Instagram is one of my favorite social media platforms and it’s one I always use when I travel. It enables me to share stories and images in a way I don’t do anywhere else, so today I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorites from 2016 so far. I’ve also included the narrative that accompanied each one, so please pardon me if the comments may be dated in some cases. Also, all photos are iPhone only since I shared them during the trip. Enjoy!
Hello from a very brisk Finland! To be more exact, I’m here in the north, Finnish Lapland near a town called Ranua. I arrived into Finland Saturday and Lapland later that day, hitting the ground running, doing and seeing as much as possible. To really get out there and see some of the beautiful landscapes for which this part of the world is so well known, I joined a snowmobile tour today in the rural areas around the tiny town of Ranua. “But it’s a dry -25,” my guide reassured me as I suited up in 5 layers of clothes. This is the part of the temperature scales where C and F converge, so everyone should have a pretty good idea of just how very cold it was today. Actually, with the wind rushing past me on the snowmobile the feeling was much more like -40, but at that point it doesn’t really matter. That’s part of the beauty of this part of Finland though – it’s why people come here, to experience the beauty of winter in one of its purest forms. Rushing along frozen bogs and virgin forests covered with a new layer of snow was just as beautiful as I had hoped it would be. With nothing manmade for many kilometers in any direction, it’s as close as you can get to understanding the natural soul of this country in the perfect season. I’ve never seen a country embrace winter like Finland, but everyone I’ve met here loves it. Not only do they love it, they take pride in it. They know it’s cold, but they also know that with those temperatures comes some very special moments, like the one I had today sitting out in the middle of nowhere just listening to the sound of my own breath and not much else. Looking all around me I was stunned that I was in such a remarkable place, surely one of the most purely gorgeous landscapes anywhere in the world, even if you can only see it a few hours a day. This time of year the sun isn’t out for long, but once it is the forests and frozen lakes erupt in crystalline brilliance. Who knew there could be so much color in such a seemingly barren place?
Asante sana: In Swahili this means “thank you very much,” and it’s a phrase I’ve been using constantly on safari here in Tanzania with Abercrombie & Kent. A big part of the safari experience is where I spend the night, knowing from experience that a great lodge or camp can make or break a safari experience. My first tented camp experience was just last night though at Sanctuary Swala – part of the luxury Sanctuary Retreats family. I won’t lie, I was really excited for my first luxury tented camp experience and I definitely wasn’t let down. If camping was always like this I’d definitely be a regular camper. The individual tented camps are permanent set-ups and inside is everything you’d expect from any 5-star hotel from the decor to the amenities and even two showers – both inside and outside versions. But the best part of the experience is the access it provides. There are no fences or barriers and staying at Swala Camp offers some of the best access to wildlife you’ll ever experience. A highlight for me was mealtimes not just for the great food but for the views. The broad savanna stretches out seemingly forever and a nearby waterhole attracts all sorts of animals providing the best mealtime entertainment I’ve ever seen. This morning watching as the fog lifted up from the Acacia trees was one of those lucky moments when your KNOW you’re experiencing what will become a lifelong memory. It’s special when that happens and to think that it’s only Day 2 of my extraordinary safari tour around Tanzania.
Today I hugged a panda. Even now, hours after the experience I still can’t believe it and I still can’t stop smiling like a little kid. That’s actually the major reason why I decided to visit Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province, for the pandas. This large city of about 4 million people is known for a lot of things, including spicy and flavorful food, but perhaps most notably the Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base. This is the heart of the breeding and preservation work of this gorgeous animal, perhaps my favorite anywhere in the world. But it’s not where I visited Monday morning. No, instead I journeyed about an hour outside of the city center to the smaller but no less amazing Dujiangyan Panda Base. This new facility was meant to be the next step in combining giant panda education and conservation into one site. Here tourists can visit to watch the beautiful pandas or even spend the day volunteering as a panda keeper. Or, you can do what I did – for a donation guests are allowed to sit with and hug a young panda. It was an amazing experience, not just hugging a panda, but then spending a few hours walking around the beautiful base which is in the green hills and mountains and covered with bamboo forests. It’s a peaceful place and the perfect spot to admire these quirky and always fun to watch animals. It was without a doubt the highlight of my time here in China and a major event that I wanted to do in my life. I couldn’t be happier for the experience and I hope I don’t stop smiling any time soon.
