TOP 10 VISITED CITIES OF 2014

On the road in 2014. Thousands of miles and dozens of cities.

On the road in 2014. Thousands of miles and dozens of cities.

Friends often ask what’s my favorite city. It’s usually difficult to name just one. Each city has a flavor all its own and I like each for different reasons. In 2014, I visited almost 50 cities in the U.S. and abroad, traveling more than 140,000 miles. So what were my favorite stops along the way? This was a very difficult exercise (some cities I thought would make the list, didn’t), but I’ve settled on 10 to come up with the World Dispatch Top 10 Visited Cities of 2014. First, a caveat: This is not a list of the 10 best cities in the world; it’s the Top 10 of the ones I visited. Hope you find your favorites here. What’s your Top 10? Leave a message in the comments and follow World Dispatch if you like what you read. Happy trails.

A young boy feeds pigeons at one of the main squares in Bogota.

A young boy feeds pigeons at one of the main squares in Bogota.

10. BOGOTA I had stopped briefly in Bogota in 2013 en route to Cartagena, a city that would have made the list had I visited in 2014. I looked forward to returning to Bogota and was glad I did. Thanks to Jim Wyss, chief of the Miami Herald’s Andean Bureau, the visit surpassed my expectations. Whether touring the Botero Museum, haggling over prices at the flea market, dining at one of its fantastic new restaurants or hanging out in the Candelaria, Bogota’s Latin American flavor made it a must-list.

9. TORONTO I’ve been to Toronto each of the past four years but the city remains fresh. Always something new to discover or an interesting person to meet. Both occurred on my trip last year, including my visit to Casa Loma. Looking forward to returning to both. I visited Montreal for the second time last year and thought it would make the list but Toronto had just that much more, which elevated it over Montreal.

Marrakesh. Old world meets new. Camels grazing at the side of the road.

Marrakesh. Old world meets new. Camels grazing at the side of the road.

8. MARRAKESH After visiting many cities in Morocco, I finally made it to Marrakesh. And it did not disappoint. It’s the old world meeting the new. I still can’t get the images of camels at the side of the road out of my head. I initially thought this fascinating city would make my top 5 but the competition was stiff.

7. LOS ANGELES I live in Miami where downtown is not as vibrant as it can be. So it was refreshing to visit Los Angeles and see so many people walking about downtown. (A protest happening while I was there no doubt contributed to the pedestrian traffic.) Visiting LA can be intoxicating, especially with such close proximity to the playground of the stars. Also, for someone who lives where it’s flat, the mountains were a real treat.

London. Didn't crack the top 5 but still beautiful -- day or night.

London. Didn’t crack the top 5 but still beautiful — day or night.

6. LONDON It pains me not to have London crack the top 5. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love London. I went to school there and have lots of friends there, even some who claim me as family. I visited five times in 2014 but it had lots of competition from other cities.

5. HONG KONG It was great being back in Hong Kong. The scenery is spectacular and the food, even more so. Wandering through the tiny alleys, you never know what you might happen upon – a major anti-government protest or a night market.

4. ISTANBUL What can I say? Istanbul continues to be a city of intrigue after all these years. I would look out my hotel window onto Taksim Square at all hours of the night and see thousands of people walking about. In Istanbul, it seems, there’s no time for sleeping. Makes sense because there’s so much to see and do there.

Traditional ruler arrives for a meeting in Accra accompanied by courtiers.

Traditional ruler arrives for a meeting in Accra accompanied by courtiers.

3. ACCRA My second visit, even stayed at the same hotel (though now under new management). In Accra, the Africa of my high school and college text books came alive on this visit. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out the hotel window to see a traditional ruler arriving for a meeting draped in gold and wearing an intricately woven Kente robe. A courtier held a large umbrella over his head. The scene repeated itself as other leaders arrived. Glad I wasn’t dreaming. Great history. Great culture. Great people.

2. GENEVA My first visit. The weather was a bit cold but perfect. Strolling along Lake Geneva, wandering through art shops in the Old Town, stopping for coffee at an outside shop and sipping it beneath a warm blanket on the square helped to make my stay exceptional.

The beauty that is Cape Town. Table Mountain in the backgroud.

The beauty that is Cape Town. Table Mountain in the backgroud.

1. CAPE TOWN My second visit to Cape Town but no less mesmerizing than the first. It’s a city that continues to burst with possibilities. And it seems to have it all: incredible beauty, friendly people and great food. Stroll along the waterfront, take the cableway to Table Mountain, tour one of the myriad wineries or go dancing in one of its hip nightclubs and you’ll see why this enchanting city scored as the World Dispatch Top Visited City of 2014.

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PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, AFRICA’S CENTURY, TORONTO FORUM, HOME

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[Photo: Cranes dot the Toronto skyline. The boom continues.]
TORONTO — The Toronto Global Forum closing dinner ended moments after President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney began to duke it out in their first presidential debate.
Eager to watch as much of the debate as possible, I was among the first to exit the dinner. Outside, I hopped into the sedan that awaited Mamadou Kone, the Ivory Coast’s secretary of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.
I’m glad I did because it led to a fascinating discussion about Africa with someone who’s passionate about the continent. “This is Africa’s century,” he told me as I settled in. Several countries in Africa have growth rates double or even triple the rates of some countries in Europe, he said, adding that not many people know about the economic miracle that’s playing out throughout Africa. I’ve been following Africa for more than two decades and I agree with him. I’ve seldom seen the kind of optimism among Africans about the future than I’m seeing now.
We pulled up at the Intercontinental with plenty of debate time on the clock.
After three days here, some observations from the Toronto Global Forum:
Europe. There was a lot of discussion about the Euro crisis. The consensus, however, is that the EU will survive. But it will be a long time before the continent returns to robust growth. Former Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said Euro growth will hover around 1.5 percent for at least the next five years.
U.S. Debt. It was called a ticking time bomb that has to be addressed.

IN CHINA, CONSUMPTION SLOWS

China. The economic slowdown there is real as labor costs rise, Europe and the U.S. economic slowdown reverberate there and Chinese citizens reduce consumption. It’s an issue worth watching.
Brazil. The country is well poised to benefit from the upcoming Olympics and World Cup. One study showed that countries that invest well in facilities can see foreign investments and tourism increases for years after the games. The games are coming at a good time fornBrazil; it had begun to show some signs of slowing.
Canada. The dollar is high, employment is down and cranes can be seen downtown. (An image that the U.S. recession has forced out of many U.S. cities.) Lots of optimism here about the future.
U.S. Elections. The outcome will impact the economy. Policy makers are not expecting critical issues, such as impending budget cuts, to get much attention. But the election will not clear up all the uncertainties because the major issues are not being addressed in the campaign. Still, the feeling was that there will not be a second dip to this Great Recession.
Jim Baker. The former Secretary of State gave a strong luncheon speech. He said nations “need to do whatever it takes” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and called for the U.S. to negotiate a free-trade area of the Americas.
After stops in Madrid, Casablanca, Rabat, London, New York and Toronto, I’m thrilled to be back in Miami and home.
[Photos: James Baker speaks at Forum luncheon, TV shows presidential debate at local bar, Miami from the air.]

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