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Sauna and Finding the Ultimate Freedom in Helsinki

A few weeks ago I was approached by the fine folks at the Helsinki Freedom campaign to work with them on a project to promote Helsinki and to focus specifically on freedom as a topic. I jumped at the opportunity mostly because my one and only visit to Finland a few years ago was so much fun and so impactful that  I was excited to once again write about one of the happiest spots on the planet. More than just write about things to see and do, I love the freedom topic because it’s at the heart of life in Finland and especially Helsinki. It’s a very egalitarian society with a strong emphasis on quality of life; something that is sorely lacking here in the U.S. The greatest aspect is that even as a visitor, no matter how briefly you’re there, you are instantly indoctrinated into this unique lifestyle as perhaps best exemplified in the greatest gift the Finns gave to the world, sauna.

The Importance of Sauna

While many cultures around the world have types of saunas, the Finns take great pride in the claim that they have one of the oldest and continuously active sauna cultures in the world. The Finnish sauna started more than 2,000 years ago and was little more than a modest burrow in the earth in which a pile of stones heated for the bathing process were added. Because, ultimately, that’s what sauna really is – a way to get clean. Water thrown onto the hot stones give off vapor, which makes the bather sweat. Before leaving the sauna, it is still common today to either douse yourself with water, or to have a permanent tub installed inside the sauna. This natural process of sweat bath followed by cleansing isn’t only intensely healthy; it’s an incredibly important aspect of Finnish society.

There’s an old Finnish saying that Finns live and die in the sauna. At first I smiled thinking it was just a nice example of flowery speech, but it’s actually literally true. Naturally there are rules associated with taking a sauna, but they’re more guidelines than rules and not once was I chastised for not knowing any better. That’s because at its core, sauna is all about personal freedom.

How Sauna Changed My Life

Among the rules is that sauna goers should be naked, something that still causes my fellow Americans to unconsciously shiver. Yet the societal mores in Finland are different, and chatting with someone in Helsinki, I began to understand why these concerns about being naked don’t exist in Finland. He said growing up going to sauna several times a week and seeing all different kinds of people naked means that Finns don’t usually suffer from the same body-image issues that the rest of the world can’t seem to escape. “I just understood that everyone looked different and that was ok,” he went on to say – a refreshingly open and healthy attitude. This was a revolutionary concept for me.

Like so many other people, I have dealt with body image problems my entire life – I still do if we’re being honest. I never accepted that I was enough, that I didn’t have to be “better,” whatever that means. Sitting there without a scrap of clothing on, I began the long process of self-acceptance and learning that I can be great just the way I am. That concept has been so freeing for me, I don’t have the words to properly share its impact. Freedom is subjective, freedom has many definitions and connotations but for me I have never felt as free and alive as I did sitting there in a warm sauna in Helsinki.

Finland and Helsinki in particular will always have a part of my heart reserved and I can’t wait to return to experience not only this definition of freedom again, but to discover new shades of the word as well.

The post Sauna and Finding the Ultimate Freedom in Helsinki appeared first on LandLopers.

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20 Places You Should Visit in 2020

antarctica

2019 is now officially over, thank goodness, and since this is the start of the New Year I thought I would share some of my top travel picks for 2020. Some are obvious choices, others a little more unexpected but all are amazing places to discover for one reason or another. Also, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. I don’t want to see anyone complaining that one destination is ranked higher or lower than another one; they all have my love and admiration.

Overberg South Africa

South Africa

It’s been a few years since South Africa has been the star
of travel media coverage, which is unfortunate. After making some incredible
headway in travel and tourism, the nation took some steps backward making
planning a trip there more challenging. What never changed are the many reasons
to visit, which is why I’ve included it on my 2020 travel list. With new
direct, non-stop options from the US and other points around the globe, getting
to South Africa is easier than ever, and once you’re there you’ll be spoiled
for choice. If you’re an urban explorer then cities like Johannesburg and Cape
Town won’t disappoint thanks to their unique histories, great places to eat
and, in Cape Town, the natural beauty that is found everywhere. It’s that
nature though which draws most first-time tourists to South Africa, and getting
out of the cities is absolutely essential for all visitors. The winelands are
amongst the oldest in the world, and new hotels and restaurants are constantly
popping up to cater to the oenologically minded. Safari however is arguably the
most popular natural experience to enjoy, and there are seemingly countless
ways to enjoy the country’s wildlife and at every budget level. South Africa
really is the total travel package and is a trip no one soon forgets.

Zion Utah

National Parks

I feel as if I’m running the risk of talking about the
National Parks too much, but I can’t believe that would ever be possible. Very
accurately called America’s Best Idea, the 419 sites included in the National
Park Service system aren’t only unparalleled in the country, but the world.
Most people only consider the 61 major National Parks, but the entire system is
much more expansive and if you do some research you’ll probably realize that
there’s one closer to you than you may think.

Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi Finland

Rovaniemi, Finland

For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I
love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I
usually tend to visit Northern areas though when it’s cold outside, but cold
doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi,
deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams,
but it’s also home to Santa Claus. In what can only be described as a brilliant
marketing move, years ago Rovaniemi lauded itself as the official home of Santa
Claus, a moniker that stuck. You should visit Rovaniemi not only to see Santa
Claus, but also to spend time outdoors whether it’s snowmobiling, mushing with
sled dogs or spending the night in a remote cabin learning about the Finnish
obsession with both sauna and nature.

Orlando Florida

Orlando, Florida

It may seem silly to include the most popular tourist
destination in the country on this list, but hear me out. Yes, the theme parks
have added many new and fun features, but Orlando is on this list for
everything there is to do outside of the parks. While visiting Orlando in 2019,
I had the opportunity to explore more of the city itself, and I found some
really lovely and fun spots everywhere I went. What might be most notable
though is its food scene – much more dynamic than one would think. Home to one
of the largest Vietnamese communities in the country, the opportunities to
enjoy authentic Vietnamese cuisine is nearly unparalleled in the country. More
than Southeast Asian delicacies though, many creative chefs have opened their
doors in recent years, creating what is a surprisingly varied, dynamic and
delicious foodie experience.

Juist Germany

Juist, Germany

Most people don’t associate Germany with islands but, as I
learned this year there are some fairly incredible islands just off the coast
of Germany, including Juist. To be clear, Americans may be surprised to learn
about Germany’s islands, but they’ve been well known to European tourists for a
long time, and with good reason. Juist in particular is a remarkably special
place thanks in large part to the absence of any motorized vehicles That’s
right, motorized transportation is not allowed on Juist, which means that the
only way to get around is by bike, foot or horse-drawn carriage. Rather than be
an annoyance, it’s a wonderful way to slow down and truly connect with the
destination in a way that’s normally impossible to do. Add to that great food
and beautiful beaches and this is one vacation spot for your travel to-do list.

Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Italy is a perennial favorite destination for tourists from
around the world, but there’s a lot more to the country than the most popular
spots like Rome, Florence and Venice. One of my favorite regions is one that I
call quietly famous, Emilia-Romagna. Home to some of the world’s most favorite
foods, this is one of the best places to visit if you like to eat. Parma ham,
balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, lasagna, ragu sauce and much more all hail
from this region. There’s much more to enjoy than food though, including
learning about Emilia-Romagna’s impressive automotive history. Legendary
manufacturers like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Ducati can all be found here, also
offering unique tours options for visitors. If you’re like me though and enjoy
a nice city to explore, there are a few to include, most notably Bologna. The
largest city in the region, its history goes back to before the Romans and its
university has been one of the most important in Europe for centuries. Yes,
head to those famous cities in Italy but also be sure to explore other areas of
the country, like Emilia-Romagna.

Four Seasons Nevis

Nevis

I was on Nevis to spend some time at the incredible Four
Seasons Nevis – as idyllic a retreat as one come hope for. I discovered a lot
more than a luxurious resort though, I very quickly became entranced by the
island itself. Although Nevis is not a large island, the landscapes do vary
widely but no matter where I found myself it was always beautiful. There are
plenty of spots throughout the US, Mexico and Caribbean if all you want is a
sunny beach. If you’re like me though and want an experience that feels unique,
personalized and even adventurous, then Nevis is one of the best options.
Thanks to the small size of both the island and the Four Seasons Resort Nevis,
nothing feels prepackaged or formulaic because, well, it’s not. This is not
your massive industrial-style resort experience, this is a calming and
restorative travel experience that is unlike many others in the Caribbean.

Austria

River Cruising

An equal opportunity traveler, I enjoy mixing up how I
experience the world, which is why I like the occasional cruise – including
river cruises – to see new to me spots. Unlike their ocean-going cousins, river
cruising is a much more individual and intimate experience. The ships are smaller,
with anywhere from 100-200 people on board, and the access to the towns and
cities along the rivers are much more convenient than deep-sea cruise ports.
The most popular river cruises are found along the waterways of Europe, but you
can find fun river cruises all around the world including in Egypt, Myanmar and
China.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has sadly been in the news a lot lately for all
the wrong reasons. In spite of those images we’ve all seen on TV though, it
remains a fantastic destination to visit whether you have a day or a week. At
first blush, Hong Kong seems little more than a flashy city full of people. But
once you delve a little deeper, then you start to discover the real city that
lies just beneath that shiny veneer. The best way to better understand Hong
Kong is through the city’s favorite pastime, eating. Whether it’s 3-star
Michelin restaurants, or some of the best dim sum in the world, you won’t walk
away hungry or disappointed. Also be sure though to explore the city, visiting
Lantau Island and even the newish PMQ, a cultural hub showcasing some of the
best emerging creative minds in the city.

Peru Machu PIcchu

Machu Picchu

Let me just say straight up that no, I didn’t do the
four-day Inca Trail hike. I have massive problems with both my knees and spending
four days in pain and suffering was not high on my to-do list. No, instead I
visited the famous ancient city like thousands of others, by taking the luxury
train to the weird mountain town of Aguas Calientes and then a short bus ride
up to Machu Picchu itself. This new world wonder surprised me in a lot of ways,
most notably how beautiful almost every part of it is in person. All we tend to
see is that ONE iconic photo overlooking the long forgotten mountain outpost of
the Inca, but there’s so much more to it than that one angle. Spending a few
hours exploring it I developed an appreciation not only of how it looked, but
the skill it took to design and build. There are many fantastic Inca sites to
explore in Peru, but it’s really only at Machu Picchu that you begin to
understand the true genius of this sadly long lost civilization.

Direwolves Northern Ireland

Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland

When I was planning my return to Ireland with Tourism
Ireland, there was one experience I knew that I didn’t want to miss, a day
living out my Game of Thrones fantasies in Northern Ireland. I’d seen photos of
the special tour for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I found myself in
County Down, Northern Ireland when I finally had the chance to participate. Winterfell
Tours offers a number of different ways to learn more about the Game of Thrones
filming locations, from spending a few hours at Winterfell, Castle Ward, to
exploring more sites around the county. Game of Thrones isn’t for everyone, I
get that. But this experience in Northern Ireland is so much more than visiting
spots where they filmed the fantasy series. It’s about learning the history of
the county and experiencing its gorgeous natural landscapes. If, along the way,
you happen to meet a direwolf and throw an ax, then all the better.

