Category: Travels

Which are the best walking cities?

I will nominate London, Paris, and Buenos Aires as leading contenders.  New York is for me too familiar for me to judge objectively and so I exclude it.

Reasonable safety is a prerequisite, and then we have the following dimensions:

1. Chance of seeing a striking yet non-famous piece of architecture.  All three cities are strong here.

2. The right mix of broad boulevards and narrower streets.  Ditto.

3. The chance of spontaneously encountering good bookstores or excellent dark chocolate:  London wins the former, Paris and Buenos Aires win the latter.

4. Cheap, convenient cabs, and places to sit and drink sparkling water: Buenos Aires is #1 on these.

5. Strangers are willing to talk to you: Tough to call, though NYC would win hands down if it were in the running.

6. Strategic and frequent use of historic plaques: London wins; yesterday I saw “George Canning lived here” and “Clive of India lived here,” among others.

B.A. loses points for imperfect safety and also capital confiscation, though it has by far the warmest weather of the trio.  Overall I am inclined to pick London as first, perhaps because I prefer English to French for bookstores.  Paris offers fewer surprises, even if it has a higher average level of beauty.  Paris is also worse for spontaneous cheap dining in restaurants, though it has far better food stores for urban picnics.  Berlin is perhaps the best city right now for living, but it is too spread out, and with too many broad boulevards, to be the best walking city.  It is an excellent city to take a cab in.

Walking cities on the rise: Istanbul.  I suspect it’s long been splendid, it’s now reaping the gains of being modern.

Underrated walking cities: Moscow, Mexico City, Toronto, parts of northern England, Los Angeles.

Overrated walking cities: Budapest, Krakow, Munich.

Best city to take the subway through: Tokyo.

If I had to pick a fourth in line: Barcelona.

Gallego travel notes

The ATM gives you a choice of eight languages, including Catalan, Gallego, Valencia, and Euskara.  At first the street signs appear to be in Portuguese, but that is a trick.  Other times the dual Spanish and Gallego phrases on the signs are exactly the same.

Gallego as a province [Galicia] reminds some of Nantes, France, and the surrounding area, or of parts of southern Chile.

If you put together Keynesian economics and public choice theory, you get a very nice and indeed downright spacious airport in Santiago de Compostela.  More infrastructure here will not jump start growth.

Counterintuitively, Santiago avoids the destruction of its authenticity by relying on tourism.  The city has been a major tourist destination since at least the 9th century A.D., so the arrival of tourists — many of them have religious motives — is how the city’s past is preserved.  It is the people who stay at home who are ruining the place.

Vigo, the largest city in Gallego, has lovely sea views, lots of refrigeration facilities in its port, and superb seafood.  It is slow on a Sunday, especially for its size.  Percebes looks like this, and it is a must-try.

“A Coruña is one of only eight pairs of cities in the world that has a near-exact antipodal city.”  That would be Christchurch, New Zealand.  A Coruña is supposed to be the most prosperous city in Gallego, yet it is scary how many abandoned or boarded up buildings are in the heart of downtown.

The city’s Roman lighthouse is still in use, and it is the world’s oldest active lighthouse.

It is very green in Gallego and it rains a lot, though not as much as in Bergen, Norway.

I strongly recommend a trip to Gallego.  There are numerous reasons to go, and few reasons not to go, the only really good one being that you may wish to go somewhere else.

Why has Foreign Aid Been Untied?

The more cynical among us have sometimes thought that rather than recipient welfare the purpose of “foreign” aid is to provide a cover for domestic aid. Foreign aid pork, i.e. using foreign aid to subsidize special interests in the donor country has certainly been common. Historically, most foreign aid has been tied; that is, the recipient was required to spend the money on the donor country’s exports. Relative to cash, tying raises prices and reduces choice and recipient welfare–the deadweight loss of Christmas problem.

US food aid is a classic example. US food aid tends to peak after a glut. It’s cheaper for us to give food away when we have lots and not coincidentally giving food away after a glut helps to keep prices higher, benefiting US farmers. It’s precisely when food is plenty, however, that prices are low and aid is less needed. When food is scarce, prices are high and aid is more needed but then we would rather sell our food than give it away. In addition, we typically require food aid to be transported on US ships which raises costs. Finally, the food we give away is not always best suited to the recipient’s preferences or needs.

For a public choice theorist the fact that foreign aid benefits domestic special interests is not at all surprising. What is surprising is that tied aid is way down. Great Britain banned most tied aid in 2002 and indeed tied aid is down across all of the major OECD donor countries. Food aid and technical assistance are still tied but these aid categories are down and untied grants and loans are up. In 1984-1986, for example, about 60% of aid was tied and today only 10-25% of aid is tied (depending on source).

Why has aid become untied? Could this be a case of improved public policy due to lobbying from the aid industry? It is interesting to note that although tied aid is down in the US, the US continues to tie a lot of aid, considerably more than the Europeans. One explanation may be that the decentralized US political system gives more weight to local domestic interests so tied aid continues to sell here despite opposition from most aid groups.

Special interests are also not the only explanation for tied aid. Tied aid can reduce corruption in the recipient country. If donors have become less worried about corruption, perhaps because governance has improved in the developing world, this could offer a public interest explain for an increase in untied aid.

Overall, I find it puzzling that foreign aid has become untied as the major beneficiaries appear to be poor foreigners with little political power.

Some food notes from Mexico City

My favorite sandwich (ever) is the Hawaiiana, at “Tortas Chapultepec,” turn left out of the front of Hotel Camino Real in Polanco, and it is on the corner at Victor Hugo and Mariano Escobedo.  They usually are open by 9:30 and I suspect they close fairly early.

Pujol does wonderful things with vegetables and is perhaps the best fancy place to try; I recommend the Menu de la Tierra.

They have done away with the food stalls at the Zócalo.  In Mexico City calorie-counting menus are common and gelato is being replaced by frozen yogurt (!).

Tres Marias is a “food village” right off the highway on the way to Cuernavaca.  Look for the place on the southbound side which specializes in green chilaquiles and also chorizo tacos, but in general standards along that strip are remarkably high.

Here is the most important food advice for Mexico.

Overall, Mexico City is becoming a safer city, and compared to four years ago one sees many signs of economic progress.

Where to eat in Naples

1. Friggitoria-Pizzeria Giuliano, Calata Trinia Maggiore 33, open at 7 a.m. or so, one of the best pizzas I’ve had, and for only four euros.

2. Mandara, Via Ponte di Tappia 90-92, doesn’t look like much, more of a deli than restaurant, order at the counter and mimic the choices of others.  Go before the line heads out the door.

3. Il Piccolo Ristoro, Calata Porto di Massa, inside the port, not really on a street, the cabbies seem to know where it is, only a few tables, one of the best seafood meals I’ve had.  Not outrageously expensive.

Recently I had two and a half days in Naples, following a meeting in Rome, and it is one of my favorite cities.  To live in, it combines the worst of Europe and the developing world…to visit, it combines the best of Europe and the developing world.