Great places: and where to stay and eat
As you will see, the list of locations in the box
below is highly selective. I hope that omissions from the list do not cause
offence to anyone. Omissions reflect in the main my rather conventional travel
over the years in conjunction with living in Britain. Other places that I have
enjoyed - Greece, Russia, India, China, Spain, for example - will be added as
time allows. It is with shame that I have to admit never having travelled to
Africa and Australasia. But maybe soon?
|Scotland||California||Rome and Florence|
|France||Western USA||Verona, Venice and the Dolomites|
|USA: Yosemite||Hong Kong||Mystery location|
The Scottish Highlands is one of the most beautiful regions of the world. The mountains themselves - although not high by alpine standards - are great for walking and climbing, in all seasons. In winter, many of them are snow or ice covered and provide spectacular, exhilarating days out, with conditions that resemble those in the European Alps. Climbing all the 284 (or so) Munros - the higher peaks at least once - is an ambition of many keen hill walkers in Britain. Favourite places of mine are the Ben Cruachan range, and the Five Sisters of Kintail. For an easy day out that anyone with a modicum of fitness can do in a few hours, nothing beats the Hidden Valley in Glencoe. We take our postgraduate students there each year.
Little can beat France as a place to visit. I have been there on camping holidays many times over the years, but still cannot speak the language properly. Best places to camp are in the small 'camping a la ferme' sites. Try some in the Dordogne, the Alps, the Pyrenees, Massif Central - or almost anywhere. Stock up with wine, buy fresh baguettes and croissants, get fine French cheese, and bask in the sun, or watch the Tour de France. Alliteratively, climb Mont Blanc. I teach a short class every winter in Toulouse. Try my favourite restaurants, Saint Honore, and Les Abattoirs. Magnificent southern French cooking, quite cheap.
Simply great. For some strange reason, I only discovered Italy in the last ten years. It does not take long for it to become a favourite; just a few minutes for most people. Must be the best food and the nicest people in the world. And having Michaelangelo sculptures there means it is a dream for those who like sculpture. Will write about it at length shortly. See also Rome, Florence, Verona and Venice below.
If the Americans let me stay there, that's where I would live (provided there was a near enough university needing an economist). But they don't and they won't. So all I can do is visit. Best thing to do: fly to San Francisco, taking a small tent; hire a car with a huge boot ('trunk'); load it up with food, goodies, and kids (your own, if you have them; not other people's); camp in the National Park itself. And barbecue on the provided stoves. Half Dome is spectacular. A great place to see it from is Glacier Point: catch a bus up, then walk down into the valley itself. If you do travel on to Utah, and you like wine (or similar things) buy it before you enter the state. Otherwise you have to find a liqueur store, which is not easy in the desert.
Simply great. Soon, I'll tell you why. The story includes San Francisco, Yosemite (described above), the coastal drive from SF down towards Los Angeles, the great weather, massive traffic jams in LA, all the famous sites for families and kids, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National park, Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Monument, and Death Valley (we had 133 degrees F one day, 100 degrees plus swimming pool water at night, and a (dead) scorpion, in our apartment in Stove Pipe Wells). We camped in many parts, although not in Death Valley. I hope that Arnie looks after all of it it well, and not just Death Valley.
This includes many great deserts, mountain areas and canyons. And if, like me, you love "western" movies as well as raw nature, you'll love these:
ROME AND FLORENCE
Simply great. Soon, I'll tell you why soon. But I'm sure you do not need me to tell you.
Almost missed her out. That would just not do. Staggering architecture on Hong Kong island, especially Norman Foster's bank building (HSBC? I've forgotten, sorry.) You have probably seen pictures of the view from the main hill on the island, or been there yourself. Don't miss that train ride up. Hong Kong mainland is wonderful, even if like me you do not like shopping. Its a pity the airport has changed. The old airport involved a spectacular winding between skyscrapers (that is what it seemed like, at least) at an incredible lean angle.
No one can resist its charms, surely! Try the Milburn Hotel, off Central Park. Reasonably cheap, near John Lennon's memorial garden, and not too far from the Guggenheim Museum. And you can walk to 5th avenue and go up the Empire State Building. On my last visit, I remember how safe and friendly it seemed compared with a previous visit. This is a good place to be a straightforward tourist!
