For those of you who have been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile, you probably remember we were trapped for two months on the island of Cyprus when the world shut down in March 2020. Although we were on lockdown and didn’t get to see any of the sites, it remains one of the most amazing experiences of our life. Since 2020 we have counted the days until we could return to this beautiful island, which we will do on June 23rd. So, in preparation for that return visit, we read this beautiful book. Here is my book review The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak.
Even if you never intend to visit Cyprus, you should read this book. Isn’t that what is so great about reading anyway…it transports you to somewhere new? The tiny island of Cyprus is one of the most remarkable places I have been…and I don’t think many people know anything about it. The supposed birthplace of Aphrodite this island has seen so much violence and Civil War. Once a British Colony, it became war torn in 1974 when the island was split between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. Today the border conflict remains and this is the story behind The Island of Missing Trees.
The story spans forty years but begins in London in 2010 when we meet Ada, a 15 year old troubled young girl who has recently lost her mother. At first I’m not sure where this young lady fits in, but slowly the story unfolds of her parents love. Her father Kostas, a Greek Cypriot and her mother Defne a Turkish Cypriot are caught up in a forbidden love, just as Cyprus falls deep into Civil War. But how the story gets to London in 2010 is a sad and deep yarn.
The Honorable Fig Tree
Some people might find this part of the book strange, but I absolutely loved that this story is narrated by an old Fig Tree. This tree has stood for generations and has been witness to so much joy, love, grief, war and loss. And still it lives. Although it took me awhile to understand the narrator was a tree, it really added a depth to the story.
Book Review The Island of Missing Trees
Shafka builds a beautiful story, with so much reminiscent of today’s horrifying political unrest in Eastern Europe. The Island of Missing Trees at it’s core is about how politics (and politicians), civil unrest, war and strife cause untenable pain and damage for generations of human beings. So timely for today’s violent world. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak.
Enjoying my time on Maui I’ve been thinking about all the island’s I have been blessed to visit. It’s a long list. My favorite islands around the world are usually remote and small. But I have also loved some larger, populated and sometimes touristy islands. We are doubtful we will travel international in 2021, but as soon as we can we will be heading to some of the world’s best islands. So many islands, so little time.
Our sudden disruption to our 2020 Grand Adventure last spring due to the virus, eliminated our visit to many islands we have long desired to see; Malta, Guernsey, Jersey and the archipelogos of Finland. We spent seven unexpected weeks on the beautiful island of Cyprus, but in total lockdown and so nothing more than our tiny neighborhood in the village of Argaka. So each of these islands remain on our to visit list.
Over the past five weeks we have been living on the island of Maui, and have just extended our stay another four weeks. So in 2020 we spent six weeks on Mauritius, seven weeks on Cyprus and will have a total of nine weeks on Maui. A total of 22 weeks on islands in 2020. It’s one of the few good things about 2020.
So in today’s blog I thought I would share some of my favorite islands around the world, and a brief description of why they make my fav list. There are several other islands we have visited I don’t mention here…I had to narrow it down. But if you have ever considered traveling to any of these – here are my recommendations;
Very quiet but also expensive. Beaches are nice but having a car at least part of the time is a must if you need to shop. Groceries are very expensive and produce is difficult to get. The people are quiet but nice and it is just beautiful. Boats available to visit other islands.
Don’t miss swimming at Gold Beach Anse Volbert-Côte D’Or,
In October Antiparos was really quiet as the season ends in September. But we had exceptional weather. Some restaurants and businesses in the tiny town were closed for the season but we found everything we needed at reasonable prices. Ferries available to surrounding islands.
By far the tiniest island we have been on, this very low lying Maldivian island is actually an atoll, made up of coral. The weather was incredible and we had the most relaxing three weeks of our life here. Best one day snorkeling of my life off of Huraa. Very little to do, and nearly no shopping. Note that there is no alcohol on this Muslim island!
Size 150 X 500 miles (12th largest island in the world)
Population 1.3 million
Best time to visit December to May
Where we stayed – we rented a caravan and traveled around
New Zealand is downright amazing. We loved both the North and South Island and we would really love to go back and visit again. This is not a laying in the sun island. Rather it is an island for all things recreational: hiking, walking, cycling, bird watching and more. Absolutely stunning. And ridiculously expensive.
It’s been a long time since I visited magical Mackinac and I sure would love to go again. It is so unique, especially in the USA, to find a place with no motor vehicles. Both times I was there in the summer with beautiful weather. Renting bikes and riding around the island is a highlight.
I’m lucky to count myself as one who has visited every Hawaiian Island that isn’t privately owned, and hands down Maui is the best. It is expensive but beyond that everything about it is perfect – the weather, the water, the beach, the food, the activities and the fact for people who live on the west coast of the USA, it’s really easy to get to.
Don’t miss whale watching for humpback whales in the winter months
Lombok and Bali Indonesia
Visited in March and April 2018 – two weeks on Bali and one week on Lombok
We loved our time on both of these beautiful islands. Bali is very popular with tourists for its beauty, beaches and vibe. Lombok on the other hand is a unique, tiny and non-touristy island where we spent six glorious days doing nothing but laying in a hammock.
