Brand building through storytelling

My 10 favourite vacation discoveries

I’ve got travel on the brain because tomorrow we fly to London for a few days of urban pleasures, followed by a week’s hiking in the Cotswolds. I’m charging up my iPod for the plane, checking the location of my passport for the hundred-and-ninety-seventh time and hoping I don’t discover that my indispensable pants (the only ones that are equally at home in a fashionable bistro or on a stone wall) have a large grease stain on the seat. There’s something about travel preparation, when I’m neither fully here in my life at home nor yet there in exuberant discovery mode, that brings out my jittery, fuss-budget side.

So now is the perfect moment to remember why I travel in the first place, to look back on corners of the world that make me smile every time I think of them. “You have to see it!” I tell friends. For the most part, these special spots aren’t the ones I dreamed of visiting for years. Some I checked out in an idle moment, just because they happened to be there. Others tend to be upstaged by more celebrated sights down the road. Okay, enough theorizing! Here they are, my top 10, in no particular order:

The Courtauld Galleries, London Because I like human-scale museums you can see in an hour without going bug-eyed, and this one houses a spectacular collection of Cezannes. Just in time for our visit, they’ll all be on display for the very first time.

Chopin GravePere Lachaise Cemetery, ParisBecause I wouldn’t mind dying if I could hang out forever in this verdant salon for the famous dead: Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein and oh, yes, a wild-hearted 60s rocker named Jim Morrison. His cigarette-strewn corner of Paris’s largest cemetery, where young women leave notes telling Jim exactly how they plan to light his fire in the beyond, is the only blight on the place. Charmingly overgrown, Pere Lachaise is especially romantic in a light drizzle. (You’re looking at Chopin’s grave.)

AnneroomAnne Frank House, AmsterdamBecause when I stood in Anne’s little room, contemplating the photos she’d taped to the walls (the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, a long-forgotten movie star) I could sense the hopeful, yearning spirit of the girl who inspired me when I too was a kid with a diary.

El Raco de Can Fabes, Sant Celoni, Spain Because this is one temple of gastronomy where the warmth of the welcome matches the finesse and intense flavour of the cooking. Well worth the 45-minute drive from Barcelona (we made the trip three times).

DipnetviewwebThe Dip Net, Port Clyde, Maine. Because, after almost 30 years, we still remember eating toothsome broccoli and cheddar omelets served up by a wise-cracking waitress named Betty at this dockside fishermen’s lunch spot where locals, not tourists, set the briny, down-home tone. Yes, it’s still around (although I very much doubt if Betty is).

El Ateneo, Buenos Aires Because this lavish converted movie palace, with its fluted columns and three gilt-trimmed tiers, is now the home of what’s surely the world’s most beautiful bookstore. No gifts or gimmickry, just books (if only I could have read them).

DinnerParty M 2Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” The Brooklyn Museum, New York Because one female artist had the vision, the organizational smarts and the sheer chutzpah to create this monumental celebration of women who changed the world. Every tourist goes to the Met, but why stop there? Brooklyn’s just a subway ride away.

Liberace Museum, Las VegasBecause you can’t, you just can’t, say you’ve seen the world capital of kitsch without visiting this shrine to the King of Kitsch, whose bejeweled costumes weighed so much that he had to drive onto the stage in a nifty little car.

The Chicago skyline, seen from the river Because it’s a soaring, glittering panorama that tells the tale of the skyscraper as envisioned by the greatest innovators in modern architecture. There’s no better way to see it than a river cruise with the congenial and formidably well-informed docents of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

The 6th-century monastery at Skellig Michael, off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland Because, after a stomach-churning so-called “cruise” to this Unesco World Heritage site atop a barren rock splattered with bird droppings, we were just so damn grateful to be alive for the 640-step climb to the monks’ quarters on a bright summer day. Because I can’t imagine how the monks did it barefoot, in all weathers, and I’d like to see those hardy buggers in a triathlon. Because the place is so wonderfully well-preserved, being almost impossible to get to.

Be warned: Irish skippers don’t have much use for life jackets, and your boat could be jouncing so hard, you fear you’re minutes away from being pitched onto the swells (one young woman on our trip was on her knees praying). But you’ll be telling the story for the rest of your life. I mean, think about it. Do you know anyone else who has braved the Skellig Michael cruise?

Click here to read a post on my visit to El Ateneo and here for one on The Dinner Party. 


Posted by Rona

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