Portugal

My only regret with visiting Portugal is that it took me so
long to first visit what is an extraordinary destination. It’s not that I
avoided Portugal, far from it, but the stars just never aligned until I joined
a river cruise through the Douro River just a few weeks ago. To be clear,
Portugal is a very unique and distinct destination that is thankfully unlike
any other spot  in Europe. I think I
thought it would be like Spain, but that’s certainly not true. The people are
the nicest I’ve ever met in Europe, the food is incredible, the cities vibrant
and alive and the natural beauty incomparable. Whether you decide to take a
river cruise or explore on your own, just make sure to explore sooner rather
than later.

Newfoundland Canada

Canadian Maritimes

I have spent a fair amount of time exploring Canada and
almost never have I had a bad experience. But not all parts of the country get
equal attention by international tourists, which is one reason why I want to
highlight the provinces that comprise the Maritimes. Specifically, over the
last several years I’ve had the great opportunity to explore two Maritime
provinces, Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia. Made famous by the
ultra-luxury hotel on Fogo Island, Newfoundland has had its fair share of press
lately, but there’s so much more to the province than a nice hotel. Whether
it’s St. John’s or taking a coastal road trip, the scenery, food and people
will quickly endear you to the province. Many of those qualities aren’t endemic
to Newfoundland though, they’re part of the overall Maritime experience, as I
learned this year spending a week in Nova Scotia. Those same kind and very
curious people made the trip remarkable, accentuated by natural wonders like
the Bay of Fundy and a surprisingly high level of great food. So skip some of
the more flashy provinces and instead plan to spend some time along the
gorgeous Atlantic seaboard of Canada.

Xishuangbanna China

Golden Triangle

Ever since my first trip to Thailand many years ago, I have
truly loved this part of the world. Also traveling around Laos and Myanmar,
that love has only grown over the years and was expanded upon last year when I
visited the Chinese side of the Golden Triangle in Xishuangbanna or just Banna.
Thanks to its spot in extreme Southeastern China, Banna is completely unlike
any other spot in the country. Located adjacent to the Golden Triangle,
neighboring countries of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are very close and, other
the years, that’s meant a fluid border with a lot of cross-cultural sharing.
Exploring more of the region, the buildings all look Thai, the smells are Thai
– everything about the place screamed Chiang Mai instead of China. It was an
odd sensation, one that I never expected but one that I dearly enjoyed.

Pula Croatia

Istria, Croatia

So much of the travel love in Croatia seems to go to
Dubrovnik, that I thought I should highlight a lesser-known area of the country
– Istria. This region found in the northwest portion of the country is as
unique an area as you can imagine. It’s actually shared by three countries,
Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, and has a rich history and culture all of its own.
In fact, if you ask residents where they’re from, they’re most likely to say
Istria first and Croatia second. There are many great towns and cities to visit
here, but two I recommend are Rovinj and Pula. Each city has its own unique
appeal and no matter what you do, make sure not leave Istria without sampling
some of the famous olive oils and truffles cultivated around the peninsula.

Hiko Nevada

Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada

Otherwise known as Nevada State Route 375, this is a 98-mile
stretch of road that starts at the intersection of U.S. 93 and the
Extraterrestrial Highway and continues west to the intersection of the Highway
and U.S. 6. Thanks to the fact that Area 51 rests along the highway, this area
has long been known for alien sightings and a fierce belief in life from other
worlds visiting the remote Nevada desert. Over the years the road has developed
into what it is today, one of the quirkiest but also one of the loneliest
stretches of road in the country. Visitors should go to admire the desert
landscapes, enjoy fantastic blueberry pie at the Little A’Le’Inn, visit (sort
of) Area 51, and spend the night at a haunted hotel in Tonopah, Nevada.

Abu Simbel Egypt

Egypt

I vacillated over whether or not to include Egypt, but I
think that it’s such an important country to visit it simply has to be on this
list. The first modern tourist destination, the wonders of Egypt have called to
travelers around the world for generations. And with good reason, the monuments
and sites so well preserved aren’t just nice to behold, they are world wonders
in every sense of the term. Traveling through Egypt, the entire experience from
Cairo to Aswan was much better than I had expected, but the real highlight of
course was visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. Located close to modern day
Cairo, these massive monuments to power have been amazing visitors since the
moment they were first built, popping up even in Ancient Greek and Roman travel
guides of the day. Standing there immediately in front of them it was hard to
mentally reconcile the fact that I was actually there. Having seen them in
books, magazines and movies all of my life, it was hard to consider the fact
that I was there at that moment in time. Since tourism is so low right now,
there weren’t many other tourists around me, creating a special and rare moment
of privacy, allowing for some introspection and time to fully grasp the
importance of the moment.

Senglea Malta

Malta

The quirky island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean has a
long and important history, but it’s one not many people actually know a lot
about. Long considered by Europeans as a sunny getaway, others from around the
world are learning about this small country not just for its beaches and
turquoise blue waters, but also for its art, architecture, cities and
incredible history.

Amarillo Texas

Non-Coastal America

I’ve explored a lot of my own country in recent years,
travel experiences that I didn’t know I needed. These trips though were perhaps
my most important of the year as they brought into focus the realities of the
US in 2019. As it turns out, things aren’t nearly as bad as those of us who
live along the coasts think and driving across America was one of the most
gratifying experiences of my life. While I have had the opportunity to visit
many different parts of the country, the most memorable adventure was driving
the entirety of Route 66. More than enjoying the kitschy appeal of decades long
past, the most important aspect of the drive was meeting new people along the
way. Turns out the country isn’t the seething cauldron of anger that the news
media would have us believe, far from it. No, instead I found people living
their lives just like anyone else, and also taking pride in the communities
they call home. It’s important I think for everyone, American or not, to leave
behind them the glittering cities along the coastal edges and instead delve
deeper into the US, to learn what really makes us tick and to have a lot of fun
along the way. Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and
many other cities are all fantastic places to spend some time exploring, and
they’ll teach you more about what it means to be American along the way.

Penguins Antarctica

Antarctica

If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special
moments, it’s Antarctica. Hard to reach, hard to travel around it’s one of the
last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And
my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades.
Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the
seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a
snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most
impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon
and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to
go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there
on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity
of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age
when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if
the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful
planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had.

The post 20 Places You Should Visit in 2020 appeared first on LandLopers.

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Unlikely Food Destinations I Love to Visit

Cocora Valley, Colombia

The other day I saw an article declaring how strange it was for a certain destination I love to actually have incredible food. I’d visited there several times and already knew how amazing the food scene is, but I was surprised that they were surprised. The fact is, that some cities, regions and even entire countries have terrible reputations when it comes to the culinary scene. Usually, although I admit not always, these reputations aren’t fair, especially in 2019. In the last 15 years or so, nearly every spot on the planet has realized that creating incredible food experiences isn’t just nice, but it’s healthier and better than what it replaced. Most cities have new chefs designing restaurants all the time, vintners and brewers are opening up new establishments and the average tourist is much more food literate than at any other time in history. (Can you imagine asking for quinoa 20 years ago?) In an effort to help destigmatize some spots around the world that I know to offer delicious food experiences, today I want to share some of my favorites that you might not expect. These are countries and cities that may have had bad food offered in the past but, thankfully, those days are largely gone forever.

Ireland

This post started thanks to Ireland actually. It was a piece I saw by some journalist who said Irish cuisine is actually delicious. The truth is, not only is traditional food in Ireland amazing, but the new wave of chefs have established Ireland as one of the world’s great foodie destinations. While I truly do love traditional Irish cuisine, that’s not what has surprised me on successive visits to the country. No, instead what has left me intrigued is both the diversity of culinary influences as well as fine dining offered by some truly enterprising young (and not so young) chefs. I saw this most recently while on a slightly unusual food tour of the Stoneybatter neighborhood in Dublin. From coffee shops to small markets to thriving cafes, the many stops shared not only some of the best traditional food in the city, but the edgy ways in which the culinary scene is quickly changing. Covering everything from twists on the traditional sausage roll to coffee slushies and even black pudding, the time spent on the food tour was fun, educational and delicious. We ended our day at a gastropub, as famous for its menu as its beer selection. Trying yet more traditional Irish food reimagined, it was the ideal way to end the walk. It’s an exciting time to be in Dublin for sure, best seen on a leisurely walk through what’s new and exciting in the food scene of the city.

Colombia

To be fair, many people already know that Colombia is a great foodie destination, but after my trip I learned that there are certain misconceptions about what it’s like to eat in the country. To be fair, there is a lot of fried everything, which I loved but I also understand that it might not be for everyone. Instead, I recommend learning about the different regions around the country. There is no single national Colombian dish though. As with the more snacky foods, even the most popular meals vary dramatically throughout the country. Soups in Bogota are popular, if not incredibly hearty, but in the coffee growing regions these morph into stews with rice, meats with plenty of avocado on the side. In Cartagena the meals are heavily influenced by the city’s position on the Caribbean, so if you’ve traveled around the West Indies before these are flavors well known to you. No matter what you decide to try, try it you must. These traditional and more rustic meals, although different around the country, are at the heart of the Colombian food experience.

Germany

I think that the misconception about German food is finally changing and, to be honest, it’s about time. I’m fairly certain that I’ve spent more time in Germany than any other country in Europe and what I’ve learned over the course of those many visits is just how dynamic the country is, and that is certainly reflected in its cuisine. A large country with very distinct regions, the culinary staples shift depending on where in the country you visit and if you’re looking for those hearty German meals that for many people define the country, you’ll find them. But if you look a little harder, you’ll discover a delicious and expansive food scene, like the one I found in Munich. The heart of the Bavarian food experience, many visitors travel here just for the pretzels, beer and sausages. Munich isn’t only about its traditional food though, it’s a vibrant and dynamic city with a lot to offer. This is very well reflected in the current food scene and some very creative and innovative cooks are creating delicious bites. A local food writer spent an evening with me, sharing some of his favorite up and coming spots around Munich, but the one that resonated most with me was an unlikely discovery in southern Germany, a traditional American BBQ joint. There are actually several of these popping up all around Munich; I guess the food from my childhood has made it across the Atlantic. It was a welcome find though and as soon as I stepped into the popular restaurant Meisterstück, I knew I was in for a great evening of delicious food. Low and slow is the name of the game here and the restaurant features a number of BBQ classics, served alongside their equally fabulous beer. It was a surprising discovery, but a welcome one.

United Kingdom

Not unlike the US, the United Kingdom has long been the butt of food related jokes and, for a long time, it was in part deserved. A lot has changed though and the culinary scene in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland couldn’t be better, as I’m reminded of whenever I visit. My most recent foray into England was yet another culinary lesson as I ate my way around Manchester. There were many fantastic foodie moments, but for first time visitors I think a more casual introduction is the best way to see what the city is all about, starting at Mackie Mayor. A reclaimed Victorian market hall, this is the exact sort of establishment that the shift in food tastes has created. Inside you’ll find a variety of stalls, permanent food trucks of a sort, offering a little bit of everything, again with a fierce creativity and sense of style. It also doesn’t hurt that the space itself is gorgeous; light and airy but preserving the architectural bones from the 19th century.

