Looking down on the ruins of Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World was mesmerising. Nestled in the steep slopes of the Andes overlooking the Urubamba River, this city in the clouds seemed magical. It was one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen — and I have seen the other six of the New Wonders of the World.
So what have I got in common with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Jessica Parker, Billy Joel, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren? Besides religious persuasion, not a lot… but we did all spend time last summer in East Hampton, the illustrious coastal town that sits at the most eastern point of New York.
They tell an interesting story at Mobile’s Springhill Avenue Temple about a mitzvah a poor congregant performed in the days of slavery.
Too poor to own slaves himself, the congregant was so horrified by the sight of an African family about to be split up at the local slave auction, that he somehow mustered the wherewithal to buy the lot — then dispersed them among friends and family. That was philanthropy, southern-style.
When I reached Alabama myself in 1965 the slaves were free, but equality still seemed light years away.
It is Vancouver’s little vanity, with its location on the Pacific Ocean, to think of itself as an outpost of America’s West Coast. Or, in more realistic moments, as an annexe of Seattle, its closest US big-city neighbour. Certainly, the coffee culture, for which Seattle is most famous, has migrated north with a branch of Starbucks or a local chain on every block of every street of south-west Canada’s premier city.
Darwin’s initial impression of the Galapagos Islands was not promising: “Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance,” he declared when, in 1835, he arrived at this archipelago, straddling the equator, 630 miles west of Ecuador.
When I arrived last autumn with my husband and two children for a sailing trip around the islands my first impression was more positive. Sunshine, calm blue sea and the promise of wildlife of a variety and exuberance that would keep our cameras clicking throughout our trip.
This week I have missed one of the world’s greatest parties when New Orleans celebrated its 152nd mardi gras — but for once I don’t feel too deprived. It’s not just because I’ve experienced this sensational float-fest twice, rather that there’s so much more to this fascinating city than mardi gras and its gaudy green, gold and purple glitter.
An official sign in Whistler Village reads “Whistler: Cultural Capital of Canada.”
Now Whistler — located 75 miles north of Vancouver, and Canada’s premier ski resort — has many fine attributes: it offers winter visitors an endless menu of activities that include downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, dog-sledding, heli-skiing, ice-climbing, sleigh- and sno-limo rides, snowcat skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, zip-lining and tubing.
Just 40 years ago it was a rather dull suburb of Los Angeles where the main attractions were the beach, a British pub and a shop selling Marmite to homesick expats.
But as LA’s creative types began moving in, in the 1970s — to join the Brits who always knew they were on to a good thing — Santa Monica’s shopping, dining and entertainment offerings improved dramatically.
Colombia has to be South America’s best-kept secret. To me it instantly conjured up coffee and emeralds; for my friends, kidnappings and cocaine spring to mind. The country used to have a reputation for violence and drugs, but when Álvaro Uribe became president in 2002, he cracked down on the drug traffickers and armed gangs.
Now Colombia is mainly safe for tourists, although it is best to avoid areas around the borders with Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru.
For those craving Caribbean sunshine along with kosher cuisine, USA-based Club Kosher is offering vacations in Punta Cana in the sun-soaked Dominican Republic next month. The holidays — for seven or 10 days from January 15-25 — are based at the Melia Caribe Tropical, a five-star beachside resort which offers, in addition to seven swimming pools, tennis, horse-riding, mountain-biking, windsurfing, sailing, snorkelling and kayaking. There is also a spa, gym, live shows and organized activities for children.