THE tourist brochures exhort travellers to visit their countries to experience their festivals, view the buildings and to delve into the culture and history of their country, but for me, travel comprises all these elements plus the flavours, the flowers, the fruit and the forms, which encourage me to go back to a favourite destination.
Let me explain. When I think of Southern France or Northern Italy, I recall the symmetric rows of grape vines and the road side inns serving their local wines.
France also reminds me of the fast-disappearing onion-sellers, who carry their wares on sticks on their backs, as they pedal towards potential customers, even sometimes finding their way across the Channel to England.
England, for me as a newly-wed, was where I learned that endless fields of beet in Eastern Lincolnshire were the providers of much of the sugar used in the European Union. Sugar beet and potatoes are the main crops of many of these very arable and prosperous farms. The potatoes are big and very tasty and are being stored in so-called ‘potato pies’, long heaps of piled potatoes covered with soil and sometimes plastic sheets.
Potatoes also remind me of Egypt, where fields of the tubers grow alongside the Nile River. However, potatoes originally came from South America.
Cyprus also has plenty of fruit, which I immediately associate with the island. Particularly so the orange with the ubiquitous orange trees often lining village streets. However, I have actually never seen anybody flying the fruit. I must assume, that the local council eventually harvests the crop, but I am not sure.
There are plenty of banana plantations in Cyprus as well and it was here that I witnessed for the first time the strange but exotic purple-coloured banana flower. Nowadays the growers cover the young bananas with blue plastic bags, presumably to protect them from migratory birds. The Cypriot bananas are small in size, but sweet-tasting.
Bananas are certainly not small in Barbados. They are fat and long and have that special taste of banana! They seem to have been the main income source for the Caribbean Islands, until they discovered tourism.
In the West Indies, we also had wonderful breakfasts with the yellow-orange papaya, grown locally and sometimes also called the ‘pawpaw’ fruit.
Inevitably, further south, Brazil reminds me of coffee. “There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil” is a popular oldie of yesteryear. The price of coffees in any form in the Gulf cafés is often determined by the good or bad seasons of the Brazilian coffee farmers. I well remember, as part of a tour, watching a coffee taster in Sao Paulo walking slowly around a table on which were scores of cups and tasting the contents and picking out the choicest of beans according to their taste and aroma.
When it comes to picking and selecting fruit, there is nothing to beat the Danish way of stopping at a farm with fields of strawberries, gathering the enticing fruit by yourself and paying the farmer for your haul, when you have filled your basket.
I have to confess that it was not until I landed in the Middle East that I finally came across real figs and dates, and not the dried variety which I had been buying in Europe.
Mangoes are another fruit, which were new to me/until I came to the Gulf, although nowadays one can also find them in super markets in Europe. Mangoes remind me of India. My better half drinks mango juice in the mornings, but I do not like the taste.
My least favourite vegetable is the Brussels sprout, though they happen to be number one of my husband’s most-like list. I do know they do not come from Belgium! They remind me of visiting my father-in-law’s allotment in the middle of winter in England.
Asparagus also goes into the same ‘cannot stomach’ category of vegetables as far as I am concerned. However I remember driving through a village in Germany, which sported a sign announcing it was the Asparagus Capital of the World. This was Schwetzingen, located south of Heidelberg and I guess, the village’s only claim to tourism fame is its annual asparagus festival or ‘Spargel Fest!’
When we are travelling, we naturally do not have much need of visiting vegetable markets, but there are actually several around the world, which merit a place on any itinerary. In Seattle, for example, you must stop by by the Pike Place Market, an emporium of roofed-over stalls with colourfully-arrayed selections of fruit, flowers, vegetables and seafood. Absolutely wonderful for photography.
So next time you return from a vacation, see if I am right, which experience will you cherish? Will you remember the vistas of the city you saw from the viewing platform atop a skyscraper? Or will it be the garland of flowers placed around your neck, when you were welcomed at the resort? I know, which one I am betting on.
Speaking Out by Jonna Simon
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.