Omaha once was regarded as “the biggest small town in the world,” but is that still so?

Ask world traveler Peter Gadzinski, a retired employee of the U.S. State Department who lived abroad for 20 years on three continents and a subcontinent.

First he was a student in Tokyo in the late 1960s; then came a stint in Vietnam before starting his diplomatic career in London in the ’80s. From there, it was back to Japan (Osaka), and next Taiwan, Hong Kong, Nepal and Brazil.

His last diplomatic stop was Washington, D.C., where Gadzinski “descended into commuter hell” with 75-minute journeys to and from work by car, foot and train.

In 2007, Gadzinski settled into a post-retirement job with StratCom. Next stop: Omaha, where Gadzinski trimmed 70 minutes off his twice-daily commute.

“My most vivid first memory — and the experience that cemented my fondness for Omaha — was driving to the Holland Performing Arts Center in 20 minutes, parking across the street for free and then enjoying an excellent Omaha Symphony performance in the world-class concert hall for the princely sum of $15.

“While I was seated in the nosebleed section, there are no bad seats in the Holland, acoustically.”

Five bucks for a glass of wine filled almost to overflowing, plus friendly conversation with former strangers, convinced Peter that “this is a place I could easily get used to.”

Yes, Gadzinski concluded, Omaha is a place that offers spectacular attractions and a commute that doesn’t bring on depression — all delivered with small-town friendliness and low prices.

“In just about any other place I have lived, my evening at the symphony would have involved heavy traffic, combative people and a parking tab alone that would have far exceeded the cost of the whole evening in Omaha,” he said.

That was 11 years ago. Omaha’s prices have increased, and five minutes of driving now can be more like 20. Parking is a bit more pricey. But, yes, Gadzinski said, Omaha remains the biggest small town in the world.

Its big-city offerings range from solid big businesses such as Berkshire Hathaway, Kiewit, Union Pacific and First National Bank to major universities, growing as a result of private and public partnerships.

Peter and his family still live in Omaha, despite an early plan to retire in Arizona. They have discovered that occasional weather extremes are more than compensated for by a world-class zoo, the College World Series, Joslyn Art Museum and Creighton’s Big East sports, major entertainment delivered in the “wonderful” CenturyLink Center Omaha, Orpheum Theater and Holland Center, and the music venues of Benson and a dozen other city hot spots.

World-class attractions delivered at small-town prices with friendly folks to boot.

“It doesn’t get better than that,” Gadzinski said.

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