The Art of ‘Blending’: How to be a Tourist in Europe Without Looking Like One

One evening when I first moved to Ireland, I was sitting in a pub talking to a local and he told me it was easy to spot an American from a mile away. I laughed at the hilarity of his ill-informed comment and decided it was time to move on to a place where people knew what they were talking about. So I pulled my passport neck wallet out from inside my shirt, paid and left.

Traveling outside your region or country can be intimidating and I understand that feeling safe doesn’t always come naturally. But after many years traveling, I’ve come to realize that we often take off on a trip and leave the most important thing at home: our common sense. If you don’t want to be a target for thieves and tourist traps, the idea is to blend in, and avoid standing out like a tourist circus clown.

I recently asked my German beau what he thought some of the most obvious things are that scream, ‘TOURIST!’, and here was his response:

“American men wear short pants (shorts) with oversized bottom-up shirts (button-up shirts) that have half the sleeves cut off and little pineapples on them. They also wear those hats that have a sun shield attached (baseball cap) and either shoes for running or open toe’d shoes with socks… and American women wear flip flops everywhere.”

Let’s face it, Americans dress for comfort. Europeans dress for fashion. In Europe men don’t show their legs unless they are swimming, and depending on which beach you are on, they might be showing more than that. If you’ve never been to Europe, its hard to know how to look European so I’m going to tell you some of the most flagrant traveler faux pas’ in order to help you ‘blend’.    

Let’s first talk about the most glaringly obvious I-am-a-tourist-from-a-wealthy-country-you-should-steal-from-me accessory: the khaki pant. Add some pleats to it, and well, you’re done for. It’s like a German traveling to the U.S. wearing his lederhosen and wondering how everyone seems to know he isn’t a local. While I understand that every American man adores his khakis, they are fashionable only in America and where they should remain when you fly oversees. Any other color slack or chino will do.

Moving on to the running shoe/white tube sock combo. Now, don’t get me wrong… I love my running shoes but Europeans only wear them for running. More than likely you are going to be walking quite a lot, so comfort is of course important, but think casual sneakers- not white, mesh toe’d running shoes. And leave their white tube sock counterparts in Oklahoma where they belong. Black is the new white in Europe.

If you need to pull out a map, don’t do it in the middle of Trafalgar Square. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been somewhere and seen someone standing in an already cramped space, arms outstretched holding a map, while turning to find the right direction and knocking people over in their midst. T-O-U-R-I-S-T. If you must look at your map, use discretion or go to a café, order yourself a coffee and ask the barista or a local sitting at the bar for directions. Meanwhile, might I advise you to take the camera off your neck and put it somewhere a bit more discreet?

Sweatpants and track suit bottoms? Come on, guys. This is Europe.

I can assure you that the locals nowhere wear passport neck wallets or hidden-in-your-pants belt wallets, so if someone is looking for a tourist to rip off, they are going to go for slick Rick with the ‘hidden’ neck wallet, that of course isn’t anymore hidden than a normal wallet is the second they go to pay for something. Leave these at home with your khakis and Hawaiian florals.

I hate to say it, but most ‘traveling gadgets’ are as good as wearing a flashing ‘Rip Me Off’ sign over head. All you need is a small rolling suitcase, a good pair of walking shoes, a few outfits according to the climate and season, a pocket guide, a sleek camera that fits easily into your pocket, and a sense of adventure. No one will think for a second about stealing a camera from someone who doesn’t look like they have one.

Traveling is an absolute blast if you can master the art of blending. You don’t even need a map. In my opinion, getting lost is the best way to discover a place. Disappear into the city. Stop in a park or at a pavement café and ask a local if you really need directions. Answer when a stranger starts talking to you. You’ll most likely never see him again. He won’t know your name or where you work or who your Dad is or your greatest fears or how you packed and unpacked eight times to create that perfect outfit you are wearing. These are the precious moments traveling is made of and I urge you to lay your camera down and share the moment, suspended in time, before blending into the next unknown space.

