I have been blessed to have traveled and experienced some very unique destinations all over the world as well as right in my own backyard. Here are a few of my favorites. Maybe they will soon be yours as well.
1. Sri Lanka: Whether you recognize it as Sri Lanka, Ceylon or its ancient Arab name of Serendib (serendipity), this tiny island nation casts a primitive and mysterious spell on its visitors. Roughly the size of New Jersey, Sri Lanka is a mini India. Terraced hillside farm land, beautiful pink coral beaches and hidden jungle shrines and temples make this tiny nation one of my favorite unique international destinations. I traveled to Sri Lanka in 1983 with World Vision International. Since the mission and purpose of our trip was to get deep into remote villages to see World Vision funded projects, we were not staying or eating in the typical tourist hot spots. This led to some wonderful cultural experiences, beautiful remote landscapes and some very spicy curry! Tigers, elephants, cobras and monkeys…oh my!
2. Victoria B.C: Victoria B.C. is a special place you should include in your travel plans again and again. I visited Victoria in 2007 with my husband, as a gift from our son to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. What a great opportunity to experience the historical and cultural beauty of Canada as well as the lush seaside landscape. We spent days exploring downtown tourist locations such as the iconic British Columbia Parliament Buildings and the breathtaking Fairmont Empress Hotel with its ivy covered front façade, beautiful landscaping and elegant historical lobby. I marveled at the wonderfully designed and detailed exhibits at the Royal BC Museum, which included an unexpected opportunity to see the mega traveling exhibit, The Titanic; an experience that still haunts me. We love to travel back roads, and enjoyed getting out of the city. Driving from one end of the island to the other, we explored hidden side roads and stopped at out-of-the-way rural farm stands and antique shops. And you can’t go to Victoria and not include a full day trip to its glorious floral gem…the Butchart Gardens. Again please!
3. Trier, Germany: “All roads lead to Trier” was a saying that was coined from the backseat of our rental car in 2008 when my mom, my daughter and my niece joined me on a two week journey across Germany and Austria. Most people think of the Rhine River when they think of Germany, but the Mosel River is a more intimate and inviting river; not as industrialized as the Rhine. It slowly snakes its way through beautiful valleys lined with vineyard covered hillsides, stone walled castles, Roman ruins, and quant little communities tucked in amongst the twists and turns of the river. One should plan to take it slow when driving the riverside roads or you might miss some of the unique wine tasting spots that allow you to sample true Mosel River life in a glass. Whenever we would journey out for a day of adventure and discovery, every intersection we came across had a directional sign pointing back to Trier. In planning for our trip this coming September, Trier and the Mosel valley was put at the top of our must see destinations. Because, as we already know…all roads lead to Trier.
4. Acadia National Park, Maine: Despite the fact that the Acadia National Park is the oldest in the park system east of the Mississippi, I had never really heard of it or thought about visiting there until we began to plan a multi-generational get-away with my Mom and Dad to see the “fall leaves”. Our planning had to consider places we could go that allowed them to see and experience the fall foliage within the constraints of their limited mobility. Our research uncovered information on Acadia National Park. We immediately knew this unique Maine location must to be added to our itinerary. Starting with the sweeping panoramic view from the top of Cadillac Mountain, to the meandering streams and stone bridges lined with a kaleidoscope of fall colors, Acadia National Park did not disappoint. Throw in stops at quant community eateries such as the 2 Cats Restaurant in Bar Harbor for breakfast and Stewmans Lobster Pound for…what else…lobster; our East Coast fall tour remains a family memory favorite.
5. Reutte, Austria: Cross over the Germany/Austria border, through the tunnels and mountains and find the Tyrolean community of Reutte. This burg gives you all the special feelings associated with the Austrian Alps without the hustle and bustle of some of the larger more touristy towns. My daughter and niece tackled an afternoon hike to the ruins of the Burgenwelten Ehrenberg. After climbing for hours, and following rocky little paths in and out of the ruins, they ended their adventure by taking the wrong trail coming back down, thus loosing themselves in the forest like Hansel and Gretel. Finally back at our gasthaus, they declared it their favorite castle experience ever. The next morning, a head cold kept my mom close to her bed at the Landgasthof Lilie, while the girls and I put on our mountain hiking shoes and took the tram up to the beginning of the alpine trails. It turns out we didn’t need our shoes to enjoy one of the regions only barefoot hiking trails and my personal favorite Austrian memory. Beautiful countryside, amazing vistas and great company made Reutte, Austria a forever favorite in our hearts.
