As I have wandered the continents, most of the world, I have encountered a number of “best” moments, or memories. They are not always what you might expect. Places like the Vatican, Machu Picchu, Eiffel Tower, and the Kremlin in Moscow are not on my list. I also included some of the worst moments, just to share some rather challenging, empty moments. Some occur right around the corner from home, and some on the other side of the world.
Best “Outhouse”: Where else but in the cool, and green mountain highlands of Laos, on the way to Luang Prabang. We stopped at a rather spartan roadside noodle stand, a fancy description for the front of someone’s cement block home. We had a bowl of delicious, hot noodles. But before that, we needed to use the potty. They sent us to the backyard of this home, to a small wooden structure with a old, floppy wooden door. Basically with just a hole in the ground, I had to squat over the hole since the roof was only about 5 feet high, if that. As I was relieving myself, I could hear the grunt of the pigs next door, sharing this little wooden structure with me!
Best Trans Oceanic Flight: Once in a great while, a delay due to fog can work out in my favor. Such was the case on a flight form Bangkok to SFO via Hong Kong. A heavy fog delay forced us to land and the airline transported us into the city to a transit hotel, then transport us back the next morning. Trying to ensure that we could get home, we took a cab back to the airport ahead of our fellow passengers on the shuttle bus. Somehow, China Airlines put us on Singapore Airlines!!! In business class. The caveat: we had to spend the day in the Singapore Airlines lounge, since the flight would not leave until later that evening. Can you picture us eating, drinking, napping, and showering all day long? Each time some new food, like sushi, hot noodles, chicken skewers, or snacks were presented, we had to try them. Once on board, the Singapore flight experience is without peer, with attractive and attentive staff, great food, comfortable business class pods, and some fantastic entertainment choices (back then, having 35 movie choices was unheard of). The only problem when we got home? Our bags were on China Airlines, but they delivered them to our home later that day. We were spoiled for a lifetime of flights on other airlines that just don’t measure up. But the lounge was just as good or better!
Best “Cup” of Coffee: Again, a place not known for coffee, Xieng Quang, Laos (have you ever been to a city with both a “Q” and an “X” in it?) at the daily, open fresh food market. After viewing all of the fresh food and the prepared, mostly barbecued and unusual animals for sale, including flying squirrels, bats, and rodents of all kinds, we decided to have a cup of coffee. Imagine our surprise when the coffee vendor grabbed an old tube sock! He placed some coffee in the bottom, held the sock with some kind of makeshift wire or ring. He artfully and skillfully started pouring hot water from a spout, from a distance of at least two feet, without spilling a drop! We sat at a slab of wood and a small home made wooden stool. The coffee was excellent. But best of all, was the look on my friend Mike’s face. After all, he owned a hosiery company back in the states!!!
Best Sporting Event: I have always said the best event was a toss up between Wimbledon and the Masters at Augusta National. Both have great traditions that are hard to match anywhere else. The food is different, with fish and chips at Wimbledon, and pimento sandwiches on white bread at Augusta. But I would give the edge to Wimbledon since the queue of about 2-3 hours makes for the world’s greatest social experiment. And they serve champagne between matches, or any time of day or night!!! I got to see all of the greats, Nadal, Federer, the Williams sisters, Roddick, and the screamer, Maria Sharapova.
Best Road Trip: Mr. Mike and I drove most of Chile from top to bottom, a rather long, and thin country. Some sections we ventured by bus, since it was the only option. We even took a side trip by air to both Buenos Aires and Mendoza for the wine. The highlights were the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert, and the magnificent Torres del Paine. To this day, I cannot understand why they placed frozen French cut string beans on sandwiches and burgers!!!! We also met a life long friend in Santiago, the inimitable Barry the V.
Best Solo Trip: Without a doubt, the life-changing Trans Siberian Railway was my best solo trip, and the most challenging. I started on the Pacific coast at the port of Vladivostok, traversed the country, including beautiful Lake Baikal, and ended up in Moscow. After visiting Putin and the Kremlin, I headed on to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg for “white nights” and the “Venice” of eastern Europe. Covering more than a third of the earth’s surface on the ground was a long, but interesting journey. I learned so much about Russia and its people.
