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7 Under the Radar UNESCO World Heritage Sites I Love to Visit

Sharks Bay Western Australia

I don’t normally make it the focus of my travels, if there’s an opportunity for me to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I always make sure I stop. In 1972 the UN, through the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, began recognizing important sites around the world that they consider vital in order to maintain the cultural and natural heritage we have all inherited. Even though I haven’t even scratched the surface of visiting the more than 1,000 sites in every corner of the planet, I have been to quite a few and think every traveler should make a point to visit them if they can. To show the width and breadth of this amazing collection of sites, today I want to share some that while impressive, mostly fly under the tourism radar and hopefully in the process this list will encourage your own UNESCO themed visits in the future.

This year I’m working with Allianz Travel Insurance to share my thoughts about travel, what makes me happy when I explore the world and why I even travel in the first place. This post is done in partnership with them and I’m excited for the opportunity to share some fun spots to add to your travel bucket list.

The Jantar Mantar – India

The old town of Jaipur wasn’t just where my guide and I started the day, it’s where most tourists to this popular spot along the Golden Triangle begin. It’s here where the city’s most famous and important landmarks still stand, including the massive City Palace and the remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jantar Mantar. This site fascinated me perhaps the most, due not only to its size but its purpose. The Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 larger than life astronomical instruments built in the early 1700s, including the world’s largest stone sundial. These surprisingly precise instruments were built in order to best calculate the movement of the earth and the heavens, so that advisors to the ruler could provide the most accurate astrological advice possible. It’s a remarkable achievement, even more so that it remains intact today, practically adjacent to the equally fascinating City Palace.

Bamberg, Germany

Town of Bamberg – Germany

Maybe it was the bright sunshiny day, or maybe it was the city’s famous smoked beer, but whatever did it, I totally and completely fell in love with Bamberg. It probably sounds repetitive, but Bamberg too has an ancient history, and it too is recognized by UNESCO for its beauty and incredibly intact medieval old town. It’s also so colorful, much more so than I would have thought and with picture-perfect views along the river it was an afternoon I know I’ll never forget. The city’s Christmas markets of course only add to this festive feeling, from smaller ones around town to the massive central Christmas market in Maximiliansplatz.

photo Stromatolite

Shark Bay – Australia

Located in the wilds of Western Australia, the Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage region may seem remote, but it’s well worth the effort to visit this remarkable area. Located near the popular beach resort Monkey Mia, Shark Bay is a popular place to explore either on your own or on a Jeep Safari. The striking red sand meets the azure waters of the Indian Ocean in a contrast that will take your breath away, but that’s not why it’s on the UNESCO list. It’s there thanks to its incredible flora and fauna, but especially the stromatolites at Hamelin Bay. Stromatolites are the oldest life form on the planet and the only place on the earth accessible enough for people to visit these prehistoric creatures is in the Shark Bay region. Aside from the prehistoric beginnings to life on earth, it’s just a fun place to visit, spending a few days to explore as one of the few tourists around.

Sabbioneta Italy

Sabbioneta – Italy

Not far from the bustling city of Mantua is a far different town, one that when I visited was oddly quiet but captivating thanks to the unique lines and angles of the architecture and public spaces. I was in Sabbioneta, an early example of urban planning from the 15th century. More fortress than town, Sabbioneta was built by the powerful Gonzagas and the thick city walls and ramparts are all still completely intact. It was more than the defenses that interested me though, the grid pattern of the streets and the impressive squares and monuments are all what drew my attention almost immediately. Meant to impress, the Duke’s palace, the theater, churches and more are all on a scale and designed with a level of beauty that may have been representative of the era, but which are rare to find today. I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time there, but if you’re in Mantua definitely spend an afternoon or even a day exploring the strange little town of Sabbioneta.

South Africa

Cape Floral Region Protected Area – South Africa

One of my favorite countries in the world, the beauty of South Africa is diverse and even opulent at times. The areas near Cape Town though have a secret, the rich floral region is amongst the most diverse in the world. From the scraggly fynbos to the yearly explosion of wildflowers, the ecology here is unlike anything else on the planet. A fact to consider, this area accounts for just 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. That’s an amazing level of diversity and makes exploring this region a beautiful experience. One of the best ways to get out amongst the fields is by taking a wildflower safari like the one offered at the Grootbos Resort in Hermanus. Expert naturalists take guests out in a safari truck to experience the natural side of the area for a once in a lifetime experience. Even if you’re like me and have a marginal interest in such things, the shocking beauty of the region simply can’t be denied.

Alta Norway

Rock Art of Alta – Norway

Located deep in the heart of Norway’s Arctic Circle, the small town of Alta is known for a lot of things, but not necessarily the site that put it on the UNESCO map. I was in Alta to see the Northern Lights, go sledding with huskies and a whole host of other wintertime activities. A pleasant bonus though was discovering the town’s not as famous but just as important rock art. The rock carvings in Alta go back as far as 4,200 BC and show a variety of scenes sharing the lives of ancient hunter-gatherers with us today. They were only discovered in the 1970s, but since then several of the sites have been converted into an open-air museum, preserving these prehistoric treasures for future generations. Sadly, I only got as far as the visitor’s center because during the winter the art is covered by snow. But during the summer months, thousands trek here to see the rock art and to explore the many hiking and biking trails around them.

Albi Cathedral

Episcopal City of Albi – France

Located in the heart of the incredibly green rolling hills of the Tarn region of France, Albi is an absolute treasure. I’m a history fan, and I loved learning more about the tragic history of the Cathars, which culminated in and around Albi more than eight hundred years ago. But on the lighter side, Albi was also the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec, the famed French artist of the 19th century. The Toulouse-Lautrec museum conveniently located in the heart of Albi has just been renovated and it is a masterpiece of modern design and museum management. I truly enjoyed roaming the galleries admiring the impressive display of Toulouse-Lautrec works. No matter what you decide to do in Albi, I know you’ll enjoy wandering its streets as much as I did.

The post 7 Under the Radar UNESCO World Heritage Sites I Love to Visit appeared first on LandLopers.

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19 Places You Should Visit in 2019

hot air balloon Serengeti Tanzania

2018 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 2019. 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.

Texola Oklahoma

Non-Coastal USA

I explored a lot of my own country in 2018, 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 2018. 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 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.

Iceland

Rural Iceland

I’ve been to Iceland several times now, each trip focusing on a different region of the country. It has very quickly become one of my favorite places to visit for any number of reasons, including how much fun it is to explore. For the best experience though in Iceland, I firmly believe that visitors need to leave the capital city and venture out into the countryside, especially the somewhat-remote northern areas. The northern regions, particularly the Lake Mývatn area, are rich with natural wonders no matter the time of year, but in the winter months the landscapes are covered with sparkling snow and ice, very much turning it into a scene from Game of Thrones. That’s no surprise, since the show has filmed in the northern reaches of Iceland for years, the real life landscapes mimicking the fantasy world perfectly. Whether you drive yourself or take a tour with a local, there are plenty of natural sights to enjoy from waterfalls and lava fields to natural baths and mountain landscapes. Spending time in the northern tier of Iceland feels like standing on the edge of the world because, well, you are.

