When Albin and Melanie Ulle are asked about their favorite places in “1,000 Places To See Before You Die,” they talk less about the destinations than the people they met:
- The maitre d’ in France who proudly wore an American flag on his lapel.
- The Bhutan citizens who measure “gross national happiness” rather than the gross national product.
- And a poor black South African woman who single-handedly put four girls through private school during apartheid and later ran for mayor of her township.
“She didn’t win, but she really affected the election there,” Albin says. “If you asked her, ‘If you could do anything, what would you do?’ And you’ll see in the show — I’m getting choked up — she says, ‘I’ll fly. I’m gonna fly someday.’ And when she says it to you, you believe her. ... You can’t walk away from someone like that and not be changed.”
Last year, the Travel Channel chose the Ulles from more 900 couples for the series “1,000 Places To See Before You Die,” premiering 9 p.m. EDT March 29.
Inspired by Patricia Schultz’s best-selling travel tome of the same name, the series chronicles the Denver newlyweds’ journey of a lifetime.
Back in September, Albin, a 37-year-old mortgage broker, and Melanie, a 31-year-old partner in a political fundraising firm, embarked on a 14-week excursion across 13 countries, including Cambodia, Peru, Australia, Italy, Nepal and Canada.
High-definition cameras followed their every step, capturing the exquisite beauty of each destination: the Taj Mahal at sunset, the Peruvian restaurant where the staff taught the Ulles how the natives dance, and wild ostrich rides in South Africa. The couple enjoyed hang-gliding from the mountains of Rio and helicopter jaunts over the glaciers of Alaska — in spite of Melanie’s fear of heights.
“I decided, before we left, that everything that was suggested I was going to do, no matter what it was,” she says over a hotel lunch on a visit to Southern California. “That was personal for me because I have an anxious sort of timid disposition for things that are physically challenging, and now I don’t.”
“(The producers) talked to us at length before we left, just to get a feel for what we were looking for out of all this,” Albin interjects, “and the one thing I said was, ‘I hope I’m open-minded to try everything, whether it be food or dress or any traditions.”’
His resolve was tested in the Amazon, where maggots and red ants were the delicacies on the menu of their host tribe.
“I thought, ‘God, I wish I’d never said that,”’ says Albin, heartily enjoying a steak salad. “But I did it! And the people were so excited to have me try it, and they accept you so much more if they see that you are willing to find out what they’re all about.”
The Travel Channel’s vice president of production, Michael Klein, notes that the Ulles’ enthusiasm for the project taps into the growing trend for lifestyle sabbaticals — extended breaks from the day-to-day grind designed to reinvigorate people’s lives.
“There are all these little things that have changed for us,” Melanie says, noting one. “I notice that I don’t want to (do) drive-through coffee anymore. I enjoy drinking coffee, and people all over the world treat it as a ritual. I know its so minor, so dumb, but that means something.”
Albin adds: “We’re so rushed a lot of the time, and I think we all kind of know that, but to see people actually slow down, sit and talk and laugh. Good things can come from slowing down sometimes.”