Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Defense Begins

Until last year, I had never seen my team win a World Series. Because of this, until this year I have never entered a new baseball season, seen pitchers and catchers report, with my team as a defending champion that the rest of the league is trying to catch up to. For the first time, I can dream of a dynasty, dream of going back to back, something non baseball team has been able to do since the 1998-2000 Yankees. And that thought is real, the Astros are still at the beginning of their run, they've gotten better. Spring always brings out the dreamers in the baseball world, but this is not a dream, this is a defense.

The Astros enter this season with all the possibilities ahead of them. Fangraphs projects them to win 101 games, which is the first time they've projected a team to win 100 since the 2005 Cardinals (who went 101-61). They project the Astros to have the best offense, and allow the fewest runs. They project them to have the best position players by WAR, and best pitchers by WAR. Aside from injury, there are no holes. Of course, what gives me pause, aside from my normal pessimism, is that it is never so easy in baseball.

we only have to look one year back, and the Cubs were seen to be on the cusp of a truly special run. Instead, the Cubs languished around .500 for the first half of the season, barely won the division, and while they did go to the NLCS they were tossed aside. Surrounding their relative disappointment from a results perspective was a larger one from a general atmosphere or feeling perspective. Gone were the lovably Cubbies, in were players that didn't have the same verve, or guys like Jake Arrieta falling apart. The dream turned into a disaster. The Astros need to avoid this fate.

They have the tools to do so. The 2016 Cubs were built on a good offense to be sure, but a great year from a lot of pitchers, and one of the best team defenses ever. Their pitching was much more spotty in 2017, the defense fell to merely good, and they fell off. The 2017 Astros were built on a historic level of offense, and while they probably won't collectively be as good, there are signs for improvement. Sure, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Reddick will likely fall off a bit, but maybe Carlos Correa doesn't miss 40 games, and Alex Bregman picks up where he left off. 

Then there's the pitching. It will be great watching these bevy of good starting pitcher. They have their keys in Verlander and Keuchel, but McCullers is great when healthy, Charlie Morton throws 95+ now, and of course they brought in Gerritt Cole, former #1 overall pick, and look to rebuild him the way they rebuilt the last ex-Pirate (Morton). Of course, injuries will occur, which is why it is so good they have other starting pitching options masquerading in the bullpen (Colin McHugh and Brad Peacock). No, the Astros are without weakness. 

But baseball doesn't care for perfection in that way. Even the best teams will lose 35-40% of their games. Baseball will test those limits of infallibity the Astros seem to be operating under, and I can't wait for it to get started all over again. The one hope I have is that the Astros don't get the Red Sox or Cubs post-World Series commercialization bug. I don't want a bunch of pink hats and certainly don'
t want the Astros fans to start being seen as spoiled, entitled and brattish. Leave that for Boston.

The Astros  broke camp with so much potential, and I want to soak all of it up, from pitchers and catchers reporting, to hopefully another long run into October. This won't last forever. I know that. The first fork in the road is coming this upcoming offseason, when Dallas Keuchel hits free agency. Jose Altuve the year after. Then Springer, Correa, McCullers, Bregman. in the years to come. Hopefully they can keep some of these guys, but there's a chance they don't or pick the wrong ones. Hard decisions are coming, but not for now.

For now, the Astros are potentially a special team, with special players, defending a title they rightfully earned, and while despite how good they are the chances remain they won't earn it back this time, I'm ready to see them go out and try.

Monday, February 19, 2018

My Top 40 Favorite TV Shows

40.)  Shameless

Shameless is now on its 4th Season, and it is going through some large changes making it very different from what the show used to be. Jimmy(Steve) is no longer a character, Fiona is in a steady job (for now), Lip is in college, and, of course, Frank can't drink, but the lifeblood of the show remains. Shameless showed a really unique side of America, the lower-class white community, that hadn't really been shown before. It wasn't always shown well (almost anything involving Sheila in Seasons 1-3 didn't work for me), but it was unendingly entertaining.

39.) Oz

Just like The Larry Sanders Show, I haven't seen all of Oz, but I've seen enough to get a good idea of what it is all about. Oz was the first real HBO drama to be critically acclaimed, coming a good three years before The Sopranos and five years before The Wire. Telling the story of an experimental unit of a prison, Oz was able to combine the exploration of different themes and thoughts with drama and prison intrigue. It was always informative, but a little slow at times.

38.) iZombie

I don't know if any show has ever had a more ludicrous plot as iZombie. For a quick recap, the show centers around a girl who gets turned into a Zombie, but in this case zombies can live a normal life... if they eat brains. To eat brains, she becomes a coroner, but in this world, eating brains makes you take over some characteristics of the dead persons life. Got all that? Anyway, what the show really is about is a cutting procedural, with an incredible amount of world building, including insightful views of corporate greed, family disputes, the medical industry, and so much more. The show gradually made the world know about the Zombie problem, which should only increase the depths it can plough. Rob Thomas did it again with iZombie, a show that could rise up the list as ti continues - somehow getting more seasons on air than Veronica Mars.

37.) How I Met Your Mother

If the show stopped and never came back at the end of Season 2, well before we met the mother, and it ended with Barney mid-word, it would be a good 15 or so spots up the list. The first, to be fair, four seasons of HIMYM were such a breath of fresh air, the first 'Friends' clone to creatively tweak the same formula. The way the show played with timelines, and narration and mystery was so good. The characters were all interesting and hilarious. Of course, the show did not stop after two or four seasons, and devolved into a mess in its later years, but the first few years were about perfect for a 'traditional' comedy in a world where mockumentaries reigned supreme. Plus, Seasons 1-4 Barney may have been one of the great sitcom characters ever, with a brilliant performance by Neil Patrick Harris, and secondly the show did a great job of mining comedy out of a happy marriage. No small feat, making its slow devolution in its 2nd half all the more sad and unexpected.

36.) The Good Place

There's a few shows on this list that are still in their early stages of what could, and hopefully will, be long runs. The Good Place is truly a unicorn, a comedy on a broadcast network that was so unexpected. Michael Schur can rarely do wrong, but he hit it out of the park here. The serialized nature of the show is unlike anything I've seen, and the show is so smart in its comedy, even in a case where one of the main characters is riotously dumb. I don't know how many times they can pull the rug out, but each plot twist has worked. Ted Danson and Kristen Bell are both great in their roles, but the real stars are the visual gags. I do wonder how far they can take it, but in a world where broadcast comedy seems dead, Michael Schur uncovered something great.

35.) Orange is the New Black

NETFLIX's first great original series hit back in 2013 (if we're not counting House of Cards), Orange is the New Black was so unique when it started, for so many good reasons, highlighting strong female characters, a variety of ethnicities, all played quite well, and just enough hard moments to remind people these people are all in prison. The flashbacks only worked about half the time, and the seasons varied in quality quite heavily (largest mis-step to me was the 2nd season, with the drama centering around Red vs. Vee), but the long story of privatization was a cutting social commentary, and the show was smart enough to shift focus away from Piper as it went on. She was out entry point, but Kenji Johan drew enough interesting characters to take the focus anyway.

34.) Parenthood

There shouldn't be a place for family dramas in the current TV landscape, but Parenthood continues to work. Sure, they've had their missteps over the years (let's just pretend Kristina never ran for mayor of Berkeley), but they've also had some incredible shining moments. All the early material with Max's asperbergers was brilliant, grounded a show that took a while to flesh out its other characters. Like most shows on this list, the acting was brilliant from the beginning. Every character was well cast, even Ann-hog/Beal/Plant/Annabeal Veal herself, Mrs. Mae Whitman. All the stuff with the Siblings Braverman has been awesome from the beginning, including every scene when the four of them are together. They've touched upon basically ever family conflict (divorce, affairs, adoption, child rearing, illness, cancer, money, moving) and done almost all of them well. The show will probably end soon, and just in time to finish off that Bingo! of Family Drama topics with a perfect A- average.

33.) The Larry Sanders Show

I haven't finished the entire show, but from what I have seen, it does 'Behind-the-Scenes of Show Business' better than any show I've seen. It isn't the absurdist show that 30 Rock is, but had a great cast of characters, and used guest stars, which it had basically every episode, quite well. It just wasn't always funny all the time.

32.) Men of a Certain Age 

Just like the show at #19, Men of a Certain Age lasted just two seasons on the air, before it could make a real lasting impact and totally figure itself out. But whatever it did, it worked incredibly well. Ray Romano was always underrated in his acting on ELR, but he proved just how good an actor he was on this show. Of course, it was hard him to even stand out next to Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher, all getting good material and playing the hell out of it. This show probably had the lightest stakes of any drama, but those light stakes just made it realistic, really, incredibly, realistic. Romano gave each of the main three characters some interesting beats to play, but the overarching tone was to get over disappointment and enjoy whatever you can about that 'Certain Age'. What I really loved about the show was the small set of recurring characters it had, but how well placed they all were inside that shows ecosystem. A great blend of overarching darkness and small moments of joy.

31.) Narcos

30.) The Deuce

Of the few shows that have just started, I don't know if any can rise higher than The Deuce. David Simon knocked it out of the park in the first season. Yes, the stakes aren't as life or death as The Wire, and the gratuitous sex is almost tiresome, but just like in The Wire, the varying shades of gray in the characters is so good. The rise of both the porn industry as it relates to prostitutoin is a bottomless well of interesting plot. It was so great to get so many ex-Wire actors back on stage together, but the real stars to me are the newbies, in both of James Franco's characters, the mobster Vinnie Poppilo, and Magie Gyllenhall as the enterprising ex-prostitute. The show is supposed to include some time-jumps to come, which may make the show lose some of these characters. We'll see if that works, but for now, the show hit on something special.

29.) Archer

I've backlogged Archer Vice right now, but through four seasons, Archer has become one of my favorite wasting-time shows that I put on in the background. I can't get enough of the fast-paced dialogue, the ridiculousness of Sterling, the brilliance of what is essentially Lucille Bluth, and everything else that makes Archer so damn funny. My only quibble is I'm not always a fan of the HR people back at the office like Pam and Cheryl.

