For a number of years, my husband and I wrote and produced a series of City Portrait brochures covering more than 100 countries of the world on behalf of a European airline.
The production of these Portraits necessitated quite a bit of travel and entailed the creation of a sort of routine for checking out hotels, restaurants, sights, emergency phone numbers etc. and along the way, we seem to have been attracted to the unusual as well as the common place.
For example, even today, when we are travelling and finding a new restaurant, our first step, before asking for a table, is to check out the loos. If these are not spotless and clean, we move on to another restaurant as we are petrified of acquiring food poisoning.
I always insist on taking a city tour in a new destination in order to become familiar with the city’s famous sights and obtain hints of what to do and where to go from the always knowledgeable guides.
Over the years, we have also recollected some strange trivia tales, Here are a few of them…
In Toronto, Canada, I discovered that the city encourages owners with pets to visit the city. They offer “pets can stay” certified hotels, leash free parks and boast “most pet friendly public transportation systems in North America”. Fine, if you like dogs, but beware the wagging tails!
There is a Guinness Book of Record Museum at Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls. You can go dog sledging at South River or enjoy an African Lion Safari at Cambridge, Ontario. Canada is truly a fascinating country.
In Victoria, Australia near Melbourne, you can visit the old gold mining town of Ballarat. For keen photographers, it is certainly worth the trip to capture the stage coached and covered wagons plying the main street.
It was pouring with rain, when we visited and we could easily image the hardships of the first miners, who came here in the early 1850s to mine for gold nuggets. Some made their fortunes, others like us, simply got wet through and drenches to the skin leaving without any nuggets or even gold dust.
In Cyprus, visiting the ancient Greek ruins at Citium, which was devastated by an earthquake in 365AD, we were told, that the American civil war hero, General Cesnola, who was named American consul by President Abraham Lincoln, discovered and removed fabulous gold treasuries to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or so the guidebook stated.
However, writers David Shore and Jamie James dispute this official version of events and say that, in fact, the general probably found and bought the gold pieces at various sites around the island and clumped them together to sell them to the Metropolitan Museum as a “treasure trove”.
Such stories add spice to the exotic environment of this Greek Roman city with its fabulous mosaics and wonderful views over the Mediterranean Sea.
I have very fond memories of the city of Norwich in England with its magnificent cathedral, the gorgeously meandering Elm Hill medieval streets and the centuries old market in the city centre.
The fact that the Colman family made their fortune from mustard that diners left on their plates is a curious fact of the city. Or how about the 14th century Strangers Ball with a display of a collection of underwear? The strangers were in fact immigrant weavers, who lived in this house.
If I had the time and the money, I could spend a whole week wandering through the Great Covered Bazaar in Istanbul. There is a constant buzz in this souk, which was first built in 1461, and has been knocked down a couple of times by earthquakes and has also suffered from fires, but always rebuilt to its original form and shape.
I probably paid too much for the china plates and amber jewellery, but it was a fun shopping experience and the sweet Turkish coffee at least was quite inexpensive.
These memories came back one day, when I was gazing at the framed certificates on the walls of my office, one immortalising my jumping over the Polar Circle in northern Sweden. Another giving me an “extra” day for the one I lost, when I flew across the International Date Line.
Another is for crossing the Equator, but my most recent one is issued by NASA. It is a birthday present from a friend, recording that my name is on a microchip list of “space explorers” in a capsule, which is set to fly around the moon on NASA’s next rocket launch… isn’t life strange and wonderful!?!
Speaking Out by Jonna Simon