About me, the traveler
Trip 1 - India, Nepal, and China
Trip 2 - Southeast Asia
Trip 3 - Mongolia to Eastern Europe
Trip 4 - Middle South America
Trip 5 - Southern Africa
Trip 6 - Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Greenland
Trip 7 - The Balkans
Trip 8 - Morocco and Southern Spain
Trip 9 - Western India
Trip 10 - Outer Indochina
Trip 11 - Ethiopia and Dubai
Trip 12 - Iceland
Trip 13 - Japan
Trip 14 - Caucasus
Trip 15 - Central & East Asia
Trip 16 - Inner Indochina and Japan
Tales From the Tour (a running travelogue)
New York City excursions
Cheap East Coast bus alternatives
My family once discussed the five most memorable meals we'd ever had in our
travels; prompted by that, I bring you the five most memorable items that fit
into each category below. These are not necessarily the best of each category;
they're simply the items that stand out the most. Not all of them are from my travelogues
- many are from other trips. They are presented in no particular order.
|Imperial Herbal Restaurant, Singapore
||The Imperial Herbal Restaurant is at the
Metropole Hotel, near the Raffles. Each dish is designed to strengthen some part of the body. Here's the rundown of my
- Spicy ox tendon
- Panax ginseng deer-penis wine (a strong wine that's good for the mind - a "Superman wine" according to my
- Quick-fried emu with scallion and Chinese wolfberries
- Double-boiled shark's-cartilage soup with Panax ginseng and Pilose antler (it's supposed to fortify vital energy, strengthen bones and tendons, regulate yin and yang, enhance work performance, stimulate the immune system, and retard the aging
- Double-boiled hasma (snow frog's glands) with rock sugar (this dessert improves the functions of the lungs and the kidneys, maintains your youth, and improves your
I can't say I felt all that much stronger after the meal, but what a wonderful collection of textures and flavors! I did find the soup too sour for my liking, and I was hoping the dessert would be a little sweeter, but I had no regrets about this
|Simpson's on the Strand, London
|| My parents took me and my brother here on
New Year's Eve as we prepared to welcome 1987. I remember the atmosphere
more than the taste of the food: a simple, elegant coziness (ahem,
cosiness) in a quiet room. And then there were the signature dishes:
roast beef and duck carved tableside. That's also where my father
ordered a glass of port wine and gave me a sip; I hadn't yet developed a
taste for regular wine, but the sweetness of port was very much to my
|Nordic Lodge, Charlestown, Rhode Island
||The Nordic Lodge (www.nordic-lodge.com)
is known for its buffet; there's no menu. I was most interested in the
seafood, primarily the lobsters and peel-and-eat shrimp, but there are
also a prime-rib carving station, Italian and Chinese dishes, an
assortment of fruits and vegetables, and an ice-cream-sundae station.
Drinks are extra.
On my first trip there, with my family, I had five
lobsters and saved room for the other stuff; on my second trip, I had
seven lobsters, forgoing most of the rest of the buffet. All that food
caught up with me by the end of the meal, and I let out some bizarre
kind of yelp as my unprecedentedly full body tried to regulate its
pressure, or something like that. On my third trip I evened out my
selections a bit.
The brochure for the place says, "If you find us
you'll like us." Indeed, it's not the easiest place to get to; it's
at the end of a dirt track a few miles off the main highway in southern
Rhode Island. The entrance to the dirt track (as of 1992) has this sign:
"Hardly a driver is now alive who took this road at 55."
Various other little poems along the track welcome you to the place.
In the late 1980s, the price was $28.95 - a pretty
terrific deal for all-you-can-eat lobsters and other stuff. It's in the
40s now, but it's still worth it once in a while.
|Connaught Room, Ashford Castle, Cong,
||It's perhaps no coincidence that one of the
best meals I've ever had was at the best hotel I've ever slept in (www.ashford.ie).
