Other Countries A US President Has Never Visited

President

President Barack Obama will land in Myanmar (aka Burma) this week, a first-time visit for any President of the United States. Never mind that Myanmar is best known as a brutal dictatorship, not exactly in line with U.S. foreign policy. Disregard any political or geographically strategic reasons for befriending Myanmar. Today, this is all about the President being the first to visit Myanmar and the trip begs the question: “So are there other countries that no sitting U.S. President has ever visited?”

Out of the 190+ countries in the world, just 113 of them have been visited by a President of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian.

Countries not visited include close-by neighbor the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St Kitts, St Lucia and assorted tiny island-nations. Understandable, we would probably view a visit to the harmless Seychelles as a taxpayer-paid vacation anyway.

On the continent of Africa, more nations have not been visited than have been by a U.S. President. Again, probably not a lot of strategic reasons to stop by.But some big-name countries we might think that some President, somewhere along the way, might have visited; not one has.

  • Monaco, the second smallest country/monarchy in the world and the most densely populated country in the world boasts the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino.
  • Algeria, in northern Africa, famous for its vast Sahara in the south..
  • Nepal- famous for eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains. No visit.

Armenia is a country one might think worthy of a trip by any standards. Bordered by Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east, Georgia to the north and Iran to the south, Armenia does seem to have a strategic location. Still, no visit.

Presidential travel takes any given sitting head of the free world to countries all over the planet on visits of good will. Meeting face to face with world leaders, attending meetings and spreading good old American spirit around when they can, Presidents are a big ticket when they come to town, along with Air Force One and more as we see in this video


Oh, and that trip to Myanmar? While President Obama is the first U.S. President to visit, he’s not the first Obama. The president’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was a cook in World War II for a British army captain stationed in what was then called Burma.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user 0ystercatcher]

Five unusual destinations from London

unusual destinations London

London is incredibly well served as a transit hub. Collectively, London airports see more traffic than any other cluster of city airports in Europe. An impressively broad network of routes connects the city’s airports to destinations across Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa. For anyone predisposed to travel, this range of destinations is inspiring.

Many of the world’s most visited destinations are served from London, some along multiple routes. Many others are less well known. Among these are the following five truly unusual destinations.

1. Ascension Island. This Atlantic Ocean island, hundreds of miles south of the Equator and well over one thousand miles from the African and South American coasts, hosts a joint US/UK air force military base and a European Space Agency tracking station. It is also home to one of the world’s very few GPS ground antennas. To fly to Ascension Island, hop aboard a military plane bound for the Falkland Islands at Brize Norton Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire, west of London. Upon arrival, laze about on the knockout beach above.

2. Hassi Messaoud, Algeria. Monarch flies to the inland oil town of Hassi Messaoud in Ouargla Province from London-Gatwick, though you have to book your ticket through Jet Air. This route is designed to ferry oil company workers to and fro, and you can expect to shell out just over £1050 for a round trip ticket. While this is most definitely not standard tourist territory, it might just be the ticket for oil industry hobbyists, of which there are no doubt a handful. Somewhere.

3. Tórshavn, Faroe Islands. Atlantic Airways, the Faroese national carrier, flies between London Stansted and the Faroe Islands from early June through early September. The Faroes, which lie north of Scotland, are a truly glorious (if extremely expensive) summer destination for whale watching, hiking, fishing, and birdwatching.

4. Sylhet, Bangladesh. Most of the UK’s Bangladeshi population has ancestral ties to Bangladesh’s Sylhet region. It’s not surprising then that there are links between London and the region’s biggest city, also named Sylhet. Connections are provided by United Airways (BD) (not to be confused with US carrier United) and Biman Bangladesh. United’s route stops in Dubai and Dhaka along the way; the Biman Bangladesh link is flown via Dubai. The region, known as Sylhet Division, is verdant and lush and full of tea plantations.

5. Sion, Switzerland. This tiny airport in the canton of Valais is served by just two airlines. From mid-December through April, an airline called Snowjet operated by Titan Airways connects Sion and London Stansted. Sion is 45 minutes by road from Verbier, the most stylish of Switzerland’s Four Valleys ski towns.

