All places in alphabetical order
Introduction Boulogne, France Caen, France Český Krumlov, Czech Republic Chobe National Park, Botswana Dieppe, France Frenchtown, USA Grand Canyon, USA Great Wall, China Kruger National Park, South Africa Ha Long Bay, Vietnam Iguassu Falls, Brazil/Argentina Khajuraho, India Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru Leeds Castle, England Machu Picchu, Peru Niagara Falls, Canada/USA Petra, Jordan Pisa, Italy The Rockies, Canada St Malo, France Stratford-upon-Avon, England Terracotta Warriors, China Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe Wuzhen, China Yosemite, USA
I am half English and half Italian, my wife is half Welsh and half Czech, and our son has a degree in International Relations and currently lives in Kenya. So it might seem inevitable that I love travelling to other countries and meeting people from other cultures.
In fact, I grew up in a working class, single-parent household where overseas trips were rarely on the agenda. My Italian mother took us - by train - to her home city of Naples when I was four and again when I was almost 14, but this was the only foreign travel of my childhood.
When I was 18, I was fortunate enough to be selected for an educational tour of western Canada, but essentially I did not start to travel until I was a university student. My first independent trip was as a 21 year old when I spent a bitterly cold Christmas 1969 in Amsterdam.
Subsequently I have spent most of my holidays abroad, initially visiting European cities but, more latterly, venturing further afield. I have only ever lived in Manchester and London - both large cities - and therefore I love going to cities for holidays. Not for me lying on a beach wasting time and risking skin cancer!
Also my work as a trade union official gave me regular opportunities to travel because the transformation of our industries - telecommunications and posts - was of great interest to other countries and because these industries are increasingly becoming global. Therefore I have frequently visited cities to take part in conferences or give presentations and I have usually taken the opportunity to look at some of the local sights.
So, to date, I have visited 68 countries - half of them in Europe, but 14 in Asia, 12 in the Americas, eight in Africa and two in Oceania - and, in total, I have ventured abroad 184 times. In the course of all this travel, I have flown over 550 times and clocked up over 1,100 hours flying time in my flight log.
Vee and I had the first of four Easter breaks in north-west France when we visited Boulogne in 1992. The old part of the town has well-preserved ramparts that one can walk around and a museum in a château with an electic collections of artefacts from explorations around the world. A newer feature of the town is the aquarium at the end of the north-east jetty. Of course, food is incredibly important to the French and Boulogne boasts a fine Saturday food market in Place Dalton and the famous specialist cheese store "Olivier" in Rue Thiers. Our favourite eating establishments were the "Chez Jules" restaurant in Place Dalton for dinner and the "Bethouart" café In Rue de Lille for coffee and cakes.
Since we had taken the car over on the ferry from Dover to Calais, we took the opportunity one day to drive along the coast, following the Côte d'Opale. When we stopped at Cap Griz Nez, we recalled that, above the skies here in 1941, Vee's father shot down a German fighter aircraft. Another aviation memory came at Blériot-Plage where there is a monument commemorating the first cross-channel flight made by Louis Blériot on 25 July 1909.
Link: Tourist information click here
Vee and I had the fourth of four Easter breaks in north-west France when we visited Caen in 1996. The main themes of the visit were two invasions: the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.
Caen itself is a very historic town. It houses the Abbaye aux Hommes where William the Conqueror was buried in 1087 (nothing now remains) and the church of La Trinité where Queen Matilda was buried in 1080 (her remains are still there). The Château was originally built by William in 1060 and even the church of Saint Pierre is 14th century Gothic. As a rest from all this history, we enjoyed frequenting a delightful coffee & cake shop called "Roland" on Rue St Pierre.
Since we had taken the car on the ferry journey from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, we were able to do some local travelling. At Bayeux, the saw the tapestry commemorating the 1066 invasion. More than 900 years after it was created, it is still in wonderful condition with 58 scenes and 623 figures occupying a length of 231 feet. As far as the 1944 invasion was concerned, we visited the memorial museum in Caen itself ( which has films on D-Day and the Battle of Normandy); on the outskirts of the town, we saw the famous Pegasus Bridge and the first house to be liberated; and, out at Arromanches, we observed the remains of a British Mulberry harbour and looked around a memorial museum. The other trip we made was out along the Côte Fleurie route to the beautifully picturesque little port of Honfleur.
