Most of the time, I don’t worry too much about getting older, the passage of the years. After all, ageing is part of life and, as someone once commented, it’s better than the alternative.
On the whole I’m perfectly happy with my lot. I have three wonderful daughters, a loving partner and two gorgeous grand-daughters.
Nowadays I focus on doing things I enjoy – hiking, running and writing – and if money’s a bit tight then I don’t waste it on things I don’t need.
Very occasionally though, I remember the 17-year-old with wanderlust who wanted to travel the world, who was learning French so she could one day settle in une longère with vines tumbling over its years-old pergola. She longed for adventure, that girl, yearned to get away from the claustrophobic terraced street where she grew up.
For one reason or another it didn’t happen; lack of bravery probably or perhaps other, more immediate desires, just got in the way. As John Lennon once pointed out, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’.
Back in the late 70s, my life was happening and somehow, despite all my ambitious plans, I didn’t get any farther than two summers (1981 and 1983) working in hotels on the Isles of Scilly and the one in-between nursing in Truro.
After my second Scilly season, I reluctantly returned to my home town and within two years I was married with a mortgage. Two children followed in quick succession and although my dream of travelling never entirely went away, it was, from necessity, put on hold… indefinitely.
Decades later, I know my chances of seeing the world are diminishing with every passing year and I try to be pragmatic about it. Deep down though, there’s still a part of me which longs to wander across vast landscapes, to experience other cultures and have a grand adventure of epic proportions.
So I was intrigued but a little saddened when I happened upon Virtual Tourist’s hunt to identify the 8th Wonder of the World. The website has invited Tourist Boards world-wide to submit a nomination from the area they represent, to be voted on by the general public. The ‘place’ can be an ancient, natural or man-made landmark and the results will be screened on American television. So far, there are 365 nominations, including predictable must-see places, like Niagara Falls, the Rocky Mountains and Lake Mawawi, but also lesser-known landscapes, like our very own Wales Coast Path.
There are also some surprising omissions: Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China spring to mind.
What hit me as I browsed through images of some of the earth’s most stunning places was how few of them I’ve visited. There are vast continents that I’ve never set foot on – Asia, Australasia, Africa – and doubt I will in the foreseeable future, if ever.
I didn’t score much better in Europe: the Alhambra Palace, Granada – no; Badeschiff and Museum Island, Berlin – I’m afraid not; Brussels’ Grand Palace – sorry.
Even back home in the UK, the number of potential contenders that I have visited is dismal. I’ve never been to Blenheim Palace or Lincoln Cathedral and I’ve not even heard of Coldstones Cut, in North Yorkshire.
I decided to work my way through the entire list methodically and see just how many of the 365 places I had actually visited.
- No visits at all for places beginning with numbers or A
- Hurray, I can put my hand up for three Bs:
I took Alanna to San Diego in 2005 and we visited Balboa Park on several occasions – fabulous place, loved every minute of that holiday.
Baltimore’s Inner Harbour – yep, been there too, in February 1999. I remember the amazing fudge shop where the male assistants sang as they served customers. There’s also an impressive aquarium in the harbour. Unfortunately, it rained all day so I probably didn’t see Baltimore at its best.
Bishop and the Eastern Sierra – we did a whistle-stop visit to this town on our way to Yosemite (I chose a tour of mid California for my 40th birthday not realising how vast the distances are). I recall the amazing Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ where we scoffed lots of naughty-but-nice pastries and I was mesmerized by the large orange juicer.
- I’ve got one for C too. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. It’s been a few years – Alanna was still in a pushchair and I remember carrying it up the 274 steps to the Lookout Tower – but I recall how much we enjoyed the caves (and the fudge!). It’s a really good day out for all the family and we’re planning to go again this year.
- Nothing for D, I’m afraid.
- Yes, I’ve been to the Empire State Building. It was a long time ago and I can’t find the photograph of me clinging to the railing as I stepped onto the Observation Deck. Unfortunately, it was a miserable day and the distant views weren’t great; I do, however, remember looking down onto the roofs of New York’s tall buildings. (Just checked the website and can’t believe it now costs $25 each to visit the main Observation Deck!!).
- Wow… I’ve got three for G:
Giant Sequoia Tree is another place I visited on my California tour back in 2000. This is a wonderful place where the largest trees soar as tall as a 26-storey building and are up to 2,700 years old. Harri won’t be surprised to hear that I left my camera hanging from one of these giants and had to run a mile from the car park to retrieve it. Some things never change!
Golden Gate Bridge – once on foot (we’d walked from our hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf and I was very jet lagged as we’d flown in earlier the same day) and once in our very flash, rental sports car on our way to Sausalito.
Griffith Park, Los Angeles – a few years later, we took a spur-of-the-moment holiday with my three daughters .
Interestingly, this park is named after a Welshman, Griffith J Griffith, a Victorian journalist turned mining expert turned prison inmate (he shot his wife: fortunately, she survived). In 1882, Griffith donated over 3,000 acres of land to the people of LA as ‘his Christmas present’.