Best Musical Concert: Having been to so many over the years, it is difficult to pick just one. I was not able to see the Beatles, but saw many other famous groups of that era. But if I had to name one, it would be the very first Simon and Garfunkel Concert. The songs came out like magic, just like the radio and albums I listened to from the 60s through the 80s. They were engaging, funny, and their voices clear and crisp. They appeared with a full band, and filled the indoor stadium with their classic sounds. The Everly Brothers even made an appearance! I was in heaven for a few hours.
Best Meal: Expensive is not always the best. Lately, street food and food fairs are making front page news. But our dinner at the Normandy on the top floor of the famous Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, might be the best. Why? First, Mike, Sheri and I had just received our tailored clothing from Tony’s in Bangkok. Second, we got to the Normandy, and saw there were no prices on the menu. Mr. Mike treated us to dinner, and I have no idea how much our dinner and wine cost that night. And I have never asked, as it is best left a mystery to savor for the rest of my life.
Biggest Surprise Destination: Again, a tossup among several, including Sturgis, South Dakota, Columbus, Ohio, Medellin, Colombia, Haneda Airport in Tokyo, the Newseum in Washington, DC, and Penang, Malaysia. But I would have to place Laos at the top. This “under the radar” country plays second violin to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, and Burma. But the country has a rich culture, great food, and friendly people. Plus, they have forgiven us for secretly bombing them during the Vietnam War!!!
Best Drive: There have been so many, including most of Chile, around South Island of New Zealand, and Scotland. But our drive on a two week golfing excursion between Marbella, Spain to the Algarve in Portugal was both unique, and interesting. Mr. Mike and I even stopped in Seville for lunch and a brief walk through the famous Seville Cathedral (Cathedral of St. Mary of the See), the third largest in the world. We saw groves of cork trees, and huge condor nests atop communication towers. From the blue of the Mediterranean to the gray of the Atlantic Ocean in one day, two countries, many great memories.
Best Wine: So many wines, so little time, certainly not a phrase that I coined. I tend to cherish both the company and the atmosphere of the setting. And I am not a wine snob, though I refuse to drink Two Buck Chuck or Gallo. But at a nice dinner in Danville back in the late 70s, my friend Gary, since deceased, brought a bottle of 1959 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, now worth about $2000 a bottle. We tasted it, and it was awful. So we had it decanted and waited, and waited. Somewhere through our dinner, we decided to taste it again. Needless to say, it was superb and unforgettable.
Best Laugh: Well, I thank our dear friend Debbie in Vegas for this. It was New Year’s Eve, and we were there for a slipper party, and several day stay with Debbie and her ex. In the middle of the party, and several bottles of wine, he insisted that I try on one of his hair pieces. We went upstairs, and he forced it on. I started laughing so hard, I was doubled over. Walking back downstairs and back over to the group, I could hardly stand up straight, I was laughing so hard!!! It must have lasted a good 45-60 minutes. Somewhere, we have photos to commemorate this event!
Best Hotel Room: We have been fortunate to stay in so many interesting places, including Pebble Beach, the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, the Mandarin Oriental in KL, the Sofitel Royal Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, tent lodges on the Serengeti in Tanzania, and tent cabins in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. But for luxury and amenities, the Rasa Sayang in Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia) was the ultimate. Not only did we have a butler, a hot tub on the deck, and a shower large enough to fit a dinner table, the afternoon tea and morning breakfast buffets were the best anywhere in the world. Add to that a beautiful view of the Andaman Sea, and the guidance of dear friends, Jason and Chun showing us the best food in the world in the Penang food courts and stalls.
Best Guide: Another tossup from Cesar in the Amazon, to Samonge in the Serengeti, and on to Danny in Bangkok, and Som SreyRoath in Siem Reap, Cambodia. All excellent! But we encountered Raj totally by chance outside the airport upon arrival in Kathmandu, Nepal. He, his daughter, and driver showed us every part of Nepal imaginable. On the final day, we got the royal treatment, a luncheon invitation to their one room home near the airport. It was Happy Holi day as well, and the revelers were out in force. His wife cooked a meal on a single burner stove, without running water or a kitchen table. We ate on the floor, and enjoyed the chicken, vegetables and rice. We were so taken by their generosity amidst the poverty, we gave them all of our cash upon departure from the airport.
I am certain you have many “best” experiences to share as well. I could write forever, but decided this is more than enough, for now!