Link: Tourist information click here
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic contains so many historic towns of architectural interest and I was delighted when, at Easter 2002, our friends Honza and Eva Horváth drove us south from Prague to the south Bohemian town of Český Krumlov near the Austrian border. The name 'krumlov' is old German and means a place on a crooked-shaped meadow, while the Český part of the name was added in the mid 15th century when it was the seat of Vítek of Krumlov. The town dates from medieval times and, until 1938, the population was always a mixture of Czechs and Germans.
Český Krumlov is situated on the hook of the River Vltava and dominated by the castle and mansion on the north side of this hook. The castle was founded before 1250 and, in the course of six centuries, 40 buildings, five courtyards, and extensive parks were created. The old town is surrounded on three sides by the river and contains a host of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. The town is also noted for a recent addition, the art gallery devoted to the work of local painter Egon Schiele.
On our visit, we had lunch at an excellent vegetarian restaurant called "Laibon".
Link: Český Krumlov site click here
Chobe National Park, Botswana
I've only spent one day in Botswana, but that was an exciting visit to the Chobe National Park on a day trip from our base on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. The park is named after the Chobe River on the country's northern boundary, but it covers a massive 11,700 sq km of dusty plains, woodland, savanna and forested floodplain. It is home to an exciting variety of large mammals and over 450 bird species and is renowned for having the highest concentration of elephants in Africa with anything like an amazing 60,000-80,000.
The birds we spotted included the long-legged African jacana, the long-necked African darter, the long-legged and long-necked white egret, the wire-tailed swallow, bee eaters, a goliath heron, male and female fish eagles, lots of blacksmith plovers, a yellow-billed stork, and open-billed storks flying in formation. The animals we saw included lots of male impalas, red waterbucks - noted for the circle on their rump - and red lechwe (both types of antelope), pukus and a kudo (another two types of antelope), some buffalo, a water lizard, a warthog and its baby, a large female crocodile guarding its eggs, and a group of hippos on land. And, of course, lots of elephants ...
For more details on my visit to Chobe click here
Vee and I had the second of four Easter breaks in north-west France when we visited Dieppe in 1993. Like Boulogne, Dieppe has its château cum museum, in this case exhibiting mainly ivory carvings and Impressionist paintings. Again like Boulogne, it has its Saturday weekly produce market, in this case extending along Grand Rue, Place Nationale and Rue Saint Jacques (where the "Olivier" shop stocks some 100 different cheeses). It was in the pedestrianised Grand Rue, at Place Du Puits-Salé, that we found the café that became our regular stop: "A La Duchesse De Berry" which serves delicious cakes and large cups of coffee. However, Dieppe is different in being the site of the ill-fated attempt by Canadian troops to make a landing in Nazi-occupied France on 19 August 1942. At the west end of the Boulevard de Verdun, there is a small park commemorating the dead of "Operation Jubilee".
Since we had taken the car over on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, we were able to make several interesting trips. The first was west along the coast to Étretat where, either side of the pebble beach, are white cliffs with hugh arches carved into them by the wind and the weather, making for wonderful walks and stunning views. Next we we drove inland to visit Rouen, where there is the hugh gothic Nôtre Dame cathedral, painted in so many different lights by Monet, and a 65 foot cross commemorating the burning alive of Joan of Arc in 1431. Finally we went out to a little place called Eu simply because we liked the name.
Link: Tourist information click here
Where the Delaware River divides Pennsylvannia and New Jersey, on the Jersey side in Hunterdon County is the little community of Frenchtown. Down River Road hard by the river itself, is the splendid and spacious newly-built home of our very good friends Larry and Vicky Cohen with Canada geese on the lawns leading down to the water. One 4th July weekend, Vee and I accepted a long-standing invitation to stay with them and it was a delightful occasion.
Frenchtown is archetypal smallsville with one main shopping street, but the antique and craft shops of Bridge Street are so lovely that the town attracts a stream of visitors. It's fun to have a drink in "The Bridge Café" and there are several restaurants. The Uhlerstown Bridge takes one over the wide Delaware to Bucks County in Pennsylvannia and neaby is the covered bridge built in 1832 (like those in "The Bridges Of Madison County"). Further down on the Pennsylvannia side is Lumberville where we had an excellent meal at "The Black Bass Hotel". Back at the Cohens' place, that evening we could see 4th July fireworks over on the other side of the river at Tinicum (1738).
Our most memorable experience of that weekend was "tubing". I'd never even heard the word before, let alone undergone the activity, but it involves sitting in an inflated rubber inner tube and allowing oneself to be swept down a river. The Delaware is a strong river and, once it was time to end the ride, I had real difficulty reaching the bank - but the ride itself managed to be both peaceful and exhilerating.
