Raging motorbikes, breathtaking natural wonders, a thriving art and culture community, the northern region of Vietnam is truly as stunning as it sounds. Covering the larger area of land and has all the world heritage sites, northern Vietnam is something not to be missed in your lifetime. Below are the top 8 reasons why you should see it for yourself.

1.The Capital City – Where all the magic happens

Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi

Everything about Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city can be summarized into two words; organized chaos. Countless motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, bicycles old and new, a diverse mix of pedestrians from street vendors to your retired tourists from Europe or the Americas, kids crossing the buzzing streets without any care in the world, and the ever-growing number of cars, both luxurious and mid-range, are just a few of the things you could expect roaming the streets of the old quarter. Crazy and ludicrous at it seems the city is ironically thriving and is showing nothing but continuous growth over the years; which obviously is more than enough reasons for you to make a stopover.

And since you’re already here, make sure you do some essential sightseeing such as going around the 36 old streets of Hanoi or take a stroll around HoanKiem Lake, where everyone hangs out, especially during the weekends.

2. Coffee Culture – You’ve never tasted realcoffee till you’ve tried Vietnamese coffee

Probably the most popular business idea in the country, and most probably one of the most profitable as well, the coffee culture in Vietnam is not just a morning or afternoon drink. Coffee has been super essential in the people’s lives that it is now a lifestyle. And if you don’t drink coffee at all, your friend will think you’re too uncool to hang out with.

Giang Coffe in Hanoi with their famous signature drink, the Egg Coffee
Giang Coffe in Hanoi with their famous signature drink, the Egg Coffee

Because it's superbly popular amongst the youngsters and even their older counterparts, cafés are found in every corner of each street in the country. You’ll be surprised if you end up in an alley with zero cafés on sight. Aside from the countless number of cafés popping up every day all over the region, there is also an increasing number of creative mixes of coffees and such in the region; which somehow turned into tourism products like the Egg Coffee. Check out Giang Coffee House here.

3. Thousand Years of History – Chinese, French, Japanese, American, wait, what?

Bai Dinh Buddhist temples in Ninh Bình province, Vietnam
Bai Dinh Buddhist temples in Ninh Bình province

For thousands of years, Vietnam had to struggle and survive under the rule of different colonizers, from the early Chinese empires to the end of the American War in mid-1970s. Although they are all long gone for some decades now, there’s no doubt that all of them have left marks everywhere, especially in the northern region, where a lot of these iconic events happened.

As a first-time visitor of Vietnam, it’s no doubt that visiting the north is a good introduction to the country. There are many things to learn about and a lot of stories to tell, specifically in the northern region as it’s been around longer than the southern counterpart. With the mix of cultures, languages, traditions, and even ways of living, there will always be something to learn every day when traveling across the cities.

4. The European Touch – Experience the Southeast Asian gem through the eyes of the west

Hanoi Opera House built by French in 1911
Hanoi Opera House, built by French in 1911

The French has left so much influence in the northern part of Vietnam. From its architecture, urban planning, bridges, gastronomy, fashion, and even the lifestyle, there is no way a European would not be so surprised with the similarities between the two nations.

Northerners are typically viewed as the more sophisticated and more eloquent Vietnamese because of their daily habits, the way they live, and the things they spend on, especially when it comes to fashion trends and dining activities. But I guess you’d have come over yourself for you to experience it. There’s definitely nothing else like it in Southeast Asia.

5. Classical Art Scene – Fancy an opera on a Wednesday evening, a musical on a Friday afternoon, and a ballet on Sunday after brunch?

Water painting museum in Vietnam
Water-Painting Museum

One of the main reasons why we love the northern region is because of this, the classical art scene. Sometimes loud, but most of the time it’s underground. Growing up in a socialist regime surrounded by the brightest and the most cultured individuals in the country, northern Vietnam is the place to visit for classical arts and culture. And if you’re the type of person who likes the finest things in life, someone who appreciates arts, paintings, musicals, operas, ballets, and Sunday brunches, then you’re making the right decision to come over here.

Thanks again to the European influence and its preservation throughout generation after generation, these things have been kept alive long enough for everybody to enjoy, both for locals and foreigners.

6. Imperial Vietnam – Where did all the Nguyen’s go?

Imperial Citadel in Hanoi, Vietnam
Imperial Citadel in Hanoi

You might have noticed, or probably you’ll notice once you get to Vietnam that the word "Nguyen" is displayed everywhere in the country. Even more so when you visit the northern area most probably because it originated in the imperial capital of Hue. As many might wonder, the word Nguyen is the most popular family name in the country and the last empire to rule Imperial Vietnam.

