One of my assignments today involves reading the new Rough Guide to the World and searching for four examples of the 1000 ultimate travel experiences listed to post in an upcoming feature. Incredible. There is so much to see, to do, and given the preponderance these days of doom-and-gloom movies about global warming and the destruction of the environment, it feels like a minor miracle to discover that there is still so much beauty out there.
As I was reading through the entries and drinking up the gorgeous photographs, I noticed that I’ve actually managed to do a couple of the suggestions during the course of my travels, and so resolved to post them here. The list won’t be long, but it’s great to see that I’ve done some of the best travel experiences out there!
#10 Fish and Chips: The True English Favorite: Ah, how many times did we stop at a hole in wall and buy a fillet of battered cod with thick, golden chips? Sprinkled lavishly with salt and lashed by fine malt vinegar, we’d wrap it up in newspaper and run to the park or any old bench and sit down to devour the mess of it (which would invariably gel into a clumped mass of batter and fries that looked like a deep fried brain). And the smell! The tangy, sour reek of the vinegar, the acrid aroma of the fish, the strange and delightful odor of the newspaper itself – ah, bliss.
#20: Hoarding Books in Hay-On-Wye – we stopped here once when I was little, and spent an afternoon wandering from book shop to book shop in this famous village which is rightly called ‘a bibliophilic Mecca’. Imagine The Strand bookshop duplicated, triplicated over and over again, a tiny village wholely given over to books. I remember at one point entering the ‘Rare Texts’ section of the Hay Cinema Bookshop, and finding a 17th century copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy for sale for $56,000 in a glass case. That experience was easily as mindblowing as any geographical feature I’ve ever seen.
#21 Feeling Insignificant in the British Museum – friezes from the Parthenon, Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone, everything and anything that the British took during the height of the British Empire. Stunning.
#47 Take a Stroll From St Paul’s to Tate Modern – the Tate Modern is housed in a former power station, and what struck me more than the walk was the Turbine Hall, a cathedral space in which was housed the Solar Exhibit, a vast and artificial sun in who’s glory Londoners would come and bathe, lying on the museum’s floor in the dead of winter as if on the grass of Central Park in the height of July.
#75 Taking a Trip up the Eiffel Tower – It was the end of our hiking tour across Europe, and we were lucky enough to be in Paris during the World Cup finals of 98. The place was awash in tourists wearing soccer jerseys, entire packs of them in primary colors yelling and dancing and chanting. The madness seemed to be centered in the Eiffel Tower’s plaza, and it was almost anti-climactical to leave the madness below for the airy heights of the Towers top, there to pose with friends and gaze out over the River Seine at Paris sprawled below us.
#78 Canoing Down the Dordogne – I must have been about 8 when my family rented a houseboat and took to the rivers of Southern France. It was idyllic; endless villages, ancient chateaux, weeping willows and amber sunlight, hours of drifting along the green waters and then the excitement of navigating the locks. I was deep into Anne McCaffery then, and those times are forever entwined in my memory with the roars of dragons and the hiss of falling Thread.
#133 Exploring Mystical Sintra – From the Guide, “Sintra, the former summer retreat of Portuguese monarchs, is a town dotted with palaces and mansions, and surrounded by a series of wooded ravines. Now one of Europe’s finest UNESCO World Heritage sites, Sintra has been a center for cult worship for centuries: the early Celts named it Mountain of the Moon after one of their gods, and the hills are scattered with ley lines and mysterious tombs.” I lived there when I was a child, residing in an orange grove plantation at the top of the mountain, in a vast Quinta that was so large we only used a third of it. I have sun drenched memories of the ancient, stone shored terraces that ascended up the mountain side, filled with orange trees, and still dream of the high grass and woods that surround it.
#135 Portraits and Purgatory at the Prado: One room from this vast museum remains indelibly printed in my memory: Goya’s works from his dark period, the large canvas of Saturn eating his children, a bestial giant tearing the head of a fleshy toy in his hands.
#138 Roaming Las Ramblas: The same summer of 98, my friends and I stopped in Barcelona for a night, and after unloading our gear in the hostel, heading out into the evening to explore the famous avenue known as Las Ramblas. It was deserted. Mystified, we walked along, poking our heads into empty bars, and then finally sat down outside a desolate cafe. About to throw in the towel, we were stopped by the arrival of an inebriated, gorgeous woman, who sat down and tried to communicate with us in what seemed an endless stream of foreign languages, while we tried our German, English and Spanish to no avail. We finally managed to communicate in broken French, and learned that we should head over to a place called The Black Sheep, which would be packed right now. Three friends descended upon her and swept her away, and my friend later revealed that she had been kneading his crotch with her foot the entire time. The Black Sheep, by the way, was great.
#144 Modernisme and Manana: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia: This modern cathedral, still in construction and following Gaudi’s organic forms and alien designs is otherworldly, surreal, beautiful. The tale of the Crucifixion is told in massive detail over one entrance by mute statues, modern and anguished, of which I bought charcoal posters which are now framed and hang in my bedroom.
#150 Clearing Your Calendar for Bacalhau: The Portuguese can conjure up to 365 different recipes for dried bacalhau (cod), though I’ve always preferred the two dishes my mother learned to make while we lived there: bacalhau a braza, and a second with sliced of boiled egg and gallons of olive oil that just set me to salivating right now.
#282 Shop Till You Drop in Istanbul: The Kapali Carsi, or ‘covered market’ is a labyrinth of tunnels and underground squares that teem with merchants, stalls, shops and beggars, where anything can be bought if you have the persistence to look for it. Spice merchants play their lights across overflowing baskets of vividly colored powders, while endless lamps and pots and carpets and leather jackets and cushions and food and antiques are hawked and sold. Passing through, a man accosted me and said winsomely that I should by his Turkish Delights, made with Viagra. I arched my eyebrow at him, told him I was but 20, and he laughed. “Come back in twenty years,” he said, “And you will find me in your time of need.”
