In yesterday's Travel section, the byline on the "Six Sites to Cite" article was inadvertently omitted. The author of the story is James T. Yenckel.
TRULY GREAT places always set the heart singing no matter how many millions of tourists pass by.
Late on an August afternoon, after hours on the road, we rounded a steeply climbing curve to find ourselves suddenly facing the imposing bulk of Mount Rainier, it's snow-blanketed peak sharply etched against against a cloudless sky. Bright yellow and purple wildflowers splashed across the lower slopes. In a lushly green meadow in front of us, a small lake reflected the image. I was dazzled. Absolutely.
We stopped the car, and I jumped out and ran into the meadow. The sense of awe was so great that I actually fell to my knees. That happened almost a quarter-century ago, yet that experience in the Washington Cascades has remained vivid.
Rainier is one of America's sure-fire tourist attractions--the ones, either natural or man-made, that never fail to meet (or even exceed) their reputation. Many travelers have been lured to a city, state or another country only to be disappointed by one of its historic places or views. Hollywood, for all the glitter the name implies, really is only an L.A. suburb. In spite of the romantic music, the Vienna "woods" are simply that, and a few minutes of staring through the gate at Buckingham Palace suffices for a lifetime.
How any foot-slogging tourist reacts to a fabled sight--the Parthenon, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon--may depend on the chance of a sunny day, a buoyant mood or a special interest. I grew up loving Broadway musicals, and for me Times Square is a big wow no matter how tawdry.
After years of travel throughout this country and abroad, I've found that certain tourist attractions never disappoint. Here are a half-dozen that invariably stir the emotions and set cameras clicking: Yosemite Valley
Tucked into California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is a spectacle worthy of all the hosannas. The park's biggest draw is the mile-wide, seven-mile-long valley famous for its plentiful waterfalls crashing more than 1,000 feet down granite cliffs. As a youth, I lived nearby; as an adult, I go back often.
I've seen it in every season: In the spring, when the falls thunder; in autumn, when the flow has diminished to a trickle, but the crowds are gone and the air is crisp; in the winter, when a dusting of snow on the cliffs and evergreen forests creates a sparkling fantasy world; and in the summer, when tourists troop in by the thousands.
Even during the busy season, I found as recently as last year, the valley is enchanting. The days are sunny and mild at the 4,000-foot altitude; the air invigoratingly dry. Only a short distance from the crowded tourist village, it's easy to find a solitary trail--one that parallels the meandering Merced River, where you can stop for a brisk swim in the snow-fed water, or a trail that climbs up sharply from the valley for splendid views of the Sierra high country.
My days have been spent in the valley's meadows and pine forests, scrambling over rocks to discover a little-visited waterfall or reading by a river pool. The glacially polished cliffs that rise sharply like fortress walls seem protective, as if the cares of the outside world could never breach them.
The White House
Before I came to Washington 17 years ago, I watched First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's historic televised tour of the presidential mansion, and I was captivated. "So much history," thought I, the history graduate, "in that one place." Naturally, it was tops on my newcomer's sightseeing list.
I joined the throngs one morning for the quick and jostling walk-through customary for all but VIPs. But it was enough: To step through those guarded gates (to see an honest-to-god Secret Service man); to shuffle through the basement hallways; to stand in the very rooms once used by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The mansion is beautiful, inside and out, but that's not what impressed me. For a few minutes, I was experiencing the sense of being at the center of the nation, at one with its history. Children believe it, as I had, when their parents tell them they can grow up to be president. For them, the White House becomes a special place in the dreams of the future.
I've been back many times, on my own or guiding visiting friends and relatives. I've walked the grounds when they are open to the public, taken a VIP tour, viewed the Christmas decorations and once even helped report a story there. The place still awes me. The thrill that is greatest, however, on every visit, is stepping out through the North Portico. I imagine, only for a second, that I am Mr. President, as my parents told me I could be, taking a stroll down the front walk, "Hail to the Chief" echoing faintly in the background. Taj Mahal
I never saw the Taj Mahal by moonlight, when it is reputed to be at its most exquisite. No matter. The white marble walls and dome gleamed bedazzlingly under a fierce autumn sun. The fabled structures of man more often disappoint on a first view than nature's wonders. But a trip to the Taj, a mausoleum built in the 1600s by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, is a pilgrimage to the magnificent.
Like many Western visitors, I traveled to Agra from New Delhi on a one-day bus tour. Though the Taj was the primary destination, we remained there only briefly to hurry on to other temples and forts, the significance of which I little understood, and the curio shops. Rushed for time, I quickly took mental snapshots from many angles, and over the years these striking impressions have been far more accessible than my packed-away slides.
