Some of us scan US Department of State Consular bulletins for light reading, or as members of the Department of State's Overseas Advisory Council, participate in conference calls on trouble spots around the world, or none of the above.
As many of you have, I have heard harrowing tales of getting our of a place just in time, and being relieved to do so.
My question then is: What is your calculus for deciding to go or not to go to a place, if based on threats, real or perceived, posted about a destination?
And an ancillary one: what harrowing experiences have you had while in a place that you'd like to share?
Mine are run of the mill: just missing being blown up at a major airport, getting out of a riot torn city virtually on the last plane out, and being targeted by terrorist groups in both the UK and continental Europe. No biggies. Interesting bar talk at least these days.
I would love to hear what you've experienced, as well as about canceled adventures that you've had.
Mine happened in Paris (proving you don't have to go to exotic places for such things to happen). I was on an NEH Summer Program on Gothic in the Ile-de-France in July of 1995, and we were traveling regularly to some of the earliest Gothic churches in the surrounding areas. Our group had returned from Reims in Champagne and had just gotten out of one of the RER St. Jacques stops when above ground we saw police cars and ambulances everywhere. Algerian terrorists had bombed the metro, killing 4 people and injuring dozens more. They used the cafés right there to take care of the most seriously wounded people.
Other than that the only real problem I have ever had was harassment by Turkish carpet salesmen (harassment to buy).
I consider that Paris is exotic so I looked up the definition.
It's because I lived in Paris for two years in the mid-80s and for several month periods since. The first part of the definition is true, but for me the second wasn't. I guess I consider exotic the places I've gone since the unwitting beginning of my bucket list 5 years ago: the Middle East, Andalusia, Egypt, Turkey... If I went even further afield that would be REALLY exotic, but since other areas have nothing to do with my research or teaching, I can't afford to. Honolulu was actually exotic for me though I went there because I had to use a Delta credit before it expired -- then had that horrible fall on the jetway that pretty much confined me to my room at the Honolulu Marriott.
I knew your reasoning, but it is because you're so familiar with Paris that it isn't exotic to you, but I bet it once would have been even to you.
I would consider HI as exotic, too. To me, Hilton Head is still exotic because I don't go there that often and it just has such an exquisite feel to me every time I go.
It's terrible that you got hurt there in HI. Sorry to hear that.
To some, it might, but probably to not many from the states because it's another city like we're used to in any other state.
To me, Ft. Worth qualifies, as do San Antonio; Albuquerque; Blowing Rock; Charleston; Savannah; Santa Fe; Sedona; LV; San Francisco; Helen, GA; and several other tourist destinations.
P.S.: Camden, ME was exotic to me, also. I was awestruck by it's rustic beauty and tranquility.
You've been to Camden? That is so cool because the Midcoast is my favorite part of Maine (from Lincolnport to the north to Rockland to the south). It is (other than Acadia National Park) the best of Maine. Yes, that is where the rich come, but there is still a real authenticity to the towns on the Midcoast which express what Maine is all about. Someday, if after retirement I can ever leave my apartment haven (even though I don't like Waterville, this apartment has so many wonderful memories -- on the walls and in my mind -- that it would be hard to leave), I probably would go to coastal Maine. While Massachusetts is my chosen home state, it's simply too expensive to live there, whereas it is not in Maine.
You captured the rustic nature and tranquility. When you cross the bridge and look at Camden and the hills, you get a sense of small town New England beauty that is similar to some towns on Cape Cod. Unfortunately, all my pics of the Midcoast were taken before digital. If I get the time I might try to upload them some time, but the quality is not great. Did you get to Acadia? It is AMAZING!
We didn't get any farther than Camden before turning inland and spending the night in Bangor. We had wanted to go all the way into some of the outer banks Canadian provinces, but we were running out of time and had to get back home.
(I didn't think I was going to be able to get back in to post my answer after being timed out in the room connection. After giving up and leaving for a couple of hours, I was finally able to get back to here after signing in and then getting the right reply buttons after hitting the sign in for this page. It's so exasperating sometimes. All I was getting for a while was a blank page with the red and white M insignia in the heading.)
The ferry situation in Maine has been in flux. The easiest way used to be to go from Portland or Bar Harbor via ferry to Nova Scotia, but there's been a lot of economic problems. The last time I went I drove via New Brunswick. Am I wrong in thinking Maine has only one US state border (NH)? Yet we have two actual borders with Canada, both two hours away from me (New Brunswick and Québec) and Nova Scotia a ferry ride away (when it is operative, as the news seems to indicate it will be again in the future) or a short flight.
