A year in travel: highlights from Seattle, Stockholm, Bali and Kyoto
Because of the different hats that I wear in the creative and corporate worlds, I tend to travel a lot; here are four experiences from the past year....
Sleep less in Seattle
Would I, the voice on the other end of the phone asked, be interested in seeing the Boeing factory in Seattle, picking up a brand new Qatar Airways 777 and flying out with it on its maiden trip home? Before I knew it, I was checking out the Seattle skyline from the top of the Space Needle and watching the fishermen banter at Pike’s Place Market. The VIP tour of the Boeing factory, which just happens to be the largest building in the world, was unforgettable. I am not an aviation buff but the sense of scale inside that building as well as the attention to detail by the thousands of workers putting together these planes, piece by piece on football-field sized production lines was awe-inspiring. Flying out of a plane factory is surprisingly easy, I discovered. Nice runway, with no planes waiting in a queue and no emigration, security checks or anything of that sort. Instead, everyone smiles at you a lot and feeds you copious amounts of food before you walk out of the building and climb the plane parked outside. I felt just like I did when I had picked up my new car from the showroom, only there was no pooja and coconut breaking this time and it wasn’t really my plane.
Stockholm: Where's the party tonight?
I discovered just how much I could pack into two days (two nights, rather) when I visited Stockholm for a book reading and lecture. The only sleep that I had was a short nap after arriving at the minimalist-chic Nordic Light hotel, recently voted the sexiest hotel in the world. (Tip: when you visit, you must stay here instead of at its neighbour, Nordic Sea, which has within, the touristy and done to death Absolut Ice Bar.) Then, it was an insane orgy of the senses – from superb meals at restaurants like the Teatergrillen (Hotel Lydmar), cocktails at the Grand Hotel bar, dance parties on docked boats (Patricia) and subversive performances organised by groups like Mum’s Mum at secret word-of-mouth only venues. Anurag Kashyap, you need to discover Stockholm, quick.
I must confess I’d been a Club Med skeptic. The idea of going for a vacation and bonding with strangers over activities like trapeze, yoga or dance with some kind of forced communal spirit didn’t seem like my thing but this was before I visited their revamped Bali resort for a post-26/11 getaway break. Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan, I came back reasoning that holidays can also be opportunities to learn new skills and connect with new people and the Club Med concept, with its everything-taken-care-of packages works at that level. The danger at places like Club Med is that your holiday might become all about the self-contained resort and not about the paradise that exists outside it, but as long as you can avoid that pitfall, you will be fine. Memories of my Jurassic Park style white-water raft ride down the Ayung river in Ubud are still fresh in my mind.
Japan: Love in Kyoto
Just before my previous relationship ended, we visited my partner’s home country, Japan, which to me, continues to be the most romantic destination in the world. I find Tokyo magical, with its spaciousness, modernity and fashion sense, and there are so many other cute places in Japan like Hakone, with its active volcano and picturesque cable car rides, but for true romance, I recommend Kyoto – about a two-and-a-half hour Bullet Train ride away from Tokyo.
On our trip, we decided to stay in a traditional ryokan, with outdoor and indoor onsen (hot spring baths) and elaborate multiple-course kaiseki meals. (It’s the only way that you must holiday in Japan; the tatami mats on the floor, futon you sleep on and yukata that you wear at the ryokan are an intrinsic part of Japanese culture.) As we munched on the exquisitely arranged contents of our grilled eel bento box on the Bullet Train, we poured over the guidebook to see which of the famous centuries-old monuments we might explore during our visit. Gion, the geisha district, with its cobbled streets and apprentice geishas, or maikos scurrying past, was a must-do, but there were so many other choices in this pristine historical city. In the end though, it didn’t matter – Kyoto’s castles, shrines, gardens and palaces were all spectacular and we absorbed their beauty collectively in one giant experience.
I remember standing next to each other at Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) after a lover’s tiff and watching the temple’s glittering reflection in the water. The quarrel melted away in the warmth of the setting sun’s rays, and our hands instinctively sought each other. Against that backdrop, everything else was insignificant. We were there, we loved each other, and the world was perfect.
* This post is a modified version of my column Parmesh's Viewfinder which appears in Verve magazine.