So this is a hard concept to know where to start to summarize my travels, as I don't see them ending ever, but the free and open nature of the past years will be different for the next few years to come. So I thought it would be good to start to cover some of the highlights and in the case of this entry, the lowlights as well. Given my small hamster running on the wheel powered mind combined with age, it's best I get some of these details down as soon as possible. Do note, all the pictures below are taken by me which let me apologize in advance that I'm not Ansel Adams. Back when some of this early travel started was before all the power bloggers with their DSLRs and mini-home lighting studios came to exist. So it's a miracle any of these shots aren't simply my thumb or a blur.
Now if you have ever followed along on my travel, it's very easy to know I love London, Tokyo, Amsterdam, and of course Singapore. Just by the amount of return visits or days spent there makes it a waste to show you pictures from these locations as so often seen on my blog before. But of course will do so in future posts.
What I thought is I would choose some locations that maybe weren't not as blogged about and fell into the ether when I stopped posting or taking much photos. Today I had to go back through a few laptops I bought along the way to find some lost photos. Even then, some just appear gone. At first I felt a bit bad, but in some weird way, I'm not. There is something nice about the concept that certain memories are ours alone. In a way, I guess in some weird way I'm the true blend of modern science meets Phileas Fogg. I like the concept that certain parts of travel are only for those who do it.
Okay, enough mumbling. Let's get to it.
I LIKE IT!
Iceland, poor Iceland. The recent economic meltdown has threatened the very modern way of Icelandic life. If you have ever been there, you would realize that these are hearty people who can and will weather any storm, but so many of the modern youths there haven't grown up with those same hearty day to day challenges. For many of them, life could and most likely will be very different. That said, I like Iceland, and will return again.
I'm not really sure why I choose to go the first time I did. I suppose it was the "extreme travel" idea of going to some place off the normal grid. Secondly it was just before it became trendy, but all the signs were there that this could become one of those travel "IT" places. Finally, I love the cold, especially when I was in biggie size mode. I would pretty much go into the frozen tundra coat free, and be just fine.
So I choose on my first visit to go in December right before Christmas. Crazy as it couldn't be more off season, but when I write up my list of travel trips, this would be one of them. Going off season not only gives you travel value but truly allows you to blend in with the locals.
Here's what I can tell you about Iceland. If your a night person like me, youwill love this place. If your day person, go elsewhere. The whole place will party until 3am almost every night and good luck finding most places open before 11am. Paradise for me. The people are big in size and heart, but it's not easy to blend in with the locals. So traveling alone here does pose some challenges. Also since it's a small island with limited resources, a lot of simple things like food or drinks are quite expensive. This is why to spite three visits, I can only say I like it. This is a strong like, and I do plan to return in the future. I think what was missing was to have a travel partner. I will on another post talk about my theory of single vs couple travel spots.
So below are some snapshots of my Icelandic experiences. Enjoy. (click thumbnail to view larger size)
I LOVE IT!!!
Okay, this was an easy one. Short of the repeat visit list mentioned above, one place was the real easy one to add to my I love it list. There are a couple others, one being a place that tries to kill me (hint) and another that I call my 2nd Amsterdam, but this one below was the easy choice.
It is Venice, Italy. To spite each and every year becoming more and more like Disneyland rather than a real city you still can find the real Venice with a great deal of effort and work. Even if you only access the tourist part, trust me, you wish Disney was this beautiful and rare.
Okay, let me show you the tourist side of Venice, trust me, any other place on the planet can build, spend, or acquire what they want but yet they can't match this. To spite the crowds and loss of locals the tourist area still speaks to the heart and soul of this special city.
See. Can you name any place on the planet that has such beauty and culture in its mass tourist area. Well maybe, but not many. Of course like many mass tourist areas there are many bad places to eat, stores to rip you off and so on. But it's special history and beauty will not be denied.
But the real Venice is still there. You need only an ability to walk and a VERY good sense of direction. Venice is the ultimate test of your navigation skills. But if you have them, I suggest you get lost and wind every outward from the tourist center. If you do so, the real and sadly shrinking parts of old Venice will open up to you. Here's just a quick snapshot.
I can't tell you enough about the food, arts, and wines of this region! Part of my DNA is being Italian among many other parts. When it comes to Italy, it appears my family line is split between the Veneto and Calabria regions. Wanderlust meets the spicy and dramatic. In some weird way it makes sense.
I must move on, as this will quickly become a book if not. But one of the lessons of travel has become an appreciation of special light and place. Venice has a special light and feel all it's own, much like Iceland as well. Below are somewhat the same shot, and yet so different in mood and feel. There are few cities that can overcome the lack of my camera skills and yet still I think these photos will speak to your soul.
Yet another reason for my love. Sadly, I have always visited Venice without sharing it with someone I had a romantic relationship with. So for now, my romance is only between the city and I. But trust me, there will come a time. If you can't fall in love in Venice, then it's time to become a monk.
I DISLIKE IT!
Okay, as I mentioned before there is a part of me that is truly Phileas Fogg. As such the idea of taking the Orient Express from London to Venice and back was irresistible. Well, it Fogg was around during my journey, he would have offered to give them some serious fist-a-cuffs for the dishonor they brought upon the whole experience.
Now I will say this. Maybe if you do this trip while on a honeymoon or some other romantic event, you may have a shot of ignoring all the short comings of the experience, but unless you are both child size in order to share the sleeping quarters and don't mind sharing your lust filled expressions with the entire train, I doubt even you will enjoy.
