Well folks I hope you have not lost any sleep awaiting my next blog post as it has been too many months. While I do enjoy providing blog posts to my dedicated readers this past year has been a transition at 1girlwhotravels. I have focused on getting my travel photography skills refined and activating sales of travel photography items at craft market sales events and my own Etsy shop.
However I wanted to share highlights from 2018 to help provide some possible inspiration for your upcoming travel plans. This year included 32 flights to new destinations including Armenia, Tbilisi Georgia, Quito, Antigua Guatemala and Grenada. There was a total of 11 different hotels / AirBnBs during the year and return destination trips.
Highlights from 2018
Best natural site – Sunrise – Ocean City MD: I absolutely love the natural beauty that greets us daily in sunrise and sunset; some days are certainly more spectacular than others. Luck and natural beauty was on our side the morning we decided to get up for a 5:14am sunrise in Ocean City Maryland. I had seen a few images in local boutique shops of sunrises and could not imagine the prints were real. We were not disappointed with our very early wake up call which provided one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. The colors were spectacular especially with the water and crashing waves. I was fortunate enough to share this magical memory with my sister which I will treasure forever.
Best cultural site – Tatev Monastery – Armenia: There were many amazing historical and cultural sites that I visited during my travels this year. However Tatev Monastery takes the prize! It is nearly a 5 hour drive from Yerevan in the far south of Armenia near Goris in Syunik Province. You can arrive two different directions; drive up to the back side of the monastery or enjoy the Wings of Tatev. I highly recommend the Wings of Tatev to enjoy the breathtaking views as you arrive to Tatev. In addition, the Wings of Tatev is the longest funicular in the world at 3.2 miles distance! Tatev Monastery began in the 11th century with over 1000 monks with many valuable manuscripts, artwork and home to Tatev University starting in 1390. Unfortunately the monastery has been hit by earthquakes, fires and looting numerous times so many of the original items have disappeared. One thing that definitely remains is the architectural beauty which was pure delight!
Best meal & drink – La Tortilla – Antigua Guatemala: While in Antigua we had the opportunity to attend a cooking class one evening to create a traditional Guatemalan dinner. It was hard work cutting and cooking for hours but the end result was the best meal of the year! We feasted on our creations of chicken pepin, rice, handmade tortillas, beet salad and for dessert chocolate stuffed plantains. Also while in Antigua I found the most delicious and refreshing drink hibiscus tea that is made from hibiscus flowers. It has such a beautiful color and definitely makes you feel like you are on vacation.
Best tour – Zohery Grand Tour – Washington DC: Imagine my entire immediate family of 14 (7 adults and 7 littles) in Washington DC for a sightseeing tour like no other. I have previously been to Washington DC many times but never done a full city tour. Given that it was 106 degrees that day we opted for the tour bus with AC. The driver and tour guide was incredible engaging and entertaining the whole tour. He provided a live narrative to small group of 20 for the duration of the tour. There was incredible detail in the facts and figures about the buildings, statues, and general city knowledge. We all learned something and continued to quiz each other for several days!
Best festival – New Year’s – Grenada: While New Year’s Eve is an event celebrated around the world this was my favorite celebration for the year. Imagine yourself sitting on the beach with a few of your closest friends. The weather is absolutely perfect 80 degrees with a light island breeze and you can lie back to star gaze. You crack open a lovely bottle of champagne to pair with the fireworks display. A perfect way to finish 2018 and begin a prosperous new year!
Well I thought 2017 was a pretty quiet year but when I reviewed all the details I had 29 flights and slept at 20 different hotels not including 7 nights aboard an Alaskan cruise. At the end of every trip I reflect on my experience to denote the highlights, any challenges and most importantly what I learned. I have summarized my top 5 events for the past year of travel adventures.
Best Festival – Chinese New Year – Hong Kong: Our trip to Hong Kong was during the Chinese New Year which provided many additional highlights to our visit. Our visit to Wong Sai Tin Temple was overwhelming with thousands of locals making their annual pilgrimage for Chinese New Year to thank the immortal for their answered prayers. We enjoyed a traditional Chinese New Year dinner one evening when wandering into a local restaurant. We were entertained by the performance of dragon dance in several locations which is another celebration to bring luck into the new year. We were particularly delighted the luck it brought us at the shops as everyone had a special new year discount.
