Luxor, Egypt: In the grand history of my travel, one place stands out as the champion city of hassle, and that is Luxor. From the moment we got off the bus it started. There was a man ready and waiting to tell us out hotel was closed, that we should come to his hotel instead. He was persistent, and he followed us all the way to our hotel, telling us the whole way that this hotel was closed, that it was no good, that it had burnt down. (Our hotel was none of these things.)
Whenever we left the hotel, there would be someone outside, shouting “Taxi taxi taxi” at us. At the corner of the street, the vendors in the little string of shops there would shout at us, “Water, you want water?” “Jewellery for the lady, come in my friend, no charge for looking.” Near the shops were some guys with horse carriages. “Get in, get in, where do you want to go, I will take you, very cheap.” By the river, we came up against the felucca boat guys. “You want felucca? Come with me, I make nice boat ride for you, yes? Come with me now.” And then there were the wandering salesmen with statues of various Egyptian gods, who would follow you as you walked along by the river, trying to persuade you to buy from them, hoping to convince you that the bright blue statue of Horus they had to sell was actually made from genuine lapis lazuli, and not some mass produced plastic resin object.
After several days in Luxor, dealing with constant hassle every time we left the hotel, we were experts at giving people the brush off. Now, whenever we are somewhere and being hassled, we laugh. “You think you can hassle us? Ha! You are amateurs. We have been to Luxor.”
Ljubljana, Slovenia: I was in a travel agent (back in the day when you needed to visit a travel agent to book a flight) and said I wanted to book a flight to Ljubljana. The agent laughed. “How do you spell that?”
Ljubljana, tricky to spell and difficult to pronounce, but a charming little city. I remember the day I arrived was also the day the McDonalds opened at the train station. At this time we were not ten years from the collapse of communism at that time and the arrival of McDonalds was a novelty.
I got to negotiate local buses to travel to the outskirts of Ljubljana to visit the Hungarian embassy for a visa. (In those days I travelled on my Australian passport and despite the de-communisation of the countries I was travelling through, the old bureaucracy and love of form filling remained, and I spent a lot of time and money hunting for visas.) I remember the bus ride back into the city, and noting that as the bus started to fill up, men started to stand up and offer women their seats. I was looking at these women closely. She doesn’t look pregnant, I thought, and she doesn’t look that old or infirm. It took me a while to realise that these men were offering women their seats because this was a culture where men don’t sit while women are standing.
I remember Ljubljana fondly. I think of hot sunny days, pretty buildings, a castle on a hill overlooking the city, photographing the dragon bridge, and resting up after a long day of walking under an umbrella in a bar beside the river with a large beer in the late afternoon (I tried to order a small beer but I got a large one – what can you do?) And despite getting bit all over by bedbugs on my second visit (I won’t mention the hotel name) it’s somewhere I would happily go back to.
Places I want to visit – Lviv, Ukraine: I look forward to one day visiting Lviv and enjoying some good food. How do I know there is good food in Lviv? Because in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, there are so many food outlets that have names involving “Lviv” – Lviv Coffee, Lviv Pastries, Lviv Burgers, Lviv Beer, Lviv Cherry Liqueur. So I am assuming Lviv is a city with a strong local food culture.
As I get older, I realise more and more that when I’m researching places to go, I don’t look first at “things to see and do”, I turn instead to “places to eat and drink”. And I expect that Lviv will have many fine places to eat and drink.