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Travel

Postby Caleb » 19 Jun 2012, 13:00

I thought I'd start a fairly broad range of sub-topics under the general topic of travel. I'll start off fairly lightly, without getting into a whole lot of philosophical topics. Chime in with any comments along the lines of what I've written about, or discuss something else.

Places that I've been to that I really liked, and why:

Turkey -- Very hospitable people (and really managed to buck the trend of idiotic, annoying scam artists so common elsewhere in the developing world), fascinating history, varied and interesting landscapes. Istanbul is also an incredible city.

U.S.A. -- It's huge and there's pretty much something for everybody whether it's cultural activities, outdoor activities, etc. I've been to or through about 36 states, but I barely scratched the surface. If I went back, I'd particularly like to go back to the Rocky Mountain states such as Wyoming or Montana (I only went through those states on a bus), but really, I could take pretty much any part of the country.

Iceland -- It's rugged and incredibly beautiful. The whole place looks like it's been plucked straight out of a postcard. There are places that are very touristy there (yet they don't feel like a tourist trap), but it's also very easy to get right away from all of that.

Czech Republic -- Avoid the most touristy spots or Prague's city centre on a weekend, and it's an awesome country. The countryside is glorious, there are all sorts of cultural activities to be found all over the country all throughout the year, and the women are some of the most beautiful in the world (which doesn't hurt at all).

Slovakia -- Things may have changed since I was there eight years ago, but Slovakia was an undiscovered gem. Culturally there's not much going on, and Bratislava is pretty boring and ugly, but Slovakia has amazing national parks, and often there's no one else there.

Russia -- I had a real love/hate relationship with Russia when I was there. The first time, I was only in St Petersburg for a few days, but the second time, I spent almost seven weeks travelling across the country by myself. It's often dystopian, there are still all sorts of remnants of absurd bureaucracy, and people (especially the older generations) can be unbelievably surly. It can wear you down, yet the vastness of the landscapes, the crazy history of the place, and the cheap, easily accessed cultural activities (I saw the Mariinsky Ballet perform Swan Lake for 6 USD!) draw you in.

Myanmar -- Again, another place I had a real love/hate relationship with and that was really hard travelling in (especially since I was extremely sick before we even arrived). It's rapidly opening up now, so it's all about to change, but it hasn't been completely transformed into backpacker hell just yet. It was like all the stuff I wanted Southeast Asia to be -- hiking to remote tribes that hadn't become jaded by tourists yet, having pristine beaches entirely to ourselves, travelling down an amazing river on a cargo boat and not seeing any signs of humans for hours and hours, and visiting amazing ruins and architectural sites on bicycles and being largely by ourselves. The entire country was completely dysfunctional and often quite absurd, yet it also felt like being in a dream.

Denmark (well, only Copenhagen) -- An incredibly civilised city with really cool people that leaves you feeling a little bit embarrassed about just how much wherever you're from doesn't have its act together.

One plug for Australia, Tasmania -- Really off the tourist trail, but what's not to love about nineteen national parks (many of which you'll have entirely to yourself), beautiful scenery, awesome fresh food, and a slow, laid back pace, all in a place you can drive across in a morning?

Places I really didn't like, and why:

Malaysian Borneo -- Complete tourist trap.

Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania -- All the bad stuff of Russia, just without the cool stuff.

Cambodia -- Angkor Wat is awesome, but skip the rest of the country. It still hasn't picked itself up after the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh might just be the world's ugliest city. It's also overrun with tons of idiotic foreigners (the Chinese there are almost as annoying as the Westerners).

Spain -- Highly overrated in every way -- nightlife, cuisine, people, etc. Doubly so for Barcelona.

Egypt -- Infuriating, lazy, stupid locals. This point cannot be over-emphasised. It's generally a massive tourist trap. Many of the ancient Egyptian sites have been poorly looked after (e.g. it seems like there has been pretty unchecked urban development right up to the edge of the pyramids).

Places I'd really like to go to (that I haven't been to), and why:

Norway -- The only country in Scandinavia I haven't been to. I'm a big fan of Scandinavia and Norway apparently has amazing scenery (especially the coastline) and people.

Argentina -- The European culture, huge landscapes and wilderness, diversity of climates, etc. really fascinate me.

Japan -- Civilised Asia. Fascinating modern and ancient culture. I've also been doing various Japanese martial arts for more than half of my life, so there's that angle too.