Attractions in Munich

  • Munich is known for its beer halls and beer gardens, so perhaps this is where we should start. The legendary Hofbräuhaus was originally built in 1589, but all of the rooms except the historic beer hall were destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1958. The beer hall is beautiful, as is its Wirtsgarten (courtyard), and during regular hours you will always find traditional Bavarian music being played. The beer itself became famous around Europe soon after its creation and, in fact, King Gustavius from Sweden accepted not to invade Munich during the Thirty Years War in exchange for 600,000 barrels of its Hofbräu beer!
  • Marienplatz was established in 1158 and is still considered today the heart of Munich. It was named after the Marian column erected in its center in 1638 to celebrate the end of the Swedish occupation. It was the first column of this type built north of the Alps and it inspired many other Marian columns like it to be built across Europe. The square also marks the end of the pedestrian zone, which starts at Karlsplatz, and is surrounded by the beautiful Town Hall and many restaurants, bars and shops.
  • Peterskirche is the oldest recorded church in Munich and the originating point for the city. It was also one of the first buildings to receive Münchners’ concerned attention after the War. It was severely damaged and preparations were made to demolish the ruin, however, public opinion intervened and redirected this decision. A newly formed ‘citizens’ group’ raised enough money to reconstruct it using a creative form of historic preservation. Today you can again climb to the top of its 91-meter spire and get a breathtaking view of the city and Bavarian alps.
  • The Frauenkirche in Munich is a famous city landmark. Finished in 1525, it was heavily damaged in bombing raids during the late stages of WWII. Major restoration efforts began after the war and were completed in 1994. The original design of the church called for pointed spires at the top of the towers but they were never built because of lack of money. Instead, the two round domes were constructed during the Renaissance period and do not match the gothic architectural style of the building but, nevertheless, Münchners love their Frauenkirche! You will also notice a black mark at the entrance of the church and this is known as the Devil’s footprint, which is at the heart of many Munich legends.
  • The Asamkirche is one of Munich’s sacred destinations. It was built between 1733 and 1746 by two brothers, a sculptor and a painter, to be used as their private church. They originally bought four buildings, but tore the two middle ones down in order to build the church. On the left side of the chapel, a corridor connects the church to the house of the sculptor, E.Q. Asam. The painter, Cosmas Damian Asam, painted the ceiling fresco and it is considered a masterpiece. The church was built in baroque and Rococo style, but show some peculiarities that deviate from normal baroque architecture in that the church altar is situated in the west, not the east as usual and the crucifix is hung much lower than was considered fashionable at that time. The best part is that apart from the choir that was damaged in a bomb attack in WWII, the church exists in its original form.
  • The Alte Pinakothek is one of Munich’s fifty two art museums and it houses one of the world’s most famous collections of old master paintings. What I find equally fascinating is the building itself. During World War II a bomb was dropped directly it the center of the building and it sat for seven years in disrepair. When the architect Hans Döllgast began reconstructing it, he left its history visible by filling in the gaps left by bombs with simple bricks and preserving the many bullet holes, artillery scars, and sheared-off ornamental details on the museum’s façade, thus creating an image of the wartime destruction fixed in time.
  • The Brandhorst Museum is housed in a colorful art building in the middle of Munich’s Kunstareal (art/museum district). It houses more than 700 works by contemporary artists such as Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. It is a brilliant exhibition and well worth an afternoon visit.
