Since I’ve been a little light on travel-related stuff lately – too much web 2.0/new media related stuff that I just felt compelled to discuss, let’s talk about the New Seven Wonders of the World.  On a related note, does their voting system (you can register and vote online, by text message, or by phone) remind anyone else of American Idol?

The New Wonders:

I find the personalization of the selection process very interesting.  Of course, choosing the seven world wonders is a subjective thing anyways (who can really determine what someone else thinks is the most wondrous wonder?), but this sort of makes me think of the whole web 2.0 phenomenon (yes, I can relate everything back to that).

First of all, the wonders are chosen democratically – the winners were the ones favored by the people who had the ability and chose to participate in the vote.  Same thing with highly ranked websites and blogs.  Second, people and nations campaigned to their favorite picked (SEO and general promotion).  Third, well, this is technically the second list of world wonders, thus actually making these seven wonders the 2.0 version.

Now, I haven’t personally seen any of these wonders (although I’m not arguing with the choices) and since these are the 7 Wonders 2.0, part of the fun is being able to join the conversation and pick your own – in no particular order, here are my seven manmade wonders:

What are your wonders 2.0?

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One of my favorite books that I’ve read recently was Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me a Writer by Barbara Sjoholm.  It’s a memoir of her time in Europe, particularly Spain and Norway (Morocco, London, and Paris also play a role). 

incognito-street.jpgThe Booklist description:

Twenty in 1970, Sjoholm flew from L.A. to London to begin two months in Europe. To friends and family, she always seemed to be going away. In this entertaining if somewhat overlong memoir, she says that was the way she liked it. She took every opportunity to experience someplace new and different. She believed travel would help her grow as a writer, but the pleasure of traveling most appealed to her. Restless, insatiably curious, she wanted to do anything and everything.

She reached London in winter; it was “thrillingly foggy and damp.” Then it was off to Paris, which offered too much of a good thing: “In Paris it was almost impossible not to desire more.” Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Seville, Cordoba, Madrid, and Rome followed. She wound up in Norway, working as a maid and then a “ship girl” (a glorified title for a dishwasher) on a cargo and passenger ship, Kong Olav. She learned about other cultures, about what it means to be a writer, and most of all, about herself.

It’s an intensely personal book but manages to maintain a conversational tone – she doesn’t take herself too seriously and isn’t afraid to admit to her flaws, but manages to convey her emotions extremely well.  I’ll admit that I probably enjoyed the book more because I traveled to many of the same places at a similar age, but it’s beautifully written and anyone who’s looking for a inspiring travel book should pick it up. 

It was also one of the only books I’ve reread – I rarely read a book more than once but this one I wanted to savor, to pick up on the little things that you miss the first time around.

Some of the places I’ve visited have a special spot in my heart, whether its because of their exoticness, their beauty, or the people I met there.  And some places are just magical.  Paris comes to mind, as do Fez and Marrakesh.  Vienna’s up there too, along with Amsterdam (and no, not because of certain legal substances). 

Thanks to some tentative plans to go visit my brother who will be studying in Europe next year, I’ve recently been wondering what it will be like if/when I re-visit some of my favorite cities.  For some reason, I’ve been wondering that if these places will have the same effect on me when I go back (and I’m sure I will eventually).  After all, happy memories cast a rose-colored glow on everything.

I can’t quite imagine the medinas of Morocco or the medieval streets of Seville losing their magic.  Even if my second impression doesn’t have the same luster as the first, all it would take is an hour or two to get back into the rhythm of the city.  These are the kind of places that retain their allure forever, like a classic novel or an intricately woven silk carpet.  Age and experience only makes them more interesting.

Paris is only city that I’ve really re-visited.  My first trip to the city of light was in March, during the spring break of my junior year of college (some girls “go wild”, I go to the D’Orsay), and my next was in June after I’d graduated.  When I first arrived in the city for second time, I honestly wondered why I’d loved the place so much.  Where was the dreamlike, misty city I’d seen a year ago?