Whether you’re a history buff or not, knowing just a bit of information about how the Vietnamese emperors ruled the country, even when it was divided into two, can be an insightful lesson when visiting the northern region. The best places to visit to find more information about the imperial period can be found in two cities, Hanoi capital and Hue.

7. Unlimited Food Adventures – Where rice and noodles are man’s best friends

Pho is a noodle dish and the most famous (and most delicious) of all Vietnamese food
Pho, the most famous Vietnamese noodle dish

Being one of the top exporters of rice all over the globe, the whole of Vietnam obviously survives on rice and noodles all-year-long. From the simplest Com Binh Dan to an upscale Vietnamese gourmet restaurant, you will never go hungry in this part of the world. And with the northern region having the most diverse options for gastronomy and dining, the opportunities for you to be able to taste the most genuine Vietnamese dishes are endless.

Whether you fancy the not-so-adventurous dishes such as Pho or Bun Cha to the extremes like deep-fried snake meat or barbecued dog meat, the possibilities and options are insanely vast. Expect moments where you’ll start questioning your own taste buds and probably even your mom’s cooking. All in all, Vietnam is bursting with the best culinary to offer not only in Asia, but also on a global scale.

8. Unworldly Landscapes – Discover the world of Hollywood Films

Halong Bay in Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site   (photo gallery)

Possibly the best reason why you need to spend most of your travel time in the northern region of Vietnam, to discover the unworldly landscapes and sceneries as seen in some notable Hollywood films such as the recent Kong: Skull Island. Witness the towering limestone karst rocks of Halong Bay on a luxury cruise, do a short boat trip while immersing yourself in the serene landscapes of Ninh Binh province, and walk through staggering terrains of Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave systems, there is never a shortage of adventures to enlist yourself into.

Accesses to these world wonders have never been easier. Thus, there’s no reason for you not to be able to do it at least once in your lifetime.

Published in Vietnam

Kolkata is a colorful megacity rich in culture, architecture and of course food, but the best part of traveling the “City of Joy” is the sheer unpredictability! You never know what you’ll stumble upon around on the next street corner of what used to be India''s capital.

Although this variety keeps locals and expats entertained, for travelers with only a short time in Kolkata it is important to make the most of it. Make your trip a little more offbeat and memorable by mixing a few of these unique Kolkata attractions into your itinerary:

Can I Have Some Science, Please?

Combine every single museum, planetarium, aquarium, garden, scientific exhibition and technological showcase that you’ve ever experienced into one grand event. This is Science City, one of the world’s largest establishments of its kind. Think of it like those old famous Worlds Fairs of the 1800s only never-ending.

Science City has a continually changing line-up of exhibits, events, activities, seminars and interesting attractions that both inspire and educate. Perfect for the entire family but be warned: you may end up getting sucked in and spending longer here than planned.

Would You Like Some Books With That?

Famous for its overwhelming assortment of bookstores specializing in everything from new to old to rare, College Street is often referred to as the most intellectual neighborhood in the entire megacity of Kolkata. Avid readers will easily be able to occupy an entire day here, but even if books are not your thing, College Street is still an enjoyable experience.

College Street in Kolkata is one of the unique and offbeat things to do in India

Given this, it should be no surprise that one of the most popular literature gatherings in the entire world is the annual Kolkata Book Fair. Although it only began 40 years ago, now more than 2.5 million people attend every January.

And a 250 Year Old Tree to Go...I Mean Grow

Modern life can be a bit busy. Sometimes you just need to find a relaxing place to escape and be surrounded by nature. Thankfully right across the river just west of Fort William is Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, home to one of the world’s largest trees (in terms of area, not height).

From a distance The Great Banyan looks more like a small forest than a single tree. Up close it is possible to get lost within the Banyan's vertical hanging roots. Before they put up the fence people used to wander into the tree and never return -- think of it like a hedge maze in the Bermuda Triangle.

Kolkata's banyan tree is not the world's largest, but the second largest -- another one of the unique and offbeat things to do in India

Covering nearly 19,000m² and around 250 years old, The Great Banyan is only 200m² smaller than the world’s largest tree, Thimmamma Marrimanu -- coincidentally also located in India -- but believed to be less than half of its age. Years ago a road was built around the circumference of the tree, allowing visitors an easily accessible 360° view, but The Great Banyan continues to grow and expand beyond it.

Same Same, But Dwindling...