Link: town site click here
Grand Canyon, USA
In the summer of 1970 when I was a student of just 22, I spent three months in the United States, the last month travelling around the country on Greyhound buses. One place I just had to see was Grand Canyon, so at Flagstaff I teamed up with six other British students, rented a car and drove off through the beautiful Painted Dessert. At Hopi Point (which is over 7,000 feet), we watched the sun set, but bizarrely the weather was so strange there were frequent strikes of lightning. That night, the seven of us crammed into a rented cabin for four.
Next morning, at 6am we were back at Hopi Point to see the sun rise. Then, after some breakfast, we walked the first mile or so down Bright Angel Trial to just have a feel for the arduous trek to the bottom. For the next four hours, we covered as much as possible of the South Rim. Highlights were Grandview Point, Moran Point, and Lipan Point. In spite of disappointing weather, the colours and contours of the canyon were so memorable and inspiring. I just wished that I could have afforded to take a helicopter ride over the rocky terrain and Colorado River below. Maybe one day.
Great Wall, China
I am lucky enough to have visted the Great Wall of China, not once, but twice - and in very different circumstances. The first time was in September 2000, when my wife Vee and I were there as part of an organised two-week tour of 11 Chinese cities and the weather was brilliant. The second time was in November 2001, when I joined a small group of British civil servants on a visit before we all participated in a Beijing conference on the Internet and the weather was atrocious.
This mammoth construction – the only man-made artefact that can be seen from space – has a history of some 2,500 years. It was first built during the time of the Warring States Kingdom and eventually its completion required the work of a million men slaving for ten years. It has been periodically rebuilt, especially during the Ming Dynasty. Today it stretches for 3,700 miles (6,000 kms) and averages 20-26 feet (6-8 metres) in height.
Since most of the Wall is now in poor condition, only five sections are open to the public. Most visitors go to the Badaling section to the north-west of Beijing, but both my visits were to the less commercial section at Mutianyu to the north-east of the Beijing. Mutianyu is a bit further away - 43 miles (70 kms) – so a two hour coach journey is involved.
Given the logistics of the wall at Mutianyu – and, for that matter, at Badaling - one has to take a cable car up to the wall itself and we rode one previously used by former British Prime Minister John Major (it could have been worse). Once on the wall, one can turn left or turn right. We turned left (naturally!) and walked as far as the sign warning that the way was now problematic and on as far as the sign warning that one must go no further. The route involved some sharp declines, some steep climbs, various towers, and finally a set of extremely steep steps that rose almost vertically.
These two or so hours on the Great Wall of China were the inspiring highlight of a thrilling tour and one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. No-one can fail to be awed by the antiquity and magnitude of this construction, but to be there almost alone in weather that was simply glorious was almost more than one could endure. There is a saying in China: “Nobody can be a true hero unless he has been on the Great Wall”.
On my return visit, the weather could hardly have been more different. There was so much snow that we could hardly walk and so much mist that literally we could see nothing from the wall. This time we turned to the right, so that I saw a different section of the construction, but conditions were so treacherous that we could not proceed very far at all. But how many people have the chance to visit such an incredible place twice? - I was still inspired.
For more details on my first visit to the Great Wall click here
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The park was created in 1926 and named after South Africa's president Paul Kruger. Today it is South Africa's premier game viewing destination: the oldest, largest and most famous national park covering over 19,000 sq km (7,335 sq miles) - making it almost as big as Wales - with in excess of 2,500 km (1,560 miles) of well-maintained roads. It is around 350 km (217 miles) long and up to 60 km (37 miles) wide. It is home to a total of 147 mammal species plus over 500 bird species and more than 100 types of reptile.
We spent two nights in the park at Pretoriouskop, enabling us to make an early morning (6 am) start to our day-long jeep trip with guide Andy Silver. It was a wonderful day full of expectancy and regular sighting of different animals. Things were at their most exciting when we located some lionesses trying to track down an impala who had been cut off from his group. The lionesses did not succeeed, but then our guide Andy cleverly spotted a leopard skulking in for the kill. Andy manoeuvred the jeep back and forth along the dusty road, trying to keep the leopard and then the impala in sight. This was not an easy task, as the leopard was down low to avoid being seen by his intended victim. But then there was a flash of spotted fur and the impala had disappeared. Such a kill - or a 'bamba', as the guides call it - near Kallie's Rock is not often seen by tourists and we were awed by the skill and speed of the leopard in downing his prey.
