The shenanigans of summer have subsided, the seasons have changed and autumn is upon us. For many, this is the best time of year to travel. Crowds thin, prices drop, foliage explodes, and the temperature dances on the Goldilocks stage of not too hot, not too cold, aaah...just right. Maybe you should consider:
Welcome to the ultimate fall destination. They even advertise it on the flag. Visitors come from all over the world to experience the colours of our foliage as they explode into shades of red, orange and yellow. There are highlights coast to coast: Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Niagara Parkway and Bruce Peninsular. The Laurentian Mountains in Quebec. Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, New Brunswick’s Fundy Coastal Drive, the rolling forests and hills of Prince Edward Island and British Columbia – there’s no shortage of trees in Canada, and autumn is easily the best time of year to enjoy them.
The United States
Similarly, the Eastern Seaboard of the United States lights up in the colours of autumn from mid-September to the end of October. There’s plenty of charming road trips in the states of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, where a gentle paced traveller can appreciate the change of season through small villages, farms, and seaside towns along the way. Michigan and Wisconsin are also known for their fabulous fall colours.
I have a particular fondness for the English countryside in autumn, having enjoyed epic road trips to the New Forest, Cotswolds and Cornwall in the past. Rolling, misty countryside and quaint stone villages add a particular coziness to the adventure. Other autumn faves in the UK include the National Forest in Leicestershire, along with Beacon Hill and the supernatural sounding Outwoods. There are also great trails outside of Cardiff in Wales, and plenty of walks and bike adventures in the Scottish Highlands.
China is so vast and there’s plenty to see away from the usual tourist hot spots of Beijing and Shanghai. With temperatures cooling pleasantly, consider the south-western Sichuan province where the maple and birch trees strut their colours. Domestic Chinese tourists love visiting places like Miyalou in October to enjoy the views, along with the Juizhai Vallley, where tranquil blue lakes compliment the “kingdom of colours”.
Spain is much more than a beach holiday destination, especially as the sizzling summer temperatures begin to drop and the Mediterranean starts to cool. It’s a great time to head south where it us perfectly warm and pleasant, and the cities of Granada, Cordoba and Seville are waiting to be explored. Those summer crowds have dispensed, so it’s far easier to get around without making reservations, getting that great table on the patio instead of spending hours lining up. Further north begins to get a little chilly around October.
The forests of Bavaria are brushed from the same autumn palette, with the added bonus of the wild, 16-day Oktoberfest taking place each year in Munich. Once you’ve saturated yourself on beer, hit the Autobahn for a drive along the Rhine, taking in the Black Forest, medieval castles, and the looming Alps.
Just because things are cooling down, doesn’t mean you need to pack a coat. French Polynesia enjoys its best season in August to October, after the heat of the sweltering months, but before the rains kick in. Tahiti, Bora Bora, the Society Islands – there’s no shortage of escapes where you can find your own beach paradise. You might want to stay clear of the Disappointment Islands though. They really need to do something about that name.
During the course of my travels, I’ve chanced upon some places so romantically charged that I could hear the blues tugging on my heartstrings. Since it’s my job to share my secrets, I present a gallery, alternatively titled: 8 Places I Really Did Not Want to be Travelling Single.
Sunset from the Rose Garden, Cappadocia, Turkey
It’s a remarkable view over a remarkable landscape. Thousands of strange rock formations can be found in this region of central Turkey, where people have lived in caves for thousands of years, and “fairy chimneys” pointing at the sky give an alien charm. A popular sunset spot called the Rose Garden is a short drive from the main town of Gorome. Here, the rocks glow as pink as the cheeks of the lovers enjoying the moment. The fairy chimneys are also undeniably phallic, just in case you needed something to stroke your imagination.
