Ok, self promotion doesn’t get lower than this. But who cares. Are you looking for some weekend reads and travel ideas this chilly weekend. Here’s a selection of my favorite excerpts from my 14 favorites travel stories, all written by me. Some are even funny. Travel more in 2017! And enjoy!
Sea had several hidden nooks for reading and escaping other people (another rarity on cruise-ships), and I spent a gloriously quiet evening alone in the best of them: the Explorers’ Lounge library, a highlight for any intrepid traveler. I sank into a leather sofa thumbing through a gold-embossed copy of Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen, scanned Livingstone’s Missionary Correspondence, 1841-1856, and perused the hefty three-pound, 715-page behemoth The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garr. The library’s acquisition of out-of-print facsimile reproductions, newly released titles, and preservation of century-old first editions shows an inspiring dedication to the spirit of exploration. I spent a lot of time in the Explorers’ Lounge while the ship crossed the North Sea from the Thames Estuary to Bergen, lavishing a nautical comfort the authors couldn’t possibly dream of—and reveling in what is surely a new and very comfortable age of exploration.
Often called the St Moritz of Japan, Niseko embodies Japanese ski culture: bowls of fortifying ramen in between runs, steamy apres-ski onsen and its own snow-capped mountain that’s as perfectly symmetrical as any view of Mount Fuji rendered by iconic Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. But the reality is Niseko is perhaps about as Japanese as St Moritz is Swiss. Ski destinations – cosmopolitan by nature – seldom represent the countries they’re located in, and Niseko is no exception. The town, on the island of Hokkaido, is nothing like the rest of Japan. Its bulky Brutalist architecture is more aligned with neighbouring Russian and Chinese Soviet design than it is with the graceful ancient Edo style that punctuates much of Japan. It’s fitting, since Niseko is closer as the crow flies to Russia and China than it is to Tokyo. Most of Hokkaido’s ancient traditions come from the indigenous Ainu, who settled in Hokkaido around 18,000BC and resisted Japanese occupation for millennia.
Mexican food is a consistent letdown in Europe, but times are changing — the Mexican Donkey served authentic tacos with tomatillo salsa verde, complex mole without dairy, pink pickled onions and rustic wheat tortillas. To maintain momentum, I swung by Dash for an old-fashioned. Desserts at Nord Gourmet included rugbrodscrunch, a rock-hard rye biscotti that surely keeps Danish dentists in business, and a buttery rhubarb crumble.
A 70-mile drive south from La Chaux-de-Fonds led to France’s woodsy Vosges Mountains. There, in Ronchamp, is Notre Dame du Haut chapel, considered Le Corbusier’s masterpiece, atop a hill covered in holly and wild roses. By turns alien and primitive, Notre Dame du Haut, built in 1955 of bulging whitewashed concrete and a wildly sloping roof, looks like a rare mushroom that mysteriously sprouted overnight. Inside, the building reveals calculated detail: bullet-hole windows letting in dusky light, unadorned cement staircases, pews made of African wood, a white Burgundy stone altar and stained-glass painted by Le Corbusier himself. I spent an hour wandering around as nuns and collared men met for prayers, and visiting architects from Asia and Europe admired the 27 irregular windows on the chapel’s southern wall. Frank Gehry once confessed to crying every time he visited.
Nothing delivers “Old Japan” better than Kyoto’s ryokan, where ornate multicourse kaiseki meals are still served privately in-room to overnight guests. Hiiragiya is a standout. The 28-room, sixth- generation inn features dishes such as simmered razor clams with bamboo shoots, yuba (tofu skin) dumplings, cod roe miso and urchin omelets, all served on handcrafted Kiyomizu ceramics and elegant lacquerware in your tatami- mat room, where shoji (papered screens) and fusuma (sliding doors) transport you to another era.
Ravn and I drove 10km west to the unmarked Harald’s Bog, where Haraldskær Woman was discovered. Like the bogs I’d seen from the train, it was covered in bright green duckweed and surrounded by a dense thicket of trees, under which crooked purple mushrooms and bright red berries burst with color in pockets of sunlight. There’s something magical and otherworldly about these bogs, and it’s easy to see why they were once chosen as sacrificial sites – and why they maintain an inexplicable magnetic pull today.
The restaurant itself is in Torshavn, the capital, on the main island of Streymoy, in a creaky 400-year-old house that makes Ingmar Bergman sets look Baroque. The narrow dining room’s floors, walls and ceilings are built of salvaged driftwood. Communal tables seat 27 and are made from the reclaimed Douglas pine of an old schooner’s mast. A Delft stove once fueled by blubber oil sits in the corner. It’s a reminder that Scandinavian minimalism was never a choice in these islands — it was a necessity.
To call the 245-room business hotel a train wreck is an insult to wrecked trains. The Dutch designer Marcel Wanders’s overwrought décor has Swiss and Hawaiian motifs competing against one another — a cowbell lamp here, a lei there. Ukulele music, fondue pots, flocked floral wallpaper and mounted antlers all mingle together in an attempt to be Swiss by way of Maui.
With chefs and brewers, vintners and culinarians moving around the world and experimenting with local flavors and ingredients, food has become less of a one-way ticket and more of a round-trip voyage.
While interested in exploring this uniquely Bhutanese claim to fame, I confess to a streak of skepticism. It’s not that I don’t believe Bhutan is happy but, rather, I question whether a country can quantify happiness. And frankly, I’m also here to experience some serious short-term pleasure: a stay at five different Aman properties, each with its own flavor and mix of mile-high modernism, tranquil spas and, in some, traditional hot stone baths (a mixture of river water and wormwood touted for its medicinal properties). After all, the ancient name for Bhutan is The Land of Medicinal Herbs and its traditional medicine stretches back to seventh-century Tibet, with elements borrowed from ancient Indian Ayurvedic techniques. Surely, this too is a source of its happiness.
On THE WATER-TAXI RIDE FROM Venice’s Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, a storm is building on the horizon. The boat skids over the canals, blurring past Gothic arched windows and ornamental bridges before emptying out into the vast, open wetlands of the lagoon. The driver points to the inky sky and shouts over the engine, “Acqua alta!” It means “high water” in Italian, but it’s the Venetian term for the especially high tides that affect the lagoon from September to May. Tellingly, it’s also interchangeable with the local word for storm. Water, as every Venetian knows, is ubiquitous here: It’s under you, around you and, in this case, even over you.
GOLDEN RULE number one in the Sunshine State: Older is often better. Take, for example, the Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Built in 1912 as a railroad causeway, it’s now a fishing (and cycling) pier spanning the turquoise water of the Moser Channel. Running parallel is the new Seven Mile Bridge, completed in 1982 and part of the Overseas Highway that leads to the terminus of Florida’s island chain, rollicking Key West.
The next 10 blissful days were filled with easy-going excursions around the island. At Ibaruma Sabichi, we trudged through beachfront caves dripping with salty stalactites and encountered Buddhist shell shrines watched over by ruddy kingfishers, bright crimson birds perched on Sakishima- suou trees.
In a mausoleum at the end of the cemetery, he’s offered ritualistic meals twice a day where he remains in eternal meditation concentrating on liberating all beings. Or as we say in the west: dead.