Elephant Rides Need To Be Boycotted — Here’s Why

One of the activities that are prominent in Southeast Asia are elephant rides. People love elephants, and a ride on top might make a great Instagram photo to make your friends back home jealous. The reality is much different.

In counties like Thailand and Cambodia, operators are not regulated, nor is there oversite on the industry. As a result, there’s rampant abuse of the elephants from being beaten into submission. Worse yet, the elephant, and some of the tourists, are being killed.

There’s a strong movement to shed light on the dangers of elephant rides spurred last summer over the death of Sambo. The elderly elephant from Angkor Wat collapsed with tourists on it from being over-worked and over-heated.

World Animal Protection lists elephant rides as the most cruel vacation activity. They started a petition that eventual lead to TripAdvisor stopping promotion of these rides.

The simple fact is that elephant weren’t meant to carry weight on their back. They are wild animals unlike horses that have been bred to be workers. While we have a vision of elephants carrying kings, Indiana Jones & Short Round and stolen treasure, the elephants don’t like it and thus, they remember the pain and act out.

This happened in February, when a Scottish tourist was thrown off a raging elephant in Thailand. The man was then trampled to death.

The movement to end elephant is gaining moment through awareness and the W.A.P. calling out tour operators that promote these packages. “We firmly believe that wild animals belong in the wild. One of the ways animals are exploited is for the sake of entertainment. Tourists are often unaware,” Alyx Elliott, head of campaigns at WAP, told Newsweek.

The alternative is to visit an elephant sanctuary. The most popular in Thailand is the Elephant Nature Park in the Mae Taeng District. The park, with satellite location in Suri and Cambodia, acts as a rescue center for the animals where visitors can see up close how the elephants are cared for.

This looks like a much better photo op, don’t you think?



Travelers Don’t Want to Pick Up Their Laptops at Newark Airport

Here’s what I’ve had confiscated at TSA check points — a bottle opener. Cost to me — nothing. If you want to explain to me why my keychain bottle opener was taken, my comment section is all yours.

Over at seventh level of hell Newark Airport in the great state of New Jersey, a few people left behind their laptop. Seventy to be exact in October and November.

How much porn do you think is on these computers?

You got an Macbook in there, some HPs and a few Lenovos. I understand the Lenovos, but come on!

There is no excuse if you leave your laptop. When I go through, I grab my laptop first before I grab my belt, even when my pants are down by my ankles.

In the big picture, this pales in caparison to people who leave their guns.



BBC Special Explores London’s Hipster Hub Shoreditch

Even if you loathe the term, the culture or the very idea of hipsters, you should watch this program from the BBC. Hosted by management consultant, TV personality and stoggy old British guy straight from central casting Peter York, the Hipster Handbook explores what it means to be a hipster, how they came to be and it’s affect on consumer culture.

He focuses on the once dodgy neighborhoods of Shortditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney in east London. I was hanging in those areas before it was cool, which in itself a hipster idea.

York illustrates the global meaning of hipster culture — artists and entrepreneurs go to run down area for cheap rent, area becomes cool, independent businesses open up, rents rise, gentrification grows, locals get priced out and the backlash begins. This happens in every major city in the world.

Give the show a full watch below because it will point out decent places to visit for shopping, relaxing, grooming, drinking and eating. Here are a few of the places shown in the video that I’ve frequented:

— The Cereal Killer Cafe — this cereal-themed eatery bore the brunt of the backlash against gentrification. The locals armed with paint, pitchforks and torches protested against the cafe located on Brick Lane because … umm … because successful business shouldn’t exist? If you are there on a day without a riot outside, peruse the international selection of fine breakfast cereal paired with your choice of milk.

— The Electric Cinema — this multi-function event spaces shows movies, has a full-cafe, bar and barber shop. I like the cinema because of the comfy recliners which makes it feel like a living room.

Blitz — The main reason I would head straight to Shoreditch when I was in town was for Rough Trade Records, the £1 bagel shop and the vintage clothing stores. While Beyond Retro is my go-to shop in the area, Blitz has a better curated collection, which leads to insane prices on ironic t-shirts (£28).

Murdock — Hipster men must have beards. I couldn’t tell where York visited to see some manscapping being performed, but the place I went to once set me back £90 for a shave, haircut and a glass of scotch. Yes, these were the days where I didn’t care about expenses. Anyway, it was damn a fine treatment I got from one of the barbers who could have doubled as a member of Mumford & Sons.

Redchurch Brewery — As York points out, it seems that most of the craft movement in London takes place under railway arches. Such is the case for the taproom of Redchurch Brewery on Bethnal Green Road. With the beer named after London neighborhoods and tube stations, the head brewer cut his teeth at other well-known local craft breweries, The Kernal and Beavertown.

