Hi there, folks! In keeping with our summer theme — we’ve been talking up the Olympics, in case you haven’t noticed — today I’ll be taking a look at some travely-types who have performed what can only be described as Herculean endeavors.
Which one of these travel worthies would you vote onto the gold medal podium for their efforts? Register your choice in our poll below.
At 45, Jean went through a mid-life crisis with the failure of his neon sign business. In his own words:
“I played the game. It left me empty.”
Jean liked the idea of sailing around the world, but ocean-going yachts cost too much. Instead, he began to imagine running away as far as he could. He started jogging and working out but told no one of his plans — not even his life partner, Luce Archambault. When he finally told Luce, she gave him her blessing — but insisted that he do it for a cause. Jean chose world peace and the safety of children, something no one could disagree with (at that point, he was after some peace of mind).
He began by running south, but by the time he’d reached Atlanta, his knees had started bothering him, so he switched to walking. He waked through the rest of America, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia — six continents and 64 countries.
His interest in promoting peace didn’t stop him from being mugged, as well as imprisoned (the latter in Ethiopia). But he carried on and eventually even came to embrace his cause, telling people that to achieve peace, we must see the world through “eyes of love.”
It’s an achievement so staggering it begs the question: what can he possibly do next? Where do you go from there?
“Hey honey, let’s celebrate with a holiday…”
“NO! Already been there.”
Another record, of course, belongs to Luce, who has remained loyal to Jean despite his absence of 11 years from their home in Montreal and his falling for a woman in Mexico. Once a year, she would come to him and they would spend three weeks together, in one place.
Jean walked back into Montreal in October of last year. How does the couple find it being under one roof again? Rumor has it, they’re writing a book together! Talk about Olympian challenges…
3) THE PREPOSTEROUS POLYGLOT: Benny Lewis
Brendan (Benny) Lewis is a polyglot who hails from Cavan County in Ireland. (No, “polyglot” isn’t a type of glue; it’s a person who speaks four or more languages fluently.) Benny earned this title — he is also a vegetarian and a teetotaler — after nine years on the road, during which he taught himself to speak eight languages fluently (with more than a smattering of half a dozen more).
I know nothing about Benny’s musculature, but it’s clear his tongue has gotten plenty of exercise.
Benny now considers himself to be a “technomad” — a full-time technology-enabled globe-trotter. His Web site, Fluent in Three Months, is a treasure trove of tips and tricks for picking up languages (called “language hacks”), as well as a tribute to his mind-boggling achievement. (I’m actually surprised that his head hasn’t exploded from the pressure of all that knowledge.)
According to him, it is no big deal — anyone can do what he has done. All they need is dedication, hard work…and more of the same. (Times a million!)
You know, I have to hand it to Benny, he’s the very essence of — sorry, I can’t resist — a cunning linguist. (Well, I said I was sorry! Please stop throwing things at me.)
4) THE MASTER OF EXTREME ENDURANCE: Ben Hatch
The British novelist and travel writer Ben Hatch is the author of a hugely popular (and very entertaining) book about a recent adventure of his: driving 8,000 miles around Britain in a cramped Vauxhall Astra, while researching a guidebook for Frommers.
“But why is that worthy of an Olympics gold medal?” I hear you ask. “Novelists usually aren’t athletes. And he only traveled around his own neck of the woods, Britain.”
Well, there are lots of reasons I could pick: because he practically lived in his car for five months, because he purposefully inflicted dozens of tourist attractions on himself every week, because he had a car crash en route, or because he stayed in a haunted Scottish castle.
But the one I like best is the fact that he did all this with his wife and two children — aged four and two! — in tow.
Can you imagine? While the family was attempting fine dining in a posh hotel restaurant, his children engaged in food fights and eating mashed potatoes with their bare hands. There were tears and tantrums in the car — every single day. For months. It sounds like my worst nightmare! And I don’t even have kids…
The resulting trauma became his best-selling book Are We Nearly There Yet? 8,000 Misguided Miles Round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra — which I can only assume was written cathartically, in a desperate attempt to cling on to what remained of his sanity after such a grueling experience. I think he deserves a medal just for surviving the first week. And of course, once the kids are old enough to read what he’s written about them, he’ll be in for a whole new world of trouble…
* * *
Right! There’s my suggestions. What do think. folks? I just know there are loads of people out there making epic journeys, achieving the unachievable, and generally making the rest of us look like couch potatoes in comparison. Do you know of any? (Olympians, I mean, not couch potatoes — I’ve got enough of the latter in my house.) BTW, I toyed with the idea of including an older traveler, as unlike sport, there seems to be no real age limit on world travel, especially with all the recent growth in the international cruise-ship industry (see photo above).
