So long and thanks for all the fish...

FAR away places with strange sounding names have always held a great fascination for me so being offered the chance to work with TTN was too good an opportunity to miss.

Now after two years, I’m handing over the reins to my good pal and deputy, Shalu Chandran, and I’ve been reflecting on some of the wonderful places I’ve got to visit during my time with the region’s leading travel trade mag.

Top of the list would have to be a tie between Tokyo and Hollywood, two destinations so different yet each in its own way completely fascinating and begging of a return visit.

I experienced Tokyo as the guest of Blossom Japan when it launched in January and, I have to say, I was totally blown away.

From the completely genuine courtesy of the people to the ancient traditions and wonderful scenery in the countryside outside the city, not to mention the amazing sushi and sashimi (this from a girl who usually demands her fish coated in batter and accompanied by chips), I honestly could not find a bad thing to say about the place.

It’s been hearbreaking to see the devastation wrought by the earthquake and other natural disasters since my visit but the beauty of travel is that I have made friends there and a quick email or phone call reassures that they and their loved ones are OK, and life and the travel and tourism industry are getting on with it.

Hooray for Hollywood’s not a phrase that’s ever sprung easily to my lips, visiting friends will tell  you it’s a battle even to get me to turn the TV on, so I really didn’t expect to be so utterly enchanted by the home of the silver screen.

It didn’t hurt at all that, being hosted by Turkish Airlines to mark the launch of its service to Los Angeles, I got to experience the very best of a pretty amazing place. From a box at a Lakers game (something I’m told many Angelinos would give their eye teeth for) to a back-lot tour of Paramount Studios.

But I think my favourite part of the trip would have to be taking a bus ride down to Venice Beach and just walking along the foreshore – the whole world is there from the wacky (pictured) and eccentric to the health freaks and body builders, roller skaters with dogs, painters and performers – it was like Brighton on steroids and I absolutely loved it.

In fact going ‘off itinerary’ has provided some of my most memorable TTN moments such as meeting up with a former colleague during a working trip to Beijing and being invited to what she calls her ‘country hovel’ – a ramshackle old building 80 km outside the city, on the side of a mountain with an outside water pipe and hole-the-ground loo.

Sounds revolting but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – it was at the base of the Great Wall of China and we got to climb up a few hundred feet of mountainside and scramble atop the wall to ancient watchtowers with no-one else for miles around.

Where else would I have got to do that?

And there’s really something rather special about eating outside by candlelight when there’s no power but the barbecue cooked ingredients are fresh fish just caught that day accompanied by vegetables purchased straight from a villager’s garden.

Closer to home I’ve been invited to some fab hotels. The W in Qatar and Missoni Kuwait really stick out not just for the luxury of the surroundings but because they’ve really got it right where their staff are concerned – you really do walk through the door and feel welcome.

They’re places I’d never have visited without TTN and working for the magazine has given me a new appreciation of great service (or the lack of it) and the amount of thought that goes into making hotels both inviting and convenient.

So, all in all, the last couple of years have been a great education and I’ve really enjoyed it.

I’m not running off to the other side of the world, so you may well find my by-line popping up in TTN from time to time.
But in the meantime, Shalu’s your girl on [email protected].

Signing off
By Liz O’Reilly