Give me a map and I’ll discover the world
Having learnt about our planet not through the internet or TV, neither of which we had in Zimbabwe where I grew up, but through maps, I am slightly obsessed with them. One of my birthday presents as a child was a Times Atlas of the World and I remember spending hot afternoons under our shady (if messy) mulberry tree poring over its enormous pages, and then regaling my mum with (what I regarded as) fascinating facts when she got home from her art gallery.
“Did you know mum,” I’d apparently say, as she tried to unpack the shopping/get out of her suit/stop the puppy from chewing a shoe, “that the Sahara Desert is three times the size of the whole of Zimbabwe?” Or “Do you know that if you walked across Asia it would take you 1600 days, if you only rested for 14 hours a day?” Or “Do you know that the highest mountain in Africa is in Tanzania?”
Maps were a magic carpet that could transport me across the globe. That told me about the incredible depths of the sea; the places where rain never fell, where there were no roads, that were so high that people couldn’t live there.
The result of that obsession is that I never, ever travel without a map. To me, just opening one up signifies that I am about to embark on a journey. That I’m about to go to a new, unknown place. Having one in my backpack is like a comfort blanket. With it, I can figure out the topography of my destination, how dry it is, whether it’s near towns, or mountains, or the sea.
So when the concierge of a hotel I am staying in says that they don’t have a local map, I don’t get it. To me, a map in a hotel is as essential as soap or sheets. I recently went to Rome, and the concierge had such a brilliant map – showing places of interest within a few hours’ walk – that I totally changed the plans I’d had. Instead of lying in bed in the morning, I got up before dawn, as he’d suggested, and headed off into the empty city with my trusty map: skipping down the Spanish Steps on my own, dipping my toes into the Trevi Fountain without a single other person there, and discovering parks, palaces and churches I’d never heard of – and would never have been able to find without my map.
I know what you’re saying: “Has she never heard of Google?” But it’s not the same. A map makes you an explorer, rather than a tourist. And hotels that recognise that are places I want to stay. Particularly if they’ve been banging on in their press releases about how they value “experiences”.
Give me a map and I’ll have all I need to go out and experience the world. Other than some comfy shoes…