- There are too many people and the crowd overwhelms the experience.
- It is too expensive and you feel jilted by the cost.
- The wildlife didn’t turn up because, you know, wildlife.
- The weather sucked, so you’re too busy focusing on how great it would be if the weather didn’t suck.
- You were robbed, fell ill, got hit by a bus, or were press-ganged into slavery aboard a Thai tuna fishing vessel.
It’s been a tumultuous month in the world of bucket list experiences. The New York Times art critic ran a story about the sheer and utter disappointment of seeing the Mona Lisa, glassed away from the masses of crowds expecting something more...transcendent. Asked on national radio about my own experience with Leonardo’s masterpiece, I recalled seeing it many years ago, and feeling distinctly underwhelmed: “I thought there would be God rays and confetti, and angels would be singing with harps.” If I didn’t know it was regarded as the pinnacle of artistic expression, I would have walked past it, marvelling at plenty other works in the Louvre that would better match that description. The subject moved onto travel experiences that are disappointing. Each to their own, but there’s really only a few factors that will make an activity or destination disappointing:
All this to say: The experience did not live up to your expectations. The higher your expectations, the higher the chance that the destination or activity will disappoint you. Reality simply can’t compete with your imagination. And I can’t blame anyone for having an imagination stoked by the most perfect of all scenarios. On television shows, in travel articles, in books (ahem), you rarely see or hear about crowds, costs, and crap weather. The sky is mostly blue, and the animals always show up. It is very rare that everything comes together exactly as it does in the brochures, and yet the marketing of peak experience does no favours to your expectations. You’re being set up for disappointment, so better to have no or limited expectations to begin with.
One of the tools proposed to combat the scourge of overtourism is Responsible Marketing. This would require tour operators and destination marketing organizations to use real people in real situations, not models beneath a Photoshop sky. Imagine if casinos were restricted to responsible marketing? Instead of hot couples smiling as they win at the roulette table, you’d see leathered alcoholics flushing away next month’s rent. Any activity that depends on good weather is particularly vulnerable to unmet expectations. Nobody wants to visit a beach in a hailstorm, ski on a mountain without snow, or get rained on during a parade. My biggest disappointment is the northern lights – a dreamy bucket list experience that is particularly weather dependent. Ten times I should have seen a magical natural fireworks display in the sky, and ten times the sky was overcast, or the solar ions weren't firing, or the sky lit up the day before I arrived, and the day after I left. Ten times in the freezing northern winter, including trips to Whitehorse and Yellowknife during peak aurora-watching season. Eventually I did see the northern lights, but compared to all the alluring photographs and stories, witnessing a slight pulsating green fog in the frigid, early morning sky (few people know that the best time to see the lights is well after midnight) was a let down. At least I hadn’t flown in all the way from Japan, unlike the disappointed aurora-watchers around me.
The global bucket list took another hit this month with the chaos surrounding One Ocean Expeditions. I’ve worked with this Squamish-based company for several years, having visited Antarctica, crossed the Northwest Passage in the high Arctic and more recently taken my mom and daughter to remote islands in the Atlantic on their wonderful boats, guided by their wonderful crew. I’ve recommended the company at dozens of talks and in my books, and was shocked to hear they’ve been shipwrecked with financial difficulties. Passengers were left stranded shortly before an Antarctica sailing, most support staff have left the company, and information from the permanently closed head office to hundreds of out of pocket clients has been cryptic and scarce. The source of the issue appears to have been the damage that occurred to one of their Russian leased vessels in August 2018. There are competing claims as to who was responsible and should foot the bill, and as a result the Russians withdrew their ships from One Ocean’s service. This sent the company scampering to fill exist bookings on their single remaining ship, and in all likelihood broke the sea camel’s back. The company’s mysterious restructuring has been devastating for their amazing staff and crew, many of whom are owed tens of thousands of dollars in wages. It has been devastating for passengers around the world who have footed up to $14,000 per ticket, and have no travel insurance recourse to get their money back. It has been devastating for the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, who benefitted from One Ocean as a major sponsor, and it has been devastating for polar tourism. One Ocean did vital, generous and important work for the Arctic and Antarctica, supporting scientists, educators, communicators and students. I remember telling passengers that One Ocean did not just help us tick Antarctica off our bucket list, the company had helped us become ambassadors for a truly incredible, vulnerable and oft-misunderstood eco-system. Despite hope that a new financial partner will save the day, the damage to the brand and betrayal of trust of both clients and crew is, in all probability, fatal. Despite some wild rumours swirling around, I do believe One Ocean had a wonderful heart. Operating at the mercy of the roughest of natural elements, it just needed a better business brain. Here's hoping for smooth waters and easy sailing ahead for passengers, crew, company and the polar region itself.