28.) The Young Pope

Even if the show does come back as 'The New Pope', I'll consider that separate and The Young Pope a single installment, and man was it great. struggle to put shows too high that only go one year, because quality across more volume is more impressive, but The Young Pope was so good in its limited run. Surrealism doesn't always work on TV, but The Young Pope toed the line between realism and surrealism, with teh way it was shot, the airy quality. Jude Law's performance was amazing, but no better than the actor that played Cardinal Voiello and even Diane Keaton as Lenny's surrogate mother. The show was able to also provide an incredible view of religion vs. capitalism and corruption, in the best way possible, with the smarmy, caustic, cool Young Pope wanting to turn the church back centuries and getting stopped by the older guard ready to move forward. It wasn't great because of the religious commentary, it was great because it could go so far beyond that.

27.) Nathan For You

After the reality boom of the early 2000's, it was no surprise that that was folowed by the faux-reality show era - and to me no show did that better than Nathan For You. The show started with a consistently brilliant formula, with Nathan Fielder going t some small business owner in the LA area, posing as a 'business consultant' and coming up with some ridiculous, yet somehow brilliant, scheme to make the business grown. That show was very good, yet Fielder turned the show into something bigger, deeper, and better, by starting to grow beyond that set-up and investigate himself. The 3rd season wa the best yet, peeling the onion back on Fielder himself and his loneliness and isolation. The show got a, most likely final, 4th season, and a good finish could really move it up the list.

26.) American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson

Again, really tough to name any show that was just one season, but The People vs OJ Simpson was so incredibly well done, just an incredible show of art, mixing great dramatic moments and a whole lot of fun. The performances were across the board fantastic, especially those portraying Marcia Clark, Johnny Cochrane and Chris Darden. The other members of the dream team, including even Travolta's at times strange portrayal of Bob Shapiro, were fantastic. The pacing of the show was excellenet. Despite knowing so much about the case and the events around it, the episodes were all still riveting, just great television entertainment.

25.) Everybody Loves Raymond

The best traditional sitcom I have seen still gets high praise for me. Everybody Loves Raymond was more like a series of little plays, using a few characters and even fewer sets. Everyone's role was well-defined and consistent. There was little character growth but there never needed to be. Instead of put the family in funny situations, they made the family respond to normal situations in the funniest of ways. A consistently good traditional family sitcom should not work in this environment, but Raymond not only worked, but got better as it went on.

24.) Better Call Saul

No, the show is not going to approach Breaking Bad, but could find its way quite a bit up the list as time moves on, especially as the Mike and Jimmy/Saul halves start to coalesce. So far, they've been mostly two separate stories, both told with exacting detail. It's interesting that the Saul half has largely stayed outside the Breaking Bad story, and for that I actually find it more entertaining. Bob Odenkirk has been so good, and Michael McKean as good as Chuck, creating an incredibly suspenseful story arc about mostly legalese and strange picadillos (Chuck's fear of electricity). With Chuck potentially dead as Season 4 starts, it may start heading towards Jimmy teaming up with Mike, and how that plays out should cement how the series is remembered.

23.) Friday Night Lights

If you took Season 2 away, the show makes the Top 20. That season was such a mis-step, but even then it can't ruin how good the rest of the show was. The first season was about as good a season of family drama ever. The way the showed weaved so much small town drama and life through football was incredible, and the way the Taylor's marriage was played out might have been the best TV marriage ever. I felt the 2nd round of kids, mainly the East Dillon folks, from Season 4-5 never worked as well as the first set with Saracen, Smash, and the rest. Few other aspects of the show to cover are how well they showcased religion without proselytizing it, and how well the football, outside of the game action, played out.

22.) Happy Endings

Man, if only Happy Endings was on NBC, it would have been easily entering its 4th season right now. I've never seen a show start out aimless but find itself so quickly and so effectively. The show started out as a romantic comedy of a group of six friends reacting to one of them leaving another at the alter. That version ended in about 4 episodes. After that, it became a brilliant, pop-culture, caustic joke-machine. I've never seen a show mine so much comedy out of friends being mean to each other. They also quickly defined each character into solid, separate roles that all worked. It's extremely rewatchable, as you pick up little nuances in the performances that make it so damn joyful. It would be higher if it lasted more seasons, and if the first eighth of the show didn't suck. In retrospect, it would have been amazing to see how long they could have kept the pace up,. Even at times in third season it slowed down, but just for an episode or two. After that, they would return to being the most rapid-fire joke show in the last 10 years.

21.) Party Down

It's odd to hold a show back for only lasting three seasons only to extol the virtues of a show that lasted just two, but Party Down was really, really good. It's a pretty novel idea created initially by Paul Rudd, and then by his friends Rob Thomas (not the singer) and Dan Etheridge. They, combined with one of the most talented casts you will see, created a really good show that did not ever have a bad episode. They took eight people that were extremely talented, gave them good material, and let the talent do what talent will do. What killed the show, ironically, was that incredible cast, as they couldn't hold such talent forever on a show on Starz that no one watched live. First, it was Jane Lynch getting called for Glee, but what ended the show effectively was losing Adam Scott to Parks and Recreation. They did leave behind 20 episodes of pure gold, detailing the lives of cater-waiters just trying to have fun in whatever ridiculous situation their job puts them in.

20.) Bojack Horseman

After two seasons, Bojack Horseman has quickly become my favorite animated comedy yet. Archer may be more rewatchable, but no show is better, no show is more impressive at mining emotional and dramatic material despite being an animated show. Centered around an anthropomorphic horse in an anthropomorphic world who was an ex-star of a TV show, Bojack brilliantly satirizes Hollywood while also examining deeply the emotions and realities of success, happiness and content. The second season went deeper into the world outside of just Bojack and with that created an even more vivid tapestry. It will be interesting to see how far they can go with mixing such random irreverance and real emotions.

19.) Silicon Valley

Three seasons in, and Silicon Valley continues to be a laugh riot, despite how often they go to the whole 'this is the biggest day in Pied Piper's History' theme. It really all comes down to the insane talent on hand in the cast. The breakout star is TJ Miller, but adding comedy vet Martin Starr, with improv great Tomas Middletich, and stand-up vet Kumail Nanjiani, and other improv-great Zach Woods, you get an incredible result. Few shows can assemble that type of roster, hand them good material, and let them improve on it. Having Pied Piper stay in a status quo has helped keep the show grounded, and you have to think that places an expiration date, but until then, we can just enjoy watching these extremely talented people have a blast making each other and us laugh.

18.) Whose Line is it Anyway

It's a show that still works better in Youtube form when you can pick and choose your favorite sketches (or just watch loops of Colin and Ryan bantering in the intros to various sketches), but the show was ahead of its time. It was when UCB and the alt. comedy/improve was just becoming mainstream in clubs, but far before the same was true on air. Still, Whose Line left us with tons of episode of laughs upon laughs. Sure, it wasn't totally improv (the cast members knew what games were being played, and the show was edited), but it was pretty much improv, and showcased a bunch of talented people. Apart from Wayne Brady, and to a point, Greg Proops, none of them have found lasting success outside the show, but my God they were gold on the show. Whose Line should have been more successful, but it was always a cult hit with tweens (I was among that group when the show was on the air), and found a lasting presence online.

17 & 16.) Veronica Mars & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I'll admit, I've seen every episode of these shows. They're hard to really place apart from each other, as they follow similar constructs: a strong, beautiful female high-school girl who has a special talent but lives as an outcast. She befriends some other strange people, has an older male guide, and solves everyone's problems. There are major differences. Veronica Mars was far more grounded. It did a lot better actually showing the dynamics of a high-school environemnt. Buffy added fantasy to the mix, but also did better in romantic storytelling. They're both excellent shows. Buffy probably reaches higher peaks, but Buffy also lasted past its expiration date and suffered with lackluster Seasons 5 and 6. Veronica Mars, coming a good seven years after Buffy premiered, never got the chance to last that long, but that allowed it to leave before it got dated. Both the lead actresses were wonderful in their roles. Buffy had a stronger core group of supporting characters (Xander, Willow, Giles, Angel for a period, Spike for  period), but Veronica Mars had a deeper stable of dependable, if not true supporting, characters. Buffy kind of perfected the 'Big Bad' style of storytelling, while Veronica Mars did as good a job of playing out a murder mystery as anything you will see on a more adult show. Two great shows, and I'm not even close to joking.

Some Really Great Shows

15.) Boardwalk Empire

Full disclosure, I've only finished watching the first two seasons and two episodes of Season 3, but I think it's time I can judge what I have seen. I'm fascinated by this world, by the show, by the deliberate pacing, the touches of the 20's. Boardwalk Empire is to me what Mad Men is to so many: a brilliant period piece showing a fascinating time in American History. It is slow, but so many of the greatest crime and mafia works of art in US history have been slow (The Godfather, Pt. 1 and 2). The show is tremendously well acted, and well paced. I would never have imagined Steve Buscemi being so good as such a tough man but it works brilliantly. It's one of the rare shows were I have really no complaints with anything they've done. It was pretty much all 'A-minus' work, and that is really hard to do so consistently. I also love how they've worked in real life event and people (Al Capone, Arnold  Rothstein, the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and so much more). The show has woven a deep, timeless tapestry of life in The Prohibition Era.

14.) Curb Your Enthusiasm

There is a non-trivial chance that Curb never returns. Of course this will be a sad-thing, but Larry David has generally said that he'll stop when he no longer has ideas, so it's probably better for him to stop off a solid season. Curb probably isn't as consistent as many of these shows, but few reached the heights it did. Few were able to feature such well-to-do characters and still make them grounded. Making Larry single kicked the show in the ass after some less than stellar seasons in Season 5 and 6, and returned the show to its old glory (reuniting Seinfield did that as well). It's stunning that the show is mostly improvised, as the jokes are so sharp, so witty. Also, no show has used guest stars better. Sure, Curb gets to use recurring characters playing themself, but they've made those characters almost always seem more than just stunt-casting. Curb's left a lasting impression on the comedy world for a lot of other shows to copy. Hopefully just one of them can come to close to matching it.

