When people find out that I have spent ten years of my life on the road and have travelled to over 65 countries, they often ask me about my favourite places that I have visited. Here are some stories from some of my favourite cities.
1. Paris, France
On my first trip to Paris, my buddy, Matt and I took a huge 250 passenger and 30 car carrying hovercraft across the English Channel. It was an adventure in itself. There was a huge gale in the Channel and it was a wild ride. I remember the hovercraft going up and down thirty foot waves. The pilots were amazing but it was definitely a ‘white knuckle’ experience. There more than a few people reaching for brown paper bags (if you know what I mean)!
When we arrived, we covered as much of Paris as we could in the few days we were there. Matt and I took the subway everywhere. And Paris has a great subway. We literally ran from world-famous museums to spectacular churches and to so many other great sites. I remember running through the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and then running to see the famous statue ‘Venus de Milo’. There is so much to see, I wish we had days there instead of hours to see everything. And the churches are magnificent also. Notre Dame Cathedral and the Basilica of the Sacre’ Coeur stand out as two of my favourites.
The second time I went to Paris was with my beautiful wife as a Mother’s Day gift. We were doing ministry in southern Holland and we took a high-speed train from Brussels to Paris. What a great ride.
We stayed near the Notre Dame Cathedral and did lots of walking. One of my favourite memories was walking to the Paris Opera House and seeing the magnificent statutes of the many composers who worked there. Then we walked to Place de la Concorde where we saw an elegant military ball in progress with ladies in gorgeous full length gowns and men in splendid French military regalia.
Then we walked to the Louvre and had coffee at an outdoor cafe’ while a Dutch Men’s Chorus regaled us with Broadway tunes. Then we walked through a gorgeous archway where a flautist played some gorgeous classical music in that beautiful echo chamber.
Right after that we walked across a spectacular pedestrian bridge where large groups of students were having wine and cheese parties. Then, to top it all off, we saw a spectacular light and fireworks display shooting from the Eiffel Tower. Wow! And all that was for free on one spectacular May evening. Paris really is my favourite city in the world to visit!
2. Vienna, Austria
I have been to Vienna a number of times. Once in late fall, when I was with Living Sound and another time in the dead of winter to do some music with Charles Ndifon. But my favourite time was with my wife, Anna, in the springtime.
We stayed at a simple hotel near the centre of the city and walked everywhere. The first evening we arrived, we went to one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, Wiener Reisenrad and enjoyed an evening of old-fashioned amusement rides. The next day we went to one of the most famous palaces in Europe, the Schonbruun Palace. The grounds and palace are spectacular. The art, architecture, and opulence were amazing.
That evening we went to a concert of Mozart music played by an orchestra in period costumes. They played Mozart’s ‘greatest hits’. What gorgeous music! Then we headed to a small coffee-house for some traditional Viennese strudel. The cafe had great atmosphere. There was a pianist playing German folk songs and then a little old lady came, pulled out her violin and together they serenaded us for the rest of the evening while the clientele sang along. A magical evening!
3. Rome, Italy
Ahh… Roma. Anna went to Bible School in Rome, so she knows the city well. We have been there numerous times. We love to people watch at the Trevi Fountain and then walk around the old city. I love visiting all the piazzas in that ancient area of the city. Piazza Navona is one of our favourite places to sit, enjoy a great meal and people watch.
Another one of our favourite stops is the Spanish Steps. Anna often makes fun of me when we go back there. One time, when I had just come back from Africa, I was craving a hamburger so I insisted that we eat at the MacDonald’s there. She has never let me live that down. Imagine, eating fast food when all those great Italian cafes were just feet away! 🙂
There is so much to see in Rome; first, there’s the Roman Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon. Then there is the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. I recommend you dedicate a minimum of a full day to the Vatican itself. One of my favourite memories there was walking to the top of the dome of St. Peters Basilica. The view of the city and the Vatican gardens is spectacular. I highly recommend it. The other special memory for me was taking communion there. You need to make sure you are dressed properly but there was something very special about having communion in that ancient historical cathedral.
4. Florence, Italy
My wife, Anna, has a cousin who lives in Florence. He has lent us his apartment near the centre of ‘Firenza’ a number of times. Florence is a great walking city. I remember one particular trip when our kids were in their teens; the weather was gorgeous, the street musicians world-class and the outdoor art was magnificent.
Florence is such a romantic city. From the magnificent statue of David in the Uffizi Gallery, to the Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River, to the Piazza della Signoria and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, there is so much to see and experience.
5. Singapore, Singapore
A few years ago, my wife and I went to Singapore for the month of January to do some church consulting. We were totally blown away but how beautiful, safe, modern and clean this spectacular, English-speaking, Asian city is. Singapore is just 137 kilometres (85 mi) north of the equator and the temperature is usually around 30 C (90 F) in the day and 23 C (76 F) at night. For a couple of Canadians escaping a sub-zero winter, it seemed like paradise.
Singapore is one of the safest and cleanest cities that we have visited in the world. My wife, Anna, felt so safe that she would often head downtown on their world-class subway, by herself, to sight-see and shop while I was working in the evenings. And clean, we were amazed at how clean this city of 5.3 million was. We have never seen another city that equaled it.
Some of our other favourite sights and attractions were Sentosa Island and it’s beautiful beaches, shopping at Mustafa’s, the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo and strolling and eating at the Waterfront Promenade.
Speaking of eating, the food in Singapore was spectacular. Because of it’s history and geography in the middle of Southeast Asia, there are great food influences from India, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Thailand and many other parts of the world. Singaporeans love to eat out, so there are many small, inexpensive eating kiosks and food courts everywhere. And because Singapore is so clean, we felt like we could eat at any of these places.
Singapore is a long way away from North America, it is on the other side of the planet, but it is a spectacular destination. And it is also a great hub from which to fly to see Vietnam, Thailand, Bali and other great Asian destinations. I highly recommend it.
Question: What are your favourite cities to visit? What interesting tales do you have to tell from those visits?
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