In the course of the day, we managed to see each of the 'big five: elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino. Andy told us that it was the first day in seven months that he had achieved seeing the 'big five'. Also we spotted lots of kudus, gnus, and rhinos plus Burchell's zebras, little klipspringers and a graceful bushbuck. In the course of this time, as well as all the ground animals, we saw a variety of beautiful-looking birds, such the brown snake eagle, the yellow-billed horn bill, the black-bellied korhaan, the ground hornbill, and the lilac-breasted roller. The most common bird in Kruger was a shiny blue bird with bright yellow eyes locally known as a starling. We were back at Pretoriouskop about 4 pm, after a trip of some 10 hours. Binoculars and cameras had been enormously busy and there had been much oo-ing and arr-ing. Andy told us: "You've had an exceptional day". We believed him and were grateful to him.
For more details on my visit to Kruger click here
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
The night before my visit to Ha Long Bay was spent in a hospital in the city of Hai Phong nursing a black eye and other bruising after passing out in my hotel. I discharged myself as soon as dawn broke and before being checked by a doctor because I had no intention of missing the group's tour of Ha Long Bay.
The name Ha Long means 'descending dragon' and the legend is that the bay was cut from the rocks as an enormous beast thrashed its way to the depths. It covers around 1,500 square metres with 2,969 rocky limestone islands (980 of them with names and 20 of them inhabited). The bay in the Gulf of Tonkin is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some 400 tourist boats plough the waters but, so immense is the bay, that one's own trip still feels very personal. The weather that morning was quite misty, but the experience was nevertheless magical and mysterious.
For an explanation of that black eye and more details on my visit to Ha Long Bay click here
Iguassu Falls, Brazil/Argentina
During a three-week trip to South America in 2001, Vee and I spent about 24 hours at the sensational Iguassu Falls. Iguassu means Great Waters in Guaraní (which is the language spoken by many in Paraguay). After 800 miles gathering anger across Brazil, the Falls are located at conjunction of Brazil (north), Argentina (south) and Paraguay (east), with the actual cataracts shared by Brazil and Argentina.
Vee and I had both seen Niagara Falls twice and had been incredibly impressed, but Iguassu Falls are just so much more awe-inspiring. First, they are quite simply bigger, being twice as wide and taller by 20 metres. They are more than 2 km across and more than 70 metres high with a total of 275 individual cataracts. Second, the area is not just about the water - impressive though that is - it is a sub-tropical reservoir of an amazing diversity of fauna and flora. There are about 350 types of birds and 2,000 species of plants in the National Park. Thirdly - and wonderfully for tourists - there is an incredible system of walkways that enables one to feel a very part of the Falls and almost enter into them. From this network of concrete walkways, we had stunning views of the Falls and many opportunities to see exotically-decorated butterflies. The final section of these walkways on the Brazilian side of the Falls takes one above some of the water flows which is very wet and very exciting. Everywhere there were bright rainbows that seemed to follow you as you moved.
Down at the river, we donned bright orange life jackets and boarded a bi-motor rubber dinghy for a ride up to the Falls themselves. This is not the experience at Niagara Falls where around a hundred people board the "Maid of the Mist" wearing plastic macs because of the spray. This is much more personal - about 20 people speed into the very heart of the Falls and are totally drenched.
After staying overnight on the Brazilian side of the Falls, next morning we drove over the bridge into Argentina, a very easy and informal process. As on the Brazilian side, the Argentinean side has a system of walkways that give visitors wonderful views. There is a lower walkway of 1,100 km and a higher walkway of 1,000 km.
The Argentinean walkways, though, are made of metal grills and run much closer to the water. Down every slope, round every corner, and up every ramp we witnessed another glorious view, another fascinating vista, another inspiring scene, so we took photographs endlessly. It was pointed out to us where Roland Joffé did his location shooting for the film "The Mission" [for review click here]. I could hear in my head the film's haunting theme "On Earth As It Is In Heaven" written by Ennio Morricone. On the Argentinean side, it is easier to see a variety of wildlife from the walkways and we observed a toucan with a magnificently coloured beak, a lizard and lots of swifts, jays, vultures and other birds.
The highlight of the morning in Argentina, though, was the visit to the most violent and fearsome of the Falls' 275 cataracts known as Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat). This involves a short drive round to the edge of the Falls, a short boat ride out to a flimsy bridge, and then a precarious walk the length of the bridge (it was swept away in the floods of 1983 and 1992). At this point, one is standing on a platform looking into the very throat of the Devil and the power of the water is mesmerising. One's ears are pounded by the roar of the cataract and one's eyes are caught by the swifts darting into the spray.
It is not a matter of the Brazilian or the Argentinean side being better; they complement each other - the Brazilian views being the more panoramic and the Argentinean being more intimate - and you simply have to see both.