13.) The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report will never be better or worse than it is right now and what it was five years ago. It hasn't really ever changed apart from some segments replacing others. It's about Stephen, it is about him being incredibly talented and great in character, and challenging people to know how to enjoy satire. The writers are brilliant in being able to have genius takes on obscure news stories, but the researchers are the key. It is a lot easier to satirize a story and make the host the start when you are talking about asininely ridiculous things as they do. Anyway, The Colbert Report also found its foothold in giving us some of the most interesting interviews you can see anywhere. Colbert does use  an unfair tactic about defending his position in character (see: ridiculous), but prosecuting his interviewee's position out of character (see: realist), but that just leads to some awesome, awkward, hilarious interviews. Because of Jon Stewart's summer hiatus, The Colbert Report finally won the 'best variety show' Emmy last year, and better late than never, as it definitely has deserved more than just one over its almost nine-year run.

12.) Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn

The Colbert Report essentially replaced Tough Crowd after two seasons, and thankfully they kicked Tough Crowd off the air for something worthy. A while ago I wrote that Tough Crowd would do much better today when standups are more notable in the public. I'm not so sure that is true. These were mainly the East Coast comics, the one's that burnt each other all the time, that responded with completely politically incorrect insults. It wasn't the West Coast let's-all-be-happy comedian group that kind of dominates today. Also, it featured conservatives. Big conservatives. But that's what made Tough Crowd so great. It didn't only have liberals, it didn't stick to any talking points. In fact, Colin Quinn quit the show than accept Comedy Central's directions to focus more on pop culture and less on politics and race. The show debated some interesting topics, but the real joy of watching the show was it shined a light on the famous back-room table discussions at The Comedy Cellar. It showed comedians just riffing on each other, pounding the comedian who told a bad, pandering joke, making fun of each other all the time. Sometimes the discussions went off the rails, but there was alwaays some jokes to be found. Colin Quinn cut as little as possible to show the jokes that bombed, showed the negative reactions, but also show just how much great comedians made each other laugh, and they made us laugh too.

11.) Parks and Recreation

Like many shows that lasted over four seasons, Parks and Recreation settled into a nice little groove, consistently churning out B episodes. They're still doing it too. What's nice about Parks is there has actually been character development that seemed really natural. Ron's now married. Tom's a semi-successful entrepreneur. Leslie's achieved her dream and now lost it. Beyond all this plot development laid an extremely funny show. Parks and Recreation did a far better job satirizing politics than people gave it credit for, but more notable was just how well they wrote that world. Nothing seemed more funny and eccentric than the town of Pawnee. They also were smart enough to limit the use of Ron Swanson, an unending pot of comedy Gold. Like HIMYM, Parks and Recreation is nowhere near as good of a show post Season 4, but unlike HIMYM, it is still a good show, and good enough to basically hold this ranking going forward.

10.) Fargo

Fargo's upside is huge. Another great season with a disconnected, but fully contained storyline can move it way up the list. Few shows have ever hit home runs the way Fargo has in both its first and second season... and none of those shows tried to do what Fargo did, first put on a show inspired by a beloved movie, and then change course completely, make something unconnected, and be as good if not better. Fargo has excelled at everything so far, from tone, to visual brilliance, to the acting of all the regulars in Season 1 and 2. It has also managed to maintain some of its connection to the thematic elements of the Coen Brothers, from extended parables, to mass violence, to fully off-beat characters. Fargo followed up a brillaitn first season with a brilliant period piece. The expectations are fully high now, and it will be interesting to see how Season 3 plays out. Either way, Fargo has put up the best contained storytelling since Breaking Bad.

9.) Game of Thrones

Full disclosure, I haven't ready any of the books, and apart from one spoiler I know nothing of what is coming forward. Anyway, the show rebounded from a slightly (relatively) disappointing 2nd season with a great 3rd season and a real hope for a great future of the show. There's a couple things this show does better than any I have scene: shoot the show in incredibly beautiful locations, and create lovable, hateable characters. They force people to accept the bad guy, but they make the bad guys so damn good. Game of Thrones has a large cast but they've done a great job of casting the show. There are few weak links in that cast, which matters a lot when they're given odd literary material to play with. This is one of the few film projects based off a book series that will probably be better in live-action form.

8.) Veep

With Armando Ianucci leaving, Veep is at a crossroads; and luckily if it falls down without its creator and guide, the show has put up four seasons of brillaint satirical comedy. Veep started the same year House of Cards did, and despite the critical acclaim the latter received, multiple DC insiders said Veep actually did a better job of portraying Washington. Since then, Veep has gone bigger, from Selina Meyer taking a larger role, to starting to campaign for President, to actually becoming President (and invalidating the actual name of the show), and it has gotten better at every step. Liek it's HBO mate Silicon Valley, the real brilliance lies in teh cast. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is making a good case that Elaine Benes should be 1A on her resume. The rest of the cast combines comedy veteran greats like Matt Walsh, Tony Hale, Gary Clark, and now Hugh Laurie, and uncovering some new stars, the best being XXXXX as Jonah Ryan. It will be interesting to see where Veep goes wthout Ianucci, but even if it falls slightly, it has made its mark satirizing politics at a time where politics became a more polarizing area of the mainstream conscious.

7.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I said two years ago during my Comedy Power Rankings that It's Always Sunny was the best cable sitcom of all time. I still believe that to be true, and the two seasons that have happened since then only strengthened its position. It's Always Sunny, despite becoming more and more mature, has still been able to tie itself to its amazingly raw beginnings. Always Sunny has been able to satirize everything quite brilliantly and still show itself to be the raw, fast-paced dialogue based show it was in the beginning. They incorporated Danny DeVito brilliantly. Always Sunny has proven itself to be far smarter than anyone could have imagined. Rob McElhenny, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton have shown themselves to be as adept as writers and show-runners as they are as actors. It may mask itself as a show about five doofuses 'running a bar' while coming up with crazy schemes of the week, but the show is showing the idiocy in everything in the world.

The Pantheon

6.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

In one sense, The Daily Show isn't long for this world. Hints have been dropped that Stewart is far closer to leaving than staying. There's rumors that he will replace Dave Letterman as the Late Show host whenever he decides to retire, or maybe leave to produce movies. Still, as long as he's on The Daily Show, Stewart gives it the commanding presence it deserves and has always maintained since he took over 15 years ago. The show's definitely changed to a more overt criticism of news media and not just news, but remains the standard for political comedy discourse. His stable of correspondents have gone on to have success much the same way SNL players used to, and Stewart always used them well when they were on the show. The Daily Show has somehow kept its sense of purpose and Stewart has kept his enjoyment for all 15 years, which is an amazing feat given the amount of political turmoil the country has been through since he was hired. The show likely will carry on after Stewart leaves, and likely won't be as good, but The Daily Show, under Stewart's reign, has already made its mark on American TV history.

5.) Chappelle's Show

Chappelle's Show has fewer episodes of any show in this Top-10, but it didn't need to make any more to establish itself as one of the great shows of the 2000s, and one of the lasting culturally important comedy shows ever. Obviously, the part people remember about te show is the way it challenged race perceptions in the US, but that really is missing the forest for the trees. The show really excelled at just pointing out how different Black and White America was, and mining and incredible amount of comedy from just juxtaposing those cultures. Of course, when it just decided to focus on something random, not really pointedly connected to race, the show remained incredibly funny still. The amount  of famous sketches are there, but they are backed up by a host of forgotten sketches that were just as funny. Chappelle left quietly under the night sky to Africa instead of doing a Season 3, and maybe just in time, as he left 24 great episodes, hours upon hours of great, rewatchable sketches, and a lasting comedic memory that will never leave.

4.) Seinfeld

For years I never watched Seinfield, never understood its appeal. Of course, the fact that I hadn't watched it made that second fact a little obvious. Then I started watching it. I started watching all the episodes. I started understanding its appeal, understanding what made it one of the best shows ever. I finally reached the point where I kind of figured it out. Seinfield was the best traditional sitcom because it found comedy in the most un-traditional of ways. It made its comedy in dialogue, in characters, in oddities, not in situations, not in romance, not in plot. It also got together four absolutely brilliant comedic actors/minds. Jason Alexander was amazing. Michael Richards was amazing. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was (and still is) amazing. Jerry and Larry co-wrote the thing. What do you get when you combine the creator or Curb Your Enthusiasm with another brilliant comedic mind of their generation? You get Seinfield, a show immensely rewatchable, a show that stayed funny over 150 episodes, over 10 years. No show on this list apart from The Daily Show ran longer, and few were better.

3.) Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad's incredible success commercially in its final season was odd to see as someone who had watched the show far earlier. It went from being a solidly watched show for cable (about 2 million) to being the most watched thing not on a network just like that. There's no show you can point to social media and Internet 2.0 being the catalyst of its success like Breaking Bad,. Of course, it helps that it was absolutely amazing. There may never have been a character short of Tony Soprano (a show I have yet to see) that was so well constructed, let alone well acted, as Walther H. White. The rest of the show had a nice, small, but well constructed cast, but it comes down to Walter White. In its  totality, it is a perfect character piece, a great look at what really drives man, greed, love or desire. The meth (the science) went from the forefront to the background as the show went on, but what replaced it was more drama, more intensity, and more incredibly acted scenes. So much of what Breaking Bad was an exercise in the science of a TV show, in the creation of great moments, like the brilliant photography, the one-on-one dialogue, the interesting locations. Breaking Bad was a perfect showcase for what the medium can be.

