Best of Travel List – 2008-2009

I have finally finished my “BEST OF” List from my round the world trip.

I have attached a few photos from my favorite experiences as well and listed those with a star*

My website will disappear, but I will have a copy on hand and happy to discuss any travel destinations in the future. It was an amazing trip and I can’t wait for another one (maybe in 25 years).

OVERALL TRAVEL EXPERIENCE Antarctica*This was the best from all the amazing icebergs, to curious penguins walking into my lap, to reaching out and touching a wild humpback whale that came up to our small boat and swam all around us for an hour and finally celebrating my 33rd birthday in Antarctica…it’s was an outstanding and totally memorable experience!

TOP THREE COUNTRIES

1. Chile* – Chile may have been my favorite country, especially as I had no expectations. I was only able to explore a little bit of it, but in four weeks, I was able to climb an active ice capped volcano in Pucon, enjoy big city life in Santiago, walk among all the Moai statues (and scuba dive with the only sunken Moai) on Easter Island, taste some amazing wines in the Casablanca region, eat some tasty food (with avocados on a McDonald’s burger) explore the largest copper mine in the world and finally wander around the Atacama Desert in the northern part of the country. So much to offer in this country and I want to go back

2. Turkey* – Turkey had some of the most diversity of any country. Turkey has some of the best scenery which was so different in each region. My favorites were Pamukkale (gleaming white ledges, called travertınes, with pools of water that flow down the plateau edge), Cappadocia (huge stone caves/dwellings, some with mushrooms top and others that were pointed and called fairy chimneys), to the beautiful Mediterranean coast where I sailed on a live on boat for four days, and finally the tree top community of Olympos where we were living in the forest in tree houses. On top of this, Istanbul has so much to see with culture and historical attractions. Such diversity and beauty everywhere.

3. Vietnam* – Was such a surprise country. The people were very friendly, the food was especially outstanding and everything was so inexpensive, which made us want to have more. I think Vanessa and I tried more seafood and enjoyed whole, fresh lobsters for $7 and beers, at a restaurant, for 75 cents. The beaches were nice, the scuba diving was good and there was a lot of English spoken, plus there are easy and cheap flights to get along. I booked a flight 10 hours in advance for the same price as if I did weeks in advance, so it allows for last minute plans. Plus there were great mud baths that Vanessa and I loved as we had our own tub of fresh mud to splash around in. I wish I had more time as there were many more places I want to explore (Halong Bay, Hoi an and more)
CITY LIFE

Big City –  Budapest  – I really loved Budapest as there are so many fun things to do there, I’ve been both in the winter and now again in the summer on this trip. The people are friendly, the currency is favorable so you can buy a lot for the dollar and it’s developed enough, yet still a developing eastern European city. Such a fun walking city, with a huge castle, traditional bath houses and culture.

Small CityMargaret River in Western AustraliaMaybe it was since I was able to go to a grocery store and buy cheese again, and it was the wine country and just so nice to be somewhere English speaking after so many months without that. It was a lush and beautiful city with vineyards all over, beaches (where I learned to surf) and a great small city.

Cleanest City Singapore – This was a close second to a favorite big city, but part of this was it was one of the cleanest cities anywhere and chewing gum is illegal so you don’t find yourself stepping onto it anywhere. The locals are so clean and there are cleaning teams always sweeping the streets

Little Town Busselton, Western Australia –  The population was 11,000 and this had to be some of the friendliest people, cute little main street and where I had the best haircut experience anywhere in the world for the cheapest price. Such a nice change from big cities.

View SpotUp in the Himalayas in Nepal* – Where ever you looked – beautiful snow capped mountains, lake views and green as far as the eye can see. It was just beautiful at sunrise, daylight or sunset.

Strangest Toilet* – Bratislava, Slovakia – I think it was the side by side toilet in Bratislava where you can sit next to a friend (or make a new friend?) and go at the same time.

Best Churches:
1. Church of Spilled Blood* – St. Petersburg, Russia
2. Grand Church* – Leon, Nicaragua

Best Man Made Wonders:
1. Great Pyramids* – Giza, Egypt
2. The Great Wall of China* – Beijing, China
3. The Treasury* – Petra, Jordan
4. Terra Cotta Soldiers* – Xian, China
5. Angkor Wat* – Siem Reap, Cambodia

OUTDOORS

Island Living – Belize* on two separate islands. I had great experience on both the isolated Tobacco Caye (with 40 locals and about 50 tourists) and then on the more popular island of Caye Caulker where we met locals and really lived the local island way.

