My Most Memorable Travel Experiences of 2013

DSC03890-Cuba singer
Street musicians, Havana

By Jim Ferri

Two weeks ago I had told you that following an end-of- year- hiatus, Never Stop Traveling would not  be published until January 8. I’ve changed my mind.

While thinking of the many places to which I’ll be traveling in 2014, I also found myself reminiscing about many of my experiences on the road during the past year. Some of them were good, some were bad and the rest fell somewhere in-between. But they were all memorable and I decided to share them with you – and there’s no better day to do it than the first day of the New Year.

Atlanta History Center

Atlanta History Center

This is not meant to be a list of the best in the world. It is, rather, a very subjective list of good and bad experiences I had during my travels in 2013. Admittedly, some are inane and may seem ridiculous, but frivolous or not they all wedged themselves in my mind. They are listed below in no particular order.

Think back on where you’ve been in 2013 or any other year, for that matter, and you’ll certainly come up with your own list.

Feel free to add any of your own “best and worst” experiences at the end, whether that be a great slice of pizza you had in Naples or the worst taxi ride ever in Timbuktu or wherever you may have landed.

Here’s my list of my memorable experiences in 2013:

Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate

Most Intriguing Sculpture

Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”), AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, Chicago, IL. A beautiful work of art in a beautiful setting. Chicago’s newest icon, designed by British artist Anish Kapoor, will mesmerize you any time of the day.

Best Train Ride

The Bergen Railway from Bergen to Oslo, Norway (or vice versa).  One of the highest railways in Europe, it crosses Europe’s highest mountain plateaus and has often been called one of the most scenic train rides in the world.

Worst Train Ride

The 07:42 Intercity train from Paris to Montreux. I got off the train and found myself in Montreaux, France when I was supposed to be in Montreux, Switzerland, hours away. Share my ordeal at “’What country am I in?’ I asked her”.

Dig This

Dig This

Best Playground

Dig This, 3012 South Rancho Dr., Las Vegas, NV. Ever wonder what it’s like to play with a bulldozer or excavator? Hop up into the cab at this playground for adults and start digging away. And it’s not just “a guy thing” – I saw plenty of women there also.

Best Hotel

The Thief, Landgangen 1, Oslo, Norway. One of the most spectacular and comfortable (as well as expensive) new hotels in Scandinavia. With plush hi-tech rooms and a great art collection, It brings comfort and service to a new level.

Best Surprise Restaurant

Sportello, 348 Congress Street, Boston, MA. An Italian restaurant that creates seasonal dishes each day (pastas, creamy polentas, great salads, and other entrees) shares the kitchen with four-star restaurant Menton (a member of the Relais and Château organization) thus providing you an excellent lunch or dinner at quite a reduced price. Delicious. Great service too.

Smoky Mts. National Park

Smoky Mountains. National Park

Best Drive

Smoky Mountains National Park. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, it’s a beautiful drive through the  mountains seeing all sorts of wildlife including elk. It’s also the most popular national park in the USA. Just grab the keys and do it.

Best Totally Unexpected Experience

Lu Lu Lobster Boat, 55 West St, Bar Harbor, ME. A unique two-hour tour on a traditional Downeast-style lobster boat. It’s incredibly entertaining and educational and you’ll learn everything you’ve never known about lobsters and lobstermen and a lot of other things.

Neuhaus Choclatier

Neuhaus Choclatier

Best Chocolates

Neuhaus Choclatier, Rue Lebeau 79 (Sablon), Bruxelles. According to my wife (who did a comparison taste test of different brands with her friends) this is the place for chocolates. I agree. You can buy their chocolates all over the world but they’re best enjoyed at their source.

Best Hotel Checkout Experience

The Thief, Landgangen 1, Oslo, Norway. When I was checking out very early one morning before the restaurant opened, the clerk was dismayed that I was leaving without first having breakfast. She phoned the chef in the kitchen and within minutes I had fresh coffee and a freshly made boxed breakfast-to-go.

Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium

Best Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St NW, Atlanta, GA. Smack in the middle of downtown Atlanta, it’s home to more than 100,000 animals and 500 species living in 10 million gallons of water. And it’s worth every drop. It’s a “don’t miss” if you’re ever in Atlanta.

Best Seafood (which I probably shouldn’t list following “Best Aquarium”)

It’s a tie:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf Inn, 22 Commercial St, Boothbay Harbor, ME. The scallops here were so fresh and delicious the chef must have harvested them on the way to the kitchen.
  • Chez Leon, Beenhouwersstraat 18, Brussels, Belgium. If you’re looking for mussels, this is the place to go. Yes, it’s touristy but go anyway. The 400,000 people who sit down here every year devour a ton of mussels daily.
Europa Stüberl Restaurant

Europa Stüberl Restaurant

Best Overall Meal

Europa Stüberl Restaurant, Grand Hotel Europa, Südtiroler Platz 2, Innsbruck, Austria. An award-winning restaurant where one dines in Old-World comfort. I ordered a breast of quail terrine, venison borbon vanilla and apfelstrudel mit eis. Along with a nice Austrian wine, of course. Ah, heaven…

Best Room-Service Steak

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Ave NE, Atlanta, GA. I like steaks but I’ve also learned never to expect perfection from room service. Forced to work late one night I called room service and they sent up a New York Strip that hit the mark. If it was on the breakfast menu I probably would have ordered another the next day.

Worst Tour

Inside CNN Studio Tour, One CNN Center, Atlanta, GA. Our tour guide had the personality of a telephone pole, which greatly destracted from what should have been an interesting tour. Enough said.

The Mob Museum

The Mob Museum

Best Mob Encounter

The Mob Museum, 300 E Stewart Ave, Las Vegas, NV. It’s actual name is the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, and it’s trying to advance public understanding of organized crime and it’s impact on American society. And it does a very good job. I expected kitsch but found an intriguing educational experience instead that kept me, and others, for hours. A “must see” when you’re in Sin City.

Worst (and Scariest) Moment

The Skydeck at the Willis (aka The Sears) Tower, 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL. Go to the top of the Willis Tower and step out into glass boxes 1,353 feet in the air. Take my word for it – it’s definitely not for acrophobics.

Best Unexpected Museum Experience

The Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Rd NW, Atlanta, GA. A wonderful, multifaceted museum complex spread across several acres, it has several wonderful exhibits including one that explains the impact the Civil War had on people’s lives both in the North and the South. There’s also a Folklife Gallery, an exhibition on golf legend Bobby Jones Jr., a family farm from the 1860s and a 1928 mansion. There’s something for everyone.

The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

Best Views from a Vineyard

The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, Switzerland. These ancient vineyards, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, run along the northern shore of Lake Geneva. Stretching for about 20 miles from the Chateau de Chillon near Montreux to the eastern outskirts of Lausanne, they’re beautiful any time of the year.

Best Small Museum

DDR Museum, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 1, Berlin, Germany. One of the most popular attractions in the city, this privately owned, hands-on museum will mesmerize you with its exhibits about life in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik. You’ll even learn how children learned to count by counting tanks in kindergarten. An eye-opener.

Old Québec

Old Québec

Best City Experience in North America

Old Québec, Quebec City, Canada. Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, oozes with Old-World ambiance. There’s no other place like it on this side of the Atlantic. What a place to spend a weekend! Parlez-vous Canadienne?

Best “House Tour”

The Biltmore Estate, 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC. You need to see this grandiose 19th-century mansion to believe it. A 250-room French Renaissance chateau in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, The Biltmore redefines opulence. The gardens and surrounding lands alone are worth the trip here.

Village Inn of Woodstock

Village Inn of Woodstock

Best Breakfast at a B&B

Village Inn of Woodstock, 41 Pleasant St, Woodstock, VT. We stayed at this antique- and art-filled little gem and in the morning enjoyed the lightest, tastiest waffles, quiche with Vermont cheddar cheese and incredible blueberry pancakes, all to die for. What a way to get going in the morning. And at 5:00pm we came back to share restaurant tips with fellow guests over complimentary wine at Happy Hour. A great winter-getaway weekend.