For more details on my visit to Iguassu Falls click here
Nobody who has not visited India has ever heard of Khajuraho and it is inconveniently located midway between anywhere and nowhere, but it is well worth a visit. Today Khajuraho is a sleepy village of around 10,000 people, but a millennium ago it was the capital of the Chandela Rajput Kingdom, a dynasty that lasted five centuries (9th-14th century) before it fell victim to the Mughal onslaught. The most creative period of this kingdom was the century from 950-1050 when a collection of stunning temples was constructed. It is believed that there were once a total of 85 temples, but today only 25 survive.
Khajuraho's temples are festooned with sculptures and statues of various types including the aspara (a celestial maiden), the surasundari (an aspara in dancing mode) and the sardula (a mythical beast, part lion, part some other animal). However, the temples are most famous for their erotic carvings - technically called mithuna - which cannot fail to be the most memorable. Every form of sexual activity and every combination of characters are depicted here in very naturalistic form. There are even instances of men fornicating with horses. All the breasts are amazingly firm and all the men capable of brilliant athleticism.
For more details on my visit to Khajuraho click here
Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru
During a three week tour of South America in 2002, Vee and I saw the famous Lake Titicaca, which is a huge expanse of water covering more than 3,000 sq miles (8,000 sq km) with more than 30 islands, divided - roughly east and west - between Bolivia and Peru respectively. What struck us immediately was the colour of the water - it was just so blue or azure. However, the water is always freezing cold because the lake is located at 12,700 feet (3,810 metres) which makes it the world's highest navigable lake.
In fact, Lake Titicaca is not one lake but two, the main lake and a smaller one on the south side called Lago de Huinaimarca. Both the larger and the smaller lakes are divided east-west between Bolivia and Peru respectively but, at the point where the two lakes join (where the land almost touches), the international boundary dips to bring both sides of the interconnecting 'mouth' inside Bolivia.
We crossed the lake at this point, called San Pedro on the east and Tiquina on the west. The crossing takes a mere ten minutes, but it is the excuse for land-locked Bolivia to have navy in order to carry out the 'onerous' checks. Another fun feature of the crossing is that, whereas the passengers travel by motor launch, the bus with the luggage floats serenely behind on a raft.
From Tiquina, it is only a short ride to the picturesque port of Copacabana (this is actually the original one and the beach in Rio is named after it). From here, we took the opportunity for a three and a half hour boat ride out to the largest island in the lake called Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). This island - which today still has some 3,000 inhabitants - has a special historical significance, since Inca folklore holds that this was the birthplace of the original Inca who took his powers from the sun. From the Isla del Sol, one could easily see the much smaller Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon).
Over in Peru, we spent the night at the Isla Esteves Hotel which is on the outskirts of Puno on a promontory jutting into the western side of Lake Titicaca. Next morning, from a mooring just outside the hotel, we took a motor launch to Isla de los Uros, the reed islands. We had never heard of these islands before but, amazing as it seems, they are made of local reeds which are strong enough to sustain small communities. The reeds are replaced every two-three months to keep the islands afloat. There are around 40 such islands and between them they are home to some 1,000 people. We took the motor launch to an island called Tribuna Kollas and, even though it was very small, it had a school and a museum on it. We then took a reed boat over to a second island called San Migel.
For more details on my visit to Lake Titicaca click here
Leeds Castle, England
There are an unbelievable number of castles in Europe and many grand examples in Britain, but one of the very finest is Leeds Castle in England. This is situated nowhere near the city of Leeds in the north-east of the country but in Kent in the south-east. Lord Conway described it as "the loveliest castle in the world".
In any circumstances, this would be an incredibly impressive place. The building has stood here for 1,000 years. Listed in the Domesday Book, this castle has been a Norman stronghold, a royal residence for six of England’s medieval queens, a palace of Henry VIII, and a retreat for the powerful and influential. However, what makes Leeds Castle so magnificent is the picturesque location in the middle of a moat with just a narrow causeway linking it to the surrounding grounds which cover 500 acres.
You need an aerial perspective to appreciate the full splendour of the location, but even a ground view leaves one full of admiration for the place and it is a photographer's dream. Vee and I visited the castle in September 1997 as part of a weekend break which included historic Rochester and Chatham.
Link: official site click here
Machu Picchu, Peru
During a three week tour of South America in 2002, Vee and I saw the legendary Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was inacessible until the discovery of the Inca Trail in the 1940s and even today it is only accessible by train or foot. The whole area is semi-tropical because it is 3,000 ft (900 metres) lower than Cuzco. We travelled by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Here a bus took us up the private road which snakes up the very steep mountain-side to Machu Picchu itself.
