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THE BEST OF EVERYTHING--FOR NOW
By Martin B. Deutsch
September 10, 2009 -- In the first two columns of this series on the best of everything in a half-century of travel, I covered my best past repasts and my premier experiences on cruises, on airlines--yes, on airlines--at hotels and on tour.
This third and final column embraces a miscellany of events that I've been lucky to experience during this many decades in, around and covering the travel industry. I look forward to another three-part series of bests after my next 50 years on the road.
The best "ruins" that I've ever visited, and there have been quite a few, are at Machu Picchu, the spectacularly situated ancient capital of the vanished Incas in the Peruvian Andes. You fly from Lima, Peru's capital, to Cuzco, which sits about 11,000 feet above sea level. The journey requires an infusion of coca tea in order to stimulate your circulation in the ultra-thin air. Hotel rooms are equipped with oxygen tanks, too. The next morning, you ride a rickety train down into the jungle for a same-day visit to Machu Picchu. The ruins are perched atop a steep protrusion at about 8,000 feet above sea level. Every phase of this trip has its own charm and distinctive features and, if you stay overnight, it allows you to enjoy the incredible sunrise above the ruins. I've made this pilgrimage several times, both same day and overnight, and I'd go again if I had the opportunity.
The best domestic destination for me remains Hawaii. I've been there dozens of times, for business and personal reasons. I never tire of it. Each of the stunning, nearly tropical islands has its own unique personality and dramatic physical profile. They rise from a usually benign Pacific Ocean, crystal clear and deep blue, which sends its waves toward the lovely white beaches that encircle the islands.
My most agonizing choice? Selecting a best international destination. But it always comes back to Italy, a narrow favorite over other far-flung favorites such as Hong Kong, Nepal, Norway and East Africa. What strikes me about Italy, and I've been there several dozen times, is the graphic, scenic history bequeathed to us by the Roman Empire; the great Renaissance art in cities such as Rome and Florence; the sensual beauty of Venice and its canals; the creative regional cuisines that guarantee you never get a bad meal in the land of pasta and passion; and a uniquely picturesque coast that often faces wondrous islands such as Capri and Ischia.
One of the best series of meals I ever had--meals without culinary elegance, but with great gustatory pleasure--was a regular lunch in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was at a Viennese restaurant called Sacher's in Manhattan. Three travel-industry companions enjoyed lentil soup that simmered for hours, perhaps days, in a huge terrine. The soup was studded with potatoes, knockwurst and franks and abetted with warm pumpernickel with butter. And, of course, a stein of beer. You could have seconds, or, if your system tolerated it, even thirds. It was an excellent repast and the whole lunch was probably about $1.95 plus the cost of beverages. Unfortunately, one of the three regulars left New York and the restaurant eventually closed. But it was one of the early highlights of the friendships I forged in the travel arena.
The "best" transition from relaxing in luxury to a high-intensity situation was in June, 1967. I was covering the high-profile opening of the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, a significant event that marked the debut of John Portman's signature atrium design. (Hotel atriums are now as common around the world as McDonald's golden arches.) On the second morning of this celebrity-studded occasion, I received an early-morning phone call from the head of public relations for El Al in New York. He informed me, rather sarcastically, that I probably did not know that the Six Day War had just ended. He wanted me on that evening's flight from New York to Tel Aviv, the first since the shooting had started. I packed, flew home to Manhattan, repacked and caught the flight from Kennedy Airport. Eleven hours and 44 minutes later, I landed in Tel Aviv. We spent most of the next ten days visiting the so-called New Territories that the Israelis had occupied. I traveled in Israeli command cars and visited communities such as Hebron and Nablus. Never before or since have I sensed or saw such anger and hatred. All and all, the rapid-fire contrast between the luxury of Atlanta and the raw emotion in the Middle East was startling and disquieting.
The best one-liner I ever crafted in a career not necessarily noted for wit was in the early 1960s on TWA's inaugural flight for in-flight movies. We took off from what was still called Idlewild (it's now JFK) for dinner and a film. Half of the passengers dined while the other half watched and then the process was reversed. I was sitting next to Inez Robb, the renowned columnist and war correspondent for the Hearst newspapers. We were suffering through a truly awful film, The Marriage-Go-Round, starring James Mason and Julie Newmar. Halfway through, I rang for a stewardess and mischievously asked for "two aspirins and a parachute." I later heard that Robb quoted my remark in her column, but I never verified it at the time and her material (and most of mine) has yet to make its way to the Net.
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ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.
This column is Copyright © 2009 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.