As a long-term traveler, you get used to visiting a Chinatown in not just every country but every big city. Same same, but different -- like always. Except in India. Kolkata is home to the one and only Chinatown in this entire country, Tiretta Bazaar.

The unquestionable home of the most delicious and authentic Chinese food in not just Kolkata but all of India, every Tiretta Bazaar trip is primarily a culinary experience served with side dishes of sightseeing, shopping and Mahjong. This is no task to be taken lightly, though. If you wish to survive Tiretta Bazaar and be able to walk away i>n your own two legs, it is best to bring a few friends to help eat your way through everything that smells and/or looks delicious. (Warning: there will be a lot!)

The only Chinatown in all of India is located in Kolkata -- another one of the unique and offbeat things to do in India

Nowadays Tiretta Bazaar is only a fraction of its former size, but if anything that should only be a further encouragement to visit. Help support a minority population struggling to preserve their heritage.

Balance Comfort With Convenience

No one ever said that navigating the streets of Kolkata was easy, not even a hundred years ago. The best solution is to stay at a proper hotel with both a convenient location and helpful transportation options, such as Park Hotel Kolkata.

Eden Gardens, Fort William, and St. Paul’s Cathedral are all part of Maidan, the largest urban park in West Bengal, and just a few hundred metres west of Park Hotel Kolkata.

The more time that people spend in Kolkata, the more hidden hotspots and unique destinations that they inevitability discover.

  What are some of your favorites?

  paulhami tsai

Published in India

Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but there is much more to do in the heart of Florida than just wander around a sprawling amusement park. There's art, food, nightlife, and culture. After all that, if you still have the time and energy to visit an amusement park, then I'll tip you off to the strangest offerings in Orlando that you've probably never heard of. So come with me, let's drop those bags at a hotel -- I recommend an IHG Hotel near Universal -- and then take a whirlwind weekend tour around town!

Get Your Museum On

With over two dozen museums, there's something for everyone here in Orlando. Fan of sports cars? Visit the Exotic Car Gallery. Fascinated by the history of the Titanic? Visit Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. Artwork more your thing? The Orlando Museum of Art is one of the top-rated in the city. Traveling with kids? Orlando Science Center is the place to go. Want to please the kids and the kid inside of you at the same time? Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Orlando is your answer.

Orlando Museum of Art in Florida
Orlando Museum of Art

Alternative: Don't like any of those? Then you'll absolutely love the Tupperware Confidence Center! Not only is it one of the most unusual museums in the entire United States, but it also wins my award for the most creative museum name ever. 100% refund if you don't leave here with more confidence in your Tupperware skills.

Frozen Fun With Alcohol

Ever visited an ice bar? They can be found in over 30 cities around the world and are absolutely amazing. After donning a jacket and gloves, guests are led into a frozen bar where everything is hand-carved from ice: walls, chairs, tables, glasses, decorations, and even the bar itself!

Shot glasses made of handcarved ice at the Orlando Ice Bar in Florida

Of course, if you're visiting Florida to escape the winter back home, this might not sound like an appealing idea. However, Icebar Orlando is the largest ice bar in the world and features over 70 tons of carved ice, making it the top dog in an already exclusive club. And for that reason alone, Icebar Orlando deserves a visit on a humid evening.

Alternative: Orlando Brewing has been creating "darn good beer" for over a decade now and offers free daily tours every day of the week (except Sunday). The bar features two dozen taps, so no matter what your poison, you can go straight to the source for the freshest brew.

What to Eat in Orlando

Given its reputation as an international family vacation destination, cuisines from around the world can be found in downtown Orlando and the theme park district of the southwest. There is no one dish or cuisine that is distinctly Orlando. However, there are some restaurants that are distinctly Orlandian.

The Cowfish, the first and only burger and sushi bar in the world, is one of the offbeat restaurants keepings Orlando unique

The Cowfish is proudly the first and only burger and sushi bar in the world. Step on in and try one of the signature creations: the Burgushi. Café Tu Tu Tango fuses global recipes with a Florida twist, using only local ingredients and serving meals in an art gallery showcasing local artists.

Alternative: Can't decide? Spend a few hours on an Orlando Food Tour to eat your way around town and have a couple drinks while doing it.

Visit a Quirky Amusement Park

Screw Walt Disney World. Go somewhere unique this trip, like Gatorland–home to all your alligator amusement needs–or better yet, the Holyland Experience–where the Bible comes to life. Hint: it's even more entertaining and over the top than the good book itself. ;)

Welcome to Gatorland, the only alligator themed amusement park in the world and one of the unique and offbeat things to do in Orlandom, Florida

Alternative: If neither of those sounds right for you, check out these other one-of-a-kind Orlando amusement parks.

