Wish I Was There: Our Pick of the Best FT Travel Pieces

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In 1957, the FT sent a correspondent to the Soviet Union to file a dispatch for its new “Travel and Tourism” section. The writer went into painstaking detail about the ruble-sterling exchange rate, the width of roads, and the composition of cement. It wasn’t Jack Kerouac.

Almost 70 years later, however, and this journal has earned a reputation for beautiful travel writing, eye-catching photography and adventure in its own right.

With airports in chaos this summer and holidays an increasingly painful prospect, FT Edit has teamed up with the FT’s travel editors to bring you some of the best travel pieces of recent years. A reminder that there’s a big world out there waiting to be explored – as soon as your luggage arrives.

Journey to paradise

Without a 3:30 a.m. start and a clearly defined goal, is it even a public holiday? Mike Carter’s expedition to the Indonesian archipelago with a world-renowned evolutionary biologist in search of a bird of paradise takes you with vivid descriptions of the extreme heat, humidity, wilderness of all that.

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A man in the lead slashed his way through the rainforest with a machete. Huge flying beetles aimed at my headlamp beam and hit me in the face. This same beam found giant cobwebs and, in their midst, giant spiders. It was 30 degrees, 95% humidity, and I was as wet as if I had taken a bath fully clothed.

The word came on the line to be silent. No one had given the memo to the forest. It looked like an old dial-up modem, the cicadas pulsating like parasites; invisible, in the darkness, a hornbill passed, its vast wings going boom, boom, like the heartbeat of a giant.

It looked like a commando raid, but it was nothing like that. We were here on Misool Island in Eastern Indonesia to see a bird. Not just any bird, but a bird of paradise and its dawn courtship rituals.

Extract of An Indonesian adventure in the wake of Alfred Russel WallaceJanuary 15, 2019

Hidden History Mountains

In December 2019, Tajikistan was about to open up to the world. Sophy Roberts found a country with a deep history, spectacular landscapes, friendly people and great ambitions to become a tourist destination. The pandemic has of course thrown them into the tall grass, and Tajikistan is still waiting to be discovered.

The Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan

That night, I stayed with Furkat Kasimov, a soft-spoken father of five, at his host family on the outskirts of Bokhtar. I was his first foreign guest in a country where the hotel infrastructure is negligible. With his family, I ate a hearty meat shurbo broth on a low table laden with dried blackberries, Russian fudge and tiny Chinese clementines. The room was adorned with embossed felt wallpaper and a flat-screen TV playing classical Tajik music, including a lute-shaped fretless rubab. Our host took a pomegranate in his palm and with the other hand used a stubby kitchen knife to draw a line around the crown of the fruit.

Furkat relieved the scalp and marrow, then made eight vertical incisions, from the pomegranate’s head to its base, until the sections split open. Without the knife spilling a single drop of juice, the pomegranate spilled its ruby ​​seeds. When I admired their taste, Furkat put his right hand on his heart. As I watched his pride grow – he had grown this fruit in his orchard outside – the failure to peel the pomegranate began to sound like a parable for Tajikistan: something precious hidden inside of hard, bruised skin.

Extract of Wish I Was There: Off the Beaten Path in TajikistanAugust 7, 2020

An island like no other

Janice Booth first heard of Socotra, a magical, troubled island nestled off the Arabian Sea, when she was a child reading Rudyard Kipling. How the rhinoceros got his skin. Decades later, at 81, she gets to see it for herself. White sand beaches, heavenly landscapes, a proud past and an uncertain future make this an otherworldly trip.

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Nothing about Socotra is predictable and I like constant surprises. The famous dragon’s blood trees that loom over the hillsides look like giant old-fashioned darning mushrooms; severely obese bottle trees with improbable human shapes are tactfully called “desert roses”; and ever-hungry Egyptian vultures with punk hairstyles swoop in to act as garbage collectors.

Around the coast, freshwater springs gush between giant sand dunes. A natural pool with a 180 degree view perched on top of a cliff, a gray spot on a tree trunk turns out to be a mass of a thousand snails, daring pink land crabs emerge to explore our toes then as we refresh our feet in a wadi.

And in every direction and at every hour of the day, the island is unbelievably, unbelievably beautiful; its shapes, colors, sounds, and unexpected sense of space merge into something I long to revisit, even in my mind.

Extract of Wish I Was There: The Treasures of SocotraNovember 19, 2020

Razzle-dazzle on wheels

It’s a rare joy when an experience lives up to its appeal. A trip on the Orient Express from Paris to Venice is everything Maria Shollenbarger hoped for: opulent and golden (literally, in places) with a healthy dose of razzmatazz for good measure.

The pageantry, that of the personnel and yours, is part of the agreement. Them: royal blue livery trimmed with gold, casual leather-rimmed caps, white gloves, welcoming smiles. You: The holiday wardrobe game is up several notches (even if your game is pretty A already), because that’s the brief. Or at least that’s the steer (“You can never be overdressed aboard the Venice-Simplon Orient Express,” the booking confirmation paragraph on dress codes offers).

Black tie is not expressly required at dinner, you understand; but it’s definitely more fun. Perhaps more importantly, it honors the spirit of the company. The train and staff bring the exquisite settings, history, fine dining and rivers of great drinks. But for that old glare to show up convincingly, everyone has to, as the song goes, give it some.

Extract of The Roaring Twenties found on the Orient ExpressSeptember 6, 2021

A journey rich in stories

An enigmatic letter with Scandinavian runes stuck under a windshield wiper is the starting point of Lorien Kite’s family trip to Iceland. Their tour, inspired by Jules Verne’s classic Journey to the Center of the Earthtakes them through 8,000-year-old lava tubes, iceberg lagoons and volcanic craters – with just a little more comfort than Verne offered his protagonists.

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The packages keep coming, all containing riddles or messages that whet the appetite for the next day’s activities and support the tale of a mysterious uncle with the initials “GH” who has discovered a way to the center of the Earth and is now on the run. ; it’s a sort of treasure hunt, borrowing from the 1959 and 2008 films as well as the book.

Soon my wife and I had concerns that our children, ages 12 and 9, might find the activities too young were firmly dispelled. After a year and a half in which they’ve often been left to their own devices — particularly a tablet, smartphone, and Nintendo Switch — the call feels symbolic as much as anything else, with every artfully aged scroll and runic riddle d another way of saying that this time it’s really about them.

Extract of A journey to the heart of a Jules Verne classic, August 25, 2021

Photographs: Indonesia: AFP/Getty Images/Dreamstime; Tajikistan: Michael Turek for the FT; Socotra: Dreamstime; Orient Express: Belmond/Mattia Aquila; Iceland: Sebastian Wasek/Alamy; The time of dreams; Kite Lorien

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