— Look Mum No Hands! — The finishing touch to the hipster lifestyle is a vintage-looking fixed gear bicycle. Combine that with the quest for a great cup of coffee and that will take you this bike shop and coffee cafe.




A Spa Amusement Park in Japan? Sure, Why Not?

I saw this Gizmodo and said to myself, “Yeah, this is something Japan would do.”

The mayor and residents of Beppu in southwest Japan created a promotional video for their idea of a spa amusement park. The town is known as a spa destination with their wealth of natural springs.

Once the video gained 1 million views, the mayor vowed to make the amusement park a reality. As you can see in the photo he tweeted out, he’s pretty excited about it. I wish I excited about anything in life as these people are.


The promotional video shows what a spa theme park would look like. It’s the perfect place to be nude in public and be on a kiddie roller coaster. Although, that milky, cloud water is suspect. I would hope sanitation would be a priority in this spa wonderland.

Then there’s the hot tub on a cat funicular seems like the most Japanese thing ever. It’s how I would like to leave this earth.


Frank Gehry Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — Here’s Where to See His Work

Last week, one of our greatest living architects received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The 87-year old, Canadian-born Frank Gehry stood alongside such luminaries as Bill & Melinda Gates, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Maya Lin, Diana Ross, Lorne Michaels,  Vin Scully and Cicley Tyson in receiving the honor from President Obama.

With most of the honorees, you can dial up their work on your computer to see their movies, TV shows and music. For Gehry, it’s best to see his work in person.

The most accessible destination to see his work is in his hometown of Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s a place where architecture is the art. The baroque staircase you see in the atrium gives the visitor the experience of being a part of the structure. While being functional, it connects the old design from the 1970s to the present. Like a lot of Gehry’s work, it’s not symmetrical. As you walk up or down it, the staircase widens and narrows.


In the United States, one of most visited designs is the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Construction took twelve years and $274 million for one of Gehry’s signature works.


The structure that stands out the most is the affectionately titled Fred and Ginger building in Prague. In a town that is celebrated for it’s old world charm, the original building was one of the few in the city that was bombed in World War II. You can blame the U.S. forces on that one.

Completely in 1996, the “Dancing Building” serves as the office for Dutch insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden and was once the residence of Czech president Václav Havel. Since it’s an office, it’s not open to the public, but it’s easily viewed along the Vltava River on the Rašín Embankment.


No trip to Bilbao, Spain is complete without a visit to the Guggenheim. It’s Gehry’s masterwork that transformed a city from an industrial port to an art, design and culture destination. “Some people may say my curved panels look like sails. Well, I am a sailor, so I guess I probably do use that metaphor in my work – though not consciously,” said of his work.


Back in America, Gehry’s wave and steel design contributed to the unique experience that is Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. When I visited in 2014 it was called the Experience Music Project. It’s Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen tribute to creativity in rock music that evolved into an all-encompassing, non-conformist museum to popular culture.




As for the future, Gehry has submitted designs for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. If its ever complete, that’s another story. As this Washington Post headline attests to — The proposed Eisenhower memorial is a monstrosity. Speaking of monstrosity, the 7 Spruce Street apartment complex in downtown New York is pretty hideous and serves the 1%-ers who live there.

The Why Am I Not There? Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers 2016

Hey, big spender! It’s time to think about that beloved traveler in your life. They might be thinking of never coming back to the U.S. after a game show host becomes President.

These gifts will be practical to the intrepid traveler or will inspire their wanderlust. Even better, they are below $100. I’ve seen other gift guide and I say to myself, “Of course, I have $595 for leather gloves as a gift.”

Some of these are reposts from my last gift guide or suggestions from my Consider This column. So they’re good for the holidays and beyond.

passportPassport Wallet — I categorize this as a necessity as a frequent and organized traveler. You’ll be
amazed how many people put their passport in their pocket. You need something with weight and bulk that can hold all your other documents, cards and currency. I keep my Global Entry, frequent flyer cards, transit cards, extra credit card and foreigner currency in mine. It fits right into my inside blazer pocket, making it pickpocket proof,  so I always know its on my person.

I like these passport wallets from Fossil. They are classic looking, made of leather and more than anything, it’s practical.

$55-$75 from Fossil.com

cashmereCashmere Sweater — Travel pillows are the single worse travel accessory ever invented. They are painfully unpackable, stupid looking, uncomfortable and more trouble then they are worth.

A cashmere sweater serves two purposes:

— You can wear it, duh! They don’t winkle when you fold and pack it. Since layering is the key to picking your wardrobe when traveling, cashmere sweaters are thin and light. More than anything, they feel great to wear, which leads me to…

— They make excellent travel pillows for your neck. Just roll it like towel and you got yourself some neck support while being relaxed by its gentle touch.

