I got round to thinking how much of our travel is looking for the unique. Sometimes, we're looking for copies. Travel to Vegas, and are you looking for a copy of Venice? or are you actually aware, in a rather ironic way, of the specialness of the Italian city 'recreated' in the heart of American kitsch and glitz?
In the same way, if you visit a 'typical' Tuscan hill town, are you looking for it as a copy of that ideal you carry in your head (or guidebook) of the archetypal Tuscan hill town? or as a uniquely perfect townscape?
When we spend too long looking for the typical, we actually neglect the unique. And perhaps also we make ourselves immune to surprise. Immune to the shock of seeing a clash of the old and the new, experiencing a back street epiphany as we stumble upon that hidden antique store or sudden view out to the country.
Can we look for the unique? Possibly not. But we ought to hold ourselves open to experiencing it.
Ten unique places:
- The silversmiths' supplies shops in Muttrah souk, Oman. I bought two dies for stamping out little ornaments in silver; weighty brass octagons carved with symbols - hearts, half-spheres, stars.
- The 'Cosa nostra' Italian importers in Novgorod (this was years ago, so I can't guarantee it's still there).
- The archangel's cave basilica on Monte Gargano, reached by steps carved in solid rock, with its Byzantine bronze doors, and old women burning braziers in the wintry streets outside.
- Reculver, on the Kent coast, where the ruined towers of a great Minster brood over a caravan park and solitary, desultorily used amusement arcade.
- The via cava that leads from Pitigliano to Sovana - an ancient Etruscan road where you can still see the ruts made by ancient carts, and walk on last year's leaves slowly rotting in the covered lane.
- The great abbey church on Mont Saint Michel on a January evening, when the floodlights shine from outside through the windows, bleaching the inside into a ghostly shimmer.
- Fish Hill, where the road from the Cotswolds drops down a series of sweeping curves to the Severn flood plain.Or Bredon Hill, seen from the Malverns above a sea of roiling mist, or (once) isolated amidst the silver of flooded fields.
- Nine Standards Rigg, on the coast-to-coast path above Kirkby Stephen, where huge tall cairns guard the way down from the Pennine watershed, and the road seems to drop forever away from the peaty tops.
- Okocim Brewery, Poland - a cathedral of beer where the huge cellar is cut into the side of a mountain, and the only sound is the slow dripping of condensation from the overhead pipes.
- The éoliennes (wind turbines) on the cliffs at Wimereux, just south of Boulogne. I stopped once in the car park on the side of the motorway, and their thrilling hum drowned out the noise of the cars.