Travel: Three days in Granada, Spain

Photo from

Photo from

The fragrances of Granada are what I´ll remember best – sweet musk roses in the Alhambra and sizzling stewy platefuls of food in the Plaza Nueva. Granada is one of the jewels of Andalusia, the southernmost province of Spain famous for its bullfighting, its beauty and its flamenco dancing. But Granada is more than merely beautiful: it´s easy but not boring, bustling but never close or chaotic. It´s no wonder that the place teems with foreigners who came for a visit and stay on for weeks or months, hopelessly in love with the place.

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Travel: I didn’t really like Venice

veniceThis article is nominally about Venice, but it’s mostly about money, because money is truly the currency of Venice. There is a good reason for this. Venice is less a city than it is an ornament: pretty to look at, but not very functional. The same magnificent history that gave rise to the splendid patchwork of narrow footpaths and canals has also damned Venice to uselessness. Venice, with its 117 islands, hundreds of bridges and zero motorways, isn’t especially well suited for anything but tourism, and the locals know it. It’s the biggest tourist trap in Europe, and possibly the entire world. Tourist ‘trap’ probably doesn’t do it justice, actually. It’s a full scale ambush. Continue reading

Travel: Iran’s other side

Tehran at nightOriginally published in the Toronto Star on August 5, 2003:  The Iran that CNN doesn’t show us – the daily existence of a country in flux.  No booze, but Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman, dubbedin Farsi.

I am suspended in an airplane somewhere between Toronto and Tehran, and my ignorance covers me like a chador.  My Eastern complexion has in the past camouflaged me as a full-blooded native Iranian, but in this cramped and noisy box I am quickly betrayed by my flat Canadian vowels.

Last summer, I embarked on my first visit to Iran, the country of half my heritage.  Bereft of tongue and custom, I possess little of the rich inheritance that is my birthright.  The Iran of National Geographic is an exotic wonder, or it is a stifling desert with gracious peasants.  The Iran of CNN is a horde of turbaned men, often Islamic fundamentalists, sometimes terrorists, always hostile.

The Iran I am about to experience is a very narrow Iran.  It is the country of the affluent few percent.  My great-grandfather was one of the richest men in the Northern provinces, and the remnants of his astonishing wealth still tinkle faintly in the purses of the second and third generations.  I will see neither the poor carpet-weaving villagers, nor the bluish opium addicts, nor the blazing skies of the Southern deserts.  Not this time.

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Travel: How not to see Rome

The imperial palace on Palatine Hill.

The imperial palace on Palatine Hill.

“I hate it here,” said the immaculate beauty in front of me, in Russian.

She was referring to the Colosseum, which I personally think looks fabulous for its age – roughly 2000 years old.  Her much older, shorter but thunderously angry husband roared back, “You killed me to come to Rome. Now we’re here, and all you do is complain!”

It’s a familiar story. Rome is the grand dame of the Grand Tour, but it’s the European destination that people love to hate. It’s too big, sniff the naysayers, too expensive, too hot. All wrong: it’s magnificent,and here is my riposte to the six most common moans about Rome. Continue reading

Travel: The “Authentic” Tourist

suitcaseI idolize Japanese tourists. I’ve been in Europe for three weeks now, and whenever I get lost I simply stalk the nearest pack of them. They have a sixth sense for landmarks, and all the best cameras (I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever go to Japan. Go into a tailspin, probably). I also like Japanese tourists because they are the antithesis of the odious breed I like to call the Snooty Tourist. Continue reading

Travel: Ancient Assisi still in the pink

The walls in Asissi are pink!

The walls in Asissi are pink!

Originally published in the Toronto Star on September 24, 2009 .  ASSISI, Italy–As you might expect from a place that five Catholic saints have called home, Assisi doesn’t have much of a nightlife. There’s no nightclub, no movie theatre and the young people in evidence are prone to grab their guitars and spontaneously burst into hymn.  In short: for art, alcohol and high animal spirits, stay in Rome. For a day or two of tranquil views of Van Gogh-like landscapes and the occasional brush with a Franciscan friar, come to Assisi. Continue reading

Travel: The Dialects of Manchester

Originally published in The Manchester Evening News in summer 1998.  Note:  I’ve visited Manchester several times, and on this particular visit I was struck by the colourful dialect of the city and penned a little article describing the differences I observed between Canada and the UK.   To my immense surprise, it was accepted and published in the Manchester Evening News under the odd headline “You do say some funny things”.  They even popped by to take my photograph.  🙂  In retrospect I find the article extremely silly.  Continue reading