By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Patricia Schultz, author of the New York Times best-seller, “1000 Places to See Before You Die” offered up some 20 of her favorites to consider for 2019 in her talk, “Global Travel Experiences” at the New York Times Travel Show.
In writing her book, though, she said, “I started off with 100 drop-dead places” but was encouraged to increase the number to 1000. It took 8 years to write the book.
“I did all the homework. Are these your favorite 1000? Probably not. You may ask, ‘How will I ever see all 1000?’ But it’s not about seeing all 1000, it’s having those places that resonate, talk to you, realize that this is place you’ve always heard about, or never knew existed.”
Despite skepticism of how the book would be received, within days of publication, the book shot up to #1 on the New York Times best seller list. “And to prove I am still alive, I gave myself the gift of travel. I don’t need a special occasion.” But she notes that it was a landmark birthday, “so with a friend I went to Machu Picchu.”
Machu Picchu – You fly from Lima to Cuzco to see the Lost City, 11,000 ft above sea level. The risk here is altitude sickness. “I was cocky. All that mata de coca stuff in the lobby didn’t work. So I’m sitting with an oxygen mask in the lobby, and engaged in conversation with a woman from Newark celebrating her 90th birthday with her first passport stamp. She spoke of having dropped out of school at age 11 during the Great Depression, put four children through university as a washerwoman – one became an attorney, another a gynecologist. As a gift for her 90th she told me, ‘Perhaps you heard of it, 1000 Places.’ They gave me a magic marker to highlight any place and they would send me.’” Edith with her husband of 70 years gave me two wonderful quotes: ‘Your knees have expiration dates’ (and she was on her second set of replacements, titanium); and ‘You need to do the difficult places first.’”
Scotland: Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides Islands– brooding, romantic, often misty, green (it rains a lot). Of the islands off Scotland’s west coast, one is connected by bridge. Skye is only 50 miles north to south – incredible to hike. There’s a whisky trail (The Scots love whisky); a castle trail. Edinburgh. Take the train from London– wild, unexpectedly beautiful. Edinburgh has one of best performing arts festivals in world, Edinburgh Arts Festival. Part of it is the Military Tattoo –tickets are hard to come by – there are drummers, bagpipers from all over the Commonwealth around the world, who perform at night in front of Edinburgh Castle.
Iceland is only about 5 hours flight (about as long as it takes to drive out to the Hamptons on Long Island’s eastern shore from New York City- Icelandic Air has discounted fares – often you can stay days or a week in Iceland enroute to/from 20 cities in Europe. The main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe, just 125,000 people but the entire country has a population of just 300,000, and most live in the southwest corner. Icelanders are unusual people, highly literate, cultured, well traveled, speak English. The scenery is other-worldly.
Iceland is probably best known for Northern Lights, a celestial spectacle, sublime and surreal. Vikings, Iceland’s indigenous people, always had an explanation for the spectacular display of lights that can last 5 minutes or 5 hours – green, blue – if you haven’t seen it, you have to. You can take Northern Lights packages – but stay at least 4 nights because they don’t happen all the time, you can’t guarantee. In summer, you don’t see the Northern Lights; instead, you have the Midnight Sun.
(Hurtigruten offers a Northern Lights cruise through Norway – if you don’t see the Northern Lights, they reimburse you.)
St. Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the czars of Russia, St. Petersburg big port of call on Baltic cruises – second most popular European cruise (after Mediterranean and you don’t need to be 90) – visit Scandinavian cities, northern European – Taillin, Estonia, Gdansk in northern Poland – we sailed out of Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, sailed east then north up to St. Petersburg – so much to see, you get 5-8 hrs in ports, but in St. Petersburg, you overnight up to 3 days. The Winter Palace is grand – best known as the home of the Hermitage Art Collection (one of the three top art museums in the world, with Le Louvre in Paris and Metropolitan Museum in New York). The Heritage Museum, Russia’s Louvre, is one of world’s richest repositories of art. It holds the Guinness Book of Records for most paintings of any museum – most are stored in the basement . The crowds are crazy.
Bruges, Belgium is Brussels in miniature. Everyone goes to London, Paris, Berlin, fly into capital cities and sometimes that’s all you see – which gives you a distorted idea of a country. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a beautiful city but less than one hour by high-speed train (travel throughout Europe by train, makes Amtrak look medieval, embarrassing) from Brussels is Bruges. People go for a few hours, for lunch, the museums. It’s very picturesque. Bruges was the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy in 15th century – the Venice of the north, a little Amsterdam also built on canals. Bruges is less than 2 hours from Amsterdam. Everything you experience in big cities like Brussels experience here.
Amsterdam: The canals in Amsterdam are 400 years old, a UNESCO World Heritage site. People think of cafes, marijuana, red light district. Amsterdam is so much more. I visited on an AMA Waterways river cruise that starts in Amsterdam, cruises on the Amstel River that connects with Rhine. The Christmas market season is magical. A walking tour of the Red Light District is fascinating; the district has changed generation to generation; there is much to be learned.
