Staying in a hotel six weeks after its debut requires a willingness to overlook a few unpolished edges and occasional service hiccups. But The Knickerbocker on Times Square achieved a level of clumsiness not seen since "Fawlty Towers" left the airwaves. We passed beneath an awning festooned with wires and open electrical sockets to find a front desk unable to locate our reservation. When they later did, and promised a double upgrade, we were shown to exactly the room we reserved. Never once, in all my decades of traveling, has a hotel “upgraded” me to the room category I had booked. Small windows constrained the much-touted Times Square views, elevators malfunctioned and bellmen were dressed like extras in a dystopian version of "Newsies." The Knickerbocker’s décor was relentlessly gray, but my stay was unquestionably colorful.
On my recent trip to Australia I had been particularly looking forward to seeing the country's other great reef, the Ningaloo, on the west coast. Unlike the storied Great Barrier Reef, a visit to which requires lengthy boat or air trips, the Ningaloo brushes the shore, giving you easy access. We had booked at Sal Salis, a wilderness eco-resort where, in season, the opportunities for up-close viewing of whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean, are unmatched. And then, a few days before our arrival, a fierce cyclone flattened the place. News that no one died or suffered serious injury cheered me, but otherwise I was deeply disappointed. I'm happy to report that the resort has now reopened. So at least I have something to look forward to.
Though the owner and his family were very friendly, nothing about this strange hotel, composed of stuffy stale-smelling cabins in a mosquito-ridden park, made any sense. We couldn’t wait to leave. The real mystery is why this over-priced and generally unpleasant place gets rave reviews in most of the mainstream guidebooks, including the reliably unreliable “Michelin Guide to Spain and Portugal.” Avoid both this hotel and the latter guidebook.
The desert city of Jaisalmer lies 175 miles northwest of Jodhpur. Once, it was a refuge and supply depot for caravans plying the trade route between western India and Arabia. But with the rise of the great ports of Bombay and Karachi in the 19th century, trade took to the sea and the caravans disappeared. Jaisalmer declined inexorably, and when I first visited 30 years ago, it was a virtual ghost town. Since then, Jaisalmer Fort has become one of Rajasthan’s most popular tourist attractions, with around half a million visitors each year. Nowadays, it seems to feature on the itinerary of every young European backpacker. Jaisalmer was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2013, but this seems to have done little to arrest its structural decline. Around 2,000 people still live inside the fort, and expansion of their properties to cater to the ever-increasing number of tourists, as well as inadequate water drainage, has led sections of the ancient masonry to collapse. I can think of few more egregious examples of tourism’s ability to destroy what it professes to love.