16 TREW’S TRAVELS
March 2017 Travel News
Traveller’s tales of the unexpected M
Y NEICE RACHEL gave me a Christmas present of a Scratch world travel Map that I put behind my big armchair and forgot all about until I came out of hibernation when our first daffs bloomed. There it was, along with a melting Cadbury’s Selection Box gifted to Great-Uncle John by the new addition to our small Trew Clan, her baby Jacob; he is to be commended for knowing that I am partial to Diary Milk even though he was less than a month old when he flew over from Tyneside, gurgling with a Geordie accent, with his gorgeous mum Rachel, surely the most photographed young mother on Facebook. Anyway, if, like me, you have never heard of Scratch Maps, let me quote from the publisher’s website: “ Here is your personalised map of the world; the idea is to scratch off the gold foil covering the places you've visited with the edge of a coin to reveal colourful, geographical detail underneath, making it stand out. You also add trains and boats and plane journeys. Not only is it a decorative, visual piece to hang in your house, it's also a more discreet way of bragging about your hols.”
Discreet? Rubbish! But the idea got me going one wet and windy afternoon in front of a blazing radiator, and I started scratching off destinations with my rarest U.S. coin, the 1900 Indian Head Cent I found in the Dime Clearance Box in a Cincinnati thrift shop.(By the way, I was told that the name ‘charity store’ was deemed offensive and communistic by the kind of Americans who later voted for Trump; they prefer the word ‘thrift’ as a word which denotes decent American values such as frugality, prudence, austerity and economic carefulness. Yeuck!)
So there I was, kneeling on the carpet, scraping away gold foil, revealing destinations I had visited for my 263 TREW’S TRAVELS columns. They were all over this unusual world atlas — from North-West ONTARIO up near the Arctic Circle, down the map to South-East AUSTRALIA, and from JAPAN in the Far East all the way across CHINA and EUROPE to CALIFORNIA in the Old West of the USA. I counted the countries I had visited until my knees gave up, and I crawled back to my armchair having counted
BY AWARD-WINNING TRAVEL JOURNALIST
Some extraordinary things happened to me in Macau, so below are a couple of tales of the unexpected…
Extraordinary Experiences in the Vegas of Asia and NYC
MACAU is reached by a fast hovercraft service across the YELLOW RIVER (it looked like muddy brown to me) from Hong Kong. Helicopters were the preferred mode of travel by high rolling gamblers and gangsters from HK who invaded the former Portuguese enclave at weekends to live it up in the casinos and ‘bad houses’(as my mother used to call brothels). The title ‘Las Vegas of Asia’ is still used as a slogan by Tourism chiefs, but sex-workers have been swept under the duvet and the enclave seems to have lost much of its reputation as an ’edgy’ place for adult travellers. Nowadays it appears to be the usual global ‘offer’ of high-end fashion retailing plus big-time Art; indeed the world’s longest artistic mural — by a famous Chinese painter I have never heard of — is a huge draw (pun intended!)
43 countries/islands like MADERIA /territories like GIBRALTAR. This total is nowhere near the recent record of 196 by a 28-year-old American woman who took just two years to visit every country in the United Nations.
After I thought about it, I remembered other forgotten destinations of mine like the old Portuguese colony of MACAU which is not on the Scratch Map, but which we fell in love with when we were living in HONG KONG where my wife Dr Karen Trew was teaching Summer School .
I heard that Macau had changed its ‘gambling getaway for bad-boys’ image since it reverted to Mainland Communist Chinese rule, soon after we visited. However, I checked out its 2017 Tourism Events website, but apart from a renaming the place MACAO and putting on surprising number of traditional Christian Processions on Saints Days, there were a lot of motorcycling and racing car Grand Prix- type events that attract the ‘fast set’ as thrill-tourists used to be called in Agatha Christie novels.
Sheer Animal Magic!
JOKER THE DOG watches admiringly as my camera snapped his Dolphin friend ending their daily chat with a leap at Eilat on the Red Sea (see story right)
We stayed in the utterly amazing five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel where we were shown around by the Press Relations director, a Eurasian lady who was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen — before or since. She showed us suites where the Master Bedroom had a small ensuite room (no bed) where the Big Boss’s nighttime bodyguard had to stay vigilant. However, it was at a street vendor’s stall selling cheap watches that I experienced an act of kindness I have never forgotten. The stall was heaped high with beautifully-made ‘replicas’ (ie fakes) of famous Swiss watches so I chatted merrily to the English-speaking vendor while trying to make the difficult choice. Eventually, I decided on a 10-dollar replica of an iconic model and handed over ten one-dollar notes. As I walked away, he ran after me and said: “Please sir, I forgot that this model was selling at 20 per cent off today, so here’s two dollars back.” I was astonished! In all my long life nobody has ever given me a discount AFTER I had happily agreed on the price. This story may seem totally insignificant , but in a so-called notorious foreign destination, it became a defining moment for me. Always expect the unexpected…
Take another example: I love NEW YORK CITY, but its residents have a rep for being rude to tourists. The city is based on a grid system of Streets going east- west and Avenues going north-south. Easy-peasy, yet one day Karen and I got lost and were trying to read a map on a suspiciously quiet street corner, with guys hanging out in doorways. Y’know what I’m sayin’, bro? One of them detached himself and asked:”Where you aimin’ for, mister?”. “Penn Station,” says I, ”We are very late for our train.” He said something like: “Two blocks right, OK, then hang a left, OK, right again, OK, until the sidewalk gets broad, OK, then hang …” “Show me on the map,” I interrupted. Says he: “I don’t do maps,
AGNES ANGRAND gives me a supporting hug at Award presentation Adieu, Bye-Bye, so long, Agnes
I WAS A guest at the 2017 French Travel Media Awards down in Dublin around the time Ireland recorded the historic win over France at Aviva Stadium there last month. I was therefore able to engage in good-natured boasting banter with my favourite Frenchwoman, Agnes Angrand, Deputy Director of Atout France, the French Tourist Board.