2.) Arrested Development

I've written a lot about Arrested Development, and deservedly so. The show was that good at times, just a perfect show that encompassed everything you could ask from a comedy program. They could wear any hat, do any type of comedy. But the real differentiating factor was the show's tone, that it found almost immediately. It was that tone, that life, that allowed the show to portray what was seemingly a believable family made up of absolute narcissistic idiots. They were able to have absurdist ideas and dialogues and ground it in a relatble way. They did something impossible: essentially be a plot driven and joke driven show at the same time. They wrapped reference upon reference in the show, hid jokes behind jokes. I still find new jokes each time I watch episodes. The show was just so well written, so amazingly cast, and so well put together. It really comes back to that tone. Put on any random episode of Arrested Development and within five minutes you get that tone, you get the feeling you are watching a show unlike any other. 30 Rock tried to be that way, but it never got as grounded (or as funny). Arrested Development was pretty damn perfect. I highly doubt I'll ever watch any comedy that is simply just that good.

1.) The Wire

I've written way too much about The Wire, especially with a certain 50 Top Characters ranking back in the February-March of 2012, but I could probably pump out 10,000 more words. Here's the best thing about The Wire: It has essentially ruined shows for me forever. Nothing will really live up to the standarad that The Wire set about how good the TV Mdium can be. Nothing will match it's character complexity, it's plot complexity, it's mix of dialogue and style. Nothing will match it. Stuff comes close. Breaking Bad came about as close as I can imagine a drama coming. I will never give up hope for a show to match The Wire, but it's pretty damn unlikely.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Trips I Want to Take

10.) Brazil

My interest and desire to go to Brazil has waned slightly over time. I used to be really interested to take a river-boat down the Amazon, and probably still am, but the more I read about the dangers and ills of Brazil’s primary two ports (Rio and Sao Paulo), the less I want to go there. I still would love a trip to Brazil, to experience that fun culture, to eat their nice food, to take that river-boat trip down the Amazon and come across some exotic animals. These are all things I would still do, but when you combine the present dangers and economic crises, and the weather that I am not too much a fan of, there are a few more that have jumped where Brazil would have been had a done this a few years back.

9.) Morocco

I've actually been to Morocco once. It was for less than a day, ferrying over from Spain & Gibraltar, going to the city of Tangier. This isn't that. That (Tangier) wasn't real Morocco, it was a hawkery show, much like the Bahamas, but more desert. Anyway, the real Morocco, of Casablanca and Marrakech, or Rabat, that is what I'm really talking about. It seems like a fascinating country, with a great cuisine, a long history to unwrap. Also, it's fairly close, and can add a nice corner of Africa to my list of countries (to be fair, I count Morocco today).

8.) Scandinavia

Look, I get all the negative aspects of Scandinavia. The cold, the long nights (hint: probably better to just not go in winter?), the seemingly average food. But remove all those trappings, and you get one of the few corners of the world I haven't experienced. I've been to Canada, to Patagonia, to Australia, but not to that scintillating bit of northern country-side. From people I know who've been there, both Copenhagen and Stockholm come well regarded, but I'm more interested in Oslo and rural Norway or Sweden, maybe even visit Faviken, of Chef's Table fame. I mean, when you go to an expensive place, may as well steer into the skids I'm sure to encounter in the snowy Scandinavian countryside.

7.) Safari Trip (Botswana/Tanzania/Kenya)

There is no specific place that I have pinpointed so I just threw three countries that I have heard good things about up there. If price were not an issue, this is probably #1, but now that I understand how much it costs to go on a good safari trip (thinking like 5-7 days), I have to be somewhat reasonable. The allure of roaming around in a jeep and tent among Elephants, Rhinos, Hippos, Giraffes and your odd Predator is obviously alluring – probably nothing would be better on this list, but knowing it cost a months salary (guessing) is less so. I do want to make a point that I know you can go for safaris that are cheaper due to being shorter or in places like South Africa / Zimbabwe – but those places are cheaper for a reason. If I’m doing a safari, I’m doing the real thing. And if I’m doing the real thing, it’ll probably have to wait a while.

6.) The Baltics

Previously, I had put the Baltics as similar to the Balkans. Since I last wrote this, I've visited the Balkans, traveling to Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. The trio of Baltic countries, in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, are similar in looks and views, and somewhat similar in culture, in at least both being fun, relatively cheap, and untested. The Baltics have also been sold to me as a great beer market, a great fun-loving set of countries, with an interested history with many European and Euro-Asian influences. I'm not sure which of the three I'm most interested to see, and more than that, not sure I want to have any preconceived notions. Let's go in and discover the small differences that make each of the three unique and special.

5.) New Zealand

I missed a chance to go to New Zealand during my Round the World Trip in 2013. It is my one regret of that trip from a scheduling perspective. And ever since, I've wanted to go back, to see somewhat the Eastern Hemisphere's version of Patagonia. I think it would be better now, with my a bit more adventurous, bent since then, mainly again my time in Patagonia, I'm more ready to take on all the adventurous glory of New Zealand. The one pause I have is being able to drive on the other side of the road, still something I haven't done. New Zealand also appeals with the food, all those damn sheep and lambs. More than anything, you actually get reasonable deals down to New Zealand from the US at times, so it can even be somewhat affordable.

4.) Egypt

I had a near miss in going to Egypt, as when I first planned my around the world trip in 2013, my initial first destination was Egypt. About three weeks before leaving, I switched it to South Africa after being a little concerned of the danger at the time. The danger has increased since – though Egypt has been pretty calm in recent years. I would still love to go there as few places, apart from the one to come next, can match Egypt in terms of history. I want few things more than to cruise down the Nile, to go to the ruins in Alexandria, to visit the Pyramids in Giza and the Sphinx and the Valley of the Kings and everything else. Add to that a good cuisine and a great culture beyond its history and few places see so alluring as Egpyt to travel to. Technically I did fly through Egypt, and ideally when I get around to going there I wouldn’t take Egyptair again, but I still want to leave the confines of Cairo airport and see what treasures of the Ancient Egyptians still exist.

3.) China

And of course, China has to be on this list. The problem with countries like China are that their massive size would necessitate 2-3 trips to see it all, but even a chance to see Beijing, Shanghai, the Yellow River, maybe some of the secondary cities is quite the itenirary. Of course we add to that the Great Wall, the Terracotta soldiers, the highlands and everything else. China of course has the other aspects like the cuisine. I have so often heard how real Chinese food from China is so different than what we get in the US, and I'm sure that is true and ready to experience what the real Chinese food is like. It is a fascinating, growing culture that gets more impressive each year, and I really can't wait to experience it sometime.

2.) Israel

Being a Catholic, probably no place has more historical draw to it than Israel, what with it being the birthplace of the religion and housing the site of basically every major event in the history of the religion as well. Beyond the historical significance and sites, there is a lot to see with the other two religions who see this place as a living memorial and even things like the Dead Sea. I honestly have no idea what the food scene is like in Israel, nor do I know a lot about the culture outside of the history and sightseeing, but there is no place I would rather go to sightsee than Israel.

1.) Russia

I almost went to Russia on an High School Orchestra trip in 2007, and while it would have been memorable, I am kind of glad I can go for the first time as an adult. Russia is a fascinating place for me. The people, the history, the beauty of the country is forever understood, hidden behind the rough exterior presence that clouds the country. My parents have been to Russia and raved about it, from the incredible museums and artifacts and culture. Of course, the drinking aspect seems nice as well. Russia also represents a chance to go to a World Cup in 2018 - which given I want go within 2,000 miles of Qatar in 2022 and by 2026 who knows if I'll have kids or, you know, real responsibilities. Anyway, Russia is a place that draws me way more than I could have imagined given all we Americans hear about this country.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Good Riddance, McNasty

I never wanted Josh McDaniels as the Colts head coach. I don't care how much Tom Brady loves him, how great those offenses in New England have been. I didn't want him. And after he spurned the Colts at the 11th hour, I'm grateful because we get to avoid him, gleefully happy that weasel burned more bridges, and of course a little mad at the Patriots pulling some shenanigans again. But more than anything, that first emotion is the most present: grateful. I didn't want him. We're not going to get him.

People may think the Colts are losers in this, and in a way they do end up with quite a bit of egg on their faces. They were left at the alter right as the music started playing and the crowd turned towards the back. But given that they probably avoided an inevitable divorce, they dodged a bullet. Josh McDaniels is a great offensive mind (though his tenure as OC in St. Louis say otherwise), but he lacks the leadership to be a head coach. He lacks the mental fortitude to make a decision and keep to it. He ran right back to his binky in New England, the only place that will ever call him home now.

I feel bad for the Colts. I feel bad for GM Chris Ballard. But more than anything, I feel so bad for those three assistant coaches that came and signed with the Colts thinking they were going to coach alongside Josh McDaniels. Apparently, McDaniels, that snake, didn't even call those three guys to tell them he changed his mind. They're stuck now in a situation where they'll have a coach who didn't pick them, and a boss they didn't sign up for. And all because Josh McDaniels couldn't face the music.

The Pats aren't innocent in this, though I don't buy the conspiracy that this was some masterful troll job by Bob Kraft. They probably could have came to McDaniels with the 'sweetheart' offer weeks ago, before he started building a staff he would never lead. They hurt him more than anything. They better pay him back with the head coaching job after Belichick leaves, because McDaniels isn't getting a job anywhere else now. He's toxic, seen as a deserter and a child. The only job he'll get again is coaching a Patriots team where he'll be following one of the Greatest Game of All Time and coaching a QB who will either age before his eyes, or retire and get replaced. Is that really a better situation.

There are some defense. Maybe he did get cold feet. Maybe comfort matters for him, or more forgivingly his family. But what about the comfort of the families he made move to Indianapolis, the one's whose fathers he was speaking to the same day he walked away? What about them? It's simple really: Josh McDaniels doesn't care about them.

Again, at the end of the day, I'm happy the Colts rid themselves of McDaniels before he got the chance to infect them. McDaniels was truly awful in every way in Denver. His record - 11-17 - seems merely bad rather then terrible, but it was 5-17 after a shock 6-0 start mostly built off of Mike Nolan's defense. His draft decision, even beyond the lunacy that was Tim Tebow with the 23rd pick, were pathetic. His players hated him, as did the media and seemingly the organization. He poisoned everything he touched in Denver. People like to compare this to Belichick's Cleveland tenure, but that had an 11-5 season tucked in there. McDaniels didn't come close.

