|Hot Food & Travel Tips|
It's the sort of question travel writers get asked a lot i "what's your favourite place in the world?" "What's your favourite country?"
Even more difficult for food writers is "what's your favourite food?" or "which cuisine do you like best?"
These are impossible questions.
With food, it depends on my mood and how hungry I am, or (if they ask that other question: what is your favourite restaurant?) the answer will be affected by where I am and what I'm prepared to spend.
With countries or cities it's even more complex. How do you decide between Paris and Kashgar? Should I vote for Venice or Antarctica? Tahiti or Turkey?
The GFC hit both dining and travel hard, but the economy seems to be rebounding. It's set to be a big year around the world. In sport alone, there's the FIFA World Cup in South Africa; the 21st Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
So, with all this in mind - here are some of the places that I have enjoyed enormously in the last couple of years.
Biggest surprise: Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Once a grimy industrial city in north-east England (www.visitnortheastengland.com), Newcastle has become a beautiful bustling metropolis with galleries and museums and a series of magnificent arched bridges over its winding river. Nearby is Hadrian's Wall (http://www.hadrians-wall.org) built by the Romans, forever views across the greenest pastures (possibly not this month, but they were in June last year!) castles, cliff tops and more history than you could imagine. Part of my own personal history is here, and I discovered links from 160 years ago, when my great-great-grandfather and his large family emigrated to Melbourne, Victoria.
Not far south, towards the area where Captain Cook grew up, is Hartlepool. "Where's that?" I said, as many other people would. Little-known it may be, but it's the host port for the 2010 Tall Ships Races in August and its Maritime Experience Museum and a tour over the beautifully preserved HMS Trincomalee is an absolute must. (www.destinationhartlepool.com)
Best Event: Dance Festival in Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Try to imagine 8000 dancers vividly dressed in national costumes that somehow survived many years of turmoil and Soviet occupation. We watched them celebrating music, the joy of life - and freedom, with lumps in our throats. This intensely moving spectacle, glorious in itself, is especially poignant when we consider how these people fought to keep their culture alive in hugely difficult circumstances. It was the stand-out occasion of my year. Magnificent medieval Tallinn, and Turku in Finland, will be joint 2011 European Capitals of Culture next year. (www.laulupidu.ee)
Most inspiring: Marysville, Victoria. Just last week we made a small detour on the way home from Melbourne, to see how Marysville, the community so badly burned in the Black Saturday fires in Victoria last year, is faring. To get there we passed through many kilometres of bush where the trees are sprouting a strange stress-induced regrowth. Who knows if they will ultimately survive. In the town, while there are still many tragically bare concrete slabs where houses once stood, the air is full of the sound of hammers and building equipment, as others are being constructed.
Seated under trees and umbrellas outside Fraga's, a surviving main street café which reopened last September, we enjoyed a lovely meal and some great coffee. Many events are planned in the next few months for the region as visitors are desperately needed. While only time will heal the forests and the people, the seeds of this area's future are definitely germinating. (www.watchusgrow.com.au)
Best City Accommodation: Ca'Sagredo Hotel, Venice, and The Langham, London. It's that conundrum, again - how can you choose between two such places? I can't so I'm nominating both.
Ca'Sagredo Hotel (www.casagredohotel.com) a former palazzo - now a very comfortable top-end hotel - has its foundations in the Grand Canal, perhaps the world's most unusual and colourful main street. I could have sat at the window of our room all day and watched the water traffic and the people in gondolas and other craft pass by.
By contrast The Langham hotel (http://london.langhamhotels.co.uk/en/) is a stalwart of London's hotel scene. It has been welcoming visitors (many of them celebs and royalty) for 140 years. Now, after an £80 million spruce-up we found it in excellent shape yet again. From our suite high up in the building we could glimpse Big Ben and the London Eye across a sea of grey slate and greyer tiled roofs and chimney-pots.
Best Country Accommodation: Summer Lodge, Evershot, Dorset. They call this land of gently rolling countryside and thatched-roof villages, 'Hardy country' after Thomas Hardy who loved the region. There are always places I would go back to in a moment, and this is one of them. Breakfast in the conservatory, croquet on the lawn, long walks along country lanes, an afternoon curled up by an open fire with a book - country-style luxury at its best. (www.summerlodgehotel.co.uk)
Best Train Trip: Royal Scotsman. One of the stand-out experiences of my life (not just the past couple of years) was a four-day ultra-luxury trip on this Orient-Express train through the highlands of Scotland. Day trips to castles and palaces - and distilleries, of course - then glam gourmet dining on board in the evenings. Nothing is spared, and the train is well-named. We were treated like royalty.(www.orient-express.com)
Best Nature Experience: Meeting the birds on the windswept Inner Farne Islands in north-east of England. I can't say I enjoyed the swooping arctic terns pecking at my scalp (someone forgot to mention a protective hat) but seeing dozens of puffins and thousands more of other species nesting in this bird sanctuary, more than made up for it. I now have the utmost respect for mother seabirds. How they can feed and raise a family on a slippery cliff-edge is beyond my comprehension. (www.farneislandsboattrips.co.uk)
If we are talking favourites - and even though you haven't asked about my favourite airline - I have to say I am currently hooked on Emirates (www.emirates.com) - especially after being upgraded last year on a flight back from London to Sydney. I have to say that I could happily always travel in Emirates' Business Class - for the first time ever sleeping in a comfy bed - in my own little cubicle with tiny mini bar and more than enough little cavities and pockets to store everything I needed for the flight. Bliss!
Well now, are armed with all this helpful stuff (it just happened to be ten tips) I hope this coming year turns out to be the perfect -10 for us all!
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