Wow…last year was a mighty busy one for me. Besides my adventures at home in New York City, I did a lot of traveling in 2016 (eight countries) plus a bit of local and US travel. I don’t know that I’ll be able to swing as many trips in 2017, but I’m hoping (where there’s a will, there’s a way). As I start 2017 with fresh eyes and ears, I want to take a moment and reflect on my 2016 travel destinations. Follow my journeys….
In February, Mike and I escaped New York’s wintry weather for an extended weekend of sunshine and warm, lovely people in Barbados. This trip to the Caribbean was our first, but won’t be our last. We knew that we’d love it, but had no idea how much we’d fall in love with the locals. We spent some time in the capital city, Bridgetown, as well as Speightstown, and rented a car and covered as much of the country as we could in four days. On the eastern side of the island where we stayed, the landscape is rugged, wild, and untouched.
For our wedding anniversary in May, we drove to Montreal, Quebec. We ate some of the most delicious food ever (this town is serious about food!), browsed many of the city’s cool and funky shops, and stopped in every park we stumbled upon. Montreal was so much more than we expected, and we agreed that because it’s an incredibly safe city with (again) nice, nice people, we could visit frequently or possibly even live there. Like New York, Montreal has an energy with tons to see and do, and neighborhoods feel like small towns rather than areas of a major city.
In June, I headed to Vero Beach for a weekend. I had not visited Florida in years and became smitten with Indian River County. I experienced a lot of adventure on this trip (for me, because I am more of a city girl and not too outdoorsy!), and even kayaked and rode on an airboat for the first time. I ate a lot in Vero too – my, this little town offers tasty food. I still remember some of that fresh seafood. Yum!
In July, I left for Europe for four weeks. This trip was probably the greatest that I’ll ever take in my lifetime. I prepared for my journey for nearly a year, and I came back in August with one disappointment – that I couldn’t see more while I was there.
I began my adventure with five nights in Stockholm. I had not been to Scandinavia before, and I had trouble adjusting to nights without complete darkness. At 11 p.m., the sky still had light. The sun began to rise around 3 a.m., which was also about the time my body wanted to go to sleep! By day four, I was starting to get on a schedule but had to depart at 4:30 a.m. for Germany on the following day.
Stockholm is a beautiful city, and people dress casually yet impeccably. In other words, every last detail is well thought out. Old Stockholm or Gamla stan, no matter how touristy, is a treasure. Oozing character and history, this area of town is a must if you’re visiting for the first time. I’d go back to Gamla stan again and again.
Yes, I left on a 6 a.m flight from Sweden, so I awoke around 3 a.m. to catch a train from my hotel to the Stockholm Airport. From there, I flew to Copenhagen, for a brief if not rushed layover, and then boarded a plane to Hamburg. Once on the ground, I took a bus to the airport terminal, then a subway, a taxi to the hotel, a bike, and then a boat. All of this transit transpired between 4:30 a.m. and noon, and on three hours of sleep! Since this was a press trip, I didn’t have a choice in the scheduling, but if I return to Hamburg, I hope that can experience the city while rested and alert, because it is a fabulous place.
The food and architecture alone make Hamburg a destination in Germany, if not all of Europe. And Alster Park is spectacular. I could’ve easily spent an entire day here as it reminded me so much of both Central Park and Riverside Park in Manhattan. If you go to Germany, go to Hamburg!
As one of the cities I had longed to visit, Berlin didn’t disappoint. I was there for three days but could’ve easily stayed for three weeks. I will return to Berlin and see more of this amazing city, which, like Hamburg, boasts an impressive dining scene (I ate the best Turkish food of my life at Fes Barbecue). How far Berlin has come in the past 25 years is truly remarkable, but remnants of its past still dot the cityscape. Berlin has an undeniable history, but the city also has a tremendous amount of soul.