Taj Mahal India

India

A year ago I would never have imagined that I’d be adding India to this list, but my first experience there earlier this year convinced me that everyone needs to visit at least once in their lives. Like many other would-be tourists, I was nervous about the experience. I’d heard such mixed opinions from friends that I didn’t know what to expect. Traveling with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent though, not only did I enjoy the trip of a lifetime, but I did so in style and comfort. Based on the many accounts of traveling to India I’d read over the years, I was prepared for a level of chaos akin to a dystopian novel. So, imagine my surprise when I instead discovered a country like many others around the world. Is it chaotic? Yes. Is it loud? Yes, and if I never hear another car horn again I’m ok with that. But it’s no different from many other countries I’ve visited around the world in Africa, Central and Southeast Asia. It’s not as fearsome as I thought it would be. India is a developing nation of 1.3 billion people. There is a stark divide between the rich and the poor, although the middle class is growing like gangbusters at the moment. There are issues, I’m not disputing that and I’m not trying to portray a Pollyannaish image that’s inaccurate. No, instead I do believe that some accounts of India have been grossly off the mark and I think I know at least one reason for that. Many people visit India only briefly, there to see top sights like the Taj Mahal. If your only experience visiting India are the cities of Agra (where the Taj is located) and the capital city of Delhi then no, you won’t have positive impressions of the country. However, if you veer off into other areas of the country like I did with Abercrombie & Kent, then a more complete and robust image of the country will start to form. As a result, I enjoyed nearly everything I did during my 9 days in India and firmly believe it’s a destination everyone should try to experience.

Aran Islands Ireland

Aran Islands, Ireland

Ireland will probably be on this list every year that I write it, but this time I want to add a specific destination within the Emerald Isle, the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands located in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Largely isolated throughout the centuries, their remote location has defined culture on the islands even up to today. There’s a reason why thousands of tourists visit Inishmore every week during the high season – it’s amazing. Due to its location and history, Inishmore remains a destination that honors its past in a way that is almost unique in Ireland. This is experienced through language and culture, but also the preserved thatched roof homes and ancient stone walled farms dotting the island. Although my time in the Aran Islands was all too brief, it was the highlight of my most recent trip to Ireland. I love visiting small, remote islands, to enjoy both unique cultures as well as gorgeous landscapes. Inishmore is one of the most impressive I’ve seen around the world and instead of satiating my curiosity, my first visit has only fueled a strong desire to return and explore even more.

Stuttgart Germany

Swabia and Bavaria, Germany

I’ve been fortunate enough to have explored many different regions of Germany, enjoying every new adventure. I’ve spent the most time though in Southwest Germany, and it’s a part of the country I have come to know and truly love over the years. Starting in Frankfurt there are many large cities and small hamlets that are perfect for visitors, from Stuttgart and Munich to Augsburg and Freiburg. The history and architecture always interests me, but so does the food and in Swabia you’ll find something a little different, but also comforting and delicious. Located in southwestern Germany, Swabia is no longer a distinct political unit, but instead is a cultural region. Its roots go back for centuries and even though the area is now divided between two different states, the people who call it home absolutely identify first with being Swabian. Stuttgart is one of the best places to experience Swabia, but you can also find elements of the culture throughout southwestern Germany including Freiburg and even Augsburg. Language, culture and naturally food help form the basis of this identity. Traveling in Germany always means great food experiences, but in Swabia I think it’s a little extra special thanks to these dishes and snacks.

Cruise

One of my first vacations as a very young professional was a cruise and since then I’ve been on scores of sailings in nearly every part of the world. It’s not how I always travel, but I do enjoy taking at least one a year. Cruises can at times have a bad reputation, mostly from people who have never been on one which is unfortunate, but I understand their concerns. As an independent traveler I shared their worries, but cruise after cruise has shown me that the experiences can be both fun and immersive. That’s because there are so many different types of cruises that, yes, there really is one for every type of traveler. Not every ship is a 4,000-person megaship – far from it. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been on small and medium sized ships as we explored different corners of the world. From rough and tumble expedition cruising in the polar regions to Christmas market river cruises to a luxury cruise in warm, languid waters, cruises take many different forms but, I think, they’re a great travel option and I would encourage you all to consider taking one in the not-so-distant future.

Macao

Macao

Honestly, I never expected to enjoy Macao as much as I did. I wanted to visit because I hadn’t been there, but that’s about it. As I learned though, there’s a lot to love about the city as long as you leave behind those gaming tables and massive casinos. I think it’s a great addition to this list because of the incredible history waiting to be discovered, as well as some of the best meals you’ll ever enjoy. I’m a history buff and I especially love visiting new-to-me UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is probably why I enjoyed my time exploring the historic center of Macao so very much. The entire old town is designated as a UNESCO site for a variety of reasons. Once a Portuguese territory, the foreign presence has thankfully been preserved throughout the centuries, presenting visitors with a city that feels more like Europe than Asia. Macao was also a strategically important city for a very long time and a center of trade between Europe and Asia. This history and the traditions that accompany it are thankfully all very much alive in Macao, and easy for the casual visitor to experience.

Belfast Northern Ireland UK

Belfast, Northern Ireland

I enjoyed my time in Northern Ireland more than I thought I would and a lot of that is thanks to the fascinating city of Belfast. Twenty years ago, Belfast was as far away from being a tourist destination as any place could be, but today it’s enjoying a revival as more and more visitors discover what makes it truly special. The Titanic experience is fascinating and an entire day could be spent exploring the museum on the site of where the doomed ship was originally built. But there’s a lot more to the city than the Titanic, and taking a walk through Belfast’s many neighborhoods is a fun way to learn more about the city. Visitors should take a Black Cab Tour to learn about the history of The Troubles, visit the Titanic Museum and try some of the new restaurants that keep popping up featuring some of the best food anywhere in the British Isles.

