Not Playing Favorites
aka: Selective Memories
When you travel as much as we do, you’re hit with inevitable questions:
“Aren’t you worried about your safety?”
“What do you pack?”
“What’s your favorite place?”
The first two usually get a smartass response from me, and the last one is somewhat audience-dependent. But, the true answer is “If I have one favorite, I haven’t traveled enough.”
We’ve been fortunate to have many “trips of a lifetime”—every year. Some business, some pleasure, and some business-turned-pleasure. As a result, we have some remarkable moments and memories that even my alcohol-addled brain still retains. So we started a list.
And it’s staggering.
For example, Moscow was far from a favorite place. In fact, it may top the list of least favorites. It’s dreary, glum, and gray.
But when you walk out into Red Square near midnight and you’re surrounded by the lights of St. Basil’s, the Kremlin, and GUM, it’s hard to ever forget. I remember standing there for a long time in a misty cold night. It was the Russia romanticized in movies, all dramatic shapes and wool coats.
I also remember that the magic was gone the next day. Moscow was fascinating, but St. Basil’s is an office building by day.
The magically lit GUM is a department store (although a very cool one). Maybe it’s true that’s everything better at night, at least in Russia.
Here goes the list:
(Side note: These are mostly international. The US version will follow later.)
- Climbing up the last few last steps through the gate of the sun to see Macchu Picchu, Peru, for the first time after a 5-hour hike on the Inca trail (at an altitude of about 8,000 feet). The pictures don’t do it justice, and neither does arriving by bus.
- Receiving a blessing from the Buddhist monks at 5 a.m. in the Golden Triangle of Thailand as you offer them food you bought from the local market.
- Watching the Arenal volcano begin to erupt in Costa Rica.
- Watching the moon rise during sundowners on safari in Botswana amongst a herd of curious zebras and the occasional hyena. (“Sundowner”: the art of enjoying the sunset with libations and snacks in the midst of safari.
- Arriving in a 1947 de Havilland float plane to an island in Fiji and jumping out into waist deep water. (Uhhh, what about my luggage?)
- Bicycling through the lakes district of Patagonia over the Andes into Chile in the freshest air imaginable.
- Having “Happy Birthday” sung to me in Croatian over a candlelit dinner on the Pelješac peninsula (overlooking the Adriatic) in Croatia.
- Eating dinner under the stars at a Russian billionaire’s (FOP: friend of Putin) home high above the Black Sea in Gelendzhik, Russia. And wondering how the hell you got here, and why.
- The first time seeing penguins in the wild (New Zealand). And the second time (South Africa). And every other time.
- Feeding a baby elephant from a bottle in Thailand.
- Watching the topless female German tourists in the Fijian sun flip back and forth, closely followed by their “38 longs.” Wait—maybe that belongs on a different list. The one with the title of “Unwelcome European Nudity”
- Sipping Dom Perignon on a rooftop in Istanbul as the sun goes down watching the lights of Haggia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and listening to the call to prayer. (Almost as memorable? The Dom was wayyy underpriced).
- Negotiating to buy antiques in the Beijing hutongs (before they were torn down for the Olympics) with no common language and no translator.
- Fly fishing in Mendoza, Argentina, but having meat (mostly organ meat) for shore lunch. Welcome to Argentina.
- Listening to our Thai guide Ging tell us that after spending several weeks with Angelina Jolie (as a driver, guide, and interpreter) that he “didn’t think she was that hot.”
- Watching the sun set in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
- Meeting the guinea pigs in Cusco as pets living in the house, knowing they will eventually become dinner for the family. House to table? Pet to table? A new movement? (Maybe won’t catch on.)
- Coming face-to-face with an adult male lion and a leopard with only a few feet and open air between you on safari in South Africa.
- Spending a warm afternoon wandering in the Palermo Viejo and Palermo Soho neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.
- Hiking up through the Torii gates in Kyoto.