Venice, Italy – I took one of my first trips to Europe for ancestral purposes, to discover my roots – that’s a real thing, to explore your background, heritage, the reasons, traditions you grew up with. My mother was not from Venice, but from Puglia (on the heel of boot; Venice in northeast corner of ‘boot’ on a Peninsula). Venice was the seat of government; the Doge ruled this maritime republic that reached to Asia. San Marco was where the Doge lived and ruled; he built a cathedral to house St Mark’s bones, “borrowed” during the Crusades from the Holy Land. The Basilica of St. Mark was built over 1000 years ago – it’s not the oldest church in Italy but one of the most magnificent. It looks Byzantine, Arabesque because it was fashioned after Sophia in Constantinople.
Istanbul, Turkey – rising above the chaos, where East meets West. There are other bi-continental countries (Russia), but Istanbul is the only city in the world that is bi-continental with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. Istanbul was a prime, super important hub on the Silk Road for millennia –merchants came with goods from China on their way to the Mediterranean and Venice – then loaded up European treasures to bring back. Over time, this commerce between East and West also resulted in an exchange of religion, ideology, DNA, cuisine, language, culture, everything imaginable. Built in the 6th century to spread Christianity (what was America was doing then?), Hagia Sophia was the inspiration for the Basilica St Marks in Venice. Today, it is no longer a cathedral or basilica; Ottomans stripped it of its Christian-ness and converted it into a mosque. The Muslims plastered the Christian frescoes over but did not destroy them, so some have been restored, so today, you can still see the fresco of Virgin Mary. Ataturk (who founded Turkey) made it into a museum, but it is still imbued with a spirituality; Muslims and Christians still pray here. Turkey has an incredible food scene, both traditional and contemporary.
Marrakesh, Morocco is an everyday carnival at the heart of the Medina – Morocco is so much fun, offering Islamic welcome and history. Most Americans believe Morocco is in the Middle East, but in fact is in North Africa. One of the best food markets, Jenna el Fna Square, happens in the evening in Marrakesh (overly loved by tourists); from 5-6 pm, they set up the stalls – a lot of vendors sell the same secret ingredient specialty, 6 generations. You can smell bbq, couscous for miles. Atlas Mountains and Sahara – you travel like Bedouins by camels and can spend the night in a tented camp. One night is fine in the desert under the stars.
Lalibela, Ethiopia –Ethiopia is known for coffee, who knew Ethiopia was Christian? St George, one of the most photographed and best known, is one of 11 medieval churches in Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, built underground. You go down 3 flights of stairs to the entrance –columns, vaulted ceilings, each column different, all one piece of stone, dating from the 11-12th century. How were they built? They say it was built by a legion of angels. This is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ethiopia. You will also find some of nicest people. Coffee regions are lush – beautiful countryside – thought would be dusty scenes – but large parts lush. Very mountainous – Simien Mountains are among the highest in Africa; Simien National Park in Northern Ethiopia is a World Heritage Center site (simienpark.org)
Most go to Africa for the safari experience (“safari” is the Swahili word for “journey” ) – the big 5 Safari Countries: Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia.
Okavango Delta, Botswana –is an incomparable wildlife oasis, one of the best places for safari– irresistible for many reasons, especially wildlife – Okavango Delta is the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site – people danced in the streets when it was designated 3-4 yrs ago. You go into the Delta – a territory the size of Switzerland –in dugout canoes the locals make. This is the only place in Africa where you can go safari by canoe or walking with armed guard and trackers (most places go by open top jeep). If you see 10% of what sees you, it’s a good day.
Mountain Gorillas of Uganda – It’s not cheap, just to get there to see the mountain gorillas of Uganda. Daily permits cost $600. There are three neighborhing countries (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) where gorillas – who don’t know national borders – wander through, but pretty much stay put. The three countries together understand gorilla tourism is a big thing – accommodations are modest, fine – but it is about experience. For $600, you get a million dollar experience. The gorillas are not easy to find, but that’s what trackers do early in the morning, and report by walkie talkie or cellphone that they have found family x. The gorilla families are habituated to homo sapiens. When they find a family is habituated enough, they allow you to sit with them for one hour. You sit and eat in the company of our closest relative (we share 98% of the same DNA). A Silverback can grow to be 500-600 pounds, they can be up to 6 ft tall. Males communicate with grunts and groans (but not us, lest we give the wrong signal or message). Uganda is spectacularly beautiful – Winston Churchill called it the ‘Pearl of Africa’ and Ugandans even among Africans are known to be the friendliest.
