Gadling picks the world’s best “second cities”

We like winners. Whether it’s the winning army of a war or the world’s fastest 100 meter runner, we lavish attention and praise on the victors and relegate the losers to the dustbin of history. The same is true of travel – the most important travel cities like New York, London, Sydney and Tokyo are favored by visitors while lesser-known destinations are skipped, scratched from the itinerary or just plain ignored.

The destinations we visit win our attention for good reason. They’re typically the biggest cities – meaning they have the best restaurants, biggest museums and largest inventory of hotels. Yet when we travel to only the “most popular” or “biggest,” we ignore a fundamental truth of travel. What we know about a place has as much to do with what we’re told as it does with what we actually find once there.

With that in mind, Gadling is bringing you a compilation of our favorite “second cities” – large urban areas that are among the biggest in their country but frequently overshadowed by more famous capitals. The following picks boast many of the same amenities that make their bigger rivals so famous – top notch cultural institutions, unique local charm, great cuisine and nightlife. How many have you visited? Take a look below:

  • Second City #1 – Osaka, Japan – travelers love to talk about Tokyo, but focusing exclusively on Tokyo does serious injustice to the city of Osaka. What Osaka lacks in population, it more than makes up for in its citizens’ lust for life and sheer zaniness. Along the streets of Osaka’s Dotonbori district you’ll find a raucous party of eating and drinking that is virtually unmatched anywhere on earth. In addition to the city’s famous Takoyaki octopus balls and grilled snow crab, Osaka also boasts cultural attractions like Osaka Castle and the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum.

  • Second City #2 – Gothenburg, Sweden – Stockholm is unquestionably Sweden’s capital and its largest city. But not nearly as many have been to Gothenburg, the country’s second largest metropolis and home to Sweden’s largest university. The large population of students means Gothenburg has a surprisingly fertile arts and culture scene, frequently rivaling its larger sibling Stockholm for an unassuming, fun experience – all at a fraction of the price.
  • Second City #3 – Krakow, Poland Krakow has slowly become of one Poland’s greatest tourist attractions in recent years, steadily easing out of the shadow of much larger Warsaw. Unlike Warsaw, which was leveled by bombing during World War II, Krakow retains much of its historical architecture – a unique feature that will have first time visitors in awe.
  • Second City #4 – Melbourne, Australia – neighboring Sydney might boast the Opera House and stunning harbor views, but Australian visitors ignore Melbourne at their peril. The city is packed to the brim with top-notch shopping, hidden laneways and world class events like the Australian Open tennis tournament.
  • Second City #5 – Wellington, New Zealand – Auckland might appear to dominate New Zealand’s economic and cultural agenda, but in truth it’s modest-sized Wellington that’s really calling the shots. In addition to being New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington has a world-class museum at Te Papa, killer food and what might be the best cocktails this side of the Pacific.
  • Second City #6 – Montreal, Canada – any visitor that’s been to the capital of Canada’s Quebec province can tell you: Montreal will give Toronto a run for its money any day of the week. In addition to hosting two fantastic music festivals each summer and bohemian nightlife, Montreal is also full of plenty of French colonial architecture and charm.
  • Second City #7 – Chicago, USA – a list of “second cities” would not be complete without Chicago, arguably the birthplace of the term and perennial competitor to bigger American cities like New York and Los Angeles. Make no mistake about it though: Chicago might be called the second city, but it has first-city amenities, including amazing museums, some of the best food in the U.S. and plenty of friendly residents.
  • Second City #8 – Salvador, Brazil – picturesque Rio de Janeiro and glitzy Sao Paulo may get all the attention in Brazil, but it’s Salvador that’s really stealing the show. The city’s laid-back citizens, fantastic beaches and historic colonial architecture make it strong competitor for best place to visit in Brazil. Plus, if you want to go to Carnival, Salvador hosts some of the country’s most authentic celebrations.
  • Second City #9 – Galway, Ireland – true, rowdy Dublin has the Guinness Factory and Book of Kells. But don’t forget about Galway, a gem of a town along Ireland’s wild and windy West Coast. Galway’s position as home to many of the country’s university students, rugged natural beauty and frequent festivals make it strong contender for Ireland’s best-kept secret.
  • Second City #10 – Barcelona, Spain – if you’re among the many travelers already raving about Barcelona’s many charms, this pick comes as no surprise. Madrid might be the cultural and political head of Spain, but it is freewheeling Barcelona that is its heart. Between the picturesque city setting nestled between craggy foothills and the Mediterranean Sea, top-notch nightlife and shopping, warm climate or the burgeoning arts scene, there’s a lot to love in Barcelona.