Don’t miss an authentic Balinese Cultural performance in Ubud
I visited Zanzibar with my sister after spending a week on a safari in mainland Tanzania. It remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It is also the second worst sunburn I have got. The white sand beaches are amazing. The people are quiet and kind. The seafood delicious.
Don’t miss a ride in an authentic Zanzibar Dhow Boat
Definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever been. This tiny island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is difficult to get to and expensive but worth it. We loved our time here learning about the Moai and the history of Rapa Nui. I highly recommend.
Don’t miss touring with an authorized tour guide to understand the amazing statues and history of this island
We did a five day tour with a guide around the major sites of Sri Lanka seeing some of the most amazing things including the astonishing Sigiriya ancient mountain fortress. Then we kicked back for more than two weeks in a tiny hut on the beach in Hikkadua, which ended up being “interesting” but super fun and the weather and the beach were perfect. The Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest on the planet.
Don’t miss Sigiriya Fortress one of the most incredible things I have ever seen
Size 50 x 80 miles (Isla Isabela, the largest of the archipelago)
Best time to visit January to June
Where we stayed – we were on a small 12 person cruise
My first dip into my bucket list was this trip to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate my 50th birthday. Living on a boat for five nights we saw many islands and the most amazing collection of wildlife and sea life. We loved every minute of it and although it’s expensive, we recommend it to anyone!
We only had a couple of days in Singapore, the teeny island city/state that is one of the most expensive places in the world. It is also one of the cleanest and most colorful, particularly at night. I hope to return.
Don’t miss the Singapore Gardens by the Bay at night and the amazing Singapore Botanic Garden
We only had a couple of day on Nantucket but we were traveling with our young children at the time and it was a great little place for a family vacation. We were there in spring before the hoard of tourists descend in the summer and it was peaceful and beautiful and historic.
Don’t miss a Clam Bake and riding bikes around the island
We drove up to the Maritimes from Boston and enjoyed the drive as much as the islands. Prince Edward Island was still at that time very quiet and we enjoyed riding bikes, eating lobster and learning about history.
Don’t miss searching for sea glass at Souris Beaches
Average temperature – Honshu is a big island with multiple climates but Tokyo average summer high is 80 F
Size 150 x 500 miles
Population 104 million (2nd most populous island after Java Indonesia)
Best time to visit – March to May and September to November
We spent five weeks exploring the island of Honshu. Our kids were little and it was a magical time for us as a family. Japan is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. I hope to go back some day.
I have visited these islands many times as they are in the backyard of where I grew up
Average Temperature 55 F
Size – there are nine islands in varying sizes. The two largest are Orcas and San Juan
Best time to visit – Summer months
We have traveled to nearly all of the islands over my lifetime growing up in the Pacific Northwest. The islands are a great place for family camping or romantic getaways. Hiking, cycling and kayaking are popular.
Don’t miss getting up close and personal with the famous J-Pod of Orca Whales on a whale watching tour.
It’s Orthodox Good Friday here in Cyprus…the start of a four-day holiday, the biggest holiday of the year – one week later than other Easter Celebrations. But not this year. Yes the dates are still the same, but the celebrations have all been called off. In 2020 the story of Easter in Cyprus is on pause.
The President of Cyprus has declared the island people will celebrate a “postponed” Pascha in May. Let’s all hope it will happen. As Cyprus continues it’s lockdown, we all hold our breath and wait.
It’s disappointing not to be able to witness the faithful on this day here in Cyprus, a place I am beginning to feel is my home. Last April we were flabbergasted at the spectacle of Semana Santa in Antigua Guatemala…one of the most wonderful things I have every experienced. I have no doubt the Orthodox Easter Celebration would be just as amazing. Perhaps we will still be here in May when and if it happens.
Meanwhile I’ve been in touch with the local website called Choose Cyprus and they have agreed to let me share this amazing blog that describes the story of Easter in Cyprus and how the people come together in their communities each Pascha.
I hope you can take the time to read it in the link below.
Just under four years of nearly non-stop travel, as well as many adventures earlier in my life, has left me with an unbelievable collection of epic adventures around the world memories. Lucky me.
I’m not giving up on resuming our travel life…however I expect we will sit home for a year before we set out on anything too epic. And even if that never happens, what a life we have led.
In my living room I have a large book case that I call “The Museum”. Here I display my world treasures. There are not alot, given the fact that we travel light and I try not to do too much shopping as we travel, but I rarely leave any country without picking up something special. I love looking at “The Museum” and although I appreciate when guests look too, “The Museum” is really for me, a reminder of my blessed and adventurous life.
As I wait to determine what my next chapter in my life is going to look like, I spend a lot of my brain cells reliving some of my life’s greatest epic adventures. Therefore it seemed like a perfect blog to pull together and share. My Epic Adventures Around the World. I hope you enjoy.
The Inca Trail and Machu Pichu – I don’t have a blog about this experience, it was before I began blogging about my travels. But it was a defining experience in my life, opening my eyes to my own physical capabilities. The five day hike on the Inca trail to Machu Pichu took every thing my body had to give, while also providing some of my all -time favorite zen moments. Life changing.
