Go With a Purpose.
A blog about connecting through places that matter.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Heritage Q&A With Veteran Travel Journalist Paul Lasley

Today’s post is next in a series of Q&As with people who have a passion for heritage- and culture-related travel. We asked veteran travel journalist Paul Lasley to share with us why he finds travel a life-enriching experience.

Paul has written and broadcast about travel since the time flying was fun. He is a columnist for Westways, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California. He is also producer and host of “Traveling,” a daily podcast radio show with his co-host Elizabeth Harryman. Their radio broadcasts have won numerous awards, including two from the Lowell Thomas Foundation, as the best travel shows of the year in either radio or television. Paul and Elizabeth are married and consider where they are at the moment home. See — and hear — their work at ontravel.com.

1. Where have you found inspiration and/or life-enrichment during your travels?
Travel is, in and of itself, life-enriching. I never come back from a trip, no matter how short, without bringing back some experience or memory that adds to the quality of my life. Traveling with an open mind and being open to new experiences brings with it a state of mind where I can look at my everyday life when I return home with an increased sense of appreciation. I can also find ways to improve everything from work and technology to the quality of life. No question travel can be a learning experience.

2. Tell us about your most recent trip. What heritage or cultural sites did you visit?
Elizabeth and I were invited to meet Prince Philip at a small reception for journalists from around the world. It was held in one of the state rooms in Buckingham Palace and, before we met the prince and chatted for a few moments, we were given a private tour of the State Rooms of the Palace with one of the expert curators of the Royal Collection. Now the rooms will be open later this year to the public, but being able to walk through without crowds and ask questions about the art was a rare privilege and a thrill.

We also had a chance to visit the newly refurbished Whitechapel Gallery in East London. This small gallery is famous for launching the careers of many modern artists from Picasso to Pollack. And just down the street is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The [foundry has] been making bells continuously since 1570. They have made Big Ben, the bells of Westminster Abbey and even [the bells at] St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. To me that’s as exciting as any museum.

3. What is your most memorable heritage or cultural travel experience?
It’s hard to find just one, but some things remain indelibly in my mind. Seeing Venice for the first time. Visiting the baroque churches with their amazing carvings in Germany. Hearing an organ that Bach played. Evensong at Kings College in Cambridge. Finding a mob of kangaroos watching us one morning on a country road outside Melbourne. Visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing before tourism and crowds in the early 80s. The Winged Victory in the Louvre. Having a soda in a century-old soda fountain in Columbus, Indiana. Sitting quietly in a redwood forest in the Sierra Foothills in California and listening to the sound of time. Watching the sun set on the Grand Canyon. Spending a day walking the Freedom Trail in Boston. I could go on.

4. Where is one heritage or cultural destination you think everyone with your interests should visit?
There is nothing quite like Washington, D.C. and the National Mall. It is unique in all the world. Imagine a huge collection of free Smithsonian museums. There is great art, rockets and priceless Indian artifacts all within walking distance. There is never enough time to see it all, but that’s a reason to return again and again. Then you have the incredible Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.

5. What sorts of things do you like to learn during your travels?
I like to feel a link with history whether old or even in the recent past. Somehow visiting a place where some event happened or that is associated with a period in time is very meaningful to me. It could be standing near the Agora and thinking about Socrates or viewing the Declaration of Independence and remembering the struggle and emotions of the Founding Fathers who crafted the document. Being there enhances the experience.

And while going overseas is part of travel, discovering the historical places in America is often overlooked. So much history has happened in this country and through the parks and organizations dedicated to preserving it we can learn so much. Gettysburg, the Alamo, Sutter’s Fort, Concord — the list is endless. Places where history really does come alive.

6. What does heritage travel mean to you?
Every time I visit some place that has an historical reference I feel a profound gratitude for those who have preserved and maintained it. Unfortunately, it seems that economic forces rage for development and newness yet preserving our past and our heritage is vital to showing us who we are as a people. Hopefully, we’ll come to a point where the true value of our history will be recognized and given more weight in the struggle to preserve it.

7. What are your favorite heritage- and culture-rich destinations?
I’ve mentioned some, but one thing I’d like to point out are the small towns and neighborhoods in America. So many are fading away but some are surviving and using tourism as a means to stay alive. The Gold Rush towns along Highway 49 in California are good examples. The rural tourism initiatives in Nevada are helping to save some interesting towns in that state. As I travel I see a renewed interest in finding destinations that provide experiences for the visitor. Historic hotels and inns are being renovated, old shops are being brought back to life and in general there seems to be a small but significant trend to preserving our heritage. I find that encouraging.

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