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The American Caliban

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DEAR LAZYWEB (TRAVEL) [Jun. 10th, 2010|10:50 pm]
The American Caliban
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Hello all.

I am going to go on a trip with my mother overseas. I have no idea where we should go. I partly grew up in Europe but haven't been to Paris or London or Venice since the Carter administration.

I've never been to Asia, Australia, Africa, or any of Eastern Europe. She was in Russia pretty recently and isn't into that, but otherwise she's amenable to suggestion.

I'm interested in what the group mind thinks. We both like old stones and culture vulture stuff and music. She likes theater and I like more popular music and jazz stuff, but neither of us has some consuming interest that demands satisfaction. In general culture wins over nature with us.

I'd love to see Venice again, and Europe in general draws me back. My French and Italian are awful (she's better) so it would be easier but less exotic to be somewhere that would deal with a monolingual American idiot. We should avoid war zones and places where a woman in her 80s with crappy arthritis would find it tiresome to get around, even with her son helping.

OPEN THREAD YO. Where should we go, and why?
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: zebulon_y
2010-06-11 06:07 am (UTC)

When you goin', yo?

The time of year has some bearing on answers.

Go to Europe. See London again as an experienced adult. Immerse yourself in the stolen heritage of the world in the national museums for exactly £0. Take the train to Scotland and do a distillery tour (or two! or three!) and admire the austere beauty of the highlands & lowlands while you're at it. Your mom could literally spend days in the West End seeing all the shows, while you prowl every indie record shop that still exists. London, btw, has a whole mess of new mobility-impaired-friendly tube stations to help mum get around easily.

Besides the obvious recommendations of France and Italy, one thing that's different from when you were there last is the access to eastern Europe... Prague and Bucharest are an interesting experience, for sure, though I suspect they are similar to Russia in ways that your mom may not care for.

I of course have recommendations for Asia as well, Tokyo is a country unto itself and absolutely full of cultural stuff both of you could appreciate. Any of the big cities of Japan are a cinch to navigate (way more English on signs than continental Europe, for instance). Given your circumstances I wouldn't recommend Hong Kong (air, climate, ease of access).

Welp, that's about all the places I've been to! Later!

oh except for South Africa, don't go there
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[User Picture]From: zebulon_y
2010-06-11 06:16 am (UTC)

Re: When you goin', yo?

man, now *I* want to go back to Europe
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[User Picture]From: baconmeteor
2010-06-11 09:39 am (UTC)

Re: When you goin', yo?

I have no idea how Bucharest made anyone's short list. Avoid.

I would enthusiastically second Tokyo - it's comfortable for an older person to navigate, you can take lovely day trips (sea or hot springs), the food is beyond description and despite the language barrier everything is easy to navigate.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-06-11 06:38 am (UTC)
Japan. There is a mix of new and old, and not everything is the hentai manga universe that might provoke a pantsoiling experience.

Of course, I would only recommend this trip if it were not summer. Fall is beautiful, Winter is amazing and filled with tradition and Spring is cherry blossom time. Summer does have many festivals, but it is also stupid humid.

The culture, of course, is quite different. You can indulge in the openness of Tokyo, where anything goes. Within Tokyo, however, are pockets of old Japan with kimonoes, temples and a city devoted to Tora-san. Kyoto, Nara and Nikko are cultural meccas, while most other areas are great for hot springs.

The second best part of Japan is the transportation system, which can bring you to any number of areas by bullet train, airplane or tour bus. Public transportation (bus, train) is never late, is reasonable and cost and offers its cultural experience in the ekiben, or train meals. Ekiben types will vary, with meals reflecting the cultural delicacy of an area in which you are traveling. For instance, Yokohama ekibens tend to showcase more Chinese dim sum type foods to reflect the influence of the large Chinese population in the area.

Which leads us to the best part of Japan, which is the food. Japan has come a long way from the strange spaghetti of ramen noodles, ketchup and hotdog I was once served while still a child vacationing in Kyoto. You will find the best of every food from around the world in Japan, each with a Japanese flair. You will not find American food portions, but what you eat will far surpass anything you will find here. My only complaint is that Japan does not know how to handle the hotdog bun, which never seems to be used with hotdogs. You'll find too much hotdog bun abuse in the form of whipped cream filled hotdog buns, yakisoba or spaghetti filled hotdog buns or potato salad filled hotdog buns -- but never hotdog in a hotdog bun.

Anna
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[User Picture]From: baconmeteor
2010-06-11 09:42 am (UTC)
Rome would depend on the time of year you go. The city can be fantastic or miserable based on whether you hit the huge flux of tourists. I think Bologna makes a great alternative if you are traveling in the more popular months.

I don't think a Tokyo visit would require excessive walking.
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[User Picture]From: tuliphead
2010-06-16 03:54 am (UTC)
I loved Thailand too and would highly recommend, but as someone with some physical difficulties I found it pretty challenging at times. There ain't no ADA in Thailand! Lots of walking, climbing in and out of Tuk-Tuks, flooded piers and walking across sandbags and wet benches at ferry stops..

