A view of teh Alps with clouds between the mountains

The Alps as seen from Glacier Paradise near Zermatt, Switzerland

By Jim Ferri

I travel quite a bit every year (don’t even bother to ask how far since I’ve never figured it out).

All during 2014 I’ve spent a lot of time wandering about Europe in addition to traipsing a bit closer to home as I traveled about the U.S. and Canada.

lamps hanging in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

It was a wonderful year in which I met many people, made new friends and had some great experiences. To be truthful, due to the law of averages I also had a few not-so-great experiences but I’ll just focus on the good.

As I wrote last year in the same end-of-year roundup, this is not meant to be a list of things and places voted the best in the world. It is only a very subjective list of experiences I had during my travels.

And again, admittedly, some are inane and may seem ridiculous. But frivolous or not they all wedged themselves in my mind and made me smile along the way. They are listed below in no particular order, just wandering all over the world as I tend to do.

Best Sunrise

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

People looking at sunrise in Badlands National Park

Sunrise in the Badlands

It was well worth the early wake-up to stand in this otherworldly place of incredible and colorful rock formations to watch the sunrise. It’s a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. When the sun is finally up drive a few miles, possibly passing Bighorn Sheep and other wildlife along the way, to have breakfast at the park’s Cedar Pass Lodge Restaurant. Badlands National Park

Best Sunset

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Sunset in Oia by a windmill

Sunset in Oia

Many travelers to Santorini arrive on a cruise ship and only see the island’s incredible sunsets from the main town of Santorini. But the real spectacle takes place in Oia on the end of the island where thousands gather to cheer the setting. You’ll need to be staying overnight, of course, and it’s probably best to stay in Oia itself since the drive to other points on the island after dark can be grueling. Santorini Tourism

Best Fun Tour

A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour

Pizza on a plate at restaurant

A Slice Of Brooklyn Pizza Tour

If you’re in the Big Apple and looking for a quirky and humorous tour, A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour will leave you fed and laughing. It also provides slices of Brooklyn’s history ranging from way-back-then to the present day, including tidbits about Brooklyn’s many native sons and daughters. I never knew so many movies were made in the borough and our bus stopped in the exact spot various films were shot as the clip was shown to us. And, of course, there was all that pizza. A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour

Best Cooking Class

Woman holding pizza

Walkabout Florence’s Cooking Class

Walkabout Florence’s Cooking Class at a Farmhouse in Tuscany

It’s a great tour (with plenty of food and wine) for individuals, couples and families. We walked about the city a little bit, all the while being given insights into Florentine life, before stopping in the city market to buy groceries for our class. The class took place on a small farm on the outskirts of the city. Mama Mia! – I couldn’t believe how good were the dishes we made. Bring a healthy appetite. Walkabout Florence

Best City For Wandering About

Istanbul, Turkey

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul at twilight

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Istanbul is one of the most beguiling cities you’ll find anywhere, a cornucopia of cultures that kept me occupied for three days. Do as I did and see the top sites, then just walk aimlessly around different neighborhoods. Take a good guidebook so you’ll have a better understanding of the culture and the people. Go Turkey.com

Best Small U.S. City

Cody, Wyoming

Scuplpture of an elk at the Whitney Western Art Museum in Cody

Whitney Western Art Museum in Cody

Cody is a treasure and few cities its size offer so many unique experiences. We found so much to do here including visiting the renowned Buffalo Bill Center of the West (that encompasses, among other museums, the Whitney Western Art Museum and the Cody Firearms Museum); the historic Old Trail Town; the Japanese internment camp at Heart Mountain and Yellowstone National Park, both less than an hour’s drive. And that’s just for starters. Cody/Yellowstone Country

Best Small U.S. Town

The Finger Lakes area of upper New York State

exhibit in the Corning Glass Museum

Corning Glass Museum

This obviously isn’t one town but a clutch of them, all which I really enjoyed for their uniqueness. This is Mark Twain Country, where the author penned many of his best works, and is also home to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, the National Soaring Museum and the well-regarded Arnot Art Museum, both in Elmira. It’s great for a weekend getaway. Mark Twain Country

Best View of the Alps

The view from Glacier Paradise near Zermatt, Switzerland

People looking across the Alps from Glacier Paradise in Switzerland

The view from Glacier Paradise

Take a series of cable cars from Zermatt up to nearly 13,000 feet and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular Alpine views of Switzerland, Italy and France and the famed Matterhorn. It’s breathtaking any time of year but in the snow when we visited just a few weeks ago it was incredibly beautiful. Just be aware that the cost of the lift tickets and a stay in Zermatt are as steep as the mountains you’ll be viewing. Zermatt Tourism

Best “Stumbled-Upon” Experience

Swing dancing on the street in Utrecht, Holland

People dancing in the street in Utrecht

Swing dancing on the street in Utrecht

I stumbled upon this, which somehow all seemed so typically Dutch. On the street alongside the Old Church someone had set up a small sound system and started playing tunes from the 1940s. Passerby’s started dancing or just paused to watch it all. It was one of those things that makes travel so rewarding. Utrecht

