Posts Tagged With: World Karaoke Tour

Country no. 40 on my World Karaoke Tour: a valentine to the Bahamas

Supreme CourtIn November 2015, after two failed attempts in the previous 22 years, I finally succeeded in adding Italy to my World Karaoke Tour when I sang in the Eternal City of Rome. At that point, the tally of countries in which I’d karaoked had just climbed to 39. Jetting off to the Bahamas a few months later, I sought to increase the country count to 40. Spoiler alert: that goal was realized. And I did it in a manner nearly unprecedented in my karaoke travels.

Ordinarily, karaoke is an evening activity. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for the karaoke festivities at a particular bar or restaurant to get underway at 10:00 pm or even later. But this past February, in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, I found a venue that allows patrons to sing all day long — not just after the sun has gone down. And on Valentine’s Day afternoon, I sang there right after lunch! Before we get to the details of this latest international karaoke appearance, I’ll provide some background on the destination where it happened.

A little bit about Nassau and vicinity

Geographical overview

Often regarded erroneously as part of the Caribbean, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is actually located in the western Atlantic Ocean rather than the Caribbean Sea. It does belong to the West Indies, a grouping that essentially consists of all of the island nations and overseas territories that lie between the United States and South America. Nassau is situated on the northern coast of New Providence, the most populous (but only the 13th largest by area) of the more than 700 islands that comprise the country. (A note for my fellow geography geeks: the collection of islands that makes up the nation of the Bahamas is part of the Bahama Archipelago, which includes not only the country of that name but also the British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos. The Bahama Archipelago is also known as the Lucayan Archipelago.) Continue reading

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Performing in the Palmetto State: my World Karaoke Tour hits Charleston

Me on the grounds of the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, about ten miles outside of CharlestonCharleston, South Carolina has witnessed nearly 350 years of history since it was first settled by the English as “Charles Town,” named in honour of King Charles II, in 1670. Colourful and centuries-old homes line the streets of this harbourside town — a city that was already over 100 years old when a collection of 13 colonies to which South Carolina belonged declared their independence from Great Britain. Later in its storied past, as the United States of America was developing into a powerhouse on the world scene, Charleston would play a key role in the Civil War that threatened to disunite those states; indeed, that bloody conflict was ignited when the rebels who called themselves the Confederacy seized Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbour in 1861. A quarter-century later, subsequent to its state’s reabsorption into the Union, Charleston was rocked by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever to strike the eastern U.S.

Today, despite some unfortunate events in its past, Charleston is a physically stunning city that’s increasingly emerging as a sought-after tourist destination. During the long New Year’s weekend that straddled December 2015 and January 2016, I became one of those tourists. 🙂 Charleston made an ideal focus for my first-ever journey to the State of South Carolina — partly because its walkable historic district was perfect for a New Yorker like me who doesn’t drive. 🙂 More importantly, by virtue of my singing within South Carolina’s borders on that trip, the Palmetto State became the latest U.S. state in which I’ve made a karaoke appearance! Continue reading

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Ten things I’m looking forward to in 2016 (and a couple more that I’m hoping for)

42762094_sI think it’s fair to say that any year when you undergo heart surgery is a rough one. By that standard, 2015 was challenging for me. Not that the year was without its magical moments; seeing Angkor Wat and Mount Rushmore in person were certainly bucket list experiences, and after I recovered from my operation I increased the number of countries on my World Karaoke Tour to 39 by singing in Rome.

On a non-travel-related note, in July I moved to a new apartment — still in Manhattan, but in a much better building, with far superior management to the slumlords who own the apartment that I vacated, and in a nicer neighbourhood. My new residence provides me with more pleasant surroundings — a big plus, since on the vast majority of my days I’m not off globetrotting, but am hanging out in my home base of New York City where I work full-time as a lawyer.

Me at Mount Rushmore in July 2015.

Me at Mount Rushmore in July 2015.

So with my surgery 110 days in the past, 2015 is ending on a high note for me; and as the world prepares to begin using its 2016 calendars, I have heaps of exciting plans for the year ahead. Here are the things that I’m most looking forward to in the upcoming 366 days (remember, ’16 is a leap year!):

1. Charleston, South Carolina for New Year’s

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Charleston, South Carolina; it’ll be my first-ever visit to this city in the southern U.S. that I’ve long sought to experience. In 2014, readers of Conde Naste Traveler magazine voted Charleston the no. 1 city in the U.S. to visit, and the no. 2 city in the world to visit. I look forward to finding out firsthand why Charleston makes such a spectacular impression on its visitors. While in town, I’ll be taking in historical sights as well as reconnecting with some old friends who reside in the area. And Charleston is where I’ll be ringing in the new year. Because this is a karaoke travel blog, I feel obligated to mention one more aspect of what’s in store for my sojourn in Charleston: either in the last days of 2015 or the very beginning of 2016, South Carolina will become the 21st U.S. state in which I’ve sung karaoke! (Technically, my tally will then stand at 20 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, which lacks statehood status. But I’m trying to keep things simple here. 🙂 )

Stock photo of some historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina.