I LOVED Bangkok and would absolutely go back, but I'd only suggest taking your mom if she's up for a lot of walking - which is the best way to see BKK anyway.
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[User Picture]From: obnoxicant
2010-06-11 07:09 am (UTC)
When are you going? If you find yourself in the UK in August, go to Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe! Sure, it's all I can really recommend as it's the only city overseas that I've spent any significant amount of time in (besides London), but I absolutely loved it.
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[User Picture]From: miss_geek
2010-06-11 07:41 am (UTC)
I don't have any idea where you should go since all of my travel experience is based vicariously through my little brother, I just love that you and your mom are going somewhere.

Shit. Go somewhere awesome. Go to Prague.
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[User Picture]From: baconmeteor
2010-06-11 09:47 am (UTC)
I have two nominations (mentioned elsewhere, too).

TOKYO and ISTANBUL. Both will explode your mind, both are walking-friendly and full of delicious things to eat, both have lots of places where tired people can take a rest, excellent public transportation. I will find you on chat and harangue you about both.
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[User Picture]From: leolo
2010-06-11 03:29 pm (UTC)
Allow me to second the Istanbul suggestion; it was the center of the world! Hagia Sofia is/was used by 3 religions!

I'd go myself, but the plane tickets are ... a tad high for my budget.
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[User Picture]From: tuliphead
2010-06-16 03:55 am (UTC)
I've always wanted to see Turkey but have never been able to point to something specific there and say 'that's what I want to see'. I just want to check it out. It's heartening to hear it has good public transit and places to stop and rest!
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[User Picture]From: mallorys_camera
2010-06-11 11:38 am (UTC)
You don't say when you're traveling...

If it's early July I suggest Gijon and Semana Negra.
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[User Picture]From: n_by_nw
2010-06-11 12:13 pm (UTC)

Not London

I'd like to chime in against the London groupthink. London is not sufficiently different from the US&A (that has its good points of course--language and convenience for your mother). But it's definitely the "safety school" of travelling. You won't necessarily *regret* it, but you'll wonder what could have been. (Also, it is abominably expensive. Yes, the big 3 museums are free, but everything else, starting with the Tube, is madness.)
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[User Picture]From: kineticfactory
2010-06-11 01:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Not London

It is, however, about two hours from Paris or Brussels by train, which makes it convenient as a base.
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[User Picture]From: hotelsamurai
2010-06-11 11:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Not London

My experience of London was: sure, it's different from the USA in some ways: different local customs, food, &c. Even the way they speak English there is sufficiently different from the American dialect as to be interesting, at least to this curious-minded traveler. There is plenty of art, music, culture, and so forth.

At the same time, though, it was almost the opposite of exotic (endotic?). I felt, the whole time, like I was at the very center of an empire, of which the west coast of America was some far-flung outpost. The English I met in London seemed to view us Americans as long-lost colonials returned home. It was disorienting, in its way, as all cross-cultural experiences should be. But in another way, it was almost hyperfamiliar: more home than home.

Ymmv.
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[User Picture]From: kineticfactory
2010-06-12 12:07 am (UTC)

Re: Not London

I had the same experience when moving to the UK from Australia. I can see commonalities between Australia and Britain, how traditions and institutions were mutated by geography, history and migration patterns; a lot of things are familiar yet subtly different. When I visited California, I was struck by similarities to Australia (when compared with Britain), and other differences. (The impression I had was that Australia had a more recent British heritage than the US (especially the West Coast, which was never British), though had similarities in being settled recently and in the same economic/technological period.)
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[User Picture]From: hotelsamurai
2010-06-12 12:27 am (UTC)

Re: Not London

I've long wanted to take a slang tour of Australia. I collect slang, idioms, accents &c. the way some people collect knick-knacks.
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[User Picture]From: kineticfactory
2010-06-12 12:32 am (UTC)

Re: Not London

You'll find a lot of Cockney, Northern English and Irish influences there. And, of course, the ubiquitous Americanisms that pepper the Anglosphere these days.
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[User Picture]From: handstil
2010-06-11 12:35 pm (UTC)
I am not a good person to ask, I'd just sit in Cornwall and snort clotted cream all day.

Prague for gorgeous unspoiled architecture.
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[User Picture]From: mcpino
2010-06-11 12:56 pm (UTC)

Doesn't matter where,

can I go, too?
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[User Picture]From: fweebles
2010-06-11 02:22 pm (UTC)

Prague

Lots of the Really Old Stuff in Prague is still there, as it was largely untouched by the world wars. They have a thriving music scene (both classical and modern), and it's Eastern Europe without being scary or too difficult.

Everyone in the touristy parts of town speaks decent to excellent English, and is happy to help, especially if you manage to toss out half a dozen words of Czech, even if it's "Do you speak English?"
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[User Picture]From: baconmeteor
2010-06-11 06:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Prague

Grr, how is it Eastern Europe in any way? MITTELEUROPA BITCHEZ
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[User Picture]From: fweebles
2010-06-11 06:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Prague

It's Eastern Europe (with two capital Es) because of its Cold War history, and its Slavic tongue which is related to Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Slovakian, Bulgarian, and various Yugoslavian languages (all of which are somewhat-to-much-further east).

