With the crashing ringgit and the GST, I thought Malaysians may be more cautious with their spending.
I thought wrong.
This was the scene at the most recent MATTA Fair at PWTC.
It took me one good hour to make find a parking spot 1km away from the venue, and another good hour just to make my way through the queues into the 5 huge exhibition halls playing host to the MATTA Fair.
If Malaysians wanna travel, they will spend – and not even the weak ringgit is gonna stop them!
Despite the rising popularity of lesser-known "hipster" destinations, travelling to Europe remains one of many people’s biggest wishes.
At the MATTA Fair, I sat down with one of travel giant Trafalgar‘s Travel Director and Europe destination expert Brendon Bush for a brief chat.
[Disclaimer: I was asked to do the interview with an experienced tour guide at the MATTA Fair. Not paid to do this.]
The world is huge and there are many places to travel to. Why is Europe still such a great travel destination, especially for Malaysians?
A: For me it’s the diversity. There are very few places in the world that have such rich diversity of one area. You can go to America, but it’s all "America". You can go to Australia, but it’s all "Australia".
Their history and the culture don’t change.
If you are in Europe, you could drive for 5 days and go through 5 different countries. And each of those country has a different language, different people, different food, different tradition, different custom, different architecture, different landscape!
Everything is so varied in Europe. And that is the beauty that keeps people coming back.
I’ve been living and working in Europe now for 18 years, and I’m feeling I’m only starting to scratch the surface of having seen Europe!
Eastern Europe in particularly has opened up to tourism. Which of these new former-USSR countries have surprised you the most?
A: Currently, I really like Poland, Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovenia and Croatia - that area is really a bit of a hot spot now. It’s the new "place to be".
Western Europe is still great if you haven’t been to Europe before, but a lot of people are always looking for that non-trodden track.
Europe is still somewhat elusive for most Malaysians. For first-time visitors to Europe, what would you say is the best way to get started?
A: I guess it really comes down to personal preference, Kenny! As a travel director, I would get down to the big city hot spots, and do a multi-country destination to start with so they could get an overview.
Because of the diversity that Europe has, if you go to one place, you might not like that one country.
But if you do one of our Discovery holidays which does many different countries to start with, you get a taste of all those different countries. You might like one country, you might not like the next. But you’ll know that.
So when you come back to Europe, you’ll do one of our Country Explorer – one country instead and delve into the history and customs a little bit more.
What I want to do now is a "Best of…" list. So, off the top of your head, what would be the best place to go to in Europe for…
Best Place for Shopping
A: If people want to go Rome or Milan or Florence or Venice
for shopping, they all got the same famous brand names – Gucci, Prada, Versace, etc.
If you want to go to Paris, the Champs-Élysées or Galleries Lafayette. If you want to go to London, Oxford Street.
Best Place for Food
A: I lived in Italy for five years, Kenny, so I’ll be biased towards Italy for food! It’s hard to go past spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) or the seafood of the Mediterranean. A killer tiramisu is my favourite dessert by far.
I do like the sauces of France – Duck a L’Orange (roasted duck with orange sauce), but I’ll stick with Italy.
Best Place for Coffee
A: I don’t drink coffee, but the only place that I do drink it is Italy. Because I love espresso. A very short, heavy, thick espresso would normally have the same effect as a defibrillator and keep you awake for ten years!
Regardless of which city and what time of the day, if I can get an Italian coffee, I’d drink it. Across the border and outside of Italy, I stop drinking coffee!
Best Place for Art
A: The Louvre. Greatest collection in the world on display there.
Q: Do people always marvel at how small the Monalisa is?
A: Always. "And why is it behind a pane of glass!?"
There is a beautiful little church in Innsbruck, Austria called the Cathedral of St James. It’s an 18th century baroque church, just off the beaten track a little bit. From the outside, it looks quite austere, but inside is greatest example of baroque architecture you’ll ever see in your life. There’s such rich decoration that as soon as you walk in, your jaw hits the ground.
I’d love to take my guests there for a hidden treasure.
Best Train Journey
The Glacier Express. It’s in Switzerland, and it goes from St Moritz to Zermatt. It’s a six hour train journey, glass-roofed train, commentary in six different languages, and the most rugged and beautiful landscape in the world. If anyone were to research it, you would find it in the top 5 train journeys in the world.
We do that on our ‘Contrasts of Switzerland’ holiday.
Best Drinking Hole
Temple Bar in Ireland!
Best Food Market
Mercado de La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain.
Best Live Sports
Watching football in London. All of Asia loves watching football.
Ashford Castle. It’s in Ireland. We stay there on our Iconic Ireland and Ashford Castle holiday, as part of our Authentic Accommodation.
It’s a 13th century castle, and we stay inside there. It’s beautiful.
But the most famous castle that we cannot stay inside is of course the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
Best Place for History Buffs
For ancient history, Greece or Italy.
For more recent modern history, you go to the former Soviet Bloc, or the concentration camps in Germany or Poland.
Best Place for Adventure Sports
Switzerland, and anywhere in the Alpine region. You can go on your white-water rafting, canyoning, bungee-jumping, sky-diving and all these different things in the mountainous region. Mountains and adrenaline always go together.
Best Place for Sunset
Santorini, in the Greek Islands.
Cinque Terre in Italy is nice too, but I truly think the Greek Islands is a little bit more special.
Most Over-rated Place
Spanish Steps in Rome. It’s a staircase that’s covered by people and you can’t even see. I stand by my decision!
Most Under-Appreciated Places
Two of the most under-appreciated buildings are The Baptistery and the Cathedral of Pisa.
People don’t even look at them. All they want to do is see the Leaning Tower. You’ve got these beautiful masterpieces that are older than the Leaning Tower, made of just as intricate a stonework and as richly decorated. But because they are not leaning, forget about it! How can you do this? Really?
So everytime we go to Pisa, I try to point out the Baptistery and the Cathedral so people can appreciate it more.
The most under-appreciated place is Austria.
People don’t know a lot about the country. They think it’s all classical music and composers, they don’t realize the plains where Vienna is, then you got this mountainous region that’s stuck in between Italy and Germany. This is where Innsbruck is, where Salzburg is.
You got probably the greatest baroque style buildings and architecture in all of Europe. You got rolling green hills, countryside, mountainous peaks – it’s beautiful!
Best Place to Pop The Question
It’s cliche, but I always found Venice to be very romantic during night time when there are no tourists around.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a city. There are some small cute villages like the Cinque Terre, Italy.
You can get away from the crowds, go to some lesser-known places and stay in a tiny hotel on the waterfront.
You can be sitting on the beach by the beautiful moonlight when you propose. There are beautiful walks that you can do as well, then hold hands, sit down for a picnic as you slowly build up your nervousness to finally pop the question!