Best City Surprise

Oslo, Norway. I finally returned after several decades and couldn’t believe my eyes. North Sea oil money has transformed Oslo into one of the most interesting cities in northern Europe. From its critically acclaimed Opera House on the harbor to interesting museums scattered all about, Oslo provides a great experience for travelers.

Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov

Best Small City

Český Krumlov,  Czech Republic. Talk about fairytale settings…..Český Krumlov seems to have captured the market. It’s a few hours outside of Prague and it’s best seen in the off-season when most of the tour buses and hordes of tourists have left. Overnight to have the place to yourself.

Most Eye-Opening Travel Experience

Cuba. Cuba. Cuba. The people are wonderful, the poverty unbelievable (more coming on this soon).

Best Emotional Moment

Coming home after 5+ hectic, rushed weeks on the road. Thank God for a wife who puts up with all of this.

 

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Abramchik January 1, 2014 at 11:46 am

Jim,

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you, your family and entire staff.
Thank you for a very interesting year of travel reports.
I look forward to your most informative articles in the new year.

Paul Abramchik (GCT Great Rivers of Europe Trip 2012)

Reply

Jim Ferri January 1, 2014 at 11:47 am

Thank you Paul. And a great Happy New Year to you and your family also!

Reply

Kim Watkins January 1, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I have a location I wish I had had a different experience: Casablanca, Morocco. We arrived for only a few hours on a Sunday morning in the rain. The city is basically shut down on Sundays, especially in the morning. As a positive, we did get to drive around the city with very little traffic!

Best tropical location with European flair: Madeira, Portugal. A beautiful island off the coast of Africa, it is an incredible mix of Hawaii, an old European village, and Palm Beach. If you go, be sure to ride the wicker toboggan down the hill on the streets from Monte to Funchal.

I disagree with your best drive. Incredible as the Smoky Mountains are, the Going-To-The-Sun Road, which crosses east and west through Glacier National Park, is beyond breathtaking, thrilling, and scary all at the same time. You drive on the edge of these mighty mountains with a mere two-foot-stone wall protecting you from the vast depths of the valley below. Just as you feel you’ve conquered your fear, you swerve quickly to avoid the mountain goat in the road or drive slowly to allow a waterfall to pound your car in nature’s own car wash. Did I mention you start the drive wearing shorts and switch to cold-weather gear to trek through the snow … in JULY?

Best encounters with wildlife: the colossal herd of bison surrounding our car as we sat inside it in Yellowstone National Park, the moose standing 30′ from me at the lake”s edge in Grand Teton National Park, and the grizzly cub playing in the tall grass like a true toddler 20 yards from our car while mom and dad tried to make him a brother on the other side of the road! (As my teen daughter said, “Nature’s version of Build-A-Bear!”)

Best sneaky and not-winning-good-graces-with-God experience: after realizing it would take hours of waiting in line to be able to get into St. Peter”s Basilica in Vatican City (and we only had a few hours to tour all of Rome), we chose to pay the admission to the Vatican Museum. No time to enjoy the historic relics, we bypassed everything and headed straight to the Sistine Chapel (which was incredible yet much smaller than I expected). After snapping a few illegal photographs of one of Michelangelo’s greatest works, we followed a tour group down the back stairwell straight into the Basilica. Rather than referring to it as cheating the system, I like to think of it as giving money to the Vatican!

Reply

Jim Ferri January 1, 2014 at 1:49 pm

It does sound, though, that you make your wonderful memories all over the world. Keep doing it!

Reply

Kim Watkins January 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm

I inherited my love of traveling from my father.

Reply

Jim Ferri January 1, 2014 at 10:13 pm

For full disclosure: Ms. Watkins and I have a family relationship.

Reply

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