  • Königsplatz is also located in Munich’s Kunstareal and it is truly a monumental place. It is home to the Corinithian State Museum of Classical Art, the Propyläen, the Glyptothek, and was the national headquarters of the Nazi Party in Germany during WWII. Many of the Nazi Party’s mass rallies and book burnings happened here and two honor temples were erected on the east side of the plaza to enshrine the remains of sixteen Nazis killed in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, which happened at the Feldherrnhalle. The men were worshipped as martyrs by the Nazis and today, you can still see one of the original platforms where their remains were beatified. If you are so inclined, you can also visit Hitler’s office while visiting Königsplatz, which today is used as a classroom in the school of music and theater.
  • Surrounded by the Theatiner Church, the Residence and Feldherrnhalle, Odeonsplatz is one of Munich’s most beautiful and central squares. It was planned in 1790 to make the beginning of the route from the Residence Royal Palace to Nymphenburg Palace more impressive. Today it is an important site for parades, public events and summer festivals.
  • Nymphenburg Palace was the summer home of the royal Wittelsbach family. You can take tours or walk around its 500 acres. The palace’s grounds are most beautiful in spring and summer when everything is in full bloom and the protective winter statue covers are removed.
  • Munich’s Residence palace served as the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes and kings from 1508 to 1918. It was almost completely destroyed in WWII but was built back to its original grandeur and here you’ll find the crown jewels, the state collection of Egyptian art, the Cuvilles Theatre and the Herkulessaal concert hall. In the front of the Residence you will also find four 400-year-old lion statues holding an escutcheon. You shouldn’t pass them without rubbing their noses. Bavarian superstition says it will bring you good luck!
  • From Odeonsplatz, you can easily walk down Maximilianstraße, which is one of the city’s four royal avenues. It is known today for its galleries, designer shops, jewelry stores and boutiques.
  • From Odeonsplatz, you can also walk down Ludwigstraße to LMU, one of Munich’s big universities and home to the White Rose Memorial. There was a small resistance group called the White Rose that spoke out against the Nazi regime by handing out leaflets they had printed with information about what the Nazi party was really doing. In 1943 Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested in the atrium of the main building at LMU as they were dispersing copies of the sixth and last of the leaflets. Four days later they were convicted of treason and executed. Their story can be found in a room dedicated to them in the same atrium.
  • If you are visiting the city during the spring and summer months, I think one of the best ways to discover the city is via a Munich bike tour. There are a myriad to choose from, so your best option is to just google it and see which one fits your interests best. If you don’t want to do a bike tour, but would like to rent bikes, there are also plenty of places to do so such as Mike’s Bikes next to the Hofbräuhaus.
  • Munich’s Isar river is a great spot to go for walks or bike rides and it also presents a great atmosphere for picnicking along its shoreline. From May 1st to mid-September, you can also drift down it on traditional wooden river rafts whilst enjoying music, Bavarian delicacies and fresh beer.
  • Built in 1901, the Müller’sches Volksbad was the largest and most expensive swimming pool in the world. Its architecture, both inside and out, is art nouveau and was designed by Carl Hocheder. It is still used today and has its original Roman-Irish steam baths. It is an amazing experience to go there and sit in the steam baths but don’t be alarmed by the very liberal German outlook on nudity.
  • Munich’s cool ‘kids’ meet up at Gärtnerplatz in the Glockenbachviertel and catch a few rays on its circular stretch of grass. If you are interested in meeting up with the local scene, grab a beer and head over to people watch and see what all the fuss is about. It is a fun time.
  • The Jewish Center in Munich gives a thorough overview of Munich’s Jewish history and is home to a building complex, which includes a museum, a synagogue, a community center, a kosher restaurant, and a school. The architecture is magnificent and was designed by Wandel Hoefer Lorch. It is located on St.-Jakobs-Platz, which is adjacent to Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt in the city center.