#499 Scooping out the Scene on Miami’s Ocean Drive: How many times have I been to Ocean Drive, with its gaudy pink and blue fluorescent lights, its Art Deco hotels, the palm trees and million dollar cars, its beautiful women and homeless people? For me, Ocean Drive is epitomized by Mangos, the salsa dance hall where the waitresses stroll by in skin tight jungle cat spandex and dance on the bars, where tourists flock and drink tequila and Prav once had his head rubbed by the ass of a 300lb man as 500 people roared and cheered him on.
#510 Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite: We didn’t hike Half Dome but Yosemite Falls instead, following the winding trail in the blazing sun, delirious from lack of sleep and stumbling as we went. Rather than ascend to the very top, we slipped off the trail about halfway up, and bouldered our way to where the falls crashed into the rocks, creating a thundering mist through which hundreds of miniature rainbows played. We just lay there on the rocks, soaked by the spray, and stared up the length of the falling water to the distant notch where small figures would appear to stare down at us in wonder.
#515 Halloween in NYC: I’m going to have to do this one properly next month. When I went last time I was trapped behind the barricades, by the masses of people swarming to see the parade, and spent hours futilely trying to get into the parade proper only to be sent back by the cops. This time, I’m going to do it right. The most outrageous costume I saw? A man dressed in priests robes with the dummy of a kid attached to him, arms wrapped around his waist, head stuffed in his crotch.
#520 Mighty Real in Las Vegas: Dan Delgado has always been my guide to this city of lights, showing me how best to lose money at blackjack, roulette and war. Late nights in the Bellagio, buffet breakfasts that stretch for miles, Japanese millionaires surrounded by Yakuza tuffs dressed like Elvis – Vegas has it all.
#525 Leaving it all Behind on the Appalachian Trail: I didn’t hike from Georgia to Maine, but for three nights I hiked a section in New England, following the orders of a tyrannical squad leader who’s reaction to missing the campsite was to simply continue into the darkness and make for the next night’s site. By the time we made our way down the cliff face, knees wobbling under our packs, jumping like stoned billy goats from rock to rock, the entire troupe was done with her; Richie and I hitched into town for pizzas, and everybody crammed into the eight man tent, leaving her to sleep by herself in the other.
#532 Visiting Harvard Yard: I saw a man balance a shopping cart on his chin there while juggling bowling balls.
#542 Driving the Length of Highway 1: I’ve done this one at night, and during the early morning, roaring from San Francisco to LA. Endless sinuous curves, the ocean crashing to one side, music playing on the radio. I think I’m going to have to do it one day when I’m not in a rush, in a convertible, on a beautiful summer day.
#565 Lost for Words at the Grand Canyon: The Grand Canyon is like an upside down mountain range, and seated at the edge of the precipice, looking past all the layers of strata, the rusts and crimsons and chocolate brown striations – you get an incredible sense of time, of the slow eons that have past and created this phenomenon, and also how long it would take you to hit the bottom and go splat.
#704 Drifting down the Amazon: I first saw the Amazon river when I reached Santerem, a town bordered by one side by the vast muddy waters of the Amazon, and on the other by the hard blue waters of the Tapajos. Their confluence is a wonder to see – they run for miles together without mixing, the river divided down the center as if by a wandering razor. Later we took a motorized canoe down the river Xingu, another tributary, and that experience was to intense and rich for this entry.
#745 Capoeira up Close: I saw a group perform in Minas Gerais, just outside Ouro Preto; a band of muscled youths in white cotton trousers, dancing and swaying to the twanging and beating of the instruments. One pair remain in my memory; a large, broad shouldered man and a young kid of about ten. They performed and fought together, the kid leaping up at the man who would stirrup his hands and catch the kid’s foot only to flip him head over heels for him to land adroitly on his feet. I clapped to enthusiastically in time with the beat, and my school mates made fun of me. I didn’t care though – it was great.
#915 Island Dreaming: Sailing the Whitsundays: The closest I’ve ever come to paradise. An archipelago of islands on the north eastern coast of Australia, the Whitsundays are all the remain of a flooded mountain range who’s peaks jut out of the turquoise waters, thronged with dark green jungle and ringed by perfect silica beaches. I spent two nights in an empty lagoon on Hook Island, spending the day snorkeling out over the coral beds, losing track of time, of self, as I drifted amidst bright scatterings of jem-like fish, at colors so intense they seemed to glow, and feeling fear as I floated out over the rim and gazed down at the depths fifty meters below in which strange, blocky shapes moved slowly in the dark.
#925 Discovering your own Middle Earth: The south island of New Zealand is breath takingly beautiful, desolate in all its green wilderness, and filled with glaciers, sounds, mountain passes and beaches, in which you’ll find the occasional village or town with friendly Kiwis and delicious meat pies…
#955 Sydney Harbour-Mastering: The Sydney Harbour seems built with national monuments and landmarks – one arm ends in The Rocks, where the convicts first landed and built their settlement, Harbor Bridge, and on the other side the Sydney Opera House. During my stay in Sydney I must have visited this area more times than I can count, either for a beer at a German pub in The Rocks or cocktails at the Opera House bar.
So, that’s all I’ve got. 25 out of 1000. Reading this book was incredible – now I want to go Whale Shark diving at Ningaloo Reef, see dawn at Tikal in Gautemala, visit Machu Pichu, cross the Sahara on motorbike, dance salsa in Cuba, visit the abandoned British Base B in the Antarctic…