• Posted on August 04, 2013


Having nearly completed our tour of many of the world’s great cities, we offer the following list of metropoles we’d most want to call home.  You’ve heard of the proverbial “nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there” — well, this list is the opposite.  In most of these cities, we lived in an apartment for at least a week, frequented local groceries and learned the names of the clerks, dealt with laundry, navigated public transportation, made some friends, and gotten a general sense of what our imaginary lives might be like there.

Keep in mind a few things:  We are “city people” by our very nature.  We thrive in “walking cities” where coffee shops, museums, bakeries, theaters, farmer’s markets and subways are just footsteps away.  So without further ado, here is our list our favorite cities to potentially call home:

10.  CUSCO, PERU  This growing metropolis of half a million people is the gateway to Machu Picchu but it’s a great city unto itself.  Nestled in the mountains of Peru, it’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city with people arriving at its international airport from all over the world on their way to the Incan ruins.  The city offers a laid back way of life, filled with a ridiculous number of amazing restaurants (our favorite is Fallen Angel) — and you can get your laundry washed and folded for seven dollars a bag.  There’s something magical about Cusco that made us keep looking at each other with surprise and saying “We could totally live here.”

9.  BARCELONA, SPAIN  The subway system is fantastic, it feels like a true artist (Gaudi) designed half the city leaving as firm an imprint as Haussmann on Paris or Olmsted on New York, and the food is pretty near impossible to beat (get in line at Cal Pep before 7pm, it’s worth it).  It would have probably made its way higher up the list if not for the 25% unemployment gripping Spain.  But on the other hand, we made incredible new friends here who made us feel immediately at home in Catalonia.  Thanks, Carlos and Ane!

8.  ESSAOUIRA, MOROCCO  One of the most attractive cities we encountered and easily the most difficult to pronounce (as-Ṣawīra).  It’s got a micro-climate on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco with year-round 24 degree (75 fahrenheit) weather.  You can surf, swim, fish, and speak French.  There are direct flights to Paris and London.  The city has all the romance you might associate with Casablanca in your imagination but here it’s real.  The cost of living is fantastic, you can get a four bedroom riad for $350,000 and for another 10 grand you can pretty much rebuild it from top to bottom.  It’s a writer’s city, and the location where Orson Welles shot his 1952 film “Othello.”

7.  TOKYO, JAPAN  Okay, now we’re talking City.  Tokyo is immense and intimate at the same time.  The Flackett-Levin’s are a short people, accustomed to living in small spaces so we felt perfectly at home here.  It has the reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in the world, but that wasn’t our experience.  We lived in a neighborhood slightly outside the center and felt like locals within minutes.  If you stick to the local sushi bars and coffee shops and groceries, it’s as inexpensive as any great city we’ve lived in.  Tokyo also pulses with constant energy — and unique order.  The subway cars are silent and orderly as almost no one speaks in public, creating a comforting calm inside such a large metropolis.  People say Kyoto is the place to live in Japan, and we’d loved Kyoto, but if we had to pick a home it would be Tokyo.

6. MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA  The Melbourne vs. Sydney question goes back hundreds of years.  Sydney is a great and livable city with the most beautiful harbor in the world.  But the cost of living there is staggering.  Melbourne is funky, metropolitan, artsy, and even more of a walking city than Sydney.  We’re going to get a lot of flack for this, but we would rather live in Melbourne — specifically the neighborhood of Fitzroy.

5.  BERLIN, GERMANY  Okay, as a Jewish family, we had a lot of reservations about Germany for every logical historical reason in the world.  But Berlin feels like the city of the 21st Century.  It pulses with reinvention, artists everywhere on the cutting edge of music and film, there are great thriving neighborhoods (Kreutzberg), the best Canadian pizza on the planet (Ron Telesky’s), and the city is actively grappling with the most complicated history of any city in the last hundred years having been ravaged by two world wars and torn apart by one cold war.  It also happens to be the global leader in car sharing where you can download an app and find a car waiting for you within two blocks.  Berlin is a city of innovation.  We only wish we could do something about the winters there, which are said to be worse than New York’s.

4.  SHANGHAI, CHINA  Okay, this one comes with an asterisk.  Shanghai is one of the cities we would most want to live in — on a clear day.  The air quality can make it a deal breaker.  But when the air is clear as it was last October when we lived there for nine days, it was charming, cosmopolitan, international, easily navigable, and felt like a more exotic version of Paris.  We stayed in the French Concession which is the only place to live — though many Americans choose to live in the more modern Pudong.  So if we’re willing to overlook the pollution and the totalitarian government (asterisk number two), Shanghai feels like the thriving beating heart of the next hundred years.