- Learning to chew coca leaves with our bus driver near the border of Bolivia in Salta, Argentina.
- Eating Malay street food under the shadows and night lighting of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumphur.
- Watching our friend peeing on the top of the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand, totally oblivious to the fact that hundreds of other hikers were also watching him.
- Sticking our heads in the bread-baking oven in Morocco, learning a centuries-old recipe.
- Catching an 8-pound brown trout fly fishing with Chappy Chapman on the South Island of New Zealand.
- Waking up in a tent camp in the middle of the desert in India.
- Watching our new friends dance to “Just the Way You Are” on the deck of our gullet in the waters off the Datca Peninsula in the south of Turkey.
- Checking into the Burj al Arab in Dubai. We thought the 4000+ square-foot space was a check-in lobby. It was our room.
- Wandering the best markets in the world, including the fish market in Catania, Sicily, La Boqueria in Barcelona, Mercado Centrale in Florence, the souks in Morocco, and the Saturday Parisian flea markets.
- Flying into Bagan, Burma.
- Taking three passes at the runway in Botswana (in the tiniest of planes) to get the crazy giraffes out of our way so we could land.
- The views and the smell in the air while bicycling from Cape Point in South Africa along Chapman’s Peak Drive back to Cape Town.
- Hiking with a guide from a small Berber village in Morocco, listening to how his 13-year-old daughter is betrothed to be married within the year.
- Sun rises and sunsets….everywhere. Namely, over the bay of Oman, the Sea of Japan, the Sahara Desert, the Burren in Ireland, Fiji, over the vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina, and Bodrum, Turkey, overlooking the Aegean Sea (where he unscrewed all the outdoor lightbulbs around our hotel so as not to interfere with the sunset).
- The end of the 3+ hour bicycle climb up Mont Ventoux (24K) by bike in Provence.
- After the descent from Mont Ventoux, devouring the croque monsieur in Sault, Provence, France.
- Bicycling in Catalonia between multiple borders and being greeted in French, Spanish, or Catalan.
- The waves crashing right below the hotel room in Tofino on Vancouver Island at The Wickaninnish Inn.
- Riding dune buggies in the desert of Oman and meeting the camels.
- Sharing your beachfront hut in Tulum (before it became touristy) with a 3-foot iguana.
- Drinking fortified wine as shots with a large group of Chinese businessmen in Dalian, China.
- The hangover after pounding shots of fortified wine with a large group of Chinese businessmen the night before.
- The view from the men’s room in the Peninsula Hotel restaurant in Kowloon overlooking Hong Kong Island.
- The smiling faces and loud hellos of school children in India as you pass by on bicycle.
- Falling asleep on his lap on a park bench in the Parisian sun as he sketched Notre Dame.
- The first time wandering the streets in Bangkok. The way the sights (elephants, markets, tuk tuks), smells, and sounds hit you. The second and third times are equally memorable.
- Arriving by boat to your hotel in Venice.
- Dipping hot bread into housemade olive oil in Deia, a small city on the island of Mallorca, Spain.
- Drinking Greek moonshine (Roditis) and watching a couple get married on the tiered deck below overlooking the Caldera (and the lost city of Atlantis) in Santorini, Greece.
- Sitting in our underwear eating pistachios and drinking mini bar wine on a hotel balcony in Berchtesgaden, Germany with a view of the Alps near Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.
- Marveling at the Italian women hiking in high heels between towns in the Cinque Terre in Italy.
- Spending New Year’s Eve in the basement Euro trash bar of our favorite hotel in London, the Blakes.
- Trying to find a glass of wine for under $25 in Zurich, Switzerland.
- Eating Christmas dinner on a beach in Grenada.
- Bicycling in the Julian Alps toward Bled, Slovenia, as the sudden onset of rain turns to actual snow. On a bicycle. In June.
- The anticipation of the next trip. Because nobody makes rules about how many favorites you’re allowed to have.