At the Water’s Edge
All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by
Scientists tell us that life on Earth emerged from the primordial seas thousands of millennia ago, and it seems we human beings are reluctant to stray too far from the old neighborhood. It’s no wonder then that so many of the world’s leading cities have planted their roots along ocean coasts and great rivers. According to some statistics, about half the world’s population lives within 60 miles or so of some body of water. After every major flood, hurricane or tsunami, there are those who question the wisdom of allowing continued development in such high-risk places. Legitimate concerns, to be sure.
But at least in part, it strikes me that the reason we don’t move is because wanting to be near the water is hard-wired in us, something people – and civilizations – have always done. After all, water is essential for life, and we don’t want to venture too far away from it. So we pitched our crude tents, built our mud huts and eventually erected our most imposing cities, most of them right on some major river or seacoast.
As these thoughts come to me, I’m looking out my hotel room window on Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, one of the busiest seaports in the world. The scene makes me think back to other great cities and other great waterways. The Thames in London, the Huangpu in Shanghai, Table Bay in Cape Town, Chicago’s lakeshore, NewYork’s harbor.
What they all have in common is, before there were planes, trains or automobiles, there was the water. The water is what brought the first people to these lands, and the water is what made them want to stay, and explore, and build. And the results have been astounding – on these shores, we have planted cultures and built cities with brilliant architecture, great ports, endless marketplaces and homes for millions.
Increasingly travelers are rediscovering the joys of exploring cities and coastlines and countryside by water. In this month’s Gathering Places, we find that The Rivers Run Deep (page 38) with real possibilities for discovery and cultural enrichment. As a bonus, we talk One on One (page 8) with Richard Marnell, senior VP of marketing with Viking River Cruises, who offers some deeper insights into the art of the river cruise.
China’s Pearl River is the waterway that feeds the story of our international destination, as we consider Guangzhou’s Glory Days (page 12). The sparkling waters of Burrard Inlet form the picturesque frame around A Vancouver Point of View (page 42). And in Rise Above (page 48) practically every vista from every hotel rooftop we mention – from Singapore to Athens to Vienna – takes in some legendary body of water.
The view out my hotel window is mesmerizing. As the boat traffic builds crossing Victoria Harbor, in from the sea a cruise ship arrives. I watch as she docks; eventually she will discharge her passengers, and they will go exploring around the streets of Hong Kong, as those arriving by ship have done in this fascinating city for centuries past.
In this modern day when millions of travelers are carried on currents of air high overhead, or confine their journeys to rivers of concrete and steel on earth, sometimes it’s easy to forget what brought us here in the first place – the mighty rivers and vast oceans. From ancient times, our world has been built upon the work of‘ they that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters.’
So this month, let’s go on a voyage of discovery, wherever the tides may take us. BT