Forms of identification: Cynthia Drescher
Cynthia Drescher, the managing editor of Jaunted.com, in Bruges, Belgium.
Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.
1. Where would you rather be right now?
On a ship sailing from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, with the Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha and Inaccessible Island on the itinerary. There's pretty much no easy way of getting there, but if I can make it, it'll surely be a high point in my life.
2. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
No one else but Carmen Sandiego. C'mon -- "she'll go from Nashville to Norway, Bonaire to Zimbabwe. Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back." And you must admire her ability to successfully "steal their Seoul in South Korea" and "make Antarctica cry 'uncle".
3. Tourist must-see you think is actually a “must skip”:
The Wisconsin Dells. Never again.
4. Everyone asks what’s #1 on your list of places you want to go before you die. But what’s your #3?
Gibraltar. I have a thing for little principalities, rogue countries and remote islands, their crazy histories and often-dangerous airports.
5. You’d be mortified if people knew you did what when you travelled?
I don't read guidebooks or buy folding maps anymore. I've gone completely digital -- scanning WikiTravel and blogs for inspiration and information, downloading offline map apps - -and I know some traditional travel writers who'd have my head for this. But actually, I'm far more proud of it than mortified.
6. Your most stranded, “oh-my-[deity]” travel moment:
Definitely being stuck near the top of an active volcano at night, with only a hand-powered flashlight. I was on the Italian island of Stromboli in the off-season. During the day I had gone to a local store to buy some groceries for a long weekend stay, and had easily climbed the volcano shortly after, groceries still in hand. Returning at night to watch the nearly constant lava explosions proved more difficult. As the sun set. I was blasted by winds carrying black ash, my flashlight gave up and I couldn't see to put one foot in front of the other down the switchback paths. I was stupid and I was afraid, even more so when I saw a light approaching from down the volcano. It turned out to be a visiting Swiss volcanologist, one of the few foreigners on the island at the time besides myself, and he was also climbing to watch the night-time lava show, luckily toting extra lights. Saved!
7. Best (or worst) person/people you’ve had to sit next to while traveling:
My best friend was the worst seatmate, if you can believe it! Since he doesn't live in New York City, he arrived the day before we headed off on an 18-hour economy flight to Hong Kong and proceeded to stay out partying all night with the other New York friends he never sees. We barely made it to the airport on time, he faintly reeked of booze and he promptly passed out on his tray table. Touching down in Hong Kong, his hangover and the jetlag hit hard and we ruined the first two days in Hong Kong being cranky with each other.
8. Strangest meal abroad:
Stromboli again! Following the harrowing night stuck at the top of the volcano, I played it safer by going fishing for calamari off some pitch black rocks with a Brit expat who was spending the off season restoring a vacation villa. We caught a squid measuring nearly three feet in length, and had it as the dinner entree that night, naturally after first biting off the suckers raw as an appetizer.
9. Material thing you miss the most when away from home:
My closet. Let's face it -- hotel laundry is the worst and I'm rarely in the same hotel long enough for sink-washed items to fully dry. Not to mention that my schedule is often unpredictable. Case in point: a recent trip began in Las Vegas, was followed by three weeks around Thailand and ended with a surprise finale in Seattle -- all of that with a very limited, carry-on wardrobe.
10. Most unique souvenir:
A Kairouan carpet. It's special to me not because of what it is, but how I got it. Shopkeepers in Tunisia aren't exactly used to American visitors, so I bargained for that thing in broken Italian, German and French before settling on a price, then chopped it further from euros to dinars as the receipt was being written. I've yet to have a bargaining victory this sweet again.
11. Most unusual item you have travelled with:
A tri-corner hat and thick, black velvet hooded cape for Venice Carnevale parties. I've been several times because winter in Venice is the absolute best, but having to wear the hat through airports and train stations so it doesn't get crushed makes me quite conspicuous.
12. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
I'm a transportation nut. Ships, trains, planes, funiculars, camels, subways, whitewater rafts -- if a place has it, I'm probably on it. That said, the coolest was my first time on an Airbus A380. It was the inaugural delivery flight of the superjumbo to Lufthansa, and I somehow managed to spend time hanging out in the cockpit jumpseat while we flew over Holland.
13. The place you don’t want anyone to know about but are willing to divulge here:
The entire town of Breuil-Cervinia, which sits on the Italian side of the Matterhorn and is far less touristy (and less expensive) than Zermatt on the Swiss side. Specifically there's a small hot chocolate cafe that serves the entire 30-plus range of Eraclea Cioccolato Caldo flavours.
14. Travel-related film or book that inspires you to pack your bags:
The Seven Wonders of the World in Cinerama. My uncle took me to see a special (and final) showing of this four-hour-long piece of cinema history in Dayton, Ohio when I was young and impressionable. We sat front row centre while Lowell Thomas visited the Watusi, flew over the Suez Canal, picked tea leaves in India and inhaled the spray of exotic waterfalls. I'll never be able to see it again, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it often.
15. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:
You may learn a new instrument or a new language, or the ins and outs of a new career, but never underestimate the advantages of learning a new city or country. An education in the world is stuff for a lifetime; it's memories and experiences you can't close a cover on and say "The End".