Blowing Rock and Camden......great places in my family life. My parents had a summer house in Blowing Rock for 25 years, my Sister as well as her son were both married in Camden though 28 years apart. Sad that for both of those weddings I was out of the country, but have heard nothing but wonderful things of the place.
While warming up in a bath, I thought more about the definitions we have of exotic. You asked a great question. I think to me it is a combination of having visited a place or lived in one -- but also knowing its history. I've specialized in Western and Central European history since college in the 70s and lived in most -- except Scandinavia, which I've never visited. Except for Vikings, it doesn't figure much in my courses, so it would be exotic to me.
Russia would not except for the fact that I have never been there. But I feel like I have since my high school had us reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky from freshman year and I did a grad field in Russian history from Kievan Rus' to Gorbachev. Plus since I didn't want to be a TA in modern European history at grad school, my Russian history advisor let me be his TA.
But Australia, New Zealand, East Asia, Latin American, and the part of Africa that's not the Maghreb -- all that would be exotic to me. Since I've studied and taught Greece and the Middle East, I feel like I know those parts of the world too and now, thankfully, have visited them. But there is always more to learn, because you only get the culture through being there. In Greece in particular, it has changed so much from antiquity that every time I visit the people there tell me that I (and most American and European visitors) know more about Greek history than they do.
I guess I would also have to say that Oregon, Alaska and the Dakotas would be exotic to me since those are the states I never have yet visited. However, since my best friend was born not far from Fargo, I think North Dakota would seem familiar.
So I think it must be a combination of factors that make a place exotic or not -- and foreign may also be in the eye of the beholder.
Cheers for some great thoughts! ProfChiara
I had an experience with the Algerians in Paris, 2010 on the Champs-Elysees, which actually shutdown in gridlock. As I stood on the sidewalk and watched the spontaneous parade of cars and people and Algerian flags while chatting with the hotel doorman, he told me he'd never seen anything like it. It began in good fun (a World Cup decision that kept Algerian hopes alive), and to my knowledge ended without incident, but during my observation, hundredes of préfecture de police de Paris simultaneously descended upon the street from all directions - pouring out of paddy wagons like those scarabs in the movie The Mummy - and wearing riot helmets and shields. Algerians ignored them and continued with their gleeful revelry, dancing around me and other observers in radiant jocularity, while the police vigilantly surveyed and analyzed the environment in real time. Just about the time I began to wonder how euphoric the situation would remain, and what factors might cause it to take a sudden (and rapid) turn for the worse, the police decided it was time to make a move, and began mobilizing in practiced concert. At that point, feeling a bit edgy, I determined that I had seen enough and went inside to more certain safety. The following day, the same day that Algeria was scheduled to play the United States (and subsequently lost), I left Paris for Frankfurt. I was glad that I was not "An American in Paris" that day.
Thankfully, that's the worse I've experienced.
Such mundane experiences.
And you're right IMHO about taking the good with the bad. As far as that goes, the more we know what to look out for, the more we can actually have the more lackadaisical travel that I enjoy.
I really thought that we shared the good and the bad on this site. Isn't that why we write reviews on hotels we visit? Aren't warnings about the weather and anarchy some of the things that we want to know so we can avoid them? Even road construction is something that I'd prefer avoiding.
In a utopian world, we'd never have any problems, but this isn't a utopian world and there are bad things that we want to know how to recognize and avoid.
You're right about that, too, which is what's bad about pre-judging anyone. There are some wonderful people in any race or religion. I know you have to be pretty open-minded in your job and your experiences are so awesome to most of us.
You really should think about writing a book or 2 or 3. I really do want to read yours someday.
Thanks eb. most of what I did and who I met is forever locked away in some warehouse somewhere. There is a 25 year declassification rule by Executive Order, which means that in 2014 the stuff from 1989 and older canb be released. My experience is that the older stuff -- 1970 -1980 and beyond does not meet the criteria for release so thus far I am out of luck. Fear not. I'll keep trying. Yes I have written books and yes they have been reviewed with minor changes from the Agency, so I have hope.
Also, my cousin, while an Army General stationed at Kaiserslautern, had received intel that some terrorist group - interestingly German - was after him. We were scheduled to visit them over there during that time period, but had to cancel until the situation was neutralized (they later caught the guys).
Actually 9/11 was rather harrowing (and surreal). It happened on a travel day for me (and no doubt tens of thousands of others). Waiting at a gate to board my plane at the commuter terminal at San Diego airport for an early morning flight home, an announcement came over the loud speaker stating that "The Pentagon has been "bombed" and all airports in the United States had been shut down." Of course the Pentagon wasn't "bombed" in terms of the way we think of it, but we all know what happened. My cousin (the same one above who was later stationed in Germany) worked at the Pentagon, and his office was hit. It was located in an area that was being renovated, so he was temporarily located in another section, thus avoiding the attack, though he lost a number of colleagues and friends that day. Actually, a lot more casualties - maybe in the thousands - might have occurred if not for the renovations in progress.