I'd like to go back to Western Europe one day, perhaps when I'm older (and have more money) and know more about art history and so on, likewise with the U.S. and Canada. Outside of the developed world, sure, there are places I'd like to go to and things I'd like to see, but unfortunately, I've come to realise that I don't really like dealing with people in developing countries in the main. I've had some successes, but far more failures.
Caleb
 
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Re: Travel

Postby Elliott » 19 Jun 2012, 15:18

My god, you're incredibly well-travelled, Caleb. I haven't been to a fraction of the places you've been to!

As a general question (and apologies for asking such an obvious one), would you say that travel broadens the mind? How would you say you have benefited from visiting all of these different places?
Elliott
 
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Re: Travel

Postby Michael » 19 Jun 2012, 16:36

On the question of travel broadening the mind, I have found the best answer is that it depends on the traveler. Some are greatly benefited by their travels, and come back with new insights into their lives, having gained the chance to see how other human beings live. For others travelling is only a change in the setting of their drinking and f**king (please forgive the vulgarity - I formulated the quote years ago when I was staying at a hostel in San Francisco).

I think Arthur Schopenhauer said it the very best:

On hearing of the interesting events which have happened in the course of a man’s experience, many people will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too, completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they possess when he describes them; to a man of genius they were interesting adventures; but to the dull perceptions of an ordinary individual they would have been stale, everyday occurrences.


For myself, personally, I have no great desire to travel. I have been to France and Britain, as well as California, and had good times there, but I have no strong desire to go back.* Perhaps I will feel differently as I grow older and have more resources (I do not understand my debt saddled peers taking on more debt to travel rather than investing their money and being able to travel more later), but for now I am content to read travel books by great writers like James, Twain, and Custine, who let me experience those places through the eyes of geniuses.

*That said, if I ever do find myself back in the UK, I would love to meet the UK based forum members face to face!
Michael
 
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Re: Travel

Postby Rachel » 20 Jun 2012, 14:05

Elliott wrote:As a general question (and apologies for asking such an obvious one), would you say that travel broadens the mind?


I am unable to travel much these days due to health problems. At least it saves me money.

It drives me mad when people who are lucky enough to be well travelled and go to all sorts of places come back just as ignorant or even more ignorant than when they went. I once asked someone who had gone on a long extensive holiday of Turkey and Cyprus, which country they liked more and how were the 2 countries different to one another. I was interested because I have only been to Cyprus alone.
Their answer:
"I liked Cyprus more because in Cyprus the beach was nice and sandy while in Turkey it was pebbley. Also the hotel in Cyprus was a bit nicer."

I was expecting them to tell me something about the different cultures, or the people, or the way of life..or anything in these places.
If I go to a country I want to learn a bit or just get a feel for the place, not enjoy the beach alone.

I have family who's travels makes Caleb's look small and yet if you ask them anything about the countries they visited, they know nothing. It's a complete blank. It seems such a waste.

TD wrote something about this in 2 different articles. I could really relate to them. He even analysed what he thought was the cause of this. I can't seem to find them online.
Rachel
 
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Re: Travel

Postby Rachel » 20 Jun 2012, 15:38

Well here's My list:
I am not as well travelled as Caleb and I have had health problems for a number of years so nearly all my travels were done years ago.

Spain 1980's - agree with Caleb's view.

Italy - visited in a family holiday in 1989 Venice area. I was only 13 but the architecture in Venice and the other Italian tourist attractions made a big impression. I don't like stereotypes but the stereotype of Italians being unorganised but great at artistic endevours, (opera, architecture, painting) and cuisine is true. It was the first time in my life I saw lemon trees. I was just getting to that age when you start looking at boys and the young men there had a beautiful olive skin tone that caused me to have a thing for it ever since.
One thing I noticed with the many family businesses was that the wife and kids seemed to do a lot of the work while the men seemed very laid back. However, they had a strong sense of family that even in 1989 wasn't around in Britain as much.
During that trip we took a bus that crossed from the Italian to the Austrian border through a mountainous road. In 1989 within an hour on a bus trip you went from very casual Italians to the very formal Austrians in their suits and completely different language, and body language. The change shocked me. I was only there for an hour but I'ed never want to visit Austria again. They seemed to be very cold formal people. The happy childhood holiday in Italy has left me (perhaps irrationally) fond of Italians ever since.

USA:
New York - lived there as a child in the 80's. It was a very violent and frightening place in those days.
Then visited Los Angelas and San Diego many years later which I liked far more.
My limited impression of USA is that it is a country of extremes. Great to visit although I wouldn't like to live there.

Greece, Athens -1990 - It was a very backward country at the time. We were told while we were there that they had only stopped using donkey's/horses for transport 17 years previously. the locals were unpleasant. Lots of cheating of tourists. Perhaps it has changed since then?

