Caprera, Maddalena Islands, Sardinia
“Entrance is allowed only to those who are properly clothed and have the correct attitude to the importance and sacredness of this place” reads tour regulation number three, while number four threatens to bar access to those “wearing only a swimsuit or flimsy garments”. The regulations, displayed prominently at the entrance to the museum, make it clear that this is less a visitor attraction than a shrine. “You should dress and behave as though you were in a church”, said the guide of a private tour party sotto voce to his clients while we were standing in line to go in.
La Basseé, Flanders, Northern France
Continuing along the canal we reached a third bridge, about a mile and a half west, which carried the road from the village of Auchy north to Violaines. In a typical Flanders landscape, we could see its church steeple in the distance, across a mile or so of golden wheat fields... It was this crossing, I determined, where the British Army had been forced to blow up the bridge in 1940 and which the German general, Erwin Rommel, had ordered his Panzer division to rebuild in pontoon sections, so that they could encircle the desperate Allied forces defending La Basseé.
Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Under grey skies, the air damp, with the prospect of drizzle, and with hardly a soul about as the afternoon turned to evening, the castle stood in complete contrast to the cloudless spring day on which we had viewed it last. I rejoiced, not out of some perverse enjoyment of the gloomy backdrop for which Dunnottar was more naturally suited, though it was, or even the chance to have the place to ourselves compared to the tourist horde that had swarmed over it on the last occasion – like a besieging army in shorts and gold-trimmed trainers – but quite simply for the chance to experience the castle in a different context and to gain a more rounded impression of the attraction as a whole.
Kohima, Nagaland, North-East India
High among the backstreets of a city in the hills of north-east India, in a compound that serves as the back yard for a ring of brick and concrete bungalows, and under a rusting water tank that serves the same, the brass plaque engraved with a kilted scottish piper in relief and an inscription apparently taken from a 1970s Proclaimers song is totally unexpected. I had found the memorial by accident and now I wanted to make sense of it.
Easter Island, Chile
On our first morning after arriving we breakfasted with a middle-aged Chilean couple, Flor and Fernando, whose enthusiasm for being on the island was countered only by their vagueness about what they were here to see or do. When out and about on the island, this apparent contradiction manifested itself in general excitement, each of them taking it in turns to point and gesticulate at the slightest thing, without seeming to distinguish between, say, the fantastical size and shapes of the moai – the stone heads of Easter Island – at which they would nod gravely before moving on, or a nicely weighted walking stick found beside the path along the way, over which they would fight like children.
Colintraive, Cowal Peninsula, Argyll
After four days in which we had enjoyed the island in mild spring sunshine we took the opportunity of a forecast for bad weather to plan for a day off and a leisurely lunch. The Isle of Bute has no peaks to challenge the serious walker but the long and mostly accessible coastline twists and turns around enough bays and inlets to compensate while its countless ruined churches, stone circles, historic houses and gardens and other monuments present enough diversions for the visitor who likes to potter. I nonetheless relished the prospect of a break from this activity and conjured up the picture of freshly cooked seafood served in a cosy bar in front of a roaring fire while a storm battered against the windows.
The Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Travel, unlike most other aspects of normal life, feeds expectation. We treat unfamiliar destinations with a mixture of trepidation and eagerness for what they will bring to our humdrum lives, bad or good, in a way that we wouldn’t consider when, say, catching the 07.58 to Carlisle or joining a string of commuter traffic into work.
Some, like me, prepare too carefully for all eventualities and, sad to say, enjoy a successful trip as much for the fact that the plans worked out as for the location itself and the experiences involved. Others travel in blissful ignorance, almost daring a destination, or the journey, to throw at them what it can, if they weren’t so unconscious of the consequences of their decisions, or the lack of them or, for that matter, where they actually are.
Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy
"Stromboli! Last year you erupted like a firework – I saw it on TV. This year we’ve come to see you in person and what do we get for our trouble? Nothing!” The old lady had lost patience with the volcano and rose precariously from her seat on the gently pitching boat to berate it. She shook a fist at the wall of grey rock which rose sheer from the sea in front of her. Sitting beside her, her granddaughter held her other hand and steadied her with a palm on her back. She joined in the general laughter at the old lady’s outburst but looked embarrassed and gently tugged at her grandmother to resume her seat.
“You got room for a small one?” A pronounced Australian accent boomed over the murmur of other tourist voices and the coughing scooter engine as we pulled up in front of the hotel: two westerners jammed behind a large Burmese driver. Tired after a long and hot day of pagoda-hopping and evidently looking lost on the way back into Moulmein town centre, we had been more than happy to accept the scooter driver’s offer of a lift. Balanced precariously, we descended slowly to the riverfront and guided him to our accommodation. I was peeling off the equivalent of a dollar in Myanmar kyat when Denis introduced himself.
The guidebook had said there was just one hotel in town. It also warned travellers that they were likely to be approached by Tunisians with offers to experience an overnight stay, and to eat couscous, with local families. As the hotel was shuttered, cobwebbed and very obviously closed, the offer to stay with Mohamed and his family was not unexpected and initially appealling.