Julietta Jameson says she’d spend her last day on Earth in Rome walking in beauty, to quote the poet Lord Byron, who was also a fan of Italy’s capital city.
It should, of course, be cause for concern: the end of the world; the coming of the apocalypse; the impending doom of our last collective day on Earth. As world leaders trade 140-character insults and missiles soar through our skies, it should be reason to take to the streets in panic. However, we’re not doing that. If the end of the world really is nigh, then we would like to go out doing something we love. Why spend your hypothetical final 24 hours on this wonderful planet in fear, after all. Ideally, your last day would be one of defiance, of joy, of raging against the dying of the light, of exalting in the things you cherish about this life and this Earth the most. That’s how we feel, and our fantasy final day would, of course, be spent exploring the world.
We would pass our last hours doing the things we love best: travelling, discovering, tasting, viewing, interacting, gazing, wandering, and enjoying.
* Ten days in Italy
* Italy travel tips and advice: Twenty things that will surprise first-time visitors to Italy
* Botswana bushmen safari: Survival secrets of the San
On your Roman holiday, wake early and enjoy the beauty of Piazza Navona without the crowds.
THE INDULGENT TRAVELLER by Julietta Jameson
My last day will be spent walking in beauty, to quote the poet Lord Byron who loved Rome like I do.
I rise from the plushest of beds at 4am, huddling myself into a fluffy white towelling robe before stepping out onto my private terrace on the top floor of Rome’s Intercontinental De La Ville. From one of the highest points in the city, I gaze across the analogue street lights, darkened verdant hills, glowing blue domes and terracotta villas and fall into a sacred moment of gratitude that my last day can be spent communing with such splendour.
Patagonia, where wind, ice, rain and glaciers create a startling landscape that has an undeniable sense of fury and finality.
“Buongiorno signora Jameson! You are up so early!” I engage with the doorman and the wonderful theatre of five-star life before stepping onto the quiet pre-dawn cobbled lanes alongside the garbos and street sweepers to see my Roman friends one last time: Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk, the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Michelangelo’s wonder of symmetry and sequence built within the old Roman baths near Termini, and the ancient Pantheon, a symbol of stoic endurance amidst the fleeting moments of history, much like the city itself.
By now Rome is awake and I stand at a busy bar alongside the suits and perfectly blow-waved women, savouring a strong black coffee, a simple cheese and ham panini and a sip of prosecco – no one cares – before walking via the dazzling elegance of Piazza Navona to admire the buskers and street artists. On I walk, to Piazza del Popolo to pop a coin into a slot so the light comes on to illuminate the Caravaggio in the church there. His brilliance, as always, moves me to tears.
I lunch on one of the sunny terraces that line the square, surrounded by designer sunglasses and linen shirts on impossibly good-looking men. I flirt with the waiter as I order an extra glass of wine to wash down my silky tortellini.
”A train ride in India is people; it’s so many people. It’s the best and worst of humanity.”
A post-prandial doze ensues, in the city’s particularly golden sunshine, on a cool, thick lawn dotted with daisies in the Villa Borghese gardens. I might ride the carousel before wandering Via dei Coronari to try on heirloom jewellery and fondle exquisite antiques.
I buy a crazy expensive dress on via Condotti, head up the Spanish Steps to my hotel, and open a bottle of soave to sip as the sun begins to drop. I do my hair and make-up, slip on my new frock and take my time getting to that little family-owned trattoria I know on the square off the beaten path, with the al fresco seating that faces a grand church and where the whole host family, bambini included, welcome you like one of their own.
Fresh crusty bread, antipasti, pasta, wine, tiramisu and the box seat as the setting sun paints the church’s facade – I toast this day, this city and this life, that has been full of beauty and splendour when I have been open to it like this, and as I have always been when in Rome.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta – surely the finest resting place for nature lovers.
THE ADVENTURE TRAVELLER by Andrew Bain
If I’m confronting the end of the world, I want to do so at one of the geographic ends of the world: Patagonia, the place I consider the most naturally beautiful and wild at once. Here, wind, ice, rain and glaciers have carved a startling landscape that has an undeniable sense of fury and finality.