Greek Cyprus, 2005 ish - A million times more organised than Greece with regards to tourism and everything. Pleasant likeable people that were completely different to mainland Greeks. I liked the strong British influence left over from the Empire re:road signs, electrical sockets, school uniforms etc.

La Gomera in the Canary Islands - While I hate Spain and I'm not crazy on the Spanish, I strongly recommend this place. I went there only because I was told it would help my health. The only improvement was that my Chronic Rhinitis disappeared. There is near zero pollution. It the place with the best temperature in the world and the only place in the world where Paleolithic forest remains untouched.

There are very few places that I would like to visit in my life. In preferential order:
A bit more of Israel, more of the UK, Romania (I have a grandfather buried there and want to visit the grave.) France, Poland.

I can not do any of those unless my health improves a bit.
Rachel
 
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Re: Travel

Postby Caleb » 21 Jun 2012, 02:12

Rachel: I actually found young Austrians to be incredibly laid back and helpful, but the older ones are definitely a bit cold, although Vienna is a very well-ordered city. People don't even jaywalk there and they have very good manners generally.

Elliott: I lived in England as a child, so some of the places I've been to (a total of 41 countries, I think) I can't remember (though there is some overlap with places I've been to as an adult). I've also based myself in certain places for a considerable amount of time, which has made it easier to travel a lot. It also depends upon how people travel. I'm pretty frugal when I travel. I try to take cheap flights if I can, I don't stay in fancy places or I stay with friends, I buy food from supermarkets (and try to cook myself), I don't tend to do any kind of tours, and I don't buy a lot of stuff. Even Iceland was actually a very cheap trip (the last few days in Denmark were not, however!) because it was right in the midst of their economic woes, and we also camped mostly because it was cheaper and a lot of the places we went to didn't have any other options anyway. All of that said, it's highly unlikely that I will travel much over the next decade. As frugal as I am when I travel, I'm focussing more on my finances because we are going to have kids soon, and we're also going to start a business later this year. Additionally, my parents are getting really old now (my mother had a stroke last year), so I basically use my annual flights (one of the perks of my job) to go back and visit them. We're going back for a fortnight in about three weeks.

I would echo Michael's point that it depends upon the person. I've met wealthy Taiwanese people who have been to all sorts of places, but a lot of them have nothing to say other than that they stayed in a fancy hotel, went on a tour (and some don't even do that), ate some food, and then bought a Gucci handbag. I just don't see the point of that.

I've also met the people who have basically taken a boozy Saturday night in whichever British city they're from and transplanted, and extended, it into a three month boozy trip through Southeast Asia. Or lots of American sophomore college students "like totally doing Europe in six weeks", though maybe they still gain something.

I've also met, and known some pretty crazy guys who have really done all sorts of stuff. I could tell lots of stories, but here are just a couple. I met a guy in Arizona a week before the millennium. He had a week left on his trip until he returned to California after having spent the previous seven years cycling around the world and going to every country at least once. I met several guys in central Turkey at the end of 2003 who had travelled overland from Japan or China through both Afghanistan and Iraq while the wars were on. I was sitting outside a supermarket in Novosibirsk in central Russia when an English guy came up to me and told me that he and his friend didn't speak a word of any other language and were hitchhiking with local truck drivers so they could go to Japan for the World Cup. Those kind of guys definitely do have a very, very different take on things, but it might be a case of them being like that to begin with and travel simply being the realisation of something that was already there. I actually find the people who have done really intense travel to generally have a much more nuanced take on all sorts of issues, including the local cultures. Even when I disagree with them, I still find that they're very much aware of the faults of a country and its culture. They also generally have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. I've met them in remote places and the most touristy places you can imagine, but they don't really stand out until you get talking to them.

Here are a couple of really obvious personal transformations. I met a Canadian guy and an Argentinian girl once. They hit it off immediately, changed their travel plans to travel with each other, and then ended up going back to their respective countries. After visiting each other a couple of times, the Canadian guy ended up moving to Argentina to live there with her. In Hungary, I met an American girl from a small town who had studied in Italy, but had no real desire to travel elsewhere in Europe. She was only in Hungary for a relative's wedding. I and another guy convinced her to travel with us. She particularly wasn't sure about travelling to Turkey because it was Muslim. Anyway, she liked Turkey so much that she travelled more in the region later, and she ended up studying at a university in Lebanon. She now works for Al Jazeera in the U.S.A.

