We love Paris like everyone else. But really that’s the problem. EVERYONE loves Paris (and London and Rome) and so you find lots of crowds and high cost. In our travels around the world we have really tried to find new places that few tourists go. Often these destinations end up being our most favorite. And the more we travel the more we want to encourage everyone to consider stepping out of their travel comfort zone, and exploring the unknown – the favorite destinations no one goes. Finding your way to the lesser traveled destinations creates less impact on the planet while bringing greater cultural awareness to the traveler. We ask you to consider these options:
Instead of Croatia consider visiting Bulgaria, one of our favorite countries we have ever been to. Bulgaria has so much to offer, and yet we did not meet a single American during the entire month we were there. We did meet lots of Russians, Germans and some Brits. Bulgaria has a remarkable coastline along the gorgeous Black Sea as well as great mountains for hiking. The food is amazing, the wine is cheap and the 5000 year history is astounding. And the people are so amazing, welcoming and proud. They have endured a great deal in their history, and they have a “come what may” attitude that is infectious. Go visit Bulgaria.
Instead of Italy go to fascinating Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy it’s just a hop across the border to Slovenia, the tiny country once part of Yugoslavia. We have been to Slovenia twice and I suspect we will be there again. Slovenia has a tiny coastline on the Adriatic, and our favorite town of Piran is a perfect place to visit and get some local flavor. But don’t stop there, Slovenia has some of the most beautiful mountain towns and lakes. Much of Slovenia is still agrarian and the people are welcoming and patriotic and friendly. Oh and the seafood. So darn delicious. Go visit Slovenia.
Instead of Mexico go to El Salvador. We just spent two weeks on the Pacific Coast of tiny El Salvador and we absolutely loved it. There are some Americans coming here, but mostly 20-year-old surfers. The media has made us believe El Salvador is a dangerous place, and yet it is no more dangerous than Mexico and Americans flock to Mexico. Come to El Salvador where the water is warm, the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the history though brutal and bloody – is fascinating. El Salvador will soon come out the shadow of its violent past, so visit before the secret gets out. Go visit El Salvador.
Instead of Germany go to Poland. Poland is just beginning to step out of the shadow and become a tourist destination. And it should. We fell hard for Poland spending three weeks there last fall. Poland has some of the most astonishing history anywhere in Europe. The food is fantastic. The people are warm and happy to meet you. The historic villages are well-preserved and beautiful. And it is cheap and easy to get to. We loved Krakow as well as all the other places we visited and using the train in Poland was a great way to travel. You really should visit Poland now.
Instead of India go to Bangladesh. I loved our time in India too, but if you want to push yourself and visit somewhere no tourists go, visit the remarkable, tiny country of Bangladesh. Our short visit to Bangladesh provided us some of the most rewarding moments we have ever had in our travels. It’s difficult to visit Bangladesh without a guide, and we were lucky to find Deshguri, one of the few tour operators in the country. Through Deshguri we able to meet so many Bangladeshi people, who greeted us with more kindness than anywhere we have ever been in the world. We certainly stood out in both crowded Dakar as well as the beautiful villages and countryside, since almost no Western tourists come here. We learned so much during our time in Bangladesh, and left our heart with its beautiful people. A remarkable experience that everyone should have. Visit Bangladesh soon.
Instead of Thailand go to Sri Lanka. Thailand is overrun with tourists anymore. So if you are looking for beautiful beaches, mountains and more, visit Sri Lanka instead. The young backpacking set has found Sri Lanka, but few American visitors of the Fab Fifties era are traveling here. Why not? It is amazing. We spent three of our most favorite weeks in Sri Lanka, one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited. The Civil War is over and Sri Lanka is safe and inexpensive. The food is the da bomb. Hiking and history is around every corner and the beaches are incredible. We saw elephants and leopards, monkeys and snakes. Oh my. It’s Sri Lanka for me.
Instead of South Africa go to Namibia. Our ten-day tour in Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris will go down in our travels as one of the most remarkable places. This country that nobody has heard of is one of the most beautiful in the world. We had an amazing private guide during our time there, but you can also see the country easily with your own 4×4 vehicle (careful though, there is a high traffic fatality rate in Namibia). Namibia has a gorgeous Atlantic coastline, dry mountainous region that is like a moonscape, and multiple fascinating cultures such as the Himba, Damara and Herero people. And to top it off Etosha National Park – single-handedly the best wildlife viewing we have ever encountered. I absolutely fell in love with Namibia. If you have ever considered a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa take a moment and research Namibia. You will be so glad you did. Go see Namibia now.
