Favorite Cities Overseas II

ITN asked readers to name the three cities they most enjoyed visiting outside of North America. Responses were printed in the July ’ 03 issue, inspiring more letters, which are presented below. You can send in your Top 3 list to Favorite Cities Overseas, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravel news.com (please include your surface-mail address). Mention when you last visited each city, and include pictures, if possible.

Favorite cities overseas? Only three? That’s tough, but here goes.

Iveta Krobotova steps from a horse-drawn carriage in Prague’s Old Town Square on her way to wed Jason Glavish.

1. Vienna, hands down. We lived in the first district for two years (1988 to 1990), visited again in 1996 and 1998 and still haven’t become bored with this beautiful city.

What made it a treat for us? Where should I start? The Musikverein and its wonderful concerts (especially Strauss); the State Opera House, where we saw “Swan Lake”; the Naschmarkt, that amazing 2-block-square produce market in the sixth district, and the associated Saturday flea market; Kärntnerstrasse and Graben, lined with exciting shops; the restaurants, coffeehouses and bakeries (thank goodness I walked everywhere); the wonderful architecture; the beautiful gardens and parks; the lack of crime; the public transportation system, and, not least, the wonderful people who made us feel at home in their glorious city.

2. Prague is next. I visited it in 1989 by train from Vienna, and then in 1996 we went to see our son marry a lovely young Czech woman in the Old Town Hall — such a beautiful memory.

The Vltava River with its graceful bridges; the grand old buildings; lively Wenceslas Square; the fairy-tale Hradcany complex of St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle; picturesque streets; the food, and the culture: all conspire with its history to make Prague a favorite.

3. I visited Helsinki in 1990. The ferry and train trip to get there was interesting in itself, and I was impressed with this clean and vibrant city on the Gulf of Finland bounded by sea to the south and forest to the north. I enjoyed the neoclassical old town center, but my most vivid memory is of a boat trip to one of the many islands in the gulf and walking past sunbathers (in birthday suits in May!) to an underground restaurant to feast on reindeer steaks washed down with iceberry wine.

May I have a runner-up or two? Budapest (history, culture and beauty), Nice (I just love everything about it), Melbourne (elegant and cosmopolitan) and Christchurch (the river, parks and gardens). Then there’s Paris, Copenhagen, Siena . . .

— Barbara Glavish, Incline Village, NV

1. Oslo (2000): we have never been to another place where the people are so nice and all speak English. This city is compact, but in spite of that you can never see all there is. It is especially of interest to people who are interested in the sea. One of our dearest friends has devoted himself to the explorer Amundsen. Imagine his wonderment when we told him we had not only seen Amundsen’s ship, the Fram, but had walked all over it.

2. Hanoi (1998): this is the most unique city we have ever visited, partly because North Vietnam and South Vietnam are so vastly different. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has a lot to see, but it’s just another big city. Hanoi, on the other hand, has changed very little in the past 30 years.

I think the most interesting thing was to walk from the Hanoi Hilton, which is only a remnant of the prison it was during the war, to the Hilton Hanoi hotel, which was the most modern hotel in the city.

3. Beirut (1972): we loved the charm of this city, although it was a bustling center where Middle Easterners came to drink and gamble. It was so sad during the fighting because we knew where it was all taking place and what was being destroyed. It showed us that you can never begin your travels too early because you never know what will disappear.

Although Cairo has replaced it for the gambling and drinking and has much to see, the traffic congestion, smog and seemingly everyone asking for baksheesh (money) makes that city anything but charming.

— Ed Schutzman, San Carlos, CA

I saw the article “Favorite Cities Overseas” in the July ’03 issue and was shocked to find no one mentioned Barcelona.

Our number-one favorite city is Paris. With its museums, cathedrals, Montmarte, Île de la Cité and sights and places too numerous to mention, we have never tired of visiting and have yet to see it all.

Our number-two favorite is Barcelona. The “people watching” on the Rambla is unforgettable, as is the nearby shopping. There is the maritime museum, not to mention the two tourist bus routes (which I wish more cities had). The subway makes it easy to get around, and we found the prices favorable.

Number three is Copenhagen. We had one day to visit (entirely too short) and we missed everything but the waterfront and Tivoli Gardens. It is high on our list of places to revisit.

— Robert Kelly, Florham Park, NJ

Of course, the big cities have the bustle about them — the museums, the architecture and the cathedrals with the must-see stained-glass windows — but I prefer the smaller cities. I would revisit each of these for the relaxing atmosphere and the friendly residents. My husband and I loved longer stays, living the local life of each of these three cities.