Stock photo of some historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina — the city in which I’m going to start 2016!

Continue reading

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Country no. 39 on my World Karaoke Tour: living la dolce vita in Rome

TreviIt seems like I travel to Rome every 11 years. My initial excursion to the Eternal City came in 1993. My second jaunt to Italy’s capital happened in 2004. And in November 2015, during the long weekend surrounding the American Thanksgiving, I descended upon Rome for the third time.

Due to its rich history and its abundance of artistic treasures, Rome is one of my favourite cities in the world. But this time I was jetting there on a mission unrelated to its cultural heritage. Even though I’d already been to Italy twice — including stops in Rome both times — I hadn’t yet sung karaoke within its national borders. That made Italy one of the few countries I’d visited without adding it to my World Karaoke Tour. In returning once more to Rome, I intended to change that. So while I was excited to again gaze upon such beloved sights as the Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I was even more stoked about the opportunity to achieve my long-sought goal of singing in such a storied location.

Just to be able to make it to Rome on this latest occasion was, for me, what U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden would call a BFD. Continue reading

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Viva Las Vegas: stunning views, a quest for a motorcycle, and karaoke during my eighth visit to Sin City

Las Vegas selfieEarlier this month, I made my eighth annual visit to Las Vegas. For the fifth year in a row, my trip to Sin City was in conjunction with the annual Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA). At TCONA, I had my usual awesome time convening with some of the smartest and most knowledgeable people in the United States (and even a few from other countries like Canada and Norway). It was enjoyable to reconnect with some really cool and interesting people who share my passion for learning as much as I can about every subject in the world, and whom I’m honoured to call my friends. Moreover, it was equally rewarding to make new friends who meet that description. As well, competing against a self-selected group of elite trivia players, in the diverse array of individual and team contests that TCONA offers, pushes me to improve myself and perform as well as I can.

As I do every year, I also managed to slip away from TCONA to experience an attraction in Las Vegas outside of the Tropicana Hotel where the event is traditionally held. Of course, it also goes without saying that my latest long weekend in Vegas included karaoke. 🙂 Finally, being that I was in a town where gambling has been known to take place, I also managed to squeeze in a little bit of that pastime — and came across a new twist on the blackjack tables that I tend to hit.

The view from Paris: très jolie

The Strip is renowned for its themed hotels, including several with sections that mimic world landmarks.  For example, if you roam the grounds of the New York, New York hotel, you’ll find replicas of iconic Big Apple structures ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge to the Chrysler Building. At the Venetian, you can take a gondola ride among doppelgängers of some of Venice’s most legendary sights, such as the campanile (bell tower), the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). And then there’s the destination that was the subject of my August 2015 non-TCONA excursion in Las Vegas: the Paris Hotel, and one portion of it in particular.

While the Paris boasts reproductions of the venerable Arc de Triomphe and of several other Parisian edifices of note, the hotel’s centerpiece — and a key component of the skyline of the Las Vegas Strip — is a one-half scale duplicate of the most celebrated symbol of the City of Lights: the Eiffel Tower.

The view from the top: it’s not the Champs-Élysées, but it’s pretty darned nice

The Eiffel looms over the Paris Hotel, as seen from behind the fountains of the Bellagio across the street. This photo was taken during my very first visit to Las Vegas, in November 2008.

The replica of the Eiffel Tower looms over the Paris Hotel, as seen from behind the fountains of the Bellagio across the street. This photo was taken during my very first visit to Las Vegas, in November 2008.

Las Vegas’s version of la tour Eiffel features an observation deck 460 feet above ground level. (By way of comparison, the highest observation level in the actual Eiffel Tower in the city of Paris is 906 feet above the ground.) Continue reading

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Fast times in Rapid City, South Dakota

Prez ReaganI’ve previously recounted my highly rewarding visit to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial in the U.S. state of South Dakota. This post is about the town where I stayed during my long weekend in South Dakota: Rapid City. The second largest city in the state, Rapid City has a population of about 73,000. (Sioux Falls, with some 165,000 inhabitants as of 2013, ranks as the most populous South Dakotan city.) Rapid City made an ideal base of operations for my visit to the monuments, as Rushmore is only about a half hour’s drive from its downtown. In addition Rapid City proved an enjoyable place to spend time in its own right.