Disneyland California

Disney

I know, I know, I’ve been talking about my two experiences at Disneyland this year a lot, but there’s a reason for that. My first time at any Disney property, I enjoyed myself far more than I would have expected and while I recognize visiting may not be for everyone, I would encourage you all to consider one of the many different Disney experiences around the world. Because, although I haven’t tried them all yet, I am positive that they too are able to capture something that is rare in the travel experience – true joy. Life as an adult in the 21st century is hard. Mortgages, jobs, responsibilities and our electronic-tethers otherwise known as phones all conspire to make even our vacations more stressful than they should be. When I travel, I can’t escape anything, but in Disneyland that all changed. For a brief few days, I was able to forget almost everything challenging in life and instead just have fun. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the real Disney experience as a kid, but I threw myself into the moment and was richly rewarded as a result. I’ve never had that much pure and innocent fun in my life. The honest and wholesome enjoyment that is Disneyland isn’t kitsch or corny; it’s fun at a base level. I’ve been to every corner of the planet and while I enjoy most trips, that level of fun is unheard of. It goes well beyond the attractions though, it’s about a feeling. For those two days I was able to be a kid again. I was able to have fun and to amuse myself without concern or fear. I think that’s what drives so many adults to visit in the first place, and most if not all are well rewarded as a result.

Avignon France

Normandy, France

This is the one place on the list that I haven’t personally visited yet, but I hope to in 2019 for many reasons, not the least of which is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Normandy landings were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history and since this is an anniversary year, the region is doing a lot to celebrate. In addition to D-Day though, I’ve always wanted to visit Normandy for its quiet towns, incredible history, gorgeous landscapes and sites like Rouen and Mont-Saint-Michel, which look stunning. If Normandy has also been on your travel to-do list, then this just might be the year to visit.

Alta Norway

Alta, Norway

Most people think that Iceland is the only place to experience the Northern Lights, but in Norway’s Arctic Circle is the real Northern Lights Capital of the world. The small town of Alta is like visiting a real world Northern Exposure, and the beautiful landscapes and active adventures draw thousands to this town every year. If you visit in the winter, then be sure to book at least one night in the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, where everything is made of ice.

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 this 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.

Whitsundays Queensland Australia

Queensland, Australia

I love Australia, a lot. So much that more than once I’ve seriously looked into relocating to the Land Down Under. Until I can figure out the immigration rules I’ll just have to manage with visits to this remarkable continent, including one of my favorite states – Queensland. Queensland is what I usually call Australia in a nutshell. The state has everything a visitor could want from the dusty outback and rural ranches to stunning coastlines and even rainforests. There are also some fun cities and towns to visit including Brisbane, Cairns and Port Douglas. Visitors should go to Queensland to swim along the Great Barrier Reef, enjoy some fun in the sun on the Gold Coast, trek into the Daintree Rainforest and be amazed by the stunning surprises around every bend in the road.

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 first visiting, 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.

Bora Bora Tahiti French Polynesia

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 my appreciation of how just idyllic and perfect the islands are grew, and the experiences I enjoyed there really were a dream come true. Visitors should go to enjoy a cruise around the islands, spend the night (or 7) in an overwater bungalow on Bora Bora and take the time to look past the beach chairs and learn more about real Polynesian culture.

Luxor Temple Egypt

Egypt

I vacillated on 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.

Ketchikan Alaska

Alaska

The state doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves and now ranks as one of my favorite destinations on the planet. It has everything I love: it’s a little remote, it’s incredibly gorgeous and interesting in a way that is very unique. While I’d love to visit and do a land-based journey, cruising is the perfect way to experience as much as possible in a short time frame. Alaska is immense and seeing it from a ship enables visitors to experience a variety of different towns and remote outposts. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing and admiring the views. All together, that makes cruising around Alaska the ideal first introduction to the state.

York England UK

Northern England

To be fair, there’s just such an incredible diversity of places to visit in Northern England that a trip could be enjoyed assembling any number of different cities and towns. I just happened to visit Manchester and York, which is what I want to share today. Although they’re separated by a short and easy 1.5-hour train ride, the two cities could not be more different, offering a great balance for would-be travelers. York I always knew I’d love but Manchester won me over when, frankly, I wasn’t so sure. Together they’re a fun way to explore Northern England as a stand-alone trip, or added to a longer adventure.

Chapman's Peak Drive Cape Town

South Africa

I was fortunate early on in my blogging career that I had the opportunity to visit South Africa on several occasions, creating a deep love for the country in the process. It’s been several years since my last visit but that love certainly hasn’t diminished; if anything absence has only made it grow stronger. While I’ve enjoyed every area of the country I’ve visited, there’s one city that has an extra special place in my heart – Cape Town. Calling the tip of Africa home, the Mother City is one of the most popular cities in the world for a reason, it’s amazing. Routinely named to the Best in the World lists, Cape Town is unlike any other city you’ve visited before. In a quirky mix of European and African sensibilities, it’s easy to forget that you’re in southern Africa as you stroll around this colonial city. Days could be spent exploring the historical and cultural treasures of The Mother City, as well as admiring the natural beauty that is all encompassing. From the omnipresent Table Mountain to Chapman’s Peak Drive, your jaw will drop many times as you survey the beautiful landscapes that define this area of South Africa. Travel umami is something that is impossible to define, but rather the combination of all elements of a destination that culminates in a sort of perfection that has to be felt to be properly understood. That’s Cape Town and that is certainly South Africa. Long before my first trip to Southern Africa I was told that there is something in the air, something that latches onto your soul and refuses to let go. I naturally didn’t believe them until my first time experiencing it firsthand and then I understood, I got what they were talking about – this special travel umami. That’s simultaneously my top reason why everyone should visit but also the only one I can’t prove. So just trust me, plan a trip and go, go see and feel and taste South Africa and then I dare you to come back and say I was wrong.

What is on your 2019 travel wish list?

The post 19 Places You Should Visit in 2019 appeared first on LandLopers.

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10 Random Museums You Don’t Know But Should Visit

Bogota Colombia

I love museums, but I’m fairly picky about the ones I spend time visiting. My personal interests veer towards history and culture more so than art, and thanks to that natural proclivity I’ve discovered some fairly amazing museums around the world. Any museum I believe is to be treasured because it means that someone or a group of people cared so deeply about a subject that they devoted a significant portion of their lives to showcase what makes it so great. That’s to be admired I think and it makes the museum, almost no matter what the topic, worth at least a short visit. Granted, not all museums are made the same and believe me, I’ve visited some truly horrible ones over the years. But I’ve also had the great opportunity to visit smaller, quirky and off the beaten path institutions that I think are well worth anyone’s time to visit. There are almost too many to list, but in this post I want to share just some of those quirky museums around the world that have resonated with me for one reason or another.

Basel’s Smallest Museum, Switzerland

Walking around Basel, Switzerland had many unexpected surprises from colorful architecture to amazing river views and markets with delicious food. What I didn’t expect to find though was the smallest museum in the city and most likely the world, the so-called Trouser Pocket Museum or Hoosesagg Museum. This undeniably quirky museum started more than 20 years ago partly out of frustration. The owners live in a historic building on a common tourist route. Hundreds of people passed by every day, many of who took the opportunity to peek through the windows to marvel at the ancient home. Naturally, the owners grew somewhat frustrated but instead of shuttering up their windows, they decided to offer something of value. There in the window they created a small, very small, exhibit space where they feature a variety of collections. It can, and has been, just about anything. The day I visited it appeared to be a set of antique barometers. The subjects don’t really that much, what’s amazing to me is that the tiny museum has now lasted decades and draws as much interest as any other site in town.