Best natural site – Alaska: WOW! I don’t think I can pick just one specific spot in Alaska that was so beautiful as the whole state is overwhelming in natural beauty. There was whale watching, bear safari trek, train to the Yukon, visiting glaciers up close and seeing wildlife as we cruise by. It was far more spectacular that I ever imagined! I guess if forced to pick only I spot that took my breath away it would be Hubbard Glacier. We had the luck of the Irish with us that day as it was the only day all season the captain had even seen the peak of the mountain. It was glorious!
Best UNESCO Heritage site: Well this was the year of completing several wish list destinations. I have wanted to visit Machu Picchu for over 15 years and my day finally came. It is an incredible place! I would definitely recommend getting a personal guide otherwise it appears simply as a pile of old rocks. The annual highlight for Machu Picchu is winter solstice on 21st June to catch the sunrise allows for a symbolically return of the sun to earth to allow for a good harvest of crops. I am elated to have visited in 2017 given they will soon begin restricting access to some parts of the site given the high volume of visitors. Note: It is not the easiest place to move around and limited guardrails so I would suggest small children or adults with diminished mobility skip this outing.
Best Meal – La Chata Guadalajara, Mexico: It is always true. When you see a long line of people waiting for food; it must be good. My hotel concierge had recommended I dine at La Chata while I was visiting Guadalajara. The concierge told me the best times when the line for a table would be shortest because there is always a line. I walked by to check the place out; it looked and smelled so good. I went for dinner one night and only had to wait about 25 minutes for a table before enjoying this gourmet feast. The food may not be very photogenic but with flavor this good I think it can be forgiven. Oh and the best part wast the meal price 108 pesos or roughly $6 however after a margarita (okay 2 margaritas) my total was still only $11. Olé!
Best tour – Hong Kong Greeters Private Tour: I was traveling with a few family members and we wanted to experience “real” Hong Kong. Our tour was First Class service and we customized our itinerary via email in advance. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and patient to answer any questions we had. In addition she provided helpful tips and recommendations for the remainder of our stay in Hong Kong. It was the perfect way to start our vacation in Hong Kong! Check out my Tripadvisor review to see details of our schedule for the day.
Earlier this year I visited Hong Kong for the first time. The trip was full of delightful surprises but our day in Tai O fishing village was one of the most enjoyable. As there are several fishermen in my family who spend endless hours reliving the highlights of the day it was an epic journey to witness lifelong multi-generational career fishermen.
It is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong city as the village of Tai O will immediately transcend you back into a simpler way of life. There are no trains to reach the village only bus or taxi. Once you reach the village center your transportation options are limited to bicycles, walking or of course boats. The waterfront brims of lovely stilt houses in many colors just inviting you to take it all in. There are lovely cafes with waterfront views to relax and soak it all in.
We took a 30 minute water tour for only 20 HKD ($2.60 USD) which was worth the money to check out the village from the waterways. It provides an upfront view of the fishermen coming back with their daily catch. You can find the locals scooting around the village on bicycles to complete their daily errands. The village shops sell every type of dried fish imaginable including shrimp, jellyfish, squid, etc
After you enjoy your time in Tai O you are a short ride away from Tian Tin Big Buddha which is a sight not to be missed.
As a fellow traveler, what better way to kick off the New Year, and celebrated Chinese New Year, than with a fabulous trip to the New York Times Travel Show! Inspiration filled the exhibit hall and the seminar rooms were packed to hear from the industry experts.
Top 5 destinations to consider for your 2017 travel plans:
1. Waldorf Astoria New York: Go right now before they close on 1st March! We were fortunate to spend the weekend in the historical luxury accommodations. The renovations are anticipated to take 2-3 years and will be predominately turned into condos. Treat yourself to an overnight stay, historical tour, or perhaps a Bellini at the bar.
2. Paris: Since the attacks in November 2015 tourism is down drastically with the ability to enjoy sites without crowds. You can easily secure dinner reservations at top tier restaurants and enjoy lower hotel prices. Even better news for US travelers is the dollar is currently very strong against the euro. Frank Sinatra said it best in his famous hit “I love Paris“. So what are you waiting for!
3. Montreal: Well, if Paris is simply too far, consider its little sister. Montreal is your Parisian weekend getaway for anyone in North America. Once again the U.S. Dollar is strong against the Canadian dollar so great time to go. Oh and did I mention that Montreal is celebrating 375 years? As the birthplace of Cirque de Soleil there is no doubt you will definitely be entertained with festival events.
