During a lifetime of travel, I’ve visited well over two hundred cities. Here’s a list of five of the most interesting cities I’ve experienced and why.
This was where we first started experimenting with renting an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. We’ve done this three times with another couple, and will be doing it another time this spring. So much changes when you do it this way. Instead of ordering room service, you go to the local grocery store and shop. You prepare meals. You invite guests to your place. In essence you begin to live a Parisian lifestyle. As a result you begin to claim the city as your own.
Oh, yes, on one of those trips I broke my leg riding a Segway PT. I didn’t go to the hospital for fear they would put me in a cast. The reason for not doing this was that I had to go to Germany the next day to close on a contract.
I went to Germany and when I returned that evening to Paris, I was in considerable pain and could barely put any weight on my leg. As I arrived at the apartment, I was relieved. I felt like I was home.
New York City
Before I started going to New York, I thought Washington DC was the most powerful city in the world. At the end of the day, New York is. It’s the money center of the world. Money makes the world go round.
Because of this power, New York is aggressive and straight forward. But, that’s not why I think it is so interesting. While there one time, I contracted viral pneumonia and almost died. One night while staying at the University Club in downtown Manhattan I woke up and could not breathe. I raced into the bathroom, looked into the mirror, and said, “Good-bye.” I had the sensation of dying. There was nothing I could do, except stand there. However, after about 10 seconds I caught my breath.
Instead of going to the doctor, sick as I was, I went to a Broadway play that next night, Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserable”. Every pain suffered by Jean Val jean was as though I was suffering with him. It was an emotional experience for me. However, I was afraid to cough or even clear my throat during the performance for fear my breathing would choke off again. It didn’t, but repeated choking off of the air passage started the next day and continued to do so for the next 17 days.
Fortunately, with enough bed rest, during those 17 days, I didn’t die. And within a year, I had just about made a full recovery.
The memory has lingered for these many years. I believe this was the beginning of the coming of age for me. I no longer took my health for granted.
This is the first experience I ever had where I sensed that people 500 years ago lived better than we live today. I was walking down the street one day and as I saw the Duomo, I remember thinking, “this makes the past more inviting than the present.”
Also, somehow people look more attractive in Florence than in other places. One time I actually returned to a women’s shoe store after my wife had purchased a pair of shoes there, and bought her a second pair she had been looking at. Why? Italian stuff just looks so beautiful to me that I wanted my wife to have them. If you can believe it, women in the store responded emotionally as I made the purchase. It’s all irresistibly romantic to me.
Besides looking at the best collections of art in the world, I like looking at the street level window displays of clothes, shoes, and jewelry for women. I’m forever saying, “Cheri, I’m going to buy that for you.” Her response usually is, “Roger, restrain yourself.”
Salt Lake City
We live 60 seconds above downtown Salt Lake City in a place called the Avenues. We’ve lived there ten years now. There’s no traffic, yet the city has so much: a symphony, a ballet, high level professional and collegiate sports, and a growing pluralism as witnessed by a strong gay and lesbian community. And it’s only 90 minutes away by plane from my favorite private retreat, Newport Beach, California.
The city has two bookends, a world class public university on one end and a very bold and occasionally audacious religionon on the other end. And you know what the region is built on? Bones. Bones of fish and dinosaurs that lived anywhere from 50 million to 200 million years ago.
Salt Lake City has all the necessary contradictions, contrasts, and tensions to become one of the world’s great cities, if it isn’t already.
I’ve never been more productive intellectually than I have here. Since living in the Avenues, I’ve produced one of the four books I’ve written and around 50 published articles. I wake up every morning ready for the intellectual give and take it requires for me to be at peace with myself.
Cheri and I have built a craftsman style home in the Avenues and have created three companies, two of which are owned and operated by family members. We’ve created jobs for people, and have the satisfaction of knowing that part of the new wealth we’ve derived has come through the manufacture of products that people use every day.
The first time I visited Dubai, I was overly stimulated. Dubai is twice as tall as Manhattan and bigger than Disney World.
My second visit there was to establish a business relationship. In the process of doing so our host invited us to his home for dinner. Being invited into the private world of Bedouin culture was overwhelming.
Psychologically, I resisted the experience at first. Arab culture, with its mode of dress and religious customs, is very foreign for western sensibilities. But, as time passed in this private compound, I relaxed and began to feel comfortable. It actually felt pleasant and peaceful. I even felt secure.
With hundreds, if not thousands, of years of experience, Bedouins are in a class of their own when it comes to accommodating guests and meeting their needs with grace and hospitality. Frankly it was the first experience I’ve had where I wasn’t watching the time to see how much longer I had to stay.
I’ve been going in and out of the Middle East for fifteen years. I started out in the western part (Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon), and have now spent considerable time in the eastern part (UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman). If the past is any predictor of the future, I’ll probably end up going into the northern part of the Middle East (Iraq, Kuwait, and Iran) as well.
Of all those countries, under almost any circumstance, I will make Dubai my home base while doing business in the region. And the main reason for that is the friendships I’ve made with my Arab Bedouin friends. I don’t want to give that up.
In and of itself, a city means nothing unless one engages it on a personal level.
Those engagements vary from individual to individual. For me I remember cities where I have either consciously or otherwise had deep personal experiences. How can you forget a city where when you return you consider it a home away from home, or a city where you became critically ill, or where you develop trusting friendships, or where you become an incurable romantic?
You don’t. So no matter where you travel, be careful but don’t forget, it’s all personal in the final analysis. Travel is about becoming personally involved with the city you happen to be in. When you do, it doesn’t matter what city it is, it becomes a great city, at least to you. That’s what is important.