[Image of Ascension Island: Drew Avery | Flickr]

Try Fondue in Verbier, Switzerland

Ten great bands that I only discovered by traveling

To travel is to trade.

From the 15th century Portuguese explorers to the overconfident 18-year old who crosses the ocean with a loaded iPod, travelers are always in the business of exchanging things: ideas, food, fashion, genes and diseases. Music is right up there, and with the ease of the MP3, we freely unload playlists to one another like apples in a market.

When I look over some of the best music I own, I realize that I only discovered these bands/musicians from traveling away from home, well outside my own musical comfort zone. Certain bands are universal, others still quite local (or were, once upon a time), but despite iTunes attempts to drench us all in far-reaching world tastes, some music is still homegrown. Here’s a quick (and personal) top ten of my own discoveries accompanied by a slew of cheesy YouTube clips for your listening pleasure.

Trentemøller (Denmark) Something about dark, electronic music and the Nordic countries go hand in hand. Trentemøller has become a legendary DJ who plays across the globe, but had I never gone to Denmark, I would have waited five years for his music to work its way across the Atlantic.

Zero Degree Atoll (Maldives) I met the lead singer of this band in his home country of The Maldives, right after he performed a chilling cover or R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. Though he masters Led Zeppelin and his favorite band is Jethro Tull, his own music is sung in the Dhivehi languages and combines the local blend of Arabic and Indian influences.

Cheb Hasni (Algeria) You can’t visit North Africa and not hear the signature sounds of Algerian Raï music blaring in the chaotic streets of the medina, day and night. Cheb Hasni is king of the genre–an Algerian man, who with his band, cultivated a global following before he was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in 1994. I caught on to Cheb Hasni in Morocco and despite regular online research, have yet to listen to every one of his songs that make up his prolific discography.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola (Ireland) Sometimes when you’re traveling, you just have to take a chance and buy a random CD from the locals. I picked up Lasairfhiona in Ireland’s windswept Aran Islands some 7 years ago and have been listening to this Gaelic singer ever since. I don’t know any other music that captures the spirit of a place like she does.

Faye Wong/ 王菲 (Hong Kong) Anyone who’s been jetlagged in Asia knows the thrill of watching hour after hour of sappy karaoke-style MTV all night long. And yet, I actually discovered Faye in a discount bin in New York City’s Chinatown and had to wait until YouTube came around to take in her full repertoire, which is extremely vast. Somedays she the Chinese Celine Dion, other days the Asian Alanis Morissette–Faye is constantly reinventing herself and loves to do Cantonese covers of western indie classics. So don’t judge too quickly–Faye grows on everybody.

Architecture In Helsinki (Australia) Admittedly, big city Melbourne’s got a pretty crazy independent music scene but Architecture in Helsinki might just be the trippiest of them all. Going on a decade strong, the bizarre musical set-ups of AIH evokes a lot of “What?” reactions while still gaining global fans for their deliciously infectious, irresistibly toe-tapping and hip-shaking songs. As ambassadors from down under, AIH begs the question, is Australia an actual country or just a constant spaced-out party?

For a Minor Reflection (Iceland) Four 20 year-old dudes wailing thoughtfully on guitars. It’s a tried-and-true recipe but somehow, this post-rock band from Reykjavík adds something wonderfully new, delivering long, drawn-out ballads completely devoid of lyrics. Heard them first at Iceland Airwaves, which might be the greatest music festival in the world.

Marisa Monte (Brazil) Fairly popular in Brazil and France, I only came upon Marisa myself while passing through South America earlier this year. Her voice, songwriting, rhythms and melodies fall slightly outside the typical Latin American canon, which is why she’s succeeded in crossing over to an international following.

Springbok Nude Girls (South Africa) Compelling band name and even more compelling music, there’s not a South African out there who doesn’t have a strong opinion about these guys, thumbs up or down. That’s why I started listening to them in London, where there are more South Africans than Brits, I think. Springbok’s broke up a few years back but are apparently back together and playing sold-out gigs in South Africa right now.