Instead of the Maldives go to the Seychelles. First a word about the Maldives. We loved our time there, and luckily we found a very inexpensive place to stay. But in general the Maldives are expensive and there is no alcohol! So consider the Seychelles instead. A beautiful set of small islands out in the middle of nowhere off of east Africa. We spent a month on the tiny island of Praslin and loved every minute of it. Groceries were expensive and the variety was less than desirable, but the rest of the experience was very positive. The islanders speak French/Creole mix, and the shy people are friendly and religious. If you are looking for a place to kick back and relax with the warmest turquoise waters in the world, visit Seychelles now.
Instead of Spain go to Portugal. I hesitated about adding Portugal to this list because Portugal does have a thriving tourism industry. But we met very few Americans while we were there. Perhaps more Americans go to Spain because Spanish is a language more Americans can handle. But during our time in Portugal we had very little difficulty with the Portuguese language. We loved Portugal so much we would consider living there. The food is incredible, the cities are beautiful and the beaches are fantastic. It’s a remarkable place with such a variety of geography. Historically Portugal was once a powerful country of explorers and merchants, colonizers and tyrants but today, this quiet and beautiful country is laid back and relaxed and fun. Visit Portugal.
What is next for us?
We are now into a full-fledged planning phase of our next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We will spend May-September in the USA then depart again. Without really trying, we have noticed
a trend in the countries we are planning to visit next, a trend towards less touristy. A trend towards staying longer in one place. A trend towards trying to make less of an impact and remove ourselves from the fray.
I think this is what we always intended to happen on this journey, but it just took us a while to get there. But when we look back on our favorite places we have been so far, it’s always the places with the road less traveled. It’s always the places with few western tourists. It’s always the places the cruise ships don’t go. The authentic and relatively untouched destinations.
My Fab Fifties Life is enjoying a summer in Washington State, USA, where I was born and raised. As much as I love my life of full-time travel, coming home to familiar ground where my family is brings a sense of stability to our nomad world.
When we return to the USA most summers, my focus is always family, but we also get out at least once a week and play tourists in our own backyard. And that is what we did this past weekend in celebration of both Father’s Day and my husband’s birthday.
McMenamins Elks Lodge Tacoma
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest the blue-collar town of Tacoma always had a bit of a “smelly” reputation because of the pulp and paper mill that cast an odor over the town for several generations. Today however Tacoma has become a renaissance town, with gorgeous views, multiple incredible museums, beautiful parks, and delicious dining.
And the newest little gem to open in Tacoma is the McMenamins franchise masterpiece in the historic and beautifully restored Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma.
If you aren’t from around these parts you might not be familiar with the vision of Mike and Brian McMenamin, Oregon brothers who have built a legendary business of turning historic and dilapidated properties into spectacularly quirky and fun hotels, restaurants, breweries, distilleries,
Elks Lodge Pub & Restaurant
and event venues. For the past 20 years my husband and I, (on many occasions with our kids in tow), have made one of the dozens of McMenamins properties a destination weekend.
The latest addition to the McMenamins dynasty is the opening of the Tacoma Elks Temple after several years of extensive restoration. The building had sat abandoned for thirty-five years, and time, weather and graffiti all had taken a toll.
And yet, this is what McMenamins does best – breathe life into old structures all while digging deep into the silent history of a building to awaken both the known and unknown stories of the people and events that were there. The Elks Temple does just that.
Art everywhere you look
Built in 1916 for the Fraternal Order of Elks, the building was home to one of the nation’s largest Elks organizations until the 1960’s. It was then used as an event venue and, unlike the all-white Elks organization, the building welcomed anyone of any race and held many of the local African-American Rose Cotillion Balls for several years. But times changed and so did the building as it fell into disrepair for 33 years until the visionary McMenamins saw its potential.
We arrived in the afternoon on a very crowded Father’s Day and proceeded to taste our way through all of the properties five bars. Each bar named appropriately, decorated with fun and interesting relics including menu’s that reflect the individual personality of each bar. For instance in
Hand crafted beer and tapas at the Spanish Steps Bar
the Spanish Steps bar (named for Tacoma’s beautiful Spanish Steps that run along the south edge of the building) Tapas are featured on the menu, while in The Old Hangout, a throwback to Trader Vic’s style 1950’s Tiki Bar serves everything from Mai Tai to Singapore Sling, grilled Pineapple Sundae or Salt and Pepper Squid.u
True to the McMenamins model, guests must try to find the “hidden” bar called The Vault. We found it, actually cheated a little because someone was coming out…and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise. Cleverly disguised. That’s all I’m gonna say.