I am the passenger and I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backsides...
Next time you're walking through a crowded subway, tune a little Iggy Pop into your headphones. We are all passengers, and we all ride and we ride. The last time I rode the tube in London, I got thinking about the world's major subway systems, asking questions that this blog post would later answer:
One of the oldest and largest urban transit systems in the world, New York’s subway currently has 468 stations in operation, with approximately 660 miles of routes clocking in at over 1.5 billion rides annually. It’s one of only four subways running 24 hours a day in the USA, vital for shepherding New Yorkers (and tourists) around the city, especially in Manhattan, where traffic is choked during rush hour and parking exorbitant. New York has the world’s largest fleet of subway cars (around 6200), and is probably the most recognized system thanks to being featured in movies like Saturday Night Fever, Ghost and the Taking of Pelham 123. Here’s a neat fact: New York’s subway has only 60 stations less than all the combined subway stations in the United States.
The oldest underground rapid transit system in the world is the London Underground, known affectionately as the “Tube.” Its first sections were built in 1863, and the Northern Line was the world’s first electric train. The tube currently has 270 stations and 402 kilometres of track, covering central London and stretching way into the suburbs, Heathrow airport, and even surrounding regions of Essex and Buckinghamshire. Linking seamlessly with an excellent bus system and above-ground trains, including rail and the Docklands Light Rail, the map of the iconic coloured lines of each route have become a design classic. Be aware the Underground map doesn’t correspond to geography above-ground, which is why some tourists might spend 45 minutes taking the Tube to a destination just a ten minute walk away.
China’s largest municipality (over 23 million people!) is served by the world’s longest metro network. The Shanghai Metro’s 11 lines and 278 stations delivers over 2 billion rides annually, at about 5.5 million rides a day. Three lines converge at the busiest station, People’s Square, located near the popular Nanjing Road shopping district. Fares are based on distance, and allow you to transfer between lines, as well as railways and buses. Transit cards can be purchased as stations, convenient stores and banks, and can be used to pay for buses and even taxis. Connected to the Metro, although it is not included in the system itself, is the Maglev. Reaching a speed of 431 km/hr, the train’s magnetic levitation system makes it the world’s fastest commercial regular service, and a 30 km thrill ride from the airport.
25 Stations opened in 1966 in time for the 1967 World Fair. Today, the Métro de Montréal has 68 stations running on four lines. It is Canada’s busiest subway system, third in North America after New York and Mexico City. Designers looked to Paris for inspiration, and Montreal’s rubber-tired efficiency has in turn inspired other Metros like Santiago, Lyon and Mexico City. Rubber tires were chosen because they are quiet, turn at higher speeds, and reduce vibration for passengers. They also allow faster speeds than conventional steel tracks. Due to winter weather, the 759-cars run entirely underground, and are not weatherproof. Although public art in stations was popular in communist countries, Montreal was a pioneer introducing stained glass, sculptures and paintings to western metro stations.
With millions of people flocking to the capital from around Russia, Soviet leadership in the 1920’s recognized the potential for the Moscow Metro to be more than just a transportation necessity. It was designed to serve as an ambitious vehicle for propaganda and communist ideology. The Moscow Metro opened with 13 stations in 1935, with 285 000 passengers using it that day. Today’s Metro receives a 6.6 million passengers each day, the second most heavily used transit system in the world after Tokyo. It was Stalin who commissioned some of the era’s greatest architects and artists to design stations that would inspire and overwhelm the proletariat with the power of the state. Unlike the functional transit systems that were being developed in other major world cities, the Soviet goal was to build underground palaces, reflecting a radiant future to all who used it, designed and lit up like grand ballrooms. Visiting the most famous stations - Ploschad Revolutsii, Komsomolskaya, Mayakovskaya – is a must for any visitor to the city.