  More Offbeat Travel Guides

  flickr // inazakira cindy sackerman519 hyku

Published in United States

Most people head to the sunshine state for a dose of its unrivalled surf and sand, the golf courses, and some of the world’s best theme parks and nature reserves, but Florida is also home to other great options like a variety of delicious culturally diverse foods. So if you’re looking to head down to Florida for a relaxing vacation, here are some of the top eats for you to pick from.

1. Cuban Sandwich

This delicious sandwich should be on the radar of anyone visiting southern Florida, and was originally made in cafés catering to early Cuban immigrants. It has become the signature sandwich of the city of Tampa and features Cuban bread, ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and occasionally salami (as in Tampa).

The Cuban, arguably the most famous Florida food -- and one that every visitor to Florida must try

2. Rock Shrimp

Florida’s rock shrimp are a great starter or as a snack to enjoy while relaxing and having an afternoon drink. Pair them with a sweet dip, a traditional shrimp sauce, or for those looking for a bit of a kick, something spicy. Caught just off the Florida coast, they’re always fresh and tasty.

3. Conch Fritters

Made in the Florida Keys—nicknamed the Conch republic—these large shellfish can be baked with lemon slices and lemon juice, to produce a tender meat, not unlike ceviche. Another popular method is to chop and mix them with other meats and vegetables, then deep-fry them, which produces the crunchy and flavourful Florida style fritters.

Make sure to try conch fritters when in Florida

4. Swamp Cabbage

This traditional Floridian food has been around for centuries, dating back well before colonialism. Swamp cabbage is better known as the heart of palm and is extracted from the sabal palm trees that are native to Florida. The heart of palm can be stewed until tender in a rich tomato sauce, or with water (or broth), meat, and dripping, then served up hot ready to be enjoyed.

5. Key Lime Pie

Another dish out of the Florida Keys, Key West to be specific, this cool and refreshing pie is made from lime juice, egg yolk, and sweetened condensed milk, which is whipped, thickened, and served on a crisp crust to produce a dish that is both smooth and zesty. It’s the absolute perfect dessert for a hot Florida day.

Key Lime Pie, a famous florida food that you must try

6. Floribbean Cuisine

There are many types of dishes in Florida that have roots in the Caribbean islands, using ingredients like mangos, papayas, plantains, and coconuts. These include Jamaican jerk chicken, arroz con pollo, and different style barbecues such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Bahamian. If you see a Caribbean influenced restaurant in Florida, odds are you’re in for a treat.

So if you’re booking your flights in the USA to Florida, remember, there are plenty of fun things to do, just remember to leave a little time to discover the delicious culinary scene. Please feel free to add your Florida food suggestions in the comments below.

  Images by johnjoh istolethetv and ralphandjenny used under the Creative Commons License.

Published in United States

Planning a visit to London? After booking your flight and picking the perfect London hotel, the next item on the list is figuring out where to dine in this British metropolis. London is packed with everything from expensive, swanky restaurants to ultra-affordable, no-frills street vendors. The great thing about this city is that whether you dine in luxury or while just lounging on a park bench, you can enjoy some truly delicious food.

But what should you eat while you're there? You'll be bombarded with international cuisine options and hearty English dishes everywhere you turn. Tantalizing smells will waft from street carts, cafes and restaurants alike, all of which make it more difficult to decide what to eat. But on a limited jaunt in this city, you'll want to make your menu selections carefully. It's important to enjoy the traditional flavors this city serves up without missing out on some of the more exotic offerings.

To help travelers make the most of every meal in London, we've put together this hassle-free guide to the city's best dishes. Use this menu to make sure you don't miss out on the incredible flavors that London has to offer during your visit.

Top foods to try in London infographic

  This article was originally published on IHG on May 9th, 2016.

Published in England

Atlanta is home to the busiest airport in the United States, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International, so it should be no surprise that millions of people visit Atlanta every year. However, many of them miss out on some of the coolest and quirkiest things that the city has to offer. Don't be one of them! The next time you are in Atlanta, make sure to check out these quirky and offbeat sights and activities:

Catch An Indie Film

The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema is a cool, quirky place to catch a indie film and a beer, and one of the offbeat places keeping Atlanta interesting

One of my favorite theatres in all of the USA and arguably the best independent theatre in Georgia, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema is known for showing amazing indie and foreign films. Of course they also show a few regular blockbusters too, if those genres are not your type of thing. Friendly staff, clean cinemas, polite audiences and -- best of all -- cold beer! Popular with the locals but never too crowded, the Landmark is a perfect way to kill a couple hours.

