Category Archives: in and around the world

12 of My Favorite Places in 2012

Full disclosure: I started writing this post in 2012, but I finished it in 2013. I’m going to go back in time to let it post in 2012. Forgive my tardiness.

Following the lead of Katie at Katie Going Global, and her 12 Favorite Places list, I decided to create a list of my own favorite places.

While it may not be the most representative photo of a place (or the best photo), the photo and the place struck a chord with me.

In chronological order, 12 of my favorite places in 2012…

1) Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

This coastal village, accessible only by a 4×4 truck, is a 30 minute ride from the nearest road. Cabo Polonio has no electricity, a dusty supermarket and a peaceful way of life. Just a handful of residents make Cabo their home year-round, including sea lions. As you’d expect, the population peaks throughout the summer with those looking to disconnect.

En Route to Cabo Polonio

2.) Montevideo, Uruguay

I saw four new capital cities on this trip and of those, Montevideo was my favorite. The architecture in the old city is beautiful. Beaches line the Rio de la Plata in the middle of the city. I was fortunate to have new friends as local guides and saw many neighborhoods, and a brief stop at the British Hospital. I was there during the festival celebrating Yemaja, the Queen of the Water. Even though Montevideo is a major city, donkeys still help with garbage collection.
Montevideo

3.) Maipu, Argentina

Vineyards always make me smile. This was a really fun day in a really beautiful place not far from the bustle of Mendoza. This particular vineyard’s property extends to the trees in the far back of the photo. I had always thought I don’t like chardonnay because of it’s oaky taste, but I learned that there are options and I do enjoy a chardonnay from a stainless-steel barrel.

Maipu

4.) Valparaiso, Chile

Before arriving, I was told that everyone finds that they either love it or hate it. From the art on the streets, literally, to the spectacular views, I fell in love with Valpo. I had only planned on staying one night only because I couldn’t figure out where I was heading next yet I wound up staying in Valpo for four nights. Art covered the streets, there’s a lively community and the sea breeze doesn’t hurt.

Valparaiso
Valparaiso_2

5.) San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. When I arrived, it was experiencing the worst flooding in over a decade.  Here’s a shot of my bus driver calling to find a different route since, yes, that is a river flowing through it. Buildings in town were mostly covered by thatched roofs. Outside, they were mostly covered with layers of plastic tarps to prevent any more water. Inside, buckets were set up to catch the water.

San Pedro de Atacama

Two of my friends arrived in Chile and we spent an amazing few days together navigating the new normal of San Pedro.
SPA2
6.) Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The world’s largest salt flat is simply surreal. I was there in the rainy season which creates a mirror effect from the salt and the flooded flats. You can play with the perspective but the scenery around you is simply jaw-dropping and reminds you how little we are in this thing called, Earth.

Salar de Uyuni

7. and 7.5.) Lake Titicaca, Bolivia and Lake Titicaca, Peru

I guess I hit on a few superlatives during my travels and here are two more. Lake Titicaca is considered the highest lake in the world, and the largest in South America. Bordered by Bolivia and Peru, I spent time on both sides of, and on, the lake. In Bolivia, I happened to be in town during the weekly blessings of vehicles. In Peru, I stayed with a local family on Amantani, an island on the Peruvian side of the lake.

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia Bolivia

Lake Titicaca, PeruPeru

8.) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Accompanied by a guide, I felt like I was on a school trip. The coolest one ever. I learned so much. Wildlife and nature are pristine in this paradise. Animals and plants found here are found nowhere else on earth. Here, a blue-footed boobie.

Galapagos 2

9.) Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Nashville has my heart. I love country music, I love live music and I love Southern hospitality. I have never had a bad time in Music City and there’s something to be said about traveling with your girlfriends.

Nashville

10.) Taormina Mare, Sicily, Italy

A beachside town just a few miles away from the tourist mecca of Taormina, this was the start of the off-season. Restaurants were filled with locals, the beaches empty since it was a little chilly but the scenery and the weather excellent for sightseeing, relaxing and just taking in the views.

Taormina Mare

11.) Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy

Driving from the autostrada in Sicily, you can’t help but notice the mountain as it gets closer. And then as you head up, it gets colder. But the height gets you above the clouds and reminds you of the past explosions. If you kick up some dirt and feel the ground, it’s warm from the cauldron bubbling inside. Super super cool.