Did we mention your favorite second city? Think we missed a hidden gem? Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think.

Apparently you can’t strip in airports

You’re late for a flight. Your clothes are wet and filthy. You have a change of clothes with you in the airport. What do you do? If you said, “find the closest restroom and put on your fresh duds,” then you are well on your way to staying out of jail in Salvador, Brazil.

It seems that two German tourists decided to just strip down and change their clothes in the middle of the Salvador airport. The two travelers said that they thought it “was normal” to change clothes like that in Brazil. Because it’s always Carnaval in Brazil, even at the airports.

Surely they must have had a good reason for attempting to get out of their clothes so urgently. Well, “one of them got wet during a boat trip and the other felt sick and vomited during the same trip earlier in the day.” Wait. He didn’t think to change his clothes immediately after vomiting? Did he spend the rest of the day in the vomit-covered shirt and only think to change when he got to the airport? How chunky was the vomit?

They have been charged with obscenity and could face up to a year in prison, where stripping down will have even worse repercussions.

No word yet on whether they continued to wear their German uniform of wool socks with sandals.

[Via Sydney Morning Herald]

Airlines Touting Brazil as New Hotspot

South America’s destinations are hard to travel to. For people with samba fever outside of a few major hub cities (like Miami), a trip to Brazil means at least one connecting flight in the US. Anyone who plans to spend time outside of the major cities of Sao Paulo or Rio will have to catch another flight once they arrive in the metropolises. These extra flights can add up.

Soon, it will be easier (and cheaper) to get to Brazil’s cities from the US. And just in time for the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. American Airlines is offering flights to the northeastern city of Salvador beginning in November. AA is also planning on providing service to the nearby coastal town of Recife. Delta is taking it a step further, offering flights to the Amazonian city of Manaus from Atlanta beginning at the end of the year. American is offering introductory rates for people traveling from major east coast cities like Boston and New York. Prices average $425 one-way if purchased before December 2nd.

10 tips for smarter flying

Amazing Race Season 13: Excitement begins and new destinations

As much as I enjoyed watching I Survived a Japanese Game Show, there is no better way to vicariously travel than watching the Amazing Race when it comes to reality TV. It’s been months since T.J. and Rachel, our favorite hippie couple won the million in Season 12.

In last night’s episode, the first of the season, a different cast of characters headed off from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a pell mell dash for LAX airport and the first leg of their journey to a fortune. And if not a fortune, a heck of an adventure. The teams ranged from a separated middle-aged couple looking to see if they can salvage their marriage, to an older hippie bee-keeping older couple wanting to love the world, to divorcee women friends who think their bad marriages have honed them for the challenges of travel.

True to real life, the airport proved to be one of the biggest hurdles as some of the teams tried to find the right ticket counters and delt with overbooked flights as a result of standing in the wrong line.

First destination: Salvador, Brazil

Recap and impressions and cultural sites:

In the midst of gearing up for completion, there were friendly hellos and glad to meet yous when there wasn’t much else to do but wait for a plane to board.

Although Salvador, the first colonial capital of Brazil, is known as being a fun and easy going place, our eleven new couple friends didn’t have much time for frolic. From the minute they scrambled out of their American Airlines and United Airlines flights after a plane change in Rio de Janeiro came the unnerving task of making it around a bustling city they didn’t know. That was after the stress of delayed and over-booked flights.

Salvador looked like a stroll-worthy city with it’s gorgeous architecture and narrow streets that meander through markets. Instead of strolling through the bounty, the teams first headed to a O Rei Do Pernil sandwich shop where they learned they were to push a loaded vendor’s cart to Praca Da Se, a popular square where they would find the next clue.

