If you remove the modern political context, the name ‘Guantánamo Bay’ could be just another holiday resort. It’s in the Caribbean Sea, an American enclave on the edge of Cuba. There’s a branch of McDonald’s, and ‘over 6,000 species of flora and fauna’. Perfect package holiday material, right? That’s what 2Magpies, the makers of Last Resort, thought when they applied an all-inclusive tourist lens to the notorious American naval detention camp for suspected terrorists. They’ve created an immersive theatre piece that, for all the surface jollity of deckchairs, sand and Cuba Libre cocktails, successfully chills audiences to the bone.
It doesn’t feel like 15 years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, nor two years since the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened at Ground Zero. Yet, somehow, they have, and the memorial site at Ground Zero is so familiar and so firmly embedded on the tourist route that a group of lads on a stag party (or bachelor party, to American readers) will nonchalantly pose in front of the two sobering memorial pools, a blow-up doll alongside them.
The stag photos rightly caused controversy this week, but the outrage didn’t extend to the preening and pouting fellow tourists around them. One couple took a kissing selfie, perhaps blissfully unaware of their surroundings or just too self-absorbed to care. The thing is, it’s a privilege to stand at the memorial. It should be a place where you stop to reflect, whether you choose to go to the adjoining museum or not. If you are brave enough to face the Memorial Museum, this is what you can expect.
There’s more to the Big Apple’s retail scene than Macy’s, Bloomingdales and the designer haunts loved by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. In fact, New York shopping should be on your agenda even if you’re not a fashion fan, because there are some excellent specialist shops to discover on your travels. I’ve picked two of my new favourite niche stores not to be missed.
The Fountain Pen Hospital
With sixty years of pen repairs under its belt, this is a thriving business and a fascinating place to explore. It has survived relocation and the ups and downs of the economy, and is now run by the third generation of the Wiederlight family, brothers Terry and Steve. Inside its doors you can pick up a posh rollerball, browse the latest pen catalogue and check out limited edition fountain pens at well over the $1000 mark. As the ‘hospital’ name indicates, your pens can be repaired in store, and the staff really do know their stuff.
‘The hand and the machine’ is the vague-sounding inspiration for Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, at the Metropolitan Museum. It’s about the high levels of craftsmanship involved in making fashion since 1900, either by hand-sewing and embellishing or using sewing machines and 3D printers in the process. Kind of dry until you realise how important the fashion industry is around the world, how it reflects society, and how many economies it supports. It seems we could all learn from this show.
The Royal Academy’s latest exhibition, Wanderlust, is like being given an intravenous drip feed of retro travel photos, postcards and scrapbook materials. It’s like swallowing hundreds of ‘vacation’ Pinterest boards in one go. For anyone with an incurable sense of escapism, this is a drug, and it’s delivered by a little-known bachelor from Queens, New York, who never went abroad.
A self-taught American artist, Joseph Cornell created mixed media collages using anything from Baedeker’s travel guides to old maps, tickets, compasses, adverts and newspaper clippings, calling his collections ‘explorations’.
A trip to New York shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer amount of recommendations for this city. To make life easier, I’ve picked apart some of the key questions you might have about planning and taking your city break.
Q: I only have one day in New York. What shouldn’t I miss?
Start with an early morning bus tour, which will help you get your bearings. Your best bet would be a hop-on-hop-off tour, starting at 8am, with a 24 hour ticket. I’d recommend seeing One World Trade Centre away from the bus, as it’s best experienced in person. When I last visited the museum and monument weren’t established, but even then it was a sobering place to be.
Another year of travel highs and lows has gone by, so it’s time for a review of poppy-filled, sports-dominated, battle-scarred 2014. The stories below stood out for me as the most realistic insights into much-discussed destinations and travel habits.
Trouble in Paradise
Thailand suffered from the effects of harsh military rule and the aftershock of a tragic double murder, claiming the lives of two British holidaymakers. The country’s Tourism Authority is now trying to put a positive spin on martial law, claiming it offers greater safety for visitors, but the increased presence of the police and the army isn’t appealing to everyone. During the darkest times for Thailand, Russian tourists helped to boost the economy, but the falling value of the rouble has seen fewer Russian arrivals. Fortunately, high-spending Chinese visitors have helped Thailand get back on its feet again. This is all the more important as it’s now been 10 years since the devastating Boxing Day tsunami claimed 8,000 lives and affected 12,000 homes.
There’s nothing like the joy of finding a great pre-loved book – set me up in a branch of Oxfam or a car boot sale and I’m happy as a sandboy, browsing through the goods. I also find they make great souvenirs when I’m travelling (not so much souvenirs for other people, as not everyone appreciates a dog-eared Penguin classic when they were hoping for a nice fridge magnet). Over the last few years I’ve been on quite a few bookish adventures, and these are some of the best…
A recent article in the British travel press saw a freelance writer taking her baby daughter along with her around the world. It’s an admirable move and incidentally gives the girl some amazing bragging rights when she grows up, but it made me wonder: could that baby, when an adult, really say she has experienced these countries if she only has photos, and no memories, to rely on?
Whilst the article was about the logistics of working parent duties rather than said bragging rights, it spurred me into thinking about the many different ways we measure ‘doing’ a country or a destination. Just Google ‘travel blog + country counting’ and you’ll see there are plenty of people out there with a tally to monitor. There’s even a prestigious Travelers’ Century Club (American spelling) for those who’ve reached the precious 100 milestone. So, for everyday adventurers not indicted into any club, what could potentially be considered as a valid tick from the list?
A London City Airport survey has found that the average Brit has only visited seven countries, and only 31% have made it to 10 or more of them, despite there being an incredible 193 countries in the entire world that could be explored. This data, which I was reading about in Wanderlust Magazine, really got me thinking about my own travelling past, as it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started accumulating a respectable country count.
Rather than tally up where I’ve been, I’m going to admit why I haven’t been to as many places as you. It’s time to come to terms with my travel inadequacy and look back on those few countries with fond memories.