From the ever-expanding Argentine town of El Calafate, I’ll set out early for Moreno Glacier, boating across Lago Argentino beneath the 70 metre-high terminus of the glacier. Almost certainly, seracs will be calving away from its snout, tumbling into the lake in powerful eruptions of water and ice.
Take time to notice the little things that make Venice so transcendental.
On rock shelves across the lake, I’ll don a set of crampons for a guided hike up through the glacier’s magical maze of ice. Crunching along ridges of compacted ice, we’ll wander up to the final bend in Moreno’s frozen journey, where its surface fractures like broken honeycomb, creating spectacular fins and towers of ice.
I’m hoping the world ends in the southern summer, so that the long days allow me time to dash from Moreno Glacier to the climbers’ haven of El Chalten, don my backpack and set out on foot through the lenga beech scrub towards my favourite mountain in the world: Monte Fitz Roy.
It’s a place as suitably end-of-the-world as I know, for the winds here are often apocalyptic – I’ve hiked in 160km/h winds in Patagonia that had locals blithely shrugging their shoulders as if to say “just another day”. The walk into the base of Monte Fitz Roy is a simple one, following the Chorrillo del Salto upstream and finally to the incomparable Laguna de los Tres. This small lake, pooled in a barren hollow ground out by a long-gone glacier, sits at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy and a glacier that spills from around it.
The mountain looms large from its shores, its tip rising about 2000 metres overhead, with a wall of summit rock that is itself more than a kilometre high. Little wonder it’s considered one of the world’s great climbing challenges. But I’ll be content to sit by the lake and watch sunset do its artistic thing across the range and the typically moody Patagonian sky.
In darkness, I’ll switch on my head torch and wander back down the valley as far as Laguna Capri, where I’ll pitch my tent among the wind-blocking lenga, because if by any chance the sun should happen to rise again, there are few views that make you feel as good about being alive as the glowing dawn image of Monte Fitz Roy from beside your tent at Laguna Capri.
THE INTREPID TRAVELLER by Ben Groundwater
Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. This would be the soundtrack to my last day on Earth: the staccato beat of wheels on rails. It would be the screech of metal as brakes are applied. It would be the trill of a conductor’s whistle, the slamming of doors.
The soundtrack to my last day on Earth would be conversations in 20 different languages. It would be the shuffle of a thousand feet, the hum of humanity on the move.
I would spend these precious final hours on a train in India with a second-class sleeper ticket to nowhere. It wouldn’t matter where the train was going. It wouldn’t even matter where it had begun. The experience is what counts, the experience of being in those carriages, of crossing that land.
It sounds strange, I know. Your last day on Earth and you’d spend it sitting in a train? In second class? In India? Hear me out.
Everything that’s great about travel is wheezing along those Indian railway tracks 24 hours a day, every day, slowly making its way across the great subcontinent. Everything that we as travellers crave, everything we love, is being carted around on those rattling wheels.
A train ride in India is people; it’s so many people. It’s the best and worst of humanity, a microcosm of the world, a glorious mix of every type of human imaginable (and at least one of them is probably sitting in your seat, or asking you to move over so they can share it). It’s the kindness of strangers who offer to share their lunch. It’s the frank stares of people who’ve never seen anything like you before. It’s the yell of touts selling snacks. It’s the funk of sweat and spice.
But it’s not just what’s inside that counts. The attraction of an Indian train ride is what you see outside as well, a million snapshots of everyday life, a highlight reel of houses and rickshaws, people and animals, fields and trees, gone as fast as they appear. There’s never a dull moment when you stare out from a train in India, never a second when that grubby window isn’t framing something incredible or horrible or fascinating.
So yes, I would spend my last day in an Indian train. I would eat great food and chat to strangers and lie there on the top bunk and just watch as the world went by. Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. On into the night.
THE NATURE TRAVELLER by Julie Miller
Noah, at least, must have been given ample warning to gather his wildlife flock in the face of impending doom. But without the luxury of time or ark-construction chops, this animal lover contemplating my last day of existence has little choice but to teleport to where I’ll get the most bang for my four-legged buck in terms of volume, scale and biodiversity.