Galapagos Islands – Everything about the Galapagos Islands is unique and memorable – both on land and in the sea. One of our favorite trips of all time. The day we snorkeled in the Galapagos was the only time I have ever swam with seals who danced a playful ballet around us as we swam. We also encountered baby seals, beautiful turtles and small sharks. Just one remarkable event in a very remarkable place.
Weekend with the Monks South Korea – spending the weekend at a Korean Buddhist monastery was a unique and slightly painful experience. Living as a monk, mostly in silence, sleeping on the concrete, up before the sun and hours of meditative prayer was certainly memorable. But my favorite part was meeting the female monks at this monastery, hearing their story and gaining such an admiration for such a devout life.
Easter Island Chile – Everything about Rapa Nui was stunning, but like most visitors I had my favorites. And like most visitors my two favorite sites were the Ranu Raraku quarry site and the Ahu Tongariki. Upon laying your eyes on these two sites for the first time you conjure a list of adjectives; breathtaking, fascinating, interesting, surprising, remarkable. At one point I had to just stop and breathe deep – and remind myself how remarkable it all was, and how remarkable it was that I was standing there.
Namibia – Arne and I both have Namibia on our top five list of one of the most beautiful countries and most incredible experiences ever. That is saying a lot in 110 countries. Unspoiled, incredibly diverse and still remarkably authentic, Namibia is astonishing. I have two excellent blogs about our experience there. The link above is the first one. Here is the second.
Burkina Faso – who goes to Burkina Faso? Well apparently I do. I didn’t really want to go, but in hindsight spending three weeks there visiting our Peace Corps son was one of the most remarkable and eye-opening travel experiences of my life. And doing it with my grown sons made such fantastic family memories. I will never regret having gone.
Inle to Kalaw Hike Myanmar – I don’t have a blog about this experience, but it did win one of our 2019 Travel Awards for it’s uniqueness. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.
Camino de Santiago Spain – Hands down one of the best, most spiritual, most life affirming experiences of my life. Walking 500 miles across Spain – 40 days, thousands of memories, one incredible experience. I hold this memory very, very dear.
Gorilla Trek Uganda – a life-long dream for me to trek to see the elusive Mountain Gorilla, for me this has also become a marker for the Corona world-crisis. Doing this tour was the last “normal” thing we did, before the world spiraled out of control, and came to a screeching halt. I will be forever grateful that Covid-19 did not stop us from doing this experience, and I will remember these creatures fondly.
Tiki Tour in New Zealand– who knew living in 90 square feet could be so much fun? What a remarkable way to see one of my top favorite countries, New Zealand. I would do this again…and have also considered doing it in Australia. To really see all that is fabulous about New Zealand, a Tiki Tour is the way to go.
The Great Barrier Reef Australia – I had to really convince my husband that snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef off of the east coast of Australia was worth the money. But I wasn’t visiting Australia without seeing the reef, and despite a crappy weather day, our experience in the ocean was amazing. A pinch me moment, in a life of pinch me moments.
Alps Hike Switzerland – with total honesty and without hyperbole, this day hiking the Schilthorn was one of the best days of my life. The physical challenge of it was astonishing, the beauty of it was heavenly and the satisfation on a travel scale of 1-10 was a million. Blessed day.
Camel Trek in Morocco – incredibly painful, incredibly memorable. Our overnight camel trek in the dessert of Morocco was quirky and special, despite how uncomfortable riding a camel can be…who knew? But I’m so glad we did it; overnighting in the Bedouin camp, drinking wine around the camp fire in the chilly dessert night air, then rising again and clamoring back onto the beast for the trek back. I’ll never forget it.
Bangladesh– we would have never gone to Bangladesh, except our friend Natalie was teaching there…so why not? A quick stop in this untouristed country to see what we can see. Wow. I would never imagined that we would have enjoyed it so much and have one of the most authentic travel experiences of our life.
Above it all – we paid a ridiculous amount of money to have two separate experiences in our travels – both taking us high above it all. It’s always hard to know if these things are worth the money, especially when we travel on a fairly strict budget. But for me, both of these experiences were worth every penny. Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney Australia and flying in a Hot Air Balloon over Bagan Myanmar. These both will go down in our travel life as phenomenal.
So the Grand Adventure is on sabbatical until further notice. I continue to hope we will travel again…but the brake is firmly set until further notice and we turn our attention to other inspiring adventures…stay tuned, and don’t give up.
Thank you for continuing to support our blog – we promise lots of interesting and inspiring articles coming your way. Be safe. Be healthy.
A week or so before we arrived in Langkawi we met a young women who was concerned when we told her we would be on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for 26 days. She felt we didn’t understand how little there is to do here.
We laughed about it later. Our favorite places in the world are the places with little to do. We particularly enjoy island-time and take it whenever we can get it. And our time here languishing on Langkawi has served us well both physically and mentally.
Although we spent many days doing pretty close to nothing, we also have enjoyed several busy and active days around the island. And after getting to know this small (25 miles long and 12 miles wide) island just off the coast of Malaysia and Thailand, I would argue that there is indeed plenty to do here.
Most people come here for three or four days. Maybe a week. When we told the young man on the beach who peddles the beach chairs we would be here for more than three weeks he was amazed. He said it was unusual. We have also noticed our age bracket here is unusual. Langkawi seems to be an itinerary of the young-backpacker and honeymooners …with a handful of people in their forties and fifties. We haven’t met any other Americans but it seems popular with the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Malaysians, Germans and Australians.
