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.
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).
29 Airbnbs, 42 hotels, 5 boats
Best Airbnb Overall – Antiparos, Greece. We loved our relaxing three weeks in this gorgeous, private, and big airbnb with a stunning view and wonderful host. I hope to return someday. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/20657689
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
Most Rustic Airbnb – Lombok, Indonesia. spending a week in a traditional Javenese cottage far from civilization was a favorite experience. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15991971
Least Expensive Airbnb – Lombok at only $52 was a bargain and so relaxing (see above)
Most Unique Airbnb – Key West, USA I thought spending four days onboard a 30 foot sailboat would be fun. Not so much. It was definitely unique. And cute. But also uncomfortable.
Favorite Hotel – Puri Lumbung Cottage, Bali this beautiful hotel complex made out of
Puri Lumbung Cottage Bali
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.
tiny Western Australia town of Exmouth and we loved our little Airbnb and the darling family that lived next door. We would love to go back. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18258544
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.
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What a wonderful decision it was for us to spend three weeks on the tiny island of Antiparos in the south Aegean. We have truly loved our time here.
Using Antiparos as our home base for island hopping wasn’t really what we set out to do, but it worked out well for us to take short day trips to some of the other islands around the area. However, something to note – because of the unusual weather pattern (around the world) the ferry from Antiparos to Paros was shut down for two days due to wind while we were here. Something to think about if you plan to stay only a short time. We had lots of time so it did not affect our plans.
You can hop to Santorini from here, but the off-season ferry schedule makes that tough. During the summer more boats run. But we had already spent three days there so no need to go back. But if you visit and want to do a day trip to Santorini check out both the ferry schedule as well as the privately operated tour boats. The private boats run more frequently. When we took the ferry from Santorini to Paros it costs us 58 Euro for both of us (one way) and took three hours, stopping at Ios along the way. We used Minoan ferry line for this trip.
Mykonos and Delos
We used a private tour boat to visit Delos and Mykonos together on one day. We took the ferry from Antiparos to Paros and we got on a van that transported us to Naousa (the van transfer was included in the tour price). Here we hopped on a boat that could carry about 200 people. It wasn’t full, but perhaps 100 people. It was an hour ride to Delos where we spent three hours touring this amazing island and its significant ancient ruins. Guided tours were available but we did the tour on our own and really enjoyed it.
Back on the boat we motored 15 minutes to Mykonos. We had three hours to wander here. We had a fantastic lunch at Salparo, sitting on the rocks overlooking the harbor. We then enjoyed sauntering around the historic blue and white village, visited historic sites and looked at shops. Three hours was just enough, since we had been to Mykonos once before eleven years ago.
That trip to Delos and Mykonos was an all-day adventure and costs us 50 euro each. We booked this through Polo Tours in Paros.
We visited the island of Paros twice. The first visit we had a car and we headed to Naousa in the north part of the island. The weather wasn’t great but we still enjoyed exploring the tiny alleys and hidden shops and homes in the old chora (village). Naousa also has a charming and picturesque port. We drove up into the mountains to visit the teeny village of Lefkes. This ancient town, far from the water, is unusual in how green it is, unlike most of the brown island landscape, and is home to a small agricultural population. Lefkes is one of the few remaining chora that retains its authentic roots.
The next time we visited Paros we spent several hours discovering Paroikia, the port town where the large ferries come and go. The port area is bustling and noisy, but hidden back behind it is an incredible old chora that many people miss. It once again had some fascinating buildings, tunnels and passageways, a spectacular old castle and temple of Athena, many lovely shops and of course, cats.
We traveled on the lovely Blue Star Ferries to the island of Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades Islands, about a 45 minute ferry ride from Pariokia. We paid 42 Euro total for both of us round-trip. It was a very windy day and I worried about the boat ride, but the Blue Star line runs large, almost cruise-ship style boats, and I did fine with my motion sickness issue.
