends and talking to them and meeting their friends, over shochu drinks and sashimi dinners in the cozy Tokyo neighborhoods of Shimo-kitizawa and Kagurazaka.  But her comment made me think about how we all view traveling with a different purpose.  She then went on to mention, “I’ve been to thirty-three countries.”  I have been on quite a few interesting trips, but I have never actually counted the number of countries I’ve been to, nor do I really care to. I’ll be honest, I do roll my eyes at people that name-drop and country-drop like that.  In the past two years, I have spent two months in India, one-month in Tokyo and a bit more than a year in Athens.  That’s just three countries!  The “I have been to 33-countries person” could have just taken a three-week Euro-rail trip hitting up Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czech and then over to  Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.  That’s almost ten countries, but what does that even mean? I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with this trip (and I...

My Greek Army Service Summer ’13: talented people in failed institutions

There is a scene this summer during my Greek army service that I won’t forget.  About 200 of us had returned to Kalamata Military Base, after a four-day break at our homes and having completed our five-week basic training.  Today was the day we were going to get our transfer papers, to be redeployed: some would be sent to the border with Turkey, others to the Greek islands, perhaps an inland army base or to Athens- where the cushier postings were, back in the capital. After our 7AM roll call, a sergeant began to call out the names of the first group to be sent off.  Most of us were a bit anxious, because we had no idea how far and for how long we would be gone for.  On that list was our destiny in the surreal adventures of Greek military life. The first few soldiers of this first group gathered in a small circle, in front of the rest of us as they heard their names.  I quickly recognized a couple faces, a mental connection sparked in the back of my brain, and I recollected a new word I learned this summer: “visma.”  Visma is not one of those eloquent Greek words that a Philhellene professor at an American university will ask you if you recognize its ancient Greek roots.  Bit less sexy.  Visma means plug-outlet.  But it wasn’t being used in reference to where you charge your iPhone.  A visma, in the world of the deep Greek bureaucratic state, is your connection, your contact, that “plugs-you-in” to the connected world. The sergeant called out a few...

Deciding between Mediterranean lifestyle or expat career?

I met up last Sunday with my Greek-American friend, Evi.  She, like myself is from the US, but has now made Athens her home.  Fresh from her two-month trip to Boston, I was looking forward to hearing some new perspectives from New England.  I haven’t been back to the US in a year, and after my surreal 3-month army experience at Kalamata Military Base and the Defense Ministry in Athens this summer, I am getting a small dose of Greek cabin-fever. I barely let her take a sip of her coffee before I started with a barrage of questions: “So, what is the vibe like in the US right now?  Did you want to stay more or are you glad you’re back in Athens?”  I asked her, like my one-year stretch in Greece had given me amnesia to thirty years of living in America. “Yeah, I’m glad to be back here.  But it’s really good over there too.  You know; everything works. Everything is easy.  Customer service is good.  You do things online.  You run errands in like fifteen minutes.  It’s not like here, where you spend a half-day, running from office to office, paying bills in-person, getting signatures, asking for sealed-stamped certificates, like we’re still living in a 1970’s cult TV comedy series.” “I took my mom to General Mass Hospital to get an x-ray on her wrist.  When I asked the nurse when we should come back to get the diagnosis, you know what she said?”  My lower lip quivered and I raised my eyebrows in anticipated fear, not so much for the results of her mother’s...

5 Places To Visit In India: Mumbai, Varanasi, Rishikesh, Goa and an Ashram

The primary reasons I wanted to visit India was to experience culture shock, to see what a non-Western, one-billion large population lives like, see the on-the-ground images of what an emerging middle-class and developing economy looks like that the financial media talk about. I flew into Delhi with my brother in February of 2012, toured the country at a leisurely pace and flew out in April, two months later. The first few days were quite an adjustment, but after about a week of experiencing a ‘new normal,’ things begin to smoothen out, to a certain extent.  India is overall a safe country and not as challenging a destination as some may think – as we met hundreds of travelers, young, old, solo, couples, from all over the world, who most- using just some basic precautions, I don’t remember anyone claiming a serious incident. One of the most efficient things in this country is the train-system, which can pretty much get you anywhere in India, for quite a cheap fare, safely and for the most-part on schedule.  You can pick and choose which destinations you want to get your taste of India depending on what you prioritize, but below I have highlighted five destinations that I enjoyed and which gave me different glimpses and angles of this complex country: dynamic mega cities, religious towns, hippy-travel meccas, to beaches and mountains. Send me an e-mail and let me know if you have been to India what other spot left an impression on you or if you have not been tell me what you would like to hear more about and hopefully I...