When you take this train from London it all starts well. Think of the Harry Potter set. Wait, W.T.F! This isn't the Orient Express. Okay, fine. No problem. Evidently the Express awaits for you after the journey through the Chunnel. Having traveled on the Eurostar many times, I was excited to sit back and enjoy. But wait. Oh no, you don't get to take this train any further than just to the London side of the Chunnel. Which leaves you barely any time to eat and be shoved off into the cold onto a BUS and a small one at at which is then loaded into a CONTAINER and shot through the Chunnel along with other common goods headed for the EU. All class! If you have any fear of small spaces, start your panic attack NOW!
Okay, having been given the same shipping status as fruits or nuts, you're dumped into France to finally meet the real Orient Express. You are quickly boarded in a speed that makes Southwest Airlines look slow, to spite all the many prior delays and the train takes off, with our without you. Now in your small cabin your trying to decompress from this early let-down. Yes the size of your cabin is beyond tiny compared to those website photos but it's okay. It's a train, not a hotel.The old cars did have that charm you dream of, evenincluding a hook to hang your pocket watch above your bed, which I dd as I travel with an old pocket watch as my lucky travel piece.
But from here it quickly goes wrong. I'm on board with a friend in the next cabin. We both struggle in our tiny cabins to spite the bad travel to squeeze ourselves into suits so we are in proper and mandated attire. We go to the tiny bar car to drink ourselves into obliviongiven how this trip is going. Muffy and Buffy, which are our fellow passengers don't want to talk to us and the drinks cost almost as much as the trip in total. To spite this, my friend and I will gladly have another bartender! On top of this all of us have to constantly stand or lift our feet as the bar car is the path to the dining car, and there is not enough room to pass and the super tiny piano player needs his room. If you have never seen the movie The Big Bus, the Oriental Bar scenes were truly taken from this real thing.
Let's just say, dinner is pretty much the same experience but worse. The only upside is my friend and I were smart enough to take the late booking for dinner ensuring 99% of the train was asleep as we ate and that getting back to our cabins didn't take the rest of the trip. So after my friend and I hung out in Venice, the flip point of the trip, we decided we weren't going to suffer the same events on our return to London. So we did the un-thinkable. To this day never done in the entire history of the train. We know as we heard from everyone who worked on the train. We brought our own food and wine from Venice and never left our cabins. The entire social system of the train nearly broke into Lord of the Flies thanks to us. To add our final mark on the history of the train, we got off in Paris and took the Eurostar back to London to avoid the same sad ending as the start. The Chef or Management may have killed us had they known our plans in advance and Agatha Christie would have had a new novel to write. So I fully support and love rail travel, but when it comes to the sad company that now runs the once proud and amazing Orient Express, take a pass and instead support your local rail companies, they deserve and need your support much more than this over-priced echo of history.
I HATE IT, REALLY, TRULY! DID I MENTION I HATE IT!
Okay let the hate letters start now. I'm about to drop the A-bomb of controversy. I hate Rome, Italy! There done. I Said it.
I find it soulless, dirty, and boring. Note I was staying at the Hotel Hassler in one of their best rooms. Let me just say, this hotel SUCKS maybe even worse than Rome! The worst service at all levels, crap rooms, and they even tried to mis-charge my friend not once, twice or three times, but more than I can count before he left for another hotel. As for myself I disliked my experience there so much, I didn't just leave the hotel, I left the country! Before I did, I took some pictures. I did my best to make Rome look nice, as I didn't want to look like a fool for my travel there as by near universal law your supposed to love Rome.
Wait in the third photo is that Anthony Bourdain from No Reservations? If so, I hope he's there to tell people just how much Rome sucks. To spite a few nice shots, I couldn't dislike a place on the planet more. While this blog has gone on too long and I would need maybe a series of books to list why this is my most hated place of my travels. I do have two shots to give you a hint.
So of course there are many famous things to see in Rome. The Trevi Fountain would be among them. My friend Byron had been there before many years past and had stupidly thrown a coin in, which meant he was destined to return to Rome. It would appear this does works, as here he was again. I wasn't about to make the same mistake. At this point I had already booked a ticket the hell out of this town the next day to spite a reservation to stay for many more days, and I was more than happy to see it in my rear view mirror. So the entire time I was in Rome I wouldn't take or hold a single coin for fear it would roll out of a hole in my pocket and find it's way to this damn fountain. If you see the Trevi Fountain in pictures like the one on the left it looks just like from the movies. But in reality, it's a tourist dump, located in back alleys and frankly I think replica in Vegas has about as much charm and soul. The right photo captures the real romantic moment you will have at the fountain. Rome is the ultimate bad date.
So again. Do note. These are merely my opinions. The places I love, like Amsterdam and Singapore are truly disliked by others. This is why there's a big world out there. I hope you get a chance to build your own like, love, dislike, and hate lists when it comes to travel. The Buddhist in me wants to say there shouldn't be a hate part of the list, but then the universe created Rome, but I digress as I want to end this on a positive note.
Even the very negative impression of some of my travel has left me with a positive of appreciating what I do love and miss. The amazing part of travel is often captured in the small and quiet as much as the bold and exciting. So thanks Rome for helping me appreciate what I love and like, but you still suck!
More looking back yet to come...