  • One of the other unique happenings in Munich is urban surfing. Guys and gals gear up in wetsuits and surf ‘The Wave’ on the Eisbach, which is a frigid stream running down from the Alps into Europe’s largest urban park, called the English Garden. It’s a total sight to be seen and the spot attracts thousands upon thousands of visitors every year.
  • Munich’s green lung is called the English Garden and it is over 900 acres of lush greenery. Parts of it are manicured and parts of it are left to its own natural devices. It is used all year round by joggers and bikers, though it is most beautiful in the summer. The shores of the Eisbach become Munich’s beach in summertime and there you will find Münchners basking in the hot summer sun and swimming in its brisk waters.
  • In the English Garden is where you will also find Munich’s famous beer garden, the Chinese Tower. It was first constructed in 1789 but burned down in 1944 after heavy bombing. In 1952 a new tower was rebuilt, copied accurately from the original using photographs and old drawings. A Bavarian band plays in it during the spring and summer months while Münchners enjoy its 7,000 seat beer garden. For a list of other amazing Munich beer gardens, see the list on my Munich home page.
  • Olympia Park was constructed for the 1972 summer Olympics and is comprised of a series of hills built from the ruins of the city in the Second World War. Today it serves as a venue for cultural and social events, not to mention it’s a great place to walk. It has an amazing aquatic center and hosts really cool events in the summer such as an open air theater and Tollwood, which is a month long arts and music festival which is a forum for ecology and environmental awareness.
  • Bavarians love their cars and you can find a tribute to one of their favorites at BMW Welt, which is located right next to Olympia Park. There are always thrilling exhibitions about the past, present and future of the brands. Not only is BMW cutting edge, but so too is the architecture of BMW Welt. It was designed by Vienna – based architects COOP HIMMELB(L)AU with an 800 Kw solar plant on its roof and an immensely creative design.
  • You can take many day hikes from Munich but my favorite one is a10 km hike from lake Schliersee to lake Tegernsee. The views are incredible! You can travel by train from Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station) to Schliersee and follow the signs for Prinzenweg. This is the trail that will take you to Tegernsee. At the top of the hike you will come to Gindelalm, which is a picturesque alpine hut where you can stop and have lunch. From there you hike through a beautiful forest and down to Tegernsee, where you can have a well-deserved beer at the famous Tegernsee Bräustüberl. The Tegernsee train station is about a 5 minute walk from here and from there you can easily catch a train back to Munich.
  • If you are visiting Munich during the summer months and need a reprieve from the heat, you can take the train from Munich Hauptbahnhof to any of the crystalline blue lakes Bavaria is also known for. The biggest, and my favorite, is Starnbergersee, which is about 25 kms southwest of Munich. You can tour around the lake on a stand up paddle board or hop on a boat tour that leaves directly from the train station at Starnberg. But if you just want to enjoy the perfect water, you will find many beaches around to throw down a towel and go for a swim.
  • Another great lake in der Nähe (close by) is Chiemsee, though this is a bit further out than Starnbergersee. It is nestled in the Bavarian alps, so it’s the perfect spot to go for a dip after a long hike.
  • If you happen to be visiting Munich between mid-September and the first week of October, you should either bring earplugs and get a hotel with sound proof walls and windows or put on your drinkin’ britches and head over to the Theresienwiese for the world’s biggest party; Oktoberfest. It is here that six million liters of beer are consumed in about 2.5 weeks every year. Oktoberfest is an important Bavarian tradition, having been held since 1810 and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Its an amazing time, so I vote you put on your drinkin’ britches and head on over for the festivities!

