My Personal “Best” List.

Most of us who are committed travelers have a list of incidents and events that we recall when we start swapping stories with other travelers. The more one travels, the more interesting the best-of-the-best become.

I never consciously said to myself, “Hey! This travel thing I’ve gotten into is really fun and interesting.” In response to a casual question I got one day a few years ago, I realized to my surprise that I have been to more than  30 different countries over the past half century.  I find that astonishing. And trying to decide which is the best or the most beautiful or the most interesting or has the best food . . . that’s really impossible. Besides, it’s all subjective, anyway … just one guy’s opinion.

OK, for better or for worse, here we go:

  1. Friendliest People.

The Australians. As a solo traveler, I was repeatedly invited to join other groups or conversations and, once, to share a family of four’s single umbrella while waiting in the rain for a taxi outside the Sydney Opera House. What could be friendlier than a cheery “ G’day, Mate!” from a total stranger?

And, while on this general subject, it is absolutely not true that most Parisiennes are rude. Au contraire!

2. Best Food.

French. I know, this is really asking for trouble, and there is delicious food prepared everywhere, but morning, noon and night–day in and day out–I’ve never run into any one group who get more pleasure from a well prepared meal than the French.

3. Best Waiters.

This is an easy one, too. Servers in French restaurants, even the corner bistros, consider it a proud profession. They are knowledgable and skillful and efficient in their work, with never a wasted motion and always a response to any question regarding their menu. I still recall (and cringe) at the reaction of a waiter in a Paris restaurant when I expressed the absurd notion that my lamb chops needed to be cooked a bit more.

But on this subject, my wife and daughter and I were having lunch in a restaurant in Vienna probably 25 years ago and our waiter took our order without putting pencil to notepad. Just nodding as each of us gave him our orders. After we had finished our meal, he approached our table briskly, looked at each of us individually, reciting each of our orders perfectly as he jotted the items down. Then he tore off the page from his notepad and presented our bill with a flourish. I must say I was impressed.

(More of my personal favorites to come)