Friday, May 26, 2017

Beware. You're on Angie's List.

Imagine the following.

You are scrolling through a list of movies on Netflix, pausing to click on descriptions of several before you finally settle on, say, “Saving Private Ryan.” Then you get a call from Netflix wanting to know why you didn’t choose “The Human Centipede” or “2-Headed Shark Attack” whose descriptions you also read.

You are looking for a good book on You read descriptions and reviews of half a dozen before selecting one. Someone from Amazon then calls to find out why you didn’t choose the ones you read about but didn't buy.

You would consider those calls an invasion of privacy, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. And while Netflix and Amazon, as far as I know, aren’t doing anything like that, is.

Angie's List is a heavily promoted website that, until recently, sold memberships (now free thanks to heavy competition) enabling users to read about, contact, hire and leave reviews for businesses and contractors that provide services to homeowners -- roofers, carpenters, plumbers and the like. It claims to have more than three million members. I joined a year or so ago on a friend’s recommendation and have since hired three or four providers including a plumber, electrician and dryer vent cleaner. I left positive reviews for all of them.

Several months ago I visited looking for a company to fabricate and install a bathroom mirror. I read member reviews of several glass companies, called two to discuss my requirements and hired one, which did a great job. I left a positive review for that company, too, and thought nothing more about it until yesterday when I received a call from someone at Angie’s List who said he wanted to know about the glass companies whose profiles I read about but didn’t hire.

Could I tell him why I didn’t I hire them? He rattled off the names of several companies he said I had viewed. I only remembered one of the names but I’m pretty sure I read those reviews because, after all, this guy said I did and he had access to my viewing history.

I told him his call was a massive invasion of my privacy. He apologized for the intrusion. I then sent Angie's List an email telling them I didn’t appreciate getting calls about contractors I had read about but hadn’t even hired. How could I remember who they were and why I didn’t hire them? How could I have possibly been able to say anything good or bad if I didn’t interact with them? How would Angie's List have used that information and of what value would it be? I said I was a blogger and was planning to write about this despicable practice and asked for an explanation, stating clearly that I didn’t want a canned reply.

I heard back within a few hours -- a canned reply, so obviously I’m not the only member who has complained. Here are two excerpts:

"I apologize for any concerns raised by the phone calls. Our primary reason for tracking searches is to get a view of total member usage across our service categories. This helps us determine which categories are more or less heavily trafficked than others, which can in turn help us to improve service to our members… 

"Most of our members appreciate our interest and pro-active approach. However, we certainly understand your concern. I have updated your preferences and removed you from our follow-up emails/calls." 

The first paragraph is bullshit. Angie's List can track searches and determine the categories that are viewed most often without making phone calls to its members. As for the second paragraph, I doubt seriously that most members appreciate receiving phone calls about their online viewing history.

I often receive emails or pop-up ads from e-commerce companies reminding me that goods and services I’ve shopped for but didn't buy are still available or have gone down in price. Annoying to be sure, but it’s only an ad or email, and I don’t have to read it. A phone call from a human who informs me he knows what I'm doing or viewing online is creepy beyond words.

Look, we all know that companies and the government are tracking every move we make on the Internet. I am willing to accept that, it’s part of the convenience of having access to huge amounts of information at my fingertips.  

If I googled “how to build and detonate a dirty bomb” I shouldn’t be surprised to receive a call from Homeland Security or, more likely, to look up and see helicopters circling my house. That type of online surveillance, a technical violation of my privacy, benefits the common good and I, for one, am glad it’s in use. Nor would I feel particularly violated if I had gotten a call from Angie's List about a company it knew I hired through them but had failed to review. 

But to call me about ones I only read about?

Forget Big Brother. Big Sister is watching.

Her name is Angie and she’s off my list for good.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Honoring Bonnie

 April 9, 2001 - April 13, 2017

There's no easy way to say it so let me get it over with. Bonnie, the eldest of our two dachshunds, is dead. She died four days after her sixteenth birthday. Cancer.

Bonnie wasn’t the sweetest dog our family has had over the last 40 years. That's a distinction shared by Clyde, who looked just like her, and our surviving dachshund, Billy Ray, who will be 14 in August. Nor was she the smartest. That would be Sybil, the doxie-corgi mix we got three months after we married. Sybil could have probably done algebra if I been able to teach it to her. With her swayed back and bland brown coat, Bonnie wasn’t beautiful like the three long-haired dachshunds we’ve had, but she did have a marvelously expressive face, especially in her final years when it turned gray. She wasn't sociable, like our two beagles. Bonnie pretty much kept to herself unless she wanted something. She didn’t get excited and dance in circles to express her gratitude like Ocean, the little terrier we found begging on an Aruba beach, whenever he saw his food bowl being filled.