The Connaught Room has just seven tables, beautiful paintings, fine
crystal, and picture-perfect sunset views. The head waiter attends to
the diners with a calm, soothing voice and a friendly attitude. The
menu's Irish entrees have continental overtones. I had an excellent lamb
dish, and the cheese plate was a fine conclusion.
Here's an example of Irish hospitality: Jackets are
required for men, and I'd forgotten to bring mine, so I asked Tommy, who
rents out clothing from a store in Dublin (as it so happens he's also a
tailor for the Ashford Castle uniforms), whether I could rent a jacket
for a week. He gave me one to use, and he didn't even charge me for it
or ask for my address (or a deposit) in case I didn't return it. Of
course I paid him anyway, but I found this gesture most impressive.
|Mirage, Revere, Massachusetts
||Like most Russian nightclub-restaurants,
Mirage is best with a large group. I first went there with my
high-school Russian club, and while we weren't old enough to indulge on
vodka, we did sample around 80 of the best appetizers one could wish
for: cold cuts, salads, and - best of all - cold smoked and marinated
fish. Then it was on to the meat entrees, and in between was dancing
accompanied by a live band.
I returned with my parents, girlfriend, and college
roommate for my 21st birthday, and after getting lost (something about
having to go over the same bridge twice - you'll figure it out when you
visit), we enjoyed a smaller version of much the same meal. This time we
did have a bottle of vodka, which we didn't finish - and they sent the
rest of the bottle home with us in a doggie bag.
|Ashford Castle, Cong, Ireland
||"Excellence since 1228" proclaims
its Web site, and my
girlfriend, Kimberly, and I couldn't resist trying it out: certainly the
best IR£284 hotel room I ever stayed in. (You can go in the winter for
Renting a car is the best way to see Ireland, and, weary
from trekking around the Cliffs of Moher, we headed for Cong. At first
we sped past the large iron gates that lead to Ashford Castle's grounds,
but when we returned, the guard checked us in and opened the gates for
us to enter. It was then a good five-minute drive alongside
brilliant-green hills, past a lake, and over a bridge until we arrived
at the parking lot.
Through a richly decorated lobby exuding the sweet aroma
of seven centuries of tobacco use, and up a regal-looking winding
staircase, we found our room, which had an excellent view of the outdoor
fountain. Ashford has all sorts of outdoor activities, and while we
couldn't quite overcome the ethical ramifications of trying falconry, we
took a pleasant walk through pristinely laid-out gardens and along a
woodsy trail, after which we played tennis for a while before heading to
Dinner at the Connaught Room (see Most Memorable Meal
#4) was preceded by a drink in the Prince of Wales Cocktail Bar and
followed by a couple of hours in the downstairs piano bar, where
Kimberly performed "If
I Had the Nerve to Tell You."
|Blue Train, Cape Town to Pretoria, South
|| Just as plush as my room at Ashford Castle,
room 23 of the Blue Train (www.bluetrain.co.za)
was a welcome respite from the mosquito nets, peeling paint, and common
bathrooms I'd been accustomed to in African guest houses. Every time I
left the room, my butler (who oversaw the foor rooms in my car - call
her on the train phone!) came in to wash out my water glass, empty the
trash, or whatever - and I never saw her do it. When I returned from
dinner, the armchairs had been put away and an exceptionally comfortable
bed awaited me. And the shower was the only one I had in Africa with a
constant temperature and decent water pressure.
That's just the room - more about the trip below.
|Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling, India
||Perched on top of a mountain in northeastern
India, Darjeeling isn't the easiest place to get to: It's a couple of
hours' ride from either the airport or the main train line, or - if it's
running - you can take the miniature railway, which covers the
88-kilometer trip in about eight hours. But with a cool climate and the
sweet smell of tea plantations, Darjeeling is definitely worth the trip.
