360 degrees of travel

RoundTheWorld

It was May, many years ago when I had to combine both business and pleasure in my first – and only one until today- round the world trip I have ever executed.

The whole thing started with the departure of flight KE908 around 22:00 on a Saturday of May.The first destination was Korea, which is a marvel of Asia.

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If you have time and money, I suggest you skip China and stick with Japan or Korea and spend at least 2 weeks in each country. They are a league of their own.  Of course many will disagree on the issue of skipping China, but I honestly believe that these two countries are the extreme of Asia (which is the extreme of the rest of the world)! Food, gadgets, lifestyle, clothes, history, technology, industry. We spent time in central Korea and marvelled old historical sites and naturally did some work. Then the plan was to move in Seoul, where a couple of days were spent marvelling the history, the night life of the city or the city itself – in the Changdeokgung area for some memorabilia, on top of Namsan mountain next to the CJ Seoul Tower, in a couple of shopping centres, in the foot of Namsan Mountain at JJ Mahoney’s or at other hotel bars with atmosphere as portrayed in the movie “Lost in Translation”. (Sometimes it is so remarkable how movies manage to capture the exact atmosphere of certain places like hotel bars!)

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Then I moved east to unchartered flight paths.

The flight path, any flight path from Australia/Asia to the Americas, was (it still is) crossing the 180th Meridian (The International Date Line) which, I think, gives travellers shivers in their back. Why? Because you travel in time! Why? Because you actually land in a place before you have taken off from your place of origin. For the history, my AC64 flight departed from Seoul at 17:20 and landed on Canadian soil, Vancouver, at 11:20 in the same day. This time I felt weird for yet another reason. America was being approached from the West and no matter how much I thought I would feel the same as if approaching from the East, it did make a difference flying there from a different direction. (The European residual effects which make people see and feel the Americas in a certain way when flying from Europe were non-existent then).

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I just loved Vancouver. The city is spread beautifully in the South West corner of Canada in the foot of the North Shore Mountains. I still remember the ride from the airport to the city centre. The first part was all about the city suburbs. It was a marvel watching a very humane and beautiful city waking up slowly. Water was being sprinkled on pavements, coffee shops were filled with people reading the morning paper, waitresses with their white bistro aprons on were cleaning and preparing the tables. Then, the road became flat and I realised that all that time I missed the view in front of me that was being blocked by the top part of the bus as we were slowly descending to the city centre. Now I could see clearly – a most breathtaking view. The North Shore Mountains.  The menacing granite mountains were rising in-front of us in a steep, splendid, awesome, sublime way. Snow on the mountain tops and angry and heavy clouds above them were making the scenery even more frightening. The scene looked like it was taken out from a Tolkien novel, like the “Lord of the Rings” like “the mountain that nobody has crossed”. That is why Vancouver, once you have seen it, conveys to you this air of being the last frontier of the civilized world before stepping into uninhabited territories to the North.

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My stay in Vancouver was short so as I had to take a better sniff of Canada, my next destination was again in that land of the north. Destination: Ottawa.

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The great thing with that business meeting I had to attend was that it started on a weekday and finished on a weekday of the next week. And while the start and finish (or duration) was not such a great thing as such, the excellent thing – if you have guessed rightly – was that a job/hassle-free weekend was being included in my stay. I could have gone to Montreal, but in the end I stayed around and walked and tasted the city. There is a great, relaxed walk you can execute. You can start from Wellington Street, cross Portage bridge, continue to the West river banks while taking some photos of the wild river waters, pay a visit in the Civilisation Museum and after crossing Alexandra bridge and “loosing yourself” in the Byward Market for drinks or the local fish, end up in Ottawa downtown – the financial and economic heart of the city. I have to confess that Ottawa did lack a bit the style or sophistication of other world capitals to make people re-visit it, but I am sure it could definitely be a base of one’s excursions to the North East Canada.

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The first part of the trip was over. And I utterly liked it because I got to know new places I had seen and read about only in books, magazines, encyclopaedias or even music LPs that made me feel different and revived memories from my youth such as the Jack London stories I used to read. Still, if the first part of the trip was all about memories, stories, cold and taking it easy, the second part was all about warm weather, the sea, music and partying – apart from the business aspect.

I moved south.

My flight path brought me to Atlanta.

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While Atlanta did not boast so many things to see (I remember sardonic smiles of friends when asked about what was worth seeing in Atlanta) I managed to pay a visit to the “World of Coca Cola”, walked to and marvelled the High Museum of art, skipped the CNN HQ that was the only other thing that was proposed as a place to see and just walked downtown while I spent most of the time in Georgia Tech campus. Still, one thing that did make a difference in Atlanta was this feeling of the South that was virtually and magically portrayed in your eyes, heart and mind when thinking about what lies outside the city borders. The few triggers I managed to fish in the different parts of the city created vivid pictures or sounds in my mind of endless hectares of corn or cotton fields, jazz and blues vibes, relaxed life, antebellum architecture houses with huge gardens and wooden rocking chairs in the front garden, the south accent, humid and hot weather. It reminded me of the vibes I got when listening back home in the 80s to a tape I was given from a friend with pure, dead simple Mississippi blues – an old man, you could tell, was singing with his guitar, the recording probably having taken place in the 50’s. Although a tape, the music conveyed the picture of a small hut – could be in the outskirts of Atlanta – in his rocking chair, with his hat on and loose trousers, playing his guitar in a warm afternoon, the glass of lemonade next to him. Sometimes, sounds become pictures and pictures become sounds. Next time I visit the South I will hop on a car, get the blues going in the CD player, get a couple of whiskeys on the back seat and head for the interstate and visit small villages where I would mingle and speak with the locals.

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In Atlanta I realised that in this world there are no bad travel destinations– there are always good places in terms of time spent – even if the place is Antarctica. Travel is like publicity. There is no bad publicity/travel.

As I had to finish in style my trip I moved even further to Miami, next to the Everglades – in the Gulf of Mexico. I finished my round the world trip in style – eating a splendid dinner by Miami beach, sipping cold drinks overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, tasting fresh fish in local Mediterranean-like restaurant in Marco Island which was so attacked by mosquitoes that it literary had a full anti-mosquito ammunition all over it and even opening the door for more that 5 seconds could be penalised with 50 US Dollars in the bill.  (There was some work done, but that is not what I really remember from my stay in the Florida state).

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Unfortunately, I missed the Florida Keys, but as I was a bit tied up with other things, I could not afford an 8-hour trip which would get me to rush in the area and just have time just for a couple of photos and a quick sandwich. Still, as I always say, we should always leave something for the next time!

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After 29 days my trip was over. I flew back home – London – and relaxed and started putting my photos and memories in an order from this full of jet lag trip.

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I had completed a round the world trip and even though at that time it did not seem so important, only in the years to follow did I realise what a superb thing I had accomplished, apart from the fact that firstly you are happy that all these years in primary or high school you were not tricked that the world is flat and from the fact that it is a highlight in discussions among friends. The most important and valuable gain though from such a trip is that you come to digest that this world is finite and all that nature provides us – sometimes wholeheartedly – has to be taken and used with good care,  sustainably, for future generations. Such a trip does “throw in your face” (by socialising with so many different people in such a small and condensed period of time – even in such a relatively small trip as mine) that our global village is inhabited by other people also who (must) have an equal share of this world and that all of us that live on this globe that floats alone and lonely in the universe should try and live in a collaborative manner to make this world a better place to live.

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I sincerely and truly encourage people to, once in their lifetime, embark on a good round the world trip!

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