Love it or loathe it, the big golden arches provide an instantly recognisable landmark on the most unfamiliar of skylines around the world. For many travellers McDonald's represents a safe and often cheap meal, even if a highly unimaginative one. For others it may be considered a useful stop as the cleanest free public toilets in town. Either way when passing through many parts of the world it's easy to believe that the red and yellow American fast-food giant has conquered the world.
It might be reassuring therefore to know that there are still a healthy number of countries that have yet to experience the cultural delights of the Big Mac or the Filet-o-Fish. Whether they have just said no,non, nyet, nej, etc or whether they have flirted with McDonald's before giving them the elbow, there's many a place where the fast food giant has failed to make its mark.
Here is just a selection of 10 of these countries where you'll have to make do with the local variety of fast food:
1. North Korea (ok, not so surprising here)
2. Seychelles (proof that a tropical paradise does not need to serve Big Macs to be complete)
3. Syria (as a member of George Bush's Axis of Evil it is not considered worthy enough to have a McDonald's)
4. Vatican City (the smallest country, yet it is packed with tourists who would no doubt welcome a happy meal)
5. Cambodia (it's on the cards apparently, but for now the millions of visitors to Angkor Wat have to do without the reassuring taste of home)
6. Zimbabwe (an argument for regime change surely, if one were needed)
7. Vietnam (old wounds run deep?)
8. Nepal (shame, as they could easily claim to be the highest McD's in the world - would a Quarter Pounder taste any better at 4000m?)
9. Kazakhstan (the largest country in the world to be McDonald's free)
10. Barbados (one outlet opened in 1996 and closed six months later due to poor sales)
And conversely, here are 10 surprising places where McDonald's has successfully arrived:
Iraq (ok, the McDonald's is hidden away in the Green Zone)
Qatar (maybe swung the World Cup vote?)
Japan (not surprising that they are in Japan, but more so that they have 3,500 outlets there; more than anywhere in the world outside the US)
So next time you have a hankering for meat in a bun in a box and feel guilty for supporting an all-conquering global imperialist capitalist machine, take some reassurance from the fact that there are some corners of the world that, for whatever reason, will never be lovin' it.
About Tourdust: We take a specialist approach to everything we do. We walk the trails and pore over maps evaluating different routes to make sure we can recommend the best adventure for each customer. We inspect hundreds of hotels and carefully pick the best and most reliable local guides. Each trip we organise is a deeply individual and genuinely local experience. Our areas of expertise are:
- Morocco holidays, Ethiopia and Kenya.
- Kayaking Holidays in the Mediteranean countries of Croatia, Greece and Turkey
- Multi-day treks in the Atlas Mountains, Simien Mountains, Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro and Inca Trail
- Adventurous holidays for families. Many of our family holidays have been tested out by out founders own children.
Around this time of the year we are traditionally swamped with articles highlighting the supposed hot spots for the year ahead. The list typically includes obscure destinations that merit their place on the strength of having being overlooked by tourists for many years; often with good reason. The author creates the list in the hope that a few of his picks do indeed become the hip places to visit, and he/she can then presumably sit back and bask in the glory of being the latest self-appointed Nostradamus of the travel world.
Not to be outdone, I've chosen to create our own list and it's one that is relevant to all of us. We've all found ourselves at some point struggling to get our tongues around the name of a place that we happen to be visiting. In many cases even having been there for a few days doesn't make the multisyllabic name trip off the tongue any easier. We're left to wonder if the local people have named the town deliberately in such a way so as to make the tourists' life a misery.
So here, after some painstaking research, is the definitive guide to the world's 8 most unpronounceable destinations.
1.Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch - a small village in north Wales on the village of Anglesey, the name actually means the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave. Anyone who has visited this place will have seen how shamelessly they have cashed in on their claim to fame.
2. Szczodrzykowo - being Polish I don't have a problem with this one, but I wouldn't expect anyone not versed in a Slavic language to know where to start here. That's an awful lot of consonants bunched up together. To be fair I could have chosen almost anywhere in Poland for this entry.
3.Tápiószentmárton - this small town outside the Hungarian capital Budapest is likely to remain a hidden secret, given the difficulty any traveller will have in telling anyone that they want to go here. Most football commentators will also be hoping that their football team never qualify for the Champions League.