Maccu Picchu (Old Peak) is the name of the mountain from which one looks down on the ruins, while the mountain which looms behind them is called Huayna Picchu (Young Peak). The location was revealed to the outside world by the American explorer Hiram Bingham who came across the site in 1911 while actually searching for the last refuge of the Incas at Vilcabamba.
We do not know exactly when the buildings were constructed, but we believe that the first buildings can be attributed to Inca Pachacuti. Equally we do not know how they engineered the stepped and ordered geometry of precisely keyed polygonal blocks and trapezoidal openings. Finally we do not know why the city was abandoned. The three main theories are that there was an invasion from the jungle, there was yellow fever or malaria, or there was a major fire caused by lightning.
Much of the reconstruction is based on Bingham's ideas of how the Incas lived, but some of it is guesswork and some of it is wrong (for instance, the Incas did not have windows in their buildings). Nevertheless, it is a really inspiring place. There is the Temple of the Moon, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, and the intiwatana or hitching post of the sun.
There are three trails to be walked (or rather climbed) at Machu Picchu. One leads to the top of Huayna Picchu, but we were warned that this is a really difficult climb with a vertiginous conclusion and we did not have the inclination (sorry about the pun!) for this. We itinially took the trail to the Puente Inke (Inca Bridge). This was challenging enough, with some really precipitous edges.
We stayed the night at the Sanctuary Lodge hotel, the only hotel at the site. Next day, we were up early to see the sun rising over Machu Picchu. It was too overcast for colours, but it was thrilling to see the first rays stream down the mountainside to illuminate the ruins. We then took the other more accessible trail, that up to the Intipunktu (Sun Gate). This was a longer and steeper climb than the trail to the Inca Bridge, but along the whole route there were fabulous views and the scene from the Sun Gate itself was inspirational.
For more details on my visit to Machu Picchu click here
For further information on the site click here.
Niagara Falls, Canada/USA
I have visited the Falls twice, a quarter of a century apart - both times from the Canadian side which unquestionably is the more spectaular. The first time was in 1966 when I was just finishing school and over in western Canada as part of an organised group of 48 boys. There is a wonderful photograph of me as an 18 year old, spotty and bespectled, wearing the coloured plastic sheeting necessary for a ride up to the cascading Falls on the aptly-named “Maid Of The Mist”.
The second visit was in 1992 during a family holiday to North America with my wife Vee and son Richard. At the time, Richard was 16 and once again I was back in those coloured sheets about to embark of that “Maid Of The Mist”. It was a weird, but somehow wonderful, feeling to return to a spot with a son almost the same age as I was on my first visit.
The most sensational experience is to stand at the edge of the Falls on the Canadian side and see, hear and actually feel the immense power of this spectacular creation of nature. The immense spray usually means that, if the sun is shining, there is a glorious rainbow to be seen which is why the bridge between the Canadian and US sides is called the Rainbow Bridge. Other ways to appreciate the awesome power of this phenomenon is to go up the Minolta Tower and look down on the sheer volume of water, to go down the scenic tunnels and virtually stand under the cascade, and to attend the specatular IMAX film "Niagara: Miracles, Myths And Magic".
The ancient, rose-coloured city of Petra is entered through a deep ravine called the Siq (the word means 'crack') that follows the bed of the Wadi Musa (Moses River) which is totally dry for most of the year. We were surprised at how tall and long this gorge is, as we strolled in awe between the iron-red Cambrian rocks dating back some 500 million years through a crack created by mighty tectonic forces five or more million years ago and long before humans walked these parts. In fact, the walls tower up to 200 metres (650 feet) and the total length of the Siq is 1.2 kilometres (about three-quarters of a mile).
As the Siq descends, it becomes imperceptibly deeper and narrower until, at its narrowest, the walls are only 1 metre (3 feet) apart. At the deepest, darkest point, the Siq turns a corner and opens to reveal the most thrilling monument of the city, the Treasury. It is literally a "Wow!" moment: up there with our first view of the Taj Mahal in India or Machu Picchu in Peru - but all the more magical and mysterious because one does not see anything of the structure until the very last section of the gorge.
Before coming to Petra, we thought of it as essentially the Treasury because this is the prevailing image presented in all the publicity for the location, but we were surprised to find that the ruins of the ancient city encompass a huge area of some two square miles. There are no free-standing buildings to be seen because the homes were relatively insubstantial affairs and even the markets and temples have collapsed and crumbled. So what is to be seen are the structures carved in and out of the rock faces.
