I have just read a blog post by wwellend; she writes about solo travelling around the world and enables me to see places I never been to. I think one of the reasons I admire her is because she combines a passion for midwifery with one for travel and makes it work, something I dreamed of doing when I was a teenager (though it would probably some other form of work!). In this particular post she is talking about places she has been to and has not enjoyed for a number of reasons. Since I too have been to some of these places it got me thinking about my experiences of the overlapping cities but also what I do and don’t like about certain places. Now I wanted to comment on her post but I am not a man that finds emotions easy to access, I don’t really get the concept of enjoying a place, so I thought I would try teasing the issue out by writing.
The cities we have in common are London, Rome and Barcelona; all large busy places. I wrote recently that I didn’t really enjoy London because of the frenetic pace people seem to live by there, the noise of the place, the attitude of shop workers, the cost of the place and other things. It is also the one place where people have tried to mug me. However I am lucky to be able to stay with family in easy reach of the city centre and thus can live relatively cheaply there only having to cover travel costs and contributing to the supermarket food costs. London is full of culture and history and there is an awful lot to do there (national museums, art galleries, history tours) which is free. Yes, seeing a show or a concert does cost an arm and a leg but you can get returns and last minute deals if you know where to look, similarly, with food, it is never going to be cheap but with such a cosmopolitan mix there is so much on offer some relatively reasonable. I live in Scotland, so I don’t have a problem with London weather.
Do I enjoy London? I would probably say yes on the whole but I do have privileged access cost wise and can pick and choose what I want to see and when. I like the art, the history, the river and parks but I couldn’t see myself living there which is a bit weird since it is my place of birth.
I think I would apply much of the same to Rome. My wife has a cousin who lives there so we can stay near the centre for free and enjoy authentic home cooked Italian meals on a roof top terrace. I’ve spend my time in Rome walking around the old town and trying to take in its history. It is noisy and hot in the summer (always a good excuse for ice cream) but since I haven’t visited any art galleries, palaces or the old port area, Rome is a place I would go back to.
Barcelona is another hot, dusty and crowded city, but guess what? I have a friend who lives there and owns a restaurant. With cheap flights direct from Edinburgh and easy public access into the centre, I have to say Barcelona is a place I definitely want to go back to. Personally though I would avoid the beach area.
So it would seem cheap accommodation, good food, culture, history and knowing local people are all part of what makes a city attractive to me. The local people thing doesn’t make me the most adventurous person in the world though, but I guess that is a side-effect of my personality, I like to have a safe haven to retreat to as necessary. I think hiring an apartment or room can be a half-way house though, certainly Air BnB has given us access to local knowledge and a quiet place to stay in the past.
Where have I stayed that I didn’t like? I didn’t enjoy the house boat experience in Alappuzha, Kerela. Whilst the concept of travelling around the backwaters in a converted rice barge is appealing this is so obviously unsustainable. There were untold number of barges being built from scratch (so no conversions going on anymore then) when there are already hundreds rafted up in the main lagoon, and there seemed to be a competition to see how big the barge could be built and how many air conditioning units could be fitted. The pollution from the diesel fumes was easily evident on the water surface and of course there was lots of rubbish too. Going on a rice barge was frankly, rather boring and I got far more enjoyment out of the area by walking along side the canal and seeing how people lived, chatting to the kids and spotting kingfishers. Water taxis were a much cheaper alternative to getting around and exploring the town which itself, whilst obviously touristy, seemed to have a more authentic atmosphere; great umbrellas to be had too.
I am actually struggling to remember places I don’t like. I didn’t find much to do in Kuala Lumpur but maybe that is because I didn’t try hard enough. I found Singapore to be a city of mixed blessings because they have an obsession with knocking down old buildings and putting up new ones. I loved finding bits of colonial history like the fountain outside Raffles being built in Glasgow but the Singapore I visited is fifteen years old and no longer exists. Perhaps it is a place to go to if you want to look at a possible future. The Gardens in the Bay look amazing and in general, the integration of vegetation into a modern city is apparently world leading. I like plants and I like open spaces which are sometimes hard to find in cities so maybe Singapore will go up in my estimation next time I visit but I do not like the traffic. I did love the hawker centres though. Why go back? Well, we have relatives there and it is a good stopover point to far flung places.
I don’t seem to be good about not liking places really. I could mention Belfast but it hardly seems fair to dislike a place because there were policemen standing outside Marks and Spencer with machine guns. This was nearly thirty years ago after all.
I guess I might judge a city about how easy it is and how costly it is to explore the culture and history of the place on foot. For me, good (frequent, not too crowded, and reasonably priced) public transport links are a must and I would prefer that tourism isn’t destroying the place (I would avoid the main beaches in Barcelona for instance). Having locals to stay with is ideal of course, but with the advent of the internet that isn’t so hard to do nowadays and hopefully the locals like good regional cuisine because that can really make a place. I do always prefer to eat outside but perhaps that is just a result of living in Scotland.
I obviously need to travel more!