I had the opportunity to visit Brussels, also where my cousin Sydney and her husband (and now baby!) live. I was excited to see them since the last time we were together was at their 2015 wedding in Georgia, but I was just as excited to experience Brussels. I liked the size of the city, and the people were wonderful! I happened to arrive on Belgian National Day (their July 4th), and many people had left town for the country or beach, making it extra quiet. Although I had just two nights in Brussels, I managed to see a lot on a city tour, and I managed to eat classic dishes like moules-frites, Belgian chocolate, and, of course, waffles. Let’s just say that you haven’t really had a waffle until you’ve eaten one in Belgium. 🙂
From Brussels, I headed for Liege, a smaller albeit historical town only about an hour away by train, but by no means less lovely. Here, I explored a lot of the city on foot in just 24 hours, and also tasted the Liege waffle, which is sweeter and more dessert-like than the Brussels waffle. A lot of people rave about the Liege waffle, but I prefer the Brussels waffle with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
Considered the capital of the Wallonia region of Belgium, Namur reminded me of a fairytale. Smaller than Brussels and Liege, Namur is a place I must visit again, as part of a more in-depth trip to Wallonia. Picturesque? Yes, it is, but that word doesn’t begin to describe how lovely this town is. The Citadel is one of the main attractions, but there’s much more to see, do, and eat, so I must go back.
I had dreamt of returning to Paris for years, and finally, it happened. I had four nights in this fabulous French city, and it was more spectacular than I had remembered. I didn’t want to do too many touristy activities while there (yes, I saw the Eiffel Tower), but rather, I wanted to be in Paris, and that’s what I did. I spent two days and two nights alone in the city as well, which was probably the highlight of my time in Europe since I have not traveled alone internationally before. Paris is a fantastic city to travel to solo, and I’d love to do it all over again.
I left Paris and flew to Milan, where I also had about 24 hours alone. I walked around town, shopped a bit, visited the Duomo, ate gelato, and savored a quiet dinner in a risotteria. The following day, Mike flew in to meet me, and we wandered around town, ending up at Parco Sempione, Brera, and Navigli. We ate decadent Italian food and drank a lot of wine. Milan, of course, is stylish, chic, and for a major city, immaculate.
The next day, we were off by train to Genova along the Ligurian Coast. This town is a sleeper, and I only hope too many people don’t find out about it. (Why am I writing this???) Genova is much more local and less touristy than some other Italian cities, and it feels a little gritty, but in a good way. The food scene is phenomenal, and like much of Italy, it’s very affordable. I LOVED this town. We met a woman from Boston who says she’s been everywhere but continues to come back to Genova. I totally get it.
From Genova, we traveled by car (I drove while Mike navigated) to Piemonte (the Piedmont Region). For three nights, we stayed in a tiny village called San Martino Alfieri – it’s located between Asti and Alba. Our hotel was Marchesi Alfieri – a working winery and inn. This spot belongs in a coffee table book!
I drank some of the best wine of my life at Alfieri, as well as Francone and Roche Dei Barberi. Since returning to the states, I’ve yet to taste any Italian wines that can compare to what I tasted in Piemonte.
All of Piemonte was spectacular, and though few people spoke English, we used our few words of Italian and managed to communicate without issue, especially with the help of Google Translate.
Since we were flying out of Milan, which is close to the Swiss border, we made our way by car and stayed our final two nights in Lugano, Switzerland. Words and photos cannot describe the beauty that is Lugano! This resort town is in the Italian-speaking part of the country, so we continued to eat Italian food, which was fine with us. We stayed in a lovely family-owned hotel called Hotel Federale, where we had a breathtaking view of Lake Lugano and the town. I didn’t want to leave my room! (But, I did.)
In early October, I went to Berks County, Pennsylvania for the weekend to visit family. While there, my mom and I hung out in Lititz for an afternoon. I had driven through the town once before, but this was my first real visit. What a charming spot! Lititz has been voted one of the coolest small towns in America, and I can see why. The downtown shopping rivals that of larger cities, plus, there’s local wine and beer. There were tourists from all over, even other countries, so Lititz is a place to keep on your radar when you’re traveling through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. The town is close to Lancaster, also worth a visit.
Later that month, I explored a section of New York City that I had not before. Most people wouldn’t classify a day in a different borough as travel, but considering that many New Yorkers don’t leave their neighborhoods, let alone their boroughs, heading to The South Bronx can be considered local travel in my book. Many great things are happening in this section of The Bronx. In fact, the New York Times selected The South Bronx as one of 52 places to visit in 2017. That’s impressive. Congrats to The Bronx!
My final trip of the year was also local. I had a quiet, relaxing, wine and food-filled New Year’s Eve in Peconic on the North Fork of Long Island. Mike and I decided to celebrate the start of 2017 outside the city for the first time, and it was just what we needed. Like New York City, the East End of Long Island will always be one of my favorite places no matter where I travel to in this world. Let’s face it – there’s no place like home.
Bronx street art mural by my talented friend James Sexer Rodriguez. All photos by me.
Did you take any trips in 2016? Do you have anything on the books for 2017?