Agnes last featured in this column last summer when she presented me with the MEDAILLE DU TOURISME — the first time this French National Honour has been awarded to anyone from the island of Ireland - so no wonder she is my ‘meilleure petite amie’ as the French quaintly describe ‘best girl friend.’
Actually, as you will see in the photo of us, I am
man. Just follow me.” He proceeded to walk briskly just ahead of us the whole two miles along his short cut, pointing out buildings and bars, popping into mini-marts and liquor stores to say a quick hello, just to prove that This Was HIS City.
I was exhausted when we got to Penn, but we had time to spare, unfortunately, he politely refused my offer of a drink and wished us a safe journey onward. I was amazed to have found such an unlikely saviour by chance; he saved us waiting 24 hours for the next train to our destination.
Close Encounters with Sea Creatures Great and Small
IF I HAD a pound for every time I was asked “What is the most unusual thing you have encountered in your lifetime of travel,” I could afford to retire to the French Riviera. Or Mallorca. Or the Florida Everglades. Or maybe Bangor West, even. My response is usually to tell about the day I met JOKER, surely one of the world’s most intelligent terriers, on a jetty poking into the Red Sea at the beautiful resort of EILAT at the most southerly point of ISRAEL. Every day around 4pm, Joker arrives down at DOLPHIN REEF where a pod of a dozen or so wild dolphins chooses to live. He barks once or twice whereupon a dolphin —not always the same one — surfaces a few yards from him and proceeds to have a ‘conversation’.
I watched enthralled as the dolphin used its distinctive clicking sounds and Joker responded with barks and yelps. After a few minutes of this astonishing craic, the dolphin disappeared and immediately made a farewell leap out of the water. I just managed to capture the sublime climax of the leap on my old SLR camera — one of those brilliant accidents that made me believe I was a truly great photographer (until I ruined a whole roll of film the following week in a stupidly amateurish way by leaving it in the same baking sun that turned my right foot into such a blistering purple mess that it had to be treated in hospital back home.)
My most memorable day in Eilat had started when I booked a Dance With The Dolphins dive which featured a snorkelling instruction session which started badly. I mistook the tiny instructor for some teenage girl in a child’s wetsuit who was with a
‘plus petit’ than her…but then, nearly everyone is taller than me these days…
The only sad part of the occasion (brilliantly organised by Dublin-based PR people, TRAVELMEDIA.ie
, is that it was Agnes’s last engagement in Ireland as she is re-locating to NYC, so I wished her ‘So long,’ in my best Brooklyn accent.
Indeed, I went further than that; we were all invited to make a short video for the delightful compilation shown at the ceremony. Because Northern Ireland’s Seamus Heaney is the most popular foreign poet in France, I wrote a ‘poem’ saying that life without her will be full of sadness… Adieu, bye-bye, so long,Agnes La vie sans toi era plein de tristesse…
visiting tourist party. Bad mistake. She turned out to be one of the best divers in an elite unit of the Israeli Defence Force. She started bawling at me in Hebrew when I couldn’t get on my wetsuit because it was…well, wet. If you have ever tried to put on a wet sock, then multiply the problem a hundred times. When we eventually got into the surprisingly cold waters of the Reef, I was a bundle of nerves every time she approached me ‘shouting’ instructions — by using intimidating hand signals underwater. Anyway, I still managed to enjoy 10 minutes of swimming with a beautiful big bottlenose female dolphin and her friendly little calf called SHAI. The whole dive was videoed by an ace cameraman who followed me around the Red Sea (which turns out to be more clear blue than red.) After I was dressed, a DVD entitled John goes Dancing with Dolphins was presented to me (on exchanging 20 shekels). Sadly, my legs underwater came out as white as a wax candle — but much more wobbly — so I have kept my memorable dive DVD in a secret stash of other embarrassing stuff.
On a similar subject, I have once or twice mentioned here that I took up snorkelling late in life; people like me who suffer chronic back problems become equal to our able bodied friends when we take to the water. That’s why I love resorts like CALA RAJATA on the wild west coast of my beloved MALLORCA; coral reefs and rocky coves make for great snorkelling in the company of unusual fishes and marine creatures.
One summer evening I was exploring seaweed- covered crevices about three feet underwater in a basalt outcrop; I suddenly felt something slippery with my left hand— I had caught my first octopus. Actually, more accurately, it had caught me! I felt its suckers getting stuck on my right arm as I pulled it to the surface from its hidey-hole.
As I brought it ashore, I heard a young holidymaker screaming something like “Sangre, sangre” and I looked down to see blood dripping from my arm — made to look worse by being soaked with seawater. It turned out that the octopus had a hard beak and had bitten me on the wrist. The small scar is still to be seen when I take my watch off — a little ‘trophy’ to demonstrate the occasionally adventurous life of a travel journalist…
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