It was also very windy in Naxos, and this port town is very exposed, so we spent a lot of time wandering the old chora up to the ancient castle and trying to stay out of the wind. It’s another beautiful ancient town. We enjoyed having a drink at the rooftop of 1739, which was out of the wind and offered a spectacular panoramic view. We had a nice lunch of simple souvlaki at Yasouvlaki. We then braved the crashing waves to cross the pedestrian manmade causeway to walk out to the famous ancient portara (door), site of an unfinished temple from 530BC. We got wet. Like I said, it was very windy. But it was worth it. The Naxos Portara was worth it.
At the end of the day in Naxos I told my husband that I have really enjoyed visiting all five of the islands, but in the end, I am so glad we stayed three weeks on Antiparos. It has everything we want; quiet and peaceful, small village, beautiful secluded beaches, a handful of shops and is still close enough to visit the surrounding islands.
I do hope to return here someday.
Where to next?
But now its time to leave. Next stop – ten-day tour of Egypt and Jordan. A definite bucket list destination for me ever since I was a child. We hope you will continue to follow along on our Fab Fifties Adventures.
Two weeks shy of eleven years since we visited the incredible island of Santorini. And nearly everyday since we have wanted to return. Today that happens.
We only spent one day on Santorini, since we were on a Mediterranean cruise and it was one of our stops. We loved all of our stops on that cruise, but Santorini was, well, magical.
It was magical for its stunning beauty – that shot the world thinks of when they think of Greece. It was magical for the view – and one of the most memorable meals I ever had overlooking the crater. It was magical for the authentic villages – like a movie but better.
But more important than any of that, it was magical because that day I changed. It may seem silly, but it’s not silly to me. That magical day on Santorini I discovered a new person within myself. The beginning of finding my Fabulous Fifties Life.
See it happened like this:
Laying on the cruise ship at the pool the day before arriving in Santorini I was reading the guidebook about things to do in Santorini. In the book it suggested walking from Fira (where the ship tenders) to Oia on the far end of the island. The walk was six miles and went all along the crater rim.
As soon as I read it, I knew my husband would want to do it. Should I tell him? Should I keep it to myself? Hike six miles? Yikes I don’t think I can do it. In the hot sun? I was torn.
But I love my husband so I said “Honey, there is this hike on Santorini maybe we can do.” He was all over it.
That day I was nervous since I hadn’t done a hike in YEARS. But we left the ship really early and got started before the heat of the day – and well, the rest is history. That hike changed my life. Not only was it SPECTACULAR, but it was inspirational. We saw only two other people (today this rim walk is much more popular) as we maneuvered our way on this rocky island in the middle of the turquoise blue mediterranean sea. During that six miles and about three hours I became someone who could hike six miles, who could adventure in the unknown, who could feel alive and free in the wild. A new person emerged who had been hidden inside of me all those years.
And that is how it began. Without that hike I would never have tackled hiking from Cusco to Machu Picchu. I would never have tackled walking 486 miles on the Camino de Santiago. I would never have tackled many of the things I now do everyday, knowing I am capable and not afraid.
Magical Santorini shaped me and I’m going back to say
thank you. Just for three days this time, but long enough to remember and pay my respects. A beautiful and magical place where I was transformed, and my Fab Fifties Life was born.
We could have easily spent a month in Romania. But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.
Map shows the three regions from 1648
We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.
In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.
Map shows the Kingdom of Romania
Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania. A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.
Our time in Transylvania was wonderful. We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.
Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained. Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti. Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.
If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries. A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification. The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese. There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think “Beauty and the Beast”. But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.
But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.
Peles Castle, in Sinai, home to several generations of Romanian royals and still occupied today by Michael I of Romania
Bran Castle in Bran, occupied for generations by Romanian Royalty and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula castle
Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century. They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in. The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.
The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.
The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.
Brasov’s only remaining fortress gate
The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.
Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire. For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.
One of several fortified towers in the amazingly preserved town of Sighisoara
Houses in Sibiu
Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers. Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade. Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted. The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.
Beautiful mix of architecture in Sibiu
Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities. While in Transylvania we enjoyed;
Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard
Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers. Both were the consistence of dip like humus.
Pork Ciorba (soup)
Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup. So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.
Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.
Cabbage rolls with polenta and pork
Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon. I couldn’t stop eating this.
Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.
Papanasi with sour cream and berries
Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert. I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious. Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside. Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.
We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country. We will return again someday to explore more. But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.
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