By Jim Ferri
I travel quite a bit each year.
For me, it’s an enriching experience, as I suspect it is for most people who’ve made it a part of their lives.
If you’ve been a reader of Never Stop Traveling for more than a year or two, at this time of year you likely know that I like to look back at the experiences I’ve had over the previous 12 months. Most of them have been good, although there have been minor irritants along the way. After all, based on the law of averages it would be too much to expect all of them to be over-the-top.
Some of them you may not have seen if you hadn’t read the story in which they were tucked away. Others just never made it to these pages.
But now, as I look back at my experiences in 2015, I remember so many of the wonderful experiences, all very different and all very satisfying. All of them enriched my travels.
If you ever travel to any of these places, perhaps they’ll enrich yours, as well.
A Wonderful Place for Morning Coffee or an Evening Drink
Avenida de la Constitución
One of the best places in all of Spain for a morning coffee or evening drink is along Avenida de la Constitución, the main pedestrian-only artery in the heart of the Seville. Midway, where it skirts the cathedral and Plaza de Triunfo, a phalanx of tables sweep out across the sidewalk.
Both visitors and Sevillanos are drawn here by everything from breakfast, lunch and afternoon ice cream, to tapas and drinks well into the wee hours. It’s a beautiful pedestrian street punctuated by ornate lampposts and orange trees and lined with outdoor cafes and little tapas bars.
There are many medieval towns all over Europe that are appealing and interesting to visit. But when you come right down to it, they’re just tourist towns, places given over to tourist shops and restaurants, where their medieval areas are no longer a living part of the actual old city.
But in the Transylvania region of Romania, I found a countryside with medieval walled towns where people still live and work in medieval buildings built by their ancestors in the Middle Ages. The only thing missing are legions of tourist shops and legions of tourists.
Powell’s City of Books
Portland, Oregon, USA
When envisioning Powell’s don’t think of Barnes & Noble, or any other bookshop you’ve ever visited. It’s that unique, so much in fact that it’s a tourist attraction in itself. This 68,000-square-foot bookstore is in an old warehouse and filled to overflowing with new and used titles, even a rare-book room.
It’s a bibliophile’s mecca with more than one million books. It floored me; see it for yourself. There are five different stores in the chain; this is its flagship store on W. Burnside Street.
Although Bath isn’t far from London – It’s only 1½ hours by train from Paddington Station – when you walk about the city you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back to another century. The question, though, is which century?
While this beautiful city is renowned for its spectacular Roman baths, it’s also renowned for its 18th-century Georgian architecture. It’s this pleasant mash-up of history and architecture that’s earned the city its UNESCO World Heritage status. It’s also made Bath a popular day- and a long-weekend trip from London, which only contributes to the city’s onerous parking problems.
Starbucks Store #1
Seattle, Washington, USA
If you love Starbucks this is likely a place you’ll want to see – the original store in Seattle, something of wonder to many coffee aficionados. You’ll find it across the street from the north end of the Pike Place Market.
There’s nothing extraordinary about it except the crowd – in fact, it’s not even easy to find if you don’t know where it is – which is kept in an orderly line by a rope stanchion out front.
Auberge du Soleil Restaurant
Rutherford, California, USA
There is no better combination of spectacular food with a spectacular view than the Auberge du Soleil Restaurant, a Michelin-starred restaurant rated as one of America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants. It also has the most extensive wine list of any restaurant in the Napa Valley.
For two hours, I enjoyed an exceptional four-course dinner with wine pairings. From the fresh scallops appetizer and the most tender beef I have ever tasted as my entree, right through to dessert, it was an incredible dining experience, all made even better with the pairings of exceptional Napa wines.
To this day Oaxaca in southern Mexico retains the magic of “old” Mexico. Its streets are a kaleidoscope of colorful colonial buildings, a wonderful amalgamation of markets and galleries where artists and artisans retain the indigenous traditions that they’ve brought from their villages, a place where traditional cooking remains revered, resulting in little restaurants stuck seemingly everywhere you look. It’s unlike any other city in Mexico. I loved it.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Although you find clusters of museums in other great world cities, nothing comes close to Amsterdam’s marvelous Museumplein. Tucked away in the center of the city, on a huge lawn rife with picnickers, joggers, children at play, lovers, you name it, the Museumplein is a triumvirate of world-renown art museums and a grand concert hall, all within a few minutes walk of one another.
Together the three museums – the Rijksmuseum, with the world’s greatest collection of 17th-century Dutch art; the Van Gogh, home to hundreds of the artist’s works; and the Stedelijk, filled with modern and contemporary art and design – ensure that there’s something here for everyone.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Seattle, Washington, USA
Chihuly Garden and Glass is located below the Space Needle in the Seattle Center and contains the most comprehensive collection of glass-artist Dale Chihuly’s work ever assembled. It includes a collection of glass, sculpture and other media displayed in both interior and exterior exhibits, the later showing his signature works amid a lush garden.