Distinctive by the Art Nouveau entrances of some its stations, the Paris Métro is one of the world’s most compact transit systems, cramming in 245 stations and 87 kilometres of track within the city itself. First opened in 1900, by the 1940’s, there was no more space to expand lines within the city, and so faster cars were introduced to increase ticket sales. You can choose your direction on the 14 lines, distinguished with colours and numbers, by selecting the destination terminus. 4.5 million passengers use the Métro every day, so you won’t be alone. The Métro does not run 24 hours, which is why locals call the last train the balai, the “broom” that sweeps up the night’s last passengers.
The busiest subway in the world – over 8 million passengers daily – has a map that is a labyrinth of lines and colours, leaving many visitors confused and disorientated. With over 880 stations on the extended rail network, it’s a Sudoku puzzle figuring out where you want to go. During rush hour, white gloved “train packers” jam people into every square inch of space so the doors can close. Just getting around the stations can be quite a trek, and because each mode of transportation in Tokyo is operated by a different company (including two subway systems), you’ll require a different fare ticket if you transfer. Your best bet is to buy a Suica, a pre-paid card that works on every system, and can even be used for vending machines. Alternatively, the Tokyo Free Kippu allows one day of unlimited travel on all subways, trains and buses.
Canada’s oldest and largest subway system currently has 4 lines, 69 stations and 70 kilometres of track. Typically named for its nearest artery, it carries over a million passenger rides each weekday, and is integrated with streetcars and buses throughout the Toronto Transit Commission. Hanging around the platforms, you may notice some of the two-dozen artworks that breathe life into the system. My favourite is the opposing murals at College station entitled Hockey Knights in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs eternally face off on opposing platforms. Artists have used glass, tiles, and paint to create wonderful works in stations like Spadina, Dupont, St.Clair West and Eglinton. The busiest stations: Bloor (Yonge-University), Yonge (Bloor-Danforth) and St George (Bloor-Danforth).
With an average of 7 million rides each day, Seoul’s Metropolitan Subway is one of the world’s busiest transit systems. Many of its 18 lines are still expanding, with a current total of 560 stations operated by seven different organizations. All signs are in Korean and English, and helpfully for tourists, all announcements are made in Korean and English too. Along with single-journey tickets, various transportation cards work across all the systems, with discounts for kids and seniors. Navigating is fairly easy: each station has a name, number and colour. Transfer stations are clearly marked, and trains are generally very efficient. Ever pushing the technology envelope, the Seoul Subway introduced the world’s first virtual subway supermarket, where passengers use their smart phones to scan QR codes of products (laid out like a shopping shelf) which can be purchased and delivered to their homes.
South America’s most extensive and expanding subway system is in the Chilean capital of Santiago, with 105 stations servicing five lines and over one hundred kilometres of track. Inspired by Montreal, three of the tracks use rubber-tired cars, and like Montreal, art features prominently inside the stations. Over 45km of new track will be laid in the next few years alone, highlighting the success of the government’s overhaul of the city’s public transport system. Line 1, servicing downtown Santiago, is the city’s busiest track. Bike lockers at various stations have further eased the traffic congestion in the city. When a massive 8.8 Richter scale earthquake hit Chile in 2010, the Metro held up strong, with only station closed for superficial repairs.
Glamping, short form for glamorous camping, promises all the rugged adventure of the outdoors, with the velvet luxury touch of high-end comfort. A growing trend in the world of modern travel, here’s my first round of picks from Canada and around the world:
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, BC
Lets kick off on Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (pictured above), which offers 20 luxury tents, connected by cedar boardwalk under a rainforest canopy. Each tent has antique furniture, thick rugs, wood stoves, and a shower house, blending opulence and wilderness at the mouth of the Bedwell River.
