In the cockpit "jump seats" of a Qantas Boeing 747 high above the Himalayas, we viewed massive, snow-covered peaks, leavened by scattered lights that marked homes and villages kilometres below. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York's World Trade Centre and the US Pentagon, no travellers are invited "up front" in a big commercial airliner to experience that pilot's eye view. Seize the day: the opportunity may not be repeated.
Kansas City, Missouri: my visiting lecturer duty completed the day before, there was time to spare before flying home. Walking out, I chanced on a green field littered with massive, feathered, orange and white shuttlecocks. Two metres high, were they abandoned by giants after a summer game? That's evidently how artists Klaes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen saw it. Next, I encountered a life-size bronze of Winston Churchill and wife Clemmie. Why here? That story also involves Harry Truman, Joe Stalin and an Iron Curtain. From art deco airports, to a peace garden in Budapest, to the famine sculptures in Dublin, to spotting the sails of the Sydney Opera House as QF12 comes in from LA at 06.30am, chancing on public art as an "incidental tourist" intrigues and, on investigation, informs.
Berlin in the 1970s: crossing via the grim Check Point Charlie, we traversed the drab East to see the antiquities in the historic Pergamon museum. The Reichstag (burned in 1933) was still a ruin and gypsies camped on an open field nearby. Today, the German parliament meets in the Reichstag and the historic precinct around the Unter Den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate of the reunified, restored city again looks as it did when the Nazis seized power. A recent visit reminded me that, when times are tough, even the most liberal and open society can be destroyed by the twin devils of fear and hate. Across the planet, "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance".
In Liverpool, I spoke on infection and immunity at the Institute for Tropical Medicine. Apart from servicing the African slave ships, the US cotton trade and the Confederacy during the American Civil War, this was the 19th-century port of departure for four of my great grandparents, from Lancashire in the north and Ireland to the west. Researching later, I realised that my mill-weaver ancestors left on assisted passage to Queensland (where they prospered) because there was no cotton (and no work) due to the Yankee blockade of the American South. The railroad age began here because of the need to move cotton to Manchester. The 19th-century Prince Albert Docks are unique and, like me, a visit may provide an unexpected Liverpool link to your personal story.
Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Medicine Prize with Swiss colleague Rolf Zinkernagel, for their discoveries about transplantation and "killer" T cell-mediated immunity. His latest book is The Incidental Tourist (Melbourne University Press) and he is a guest of Bendigo Writers Festival 2019 (August 9-11), talking about landscapes and travel. See bendigowritersfestival.com.au