O’zapft Is! : A Munich Commentary

  1. They are Bavarians first, Germans second.
  2. In Munich, you honor the biker. He might come out of nowhere, but if something happens to him, it will undoubtedly be your fault.
  3. Every good German has hauptpflichtversicherung (main duty insurance) to protect them from, literally, everything.
  4. In summer, you swim.
  5. They are extremely comfortable with nudity, so don’t be alarmed if you are in Munich’s English Garden and see entire groups of men and women standing and chatting wearing nothing more than shoes.
  6. Despite their openness to being splitterfasernackt (buck naked), they love a good rule and will certainly let you know if you’ve broken one. If the crosswalk signal says stop, you stop… and if you don’t, a policeman will come out of the bushes and ticket you.
  7. You might want to reconsider answering that phone call while on public transportation. They have no problem with you talking to a friend, or friends, standing next to you on the train but there is an unwritten Bavarian law that says you aren’t suppose to talk to friends on the phone while on the train, probably because they feel a loss of control by not knowing what the entire conversation is about. Should you choose to break this rule, be prepared for eye-rolling, loud sighing and verbal reproach.
  8. Public transportation may appear to be free, but it isn’t and Münchners always possess the appropriate ticket. They’re an honest bunch. I got caught twice without a ticket and tried to pull the ‘American card’, but that failed miserably. Munich is an international city and they are fully prepared for handling ‘international excuses’.
  9. Recycling is a sport. Just go to a local supermarket bottle return on any given evening and you’ll know what I mean.
  10. Pig, not Elvis, is king. He is esteemed as both lucky and delicious and comes in more forms than you could ever imagine.
  11. Mustard. There is an entire aisle in the supermarket devoted to mustard.
  12. Münchners come unhinged during ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season). The pig is first, but the asparagus is a close second.
  13. Don’t expect to go to a bank at a time that suits you. They take lunch breaks at exactly the same time you do and then close at 4:00, so unless you want to take a vacation day to go to the bank, you’re going to be shit out of luck.
  14. They are diligent and efficient workers, despite working some of the shortest hours in the western world. They have an amazing work-life balance, with an average of 25 days of vacation a year, not including public holidays or the half-day they take on Fridays. In fairness, there are over 180 beer gardens in Munich, so you can hardly blame them for expecting more time off.
  15. Finding a café with Wi-Fi in Munich is like striking gold.
  16. Münchners might not appear to be an animated group, but just wait until the next 80’s song comes on the radio. The car windows come down, the smoke machine comes on, and they will belt out the words to ‘Under Pressure’ verbatim and with unrelenting passion.
  17. Applauding, in Germany generally, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Germans lose control when it comes to clapping and if you attempt to keep their pace and passion, you will be icing afterwards.
  18. Traditional Bavarian music sounds a bit like polka on cassette.
  19. Münchners stare. Long and hard. And its not because you have something on your face. They are a curious bunch and have no qualms with ‘figuring you out’. If you try to break their stare with a smile, you will sadly lose. The only triumph I have found in these situations is beating them at their own game.
  20. They don’t like scuffed shoes and will intentionally look down at your shoes and then back up at you to let you know they have spotted your scuff.
  21. Münchners act in a way I can only describe as suspicious when the sun appears. You’ll notice that chairs at outdoor cafes are no longer facing each other to facilitate camaraderie and conversation, but instead are all turned toward the sun. Münchners can be found sitting in them for hours, covered with blankets, silent, eyes closed and faces tilted upwards. Go to San Lorenzo at Odeonsplatz on any sunny day and you’ll quickly understand what I mean.