What Bonnie, more than any of the others had, was presence. She didn’t just occupy space. She reigned over it. We jokingly called her the Princess Royal but the fact is, she was the Queen. Bonnie, who got her start in an Arkansas puppy mill and, owing to her physical flaws, had been marked down 50 percent by the Connecticut pet store where we found her, had a sense of entitlement.

Everyone else’s comfort was secondary to Bonnie’s. She considered herself entitled to occupy whatever part of the sofa we wanted to lie on and the front passenger seat of our car on our long drives between Connecticut and Florida. She pushed us off our pillows at night; rested her face on my chest as I read, pawing me to make me put down the book and scratch her neck; nudged Clyde until he gave up his spot in front of the heat or AC vents whenever she decided she was too hot or too cold, and ate not only her own food but Billy Ray’s. She tricked him out of his breakfast almost every morning by pretending to see something at the door and barking. When he ran to the door to see for himself, she would double back and inhale his food.

Those traits in a human would be objectionable but in an 11 lb. wiener dog they were hilarious and endearing. We knew we were in the presence of royalty and that our wishes came second to Bonnie’s.

We miss her terribly but we’ve been through this before. From the day we got her we knew we’d likely outlive her and that our hearts would someday be broken. 

Every time we’ve lost a dog we’ve run out within the month and brought home another. We tell ourselves and our friends we’re getting another dog because the one left behind is sad and lost but that’s not the real reason. We do it because we are.

I spent the four weeks after Bonnie’s death searching online for another dachshund. A female dachshund. An adult female dachshund A smooth-haired adult female dachshund. (I prefer smooth coated weenies, my wife likes the long-haired versions.) A smooth-haired female adult dachshund no older than two because, having just had our hearts ripped out, we want one we can love a good long time.

I scoured and – looking at some as far away as Seattle – but almost all were mixed with something else, usually Chihuahua. In past years that would have been fine but Chihuahuas, supposedly, aren’t good with children, and we have toddler grandsons who visit often so we can’t take that risk. Other dogs were too old, or had physical or medical conditions we're not prepared or willing to take on.

I checked out dachshund rescue organizations from Miami to Boston and Chicago. I visited local animal shelters. I scrolled through hundreds of listings on craigslist and hoobly for a thousand miles in every direction and spent hours visiting breeder web sites to see if any had adult dogs they no longer wanted or needed.

Nothing fit.

I told my wife that maybe we should get a puppy and went to a pet store. (I know pet store dogs come from puppy mills and don’t want to encourage them but Bonnie came from one, gave us 16 wonderful years and I was desperate.) I even took my wife to see a litter I found on craigslist. I assumed we’d come home with one but we left empty-handed.

My wife finally said that maybe, this time, we should wait a while before we got another dog. I reluctantly agreed. But I didn’t know she was looking, too.

Sunday morning she found a dog on a breeder’s website that had just become available, a three-and-a-half year-old male long-haired dachshund. Everything I didn’t want. We called, jumped into the car with Billy Ray and drove 220 miles each way to pay him a visit.

It goes without saying we fell in love with him and he will be joining our family as soon as he is – ouch – neutered. He has been a stud but his Playboy days are over. Billy is a male and we don’t want the two of them to get into pissing matches. Neutering should take care of that. His name is Josh, an awfully nice name for a human much less a dog, but we’re planning to keep it because he already answers to it.

Nothing will bring back my Bonnie to me but Josh is going to help heal the hole in our hearts. He will need training and that’s going to take a lot of time – time I look forward to spending as I get to know him and he gets to know and trust us.

For the first time since Bonnie left us five weeks ago today, I can talk and think about her without getting a lump in my throat or misty-eyed.

Curled up as I know she is on heaven's most comfortable sofa, I have a feeling she approves. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Weekend in Medellin

“So,” my smart-ass friend asked when I mentioned my son and I were planning a weekend trip to Medellin, Colombia, “all the flights to Syria were booked?”

