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 the 10 photos that were the most popular in 2017. It’s important to note though that since Instagram decided to tweak their algorithms and limit who sees what, my engagement has been all over the place. So, I personally don’t think that these were the best photos I took in 2017 but, for whatever reason, they had the most engagement out of the more than 160 images I posted to Instagram this year. I’ve also included the narrative that accompanied each one, so please pardon me if the comments may be dated in some cases. Photos are also in chronological order and not listed by their popularity.
The Diplomat Beach Resort, Florida
No filters or edits needed for this perfect sunrise. Every 4 years I use the inauguration as an excuse to get out of town and enjoy a few days of R&R and this go-around I thought some Vitamin Sea would be perfect, which is how I found myself in beautiful (and warm) South Florida. A few months ago I stayed at the Logan Hotel in Philadelphia and was first introduced to the Curio Collection by Hilton, a line of luxury boutique hotels around the world. I loved everything about it and that’s why I didn’t hesitate to book a room at another Curio property – the historic Diplomat Resort in sunny Hollywood, Florida. I didn’t know it at the time, but they just finished a massive remodel which means everything is fresh, new and gorgeous and I immediately wished I’d booked more than a couple of days here. The Diplomat though is one of the country’s great iconic hotels, opening in the 1950s it has hosted everyone from the Kennedy’s to the Rat Pack and more than one President. Travel can be a lot of things but sometimes it should just be fun and relaxing and after a stressful couple of weeks, it is exactly what I need. Now if you’ll excuse me, my cabana is calling.
Today the unthinkable happened in Barcelona happened – it rained! It actually wasn’t bad for what I wanted to see and do and it even added a nice moody touch to a planned lunch along the beach with my other Abercrombie & Kent tour participants. Funny thing about Barcelona’s long sandy shorefront; it didn’t exist before the 1992 Olympic Games. Those Games were actually a turning point for the city, forcing it into long overdo improvements including moving the massive industries once located along the water and turning it into the sunny beachside residents never thought they’d see. So that’s why, sun or not, spending time along Barcelona’s beaches isn’t just fun, it’s a big part of the overall city experience.
The Alhambra, Spain
This morning we explored a site I’d long wanted to visit, the extraordinary Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Moorish poets once described this massive palace and fortress complex as a “pearl set in emeralds,” and during the Middle Ages it was the center of power for the Emirate of Granada. The Moors controlled southern Spain for centuries and this incredible bastion was one of the last great palaces constructed in Europe. Walking around with my Abercrombie & Kent group for several hours, there were dozens upon dozens of moments that deeply impressed me, but perhaps none more so than this, the Court of the Lions. Walking in it’s hard not to be immediately awed by the 124 white marble columns, each adorned with stunning Islamic art. At the center though is the famous fountain with 12 white marble lions that would each spout water at different times of the day. Sure it’s an aesthetically beautiful place but it’s also a powerful one, meant to impress then as it surely does today.
I started Germany’s Martin Luther Route here, in Wittenberg, which is also where the story of the Reformation began as well. It was here on that church in the background where Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door, starting a chain of events that would give birth to Protestantism and change the world in the process. It’s always so humbling to visit places like these, where you can feel the weight of history as you walk in the footsteps of revolutionary figures. Wittenberg is also just a naturally beautiful city, making my time spent there a real pleasure.
Finger Lakes Region of New York
At the heart of the Finger Lakes experience for many are the wineries, breweries and distilleries found all around the lakes. For decades, Finger Lakes wines were produced using native grapes and, for the most part, the results were mixed. But then in the 1960s, mimicking global wine trends, vinifera grapes were introduced and the wineries in the region started producing everything from stellar Rieslings to full bodied reds. Today the results speak for themselves and with more than 140 wineries in the Finger Lakes, visitors can try as many of these vintages for themselves as they want. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing wineries to visit, but one of my favorite experiences was at the Wagner Vineyards. Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery produces a wide selection of amazing wines, but they also have a brewery on site that creates just as tasty ales, porters and IPAs. With a large deck overlooking the vines and lake, it’s was the perfect spot to sit back and relax.
It’s simply not possible to capture the size and the essence of what it’s like to visit Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda in a single photo. It’d be like trying to capture the essence of Vatican City in just one snap of the camera. But I can try. Believed to have been built originally more than 2,500 years ago, the Pagoda itself is just part of a larger religious complex on the 114-acre Singuttara Hill in Yangon. It’s also Myanmar’s holiest temple, believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas. At the center though is of course the Pagoda itself, standing more than 360 feet tall and covered with gold plates and encrusted with thousands of diamonds and other precious jewels. Arriving midweek in the morning, I found the complex still packed with people, all there to pray and offer their respect before continuing on with their day. In Myanmar, one’s shoes must be removed before entering temples or other sacred sites, which meant my exploration of this enormous complex was done barefoot, made easier though by the miles of marble flooring covering the entire site. I spent a fair amount of time at the Pagoda, walking the circuit around Shwedagon joined by thousands of worshipers doing the same thing. The morning was about so much more though than just admiring a world wonder in person, it was about getting to know Myanmar a little bit better. The Pagoda represents so many important hallmarks of Myanmar heritage – art, architecture, religion, values and so on. It forms the focus of religious and community activities for a reason, and spending the morning immersing myself in those traditions wasn’t just fun as a tourist, but important for me to do as a traveler.