Mt. Etna

12.) Gozo, Malta

Malta is an archipelago situated just 90 miles south of Sicily and just north of Tunisia in Africa. Gozo is one of the three islands in the Maltese archipelago and is surrounded by water, rolling hillsides and amazing formations like the Azure Window.  Villages dot the island each offering delicious meals, warm locals and stunning views. The pace of life on Gozo is noticeably slower and more relaxed than on its larger neighbor, Malta.

Gozo, Malta

And the trouble with lists, is that I can’t include each and every place.

Just because I left you out – La Paz, Bolivia; Mendoza, Argentina; Arequipa, Peru; Salta, Argentina and Santiago, Chile – doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy you. As for Minas, Uruguay; Vina del Mar, Chile and Villazon, Bolivia, well, I’m probably not headed back your way anytime soon, but thanks for the memories – including the trying time to get my Bolivian visa.

Thanks for reading! A happy and healthy new year to you and your family.


Where I Have Been

While this may not include every single small town I have set foot in, I would say this is a pretty exhaustive list for my travels up to this point.

I also realize that I am severely lacking travels in Asia, Africa and Australia, as in none. That’s what a wish list is for 😉

Travels

EUROPE                                                                   

England: Bath, Cambridge, Isle of Wight, Leeds, London, Salisbury, Wiltshire

France: Paris

Belgium: Brussels, Bruges

Italy: Rome, Milan, Sienna, Tuscany, Greve in Chianti, San Gimignano, Florence, Fiesole, Bologna, Venice, Brescia

Scotland: Edinburgh

Netherlands: Amsterdam

Ireland: Dublin, Galway, Killarney, Cork, Limerick

Spain: Madrid, Seville, Cordoba, Grenada, Malaga, Marbella, Puerto Banús

Switzerland: Zurich, Lucerne

Denmark: Copenhagen

Croatia: Dubrovnik, Korcula, Hvar, Split, Plitvice Lakes, Zagreb  

Bosnia-Hercegovina: Mostar

SOUTH AMERICA                                                     

Argentina: Buenos Aires, El Calafate, Tigre, Ushuaia, Martillo Island, Beagle Channel

CENTRAL AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN       

Bahamas: Freeport, Grand Bahama Island

St. Thomas

St. Martin/St. Maarten

Puerto Rico: San Juan, Fajardo, Culebra, Culebrita

Costa Rica: Alajuela, Arenal, Monteverde, San Jose

St. Lucia: Gros Islet, Rodney Bay

NORTH AMERICA

Canada:  Niagara Falls, Toronto, Vancouver

Mexico:  Cancun

United States:
Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Washington D.C.

I’ve only seen the Airport:
Detroit, Frankfurt, Houston


If You Were Amanda Knox

Would you go back to Italy one day?

Would you even leave the USA again?


You say it’s a split-flap

I thought more and more about yesterday’s blog post. I do have the same awe about trains as that little boy I saw yesterday.

Setting: Venice, Italy train station, January 2008

Had convinced the boyfriend that we could ‘wing it’ for two nights, while the rest of our accommodation and destinations had been planned in advance, and there were many. We had been in Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti and Greve in Tuscany, Florence and Fiesole, a small town on the top of a hill outside Florence.

We had added one day/night to Venice, so we had one freebie day/night towards the end of our trip, with no plans. We had to ultimately get back to Milan the day after the day it was for our return trip so anywhere between Venice and Milan was fair game.

I was in my glory watching the train boards flip and change the destinations with that deliberate noise to make sure travelers are paying attention.

The sound that those boards make just get me excited over the opportunity of where you can go next, what’s near the destination and how easily you can get there.

Thank you Wikipedia for telling me that it is called a split-flap display. And this video showcases the noise I am talking about. Thank you random YouTube user. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA6zn3nP7tY)

I was looking at the destinations on the board and looking down in the guide book to decide which line we should take, and which stop we should buy tickets to.

Since the boyfriend was totally, utterly and completely breaking a sweat not knowing where we were headed next I had to work quickly. I had to figure out a destination while ensuring it would get us headed in the general direction of Milan.