Rockwater Secret Cove, BC
It was a stormy, cold night when I arrived at Rockwater Secret Cove, so I appreciated the heated slate floors, glowing fireplace, terry cloth robes and hydrotherapy soaker tub. All the more so because I was staying in a tent, and these are not things one normally associates with tent accommodation. Located on the Sunshine Coast, Rockwater’s tent accommodations sit off a wooden boardwalk , illuminated at night like a runway, with beautiful views of the Malaspina Strait.
Le Camp, France
Located in the countryside of southwestern France, Le Camp offers six two-bedroom luxury canvas tents, and private yurts located deep in the woodland. Each tent looks out over the countryside, and comes with handmade beds, solar lighting, composting toilets, and an indoor/outdoor shower. Private luxury for couples, or big enough to accommodate whole families, Le Camp has space to roam, explore or relax. You will however have to share the 20m natural swimming pool. Your company: butterflies, dragonflies and frogs.
Spicers Canopy, Australia
An hour and half from Brisbane, Splicers Canopy offers glampers a back-to-nature experience atop a plateau, and an 8000-acre private reserve. Accommodating 20 guests, each tent has king size beds with fine linen, polished floorboards, luxurious armchairs and covered deck. Gourmet meals are included, as are guided walkabouts into the Main Range National Park. Dining is communal, taking places around a large stone fireplace, under stars sparkling above the clear air of the plateau.
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
Perhaps the most exotic destination for today's glamper, the Three Camel Lodge is an environmentally sustainable development built in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Accommodation comes in the form of luxury gers, the traditional circular tents used by Mongolian nomads. Felt and canvas cover a wooden frame that can be dismantled easily, with a wood stove keeping everyone warm in the middle. Three Camel’s gers have handpainted furniture, a private bathroom, king size beds, and Mongolian style bathrobes and slippers. The lodge features a restaurant, and Dino House, built in the style of a traditional temple, for evening entertainment.
Spring has always been the smoothest operator in the room. It is the best-dressed season, the only one that conquers the cold, yet is not about to let things get uncomfortably warm. Spring offers us hope and victory. It smells like a warm fragrant breeze, with just enough chill in the air to keep things cosy. It’s also shoulder season, propping up a summer of high prices and big crowds. The Spring Traveller knows this is the best time of year to travel, and here are some choice picks for places to travel to.
Besides the Keukenhof Gardens, featuring its famous tulips and lilies, the canals of Amsterdam blossom with life in the spring. The outdoor patios fill up, music starts floating down from the terraces, and the city parks get busy. Much like other Northern Hemisphere cities, residents break out of their winter shell to enjoy the first real breaths of warm sunshine. Attractions, prices and accommodations get tougher with each passing week, until summer kicks in and the Spring Traveller must move on.
The weather’s always great in Cuba. A little hot perhaps, but there’s always a beach nearby. With direct flights from Toronto to Havana, Canada is the number one tourist market with the largest island in the Caribbean, with over a million Canadians landing every year. Many of us are happy to laze away in an all-inclusive bubble, but popping it for a couple days will reveal a country in transition with itself and its history. Old Havana is being restored, excellent musicians seem to never stop playing Guantanamera, the rum is first rate, and the food is improving. Cuba is on the verge of a complete transformation, and if you've never been, now's the time to go. Cigar in hand, of course.
Paris in Spring Time. Three words, and you can smell the warm baguette, taste the Bordeaux, see a mime’s heartbreak on the banks of the Seine. Cole Porter and Nina Hagen musical tributes notwithstanding, the Capital of Romance is most alive in spring, when new relationships find their mark and old passions are reawakened. Unfortunately, spring is such a popular time of year, it signals the start of high season, and all the costs that come with it. The Spring Traveller never puts a price on love. But the Spring Traveller doesn’t have to stick around too long to get his or her fix either.