  22. They love giving, receiving, and processing paperwork. They photocopy it, smell it, stamp it, sign it, notarize it, fax it, care for it, and photocopy it again.
  23. Germans can drink. Not in a vomit-in-the-toilet sort of way, e.g., American/Australian/English binge drinking, but in a nonchalant-I’ll-keep-drinking-until-the-last-man-goes-home sort of way. They will often wash down their dinner and wine with pure grain alcohol, but you will never see a German stumble. Their livers are just as adroit as their cars.
  24. Do not expect small talk from Münchners at the supermarket checkout… or anywhere really.
  25. They have one hundred percent the most stressful, nerve-wracking super market checkouts in the world. In the world. Supermarket cashiers are awarded by their level of efficiency, e.g., how many groceries they ring up in a given amount of time. This means that when they are done scanning your groceries, they will start scanning the groceries of the next customer in line whether you have already finished bagging yours or not, so you better know what belongs to you so you don’t leave half your groceries there in an effort to quickly escape the mania. Bagging your groceries quickly enough and paying while still trying to continue to bag becomes an art and I can only tell you that after three and a half years I still haven’t mastered it. The first time I went to a German supermarket, I came home, got a beer out of the refrigerator, sat on the couch and cried.
  26. Watch where you step. As rule abiding of a society as this is, they somehow have not yet cultivated a rule for picking up after their dogs.
  27. They love to mix their beverages, but not in a New York-cocktail-bar sort of way, but more in an-eight-year-old-stole-a-beer-from-Dad-and-mixed-coke-and-lemonade-with-it sort of way.
  28. They know how to roast a mean chestnut.  
  29. They are incredibly superstitious people and if you wish them a happy birthday before their actual birthday, the world will implode and the aliens will come down to take us all.
  30. They can’t make a line to save their lives, which is hard to believe considering what an efficient group of people we are dealing with.   But the whole system fails when it comes time to form a line.
  31. If you are next in line at the supermarket checkout, after having waited ten minutes, and a new checkout opens up, you don’t get priority, but instead a sort of mobbing occurs and it becomes every man for himself.
  32. Sunday is for quiet time and Tatort only. The city closes down and should you decide to nail something in the wall or wash your car, you will soon be notified of what an ass you are from your neighbor.
  33. Entire conversations can be had using only the words, ‘Alles Klar’, ‘Doch’, ‘Genau’, ‘Also’ and ‘Stimmt’.
  34. They like house shoes and they often bring theirs over to your house to wear while visiting.
  35. They blame 98% of all health issues and strange behavior on the föhn, which is a warm downslope wind from the Alps.
  36. Bavarians love nature and walking paths and you will see them out every day of the year walking across fields and through woods in order to get some ‘frische Luft’ (fresh air).
  37. But not without walking sticks. You will rarely seeing a Bavarian walking without professional trekking poles. It shows their dedication to the sport.
  38. Finger food at social gatherings will consist mostly of many creative variations of cheese and ham.
  39. Minutes prior to a train stopping, a Münchner will undoubtedly be standing at the door with hands firmly in position on the door handles in order to quickly and frantically open it when the train stops.
  40. Do not ‘camp out’ in the left lane on the Autobahn. I repeat, DO NOT camp out in the left lane on the Autobahn. This lane is only for the far-advanced / unhinged / bats-in-the-belfry German driver.