Isn’t this compromise? We planned most of our accommodations in advance…are two nights, with no planned destination or accommodation, that much to ask? If you ask most of my friends, and my boyfriend, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, for any of my travel companions who do think that way, I don’t.

And yes, if I could install a mini split-flap display of some sort in my home, I think I would seriously consider it. I just love that noise and the day dreaming it promotes.


Souvenirs

What to buy? My criteria are that it is small, simple and easy to get in any place and really easy to bring home. Sometimes I fail with some of my purchases but my absolute must are magnets!

I try to make sure the magnet has some kind of reference to the trip if possible. And I will make sure to get one from each place. So an eleven-day trip to Argentina resulted in a total of nine magnets and a ten-day trip to Croatia raised me seven magnets.

I hate getting magnets as gifts because according to my ‘rules’ I must have been there! The magnets I get as gifts are for the fridge. The magnets I acquire on my travels are on these big magnetic boards reserved solely for magnets collected on my travels. Weird maybe, but it’s my ‘thing!’

For example:

  • Atlanta, Georgia, it was hot, so my magnet has a thermometer on it
  • Cancun, I was there for spring break, so it was a bottle opener (serving two purposes – souvenir and opening those bottles!
  • Scotland, magnet with bagpipes that play when you push the button
  • Breckenridge, a snowboard (though this is ironic because my friend and I did anything but participate in snow sports on that trip!)
  • Boston, a leaf, it was a fall trip
  • Dewey Beach, Delaware, a crab that was a bottle opener
  • Niagara Falls, Canada, the boat that goes under the falls
  • San Juan Islands, Washington state, whales
  • Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, bats
  • San Gimignano, Italy, a magnet in the shape of the skyline. they call it the Medieval Manhattan because of its medieval architecture, which look like tall buildings, but I must clarify, they are tall for Tuscany 😉
  • Brussels, a magnet in the shape of the Mannekin Pis
  • Ushuaia, Argentina, a penguin since we walked with them!
  • Hvar, Croatia, a ship, not exactly the boats we took to and from and around the island, but we did spend a lot of time on the water
  • Texas, a magnet in the shape of the state. Now, I have covered a lot of ground in the great state of Texas, with two road trips and various business trips, but for my first trip through and within Texas, I thought a map would be best suited for road trip number one.
  • Austin, Texas, a magnet shaped like a guitar, since on that first road trip we spent a lot of time listening to live music, as one does in Austin, Texas.
  • El Calafate, Argentina (where we hiked a glacier), the magnet is shaped like hiking boots with crampons
  • Vegas, a casino chip magnet
  • Keuka Lake, Finger Lakes, New York state and Nantucket, QKA, FLX and ACK, respectively (those stickers on the backs of cars – these are magnets like that)
  • Seville, Spain, a magnet in the shape of a typical Andalusian home
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona, a magnet with typical native sketching

Some places get more than one magnet.

  • Argentina, we visited three towns, and did lots of activities in those towns, so where there’s a gift shop there I am (see above for some of the magnets collected on the trip!). I also got a magnet showing off a main street – Av. Corrientes – in Buenos Aires, which is where my great-grandma was born. Since we traveled within the country, I couldn’t leave without a magnet of the physical shape of the country. Argentina’s flag is blue and white, and the flag was proudly displayed everywhere we went, I found a magnet with the country in blue and white, how apropos!
  • Costa Rica, several, including a photo magnet of the boyfriend and I ziplining in the rainforest, but also one of this flower native to the region that I fell in love with
  • Paris, France, two: one of the Eiffel Tower and one of the Notre Dame – which was our view in our second round of accommodation
  • Annapolis, Maryland, a sailboat AND the goat with the Navy flag
  • Croatia and Bosnia, again visited several places within the two countries – Dubrovnik, Split (where this big statue was a main draw – so of course that’s my chosen magnet) and Plitvicka Jereza, the national park, so I collected accordingly!