Yosemite National Park
What I love most about Yosemite National Park is that there are geologists who believe the oldest national park in the United States is in fact a super volcano getting ready to explode and obliterate half the country with it. So the Spring Traveller best strap on the hiking boots and get a move on, while the waterfalls are at their finest and the summer crowds are still at bay. With ice and snow melting, the rivers and creeks are flush as the forest reawakens. There’s magic to see at Yosemite Falls and Cook’s Meadow, but if it’s still a little too chilly, the Spring Traveller can always head south for warmer climes. Who knows, one day the super volcano might blow. But rest assured, the Spring Traveller will be well out of harms way.
Our national capital flaunts the gifts of a Dutch princess each spring with its own world renowned Tulip Festival. 600,000 visitors swing by the “Tulip Capital of North America”, as the Big Freeze relinquishes its hold on a grateful population. The best places to see the tulips each year are from Parliament Hill, Commissioners Park or along the paths of the Rideau Canal. In early spring Ottawa also hosts a Maple Sugar Festival, for those who like their spring sweet. While the Spring Traveller is not averse to chasing beaver tail, the next destination looks even further to towards the north.
The Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are sweet discoveries for the Spring Traveller. The capital cities of Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn have medieval old towns to rival any in Western Europe, and beautiful countryside to explore too. Shops and boutiques sell fantastic art, clothing and unique knick-knacks, while each country boasts a nightlife with everything from old school drinking holes to the latest in club warfare. The Spring Traveller is not afraid to trip off the beaten path, for true beauty and adventure has a habit of showing itself in the unlikeliest of places.
Victorians are very proud of their Butchart Gardens, as well they should be. Gardening is a tasteful affair, and spring is the ticket. With summer crowds yet to arrive, the Spring Traveller can enjoy the best of the gardens, followed by high tea in one of the city’s excellent teahouses. Keeping within the genteel nature of the visit, roam amongst the Butterfly Gardens, or wander down Antique Row or Mile Zero. The Spring Traveller enjoys distinctive elegance, and the allure of old world charm. As for the not too distant cousin Spring Breaker, well, he’s chugging buckets of beer with the rest of the kids in Cancun.
The Great Wars of Europe killed around 40 million soldiers, and as many as 70 million civilians. Without attempting to understand all this carnage, all I can say is that then, as now, somebody had to something about a situation that had become unacceptable. Somebody, in that case, was the domain of brave young men, including too many Canadian boys cut down in their prime. We remember them with over six thousand Canadian war memorials, honouring their names and sacrifice. Here are a few important ones you might find overseas, and the stories behind them.
Vimy Ridge, France
Canadians lost around 65,000 soldiers in the human meat grinder that was World War 1 trench warfare. Their proudest moment at Vimy Ridge is one that many historians credit with establishing Canada’s identity as a young nation. Canadian battalions joined together for the first time to attack fortified German positions, sweeping forward with small victories, gaining as little as 100m at a push. The casualty count was high, but Canadian grit persevered, and the Germans were eventually overrun. In gratitude for their efforts, having contributed to a pivotal victory in the war, France gave the battlefield to Canada to forever establish a memorial, to both the soldiers who died at Vimy Ridge, and those who died elsewhere in the country without receiving a proper burial. Located 8km outside of the town of Arras, the 250 acre site is one of the few places to see actual WW1 trenches, although much of it is closed because of unexploded ammunition, and other safety reasons. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the memorial every year, be they proud Canadians, military buffs or veterans honouring the past.
The Brookwood Memorial, England
The UK’s largest is military and civilian is Brookwood in the county of Surrey. It contains a 37-acre military section with memorials and burial grounds for over 5000 soldiers, mostly from the Commonwealth. Over 2731 Canadian soldiers are buried here, the vast majority from the Second World War. Located on green and peaceful grounds, the impressive circular Brookwood Memorial was unveiled by the Queen in 1953, with the names of 3500 soldiers "to whom the fortunes of war denied a known and honoured grave". The Canadian High Commission holds a Remembrance Day service here each year.
