May Day in Munich

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It’s strange to travel to a place that lives up to all of your stereotypes.

When we arrived in Munich we were delighted to see a couple or two wearing dirndls and lederhosen. And then suddenly we realized they were everywhere. We decided this could either be because it was May Day and therefore all the kids were pulling their traditional garb out just for one day of the year, or this is now the retro-chic thing to wear in Bavaria. I prefer the latter explanation.

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Bach that rach up

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After a 6 hour drive from Paris to the Rhine river in Germany, my friend Marissa and I ended up in a small town named Bacharach. We quickly understood why this is such a tourist town: it’s impossibly charming and fits most every German stereotype.

We stopped in to a lovely restaurant that serves local wines and each ordered a wine flight, which consisted of 6 full glasses of wine. Oops! We learned that the wine that comes from the steep slopes along the Rhine is best–something about the slate directly underneath that holds more of the sun’s warmth and let’s the grapes stay on the vine longer.

The following day we saw those vineyards in action as we cruised up the Rhine. The plots are tiny and precipitously placed all along the cliffsides, which made us more fully appreciate how much work went into every single glass of wine.

Well done, Bacharach.

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2 days in Paris

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When I was traveling from Minnesota to Paris fellow travelers asked me one question: “Is this your first time visiting Paris?”

I can understand the question: I’m young- and perhaps idealistic looking. But when I answered that it wouldn’t be my first time in Paris, but that I’d also be visiting Germany and it was my first time there, they’d invariably be disappointed. By the third time I realized I should just lie and say, yes, this will be my first time in Paris and I’m so excited to see the Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower in person. There is, after all, a magical quality to Paris that seduces all without exception.

My fellow travelers need not have worried: Paris is a city that never ceases to amaze. After an arduous process meeting up with my friend who lives just outside of Paris I went into the city again the next day. I visited the gorgeous Palais Garnier and finally went inside Notre Dame. And my favorite moment from the whole day was emerging exhausted from the Cite metro station and finding a huge flower market in the middle of the main island of Paris.

That’s the thing about traveling: as much as we can plan for wonderful experiences, it’s the unexpected ones that take us by surprise and linger on in our memories.

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Airports big and small

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When a person (say…me) googles “world’s coolest airports,” she encounters several lists of huge, modern airports in some of the world’s most technologically advanced cities in the world. Think Singapore, Tokyo, Berlin, Hong Kong, Dubai. But, while some of these structures are indeed incredible, I tired quickly of their strikingly similar aesthetics. They’re all modern monoliths, designed to usher millions of travelers through their permeable walls in the most efficient manner possible. Yes, some of them include art installations or flora, but too much art occludes the primary functionality of the buildings.

Barajas airport in Madrid: more pain than it's worth

Take, for instance, Madrid’s new Barajas airport. This airport appeared on some of my google lists of “cool airports,” but I must say that the experience of trying to use this airport drove me crazy. Terminals are painfully far away from each other and, due to the open plan of the gates, there are no announcements over any loudspeakers (speakers are only used to pipe in bird noises). Passengers crowd around the departure screens instead and must wait–sometimes until just before their flight is boarding–to find out at which gate their plane awaits them (and then must go charging to a faraway terminal). Who cares about an innovative design if it makes me miss my flight?

Thus, I switched the operative superlative in my searches from “coolest” to “smallest” and “most dangerous.” Success! I found about about Courchevel airport in the French Alps, with such a short runway that pilots must land on an incline to decrease speed and take off on a decline.

Barra Airport: the red sign warns visitors to stay off the beach "when the airport is active"

And I was reminded how the runway of Gibraltar’s airport intersects a four-lane highway because Spain won’t let the British colony use its airspace (can we detect a grudge?) Thus, the highway must close every time a plane is taking off or landing.

And I learned of the world’s only beach runway in Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. You know why no one else has put their runway on a beach? Oh right, because the tide washes it out. Yes, Barra Airport only operates during low tide and, if there are emergency landings at night, helpful citizens have to come illuminate the runway with their cars, as Barra has no artificial lights. Now that’s cool.

Let’s take a look at a Courchevel Airport departure, shall we? The views, if you can get your heart to beat at a normal rate, are certainly lovely…

New York, New York (and other doubles)

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So nice, I've been there twice (or more)

I’m getting on a plane to New York in just a few hours. This is the first flight I will take in over a year, which feels strange as I used to fly once every few months. With all that traveling, you’d think I would have hit a bunch of varied locations. I realized, though, that I’m a traveler who doesn’t so much seek out new places, but instead prefers to return to old favorites.

I first traveled abroad to Spain when I was 16, during which I visited Madrid and cities and towns in northern Spain. As soon as I got back to Minnesota, I vowed to return. Which I did at the age of 22…and again at 24. I taught English for a year in a small town in southern Spain at 22 and, the following summer, went back to both to northern and southern Spain. Just, you know, to make sure it was all as wonderful as I remembered.

I’ve also been to Dublin, Paris, and London twice each. I lived in the central part of Mexico during a sophomore year study abroad, and then spent a winter vacation in the Yucatan five years later. But somehow, in all this traveling, I’ve missed Italy and Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia, South America and Asia. Either it’s time to start shaking things up, or time to admit that I’m not as adventurous of a traveler as I’d like to think. This will, after all, be my sixth trip to New York City.

What kind of a traveler are you? The I’ve-Been-Everywhere type, or the Revisited type?