We had both dinner and breakfast in the Elks Pub and Restaurant where we enjoyed pizza, salad and soup for dinner with more McMenamin
The Old Hang Out Bar throwback to old style Tiki
hand-crafted beer. For breakfast I had an amazing Eggs Benedict that included artichoke hearts and spinach and included cheese jalapeño grits. Wow.
The Elks Lodge now has 45 rooms, each and every one named for a person or group of persons who had something to do with the building or the surrounding area. Everyone from Robert Cray (musician) to Bill Baarsma (former mayor) to Hattie Lund (no relation to me but a long-time Tacoma philanthropist) to the Puyallup Native American Tribe.
I have two small complaints about our visit. Our room which opened to
an atrium and did not have an outside window, was a bit stuffy and I wished for a window. If I return I’ll pay a little more for a room on the perimeter of the building. My other complaint is that although the wifi worked great throughout the building in bars and public spaces, it was non-existent in our room.
Rooms start around $140 per night. Food and beverage is very reasonably priced. If you come, allow plenty of time to just explore…it’s like a museum of both art and history as well as a wonderful place to people watch Tacoma’s eclectic and proud residents. So much fun. We will be back.
Entirely unexpected. Completely beautiful. So much better than I imagined.
Dear Guatemala. You had me at Hola! I hated to say good-bye. I left my heart in Guatemala.
Once again, I approached another Central American country with apprehension, based solely on the information on the U.S. State Department website. I should know by now not to allow that to sway me totally. I should heed the warnings for sure, and carry on with caution.
Yes, Guatemala has some dangers just like every other country I have been too (and the USA too). Pick
pockets are a problem, although we did not have an issue. Like always, whether in Central America, Europe or anywhere else in the world we are cautious. There are definitely some horrendous violent crimes, rarely against foreigners. Unless you go looking for trouble. Smart and cautious travel with guides when possible is the best way in this country. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet there is a small population who hold extreme wealth while the rest suffer. There are some other issues in Guatemala, particularly government corruption. However this is not something the average visitor will see. The only thing we saw was one entry fee into the town of Panajachel that was illegal. We also ended up paying twice for our boat on Lake Atitlan because the first guy was a scam. This ended up costing us an additional $6.50. Small problems – other than that we found the
country no more dangerous than anywhere we have been.
And the positives certainly outweighed the negatives. In fact, I would put Guatemala in my top list of favorite places I have been. And that is saying an awful lot. Yes I left my heart in Guatemala.
So Guatemala how do I love thee? Let me count the ways;
I love Antigua, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Being there for the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) was an incredible experience. Although I am not Catholic, the Palm
Sunday spectacle we witnessed was so full of tradition, majesty, history and faith I was incredibly moved. I think I became Catholic for a day. We have had similar experiences in other places around the world where faith is such an important part of everyday life. On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, in New Delhi India, in Istanbul Turkey, in Seoul South Korea. A few examples of the places where we felt privileged to witness how faith, history and community converge. Additionally Antigua offers gorgeous scenery, delicious food and incredible history. Seeing lava spewing from the active volcano Fuego was a definite highlight. We enjoyed two tours with Antigua Tours and my cooking class with La Tortilla was a highlight. I hope to visit again.
I love Lake Atitlan. Here we spent a week enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, and not doing much else. It was one of the more peaceful places I have been in the world; a crater lake surrounded by three beautiful extinct volcanoes. The small villages surrounding the lake are each named after one of the apostles. We spent our time in San Marcos, a teeny village known for its holistic
Our view Lake Atitlan
offerings, yoga, health food and hippies. Our airbnb was one of the most unique we have ever had…a cave dwelling nestled into the cliff. Memorable for sure. We hiked and swam and did yoga every day. Heaven on earth.
I love Flores. We went to Flores so we could visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, about an hour and a half drive north. Tikal was amazing…but the tiny town of Flores was such a pleasant surprise. Situated on a tiny island in Lake Petenitza, the tiny town is colorful, historic, beautiful and yummy. The town dates back to the 1400’s. We enjoyed the very warm weather here and a highlight was a private boat tour of the very large and beautiful lake. Muy bien.
I love Rio Dulce. The region known as Rio Dulce encompasses Livingston on the Caribbean coast (Livingston is only accessible by boat) to the town of Rio Dulce on Lake Izabal. A gorgeous stretch of water known as the Rio Dulce connects the two. Our boat ride from Livingston to Rio Dulce was stunning as we
Lake Izabal, Rio Dulce
wound our way in an open boat through the narrow gorge, through which the Rio Dulce drains into the Caribbean. Although VERY rustic, our accommodations in Rio Dulce served us well, and had some of the BEST Mexican food we have ever had. From our tiny cabin in the marsh we took excursions to the ancient Castillo San Felipe de Lara, to the Agua Caliente waterfall known as El Paraiso and to the beautiful Boqueron Canyon, where we spent several solitary hours deep in the canyon on a beautiful sunny day. We also learned the very humble ways of the
El Parisio Rio Dulce
Guatemalan people and their use of the collectivos for transportation and saw our first manatee in the wild, although not as close up as we would have liked.