Attractions in Vienna

  • The Vienna Seccession was an art movement in the late 19th century started by a group of Austrian artists that seceded from the Vienna Künstlerhaus of prevailing conservatism and traditional art. The Seccessionist Museum symbolizes the birth of art nouveau and was aimed at uniting separate art forms such as sculpture, architecture, painting and music. In 1902, the Seccessionist artist association planned an exhibition as homage to Ludwig van Beethoven, and it was for this event that Gustav Klimt painted the famous Beethoven Frieze, which can now be found here at the museum and is, what I think, the most touching piece of artwork I have ever seen.
  • Built in 1907 at the height of the Seccessionist movement, Kirche am Steinhof was designed by famous architect Otto Wagner and is considered one of the most important art nouveau churches in the world.  It is part of the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital and when drafting plans for the building, Wagner consulted with doctors concerning special requirements, such as no sharp edges, no visible crosses, and easy access to side exits.
  • Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most visited attraction in Vienna.  With 1,441 rooms, this Baroque palace is one of the most exceptional architectural, historical, and cultural monuments in Austria.  The beautiful french styled gardens of Schönbrunn are perfect for an afternoon walk or picnic by the infamous Gloriette.  
  • Hofburg Palace was home to the Hapsburgs from 1273 to 1918 and served as the center of their empire.  Located centrally in Vienna, no traveler should pass up the opportunity to visit.  This ‘city within a city’ is replete with gardens, grandiose rooms, cafes, restaurants, and magnificent art.  As a great deal of European history was written from here, you will take a march through bygone times when visiting the Hofburg.  
  • If you love horses, you should visit the world-famous Spanish Riding School, which is truly reminiscent of the imperial Hapsburg era. Equestrian ‘ballets’ are performed to classical music and can be seen from the original pillared balconies. You should book these at least a month to two months in advance to make sure you will get a seat during your visit. You can also take guided tours through the performance hall, stables and other equine facilities.
  • The Belvedere Palace is a Baroque masterpiece in itself and home to Gustav Klimt’s world famous The Kiss, as well as other works from Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. It is one of the world’s finest examples of Baroque architecture and through its ornate windows, you can gaze at Vienna’s dazzling skyline.
  • You can take a self-guided tour through the church of Stephansdom, which was built in the 12th century and considered today as Vienna’s Gothic masterpiece.
  • Bought in 1560 to be used as Maximilian II’s hunting ground, Prater Park is now one of Europe’s largest public parks.
  • Vienna’s opera house called the ‘Staatsoper’ is the city’s foremost opera and ballet venue where the likes of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler have directed. You can buy tickets to see a performance or simply take a tour through this cultural bastion.
  • The Albertina Museum houses one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world, with hundreds of thousands of drawings, old master prints, modern graphic works, and architectural drawings.
  • You can visit Vienna’s artistic trinity at the Museums Quartier. Once the imperial stables, the Museums Quartier is home to three art museums: the Leopold Museum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of Egon Schiele’s work, Kunsthalle Wien and MUMOK (the Museum of Modern Art).
  • On balmy summer evenings, you can join the Viennese for an evening in a Heuriger, which are rustic wine taverns dotted throughout the vineyards of the Viennese woods. Up to date hours for the venues can be found in English at www.
  • Check out the Viennese beaches that are dotted along the Danube River. The nude beaches are marked FKK on maps and there are loads of paying beach clubs that have clothed and nude sections, such as the Gänsehäufel, which also has swimming pools. This is a fun place to be in summer and a nice reprieve from the heat!
  • Vienna is an awesome place for those who like to bike, with over 1000 kilometers of bike paths. They have an incredible public bike rental scheme called Citybike and you can register online or buy a Citybike Tourist Card at Pedal Power. It’s a great way to get to know the city while burning off last night’s wiener schnitzel.
  • Karlskirche is a baroque church located on Karlsplatz, built between 1716 and 1737 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.  Baroque architecture is intended to ‘awe’ and Karlskirche does just that.  In fact, its interior has been called one of the greatest spaces to worship on the planet.  
  • The Hundertwasserhaus is one of Austria’s architectural highlights, though it was created outside of any ‘normal’ architectural school of thought.  It is built with undulating floors, hardly any straight lines, a roof covered with earth and grass, and with trees growing in the rooms and their limbs extending out the windows.  More than 250 trees and shrubs living in and on the house make it a green oasis in the city.  
  • For over 25 years, the city of Vienna has offered a free cultural and culinary Film Festival in front of their grandiose City Hall.  It goes between June and September, offering top opera, ballet, jazz and dance productions, as well as a wide ranging mix of food and wine from around the world.  
  • If you are interested in the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, you can visit the Sigmund Freud Museum at the place where he lived and worked from 1898 to 1938, until he was forced into exile by the Nazis.
  • The Naschmarkt is Vienna’s largest open-air food market and is open from Monday to Saturday. You can find anything from tulips, to figs, to Austrian wine. They have it all! It is a great Viennese experience!
  • If you like decadent coffee and cake, check out Vienna’s famous sachertorte at Hotel Sacher in the city center.

The Mission, San Francisco

The Mission is known for its bohemian subculture, eclecticism, nonprofits, sleek bars, and all things artsy and edgy. It is the opposite of highbrow Nob Hill; so if you are a tech maven, into vintage shopping, revival cinemas or just simply looking for something a bit more cerebral and gritty, check out the Mission. It’s a cool spot.


Where to Stay

The Mission Cottage
The Mission Gem
Mission Dolores Modern Design House
Casa Quixote

Most of these you’ll find through Airbnb.  You can also check out The Culture Trip, which is a really great selection of Airbnb’s best cultural apartments in major cities around the world. You’ll find some great ones in there for The Mission.


Where to Eat

Al’s Place
Flour + Water
Foreign Cinema
Central Kitchen
Mission Cheese


Where to Imbibe

Monk’s Kettle
Trick Dog
Southern Pacific Brewing
Philz Coffee

Pacific Heights / Nob Hill / Russian Hill, San Francisco

If you want to wake up every morning to outrageous views of San Francisco Bay, then this is the area you should stay in.  It is home to San Francisco’s most distinguished neighborhoods and renowned city landmarks such as the famous painted ladies, Huntington Park and Lombard Street.  A short walk through the area will reveal upscale boutiques, hip restaurants and edgy dive bars.  From here its easy to get to Chinatown, downtown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.