Old Jerusalem, Israel – transcending time, place and faith. So many have been to Israel but if I had a dime for every time people ask, Isn’t it dangerous? We live in America – if you’ve looked at statistics of gun violence, worse off here than in Israel – all kinds of statistics that more likely to encounter risk in your bathroom – I just say go. World is big, wide, possibilities are endless, wonders are countless, and you won’t have the same experience if you just sit and watch beautiful documentaries. Get up, get out and do and visit the Holy Land. Regardless of your religion or inclination, the history is amazing –this is the only piece of real estate equally revered by three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. One of the most photographed sites in Israel is the Wailing Wall. Also the Church of Sepulcher, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified; the Golden Dome revered by Muslims. Israel is quite small (size of New Jersey); there is a new high speed train from Tel Aviv (like South Beach on the Mediterranean) to Jerusalem.
Petra, Jordan – the Pink City is half as old as time. Just across the border from Israel is another holy city, more and more visited in the last 10 years. Petra hit its stride during the Arab Spring, then tourism came to a standstill. Petra is mentioned in the Old Testament 2000 years ago. It was on the trade caravan route – and had water – so caravans laden with incense, frankincense, myrrh – spices found almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula, sold throughout Europe and worth its weight in gold – would stop in Petra and be taxed heavily by Nabataeans who were fabulously wealthy. Petra is actually 100 sq miles – you hike, go by mule (it’s 110 degrees), follow a mile-long sikh (natural alleyway) from 3-4 story high cliffs, that open up to reveal the Treasury. Most people visit for 2-3 hours and go back to Amman or Wadi Rum – like our Red Rock Country – and down to Aqaba (Lawrence of Arabia Country, center of Arab revolt). But if you stay overnight, you can go back in the evening, the place lit by votive candles, and hear Bedouin musicians perform.
Samarkabnd, Uzbekistan –another timeless caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road. Of the 5 “stans,” Uzbekistan is the best. Tashkent, the capital, is actually very modern in a Dubai way – crazy architecture, lots of money – but there are corners of the capital that are locked in time. Cities like Samarkand which were stops along the Silk Road, are some of the oldest inhabited cities – the tiles you see are remarkable – but what knocked us over was the hospitality of the people. They have been welcoming foreigners – wide eyed and fascinated – for thousands of years. It’s an exciting time to visit and not just for all the architecture, but for the food and the exchange of culinary traditions over millennia.
Mongolia – across the Steppes in the path of Genghis Khan. There is one asphalt road. The people live in white tented gers (yurt), which they roll up to follow the herd to the next place. The nomadic herdsman culture goes back to Genghis Khan – they say one out of three Mongolians has Genghis Khan’s DNA (Genghis Khan now rock star reputation). Mongolia has eternal blue sky – Montana on steroids – countryside is open, untrammeled – people have very hard scrabble life – winters are harsh – snow, horrific sub-zero weather but still live in yurts.
Kerala India – backwater lagoons with highland plantations – India has 39 states –a big country with a population of 1 billion – but most tourists confine their visit to Rajasthan (the Taj Mahal in Agra, Jaipur). But this time, I went to Kerala in the south – you have to go. Kerala has the highest rate of literacy in India – this corner of India is very cultured – feels different – very hot, humid, and looks like Sri Lanka (which is nearby) – the highest population of Christianity but predominantly Hindu – also has one of the oldest Jewish communities in Asia, in Cochin (the traditional account is that traders of Judea arrived in Cochin in 562 BCE and more came as exiles after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE). This place is what Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus were looking for when they were searching for a maritime route to India, what Henry Hudson was looking for when he wound up in Albany (de Gama found the route to India on his 1497-1499 voyage). Everything is wild here. The highlands have some of the largest tea and coffee plantations, and spices from here (black pepper was gold) made their way into the cuisine. They say there are 100 kinds of curries from coconut here. The backwaters offer hundreds of miles of lagoon labyrinth. You fly into Fort Cochin – we arrived in Tamil Nadu – on the triangular tip of southeast Asia.
Kyoto, Japan –It is surprisingly easy to get around Japan independently, but if you are concerned about language, go with a group. But the independent experience is such a different thing. Especially in Japan, which is so safe. We think New York City is big but it’s a village compared to Tokyo, with 33 million people, but one of safest, friendliest – if you like big cities you will love, Tokyo. But you get on the Bullet train to Kyoto, small by comparison – just 1 million people. Kyoto is a city of ancient temples and gardens amidst a modern cityscape – among the most important, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Everyone comes for shrines, temples (2000) – Inari, Shinto Shrine to saki, rice, business (mushed together) – magical – Kyoto also home to thriving geisha community, remarkable cuisine.
Sa Pa Vietnam – On the northernmost border with China – Yunan – over 30 ethnic hill tribes live in a concentration you don’t find in China.
Ubud, Indonesia – of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, Bali is the most visited– Australians go to Bali like we go to the Jersey Shore – package deals, spring breaks, bachelor parties. But leave Bali behind and go to the interior, to Ubud – predominantly Hindu – beyond the beaches on the island of the gods.
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