I fully realize that when my wife and I traveled from Prague to Vienna we were actually headed southeast, and there was some cognitive dissonance there. As far pure location is concerned, it definitely is smack dab in the middle of Europe, but in terms of culture and language, it's a Slavic country, which is the way both substitute and I used the phrase "Eastern Europe" to mean in this particular context.

Speaking of which, if you do travel to Europe, the Museum of Communism is slightly hidden and not well advertised, but is amazing.
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[User Picture]From: kineticfactory
2010-06-12 12:11 am (UTC)

Re: Prague

Though it's a Catholic, Roman-alphabet-using Slavic country, not an Orthodox, Cyrillic-alphabet-using one, and other than the Cold War period, shares more with its central European neighbours (in particular, the rest of the Habsburg Empire, though Germany and Poland as well) than with Russia, the Ukraine or Bulgaria. (For one, beer brewing traditions; the Czechs invented the pilsner, after all.)
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[User Picture]From: auntiesiannan
2010-06-11 04:41 pm (UTC)
Prague is cheap and pretty.
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[User Picture]From: skepticle
2010-06-11 04:44 pm (UTC)

suggested

I think this depends on what you both would like to see.
Tokyo is madness and its very expensive and busy and yes you can take the train out to Kamakura and Kyoto, but I would suggest having an agenda.

Europe is the place for museums and that sorta thing and I think the travel is generally easier there, but I would say London is a great stop, particularly for the culture, and I love the Indian food there.

For general relaxation, I'd say head south to Rome maybe? You get all that art and it's easy to get to and just a day trip away from Naples, if one is so inclined. Venice is good also, but pricey.

Barcelona has theater up the yazoo, I don't think there is a place on this earth more stunning and relaxing. And it is not too pricey.

Paris has got the food and culture, but everyone is so mean (for good reason, I will grant you that), so I tend to skip it.

Overall I would still say Rome, or you could always join me in Germany :D
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[User Picture]From: sooz
2010-06-11 05:10 pm (UTC)
your mom goes all over the world all the time, i feel like you shouldn't be worrying about her as much as you sound like you are :)

i think i would do Budapest
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[User Picture]From: vegemitelover
2010-06-11 10:32 pm (UTC)
I think Paris is worth the visit, and I would be curious to hear how your memories contrast with how the city has evolved since then. English works fine unless you are an ass-hat, the culture stuff is obvious, and the Metro goes everywhere.
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[User Picture]From: dorothy_parka
2010-06-12 12:35 am (UTC)
I can never spell reykavik, so I'll just say iceland. Walkable, but also has taxis and buses, nice cool summer weather, music, interesting food, and HOT SPRINGS. Lots of thermal baths. Interesting museums. So much fun. And everyone speaks english. You only need a few days there. a lot of people do it as a stop over before or after Amsterdam.
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[User Picture]From: jonpants
2010-06-12 12:55 am (UTC)
Please go to Japan and take lots of pictures and then show them to me.

Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: gcrumb
2010-06-13 12:02 am (UTC)

Options...

1) Dublin and environs

Some of the best theatre in the world (though I've heard the Abbey is moving, which is a sin). An appropriate mix of consumer-friendliness, realio-troolio human friendliness and some absolutely stunning day trips. Great nightlife.

2) Central Europe (bot not Prague)

The Dalmatian coastline, Budapest, Belgrade... just about any city of significance in the area has a fascinating history, active intellectual culture (with tons of cafes and arguments), real history (i.e. not packaged with ribbons and bows) all around you, and enough modern conveniences that you won't suffer too much but not so many that you can't simply pay a driver to stay with you all day.

Not Prague because that's the only city the hipsters have found (so far).

3) St. Petersburg

... Assuming you're going this summer, that is. I've never been, so I'm kind of projecting on this one. Nonetheless, culture and history out the yinyang, a living intellectual tradition and just enough money recently to have become livable.
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[User Picture]From: tuliphead
2010-06-16 04:10 am (UTC)
I could spend a long, long time in Paris. I've been many times and am always happy to go back, even though that's where I had to have emergency surgery last summer after falling on the sidewalk...

Have you thought about driving around somewhere? Toulouse and the Midi-Pyrenees in the late summer and fall is breathtaking. Provence in the summer is hot and satisfying. I haven't been up to Normandy or Brittany but how could it not be beautiful? I know you said culture trumps nature but a road trip would be easy on arthritic mom..

Zeb's point about time of year is well-taken. Tokyo is fantastic, clean, mind-boggling, delicious, and utterly fascinating, but don't go in July/August. I did a lot of walking around Tokyo but the public transit system can't be beat - it is convenient to everywhere you want to go, it's frequent, and it's easy to use. I loved Tokyo but it can be a little overwhelming. It is utterly first world and comfortable, however.

I mentioned Thailand in an earlier comment, but as I said there, there was a lot of walking and the physical challenges worried me from time to time. However, the food can't be beat, it's cheap as hell (I can recommend an excellent hotel) and if you go in late fall/early winter, the weather is totally bearable.

Sigh. Can I come too?
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