3.  TEL AVIV, ISRAEL  People go to Israel for the history, for Jerusalem, for the Dead Sea, but Tel Aviv is where the action is.  Tel Aviv is the perfect combination of New York and Los Angeles, a great city on the beach.  The restaurants are some of the best in the world, they serve fresh vegetables at breakfast, many people glide around the sidewalks standing on motorized scooters, and after living there for seventeen days, it felt like we were just getting started.  Thank you to Ronnie, Yael, Omer, Miriam, Yehuda, Danna, Noam and Yasmine for making us feel so immediately like bonafide Tel Avivians.

2.  AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS  A real contender for number one.  The kids might actually put Amsterdam on the top of their list.  It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world (right up there with Stockholm which is also stunning but too damn cold) with some of the most beautiful people in the world walking the streets.  The canals are stunning, but there are still streets and cars and trams and there will be a subway system by 2020.  The cost of living, while high, is not nearly as high as its Scandinavian neighbors (like Copenhagen which is also amazing) and Amsterdam’s just a short three hour train ride to Paris.

1.  PARIS, FRANCE  Let’s see…  The Metro, the bread, the cheeses, the Luxembourg Gardens, the open air market at the Bastille, a store called Merci, Velibs, our scores of friends who made us feel immediately at home…  Hey, it’s a cliché for a reason.  Please forward all our mail to 40 Quai de Jemmapes, Paris 75010.  Just kidding.  Or are we?  Only time will tell.

Now you may ask yourself “What about Rome?  Prague?  Buenos Aires?  Wellington?  Venice?  London?”  And our answers would be Yes, No, No, Yes, No, and Only If The Studio’s Paying.  Oh, and we could easily add New York City very high on this list, as we are former and inevitably future New Yorkers.  But we’ve restricted the list to destinations within our 365 day itinerary.  Also, we sadly can’t put Los Angeles on this list.  Though we call L.A. home and have happily lived there for some time, it doesn’t exactly qualify as a “walking city.”  In Finn’s word’s, “When I walk out my front door in Paris, I’m in the middle of life.  When I walk out my front door in Los Angeles, I’m in the middle of my driveway.”  Let the comments begin.

  • Posted on August 01, 2013


A half hour north of Copenhagen by train, you get off at a stop called Humlebæk then follow the signs as you walk about ten minutes up the road to a place called Lousiana.  Louisiana is a modern art museum, and it is our family’s unanimous choice for best museum in the world.  It has gorgeous but unpretentious gardens filled with sculptures by Henry Moore and Alexander Calder standing atop green hills overlooking the sea.  You could sit for hours enjoying one of the most astoundingly pleasant settings on the planet.  It occurs to you only as an afterthought that you should actually go inside and check out the collection.  What could rival the setting?But the collection is astounding — with works by Giacometti and Picasso alongside a temporary exhibition by Yoko Ono (which turned out to surprisingly playful and interesting).  The real jewel in the crown was an installation by the American artist Tara Donovan which opened all our eyes to the use of unexpected materials in art (above left).  Interestingly, Louisiana got its name because the Danish man who originally owned the villa had three wives and they were all named Louise.  In 1958, the museum was created on the site only after the architects spent months walking the grounds trying to figure out the best way to situate the buildings.  The result is a perfect modernist construction of wood and glass housing the best curated collection we’ve ever experienced.After much trial and error, we have learned that we prefer smaller museums where you can feel you’ve seen the whole thing in a couple hours, as opposed to feeling overwhelmed.  For this reason, we prefer the simple Picasso Museum in Antibes to the Louvre in Paris where no matter how much time you spend you end up with the empty defeated feeling of how much you didn’t get to see.  By this standard, and just about every other, Denmark’s Lousiana is absolutely perfect.

  • Posted on July 28, 2013


It’s hard to overstate the simple unadulterated pleasure of driving around in the dying light — far beyond the reach of any cellphone tower — just searching for wild animals.

  • Posted on July 25, 2013


As we begin to address the mountain of questions that have poured in, we will start with the one that we unequivocally hear the most:  “What do the kids do about school?”  Once you tell a stranger that you’re taking a year off to travel the world, this is far and away the first thing you hear.  After eleven months of answering the question, we thought it might be easier to show you than tell you.

