Lonely Planet's
Best in Travel 2009

850 Trends, Destinations, Journeys &
Experiences for the Year Ahead

Geoff Howard, Editor
(Lonely Planet)
Lonely Planet's top ten cities include Zurich, Switzerland (for the street parades), Warsaw, Poland (the world's first public library opened here in 1747), Shanghai, China ("the world's longest laundry chute"), and Mexico City (lively; try to forget the 10,000,000 cars).

The surprise is Beirut, Lebanon. Fifteen years ago, it was under siege. To remind you of this, the "Most Bizarre Sight" listed here is the Holiday Inn, which once was a "prime sniper post."

    The hotel still dominates the Beirut skyline, complete with gaping mortar holes, fluttering shreds of bedroom curtains, and resident flocks of pigeons.

There are some ridiculous lists in Best in Travel. "Top ten places to steal a kiss" (the city of Kissing in Bavaria; Kissimmee, Florida, home of Disney World; the grave of Oscar Wilde in Pêre Lachaise ... which we wouldn't exactly think of as the best site for a happy buss).

Then there's "Best places to have a midlife crises:" The jewelry shops of Dubai? The home of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone? Seedy Macau ("Gamble away your kids' Inheritance?") Why not the birthplace of neurosis, Vienna?

For those is a better frame of mind, there are nine "Happiest Places." Bhutan in the Himalayas has a chart for something called GNA ("Gross National Happiness.") Perhaps that's because television only arrived there in 1999. Friends of ours do agree that Montréal, Canada should be at the top of the glee pile: there is a comedy festival every July, and marijuana is smoked openly, without shame or fear. Iceland comes in at #5, but this was published before the króna disappeared into a pile of dust last year.

And Denmark? "Academics drawing up a world map of happiness recently found Denmark the most cheerful nation on earth," but don't tell that to native son Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, who may have helped give birth to gloomy Existentialism. You might also want to avoid Happy, Texas. It is "the town without a frown."

There are some unlikely places to visit. Under "Top ten destinations" we have political edgy Algeria ("astonishing Roman cities, landscapes and oases of Saharan legend"), Kyrgyzstan ("the Switzerland of Central Asia" with "the world's only three-story yurt,") and Bangladesh. Bangladesh?

Despite being "the most densely populated country on earth," it is in the process of "banning all gas and diesel vehicles," and has mandated the end of all plastic bags "replacing them with environmentally kosher jute bags." The editors call it a "big-hearted nation" with a "most bizarre sight: a rush-hour traffic jam consisting entirely of hundreds upon hundreds of bell-clanging bicycle rickshaws."

Best in Travel is a pleasant change from the typical tourist guide. It's user-friendly, has --- as it reports in its title --- 850 choices for destinations, is filled with gorgeous photographs, and refuses to be too serious. In the "Top 10 Regions," you will find the Bay of Fires, Tasmania, Australia. The population is 300, beachside camping is free, and the language is "Australian."

--- Lolita Lark
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