This week on The Nomad Files we are joined by Michiel, founder and editor of Minor Sights. Minor Sights/Michiel writes about places that are not or barely mentioned in guidebooks. Many of these Minor Sights are every bit as fascinating as the more famous ones.
Hi Michiel, tell us a bit about your story and what types of adventures you go after.
I’m a long-term, serial expatriate. This means that I have gotten to know a number of countries and cities relatively well, which means I no longer bother with their top-ten-must-see-main attractions, but I am more interested in sights that offer history, art, culture or nature without the crowds. I refer to these places as Minor Sights- and to me this a badge of honour. They’re often as interesting as the major attractions, and often much more enjoyable as you don’t have to share them with 50.000 other tourists.
Do you have a particular song/video/poem/quote that particularly inspires you to travel?
There’s a quote from the movie ‘Strictly Ballroom’: ‘A life lived in fear, is a life half lived’ (try saying it with a thick Ozzie accent). I think that’s very true, whether we’re talking ballroom dancing or travel.
Can you let us in on a secret? What is one discovery you have made through your travels that was truly ‘the road less travelled’?
It’s hard to choose. Many places I’ve written about are endangered in one way or another. They won’t be here (or at least not in the same way) 20 years from now. But one place that so far has stood the test of time (a good 2000 years) is Vulci (Italy) which is basically an Etruscan Pompeii. Everybody has heard of Pompeii, but nobody has heard of Vulci, and it’s even closer to Rome than its more famous competitor. It’s also far older.
What did you do there and why should I visit?
You should visit because the Etruscans are way, way cooler than the Romans. The Romans were still hillbilly rednecks while the Etruscans traded with Greece and organized sophisticated banquets. And they built temples and cities. Vulci is one of them.
What took you there and how did you find out about this place?
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Northern Lazio and the Etruscans are everywhere. I mean, of course they’ve all been dead for 2000 years but you still see their faces in towns like Tuscania. Vulci was one of several Etruscan sites I came across and one of the more impressive ones.
Tell me about the food. Was it different to anything you’d experienced before?
It’s funny you ask. The area around Vulci (known as the Maremma) is famous for its cattle. They look like they’ve walked off an Indian movie set- very different from the Friesians I grew up with. Maremman steak is rightly famous. Rare, of course, never well done.
Could you explain a bit about the culture of this place? Did you have much interaction with the locals?
Well, the locals have all been dead for 2000 years.. nobody lives in Vulci these days. Northern Lazio doesn’t see many foreign tourists. So the people are less jaded than in Tuscany or Rome. Speaking Italian (or at least trying to) helps tremendously. I find Italians incredibly welcoming and forgiving when I butcher their language.
Was there anything you actually missed out on doing that you wish you had?
There are scores of other Minor Sights in the region- I still have lots to see and do…
Beyond the things to visit, do you have any tips on how one might best experience this place?
You will need your own wheels. Ever since the Etruscans left, public transport has been lousy in this part of Italy. If you rent a car you can drive there from Rome in little over an hour, and visit either the beach or some other sights on your way there.
Changing lanes a little now, can you share with the internet one hidden secret or discovery of a favourite city of yours that people would likely skip past unless they knew about it?
Have you ever been to Bombay? There’s a bridge, the Worli Sealink, which is basically the only bit of proper highway this city of 20 million has… It zips right past a small peninsula with a 300 year old Portuguese colonial fort and an ‘aboriginal’ fishing village. Thousands of commuters (and some tourists) zip by it daily and I bet 99.9% has never taken a closer look. Next time you’re in Bombay, go check it out…
Can you recommend any of your favourite travel blogs to other readers?
Of course! I like http://www.blocal-travel.com/ which is run by a girl called Giulia, and she has a perverse interest in abandoned places and street art, which I find fascinating…
Then there’s http://englishmaninslovakia.com/ run by Luke, who’s a professional travel writer who’s settled in a country that’s very dear to me.
Finally, http://hitchhikershandbook.com/ written by Ania and Jon who let their thumbs take them around the world.
Where do you live on the internet and social media for people to come visit?
If you would like to be a part of the Nomad Files, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get started.
Sidebar: Backtreet Nomad’s Anti Travel Guide to Sydney is out now! If you’re heading there any time soon, grab it on kindle for the price of a beer and learn how to see Sydney as a local.