And sometimes an event gets its own magnet, with another for the state it happened in…

  • Kentucky, a magnet from the 133rd running of the Derby I went to and another of a horse, after all, a friend and I did spend time driving through Kentucky and the lush green fields to get there…
  • Which is why my magnet of Ohio, is also a shape of the state

One magnet I regretfully did not get was in Korcula, Croatia. They say it’s the birthplace of Marco Polo and I could not find the ‘perfect’ magnet. And now I don’t have one. The island was so small that other islands did not carry any magnets from that island. In my heart I will know I was there.

Is there something specific that you collect on your travels?


It’s Not the End of the World as We Know It

Well, it’s been a few days and thankfully, the world didn’t end.

Phew.


Best Breakfast?

This morning on Facebook, Independent Traveler asked their fans ‘What’s the best hotel breakfast you’ve ever had?’

Everyone has one, but of course there’s a story how I found one of the best hotel breakfasts ever.

Now, I normally don’t choose to stay in proper hotels when I travel, as I much prefer the authentic feel of a bed and breakfast and staying with a local family, which I planned for during a trip to Costa Rica in May/June 2008. For the most part we stayed local, but thanks to Tropical Storm Alma things got changed up a bit.

“This is the first time a tropical storm has hit the Pacific coast in this location in 120 years,” said José Joaquín Aguero, an IMN meteorologist. “The last time this happened was around 1887.”

OF COURSE 1887 was the last time this happened. Obviously our hearts went out to the people above all. It was incredible to see how they dealt with the devastation. I remember seeing women walking out of their homes while carrying children on their shoulders. Not to mention that they were wading in water that was easily up to their waists. We only saw this from the road, which was maybe 50 feet away, but I remember that we were both very emotional watching this from the sidelines.

We had been headed down the Pacific coast to Manuel Antonio from Monteverde. We had to stop for the night in Playa Hermosa (a beach town) because the rain was so hard and it was dark. In the morning we continued, but only got as far as Parrita. We were told we couldn’t go any further because the water on the road (yes, one way in, one way out, wouldn’t recede for four DAYS.) Alma was fierce and we saw the waves as we stood on the beach (probably not the smartest thing we have ever done) to prove it.

While out for drinks in Playa Hermosa, at a bar on the beach, I remember the lights going out and the bands equipment shorting out. We were basically in a bar on the beach (it was on the water but other than a roof there was no protection) so we could feel the rain since it was coming in sideways and easily see the lightening right over the ocean. Instead of sending us home, the staff put candles on the tables, the band decided to sing acoustically and we ordered another round.

The next morning we needed to make a change of plans, and quickly, as the water was getting out of control. We met an ex-pat American who rearranged our itinerary for our last few days. He directed us to another part of the country, closer to San Jose, but still far enough outside that we felt like we were still in the countryside. We also had to make a few calls because we were going to be dropping off our rental car in Manuel Antonio to fly back to San Jose for our connecting international flight. Getting a refund proved to be a bit of a challenge because it was a non-refundable airline ticket, but being that we couldn’t physically drive to Manuel Antonio due to the road closures, it would be impossible to get on the flight. Also needed to reroute our rental so that we could return it in San Jose.

Anyway, through the kindness of this ex-pat American who gave us ideas for where we could spend the next few days, we were able to visit the surrounding towns outside of San Jose which were lovely. In addition to the excellent hospitality we had already received, we had the opportunity to stay on a coffee plantation and we were able to enjoy Alajuela, a less touristy Costa Rica.

We decided to stay in San Jose on our last night, which without this storm, wasn’t on our itinerary. We decided to live it up our last night in a lovely boutique hotel, complete with cocktails and a dip in the roofdeck hot tubs. (If you know me, you know this is not the way I travel!)

Dinner our last night we cabbed to a local restaurant keeping with my passion to keep it local, but breakfast the following morning, in the hotel, our last in Costa Rica was probably the best HOTEL breakfast ever.

I point the hotel distinction out because I have enjoyed many amazing breakfasts when staying at bed and breakfasts and I wouldn’t be able to pick the best. The best part of those is being able to share with local families and really experience the local flavor, both literally and figuratively. More on that in another post.

Thanks to the season, we had juice and smoothies, made from Costa Rica’s finest fruits. Fruits I never heard of, or tasted before, and we had a field day trying them all! I don’t remember the rest of the breakfast but those juices were the best.

What was your favorite hotel breakfast?