Where to Stay

Queen Anne Hotel
Fairmont San Francisco
Hotel Vertigo
Hotel Drisco
The Scarlet Huntington
The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square


Where to Eat

Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar
Le Beau Market
Liholiho Yacht Club
Del Popolo
Dim Sum Club


Where to Imbibe

Union Larder
The Big Four
Tonga Room
Harper and Rye
Hopwater Distribution


That Time I Took Myself on a Cruise in The Caribbean and Ended Up As Kirstie Alley’s Executive Assistant

My life has been a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. I owe this in its totality to my curiosity and spirit to follow that all knowing ‘pull’ (not to be confused with that self-justified, talk yourself into it, ‘push’). There was one occasion in particular when I followed that pull and it slung me out to the moon and back.

I was moving from Ireland to England and while the paperwork for my work visa was doing ‘the rounds’ in London, I made a quick trip to Georgia for some grits and buttermilk biscuits. I knew the paperwork could take a few weeks and I had braved the Irish rain so courageously for three years that I decided I would treat myself to some sunshine down in the Caribbean while I was home. So I booked a cruise and off I went.

Traveling alone has never been frightening to me and some of my best friends today are people that I met on solo journeys. You are inclined to strike up ‘random’ conversations and spend time doing what you want and need, which for me has culminated in huge personal growth over the years. I’ve gotten to know who this incredible girl really is, not just who everyone else expects her to be.

On this one particular trip I met a group of guys and gals from Los Angeles and we quickly became friends. We had a fun week discovering Barbados and Saint Lucia together and when it came time to say goodbye they invited me to come visit them for New Years. As it was only a week away, I thought it shouldn’t interfere with my London timeline and I had never been to Los Angeles… so… why not?

As it turned out, they were part of an A-list tribe in the city and I found myself visiting somewhat of a twilight zone. On one occasion I was at Kirstie Alley’s house and she and I got into a conversation about my travels. It was a pleasurable conversation and evening but nothing specifically noteworthy, or so I thought.

The next morning I went for a hike up to Griffith Observatory and when I got back I had two missed calls from an unknown number. I checked messages and there Kirstie was… on my voicemail… inviting me over that night for dinner… because she had something she wanted to talk to me about… I sort of sat there totally confused but eventually called her back and accepted the intriguing invitation.

Eight hours later I was no longer moving to London, but instead to Los Angeles to work and live with Kirstie Alley. I had managed my own business previously and she wanted me to help her with hers.  At the time she was the spokeswoman for Jenny Craig and needed help organizing her various business ventures and felt I was someone who would be good at that. As I was listening to this role that she wanted to create for me, based on a one-hour conversation we had had the previous night, it occurred to me that I didn’t actually live in Los Angeles. I barely had a toothbrush and a couple pairs of underpants there, much less a home. I reminded her of this substantial reality and she folded that nicely into her proposal and offered that I live with her. It was all dream-like and my curiosity won in the end.

I turned down my work visa for London and had everything shipped back to the U.S. It was a wonderful experience, although life there never managed to evolve from the dream-like state, but instead morphed into an introspective catechism. It was a fun time and I got to meet attractive people that were big faces on the screen, but after a while I began to realize that what is deemed as ‘interesting’ or ‘important’ is a very personal and subjective thing. For me that life was neither interesting nor important, despite what the media would have you think.

It was a world of fad diets, plastic surgery, and expensive face creams designed to make you think that the best version of yourself can be bought. For me they were empty promises and nothing more than a lesson along my journey. Although Los Angeles was not a space of gravity for me, it helped me realize that no matter where you go, time spent enjoying yourself is never time wasted, and at the end of that pull what I found was the coolest version of Ashley.