Pluto, what a series of events. If I had been at the Pentagon I would have been there are well, 1E801 was my office, E Ring right below the SECDEF's, which after I left for Monterey was not yet revamped. Friends in the OSD offices were impacted by that plane crash for sure, some of never recovered from that day, sadly. I was given a nice "present" by Bader Meinhof myself during my Munch days, but I'm fine and they're in jail (I hope).
Good luck to all service members everywhere, and Happy New yeat to them as well.
What an eerie feeling that must've been. Like watching the news and discovering that the plane you were supposed to be on crashed, or a plane crashed into the house you last lived in.
When you say 'never recovered' how do you mean exactly (emotionally)? Yes, quite sad.
Terrorism is no respecter of nationality, that's for certain. Was that by chance in the late 70's?
PTSD actually, and many are still in treatment. I watched that plane slam into the Pentagon and recalled my twenty years there, the good times that I could remember. I was mad, but being mad did nothing for the victims, and then I realized how sad I was, as everyone was, for the senseless loss of life. I've been to that memorial at the building, have you?
Terorrism is a cowardly profession to be in, that's for sure. They seem not to care who lives of dies, but how much notoriety they can get.
I also recommend (and you may have gone to) the 9-11 museum and memorial in NYC, lower Manhattan. When it first opened (2003 I think) in a storefront near the fire station I took the tour with a person whose sister perished in the attacks. All the docents knew someone who died that terrible day, Sobering experience. I've been to the memorial site twice since then.
I can recommend it as a place to see, and never have to wonder what to do next--like Vegas it is a 24 hour kind of place. Lots of things are free or low cost. Museums post "suggested prices," and first Mondays they have free admission to most using a Bank of America nraded credit or debit card. Seniors (like me) can get half price rides on public transit, too. We have subway senior fare cards (that we got free at the Battery Park Transit Office) that give us rides for less than 20 bucks for a week.
Eating can be high or low in terms of price. My Zagat reviews have focused on the cheaper but good food, some of which you can't find anywhere else.
Anadyr is spot on. NYC is, in my opinion, on the short list of the greatest cities in the world. I've been spending lots of time there for so many years that it feels like a second home. I recall times where I was afraid to walk the streets, but can report that I now feel safer there than any other place in America. It's a great, Iconic city that everyone should experience some time in their life.
Miracles happened so many times that day, even with heavenly intervention in preparation for it the renovations emphasize.
I have a 2nd cousin, once removed who I've never met who lived across the bay from the twin towers at the time. His wife is East Indian and her parents were visiting her but they were going back to India that day and she was taking them to the airport or she would have in the the subway tunnel that morning.
Common sense, TV, Internet, and experience. We had a political science meeting in New Orleans and there was a hurricane coming. Katrina had taught us that NO is no place to be in a hurricane. The meeting was not called off until the day before the conference which would mean I would have driven both ways to NO in hurricane conditions. I knew that and so three days before the conference I informed my panel I was not coming. I was right and they knew it.
I don't generally travel in places considered unsafe, but I do have one good story to share.
I was in Moscow during the 1991 attempted coup by the Soviet generals (1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt). The night before the coup began, the 5th floor of our hotel was occupied by the military who were planning on securing the major communications/broadcasting facility just up the street. We wondered why there were highly decorated officers there and a solider controlling access to the elevators (no one was allowed off at the 5th floor). It made sense the next morning when every TV and radio station were broadcasting the same Tchaikovsky music.
The next day, tanks were in the streets and by nightfall, the Kremlin was effectively under siege. I sat in a hotel ballroom just outside Red Square watching the ballet and remember hearing explosions outside.
Outside the Russian Parliament, a couple tanks and a huge crowd gathered in support of Gorbachev. I climbed atop the tank for a photo (someone had stuffed a rose in the gun barrel). While there Boris Yeltson addressed the crowd and I ended talking to a reporter from the Associated Press. We tried to secure an early flight home, but it turned out to be impossible. Luckily, the coup fell apart within days and the streets became one big celebration.
Back in the USA, my story hit the A.P. wires and the news departments of all 3 local stations had left me phone messages trying to get me on the air as soon as I returned home. I got several rolls of film developed by the local ABC affiliate (the first station to return my call) and made the evening news to tell my tale.
While in the midst of the trouble, it was a bit scary, but the Soviets wanted to keep this from becoming an international incident, so for once being an American might have helped keep me safe. Nothing like having a front seat to history. Certainly a trip I'll never forget.