This issue celebrates "urban places that captivate us," specifically: Sydney, Montreal, Shanghai and London. These features are written as first-person accounts that, as a general rule, are either charming or annoying. Here, stories are heavy on detail and even sumptuous in parts.
The well-researched Sydney piece focuses on the city's restaurants, though I remember its architecture, built around 70 harbors and beaches, to be especially stunning. The cuisine is multiethnic -- Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, etc. -- and lively, such as "bush tucker," kangaroos, emus and crocodiles, which, the author assures us, tastes like chicken. Sydney's best chefs are "pioneers in ethical eating," meaning, they avoid species under threat. Culinary travelers will find this entry a delicious road map.
By contrast, the Shanghai one addresses shopping -- from teapots and teak chopsticks at the Yuyuan Gardens bazaar, cheap Mao Zedong watches (who wears them?) and high-end luxury goods on West Nanjing Road. The new gentrified hot spot is the Taikang Road neighborhood, like SoHo in New York, that's heavy on cafes, and, I'm guessing, retail affectation. London lovers might enjoy the walking tour of its financial district, known as "The City." It's a mixture of iconic, historic buildings alongside new skyscrapers that make Prince Charles apoplectic.
The "Your Story" reader column was eye-opening. This month, it was about guests at Kosi Bay, where you can see the hills of Mozambique in the distance. As our intrepid travelers digest their freshly caught fish, two hippos emerge from the water. Turns out, hippos maul more people in South Africa than any other animal. "We hoped they would not be able to clime the steep hill to our perch." Translation: sleeping bags placed on a cement patio next to a corrugated tin shack. First, they slept on cement? That is not a vacation; that is a one-way ticket to my chiropractor. Second, you "hope" you won't be mauled? If you see hippos approaching, scramez-vous.
In the "Tales from the City" section, one person shares his love of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is a lovely town; I once saw an Antonio Banderas movie, the English-subtitled "Assassinos," at the local cinema. In any language, the man is hot. However, our writer didn't mention PV's charms. Just that "roving workers will sharpen my knives, relieve my trees of coconuts or weed my yard, all for the same price of a tall vanilla latte from Starbucks." Why not just say you revel in cheap labor and leave it at that. Must you drag Starbucks down with you! At least the java giant sells fair trade coffee, though it charges more than my yearly IRA contribution to drink it.
NGT has zippy short pieces at the front and back of the book. "The Real Deal" says Oahu, Hawaii, is on sale, while "The Long Weekend" showcases an array of options, from a tour of Marietta, Georgia, ravaged in the Civil War, to Masaya, Nicaragua, which is a bit much for a weekend, unless it's the six-day variety. Masaya is the center of the country's art and culture. It's also home to its most active volcano. If you visit, you can hear thousand of parakeets singing in the crater walls. And if the gods are kind, you can escape with your life.
Travel broadens -- and even in difficult times -- it beckons the curious. Think of NGT as your unofficial guide.
Published by: National Geographic Society
Frequency: 8 issues a year
Web site: www.traveler.nationalgeographic.com/