  • Posted on July 22, 2013


As the saying goes, they must come to an end… eventually.  With severely mixed emotions, we are fast approaching the end of our life-changing, mind-expanding, family-enriching Year To Think.  Part of us could go on exploring and making short films about our adventures forever, but in about a month’s time, we will return to our home, and our friends, and our schools, and our careers making films longer than three minutes, and we will wrap up A Year To Think.  But hey, we needn’t dwell on that today, do we?  We still have about four more weeks to go and so much ground to cover.  In the weeks ahead, we’ll be posting about a variety of topics that many of you have requested — such as “How We Pack,” “Our Favorite Cities,” “How We Spend,” “The Movies We Never Made,” “The Things We’ve Learned” and an attempt to answer the potentially unanswerable “What It All Means” (lower your expectations on that one, we’re still trying to figure it all out).So what would you still like to know about a family taking a year off to discover the world?  As we enter the home stretch, we’re officially taking requests.  If you have nagging questions you’d like answered or travel mysteries you’d like solved, please add them to the comments below as we prepare for the thrilling (albeit bittersweet) conclusion of A Year To Think.

  • Posted on July 17, 2013


On the coast of Kenya, if you wake up early enough, you get to witness a few minor miracles.

  • Posted on July 13, 2013


Once we forded the river, we finally found the starting camp for our “Walking Safari.” Months earlier, when we signed up for this Walking Safari, we really didn’t know what the hell we were getting into.  We were just following the suggestion of a friend of a friend of an acquaintance.  See, for many months now, it had been our general policy to pretty much Say Yes to everything.  But once we arrived at our Walking Safari and got a sense of things, that “general policy” came under official review.

  • Posted on July 10, 2013


We snapped all the “faces” below in the Samburu and Masai Mara regions of Kenya:

Sub-Saharan Africa wasn’t on our original itinerary.  It was our thinking that in the future we’d make Africa a trip unto itself.  But as we began to circumnavigate the globe, we realized it would be plain wrong to make an “around-the-world trip” without including such an immense and significant portion of the planet.  (We also had the good fortune of being well-enough under budget during our first ten months of travel to allow ourselves an African adventure.)  Our time in Kenya ended up providing us some of the most grueling, most revelatory, and most memorable experiences of our entire trip.Having been to the Galapagos, Cambodia, Laos, India, and Morocco, we learned something about ourselves:  While the charms of Europe are considerable, we most enjoy “adventure travel” — when we’re getting out there as a family, challenging ourselves and discovering people, places and experiences that are completely foreign to us.  Our time in Kenya provided us yet another opportunity to test ourselves and it was incredible to have these true adventures so close to the end of our journey.

  • Posted on July 07, 2013


When traveling the world with your children, one of the rarest treasures is time alone.

  • Posted on July 04, 2013


A couple months back, we discovered an article about a new approach to working out that is very short and very intense.  It requires nothing except your own body and a chair, and the entire workout lasts roughly seven minutes.  There are twelve different exercises that you do for thirty seconds each with a ten second break in between.  Our family gave it a try because, while we’ve been doing a hell of a lot of walking around the world, there hasn’t been a whole lot of upper body or abdominal work (actually none whatsoever).  Now we’re completely hooked.   We do it almost every morning and in the length of the video below it’s over and we feel fantastic.  This is a Workout Video pure and simple — and in sharing this we join the proud ranks of Jane Fonda, Cher and Kim Kardashian.  If you’re game you can use The Thinking Family’s video as a guide and timer for your own workout in the privacy of your living room.Let us just take a moment to say what good sports the kids were in making this particular film.  Working out in public with your parents is not for the faint of heart and Franny and Finn deserve special commendation for this one.  It will inevitably be presented as Exhibit A in some future suit brought against their parents — but at least the plaintiffs will be well-toned with strong cores.  We started the workout back in Venice, and shot most of what you see on location in Berlin, Amsterdam and Dublin.  In spite of subjecting our children to slightly more mortification than they endure on a daily basis, we can’t say enough good things about The Thinking Family’s Seven Minute Workout — the secret ingredient in keeping us fit as we enter our final lap of globetrotting.  (Oh, and by the way, the song is called “Ten Thousand Hours” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which to our knowledge is the only hip hop song ever inspired by a Malcolm Gladwell essay.)


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