Great Comeback Cities For Travel

comeback cities - Detroit love
Flickr, Michigan Municipal League

Recently, the former automotive boomtown of Detroit made history by filing for bankruptcy, making it an easy butt of jokes on Twitter and in the news. However, Motown has also been making strides to become America’s great comeback city, with artists and entrepreneurs lured by cheap rents, and innovative projects happening all over town (disclosure: I’m a big fan of the city, and so is the New York TimesFrank Bruni). Detroit has more than a few great things going for it, including architecture, museums and sports, and tourist dollars could go a long way in helping the city recover. Can it become a tourist destination again?

Some of the top tourist destinations in the world were once no-go zones for travelers, suffering from financial crises, war, natural disasters and rampant crime. Here are a few of our favorite comeback cities:Berlin: One of the world’s most resilient cities, Berlin has been through war, occupation and one gigantic divide, and come back to thrive. In the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, East Berlin in particular has become a hipster mecca, due to some of the lowest prices in western Europe for nightlife and a vibrant art and design scene. While not everyone welcomes the gentrification, the German capital is continuing to gain millions of foreign tourists each year.

Buenos Aires: A mix of hyperinflation, government corruption and mounting debt led to riots and an economic crisis in Argentina in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country has stabilized and the peso value has risen, but it’s affordability has made it increasingly attractive to travelers in the last ten years, making it the No. 1 tourism destination in South America. Buenos Aires is opening more boutique hotels each year, ensuring a place every year on lists such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of new hotels.

New Orleans: A longtime favorite for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, along with events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans was profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourism is the biggest source of employment in the city and a major factor to its economy, and the disaster made visitor numbers plummet. Louisiana’s recovery has been slow but steady, and major infrastructure improvements brought on by this year’s “Super Gras” have helped the Big Easy come back.

New York City: Visitors to the Big Apple have topped 50 million, spending billions of dollars in the city annually. While New York has never suffered from lack of tourists, the 1980s crack epidemic and surge in crime gave it an image of being a violent, dirty and dangerous city and visitor numbers dipped. Like Detroit, it also faced possible bankruptcy in 1975 and President Ford was infamously (mis)quoted to tell NYC to “drop dead.” The terrorist attacks in 2001 caused another slowdown in visitors, but it’s now one of the safest, most visited cities in the world.

Tokyo: While Tokyo was not as devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as other parts of Japan, it definitely felt the hurt with a sharp decline in tourism, major damage to national infrastructure, and radiation concerns. Foreign visitors are now exceeding the pre-disaster levels, though seismologists worry that an even bigger earthquake is due to hit Tokyo.

An honorable mention must go to the countries in the former Yugoslavia, especially Croatia and the cities of Belgrade and Sarajevo. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the popularity of the Dalmatian coast as a beach destination, or the battle-scarred Serbian capital as a nightlife hotspot? They aren’t quite seeing the same tourism numbers as the destinations above, but they should be on your travel radar. Istanbul and Beirut are also favorites for their many comebacks and reinventions, though the effects from current events are already being seen in the local tourism industries.

What are your favorite “comeback cities”?

Video: Spinning Gold In Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar


Earlier this year in Istanbul, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a man who spins gold thread at the Grand Bazaar. His noisy workshop is tucked into a courtyard off one of the bazaar’s main “streets,” past a few jewelry kiosks and before a reasonably clean but squat-style toilet. Huge fan belts crisscross the room and antique machines creak and spin spools of thread in metallic and bright colors; the spinner (a former footballer, I later learned) works the room like a conductor. Seeing me and my baby peeking in, he ushered us in to have a closer look and took our photo looking around in awe. I had no need for thread (gold or otherwise) and had a slight fear one of us could lose an eye if we hung around the Ottoman-esque machines too long, but it was a treat to find. Dim light made for poor photos, so I was thrilled to find this video of the machine in action on guidebook extraordinaire Rick Steves’ Facebook page.