It was the humid high season, the height of rush hour, and our tiny, difficult to locate hotel on the Place de la Republique had lost our reservation.  Not a combination that makes for a positive attitude.  I was pissed off at the crowds of tourists and the general air of unpleasantness that seemed to prevail.

But several hours later, the owners had cleared some rooms (well, one actually belonged to some temporary roommates – two adorable Russian Blue cats – but that’s a story for another day), the air had cooled, and we were watching the sun set from a small cafe on the banks of the Seine.  It was then I realized that it was the tiny details and a kind of intangible atmospheric quality that made Paris so special.

Sometimes you have to let a place show itself to you again, remind why you fell in love with it.  And nothing ever stays exactly the same, especially not in the age of globalization and the “flattening world”.  However, the magic of exotic (and not-so-exotic) lands remains if you’re willing to look for it.

Fair warning: There’s a bit of a rant ahead.

 

If I had a nickel for everyone* who asked I would possibly want to travel to Morocco, or seemed amazed that I survived a trip there (without a personal bodyguard), I could….well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could treat myself to a pair of designer shoes.  Yes, it is a Muslim nation.  No, I didn’t have to cover my hair.  Many Moroccan women don’t.  Sadly, the recent bombings in Casablanca have brought the issue of tourism in Morocco to the surface yet again – namely, is it safe?

I don’t think that I need to remind anyone that, for the average American, the possibility of dying in a terrorist attack is much, much less likely than say, in a car accident or from a heart attack.  Of course these are all normal, logical things to worry about.  But do we let these prevent us from driving a car** or eating deep fried food? 

So why worry?  6.4 billion people visited Morocco in 2006, so the statistics are firmly in favor of your survival.  Attacks in places where tourists almost never go shouldn’t prevent you from traveling to Morocco or most of the places that the U.S. Department of State has on their warning list.  Take Indonesia as another example – would you skip Bali because of the problems in the Aceh province?  And remember that only ten years ago that Croatia was a war zone, and now Ryannair carts in tourists by the plane-load.

As my (very wise) aunt once told me, “stop borrowing trouble”.  Don’t let your life become governed by possibilities that you can’t control, and realize that you can’t plan for every contingency.  This phrase applies to more than just travel.  If you read too many statistics or buy into the Fox News culture of fear, you’ll eventually be afraid to leave your house.  You’ll have to settle for life on the sidelines while others do everything you’ve dreamed about. 

*These are, for the most part, well-educated people.  Besides, I live in a blue city in a blue state – Barack Obama’s state, for heaven’s sake. 

**Driving or riding in a car is a hard thing to avoid, but you could always become a shut-in who orders everything via the internet if you were really determined.

Just the Facts, Madame

April 8, 2007

Despite the somewhat (okay, completely) negative view of the current U.S. Commander-in-Chief abroad, I’ve never had any problems traveling with an American passport.  Usually a simple “hey, I didn’t vote for him” is enough to earn a chuckle and some sympathy.  After all, I was the one who had to go back home to Curious George’s America.

By the time I reached Morocco, I was well-traveled and my “denial of responsibility for Bush” speech was equally well-practiced.  During my first breakfast at the Fassi Riad, I was introducing myself to the other guests when the owner’s wife joined in.  Up until this point, I wasn’t even sure if she spoke English, so you can imagine my shock when she contributed this to our little discussion.

“I know” she said in response.

I just looked at her quizzically, not really sure what she meant.

“You did not pick Double-U.  Because you are here – here in Maroc.”  She handed me another glass of mint tea.  “His supporters would never ever come to a Muslim nation has no oil.”

“Oui, oui, you are very right.” I agreed with her remarkably astute observation.

“But Maroc is a very beautiful and safe place.”  I couldn’t agree with her more, yet I was a little ashamed at the way my country’s government was perceived.