Iryna Bilyk (Ukraine) Countries with dysfunctional governments always promise a steady flow of talented artists, and after living there for several years, I can say without irony that Ukraine is no exception. Of the many divas that rock Ukraine’s airwaves, Iryna Bilyk is the most classic–a kind of bottle-blond Slavic Madonna that plays in every cab in Kiev. Like the actual Amereican Madonna, Iryna caused no small scandal when the 40-year old singer married her 22-year old backup dancer. This song is called, “I’m not sorry.”

Feel free to add your own great musical finds in the comments below–Just make sure it’s music you discovered while traveling abroad.(If you spam me with your favorite Beyoncé or Coldplay clip, the world will know that you don’t even own a passport.) Thanks!

Marseille’s Noailles quarter: a taste of Africa, in Provence

The Provencal port city of Marseille has historically been associated with bouillabaisse, and, to a lesser extent, whores, thieves, and the usual debauchery that goes with being a sea port. Things started to turn around about a decade ago, and today it’s a safe, vibrant, thoroughly charming city whose cuisine and culture reflect its past as a colonial trading port with North Africa.

When France acquired Algeria in 1830, Marseille, the second largest port in Europe, saw a major influx of immigrants from North and West Africa that continues to this day. You can even take a ferry to Tunisia, 550 nautical miles away.

I was in Marseille researching a bouillabaisse story when I serendipitously discovered the Noailles, the city’s Arab quarter. It’s located a short walk from the Vieux Port, Marseille’s bustling, bar-and-restaurant-lined waterfront, off of the main artery of La Canebiere. It was like stumbling upon a Moroccan souk: narrow, cobbled streets lead away from a central square that is home to a daily outdoor produce market. Small, dark, cluttered shops sell tea sets and spices; markets carry everything from meat and seafood to Middle Eastern pastries, dates, pistachios, glass-like, crystallized whole fruits, and tubs of olives and harissa, a fiery red North African chile paste. It’s the ideal place to pick up edible souvenirs or picnic fixings.

Men in djellabahs sit at outdoor cafes, talking loudly over bracingly strong demitasse’s of coffee, while women draped in sifsaris paw through bins of vegetables. The quarter is a kaleidoscopic mélange of colors, sounds, and smells: rotting produce, incense, sizzling kebabs of chicken and lamb, and the comforting aroma of baking flatbreads and sugary almond cookies. My favorite part of this untouristed neighorhood, however, are the tiny Egyptian, Tunisian, and Algerian food stalls and bake shops that specialize in mahjouba–giant, rectangular-folded crepes filled with sautéed tomato, red pepper, onion, and harissa.

The takeaway shop Le Soleil d’Egypte makes a particularly delicious version, as well as selling a variety of North African flatbreads that are baked fresh throughout the morning. Mahjouba are a satisfying, inexpensive (under two dollars) snack–I was so besotted, I even took a couple on the train to Cassis with me. But they’re also special in that they’re a nod to the Marseillaise love of street foods.

All over the city, particularly near the port, street food vendors sell everything from croque monsieur and pissaladiere, to panisses–delicate, fried chickpea flour cakes. I love them all, yet visiting the Noailles for mahjouba is my pick. They’re a quintessential–if little known–Marseillaise treat: a melding of sunny Mediterranean vegetables, classic French cuisine, and North African culture.

For a harissa recipe, click here.

[Photo credits: man shopping, Flickr user Trilli Bagus; buildings, Flickr user Marind is waiting for les tambours de la pluie; rooftops, Flickr user cercamon]

Ferry crash in Spain strands 1,000

Imagine spending 20 hours crammed onto a ferry with almost 1,000 strangers. This is exactly what happened this weekend when strong winds forced a ship going from Orán, Algeria to Alicante, Spain to crash into the dock. Those on board were able to get off, and the next wave climbed aboard … where they would wait for almost a full day.

On Saturday night – after boarding Friday night – some of the passengers were permitted to step off the boat for a while, before trying again. Only around 40 people did so. Traffic in the other direction was a nightmare, though. Close to 120 cars showed up for the Saturday night ferry, only to find it canceled.

Given that this was a ferry, there were no reports of time being passed via shuffle board and low-rent lounge acts. There did not appear to be a buffet, and if there was a Captain’s table, it probably had folding legs.

It looks like the Alicante-Orán service could be working again on Monday.