Ghan Museum, Alice Springs

Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum, Alice Springs Australia

The town of Alice Springs in the heart of Australia’s Outback is a decidedly quirky place. It makes sense then that the tourist offerings are just as odd and one of the best in town is the Ghan Museum. Construction of what we know of today as the Ghan train began in 1878 in Adelaide, South Australia. It wasn’t until the 1920s though that train service extended to Alice Springs, prior to that the final leg of the journey had to be made by camel. The Ghan didn’t extend all the way across the continent to Darwin in the north until the 1980s, when Australia’s railroads were all standardized. For whatever reason, Alice Springs is home to both the Ghan Museum as well as the Road Transport Hall of Fame. The Ghan Museum is housed in a former train station, and is also the final resting spot for strange bits of railroad paraphernalia, from full sized locomotives, to random bits of iron rusting away. The museum itself though was clean, well organized and infinitely interesting. I found myself reading through mid-century travel posters and gazing longingly at proper dinner service sets, a remnant of a more civilized era of travel. The museum isn’t large and is a little dusty in areas, but if you love trains then this is a must visit attraction.

Pig Museum Stuttgart Germany

Pig Museum, Stuttgart Germany

When I heard that I was visiting the home of the world’s largest pig museum, I knew I couldn’t stay away. Located in Stuttgart, Germany, the concept started in 1988 when Erika Wilhelmer, a passionate collector of all things pig for years, decided to start a small and simple museum. Over the years it grew, eventually winning that vaunted Guinness title and moving to a permanent exhibition space in Stuttgart. As you can imagine, the museum is a little odd but it’s actually very well curated and I found many of the exhibits to be interesting. But there are a lot of pigs; 50,000 pieces in 25 rooms means there’s a lot to see. For an added dimension of schadenfreude, be sure to eat at the adjacent restaurant that naturally specializes in pork.

Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo

One of the strangest expeditions ever undertaken, the story of the now infamous Kon-Tiki is known around the world. But it all started with one slightly outlandish idea by the famed Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. If you’re not familiar with the story, in 1947 Heyerdahl and his crew sailed by raft across the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia in an effort to prove the theory that people from South America populated Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Using only materials and methods available to ancient South Americans, the journey took 101 days but they did eventually make it, proving that technically it could have been done. Scientists have since debunked this theory, but it’s not the anthropology that makes the Kon-Tiki such an exciting story. It’s the adventure of it all that has fascinated people since the first day of Heyerdahl’s expedition. As humans, that spirit of adventure and discovery appeals to us on a very base level and in an era when such experiences seem impossible, Heyerdahl proved that the world still holds many mysteries for us to discover. The museum captures this spirit and tells the story well and is probably the only place in Oslo where you can buy Hawaiian print shirts.

National Atomic Testing Museum, Nevada

My trip to Nevada last year was all about exploring the more rural side of the state and driving the famous Extraterrestrial Highway. To get ready for the adventure, I stopped off at this small but incredibly informative museum to see a special exhibit they’re currently featuring as well as to tour the larger collection. Since 2011, the National Atomic Testing Museum – located just east of The Strip – has been a national museum affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, making this small site one of just 37 national museums in the country. The extremely well curated exhibits cover the history of the nuclear age, from the first test at the Nevada Test Site through to the modern era. It’s informative, interactive and incredibly engaging and I’m really happy that I spent some time visiting. It’s a place that frankly is easy to drive by, but I think this should be near the top of every visitor’s to-do list. In addition to their main exhibits, they’re also hosting a special collection all about Area 51. Since my drive along the ET Highway included a stop at Area 51, the exhibit was the perfect introduction to better understanding not only the history of this military installation, but the cultural impact that the belief in aliens has had on our country and the world. It’s an interesting, quirky exhibit and a lot of fun to discover.

French Fry Museum Bruges

Frietmuseum, Bruges Belgium

The Belgians take their food very seriously, and this is seen especially with the art of the French fry. Not just the soggy potatoes one sees so often around the world, the Belgian fry truly is a revelation in the world of culinary science and this love affair with the spud is on full display at the Fry Museum in Bruges, Belgium. The museum is well thought out and much larger than I expected. The guest is led through the history of the fry, from the first cultivation of potatoes in South America, to its introduction in Europe and the day of days, when the fry was invented. A combination history museum and assemblage of artifacts and curios make the experience fun and interesting. After spending an hour or so learning everything there is to know about the fry, it’s logical to want a taste. Luckily the folks at the Frietmuseum thought of this and at the end of the tour is a small fry cafe where you can taste crispy Belgian fries for yourself.

ABBA Museum Stockholm Sweden

ABBA Museum, Stockholm

I like museums, but they’re not usually the reason why I visit a new city. That being said, the museums in Stockholm actually were a major reason for my visit and one in particular was number one on my to-do list. ABBA: The Museum may not sound like one of the great museums of the world, but believe it or not I soon discovered that it’s one of the best-curated and organized museums I’ve been to in a long time. Whether or not you’re a fan of the music, I find it hard to believe anyone won’t enjoy singing along to “Mamma Mia” in a private recording booth, or dancing with holograms of the musicians themselves on stage. It’s fun, quirky and a must-do activity in Stockholm. Luckily, the ABBA Museum is within walking distance to several other great Stockholm museums making it a convenient stop.

The Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas

If you were alive on November 22, 1963, it’s a day you’ll never forget but even if you’re like me and missed the event by many years, the date still has incredible importance for you. That was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The plaza itself is now a National Historic Landmark, thankfully preserving it for future generations, but that’s not the only important site preserved. Located in the very building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired those far too impactful bullets (formerly the Texas School Book Depository) is today the exceptionally well-curated Sixth Floor Museum. Using photos, film, narration and interactive displays, this thorough and very well researched museum takes guests through the turbulent era of the early 1960s, the events that led to the President’s assassination and ultimately the murder itself, along with the impact Kennedy’s death had on the world. Standing there in the same position as Oswald once stood, looking out across at Dealey Plaza was an eerie feeling, it brought the event to life in a way that has always been hard for me, since I wasn’t alive in 1963. I can’t recommend this museum strongly enough, it really is just that good.

Currywurst Berlin Germany

Currywurst Museum, Berlin

So I talk about currywurst a lot; an odd love affair for what is admittedly an inelegant snack. But I’m a big fan of regional foods, city-specific snacks that serve as exemplars of their communities. Currywurst had an important role to play in the formation of modern Berlin, from a cheap way to feed the working poor to the tourist food it has become today. Even better than just eating it, head on over to the Currywurst Museum for a look at the snack through the years, where it’s consumed around the world and what it is that makes this unlikely combination of flavors so very popular.