The last and most challenging part of our visit to ancient Petra was the climb up to the monastery. A pathway weaves up and round the hillside of the Jebel al-Deir. The guidebooks state that there are more than 800 steps but our guide told us that there are 900. Frankly, it is impossible to make a precise count, since the rock steps are very irregularly shaped and positioned. Whichever way you look at it, it is a long and tough climb, especially when the temperature is 34C. My wife and I have taken on some tough challenges in the course of our exotic holidays, ranging from climbing to the highest part of the Great Wall of China outside Beijing to braving the Inca trail at Pisac near Cusco in Peru - but this was the toughest escapade of them all.
For more details on my visit to Petra click here
A one hour train journey from Florence, Pisa is home to the famous leaning tower that everyone should see once. I've been fortunate to see it and climb it twice - the first time in September 1975 and the second time in August 1989. On the first occasion, I was with my first wife Carole. She decided not to climb the tower, so I said that I would wave to her from each level. What I had not realised was that the exit shifts position from level to level, so one has to walk around to view someone in a fixed location on the ground, and there are no railings except on the top-most level - so it was an increasingly scary exercise. On the second visit, I was with my present wife Vee and she is crazier than me, so she unnerved me by walking around each level in her bare feet. In fact, the internal climb is challenging enough: the 300 steps are worn, the walls lean, and the passage is narrow and two-way.
We do not know who designed this beautiful structure, but we do know that construction started in 1173 and took almost two centuries. The lean became so dangerous that, shortly after my last visit, the tower was closed to visitors. It took 12 years to find a way of halting the lean, before the tower reopened at the end of 2001, but now one has to be with a guide and access is limited to the top floor. The tower is located in Piazza dei Miracoli which is also home to the Cathedral (consecrated in 1118) and the Baptistery (begun in 1152) plus the elongated Camposanto (begun in 1278). These four constructions are architectural jewels that make the square impossible to forget, once observed.
Unofficial site of leaning tower click here
Pisa online click here
The Rockies, Canada
In the late summer of 1970, starting in San Francisco I spent a month travelling on Greyhound buses throughout North America. Most of my friends dipped south to Mexico, but I swung north to Canada, where the most spectacular site I saw was the Rocky Mountain range. Our bus travelled the Trans-Canada Highway which took us through four national parks (Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoko and Banff), over Roger's Pass (4,341 feet) and Kicking Horse Pass (5,339 feet), and past such features as the Columbia River and the McDonald Glacier in Mount Temple. It was all most impressive - huge, craggy mounts laded with virgin-white snow and everywhere green trees.
St Malo, France
Vee and I had the third of four Easter breaks in north-west France when we visited St Malo in 1995. The town is built on a peninsular and dominated by the grey granite ramparts surrounding the citadel enclosing an area called Intra Muros. The ramparts were first erected in the 14th century and redesigned 400 years later, but in August 1944 some 80% of the town was destroyed when General Patton bombarded the place for two weeks before the occupying Germans surrended. As one walks the cobbled streets and views the shops and cafés, one finds it hard to believe that it is all a reconstruction.
Since we had taken the car over on the ferry from Portsmouth to Dieppe (an overnight sailing of over 10 hours), we were able to make several local trips, including viewing the twin seaside town of Dinard (with its statue of Alfred Hitchcock) and lunching with a work colleague at his place a little inland at Vildé-Bidon. However, the real excitement came when we drove along the coast to the east to visit the tiny island of Mont St Michel. This is the spectacular setting for an abbey which has been there for a millennium (the 1000th anniversary was in 1966). Over the course of its long history, the island has been besieged many times but never fallen.
Link: Tourist information click here
In the late 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s, my wife Vee and I developed a tradition of visiting a historic English town for a romantic weekend in the early Autumn before the onset of the colder weather. Our first choice of destination was Stratford-upon-Avon, known worldwide as the birthplace of the great playright William Shakespeare.
The house where Shakespeare was born in 1564 is open to the public. Other delightful places to visit include the Shakespeare Gardens and the Shakespeare Theatre and one can always stroll along the beautiful River Avon, drop into charming tea houses, and browse in craft shops. A bus tour enables one to call into Anne Hathaway's cottage at Shottery and Mary Arden's house at Wilmcote where there are knowledgeable and friendly guides.
The only thing which spoilt Vee's and my October 1988 visit was the sexual antics of the couple in the next room in our hotel. I kid you not - there was fierce moaning and groaning no less than four times in the course of the one night.