Macao

Macao

Most famous for its many casinos, the historical and traditional side of Macao is too often ignored by visitors. That’s a shame because, as I learned on a brief visit, it’s an incredible city to explore and the food traditions here are as interesting as that history. Loosely based on Portuguese traditions, Macanese cuisine uses spices and ingredients from Africa, Southeast Asia and India – including curry, coconut milk, cloves and cinnamon – which are combined using Chinese culinary skills in a wonderful potpourri of tastes and aromas, giving birth to the uniquely delicious Macanese cuisine of today. African chicken is perhaps the most famous dish, but my favorite was a hash of sorts called Minchi. Originally made by using what was around the kitchen, it’s a combination of meat, potatoes, spices, rice and egg and was usually cooked by parents looking to feed their large families. It’s been embraced again though by traditional restaurants in the city and for me, is the star of Macanese cuisine. UNESCO has even recognized Macao for its very unique culinary history and to enjoy it in person is just one of those experiences everyone has to try at least once.

Helsinki Food Tour Finland

Finland

The Northern Lights, Santa Claus and epic natural adventures are all things that come to mind when one thinks of Finland. Food is not but, as I learned, as long as you avoid their dreadful licorice there are some incredible bites around the country. Like most national cuisines, the unique history of Finland still in large part defines traditional food culture. Centuries of intensely cold winters and remote locations means that meats, hearty stews and anything preserved were the go-to staples in Finland. I experienced this almost immediately when I sat down to my first lunch in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. Fish stews and plates of reindeer served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam were the popular choices. I didn’t know it at the time, but on that table were some of the most iconic plates in traditional Finnish cuisine. They’re also flavors I became very familiar with, at least in the northern part of the country, finding variations of reindeer filet and stews at almost every meal. Finns though are design-conscious and creative, which means that even up in Rovaniemi there are some new and exciting food trends underway.

North Carolina BBQ

United States

My own country too often is the subject of culinary derision around the world, which is a shame. Those who call the US home understand best our complex and delicious culinary history, but visitors to our fair land don’t see the same landscape. Instead they opt to believe often-repeated stereotypes, many of which are completely baseless. That’s a recurring theme actually and something I’ve found throughout my travels. We all have stereotypes about every place we visit, and this extends to the food culture as well. So most times we seek out those dishes that are the most iconic, even though they may not be the best bites. Instead when you visit the US, be sure to match the regions you visit. It may be heavy, but in the South please do try BBQ obtained from a small shack, preferably one without a sign. Aside from that stereotype, the South is also home to some of the most innovative chefs in the nation, preparing intricately prepared meals with an expert touch. But more than anything, when you visit the US please look at the country with a fresh set of eyes. If all you expect is heavy foods served in huge quantities, then that is all you will find. Instead look beyond those misconceptions and you’ll find the real heart and soul of modern American cuisine.

What are some other countries you’d add to this list?

The post Unlikely Food Destinations I Love to Visit appeared first on LandLopers.

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5 Seafood-Centric Destinations & How I Survived as a Non-Pescatarian

Fish Taiwan

As a frequent traveler, one of the biggest issues I deal with is what I eat. I am a very picky eater; a confirmed carnivore, my love of vegetables is weak at best and most notably, I don’t eat any fish or seafood. My fellow Americans may wonder why I phrase it that way and the reason is simple. I was on a trip once and I had sent along my dietary requirement of No Seafood. Now, to an American that usually includes anything that was ever in the water, ever. Possible exceptions would include ducks or if a cow fell into a lake or something. But when translated, seafood in most other languages means fruits de mer, or delicacies like oysters, clams and so on. Fish is actually an entirely different category for them, as I have sadly realized over the years. This post though isn’t to debate why I don’t like waterborne foods, I just don’t. No, the point of this post is to share how even I, a very picky eater has managed to travel to some of the most seafood-centric spots on the planet and not only survive, but thrive.

Taiwan Food

Taiwan

This was my greatest challenge, one that I didn’t expect either. I spent nearly two weeks exploring Taiwan, starting in the high-energy capital city of Taipei. Like any other world capital, Taipei has everything on offer and eating there was a highlight of my time in the country. As soon as I left the city to venture out into the countryside though, everything suddenly got a lot harder for me. As it turns out, a large percentage of the average diet is based on fish, seafood and vegetables – the three things I don’t eat. Each meal was a challenge honestly and I found myself relying on 7-11s for snacks and even sustenance. Hotel dinners were my only reprieve and while I was out exploring during the day, it was very hard to find anything I could eat. There were special culinary moments though, most notably when I found what would become one of my favorite meals, Peking duck. I was a little apprehensive at first, but almost immediately I realized that this would be a meal I wouldn’t soon forget. No one was as surprised as I was that in a country known for vegetables and seafood that I would find one of my favorite meals of all time, but that’s exactly what happened. I let go my misconceptions about the meal and decided to try it anyway and that is perhaps one of the best food-related decisions I’ve ever made.

Stockholm Sweden

Scandinavia

The countries of Scandinavia are amongst my most favorite in the world, and I find myself planning personal vacations there whenever I can. The combination of incredible natural landscapes, nice but not overly effusive people and the unique cultures all mesh with my own personality perfectly, making each trip fun and memorable. There is one aspect though that never excites me, the food. Logically, fish plays a central role in the culinary side of visiting Scandinavia, whether in obvious ways like herring, or less obvious as in the many seafood-oriented ingredients piled high on Smørrebrød. In theory, this sounds like a dish I would like. It’s usually just a piece of buttered rye bread on which toppings are layered. Cheeses are fine, cold cuts are ok and I can pick around the vegetables, but most of the time those toppings are hiding something much more nefarious – pieces of fish or seafood. Because of this I almost always skip them, but to my surprise I discovered many other foods to love while on a food tour in Stockholm.

Of the several tours offered, I opted for the Nordic Experience walk so that I could learn more about the very traditional side to Swedish cuisine. I’d traveled in Sweden before, but my foodie knowledge of the country was very limited, a deficiency in my education that was quickly corrected. From meats and cheeses to traditional Swedish meatballs, we tried a little bit of everything that afternoon. Of course my favorite Swedish food custom is Fika, that time in the afternoon when you sit down with coffee, some cake or sweets and catch up with friends. It’s a tradition that I wish more countries would adopt and is yet another reason to fall in love not just with Stockholm, but Sweden itself.

Japan

I honestly expected to have a harder time in Japan than I did. Famous for their love of anything plucked from the sea, the land-based delicacies of Japan I don’t think get enough attention. Chicken is found in any number of dishes, as is their famous steak too of course. No, the biggest challenge wasn’t the food per se, it was how to get the food that was at times difficult. The Japanese language is daunting for most Westerners. Everything, from the sounds to the characters used is completely and utterly foreign. I may not speak Italian, but when confronted with a menu in Rome I can generally figure out what I want. Even in Croatia it really wasn’t an issue. But I had no point of reference in Japan and was at first completely and utterly lost; until I found the restaurant display windows. Taking fake food to an art form, these picture windows were my savior. Once I found something that looked decent, I took a photo of it and then went inside where I showed it to my waitress. It wasn’t the ideal way to order food, but it worked and I enjoyed every meal.

Tahiti

For most people the idea of spending a week on a tropical island sounds like paradise. For me, it’s with a little dread thrown in due entirely to the food and in Tahiti that means poisson cru. Common throughout Polynesia, poisson cru at its base is raw fish that is briefly marinated in lemon or lime juice. It’s then mixed with coconut milk and diced vegetables and, no offense to anyone, sounds terrible in every way possible. I knew that there would be alternatives, but I hate visiting places where the iconic meals are seafood because I feel like I’m missing out on something. Luckily, my first experience in the South Pacific was with the cruise company Windstar, and I couldn’t have been in more capable hands. The ship was small and the crew so focused on customer care that it felt like my own private charter around the islands. Staff quickly realized my non-pescatarian ways and did everything they could to make sure every meal was special, from daily meals to the big beach party near the end of the trip.

Myrtle Beach South Carolina

Any Coastal Spot

I politely interrupted my server and quietly mentioned the fact that I don’t eat fish or seafood and immediately her eyes went wide as she said, “Oh, no need to run through the specials then.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in this situation, which always happen when I visit a new coastal destination. Part of me feels bad, locals are always so excited to share their watery treats with me, but I always disappoint them. The Canadian Maritimes were very disappointed with me, as have been spots in Florida, California and Maine. Ultimately though, it’s never a problem for very long as a recent trip to Myrtle Beach proves. Myrtle Beach is particularly well known for its many great seafood restaurants and this time, instead of avoiding them, I embraced them. Wicked Tuna may not be my normal type of restaurant, but I quickly learned that they excel in all types of food and not just fish. Located in Murrell’s Inlet, they have their own fishing boats and as soon as they’re on the docks, they’re prepared and sent up to the kitchens. You literally can’t get fresher than that, but as it turns out their land based dishes are just as amazing. Whether it was the homemade hummus or the incredible beef filet, I left with a new outlook on how to approach so-called seafood restaurants.

My family is from Maine originally, and I remember spending summers visiting my grandparents where the big event was driving down to the coast for some fresh lobster. Those days were full of dread, as I sat there on the docks eating my cheeseburger while everyone else ravaged their large crustaceans. No, I’ve never been a lover of fish or seafood, although I’ve tried them many times, but that culinary peculiarity has never stopped me from traveling. Far from it, today I’m curious to see what other dishes are popular in seafood-focused destinations, foods and customs that don’t get as much attention as their watery cousins.

The post 5 Seafood-Centric Destinations & How I Survived as a Non-Pescatarian appeared first on LandLopers.

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18 Bucket List Experiences Everyone Should Try

hike Antarctica

Let me preface this monster of a post by saying that no, this is not an exhaustive list. Yes, there are cooler things to do around the world, I just haven’t done them. As an independent blogger and not someone writing listicles for a magazine, I can only go from my personal experiences. Perhaps I should have titled this post “18 Experiences I’ve Done That I Think You Should Do Too,” but I didn’t, hence the preface. Now that we have that out of the way, I was editing some photos from past trips recently and it dawned on me (not for the first time) just how enormous the world is and how many incredible experiences there are in every corner of it. I’ve been very privileged to have enjoyed some fairly remarkable experiences during my travels but, naturally, some have been more fun than others. Today I want to share some of those experiences in the hopes of sparking some interest, maybe the germ of an idea to get out there and see more of the world for yourself. I started with 18, but I think I should probably keep this list updated from now on. So, in NO particular order…

Sydney Opera House Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

It’s no exaggeration to say that Circular Quay and the landmarks that surround it are amongst the most recognizable on the planet and from my own experience there’s no better way to see them than by taking on the legendary Harbour Bridge climb. Even considered a bucket list activity by Australians, the climb is one of those over the top (literally) activities that everyone really should experience at least once. Visitors ascend the mighty bridge in small groups, carefully harnessed to the steel rails at all times and from the top you’ll enjoy amazing views of Sydney’s famous landmarks. I’m not a fan of heights but not even I was bothered, that’s how well done the safety and overall experience really is. Treat yourself on your next trip to Sydney, you won’t regret it.

California

Route 66

This epic drive was near the top of my bucket list for years, and the actual experience of tackling Route 66 was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Steinbeck once called it The Mother Road and from the Dust Bowl to the American Renaissance in the 1950s, this road has held a special place not only in the hearts of Americans, but of people around the world. It hearkens back to an era when anything seemed possible, when taking to the open road was an adventure and the fun truly was in the getting there. While Route 66 technically doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still possible of course to drive huge parts of it as you meander from Chicago to the pier in Santa Monica, California. Along the way are quirky roadside attractions, strange motels and national wonders that rank amongst the top in the world. Yes, I wanted to see and experience all of those things but I also wanted to reconnect with my own country, one I love dearly and of which I am fiercely proud. Just as people did in the 1950s and 60s, I wanted to experience a great American road trip and to discover aspects to the American experience that I never knew existed.