Best Scuba Locations
1. Red Sea in Dahab, EgyptAlso very cool as I was in a private scuba course with a great instructor, Avi.
2. Utilia, Honduras – Swam with a whale shark, did first night dive with octopus, first deep dives, first shipwreck dive and amazing underwater sea life

Best Scuba Diving Buddies
1. Adam in Honduras* – spent a week in advanced scuba class as dive buddies with way too many laughs.

2.. Virgil in Australia – spent four days diving in the Whitsunday Islands

Best Diving ExperienceNight dive in Utila, Honduras when I saw my first octopus and such interesting and fun night creatures that glowed under water

Worst Diving ExperienceGetting left/lost underwater in Belize when our dive master went back up to the surface with another diver and Angela and I were left all alone on the ocean floor. Remaining calm and figuring out what to do together (without talking underwater) was interesting.

Beach Relaxation – Too hard as I had some amazing beaches so a few:
Barbados (Needles Point)* – for high end beach service and private beach front
Nicaragua (San Juan del Sur)* – isolated beach with bright colored and active crabs on the beach
Tulum (Mexico)* – some of the softest and whitest beaches anywhere and super relaxing

Best Hiking The Himalayas in Nepal. As I was having some issues with my back, Debbie and I only spent two days hiking, but I would like to return for a longer trek as it was amazing scenery and lots of hiking at different levels.

Wide Open Space:
1. Salt Flats in Bolivia* – This was a breathtaking three day trip from Chile to Bolivia. The best part was finally reaching the salt flats as it was endless white space and just spectacular.
2. Outback in Australia* – I spent time at Ayers Rock and the surrounding areas in Uluru and Alice Springs and the outback desert was beautiful with the sand, colors and sunrise/sunsets

Best Sunrise:
1. Himalayas* – Pokahara Nepal – Climbing up the mountain to see the sunrise as it came over the Himalayas. The sky and mountains were lit up in pinks and breathtaking!
2. Ayers Rock – Uluru, Australia – the sunrise just lit up the whole rock with such vibrant colors and worth the early 4am wake up

Best Sunset – This is tough…as I am a sucker for sunsets. Some of the best were in:
1. Zanizbar* – with a Masi Mara Warrior running by with a spear right at sunset
2. Thailand* – Up on a mountain on Phi Phi Island
3. Antarctica* – Sunset of bright oranges and pinks on my birthday- sunset was at 11pm!

TRANSPORTATION

Best Airline Experience:

1. Singapore Airlines was one of the nicest, with best food, and entertainment.
2. United – I have to give more props to United as I flew them the most, since I used miles for my round the world ticket, and on the longer flights. All the flights were great, and I got more perks due to my status. I was allowed to “sneak” into and remain in the business class section from Sydney to San Francisco and it was the best 15 hour flight I had. They knew I didn’t belong, but didn’t kick me back to economy.

Worst Airline ExperienceCubana Airlines (for Cuba)– I could only describe this plane as a tin can with wings. The last time I saw such a horrible plane was in the USSR back in 1990. I would describe the seats that would fold down in front, there was about one inch of leg room in front of me, but the lady in the seat in front of me had a broken seat so her seat back was literally in my lap. On top of this, due to Swine Flu scare, they weren’t using the air conditioning (and it was 100 degrees leaving Cancun) and we were all dripping in sweat, and finally after reaching the take off runway, we turned around and returned to the gate. They returned to let my new friends Gus and Julian off the plane as they were so sick (hungover), but the airline thought they had swine flu and kicked them off and put them in an ambulance. There was no customer service during the experience, but the airplane itself was the worst, and I hope to never fly Cubana Airlines.

Best Airport ExperienceSingapore….hands down. It’s like an adult playground with so much to do in the airport with lots of TV lounges, free computers, a pool on the roof (didn’t use it, but heard it’s great), and a 24 hour coffee bean and tea. Great places to shop, sit and be. Not a bad place to get stranded at.

Worst Airport ExperienceNairobi, Kenya. Finding out the airline wasn’t going to let me board the plane for India, as I didn’t have my yellow fever card on me (as it was stolen in the Ukraine). I had to lie, cry a little, beg and eventually bribe and pay off a health officer in the airport…so I was able to get on the plane. A very stressful two hours and I didn’t think it was going to work and I was going to leave my friend Debbie all alone in India expecting me and then miss my flight to Goa the next day.

Most Awkward Overnight TrainFrom Moscow, Russia to Kiev, Ukraine. This was when I was in a cabin with a mother and her two daughters and the whole time they were trying to understand how I could be 32 years old, not married and with no children, as the mother was younger than me and had two children. It was awkward conversation through the eldest daughter until I finally went to sleep.

