Thursday, January 06, 2005

I saw this article on the Stuff website and would have to dispassionately say that this time they've got it right. Yes New Zealand is beautiful, but yes, it's also a bit boring and is not necessarily the best place to live, though a tourist will almost certainly have a good time.

It also inspires me, after having done a bit of travelling, to provide my own list of the best and most beautiful. I've still (hopefully) got a couple more countries up my sleeve in South America, so it'll be interesting to see if that changes anything.

Make comments!! On the website, rather than sending them to my email. That way other people can see what you've put too. Of course, I've never really been to Asia or Africa, so would be interested to hear comparisons from people who have, and have also done Europe/North America/Latin America like me (Paul Bryant, are you out there?).

Here goes:

Most beautiful country: Guatemala, by streets. New Zealand comes second, so I'm not being deliberately anti-patriotic! Guatemala, in addition to tremendous variety and constant beauty within a small space, has an undefinable feeling of magic.

Most livable country: Spain. To live somewhere, you want a combination of things: natural beauty, economic opportunity, security, friendliness, climate, vibrance, urban beauty, outdoor life, history and culture. Spain gets good ticks on most points.

Friendliest people: Argentina. This one surprised me, as I generally find travelling Argentinians a bit tiresome. But in the country itself - welcoming, educated, generally respectful, and with a touch of joie de vivre. And even paleface tourists like me get treated like normal people.

Most beautiful big city: Paris. Untouchable. Despite its awful outer ring.

Most beautiful medium-sized city: lots competing,and at this point beauty and liveability become intertwined. Some candidates are Venice, Italy; Seville, Spain; Wellington, New Zealand; Salta and Mendoza, Argentina; and Arequipa, Peru. Everywhere has its ups and downs - Venice is indescribably beautiful but very touristic - could you really live there? Wellington would win easily if it weren't for the climate and the lack of social life for 25-35 year old single people.

Most beautiful small town: La Antigua, Guatemala beats out Grenada, Spain. Volcanic cones and green hills hover over cobblestone streets and ruined baroque churches with red, purple and yellow bougainvillea climbing over the crumbled stone. The climate is delicious; at the end of the wet season you can sit under a moonlit sky and watch the lightning flashing in the hills.

Most liveable place: After much thought, London. But you *have* to have a good job and the ability to escape on holidays to the continent. I'd need to spend much more time in New York and perhaps San Francisco to make the comparison. I like the saying "If you're tired of London, you're tired of life".

Ugliest place: A tie between Newark, New Jersey and Juliaca, Peru. Neither place is actually particularly poor, but seem to share a collective disgregard for the quality of life.

Of course, many of these opinions have been formed by fleeting visits or initial impressions, so I'd welcome corrections or disagreements.


Anonymous said...

Ah-ha! I too saw this article and have been compiling my own list. I feel like I haven't been to enough places (never been to southern Europe, UK, Africa, Asia, etc.) but here's my list:

Most Beautiful Country: New Zealand. Wins for the combination of diversity and sheer spectacle. Venezuela is the only country that is a serious contender here in both those aspects. Pretty much everyone else really beautiful I have been looks like somewhere in New Zealand, it's just harder to get to.

Most Livable Country: Hmm, hard to answer this, since I've only 'lived' in two countries and have an strong bias towards the US, so I'll be boring and make that my pick. I know everyone hates America, but life here really rocks. I guess it depends on what you value in life, but for me the economic opportunities and sheer size make it a winner. It really is the land of opportunity, and no matter where you fall politically and socially, there are millions of people just like you here. True, there is all kinds of scary stuff too, like the Bush administration, state of health care, and conservatism of all those people in the middle states, but here your own life is whatever you make it. There is a higher correlation between the reward you get for your hard work than anywhere else. Europe I love to visit, but most of it has ridiculous taxation, too much government, and stifles entreprenuership and initiative.

Friendliest People: I'm going for Argentina too, though Italy runs a close second. Great experience in both places. I've been telling people the same thing about Argentina for years, Simon.

Most Beautiful Big City: Paris for me too (though dreary and damn cold in winter.) St Petersburg runs a very close second here. On a very rare sunny day in winter, it's just breathtaking -- gleaming canals and bridges, palaces, and gilded roofs and railings.

Most Beautiful Medium-Sized City: Nothing obvious comes to mind. I agree that Arequipa is a strong contender.

Most Beautiful Small Town: Uberlingen, Germany - unbelievably picturesque on the edge of Lake Constance with steep streets, fairy-tale houses and buildings. Actually, all the towns around there are gorgeous.

Most Livable Place: Hard to say from experience. If I had to pick somewhere to move (putting aside ties to South Florida), I would probably pick San Francisco. I really loved visiting there, it's incredibly liberal and ethnically diverse. Big city, but you can walk everywhere and the views are awesome. Surrounding area great too. Major drawback is the weather -- other people think the weather is great, but I don't want to take a sweater everywhere. NY (where I did live briefly) is amazing. There is nothing you can't get there, but it gets a little overwhelming. Falls short on 'livability', because it's just so hectic, exhausting, and crowded. Weather sucks there for a good part of the year too. Needless to say, both cities really expensive and having a car virtually impossible. (Honorable Mention: Nashville, TN. This one was a great surprise. Really a hopping, modern place with two of the best restaurants I have been to in my life. Obviously a huge music scene and tons of young people and students from Vanderbilt. Everyone laid back and incredibly friendly. Low cost of living and beautiful surrounding area. All the best of the South and none of the bad.)

Ugliest Place: Well, there is so much choice....I too found Juliaca, Peru to be exceptionally hideous and depressing. La Quiaca-Villazon on the Argentina-Boliva border was also astoundingly scary, probably worse than Juliaca. I also passed through some extraordinarily ugly suburbs in Moscow, but the central city is spectacular. Guayaquil, Ecuador is not as hideous as the others here, but deserves mentioning because it has absolutely no redeeming qualities or places despite being the largest city in Ecuador and not all that poor.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention that the above comments are from "me", Cecilia (in case that wasn't completely obvious.) Left off Manaus, Brazil from list of ugly places. Truly a hell-hole. Only redeeming quality is that it's not cold. -- Cecilia