Andrew Zimmern is host of the Travel Channel program Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern. He also is senior editor at Delta Sky Magazine and author of The Bizarre Truth: Culinary Misadventures Around the Globe (Broadway). www.AndrewZimmern.com
We asked five people who travel for a living to share the details of one of their all-time favorite trips. Their responses were not the famous tourist destinations that you might expect…
Poland is charming and full of incredible history. Krakow, in southern Poland, is among the most beautiful medieval cities in the world. Its bustling Main Market Square is Europe’s largest medieval town square. The Wieliczka salt mine, which dates to the 13th century, is unforgettable. Centuries of miners carved beautiful sculptures and even a full chapel into the rock salt far below the surface of the earth. There’s been a resurgence of Jewish culture in Krakow, too, with excellent Jewish restaurants and interest in historic synagogues.
Warsaw, in eastern Poland, was virtually leveled during World War II, but the beautiful, historic Old Town was rebuilt, brick by brick, to look just as it did before the war. You would swear that the buildings have been there for centuries.
Best of all, Poland is a bargain. One US dollar was worth nearly three and a half zlotys as of early 2012. (Poland is not on the euro.) When I was in Poland last summer, I ate many great meals for around $10 apiece…and I rented wonderful full apartments in the best parts of town for around $65 a night, through AirBnB.com, which matches people looking for vacation rentals with people who offer places to rent.
In Warsaw, don’t miss Restauracja U Kucharzy (www.Gessler.pl/newruk5.htm), a popular restaurant offering excellent Polish food at very reasonable prices. A three-course dinner for two, including wine, cost us around $55.
Visiting this group of more than 50 islands and atolls in a remote corner of the Fijian islands in the South Pacific is taking a step back in time—a big step. There’s no TV or phone and little communication with the outside world. Having nothing to do made me feel uncomfortable for the first hour or two. After that, having nothing to do made me feel absolutely wonderful. I literally felt my pulse slow.
I stayed in a house on stilts near the water. I woke up in the morning to fish, then sat in the shade of an upturned boat on the beach and wrote my thoughts in a notebook. And I always had thoughts, because being in the Lau Archipelago gave me time to think.
In the evening, I sat around a fire with the island residents and talked about life. It’s a close community, and I got to know everyone.
It takes some effort to get to the Lau Archipelago—three flights from Los Angeles. You can find flights from Los Angeles to Nadi in the Fijian islands for around $1,000 round-trip. The flight from Nadi to Suva costs around $150 to $200, and from Suva, Fiji’s Pacific Sun airlines offers flights to a small airstrip in the village of Lakeba in the Lau Archipelago every Thursday morning for around $275 each way (www.PacificSun.com.fj). Lodging typically is in private homes. Contact the Fiji Tourism Bureau in Los Angeles for details (310-568-1616, www.Fijime.com).
When people think about the Austrian Alps, winter skiing often comes to mind. But the region also offers a wonderful range of summer activities. If you enjoy the outdoors, there’s whitewater rafting, caving, hiking, biking and klettersteig—fixed-rope mountain climbing. I had never been mountain climbing in my life, but you don’t need any experience for klettersteig. It was exhilarating to hang from ropes thousands of feet up a mountainside, yet I always felt completely safe—in keeping with the Austrian reputation for safety, every rope was checked and rechecked.
Western Austria is rich in history and culture, too. This was the seat of the former Habsburg Empire, and the old town sections of Innsbruck and Salzburg feature wonderful museums, architecture, full-service restaurants and outdoor cafés. Try the kaesspaetzle, a sort of Austrian mac and cheese that makes a wonderful hearty lunch on an active day.
The cable cars and funiculars are distinctive and enjoyable ways to get around these cities, although it still is worth renting a car, too, to travel from city to city and explore the countryside.
The Web site of the Austrian Tourism office is a helpful resource for those planning a visit—www.Austria.info/us.
The Scottish essayist, historian and teacher Thomas Carlyle called “a collection of books” the “true university,” and how right he was. That’s why outings focused on museums and libraries most stand out in my mind—and Princeton University’s great libraries are particularly memorable. I viewed Beethoven, Bach and Mozart manuscripts in the Firestone Library, Princeton’s main library, and heard a fascinating lecture by the curator on rare books. I also toured the Frank Gehry–designed Lewis Science Library. With upward of seven million books, Princeton has more books per enrolled student than any other US university. www.PrincetonLibrary.org
While in Princeton, I stayed at the charming 203-room Nassau Inn, which is located directly across from the university and dates to the 1750s (800-862-7728, www.NassauInn.com). The inn is home to the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, which features excellent comfort food and the famous Yankee Doodle mural, one of Norman Rockwell’s largest works. For more formal dining, try the Peacock Inn Restaurant, located in an elegant 18th-century mansion (609-924-1707, www.PeacockInn.com).
In the morning, I walked to McCormick Hall, the home of the delightful Princeton Art Museum, noted in particular for its Asian collection (609-258-3788, www.PrincetonArtMuseum.org).
My favorite travel experience was the week I spent in the Okavango Delta of Botswana three years ago. The trip was through Uncharted Africa Safari Co. (www.UnchartedAfrica.com). It is run by Ralph Bousfield, whose family has guided safaris for five generations dating back to Bousfield’s great-grandfather Major Richard Granville Nicholson, who escorted Britain’s princess Eugenie to see the site where her son was killed in the Zulu war of 1879.
Seeing incredible scenery and animals is only part of the experience. On many of the company’s itineraries, guests also meet the local people. I spent my week living very close to the Ju/’hoansi, a pastoral people who move with the seasons.
You don’t go on a trip like this for luxury, but with Uncharted Africa Safari Co., you don’t have to rough it, either. The tents are on raised wood platforms…the beds are comfortable…there are real toilets…and there’s always hot water when it’s needed. The food was the best camp food I’ve ever eaten. Expect to spend perhaps $5,000 to $10,000 per person for a weeklong itinerary, plus airfare.