Elephants Tanzania

Safari in Tanzania

Going on safari is one of those special travel experiences everyone should enjoy at least once in their lives. Thanks to a few trips visiting sub-Saharan Africa, I have been on several safaris but nothing prepared me for the luxury safari in Tanzania I enjoyed with Abercrombie & Kent. A&K literally invented the concepts of luxury safari and experiential travel, so I knew I was in good hands as we toured the amazing national parks of Tanzania. Whether it was sneaking up on a herd of elephants, or admiring the power of the Great Migration, I know I will always treasure the memories from this luxury safari experience.

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico

I love wildlife experiences and swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was one of my all-time favorites. I call this a luxury adventure travel experience not because of cost or even accessibility, but because of how remarkable it is. There I was in the water as hundreds of whale sharks swam by, feeding upon the flotsam and jetsam of the sea as they did so. Their size was immense, that of a car and I felt instantly and incredibly small as these graceful giants lumbered past. Even though I knew they were harmless, I couldn’t help but feel anxious as the gaping maws barreled straight for me. It was an extraordinary moment that every adventure traveler should try at least once.

Pyramids of Egypt

Going Inside a Pyramid

Located close to modern day Cairo, the massive pyramids of Egypt have been amazing visitors since the moment they were first built, popping up even in Ancient Greek and Roman travel guides of the day. Standing immediately in front of them it was hard to mentally reconcile the fact that I was actually there. Even better though was the opportunity to go inside one of the massive monuments. Crouched down, gingerly navigating the steep ramp taking me down into the bowels of the ancient tomb I couldn’t help but again appreciate what early archeologists must have felt when they first entered these tombs. The anticipation, the fear, the excitement and the uncertainty, I felt all of those things and I knew exactly what was waiting for me inside – nothing at all. No, these tombs were looted millennia ago, the preserved body of the pharaoh and his treasures stolen before even the emergence of true Western civilization. After descending one shaft and climbing up another I was there, in the middle of the pyramid with millions of tons of stone blocks hanging over me. Inside the pyramid. Those words hung with me for a moment and a smile slowly crept onto my face. I’d done it. I’d fulfilled a lifelong dream and the best thing is, I realized it.

Sababurg Germany

Spending the Night in a German Fairy Tale

Even if you don’t travel along Germany’s Fairy Tale Route, there are a number of opportunities to spend the night in castles that look as if they was plucked out of one of those famous legends. One though impressed me above all the others, the Sleeping Beauty Castle – Sababurg. My first experience sleeping in a real German castle happened at this pastoral retreat not far from the city of Kassel along the German Fairy Tale Route. Recently celebrating its 682nd birthday, Sababurg was in a state of ruin for centuries, overrun by plants and trees and, most importantly, a high thorn bush. This bush would become important in the life of Sababurg, defining it into the 21st century. The famous Brothers Grimm lived not far away from Sababurg in the city of Kassel, and it was well known that they used the surrounding forests, countryside and castles as a physical basis for many of the stories they chronicled. So it was locals in the 19th century, along with early tourists, who started scouting out the rolling hills of the region trying to match stories with their real-life counterparts. When they chanced upon Sababurg, practically enclosed by thick brush and that famous thorn bush it seemed too perfect – this had to be the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Today it’s been thoughtfully and painstakingly remodeled into a beautiful 16-room luxury hotel, all paying homage to the story of Sleeping Beauty. I loved my evening spent sleeping in one of the turret rooms, imagining myself in an era long gone amongst luxury amenities and comfort. With pastoral calm and beauty and an amazing staff, this is a not to miss hotel along the German Fairy Tale Route.

Bora Bora Tahiti

Cruising French Polynesia

The South Pacific has been on my own personal travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. Those crystal-clear waters and verdant green mountains called to me in the same way as the fictional Bali Hai called out in “South Pacific.” I braced myself for disappointment, to have my dreams dashed but that never happened. No, if anything Tahiti surpassed even my own lofty expectations. But Tahiti is Tahiti for a reason, and I realized that almost immediately upon arriving into Papeete. Over the course of a week while on a luxurious Windstar Cruise my appreciation of how just idyllic and perfect the islands are grew, and the experiences I enjoyed there really were a dream come true.

Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi Finland

Meeting Santa Claus in Finland

It’s impossible to visit Rovaniemi, the de facto capital of Finnish Lapland, and not realize immediately that it is the hometown of Santa Claus. From the airport when you first arrive to even hotels bearing his name, this town is all about Santa. Literally straddling the Arctic Circle, Santa Claus Village is a 365-day Christmas extravaganza; a place where the holiday spirit is alive every day of the year. Walking into the middle of the village, it was only 3:30pm but the winter sun had already begun to set and soon I found myself in the middle of the village, night having fallen and the sound of carols in the air. Christmas had already been over for a couple of weeks and while the rest of the world was dealing with the January doldrums, Santa Claus Village really did feel cheerful. Of course the focal point of any visit is meeting Santa Claus, who is always ready to greet new visitors. The visit with Santa is free of charge, but the photos taken come with a small fee. After chatting with Santa – everyone gets some alone time – head to one of the most popular post offices in the world, Santa Claus’ Main Post Office. This real post office on the Arctic Circle handles all of Santa’s worldwide mail traffic and since 1985, more than 17 million letters have been sent to the post office all addressed to Santa from nearly every corner of the world. I’m not normally a fan of hokey tourist experiences, but this one was fun – a lot of fun actually and I quickly understood why hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to the Village every year. The Christmas spirit is a special feeling, and this is the only place in the world where it never ends.

Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of China

There are a few experiences around the world that surely must be on everyone’s travel bucket lists, including the Great Wall of China. Although my time in Beijing was brief I knew there was no way I could conclude my first visit to China without tackling the mighty Great Wall of China. Given its size, there are a number of different points easily accessible to tourists, including a few near Beijing itself. I decided to visit the Mutianyu section due to its “classic” look and the fact that not as many tourists visit. Don’t get me wrong, it was busy, but not nearly as busy as some of the other sections can be. Away from the main entrance, most of the crowd seemed to disappear immediately and I was left with what I had dreamed of for so very long, the Great Wall of China. At the Mutianyu section at least, the Wall has been restored to a beautiful condition and its location among the rolling hills and mountains is exactly the kind of landscape we all imagine. It’s important to get out there and experience the Great Wall of China not just for its importance in Chinese history, but in world history and of course to admire its inherent beauty. Walking across the Great Wall of China is just one of those special and iconic travel moments everyone should try to do at least once in their lives.

Elephant Chiang Mai Thailand

Volunteering with Elephants in Thailand

One important reason why I decided to visit Chiang Mai in the first place was to spend the day at a very special facility about an hour or so outside of town. The Elephant Nature Park was created in order to rescue elephants horribly mistreated in the tourism and logging industries. It’s a place where they can be slowly rehabilitated and given the life that all elephants deserve. Sadly, many tourists don’t understand that riding elephants, watching them in circuses, painting or so on involves significant abuse to the elephant. When talking about responsible tourism, it’s important to know that if you see an animal doing something that isn’t natural for them, then it took severe treatment to get them to that point. In the case of elephants, they undergo a horrible ritual known as the Crush, which destroys their resolve and will to live through slow torture. Add to that the pain endured during the activities themselves, and you hopefully begin to understand why elephant tourism is so incredibly harmful to these beautiful animals. At the ENP, these elephants are rescued and a team of professionals and volunteers start the long process of helping them enjoy life again. I visited as a day guest, one of many, there to learn more about the sanctuary as well as interact with the rescued elephants through feedings, bathings and more. It was the first activity I booked when planning my trip and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

Nova Scotia Canada

Eating on the Ocean Floor

Burntcoat Head Park is an unlikely pilgrimage spot in Nova Scotia. Not really located close to anything, the entrance is quietly set amongst rolling farmland and pastoral landscapes. But it’s here where the most extreme tidal differences in the world were recorded, it’s here where its entry into the records books was secured and it’s here where those extremes on the Bay of Fundy happen every single day. It’s also the location for one of the most extraordinary dining experiences I’ve ever had the great pleasure to enjoy. A few years ago, the creative minds at the Flying Apron Inn came up with an audacious idea, to take advantage of those tidal extremes and to offer a fine-dining experience on the ocean floor. Arriving in the mid-afternoon, it’s so much more than just a dinner, it’s an experience. With pre-dinner snacks and drinks, guided tours of the Bay and local experts providing an insight into the region, it’s a robust experience with Fundy at its center. Naturally though, the highlight was the incredible meal itself, created by the Flying Apron’s Chef Velden and paired with local wines and beers. The afternoon and evening was fun in every meaning of the word, but it was much more than that. It was an immersive way to learn more about Fundy and to experience it in a very personal way. This is without a doubt one of the most creative meals I’ve ever enjoyed and one that I know I’ll never forget.

Alta Norway

Sleeping in an Ice hotel

This may not interest everyone, but sleeping inside an ice hotel had been on my to-do list for a long time, which is why I was so happy to visit the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in northern Norway. In 2000, the family who owned outdoor guiding services around the facility known as Sorrisniva decided to try something different. Sure, their position along the Alta River meant plenty of summer tourists and in the winter months they organized snowmobile tours, but the owner decided to go down a new path and built the first igloo hotel. Otherwise known as an ice hotel, the complex ice structure has been built, allowed to melt and then rebuilt every year since. True to their promise, absolutely everything in the igloo hotel is made from ice, from the bar and chairs to the beds themselves. It’s strange really, walking through a structure made entirely of ice. The temperature inside is kept between minus 4-7 degrees Celsius, in order to preserve the walls of the hotel itself. So it’s chilly, but not as bad as one would otherwise think. But for some reason the hotel had an odd stillness to it, a place devoid of color and life, I felt like Superman entering his Fortress of Solitude. Curled up in warm reindeer-skin blankets, I slept the best I had in months that evening. The light inside never changes, there’s a complete absence of noise and a kind of eerie frozen in time element that made my rest in the igloo so complete and satisfying. I’m not sure if I need to sleep in an ice hotel again, but I’m still thrilled I had that one chance to fulfill a travel dream.

Heart Reef Queensland Australia

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

One of the primary reasons why I wanted to visit Queensland was to experience the Great Barrier Reef. It’s long been on my own travel bucket list, and even though I’d visited Australia a couple of times before, I never made it to the Reef. Luckily, the years of anticipation were worth it and seeing one of the world’s truly great natural wonders was everything it promised to be and more. I experienced the reef in a few different ways several times throughout my trip, it’s just that big, but my favorite way to enjoy the mighty reef was through a scuba dive. This wasn’t just any scuba dive though, it was my first attempt and I was pretty nervous. I love snorkeling, but the thought of breathing underwater freaked me out to be honest. It was a mental hang-up and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to shake it. But there I was, at the Great Barrier Reef and I figured if I was going to try it anywhere, that was the place. And I’m so glad I set aside my fears and gave it a chance. I traveled out to the Reef with the company Cruise Whitsundays, and their team of expert divers were all used to first-timers like me and showed more patience than I’ve seen any tour operator show in recent memory. It was thanks to their insistence and instruction that I was able to literally take the plunge, my fears instantly vanishing as soon as I was underwater. I’ve snorkeled all over the world, but the Great Barrier Reef is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. The sheer abundance of fish and coral in every color of the rainbow was extraordinary and I could’ve spent hours exploring it to new depths while scuba diving. This is just one of those once in a lifetime experiences that aren’t only nice to do, I think they are important to do.

