We lost Prince and Glenn Frey of The Eagles and Leonard Cohen. And a certain Twitter-loving business guy of mixed intelligence got elected president of the U.S. But there were some great things for me in the year in travel, including a yodelling shop owner, a sex-crazed marsupial and a chance meeting with the son of one of the fabled Marx Brothers. So here are my annual Jimmy Awards for travel, this time with an eye on the off-kilter, weird and just a little bit strange.
Best Rum-Punch-Drinking-Monkey: This fellow (of course, it may have been a lady monkey) at Sunshine’s, a legendary bar in Nevis, part of St. Kitts and Nevis. Bold little critters. Good taste in booze, too.
Best Royal Underwear Exhibit I Missed Seeing: I did a tour of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary but we were unable to find a pair of Queen Victoria’s drawers that they keep under lock and key. The story goes that she donated them to her butler, who somehow got them to a museum in Canada. I think there’s something odd about this. Spoiler alert: I’ve seen photos, and this set of undies more closely resembles the white sails of Christopher Columbus’ largest ship than anything you’d think of as underwear.
Surprise Bar Experience: I was in Palm Springs with my Dad and we wanted to hit an old-time piano bar. A retail worker suggested we pop in to AJ’s on the Green, located inside the Date Palm Country Club. “It’s kind of inside a trailer park,” he said. I was immediately intrigued. Then I did some research and found out the piano player was Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers. He’s a lovely piano player and a wonderful host and we had a fantastic evening. Even better was a follow-up phone chat I had with him.
Favourite Cemetery: The not-so-aptly named Ha Ha Cemetery in New Brunswick, Canada. I can’t help laughing when I think about it.
Most Unusual Critter I Heard About: While on a tour of Fraser Island in Australia, I learned there’s a local marsupial called an antechinus. Apparently the little guys go without sex for several years, then go crazy and mate like, well, animals for a short period before their hall falls out and they die. Presumably with smiles on their faces.
Best Accordion/Yodel Performance of the Year: My impromptu chat with Kimberley, British Columbia shop owner Adi Unterberger, the Yodelling Woodcarver, resulted in this fantastic accordion and yodelling demonstration. I love his commitment and the obvious joy he gets from playing and singing. Click here for a video!
Bumpiest Car Ride: Bouncing down the dirt roads (that’s a generous description of a glorified goat trail) past the Garden of the Gods rock formations on the Hawaiian island of Lana’i to get to the longest, loneliest beach you might find anywhere in the U.S., Polihua Beach. An awesome experience I wish I had done with another person. But better alone than not at all.
Best Natural Attraction With The Most Underwhelming Name: It sounds like a bad stretch of road, but Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is actually a stunning series of natural pools (hence “potholes”) and waterfalls that tumble through a narrow canyon.
Funkiest Tour Guide: Sunshine (Sunny) Powers and her Flower Power Walking Tour of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. A groovy young lady who knows her history. And not someone one you’d want to mess with judging by the way I saw her break up a fight between two large guys outside a Thai restaurant I was eating at after the tour.
Most Interesting Hot Sauce Name: Choke Your Chicken. Ahem. Spotted in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada at a food truck called Aloha Taco (I’m not making this up).
Most Enjoyable Place to Dine and Buy Fish Bait All in One: Bait House Tackle and Tavern is a super-casual but hugely enjoyable spot on the Intracoastal Waterway in Clearwater Beach, Florida. It’s not every place in town that allows you to order up smoked fish on crackers and then buy the bait so you can catch more fish.
Best Bottle Houses: I toured a great collection of houses/buildings made of old bottles near Cap-Egmont Prince Edward Island. I’d heard of those. A couple days later I found another collection that even the province’s tourism board didn’t know about; these ones a smaller but still compelling group near Point Prim.
Most Irreverent Tour Guide: My guide of London’s Swinging 60’s areas showed us where Jimi Hendrix died and also insisted he used to work at a shop that secretly sold marijuana to the likes of Joe Strummer from The Clash.
Most Unusual Winery: Most wineries play Bach or Beethoven in their tasting room, or maybe Diana Krall. At Framingham Winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, they were blasting out “I’m So Bored With the USA” by punk rockers The Clash when I was there. The owner is a big punk rock fan and has sayings from famous musicians etched into paving stones in the garden area.
Worst Musical Interlude: On a bus ride from Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic to our cruise ship, our tour guide insisted on playing Czech versions of popular North American songs that radio stations in what was then Czechoslovakia weren’t allowed to play in their original, English-language forms. You haven’t had a headache until you hear a Czech singer do “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in their native language with synthesizers. Wait a minute, “Hey Jude” was even worse….
Funniest Shop Sign: This one at a coffee shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Johan Strauss Has Fleas?: On a tour of Vienna, we were told that composer Johann Strauss was wildly popular back in the day, so much so that women would write and ask for locks of his hair He didn’t like the idea of going prematurely bald, so he would apparently clip off hair from one of his pet poodles and send that along.
Best Spoons Player: I loved watching and listening to 83-year-old (at the time) Jerry Deveau at the pub at the fine Glenora Distillery Hotel on Cape Breton. There’s always great music to be found on Cape Breton.
Strangest Cocktail: I earned myself another “Sour Toe” certificate after downing a glass of Canadian whisky (naturally) and allowing a preserved human toe inside the glass to touch my lips. It’s a goofy tradition at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon. And you thought Canadians were normal.
Most Intimate Spa Experience: I was ordered to strip down to nothing and don the tiniest little G-string for my couples massage at the Adler Thermae Spa in Tuscany. It was a fantastic massage, even if the girl got a little closer to home plate than I’m accustomed to. Afterwards, my wife and I soaked in bathtubs partly filled with local red wine. Aaahhh….
Craziest Apple Pie: Mom’s Cafe in wonderful Sooke B.C. uses 50-something apples in each pie, making them roughly the size of a basketball. The lemon meringue and chocolate pies are equally large, and just as tasty.
Best Tuber Museum: The Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, Prince Edward Island. A testament to the glorious spud in all its forms and permutations. They crown a local Miss Potato Blossom Festival champion every year. And did you know European royalty used to wear potato blossoms in their hair?
Best Musical Adapation: A fellow with hair like a Hobbit from the Lord of the Rings movies got on stage at the legendary Cavern Club and sang “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees. But he changed the words (in a way I suspect John Lennon would’ve liked) to “And then I licked her face, ‘cuz I’m a retriever.”
Best Roadside Statue: The giant lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick. I love this sort of thing.
Wildest Musical Show: Lucky Ron has been playing Saturday afternoons at Ottawa’s Chateau Lafayette for 30 years, He’s like Johnny Cash meets Canadian Stompin’ Tom Connors, with a loud and loyal following that shouts out lyrics and likes to interact with him. A truly wonderful Canadian experience.
Wackiest Golf Experience: Riding one of the golf boards at Princeville Resort on Kauai. It’s kind of a cross between a surf board and a Segway, and it’s a half ton of fun. A stunning golf course, too.