In my own case, it's been strange, I suppose, and I struggle with it. With respect to other countries and cultures, there are definitely things that I appreciate or admire about other cultures, yet I've also noticed that since I've lived and travelled in Asia, I've become highly critical of developing nations and their cultures. I do not have a romantic view of them at all, as anyone can probably tell. Of course, this greatly upsets many Westerners when I talk about it. In some cases, it's because for them, they go on a package holiday to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, for instance, and someone else takes care of all the absolute nonsense (like bribing border officials, rather than arguing with them for thirty minues about why you're not going to pay them a bribe, as I did). So all those people see is happy, smiling brown people and think, "Wow, isn't this exotic, these people have so much more culture than us!" They also have so much more government corruption, child prostitution or poaching of endangered species too. That's culture with a capital K, but that's out of sight, out of mind. Those Western backpackers who do see all that and still turn a blind eye to it and claim it's all wonderful are the ones who always do my head in.

With respect to my own country and Australian culture, to put it simply, I feel completely alienated now. That I'm not a beer swilling, sports fanatic, reality TV watching idiot up to his eyeballs in debt may always have been my destiny perhaps, and travel may simply have brought it into sharp relief. My wife and I went to Bali and how could I feel but completely embarrassed? Bali is a place that would be absolutely amazing if it weren't for at least 50% of the tourists and those locals who cater to them. The Australians in London, or even Australia itself, are often not much better, it's just that there are more rules imposed upon them by the locals. For all of their faults, Taiwanese (and most other Asians) don't behave like Australians on tour (Chinese can be pretty bad, but in other ways). I know I have more in common with a German or Swede doing a crazy hike across some remote place or in a museum than the average Australian abroad, though I've also met a fair amount of Eurotrash in my travels.

Yet I've also become accutely aware that of the really intersting people I've met, certain nationalities -- all Western European and their offspring in the New World -- are disproportionately represented. Simply put, Germans travel in a very different way to Chinese. So whilst I feel virtually nothing for (modern) Australian culture, I have a deep love of Western culture.

It's been very intersting to see how my wife has changed since I've known her because much of what I've gone through, she's experienced and realised in a much shorter time frame. In the bit over four years that I've known her, she's gone from never having been out of Taiwan, to having been to a dozen countries on three continents. She used to be fairly acritical of Taiwan. Yet she now realises that in order to love where you are from, you cannot be acritical of it. Because she's been to Denmark at one extreme and Myanmar at the other, she can recognise what needs improving in Taiwan. I know she really struggles with it because she is aware of the fact that she can't talk to most other Taiwanese about these things now, so she feels somewhat alienated in the same way that I do, yet if anything, there are elements of her own culture that she appreciates more than ever. Sometimes, I feel guilty for causing this mini-crisis in her, but I think on balance, it's probably a good thing. The world and humanity don't move forward with parochialism.
Caleb
 
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Re: Travel

Postby Mike » 21 Jun 2012, 03:14

Caleb wrote:With respect to my own country and Australian culture, to put it simply, I feel completely alienated now. That I'm not a beer swilling, sports fanatic, reality TV watching idiot up to his eyeballs in debt may always have been my destiny perhaps, and travel may simply have brought it into sharp relief. My wife and I went to Bali and how could I feel but completely embarrassed? Bali is a place that would be absolutely amazing if it weren't for at least 50% of the tourists and those locals who cater to them. The Australians in London, or even Australia itself, are often not much better, it's just that there are more rules imposed upon them by the locals. For all of their faults, Taiwanese (and most other Asians) don't behave like Australians on tour (Chinese can be pretty bad, but in other ways). I know I have more in common with a German or Swede doing a crazy hike across some remote place or in a museum than the average Australian abroad, though I've also met a fair amount of Eurotrash in my travels.


It's such a shame that all the CUBs overseas give such a wretched impression of Australia and Australians. Whenever I've come across such compatriots on my travels I've avoided them like the plague.

I feel very insular compared to most of the well-travelled people on this forum! I've been to China three times, once as a teacher and twice for a tour/visit, and still have a great affection for the people and the country, if not the government. Europe a few times, but once when I was too young to remember much. America and Canada in early 2008, as well as a brief detour to Barbados (which I liked a lot, and not just the touristy areas).

The two most countries I'd consider most civilised, of all that I've been to, would be Germany and Canada, without a doubt. The former seemed to have retained that sense of politeness and hospitality which has disappeared in so much of the world, while the latter had (I felt) all the positives of the U.S. without any of the negatives. Everywhere else I went reminded me that on the whole, Australia is not doing too badly in most respects.
Mike
 
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