Machu Picchu Peru

Trekking to Machu Picchu

Let me just say straight up that no, I didn’t do the four-day Inca Trail hike. I have massive problems with both my knees and spending four days in pain and suffering was not high on my to-do list. No, instead I visited the famous ancient city like thousands of others, by taking the luxury train to the weird mountain town of Aguas Calientes and then a short bus ride up to Machu Picchu itself. This new world wonder surprised me in a lot of ways, most notably how beautiful almost every part of it is in person. All we tend to see is that ONE iconic photo overlooking the long forgotten mountain outpost of the Inca, but there’s so much more to it than that one angle. Spending a few hours exploring it I developed an appreciation not only of how it looked, but the skill it took to design and build. There are many fantastic Inca sites to explore in Peru, but it’s really only at Machu Picchu that you begin to understand the true genius of this sadly long lost civilization.

Great White Shark South Africa

Diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa

One of the main draws in this part of South Africa, Hermanus is a cute beachside town with great shops and restaurants and during the season is one of the best places in the world to watch whales, either on a boat or right from the shore. For something a little different though, head half an hour south to Gansbaai, home of another iconic South African adventure activity – diving with Great White Sharks. Now, this is where you have to be careful. Not all tour operators are created equal and in order to help preserve the species it’s vital you choose one that is ethical and contributes to the well being of the sharks. The best one out there in my own opinion is Marine Dynamics. The leader in shark dives, they’re also a leader in the conservation movement and frequently work with institutions around the world to study the sharks’ unique behavior in the waters just off the coast. Join Marine Dynamics for a Great White Shark dive experience and boat out close to the famous Shark Alley where the sharks have been known to breach the water as they hunt seals. There is nothing like getting into the water with these beautiful animals and I still count it as one of my favorite experiences of all time.

Iceland

Chasing Waterfalls

Many people travel to Iceland in order to enjoy the incredible natural beauty that is almost too good to be true. This is a country of elves and legends, glaciers and black sand beaches and, most notably, waterfalls. Iceland has no shortage of waterfalls, of that there can be no doubt. Almost everywhere you drive around the country you’ll find them in all sizes and shapes, each one with its own legends and mythologies surrounding it. But some are something special, something different and several of these must-visit waterfalls are found along the Ring Road. Seljalandsfoss is popular in large part because you can see it from the road, making a stop a foregone conclusion. But that’s not the only reason, as I learned while investigating the natural wonder. The waterfall itself drops about 60 meters, but the most interesting aspect of Seljalandsfoss is the fact that visitors can walk behind it, offering a different perspective and plenty of chances to spot a rainbow. Further up Route 1 is another popular waterfall, Skógafoss. This is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country, at a width of 82 feet and a drop of 200 feet. The spray from the waterfall is incredible, but it’s thanks to it that rainbows are also easy to see here. Next to Skógafoss is a hiking trail up to the top of the waterfall, offering amazing views down below.

Penguins Antarctica

Antarctica

If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special moments, it’s Antarctica. Hard to reach, hard to travel around it’s one of the last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades. Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had.

Treasury at Petra

Petra

It’s impossible to talk about bucket lists without mentioning Petra in Jordan. This ancient city is the top tourist site in the country and the reason why many people visit in the first place. And it’s all deserved. Spending a few days exploring this massive red stone city is an experience you will always remember. It starts with a walk through the kilometer long Siq, a slot canyon that shielded the city from prying eyes for centuries. It was also how ancient traders first entered Petra, a way to impress visitors with the wealth and power of the city. The first glimpse every visitor has of the city is the famous Treasury building, highlighted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Petra is a lot more than just one building, numerous hiking paths allow guests to discover the full width and breadth of this beautiful complex, from the hilltop Monastery built into raw stone to the perfectly straight Roman road still guiding travelers along the way. Just be sure to plan enough time here, you don’t want to miss out on truly enjoying this once in a lifetime opportunity.

What would you add to this list?

The post 18 Bucket List Experiences Everyone Should Try appeared first on LandLopers.

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Embrace the Cold: My Favorite Frozen Destinations

Alta Norway

Looking at the single digits on my thermometer here at home, I couldn’t help but reflect on the many cold weather trips I have enjoyed over the years. There’s something special about visiting frozen destinations during their coldest months; I think it’s how they’re best enjoyed. While multiple layers and hot cocoa are both requirements, the rewards for visiting these chilly spots around the world far outweigh any annoyances in preparing for the adventure. There are many more cold destinations I would love to see in person, but of the ones I have visited these special spots are definitely worth the wintertime trip.

Alta, Norway

I love visiting northern parts of the world, especially during the winter months. Yes, it’s freezing and dark but I think there’s a certain unique beauty to these remote parts of the world, best experienced in their most extreme season. That’s one reason why I found myself in extreme northern Norway in the small town of Alta, located in the middle of nowhere. Known as the Northern Lights Capital of the World, Alta Norway has a long tradition of welcoming those in search of this odd phenomenon, but it wasn’t until my last night that I saw them in their full glory. I was alone on a frozen river and suddenly found myself surrounded by the giant streaks of light. I had no idea that the Northern Lights could be like that, they seemed to surround me, dancing across the skies and hiding behind the mountains. I stayed there for as long as my frozen hands could stand the elements, not wanting to leave for fear of missing part of the show. Everyone talks about the Northern Lights and we’ve all seen photos of them, but it doesn’t at all prepare you for the actual experience. Magical is a horrible word to use in travel posts, but it’s more than appropriate in this one instance.

Ranua Lapland Finland

Finnish Lapland

For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I usually tend to visit Northern areas though when it’s cold outside, but cold doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi, deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams, but it’s also home to Santa Claus. In what can only be described as a brilliant marketing move, years ago Rovaniemi lauded itself as the official home of Santa Claus, a moniker that stuck. You should visit Rovaniemi not only to see Santa Claus, but also to spend time outdoors whether it’s snowmobiling, mushing with sled dogs or spending the night in a remote cabin learning about the Finnish obsession with both sauna and nature.

hike Antarctica

Antarctica

Although tourists aren’t allowed to visit the 7th continent during its extreme winter, the Austral summer still provides more than enough frozen moments for any adventure traveler. Hard to reach and hard to travel around, it’s one of the last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades. Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had. We forget about the small inlets and villages forgotten to time. It was an important moment as it put into context what I do now for a living and how it isn’t just part of my life – it IS my life. This quest to seek new answers and discover new things will never end, just as that horizon in Antarctica seemed to have no boundaries.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland

Thanks to the helpful jet stream, Iceland doesn’t get as extreme as some as its neighbors, but there are still plenty of special wintry moments to be enjoyed. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, there’s a lot to love about Reykjavik, but its wintertime weather is not one of them. There’s actually a bit of a misconception about Iceland. Given its name, most first time visitors expect Iceland to be freezing, and while it’s definitely chilly in the winter it’s not as extreme as one would think. Meteorological phenomena ensure that this island nation never gets too hot or too cold, which is perfect for tourists. There’s plenty to do year round and especially in the winter months, from enjoying the thermal pools found around the country to more adventurous pursuits like diving, snowmobiling, glacier hiking and ice cave exploration. Don’t make the mistake that so many other tourists make though and skip Reykjavik. It’s a great city and a fun place to walk around and explore, window shopping and stopping off for a snack or two. One caveat about the weather, while the base temperature may be in the 30s, intense wind is very common in the winter making it feel much colder and sometimes creating mini-blizzards, as I discovered one chilly February morning.

Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador

Although I haven’t visited in the winter, from my summertime explorations on the island I can tell that this is one frozen destination not to be missed. Fogo Island is a place that needs to be experienced in order to be believed. I journeyed there in order to stay at one of the top rated hotels in the world, the Fogo Island Inn. But in the course of my weekend stay, I ended up falling head over heels for the entire community. Locals there care about the people who visit, and by the end of the stay I felt more like a member of the community than a stranger. That’s the beauty of the island and what makes it so incredibly special. Visitors should absolutely stay at the Inn, but also spend plenty of time exploring this quirky island from taking a boat out on the water to enjoying the many hiking trails found nearly everywhere.

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18 Places You Should Visit in 2018

Treasury at Petra

It’s hard to believe, but 2018 is almost here and in keeping with my year-end post traditions, I thought I’d share a few places I think everyone should visit in 2018. Some are obvious choices, others a little more unexpected but all are amazing places to discover for one reason or another. Also, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. I don’t want to see anyone complaining that one destination is ranked higher or lower than another one; they all have my love and admiration.

St Thomas US Virgin Islands

The Caribbean
People don’t normally need to be convinced to visit the Caribbean, but we don’t live in normal times. No doubt you’re aware of the terrible hurricanes that swept through the region in 2017, destroying not only infrastructure and buildings, but lives in the process. It was a terrible event but the warm-hearted people who call the Caribbean home are trying to rebuild and they need our help. Much of the Caribbean was left unaffected by the hurricanes and even those islands hardest hit are already welcoming back tourists. Make 2018 the year that you visit, contribute to the local economies and help this beautiful part of the world get back on its feet.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan
I’m fairly certain that this isn’t on your bucket list, but it honestly should be. I get it, I understand, I never imagined I would visit this country in Central Asia, but once I did it quickly became a personal favorite. Tourism is new to Kyrgyzstan, but it exists and is growing every day. It’s also an unexpectedly fun country to visit, no matter your interests. Long famous for its outdoor experiences, nature lovers can enjoy everything from alpine treks to visiting starkly beautiful deserts. Kyrgyzstan’s cities are also a fun way to experience the country, including some of the largest – Bishkek, Osh and Karakol. Thousands of years of history are on clear display anywhere you go and go you must, I guarantee it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Alsace France

Alsace, France
Within the last year I’ve had the good fortune to visit the Alsace region of France twice, and it’s those visits that have convinced me that it is not only one of the best regions in France, but in all of Europe. One of the most contested areas of Europe, this sliver of land has passed hands between France and Germany probably more times than anyone can count. The result is the very unique Alsatian culture, which is a mix of German and French customs and traditions. Strasbourg is the largest city in the region, and a few days exploring are well spent. But the many towns and villages of Alsace are just as important and best seen along the Alsatian Wine Route. Whether you spend 2 days or a week exploring it, you won’t be disappointed, especially ending in the picture perfect city of Colmar. Colmar is the quaint town of our collective dreams and even after a couple of visits I still yearn to return and explore even more of the city.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong
At first blush, Hong Kong seems little more than a flashy city full of people. But once you delve a little deeper, then you start to discover the real city that lies just beneath that shiny veneer. The best way to better understand Hong Kong is through the city’s favorite pastime, eating. Whether it’s 3-star Michelin restaurants, or some of the best dim sum in the world, you won’t walk away hungry or disappointed. Also be sure though to explore the city, visiting Lantau Island and even the newish PMQ, a cultural hub showcasing some of the best emerging creative minds in the city.