Gapyeong Monument, South Korea
When North Korea invaded its southern counterpart in 1950, Canadian troops became a significant part of an international force assembled by the United Nations. Some 27,000 troops were involved in the conflict, comprising members of air, sea and land divisions. While there is still conflict in the region, the armistice has held since 1953. Today, a South Korean and Canadian flag fly together at the Gapyeong Monument, which contains two additional memorials on either side, honouring the 2nd Battalion for the their efforts in the Battle of Hill 677, and naming all participating Canadian units respectively. According to a plaque on the main monument, Canadian forces suffered 516 deaths, and 1255 wounded during the war. It further mentions that “these valiant Canadians embodied their country's commitments to safeguard the fundamental principles of the United Nations.” Much as they continue to do today as part of the international forces securing Afghanistan from the Taliban.
The war against an internationally condemned regime continues in Afghanistan, which, like all wars, dooms its soldiers, civilians and victims to violence and struggle. In Kandahar, where Canadian forces have been particularly involved in operations, a Memorial Inuksuk and plaque honours the 152 soldiers who have perished thus far in the country, along with other coalition soldiers who have fallen.
Malta Memorial, Malta
At the entrance to Malta’s capital city of Valetta, a memorial honours 2298 Commonwealth air crew who perished in the battle over the Mediterranean, with no known graves. A striking bronze-plated Golden Eagle sits atop a circular column, with panels on the base inscribed with the names of the fallen, including 285 Royal Canadian Air Force members. The inscription reads: over these and neighbouring lands and seas the airmen whose names are recorded here fell in raid or sortie and have no known grave. A further Latin inscription, translated into English states: An island resolute of purpose remembers resolute men.
St Julien Memorial, Belgium
The use of poison gas is so despised today that it helped form the basis of the USA’s decision to invade Iraq. Even in the bloodiest of wars, soldiers have honour. In World War I, Germany pioneered using mustard gas against the Allied forces, resulting in utter devastation and horror. In Belgium’s St Julien sits a park with a memorial to Canadian forces who were instrumental in defending the Western Front against some of the first poison gas attacks in the bloody Battle of Ypres. With the gas unleashed, Allied lines scattered in panic. Before the German infantry could attack, the First Canadian Division assembled into position, frantically holding the line in the wave of repeated attacks. They held the line for 48 hours before reinforcements arrived. Over 6000 casualties, and 2000 dead. Carved in rock, the memorial is a striking 11m high statue called The Brooding Soldier, his head forever lowered in memory of his comrades.
Passchendaele Memorial, Belgium
November, 1917. In 16 days of heavy fighting, the Canadian Corps were hit with 15 654 casualties and over 4 000 dead, all in a quest to occupy the high ground and capture the town of Passchendaele. Heavy rain and poor drainage turned this offence, part of the Third Battle of Ypres, into a muddy, bloody quagmire. 4000 young men with dreams, hopes and families. Men who could have worked the land, started innovative businesses, built homes for future generations. Standing waist high in cold mud, their friends falling around them, they continued to push on, eventually capturing the high ground. When the Italian army were badly beaten elsewhere, British Commanders diverted operations to support them, abandoning the momentum created during two phases of battle, and at a great cost of life. Passchendaele became an international symbol of senseless violence. The Memorial, located on the Crest Farm about 40km from Lille, is a large block of Canadian granite, surrounded by maple trees. Surrounding it are peaceful green fields. Enough blood has been shed here. As Churchill said not long after the horrors of World War I: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And we did.
Modern sport is a far more civilized substitute for millennia of constant warfare. The world's major events are not only wild celebrations, they're a chance to discover any destination at its festive best. I enjoy my sport, but although I enjoy the Die Hard movies, I wouldn't consider myself a die-hard fan. Still, here are just some of the sporting events on my bucket list.
The Tour de France
Three weeks and 3500km – think of it as the ultimate European road trip. The world’s most famous bicycle race pushes its competitors to the very edge of endurance (it has been compared to climbing three Everests and running a dozen marathons) but for the travelling circus that follows the riders, it’s just a great excuse to experience beautiful French countryside. It typically starts in a neighbouring country before the pelotan makes its way throughout France, with stops in Barcelona and little-known gems like Andorra. Following the caravan, you can expect to meet outrageous characters and encounter millions of people who line the route.
