The world’s 5 prettiest places

By Caitlin Kelly

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I’ve been fortunate enough to travel far and wide from an early age, the only child of two deeply curious parents who took the back seat out of their car, installed my crib, and drove to Mexico from Vancouver (my birthplace) when I was a small baby.

No wonder motion feels like my natural state!

I’ve been to 38 countries and 38 states of the U.S. — so far!

Here are the five places I’ve so far found the most beautiful and why:

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand (tied with Mae Hong Son, Thailand)

In 1994, I spent 21 days in Thailand, most of it with my first husband, but a week alone. To reach Ko Phi Phi was in itself an adventure — an overnight train from Bangkok to Krabi, at the nation’s southern tip, then a two-hour boat ride in blazing sun to reach the island, shaped like two croissants back to back. Even then, it was clear that it was being over-developed, and I wondered how it would change in later years.

Mae Hong Song has been called the prettiest town in Thailand, a quick flight from Bangkok, landing in an airport across the street from a Buddhist temple, and so close to town — which circles a lake — you simply walk the distance. In the early morning, mist covers the town and, atop its highest hill, you can easily hear kids and roosters and radios, but can’t see any of it, thickly muffled. As the sun rises and heats the moisture, it evaporates and shimmies upward, revealing the town below.

desertscorsica
One of the eeriest and most memorable sights of my life — a lunar landscape I saw, alone in the rain, while traveling alone by mo-ped

Corsica, France

Well known to Europeans, lesser known to Americans, this island off the southern coast of France is spectacularly lovely. A quick flight or longer ferry ride brings you to Bastia in the north or Ajaccio in the south. I spent a week on a mo-ped touring the north, specifically La Balagne, and went as far inland and south as Corte.

It was July and the land is covered with maquis, a thick, low scrubby brush that’s a mix of herbs — sun-warmed it smells divine, so my nostrils were full of its scent. I drove down switchback roads to find 19th century hotels at the ocean’s edge, saw the Desert des Agriates in pelting rain, (a truly eerie Martian landscape),  and felt more at home in its wild beauty than almost anywhere.

I wept, bereft, when the plane headed back to Nice. I’ve not yet returned but it remains one of my most treasured memories.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.
The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring

Arizona

From top to bottom, this is a state bursting with natural beauty, from the sinuous red rocks of Sedona to the jaw-dropping expanses of the Grand Canyon.

I still recall a field of cactus at sunset, a spectacular array of gold and purple, their curves silhouetted against the sky.

I love Flagstaff; (stay at the Monte Vista, a funky hotel built in 1926) and you’ll feel like an out-take from a Sam Spade film noir. Tucson is a welcoming small city with some great restaurants.

Here’s a song about Arizona by one of my favorite (long defunct) NYC duos, The Nudes.

New Zealand

It’s hard to overstate how lovely this country is — albeit a brutally long flight from most of the United States (12 hours from Los Angeles.) I only saw a bit of the North Island, staying in a youth hostel in the Coromandel Peninsula, where (!) I met and was promptly adopted by four kids then half my age who whisked me off to their weekend home then to one of their parent’s houses outside Auckland where, a total stranger, I was welcomed as family.

A place where kindness and beauty abound. What’s not to love?

Salluit, Quebec (aka the Arctic)

How can fewer than 24 hours somewhere be unforgettable decades later?

Easy!

You’ll never go there because it’s a town of 500 people with no tourist facilities. Or anything, officially, to see. I went, in December (!) to write a story for the Montreal Gazette, where I was then a reporter. It takes forever to get to — jet from Montreal to Kujuuaq then into a very small plane, past the tree line, to Salluit, landing on a tiny, narrow ice/snow landing strip surrounded by frigid Arctic waters.

White knuckle city!

What made my very brief stay magical? There is only one color — white.

No trees. No vegetation. No animals (that I saw.) No city lights. No air pollution or car exhaust. No billboards.

Ice, snow, water.

Every minute, as the light shifted, that white became the palest shade of blue, purple, green, gray, mutating before us. It was pristine, mesmerizing, extraordinary.

Here’s a list by travel writer Paul Marshman, which inspired mine.

I loved this, from the late British writer A.A. Gill, from The Times:

The abiding pleasure of my life so far has been the opportunity to travel. It is also the single greatest gift of my affluent generation. We got to go around the globe relatively easily, cheaply and safely. Postwar children are the best and most widely travelled generation that has yet lived. We were given the world when it was varied, various and mostly welcoming.

Whether we took enough goodwill with us and brought back enough insight is debatable. But today the laziest gap-year student has probably seen more and been further than Livingstone, Stanley and Richard Burton.

One of the things that surprises and dismays me is how many of my contemporaries spend their time and money on travelling to sunny beaches. All beach experiences, give or take a cocktail, are the same experience. My advice to travellers and tourists is to avoid coasts and visit people. There is not a view in the world that is as exciting as a new city.

Some of many runners-up include: The Hudson Valley (my home), Ireland, Paris, Savannah, the British Columbia coastline.

 

What are the most beautiful places you’ve seen?

New Play Explores Life In The Arctic With A 16-Year-Old Star

An Igloo, an Inuit winter dwelling
Image via Wikipedia

What’s life really like north of 60, the 60th. parallel where the Arctic begins?

A new play, written and directed by Christopher Morris, is playing now at Ottawa’s National Arts Center and explores the relationships between whites and Inuit. Its star is 16-year-old Abbie Ootova.

Reports The Globe and Mail:

Ootova plays Piuyuq in Night , written and directed by Christopher Morris, artistic director of the ambitious Toronto theatre startup Human Cargo. A result of creative workshops in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and Iceland, the show explores the flawed relationship between Canada’s remote northern aboriginal peoples against the backdrop of the months of 24-hour darkness these communities experience each year.

After 12 days at the NAC, it will travel to Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Inuvik, and Morris hopes to add Gananoque and Toronto to the tour….

The theme of 24-hour darkness, which led Morris north in the first place, is now more of a backdrop, a “metaphor for our relationship to each other,” Morris says. At one workshop, Morris asked two Inuit and two southern Canadians who their first contact with the other group had been. The Inuit answered a priest and an RCMP officer. The southerners said an adopted child and a homeless man.

“I wondered, what do we think of each other?” Morris asks.

Danckert described the thrust of the show as creating curiosity and interest between Canada’s cultures. “Understanding, maybe, comes later,” she says.

I visited an Arctic village, Salluit, many years ago on assignment for the Montreal Gazette. It was extraordinary, a visit I’ll likely never make again and a glimpse into a world most Southern Canadians hear little about and can barely imagine.

Panaqs, Char and Serious Bragging Rights — Scuba Diving In The Arctic

High Arctic from a helicopter
Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve never been north of 60, as in the 60th paralell, which demarcates the Arctic circle, it’s really a trip worth taking. Yes, it’s expensive. No, you you’re not going for the cuisine or the shopping or the nightlife — beyond the astonishing Northern lights. I was very fortunate and was sent that far north on a story for the Montreal Gazette and flew  — more than six hours north of Montreal — to a village called Salluit, pop. 500. The locals came out in full force to meet our tiny airplane, which landed on ice and snow. I have only once seen a place of such eerie and simple beauty, (the Grand Canyon), where the subtle shifts in light that happen every minute of the day are as obvious; when all you have is white, it takes on a hundred shades and tones.

If you’re an adventure traveler and love to scuba dive — try the Arctic.