6. San Juan Cultural Food Walking Tour: There is no better way to explore the cultural heritage of a city than to experience its food. After a morning of dashing from shop to shop to avoid a sudden Puerto Rican rain shower, we awaited our food tour guide from under an umbrella in the plaza by the fountain. Not sure what to expect, we joined our fellow “foodies” to stop at four distinct and varied eateries in old town San Juan. Our guide from Flavors of San Juan was a cultural anthropology student and was extremely knowledgeable on the history of the architecture as well as the food. After winding our way through streets lined with colorful houses and quant shops, our first stop was in an underground jail featuring a totally authentic restaurant called Rosa de Triana. Their claim to fame other than the fantastic ambiance and great food is the flamingo dancing on Friday and Saturday night. A huge party of people, drinking and food in a very unique location. Four stops, three hours and 2.5 miles later we ended our tour at Cafe La Princesa for flan and a special and very tasty coffee drink. While there is much to love in old San Juan and it was all served up and put on a platter for our enjoyment during our food walking tour. An absolute must for your trip to Puerto Rico.
7. Strawberry Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH: As a museum professional, I’m always interested in seeing how local communities preserve, portray and display their cultural heritage. Our stop at the Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire did not disappoint my desire to see and experience generations of New England history. Rather than an exhibit hall filled with artifacts and interpretive panels, the Strawberry Banke Museum showcases its history through a variety of authentically restored homes and businesses situated along the busy waterfront in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is one community and over 300 years of stories, artifacts, clothing, furniture and living history actors. It portrays a perfect example of how communities grow and change with the passing of time. With 42 buildings, the earliest dating back to 1695 and the most contemporary from the 1950’s, this is one of the oldest recognized living history museums in the United States. My favorite spots along the way were the Shapiro house (Russian Jewish Immigrants) and the WWII Abbott General Store…and don’t forget the gardens. On their website it says to plan 1 – 2 hours for a visit, but we took our time and ended up spending over 3 hours. While some of the homes were a bit difficult for my elderly parents to navigate, there were plenty of resting spots tucked in along the way to allow them to enjoy the experience without climbing stairs. If you are planning a trip to New England, don’t leave the Strawberry Banke Museum off your list.
8. Yellowstone National Park: As parents, we strived over the years to bypass Disneyland and traditional expensive theme parks and instead focus on exposing our kids to Natural Wonders and National Parks as they were growing up. We planned park visits and nature adventures as much as possible and have stacks of photographs and buckets of memories to show for our efforts. You really can’t get a more iconic American National Park than Yellowstone. There is something there for everyone; animals, canyons, rivers, geysers and beautiful historic lodges. Our only complaint…we didn’t allow enough time to truly experience all that Yellowstone has to offer. Now we have a second generation to expose to all the beauty our wonderful National Parks have to offer, so our next trip to Yellowstone will include our grandson. This time we will plan more days to fully explore this natural beauty.
9. Bahia’ Salinas Beach Resort & Spa, Puerto Rico: When we traveled to Puerto Rico in December of 2012, we wanted to shy away from traditional Americanized tourist resorts and book overnight lodging options that had a bit of Puerto Rican cultural flair. Our first few nights we stayed at the Ceiba Country Inn to take full advantage of visits to the El Yunque Rain Forest. Such a wonderful and quant option with great hosts, fantastic forest and ocean views and a nightly chorus of coqui frogs. But my favorite stay in Puerto Rico happened by chance after a hike to the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and the Playa Sucia Beach. We stopped in at the Bahai’ Salinas Beach Resort to have lunch and ended up booking a room to stay. If you’re looking for a party place, keep searching. The purpose of this resort is to relax, swim in the pool, and enjoy the view. The beach here is beautiful, but not suitable for swimming. For us that was not an issue since we were here at the end of our vacation and just wanted a place to stop, take a deep breath of tropical air and enjoy a relaxing beachside Caribbean experience. Staying in the “countryside” resorts, might not be for you if you are used to larger 5-star resorts with major amenities and people to serve your every want and need. Do your research and know what you want and what to expect. For us, the Bahia Salinas Beach Resort was an unexpected and delightful discovery. We’re thinking it would be a great Christmas family vacation….maybe next year.
10. Columbia River Gorge and Oregon: No matter where we go and how long we stay it’s always a joy to come back home. Even though we now live just across the border in Washington State, I have always and always will consider myself an Oregonian. I have to say that the beauty of Oregon and especially the Columbia River Gorge rival anyplace I’ve been in the world. Oregon has everything anyone would want. Beaches, waterfalls, mountains, deserts, cultural history and eclectic rural life can all be found. Recently, Travel Oregon started a campaign called, The Seven Wonders of Oregon. Check it out!…and the best part is I get to call it home.
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, there is beauty and wonders all over the world to see and experience, but there truly is “no place like home”. Get out there. Travel! Make memories to last a lifetime. But don’t forget the treasures you can find at that place you call home.