Frida Kahlo Museum
Mexico City, Mexico
The Frida Kahlo Museum is a historic house museum and art museum dedicated to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The house is also the birthplace of Kahlo, the home in which she grew up, lived with her husband Diego Rivera, and eventually died.
The museum, also known as the Blue Museum because of its bright blue walls, contains artwork by Kahlo, Rivera and other artists along with the couple’s Mexican folk art, pre-Hispanic artifacts, photographs, memorabilia, personal items, and more.
Peles Castle is an extravagant place, which served as the summer residence of King Carol I. Built in the late 19th century in neo-Renaissance style, it has 170 rooms filled with lavish furnishings, woodcarvings and artworks, including tapestries, Murano glass, clay chandeliers, etc.
One of the last palaces to be built in Europe, with all of its decorative woodwork and stonework it looks like a fairytale castle. It is one of the most impressive and beautiful castles on the Continent.
Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial
The Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial in Budapest, created in 2005, is a tribute to the Jews murdered on that spot in 1944-45 by the pro-German, anti-Semitic, Arrow Cross militiamen. Jews were brought there, ordered to take their shoes off and then shot by the militiamen, who let the river carry their bodies away.
The monument is 60 pairs of rusted period-shoes in different sizes and styles cast out of iron. It is one of the most moving memorials you’ll see anywhere in Europe, its utter simplicity making it all the more somber. Don’t miss it.
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
I was with a tour group off a river cruise that had stopped in Bulgaria, when we were bussed to the town of Veliko Tarnovo. After being dropped in the center of town, several of us decided to walk down the nearby “artisan’s street” we had heard about.
After getting directions we walked up a short stairway and at the top found this wonderful street, completely lined with art shops, coppersmiths, woodcarvers, and painters. As if plucked from another century, the little cobblestone street ran serpentine along the hillside, flanked on both sides by century-old buildings, all amazingly photographic and colorful, and even from an architectural perspective, quite interesting.
Seville is a city known for seduction. It is, after all, the city of Don Juan and opera’s Carmen. It seduced me, however, with the beauty of its architecture, much of it a marriage of Moorish and Christian, and its wonderful climate and laid-back lifestyle.
That lifestyle is part of the DNA of Sevillanos, as is their resistance to change their traditional ways. In Seville time stands still as you’ll see in the pageantry and spectacles of its Holy Week celebrations, to its fervor for bullfighting.
Napa Valley, California, USA
It’s not only one of the best-known wine regions in the world but, at 27 miles long and only 5 miles across at its widest, the Napa Valley also one of the smallest. More amazing is that it also has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other wine region on the planet, eight in all.
The Napa countryside is remarkably beautiful, picture-perfect with tidy rows of trees and vines all standing straight and neat like little arboreal soldiers. It’s little wonder Napa attracts several million visitors every year, although its location – only about an hour north of San Francisco – certainly helps fuel innumerable weekend getaways.
Santa Barbara, California, USA
You only need to view the azure sea lapping the beach, or the sea of red-roofed whitewashed buildings with their dramatic backdrop of mountains, to understand why Santa Barbara is often called “The American Riviera.”
But the resemblance is more than just sea and mountains. As in Cannes and Antibes, San Remo and Portofino, Santa Barbara also has legions of restaurants and boutiques that wind their way down to the seaside, and charming streets where the aroma of culture wafts from a multitude of museums and galleries.
Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington, USA
One of the oldest continuously operated farmer’s markets in the U.S., Pike Place Market presides over a nine-acre historic district in the heart of downtown Seattle. The market features fresh fish and produce stands, arts and crafts, ethnic groceries and gift stores, vintage clothing, antiques and collectibles, international restaurants, cafes and food bars. Street musicians entertain at designated locales throughout the market.
The Great Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
Another market to visit is the Great Market Hall in Budapest. It’s in a great wrought-iron building near the river that’s a favorite place for local residents to buy foodstuffs…vegetables, meat, fish, spices, various local delicacies, etc.
It’s impeccably clean with aisles wide enough to drive two cars through. There are also other things of a non-food variety, as well. On the second level you’ll also find a variety of restaurants and cafes popular with travelers.
The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field
Seattle, Washington, USA
One of my favorite places in Seattle turned out to be on the outskirts of the city. The Museum of Flight, one of the largest air and space museums in the world, is packed with more than 160 historic aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird. Sit in its cockpit or take a ride in a flight simulator. It’s hands-on and quite fascinating.
