Another Ben article had to share
10 surprisingly good destinations by Ben Groundwater
There's nothing worse than saving up all your hard-earned, splashing out on a big trip, then being disappointed when you get there - as I wrote about a few weeks ago.
But there's a flip side to those places that let you down.
Sometimes, you find destinations that are surprisingly good. You might arrive in a place with no pre-conceived ideas, not knowing what to expect. Or, you might get dragged along somewhere you didn't really want to go to in the first place. Still, you're not expecting much.
So it's a pretty awesome feeling when you discover the place you've ended up in is exactly what you'd been looking for all along.
Here are 10 such spots. As you'll see, I arrived in most of them with pretty much no idea what I'd find - or if I did have an idea, it proved to be way off the mark ...
What I expected: Basically, a whole lot of Mormons, a salty lake, and highly restrictive alcohol laws.
What I found: An outdoor-lover's paradise. There might be a lot of fun-stopping Mormons in Utah, but they were obviously too busy marrying people to hang out where I was, which was mostly around Moab, near the Colorado border. There, you've got some of the best mountain biking and rock climbing in the world, plus the amazing Arches National Park. Turn up in winter, and you've also got more snow than you'll be able to handle.
What I expected: Does Croatia even have islands? Apparently so. So I figured there'd be a bunch of bombed out houses, and lots of people who looked like Monica Seles. And hopefully, a few beaches.
What I got: Only the most amazing scenery I've come across. I spend a week tootling around the islands in the northern Adriatic sea, swimming in the incredibly clear water, stopping in at little villages to eat fresh seafood, drinking beers with friendly locals ... Blows the Greek Islands out of the water.
What I expected: As far as I knew, I'd be lucky to get out of the place without being genocided. For as long as I could remember, the only time I'd heard anyone refer to Uganda was on the news, and it was never for good reasons.
What I got: For starters, a trek through the jungle to see mountain gorillas, but that's not the half of it. There was the rough charm of Kampala, the rolling green hills around Lake Bunyonyi, the roaring source of the Nile at Jinja, and cows with the biggest damn horns I've ever seen. And it all seemed pretty safe.
What I expected: Drugs. And lots of them. It'd basically be like a party at Keith Richards' house, only with less eyeliner.
What I got: Well, yeah, drugs. And lots of them. But there was more than that. There were women in sweet bowler hats, and men who could drink a rhino under the table. There was a spectacularly stupid mountain biking route. Giant salt flats. Pre-Incan ruins. A ridiculous capital city wedged into a sheer valley. Great street food. And was all so cheap.
What I expected: Huh? There's something outside of Amsterdam?
What I got: As great as Amsterdam is, there's a real charm about country Netherlands that you don't get in the big city. I mean, you have to love a country that you can cycle around, not on an super-expensive road bike, but on a dinky pushy you could pick up from Toy World. The place is that flat. And the scenery would make a postcard cry - all those windmills and rivers. Stop at a village, order chips with mayo, and you're in heaven.
What I expected: I've met Kiwis before. Plenty of them. They're just like us, only more sarcastic. So NZ will pretty much be Australia-lite, right?
What I got: Well, a Peter Jackson film set, for starters. The place couldn't be any less like Australia if it tried (which it probably would if it could). Where we've got flat, arid landscapes with the odd hill thrown in, the Kiwis have huge mountains, glaciers, rolling hills, and Milford Sound. But what I also found were ridiculously friendly people, plus lovely vineyards, some of the best beer on the planet (served in great pubs) ... And if you can't find something to do in Queenstown, you need help.
What I expected: I'd been told two things by most people who'd been to Russia: that St Petersburg was the shiz, and Moscow was a dump. So I was expecting gangsters in blacked-out Hummers, plus some grey buildings and miserable people.
What I got: The complete opposite. St Petersburg was nice enough, but Moscow seemed to be the real beating heart of the country. People are still frightened to take photos near the old KGB headquarters - it doesn't get much more authentic than that. Plus there's the Kremlin and Red Square by day, and insane (and insanely expensive) bars by night. And those "miserable" locals were actually a lot of fun.
What I expected: A bunch of old stuff, snuggling beneath a doona of emphysema-causing smog. And food of questionable origin.
What I got: Okay, the old stuff was there. As was the smog - most of the time. But there were a lot of great surprises to Beijing, like the huge arts district, the amazing modern architecture sprouting up all over the place, the friendliness of the locals, and the unfailingly delicious food. I'm sure it's possible to get a bad meal in Beijing - I just didn't order it.
What I expected: Wide African plains, little men who talked by clicking at me, and maybe the odd lion.
What I got: My favourite African game park, Etosha - a sprawling mass of land with three great campsites inside it, each perched near a water hole where animals come to drink at night. Plus, there's the bizarre German seaside town of Swakopmund plonked on an otherwise desolate coast, about a squillion seals at Cape Cross, huge sand dunes you can climb up and then snowboard down, and the majesty of Spitzkoppe at sunset. A pretty amazing place, all up.
What I expected: Not much, really. Like, literally not much. A small capital city, a couple of little towns ... and that's about it.
What I got: Well, there's the, um, the ... ah, fine. I still haven't been there. But everyone I've talked to who has been has absolutely raved about it, so maybe I have to change my view. Tasmania: it's okay.
Have you been anywhere you were pleasantly surprised by? Why weren't you expecting much?
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