I love a challenge. It’s a challenge getting around Guatemala, as it is still a developing country. But some of those challenges made for memorable moments. As mentioned above the collectivo experience in Rio Dulce was certainly unforgettable, riding in a van made for 12 with 23 other people. During our time here we
road in twelve different boats, mostly for transportation, but a couple for pleasure. We also hired a driver for a private shuttle three times, and through that experience met a wonderful Guatemalan man named Alejandro who we hope to see again some day. We felt safe in all of these situations and enjoyed the experience. My least enjoyable experience was the plane ride from Flores to Guatemala city in a small 20 seat plane. I got sick on this very bumpy and diesel-smelling ride. Ugh.
I love a bargain. Guatemala is cheap. Although we spent money on private shuttles, we could have gone with less expensive non-private shuttles or public transportation known as chicken busses. We used the kitchens in our airbnb’s when possible, but eating in restaurants was very inexpensive
Marsh cabin Rio Dulce
and all the food we ate was amazing, fresh and local. Our accommodations have ranged from $30 to $100 a night. We loved our Antigua Airbnb for $80 a night and our spectacular Airbnb in San Marcos with lake view was $75 a night. In Rio Dulce we paid $30 and Livingston was $70. We ended up spending $100 a night at a Ramada in Flores after the hotel we booked was CLOSED on arrival. That was something that had never happened before. But all in all Guatemala is one of the least expensive countries of our travels. The gorgeous textiles made by the indigenous Mayan people are so inexpensive, buying the same thing online would cost five times as much. Alas my suitcase it too small…
I love Guatemalan coffee. Guatemala is known for its coffee, and I have to agree…it is now possibly my favorite coffee of the world. Dark, rich and very flavorful, I am a convert. Guatemala is also
Coffee with Volcano view
known for its chocolate. Although I am not a big consumer of chocolate, the samples of chocolate I had were exceptional. The Maya used cacao as currency once upon a time. More valuable than gold.
I loved the people. Everyone we met (except for the one guy who ripped us off $6.50) was amazing. Few people spoke English and we actually enjoy being forced to expand our limited Spanish knowledge. Many people however also didn’t speak Spanish, as the Maya who are my generation mostly only spoke their native tongue. I loved the shy and traditional Maya, especially the beautiful women in their traditional dress. These are not costumes but how they dress everyday. The Guatemalan people
Mayan women, San Marcos
were all very private yet friendly, hard working and religious, welcoming and helpful. We enjoyed being a part of their culture and community.
So I left my heart in Guatemala. Possibly my favorite Central American country. Of course our time in Mal Pais in Costa Rica ranks VERY high. But Guatemala you are special. Unique. Beautiful. If you have
Mayan women selling palms
every considered visiting Guatemala you should do it. And do it soon. Supporting these developing countries through tourism is the least we can do, especially since America’s abandoning Guatemala after funding of guerrilla warfare during the civil war has caused much of the current economic situation Guatemala suffers.
Guatemala’s upcoming elections could be a turning point for the country…but perhaps things will stay the same, and the slow climb out of the devastation from a two-decade civil war will continue at a snail’s pace.
We hope for the best for this country and its beautiful people, where we have left our heart. We will be back.
Let’s just say it. Sometimes a life of full-time travel or even a short vacation, can just plain suck.
Clinic in Namibia
Despite what everyone tries to make you believe through social media – travel, like everything else in life, can and will involve many less-than-glamorous moments.
Bad hair day in Denmark
You will puke. You will have diarrhea. You will be exhausted. You will snore and or drool on an airplane. You will fall off your paddle board and lose your swim top. You will have horrendous humidity hair. You will not shave your legs for weeks at a time. You will sweat. You will cough so hard you pee. You will fall
Humidity hair in Costa Rica
on your face even though you are sober. You will get caught in a downpour in your only nice shoes. You will get sunburned. You will get a thousand bug bites. You will lose your luggage. You will inevitably need to see a pharmacist, doctor or dentist in a foreign country.
Travel is not always glamorous despite what Instagram says.
Not figure flattering in Chile
Travel is real. And though it is, for the most part, a wonderful and fun adventure, it is not always perfect.