4.Molodogvardeyskaya - if you find yourself in this utterly remote outpost of Kazakhstan, you might have more to worry about than how to pronounce your whereabouts. A quick glance on Google Maps confirms that this truly is the end of the world.
5.Tlalpujahua - just north of Mexico City, this small town boasts a easy laid-back lifestyle. The same peace of mind is not shared by those making enquiries at the bus station on how to reach it.
6. Eyjafjallajökull - this mischievous Icelandic volcano created a lot of trouble for European air travellers in 2010, but despite being the centre of attention for several weeks was constantly referred to as 'the Icelandic volcano'.
7. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu - this Maori-named town on New Zealand's North Island is without doubt a leading contender for the longest most unpronounceable name in the world. Not surprisingly, it is better known as Taumata.
8.Äteritsiputeritsipuolilautatsijänkä - this place in Finnish Lapland has the distinction of being the longest place name in Finland. It was also home to a pub which boasted the longest commercial name for a business in Finland. But it closed down, presumably because no-one was able to ask for directions to find it.
Have you found a place that you couldn't pronounce no matter how hard you tried? Feel free to share with us the most unpronounceable place that you've ever had the fortune to visit.
Had you asked me what I thought of Carmelo in Uruguay at around 4pm on Sunday, I would not have been able to answer without a tirade of expletives. Everything was closed for siesta, there was nothing to do, and, worse, there was no way out. The bus I was supposed to get never came and I was one step away from getting the return ferry straight back to Buenos Aires. This godforsaken place wasn't just sleepy, it had a full onset of rigor mortis.
So how come just a couple of hours later, I was blissfully cycling around town and thinking about a return visit?
It came after having a turning-point conversation with someone working in local tourism. Not someone who worked at the tourist information office (those that typically pass you a useless government-funded brochure and send you on your way), but someone who had personally invested in local tourism and wanted to make it work.
In this case, it was an enthusiastic hotel owner. He appreciated my interest, gave me some background information on the town and re-sparked my desire to get to know the place.
I ended up scraping my plans to move on and decided to stay the night. Something clicked. I became more proactive; I went for a drive among cornfields that looked like sand dunes; I checked out some historical sites. When I came back, the town was awaking from siesta and everyone was heading to the riverfront to watch the sunset. Finally, there was some atmosphere and the contrast made it (almost) worth the wait.
I shouldn't romanticise it too much as it wasn't perfect, but I did suddenly appreciate Carmelo for what it was. That initially 'annoying' siesta habit was actually what made it so calm and noncommercial.
I have been thinking about how we judge places (and sometimes write them off) since reading an excellent debate on the Fevered Mutterings blog about 'What makes a place bad?'. We talked about how things can seem better with hindsight, when we realise we are being irrational.
But can you sometimes adjust your mindset mid-trip?
Interacting with locals - as cliched as it sounds - can sometimes help, as it provides a reality check. I found that couchsurfing made me more open-minded. When sitting around in a hostel with other travellers, it's very easy to slip into collectively bitching about the things you don't like in a place. However, you're not going to do it when you are living in someone's home and they are taking time to show you around their town.
Continuing the subjectivity/objectivity debate:
Have you ever had turning point on a trip where you gained new-found appreciation for a place? Ever hated a place at first and come to love it?
Have you ever been stuck in a place? (I think getting stuck somewhere – like I did in Carmelo - makes any independent traveller tetchy, even when we know we are being unreasonable.)
Maybe you think that occasionally disliking a place is all part of the fun of travel and we shouldn't have to like everywhere we visit?
Photo: Carmelo's boat cemetery by Hinayana via Flickr Creative Commons
In David Jobanputra's latest article in the 'Why we travel' series, he looked at how travel has become commoditised and how many of the must-do experiences on a traveller's list are no longer priceless, but in fact can be quite easily given a monetary value.
This makes for sobering reading for those passionate travellers who enthuse about the life-changing experiences that money can't buy - it seems, according to this argument, that money can indeed buy any travel memory. As an antidote to this somewhat unromantic hypothesis, I felt it worth listing a few real travel experiences that for me at least, will always remain priceless. Feel free to add your own as always.