And the Windamere is an excellent, affordable place to
stay. My room cost US$80, which included three full meals. See the travelogue
for the full description.
|Sinai Desert, base of Mount Sinai, Egypt
||Apart from Bedouins and sheep, there wasn't
much around when my father and I and the other few people in our tour
group settled down to sleep under the cool night sky of Egypt. Our
driver had left, and except for a flashlight or two, there was nothing
electronic in the vicinity. (No doubt someone had a mobile phone. But
let me keep the ambience, OK?) My father summed it up pretty succinctly:
"The W.C. is over there, right?" he asked our guide, pointing
to the general area behind a hill. No tents were necessary: just a
sleeping bag. At 3:30 in the morning we awoke and began the trek up
Mount Sinai for the sunrise.
|Attic room at the Panzio Blanco, Sopron,
||I needed to be close to the train station,
so I checked out the Panzio Bianco, a block away. Only the attic room
was available, and while I didn't really fancy the idea of climbing a
ladder to get to my room, the price was right: 900 forint, or about
US$4. Once inside, I found other surprises: The walls sloped; the toilet was not in a separate room but rather behind a curtain; the bed was simply a futon on the floor; the light switch was a piece of string; and various odds and ends filled the room.
|Blue Train, Cape Town to Pretoria, South
||After checking out the Blue Train's Web
site, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take the trip. The only
day I could make the trip - 5 December 2001 - had been sold out, so I'd
put my name on the waiting list. Three days after the September 2001
terror attacks in New York, my reservation was honored; no doubt some
people had canceled their trips. The wait turned out to benefit me:
Because of the dramatic decline in the value of the rand, the cost of
the trip to me had gone from US$1000 to just under US$900. That may seem
steep for a 26-hour train trip, but all meals, drinks, and snacks are
included, and all are splendid.
Checking in for the Blue Train in the late morning, I
entered a VIP room, where hors d'oeuvres are available. The train came,
and my butler showed me to my room (see above), where a fruit plate and
bottled water awaited me. The TV screen showed a personalized welcome
Lunch and dinner were served in the dining car, in two
seatings (I opted for the latter seating), served on beautiful china and
crystal and accompanied by South African wines. In between, I spent much
time in the observatory car, the last car: It has windows on three
sides, offering excellent views. Another car, the club car, has a large
screen showing the view ahead from the front of the train; this view is
simulcast on one of the TV channels in the private rooms.
In the mid-afternoon, we stopped for an hour at
Matjiesfontein, a small town with a historic inn and an interesting
museum filled with someone's personal collection. After dinner, I joined
other travelers in the club car, singing Irish folk songs (was I back at
The train arrived in Pretoria 40 minutes late, but I had
no reason to complain!
|Trans-Mongolian Railway, Ulaanbaatar,
Mongolia, to Moscow, Russia
|| I found it surprisingly rewarding to watch
the scenery segue from the Mongolian desert to the lush Lake Baikal area
to the woods of Siberia to the towns, and finally cities, of western
Russia during the four-day ride. I was blessed with having friendly
compartment-mates (it helped that I speak Russian, as did they), and I
was lucky to be one door over from three travelers from English-speaking
countries. See the travelogue
for the full story.
|Bus, Lhasa, Tibet, to Golmud, China
||This is certainly among the most boring and
uncomfortable rides in the world. My trip took 34 hours, but it can take
much longer if the bus breaks down. It was a sleeper bus, but the ride
was too bumpy for me to sleep. So what did I do? Read the full
|Train, Hohhot to Beijing, China
||Not content with an excruciating 34-hour bus
ride, I continued my newfound asceticism in the noisy, soft-seat car of
this overnight train. I didn't sleep here either. Not being a
professional expectorater like my fellow passengers, I had to find other
things to do.
|Miniature railway, New Jalpaiguri to
||Five hours on this train, at about 11
kilometers per hour, got me halfway up the mountain. A slow ride indeed,
|Candlelit restaurant with no electricity
becomes a disco, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
||Walking down Kharkhorin's main street, three
other travelers and I hunted for a restaurant. Given that the town's
electricity had been turned off, we were lucky to find a place serving
food at all. But what happened when
the electricity came back on?
|Border authorities deny me passage for
not having a visa, Konotop, Ukraine
|| The Ukrainian consulate said I didn't need
a visa, but Mrs. Shrill, the border official, claimed
|Getting from Pavelets Station, Moscow,
to the suburb of Gorki Leninskiye
||In the tenth grade, I spent a month in
Moscow on a student exchange program. Our leader encouraged the American
students to take trips to see nearby attractions, and so Amy and I
perused the guidebooks and came up with a day trip to Gorki Leninskiye,
Lenin's suburban estate, which had been turned into a museum. The place
was about 32 kilometers from Moscow.