Best Place for a Late Afternoon Drink

Any bar, café or restaurant at the Bay on Little Venice on Mykonos, Greece

People having drinks on Little Venice on Mykonos

Little Venice on Mykonos

Little Venice on Mykonos is a group of brightly painted buildings built along the bay. Near them many shops and restaurants pepper the shoreline. I’ll say no more ­– see a 20-second video of the experience by clicking on the photo to the right. Mykonos Tourism

Best Restaurant Surprise

One of the great pleasures of traveling is discovering great meals in great restaurants. I found two on two continents:

  • dinner on table at Dinner at De Witte Ballons, Utrecht

    Dinner at De Witte Ballons, Utrecht

    De Witte Ballons, Utrecht, Holland. I came across this locally popular gem and was immediately drawn in. It’s a comfortable neighborhood place where they also provide half portions of most menu items for exactly half the price. A great place for a reasonably priced lunch or dinner. And delicious food too. De Witte Ballons

  • Uptown Café, Butte, Montana. Arriving in Butte one Sunday evening things looked fairly grim dinner-wise until we remembered a small restaurant we had passed near our hotel. It turned out to have both great food and service, the kind of place people would line up at the door if it were in New York, Los Angeles or any other major city. It’s been a Butte favorite for nearly thirty years. Uptown Café

Best Jewish Deli in New York City

2nd Avenue Deli, New York

Pastrami on rye at teh 2nd Ave Deli

Pastrami on rye at teh 2nd Ave Deli

Based on a taste test of New York’s most popular deli sandwich ­– ­the venerable pastrami on rye with mustard and a pickle ­­– in the top Jewish deli’s in Manhattan, I found the 2nd Avenue Deli to be the “Pastrami King” of New York. (Interestingly, the deli isn’t even on 2nd Avenue but on 33rd Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues.) The runner-up is Katz’s Delicatessen (of When Harry Met Sally fame) down on East Houston Street. 2nd Ave Deli

Best Hamburger Joint

Hudson’s Hamburgers, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

woman serving a hamburger at Hudson’s Hamburgers, Coeur d’Alene

Hudson’s Hamburgers, Coeur d’Alene

Who would think that a place that serves nothing but hamburgers (not even French fries), would be written up in The Wall Street Journal? I knew it was special when I stepped inside and found its small luncheonette-size counter filled with couples in shorts and t-shirts sitting next to businessmen in dark suits. The burgers are freshly made and simple with cheese the only accoutrement. Hudson’s Hamburgers, 207 E Sherman Avenue, Coeur d’Alene, ID (no website)

Best Archaeological Dig

Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

tour group at Akrotiri on Santorini

Akrotiri on Santorini

I wasn’t going to visit Akrotiri until an archaeologist I met urged me to pay it a visit, and I’m really glad I did. Akrotiri is a nearly intact town unearthed from volcanic ash, the reason Santorini is sometimes called the “Greek Pompeii.” It’s also very easy to visit because a building has been built about the site, allowing you to wander about in air-conditioned comfort. The entire site is incredible. Santorini.com

Best Dinosaur Experience

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center

I was lucky enough to visit the Center during a slow period and got to speak with some of the experts who were cleaning bones brought in from the nearby prairie. And it was thrilling when they allowed me to hold one that was 150-million years old. Time your visit well and you can visit the actual dig site. My wife didn’t even want to stop to visit the Center but then I couldn’t get her out of the place, it was that interesting. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Best Chicago Blues Club

Kingston Mines

Blues singer at Kingston Mines

Kingston Mines

Twice when visiting Chicago I asked several people, including renowned blues singer Billy Branch, for their list of the top blues clubs in the city. Kingston Mines was always on the list. It’s a small funky place, a wonderful little club where you can hear great blues music while eating BBQ and sipping a beer. Kingston Mines

Best Get-Away-From-It-All Hotel

Voreina Gallery Suites, Santorini, Greece

three people Voreina Gallery Suites, Santorini

The staff at Voreina Gallery Suites, Santorini

The Voreina has only nine suites, each with a private pool and terrace. My terrace was a great place to relax with a glass of good Santorini wine at the end of the day, as I looked across the vineyards to the white cities of Santorini and Pyros in the distance. You can have dinner brought to you from the nearby Selene Restaurant, which is “well regarded” says the London Times and listed in the 101 Best European Restaurants by DailyMeal.com. The amicable staff makes you feel like family. Voreina Gallery Suites

Best Authentic USA Western Experience

The Buffalo Roundup, Custer State Park, SD

Cowboys on horseback at The Buffalo Roundup

The Buffalo Roundup

There’s nothing else like it in America, cowboys rounding up a huge herd of bison for culling. It’s the authentic Old West with cowboys (and cowgirls) whooping it up on their horses as they drive the herd for miles across the rolling hills. It takes place on a Friday in late September / early October and draws thousands of people from all over the world. I was lucky enough to be right in the heart of the action (see South Dakota’s Great Buffalo Roundup) South Dakota Tourism

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