After living in Istanbul for more than two years as an expat, it took me a while to appreciate the Grand Bazaar as more than a horrible tourist trap. The key to finding the magic in the Grand Bazaar is discovering the nooks and crannies most visitors miss in their hunt for “authentic” souvenirs (likely made in China) and inexpensive fez hats (forget about the irony that the fez was banned here as a means of modernizing and secularizing the country when it became a republic). If you look hard, you’ll still find real artisans, centuries-old family businesses and relics from former empires. If you want to find this guy, leave me a comment and I’ll try to leave a bread trail to him.

Apply Online For A Turkish Visa

Istanbul Bosphorus-Turkish visa
Meg Nesterov

If you’ve visited Istanbul or any of the country of Turkey in the past, you had to stand in line to buy a tourist visa sticker (in cash only, payable in USD or Euro) before getting in a longer line to get through border control and out of the airport. If you forgot to buy the Turkish visa first, you’d have to get out of line and hope that a nice person would let you cut back in once you got the sticker. Now, you can apply online and sail right through to the Immigration line, eliminating one step.

The new e-Visa program is available to citizens of most countries, including the United States, Canada, and European Union. Like the sticker system, it costs $20 and your visa is valid for multiple entries for 90 days (the visa is valid for 180 days but you can only stay up to 90 without applying for residency). You can apply up to 24 hours before departure, though they advise one week. If you forget to apply online, don’t worry, the old visa desk will still be available at the airport.

Apply for your Turkish visa at www.evisa.gov.tr

Airline Flight Mix-Up Sends Couple To The Wrong Continent

Deanster1983, Flickr

Imagine hopping on a plane to go on vacation in Africa, taking a nap and waking up to find yourself in Bangladesh. That’s exactly what happened to one couple after an airline mixed up their flight bookings and flew them 7,000 miles away from their intended destination.

Sandy Valdivieso and her Husband Triet Vo had wanted to fly from LA to the African city of Dakar, Senegal, but mistakenly ended up on a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh. It turns out the mishap all came down to the three-letter airport code airlines routinely use when making bookings or entering information on baggage tags. Instead of entering DKR (for Dakar) in the computer system, the airline representative entered DAC (for Dhaka), sparking the intercontinental travel nightmare.The couple, flying on Turkish Airlines, transited in Istanbul before joining their connecting flight to what they thought would be Dakar. They told the LA Times they didn’t notice anything was wrong, because they went by the flight number on their tickets. And the similarity in city names didn’t help matters. “When the flight attendant said we were heading to Dhaka, we believed that this was how you pronounced ‘Dakar’ with a Turkish accent,” Valdivieso said.

It was only after seeing a route map several hours into the flight showing their plane hovering over the Middle East that the pair realized something was wrong. Upon landing, Turkish Airlines actually tracked down the voice recording of the couple booking their flight to Senegal to confirm the bungle was in fact the airline’s fault, before finally putting the couple on a flight to the right city.

Turkey Offers Moustache Transplant Surgery Vacation Packages

We’ve all heard of medical tourism in which travelers head abroad to get liposuction or a nose job and then recuperate on the beach – but have you ever heard of a mustache transplant vacation?

Cosmetic surgeons in Turkey have been performing hair transplants on balding men for years; however, it seems there’s now growing demand from men with bald upper lips.

Men from Asia, Europe and the Middle East have been flocking to the country in order to give their mediocre moustaches a helping hand and tourism agencies have taken notice. Many local companies have begun offering “transplant packages” in which tourists can get their surgery done before chilling out at a Mediterranean Resort or hitting the capital’s shopping malls.Turkey has quickly been making a name for itself in the health care tourism industry. Last year alone, the country earned $1 billion from travelers visiting to have surgical procedures done. Of course, most of that revenue likely comes from procedures like plastic surgery, but the facial hair transplants are certainly adding up, with one doctor in Istanbul claiming he performs around 60 mustache transplants a month.

Interestingly, there’s little interest from Turks in getting the procedure done. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of Turkish men sporting moustaches has fallen radically in the past two decades – not that they have any trouble growing facial fuzz. “Personally, I’d be suspicious of a Turk who couldn’t grow a mustache,” a salesman from Istanbul told the newspaper. “But if foreigners need to come anywhere for the operation, it should be here. The Turkish mustache is still the envy of the world.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user hapal]