Let’s face it, under these grim circumstances, I want as many “Oh, my god!” moments as possible with minimal effort. And for that, there’s no more accomplished lover than Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
From the air, the marital bed is laid out before me, a parched dustbowl dotted with clumps of stunted trees and the occasional muddy waterhole where herds of elephants, buffalo and tail-twirling warthog can be clearly spotted. But look! Here comes the flood, trickling like a leaky hose, creating a maze of lagoons and islands as the annual miracle transforms the scrubby landscape to a watery wonderland, exultant with leaping lechwe and wallowing hippos.
Africa’s final dawn makes a statement, red ball piercing the mist as a sole giraffe bobs its head to an unheard rhythm, an iconic silhouette reflected in an ever-expanding pink lagoon. Time is clearly of the essence; by 7am we are in the saddle, setting off on what I believe it the ultimate way to view game – a horseback safari.
On a horse, you are more than just a casual observer in this ecosystem; unencumbered by glass and steel, you become part of the landscape, at one with the wildlife. We sneak within metres of a near-sighted bull elephant, before its inquiring trunk registers the scent of humans and we bid a slow retreat; while on other occasions we are grateful for our mounts’ speed, cantering among a herd of giraffes, poetry in slow motion, or flanking a stampeding herd of buffalo at full gallop.
The afternoon brings more relaxing contemplation as we explore the mirrored waterways in a traditional dug-out canoe, or mokoro, manouevred stand-up style by our handsome guides. As we drift past lily pads, wary of the log-like snouts of crocodile and gaping jaws of hippos, we watch mesmerised as the sun dips over the horizon, absorbing the magic in appreciative silence.
Botswana continues to deliver to the bitter end; under the beam of a spotlight, we spot a leopard dragging a carcass into a tree; while an African wildcat sits unperturbed in the middle of the road, looking extraordinarily like a fat domestic tabby. Then, as the clock strikes midnight, I hear the roar of a lion on the prowl, echoing across the empty expanse. Perhaps I should throw caution to the wind and face that call of the wild – after all, I have nothing to lose.
THE CULTURAL TRAVELLER by Katrina Lobley
If it were the last day on Earth, I hope it falls in an odd year. For that’s when the Venice Biennale – a prestigious international art fair – transforms the already magical city into something that can make you quite forget that the end of the world is nigh.
The biennale, which sprawls over almost six months, is focused around two hubs – the Giardini and the Arsenale, a hop and a skip from St Mark’s Square on the vaporetto. But the best part about the biennale is that it spreads beyond these official venues, turning Venice itself into one big art gallery. You round a corner, expecting nothing more than photogenic alleyways, canals, bridges, churches, palazzos and piazzas, to be taken aback by something sitting there in the name of art. A map helps you track down these surprises or simply let yourself stumble upon them. The current biennale, which kicked off in May, runs until November 26.
If it is, indeed, my last day, then hang the expense of a gondola ride. I’d go crazy and book a whole hour with a good-looking gondolier, admiring how he keeps his vessel’s paintwork scratch-free with a deft kick against the canal walls every now and then. Many gondoliers have amusing nicknames – ask around for Bei Capelli (“Beautiful Hair”).
Take time to notice the little things that make Venice so transcendental. Peer at the street lamps, noting the glass that’s a subtle shade of amethyst. Need time out to smell the roses but don’t know where to find them? If you’re staying at the Bauer Palazzo, hop into the hotel’s chic speedboat and zip over to sister property, Bauer Palladio, on the island of Giudecca, to find the slightly wild secret garden of the former convent. Hungry? Cruise to Burano to feast on seafood at a homely restaurant tucked between the island’s technicolour houses.
If you’re lucky, you’re in Venice during the acqua alta when the water that both defines and threatens the city gurgles up through St Mark’s Square, flooding the place, reflecting the lights and doubling its charm. Speaking of impending doom, how best to bow out with a flourish? There’s only one way, really, and that’s at Harry’s Bar where the bellini was invented. Cheers, cin cin and all that. It’s time to go out with a peach-scented bang.