Botero Museum , Bogota Colombia

Although I was a little skeptical at first, it didn’t take long for me to fall head over heels in love with the amazing Botero Museum in Bogota. Even if you’re not familiar with the name, I guarantee you’ve seen some of the many famous works created by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. You know the ones, the plump, oversized people and animals that look like they’ve been inflated? Well, the Botero Museum is the beautiful home to many of his paintings and sculptures. In 2000, Botero donated the works, along with his own private art collection, creating the museum in the La Candelaria neighborhood in the process. Open to the public free of charge, Botero wanted to share his works in a way of his choosing. He still decides on the layout and even the wall colors in the museum, but as I quickly learned the building itself is just as amazing as the works of art it houses. Built in the 1720s, this was the colonial mansion of the Archbishop of Bogota, one of the most powerful men in the city. Beautifully restored, you can easily imagine the lavish lifestyle enjoyed here and for as much as I enjoyed the artwork, it was the building itself that truly won my heart. Bogota is a city of intensely creative people seen through the literature, art but even in graffiti and street buskers. It’s exciting and this is surely one of those “must-see” places in this enormous city.

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My Favorite Adventure Travel Experiences Around the World

Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia

As I get older, I’ve noticed that my own personal travel style has evolved over time. From a fearful newbie who didn’t really know what was ever going on, to someone who is now comfortable being almost anywhere in the world. As I’ve gotten older I’ve also evolved from a budget student traveler to a luxury traveler, but one who enjoys immersive experiences. Many times this means adventure travel and while in the past I’ve called myself a luxury adventure traveler, that’s probably not quite accurate. What is accurate is that I love new and heart-pumping experiences and more often than not, these easily fall into the category of adventure travel. Of everything I’ve done around the world, I thought I’d share some of my favorite adventure travel experiences. They’re representative not just of one particular place and time, but of the destinations and how you can find transformative experiences no matter where you go. They also prove, I think, that adventure travel is about much more than getting just a quick thrill. It’s about pushing your comfort levels and hopefully learning a lot more about yourself in the process. Simply put, they are transformative experiences that leave us much better people than before we took the plunge, the leap or closed our eyes in advance of that next great adventure.

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, surf boards 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.

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.

Reefsleep Queensland Australia

Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia

In a country and even entire region where adventure travel reigns supreme, it was exceptionally hard to narrow down all of the experiences to just one. But upon reflection there is just one, I think, that best captures the spirit and energy of Australia – diving along 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.

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. 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.

whale sharks

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 just 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 incredible, 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.

Norway

Dog Sledding in Norway

I had been dog sledding once before, in Canada, but that experience only heightened my own personal excitement at joining another team of mushers in Norway. Dog sledding is a very big deal in Alta, it’s from this outpost town where one of tbe world’s great dog sled races, the Finnmarksløpet, starts and ends every year. Thanks to that race, and the rugged terrain surrounding the city, there are dozens of professional mushers who live around town, many of whom also open their doors to visitors allowing them a once in a lifetime opportunity to drive their own team of champion race dogs. I joined one of those outfits, Holmen Husky, which has a strong tradition of sled tours and even something they call the Husky Hotel. I wasn’t there for the evening though, just for one of their famous trips through the snowy woods. As the owner of three Huskies, part of me just wanted to play with the pups but unlike my sofa-lounging dogs at home, these are working dogs and all they wanted to do was run. And run they did, as I sat back in the sled the dogs took off, excited for their daily dose of much needed exercise. Unlike a snowmobile, a sled experience is almost completely silent, except for the huffs from the Huskies and the sound of the sled racing across the icy terrain. It’s a serene and beautiful experience, a way to be part of nature without feeling like you’re infringing upon it. It’s also the perfect introduction to Alta and the region’s traditions, so many of which seem to revolve around these amazing canine athletes.

hot air balloon 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.

Matt Long LandLopers Toronto Edgewalk

Toronto EdgeWalk

While I do enjoy some adventure travel, I also have a fear of heights, albeit a conditional one. I can look out from the observation tower of a massive skyscraper, but a 5-foot ladder at home sends me into a downward spiral of fear. It’s when the barriers are removed that I get really scared, but it’s a fear I’ve been trying for years to eradicate. The world’s highest bungee swing, tower walks, zip lines, you name it and I’ve tried it, which is how I found myself donning a bright red jumpsuit to prepare for one of the most hair-raising experiences I’d ever attempted – the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower. In 2011, the CN Tower opened the EdgeWalk, allowing thrill-seekers the opportunity to walk around the outside of the Tower at a height of 1,168 feet. It’s the world’s highest full-circle, hands-free walk and I was slightly terrified. I’ve done quite of few of these extreme height experiences, and honestly speaking the EdgeWalk is the most professional operation I’ve seen so far. From start to finish, the staff take amazing care of guests and the safeguards are unlike anything I’ve experienced as well. The views from that height are stunning and it helped me appreciate the beauty of the city even more than I had before.

Dubrovnik Croatia

Kayaking Around Dubrovnik

The most visited city in Croatia, Dubrovnik never fails to disappoint, at least that’s been my experience. Sure, it can be busy at times but for me that has never detracted from the intrinsic beauty of the city – a town that seems trapped in a different era. The golden hues of the ancient stone and the astonishing views of the water and the red roofed buildings are all reasons to spend some extra time here and if you do, don’t miss the opportunity to see a different view of the city – from the water. Several companies operate kayak tours around the walled city of Dubrovnik, from a short paddle to all-day adventures. Setting out past the busy shipping lane, once I got close to the massive walls of the city I could see why no enemy ever invaded. Even though they were defensive in nature, one can’t also help but appreciate their beauty, especially on a beautiful day while you’re out getting some exercise. Little details that one would never notice inside the city suddenly become apparent from the kayak and for me, helped foster an even deeper love of the city. Plus it was just a lot of fun, so there’s that too.

Snowmobiling in Iceland

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.

Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

Jordan’s largest reserve, Dana is a common stop for tourists to Jordan, either for the beautiful views of the mountains and valleys below or for a stay at the world-famous Feynan Ecolodge. Less common are those who, like me, tackled the daunting 16-kilometer trek through the valleys, starting at the visitor’s center and ending at the Ecolodge. I enjoy hiking, but due to some physical limitations I have to be careful about what I do and don’t attempt. Had I understood all that was involved with the rigorous hike, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it but, like all of these experiences, at the end I was thankful for having done it. An all-day trek, the trail takes intrepid hikers through valleys, up ridges and provides access to some of the most remote but beautiful areas of Jordan. You start to appreciate the beauty of the desert terrain and by the end of the hike, you feel like the night’s stay at Feynan is the best reward for all of that physical activity. This hike isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy premium outdoors experiences, there are few better in the world.