The four main events or ATP Grand Slams are held in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. Each tournament offers something unique for the tennis traveller. Melbourne is a sports-mad city, enjoying scorching temperatures often resulting in heat-breaks for the players. The crowd loves the underdogs, and the shade of their umbrellas. Roland Garros in Paris is played on red clay, with the French always rooting for homegrown players. Join them, and you might find a great improvement in service! Wimbledon is the most traditional of the Slams, suffused with strawberries and cream, champagne, and overnight line-ups. New York is the most daring, with arguably the most vocal crowd, and stadiums packed with celebrities.
Speed, money and power converge in the world’s richest sport, the highest class of auto racing, precision, technology and driving skill. There are between 17 and 20 FIA Grand Prix’s held each year, in destinations as diverse as Malaysia, Hungary, Brazil, and Turkey. For weeks before, cities like Shanghai, Singapore and Abu Dhabi get caught up in the frenzy, wooing massive crowds cheering on their Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull favourites. Billions of dollars are spent on cars every year, capable of achieving speeds of up to 360 km/hr with an ear shattering roar. My pick is Monte Carlo, home of a famed street circuit lined with stylish crowds, overlooked by the world’s wealthy elite. Indy Car and NASCAR races also deliver their own thrills and atmosphere. Don’t forget to pack a pair of earplugs!
FIFA World Cup
Every four years, over a four-week period, the best national teams in the world join together to battle for the greatest prize in football. For a sport that crosses the widest of social and economic divides, the World Cup Finals is nothing short of a religious holiday. Business shut, traffic vanishes, and nearly a billion people tune in the most watched sporting event in the world. In 2014, soccer-mad Brazil once again hosts the finals, the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s a unique moment in the country's modern history, where adventurous travellers will be able to experience the best of the country.
Both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the world coming together. Host cities spend spend billions on construction and infrastructure upgrades to host what is effectively a non-stop party. Being able to support Team Canada (and Team South Africa) is secondary to the spirit of the event.
The Kentucky Derby
It’s billed as the “Most Exhilarating Two Minutes in Sport”, a thoroughbred horserace that has captured the imagination of the world. Inaugurated in 1875, the race is the main draw card for a two-week long Kentucky Derby festival that includes the Great Balloon Race, the Great Steamboat Race, and an assortment of music and cultural events. Writer Hunter S Thompson once used the race to capture the essence of the American south, and visitors might take heed when they read his seminal “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”. Whatever you find in Kentucky, soaked in its mint juleps and tradition, chances are it will be a world away from the world’s richest horserace, the Dubai Gold Cup.
The four major golf tournaments create a sporting mecca for both players and fans. The US Masters in Augusta, the Open Championship in St Andrews, the US Open and PGA Championship bring the world’s best players together, along with those that would pay good money to see men hit little white balls into little shallow holes. Securing a ticket is expensive, or sometimes not even possible. The Masters only makes tickets available to club patrons, but you can enter a lottery to see Tiger Woods on the practice rounds. If golf is your ticket, it might be easier to attend one of the less prestigious Open tournaments, held in over two-dozen countries annually.
Following the pro-surfing or windsurfing circuit combines two crucial elements for the weary sport traveller: the atmosphere of a major sporting event, with the bonus of being on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Throw in string bikinis and tanned hunky surfers, and one could do worse than hop on the ASP World Tour, annually visiting top beach towns in Brazil, Tahiti, Australia, South Africa, Spain and France.
I don’t have the space to explain the rules of cricket. Yes, test cricket can last five days without crowning a winner, and yes, there is a position called the Silly Mid-On. Hugely popular in England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies, if you ever find yourself in one of those countries with the opportunity to catch a match, do so. As a local explains the rules (which are quite easy once you slow down a bit) you can soak in an electrifying atmosphere of exploding cherry bombs (South Asia), steel drums (West Indies), BBQ’d boerewors (South Africa) or beer swilling songs (Australia). When India meets Pakistan, it’s nothing less than two countries at war, the tension so thick it could bowl you over.