Her reaction was understandable. Medellin (pronounced Med-a-jean), a city of four million, is best known as the home of Pablo Escobar's drug cartel which, from the mid-seventies through the mid-nineties, brought in $60 million per day in cocaine revenue, turning Colombia into a no-go land for travelers and Medellin in particular into one of the world’s most dangerous spots, a city most Americans to this day associate with assassinations, kidnappings, bombings and general anarchy.

So why, out of all the places in the world, did we choose Medellin for a father-son vacation?

1.     Because it’s there. I love South America. I’ve visited Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay but had never made it to Colombia, South America’s second-most populous country. And Stuart, who is collecting continents, had never been to South America.

2.     It’s not your standard tourist destination.  Both of us like to travel to places off the beaten path. (Stuart gets that from me.) We had originally planned a trip to the Russian Far East, where, it turns out, Putin is now assembling troops to scare Kim Jong Un – that’s too adventurous even for our tastes. And once Stuart decided he wanted to take off only a few days from his job, Medellin seemed a more practical if not altogether sensible destination.

3.     Medellin has undergone a miraculous transformation. Medellin has worked hard to overcome its shameful history and is now hailed as one of South America’s most progressive cities. The Wall Street Journal in 2013 even named it the world’s most innovative city. Despite my reassurance that Medellin was safe, my wife, with whom I had watched all 20 episodes of the excellent Netflix series “Narcos” about the Escobar era, was terrified and made me promise to look after our “baby.” (The first night we were there I took a photo of him in his bed and texted her that her 31-year-old baby, who lives in an iffy area of a far more dangerous city, Washington, D.C., was safe and sound in his crib.)

4.     It is ridiculously close. Medellin is a mere two-hour and fifty-minute flight from Miami – about the same as Boston or Dallas. For Stuart it was a six-hour hop from Dulles, including a change of planes in Panama City. It is amazing to think that, less than three hours from the U.S. mainland, there’s a vibrant, beautiful city completely surrounded by the Andes.

5.     The climate. Medellin is known as the City of Eternal Spring, thanks to perfect weather year-round with average highs around 80 and average lows around 60. Because it’s just a few degrees north of the equator, the days are equally predictable. The sun comes up within a few minutes of 6 and goes down twelve hours later. If you’ve ever bought flowers in a supermarket, flower shop or big-box retailer, there’s a good chance they came from the area around Medellin or Bogota, Colombia’s capital, 150 miles to the southwest. Whereas April showers bring May flowers here in the U.S., predictably perfect spring-like weather guarantees blooms year-round in Colombia, which grows seventy percent of the flowers sold in the United States. At the Medellin Airport you’ll see many jumbo cargo jets being loaded with flowers bound for wholesalers throughout North America and Europe. Pilots must love those gigs – the smell must be incredible.

My flight landed around 1 p.m. on Thursday and it was a 45-minute cab ride to the hotel, located in Medellin’s Poblado section, a leafy area of elegant single-family homes, high-rise condos, hotels, upscale shops and restaurants. Our hotel, the Sites 45, featured loft-style rooms, lavish linens that included six pillows ­– soft, medium and firm – on each bed, a bathroom with rain shower, a rooftop pool and breakfast buffet, all for eighty bucks per night.

Needing to exchange my dollars for Colombia pesos, I trudged up a steep hill – Medellin has hills that make San Francisco look like Kansas – to the Centro Comercial Oviedo shopping mall on the Milla de Oro, a “Golden Mile” of office towers, casinos and restaurants, stopping at a McDonald’s to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi to touch base with my son in Panama.

Two hours later, while sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for Stuart to arrive, I thumbed through an oversize picture book, “100 Facts About Medellin” published by the local government to demonstrate the steps it has taken to repair the city’s reputation. I learned that Medellin is one of the few cities in South America with a safe water supply, public libraries even in the poorest neighborhoods, humane societies, and that its new world-class Metro system has created economic opportunities previously denied the poor by linking the outlying barrios that sprawl up the mountainsides where they live with the city center where they are more likely to find jobs.

Once Stuart arrived around 7 p.m., I again climbed the hill – my 65-year-old calves screaming with every step for me to stop – up to the Milla de Oro for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Four Colombian beers, an appetizer, two entrees, a shared dessert and tip came to $30.