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Remote Travel: My Favorite Hard To Reach Destinations

I love just about any travel experience, but there’s something a little extra special about traveling to hard to reach destinations. Remote places on the globe have always fascinated me and today they make me feel like a modern day adventurer. Paris, London and Berlin are all fun to visit, but any trip that involves a score of flight connections, boats or hours of overland transportation to reach my final resting stop never fails to put a big smile on my face. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite remote travel destinations that I’ve visited so far. And yes, I know that not all of these are too hard to reach and that there are many other, more remote areas on the globe, but these are the ones I have visited and enjoyed exploring. Hopefully in a few years I’ll be able to add in all of those other destinations missing from this list.

Penguins Antarctica

Antarctica

If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special moments, it’s Antarctica. 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.

Hoover House Gwalia Australia

Gwalia, Western Australia

Australia is vast, bigger than you realize, and the state of Western Australia consumes an enormous chunk of the continent. To travel around WA is an adventure in its own right, but the remote and sparsely populated Goldfields region is something a little extra special. When I was planning my trip to Western Australia I discovered something that surprised me for just how improbable it is – the home of a former U.S. President in the middle of Western Australia’s vast Goldfields region. Located about half an hour from nothing and 45 minutes from nowhere is Gwalia, a ghost town home to three things: 1) abandoned houses; 2) an active mine and 3) the very comfortable home of Herbert Hoover, America’s 31st President. Before he was President, Hoover was an engineer and worked for a mining company that shipped him around the world many times, including Australia. He built this comfortable country house when he was made manager of the mine, which is adjacent to the property, and today it’s part museum and part bed and breakfast. That’s right, you can venture out to Gwalia, see the mine and spend the night in Hoover’s bed. Definitely odd, but it was also one of my favorite experiences in Western Australia.

Alta Norway

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, as one does, and quickly 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.

Tahiti

Tahiti

Located in the middle of the Pacific is that remarkable island chain known as the Society Islands. The South Pacific is the stuff of travel dreams and for me, it had been a personal mission of mine to visit Tahiti for as long as I can remember. Thanks to movies, books and even songs, Papeete in particular seemed so exotic, so foreign and so remote that it captivated me. Of course, reality is a little different but that didn’t diminish my own sense of wonder as I explored Tahiti and the other islands of French Polynesia for the first time. Not only does it live up to the hype, it exceeds every expectation. I wanted a tropical paradise and I found it, from those dreamy overwater bungalows on Bora Bora to swimming with sharks through perfectly clear waters. But French Polynesia is about so much more than those postcard images. It’s full of people who are amongst the nicest and most welcoming that I’ve ever met. It’s full of jungles and rivers and other beautiful scenes most people don’t know exist. It has a complicated history, a fascinating culture and endless stories to share, if people are curious enough to ask. Tahiti is a special place and even though I had just one short week there, I know it’s not my last experience on those islands. The siren call of French Polynesia wasn’t dampened by my trip, it only grew louder.

Galapagos sea lions

Galapagos

Although I’ve spent precious little time in South America, the experiences I have had there are meaningful and special to me. In particular, a trip to the Galapagos a few years ago had the unintended consequence of forever changing my life. Made famous by Darwin onboard the Beagle, the Galapagos is mecca for those of us with a passion for wildlife and natural exploration. There is nothing quite like walking through a field dotted with giant tortoises, or swimming practically nose-to-nose with playful sea lions. When I returned home a new spirit of wanderlust was reawakened, I realized how much I enjoyed adventure travel and wanted to share my experiences with as many people as I could. A few months later I started this web site; I firmly believe that trip to the Galapagos was the intellectual impetus for LandLopers. Without it, I still might be stuck in a cubicle not living the life I was meant to live.

Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

The 12-mile wide Ngorongoro Crater is not your normal place. Usually referred to as a real-life Garden of Eden, unique conditions in the crater mean that many different kinds of wildlife call this pristine area home all year. While there were some individual moments I know I’ll always remember, the entire day spent there exploring was one of those experiences that define not just a trip, but a lifetime of traveling. It’s a one-stop-shop for African wildlife, from elephants wandering through the lush if not small forests to countless zebra and wildebeests, birds like the flamingo and more fearsome animals like Cape buffalo, hippos and multiple prides of lion. To experience the Ngorongoro is to experience the beauty of Africa in miniature and is natural exploration at its finest.

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. Some of my favorite moments were admiring the desert landscapes, enjoying fantastic blueberry pie at the Little A’Le’Inn, visiting (sort of) Area 51, and spending the night at a haunted hotel in Tonopah, Nevada.

What is your favorite remote travel destination?

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7 More Little Known UNESCO Sites You Should Visit

Sharks Bay Western Australia

Last year I wrote a post highlighting some of my favorite, but little known, UNESCO Sites. That post was so well received I thought I’d publish a Part II and highlight seven more spots around the planet that UNESCO has recognized even if many tourists don’t know about them. While I’m not compulsive about it, I enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites when I travel. By keeping an eye on that massive list, I’ve discovered some out of the way and little known spots I would never have discovered on my own. I’ve been to about 130 of the more than 1,000 UNESCO Sites around the world, but of those 130 I’ve visited, here are some more that I think deserve a little tourism love.

photo Stromatolite

Shark Bay, Western Australia

Located in the wilds of Western Australia, the Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage region may seem remote, but it’s well worth the effort to visit this remarkable area. Located near the popular beach resort Monkey Mia, Shark Bay is a popular place to explore either on your own or on a Jeep Safari. The striking red sand meets the azure waters of the Indian Ocean in a contrast that will take your breath away, but that’s not why it’s on the UNESCO list. It’s there thanks to its incredible flora and fauna, but especially the stromatolites at Hamelin Bay. Stromatolites are the oldest life form on the planet and the only place on the earth accessible enough for people to visit these prehistoric creatures is in the Shark Bay region. Aside from the prehistoric beginnings to life on earth, it’s just a fun place to visit, spending a few days to explore as one of the few tourists around.

Dinosaur Provincial Park Alberta Canada

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta Canada

Alberta is a remarkable part of the world that continues to surprise and amaze me, no matter how many times I visit. One such surprise happened when I discovered a provincial park in the southern part of the province that turned out to be an important UNESCO World Heritage Site – Dinosaur Provincial Park. Located about 48 kilometers from the nearest town, Brooks (population 13,000), and close to any number of small villages, Dinosaur Provincial Park is not a place one chances upon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site may not be an urban destination, but that is part of its charm. Calling the Canadian Badlands home, the Park includes nearly 20,000 acres of stunning badlands terrain and hiding just beneath the soil are those oh so famous dinosaur fossils. In addition to the gorgeous landscapes of the Canadian Badlands, the park is also on the UNESCO list because it’s the site of some of the most important fossil discoveries ever made from the Age of Reptiles.