Our languishing on Langkawi days have often been spent at Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s most popular beach. It’s a two-minute walk to Cenang (pronounced ‘Chenang’) from our Airbnb and we can rent two chairs for the entire day for $5. The water is ridiculously warm and Cenang is the best place to watch the sunset. Although we did none of these things, it’s very popular (and seems relatively cheap) to go parasailing, rent jet-skis, ride on a banana boat, go island hopping or take a mangrove tour.
Cenang has lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed fantastic meals at Happy Happy Chinese Seafood and The Cliff Restaurant but probably my favorite meal was at Yasmine Syrian Restaurant. We also enjoyed several small sidewalk food stalls especially the Lebanese Shawarma Kebab sidewalk cafe and the Warung Cafe for breakfast.
We rented a car on three separate days over our 26 day stay, when we felt ready to get out and see more of the island. The rental car cost us $20 a day while gas runs about $2 a gallon. There really isn’t much public transportation but we found Grab (Uber) to be very efficient and super cheap.
The first day in the rental car we went to the Langkawi Cable Car and rode to the top for spectacular views. It’s relatively expensive by Malaysia standards ($20 pp) but worth it. From the top you can pay an extra $4 pp to walk out on the Sky Bridge. It was foggy when we were there but still a spectacular thing to do. Next we hiked the Seven Wells Waterfall. Free but ouch. It was 600 steps up and boy did I feel that in the morning. But it was worth it. Really beautiful. The waterfall has beautiful pools you can enjoy as part of your languishing in Langkawi efforts. We did not do the Umgawa Zipline, but it seems popular at around $100 pp.
Our second day in the car we drove to Temuran Waterfall in the northwest corner of the island. This is Langkawi’s highest waterfall and it was really spectacular. It’s much easier to access (200 steps) and also has a lovely pool at the base of the falls to cool off once you arrive.
Next we stopped to take a peek at the small but beautiful Pantai Tengorak Beach, but because there was a school field trip there we decided to move on. We enjoyed a spectacular fish-and-chips lunch with view at Scarborough Fish and Chips before heading next door to a much bigger and very beautiful beach called Pantai Tanjung Rhu. We spent several hours here. The water like a bathtub.
Back in Cenang we enjoyed one evening at the Aseania Resort where twice a week they offer a “Cultural Show and BBQ”. Think Luau. Similar to many such shows we have done around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Easter Island, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii), even though it is touristy it’s always fun, informative and delicious. Even though the sound system could use an upgrade, I was really glad we went. At $15 pp and all you can eat, you can’t beat it.
We spent three separate days enjoying day-passes at two beautiful beach resorts. We walked three miles to Resorts World Langkawi at the tip of the peninsula. For $10 we had access all day to their infinity pool, enjoyed pizza and a drink. Two days we walked one mile to Dash Resort. An all-day pass here was $9 and included a drink. It’s a nice way to take a break from the beach and feel a bit pampered. We liked the pool at Dash the best.
We went to the Thursday-only Langkawi Night Market which is tiny but we grazed our way through and had a full-meal for two for about $7. There is also a nightly food truck area right off the main drag- we weren’t overly impressed with the offerings so we never ate there.
Nearly every morning we did a beach and boardwalk run, taking advantage of the flat and beautiful terrain around Cenang to get back into running shape. I really appreciated having the time to do that.
Speaking of running, while we were on Langkawi the island hosted the Malaysia Ironman. What a spectacle that was! It was very difficult to get around during the event as so many roads were closed so we were only able to enjoy the finish line which was very near to our Airbnb. Super fun and exciting to witness an event like this. This is considered the second most difficult Ironman in the world. We saw the top three, all who beat the the course record despite the unusually warm day. It gave me goosebumps to watch them get their medals. What an accomplishment.
The following week we rented a car again for one more day of exploring. We drove around the southern road of the island to the town of Kuah. It’s a big town with lots of shopping and resorts. Not really something we are interested in but we wanted to see it. We then headed north with the intention of going to the Lucky Temple, a Buddhist Temple that accepts visitors. But we couldn’t find it. So next we headed to the Langkawi Cultural Craft Center. I was wishing I had more room in my suitcase for some of the beautiful baskets. I did purchase a beautiful hand painted Kaftan. We spent some time at the beach before heading back to Kuah to the Wednesday Night Market there.
Sunset in Cenang is pretty amazing. Our favorite places to watch sunset was from the rooftop of the El Toro Mexican Restaurant with a margarita in hand, or from the rooftop Flo Lounge on top of the Nadia Hotel. Our favorite beachside bar was Thirstday or we would bring our own scotch down to the beach for a nightcap.
Speaking of Scotch, the entire island of Langkawi is a Duty Free Zone. I don’t know why but lucky for us. We could buy a case of beer for $15, a liter of gin for $9 and a really nice bottle of Aberlour Scotch for $50. Aberlour 12 year in the USA would sell for about $90.
Strangely though, few restaurants serve alcohol since the majority of the businesses are Muslim owned. But you can find a drink in hotel and beach bars.