Take yesterday for example. After a year and a half of babying along a bad tooth, I spent six hours in a dentist chair in Costa Rica. They cleaned me, extracted the bad tooth, did a bone graft and gave me an implant. It was a long and painful way to spend Valentines Day. But it was necessary. And much cheaper than doing it in the USA.
Not too glamorous as I sat there with the dentist prodding and poking
Motion sickness in Seychelles
and prying me all day long. I did walk away with some good pain meds. I’m putting those to good use right now.
Cold and wet in Spain
No, travel is not always glamorous, despite what Instagram says. I’ve written blogs before about how frustrating I find so-called “influencers” on Instagram who make it look like travel is perfect every day. Who make every destination look like a magazine cover. Who are young, thin and glamorous in every shot. It is not reality. It is not authentic. It is all fake news.
I am not now, nor will I ever be “thin”. I am, shall we say, endowed. But I am not
Covered with flies in Australia
ashamed. This is me, real in the flesh, not a made up version for Instagram. Glamorous? No. And I sure didn’t feel glamorous in the dentist chair, or when I was sick in the bathroom, or covered with sweat, or drenched from the rain, or laying on the
Not so glamorous swimsuit shot in Costa Rica
sidewalk wondering “how did I get down here?”
Don’t believe everything you see on Social Media. I think most of you know this already. Instead, get out and see the real authentic
Not so glamorous at the dentist in Costa Rica
world yourself – it will be amazing, if not glamorous, and you will be a better person for the experience. Real, authentic and fabulous travel. It’s the best kind.
If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards from last January. I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2018 (covering 57,000 miles and 26 countries) we are well positioned to bestow the World Travel Awards – our version of the Oscar or the Razzy – on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year. Just like the famous movie awards, we have seen a world of real life
drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation. Enough to last a lifetime.
This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. So in keeping with the time of year for awards, I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.
(For reference – our 2018 countries visited were; India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Singapore, Guam, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, USA, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil.
Favorite Overall Country – Australia
Australia takes the top award this year edging out a few others (Greece, Poland) but we both agreed. Australia is the best. The only negative about Australia is it’s expensive. But we believe the beauty, culture, nature and environmental awareness helped us choose it as our favorite destination of 2018. We plan to return in 2019.
Favorite City – Sydney and Krakow
Well there it is again – Australia. Sydney Australia and Krakow Poland take our award this year for favorite city, and basically for the same reason. Both offer a variety of cultural, historic and scenic options for visitors. Sydney also has beaches while Krakow has great food.
Most Beautiful City – Singapore
Everything you ever heard about Singapore is true – sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Singapore was our favorite beautiful city of the year.
Cutest Town – Brugge
Singapore might take the big city award but we are more small town folks, and Brugge was a perfect little package of history, beauty, beer, delicious food and very friendly people. We spent four days and could easily have stayed on even longer.
Most Expensive Country – Australia
Australia has so much to offer, but inexpensive it is not.
Least Expensive Country – Indonesia
Mount Batur Bali
With some of the nicest people and most beautiful scenery Indonesia is a bargain, and we loved our time there.
Most Disappointing City – Ubud (Bali Indonesia) Ubud is no longer the sweet little artists/yoga village we all imagine from Eat Pray Love. When I saw the American brand chain stores I was so disappointed (Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Nike).
Best Airbnb for Service – Rio de Janeiro. Our short visit to Rio (we really should have stayed longer) was extra special due to the hospitable and generous host at our sweet Airbnb. She was one of the most thoughtful hosts we have ever had. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1149627
Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Santorini
Greece. Hands down the most expensive Airbnb we have ever stayed in, and yet it was also incredibly authentic Greek cliffside dwelling with a stunning crater view. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15926564
Most Expensive Airbnb – Santorini $220 a night (see above)
Best Value Airbnb – Maldives our tiny room
in a tiny resort on the tiny island of Huraa was $90 a night but included three meals a day for both of us. We loved our relaxing three weeks here. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4490934
traditional rice barns was not only beautiful, but it offered so many activities as part of our package and an incredible view at a bargain price. We loved our time here with our friends John and Carol
Worst Hotel – Singapore. Because Singapore is so expensive we booked this inexpensive $117 hotel and our room was literally a closet in the attic with no windows. It felt like a jail cell.
Worst Hotel Experience – Bucharest Romania. Arriving at our booked and paid-for hotel near the Bucharest Airport, we learned there was a “septic” problem. No room at the inn. Nearly five hours later we finally laid our heads on a FUTON, in a teeny apartment of some guy who wasn’t using it, well away from the airport but grateful to just go to sleep. We had a very early flight and it was not a great way to end our three weeks in Romania.
Best Meal – Tapas Tour in Sevilla Spain our self guided Tapas Tour in Sevilla’s Triana neighborhood was so delicious and fun. A perfect Spanish memory.