- Which leads nicely to H and the Hollywood Sign, which can be seen clearly from Griffith Park. After years of watching GMTV and Fiona Phillips’ reports from Hollywood, I was definitely more excited than the children to see the 45-foot, 350-foot long letters nestling on the neighbouring hillside.
And there’s another one for H. On our 2005 trip, Alanna and I visited the Hotel Del Coronado, which features as the ‘Seminole Ritz’ in the classic film Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis. We didn’t bump into any celebrities on our visit, though we did run into the Italian businessman who’d sat next to me on the plane from Austin and had spent four hours practicing his English on me. He insisted on buying me a drink and Alanna a fancy chocolate ice-cream which was pretty decent of him.
The Hotel that was the first in the world to boast electricity celebrates its 125th birthday this year.
- Nothing for I, J, K or L.
- I think it’s very probable I’ve been to Miami Design District as I’ve been to Miami and we spent an awful lot of time driving around in circles, trying first to find and then re-find our hotel in Miami Beach. (Though, glancing at the website, I think it’s highly unlikely that we would have lingered somewhere so obviously ‘branded’ – it’s not my cup-of-tea at all!).
- Nothing for N (come on Newport Tourism Team, what about nominating my home town?).
- Plymouth Rock… for a moment then… but it’s the wrong Plymouth. This one’s in Massachusetts where they appear to have a penchant for UK place names. They’ve named counties Berkshire, Hampshire, Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and have towns called Bristol, Weymouth, Barnstable and Worcester.
But hold fire, there’s another candidate in the Ps – Porto and the North of Portugal. Does ‘nearly got there’ qualify? Our planned backpacking/camping holiday in Peneda-Gerês National Park in May 2010 was sadly a victim of the Icelandic volcanic eruptions. We will definitely get there one day soon so it’s going on my list!
- Santa Cruz Surfing Museum was undoubtedly lurking behind the large, wooden roller coaster that fascinated me on our flying visit to this quintessential California coastal resort. It was my 40th birthday and we were driving down the coastline to spend the night in Carmel so our visit was brief and gastronomical (it was a holiday of much driving and eating). I’d love to return one day and explore properly.
Shockingly, despite its proximity, I didn’t visit Stonehenge until three years ago when we were on our way to Brighton with Elinor. This Neolithic ring of standing stones is certainly impressive but with the place teeming with tourists it was difficult to stand, stare and reflect on how the 30 enormous stones were brought to the site.
My third S is Sunset Strip, West Hollywood, a thoroughfare which didn’t excite me as much as I’d anticipated. The so-called Sunset Strip is just a mile-and-a-half section of the Sunset Boulevard (which itself stretches 22 miles from Downtown, Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway). We walked miles of that street back in 2002 and, believe me, it isn’t all Hollywood glamour.
- Onto T and the Terreiro do Paco in Lisbon. Harri, Alanna and I wandered around this magnificent, historic square two summers ago. We were staying in nearby Setúbal, located on the northern bank of the Sado River estuary, which is much prettier than the Tagus. If you are visiting Lisbon this summer, please take heed of warnings of pickpockets on the trams; it happens, in our experience, it was a slight and innocent-looking young girl who slipped her hand into Harri’s pocket. Fortunately, she escaped empty-handed.
Virtual Tourist has listed all places with ‘the’ in their name under T, which means I can also add The Blackpool Tower, where as a youngster Alanna competed and won several medals in the Junior Blackpool Dance Festival.
Blackpool is probably one of the cheapest places in the UK for holidays, but its coastline is straight and boring and I can’t say I’m in any rush to return – it’s too brash and noisy for moi.
And the final T, The Lake District. What can I say, except that I visited, twice, many years ago and long to return to this stunningly beautiful landscape. The towns may be busting to the seams with tourists but climb one of those peaks and you’ll feel on top of the world. Check out these amazing panoramic photographs.
- Which brings me to W and the Wales Coast Path. Call me biased, but the 870-mile coastal path around Wales is just wonderful and the breath-taking scenery easily competes with much better-known natural landscapes across the world. Yes, there are sections which veer inland – and are muddier than I’d like – but taken as a whole, the Wales Coast Path is a magical, inspirational place to be.
So there it is – conclusive proof that I’m not the well-travelled savant the 17-year-old me envisaged I would be by 52. Out of 365 potential ‘wonders’ of the world, I’ve visited just 17 – or 6.2% – which suggests I haven’t broadened my horizons a whole lot in the past thirty years. Whichever way you look at it, I don’t think Michael Palin has much to worry about.
Still, on the bright side, after six years of hiking across Wales with Harri, I’m very aware of the beautiful landscapes, the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and spectacular coastline on my own doorstep. So, after much deliberation, I have cast my own vote for the Wales Coast Path, for the simple reason that it boasts a natural, unspoiled beauty.
You don’t need to fly halfway around the world to be dazzled by your surroundings. Pause and look around you – some of the wonders of the world might be closer than you thought.
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