Fogo Island Inn Newfoundland Canada

Canadian Maritimes
I have spent a fair amount of time exploring Canada and almost never have I had a bad experience. But not all parts of the country get equal attention by international tourists, which is one reason why I want to highlight the provinces that comprise the Maritimes. Specifically, over the last couple of years I’ve had the great opportunity to explore two Maritime provinces, Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia. Made famous by the ultra-luxury hotel on Fogo Island, Newfoundland has had its fair share of press lately, but there’s so much more to the province than a nice hotel. Whether it’s St. John’s or taking a coastal road trip, the scenery, food and people will quickly endear you to the province. Many of those qualities aren’t endemic to Newfoundland though, they’re part of the overall Maritime experience, as I learned this year spending a week in Nova Scotia. Those same kind and very curious people made the trip remarkable, accentuated by natural wonders like the Bay of Fundy and a surprisingly high level of great food. So skip some of the more flashy provinces and instead plan to spend some time along the gorgeous Atlantic seaboard of Canada.

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow Scotland UK

Glasgow, Scotland
When talking about Scotland it seems that the Highlands and Edinburgh get all of the love, and honestly they deserve it. Both are amazing destinations to visit and rank amongst my most favorite spots on the planet. But I think that Glasgow deserves some of that love as well. It’s a city on the upswing, changing and evolving like so many other urban centers around the world. Glasgow is not Edinburgh and you shouldn’t arrive into town expecting bagpipers on every corner and more woolen shops than you can count. Glasgow is Glasgow, it’s large, dynamic, diverse, edgy, artistic and more. It is very much its own city and likes the fact that it’s a little bit different from the rest of the country and ultimately that’s why you should visit. Not to see the stereotypes of Scottish culture we’ve all come to know (and love) but to learn about modern Scotland and to see what the country is really all about, instead of the cartoon image that seems so prevalent at times.

Amman Jordan

Jordan
I have long been promoting travel to Jordan and want to continue doing so because it really is THAT amazing. Many people know the country thanks to the massive ancient site Petra but, while it is certainly spectacular, there’s much more to see and do around the country. The Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Wadi Rum Desert, Amman and more all come together to create a fun and dynamic place to visit. Add in some of the kindest people in the world and a food culture that ranks among the most delicious, and it’s obvious to me why everyone should plan a trip.

Perth Australia

Perth, Australia
Australia is almost too big for its own good. About the same size as the United States, it takes many trips to fully explore the width and breadth of this gorgeous continent, but one of those visits should be to Western Australia and its capital city, Perth. Over the years I’ve found that Perth doesn’t get the respect it deserves, many times overshadowed by cities like Sydney and Melbourne. And until recently, it probably didn’t deserve a lot of attention, but that’s all changing. With new restaurants, bars and cafes opening all the time, the food scene has never been more interesting. Combine that with great outdoor adventures, fascinating museums and a massive annual Fringe Festival and you’ll soon see there’s a lot to love about Perth. It’s also the jumping off point to further explorations around the state, including nearby Fremantle, Rottnest Island and even the Margaret River wine region.

Senglea Malta

Malta
The quirky island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean has a long and important history, but it’s one not many people actually know a lot about. Long considered by Europeans as a sunny getaway, others from around the world are learning about this small country not just for its beaches and turquoise blue waters, but also for its art, architecture, cities and incredible history.

Bologna Italy gelato

Bologna, Italy
I find it a little odd that I’m including this great Northern Italian city on the list, because my own experience with it is so very limited. Five years ago I spent 1 day there, but it was so impactful that I feel the need to include it on this list. In a country famous for its food, Bologna has the special designation as being the culinary heart (or stomach) of Italy. More foods started here than you can possibly imagine, including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, lasagna, ragu sauce, tagliatella and even Balsamic vinegar. Visitors should eat everything they can in and around Bologna, spend some time at the Lamborghini factory and museum and brace themselves for the newly opened Eataly theme park. Also, the city of Bologna is amazing in its own right with plenty to see and do and an impressive history to learn more about.

Cleveland Ohio USA

Former Rustbelt, U.S.
I hate this term, but in the past couple of years fate has found me exploring the cities of Middle America, what we usually call the Rustbelt. It’s a horrible term, but it refers to the region straddling the Great Lakes and Midwest States and alludes to the economic decline and urban decay of the 1980s due to a vanishing industrial sector. At one point, yes, the term was an apt one but not anymore. Recent wanderings have proven to me that these cities are undergoing a powerful renaissance, a dramatic change in their urban cores and it’s a beautiful thing to see. At first led by creative artists and enterprising planners, today cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland have emerged into destinations in their own right. So get out there and experience the ingenuity that is purely American and enjoy these once forgotten cities for the urban treasures that they are.

Zebra Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Luxury Safari in Tanzania
Going on safari is one of those special travel experiences everyone should enjoy at least once in their lives. Thanks to a few trips visiting sub-Saharan Africa, I have been on several safaris but nothing prepared me for the luxury safari in Tanzania I enjoyed with Abercrombie & Kent. A&K literally invented the concepts of luxury safari and experiential travel, so I knew I was in good hands as we toured the amazing national parks of Tanzania. Whether it was sneaking up on a herd of elephants, or admiring the power of the Great Migration, I know I will always treasure the memories from this luxury safari experience. You should take a luxury safari in Tanzania in order to get as close to wildlife as possible, enjoy amazing vistas and be pampered in high style throughout the journey, from transportation to those stunning lodges where guests spend the night.

Hamburg Germany

Hamburg, Germany
I have been fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time exploring Germany over the last few years and while I’ve enjoyed almost every new place I’ve toured, a few cities meant more to me than others. Hamburg is one of those cities and is so unique that I think warrants a visit in its own right. The cities lining the northern coast of Germany are very different from other parts of the country, thanks in part to their long histories as independent city-states. Hamburg in particular has been an important port city for a very long time, which in turn has developed a level of diversity that’s still evident today. With unusual architecture, great food and fun experiences, like the Beatles tour, there’s a lot to see and do in this slightly quirky but lovable German city.

Chincoteague Virginia

Virginia
Since I’m from Virginia, I may be a little biased but I honestly think that the state is a great addition to this list. Surprisingly large, the types of experiences available to visitors run the gamut from beach-side wanderings to mountain treks and urban escapes. Whether it’s history, culture, wine, hiking, Virginia has you covered and really is a fantastic place to spend some time.

Cartagena Colombia

Colombia
No, Colombia probably isn’t what you think it is; it’s so much more. I’m not entirely sure what I expected before visiting earlier this year, but I was pleasantly surprised at almost every turn. Delicious food (and coffee), gorgeous landscapes, vibrant cities, there’s a lot to love about Colombia, but when you visit you have to visit more than one place. Spend time in Bogota and Cartagena, but also in the rural coffee growing regions with small but colorful villages dotting the hills. You’ll leave just as enamored by this South American country as I was and also vowing that your first visit won’t be your last.

Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
I’ve longed loved Thailand but it was only recently that I finally visited the northern city of Chiang Mai and I almost instantly fell in love. The largest city in the region, Chiang Mai has long been an important outpost attracting people from around the world for generations and in 2017 nothing has changed. Whether you’re a luxury or budget traveler, there are plenty of options and the list of things to see and do in and around the city is extensive. For something a little different, devote a day and volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park which rescues elephants in abusive situations from around the country and gives them a happy and healthy life. No matter what you choose to do in Chiang Mai, I think you’ll be just as impressed as I was.

Finland

Finnish Lapland
For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I usually tend to visit Northern areas though when it’s cold outside, but cold doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi, deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams, but it’s also home to Santa Claus. In what can only be described as a brilliant marketing move, years ago Rovaniemi lauded itself as the official home of Santa Claus, a moniker that stuck. You should visit Rovaniemi not only to see Santa Claus, but also to spend time outdoors whether it’s snowmobiling, mushing with sled dogs or spending the night in a remote cabin learning about the Finnish obsession with both sauna and nature.

hot air balloon napa

Northern California’s Wine Country
Not unlike the Caribbean, northern California also lived through a horrific natural disaster, although a much different kind. The wildfires that ravaged the state this year also nipped at the heels of Napa and Sonoma counties, the heart of America’s most popular wine growing region. Luckily, much of wine country was left untouched by these horrible fires, and yet many tourists are staying away. The TV imagery convinced people that Napa was leveled by fire, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. So if Northern California is on your travel bucket list, make 2018 the year you visit in order to not just have a great vacation, but to help support this beautiful part of the world as they rebuild and move on.

What other destinations would you add to this list?

The post 18 Places You Should Visit in 2018 appeared first on LandLopers.

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My Favorite Bucket List Transportation Experiences

Switzerland

I’m a travel geek and at the heart of that geekery is transportation. There’s nothing better than a great flight, train ride or other fun way to see the world. But amongst the many transportation options we have to experience the world, there are a few that rise above the rest. They are special, they are exceptional and they are truly bucket list transportation experiences everyone should try at least once in their lives. I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy quite a few of these adventures around the world, but these are my own personal favorites and as a group I think are among the most extraordinary transportation experiences in the world.

Bernina Express

Tucked away in the Alps bordering Switzerland and Italy is one of the most beautiful scenic train journeys in the world – the Bernina Express. Starting in Tirano, Italy and finishing in Chur, Switzerland, the journey takes passengers through some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscapes in the world. It wasn’t the beauty that piqued the interest of UNESCO though, it was the engineering involved with creating this industrial masterpiece. The two railways include 42 tunnels and 144 viaducts and bridges, impressive given the snowy, mountainous terrain the train journeys through. The train didn’t start out as a tourist experience though, it had real importance in linking small, isolated communities with the rest of the world. Thankfully, these villages are still isolated and their beauty has been well preserved through the decades.

hot air balloon Serengeti Tanzania

Tanzania Hot Air Balloon Safari

One of my favorite travel experiences of all time, this floating safari should be on everyone’s bucket lists. Getting up before dawn is never easy, but I knew it would be well worth the momentary pain, I just didn’t expect it to be as remarkable an experience as it was. An option offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as soon as I saw it listed I knew we had to do it and almost as soon as the balloon left the ground I knew it was the right decision. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them.

Luxor Egypt

Exotic River Cruises

I’ve been on a number of river cruises and have always had a great time exploring new places and seeing destinations from a different angle. My favorite river cruise experiences though were in more exotic locations: Myanmar and Egypt. Egypt in particular is a cruise I know I’ll never forget. When reading through the itinerary and background information I thought it was just a nice addition to the trip; I didn’t realize how integral to the Egyptian travel experience it really is. A cruise along the Nile has been a defining travel experience since modern tourism began. But, like everything else, it has evolved and isn’t the boring Agatha Christie cruise you might be envisioning. I sailed on a Uniworld vessel and the level of luxury was amongst the best I’ve seen on any river cruise. But the real star of the show of course is what you see along the way. Cruising is the best way to reach sites like Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Aswan and more. Along the way you see farms, temples and daily life in a way that you simply wouldn’t be able to witness in any other manner. Plus the experience is just a lot of fun, and sometimes in travel there’s nothing more important. Cruising the Nile is also very popular, and if you’re not joining a tour it’s easy to purchase a stateroom on a ship heading downstream. That’s especially true now when tourism is so down; I saw stacks of river cruise ships dry-docked, just waiting for the tourists to return. So do yourself a favor, see Egypt in one of the best ways possible and help the local economy at the same time by including a weeklong cruise on the Nile when you visit Egypt.

