Inspired by a blog post that I read recently, I got to thinking about all the European cities that I should have visited already but for whatever reason haven’t quite got around to just yet. So here is my top 5 list (in no particular order) of “forgotten destinations” and the reasons why I should have visited before now.
I have been aware of the beauty and culture of Prague from an early age – my parents have visited, I’ve read about it, I’ve seen the pictures as we all have. Obviously Prague has some fantastic architecture – old as well as new, and of course a Gehry – which is always a good sign!
But I first started hearing a lot about the real city from a work colleague back in the mid-90’s when I was working in the finance industry. The project I was working on was one of those classic “strategic” projects for the consultancy firm I was working for. This meant of course it was costing the firm a packet and that the client was taking them for a ride because they could (and why not!).
Anyway, a fixer was flown in to manage the contract… To say that Alan was a “character” would be to sell him a little short – the things he got up to would be enough to keep me occupied writing posts for weeks – but with regards to Prague it was simple: He lived there… sometimes. He also sometimes lived in Stockholm and sometimes Southampton. It was complicated – very complicated and involved endless discussions with Czech officials (he wasn’t actually supposed to be there for some reason), gifts for travel agents and a lot of diary juggling.
When Alan was sitting down long enough, in between his brilliant juggling and troubleshooting, he would always talk about Prague and how fantastic it is and tell me about the great places on- and off the beaten track and who to speak to at all the bars, hotels and restaurants. I am still at a loss as to why I never used this knowledge – and now I am sure it is mostly out of date and useless to me!
I’m not into gambling, I am a fan of understatement rather than overt displays of wealth and prefer hiking to holidays in the sun. However I do like a good cocktail and wouldn’t mind rocking up to the Casino in my DBS and tuxedo, the love of my life on my arm – because if you are going to do anything like that anywhere in the world it would have to be in Monte-Carlo!
It may be conservative and full of bankers – but it’s also beautifully situated on Lake Geneva, perfectly located for the Alps which works for me both summertime (hiking) and wintertime (skiing). However, the real reason why I should have visited is for my love of watches.
Geneva is the heartland of hand-made watches as much as say Saville Row is for bespoke tailoring, and the watchmaker that produces the complicated timepieces that I desire more than any other; Patek Philippe, is based in Plans-Les-Oautes – a Geneva canton. I need to go and visit their Museum sometime and marvel at the delights contained within – I realise that I might have to do this on my own…
I have transited through Geneva airport once or twice – but that doesn’t really count!
From the age of 11 and then at least once per year (sometimes twice per year) until I left school at 17 most if not all of my friends would be taken by their parents along with the rest of their family to Mallorca – or “Mallis” as the Swedes like to call it. They would more often than not go during the winter half-term holidays and/or at Easter when Sweden is still pretty dark, cold and covered in snow. It’s understandable I guess – but based on what everyone told me about what they got up to when they were there it pretty much sounded like the dullest waste of time (albeit with sun!) imaginable. I was never envious of my friends trips to Mallorca – not once!
However, I am starting to change my opinion and for all the resort madness that has gripped the southern part of the island, it is now becoming quite obvious to me that there are some very beautiful places not far away to the north and north-east where the island is more lush, green and ruggedly beautiful. Considering that it is very easy to get to, is reasonably cheap and warm – I think it may be time to give the old girl a whirl?
My sister has lived there, one of my closest friends has lived there, one of my favourite films is set there. It’s beautiful, full of culture – great music, endless coffee shops with mountains of sweet delights… They also have a great producer of glassware – and having lived in Sweden for a long time, I am a sucker for all things glass!
The closest to Vienna I’ve managed is, as with Geneva, the airport – but unlike Geneva there is a rather traumatic (well for me anyway!) story attached. It was in 1998 and I was on a rather hurried business trip to Tel Aviv when I caught the worst ever cold from the air conditioning at the hotel. It was so bad that I decided to return home a day early – and that meant changing airline to Air Austria and the route to go via Vienna. So far so good. Now those of you who have travelled to Israel will know that leaving the country is not as easy as getting in… With a very heavy head, full of phlegm and snivelling like a child I arrived at Tel Aviv airport; my VIP security transit letter (Hebrew) in hand ready to be whisked through the normal checks… oh no! In my rush to leave and not thinking straight due to illness (and of course not being fluent in Hebrew) I had managed to pick up the wrong letter and instead had my colleague’s! That coupled with the fact that I had changed my route, was leaving a day early and didn’t have a laptop or business cards with me as I had flown straight to Tel Aviv from a holiday meant that I was treated to a 45 minute interrogation from an 18 year-old female soldier, completely lacking a sense of humour and sporting an Uzi… I did manage to avoid the full body search – but only just!
When I did manage to board I was able to relax – but only until the plane left the ground, for as it was ascending and then subsequently descending into Vienna I thought my ears and head were going to explode from the changing pressure. It was so bad that I had tears streaming down my face when we landed and the relief when the pain stopped was so great I didn’t realise that I had almost completely lost my hearing on both sides!
I spent my entire time at Vienna airport (and then for almost 5 days thereafter) practically deaf and so full of cold that I just sat at the gate shuddering longing for my bed. It was not nice; not nice at all and I need to go back to rid myself of that memory!