We weren't sure we were actually allowed to go there, as
at that time visitors to Moscow weren't supposed to leave the city
limits unless permission was expressly stated on their visas. But from
what we could surmise, Gorki Leninskiye was allowed.
Excited, we got on the commuter train at Pavelets
Station. This train indicated that it ran on the line that went to Gorki
Leninskiye, from where we'd take a bus from the train station to the
About halfway to our destination, however, the train
stopped at Biryulevo. It turned out that this train only went that far;
we'd have to take another train an hour later to resume the journey.
An hour at Biryulevo? This was a tiny town with a
cluster of uninteresting houses and vast plains of...mud. Everywhere we
walked there was mud, and it was raining, so there was continuously more
We eventually made it to Gorki Leninskiye station. None
of the buses matched the number indicated in our guidebook, but we found
one bus that indicated a stop at the museum.
The bus's fare box had a slot where money was to be
inserted; then you were supposed to turn a handle until your ticket
emerged. I put my money in and turned the handle, and by the time I
realized what I was looking at, five or six tickets had come out.
The bus took us past practically every house in the
suburb, picking up elderly women (the median age of the town's
population was something like 75), and then it took a detour to a
supermarket. There the bus waited for the women to do their shopping,
before it dropped them all off again in the reverse order in which
And then, finally, the bus stopped at the museum. The
trip itself had made the excursion worth while, but the museum was also
interesting, with lots of Lenin's office paraphernalia and attractive
gardens. We left the museum and waited another hour or so for the return
trip to the station. Getting back to Pavelets Station on the train was
easy: All trains went to Moscow!
|Con artist attempts a scam, Agra, India
||Did the boy at the restaurant really just
want to take me on his motorcycle for a chess game, or did his friend
have other plans?
|Three cow-sized somethings are found to
be buffalo, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
||In the Serengeti a few days earlier, I'd
been woken up several times a night by the sound of lions around our
campsite. I'd been reassured that the lions weren't likely to attack,
but I'd been warned not to stray from the tent at night, and the sound
was enough that I became rather freaked out whenever I perceived any
nearby animals after dark.
At Ngorongoro Crater, a Spanish traveler in my tour
group, Kino, had the tent next to mine. Just as we zipped up our tents
for the night, he said, in Spanish, "There's something outside your
"What is it?"
"I don't know. Something the size of a cow."
"Yes. There are three."
Kino went to sleep.
I was able to sleep a few minutes later, but at around
4:30 in the morning, I heard a chomping sound: Something was eating the
grass immediately outside my tent. My thoughts first turned to the two
grapefruits inside my backpack: One of my guides had said that wild pigs
can smell fruit and tear tents open. However, a wild pig was probably a
lot less dangerous than a leopard or hyena or cheetah. Then my thoughts
turned to the story I'd heard from another tour-group member, whose
cousin had been mauled by a buffalo. I thought about the fact that the
campsite was probably being patrolled by rangers who would scare off or
shoot any dangerous creature, but I wasn't really sure the rangers were
there. And at some point I probably thought about whether my life
insurance covered my being eaten by a wild animal.
There was a lot of thinking to be done, for I certainly
couldn't sleep with all that chomping going on. "Go away," I
said. I have no idea why I said that.
Eventually the sun rose, and there was no sign of a
cow-sized something. But after breakfast, Kino reported that we had had
quite a variety of visitors that night: buffalo and elephants. That
chomping thing had been a buffalo!