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GET BACK TO WHERE HE ONCE BELONGED
By Martin B. Deutsch
September 29, 2011 -- It's been ten years since Joe Brancatelli launched what he thought would be a temporary project called JoeSentMe to help travelers survive the post-9/11 economic shock. Not long afterward, he and I had a momentous lunch where, in effect, we decided that road warriors might benefit from a more permanent site.

At that time, I'd been traveling extensively for more than four decades and kept on the move well into 2004. Since then, my peripatetic activities have slowed down a bit and I often think of places that I'd like to revisit.

In honor of the site's 10-year anniversary, I've been asked by JoeSentMe "management" to virtually revisit a half-dozen of my favorite destinations. That is a daunting task since I've almost always found something I liked and a reason to go back to the hundreds of locales I've been lucky enough to visit. After a great deal of deliberation, and even more second-guessing, here are the six (plus one) that, like an old flame, have eternally captured my heart.

I am enamored of all of Italy, but let me begin with the triumvirate of Rome, Florence and Venice. Each is a museum in itself and I could write an extensive essay about each one of them. (In fact, I often have, as you can see from my columns here and here.) All three have magnificent museums, are rich in unforgettable Renaissance art and have great architecture. There's also what I call the Italianate Spirit that distinguishes its citizens. And, of course, there are some of the world's most creative cuisines and great restaurants. I've never had a meal in Italy that I didn't like, and that's a minimal assessment.

Next there's Peru and the magnificent ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu. It's my favorite ruin--apart from myself. Just getting there is an adventure. You fly from Lima to Cuzco, 11,000 feet in the Andes, where your flight is met by hostesses with trays of coca tea, aka mate de coca, whose crushed leaves yield cocaine.

Oxygen tanks are everywhere, including your hotel room, since the thin air can cause respiratory problems, not to mention altitude sickness and severe headaches. After an overnight stay in Cuzco, and sometimes an extra day to acclimate to these dizzying heights, I took a rickety old train down into the jungle, which is about 8,000 feet above sea level--an improvement over what you experience at Cuzco.

On arriving in Machu Picchu, I had a choice of transportation (by foot or mule) to the ruins, which are perched atop a mountain ridge in a setting that defies description, at least for me. I always walked. There are several small hotels in the area, all pleasant, and they wake you up early so you can see the sun rise on the glorious remains of a civilization that no longer exists. I visited Machu Picchu both as a daytrip and with an overnight hotel stay. You can't go wrong either way.

Almost halfway around the world, we alight at Hong Kong, the former British Crown colony that reverted in 1997 to the mainland regime in Beijing. I first wrote a column about Hong Kong in 1965 (read it here), but I haven't been there in a while. I'm told that Hong Kong has retained its incredible energy, 24-hour-a-day vibrancy, great hotels and a cuisine that encompasses every national specialty. I've always been partial to the extravagant family-size dim-sum eateries that your concierge can direct you to upon request.

My favorite hotel on the planet, The Peninsula, which continues to be ranked among the top hotels worldwide by the leading travel and business publications, resides on the Kowloon side. Its lobby attracts visitors from around the world from early morning to late at night, maybe not so much for the food, but for its electric social atmosphere.

Hong Kong also has one of the world's great scenic harbors, and I always liked the commute between Kowloon and the island by the Star Ferry, which seems to move relentlessly back and forth throughout the day and night.

Nepal, the mountain kingdom in the Himalayas, allows you to get as close as I've ever wanted to the world's highest mountains, such as Everest and K2. For the safari crowd, there's Chitwan National Park with an array of wild animals including elephants and tigers. Some 25 years after my last visit, my butt still hurts at the thought of the three days I spent on a howdah atop an elephant to catch a glimpse of a rare tiger. Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, is a rustic community with a great deal of authentic charm and several good hotels.

In my mind, the Mediterranean Sea is easily the most fascinating cruise environment you can find. There are dozens of ports of call representing an impressive array of historic cultures and dazzling scenery. I've cruised the Mediterranean more than a dozen times, calling at 12 ports on a typical two-week sailing. The diversity is thrilling, whether you sail from Greece or Italy or the French Riviera. The itinerary might include Istanbul and the Grand Roman ruin of Ephesus in Turkey; Israel's gateway port of Haifa; the Greek Isles and the Greek mainland; the coasts of Italy and Sicily; Malta; North African ports; Spain and Portugal. Most of the major cruise lines have ships in the Mediterranean during the summer months. (I wrote about one of my Mediterranean cruises here.)

And now, my indisputably favorite destination of all time, East Africa. Visiting Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda was an incomparable experience, both in terms of the majestic scenery and the great herds that roam these now-threatened preserves.

The first time, in the autumn of 1966, I was on a Lindblad Wing Safari. We flew from game park to game park in single- and twin-engine aircraft and were driven around in Land Rovers once we landed. Back then, when your driver spotted a pride of lions resting after a kill, you could pull up close, take pictures and watch the interaction of the feline family. You were alone in that primitive environment. When I went again in 1999, the landscape was much the same, but once a pride of lions was spotted, drivers would get on the radio to notify others. Within a few minutes, you'd think you were in Times Square as each driver maneuvered to give his clients the best views.

The lodges are also excellent and we were always very pleased with the quality of the drivers, the food, the escorts and the bush pilots. It's a grand adventure and a memorable once-in-a-lifetime trip for a family.

I can't end this list without mentioning Egypt and its many treasures, including the Nile Valley, Luxor, Karnak and Abu Simbel (near Aswan), as well as the magnificent Cairo Museum. Tourism has been off sharply since Mubarak was toppled earlier this year and prices are way down. You might want to visit soon and move Egypt off your own bucket list.

Change has come to these destinations and, indeed, to the universe of travel. But the essence of what attracted me in the first place endures, or so I remain convinced. I really would like to get back to these places again.

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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 2011 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.