Friday morning we were picked up at 9 a.m. for the only activity we had booked in advance, a daylong private tour to a coffee farm near Concordia, a small town high in the Andes. Our driver and guide, Andres, was an hour late – he had to take his Toyota  Land Cruiser to be emission-tested that day – but kept in touch via phone. (Medellin, unlike most South American cities where the pollution is terrible -- I once had trouble seeing a 747 parked next to mine in Sao Paulo because of the crud suspended in the air -- is into sustainability.) After stopping at another hotel to pick up a dour Norwegian couple, we headed out of town on a four-lane highway that, outside Medellin, narrowed to a two-lane road.

I’ve been on some windy, twisty roads in my day including the infamous road to Mosca in Tenerife, a road my skittish wife still can’t talk about without hyper-ventilating, but this one took the cake, as Andres pointed out waterfalls, mountain peaks (including one that resembled a pyramid) and vegetation.

En route to Concordia, a pyramid shaped peak
His nonstop narrative helped take my mind off the fact that we were passing slow-moving vehicles on hairpin curves, that motorcycles were passing us on the right, and that massive trucks were barreling down the middle of the narrow mountainous road toward us, pulling over at the last possible second to avoid hitting us head-on.

Two hours later we arrived at a coffee finca (farm) that Andres explained, had been in the same family for generations.

Greeting us as we drove in were a dozen or so Jack Russell terriers (we saw many in Medellin – they must be the unofficial dog of Colombia) whose only apparent job is to greet guests then fall asleep in the best chairs.
Official welcoming committee

"Pull up a seat and have a cuppa coffee with me"
The manager treated us on the porch of the farmhouse to French-pressed coffee and explained about the growing process. It was fascinating to learn that many dark, so-called “robust” coffees – the ones upscale chain coffee shops tout as richer and more flavorful – are actually made with diseased beans, as are most instant coffees. He explained that locals joke that Nescafe means “no es café” in Spanish.

As high from caffeine as the peaks that surrounded us, we headed further up the mountain to pick beans and marvel at the views.

The view from atop the finca. Those green plants
are coffee trees.
Andres instructed us to break open the ripe red berries we had just picked, explaining that each contains two beans surrounded by a gelatinous substance that surprisingly, has no taste. Nor do the beans, which are tan in color, have any flavor whatsoever.

Only the red berries are ready to pick
Even after the beans have been dried – preferably in the sun or, if that’s not possible because of rain –in ovens, they have no taste, and retain their light color.

Coffee beans don’t begin to taste like coffee until they are roasted which, Andres explained, is a process that is usually done not in Colombia but in the country to which they are exported. Surprisingly, it is the roasting that adds flavor and value to the coffee, and that’s where the big profits come into play. Coffee prices worldwide are flat and are expected to stay that way thanks in part to an overabundance of supply from Vietnam whose coffees, Andres sniffed, aren’t up to Colombian standards.

We visited a sorting room in which the good beans are separated from the diseased ones, then placed in burlap sacks for sale to the local cooperative or, depending on the size of the farm, to a distribution network of which the farmer is a partial owner.

After stopping at the farmhouse for another cup of coffee (and to admire a Jack Russell puppy) we headed into town to visit a collective where local farmers bring their beans for sale.

Stuart holding a 7-week old Jack Russell puppy

Town square, Concordia

Three hours later, after a late lunch, and a harrowing ride back to town – for several kilometers we followed two boys on bicycles who had grabbed onto the back of a water truck that was pulling them up and down mountain roads, which Andres said is nothing unusual in Colombia – we were deposited back at our hotel. Total cost of the 9-hour tour for two including lunch: $170. (For bookings, contact ).

Dinner was at Malevo, an Argentine steak house – empanadas, perfectly cooked steaks with roasted veggies, a dessert, two glasses of wine, two beers and a bottle of agua con gas – for $50 mas or menos. En route to the restaurant we stopped at an “Exito,” a massive Target-like store, to see if we could find the one souvenir we both wanted, “Medellin” t-shirts. No luck. There weren’t even shirts that said “Colombia.”

Other than the trip to Concordia, we had no established itinerary, and had agreed to play it by ear. Medellin isn’t a place one goes for museums, castles and the standard touristy stuff. It’s a place to visit just for the experience.  So, Saturday morning, we took the subway downtown, where we transferred to a cable car that headed, seemingly, straight up to the top of a mountain, passing over a part of Medellin we hadn’t yet seen – a barrio containing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of neat, clean homes built from concrete blocks and wood, many with roofs made of corrugated tin, stacked on top of each other along the side of the steep mountain.