Best Cooking Class – Krakow Poland I really enjoyed learning to make handmade Pierogi in the tiny communist era apartment of our sweet cooking instructor.
Best Beer – Brugge runs away with this
award, nowhere else even in the running. Brugge is a beer lovers town and we are beer lovers. Our visit to Brugge was memorable for many reasons including the wonderful selection of really outstanding beer.
Best Food Experience/Tour – Brugge wins this one too! We really enjoyed having dinner in the home of a lovely Brugge couple who through the website With Locals offered a home cooked Belgian meal in a typical Belgian home. What a lovely treat.
Best Drinks Tour – Port Tour Porto Portugal. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this tour but it ended up being so wonderful, educational, delicious and fun. I highly recommend this if you are in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto.
CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES
Best Sunset – Guam. With Gin and Tonic in hand and enjoying some family time while visiting my niece Bekah and her husband Davy, we enjoyed our favorite sunset of the year on the little Dungcas beach in Guam.
Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Bangladesh Tour. Who goes to Bangladesh? Well just about no one, and it is exactly the
reason we enjoyed our time there so very much. By far the most authentic and least touristy country we have been to in a long time. The people were so interested and amazed by us and they treated us like celebrities. We loved our time there.
Best Beach – It’s a tie! Antiparos, Greece and Ilha Grande, Brazil both deserve to be winners, even though they were quit different. Antiparos was amazing for the solitude, beauty and spectacular turquoise water. Ilha Grande had such warm water and the beaches were clean and beautiful despite being challenging to get to, we loved exploring the Ilha Grande beaches
Best Tour – Memphis Tours Egypt was one of the best tour companies we have ever dealt with providing us incredible detail prior to arriving, and being present and on top of every detail throughout our ten-day visit to Egypt and Jordan. Our guides, drivers, accommodations and everything else were flawless.
Best Driver – Kadek in Bali. I found Kadek on Trip Advisor and he served as our driver for our entire three weeks on the island of Bali. He was a very good driver, spoke great English and in addition to picking us and dropping us at our destination he made sure we saw lots of interesting things along the way. I hope to meet Kadek again some day.
Best Free Walking Tour – Berlin Germany. We have done so many free walking tours over the past several years and only once did we NOT like our guide. But the young lady we had in Berlin was hands down one of the most charming, interesting, factual, fun and entertaining humans I have ever met. It made for a most memorable experience and a big tip for her.
Best Tour Guide – Cristian, Santiago Chile. Cristian was our guide on a bus tour we took the day we left our cruise ship and headed to Santiago for our flight. We spent the day touring the wine region of Chile as well as seeing a small authentic rodeo and dancing. Cristian was patient,
informative, interesting and entertaining.
Best Bucket List Historic Site – Winner Taj Mahal. Runner-ups The Great Pyramids and Petra. I cried the day I stood in front of the Taj Mahal. It was even more beautiful than I imagined. And lucky for us, we hit it on an unusually clear blue sunny day with hardly any people. Magnificent site to
behold. Totally worth it. Of course the Pyramids and Petra are a close second. After seeing these sites your whole life in pictures, it’s surreal to finally see, touch and feel such awesome history and beauty first hand.
Best Snorkeling – Maldives. You might be surprised we aren’t giving this award to The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Yes that was amazing. But our best one day snorkeling actually took place in the crystal clear
blue waters of the Maldives, on a tiny sand island of only about 20 yards wide and 75 yards long. Here we witnessed the most beautiful coral reef I’ve ever seen, and the most amazing variety of fish and sealife.
Best Natural Site – Uluru Australia. It’s a trek to get to Uluru. And like everything in Australia it will be expensive.
But standing next that incredible natural phenomenon will be something you will never forget.
Best Manmade Site – Panama Canal Panama. I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy our eleven hour crossing of the amazing Panama Canal. Truly a modern day wonder of the world.
Malaga Cathedral, Spain
Best Cathedral – Malaga Spain. We see a lot of cathedrals. Sometimes individual ones are difficult to remember. Malaga is not one of those. A distinctively beautiful design inside makes it my favorite and most memorable cathedral in 2018.
7 Ladders, Brasov Romania
Best Day Hike – We have a three way tie for this one with 1. Canyon of the Seven Ladders, Brasov Romania 2. Campuhan trail in the rice fields outside of Ubud, Bali. 3. Coogee to Bondi Beach ocean trail Australia. All providing us wonderful days outdoors in three very distinctively different natural settings.
Best Multi-Day Hike – Well, the Camino Portuguese of course!