Best FerryThe overnight ferry from Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki, Finland*. This turned out to be the party boat that lasted all night and I learned locals from both countries take this ferry on the weekend just for the party. It was a major cruise line size ship, with a casino, many bars, a hot tub and spa area. I was also on it right before White Nights and the sunset was around midnight.

Best Bus Experience – Any bus in Turkey was the best bus! There were male bus attendants (as women don’t work in this type of work) and they served snacks, hand sanitizer and really kept the peace. The buses were so nice and plush for the long distances and overnight rides.

ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS

Best Wild Animal Encounter:
1. Rhino in Kenya* – This was my first time seeing one as I never did on previous safari’s so I was extra excited. We also got to watch the Rhino’s either mating or fighting
2. Cheetah stalk ing and hunt ing an impala for an hour. No kill, but the hunt was fun

Best “Trained” Animal in the WildLarge wild elephant* cruised into our camp ground in Tanzania, walked to the water faucet, used his truck to turn on the water to drink and then left it running when he was done. We knew it was a male elephant as a female would have turned the water off.

Best Wild Animal I got to touch or hold :
1. The humpback whale  in Antartica* – came up to our zodiac boat in Antarctica and was swimming around us for an hour. At one point, he was so close I reached over the boat and touched his belly as he was directly next to us and complete under our boat (which I thought he may flip us at any moment)
2. The Monkey from Granada*, Nicaragua that jumped into our boat and them climbed into my lap and just held on for the longest hug. Precious!

Animals Seen in The Most Unusual PlaceThree cows* in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina. The cows came out of no where and right up to me in the lake for a drink. It was very odd to see three cows up close in the lake.

Best Wild Animals I Got To Swim With In Open Water:
1. Whale Shark in Honduras -so amazing to find one and get out to swim with so beautiful and large!


2. Wild dolphins* – in Zanzibar
3. Sea Turtles* – Australia, Belize, Mexico and Hawaii

FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Best Local DishOkonomiyaki* – This was one of the most yummy dinners we had in Hiroshima, Japan. Essentially the cooks make a thin crepe, then put lettuce (or cabbage), bean sprouts, bacon and shrimp and cooked it all. Then the cook made a scrambled egg, cooked up some soba (or udon) noodles and turned the first pile on top of the egg and noodles and cooked it longer. Once it was all cooked, it was put on the plate and some sort of BBQ or brown tasty sauce was brushed on top. It was one of the best things.

Best Food Court DiningKuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Yes, I was told to get dinner at the food court by the hostel, and I thought this was just a cheap thing they tell travelers. I was wrong. It was one of the most amazing foot courts in a fancy mall. In the basement, there were about 40 still stalls from every country and region in Asia. It was actually overwhelming deciding what to get as I had fond memories of so many dishes from my travels and wanted them all. It would take almost a year to try every place and dish – to give you an idea of the choices there.

Best Cocktails – In Singapore there were two:
1. The Lychee Martini* at the top of the Swiss Hotel (with an amazing view) with Matt
2. Famous Singapore Sling* that was created at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore with Kimberly.
Both were amazing and fun experiences.

Best Wine Regions:
1. Mendoza wine region* – Argentina and the Uco Valley an hour west towards Chile.
2. Casablanca wine region* – Chile between Santiago and Valparaiso. This region really had great Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs. Verramonte was one of my favorites.
3. Margaret River wine region* – Western Australia. The wines were younger but full of flavor.

Favorite WineryAndaluna in the Uco Valley an hour west from Mendoza. Andeluna is run by a family that has 200 years of wine experience, but the winery was funded by the founder of Lays chips out of Texas. This place was beautiful as the tasting room has such an old feel, yet is beautifully designed. I could have stayed there all day. Plus the tasting room overlooks the vineyards, which are right at the foot of the snow capped Andes Mountains, so you can´t ask for a prettier location.

Best Local AlcoholFlor de Cana* – amazing dark rum from Nicaragua. I have looked for it in liquor stores and can’t find it, but it’s so smooth, tasty and was cheap in Nicaragua (not in surrounding Central American countries though). It also was really great mixed with Fresca….who knew???

SLEEPING

Best HostelIn Hanoi, Vietnam, I found a very fun and social hostel that was cleaner than clean and some of the best beds ever. Plus we all had a huge locker for our bag to help keep the room clean. There was a fun bar in the reception area, social activities to be booked and just fun people. It was also in a perfect location to everything.