Release Your Inner Child

The Pac-Man Play Arcade is one of Atlanta's coolest and most offbeat places to visit

Remember the good old days of arcade games? They are back thanks to Pac-Man Play Arcade. From the classic games we grew up with like Pac-Man to newer crazes such as Dance Dance Revolution, there is something here for everyone. Bring a few friends and challenge each other to see who can get the highest score.

Adopt A Kid

The Cabbage Patch Kids Babyland Hospital is one of Georgia's most unique places to visit

What, you weren't planning on coming back from Atlanta with a kid? Better think again! Located about an hour outside of the city is Babyland General Hospital, the birthplace of the famous Cabbage Patch Kids. First created in 1978, new Cabbage Patch Kids are still born every hour -- but only during business hours, of course. Adoptive parents get to pick their name and a birth certificate is drawn up right then. It's a very interesting place and process, one that should definitely be on everyone's Atlanta "to-do" list.

Get Your Dwarf On

The original Chick-Fil-A Dwarf House in Hapeville, Georgia is the birthplace of Chick-Fil-A

The fast food chicken chain Chick-Fil-A actually got it's start in the suburbs of Atlanta in the 1940's as the Dwarf Grill (due to its small size) but was later renamed to the Dwarf House. This original location is still going strong, serving thousands of local customers every day -- as well as those few tourists looking for off the beaten path sights or the occasional road-tripper lured in by the sign on the I-75 that reads "Chick-Fil-A Dwarf House." Here they serve much more than your modern Chick-fil-A, including burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.

Wander Amongst Hippies And Punks

Street art in Little Five Points, Atlanta's most unique and offbeat part of town

The Little Five Points district has been referred to as Atlanta's version of San Francisco's infamous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood or New York City's Greenwich Village. Here you will find a mixture of independent record label studios and stores, new-age shops selling crystals and other assorted goods, vintage clothing stores, novelty shops, tattoo parlors, coffee shops and other offbeat goodies. It is the best place in town for both shopping and people-watching, two often underrated pastimes.

What other offbeat Atlanta sights and activities would you recommend?

  flickr // Bill Dickinson William McKeehan Nicolas Henderson Pawel Loj

Published in United States

Be sure to check out these famous sandwiches on your next trip, which are must-tries whenever you visit their region of origin.

1. Chicago's Italian Beef

The Windy City draws large crowds for deep-dish pizza and Chicago dogs, but the Italian beef is a long-time local favorite. Thinly sliced seasoned beef is piled high on an Italian sub roll, dredged in gravy or au jus, and topped with hot or sweet peppers. Absolutely mouthwatering! You can find these bad boys at practically any local dog stall down the street from your Chicago hotel -- plus a variety of other street-food vendors around the city once you get sick of dogs.

2. North Carolina's Pulled Pork

If you’ve ever spent time in the Carolinas, you’ve likely caught wind of the BBQ standoff between the eastern and western parts of the state (and don’t get them started on South Carolina BBQ). Visit the state's capital, Raleigh, or stay close to the coast and check out little hole-in-the-wall joints that boast vinegar-based sauces and a mix of dark and white meat. Or head to the western part of the state, which holds onto the belief that dark meat and a ketchup-based sauce is the ticket. We’ll let you decide.

New York's beef en weck is a mouth-watering sandwich worth traveling for

3. Upstate New York's Beef En Weck

Buffalo chicken may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of upstate delicacies, but beef en weck is an equally famous local crowd-pleaser. Sliced roast beef is stacked on a salted and seeded bun and served with a side of au jus for a simple but satisfying meal.

4. Georgia's Pimento Cheese Sandwich

In the South, pimento cheese goes with just about everything. Use it as a topping, a dip or the main ingredient of a good ole Southern sandwich. Georgia's laid claim to the sandwich as the signature eat of the Master's at Augusta National, but you can find this sandwich on many a Southern menu. Make it your own with additions like bacon or tomato.

5. New England’s Lobster Roll

You can bake ‘em, boil ‘em, or smother 'em in butter. Or you can add a bit of mayo and herbs to fresh lobster meat for a knock-your-socks-off lobster roll. Eat your way up and down the New England coast on a self-guided food tour. Whether you're staying in Bar Harbor or spending a few nights in a Boston, you won't be far from one of these delicious seafood sammies.

