Places to write home about

By Bob Schulman

Photo courtesy of Tahiti Tourisma.As travel editor of WatchBoom I've been to a good number of really wonderful places around the world. Here are some of the spots that stick in my mind, like the delicious aftertaste of a fine brandy.

On the Andaman Sea

Remember how you itched to squish your toes in that powdery, white-sand beach in the 1996 movie, The Beach? And how Leonard DiCaprio splashed around aquamarine waters so clear you could see a camouflaged ray a dozen feet below on the ocean bottom?

That's the way it really is on hundreds of little islands off the southern coast of Thailand. What's more, developers have built gorgeous little hideaways along the beaches. In some places, you'll find luxury huts with glass floors over the water.

What? You can't ante up a grand a night to stay there? No problem. Just walk down the beach aways and you'll likely find a thatched-roof, breeze-conditioned inn catering to folks who flew there in the back of the plane.

When I'm calling youuuuuu

Photo courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism.

It's hard to resist turning into Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald when you're soaking up the beauty of Lake Louise up in the Canadian Rockies. One time, honest, I heard two Nelsons and two Jeanettes belting out Indian Love Call at different places around the lake.

Lake Louise is truly a lake for all seasons, but particularly in the winter when it turns into a mile-and-a-half-long slice of frozen paradise ringed by snow-capped peaks right off the travel posters.

History comes alive in Prague

Prague's main square.Photo by Bob Schulman.

A trip to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is like taking a jump back in time to the Middle Ages. Visitors can't help but fall in love with the city's old world charm, from its medieval palaces to its ancient churches, gates, bridges and soaring towers that light up at night like a scene out of a Harry Potter fantasy.

How did all this survive World War II? Because Prague – with little industrial or military value – was one of the few large European cities spared from bombing raids. So what you see there today is pretty much the way it was when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and the Hapsburg monarchs ruled the roost around there.

 

A courtyard in Alamos. Photo by Bob Schulman.Silver city

I love wandering around the four dozen or so small Mexican colonial towns designated pueblos magicos (magic cities) by the government.

Among my favorites is one so far out in northern Mexico's Sonoran desert the road ends there. Its name is Alamos (not the town in New Mexico), and at one time so much silver was mined in the nearby Sierra Madres it was one of the richest spots on earth. Strolling along its cobbled lanes, porticoed walkways and  Andalusian courtyards you half expect to see silver barons in silk shirts, velvet breeches and knee-high leather boots strutting off to count the day’s take.

Some enchanted evening

Perhaps you've dreamed about seeing that chain of lovely islands James Michener wrote about in his World War II novel, Tales of the South Pacific. Or maybe you were turned on by the Broadway musical adapted from the novel, or by the movie adapted from the musical.

Cook's Bay in Moorea. Photo courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme.

If you saw the movie, surely pictures of the volcanic peak of Moorea soaring over a palm-lined bay linger in your mind. (Never mind that Michener's book was about the far-away island of Vanuatu... the French Polynesian island of Moorea is much more, well, South Pacific-ish.)

Call me, Moorea... I'd come back to you in a heartbeat.

Scholars came to Ephesus' iconic library to browse through 12,000 scrolls. Photo by Bob Schulman.Ephesus rising

Pompeii gets all the press when it comes to ancient Roman cities that got wiped out by earthquakes, but there's another one that could upstage Pompeii in a couple of years. It's called Ephesus, and archaeologists are digging it up out of  a  square mile of rubble on the Turkish coast. Some say it could have been the second largest city in the whole Roman empire.

Ephesus' main eye-popper was the immense Temple of Artemis (the supergod Apollo's twin sister), believed to be three times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It went down in the history books as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

At its peak under Roman rule in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the city probably  was home to a half-million people. It's not hard to imagine thousands of them cheering for their favorite gladiators from the stone tiers of the town's 20-story-high outdoor theater.

Beam me down, Scotty

Photo courtesy of the City of the Arts and Sciences.

Is it a Martian spaceport? A movie set from Star Wars? An outdoor museum of modern art? Whatever it is, you'd hardly expect to run across a place like this in a 2,000-year-old Spanish seaport on the Mediterranean.

Visitors to Valencia usually expect to find the town packed with remnants of the days when it was ruled by Roman emperors, Visigoth princes, Moorish caliphs and Christian kings. And that's exactly what you'll see.

Along with a big surprise.

Just a short cab ride from the old-time plazas and palaces, down in a dried up riverbed, a fantastic mile-long wonderland pops into view. It's called the City of the Arts and Sciences, or CAS for short.

Talk about jaw-droppers. Wander around and you'll come across a state-of-the-art opera house shaped like a space helmet, an interactive science museum resembling a giant ribcage, an eye-shaped IMAX theater in a five-story-high sphere and Europe's largest aquarium, the latter winding through 20 acres of  aquatic delights guaranteed to dazzle the kinds. Adults, too.

Cover image courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme.

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