Worst Hostel – In Kiev, Ukraine. I didn’t keep the name, as I would never recommend it (and we later learned the owner keeps getting low ratings on hostelworld so he changes the name and relists (at the same address). It was essentially a large apartment with two bedrooms and 10 bunk beds in each room and only one toilet and one separate room with the sink and shower. So if someone was in the shower and you were using the toilet…there was no place to wash your hands (there was no kitchen). Plus the man that ran the hostel lectured us all on how to lower our standards as hostels aren’t the same in the Ukraine as the rest of the world…I was happy to leave. Plus this hostel owner called me “hopeless” since I got robbed twice and said there was no way I could last 6 months traveling on my own (yet I did for 20 months and never had anything else stolen). The hostel was actually clean, and I met fun people that we all bonded with over the horrible hostel owner and my unfortunate luck with two times of being pickpocketed and robbed.

Best Hostel PerkPrivate Hot Tub* in a private room overlooking the lake in Bariloche, Argentina. Never have I heard of a Jacuzzi in a hostel, but it was so nice after a busy day out and we got a free hour each day (for any private room reservation) if we reserved it. I would stay there again as close to down and so many fun perks at the hostel. TangoInn hostel (Downtown location…not Soho) at www.tangoinn.com

Best 5 Star HotelIntercontinental in Tokyo, Japan. This was one of the fanciest hotels and just a beautiful lobby area. Thanks to Vanessa’s connections, we also got all the upgrades to club lounge access and were able to enjoy nightly cocktail hour.

Best 5 Star Hotel PerkClub lounge access*. I got to enjoy this with Vanessa in Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan and with Teresa, Jen, Whitney and Connie in Barbados.

PEOPLE
Nicest Locals
Nepalese or Vietnamese
Rudest Locals
Russians and Ukrainian (plus the Ukrainian thieves)

MONEY (per day average)
Most Expensive
– (My daily average was $107 a day)
1. Antarctica expedition ($522 a day for 12 days)
2. Kenya safari ($240 a day for 10 days)
3. Jamaica RTW kickoff vacation ($220 for 5 days)

Least Expensive – (where I didn’t have family/friends hospitality)
1. Nicaragua ($35 a day for 13 days)
2. Mexico ($45 a day for 10 days)
3. Bolivia ($47 a day for 12 days)

PAMPERING
Best Body Massage
Pucon, Chile. This was just such a wonderful massage with both relaxing parts, therapeutic to work out the kinks and pains in my body and help me get ready to climb the volcano the next day. I needed to work out these things to help me climb and it did help.

Worst Body MassageHydro massage in New York City. It was a machine that used water and pressure to massage you, but unfortunately, it really was bad and not worth all the hype.

Best Foot MassagePhuket, Thailand. Vanessa and I had time to kill before a flight and walked into the best foot massage place right in town. An hour foot massage that was heaven and we are still talking about it a year later

Most Interesting Steam Room* – Siem Reap, Cambodia – this was the famous rice cooker steam in a zip up canvas tent. Weird but actually worked well

Best HaircutBusselton, Australia – with heated massage chair for the hair wash and extra pampering

Best PedicurePunte de Este, Uruguay – amazing care including an electronic buffer/sanding machine to take any dead skin off.

TRAVEL FRIENDS

Longest companion arranged from home:
1. Colin* – 81 days in 9 countries (Jamaica, Greece, Turkey, California, USA, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica)
2. Vanessa* – 46 days in 5 countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, Japan)
3. Debbie* – 26 days in 4 countries (India, Nepal, Thailand, Florida, USA)
4. Amanda* – 23 days in 3 countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Costa Rica)

Longest companion met on the road
1. Milena – 36 days in 9 countries (Russia, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Turkey, Malaysia, Australia, Argentina, Hawaii, USA)
2. Freddie and Mel – 34 days in 3 countries (Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico)
3. Caitlin and Alex – 29 days in 2 countries (Nicaragua, Honduras)

People from Home I bumped into unexpectedly:
1. Schroeder family from my hometown of Orinda. They are the parents of my swim team “big sister”, and I met them while waiting in line to see Lenin’s body in Moscow, Russia
2. Carolyn Stone – she bumped into me on the bridge in Budapest, Hungary
3. Snow family, Hanley family and Reed family – all the parents of friends I grew up with and my dad, brother and I bumped into them at Iguassu falls, Argentina