Maybe he's matured, and I would think so because there's nowhere to go but up, but he inhereted all of Belichick's bad qualities with few of the good ones. I have no doubt he works well with Brady, and maybe it is unfair to judge him off of just the Denver years and one year with Sam Bradford in St. Louis (where they were literally the worst offense in the NFL), but combined with the lack of success any of Belichick's disciples have had since leaving Foxboro, it paints a stark figure.

In the end, the Colts will be OK - assuming of course Andrew Luck comes back. Their prime target right now seems to be Frank Reich, who to me is a better coordinator, better fit, and better future coach than McDaniels, a man who succeeded in that role in multiple places (San Diego & Philadelphia, not to mention a brief stint as Manning's last QB Coach in Indianapolis). McDaniels has a bright future as an OC for Brady and under Belichick, and will get his chance to fail when he finally ascends to the head job, and I'll love every moment of that.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

NFL 2017: 5 + 2 Thoughts on Super Bowl 52

1.) That wasn't the best Super Bowl ever, but the difference in how it was viewed to Super Bowl 50 is an interesting thought experiment

That was a really good game. The offenses on each team were insane. Sure, neither team could play any defense, but sometimes when you have offenses that execute at such a brilliant level it doesn't really matter. Watching those two offenses carve it up was incredibly fun to watch. The consensus is that it was one of the great Super Bowls in recent memory.

Other than the last statement about the consensus view of the game, if you replace 'offense' for 'defense' in that last paragraph, it would be a perfectly apt description of Super Bowl 50. That game, Broncos vs. Panthers, was the inverse, an incredible defensive game with two defenses that operated at ridiculous levels, featuring multiple HOF or on the path to HOF defensive players all playing great. Of course, few saw that as a great game, despite it also being a 1-score game throughout. The one difference is a late strip sack made Super Bowl 50 24-10 as the Broncos cashed in with a TD, while here the Eagles got just a field goal.

It's interesting that Super Bowl 50 was largely written off despite it being close throughout and having some transcendent talents play transcendentally (Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, Luke Kuechly), while this game will get put on a pedestal. Both games featured one side of the ball playing pristinely, and the other side just not showing up, including two units that had been great all year (Eagles defense, Panthers offense). But there is an inherent bias towards offense. That is fine, but it's never seemed more stark than with this game.

Look, even for me as a person who likes defensive football, who liked the fact that this season saw, for the most part, a return to pre-2011 offensive levels, was exhilerated by that game. But no more so than watching the Broncos and Panthers defenses dominate each other two years ago, watching Von Miller explode on Cam Newton, watching Kony Ealy take over the game. That too was a great game. We've all gotten spoiled these last 11 years, starting with Super Bowl XLII, with a crazy run of games. I put this one 5th since then, behind both Pats-Giants games, Pats-Seahawks and Steelers-Cardinals.

2.) Tom Brady finally has his Manning/Rodgers/Marino moment

Look, Tom Brady was fantastic. Now, he wasn't pressured too often, and when he was he was generally inaccurate (did have 20 incompletions), and there were so many receivers running free, but still Brady was amazing. He never backed down despite needing to essentially lead a TD drive every drive of the game. In general, if a QB throws a ton in games, they don't win that often. So many times, high passing yard days are in losses when teams pass to catch up. We've seen that with Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodger, and more than anyone Peyton Manning. We never see it with Brady. His record when throwing 50+ times, or 400+ yards is great. Well, for once he got to experience what it is like to be those other guys, to have a defense absolutely fail you, to play out of your mind and still lose. Brady was great. The team still lost. Brady arguably had his best Super Bowl performance and he lost. For all of us who've watched his career, it is about time.

One little quibble, I do wonder if Manning (or Rodgers now as he's starting to catch flak for playoff disappointments) has that exact same game then gets the ball with 2:13 left needing a TD to score and gets strip-sacked, he catches a lot of flak. People look over the 450 (at that point) yards and focus on him turning the ball over. Rightfully so, few are criticizing Brady for this, but it would be good if at least some of the people that went insane when Manning threw the pick-6 to Tracy Porter do the same with Brady now.

3.) Philadelphia deserves this

I have a soft spot for fanbases that have never experienced the joy of winning a title; even moreso than the ones that had won a title and just gone decades without doing so again. My Astros were like this last November, and the Eagles are one of the franchises who haven't won a Super Bowl, this despite a really strong run of success most years. The Eagles fans have endured a lot in the last 20 years, from three straight losses in the NFC Championship Game, to a close loss in the Super Bowl previously, to the odd run that was the Chip Kelly era. They've had their great players, including HOF enshrinee Brian Dawkins. But they never had this. Winning a title for that first time is truly exhilarating.

Unsurprisingly, the city 'celebrated' in that they 'rioted', but even that is part of the fun. Cities like Chicago and Boston (the Red Sox 2004 World Series Title) both had a few riots in their past. No one died, there were few fires. Let's not go too hard. Philadelphia is a hard city, that loves their teams and loves their Eagles, and they've been through a lot. Not that they haven't had success. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008, made another in 2009; the 76ers made a finals in 2001, the Flyers have long been competitive. But still, more than anything that is a football town, like Boston and Chicago were baselball towns, and their football team got the win.

4.) Nick Foles was insane

Years from now, assuming Carson Wentz comes back healthy and has a long and successful career, this may seem as one of the weirdest runs of all time, but let's be real: Carson Wentz was no Jeff Hostettler, he was no last minute replacement that played caretaker, he was incredible, obliterating a great Minnesota defense and then a craft New England defense, in one of the great back-to-back performances in the sports history.

Foles wasn't just statistically great, he put up those numbers with a series of high difficulty throws. Against Minnesota he launched deep to partially covered receivers and fit those throws beautifully. The best example were his bombs to Torrey Smith last week and Alshon Jefferey this week. Then there were so many other great throws, like the pinpoint pass to Chris Clement, or the great play on the 4th down to avoid pressure. Nick Foles was in control, he was poised, he was certainly a bit out of his head with the success on his long throws, but sometimes fortune favors the bold.

It is certainly interesting to see what happens next for him; I can easily see him just wanting to stay in Philadelphia, a place that may need him if Carson Wentz hits any snags in his rehab. Of course, I can as easily see some team giving up a high 2nd or even 1st round pick. Foles has a longer track record of success than Jimmy G, with an insane full season and now an insane playoff run on his resume. Foles was seemingly accepting of his fate to not lead the Eagles come 2018, but he's forever locked a place in the pantheon of Philadelphia athletes, if one of the more flash-in-the-pan ones.

5.) Something odd is brewing in New England

Look, I may regret everything I write in this paragraph. This could look really wrong and/or really reactionary next February if BB and Brady are hoisting their 6th Lombardi trophy, but right now it is unavoidable. Here's what we know: Malcolm Butler was benched for some reason that the team doesn't want to disclose, in a move that apparently pissed off a few Patriots defenders. Bill Belichick was noncommital after the game about coming back for another season, contrasted with Tom Brady that said he is going to come back. Rob Gronkowski is openly pondering retirement. There was the story before the playoffs of a rift with their Holy Trinity. Josh McDaniels is leaving despite a strange 11th hour story on him staying back in New England. Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia is leaving. There's a lot of change and weird feelings throughout New England right now.

Of course, it should be said they still came fairly close to winning the game, and Brady looks as good as ever, but this feels a bit different. The outcome (and outcry) of the Butler benching deserves a lot of monitoring going forward. Something had to happen last minute for him to be active, but I don't understand why hold him out for defense but then let him get a few snaps on Special Teams. I don't know how much impact it has, but in a game where their defense was the primary issue, it was odd to see him on the bench the entire game. The Patriots did a great job of avoiding the drama of the ESPN report right before the playoffs, but where there's smoke, there's fire.

I have no idea what to expect. I don't really buy Gronk retiring, though I guess I would not be shocked. Maybe think it is a 10% chance he really retires. The bigger one to watch is Belichick. He'll be 66 by next season. He's losing both coordinators who have been entrenched in their roles for years (especially Patricia), with a team that has Brady, but a 41-year old Brady that showed some signs of physically slowing late in the season (a fear abated well by his great play the last two games), and no current back-up plan. Put it a 20% chance that he retires. Whatever it is, there is a chance things are very different going forward for New England. Of course, there's a chance nothing changes but the coordinators and they're right back here.

6.) Doug Pedersen and the Eagles Staff had one of the most impressive days in recent memory

It's a bit reductive to say that the Eagles Coaching Staff won the game because they were aggressive. I mean, people were rightfully criticizing Kyle Shanahan's play-calling last year for being too aggressive in the 2nd half. It wasn't really aggression that ruled the day, it was calmness and conviction. Doug Pedersen is a great head coach. This was a great staff. And this playoff run, if not the season, was their masterpiece.

Whether it was going for it on 4th down, mixing in RPOs, not losing the run even on their game winning TD drive, and of course the 'Philly Special' play, Doug Pedersen and his offensive staff had this game in control. We've never seen an offense run over the Patriots from beginning to end like that before, though Pedersen's mentor Andy Reid came close in Week 1. Generally teams with the best coaching staffs more than the best talent are the ones best able to hang with New England, see the Ravens in the Harbaugh era, or Tom Coughlin's Giants, or even Ron Rivera's Panthers (2-0 against the Patriots). Pedersen's Eagles fall easily into that camp.

My favorite drive was their drive to score the TD to make it 38-33. It had it all, with great playcalling, great plays, great identification of matchups (Ertz owning McCourty at the end a prime example). But my favorite part of the drive was Pederson being smart enough to slow the tempo down and still run the ball, understanding a quick score is not too helpful, and smarter even so to understand the math and go for it on 4th down and 1 near midfield. Pederson was brilliant, never backing down to the challenge.

I compared Doug Pederson to Jim Harbaugh in terms of the energy and clarity he brought to the Eagles early in 2016. That season ended up with them at 7-9, but the underlying numbers had them as a better team, and they were rolled a bit with injuries late. But I loved what he was doing, what Frank Reich and John DeFillipo were doing with the offense, and even for most of the last two years Jim Schwartz and the defense. But Pederson is a star, and while this could easily be the peak of his career, I think he'll be spending a lot of time at this altitude.