The cable car ride up to Parque Arvi

Barrio homes built into the mountainside

Brightly colored laundry hung from the porches of some of the homes, and had been placed out to dry on the roofs of others.

Laundry day
After a ride of thirty minutes or so we arrived at the Parque Arvi, an ecological nature preserve and archaeological park where pre-Colombian relics – arrowheads, cooking utensils, headpieces, etc. -- dating back thousands of years have been unearthed. We strolled around for a bit, then headed down the mountain.

That afternoon we visited the Plaza Botero in downtown Medellin, named after Fernando Botero whose paintings and sculptures depict people and things that are – there’s no nice way to say it – fat. Hilariously fat. I saw Botero’s paintings in Madrid’s Museo de Prado years ago and became an instant fan. A native of Medellin, Botero graciously donated thirty of his sculptures to the city which has installed them around a plaza that, on this grey Saturday, was jam-packed with vendors hawking everything from empanadas to fried chicken (a Medellin favorite – it’s sold on the streets and in restaurants) to tennis shoes to clothing to jewelry to toys. If it weren’t for the obese statues standing guard around the plaza, it would be easy to imagine you were strolling around the downtown area of any large Latin American city, such as San Juan, Santiago or Mexico City.

A Botero sculpture of a Roman solider
But the one thing we were looking for – t-shirts that said “Medellin” or “Colombia” – weren’t to be found.

That afternoon we visited the Via Primavera, an upscale area of parks, open-air restaurants, bars and shops we had driven through with Andres the day before, for a late lunch, then wandered through the Poblado district, admiring the flowers (like Florida but more abundant and colorful since it never gets as hot in Medellin as it does here). Around 5 p.m. we found ourselves at the Plaza Santa Fe, a massive circular mall that reminds one of a multi-level baseball stadium with no roof. It contained dozens of stores selling virtually anything a tourist or well-to-do resident could want, but no Medellin or Colombia t-shirts.

That night, we headed back to the Via Primavera to a Greek restaurant whose owner, Christos, a man my age with a ponytail and white suit, pulled up a chair at our table.

The Greek Connection
Christos explained he was born in Cyprus, studied engineering in Canada, and moved to LA in the 1980s to open a Greek restaurant where he hung out with celebrities including Judge Reinhold, Tom Cruise and Telly Savalas, whose photographs adorned the whitewashed walls. He then relocated to Dubai where he made a fortune selling outdoor misting fans. Last year, he moved to Medellin, where, he said, he has friends and lives in a five-bedroom, five-bath penthouse he bought for less than $500,000 U.S., and opened a beautifully decorated restaurant over which he presides nightly. Our dinner – cocktails, saganaki followed by pastitsio, and a complementary Greek liqueur – was awesome and $45.

Christos suggested that after our meal we should go to a disco in downtown Medellin run by midgets (or, if you’re one of my PC readers, little people) where, he promised as he showed a video he had taken the night before, we were sure to have a great time.

We said we’d think about it and, in retrospect, should have gone because we were back in our room by 10:30 watching a marathon of “How I Met Your Mother” re-runs in Spanish. Opposite our balcony, on the balcony of a high-rise condo across the street, a well-dressed man was getting a haircut, as if he was about to go out club-hopping (to a club, I assume, populated with normal-size people). Apparently, if one can afford to live in that building one can summon one’s barber whenever one needs a trim, even at 11 on a Saturday night.

Stuart’s mother will be furious when she reads this and will accuse me of not protecting her baby but we had decided that the following morning we would go parasailing. A number of operators in Bello, a Medellin ‘burb located high in the mountains overlooking the city below, offer flights ranging from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I emailed one for reservations. He replied that we didn’t need them but that the earlier we arrived, the quicker we could ride and the longer the ride would last since the air tends to be choppier and thus more conducive to gliding up and over the city before it heats up. I was excited – nervous as all get out, I'm 65 after all, but excited – until I read a Trip Advisor review from a Canadian tourist who wrote she had broken her ankle in three places upon landing and wound up in a hospital for the better part of a week. Having broken both ankles in the last 10 years, I told Stuart I’d take a pass but would make a video of his ride.  

Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for me because his mother would rip me a new one had we actually gone) it was pouring the next morning, and the mountains weren’t even visible, so our parasailing adventure was off.  After breakfast, we parked ourselves at a coffee shop next door to the hotel where we waited for the rain to subside.