Sometimes we would take a long walk instead of going to the beach. Although the humidity can be tough, there are few cars on the roads and it felt good to get out and just walk around.
For nightly free entertainment there is never a dull moment down at the beach after sunset. The tiny town really comes alive, and pop up hookah lounges, fire dancers and foot massage studios take over the beach after dark. You can kick back all night in beach bean bag chairs if that’s your thing – definitely fits the languishing on Langkawi theme don’t you think?
We were on the tail end of Malaysia’s rainy season and during our visit to Langkawi and other parts of Malaysia we witnessed some crazy big tropical storms. But always the sun would return eventually. Other than during the Ironman and the week of the Indian holiday of Diwali, most hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions were lightly populated. High season will begin in November.
At the end of our visit, we had hoped to do a guided sunrise hike to the top of Gunung Raya, the highest point on Langkawi. But the weather did not cooperate so we had to cancel. So instead I booked a spa day at Alun Alun Spa in Cenang. It was really nice. I had a manicure, pedicure and a facial. There are many, many places in Cenang hawking foot massage, manicure, full-body massage etc. BUT since I am very particular about hygiene I decided to go to the more expensive and upsacale Alun Alun. I was really glad I did.
After nearly a month languishing on Langkawi -this tiny island ranks pretty high for me as a great place to both kick back and relax AND find plenty of things to keep busy. We were never bored. It fit our definition of island life pretty well, whether languishing on Langkawi or being on the go.
After forty days in Malaysia it’s time to go. Malaysia now falls fourth in the list of countries we have stayed in the longest (Spain, Thailand, New Zealand are the top three). But Malaysia ties for first place as the least expensive country for our travels – tied with Bulgaria. Coming in third is the Maldives.
Thanks Langkawi. Terima Kasih Malaysia. We have loved our time here.
Next stop Myanmar!
Please note WiFi in Myanmar is very poor. We will do our best to continue to post a Travel Blog each Friday and a Book Review each Wednesday. If you like what we are doing here, we would greatly appreciate you showing your love with a share or a pin!Please invite your friends to follow our blog. Thank you!
(Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to China in 2014. I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week. So please enjoy this post again about Surprising China, and watch for a new Surprising China World Heritage Sites post next Friday!)
I managed to see two sites on my Asian trip that were bucket list items. Being in China of course means seeing the Great Wall, easily accessible and visited by most American’s who travel here. It was astonishingly beautiful on the clear and cold, crisp day we stood upon it. A site even better than you ever imagined it.
But it takes a bit of an effort to get to Xian, China, the location of the second bucket list item. Xian is a six-hour train ride from Beijing. Xian is home of one of the most amazing things I have had a chance to see in my life, the Terra Cotta Warrior Army of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
How is it that this mind-boggling 2000-year-old relic of ancient Chinese history was only discovered 40 years ago? The accidental discovery by a local Chinese farmer has transformed this community as well as the understanding of Imperial China.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of hollow terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The vast discovery includes thousands of warriors from archers to generals and everything in between.
Seeing it first hand was worth the effort it took to get here. Photos no way do it justice.
I’ve always been fascinated to see nineteenth and twentieth century discoveries; items of lost treasures and civilizations where years of exploration or half hazard circumstance have unearthed. My travels have provided me the opportunity to see some of these treasures first hand; Ephesus in Turkey, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Forum in Rome and Mesa Verde in Colorado are things I have stood next to and asked how? Additionally I’ve stood with wonder at other sites never lost but yet still flabbergasting in particular Stonehenge in England and Lalibella in Ethiopia. It’s that feeling of awe and amazement that inspires me to travel. The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian gave me the goose bumps I crave.
My first question is why were they lost to start with? In the case of the Terra Cotta Warriors, it was done on purpose. The superstitious Chinese culture, both then and now, have strong beliefs in preparing for the afterlife, while here in this life. Afterlife preparation of Emperor Qin Shi Huang began years in advance of his death, when he was as young as 13. Emperors spent as much time preparing to go into battle in the afterlife as they did in this life here on Earth. Tens of thousands of warriors, each different down to the fingerprints, would go in to the afterlife battle with him. And that is where the hollow, life size, each unique terra cotta soldiers are going. For 2000 -years they waited, buried anywhere from 12 to 30 feet underground (depending on rank) for battle. Until the day a Chinese farmers decided to drill for a well. His unexpected discovery made him a local and national figure. But, being this is China, it didn’t make him rich. He continues to live in Xian and spends most his days signing books for tourists.
The discovery was made in 1974 and by 1976 Xian was welcoming visitors to see the soldiers. Immediately upon discovery the oxidation began and the pigment on the soldiers began to disappear. Today the soldiers you see standing just as they were placed 2000 years ago, have no color due to the unfortunate oxidation. In fact, the lacquer covering the paint can curl in 15 seconds once exposed to the dry air of Xi’an and can flake off in just four minutes.
The soldiers have been restored piece by piece in a painstaking and remarkable process. The gigantic exhibit at Xian shows the restored soldiers and horses, then progressively a section showing how most of the relics were found in hundreds of pieces, then finally the still covered tomb where additional soldiers wait their turn to see the light of day. The Chinese government has continued restoration efforts on many additional pieces. However, it has been determined that thousands more soldiers remain buried. And that is where they will stay; until research can provide an answer to preserve the colorful paints those soldiers still bare.