A true Texas brisket BBQ sandiwch is a mouth-watering sandwich worth traveling for

6. Texas’s Brisket BBQ Sandwich

If you’ve ever been so hungry you could eat a horse, getting a meal fit for a cowboy could be the next best thing. Not to be confused in any way with the pork BBQ on the East Coast, Texas BBQ is made with brisket, with sauces ranging from a tomato-based sweet sauce in East Texas to molasses-based sauce in the South and spiced rub in the central part of the state.

Tasting these culinary masterpieces in the places where they were perfected is the best way to enjoy an authentic sandwich experience.

  This article is an updated version of my old guest post for Hipmunk's Tailwind< Blog in early 2016.

Published in United States

Chicago may be synonymous with “deep dish,” but there’s more to this city than thick crusts and mounds of cheese. In addition to striking architecture and gorgeous sunsets, the Windy City boasts a smorgasbord of good eats.

Chicago-style hot dog foodporn

1. Chicago-style Hot Dog

What cheesesteaks are to Philly, the Chicago-style hot dog is to the Windy City. The best versions start with a Vienna Beef Natural Casing dog, lay it down in a steamed poppy-seed bun, and top it with yellow mustard, diced white onion, relish, thin tomato wedges, a layer of crunchy dill pickles, and a couple of sport peppers. You’ll be able to find them all over the city, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices, head to Jimmy’s Red Hots near Humboldt Park. Or go to Allium (located in Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel) for an upscale take on the classic dog.

2. Vegetarian Diner Food

The Chicago Diner has earned a national reputation for its classic diner fare with a twist: All of the dishes are vegan or vegetarian. Even the most dedicated carnivores will find something to like here, where the menu sports a Radical Reuben (in which seitan replaces corned beef), vegan milkshakes, and truffle mushroom lentil loaf. The restaurant offers locations in both Halstead and Logan Square.

Paczkis, one of the best foods in C hicago

3. Paczkis

Chicagoans line up for hours on Paczki Day each year, when dozens of vendors around the city sell the hole-less Polish donuts to signal the arrival of Lent. Order them filled with jams, creams, or chocolate, or keep it simple and stick with an iced or powdered sugar variety. Consult this map to find where to score yours.

4. The Jibarito

Reportedly invented in Chicago, this Puerto Rican dish consists of a sandwich made with fried green plantains instead of bread. The plantains cradle meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a garlic-flavored mayonnaise. Enjoy one at Borinquen in Humboldt Park—the home of the original jibarito.

Saganaki, one of the best foods in Chicago

5. Saganaki

Another dish that has its origin story in Chicago, saganaki consists of breaded or floured cheese that’s fried and served piping hot. Find it all over GreekTown.

6. Charcuterie

Chicago is well known for its butcher shops and high-quality meat (Perhaps that’s why the Italian beef sandwich is another Chicagoan favorite). Carl Sandburg even declared Chicago the “hog butcher for the world” in a poem about the city. Whether you’re looking for fresh-cut ribs, cured sausages, or heritage breeds, Chicago’s butchers have you covered. Popular shops include The Butcher and Larder (in West Town), Publican Quality Meats (in West Loop), and Paulina Meat Market (in Lakeview).

From carnivorous meals to fried cheese, donuts, and vegan fare, don’t miss a delicious bite on your next trip to Chicago. If by some unlikely chance you’re not satisfied, you can always order a pizza upon arriving back home.

See More!   Chicago Style: A First-Timer's Food Guide

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 9th.

Published in United States

One of the best things about foreign travel is the knowledge that invariably comes with it. It provides the opportunity for each of us to learn more about the world and its' many diverse cultures, as well as a little bit about ourselves. Another bonus is the chance to see which technology, trends, and practices are popular in the local region.

Think back and I'm sure you can recall a few things that made you go "Why don't they sell these back home?" or "Damn, why aren't we doing this at home?" even "Look at that, how awesome!" Most often those thoughts and semi-rhetorical questions are soon enough forgotten. But for me, at least in the case of Japan, not a day goes by that I don't miss all the great things about that country.

Japan is full of innovative ideas, futuristic technology, impressive customs, and other things that make you say WOW. Don't believe me? Take a look below and feel free to add your suggestions after the post.

Those Fancy Japanese Toilets

Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Many people already know that these crappers are in a league all of their own. I wrote an entire article about fancy Japanese toilets and other bathroom innovations. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other impressive features. Be sure to read that post for more intriguing info.

Japanese toilets are top-notch toilets and the best Japanese innovation ever!