The carts were piled with snack food candy that dropped off with the tiniest bump on the cobblestone. That was no wonder. From what I could tell, the carts weren’t much bigger than a balance beam, probably so that they could be maneuvered through crowds.

The candy with the most camera time was Blong (the pink and blue boxes in the picture). I have no idea what it tastes like, but I’m curious. If I’m ever in Brazil, I’m trying some.

Although candies fell off the cart like rain at times, the couples kept their cool for the most part–everyone’s still in that “I’m a good little traveler mode.”

Traffic didn’t present too much trouble as heavy as it was, and no one went the wrong way despite language barriers with the taxi drivers once the cabs were found. At least, I didn’t pick up on unbearable tension.

Once the teams delivered their carts, they were off to a military base to spend the night in the jungle with mosquito nets protecting them from attack. I assume there were mosquitoes, but no one talked about them. The jungle stay did point out that this part of Brazil is lush with rain forest.

On the second day out, the first stop was Pelourinho, the historic center that is the original town. Dating back to the mid 1500s or so, it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first details of the day’s task was found at a gorgeous church.

There were two tasks to choose from: “Hard Way Up” or “Soft Way Down.” Everyone but Andrew and Dan chose Soft Way Down.

Soft Way Down meant scaling a rope webbing down the 236 feet of Elevador Lacerda, a building with an elevator that connects the upper and lower sections of Salvador.

The view from the top was stunning, but like one of the blonds said, “I cant’ even enjoy the view because I’m about to pee in my pants.” Once the height factor was dealt with, scaling down wasn’t too difficult. They were strapped into a safety harness so no one would go splat and ruin the show.

The Hard Way Up involved climbing a serious off weathered stone stairs leading to the cathedral Escadaria do Passo on hands and knees. Devotees do this, we were told. Although not exactly fun, the task wasn’t particularly difficult except for the samba drummer who stood at the top playing loudly the whole time. Once at the top, Mark & Bill were asked the question, “How many stairs?” Since they weren’t into stair counting the first time up, back they went to do it again. Number of stairs? 53

From the Elevador Lacerda, the next stop was the Pit Stop at Forte Sao Marcelo, a floating battlement off the shore. accessible by boat. From the elevator, it’s quicker to walk then take a taxi as brother/sister team Nick and Starr found out. They arrived at the Pit Stop first due to their quick thinking.

For their first place standing, they won a five-day trip to Belize.

Eliminated: Anita and Arthur, the hippie bee keepers/blueberry farmers came slightly loping in last, but seemed okay with the elimination. How many people can say they scaled down a 236-feet building in Brazil?

The moral is, if you don’t want to come in last, you have to hustle. Anita and Arthur’s speed never revved up. The heat held them back, they said. Being from Oregon proved to be a liability for this gentle team.

Their words of travel wisdom: You can be assertive, but treat people well.

Travel Tips pointed out in 1st episode:

  • When driving in Los Angeles, use the commuter lane on the left. It will save you loads of time.
  • If you ever have to wind a vendors cart, or any kind of cart and things keep spilling off, wrap your jacked around the loot. It works wonders as Mark and Bill discovered.
  • When in Portugal, it helps to know some Portuguese like Sarah does and helped put Terence and her in the front of the pack.
  • Ask for help from local people. One woman helped one of the teams push their candy cart and because Starr and Nick asked
  • Spend time in Pelourinho if you’re in Salvador. An important detail, not mentioned on the show, this area was central to the slave trade. For its counterpart in Senegal, head to Goree Island.

Who I am rooting for: It’s too soon to tell. No one popped out as a total idiot, or root-for worthy yet. I did like that Andrew and Dan were the only two to climb the stairs. I’d have felt bad if the drummers were all set to play and no one showed up.

Why to stay tuned: Which teams lose their cool first? Plus, new destinations where the show has not been filmed in the past are on the horizon. The teams also go to India, one of my favorite countries.

((Photos from Amazing Race Web site.)