Hanging with the Prezzes in Rapid City’s downtown

City of Presidents: the basic concept

Part of the reason that Rapid City appealed to me is that it boasts a compact, walkable downtown. The centerpiece of that downtown is a series of life-sized bronze statues of all 42 former Presidents of the United States, in various poses, placed on street corners over a 10 square block area. (They were installed between 2000 and 2010.) The project is called the “City of Presidents.” At an information center on Main Street, you can pick up a free map that shows where each Presidential statue can be found, enabling you to take a self-guided walking tour of the City of Presidents. (This is helpful because the Presidents aren’t arranged in the order in which they served.)

Here are a couple of examples of the statues of the POTUSes:

The statue of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, in downtown Rapid City.

The statue of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, in downtown Rapid City.

The statue of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, in downtown Rapid City.

The statue of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, in downtown Rapid City.

You may have noticed that I mentioned that only former occupants of the Presidency have been depicted in the City of Presidents. There’s not yet a statue of current President Barack Obama. Under the long-standing policy of the nonprofit foundation that oversees the City of Presidents, a Presidential statue cannot be erected while the subject is still in office, but must await his return to civilian life. (As explained to me by a co-founder of the foundation, the rationale behind this policy is twofold: First, this waiting period allows for the design of the statue to be informed by a fuller picture of who the President was. Second, it’s hoped that once the subject has left the White House, public passions regarding his presidency will have subsided, thus reducing the risk of vandalism against the sculpture.) The same policy was applied to Bill Clinton (who was the sitting President when the project began in 2000) and George W. Bush. So Obama will get his statue eventually — just not while his address is still 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 🙂

My selfie project: a plan gone slightly awry

As mentioned, the City of Presidents covers a modest portion of Rapid City’s downtown. Thus, you can make your way through all of the statues within a relatively short timespan. Combined with the fact that I was travelling for the first time with my new selfie stick, this gave me an idea. I conceived a goal to take selfies with each of the 42 Presidential statues! It was an inspired plan. And it worked very well. Except for one thing. Continue reading

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When real life intervenes: my heart-stopping medical journey

8001817_lI was supposed to be in China today. Since last summer, I’d been planning a trip to China and Taiwan (which was probably also going to include Mongolia), for which I was going to depart this past Saturday. By now I probably would have already walked along the Great Wall, and today I was to fly to Xi’an to see the famed terra cotta warriors. But I’m not in China now; I canceled that trip. Instead of that geographical journey, I’ve embarked on a medical journey. This is the story of an unanticipated medical diagnosis that I received this spring; the life-saving surgery that I’ll need in light of that diagnosis; and how I’m adjusting to what lies ahead.

Last month, my world was turned upside down. For the first 45-plus years of my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have never required an overnight hospital stay — let alone a surgical procedure performed in an operating room. I’ve never been under general anesthesia. Never have I even been hooked up to an intravenous tube. Part of the reason that I’ve been able to travel so frequently during the past few years is that I’ve enjoyed robust health.

But a little more than one month ago, on a Friday afternoon in a cardiologist’s office here in my home city of New York, everything changed. On that Black Friday, I learned that I need to undergo open heart surgery.

What necessitates my surgery is a leaky mitral valve, which can develop from mitral valve prolapse (MVP). The mitral valve, so named because it resembles a mitre (a hat worn by bishops), connects the heart’s left atrium to its left ventricle; MVP occurs when that valve doesn’t close properly. MVP is actually relatively common, and according to the Mayo Clinic, “In most people, mitral valve prolapse isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t require treatment or changes in lifestyle.”

My form of MVP, however, is less benign. Continue reading

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Riding in a karaoke-equipped car is Uber-cool

shutterstock_35330281This past weekend, I Amtrakked to Washington, DC to audition for “Jeopardy!” (The show periodically holds auditions in various cities around the U.S.) That tryout, held on a Saturday afternoon, was thoroughly fun and stimulating. Now I wait to see if the producers choose me to become a contestant on America’s favourite quiz show; if they do, I could receive “The Call” at any time within the next 18 months. That’s the duration for which I’ll remain in what the producers call the “contestant pool.” I’ve qualified for the “Jeopardy!” contestant pool several times previously; I’m hoping that this time I’ll finally break through!