U Bein’s Bridge, Amarapura Myanmar
As a history buff, I had a great time exploring many of Myanmar’s most famous temples, monasteries and pagodas, but this morning was a fun diversion from those scholarly pursuits as we visited the U Been Bridge in Mandalay. Dubbed the world’s longest teak footbridge, this 1.2 kilometer bridge spans Taungthaman Lake and is a popular diversion for tourists and locals alike. As an affirmed dog lover though, of course my favorite part was meeting the scores of homeless pups who call the bridge area home. It’s frustrating that I can’t do anything to help them, but I did what I could which was give them a little attention and love. It’s hard to believe that this is my last day in Myanmar, but I’m leaving with more stories and memories than I had ever imagined and I can’t wait to start sharing them all in earnest.
There were many special moments on The Strand cruise along the Ayeyarwady River, but a morning visit to the ancient kingdom of Ava was certainly a highlight. Making our way through the marshy terrain, I resisted the urge to pinch myself to make sure the moment was really happening. Passing by golden temples surrounded by rice paddies, this is the Myanmar I had traveled so far to see. This was the country as I imagined it, a rarity in the travel experience. The moody skies and threat of rain only added to the sensation of having entered a dreamland, a place that exists in the ethereal realm of our hopes and desires. Myanmar is a special country for so many reasons, but this, a feeling I can’t even really name, is perhaps what I’ll remember the most.
One of the coolest things I’ve done in a long time happened on my last day in Innsbruck, when I went on a very unconventional helicopter ride. While I’ve been in helicopters before, they all had something the one in Innsbruck did not – doors. The first of its kind in Europe, the folks over at My Snap Air offer guests the very unique opportunity to hang out of a helicopter as they fly over the Austrian Alps. While swinging my legs around mid-air was definitely a rush, the real highlight were those incredible views. Nestled in a valley, the city of Innsbruck quickly looked like a model playset against the massive mountains. Flying a lot closer than I would have ever guessed, it’s a unique way to experience the beauty of the Alps in as close and personal a way as you can get without undertaking a massive trek.
Piazza Navona, Rome
I can’t believe that my Italy trip came to a close so quickly. Time flew by as I spent more than a week exploring Southern Italy, my second trip with independent travel pros Monograms Travel. There are many highlights, but I think Rome will always be a special place for me. There’s nothing quite like it and although my experience with it in the past had been brief and cursory, I now feel like I understand the city a little better and appreciate why millions around the world love it so very much. Thanks for following along on this trip, new adventures await of course but first I need some time at home to recharge and hang out with my awesome dogs.
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans and happy Thursday to the rest of the world! Today I want to share something I’m incredibly thankful for, and that’s this amazing life I’m living today in 2017. it’s been almost 8 years since I started my travel blog and nearly 6 years since I made it my full time career, facts that frankly stun me. Many of you probably aren’t familiar with my back-story, so I’ve included a link to my blog post in the bio explaining who I am and how I ended up in this admittedly strange career of professional travel blogger. It’s certainly not a place I ever saw myself, but there’s no doubt that I couldn’t be happier. Another blogger recently wrote a post saying that leaving one’s job to travel isn’t brave, it’s lucky. That’s true. But I didn’t leave my job to travel, I left my job in order to save my life. After 12 years of working a job I didn’t particularly like I was miserable in every way possible. It’s amazing how being unhappy in one area of your life can affect all other aspects, but it does. Since that defining moment when my traditional 9-5 job and I parted ways, I’ve never worked harder but I’ve also never been happier. My passion in life is learning all I can about the world around me, from foreign cultures to new foods and of course seeing some of the many wonders found all over the globe. Since I was very young that’s always been my passion, I just forgot it for a while. Being reconnected to what my soul sings for is a joy unlike any other. No matter what your passion in life is, whether it’s being a doctor, a firefighter or whatever, just make sure you’re doing it. Do what your soul needs in order to thrive because life’s too short and if you don’t then you’ll never see the positive changes you’re looking for in your own life. Thank you all for your kind support over the years, it means the world to me and without it I’d never be able to follow my passions like I do today.
“This is not an ice cream,” as a twist on that famous Magritte quote and image. Hello from the always gorgeous French Riviera as I cruise the Mediterranean with Viking cruises. We’ve been in France for a couple of days but today was a special one as I visited one of the truly great cities in this part of the world, Nice. I also decided to have a little fun with a photo prop as you can tell and I’m curious to hear what you think. Personally, I love the twist on those now common ice cream cone shots we see all the time here on Instagram and hopefully it adds a little beauty to your day. Wandering the streets of Nice decked out for the holidays made for a very special day and while there’s certainly no snow down here, I found a city just as festive as any other. I love visiting different parts of Europe around the holidays to see how various regions celebrate and today was a highlight of those Yuletide wanderings.