7.) The Eagles could be on the cusp of something special

Not counting the Nick Foles situation, the Eagles have 21 of their 22 starters under contract for next year. They won the Super Bowl without their MVP QB (who admittedly could not have done better than Foles these last two games), their all-pro LT in Jason Peters, and a few other key cogs. The Eagles have a loaded roster, where apart from a few standouts (Wentz, Peters, Fletcher Cox) there are few indispensable parts, but a ton of quality players and depth. They can roll 6-7 players on their front, and have athletic linebackers, and a young secondary that played great all year until the Super Bowl. The offense has the league's most athletic, if not outright best, offensive line, and a cadre of weapons that mesh well with each other. The team is loaded.

The problem for the Eagles is so is the rest of the NFC. Even in a year where the Seahawks and Packers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and 2008 respectively, the NFC was the tougher conference, and for those two they seem in good position to make it back. Alex Smith could improve Washington. You figure Dallas should bounce back. But Philadelphia has the combination of roster talent and coaching to really make a run at this again.

Can they become a dynasty? Getting the most out of the next three years with Wentz still somewhat cost controlled. Things could spiral quickly, just like it did for the last few NFC Champions like the 2010 Packers (Rodgers got expensive) and 2013 Seahawks (defense got expensive, and old). But even those teams had a great run of playoffs year after year. The Eagles look to be on the cusp of that type of run. The Patriots have set a ridiculous standard when it comes to continual success, and it is unfair to hold any team to that benchmark, but the Eagles can forge a pretty impressive path all their own in the coming years.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My 40 Favorite International Cities

The last time I did this was in 2015, and since then I've added a few more cities to the list. Not as many as you would think, but enough to warrant another go at it. I didn't have 5 more to add, but a couple and I'm really opposed to dropping anything off, so I'm just going to go to 32.


The last time I did this was late in 2013, following my Round the Trip world. I don't know why I'm choosing now to update the list, but it is now expanded to 30 cities, and adds four new places that I've visited the last two years, and then an additional forgotten gem from my Round the World Trip.

I’m going to rank my top-32 cities to visit that I have been to. Take this more of a recommendation list, as in I would recommend the cities in the following order to someone who hasn’t visited them based on my experience visiting them. With that, obviously, only cities I have visited make the list, and visited means more than two days. I’m rating them on the following criteria: the places to see in the city, the ease of access of the city (public transport – much more important internationally when renting a car is more of a precarious idea – and the city’s airport or entrance system), their joi de vievre (a fancy way of saying ‘how would this city be to just chill out in), their weather and overall appearance, and some other factors. There’s no formula here, though.
This is heavily weighted by the amount of time I’ve spent in a city, and what age I was when I visited there. These rules hurt London, while help Madrid, because I’ve spent all of three days in London as a person of legal age, while spent more time in Madrid. It really hurts some other European cities, like Frankfurt, Zurich, Rome, Milan, places I’ve been to as a kid of 9-11.

Again, these are ranked as cities I would visit (all of them I have visited), not where I would live. I would live in Geneva, but probably not visit again because there isn’t much to do, it is cold, and some other reasons. There are places that I wish I could rank because from what I’ve heard from family/friends that have been there they seem really good, like Moscow, Berlin and Hamburg, and when I visit them, I will update this list. Also irrelevant is the ease of getting to this city. Singapore isn’t hurt because it is the farthest commonly visited location from NYC than any other place, and London isn’t helped because it is 6 hours away.

A city includes sites and destinations that are a reasonable distance away, so Barcelona won’t get credit for the Playas that are 2-3 hours away (and are closer to Valencia), and Athens won’t get credit for Ephesus which is 3 hours away, but London would get credit for Stratford (or whatever it’s called where Shakespeare is from, or Oxford – and Rome gets credit for the Vatican, which for being a different country, is totally part of Rome) which is reasonably close.

40.) Belgrade (2017)

In 20 years, Belgrade may deserve a spot well up this list, but for now for a city on the rise it gets on. For advantages, Belgrade is cheap, it houses some nice history, really good restaurants, and a great bar and club scene. For negatives, none of these things are marketed well enough. Belgrade should continue to grow, and as it does it will replace dirty streets with cleaner ones, complete the renovation on its main church, and just overall work on the edges. Then again, I kind of like a city that can still have cool ass floating clubs with affordable bottle service.

39.) Da Lat (2013)

The little hamlet high above the Vietnamese hills, Da Lat was probably the most pleasant surprise of any place on my trip. The city itself is modeled after European cities, with parks, downtown circles and even a model Eiffel Tower. The surrounding areas houses more traditional Vietnamese fair, like temples, Buddhas, waterfalls and even roller coasters, all underneath a cool mountain air. Da Lat's hills hide many nice restaurants, bars and clubs. It isn't nearly as loud or as famous as Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang or Hanoi, but Da Lat may be the most pure mix of Asia and Europe that I have seen. Also, it has an incredibly nice airport given the just six flights that fly there each day.

38.) Penang (2013)

There are positives and negatives to Penang, and depending how important the positives are relative to the negatives to you, Penang could rise or fall on your rankings. Personally, food and culture are really important to me, and Penang has both in spades. It may be a little overrated with food, but the seafood night markets that litter both Georgetown (the main city) and the beaches (all within an hour or so from Georgetown) are wonderful. The Nyonya food in Penang is far better than that in Kuala Lumpur. There is enough to see, including a nice little trek in Georgetown to some interesting historical buildings (the Cheong Fat Tze is a nice highlight). Of course, Penang is also very crowded, slightly dirty and the beaches themselves are quite barren. In the end, I find this fair for what I still consider a great eating spot.

37.) Warsaw (2014)

Warsaw may have gone higher had I spent more time there, but like many other European countries, the capital is often a bit too commercial, a bit too gray, than the smaller pearls of cities (like Krakow, for Poland). Warsaw has some great sites, like its main street and clock tower, the palace, and I'm sure a whole host of others I forgot about or didn't have time to visit, but it is a bit lost in a city a bit too big for its own good. The food is decent, but what I really want to commend is its bar scene. There were some great gastropubs and beer bars that littered across the Warszawa Central district.

36.) Hong Kong (2003)

Hong Kong has little to do in terms of historical sights. With a couple countries claiming ownership of Hong Kong, they have done a nice job removing any ties to any country. Still, it has arguably the best skyline in the world (though after the new WTC complex is finished in all its glory, NYC will have a good claim to that spot), and being situated in front of and on a mountain gives it some excellent views. Their airport in universally hailed as great, and the gambling capital of Asia (Macau) is just a ferry ride away. But still, picking a place to be higher than 15th given its total lack of history, or its lack of any particular brand of brilliance other than its propensity to build really tall buildings just feels wrong.

35.) Jaipur (2013)

I hated traveling in India in my limited tourist experience in India prior to Rajasthan. First was Agra, where the Taj was nice but completely offset by the filth of Agra. Kerala was a mess. Given those two, was not too excited to be going to Rajasthan, but I have to say it was great. Jaipur is slightly too touristy, with most of the city, at least as far as I could tell, built off Forts, Palaces, strange Astronomical objects, and of course shopping. For pure tourism, it is probably the best city in India, even if it gets a bit too hot at times.

34.) Punta Arenas (2017)

It's odd that none of the Patagonia cities are that close to the sites that surround those areas, so they were hard to judge. Punta Arenas is probably the most substantial town of the three we visited, with an actual down-town, with nice ornate buildings and squares, The best part of the city is an unexplainable sense of being so far away from home, from anywhere, with Punta Arenas being the Southernmost city of more than 50,000 people. There are of course some nice restaurants and bars, and a good mix of locals and tourists, which created a nice atmosphere as well. Of course, with the Tierra del Fuego and Isla Magdalena Penguins within driving distance, the tourism isn't too bad either.

33.) Florence (2003)

I’ll admit that Florence should probably be higher on this list, but it is my list of favorite cities that I would recommend. This is a strange combination, because personal favorites are wholly subjective, while cities that you recommend should be somewhat objective. Anyway, my problem with Florence is I’m not really into art, and if you aren’t than there is little to do in Florence. If you like art, specifically really detailed portraits from the renaissance era, then you will love Florence. If you don’t, then it will be something of a bore to a disappointment.

32.) Munich (2000 & 2009)

I have a strange history with quite a few international cities, and Munich is another one. I had both my 9th and 18th Birthday in Munich (in related news, I’m pretty sure where you can find me on April 7th, 2018). The first during my initial trip to that part of the world, and the 2nd on the penultimate day of our Orchestra’s tour of Austria (we flew out of Munich). Berlin is supposedly a great, modern city, but out of all the cities I have been to in Germany, Munich is by far the best. It is incredibly modern, and getting increasingly so, with modern architecture abound. It is the only European city with a skyline that can compare to those in the US (not a crucial factor, but still nice). The downside is there is little to see and that German food isn’t that good. Either way, Munich will always be the place to spend any birthday that is a multiple of nine, and for that alone, it gets on the list.

31.) Udaipur (2013)

Our first new city on the list is my 2nd Indian city on the list. As somehow who hated traveling in India, picking a city that is in one of the hottest areas in the country, and a city I visited during their hot dry season, this high might seem surprising. Well, I can't recommend Udaipur, along with Rajasthan as a hole, enough. The city has some beautiful scenery being built on a far more hilly area of the country than you would expect. They have famous lakes that hold famous hotels built on famous castles. They have nice food and street shows that line the corridors of the inner city. THere's the strange love for the movie Octopussy, where screenings are shown nightly. There's a beautiful palace inside the city. And I'll stretch my 'sites withing 1.5 hours count' rule by saying that the Jain Temple at Ranakpur was incredible - and in any modern country it would be within 1.5 hours.