During the next year and a half, while I’ll continue to read voraciously to maintain my knowledge base (in the event that I do get summoned to compete on the quiz show where you have to answer in the form of a question), I’ll also keep on pursuing my other passions — including, of course, karaoke. Along those lines, auditioning for a game show wasn’t the only amazing and fulfilling activity that my visit to D.C. featured. I also went for a ride with the “karaoke cabbie,” Joel Laguidao, and sang in his vehicle. Continue reading

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Country no. 38 on my World Karaoke Tour: I was a Seoul man in South Korea

IMG_20150109_174838At the tail end of my 2 1/2 week excursion to East Asia, I ended up spending two nights in the South Korean capital of Seoul before catching my Korean Air flight back to New York. Earlier in the trip, Thailand and Singapore had already become the latest additions to my World Karaoke Tour; and while my intervening time in Cambodia had been disappointingly bereft of karaoke, I hoped that in Seoul I could finally increase the count of countries in which I’ve sung to 38.

Despite Seoul’s sprawling size (it’s a city of some 10 million people), I had difficulty finding a venue that met my requirement of allowing me to sing in public before an audience, as opposed to to the “private room” style of karaoke that’s so prevalent in that part of the world. (Private-room karaoke in South Korea is called noraebang, and is an insanely popular form of entertainment there.)

Happily, I did find one Western-style establishment that provides the opportunity to sing in public on a stage; and one is all that I needed. 🙂 Continue reading

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Cambodia: spiders and snakes but no karaoke for me in Siem Reap

anchored at AngkorAfter adding Thailand and Singapore to my World Karaoke Tour, I aimed to make Cambodia the 38th country in which I’ve done karaoke. What had motivated me to go to Cambodia — and specifically, to the city of Siem Reap — was the chance to see a bucket list attraction, the Angkor Wat Temple. Things didn’t quite go according to plan. By the time I left Siem Reap, I had failed to sing karaoke; and although I made it to Angkor Wat, that temple has not been crossed off my bucket list, for reasons that I’ll explain.

No singing in Siem Reap

The main nightlife thoroughfare in downtown Siem Reap is Pub Street. As its name implies, that avenue is lined with pubs, as well as restaurants. The area also abounds with vendors hawking street food. And one end of Pub Street intersects with the night market, a strip of stores that offer a wide variety of souvenirs.

Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Perhaps the most unusual street food peddlers (compared to what I’d encountered in prior travels) operated a cart whose culinary offerings included tarantulas and fried snakes. Continue reading

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Country no. 37 on my World Karaoke Tour: slinging songs in Singapore

singapore slingThe New Year’s Eve just past was my worst NYE ever; but I had a pretty good New Year’s night on January 1.

Singapore presents a spectacular fireworks show over Marina Bay on New Year’s Eve. But due to the medical condition that I discuss here, I wasn’t up for jostling among the throngs of people that typically amass at such pyrotechnics displays, or for then facing a potentially lengthy and arduous journey back to my hotel (like the time the time on New Year’s Eve in Lisbon when I waited over three hours in the taxi queue for transportation back to my hotel after watching that city’s ring-in-the-new-year fireworks over the Tagus River). Nor did I wish to attend an expensive party from which I could view the fireworks (or which required attire that I hadn’t brought with me from New York). So I decided that I would commemorate the arrival of 2015 in Singapore with a night of karaoke! But my plans were, as they say, overtaken by events. Continue reading

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Country no. 36 on my World Karaoke Tour: one night in Bangkok

10499337_746925358710124_2554592821382471102_oFor my Thai karaoke debut in Bangkok, the obvious choice for my song selection was “One Night in Bangkok,” Murray Head’s worldwide top-five hit from the Broadway musical, Chess. Prior to my foray to Southeast Asia, I spent weeks practicing the song. There was only one problem: the karaoke bar in Bangkok turned out not to have that song available. Yes, the karaoke bar in Bangkok. As I’ll cover in future installments on my recently concluded vacation, the vast majority of karaoke establishments in East Asia offer singing opportunities solely in the form of “karaoke box,” a style that features private rooms that customers rent with their friends or family members. For an exorbitant hourly rate, the patrons in the private chamber sing to each other during their allotted time. (A number of venues in New York City also offer private rooms for karaoke.) But as you know, karaoke for me is all about the performance, and I insist on singing in public in front of an audience of strangers. Karaoke box is not for me. Luckily, the amazing front desk staff at my Bangkok hotel, the Grand Eastin, located for me a restaurant called Sabaijai Kebtawan that specializes in seafood, and — more importantly — where I was able to perform on a stage in my accustomed manner on a Sunday night. With those plans set, I had every expectation that the Land of Smiles (as Bangkok is commonly referred to) would live up to its sobriquet. But then my smile turned upside down. Continue reading

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Country no. 35 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing in the Dominican Republic’s oldest karaoke bar

dominican_flagFrom swashbuckling pirates to beaches gleaming with white sand, the Caribbean is replete with both dramatic history and natural beauty. Yet until this year, my world travels had never taken me anywhere in that 1 million square mile region. For shame! Finally, during Memorial Day weekend in 2014, I made my long-overdue first foray to a Caribbean destination: Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. And it was there that the country often abbreviated to “DR” became the most recent addition to my World Karaoke Tour.