VERONA AND VENICE
Simply great. Verona is easy to get to from its own airport or from Bergamo airport (Milan). Bergamo itself has a fantastic old walled city. You should visit this for a day, and have local food at the cheap restaurant with a name something like 'Circolina'; it is in a street that runs off at right-angles to the main street through the old town, not at all obvious as you walk along. Mike, one of my sons, recommends booking in advance a seat at a home game of AC Milan or Inter Milan, then flying in to Bergamo first, before going on to Bergamo old city then Verona. He went by train all over Italy; Italian trains are great. I recommend hiring a car at Bergamo airport (we had a brand new Fiat Panda; people were looking at the new model as we drove around) and travelling around Italy as you like. Then you can drive into the Dolomites. More of that later. First, Verona, a beautiful old city. Try the Scalin restaurant - the best one I found in Italy on my most recent holiday. This is the other side of the river from the old city, but not too far. It does really great food, at very cheap prices. Doesn't seem to have any tourist trade, but lots of local people coming in all evening to buy pizza to take away. You may go there more than once, like us.
We all have a mental image of Venice, but it will beat your expectations. Try and have at least two nights there, more than one day certainly. And consider buying a 24 hour canal bus (traghetto?) ticket, for unlimited travel on the canals. A trip into the lagoons at midnight is really beautiful, and romantic. Don't miss the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, with fine, if small, collections of Picasso, Ernst and many of the great surrealists.
We drove from Verona to the Dolomites via Lake Garda. Although the lake and mountain views are remarkable, this is largely built up with hotels and holiday stuff, and it is quite difficult to stop for a restful break, especially along the southern half of the Lake. But gets much better as you get further north along the lake. We found a great hotel with great food, and its own beach, which fits our budget (that of an impoverished university lecturer and severely underpaid wife, given the great work she does).
The Dolomites are remarkable. The scenery is unique in terms of the needle-like rock formations of many mountains, and in summer it is easy and cheap to use cable cars and the like to go up the mountains on to the high alpine pastures. You can then walk higher from there, or just ramble more-or-less horizontally. In Val Gardena, you can buy a 7 day unlimited pass for 50 Euros, allowing you to use any of 12 different cable cars, gondolas etc., as often as you like. This seems to be a system used in other centres too. Val - my wife, not the glaciated valley - and I gorged ourselves on visits up the mountains; we chose a self-catering chalet apartment right next to the Dantercepies ski-lift, and used the lift frequently as if it were our own toy. I am not sure where anyone can get better long-distance walking than in the Dolomites (although the Swiss and French Alps, and the USA Sierra Nevada may well be candidates, but with more difficult walking perhaps). One thing to watch out for: in the Italian local holiday period (second half of July?) you may find, as we did, that many restaurants are closed in some towns and villages. A big advantage of self-catering!
Cortina is great too. Excellent mountain walking all around. Very good value restaurants are Ariston and Croda; very different in size and style, but both good.
Val loves the little village of Santa Fosca in the Dolomites. We stayed in a chalet hotel called 'Garni La Stua' which was very good valley for money, with great views from the room balcony of the Marmalade range. Not too many places to eat round about, but very cheap, simple but good food in 'Moe' 100 metres away.
I've not been there yet. But if this is where Mars bars are made, I want to go there soon. (Are you listening, European Space Agency?)
e mail me, and I will put your choice here.
This year (2007) I visited Brazil for the wedding of Tim, one of my sons, to Marilia. This was my first trip to South America. We stayed in the Bahia region, ending with a spectacular marriage in Salvadore. We did not have enough time to go to Amazonia, or even to see Rio. However, we had a fantastic stay in a small village called Imbassai on the 'Coconut Coast' about 70 kms north of Salvador, and I would strongly recommend others to stay in the same Pousada (small rural inn) that we found. Name is Pousada Canto de Imbassai. It was an idyllic, fantastic location, with two great owners, Tomas and Carolina , who really spoil you. Food is wonderful, and Tomas can arrange for horse riding along the near deserted beaches and dunes and show you all the places where you can do walks through the forests and surrounding areas. (A 4 hour ride along the beach was my first experience of horse riding, truly memorable - and very cheap too.) I had been a little apprehensive about staying in Brazill, but this holiday laid to rest all my concerns. It is a completely unspoiled area as yet, but I guess will find it hard to avoid that in twenty years or so. But right now this is a real jewell.
I visit Athens every year for a spell of teaching. Simply great. But I stay in a hotel paid for by my employer, so have no best place to stay tips. During my trip this year, went to a fabulous new Cretan restaurant. Will try and remember its name and put a link here.
Who knows? If you do, let me know!