Tuna is among the seafood that abounds at the market in Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal. Photo: Pehrson

1. Merano, Italy, is located in the Tirol area near the Austrian border, with views of snowy mountains, vineyards and apple orchards. We remember walks along the Passirio River in the downtown; hikes from castle to castle from the town, and the daily free chamber concerts at the Kurhaus (City Hall). We were in Merano in 1996. It’s off the beaten track, but we would like to see it again.

2. Thun, Switzerland, is a transportation hub from which you can take a day trip to anywhere in the country and get back to your room that night. A castle overlooks the charming downtown area along the Aare River. Boats on Lake Thun take you to lakeside villages, in one of which there always seems to be a festival going on. The last time we were in Thun, our third stay, was in 1995.

3. Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal, is a city of flowers, wonderful sidewalk cafés, an interesting waterfront, colorful tile sidewalks and a great market. We were in Funchal for the second time in 2000.

— Miki Pehrson, La Selva Beach, CA

Having spent two years in Italy during WWII, and after 95 cruises and 23 trips to Europe, I have some ideas of my favorite cities.

Being Norwegian, I found Norway very fascinating, but the most interesting city I have visited has to be Beijing, China — the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc.

Rome, Italy, is my second-favorite city. I have been there so many times, but each visit is an adventure. The Vatican is tremendous. I have seen four Popes — and I’m a Protestant.

The third city would have to be either Florence or Venice, and I have to go with Florence. It gets very high marks for art and history. During WWII I met my brother in Florence and we had a most enjoyable day-visit in this city. The photos we sent home to our parents brightened their day. (They had three boys in service; all were in combat units and all survived.)

There are so many other cities that are enjoyable. I love Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy; Bergen, Norway; Singapore; Hong Kong and Xi’an, China; Rio, Brazil, and Helsinki, Finland.

— Russ Nelson, Deerfield Beach, FL

Whoa, I can’t believe people pick Paris over London. To paraphrase, “If one tires of London, one tires of life.”

My favorite city has to be this one on the banks of the Thames. It’s flat, so walking is easy, and each block has a new delight — sidewalk art displays; Embassy Row; historical sites about which we actually know something; the “LOOK RIGHT, LOOK LEFT” painted at intersections to protect the colonists from colliding with cars; superb museums; grand parks with swans swimming in the lakes, and the great rapid transit. Each day provides something new.

I was in London in June ’03. Maybe if I spent a year in or near London, I’d get over my love affair with this great city.

Sydney and Istanbul also rank high, but I’m not yet tired of life!

— Chloe Ryan Winston, Redding, CA

1. Marrakech, Morocco — A visit in December ’03 makes our third there in two years. It is like a fantasy out of the “The Arabian Nights,” with exotic sights and sounds but reasonable prices. We found the people to be warm and friendly, inviting us (with our two young sons) into their homes for tea. I love the shopping, especially the pottery and jewelry.

Brunnenburg Castle at lower left and Tirol Castel at upper right on the slopes above Merano, Italy. Photo: Pehrson

2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia — We found the Cambodians to be kind, as well as not pushy in trying to sell things. The wide boulevards and French mansions are very European yet set among fabulous Buddhist temples. Our second visit there was over New Year’s 2002. We got fabulous bargains on silver items and jewelry. We like staying at the historical Raffles Hotel, which even has a kids’ program and several pools. The food is delicious.

3. Chiang Mai, Thailand — We love the tranquil areas surrounding Chiang Mai rather than the city itself. We do have a lot of fun at the night market in town, however. My sons love doing the elephant trek, the butterfly farm, the snake farm and the water buffalo sanctuary. We enjoy the Thai food as much as the wonderful Buddhist shrines. There are plenty of activities for children plus spa pampering for the parents.

Before the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong, that used to be our number-one favorite city. It was sparkling, with much energy in the air. We have been back twice since then and find Hong Kong getting polluted, like Shanghai, with a flat energy. Many shops and favorite restaurants of ours have now closed.

— Nanci Lucero, Santa Fe, NM

How could I possibly have a favorite city? Could it be Venice, where the man sucked out the clam so I could have a shell for my collection? Or Innsbruck, where, when my friend and I wanted to extend our vacation but extra cash hadn’t yet arrived from home, the banker trusted me and broke procedure to give me money on my Visa card? Or Prague, where the man warned the server to give us the right amount of meat on our sandwiches? Or Kraków, where my newly met young cousin clicked his heels, bowed and kissed my hand upon meeting me? Or Kyoto, where, in a park, two little girls wove wreaths and bracelets for us out of grass and flowers and shyly put them on us?

No, there could never be a favorite city for me. (Perhaps Paris, where I was pinched on the escalator. . .)

— Dorothy B. Kearn, Sonoma, CA