Friends I met or made along the way – thanks for being part of my journey!
Jamaica:
Colin N. Holmes (USA)
England: Amber McCasland (USA), Richard Riecker (USA), Rachel Jay (UK), Thomas Jeffs (UK)
Scotland: Nicola Davidson (UK), Stu Davidson
Sweden: Mike Burton (UK), Richard Steenvoorde (Australia)
Finland: Robert Bethea (USA)
Latvia: Daniel Leeds (USA), Julia McAnallen (USA), Kathy Taylor (USA), Verena Lorenzkowski
Russia: Maria Palomar, Milena Warns (USA), George Cella (USA)
Ukraine: Morgan Stoddard (USA), Cari Gregory (USA), Nina Torrence (USA), David Sherman (USA), Michael Strong (USA)
Hungary: Isabelle Glinka (Canada), Mariusz Boba (Canada), Christine Gage (USA), Samantha Holmes (USA), Vivien Aroonsangrote (Thailand)
Poland: Shana Neiditch (USA), Stephanie Sampiere (USA)
Croatia: Jennifer Crist (USA), Courtney Zanini (USA)
Italy: Laura Landi (Italy), Giovanni Bodini (Italy)
Turkey: Amanda Vanasco Khalil (USA), Sam Khalil (USA)
Israel: Nadav Yerushalmy (Israel), Barak Jerushalmy (Israel), Tara O’Rourke (Canada), Andrew Wall (Ireland), Rory O’Sullivan (Ireland)

Jordan: Debora and Sigurd (Canada)

Egypt: Evan Dorward (Canada), Ethan Dorward (Canada), Abdo Baz (Egypt), Valentina Pardo Seguel (Chile), Avi Bernstein (UK), Matthew David Hayden (UK), Rod Wootton (UK)

Kenya: Brian McBrearity (USA), Amanda Tarkow (USA)

Tanzania: Chris Louis (USA), Laura Young (USA), Aiden Brazil (Canada), Shanda Slipp (Canada), Emily Bryant (UK), Emma Stewart (UK), Karina Wortelboer (UK), Rachel Atkins (UK), Tom Brandreth (UK), Ross Alexander Hukins (UK), Hannah Watkin Rees (UK)

India: Debra Onken (USA)
Singapore: Matthew Kasdin (USA), Kimberly Hendler (USA)

China: Gina Freschi Sandler (USA), Ben Sandler (USA), Joseph Welsh (USA), Stephanie Welsh (USA), Hayley Porthouse (UK), Nico Kooijker (Netherlands)

Australia: Aileen Wills (Scotland), Kiri Bartlett (Australia), Bec Darling (Australia), David Childs (Australia), Dean Smales (Australia), Tony Ferraris (USA), Jennifer Murray (USA), Gail Marinelli (USA), Loretta Greco (Australia), Giulia Damante (Australia), Simon Cearns (Australia), Nancy J. Kim (USA), Monica Shor (Australia), Effie Metaxas (Australia), Samuel Maxim (Australia), Rachel Butler Russel (USA), Virgil Russell (USA), Jane Polak Scowcroft (Canada), Trisha Duffy (UK), Karla Arnall
Uruguay: Beathe C Rønning (Norway)
Antarctica: Deanna Sorenson (USA), Liz Hawkes (USA), Joey Krueger (Canada), Susan Lerche (USA), Andy Carbognin (Canada), Mirjam Janssen (Netherlands), Tamar Schechter (Israel), Tamarin (USA)
Chile: Andy Sharpe (UK), Sophie Roberts (UK), Edgar Smith (UK), Valentina Pardo Seguel (Chile)

Bolivia: Greg Dennis (Canada), Frank and Emily (UK), Monica (Italy)

Nicaragua: Kirsty Shalders (Australia), Melissa Wyatt (Australia), Elizabeth Kelly (Australia), Becca DeLima (USA), Freddie Johnson (UK), Mel Owers (UK), Caitlin Dupuy (UK), Alex Pritchard (UK)

Honduras: Adam Chalom (USA), Lindsey Keck (USA), Jonas Gaare (Norway), Bård Nordli Nilsen (Norway), Dov Rohan (USA), Hedda Weltz (Norway), Kristin Gjone (Norway), Steven Crowe (UK)

Belize: Angela Merrill (USA), Veronique Garon (Canada)

Mexico: Eliza Krisman (Australia), Sinead O’Sullivan (Ireland),

Cuba: Adele Murphy (Ireland), Tim Clark (UK), Nicholas Cool Gustafson (USA), Julian Counihan (USA), Randi England (Norway), Anja Lokheim (Norway), Libby Inman (UK), Ana Liddie Navarro (UK), Emma Louise Robinson (UK), Francisco Hormigo (Portugal)

Canada: Ashley Mikitzel (Canada), Adam Mikitzel (Canada), John Mikitzel (Canada), Sharon Mititzel (Canada), Lisa Naylor (Canada)

Japan: Chris Betterman (Australia), Stacey Borrowman (Australia)

Barbados: Teresa Howes (USA), Jen Shoup (USA), Whitney Herod (USA), Conni Challburg (USA)

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