It’s hard to decide which are the five best places I’ve visited. I’ve been to a lot of really lovely places.
5. Chicago has to have a mention. Chicago is a city that took me by surprise, I ended up there by accident, I had intended to go to Florida but the US was just too hot that summer so I jumped on the first greyhound leaving Washington DC and… ended up in Chicago.
I thought I’d stay a couple of days but then walking out of the greyhound station seeing the El emerge from the mists, its fin-de-siècle shape forming like some kind of living ghost, and I was hooked. Eating Vietnamese in Chinatown a week later and I realised that I had still not left. I was half tempted to just stay my whole summer there but there was more of the States to see and I figured wanting more is the way to leave a place as much as it is a person.
4. Edinburgh, my two favourite cities in the world are in constant flux between Edinburgh and Chicago. Edinburgh is at least easier to get to, assuming that Nicola Sturgeon is satisfied by my area’s COVID numbers it is in any case. Glasgow also gets a look in and I do know that city better than Edinburgh by dint of Christmas Shopping and friendship with the Last NS. I stuck with Edinburgh, my old favourite because the prompt is best places to visit and Glasgow no longer feels like ‘a trip’, Glasgow is a place I know, I visit Edinburgh.
Where Glasgow has tea shops and Chicago has Chinatown Edinburgh has cemeteries and streets beneath. Edinburgh Below may well be my favourite part of Edinburgh. I can’t remember the first time I went to Edinburgh I can’t describe the wonder I had on discovering Chicago.
I have shown a number of people the city over the years though and hiking around Arthur’s Seat abs looking out over the city remains one of my favourite views of the city. I’ve been there for so many Fringes and stayed in so many random hostels I don’t have a favourite. I do enjoy a pint on the Mile when there’s fewer tourists because it’s out of season and with a ticket for a ghost tour later that night in my pocket.
3. Oh this was hard, I was genuinely thinking of writing Northern France, but really meaning any number of places between Caen and Le Mans.
Having breakfast in Falaise was an absolute feature of Easter holidays, to the extent that I don’t think I could drive through Falaise without having a croissant. Indeed, whilst working in France a few years ago I deliberately woke early in order to drive to Falaise for a breakfast which I wouldn’t have got.
That made me think about the day trip that I made to Sille Plage, a beach on a lake in a forest in Sarthe that I went to a lot as a kid. So I’m going to declare the whole of the Forêt de Sillé one of my top three places. All of Sarthe is gorgeous of course but I have walked and played around that forest and on the astoundingly white sand of that beach so often.
I suspect if I were there now I would be very disappointed if the little cafe wasn’t open as buying an ice-cream is something that me and Dad would do a lot.
There’s something about the quality of air in that forest, and especially as you’re walking around the lake, that embodies shinrin yoku. I was talking to FJ on a hike last year, I think our first one after lockdown, when I said it felt like I was eating after starving for a long time. The forest there, it’s where I can imagine feeling like I’d been starving before I breathed it in. Of course previously when I’ve visited I haven’t been starving for the outside so it’s imagination and memory of the great green trees framing the white sands and the cool blue lake.
2. Ravenglass. You can get good chips in Ravenglass and eat them on a bench on the grass looking out over the sea.
I once decided to take the ford from Eskmeals to Ravenglass and was not disappointed by the emergence of the village from around the curve of the coast as I slowly approached, thigh deep in freezing waters, the train to Sellafield rattling over the bridge above.
It’s beautiful of course, and small with a narrow gauge railway, Roman remains that stand taller than I do and some seriously dangerous currents.
I could spend days on the beach at Ravenglass looking out at sandbars and wondering if I’m about to see Roman boats at anchor. But usually when I’m up there I need to get to Muncaster or to run a LARP or I’ve been at work and needed to concentrate on things other than the colours of the sky as the sun sinks into the Irish Sea.
I’d like to walk the ford again and eat chips on the beach looking for shells and seaweed and enjoying the salt air in my lungs.
1. Mount Fuji has to get a mention, and prime position I guess too. I spent two years looking out of my bedroom windows to say good night and good morning to that mountain. The shape of it is written into some part of everyone in the world’s subconscious but I even like the less pretty parts, and I have a certain pride in knowing I’ve walked up the ‘back route’.
I’ve seen sunrise on Mount Fuji several times now. It’s also the only mountain my Mum has ever climbed and remains the only one she ever intends to. That mountain has the worst descent of any mountain I’ve ever climbed and I hope I get to head down it again sometime.
It’s not just the summit I love though, with the most expensive coke I’ve ever bought my sister, the beautiful little shrine right next to the post office where I sent my Grandma wooden post cards. I loved walking round the caldera and tempting fate with altitude sickness to do it. Even the horizontal wind and rain we faced when I was trapped up there with a South Korean walking tour can’t diminish the smile and sense of ease that mountain gives me.
I also love the temple at the bottom where I bought a plain walking stick from and had it blessed, I love the lower slopes that get no depiction in most pictures that concentrate on the iconic flat top and it’s snows. The green lower slopes full of trees and flowers where wild pigs emerge and there’s risk of bears and monkeys, though I’ve only seen the boar there.
I love every single angle I’ve seen the mountain from, the weird peering over Furusekimachi, over just about every one of the Fuji-go-ko and above the smoke rising from Fujiyoshida when climbing season is done. If I could have my ashes scattered over that mountain I think my soul would be happier than I can imagine. Of course, that’s the problem with being gaijin, the Japanese government would throw a fit over my remains sitting with the mountain that looked over me for my first years of adulthood.
But yeah, I want to go back to Fujisengenjija and get a blessed stick and have it branded at each station up the mountain again and sleep in a crowded hut to be woken with hot Yamanashi fare and blearily try and remember my scant words of Korean and Mongolian and Chinese in order to say good morning to the other tourists determined to see Ameratsu rise over my guardian mountain.