Uniqlo makes the most reasonably priced sweater that are available in a wide assortment of colors and style.. I personally have a gray one — easy to match and coordinate. They are constantly on sale.

$99 from Uniqlo

notebookPaper Notebook — Despite the fact that I travel with my laptop and smartphone, I still carry a small notebook to jot down ideas, sketch out directions or tear off to give my address/numbers to new found friends. It’s one of those  “you never know” items that won’t be bothersome to have in your carry-on or traveling bag.

The Japanese brand MUJI is slowly expanding in America with 12 B+M stores in New York, New Jersey and California. They’ve expanded their online store to the U.S. I first discovered it in London during my first visit 12 years ago. In China and Japan, they’re just as ubiquitous as IKEA.

They are known for minimalist home goods and stationary. Their black notebook is a perfect gift or stocking stuffer. Pair it with a great pen and your recipient will be writing away.

$ 7 from MUJI

luggage-tagsVintage Luggage Tags — One of the stupidest items sold in travel sections of department stores are color straps for luggage to help you pick out your luggage from others. Some people will put masking tape Xs on them which is pretty lame.

You can never have too many luggage tags on your case. Keep one on the top handle, so it’s not to confuse with the tag the airlines will put on it. The rest you can load up the side handle.

Etsy is the best places to find fake vintage handcrafts. The craftpeople won’t charge you much for shipping.

$3-$12 from Etsy.

sprayTravel Perfume Atomizer
— For gals and dudes, these capsules made by Travalo can make sure you are smelling smart on the go. You just take the spray cap off your favorite perfume or cologne, place the bottom of this atomizer on top of the bottle’s nozzle, pump to fill up the atomizer and you are good to go. It saves you from getting travel sizes of scents, making a mess from filling up a smaller plastic bottle or bringing the whole bottle.

$10 from Target.com

travel-guide-ny-timesNew York Times 36 Hours Travel Guides — While TripAdvisor, Yelp and Foursquare are invaluable travel sites when you’re on the go, I like to trust my research from sources like Time Out and the New York Times. The 36 Hours series is reprinted and updated by Taschen covers the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe. All major cities are covered along with mid-size towns and excursions. The mega $125 complete set covers every continent.

Ignore the 36-hour time restraint and just rely on their descriptions of hip eateries, indie shops, boutique hotels, art galleries and bars that the locals hang out.

$9.99 to $39.99 from Taschen

Charitable Donations — If your friend or loved one just came back from a far off land, considering donating to a cause focused on bringing relief. Did they come back from safari in Africa? Donate to Water.org, which provides fresh water solutions to impoverished areas of the world.

How about the nature lover who went hiking through the mountains and forest? The National Audubon Society does great things in preserving birds and ecosystems in the United States so that future generations can enjoy.

A quick Google search of a country and their best charities will reveal some worthwhile causes that will let your travel friend leave a lasting impression from their visit.



Toronto’s Best Beer Bar Closed — Will Relocate Next Year

In travel, sometimes timing is everything. This is the case in my quest to find the best craft beer bar in Toronto. My research turned up the name Bar Volo several times, thus I had to visit.

As it turns out, they were closing up shop for good at the location downtown. The bar’s landlords decided to sell after 28 years to make room for condos. It’s a common refrain. Once crappy area gets revitalized with hip restaurants and eateries. They get priced out to make room for upscale condos. Residents complain, but then move on.

Since it was its last days, all the kegs had to be kicked. As a result, everything was half off. I was up for the task in helping them liquidate their inventory.

As you see on their tap list, everything was craft and Canadian. Pretty much everything listed I had never heard of, which made deciding hard. The bartenders knew their stuff, and geared me towards the rare and respected breweries from outside of the city.

Here’s what I had:

  • Gaslight Helles by Muddy York Brewing Co.
  • No Chance with Miranda Saison by Great Lakes Brewery
  • Peach, Don’t Kill My Vibe (Sour Weiss) by  Stone City Ales
  • Dulcis Succubus (Sour/Wild Ale) by Brassin Special Le Trou du Diable

It’s a shame the bar had to go, but I thought it was a comfortable space — great for large groups outside and couples inside. Inside was dark and cozy and outside was a good spot to people watch along Church and Yonge St. I met a few blokes where we cracked wise about Canadians and Americas.

Do not fret, Bar Volo has a sister location in Little Italy called Birreria Volo that serves Italian small plates and Canadian beer that will tide you over. Bar Volo’s new space will actually be a mansion that’s one block away with an opening TBA.