Snowmobile on a glacier

A couple of years ago my partner and I decided to try something a little different while in Iceland, snowmobiling. Normally when we visit the country, we drive around different regions, stopping periodically to explore and sightsee. Wanting to be a little more active than normal though, we booked an afternoon snowmobile tour on one of the country’s glaciers and the experience is certainly something I’ll never forget. Bundling up in more layers than I thought possible, the tundra buggy took us up to the hard to reach glacier and the freezing ice sheets of Iceland. Glaciers are strange things, always cold and always inhospitable, but possessing a type of beauty that is unrivaled in nature. That was our snowmobile course for the afternoon and while I’m not really a fan of the machines themselves, I can’t deny that the experience was exciting and fun. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it was a great way to experience a different side to a country I have come to love over the years.

Indian Pacific train Australia

Indian-Pacific Train

I don’t think enough people consider an epic train ride to be a bucket list worthy experience, but for me it was. Granted, the opportunity to embark on an old-school, classic journey on board a train is shrinking in number, but there are still a few around the world that combine the luxury of another era with adventurous exploration, like the one I embarked on in Australia. The Indian-Pacific rail service onboard the Great Southern Rail explores the width of Australia in the most comfortable way possible. Crossing the mighty red continent from Perth to Sydney (or the reverse) takes several days and along the way passengers get to experience one of the few truly trans-continental train experiences in the world. We traveled in Platinum class, complete with a private cabin for our trip from Perth to Adelaide, the midway point for the service. Along the way we stopped at ghost towns and gold mining communities, not to mention the miles upon miles of beautiful Australian Outback in between. While the stops and views were great, chatting with our fellow passengers was perhaps the most entertaining part of the trip. It takes a special traveler to embark on such an epic train ride and their stories were all as unique as the train journey itself. There are several other great train routes around the world, so you don’t necessarily have to travel to Australia but like most things on this continent, it is the most extreme.

Long Haul First Class

I’m a luxury traveler and as such am no stranger to Business Class cabins. Whether it’s through miles, upgrades or good old cash, I try to fly premium whenever I can. One class of travel though had eluded me, the long haul First Class cabin. This rarefied realm of the super-wealthy, the elite and the titans of industry always seemed just out of reach, until recently. Cashing out more miles than I’d care to admit, I had the great luxury to fly on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to the U.S. in their luxurious First Class Cabin. From personalized service to caviar and champagne and amazing comfort, the experience was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.

Antarctica hike

Adventure cruise

Even though many of us like to think that we’re following in the footsteps of yesteryear’s great explorers, that is rarely the case. Ease of transportation has made many formally inaccessible regions of the world relatively easy to get to, fully serviced by hotels and restaurants. There are still a few spots on the globe though where you can forget about everything and trek to beyond the beyond and chief amongst them is Antarctica. One of the least accessible spots on Earth, only about 40,000 tourists a year visit the 7th continent, a drop in the bucket when compared to the mighty tourism centers around the world. But the experience of getting to Antarctica and then trekking around it, is an adventure worthy of Shackleton himself. Most tourists visit in the Austral Summer when temperatures are more reasonable, via companies that operate out of either southern Chile or Argentina. There are plenty of different ways to see Antarctica, from a traditional crossing of the Drake Passage to the increasingly more common fly-cruise directly to the icy continent itself. No matter how you choose to get there though, a visit at least once in a lifetime is a must for any luxury adventure traveler. Cruising along the icy waters, spying giant seals from the corner of your eye and seeing endless icy horizons in person are life experiences so extreme, unique and beautiful that they simply have to be experienced to be believed.

Red Rock Canyon Nevada

Epic road trip

Although I’m a luxury traveler and flying in Business Class or checking into some of the world’s top hotels is something I truly enjoy, my favorite style of travel is the road trip. Maybe it’s the American in me, but there really is nothing better than exploring a new place with the unbridled freedom that only a car can provide. Remote spots, quirky sites and who knows what else are all available to us on a great driving adventure. We can stop when and where we want with nothing limiting us except our own free time. The road trip is an amazing way to explore the world, but not all drives are made the same. Some rise above the rest and we would all do well do enjoy them at least once in our lives whether it’s Route 66, the North Coast 500 in Scotland or the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, amazing driving routes can be found around the world and provide us with an intimate way to discover a new destination.

Dog Sled Finland Lapland

Dogsledding in Finland

As the owner of Siberian Huskies and a dog lover in general, anytime I get to interact with new furry friends when I travel is something I not only enjoy, I crave it. So when I learned about the overnight husky trek with Bear Hill Husky in Rovaniemi, I knew I couldn’t say no. The only hindrance was the weather. Negative thirty is extreme even for northern Finland, so the overnight plans were scratched and in its place an afternoon was planned with the huskies; a change in plans that turned out to be even better than the original tour. Meeting with the sled dogs before the ride through the quiet woods surrounding Rovaniemi, I quickly fell in love with my new furry friends. Working dogs aren’t like our furry pets, they’re trained to do a job and all of these pups were buzzing with anticipation for the ride ahead. Taking off with a team of 6 into the heart of the virginal woods, not for the first time I thought just how special an experience riding with sled dogs really is. Almost immediately all other noises die away and the only sounds are the panting of the dogs and the sled itself as it skids along the snow and ice. It’s a communion of sorts between man and dog and offers an introduction to some of the most remote areas of Finland that would be impossible to experience otherwise. Although the all-day ride was scrapped, we still managed to do the overnight portion – a stay in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere. No electricity or running water, it’s not my normal type of overnight accommodation, but the small wood-fired sauna and the amazing friendships I made more than made up for a lack of room service.

What’s on your transportation bucket list?

The post My Favorite Bucket List Transportation Experiences appeared first on LandLopers.

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My Favorite Travel Experiences That You Probably Have Never Heard Of

One aspect of the travel experience that continuously amazes me is how much of an education it really is. I learn so much both about the destinations, and of course myself, whenever I leave home and am thankful for the continuing lessons through a global lens. But I’m also surprised by how little I ultimately know and there are always places, people, and experiences that I enjoy when visiting a new destination that were completely unexpected, experiences I didn’t even know about until I visited. The same is probably true for many other people so today I thought I’d help provide a leg up and share some of those amazing travel experiences that some people may know about but, in general, I think fly under the radar.

Dog Alberta Canada

Playing with Wolfdogs in Alberta, Canada

The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is an easy 45-minute drive from Calgary, not too far from Canmore, and is on the way to Banff if you’re heading into the mountains. I was excited to visit because, before even meeting my first wolfdog, I knew that my morning spent at this remarkable facility would be a highlight of my time in Alberta. As the owner of three dogs, including two slightly wolfish Siberian Huskies, I’m always drawn to dog-related activities when I travel, but of course Yamnuska is a lot more than that. The mission of the remarkable Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is fairly straightforward: to rescue and rehabilitate wolfdogs and to educate the general public about these beautiful pups. For whatever reason, some people see status in buying a wolfdog, but as the dog gets older they realize that there’s no way they can take care of them. So they end up at shelters or worse, euthanized because no one knows what to do with them. That’s where the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary comes in and spending the morning on one of their interactive tours was as much fun as I’ve had in a long time. The Sanctuary is about more than playing with the dogs though, education is at the heart of the experience. Convincing people that the dogs aren’t a great house pet but also letting people know that the wolfdogs aren’t dangerous, both goals are incredibly important to make sure these dogs don’t suffer needlessly and enjoy happy lives.

Pyramid of Khafre Cairo Egypt

Going Inside a Pyramid

Located close to modern day Cairo, the massive pyramids of Egypt have been amazing visitors since the moment they were first built, popping up even in Ancient Greek and Roman travel guides of the day. Standing immediately in front of them it was hard to mentally reconcile the fact that I was actually there. Even better though was the opportunity to go inside one of the massive monuments. Crouched down, gingerly navigating the steep ramp taking me down into the bowels of the ancient tomb I couldn’t help but again appreciate what early archeologists must have felt when they first entered these tombs. The anticipation, the fear, the excitement and the uncertainty, I felt all of those things and I knew exactly what was waiting for me inside – nothing at all. No, these tombs were looted millennia ago, the preserved body of the pharaoh and his treasures stolen before even the emergence of true Western civilization. After descending one shaft and climbing up another I was there, in the middle of the pyramid with millions of tons of stone blocks hanging over me. Inside the pyramid. Those words hung with me for a moment and a smile slowly crept onto my face. I’d done it. I’d fulfilled a lifelong dream and the best thing is, I realized it.

River-boating in Tahiti

The islands of the South Pacific, each home to their own versions of paradise, tend to blur into one another upon reflection, but one stands out for a few different reasons. On Raiatea I joined a local tour along the only navigable river in French Polynesia on a small riverboat, led by an older gentleman who has called Raiatea home his entire life. What the excursion description didn’t include was the hours of commentary by the most interesting person I met during my week exploring the South Pacific. I’m pretty sure most of what he said was embellishment, at least I hope it was, but his stories were without a doubt entertaining. Within those fanciful tales though were nuggets of truth, laughter masking some difficult times in his life. Sure, the river was beautiful and the tour interesting, but it was getting to know him and just listening to his stories that was the true highlight of that adventure.

Tea Cardiff Wales UK

Learning How To Make Welsh Cakes

If you don’t live in the British Isles, then there’s an excellent chance you don’t know what a Welsh Cake is. I normally think of myself of an Anglophile and yet the first time hearing about them was only on a recent trip to Cardiff. For the uninitiated, Welsh cakes are simple, scone-like flatbread cakes made with flour, butter, eggs, milk and usually dried fruit like raisins. They’re typically eaten alone, at tea or as a snack and I found them everywhere while in Cardiff and southern Wales. When served hot, they’re good but if they’re even a few minutes old, I found myself looking for jam or butter to cut through the dryness. While I discovered many great places to buy them, my best experience with Welsh Cakes was learning how to make them myself. Located in Abergavenny, the Culinary Cottage is a cooking school run by an enterprising local who has made food her new career. We made an entire meal that day, but for me the Welsh Cakes were the most fun. Rolling out the dough and cooking them on the hot bakestone was fun and even relaxing and I can’t wait to make them for friends at home.

photo Stromatolite

One the oldest forms of life on the planet in Western Australia

3.5 billion years ago, the Earth was a fairly inhospitable place. But a slow process was quietly going on in the planet’s seas. A rock-like organism was doing something the Earth had never seen before. Stromatolites were gradually filling the atmosphere with oxygen, paving the way for more complex creatures to arise. These unique organisms weren’t just the important first step in life on Earth, but their fossils now provide valuable data for scientists trying to learn about early life on the planet. Scientists assumed they vanished into the ether of time long ago, until 1956 when living examples of these amazing organisms were actually found. Where else would something this bizarre and extraordinary happen, except for Australia? Hamelin Pool, located in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site of Western Australia, is home to these amazing creatures, one of the rarest sights in the world. Visiting the rock-like creatures was important to me, and instead of boring blobs (which they are) I was struck by the incredible beauty of the pools, dotted with the creatures still working hard to create life. It’s a humbling moment and one I encourage everyone to seek out when they’re in Western Australia.