In my fabulous fifties I have an insatiable appetite to see, learn and be inspired. My travel list is long, but at the top are such sites as Easter Island, Victoria Falls, Camino de Santiago, Angkor Wat, Jordan’s Petra, Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the Pyramids of Egypt. All places with a rich cultural history and connection to lost civilizations.
Will I get to all of these? Damn right I will. Ask me where I have been we can talk for an hour. Ask me where I am going we can talk for days.
Let me inspire you to go. See. Do. Live. It’s now or never.
(Note: Our time in China was made special by the first class service we received from Beijing Champagne International Travel Service
I cannot recommend them highly enough. Our drivers were conscientious and safe. But our tour guides are what made us enjoy our travels so much. Lucia was our guide in Xian and Rogin was our guide throughout the rest of the trip. I would welcome them both into my home; this is how highly I regarded their care and expertise they provided. We could not have possibly enjoyed our time in China to the full extent without the help from all of these people. If you are going to China check out Champagne and personally request Rogin. Shi Shi.)
Well. Here we still are…that crazy PanDamit just won’t give up. If you had told me a year ago when I wrote last year’s 2020 Travel Awards that I would actually travel LESS in 2021 I would not have believed you. And yet…. But nevertheless, we are presenting to you our Fifth Annual World Travel Awards 2021.
In winter 2021 we did some USA exploring, staying away from most people and out of most restaurants. Our USA travel revolved around activities outdoors in sunny places. In April we got our vaccine and we celebrated that milestone by booking our first international trip in more than a year to Iceland. But as summer waned, variants persisted. We continued to travel in the USA and got our booster shot in October, just in time to spend a month in Mexico.
So there was some travel…most of it in the USA, but all of it wonderful. Making the most of a bad situation we continue to live My Fab Fifties Life with courage and caution. For me and my husband, we refuse to be victims or feel controlled by the virus or those who don’t believe in science. Instead, our life is evolving to be happy in this situation that is beyond our control. Doing our best we had some great adventures this year, as you will see in our Fifth Annual World Travel Awards 2021.
And so, we plan to travel in 2022. But in the meantime, we present our Fifth Annual World Travel Awards 2021. I hope it will inspire you to be brave, be smart, be happy and be safe. Happy New Year!
And the winner is…
We visited three countries, plus nine states in the USA.
Favorite City – Mexico City What a fabulous surprise Mexico City was. Huge but with great transportation, this ancient and beautiful city is colorful and remarkably clean and astonishingly delicious. I now rank it as one of my favorite cities in the world. We didn’t have enough time to see it all, so we are considering another visit in 2022.
Cutest Town – Ogunquit Maine We visited Ogunquit in September spending a week with our friends in their summer home and we had the best time. It’s everything you imagine an Eastern Seaboard village to be with beautiful architecture, nice restaurants and shops and beaches too.
Favorite Island – Maui, Hawaii It’s no secret our love for the island of Maui. Of the hundreds of islands we have been blessed to visit around the world Maui remains at the top of our favorite island list. Although it is expensive and can be incredibly crowded, we try to visit during the shoulder season and always fall in love with it again. Read about our Maui adventures here.
Most Expensive Country – Iceland We spent fourteen fun days in Iceland enjoying it’s jaw dropping scenery, with ten of those days in a camper van. We avoided restaurants most of the time, but groceries are expensive, fuel is expensive and the camper van was expensive. But as you will see in the blog below there is a lot to love about Iceland. Read about our Iceland adventures here.
Least Expensive Country – Mexico We were surprised and delighted about the cost of things in Mexico from restaurants and groceries to transportation and lodging. Even our four day food tour was well worth the money and we can’t wait to visit Mexico again. Read about Mexico here.
Favorite Airbnb – Tucson this year we stayed in the fewest Airbnb’s in our entire Airbnb history. Only five. Usually it’s more like thirty. But most of them were great and our favorite was the beautiful house in East Tuscon. It was comfortable and well laid out in a really nice neighborhood where we could run and really get outdoors, right next to Saguaro National Park.
Favorite Hotel – The Red Tree House B&B Mexico City For many reasons, but mostly due to Covid, we ended up in more hotels than Airbnb’s in 2021, a total of 16. Many of these were for only one or two nights as we were just passing through. But The Red Tree House in Mexico City was hands down our favorite. One of the best, if not the best service hotel I have ever stayed in. Beautiful and with excellent breakfast we are already talking about going back next winter.
Most Unique Accommodations – Camper Van Iceland our second time traveling in a camper van in a foreign country. This vehicle was not laid out as nicely as the one we had in New Zealand, but for ten days it worked out fine. And it gave us lots of flexibility to see all the great sights on the fascinating Ring Road in Iceland.
Best View Accommodations – Puerto Escondido Mexico although we found this very open air Airbnb pretty noisy, you just could not beat the view of the Pacific Ocean and the swaying palm trees. Lovely.
Best Food Tour – Mexico City Eat Like a Local Four days of touring with Eat Like a Local Mx opened our eyes to the hidden treasures of this amazing city. We loved every minute and every bite as well as all the history and culture. We also loved our guides Astrid and Rocio and hope to see them again some day. Read about it here.