30.) Split (2017)

Both of my two new cities are coastal Croatian outposts, and first comes the bigger of the two cities, in Split. There is so much to like about Split, be it the sprawling old town with enough sites and small alleys lined with shops and restaurant to keep you busy way too long, or the modern clubs and restaurants, or the sites from its hills. I guess in theory I can include the island of Hvar as well as that is within a 1-hour boat ride away, which adds beautiful beaches and mountains to this as well. Split as a whole might be a little too commercialized - they had a lot of stalls selling the normal tourist fares that aren't always appreciated, but the city truly is a beautiful slice of culture deep in Croatia. I do love how varied the drink and food scene is there as well.

29.) Lima (2016)

Lima has a few things going for it. First, its culinary brilliance, with two restaurants ranking in the Top 10 in the World per San Pelligrino's list (the most accepted of that type of list), one being Maido, a Japanese-Peruvian sensation. The sites aren't the best, few major cities are in retrospect, with a few museums and halls. The real sites of Lima are the whisping cliffs, the shops and the eclectic nightlife. The best South American cities combine Andean views with European charms, and few big ones do it better than Lima.

28.) Paris (2006) 

There’s obviously a ton to see in Paris, and the city center around the Eifel Tower, on either side of River Sein, is beautiful. Paris is a probably a city that certain people would love, but I am not one of them. Of course, I liked it enough to put ahead of some damn good cities, mostly on the ridiculous amounts of things to see alone. I actually don’t remember much of my Paris trip, which is strange given its relative recency, but I do remember thinking one day in the Louvre was far from enough, and the city center of Paris containing some of the best architecture of any European city. A lot of these European cities are impacted by my like or dislike of footballers from that region (I know, that sounds stupid, and it is), and Paris gets a boost for being the hometown to Zinedine Zidane.

27.) Mexico City (2014)

I put 2014 there, but I went to Mexico City two different times, staying in two different areas of that expansive, massive, festive city. Far safer than most areas of Mexico, La Cuidad is incredibly impressive. There are tons of historical sites, like the entire Zocalo, the Chapultepec, and La Reforma. Mexico City also has a wealth of food options, with incredibly authentic Mexican fare from around the country, including the incredible Oaxacan food. Really fun night spot as well. Mexico City blew me away also with its strange, mysterious beer culture. The City is a sprawling testament to how secretly, behind the dangerous cartels that line the exterior, the soft interior of Mexico is a gorgeous, cultural attraction that is bettered by so few cities.

26.) El Calafate (2017)

I have a few inexplicable choices on this list, and El Calafate, a more or less one-road town, might be at the top of those odd choices. I mean, literally 95% of the restaurants and shops are either on, or right off of, the main road. Of course, those restaurants and shops are fantastic, a great number of restaurants with fine Argentinean fare (Parilla's, and more earthern restraurants). Of course, the bars are great as well, from chic library-style cocktails, to an American craft beer oasis. However, none of that would place it on this list, but the irreplaceable Perito Moreno does. One of the greatest tourist joys of my life was walking around and then on that amazing, stunning glacier. A perfect mix of blues and whites, cascading chalks of ice, and the hoth-like conditions when traversing its face. All of it special.

25 & 24.) Prague/Budapest (2000)

These two are kind of blended together for me. I visited them essentially right after each other, both 13 years ago so my memory of each is a little hazy. I remember both for mainly positives. They are both beautiful cities, with lovely rivers running through them. They have some stuff to see, but not a whole lot. They are more affordable than the major cities in Western Europe, which is a plus (but also English –at least then – is not very transferrable to there). Budapest has some great food (Goulash!), while Prague is a pilgrimage for Catholics.

23.) Phnom Penh (2013)

I lied when I said that Da Lat was the biggest surprise of the trip. Phnom Penh was. I wasn't expecting too much from Canbodia's capital, but the mix of history, good and bad, food, nightlife and surprising urbanity made Phnom Penh a real highlight for me. I really loved Cambodian food, and it was at its best in Phnom Penh, a perfect mix of Malay and Thai cuisine. Phnom Penh itself embraced its own history, not shying away from the terrible acts of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, maintaining multiple areas in the city to pay tribute to those who died. The rest of the city pays tribute to the rich culture of Cambodia that preceded the destruction, with large pagodas in beautiful parks and nice museums. Phnom Penh also has a nice riverfront area that is really, really lively at night. Add into all of this that the currency of choice in the Dollar, and you get a really nice, underrated city.

22.) Panama City (2012)

My highest ranking Caribbean city probably could be higher, but I’ve been to a lot of great European cities so I don’t want to get crazy. I went to Panama with really low expectations, and I was blown away. It has a really impressive skyline, one that holds its own even if you forget that it is a poor latin country. It has great food of different cuisines. It has a ton to see, with the Panama Canal and the rainforest both falling into its sights. Other than Calgary (which I talked about in the last list) I don’t know if any trip I’ve gone on has been such a surprise as Panama, the Caribbean’s only truly modern city.

21.) Berlin (2014)

Berlin is the only German city I've gone to as an adult, and from what I read it was a good one to pick. The city is sprawling, and has covered it's whole 'we had a giant wall' thing with some really modern buildings and a few nice memorials. But what it also hides is an incredible city. The main squares, or platzes are all incredible, including that entire stretch between the Brandenburg Gate, through the Tiergarten, and ending with the Berlin Island. There are various areas of the city with incredible churches, restaurants, bars (and bars, and bars) and historical buildings. The city houses some fascinating museums that touch on the long, varying history of Germany is a country. Berlin as a city is too big to do in 3 days like I did, but it is definitely alluring enough to go back.

20.) Melbourne (2013)

Melbourne could be a Top-10 city to spend four or five days in. There is not too much to do, but enough to keep you occupied. If you like sports, which I do, then it is even better. Melbourne tries to lay claim to the Sporting Capital of the World, and when you mix together one of Tennis' four main tournaments with the 2nd most famous Cricket Ground (and most famous Aussie Rules ground) in the world right next door, it is hard to argue. Melbourne's riverfront is a beautiful area, with amazing views of the city around it. It's food options are endless, with really good Asian cuisine throughout the city. The nightlife seemed nice enough. It also has some really beautiful scenery around an hour of its boundaries, with beautiful parks, wine regions and the Great Ocean Road. Add into that Philipp Island, which just hits the cutoff to be included with Melbourne, and you get a solid, Top-15 city.

19.) Turin (2015)

I was close to picking Parma, as then I could include the Parma cheese factories, but picking Turin allows me to count the Piedmont wine country, and those little towns that dot it. Turin the city though, is a understated version of how incredible Italy is. It has the requisite churches and squares, but also has the open palacial squares and river-fronts that you normally associate with other countries in Europe. It has some incredible little hamlets of food, with great options for eating throughout the day (some excellent tea joints). My favorite place in Turin actually wasn't one of the two main squares, but Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one that borders the river with an amazing view of the city behind it. It was the last place we went to in Turin, an incredible capper to an unexpected amazing day in a great city.

18.) Tokyo (2013)

As a tourist, I don't care what the work and life culture are of the people in the city, and good thing, because if I did I may hate Tokyo. To see people in full suit in the subway at 11 PM coming home from work is jarring. But this isn't about any of that, it is about Tokyo the city, and it is a really fabulous metropolis. Tokyo is sprawling, in a way that makes New York seem small. There are really bustling regions like Shinjuku, really fun late night spots like Roppongi. There is a ton to see, and great food options. The food may be more corporate than traditional and homestyle in Tokyo, but that isn't all bad. The biggest complaint with Tokyo is just the size. It is so big that it is tiring to navigate at times, getting from one end to the other. Even with the reliability and the local JR Train lines, it takes time to get around. Good thing that most regions have enough to do to spend half a day there anyway. One last point, I thought Times Square was bright, until I went to Ginza.

17.) Vienna (2000 & 2009)

The 2nd time I went to Vienna was on my high school’s Orchestra’s tour of Austria during my Senior year, and much of my high ranking for Vienna is based on that trip. There is a ton of history in Vienna, with the music scene being located there (Mozart and Beethoven’s houses), with the adjoining arts scene with a bevy of theatres. If you like classical music, then Vienna is heaven. I am including the adorable little town of …… where we performed, which was half an hour outside Vienna. The best part of Vienna is how modern it is. The city center has some of the largest streets and public squares of anywhere in Europe, with grand architecture all around. The food isn’t great, but it is no worse than Germany and Switzerland, and Austria is generally less expensive. It took a second trip to get acclimated with Vienna’s charms, but they are there, and plentiful.

16.) Bangkok (2003 & 2013)

Here’s the gist of what I remember from Bangkok: nice Wats to see, incredible food, up all night, eating all the time. Bangkok is a food-lover’s paradise, especially for those who like Thai food. Bangkok is also close to areas where you can do all those Asia type things like ride elephants and see the jungle. The weather is surprisingly decent for a city in Southeast Asia, and from what I remember it is pretty easy to navigate. My thoughts regarding Bangkok have indeed changed with my one-plus day visit. The city is better than I remembered, with sprawling malls, an advanced metro system, and new urban centers. The weather isn’t quite as good, as it is still hard to get to different parts of the city, but the city center of Bangkok is about as good as any I’ve seen in Asia.

15.) Goa (2011 & 2013)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, my initial ranking of Goa was a little ridiculous. It was built off of an admittedly awesome trip to Goa in 2011, but that was a perfect storm. We were staying in the best part of Goa for a first timer who loves food on beaches at 2 AM. I was fresh off of an alcohol cleanse (which of course came after the opposite of an alcohol cleanse), and was greeted with $0.50 beer. Goa still has all those things, but I quickly realized upon my second visit that the area of Goa you stay in makes a huge difference. Stay too far South and you get isolated beaches, which I am sure are nice to some, but they don't have the same nightlife and food options littering the beach. Instead, they have litter littering the beach. Stay in the right part of Goa and it is amazing, the wrong part and it is merely OK. Still, it is unlike anything else in India, and for that it will always be in my part.