The Taj is most often described as a jewel, and that is apt. A diamond, perhaps, for its sparkle, or a pearl, for its lustrous white surface. After the hurly-burly of India's cities, the riverside setting of lawns and fountains is refreshingly serene. An American couple, in pink and yellow, asked me to take their photo with the Taj as background. Shouldn't shrines of such magnitude, I remember thinking, be exempt from this humbling practice? But I snapped the picture anyway, convinced their gaudy presence would not dim the Taj's beauty in the slightest.
Mountains have the majesty of domination. They fill the sightseer with a sense of power and put him physically and spiritually on top of the world. I head for the high hills at every chance, and so journeyed to the Swiss Alps a few years ago.
It was a rainy May morning when my wife and I arrived by cog railway in Zermatt, where a horse-drawn coach (automobiles are restricted) waited to take us to a small hotel. Throughout the day, a fog bank hovered low over the village, occasionally lifting partially to give us a glimpse of rising mountain slopes. We toured the shops, strolled the pathways and sampled the wines and pastries of this picture-book place.
The next morning I awoke early and climbed from beneath the eiderdown to shut the window to the frosty air. I was happy to notice the sun streaming in. And then I looked out. The view stunned me. Framed perfectly in our window stood the Matterhorn, it's sharp, snow-heavy peak thrusting dramatically to the heavens against the deep-blue background, sharpened by a fierce sun.
"Oooof," I said, as if the wind had been knocked out of me. I called my wife, a late sleeper. She grumbled, but this time I insisted. She reacted the same way. We stared and stared and then grabbed our cameras. But that wasn't enough. We dressed quickly and ran outside for an even better view.
We were foolishly afraid that the Matterhorn would go away before we could get our fill. If we hadn't been foreigners, I think we might have danced in the streets.
Eventually we realized the Matterhorn was going to remain for at least a few hours yet, and we returned to our hotel for breakfast. The next couple of days, we hiked the trails that lead from the village up the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains, often passing shepherds and cowherds with their stock on the way to alpine meadows. The Matterhorn seldom was out of sight.
By then, it little mattered that on our last day the rain returned and Zermatt's mountains disappeared into the clouds. We could see it in our minds as clearly as on that first dawn, and we still do.
The heart certainly doesn't sing in Moscow's Red Square, but you might find it thumping. To a visitor from the free world, the square, bounded on one side by the Kremlin walls, represents power--a terrifying power that caused me to shudder as I waited to pass through Lenin's tomb. As a tourist attraction, it doesn't disappoint, whatever your politics.
Here I was, nine years ago, standing on an August day at the very heart of America's great ideological adversary. The adrenaline flowing from a mild but persistent fright of the unknown heightened my awareness. Around me, a nation displayed its regalia of rule to foreign visitors and citizens alike.
Red banners flew from the Kremlin (and at night, a red star literally shone from one wall). Occasionally a black auto bearing a uniformed driver and hidden passengers sped from a gateway across the otherwise traffic-free square. Foreign tourists by the hundreds lined up first to visit the tomb. Behind them trooped thousands of citizens of the Soviet Union in a line that weaved back and forth across the brick pavement. Armed guards enforced strict decorum, though it hardly seemed necessary.
The tomb was opened promptly with a brief honor-guard ceremony that involved a slow, solemn march to the entrance. After the long wait, the visitor passes in and out of the site quickly. But there is time enough to view the lifelike remains. Beneath a glass enclosure, Lenin, dressed in a dark suit, is lying atop a platform, his head slightly propped up as if he were napping on a couch. His smooth facial features give the eerie impression of life. It certainly adds to the drama of your visit.
But that's the harsh side of Red Square; there is a lighter side. Across from the Kremlin and the tomb are GUM, the department store, and St. Basil's, the fairytale cathedral of candy-cane towers and ice cream cone domes. Here, Russians on a holiday shopped, sipped sodas and had their photos taken. The children played or whined or slept in their parents' arms. Tivoli Garden
Two visits to Disneyland were fun, but Tivoli, Copenhagen's famous downtown park, is a more authentic fantasyland. A small place, on a more human scale, it doesn't seek to recreate the past, as in Disneyland's Mainstreet U.S.A. or Frontierland, or the future of Tomorrowland. It delights in the present with twinkling lights and miniature lakes, beautiful gardens, dancing fountains and romantic music at every turn of the path.
An adult park, it appeals to the child in all of us. You can waltz (or rock), watch a ballet, listen to a symphony or ride the toy-like Ferris wheel. A dozen fine restaurants serve a wide array of unusual dishes, and beer and wine flow freely. One ice cream stand I visited daily sold an "American Cup," consisting, I swear, of scoops of vanilla and strawberry ice cream, a chocolate marshmallow cookie, nuts, whipped cream and a cherry all stuffed into a huge cone. Indulge. Indulge.
Near Tivoli's entrance is a bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish fairy tale author. The smiling Hans is seated and seems to be pointing, appropriately, toward the park. One day, on our third or fourth visit, my wife suddenly hopped up into Hans' lap and hugged him. Tivoli does that to you.