Most Exhilarating Outdoor Experience – Morning swim Denmark. Even though it was August, jumping into the North Sea before breakfast was an eye-popping way to start your day – and a very Danish thing to do!
Expensive but Worth it – Climbing the Harbor Bridge Sydney Australia $467. I had to really convince Arne to do this because it was outrageously expensive. But in the end he agreed it was worth it. An impressively well done and safe operation with a spectacular view to boot.
Best Wildlife Experience 1. Platypus spotting Australia 2. Aligator Spotting Florida. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat, untouched by humans. Seeing a wild platypus in Australia was so incredible. I still can hardly believe our luck and timing to spot the elusive and shy creature. On the other hand, seeing literally dozens and dozens of alligators within just a few feet of us as we rode bikes on the Shark Valley trail in the Florida Everglades was one of the strangest experiences of my life.
Most Moving Experience – Auschwitz, Poland Hands down – seeing and learning about the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz and in Krakow was the most astonishing and moving experience in all of our travels. I tried to put it into perspective in a blog. It was difficult. Some people choose not to visit. For us it was the reason for going to Poland and I believe EVERYONE should go.
Performance, Ubud Bali
Best Performance 1. Bali 2. Sydney 3. Krakow It’s one of our favorite things to do when traveling, attending a local performance. And this past year we saw several remarkable shows including two fascinating and authentic indigenous dance shows in Ubud Bali, a circus/dance show at the Sydney Opera House as well as an outdoor spectacle of La Boheme on Sydney Harbor. In Krakow we enjoyed a piano solo performance of Krakow’s favorite son Chopin and LOVED a string quartet concert inside the tiniest historic chapel.
Best Museum Skagen Denmark A surprising find in this tiny historic seaside town in Northern Denmark, Skagens Museum featured the remarkable art of the amazing talents of the area’s 1800’s artist colony.
Best Cultural Art Experience Ecuador Panama Hat Making in the tiny mountain town of Monticristi a tradition endures where skilled artists produce these works of beauty known as Panama Hats.
Best Historical Art Experience Berlin Wall The reason we came to Berlin was to see the iconic wall, which did not disappoint, and the rest of this amazing city made it one of our favorite stops on European adventure.
Count Dracula Romania
Kitsch Award – we make an effort to avoid tourist kitsch, but sometimes we fall for it, as we did in Sighisoara Romania. Touted as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula), we paid a couple of dollars to walk into a dark and spooky room where an open coffin waited with the Count himself asleep. Well until he jumped up and scared me to death. LOL.
Least English Spoken – Brazil. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and we found through out the country even in high tourist areas English is rare. Much like in Portugal and in Spain, there are few fluent English speakers. Even in the airport and on the flights English is unusual.
Hottest Day: Ilha Grande Brazil 95 degrees F and 76 degree dew point. We swooned.
Coldest Day: Pontevedra Spain 39 degrees F on our Camino de Santiago we froze and this was the start of my chest cold that lasted 8 weeks.
Wettest Day: Muxia Spain a four day monsoon kept us indoors, stuffing paper towels into the frames of the windows to keep the water from pouring in.
Windiest Day: Antiparos Greece – a rare October cyclone closed down shops, the ferry, and toppled trees.
30 flights, 8 train rides, lots of small boat rides, one river cruise, two ocean cruises
Smallest Airport – Paros Greece
Worst Flight Experience – Iceland Air lost luggage. It took three days before we saw our luggage again.
Worst Airline – Scoot. Worst flight I can remember in a while from Singapore to Perth. Everything cost extra including baggage, drinks, food and even a blanket.
Best Travel Experience – Europe Train Travel. We had a wonderful experience using the trains from Belgium to Germany to Poland and throughout Andalucia and I would do that again in a minute.
Worst Airport – Manila We had a long layover here and there was nowhere to sit. There was no ATM to get local currency and none of the concessionaires took credit cards. The part of the airport we saw was old and dirty.
Camino de Santiago Portugal
Best Airport – In contrast and like everything else in Singapore, the airport is new, shiny, efficient and beautiful.
Dead Sea Jordan
Worst Security Line – Seattle WA USA. Way to go USA. My flight from Seattle to Nashville was a near disaster when I arrived more than two hours ahead of schedule to find a more than two-hour security line. Seattle’s inability to separate out domestic and international travelers and offer expanded security lanes has made it one of my least favorite airports in the entire world.
Worst Travel Experience – missing our flight in Perth. Expedia took the blame and even gave us a $200 credit for this flight debacle, but it didn’t help our situation as we had to stay an additional day in Perth and did not get to see the town of Alice Springs before heading on to visit Uluru. Hope to see you again someday Alice Springs.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2018. But you do know, the real winner is me. Me and my husband. The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
What a fabulous life it is.