Link: official site click here
Terracotta Warriors, China
What puts the Chinese city of Xi'an on the tourist map is the world-famous terracotta army which is, in fact, located some 18 miles (30 km) north-east of the city. My wife Vee & I saw the warriors as part of a two-week tour of China in September 2000. The army was constructed on the orders of Qin Shi Huangdi who reigned as emperor from 221-210 BC. They were discovered accidently by three farmers digging wells in March 1974.
The main hall (No 1) is over three acres (1.26 hectares) in area and houses some 6,000 larger than life-sized terracotta warriors each with different facial features . As we walked into the hall – the first people there in early morning observing the serried ranks of statues some 2,000 years old – it was an awe-inspiring moment.
After visiting the smaller No 3 and No 2 halls respectively, we went into small museum housing two magnificent less than life-sized bronze chariots, unearthed in 1980, and finally watched a 360 degree film on the origin of the terracotta army. What many of us had not realised and what the film made very clear was that most of the statues were smashed by rebels immediately following the death of the emperor, so what we see in the halls today is the result of painstaking reconstruction, a process which is far from complete.
While we were at the museum complex, we met one of the farmers who discovered the army in 1974 and he signed a souvenir picture book for us. After two and a half hours at the museum, we drove off, past the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi. The construction of the mausoleum involved a conscript workforce of 600,000 men. The grave has still not been opened, so new treasures may still be waiting to be uncovered.
For more details on my visit to the Terracotta Army click here
Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe
We saw the falls from the Zambian side, not the most spectacular visually, but by far the most comfortable at the time of our travel (November 2004 when Robert Mugabe was ruining Zimbabwe). Our stay at the Royal Livingstone Hotel was like a dream, such is the standard of service and the magnificience of the location just walking distance from the falls.
The average annual flow of the Zambezi River over the falls is one million litres a second. The cascades are at their greatest capacity during the wet season from March to May. At this time, the flow can be nine times the average. However, in the dry season of September to December, the volume of water is often only 4% of the peak - but that is still around 270,000 litres a second.
We were visiting at the time of lowest water flow. The downside of this was that we were not witnessing the true power of the falls. However, the upside was that we could see so much more (when the falls are at full flow, the spray is so intense that one can see and photograph nothing and have to wear plastic hats and macintoshs) and we could visit Livingstone Island (where one has the closest and most thrilling view of the thunderous water flows). A helicopter trip really is a must - only then does one obtain a real sense of the scale of the falls.
For more details on my visit to Victoria Falls click here
On our second visit to China, we went to some different places that many foreign tourists would not see because we were travelling with our British-based Chinese 'family'. One of these was a town called Wuzhen, just north of the city of Tongxiang. This is a small place with a large history. It is two thousand years old and built on canals which has given it the nickname of 'the Venice of the East'. It is known in China as the birthplace of the writer Mao Dun (1896-1981) who was China's Minister of Culture from 1949-1965 and wrote a famous book “The Lin's Shop” based on life in the town.
We stayed in a section of the town called the West Scenic Zone which has been the subject of a 200M yuan (about £20M) development with local householders having shares in the company and running the old houses providing modernised accommodation for tourists. The only access is via a visitors' centre and a ferry which takes one to the islands housing the cobbled streets, old houses, traditional shops, atmospheric gardens and stone bridges. It is a magical location which is totally pedestrianised and therefore so peaceful and presents scene after scene that cries out to be photographed.
For more details on my visit to Wuzhen click here
During my days as an undergraduate student, I spent two months living in San Francisco in the summer of 1970 and took as many opportunities as I could to visit surrounding sites. None was more awe-inspirtng than Yosemite National Park. This is some 200 miles east of SF and therefore a four-hour drive to the south entrance. In this stunning granite and glacial setting, the most outsanding scene is Glacier Point at 7,214 feet high. The Nevada and Vernal Falls, the Half Dome and the 3,254 ft drop into the valley, with the rocks and forests of the Sierra Nevada in the background, provide a sight never to be forgotten.
I spent the night in the park, sleeping in a log cabin, so I had time to explore other locations such as Yosemite Falls, Tuolumne Meadows, Tanaya Lake, and Mariposa Grove. At this last location, one can see dozens and dozens of Giant Sequoias, the largest trees in the world. When I was there, the tallest was called the Columbia Tree and stood at 287 feet, while the Grizzly Giant was the oldest at some 2,700 years old. Among the wildlife, I saw many colourful birds, lots of tiny squirrels, a racoon and a lizard.
Link: National Park Service site click here
Last modified on 1 November 2015
Some Travel Sites
Lonely Planet click here
Wanda Lust blog click here