The artist Susan Ross Donohue revels in city life, art, literature and anything that makes her laugh. She lives physically in Montreal but mentally in Paris. As she has such a good handle on La Dolce Vita, I asked her to share the sensory highlights of her travels and some advice on enjoying the sweet life even if you stay at home…
Most heart-stopping sight
Our first visit to Paris. My husband and I were very young, and this was our first time abroad. Upon arrival, we took the métro to Charles de Gaulle Étoile, the station closest to where our hotel was located. We walked up the stairs et voilà — there was the Arc de Triomphe just as I imagined it would be, only better. I was stunned. Speechless actually. But I have to say that this still applies. The Arc and the Eiffel still bring tears to my eyes, I’m not sure why.
Most intoxicating scent
The flowers — jasmine, lavendar, roses — in Grasse, in the south of France. Grasse is considered France’s perfume capital as it produces over two-thirds of the natural aromas used in perfumes. Touring Parfumerie Molinard is an education in itself. I thought I knew scents until I took the tour but then I found out how much more there is to learn! But, you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the aromas of this area. Just breathe in and enjoy.
This is strange — it wasn’t in France! My husband and I had driven from Nice to Sanremo, Italy, just across the border. While wandering through the town, we heard strains of a violin coming from the art gallery (which is what we were looking for in the first place). We went in to check out the art work only to discover the music was “live.” A girl was practicing the violin and she continued to play while we looked at the exhibition. No one in the gallery, which was called Tunnel Dell’Arte, spoke English or French, and our Italian is nil — but we did manage to understand she was practicing for a concert that night. We bought a small painting and the owner mimed that he could send it to us by air (with much flapping of the arms to get the idea across).
Most delicate flavors
It’s a toss-up between the hot dogs at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and a white wine served at a dinner in the Loire Valley (unfortunately, I can’t remember the name).
Softest physical sensations
Walking in the Tuileries one day, we came across a man feeding the birds out of his hand. We were watching him when he motioned to me to put my hand out, and he filled it with seeds. Sure enough, these tiny little birds landed on my fingers to have their lunch. This was an amazing feeling. Very delicate, very soft, very special.
Most interesting unexpected encounter with another human being
There is no one particular person that I can single out because we’ve always had nothing but good experiences with people during our travels — I’m remembering, for instance, an entire café full of people trying to find a street address for us.
A place that stimulates all five senses
Montmartre stimulates all five senses with the mixture of music, art and restaurants. Further up the hill in Montmartre is the local vineyard, the wonderful restaurant La Maison Rose and the Lapin Agile cabaret, with its fascinating history. I couldn’t go to Paris without some time in Montmartre. I especially like going on a week night, when it’s a bit quieter, and I can picture Picasso, Modigliani or Utrillo sitting at a café talking about art. Bliss.
Favorite contemporary artist with a sense of dolce vita
The American pop artist Jim Dine is a favorite. I’ve loved his work for years and have met him a few time at exhibition openings. He is equally talented in printmaking, painting and sculpture. His work is very personal, but the viewer doesn’t feel like an intruder.
Favorite historical artist
Who had more heart and soul than Van Gogh? To see a real Van Gogh is a totally different experience from seeing a reproduction. This is something else that led me to tears the first time I saw one of his canvases. (Truly, I don’t cry a lot — Paris seems to do that to me!)
Favorite travel quote
″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”
– Moslih Eddin Saadi
We travel to open our minds and hearts, and to learn from the experience. For me observation is the whole point of traveling.
Advice for living la dolce vita at home
La dolce vita is whatever you want it to be. Try evenings with a particular country theme — a Spanish night with paella, a Parisian evening with raclette, French wine and music. All the information you need is on the Internet: recipes, lessons for learning a foreign language, instructions for adding a foreign touch to your decor… The possibilities are endless.
Susan Ross Donohue is an artist who lives in Montréal, Canada. She makes frequent trips to Paris, a city she considers her second home. Her travels are recorded in her blog Life, Laughter and Paris, and you can see her artwork — much of which is inspired by the sights and sounds of Paris — at her art site, Susan Ross Donohue. Follow Susan on Twitter (@srossdon) and on Facebook.
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