Today was one the most amazing travel days I’ve ever experienced as I left the Republic of Ireland and entered Northern Ireland to drive the famous Causeway Route. Without exaggeration I don’t think I’ve witnessed beauty like I did today but the star of course was the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that this surreal looking coastline was carved by the mighty Finn McCool and that between these hexagonal rocks exists real magic. Of course the science is a little more dry, this geological wonder with over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns is the result of intense volcanic activity over millions of years. But being there is decidedly all magic. Walking down the hill amongst arguably the most beautiful coastline in the world, I was like a little kid as I scrambled over the rocks seeing what I could find. It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon but it’s just one of many stops along this almost too good to be true driving route.
I found myself at the Prater Park a lot while in Vienna, first as part of a Polaroid walking tour and then because it was convenient. The more I walked through the leafy green areas or the energetic amusement park the more I liked it and the more I found value in just slowing down. I didn’t go to Austria to race around the country, to see as much as possible or to tick items off a list. I went to enjoy the country, to experience it and to go a little bit slower. I achieved that and in the process rediscovered a beautiful country not just to visit, but to enjoy and have fun in. Travel is about learning and growing but it should also be just plain fun sometimes too.
Marburg is known for today – 30% of the town’s residents are all students. Thanks to its age and prominence it’s had many famous graduates including the two who drew me here today – the Brothers Grimm. It was here where they studied and first became interested in the old legends that they would one day chronicle. Interestingly enough, it’s also where one of the more famous illustrators of their fairy tales lived, which means that for many the every day scenes found around Marburg truly are fairy tales come to life. I’m a history buff so I definitely appreciated those details but I also just loved the beauty of the city itself. Due to many quirks of fate, it still has those colorful half-timbered houses that I love so much, thankfully preserved through the centuries. Built on the hillside, you better have your walking shoes on but it’s a small price to pay for views like this one.
Newfoundland and Labrador
My last evening at the incomparable Fogo Island Inn was spent like many of my fellow guests. I put on a nice shirt and relaxed into my chair in the light and bright dining room, enjoying amazing views of the sea as the sun startled to crawl beneath the waves. The sun sets late during the summer months up in Newfoundland, which turned out to be a stroke of luck for me. After dinner I was walking back to my room, ready to enjoy a few final moments in one of the best rooms I’ve ever enjoyed when I noticed the skies outside. The evening had erupted in fiery shades of red, orange and purple and the clouds only augmented the effect, making it seem like one of those doctored photos that so many times make the rounds on Instagram. So I grabbed my camera and phone, ran outside and captured this image. While my time on Fogo Island was certainly more than just about one image or even one moment, at the heart of the experience for me necessarily was my time at the Inn. Instantly I understood why everyone raves about it and why, after only a few years of operation, it’s one of the best in the world. It’s about so much more than nice beds or expensive touches, it’s about the spirit there and the service. It sounds trite, but guests really do feel like a part of the community, even if just for a few days. This is so rare and special when we travel that when it does occur, it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. That’s what the Fogo Island Inn experience is all about to me.
Hello from Nevada! I’m excited to be spending the week here exploring the Extraterrestrial Highway and discovering some of Nevada’s scenic byways and quirky stops. First up is this art installation not far outside of Vegas, the Seven Magic Mountains. This installation, on view through May 2018, is made of locally sourced limestone boulders stacked and each one features a different fluorescent color. The concept was to mimic hoodoos and other natural rock formations evoking the art of meditative rock balancing. It’s also just a really cool piece of artwork to visit in person and located out in the middle of the Nevada desert, it feels like I’m a million miles away from everything else. What a perfect start to my road trip!
