turk telekon stad istanbul

Since 2009 The Best City to Visit Tournaments have gone from slightly tense but friendly competitions to all out national battles of pride. Every year the tournament has taken leaps in scope and size; bringing along with it several disputes, a few juicy cat fights, and the occasional psychotic email delivered to yours truly.

Of course not all of these issues nor the questions they’ve raised are crazy – and considering the 200,000+ votes you’ve cast since 2009 – these controversies are the exceptional exceptions to travel tournaments past.

vancouver canucks win 2011What Is A City?

This question comes up every year and surprisingly (to me) is a topic people passionately argue their positions on. You know what a city is – I mean, that word has been part of your vernacular since you were a child right? Well yes, unless you grew up speaking Dutch, Polish, Urdu, or several other languages. Stockholm may be a city in your eyes but as far as the Swedish government is concerned, it’s a municipality. Same goes for Paris, and every other human settlement in France and Sweden; because both don’t make distinctions between cities and towns. Ironic that the French don’t draw this line – as the word “city” in English comes from the French word “cite” where all this fussing stems from.

The city versus town debate has come up often enough that I’ve written an entire post on what is a city to set the record straight. The condensed version is that a city is a large, permanent human settlement. While some countries may define city, town, village and so on, the reasons they do so have nothing to do with sociology. (Or “reality”; a concept governments around the world grapple with in varying degrees.)

Livraria Lello bookstore portoThe Politics Of  Names – Jerusalem, Myanmar, And Decisions I Made On Both

I’m fortunate to have a successful travel blog where I get to voice my opinions – travel, politics, and otherwise – as I please. (More on that below.) But as far as Best City to Visit Travel Tournaments go, I stay out of both. I want a good contest, sit back, and let you decide what happens. But when Judy nominated Jerusalem back in 2011, I didn’t assign a country (Israel) to it. Primarily because Jerusalem isn’t recognized by the United Nations (UN) or the international community as being the capital of Israel but rather having a corpus separatum status.

Now I’ve written about and categorized countries on this site that aren’t recognized by most – the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) for example – because like I said, governments don’t often reflect the reality on the ground. Outside of The Best City to Visit contests it’s important to draw some lines to give you a better understanding of the places I’m traveling – within the tournament though – I’ll stick to international consensus.

What If There Is No Good Consensus?

In this past 2012 tournament Giulia nominated Mandalay, Burma and Raymond, Yangon, Myanmar. Those two are both the same country – the name changed to Myanmar from Burma in 1989 by the ruling military junta. The UN recognized the change but the United States and United Kingdom didn’t; and to further complicate matters, locals have used both terms for centuries. The BBC has a great primer on the differences and why certain groups choose to use either term for political reasons. For the purposes of The Best City to Visit Tournaments I leave it up to the nominator and let them make their own distinction.

Accusations I Manipulate The Results To Favor Certain Cities

See It Like A Local: Announcing The Wander Around Istanbul Tour April 2015

Every year a handful of people come out of nowhere to say I’m favoring one city over another – usually complaints coming after cities they believe “deserved to win” have been eliminated. Like I said before, I get to say whatever I want around here (that hopefully you enjoy reading of course). The Best City to Visit Tournaments are where you vocally voice your favorites and decide. It’s no secret that Istanbul is my favorite city in the world – I don’t need the proxy of the contest to say that.

blue mosque istanbul turkey

And, if I were manipulating the results, I’m terrible at it because Istanbul has never won in 4 years. In fact, no city I’ve been to has won that year. I’m actually pretty lucky that’s the case because I get a nice surprise of somewhere new to go annually. Also, the prize money for every Best City Tournament comes right out of my own pocket so I have no sponsor funds to direct to any given person.

Besides, rigging contests is a sure way to ruin them along with my integrity. Undermining the trust you have in me would also be a one-way ticket to unraveling this blog and consequently my livelihood.

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shooting shotgunSome Other Minor Contest Tiffs Along The Way

Attempts to manipulate a few individual match-ups in the voting system last year – and the corrections I eventually made – ended up pissing some people off. Those technical gaps were closed well in advance of this year’s contest. I’m also not going to go into how I’ve improved things this year but remember…

Another minor point of annoyance voiced by several Sarajevo fans when 2012’s Finals results were released was that the top photo wasn’t of Sarajevo. In the 2012 tournament every photo was from Porto, Portugal – the 2011 champion. Next year it will be all Sarajevo.

  • The Rarest But Most Disturbing: Racist Emails – My inbox is a busy but generally cordial place. And while occasionally I get some demented messages (keep them coming) during each travel tournament I’ve gotten some racist messages about this or that city, people, or country. They are typically so absurd that I can dismiss them easily. Still, they tend to leave a bad taste in my mouth but a nice rinsing of travel and meeting people around the world quickly washes it away.

Forget The Exceptions, Look At The Lasting Impressions

If there is one thing I’ve taken away from 4 years of hosting The Best City to Visit Travel Tournaments, it’s that people around the world love places everywhere you could imagine. Not just places though but everything that comes with them. The people, food, nature, and that slightly intangible essence each of us inhales in our favorite place. Those feelings are infectious and have invigorated many of your hearts to travel to cities you never considered or perhaps had heard of before.

I don’t have any leanings or invisible hand in which city wins each year – a lively contest means that ultimately travel wins a small victory – and I can candidly say I am always rooting for that.