Great books for traveling

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#3 on the list...at least I've heard of it!

I cannot take credit for the following list of books; it was culled together by WorldHum, who in turn searched the internet for “best-of” lists. The idea of a good travel book is an interesting one–must it be nonfiction, or can fiction sometimes better portray the ambience of a place? Can poetry work in this way as well? And what about those books that are good to take with you to a certain place because they share the mood, if not the location?

Looking over this list, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only read Eat, Pray, Love (note: I’m not embarrassed at having read this book, but instead that there are so many dozens listed that I’ve never even heard of). Which books have you read from this list, and which books would you add to it?

1) A Dragon Apparent, by Norman Lewis
2) A House in Bali, by Colin McPhee
3) A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
4) A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
5) A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
6) A Turn in the South, by V.S. Naipaul
7) A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
8) A Winter in Arabia, by Freya Stark
9) Among the Russians, by Colin Thubron
10) An Area of Darkness, by V.S. Naipaul
11) Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger
12) Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez
13) The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton
14) As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee
15) Baghdad Without a Map, by Tony Horwitz
16) Balkan Ghosts, by Robert D. Kaplan
17) Beyond Euphrates, by Freya Stark
18) The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, by Eric Hansen
19) Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, by Lawrence Durrell
20) Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West
21) Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin
22) Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon
23) Brazilian Adventure, by Peter Fleming
24) Chasing the Sea, by Tom Bissell
25) City of Djinns, by William Dalrymple
26) Coasting, by Jonathan Raban
27) Coming Into the Country, by John McPhee
28) Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux
29) Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
30) Down the Nile, by Rosemary Mahoney
31) Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
32) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
33) Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
34) Facing the Congo, by Jeffrey Tayler
35) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson
36) Four Corners, by Kira Salak
37) Full Circle, by Michael Palin
38) Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, by Dervla Murphy
39) Golden Earth, by Norman Lewis
40) Great Plains, by Ian Frazier
41) The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux
42) Holidays in Hell, by P.J. O’Rourke
43) Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
44) Hunting Mister Heartbreak, by Jonathan Raban
45) In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
46) In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
47) In Siberia, by Colin Thubron
48) In Trouble Again, by Redmond O’Hanlon
49) The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
50) Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
51) Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
52) Iron and Silk, by Mark Salzman
53) Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl
54) The Lady and the Monk, by Pico Iyer
55) Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain
56) The Log From the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck
57) The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz
58) The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson
59) Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, by Suketu Mehta
60) The Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
61) The Muses Are Heard, by Truman Capote
62) No Mercy, by Redmond O’Hanlon
63) Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
64) Nothing to Declare, by Mary Morris
65) Old Glory, by Jonathan Raban
66) The Old Patagonian Express, by Paul Theroux
67) Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
68) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard
69) The Pillars of Hercules, by Paul Theroux
70) The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart
71) Riding to the Tigris, by Freya Stark
72) The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald
73) The River at the Center of the World, by Simon Winchester
74) River Town, by Peter Hessler
75) Road Fever, by Tim Cahill
76) The Road to Oxiana, by Robert Byron
77) Roughing It, by Mark Twain
78) Sea and Sardinia, by D.H. Lawrence
79) Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
80) The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost
81) The Size of the World, by Jeff Greenwald
82) Slowly Down the Ganges, by Eric Newby
83) The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
84) The Soccer War, by Ryszard Kapuscinski
85) The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin
86) Terra Incognita, by Sara Wheeler
87) Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue, by Paul Bowles
88) Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
89) Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
90) Travels With Myself and Another, by Martha Gellhorn
91) Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris
92) Two Towns in Provence, by M.F.K. Fisher
93) Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
94) Video Night in Kathmandu, by Pico Iyer
95) West With the Night, by Beryl Markham
96) When the Going was Good, by Evelyn Waugh
97) The World of Venice, by Jan Morris
98) The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
99) Wrong About Japan, by Peter Carey
100) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig

Travelers’ Century Club, or, I’ve been everywhere

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People love listing the countries they’ve visited. We do it on Facebook, we do it by putting pins in maps (Mitch Hedberg: “I want to hang a map of the world in my house, then I am going to put pins into all the locations I have traveled to, but first I will have to travel to the top two corners of the map, so it won’t fall down”). But I always feel a little sad when I realize how paltry my list of approximately 9 countries visited looks against the full list of nearly 200 countries.

The North Pole...seems a little extreme, doesn't it?

Enter the Travelers’ Century Club, a group of people who have travelled to no fewer than 100 countries. Now, there are plenty of countries I’d still like to visit, but 100+ countries seems excessive. Do club members really enjoy their time in each country, or do they just step foot in them just to be able to cross them off a master list? What does one do on holiday in, say, Uzbekistan? And who has the time to hit each island in the South Pacific?

At this time, apparently, there are 14 people who claim to have visited EVERY country on the TCC list. This list actually includes 321 lands, some of which are not countries in their own right but are geographically separate from the parent country, such as Alaska or Easter Islands. John Clause from Evansville, IL was the first (by his account) to reach every country in the world, and was recognized in the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records as the most-travelled man. At that point it starts to seem like a compulsion. I wonder if these ultra-travellers get excited about the thought of new countries, or if they dread civil wars and the resulting border reconfigurations. Let me guess, last month there were immediately 14 tickets booked to South Sudan. I hear the weather there is excellent in August.

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