Please comment and share. We appreciate your love.
We’ve been in Spain now for more than a month. Last year we spent more than two months in Spain. I have learned to enjoy what is really a simple cuisine here in this country – locally sourced, simply prepared and not overly seasoned. Although the many regions of Spain have their individual specialties, the focus of the overall cuisine of Spain is fresh and seasonal.
My only complaint about Spain is how late they eat their meals. Breakfast is barely a meal – just coffee and a croissant, maybe a tortilla (here in Spain ‘tortilla’ is an egg and potato dish, aka Spanish omelet) around 10am. Lunch isn’t until 2:00pm and dinner rarely gets started before 9pm. For this American, that is well past my bedtime.
One of the reasons Spain eats so late is because they are in a crazy backwards timezone. Ever since Franco wanted Spain in the same timezone as Germany, Spaniards have lived with a VERY late sunrise and a VERY late sunset. So, they have adjusted their eating habits to accommodate. Unfortunately my internal clock is not so easily adjusted.
So the answer for me, when in Spain, is to live on tapas – the luscious
little dishes served all day long. I have become a fan of tapas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Tapa Life
We have enjoyed my favorite tapas of Spain in Madrid, Santiago,Leon and Barcelona. But Sevilla loves its tapas bars (there are no tapas restaurants only bars – tapas are always served with alcohol) and the abundance of options is both fun and a bit overwhelming. In fact many will argue Sevilla is the birthplace of the tapa. We studied up a bit on where to go, what to eat and some history, then we set out on our own little “tapear”, the Spanish word for tapas hopping. Time to find my favorite tapas of Spain.
As we set out on our excursion we were happy to know there really wasn’t anywhere better we could be eating tapas than in Sevilla, and specifically in the historic Triana neighborhood. Myths and legends abound about tapas. One of the most
Cold tomato soup
popular is King Alfonso the 10th, The Wise King of Spain, had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine. After recovering from his illness, the king issued a decree that no wine should be served at inns unless it was served with food. (credit A Brief History of Tapas, Pita Jungle).
My Favorite Spanish Tapas
We did not have the opportunity to try every kind of tapa Sevilla is famous for, but we indulged in many and here is a list of some of our favorites both from our tour of Triana and our time throughout Spain (see photos and captions of
Pork in whiskey with potata
several throughout this blog); croqueta (very popular bite size fried cheesy nuggets often with jamon but we enjoyed it with duck as well as mint), montadito (tiny bite size jamon and pork sandwich), solomillo al whiskey (pork in whisky sauce), los pajaritos (tiny fried quail), patata (fresh potato chip), tortilla bites (egg and potato omelette), tortillita de camarones (fried shrimp pancake), espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzo beans), salmorejo (cold tomato soup), stuffed olives, thin sliced jamon iberico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham), pancetta frita (fried pork belly), grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, sardinas ala parilla (grilled sardines), mussels, pulpo (octopus), razor clams, fried calamari, boquerones (anchovies) on toast, sausages and rabo de toros (bull’s tail). And those are just the ones I can remember.
Simple, Cheap & Delicious
It’s a wonderful way to eat. But the great thing is, even if you are only stopping for a glass of wine with a friend, the bar will always set something to nibble in front of you (because the King said so). It will
Grilled sardines and grilled shrimp
probably be a plate of olives, perhaps nuts or sometimes bread with ham and cheese or tortilla. It’s said that the original tapas were probably bread with jamon, which was used to cover your drink (the word tapa means ‘cover’).
Despite the origin of the word, it now describes a cuisine unto its own. Though southern Spain and particularly Andalusia claim it, the popularity of tapas has spread, particularly to South and Central America, Mexico and the United States.
The day of our tapear we ate and drank (both beer and wine) for several hours at six locations. And our total spending for the afternoon? Less
Tiny fried quail
We leave Sevilla and head next to Malaga – about 205 km south, on the Mediterranean. We expect to continue our tapas exploration and enjoy
a bounty of fresh goodness from the sea. Fabuloso and delicioso!
We say farewell to the Camino de Santiago with this fun video we put together while walking the Camino Portuguese. We hope you enjoy it.
And we share with you some final thoughts. If our blog, our travels and our Caminos inspire you in any way, to go do things you never imagined you could do, then we are fulfilled. Because life is short, the world is amazing, and each one of us has a spark inside that, with a little bit of oxygen, is ready to flame.
Don’t wait to find what makes you happy. Go be Fabulous today.
Our journey now continues with two more weeks in Spain and then on to Florida, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and much more.
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