When Ray Charles recorded his 1961 rhythm and blues Grammy winner "Hit the Road Jack", I thought he said: "Hit the Road Jan". So I took him literally. I not only hit the road, but I also hit the sky and the sea. I was amazed at the variety of ways I found myself traveling. From donkeys to elephants, from rickshaws to Rolls Royces, from hot-air balloons to both the British and French Concordes, I tried them all.
Unfortunately, I won't be doing the last three ever again. I won't be flying the British Air or Air France Concordes because, sadly, they have been retired from service. Additionally, I won't be flying any more hot air balloons because I am no longer young and dumb. Safety concerns have convinced me I don't need to do that again.
But for now…let's hit the road Jack!
BY ELEPHANT: Probably my most exciting road trip was when I climbed aboard an elephant named Lakshmi in Agra, India and proceeded on an approximate 2-mile ride from my hotel to the Taj Mahal. This was something that had never been done before in Agra. Our parade through town was an unforgettable experience. Towering over trucks, ducking under trees, Lakshmi would stop for bread and veggies at her favorite food stands. Children lining the streets screamed with delight as that strange looking, camera-laden lady lumbered along on an elephant. Old folks clasped their hands in the traditional Namaste greeting and I, who seldom has delusions of grandeur, felt like a visiting Maharani. As we approached the gateway to the Taj, I spied through the trees the blindingly white marble dome of India's proudest possession…The Taj Mahal. High atop my thick-skinned pachyderm, it was a moment when fantasy touched reality...when suddenly a dream was no longer a dream.
RICKETY HOWDAH HOLDS AUTHOR ATOP LAKSHMI THE ELEPHANT IN AGRA, INDIA
BY DONKEY: Fira, the capital of this The Cycladic island of Santorini is perched on the rim of an active volcano. The island used to be circular, but a massive volcanic explosion, around 3500 years ago, blew out the center of the island. High cliffs jutting out of the sea are all that is left of the crater rim. The surrounding islands are the remains of the sides of the crater and the sea has filled in the gaps, forming an exquisite bay. To get to the capital city of Fira, from the port where the cruise ships dock, you have three choices: ride a donkey, take the funicular cable car, or climb the 600 steps to the top. I chose to take the donkey up the hill (for the experience) and ride the cable car down (for the view). It is also safer to ride the donkey up the hill than to ride it down the hill. Going down the hill, the donkeys are more apt to slip on the excrement-coated pathway.
GOING UP THE HILL ON DONKEY IN SANTORINI, GREECE
BY CAMEL: One of the main reasons one goes to Cairo, Egypt is to see the Pyramids of Giza. They exude an excitement just by the very virtue of being there. Although this awesome sight has been marred by commercialism, even the most sophisticated of tourists give in to the myriad of camel drivers hustling to take you for a ride on one of those mangy-looking beasts. Tacky as it may seem at the time once you get home it becomes a memorable photo.
CAMEL RIDE TO THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA IN CAIRO, EGYPT
Now, let's switch from the animal kingdom to more civilized means of travel.
BY TRAIN: All aboard! Time to go tracking. Riding the rails, from Venice to London on the VS-O-E (Venice Simplon-Orient-Express), was an experience--not just a means of transportation. It was intrigue, glamour, fantasy, and a byword for luxury and elegance. During the day, I wore 1920's–style cloche and carried a fake pink cigarette in a hand-carved ivory cigarette holder. In the evening, I donned some long pearls, and strategically placed some ostrich plumes to give a Roaring 20's look to my cocktail clothes. The VS-O-E is the world's most famous train. It is the king of trains and the train of kings. Agatha Christie wrote that it was "Murder ON the Orient Express"! Agatha Christie was wrong. It's murder getting OFF the Orient Express.
ABOARD THE VENICE SIMPLON-ORIENT-EXPRESS
BY ROLLS ROYCE: The Sydney Opera house…the Sydney Harbour "Coathanger" Bridge…The Rocks…Bondi Beach. I was doing it up "Down Under" when I decided to see a little more of Australia than Sydney's beautiful metropolitan area. When I hired a car to take me to the Blue Mountains (about 35 miles west of the city), lo and behold, a gold Rolls Royce appeared. As ostentatious and glitzy as it was, I loved every minute of it. The Three sisters, a sandstone rock formation is one of the main attractions of this mountain range with its characteristic blue haze.
ATOP GOLD ROLLS ROYCE PRIOR TO BLUE MOUNTAINS TOUR
BY SHIP: When I thought I had seen it all, I found myself aboard a cruise ship that would blow away even the most discerning traveler. The incredible Seabourn Quest, a true gem of the ocean, has been called "a game-changer for the luxury segment". And that it is! You have to experience one of Seabourn's "Caviar in the Surf" beach parties to believe it. While a barbecue cooks on a sun-drenched beach, crewmembers wade knee-deep in the sea to serve you champagne and caviar off of a surfboard. Ho-hum…just another day in paradise!
SEABOURN QUEST'S CAVIAR IN THE SURF
BY AIR…IN MEMORIUM…THE SUPERSONIC CONCORDES: My British Air flight from London to New York took a mere 3 hours and 18 minutes and my Air France flight from New York to Paris took just a few minutes longer. As far as I was concerned the London flight could have gone on for days because a handsome hunk of a man, the late Christopher Reeve, was sitting across the aisle from me. Sadly, both are gone forever, but both will never be forgotten.
THE COCKPIT OF BRITISH AIRWAYS CONCORDE
JANET STEINBERG is an International Travel Consultant and the winner of 40 National Travel Writer Awards.