Puffin Watching on the Westman Islands

I’m thankful I made the decision to spend a day visiting the Westman Islands, because it counts amongst my all-time favorite experiences in Iceland. Easy to reach from the south coast, the ferry ride is a short 30-minutes, but it feels like a world away. The Westman Islands are small and the only inhabited island, Haimaey, is just 7 square miles in size. 4,000 people call this rock home, but as I discovered on a tour around the island, it’s one of the most beautiful places not only in Iceland, but arguably the world. A combination of the gorgeous landscapes and the hospitality of the people who call it home, I fell in love thanks to the total experience and I know it’s an island I will return to many times in the future.

Sababurg Germany

Spending the Night in a German Fairy Tale

Even if you don’t travel along Germany’s Fairy Tale Route, there are a number of opportunities to spend the night in castles that look as if they was plucked out of one of those famous legends. One though impressed me above all the others, the Sleeping Beauty Castle – Sababurg. My first experience sleeping in a real German castle happened at this pastoral retreat not far from the city of Kassel along the German Fairy Tale Route. Recently celebrating its 682nd birthday, Sababurg was in a state of ruin for centuries, overrun by plants and trees and, most importantly, a high thorn bush. This bush would become important in the life of Sababurg, defining it into the 21st century. The famous Brothers Grimm lived not far away from Sababurg in the city of Kassel, and it was well known that they used the surrounding forests, countryside and castles as a physical basis for many of the stories they chronicled. So it was locals in the 19th century, along with early tourists, who started scouting out the rolling hills of the region trying to match stories with their real-life counterparts. When they chanced upon Sababurg, practically enclosed by thick brush and that famous thorn bush it seemed too perfect – this had to be the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Today it’s been thoughtfully and painstakingly remodeled into a beautiful 16-room luxury hotel, all paying homage to the story of Sleeping Beauty. I loved my evening spent sleeping in one of the turret rooms, imagining myself in an era long gone amongst luxury amenities and comfort. With pastoral calm and beauty and an amazing staff, this is a not to miss hotel along the German Fairy Tale Route.

Northern Ireland UK

Carrick-a-Rede Bridge in Northern Ireland

I technically didn’t have enough time to properly enjoy this fun, adventurous spot, but I’m glad I ignored my more prudent self and decided to throw myself into this experience without looking at the clock. Part of the National Trust, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede, just as fishermen used to employ them when checking their salmon nets. This narrow rope bridge spans high above the rocky waters below, providing a slightly scary but incredibly fun experience. While the bridge crossing was fun, walking down to the bridge and back is where the real magic happened. Throughout my week driving around Ireland and Northern Ireland, I was lucky enough to enjoy plenty of picturesque coastal scenes, but the coastline at Carrick-a-Rede was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Gorgeous beyond words and the ability for any camera to accurately portray, this is a must-stop attraction I think for anyone driving the Causeway Coastal Route.

Chengdu China

Street Food in Chengdu, China

China loves to eat, a lot. Life revolves around your next meal and is a major aspect of hospitality throughout this massive country. So when a city in China is well known above all others for its epicurean delights, you know you’ve found a place that takes its cuisine very seriously indeed. The capital of the Sichuan Province, it seems that Chengdu has always enjoyed this reputation, combining locally sourced ingredients and infusing them with its powerful spicy heat that is now loved around the world. That heat comes from the Sichuan pepper, which has an intense fragrant flavor that produces what the books call a “tingly-numbing” sensation. My first introduction to this famous food was along Jinli Street, which is known as Snack Street for a reason. Hundreds of vendors fill the stalls selling everything imaginable and visiting around lunchtime was the perfect opportunity to see the best of what the city has to offer. This long and narrow street today is full of vendors, shops and important for me, food stalls. Walking around was heaven, smelling the strange and unusual scents and asking my interpreter countless times what everything was. From pork buns to pineapple sticky rice to roasted rabbit head, I was mesmerized by the options and wished I could somehow taste it all.

Great Migration Serengeti Tanzania

Hot Air Balloon Safari in Tanzania

One of my favorite travel experiences of all time, this floating safari should be on everyone’s bucket lists. Getting up before dawn is never easy, but I knew it would be well worth the momentary pain, I just didn’t expect it to be as remarkable an experience as it was. An option offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as soon as I saw it listed I knew we had to do it and almost as soon as the balloon left the ground I knew it was the right decision. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them.

Santa Claus Rovaniemi Lapland Finland

Meeting Santa Claus in Finland

It’s impossible to visit Rovaniemi, the de facto capital of Finnish Lapland, and not realize immediately that it is the hometown of Santa Claus. From the airport when you first arrive to even hotels bearing his name, this town is all about Santa. Literally straddling the Arctic Circle, Santa Claus Village is a 365-day Christmas extravaganza; a place where the holiday spirit is alive every day of the year. It all started with an unlikely visit by Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited Rovaniemi to see the progress of Marshall Plan projects. For her arrival a small cabin was built, a cabin that soon became the center of this tourist hotspot. And it is definitely touristy, no doubt there, but it’s also unexpectedly fun. Walking into the middle of the village, it was only 3:30pm but the winter sun had already begun to set and soon I found myself in the middle of the village, night having fallen and the sound of carols in the air. Christmas had already been over for a couple of weeks and while the rest of the world was dealing with the January doldrums, Santa Claus Village really did feel cheerful. I felt as if Christmas was just around the corner and that yuletide excitement came rushing back. Of course the focal point of any visit is meeting Santa Claus, who is always ready to greet new visitors. The visit with Santa is free of charge, but the photos taken come with a small fee. After chatting with Santa – everyone gets some alone time – head to one of the most popular post offices in the world, Santa Claus’ Main Post Office. This real post office on the Arctic Circle handles all of Santa’s worldwide mail traffic and since 1985, more than 17 million letters have been sent to the post office all addressed to Santa from nearly every corner of the world. It’s not everyday you can send a Santa Claus postmarked letter, so I sent a few postcards and thought about my experience in the Santa Claus Village. I’m not normally a fan of hokey tourist experiences, but this one was fun – a lot of fun actually and I quickly understood why hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to the Village every year. The Christmas spirit is a special feeling, and this is the only place in the world where it never ends.

coasteering wales

Coasteering in Wales

At first the adventure sport of coasteering seems like the bad result of a drunken wager gone wild. But it’s not and even more surprising, it’s insanely popular and a lot of fun. Coasteering is defined as “a physical activity that includes movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surfboards or other craft. It can include swimming, climbing, scrambling, jumping and diving.” It sounds great in the middle of a hot summer, but I was there in March when the water temperatures were anything but encouraging. Located along the Irish Sea, the beauty of Anglesey can’t be denied though and I soon found myself lost in the beauty of the craggy landscapes surrounding me. The extreme experience was just as advertised and not even my two wet suits could fully keep the freezing waters at bay. In spite of the conditions though it was fun, a lot of fun and diving along the coast, swimming across the white-capped waves and pushing myself in ways I didn’t know I could was as personally gratifying as anything I have ever done. Ultimately, that’s the real thrill of adventure travel; pushing one’s comfort zones in ways you didn’t know possible.

The post My Favorite Travel Experiences That You Probably Have Never Heard Of appeared first on LandLopers.

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Highly Unlikely Romantic Spots Around The World

Bundestag Berlin Germany

I don’t normally write holiday themed posts, but I felt particularly inspired this year so I thought I’d share some of my favorite romantic spots around the world that I almost guarantee aren’t on any top ten list. They may be a little unusual, but hopefully it proves that romance and romantic travel is more about the person you’re with than it is a few palm trees and a beach.

Dome of the Reichstag in Berlin

I have found few urban settings as beautiful as the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin at sunset. The massive glass dome offers a 360-degree view of the city and if you are there at the right time of day, then you’ll see Berlin in a way you never thought possible. The mirrored cone in the middle of the dome directs sunlight into the building and offers visitors a rare glimpse into government at work. This was done purposefully, to show that the people should always be above the government and not the other way around. Free, timed tickets have to be reserved in advance, so make sure you get them early to share that romantic moment with your loved one.

hike Antarctica

Hiking in Antarctica

Granted, this isn’t an every-year kind of tradition, but I found the beauty and serenity of Antarctica to be romantic in a rough and tumble kind of way. While there are many spots around the icy continent that would be perfect for a romantic moment, one island in particular took my breath away – Orne Island. Looking out across the icy waters it finally hit me that I was on the bottom of the world, I was in Antarctica. The scale was enormous, people looked like mere specks amongst the canvas of white. We weren’t alone though, also resting on the mountaintop were penguins, thousands of them. This colony called Orne Island home, trekking to and from the waters below to get food to feed their hatchlings. Sitting there on a rock, drinking some water and watching as a penguin walked a foot away, not at all caring about my presence was a special moment – one that would be perfect to share with someone else.

Finland

Winter Fun in Finnish Lapland

In general, Finland isn’t typically known for its romance and that’s particularly true in the far northern reaches of the country in the Lappish city of Rovaniemi. I think though that if you venture up when it’s still dark and cold you not only experience the region the way it is meant to be experienced, but that it can be a very romantic trip as well. Rovaniemi is most famous as the home of Santa Claus, and that should definitely be on your agenda, but for something special be sure to seek out one of the many secluded and rural cabins and sauna found in the woods of Lapland. With some new friends, I trekked out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, a remote place hidden amongst the deep woods. There we spent the night without electricity or running water, just each other’s friendship to warm us through the night. The highlight of my evening was learning the proper way to take a traditional Finnish sauna, an experience I guarantee would be more romantic if you were there with your significant other.

hot air balloon Serengeti Tanzania

Floating Above the Serengeti in Tanzania
While the remote grasslands of the Serengeti may not be on your romantic travel to-do list, a certain experience there is one of the hallmarks of romantic travel moments – a hot air balloon ride. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them. Add in the glass of bubbly at the end, and I can’t think of a more perfect romantic moment to share with the special love in your life.

Washington DC

Tidal Basin, Washington DC

As a Washingtonian, I have to include my home city but I think it deserves its spot on this list. At the right times of year, Washington can be a beautiful and incredibly romantic city. Granted, this isn’t usually in February, but you can still get out there and enjoy some private time with your partner and see some of the country’s most famous sights in the process. While there are many places in Washington I’d put on this list, one of the most romantic has to be a walk around the Tidal Basin. Made most famous by those amazing photos taken during cherry-blossom season, I personally think it’s a beautiful place to wander no matter what time of year. The Tidal Basin is also at the heart of the Washington experience with the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the FDR Memorial all standing adjacent. It’s here that you start to understand and appreciate the history of our country and it’s made even more memorable if you experience it with the love of your life.

On Top of the World in Hong Kong

I love Hong Kong, a city that never ceases to surprise and delight, but not for the reasons you might think. It’d be easy to put together a Valentine’s Day full of shopping, eating and spa treatments, and while that’s all fine, for me one of the most romantic spots is in the highest hotel in the city (and the world.) The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong calls the island of Kowloon home and it’s the perfect spot to see the beautiful Hong Kong skyline in all of its glory. It’s also the tallest hotel in the world, which means the views from lounges and even your room are mesmerizing and perfect to create special memories with your significant other. To add in a little more romance, be sure to enjoy dinner at one of the hotel’s award-winning restaurants – high end dining in the highest hotel.

What other unlikely romantic spots would you add to this list?

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