Drifting Amongst the Firebugs, Malaysia
Picture the scene: You’re floating down a river just after dusk, the silence broken by wooden oars dipping into the still water. An old man rows in the traditional fashion – standing at the bow, his back towards you, his leathered arms in perfect rhythm with each stroke. The night is young, the air is warm. All of sudden, you see a tiny flash of light, then another, then another. Rounding a bend, your jaw drops as the trees on either side of the river look like lights in a disco, pulsing with thousands upon thousands of tiny neon flashes. Firebugs glow as part of their mating ritual, and the romance of such a moment is thick. I turn to my guide: “You’re a great guy Mr Kabir, but right now, I kind of wish you were a single girl.”
To which he replies: “No offence Mr Robin, but I wish the same.” Unfortunately, firebugs hate posing for photos, so here’s the river before the disco opens.
Overnight in a Bedouin Tent, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Deserts are hot places to be, just like our most feverish romantic dreams. In Wadi Rum - a desolate but beautiful valley of sand, punctuated by mountains of rock - it is possible to ride into the desert on camel, and spend the night in a traditional Bedouin tent. A gourmet meal is cooked in ancient fashion; by baking meats and vegetables beneath the hot sand, served with pita, salad, humus, and all the delicious trimmings. You’re free to explore the surrounding rock hills, feeling the dry air blowing in your hair, listen to the crackle of the fire while shooting stars spray across the clear night sky. It was an incredible night, pity I was being filmed by the Word Travels crew, and, with no one to cuddle with, picked up a nasty cold.
Bled Island, Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia is a jewel of a country in central Europe, and the waters of Lake Bled shimmer with an emerald glow. European aristocrats have always flocked to its quiet summer shores, and in the middle of the lake rests the country’s only natural island, a striking view for the first-time visitor. The first church was built here in the 11th century, the current steeple dates to the 1500’s, and 99 steps lead up to sanctuary. Legend has it that if a groom can carry his bride up the stairs, it will be a lasting and successful marriage. It might be too much a feat in this day and age, but the romance and beauty of the island, coupled with the surrounding Julian Alps, are better than flowers and a box of chocolates.
Blackwater Rafting, Waitomo, New Zealand
Somewhat similar to our Malaysia experience, only this time, we’re in the water, underground, and floating through caves on a rubber tube. It’s a typically adventurous activity for visitors to New Zealand, so how does this end up on my Romance list? Deep in the caves, it is pitch dark save for the light of your headlamp. A wetsuit keeps you warm, but the cool underground stream rushing over your skin cannot help but get the goose bumps flaring. Eventually, you make your way to a cavern where you sit in a big, black rubber tube, link your legs around your partner, and float downstream like waterproof doughnuts. Your guide asks you to switch off your light, and then you see them: a milky way of stars, deep in the earth. Phosphorus glow worms twinkle, and all you can hear is the drip of water, and the breathless sigh of those around you.
The Locks of the 3 Gorges Dam, China
It’s been described as the most ambitious engineering project in history, a marvel of science, the redesign of nature by man. China has damned the Yangzte, the third biggest river in the world, and the 3 Gorges Dam, the world’s largest, will generate the equivalent energy of 18 nuclear power plants upon completion. Cruises have been operating for years, and sit outside, in the early morning humidity, while massive transfer and cargo ships make their way through the five immense locks. Intelligence, power, size and ambition are all aphrodisiacs, and they all meet right here, as your ship drops metres at a time, protected from disaster by the ominous gates that hold back the floods. It’s a surreal experience, and oddly enough, an exotically romantic one too.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
This photo was taken in Ilha Grande, but to be honest, it could be anywhere in Brazil. Anywhere in a country where couples will randomly start dancing on old cobblestone, sometimes to music that’s only playing in their heads. Public displays of affection don’t go down in Canada too well, but in Brazil, and throughout Latin America, it is common sight to see couples smooching their lips off, at the dinner table, on the streets, hell, even in a bank meeting. And it’s not just the young folks either. Elderly lovers are as into it as the teenagers. The result is an undeniable atmosphere of romance, where love is proudly on display, and if you feel like you need to watch, well, then, go ahead.