One of the many highlights driving along Iceland’s scenic southern coast was one of my first stops outside of Reykjavik, the massive waterfall Skógafoss. It’s also one of the most visited sights in Iceland, thanks in large part to the fact that it’s one of the country’s largest waterfalls. I personally wasn’t prepared for the size or power of Skógafoss as I walked up to it, but instantly I gained tremendous respect for this powerful natural landmark. Daring to walk right up to the waterfall I promptly got drenched as the tremendous spray from Skógafoss enveloped me. But it was a wonderful moment, a special one standing there soaking wet but beaming from the experience. There’s also a trail next to the waterfall leading up to the top, and from there I truly gained an appreciation for the size and power of Skógafoss. No wonder this is such a popular sight to visit, the beauty here impressed me much more than even larger waterfalls in the country, its accessibility making it a more intimate and ultimately more impactful experience.
I don’t always get excited about visiting ruins, but seeing Tintern Abbey in person was something else entirely. Instead of some random walls or columns where it’s difficult to imagine what life must have been like centuries ago, this abbey in Wales is so perfectly preserved that it’s a beautiful window to a different time and place. Originally built in the 12th century, Tintern suffered the same fate as so many others during the time of Henry VIII when monasteries and abbeys throughout the country were destroyed. Thankfully they failed miserably when it came time to destroy this particular abbey and today it’s one of the most popular sites to visit in Wales. More than the impressive history though, I was mesmerized by the design and architecture of the abbey itself, its preservation allowing amazing moments when the light pours though the nonexistent roof onto the grassy floor of the abbey. Nature has tried to reclaim the space, but today the abbey and its surroundings live together in a beautiful symbiosis that makes the visit so incredibly beautiful.
You may remember a few weeks ago when I teased about a project I was working on in Toronto. Well, I’m happy to say that I can now FINALLY share some of the many images and stories from that fun weekend in Canada. I was in Toronto because frankly in the past I had done a very poor job of exploring it as a tourist. I’d been on short, very business oriented trips and failed to find the spots around town about which everyone seems to rave. That’s actually a problem no matter where we go as tourists – how to best find those local spots that only people who live there know about? Well, Destination Canada is working on a way to help with that and I was part of a team serving as guinea pigs for the project. Sharing my interests with local a local, she was kind enough to put together a loose itinerary of places to visit, restaurants to enjoy and how best to experience Toronto through the eyes of a local. My day spent with her was as much fun as I’ve had in a long time and we quickly became great friends; mostly thanks to our own unique brand of sarcastic humor. More importantly though, she showed me the Toronto she knows and loves and gradually, over the course of my visit, I came to love it too. Without her help I would never have found little corners of the city like this one – Graffiti Alley. Also known as Rush Lane, this mother lode of graffiti art spans about a kilometer and while it’s a popular place to visit, there’s no way I would have even known about it without the help of a local. Turns out, it was one of my favorite stops of the day!
New York City
There are some images that we all see here on Instagram that aren’t just nice, but which actually motivate us to travel and to see these amazing sights in person. There are many such places on my list, and yesterday I visited one of them – The Oculus in New York City. I didn’t want to visit to only see this architectural wonder in person, but to finally pay my own personal tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11. Like so many others, I lost friends on that day and up until yesterday I didn’t feel strong enough to visit. I’m glad I did though; it was just as impactful as I had hoped and in particular I love the symbolism found here in the Oculus. From the outside, the building is meant to look like a dove being released from a child’s hand. Inside you can’t help but feel as if you’re in the belly of some massive beast, but oddly enough I mean that in as positive a way as possible. At a cost of $4 billion, this massive hub of transit and commerce has had some controversy, but I for one love it and appreciate the thought behind its creation on what should always be a place of solemnity and respect.