Am travelling to Tokyo tonight for work. Spending two days there for a 3 hour meeting which means that I should have time to look around and see a bit of Tokyo. Unfortunately I will not actually have the time off as I have busted my ankle and cannot possibly walk around and see the site. However it led me to think about which were the best and worst cities that I have been stranded in after a business meeting with time to spare.
My top three stranded in cities are:
1. Paris - The key to a stranded city is can you go to one/two places quickly that will keep you entertained and able to see the heart of its culture, food and people. Paris is the clear leader here. Drop yourself in the middle of the Marias or St Germain for two hours and you will be entertained, fed and culturally overloaded with time spare to jump on the train back to Gare du Nord or CDG to head home. At times there are more tourists around you than (cranky) Parisians but that can be managed in short bites. Nothing beats a lazy stroll through St Germain ending up in garden just behind Notre Dame.
2. Amsterdam - it is a beautiful city but most importantly it is relative small and everyone speaks English. You can see a couple of key sites very quickly. If you are stranded for a night, the Dutch are a great party people. The city is flat and closely packed making movement from bar to bar, hotspot to hotspot easy and painless. There are also great art spots- Rijksmuseum - that can easily absorb a few lost hours. Anne Frank House provides a powerful emotional view into the dark side of European history.
3. Ho Chi Minh city - so different to any other city I have been to. Have travelled through crazy, fast growing, traffic mad cities like Bangkok and Hong Kong but Ho Chi Minh is unique. The city itself is not beautiful or magical in the way that the top European destinations are but there are chances to absorb a culture and see a history that I have not found matched anywhere else. For example, the traffic - while crazy - moves like no other city. There is a ballet like quality to the motorbikes. You would swear it is co-ordinated and coreographed. Some how it has moved beyond chaos to a form of understood anarchy. Then there is the history of the city. You can look around and see the French, American and Communist influences. The food is similarly drawn for Asian, European and North American influences unlike any other.
Bottom three are:
1. Kunming China - I spent a few days late last year at the China Travel Mart in Kunming China. Kunming is a 10mm plus people city but has nothing to offer the tourist/quick visitor. It is famous for three things - its tea, tobacco and tragically HIV rates. The International Airport is one of the most painful I have ever had to go through as all flights out to Hong Kong had to be boarded via a long and boring bus ride from the airport.
2. Kuala Lumpur - too busy, too hard to travel around and too many people trying to rip you off. One of my favourite moments was struggling with the heat and humidity - sweating profusely - when I came across a sunglasses shop. I was about to try on a pair when the vendor grabbed them out of my hand "You can't wear them, you are too sweaty" he screamed. "Of course I am it is 35 degrees and 90% humidity". "But, if you sweat" he said pointing to the sunglasses "the colour will come off" indicating the rims.
3. Stockholm - I should have loved Stockholm. The people are nice, the food nice, the drinks...nice, the old city...well...nice, the transport options were...um...nice and the hotel I stayed in was (yes) nice. That was the problem everything was so damn, unrelentingly, frustratingly, mind-numbingly nice. There were no disappointments but similarly nothing that grabbed your eyes, ears and bones and said - "Look at this, isn't it fantastic". Seems unfair to damn a city for being nice but sometimes nice can be painful.
Am disappointed that I will not be able to take up this chance to learn more about Tokyo. Share your top cities in the comment section if you have time.