Staten Island, New York, USA
Calling itself the “Unexpecting Borough”, Staten Island touts a boatload of art, culture, history and gastronomy. Their zoo touts one of the greatest reptile collections. There’s Fort Wadsworth, the boardwalk at South Beach, the Alice Austen house, an entire museum dedicated to the “true” inventor of the telephone, Antonio Meucci, and you can go back 300 years in Historic Richmond Town, or attend a concert or the botanical garden at Snug Harbor
On the culinary front, Staten Island has the, nope, sorry, thee best Sri Lanken restaurants. And there’s the by now famous Enoteca Maria that features real grandmothers from all around in the kitchen, a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal. Let’s not forget Jade Island, a Cantonese restaurant that’s Anthony Bourdain approved and home to fancy cocktails in fake coconuts and the best Chinese ribs that I’ve been eating for 41 years (tell Sing I said hello).
And if you want gorgeous sunset views over Lower Manhattan, well, fuggedaboutit! They’re mere steps from the ferry terminal over the outfield wall at the New York Yankees’ minor league affiliate.
All of this hopefully makes up for the exorbitant toll prices.
Staten Island has come a long way since being known as “The Rock” (because it’s like Alcatraz) for the aforementioned ferry, being the home of the Wu-Tang Clan and most of New York’s finest mobsters and, of course, the landfill, which has since closed and no longer receiving everyone’s trash.
We’re not saying this is the best city in America. We’re just saying give Staten Island a chance. If you don’t like it, just hop back on the ferry. Hey, it could be worse. We could be sending you to Long Island…
The Faroe Islands, Denmark
The Faroes, at the top of the world near the Arctic Circle, are self-governing but technically part of Denmark. After the Second World War, Danish diplomat Alex Dessau went to the capital, Tórshavn, to explain to local officials what an economic boon tourism would be. At one point the Mayor of Tórshavn said, “Mr. Dessau, forgive me for interrupting you, but are you telling us that if people from the outside world are nice enough to come visit us in our islands, you expect us to charge them?”
The Faroe Tourism machine is a bit more sophisticated now, and has pulled off a couple of remarkable attention getting coups, like closing to tourists for a weekend this past April “for maintenance” and the viral “sheep cam” video.
But that original innocence and genuine welcoming spirit hasn’t gone and in fact has probably grown. One of the most interesting things to do there is to eat with the locals in their homes, a program they call Heimablídni. Go to visitfaroeislands.com and you can see the range of meals and prices offered. Or go to locals homes for concerts — concerts! — known as Hoyma(bit).
The Faroes really are that criminally-abused cliche unspoiled — sweeping, dramatic, sensual landscapes dotted with villages and hamlets. And they have one of the best restaurants in the world, the innovative (and apparently completely unpretentious) KOKS (at least we think so).
Getting there has gotten easier and more consistent, although deep winter can be difficult for extreme weather reasons. We’re going to make a suggestion: consider going for Christmas/Hanukkah/New Years. It’s a senses-stinging time of the year there and we mean that in a good way.
Hang Son Doong, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam
In 1990, Ho Khanh, a local farmer discovered the entrance to a cave, one with billowing clouds rising from it, then forgot where it was. Eighteen years later, he stumbled across it again, this time noting its location. In 2009, with the guidance of the British Cave Research Association (BCRA), an expedition was lead down into it. What was discovered, but has been there for 3 million years, is Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave.
It is over 3 miles long and reaches heights of 650 feet. With a total size of 1.4 billion cubic feet (though there are more explorations coming, so who knows how big this cave truly is), Son Doong has passages large enough to fly a Boeing 747 through it and house an entire New York City block with skyscrapers. Within the cave are hundreds of other cave systems. It’s like a Russian doll of underground chambers. It even has its own weather systems.
Meaning “Mountain River Cave”, Son Doong has only been open to the public since 2013 and the only way to access it is with Oxalis Adventure Tours, who lead these tours in partnership with the BCRA. The cost for a four-day trek is $3,000.
HOTEL / CITY
Aman, Venice, Italy
It’s probably politically incorrect to suggest visiting Venice, sagging under the estimated weight of 30 million tourists a year, but I very much do suggest visiting Venice. I can’t imagine not wanting to go, and if you haven’t been, 30 million people a year are smarter than you.
You know it’s a magical city and that that description, for once, is not hyperbolic. It’s a gloriously, fastidously preserved Rennaisance city, traversed as much by water as land, insuperably romantic because the city’s history and soul is too large to comodify or bend into some sort of commercial balloon animal. The city tolerates the obscene number of invaders and, for all it’s collective contempt of and discomfort with them, is unbowed by them. Venice is Venice. You come, you go, you don’t change it.
(I don’t think the invaders are obscene, and I think everyone on the planet should see it, but the sheer number is larger than some European countries’ populations.)
There are a lot of hotels of course but what do we ever think of other than the grand, fantastic Palazzos converted into other-worldly, other-times opulent hospitality? We think of the Gritti Palace and the Hotel Cipriani, even if we don’t actually think of those exactly, because we think of them as shapes, a kind of place so cut off from our reality that they may exist in another dimension. The Aman Venice though is the ne plus ultra of this ne plus ultra Venice. It’s the most beautiful, the most lavish and probably most exclusive and cetainly most expensive. It’s rooms are exquisitely designed and furnished and expansive, and look out over the Grand canal as if it is the private property of that room. The vaulted public rooms are uncrowded, therefore peaceful, and sumptously decorated and, like many of the guestrooms, the walls and ceilings are elaborately painted in the rococco style of the Palazzos from the 1600s.
Just as an aside, they don’t call it overtourism when you spend over 4000 dollars a night! No-one seems to have a problem with that…
I was in Pristina in June 1999, at the end of the war, which I was covering for one of my previous magazines, GEAR. Then the city, like the entire country, was decimated. Its streets were as pockmarked as the moon, its infrastructure devastated and when I was there they hadn’t had electricity for a week, which burned a particular impression on my mind when I used the restrooms in the Hotel Pristina, since loss of electricity also means loss of the ability to flush a toilet. To think that Pristina in particular and Kosovo in general have become a leading tourist destination in Europe in just 20 years is mindblowing, and so dizzyingly exciting.
The city is widely regarded as Europe’s ugliest capital — and there is, frankly, competition for that — but that is too simplistic. Pristina is a smear of contradictions, a town anchored in its most recent, bland communist past and it’s far longer, far more colorful and conflicted and entrenched Muslim and Serbian Christian history. In one part of town the gloriously frescoed Imperial Mosque gleams and roils with life, and not far away a massive, unfinished Serbian Church lies discarded in an overgrown field, the husk of a defeated, overthrown oppressor. There are new style, bold buildings which sprang from rubble, and there are the twisting old streets and mosques and cafes that have more or less been there for centuries. There is vibrant nightlife. The wounds of war are both forgotten and not. As it should be.