Getting to the DR proved a more arduous journey than expected for a trip that only involved a four-hour flight. My departure out of JFK International Airport on Friday night, May 23 was delayed — first due to thunderstorms passing through the New York City area, and then due to the need to wait for the pilots of my aircraft to arrive at the airport. You see, due to the initial weather-related delay, the crew that had originally been assigned to my flight would have exceeded the FAA’s permissible limit of working hours for one day if they had gone ahead and piloted the plane. So my fellow passengers and I from JetBlue Flight 810 had to wait for a new captain and first officer to make their way to JFK. As a result, my flight, originally scheduled to depart at 9:00 pm, didn’t end up pushing back from the gate until close to midnight. We landed in Santo Domingo at about 4:00 a.m., and I finally got checked in to my hotel at about 5:30 a.m.

Of course, the important thing was that now I had arrived; and the next night I would be able to do some karaoke!

Karaoke: chanting in Kantabar

The venue for my Dominican singing debut was a tavern called Kantabar. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steven (who owns it) and Anais (who manages it), Kantabar was the very first karaoke venue in the Dominican Republic. It’s been in operation for some 20 years now. Continue reading

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Country no. 33 on my World Karaoke Tour: sinking my teeth into India

hbomb in delhiTwo days before I flew to India, I had a wisdom tooth removed in New York City. That emergency dental procedure was obviously unanticipated during the time, months earlier, when I was making the travel arrangements for my 2 1/2 week trip to India and Sri Lanka. When I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in the Indian capital of New Delhi, I was still suffering intermittent mouth pain (and the soreness would continue to crop up periodically for the rest of the trip). Because I was recovering from oral surgery, and because there are certain precautions that any traveller to India is advised to take, I was carrying a small pharmacy around in my daypack: painkillers; an antibiotic to protect against the risk of infection; anti-malaria pills that my travel doctor had prescribed for me; and Cipro, another antibiotic that I would take if I were to contract the intestinal ailment that’s affectionately known as “Delhi Belly.” (Spoiler alert: I did indeed succumb to Delhi Belly before the trip was over.) But the presence of an open wound in my mouth didn’t prevent me from singing karaoke at my earliest opportunity after landing in a new country! Additionally, one of my trademarks when travelling is to seek out quirky museums; and I found a suitably offbeat one in Delhi.

(A note for my fellow geography geeks: Before I knew any better, I used the terms “New Delhi” and “Delhi” interchangeably. That usage was in error. New Delhi is actually a section of the much larger megalopolis of Delhi. New Delhi’s population is a mere 300,000, give or take, while the complete expanse of Delhi (which is also known as the National Capital Territory of India) harbors nearly 18 million residents at last count. However, New Delhi alone is the capital of the nation and contains all of the governmental institutions. Both the karaoke bar and the museum that are discussed below are located in New Delhi.)

Karaoke: Bringing the sounds of Billy Joel to India

My Indian karaoke debut took place at a joint called Harry’s Karaoke Lounge Bar. Harry’s is on an upper level of a sprawling shopping mall, and while the rest of the mall was deserted on a Sunday night, Harry’s was hopping. Continue reading

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You can go home again: Revisiting my early childhood in Cleveland

10356504_mThe distance between New York City and Cleveland, Ohio is a mere 405 miles, as the crow flies. But when I journeyed between those two cities last month, I traversed more than the space between them on the map. I also went back in time.

In July 1973, when I was three years old, my family moved from Champaign, Illinois to University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. There we remained for approximately two and one-half years. In January 1976, about two months shy of my sixth birthday, we relocated to New Jersey. I would grow up in the New Jersey town of West Orange (graduating from West Orange High School), and would attend university and law school in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, respectively. Then I would settle in New York City, where I’ve resided ever since. For over 38 and one-half years after my family left Cleveland, I didn’t return there.

On a weekend in August 2014, I finally made it back to “the Cleve.” Before that weekend was out, not only would I have a fun time exploring the city; but I would make it to my childhood home in University Heights! Needless to say, karaoke would be involved in the festivities as well. 🙂 Continue reading

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