By noon, the downpour had dwindled to a steady drizzle, so we took a cab to the Jardins Botanico, the Medellin Botanical Garden, whose tropical plants, trees and flowers made this Floridian feel right at home.

Bird of Paradise at the Jardins Botanico
As we left the butterfly garden, the rain was starting again, so we caught the Metro downtown, alighting at the Museo de Antioquia. (Antioquia is one of Colombia’s 32 departments, equivalent to our states, and Medellin is its capital). We hadn’t planned on visiting a museum but then, we hadn’t planned on rain.

There we saw dozens of Botero paintings including a pair depicting Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette on a trip to Medellin (which happened only in Botero’s imagination), photographs of Antioquia’s early days, and lots of other works the viewing of which was preferable to being rained on but not particularly ooh- and ahh-able enough for me to describe here.

Heading to the Via Primavera for beers, we encountered a car/motorcycle accident at a busy intersection. The rider had been taken away – not a good sign.

Our last dinner was at an Italian restaurant on the Milla de Oro. (As you may have discerned, Colombian cuisine didn’t appeal to us. Much of it is fried and is corn or plantain-based.)  

A fire juggler stops traffic, including (God help the hapless patient
inside trying to get to the hospital) an ambulance with its lights flashing
 on the Milla de Oro
Over dinner we talked about getting up early to see if the day was clear so we could be at the parasailing launch pad by 9 a.m, which should give us time – barely – to catch our flights home. Beer, wine, soups, steak for Stuart, an asparagus and shrimp risotto for me, came to $50 with tip.

But Monday morning dawned grey and we could see the mountains shrouded in rainclouds, so our grand adventure was off.

Having a couple of free hours, we rode a cable car up a mountain on the eastern side of the city, passing over barrios whose residents were poorer – much poorer – than the ones we had seen on Saturday.

Stuart had read in his guidebook about a shop selling t-shirts at one of the Metro stations but, alas, it was closed. (Monday was a national holiday, Labor Day.) Peering through its windows, we couldn’t see any shirts anyway.

The thirty-something woman who drove us to the airport said she had once lived in Miami but had returned home to Medellin now that the city is bouncing back.

“You wanna get rich?” I asked. “Sure,” she replied. “Have some t-shirts that say ‘Medellin’ made up and take them to shops across the city to resell. There aren’t any.”

I could tell this was news to her. Being a native of a city known for its crime and drugs, she – heck, nobody apparently – has realized tourists might actually want to wear a shirt proclaiming they went to Medellin and liked it. And that’s a shame. Because Medellin and its transformation into a world-class tourist destination is something to be celebrated.

If I were younger, I’d open a store in the Via Primavera area or on the Milla de Oro, call it the Medellin Store, and sell them myself. But I don’t think my wife would agree to move to Medellin, despite the fact that we could live like royalty for a pittance, eat out every night, and enjoy walking through a city that appears to be safer and more welcoming to tourists than most big American cities I’ve visited lately.

Why don’t more Americans visit Medellin? Beats me. 

If you are a gambler, Medellin has casinos galore, including a Hard Rock we walked through, successfully resisting the urge to blow our pesos at the tables. Medellin’s casinos aren’t as grand as those in Las Vegas to be sure, but there are many around the town, particularly in the Poblado area.

Want to make sure the weather is warm for your winter vacation, something you can’t always count on Florida to deliver? Medellin has luxury hotels that cost a fraction of what you’d pay in Ft. Lauderdale, Clearwater or Sanibel, with pools surrounded by tropical vegetation and uniformed attendants who will cater to your every need.

The pool atop our hotel, overlooking Medellin's Milla de Oro
Love mountains? The Andes make the Rockies look like the Ozarks.

Are you a city person? Medellin has towering high-rises, fine shopping and restaurants, and it’s safer to walk around in than, say, downtown D.C., Chicago or Philly. We never once felt unsafe, even late at night.

Want to escape to another continent and/or culture but don’t have the time or money to go to Europe? Medellin’s the ideal getaway and – bonus – there’s no jet lag.

We lunched at the airport where, moments before boarding my flight, I found a duty free boutique that had a stack of “Colombia” t-shirts tucked away in one corner. Not Medellin, but Colombia. Close enough. I bought one along with two bags of coffee candy with the last of my pesos, boarded my flight and, in less than three hours, was home in the US of A.

And I can't wait to go back.

The Dryden boys on a rainy Medellin afternoon