  Photo Gallery: Japanese Toilets 101

Underground Bicycle Garages

These things are pretty neat, Mayu showed me how to use one. Basically you just hop off your bike and roll it onto this platform. Insert your card and the machine will automatically stow your bike in a huge underground cylinder. This keeps it safe from both thieves and natural disasters while also reducing the amount of clutter at street level. To retrieve it simply re-insert your card into the attached machine and it will spit your bike back out in around ten seconds.

In areas without the Eco Cycle storage it is not uncommon to see hundreds of bicycles crammed together as part of a makeshift bicycle lot (a trend which I hope has died out since my last trip to Japan).

I don't have any personal photos, unfortunately, but I did find this  

Underground bicycle garages in Tokyo, Japan

Automated Vehicle Garages

An enlarged version of the bicycle garages, these things are amazing! They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are pretty wild to watch in action. Some are drive-thrus that slide the vehicle off to the side. Others in the basement of high-rise buildings feature a circular pad so that the vehicle can be rotated 180° and driven out in the opposite direction it was driven it.

Automatic underground car parking garage in Tokyo, Japan
Ramps down to these underground garages can be seen all over the big cities

Other models are individual lifts that hoist one vehicle up into the air so that a second can be driven in underneath it. Walk past people's homes in the evening and it is not uncommon to see two vehicles stacked atop each other.

Astonishing Array Of Vending Machines

In the big metropolises of Japan you are never more than two blocks from a vending machine. They are usually found in pairs but sometimes also in long banks of a dozen or more. They sell all the traditional items you would expect such as refreshing beverages (soda, water, tea, milk, juice, beer...essentially everything liquid) and cigarettes (requires scan of a Japanese ID to dispense product) to other more unconventional items including ramen, electronics, umbrellas, even underwear and ties.

Vending machines in Japan sell everything from drinks to cigarettes, electronics, toys and even panties -- both new and used. Yes, seriously.

Automatically Opening Taxi Doors

This one is essentially self-explanatory, I don't know what more I can write about them. They are controlled by a button up front and swing open really fast. Oh and they are twice as great when its raining out.

Japanese taxis have automatically opening doors

Touchscreen Menus At Upscale Restaurants


These reduce the number of (and stress on) restaurant employees. Expect to see more in the future.

Pachinko Parlors That Nearly Induce Seizures

Anyone who has ever walked past one of these has undoubtedly heard the noise and flashing lights blaring out. They are basically like arcade halls combined with casinos, some being multiple levels and taking up entire blocks. I never played myself but did wander through a couple of them.

Japanese citizens love these things and have been know to spend hours playing in these giant parlors, like the stereotypical American Grandma glued to the Las Vegas slots. Not very popular among foreigners though due to the constant flashing lights and never-ending din of bells, chimes, tings, tongs, pings, and general noise of hundreds of people gambling.


Japanese crack

Love Hotels

Love hotels are plush yet discreet hotels that rent rooms either by the hour, a several-hour "short stay" period, or for the entire night. Each room has different themes with the fanciest being compared to a brief stay in paradise. These swanky rooms would undoubtedly fit right in with some of the classy hotels of Las Vegas or Dubai.

When I say the theme varies greatly between rooms, I cannot stress that enough. One could be Egyptian theme, the next dungeon-themed, another a retro-hippie love-nest, etc. I highly recommend you check out a love hotel, especially if you've met a cute little Asian girl at the club that night.


Impressive, huh? Love hotels are common in neighborhoods with lots of clubs and an active nightlife.

Other Unique Types Of Japanese Lodging  

White-Gloved Helpers...Everywhere

A variety of businesses have staff that are ready and waiting to help you at a moment's notice. For lack of an official term (that I know of) I jokingly refer to these people at the white glove crew. Whether standing next to the trash cans in McDonald's waiting to take your tray from you and dispose of it themselves or inside the elevator, eager to take you to whichever floor has what you need, these people always have a smile on their face and white cloth gloves on their hands.

The railway attendants are dressed similarly and also sport the white gloves. However, they don't always have a smile on their face -- especially not during rush hour.

Drunk Female Attendants At Clubs

It's not what you may think. Big clubs in Japan frequently stay open until sunrise. Many even have an employee on hand who's sole job is to care for the ladies that have had way too much to drink; other employees that are walking around the club will bring these women down to him. Not only does this prevent them from getting taken advantage of or robbed, but it also leaves their boyfriend free to keep partying (guilty, I'll admit it).

This employee is even armed with rubber bands and miniature black trash bags for -- you guessed it -- tying up their hair and puking. This "drunk person attendant" is located near the entrance, making it easy to retrieve your drunk person on the way home. Hope you saved money for a cab because they will not be fit to walk!