India: What Vaccines do I need, Diarrhea Pills, Losing Weight and Delhi Belly

When I walked into a travel clinic into New Jersey, I quickly felt like I was being up-sold when a nurse listed of a number of vaccines I should get for about $700USD.  It didn’t feel right, so I went home did my research and returned a couple days later and ended up getting Vaccines:  (1) tetanus shot (2) hepatitis B vaccine and (3) polio.  The nurse also gave me a prescription of preventative malaria pills.  She also gave us diarrhea pills, which is the only thing that actually was useful.  Then she asked, “You guys are sure you don’t want to get the Japanese enchipalitis vaccine?” It was $300USD and I didn’t think we needed and asked, “Why, you think it’s necessary for India?”  And she said, “Well, I want you guys to have fun on your trip, not get permanent brain damage, next thing you know one of you is foaming at the mouth and you got to run around in a rickshaw getting to an Indian hospital, good luck with that!” It was the tone of her rebuttal that questioned me even more and I had read in travel forum the night before that it’s quite rare to catch, unless you plan on swimming in a swamp with pigs and then a mosquito from one of those pigs directly bite you also, so I skipped it. Even polio vaccine may have been unnecessary as it is practically eradicated in India, with no new reported polio cases since 2010 in a country of a billion people.  Also, for hepatitis B there is a second-follow up vaccine you...

Why stay in a hotel next to a Lonely Planet selection, but not actual LP pick

There is a phenomenon I’d like to call the “Lonely Planet effect.” When a hostel or hotel is listed in Lonely Planet it inevitably becomes a “hot spot” because thousands of travelers are thinking what you’re thinking, they call ahead, book a spot, the hotel reaches full occupancy and the owners can take advantage of the situation and raise prices more than the rest of the hotels in the immediate neighborhood. What I figured out after a few weeks in India was that you can use Lonely Planet as a ‘compass’  to do your research and reconnaissance and based on where they have listed two, three or four hotels you can take a safe assumption that that is a “hostel or hotel district.” So, when you arrive to town, take a rickshaw from the train station to this “hotel-hostel district.” Most likely you will see the couple hotels mentioned in Lonely Planet, but take a left, make a right or go up and down the streets of the neighborhoods and you see many other perhaps, better-staffed, renovated and affordable hotels that simply didn’t have the luck of being written up by a Lonely Planet author. If you pop-in to two or three places you can figure out the going-price for the area, negotiate a bit, or go with the staff you think are the friendliest and most accommodating. Sure, the Lonely Planet picks may still be good choices, if you want to try that, but with my experience there is a good chance, they may be less attentive on the customer service, because they know other travelers will be...

India Train Travel: How To Buy Tickets, Which Class, Travel Agencies

Trains and how to buy your tickets: trains are the best way to move from city to city in India and the infrastructure and connections are quite good.  There are online sites to buy tickets, but many times they are sold out, don’t take foreign credit cards or difficult to navigate.  Tip: almost anywhere you look you will see a travel agent selling tickets, they ask for a small commission ($1-2USD per ticket depending on price) but well worth the service.  You can go to two or three agents and shop around and use common sense and your instinct to not fall into someone that overcharges, but that shouldn’t be the case.  My best bet was always finding an office with some tech-savvy 20-somethings behind the desk, those dudes are ready to get your ticket with a couple quick-clicks and you might strike up a conversation and ask them for a few travel tips on your next destination. Which class should you book on your train trip? There are several classes on an Indian train but most likely you’ll encounter, the regular coach class or first class, which goes by codes 2AC or 3AC or even 1AC to signify the amount of beds/seats per cabin.  My tip if you have an overnight train-ride or a ride more than 6 hours go for the first class 2AC or 3AC.  It’s not really that much more expensive compared to European standards, say if a coach seat for a 10-hr overnight ride is $5USD and first class is $11USD and you can sleep in a cleaner, quieter, cozier cabin with better access...

Short Comical Anecdotes

I’m posting some short anecdotes that I post just for fun on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.  Follow me there for these updates: Think I need a digital time out: Between all these messages: online job search, online dating, blogging and tweeting, I am digitally burned out. Flipping between web browsers, accidentally, just sent a recruiter a message that he had cute bangs and then copy pasted my Linkedin profile to a French girl on match.com. I think now is a good time to go for a jog! Facebook birthday wishes: Wouldn’t it be great if there was also an offline version of the Facebook b-day greetings flash mob- where when you walk out of your house in the morning, on your way to the subway, everyone gives you a synchronized kiss, high-five and slap on the ass! Different birthday location every year: Every year I spend my birthday in a new place, not on purpose but coincidentally: two years ago Mumbai, last year Athens, this year London, next year I have a feeling it will be in jail. Starbucks name on the paper-cup gone wrong: Just in front of me at the Starbucks line forty-five year old, Mediterranean ethnic-look man, smartly-dressed, flipped the f#ck out when friendly barista asked him his name to write on his coffee-paper-cup: “Name, what name? Who’s name? Why you need name? What is this thing you people do with names? You pressure me to give you my name? I just want one-cup coffee to go! That’s it! No name! Just coffee. Name? Name! Name!” and he stormed out the door. I never realized ordering a cappuccino could be that stressful. For...