Now I talk a lot about travel in the “About me” section and intro post of the blog. That’s because I talk a lot about travel in general, even when it’s been a year and a half since my last proper trip. Like now. Fortunately for me I have plenty of travel tales built up over the years; unfortunately for me it’s tricky to bring those up and not sound pretentious. Start a story with “Back when I lived in Australia as a child” and even I want to smack me. It’s a challenge.
Still, as we get our sea legs here at Tales From Parts Unknown, it seems like a good idea to hit on the various topics I plan to be talking about, if nothing else as an intro to both you, the audience, and to me, the guy who’s gradually figuring this out. Today: the five cities I could visit over and over, and what I think it is I love about them.
Honourable mention: Sydney
I love Australia. I do. Despite their giant monster spiders and tiny actually deadly spiders, despite some scarring experiences in their grade school system, I love it. If you can get past the continent’s thick layer of murderous nature, there’s a lot of beauty there. But I’d be hard pressed to name a favourite city, having spent the most time in Canberra and Darwin and having little fondness for either. So, Sydney, I guess.
I’ve only been to Tokyo the once, and it’s all I’ve seen of Japan, but I fell in love with it pretty quickly. It’s massive: any time I found an observation deck (almost once per day) I would stare out at the city and couldn’t see the edge of it. It’s… different. Even when I found myself lost in a residential area, the places where “exotic foreign city” really does break down into “place where people live and work,” there was still a fascinating otherness about it. Being immersed in a different culture. At night it was bright and colourful and weird and amazing. It had some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. I could spend every night in the Harajuku district. It was a fascinating enough city to be lost in that I didn’t even mind some of the things that normally make me anxious about foreign countries: my inability to blend in (making me a target for strip club proprietors and surprisingly matronly prostitutes) and my idiot brain’s inability to grasp any foreign language. Nine years of French lessons and at my peak I could barely get by in French, what possible chance could I have had in Japanese. But if I stuck to restaurants with pictures on the menu or English on their signage, I did okay. Tokyo was an experience, no matter what I was doing, and that’s what I look for.
I was 15 the first time I went to Florence. Having spent most of my life up to that point in North America… 1980s North America… the idea of actually making your city nice to look at was novel to me. It’s not really something we do around here. But Florence is pretty. It’s filled with Renaissance art and is home to my first time I remember tasting chocolate gelato. And it was brilliant. Maybe my fondness for Florence is entirely situational. My two trips there in high school ended up being two really great days. How much of that is the city and how much was the day itself? I don’t know, but hope to find out when I return there in May. Although a lot of that is going to be coloured by trying to keep Ian from getting arrested for re-enacting Assassin’s Creed 2 all over everything. Which, let’s be real, is also going to be pretty great.
3. Las Vegas
Okay, this one’s probably entirely situational, but in this case that’s the point. I’ve been to Las Vegas three times: once when I was six (I doubt I got the most out of it), once for my brithday and most recently for my young apprentice Patrick’s birthday. Unlike any of the other cities on this list, I probably would not have as good a time if I went by myself. On my own, I’d have an oversized drink or two, half-heartedly play blackjack for twenty minutes, watch a Cirque show (probably Zumanity again don’t you dare judge me) and end up bored as often as not. With people? Correction, with the right people? It’s a gateway to good times. The sheer weight of the ridiculous, tacky oppulence makes having fun almost compulsory. Don’t believe me? Go to the Venetian. Look around. Look at the pool. Look at this hallway, for pity’s sake.
That isn’t even in the main part of the hotel. It leads to one restaurant and goes past the pool. And it is the fanciest hallway I have seen built after the French Revolution. In another section they have not only built a canal but they’ve developed lighting that almost precisely recreates sunlight. It’s the uncanny valley of light and hurts my eyes a bit and the whole room kind of wigged me out but I appreciate the effort. In summary, this building shouldn’t exist without a king or pharaoh forcing peasants to build it and I love it and want to party in it forever. With the right group, anything is possible and everything is awesome. It’s an expensive weekend but hell of worth it just for the experience. Unless you go with the wrong people, in which case you’re going to have some free drinks while losing your rent money on the slot machines. I assume. Fortunately I only go with fun people.
2. New York
I feel this one needs no explanation. New York is a city that lives up to its own hype. Manhattan reinvents itself every other block: it’s Times Square, then it’s a jewellery district, then it’s Hell’s Kitchen. Times Square’s parade of giant advertising billboards is so tacky it becomes a thing of beauty. There’s great food (including sandwiches the size of my head), Broadway theatre, Central Park, basically anything you could look for. I really don’t know what more I can tell you that every book, movie, comic and TV show set in New York hasn’t already said except that they ain’t making it up.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Samuel Johnson.
Take everything I just said about New York. Say it again, then add hundreds of years of history. In place of Times Square, Leicester Square. In place of Broadway, the West End. Plus Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, great ghost walks, more Jack the Ripper tours than have a right to exist, and it’s less than a day’s travel from Stonehenge, Bath, and the Doctor Who Experience. London’s got everything you could want. Well, everything I could want, anyway, and that is the entire foundation of this list.
Next time, something about theatre, and the wonderful, horrifying process of having someone read something you wrote.