A crispness in the air promises Mediterranean winter is on its way. Trees have turned gold, the Tiber is wreathed in early morning mist and buying cones of hot, roasted chestnuts doesn’t seem a crazy thing to do.
About Steenie Harvey
It’s understandable why many people regard Italy as expensive. I would, too, if I’d ever paid $25 for an ice cream near Rome’s Trevi fountain or take a $160 gondola ride in Venice. Thankfully, I spend far more time outside “tourist Italy” than in it. Venture beyond the country’s big-ticket destinations and you’ll likely be amazed at just how inexpensive it can be.
It’s a day for dreaming of Andalucia. So I’m letting Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain take me on a musical journey back to Granada—back to the lament of flamenco guitars, orange trees and jasmine-scented patios with pattering fountains. On my last visit to Spain, I added a Granada side trip. Sheer indulgence as I’d been before, but it’s a city made for indulgence.
There aren’t many places that can hold a candle to the romance of Italian life. Each time I go back to Italy, there’s somewhere new to fall in love with. But an old love is the region of Puglia, in the country’s deep south. I first came to Puglia in the early 1980s, before anybody outside of Italy, bar a lucky few, had even heard of it.
Someone once asked me the most ridiculous thing I ever did as a travel writer. The list is long—very long—but the notion that I could communicate in Chinese was pretty ridiculous. The day’s plan was to explore the 1,000-year-old town of Yangmei, not far from Nanning. It sounded fascinating—a place of temples, lotus ponds, and architecture dating back to the Ming dynasty. The hotel in Nanning arranged a taxi to get me there and back, so it didn’t matter that I’d left the phrasebook in my room.
When I imagine the perfect beach, I picture sunny Italy. Visit the Maddalena Islands anchored off Sardinia and you’ll even find a pink sand beach, La Spiaggia Rosa…
So it’s a good thing I never quite know where a travel-writing assignment will lead me. If I had foreseen my last trip would involve screeching Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”—and screeching it in the home of an Italian nanotechnology professor—I would have been sorely tempted to miss the plane.
The colours of southern Italy are intense: blood-red earth, turquoise sea, silvery-green olive trees. Adding to the artist’s palette, here the bougainvillea was still in bloom, even though it was December. When you see all those colours, you realise that a town and its houses probably shouldn’t be painted anything other than gleaming white.
The young driver and his brother aren’t Thailand’s most adept guides. Although it’s only 80 kilometres from their home in Udon Thani, they take a wrong turn on the road to Phu Phra Bat’s geological wonderland. But there’s no rush—Phu Phra Bat’s cave paintings and bizarre rock formations have been around since prehistoric times. We pass slow-moving water buffalo…electric green patches of newly planted rice fields…dusty villages where dogs sleep away the bright morning hours in the middle of the road. Spicy cooking aromas hang in the sultry air. The driver stops at a sidewalk omelette stall to ask directions. Fast food for 34 cents, anyone?
Andalucia is the Spain of blazing sunshine, bullfights, and the twang of the flamenco guitar. As well as being a historical heavyweight, Granada is a university city, so it buzzes all year. Summers this far south can get hot, but Granada itself is a city of fountains and shade.