14.) Dubrovnik (2017)

My expectations were raised on Dubrovnik from a number of friends and families had already visited, and oh man was it great - matching everything I would have hoped for. Dubrovnik, like many cities that line my top half of the list, aren't huge sprawling metropolises, instead smaller, untouched little power-packs of culture and beauty. The actual structure of the town reminds me of a European Cape Town, with the old town and fort replacing the V&A Waterfront area, and the hills of the newer part of the city similar to East Cape Town, and the hills in hte background, fixed with their own version of Table Mountain, being, well, Cape Town's Table Mountain. The history in Dubrovnik is amazing, with the old town such a beautiful array of nooks and crannies, with steep stairs on alleys down to the water. Within it contains history, and amazing restaurants, and, of course, Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik is one of the gems of the Adriatic Sea, right there with the other great ports of the Mediterranean.

13.) London (1999, 2000, 2010 & 2017)

I probably should just go to London more, because both my Dad and my Sister, who lived there, swear by London as an incredible city. But again, I’m not ranking this by how livable they are, but how good they are as tourist destinations. London definitely has enough to see, including the nicely compact Royal stuff (palace, parliament, other stuff), and a neatly packed city center (West End, Trafalgar Square, other stuff I’m forgetting), but it is a little too big. It’s subway system is clean, but doesn’t have the expansiveness that it needs (something I give huge credit to the NYC Subway System for, no matter how dirty it is). Of course, it is damn expensive, and the weather is mostly lousy. It may get better with more trips, but I think London is too big for its own good, and a little too confused, as it tries to be both Rome and New York.

**So I went here in 2017, and really have nothing more to add. I think what I wrote back then is more or less accurate**

12.) Cusco (2016)

Full disclosure, I'm cheating by including Machu Picchu as one of the associated sites of Cusco, which is a large part of the reason it places so high. Machu Picchu is a spectacular tourist attraction, from teh never-ending views of Hauranya Picchu's face, to the cascaiding hills on every side, to the great hikes. When you peel back to Cusco proper, it remains a great secondary city, a South American, high altitude version of Krakow (next on the list). The food is great, with so many small, but fine quality, restaurants. It has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, and quite a bit of tourism locally, including other Incan ruins near the city limits. Finally, the altitude, as Cusco us probably the highest city that is easily and heavily visited. Plus, I owe a lot to the Loki Hostel, a wondrous place of Blood Bombs and fun.

11.) Krakow (2014)

By rule I like smaller cities over sprawling ones. Well, while there are expanses to Krakow that extend in all directions, almost everything worth seeing in the city is in a 10x10 block radius circling the best city square (Rynek Glowny) I have seen in Europe. When you get a city that has (their claim) more bars per capita than any in the world, combine that with amazing open space and roadside/streetside restaurants, and an economy that does not use the Euro and is far cheaper than comparale cities in Western Europe, you get a pretty fantastic city. Also, you want history near its borders, you get Auschwitz about 2 hours away. Krakow is an incredible secondary city, arguably the best secondary city I've ever been to. The beer, food and endless beautiful women makes it Top-25; the sites, easily walkable goegraphy, and amazing history (Copernicus lived there too) makes it Top-10.

10.) Kyoto (2013)

Kyoto is the 3rd biggest City in Japan, but resembles so little of Tokyo (the biggest city) that makes it seem like a different country. Sure, the food options and the bustle is still there, but Kyoto, in some ways, is like a supersized Siem Reap. The real highlight of Kyoto is the ridiculous amounts of Temples and historical Japanese buildings. All of these are encircling the downtown area of Kyoto. Of course, that downtown is quite large, with beautiful malls, tall buildings with summer beer gardens (umlimited beer buffets for $30) and plentiful up-scale food options. Kyoto even has the most expansive Geisha area of Japan. Kyoto is the perfect city to experience what people's idea of Japan is, temples and pagodas and sushi, oh my!

9.) Rome (2003)

Speaking of Rome, history’s most famous city checks in next. I haven’t spent any time in Rome as an adult, but I don’t think Rome is the type of city that would change much from an adult’s perspective. It is good for its history and sites first, and if you like Italian cuisine, the food second. If you include the Vatican, and as a Catholic I do, in Rome, then there is even more to see, as you have two different parts of history, the formation of the Catholic Church in the awe-inspiring Vatican grounds near and inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Roman history which is very well kept up. I can’t remember how their public transport was, and we went in December, so the weather was bad, but I don’t think it is a very big city. And then there is that food. I don’t want personal biases like my ambivalence towards Italian food to sway this. Many do like Italian food, and the city is even better for those people. That said, what hurts Rome in my book is I think it is too dependent on the sites, and if you aren’t there on a religious pilgrimage, I can’t imagine the allure of going to Rome more than once.

8.) Athens (2010)

So Athens is very much like its historical partner, Rome, with a few less sites, a lot less crowds, less expensive, and with better weather. So does that whole equation spit out a better city? In my mind, it does. Part of this has to do with visiting Athens at the perfect time (19, during March) and Rome not (13, during December), but Athens has it all. It has a lot to see, but not so much that sightseeing takes over the trip. It has a city that is hard to navigate by car and by walking, but has an adequate subway system. It has excellent food, and a great environment that bursts with fun and enjoyment. Just a grand old time in Athens, as I’m sure it was 2,500 years ago.

7.) Singapore (2012 & 2013)

Singapore is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. There is no city any cleaner. There is no city as tightly situated while having enough external attractions. There is no city better built for a short stay. What doesn’t Singapore have? It has a theme park for kids. A bird park (highly recommended) and a night safari for kids and adults. It has a brand new casino for adults. It has a centralized bar/pub/club area near the waterfront. It has a preponderance of food from really, really cheap to really expensive. It has livable weather year-round. It also has the most interesting and enjoyable airport I’ve ever been to (there is a pool and gym that everyone can use for free in it!), and the cleanest, best organized subway system I’ve seen. So why is Singapore only #3? Because there isn’t that much to do, and Singapore’s not cheap enough to just sit around and eat/drink/do nothing. The sights have no historical resonance, and are replicated in other cities. Still, for a period less than a week, there is no better city to visit.

6.) Santiago (2018)

Midway through my second day in Santiago, I started debating how high it would go. Honestly, on the initial drive to the airport, through beautiful underground tunnels and well manicured streets, it earned its place on the list. Many great meals, multiple vibrant and differing neighborhoods, enough sites to last you days, and a cleanliness of Europe and culture of the Americas, and Santiago morphed into a truly special city. You have views, like at the top of Santa Lucia Hill. You have museums. You have regal government buildings. The restaurants are amazing, going from good street food to world class tasting menus. The competing Barrio Italia, with its Portland-esque vibe, and Barrio Bellavista, with fun bar after fun bar, add the neighborhood vibe as well. It all mixed to a truly brilliant city.

5.) Sydney (2013) 

Take the weather and leisurely attitude of Australia, combine the waterfront facade of a Chicago, add some pub and club nightlife of any city in Europe and you get Sydney, a city that combines the great aspects of every major city I have been too. It doesn't have a true culture of its own which hurts it in my mind. What I really mean by that is, much like the problems I have with England, there are too many similarities to the US. You don't really feel you are in a foreign city too much. Of course, that all changes when you walk towards the Opera House, or go to the night spots with the Australians out partying, or eat great meats. Sydney is a wonderful city, probably the most livable of any in the Top-10 (of course, it is helped by being English-Speaking), but sometimes I would sacrifice livability for uniqueness, which is why it isn't any higher.

4.) Barcelona (2007)

I really want to go to Barcelona again, because it could easily be #1. All the ingredients are there. Pristine weather. A people who don’t care about life, making the tourist experience more fun. Good beaches within reach. Stuff to see. An airport that is easily reachable and a city that is easily maneuverable. My issues with Barcelona (other than my dislike for the Blaugrana) are simple. There isn’t a lot to see in terms of history, mainly because the Catalans want their own history so they destroyed or shunned any Spanish national history. Barcelona is a nice city in terms of seeing the sights for a day or two and then doing nothing the rest of the time, but I do want more from my cities. 

3.) Istanbul (2007)

Istanbul is kind of a secret still, but there is really nothing to complain about. It has a waterfront, an easily accessible city center, a lot to see (the palaces, the Bosphuros, the Red & Blue Mosques). Istanbul also has a brilliant food scene, with both Muslim and Meditterannean influences but all sorts of bases (including a ton of seafood). There is little to separate any of the cities this high in the list. My only knock on Istanbul would be the public transport is lacking without a proper Subway (this could have changed since my last visit). Overall, Istanbul combines the palate and affordability of Asia, with the energy and cleanliness of Europe, the best of both worlds.

2.) Cape Town (2013)

I've been wondering whether doing Cape Town first helped increase my perceptions of it. I was at my most curious and excited at the start of the trip. Then, I remember everything amazing about Cape Town, like the incredible scenery and breathtaking views, the active harbor and Long Street areas (for the youngsters among us), the great food of every type and the wine region to one side with the Cape of Good Hope below it. Cape Town is a special place on the total other side of the word (laterally speaking). I've really never been any place quite like it, which is why I want to go back there more than any place in the world.

1.) Madrid (2001 & 2010)

I’ll never forget Madrid. It was where I turned 10 years old, in April of 2001. It was where I saw my first naked woman in real life, as I saw two nude woman near the pool in Madrid (given my age and their age, this wasn’t a good thing). It was where I first traveled alone, and where I learned the inherent joy of visiting a place a 2nd time. Barcelona might be more ‘fun’, but I can’t think of a place that combines everything I want from a city more than Madrid. Madrid has a dependable airport, and a dependable subway system. More than that, the city is small enough in its center that you can easily walk from the Prado side on the East, to the Palace on the West and not break a sweat. It has some of Spain’s best museums. There is more than enough to see. And, of course, you are still very much in Spain. It isn’t as relaxed as Barcelona, but is just as Spanish, with open squares, easy food and drink,  a lot of youngsters (and a lively area for them at night). This wasn’t a criteria, but a lot of people speak English there to boot. Madrid is basically a perfect city. Small enough to walk, with enough sites to not get bored, enough food to not go hungry, and a relaxed, but not too relaxed nature that you won’t ever get tired of doing nothing for an afternoon or two.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.