Now that is a level of service that is hard to match. Unfortunately I never thought to get a photo.

Clubbing In Tokyo  

All The Paper Currency Is Perfectly Crisp

Now this isn't so much a Japanese innovation, but rather a testament to their level of perfection. Every bank note is impeccably crisp, whether receiving it from an ATM or as change from the local corner store. No bills are ever raggedy, torn, of limp, as other countries currency often is. I suspect that the banks simply rotate out worn bills at an increased rate. Whatever it is the fact remains that this simple little thing is surprisingly easy to get used to.


Image coutesy of Japan Scene

100¥ Stores

Based on the American dollar stores, Japan revamped these into stores that offer products that are not utter crap -- even fresh food -- and people are not shopping at them because they are poor.


These stores take the embarrassment out of bargain shopping

Designated Smoking Areas Cubes

Although you can smoke inside restaurants, clubs, and a variety of other places in Japan -- basically everywhere except grocery and clothing stores -- many cities have restrictions on outdoor smoking. For example outside railway stations and airports there are sporadic smoking areas. Some are merely painted rectangles on the ground but others are actually fully enclosed cubicles with high-powered ventilation to combat the smoke, as pictured below.


Indoor smoking area at an establishment that had recently banned smoking

(Almost) No Homeless People In Tokyo

Given the fact that Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world (36.9 million people, over 10 million more than #2, Mexico City) I initially expected there to be a lot of homeless people as well. After all, I was born in NYC. I'm familiar with homeless people.

There is nothing more depressing than walking around a big city only to pass underneath a bridge and realize you are walking through someone's home. And damn, now I've got to keep smelling this God-awful smell until getting out from underneath this bridge and several paces away.

In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person. I'm not saying that they do not exist, just saying that thanks to the strong principles of the Japanese culture, homelessness is not near the problem there that it is in many other countries.

There is plenty more that makes Japan a fantastic country to visit, but you'll just have to experience it yourself and see what you find!

  What are your thoughts? Have any additions to this list?

Published in Japan

South Padre is known for lots of things. Good beaches. Great fishing. The madness of Spring Break. And of course great seafood. However, there is much more culinary fun to be had on this humble island than mere seafood. Come with me on a culinary odyssey across all of South Padre Island!

Yummies Bistro

It's always important to start your day off with a breakfast that is at least filling, if not healthy. (I'm not here to give you life advice, merely food advice.) For that there is no better place than Yummies Bistro. Their food is so good they don't even need a web site to promote it -- people just know.

The breakfast is all-encompassing. From eggs any way imaginable to pancakes, waffles, burritos and more, there is something here to satisfy everyone. Be careful not too eat too much though. More times than not I've left here eager to crawl back into bed, rather than start an active day. Oh -- and they also make a pretty mean lunch.

BURGERFI

BURGERFI, home of the best burger on South Padre Island

A good hamburger requires equal parts good beef, choice toppings, a fresh homemade bun and a dash of secret sauce. Using this powerful formula BURGERFI has managed to create amazing melt-in-your-mouth burgers that will leave you wanting to come back to South Padre Island just for them, forget the beach! Don't believe me? Try one. I recommend The Twenty Eight.

Gabriella's Italian Grill And Pizzeria

Pizza is delicious anywhere but especially on the beach with a cold beer nearby. Even more so if it is from Gabriella's Italian Grill And Pizzeria. I'm telling you, this place is amazing! Hands-down the best pizza on the island. And trust me, I've tried them all

Their menu features such decadent pizzas as The Soprano (perfect for any meat-loving man), The Leaning Tower of Cheeza and the Leonardo d’Veggie. All of these are cooked in a massive brick wood-fire oven -- as all good pizzas are. For guests who choose to dine in, you will have a magnificent view of this grill from your table. Or order delivery and have the pizza come to you on the beach.

Pier 19

No article on South Padre Island food would be complete without a little seafood. Behold, Pier 19, my favorite seafood restaurant in all of South Padre! They are also the home of the second best breakfast on the island -- although I would not recommend mixing the two.

Set out on the end of a wooden pier, Pier 19 is also a great place for a romantic dinner and great views of the Gulf. Their menu features a bit of everything, from pasta to sandwiches to south of the border; however it's with their seafood that they really shine. Whatever your preference, have confidence that the chef here will leave you impressed.

Still planning your Texas vacation? Check out my South Padre Island archives for even more travel guides, tips and advice. Enjoy!

  flickr   //   jeepersmedia

Published in United States
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