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1. Unexpected guests. You arrive at your hotel late at night, check in and just want to flop onto the bed with exhaustion. As you turn the key to your room you wonder about that noise you can hear, and your worst fears are confirmed when you half-open the door and spy two pairs of unfamiliar feet at the end of your bed.
2. The last bus. You always wondered about the wisdom of that tight connection in a one-horse town. 5 minutes to make the only bus out of town that day, and as you pull in to the deserted parking lot you see the last of the dust settle as the departing bus disappears into the distance.
3. A good soaking. You head out for a day's hiking and decide there's no need for the waterproofs. After all there isn't even a cloud in the sky. Within an hour the heavens open and you are treated to a complete drenching, leaving you to complete the long walk back to civilisation feeling like a freezing cold drowned rat.
4. The nightmare returns. You spend a long journey, or perhaps even a tour, with the traveller from hell. You count down the hours until your paths diverge and you never have to see them again. A few days later, you're in a new town, enjoying a relaxing evening drink. You hear your name shouted from the other side of the room, and your heart sinks as you instantly recognise the voice.
5. The Heathrow Stack. No explanation needed for anyone flying into London's busiest airport. Forget the estimated time of arrival on the Sky Map on your in-flight screen; as you descend you just know that the pilot is going to make that announcement about traffic and embark on a series of frustrating loops above the London suburbs for the next 30 minutes.
On a brighter note...
6. The late switch. You step forward in the line to board the aircraft, and hand your boarding pass to the gate staff. They look at it for a while, confer, and then take out a big fat marker pen, changing your seat in 54G to one in 4A. Your day has take a sudden turn for the better.
7. The power cut. You've just sat down for a beer in the friendly cafe when the lights go out. The staff bring you out a candle and you continue your evening uninterrupted. After a couple of hours with no power the manager asks your group to do him a favour. The ice-cream freezer contents are now going to have to be disposed of, and you and your fellow travellers can help yourselves to as much as you like to save him the trouble of throwing it all away.
8. Only one room left. You arrive late at night and present your tatty piece of paper that proves that you have a reservation for the cheapest room in the hotel. The receptionist looks sorry and tells you that the hotel is full. Just as you are considering your options the manager comes out, sees your forlorn expression and shows you the greatest mercy. Moments later you are sitting on a sumptuously soft bed and counting your luck at bagging the best suite in town.
9. The kindness of strangers. You're in a strange place and you're lost. At home you might check your GPS or read a map, but here there's nothing, and no-one speaks your language. Then someone tries to help you. They call over another person who once knew someone who lived in England. Very soon you have tea; you have snacks; you have an offer of a bed for the night. You still have no directions, but you soon realise that you're having the type of experience that will make a brilliant story when you get home.
10. That travel feeling. You arrive in a faraway place at the start of your trip. It's day one, the sun is shining and you remember with a smile how gloomy it is back at home. An epic journey lies ahead and with it the chance of any number of as yet unknown adventures and misadventures. You're on the road again and it feels good.
What are your priceless travel moments?
One of my favourite sections of any Lonely Planet guidebook is found at the very back. Just before the index are several pages of words and phrases in the local language, aimed at providing the reader with a basic grounding in the language. Armed with these selected phrases the traveller can confidently ask for a room, inform a member of the public that they have a headache or ask for lamb chop and chips in a local restaurant.
But how many of these nuggets of information do we actually end up using? Surely there are more useful phrases that we should be learning to help us in our travels. Here are 10 additions that I would like to see in the next Lonely Planet edition that I pick up. Other suggestions are welcomed.
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"I'm just curious; could you tell me what this strange stain on my bed is?"
"There's no shower in the bathroom. Oh that? I thought that was a leaky pipe."
"Yes, I can see there are 9 seats in this minibus, but I'd like to know how many people are you actually planning to squeeze in?"
"If God has wanted you to drive like Lewis Hamilton I'm fairly sure he wouldn't have given you an old American school bus."
"If you insist that it tastes just like chicken, then actually, I think I'll just have the chicken."
"You want me to eat that? Can I just wait till it stops moving?"
Needing to go
"Can you please explain how $20 for a T-shirt is lucky for you and lucky for me?"
"You're right, this is a very special price. It's more than double what the guy next door quoted."
Which phrases do you feel we should all learn before arriving in a foreign land?
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