What I found most interesting was the section of the museum dedicated to World War II, since it explained the aerial war from both sides of the conflict. Walking about a Messerschmitt, a Spitfire, and many other aircraft, all either hanging in flight above me or parked on the ground, I got a new historical perspective on the war. Step outside and you can board a Concorde, Air Force One, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
Ka De We Department Store
Ka De We is a famous Berlin department store that has been described as “the best delicatessen in the world.” Among everything else you’d expect to find in a high-end department store, its 6th-floor gourmet food hall offers an incredible amount of food including 1200 different types of sausages and 100 different types of vinegar.
What’s best about its food hall though, is its dozen or so counter-style specialty restaurants each of which specializes in a different food. It’s a great place for lunch and much less expensive that many upscale Berlin restaurants. On the other hand, you could just spend the afternoon at its Champagne bar. It’s on my list of places to go every time I visit Berlin.
Mercado San Miguel
The Mercado San Miguel is on my list of places to go every time I visit Madrid. Set in a great Beaux-Arts building right outside the Plaza Mayor, inside it you’ll find dozens of tapas bars, pastry shops and paella shops.
It’s a great place to find a variety of tapas and other foods any time of day as well as plenty of beer, wine, and Champagne. The crowd is a good mix of tourists and locals, making it interesting and comfortable.
The Rose Garden
Portland, Oregon, USA
Portland’s International Rose Test Garden, aka the Portland Rose Garden, features more than 10,000 roses. Each year hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world enjoy the sights and scents of the gardens, including its spectacular views of downtown and Mount Hood.
When I visited in September there were still thousands of flowers in full bloom.
The Cerralbo Museum
While it doesn’t draw anywhere near the crowds you’ll find in the Prado and other major Madrid museums, I loved the Cerralbo Museum. It’s the former home of the collection of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo. The Marquis was an archeologist, politician, poet and avid collector.
Both beautiful and fascinating, the old mansion shows you how wealthy Madrileños once lived. There are suits of armor from around the world, Oriental carpets, tapestries, musical instruments, porcelain and artwork by van Dyck and El Greco, among others. There’s even a ballroom on the second floor.
The Cotswolds, England
North of Bath and west of Oxford in southwest England, The Cotswolds is one of Britain’s prettiest areas. It’s picture-perfect England, a place where fluffy sheep speckle hillsides that are crisscrossed with old dry-stone walls, and large leafy trees provide a canopy for winding roads that often give the word “serpentine” new meaning.
It’s a bucolic region, renowned for its honey-colored limestone market towns, which still look much as they did when built in the Middle Ages, it’s designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the British government.
You needn’t be out in the wilds of Britain to take a fascinating hike, just head to Scotland and take a walk along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile, which is likely the city’s oldest street, begins at the gate of Edinburgh Castle and terminates at the gates of the Palace of Palace of Holyroodhouse. In between you’ll find numerous shops, restaurant, historic sites and if your timing is right, the occasional bagpiper. It’s perfect for a midday stroll.
I loved driving across the Highlands of Scotland, an authentic land of castles and kilts, woodlands and wildflowers, of rugged mountains and wild coasts, and spectacular glens and lochs.
From Loch Ness and the lush Great Glen, one of the most beautiful places in Europe, I wound my way into a treeless valley high in the mountains towards the Isle of Skye, also a wild, austere place, with tall mountains and a rugged coastline. It was a fascinating few days, limited only by a schedule that didn’t allow me to linger longer and delve deeper into the wildest country in the United Kingdom.
I’ve always wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall, the defensive fortification built by Roman Emperor Hadrian. What makes it amazing is that it was built in 122 AD and reaches across the entire width of England, 73 miles from sea to sea across some of the wildest and most dramatic country in England.
Since I hadn’t done my homework before I set out it took me a while to find it, but the reward was great. Judging by the number of hikers I saw, it appears to be a popular hiking trip.
Holy Trinity Church
I enjoyed my visit to Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church much more than my earlier stop at the Bard’s birthplace, which seemed so much more commercial.
Holy Trinity is a beautiful church surrounded by a large old cemetery beneath the trees, with Shakespeare, along with his wife Anne Hathaway, interred in one of the chapels. It’s quite beautiful inside.
I drove around idyllic Cornwall, the toe of land jutting out into the Atlantic in southwestern England, where the air is briny, the seafood fresh and the landscape dramatic. I only had two days to visit the area and I found myself speeding across sheep-speckled hillsides, and through clumps of thick forest, hurtling through canyon-like hedgerows a car-width wide.
It was a beautiful bucolic countryside, with a wild coast scalloped with little bays that sheltered old fishing villages ripe with good pubs and restaurants, gardens and galleries. I need to go back.