4. Haida Gwai: Another option to take advantage of the low Canadian dollar is the hidden location of Haida Gwai. It was been nicknamed the “Candian Galápagos'” given all the engandered species living locally.
5. Karasjok Norway: one of the best places to witness the infamous northern lights. Every 10 years the lights increase in intensity and 2017/18 is on schedule to become amazing. Plan your travels for September thru mid-April 2018 and get ready to enjoy the night sky.
The Chicago Travel & Adventure show was last weekend and I found a few new travel ideas that include 1 new city and 2 new sea adventures.
I was introduced to Emerald Waterway which is a UK based company that focuses on river cruises primarily European. The ships are small offering full service and high end amenities. I will definitely be investigating for future travel plans.
For anyone considering a trip to Patagonia there is an option to take a cruise with Skorpios in Chile with amazing views of the glaciers and fjords. The tours are limited to travel between October through April but bookings can be made over 1 year in advance.
After a visit to the Mexico booth I have found a destination that I will be adding to my list. The city of San Luis Potosi might be the best kept secret in Mexico with a castle hidden in the jungle and unlimited adventure activities.
In other news while visiting with agents from Chicago US Passport agency I was very disheartened to learn that I do not own my passport! My most prized possession is officially the property of the United States government and must be surrendered at any time upon request of an authorized member of the State Department or the government. Yikes! I solemnly promise to be a loyal steward of “my” passport.
Hola amigos. A few weeks ago I travelled to Colombia; yes the country. Let me begin by resolving some of your possible current conceptions. I have heard these common questions from many people: “Were you ever scared or nervous?” “Did you feel danger lurking around every corner?” “Did you see any drug lords?” I can easily answer NO to all of these questions even though I travelled independently with only one female friend. The country is full of beautiful landscapes, incredible architecture, amazing coffee, good food and friendly people. Our travels included a few days in Bogota, Salento coffee plantation region, and Cartagena.
Here are the top 10 highlights I would recommend from our adventure:
1. Hike in the Cocora Valley among the 60 foot wax palm trees providing a truly peaceful and beautiful environment. The photos are unable to do it justice as unfortunately the weather was not very agreeable the day we went but trust me this is a must see item.
2. Enjoy the local fruits such as lulo, feijoa, and tomato de árbolthat are only available in Colombia that will “knock your socks off” with flavor.
3. Marvel at over 55,000 gold pieces at the Bogota Gold Museum which is one of the most visited tourist sights in Colombia. This collection is unimaginable and will leave you speechless!
4. Cook local Colombian cuisine in the home of a local resident as a tour option through 5bogota.com
5. Stay in the charming and adorable town of Salento to observe all the vibrantly painted houses, doors and window shutters.
6. Drink coffee on a daily basis taking after the locals who will serve it strong and black. I had the best damn coffee of my life at Don Elias plantation.
7. Wander the streets in the old walled town of Cartagena until you get lost.
8. Taste chocolate samples at the incredible Museo del Cocoa in Cartagena. There are also tours, cooking courses and of course many things you can purchase including chocolate candles.
9. Walk the wall which surrounds the perimeter of old town Cartagena built over 500 years ago nearing 7 miles long and at points over 30 feet thick.
10. Cherish the architectural beauty in any local church. There are numerous churches we visited that were incredible in their unique way; however every church regardless of day or time had local patrons actively practicing their faith.
This was a pretty busy year traveling on 35 flightsand staying at 19 different hotels; however nothing compared to road warriors who travel relentlessly for work who are likely to quadruple these numbers. However keep in mind this is all vacation travel and don’t dare ask the cost unless you want to pay the Visa bill.
Best Festival – Romania Annual Spring Ploughman Festival (April 2016): On our visit to Bran Castle we had the good fortune to be there at the time of the Annual Spring Ploughman Festival which is held to promote a good harvest for the crops. It was a beautiful display of local traditional clothing, music and dancing. In addition to all of this fanfare the ladies promenade around with enormous basket of pastries welcoming the public to enjoy the good harvest blessing.
Best natural site – Fall Foliage Drive near Conway New Hampshire (October 2016): For many years I have wanted to travel out east to check out the fall foliage. However as an avid college football fan historically this had conflicting weekend priorities; until I sold my season tickets.