Megalithic Temples of Malta

The Mediterranean island of Malta is today mostly known as a great place to enjoy some time in the warm sun. But the island also has an impressive history and it’s that history which drew me to Malta in the first place. The island nation’s history though extends much further back than most people realize, and it’s this ancient history that earned the megalithic temples a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Seven megalithic temples found both on Malta and Gozo are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and in my personal opinion they are not to be missed. More than 5,500 years old, the temples are some of the oldest surviving religious buildings in the world and just standing there in front of the entrance to these Bronze Age marvels is an experience almost like none other. My brain struggled to grapple with the crushing weight of history that this site has witnessed, from important ceremonies at the dawn of Western Civilization to events we will never fully comprehend. More than just an important historical site, the temple complex has a certain beauty in its own right. Looking around and gazing across the nearby valleys, you can immediately see why this spot was so important to our ancient cousins and you feel like the latest iteration in a remarkable chain of continuous reverence.

Suomenlinna Helsinki Finland

Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland

When I finally had some free time to explore Helsinki, one of the first things I did was to actually leave the downtown, hop on a ferry and visit the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Fortress of Suomenlinna. Located a short 10-minute ferry ride from the heart of Helsinki, Suomenlinna is a massive sea fortress that was built on a group of islands back in the 19th century. Originally constructed by the Swedish, this community has been also controlled by the Russians and now the Finns. It’s on the UNESCO Sites list because it’s an especially interesting and rare example of European military architecture of the time and, as I discovered, it’s also a fun place to explore. Churches, old homes, museums and beautiful views are all part of the Suomenlinna experience, a fun and slightly quirky experience all visitors to Helsinki should make time for.

Kassel Germany

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Germany

Located in the Hessian city of Kassel, the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is definitely not your average UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 17th century by regional nobility, it’s essentially the biggest water fountain you’ll ever see. Descending a long hill, reservoirs and channels supply water to a complex system that supplies the site’s many grottoes, fountains and a 350-meter long Grand Cascade. Sadly, no water was running when I visited but I’m told it’s a spectacle to see in person. Plus it’s in Kassel, a fascinating city in its own right and home to the new Brothers Grimm Museum.

Alta Norway

Rock Art of Alta

Located deep in the heart of Norway’s Arctic Circle, the small town of Alta is known for a lot of things, but not necessarily the site that put it on the UNESCO map. I was in Alta to see the Northern Lights, go sledding with huskies and a whole host of other wintertime activities. A pleasant bonus though was discovering the town’s not as famous but just as important rock art. The rock carvings in Alta go back as far as 4,200 BC and show a variety of scenes sharing the lives of ancient hunter-gatherers with us today. They were only discovered in the 1970s, but since then several of the sites have been converted into an open-air museum, preserving these prehistoric treasures for future generations. Sadly, I only got as far as the visitor’s center because during the winter the art is covered by snow. But during the summer months, thousands trek here to see the rock art and to explore the many hiking and biking trails around them.

Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda

I added this UNESCO World Heritage Site not because the town itself is little known – thousands visit every year – but because most people don’t realize that it is a UNESCO recognized site. I love colonial history but the islands of both the North Atlantic and the Caribbean have an importance in this period of history that I sometimes forget. Founded in 1612, the Town of St. George is an amazing example of the earliest English urban settlement in the New World. As an American, I naturally always think of Virginia when I think of that time period, but Bermuda and St. George in particular played an important role in what is our shared history. It’s on the UNESCO Sites list not just because of this history, but because of the preserved look and feel of the town, a place that has an outstanding universal value to world history.

What are some other UNESCO Sites you’ve visited that we may not know a lot about?

The post 7 More Little Known UNESCO Sites You Should Visit appeared first on LandLopers.

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10 Best Travel Food Experiences of 2015

Rotterdam Netherlands Markthal

Food isn’t only the most important part of the travel experience, it’s one of the most fun. Through food we learn a lot about new cultures and the people who enjoy these morsels. If we’re open to the experience, we discover fascinating little societal quirks that we’d probably never pick up on otherwise. Food also helps us form our strongest travel memories. It always amazes me that a single, simple aroma can instantly transport me back to the souks of Marrakech or the frenetic streets of Hong Kong. It’s also the one thing all of us have in common when we travel. Regardless of background, preferences or budget, we all have to eat – it’s the great travel equalizer. That being said, not all travel food experiences are made the same; some invariably become more important to us than others. As we approach the end of the year, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the many great meals and snacks I’ve enjoyed on my travels this year and share the few that meant the most to me in 2015.

Egypt Dessert

Egypt – Sweet Snacks

While traveling around Egypt I enjoyed many great meals, some favorites I’m used to and some new dishes as well. But what won me over was a small coffee shop I discovered close to my hotel, one that’s been around for more than a century and one that does one thing exceptionally well – dessert. The concept of dessert in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean is a little different from the U.S. and even Western Europe. Instead of massive dishes oozing with sweetness, the preference here leans towards smaller bites, naturally sweetened with honey or rose water. At Simonds Bakery & Café, the bakers have perfected this concept and while sitting in the shop enjoying a coffee I saw dozens of people come and go, all leaving with a box of their favorite sweet treats to share with friends and family. Just a few of the amazing desserts found not only at Simmonds but around Egypt include sweet semolina cakes, kunafeh, baklava, sweetened breads covered in pistachio, halva and more. If you’ve never tried these slightly unusual but delicious desserts, find the nearest Middle Eastern restaurant or bakery and go crazy!

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Food Tour

My favorite kind of city tour is a great food walk. Not only do you get to see parts of cities you might otherwise miss, but you get an interactive introduction to the food culture of these cities from the locals who know them best. The Eating Amsterdam food tour I joined during a recent stay in the city was exactly the kind of immersive experience I expected and of everything I tried that morning, without a doubt my favorite bite came not at a café or restaurant, but at a butcher’s. Butcher Louman in the Jordaan neighborhood has been the go-to source for great meats since 1890, but they’re especially well-known for their sausages and cured meats. My favorites were the ossenworst (raw, smoked beef sausage) and the grillworst (grilled sausages), which are both amongst the best in the city.

Norway – Reindeer Gyro

Overall, I enjoyed the food in Norway but it wasn’t until I visited Alta in the north of Norway that I found more of the foods one would call traditional. Reindeer in nearly every form imaginable, from gyros to well-prepared steaks, became my go-to dining option. I thought at first it would be too gamey, but unlike elk or venison the reindeer had a certain steak quality to it and I enjoyed it, as long as I didn’t think about Santa Claus at the same time. Norway is famous for its open-faced sandwiches at lunchtime, but in Alta they didn’t just take their normal form – seafood and cured meats – but also reindeer. Their small size make them easy to eat and convenient, but the real star of the show for me were the reindeer gyros. Ok, not really called gyros, but that’s what they reminded me of; a Nordic version of the doner kebab. Smothered in some sort of sauce I didn’t understand, it was a messy but hearty and delicious noontime meal.