Weirdest Food – Iceland Fermented Shark We also enjoyed our food tour in Reykjavik Iceland. Iceland has some delicious food, but also some weird food too, like fermented shark. Not my favorite thing ever…tasted like ammonia.
Best Cooking Class – Casa Jacaranda Mexico City Our full day cooking with Casa Jacaranda in Mexico City was one of the best cooking classes I have ever taken…and I have taken a lot of cooking classes over the years. Learning about the ingredients, cooking in the beautiful home kitchens of Casa Jacaranda and enjoying a meal together at the end was just the perfect way to end our visit to Mexico City.
Most Unique Food Experience – O’O Farm Kula Maui during this long visit to Maui we set out to really find some deeper hidden and authentic treasures of this beautiful island (read about it here) and discovering the O’O Farm was one of the most amazing finds. We will definitely visit there again.
Unexpected Food Trend – Sonoran Dog Tucson this unexpected food trend in Tucson was something I had never heard of, but apparently Sonoran Hot Dogs are well loved by those in the know. We did a Tasty Tuesday all about it.
Best Alcohol Tour – Puerto Escondido Mexico a few years ago I was introduced to Mezcal for the first time. Since then, I have learned a bit more about Tequila in general and Mezcal in particular and while in Puerto Escondido we did our first Mezcal Tour. We learned so much from Puerto Mezcal Tours and highly recommend this tour company if you are in the area. Really fun.
Best Micro brews – This one is a tie: Tucson Arizona, and the Breweries of Kitsap Peninsula. While visiting Tucson last winter we set out to taste test all the local microbreweries. During this time there still was no indoor dining, but finding lots of outdoor dining and drinking opportunities we discovered a wide variety of really good beer in Tucson. Back home in Washington State in the spring and summer we spent 8 weeks visiting 24 local microbreweries of the Kitsap Peninsula…if you live anywhere near the Kitsap Peninsula you really need to check this out.
Best Sunrise – Ogunquit Maine – we loved our week in Ogunquit with dear friends and enjoyed the spectacular sunrises each and every morning. Stunning.
Best Sunset – Puerto Escondido Mexico and Maui Hawaii Sunsets over the Pacific Ocean from these two locations never disappointed and we looked forward each evening to the experience.
Best Beach – Maui it’s no secret how much I love the island of Maui, even though it has changed so much in the forty plus years I have been visiting. This year we spent the majority of our time in West Maui, a change for us from past visits, and discovered so many new and lovely beaches…our favorite, Kahana Secret Beach. Shhhhhhh….don’t tell anyone.
Best Waterfall – Iceland – when you first arrive in Iceland you pull over on the road for every waterfall. Until you realize there are tens of thousands of waterfalls and you just can’t possibly see them all. But during our two weeks in Iceland we had three favorites; Dettifoss, Svartifoss, and Hengifoss
Best Natural Site – Antelope Canyon Utah it’s been years that I have wanted to visit Antelope Canyon. I also have tried to get in on the lottery to visit “The Wave”. Still working on that one. But Antelope Canyon is absolutely stunning and it was a definite bucket list for me. I am so glad we finally made it.
Honorable Mention – Kirkjufell Iceland – it was our lucky day to visit this beautiful site on such a clear and sunny day. Kirkjufell is one of the most photographed places in all of Iceland, and it was just stunning.
Best Wildlife Sighting – Grey Wolf Grand Canyon Arizona – a rare and chance siting of a wild wolf on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was such a fluke. I just happened to be looking across a field as we were driving and I yelled Stop! I wasn’t exactly sure what it was I was seeing but we got out the long lens and binoculars and while other cars zoomed right past, we enjoyed seeing a Grey Wolf in the wild. Good eyes Laureen!
Best Wildlife Exhibit – Maui Ocean Center Humpbacks of Hawaii 3D Exhibit it had been many years since we had visited the Maui Ocean Center Aquarium, but their brand new 3D film entitled Humpbacks of Hawaii intrigued us and so we went. Boy were we glad we did. The 3D movie is worth the price of admission, while you can also enjoy the other marine life exhibits. If you have ever hoped to swim with whales, well this is the next best thing. So real.
Best Historic Church – Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson This historic and beautiful old mission just outside of Tucson Arizona was a beautiful surprise both inside and out and I am so glad we took the time to visit it.
Best Modern Architecture – The Chapel of the Holy Cross Sedona Wow. We could see this church from a couple of miles away and even though we weren’t looking for it we headed that way to get a closer look. This Roman Catholic Church is a stunner built into the red rock of Sedona.
Best Museum – Frida Kahlo Mexico City Outstanding small museum in Mexico City, also known as Casa Azul, is the home where Frida Kahlo was born, lived her entire life, and died. The museum dedicated to this strong woman and her fascinating life was our favorite this year.
Best Outdoor Museum – Arizona Sonora Desert Museum one of the best things we did in Tucson, was driving out of town to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, a beautifully laid out outdoor museum. With interpretive signage for the wide variety of plants, wildlife and birds, we spent several hours enjoying this remarkable place.