Timing is everything for fall foliage and that window can be very limited sometimes. There is only so much planning you can do in advance as it all depends on Mother Nature. Look at the historical weather reports and peak foliage reports to get a gauge of what weekends it might peak then book your hotel room asap. There is limited hotel rooms and everyone wants to be there when the fall foliage peaks! Check out possible driving routes but be flexible to changes based on the latest peak foliage report. Be sure to take your smartphone and backup charger to plan your revised driving routes.
Best site – Bucovina Romania Painted Monasteries (April 2016): Do you remember when I said UNESCO sites do not disappoint? This is definitely one! We sat mystified gazing at the frescos dating back to the early 1500’s and wondering what natural ingredients were used to create the blue hues. When we visited in April it was off season but rarely had to
share any part of the monastery with anyone else. This may still be off the tourist radar for many people however given that it is a UNESCO site it could gain in popularity. I would highly recommend a visit if you have interest in fresco artwork.
Best Drink – Colombia coffee at Don Elias Organic Coffee Plantation (November 2016): Colombia is famous for it’s coffee production and we had enjoyed countless cups of coffee around the country. Everyone has their own personal taste when it comes to coffee but in Colombia you will never be offered cream for your coffee as it would distract from the taste. You can have it black or with sugar in general. We headed to the source to see coffee plantation region near Salento to learn more about the coffee production. While on descent you can already see the beautiful lush green landscape that you can only imagine.
Don Elias plantation is a family run business that focuses on sustainable production and utilizing your environment to peak performance. They offer tours of the plantation which are very interesting to see their simple and wholesome process that produces a large volume of coffee. At Don Elias Coffee Plantation I had the best damn coffee in my life. I prefer cream and sugar in my coffee; however I was surprisingly in agreement with the locals that when you have a good quality coffee it is better to drink it black. The good news is that he sells the coffee whole beans or ground packaged onsite and I bought several packages to take home. The bad news you can only buy it on the farm and I should have bought more! Or perhaps when you visit you can pick me up a package?
As an experienced international traveller I generally prefer to avoid organized tours. However we found Hello Bucovina as the perfect option as it offers private customi
zed tours! We had requested a 3 day private tour which covered a big wish list of sights spanning many kilometers and multiple countries. We had two guides
over the course of the itinerary who were very knowledge about the sights, country, history, etc. The guides were extremely friendly and kindly greeted us at the airport late in the evening for transport to our hotel.
We had time available while in transit to learn more about local culture and current events. We spent several days with Chip as our guide who is also the company owner. Chip is very dedicated to providing his clients with the best experience and asks for feedback throughout the tour. We appreciated that each day the agenda and rough timelines were clearly established so we knew what to expect. I am looking forward to traveling to Eastern Europe sometime soon and connect again with Hello Bucovinato arrange another tour.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope 2017 brings you great travel adventures!
Shake your what? Djibouti? You have heard of it right. Is it the new dance craze?
A few weeks ago I had never heard of this African nation called Djibouti pronounced “ji-boo-tee”. However in less than a 24 hour period the country came up in two very different circles of conversation. It was a sign. We need to learn more about this country!
Djibouti is located on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean giving the nation a strategic advantage for Suez canal shipping lanes providing a majority of the nation’s trade. The region has been inhabited since 8000 BC with a current population of just under 1 million speaking primarily French and Arabic.
What is there to see in Djibouti?
Check out Lake Abbe with a lunar atmosphere and covered with flamingos. Famous for filming location of first Planet of the Apes movie (in review for UNESCO heritage status)
Take a hike among the Goda Mountains to check out the waterfalls
Swim or more appropriately float in Lake Assal as the salt level is similar to the Dead Sea (in review for UNESCO heritage status)
Snorkel with whale sharks in the Bay of Ghoubbet
Soak up the Arabian culture with a visit to the sea side town of Tadjourah
In May 2015 The Telegraph had an article “Djibouti: Africa’s hottest new travel destination” with tourism on the rise over 300% in the last 20 years. However tourism remains in it’s infancy I suspect due to the cost and challenges of local transportation. I may not put this country high on my wish list however it definitely will be added to the list for a someday wish list.
This week I said a tearful goodbye to one of my dearest childhood friends who was tragically killed in a car accident. It has been an urgent reminder that life is short and we should live each day to the fullest.
My advice to you this week is simple in the words of Dalia Lama:
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”.
This world has so much to offer us and we need to take time to explore new places. This could be a grand adventure to a continent, country, city; or simply a visit to the city zoo, museum or theatre. Take the opportunity to experience new places especially those in your own backyard. The world is waiting for you…get out there!