Pastries Germany German

Freiburg, Germany – Pastries

I have a fierce sweet tooth, so for me a big part of the foodie travel experience is discovering new sweet treats to enjoy. Luckily, Germany is one of those countries where that is a simple mission to achieve. As far as pastries go, I found many new examples of delicious baked goodness, from rolls with sugar and raisins to small puffs made with chocolate and granulated sugar. German bakeries are amongst the best in the world and even the most common pastry found at a train station cafe far exceeds anything I can find here at home.

Hong Kong – BBQ Pork Buns

I like dim sum in general, but I love these buns of tasty goodness so much I decided to list them as a stand-alone bite. If Hong Kong had a national dish, it would be the BBQ pork bun. Steamed to porky perfection, the Cha Siu Bao is a simple but delicious meal. The dough is slightly dense, but incredibly soft with a hint of sweetness that only compliments the prize inside – slow-roasted pork tenderloin. You can find this classic meal all around town, but a place that may surprise you is the airport. One of Cathay Pacific’s amazing lounges, The Wing, features The Noodle Bar, which includes freshly made dim sum and my beloved BBQ pork buns. It’s a great final culinary send off from a city full of foodie surprises.

Australia – The Perfect Cup Of Coffee

Certainly not new to me, in fact coffee culture in Australia is one of my favorite aspects of traveling there. A trip I took to Queensland earlier this year though was a little bit different; I had more time and moved at a slightly slower pace, which meant I had more opportunities to immerse myself in the country’s robust coffee culture. Particularly when I spent a week in the Gold Coast, I spent every morning in the neighborhood coffee shop eating breakfast, slowly sipping my long black and catching up on my email. Coffee culture in Australia has evolved over time, but a large influx of European (and particularly Italian) immigrants in the 1950s and 60s greatly sped up this conversion to the coffee-loving country it is today. Instead of the drip coffee we’re used to here in the U.S., coffees in Australia are espresso-based, catapulting a simple cup of joe into an art form. Coffee in Australia is unlike any other country, they’ve developed their own drinks with strange names like Long Black and Flat White and it’s hard to go more than a few feet anywhere in the country without stumbling across a great, locally owned independent coffee shop. There are few things better in the world than spending time at the local café, a national pastime in Australia right up there with rugby, Aussie rules football and making fun of politicians.

Empanadas Peru

Peru – Empanadas

Empanadas are not unique to Peru – far from it. In fact versions of serving filling inside bread of some sort exist all over the world and for good reason; they’re easy, cheap and convenient. Brought to the New World by the Spanish and Portuguese, these tasty snacks can be found in nearly every country on the continent. That being said, the version I found in the small (but touristy) town of Pisac in Peru may be the best ones I’ve ever sampled. Located in the Sacred Valley about an hour from the city of Cusco, hundreds of tourists crowd the main plaza of Pisac every day to shop at its market and to try the foods that make this small Andrean town so well known. For the uninitiated, the empanadas I tried in Pisac were small, moon shaped pouches of dough available with a wide variety of fillings including beef, chicken, cheese and others. So what made the ones in Pisac so much better than all of the others I’ve tried? The ovens. The traditional way to cook these tasty bits of doughy goodness is in dome shaped clay ovens and in Pisac, the old colonial ones are still intact. Stop by Santa Lucia Horno Colonial for a quick snack on the go, one of the best places in town to enjoy these traditional foods, and believe me you won’t regret the experience.

North Carolina BBQ

North Carolina – Great American BBQ

As a proud Southerner, I can say without hesitation that great BBQ is probably the meal I’d ask for on my deathbed. It’s delicious, but it’s also comforting. BBQ has a soul that not many other foods possess; it exists not just in textures and flavors but also in a range of emotions. BBQ differs widely around the country though, from sticky Kansas-style to Virginia’s ketchup based sauces and of course the vinegar that makes North Carolina so famous. I always considered myself a Virginia BBQ guy, until a trip to North Carolina introduced me to some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever enjoyed. In North Carolina, BBQ involves a whole hog that is slow-cooked to perfection over a massive pit for a period of many hours, infusing that great smoky taste into the meat itself. Where I’m from in Virginia, we would add a thick, ketchup-based sauce to the pork or chicken but that’s not how it’s done in Eastern North Carolina. No, instead there it’s all about preserving the taste of the meat itself, adding only vinegar, maybe some hot sauce, salt and pepper and that’s it. The best example I found during my romp through North Carolina was at the Skylight Inn, in Ayden, North Carolina. The meals are served with the choice of sandwich or full meat platter along with coleslaw and cornbread. But that’s it. No fries, beans, hushpuppies or anything else that I’m used to when eating a great BBQ dinner. But after my first taste I realized that nothing else was needed – the meat was that good. Slightly charred bits of meat mixed in with the succulent and woody pork all combine to create what was honestly one of the best BBQ experiences of my life.

Istanbul, Turkey – Food Tour

Istanbul is one of the most intriguing and dynamic cities in the world. Straddling two continents and enjoying a long tradition of welcoming merchants from around the world, the result is a culture that is varied and composed of elements that might surprise you. This is naturally best seen through its food culture, something I knew very little about before taking a Walks of Turkey Istanbul Food Tour. I met my guide on the European side of the side where we hopped on board a ferry to cross the Bosporus to start our tour in the eclectic Kadıköy neighborhood on the Asian side of the city.

The tour was fun and informative and while I enjoyed almost everything I sampled, my favorite bite was during my introduction to Turkish mezze. Mezza, small plates, is a popular way to eat in Istanbul, so I decided to have my own little mezza experience at a small deli in the Kadıköy neighborhood. Different kinds of kofte, made with minced meat and spices, homemade cheeses with honey and a few things I couldn’t identify, but which were delicious. Not for the first time that day I wondered how the Turks stay so fit when their food is so very good.

Reibekuchen potato pancakes Germany

German Christmas Markets – Reibekuchen

This is a great example of a new food experience discovered while touring Germany’s Christmas markets. I didn’t see these delicious treats at all last year along the Danube, but they were an important culinary fixture this year as I explored the villages and cities along the Rhine with Viking River Cruises. They’re also very simple, these potato pancakes are deep fried potato fritters served with a variety of toppings, from applesauce to cheese. Usually served in bunches of three, the portions are more than enough for a complete meal. Reibekuchen are also intensely popular, at least based on the markets I visited and for many folks seem to be one of the comfort food staples of the Christmas market experience.

What were your best travel food experiences of 2015?

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