Best Garden – Sunnylands Palm Springs, Akureyri Botanical Gardens Iceland visiting botanical gardens is a favorite thing we do everywhere we travel. This year we visited several in Arizona, California and Maui. But these two were are favorites for their distinct beauty, surprising colorful blooms (especially in Iceland) and easy accessibility for the visitor. I highly recommend them both. Sunnylands and Akureyri Botanical Gardens
Best Kitsch – Tombstone, Arizona we don’t often fall for the kitsch, but sometimes it’s fun to do the touristy things. In Arizona we spent a day driving from Tucson to Tubac, Bisbee and Tombstone enjoying some history and shopping as well as the touristy kitsch in Tombstone, home to the OK Corral and Wyatt Earp. We were glad we went. Tombstone
Most Unique Experience – Beer Spa Iceland I never did see this activity in any of the research I did for our visit to Iceland, until I stumbled on a brochure. It wasn’t cheap but it was certainly unique and close to where we were spending several days in Akureyri. Bjorbodin was about an hour’s drive. Drinking beer, soaking in beer and having a wonderful time on a very memorable day.
Best Outdoor Art – Borrego Springs California we spent seven weeks in the Palm Springs California area, and one day while driving around we stumbled onto these incredible outdoor sculptures in Borrego Springs. There are dozens of these…perhaps even hundreds. Some small and some huge and all fascinating and fun to see. Worth a side trip if you are in the area.
Best Interactive Exhibit – Wonders of Iceland & Planetarium although this brand new museum and exhibit is pricey, it is really well done and a perfect introduction to Iceland. We learned a lot about the history, geology and geography of the island nation at this exhibit while in Reykjavik, prior to setting out on our 9 day driving tour.
Honorable Mention Van Gogh Immersive Experience Seattle – this traveling exhibit has been getting rave reviews all of the world. We saw it in Seattle and really enjoyed it. Especially if you have never had the opportunity to visit European museums that house Van Gogh, you might find it entertaining.
Best Hike – Tucson, Sedona, Washington State, Maui, Utah if you follow My Fab Fifties Life regularly you know that we hike one day a week, nearly every week of the year. Hiking is a big part of both our travels and when we are at home in Washington State. This past year we have had so many amazing hiking adventures enjoying new hiking experiences in Tucson and Sedona and Page Arizona as well as Utah. We also revisited our favorites in Maui and Washington State. I can’t choose a favorite. I just can’t! So if you are looking to hike in any of these locations click on the live links above to learn more.
Best Place to Run – Maui as I write this I am snowbound in Washington State and unable to keep up with my running schedule. Boy do I miss running in Maui. It’s hands down my favorite place to run in the entire world. I often run before it even gets light, I always feel safe, and I adore the island breeze.
Best Place to Golf – Maui Nui Maui because we were in Maui for two months again this year, we decided to get a membership to Maui Nui in the Kihei area. It’s such a great place to golf if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars for some of the fancier courses. We golfed every Monday for eight weeks with our membership and made vast improvements in our game. I can’t wait to go back next fall.
Expensive But Worth It – White Pocket Utah we paid to take a tour to White Pocket in Utah (about two hours from Page Arizona) because getting there requires a four wheel vehicle. Despite the nearly $400 cost, it was worth it…truly one of the most amazing geological sights I have ever seen. The world is strange and wonderful and Arizona and Utah have more than their share of fantastic geological sites!
Best Yoga – Maui Goat Yoga well I saw this on Trip Advisor and without telling my hubs I signed us up. So much fun! For something completely different, spend a morning with the goats in Maui’s Upcountry area of Kula. It was fun. Maui Goat Yoga.
Hottest Day – Puerto Escondido Mexico we love hot weather, and often find ourselves in places without AC, which was the case in Puerto Escondido Mexico where the temperatures daily reached into the upper 90’s Fahrenheit. But we are used to sleeping with open windows and fans and that is what we did in Puerto Escondido.
Coldest Day – Sedona Arizona we knew Sedona could be chilly and we were mostly prepared, although the morning we woke to a blanket of snow we were a little surprised. We still got out and did our hikes and enjoyed the beauty of the low 30’s temperatures and the white snow blanketing the gorgeous red rocks of Sedona
Honorable Mention – Port Orchard Washington unusually cold weather the week after Christmas kept us housebound with 8 inches of snow at our home in Port Orchard Washington.
The Oopsie That Happened Award 2021
Sea Urchin Attack Maui – every year something weird happens that is worth a mention but doesn’t fit into any category. This year it’s the Sea Urchin Attack. When I got caught in a small wave and my foot was dragged across a bed of sea urchins I ended up with 25 sea urchin spines embedded in my foot. And it hurt like hell. Gratefully we learned the remedy is soaking your foot in vinegar for days and days and eventually the spines dissolve. Who knew?
That’s a Wrap
As you can see, despite it all we had some memorable travel experiences in 2021. We no longer carry many expectations for what 2022 will look like. We will just wait and see and be grateful for whatever comes.
I hope you are healthy and safe. I’ll be blogging in the next few weeks about our impressions and experiences in French Polynesia – our 111th country! We will be in French Polynesia for two months! Life goes on – PanDamit be damned!
Thanks for reading this post Fifth Annual World Travel Awards 2021. Thanks for your continued love and support of this blog. We love it when you pin and share our blog posts.
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