Badeschiff Bar, Berlin, Germany
Why swim in the river, when you can swim in a swimming pool in the river? Another warm summer night, and the hip beach bars that have sprung up alongside Berlin’s Spree River are starting to get busy. DJ’s are playing some smooth jazzy beats, the cocktails have umbrellas, and it’s the perfect time to strip down and take a dip in the pool. Swimming over water is a weirdly romantic, not to mention wet, surprise, here in the heart of the Berlin.
East German Cars Once Patrolled the Berlin Wall
Threatened to Mow Down Escapees with Laughter
Berlin’s dark days are thankfully history, but the city continues to attract tourists fascinated with its Communist past. Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall – it’s difficult to imagine that just two decades ago the city was a major Cold War battlefront. Patrolling the lines was an East German car called the Trabant. Built between 1957 and 1990, the Trabant (or Trabi) was a vehicle that epitomized life under Soviet rule. Ugly yet reliable, the average East German citizen would have to wait around 13 years before they could acquire a Trabi, and forget about choosing the colour. With hardly any production changes in its history, the Trabi used a unique gearbox and an engine reliant on gravity to deliver fluids to the right places. Famous for its choking exhaust, it could hit a top speed of 112 km/hr (downhill) and seat four comfortably (provided circulation in your legs was a non-issue). East Germans used to joke that the quickest way to double the value of a Trabant was to fill up the petrol tank.
Over three million of these cars were produced, of which around 58,000 survive, largely in the possession of collectors. Today, a company named Trabi Safari offers tourists the chance to explore Berlin at the wheel, driving in convoy with a guide in the lead car pointing out interests over short-range radio. I would have liked to hear more, but I was too busy riding the clutch as I tried to work the gearshift, which works on the principle that anyone who drives a Trabi will have no need whatsoever to drive a real car. Pull up, pull down, push in, push out, and somehow the car lurches forward as Berlin’s downtown pedestrians and drivers stare in amusement. “When you hear people use their horns, it’s because they either love Trabis, or hate Trabis,” explains our guide. Or maybe it’s because I almost crashed into them, who knows? Trabi Safari’s cars are painted in bright retro colors (the better for locals to see them and take evasive action) and the company gives ample instruction on how to drive the car. It’s all a very tongue-in-cheek affair, from the guide’s comments as quirky as the cars themselves. It’s hard to believe that East German border guards used to patrol the no-go zone in Trabis. Perhaps the plan was to stop escapees with laughter.
My bright blue Trabi followed a bright pink one, and with the yellow customized convertible Trabi trailing behind we looked like an Eastern European remake of The Italian Job. When a new Mini drove past me, it actually dwarfed my vehicle. Driving into rush hour traffic, we passed the Reichstag, Book Burning Square, Brandenburg Gate, and more than a few unimpressed drivers caught in our wake. Incredibly, Trabi Safari has had almost no accidents, since local drivers know better than to assume tourists know how to drive one. Along the Berlin Wall, an iconic piece of graffiti shows former Soviet and East German leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker passionately making out at the wheel of a Trabi. As a symbol of popular culture, Trabi’s have appeared in everything from U2 videos to just about any Cold War spy movie.
I was finding it increasingly difficult to put the car in the gear, much less believe that the model I was driving was from 1989. Need air conditioning? Open a window. The Trabi’s exterior is made from a plastic resin, supported by wool and cotton. In the event of a head on collision, accident victims can wear the car on the way to the hospital. “All Trabis go to heaven, because they’ve already had hell on earth,” crackles the guide on the radio. Then I fall behind so only pick up random words like “Nazis” and “Sexy Legs.” The tour continues towards Alexanderplatz, along Karl Marx-Allee, with its impressive and towering Soviet architecture. These buildings are fiercely grand, built by the Communists as a permanent reminder of the power of the state. All anyone had to do was get behind the wheel of a Trabi to see that the real power of the state was a smoky two-stroke engine that backfires. As a fun vehicle for exploring Berlin however, the Trabi is just perfect.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.