What’s Your Favorite Place in the Whole World?

I am asked this question a LOT, as I’m sure you are. And while you’d think I’d have an answer to this by now since I write about and dissect all my travel experiences, turns out I still hesitate whenever I’m asked. So I bring to you a top five list, based on some non linear and completely arbitrary criteria. Enjoy!

1. Morocco

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This is usually my immediate answer to the favorite place question. This was one of the best trips I’ve taken and Morocco is one of the most interesting, compelling, mysterious and beautiful places I’ve been. What makes it number one? The way I felt after the trip. It’s the country that inspired me to start this little blog. I wanted so badly to immortalize the experiences I had there, to encourage others to go. The people I met there were incredible and if I could go back this instant I would. I would eat at Earth Cafe, go back to Ben’s farm, visit the Jardin Majorelle and go talk to some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met.

2. Negev Desert, Israel

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I am a city girl. Sure I grew up in the suburbs and we had trees and grass there and I even saw some mountains growing up when visiting my grandparents in upstate New York and taking annual ski trips. But when our bus crossed into the vast desert in Israel and we were surrounded by wide, flat, sandy desert on all sides, my face was pressed up against that window so hard and I was trying desperately not to blink for fear of missing this glorious landscape. I took a million photos when we went outside to explore Ben Gurion’s grave, and when we came across a waterfall in the middle of a hike I thought I was experiencing a mirage. This one again makes the list because I will never forget the awe I felt when first hit with the shocking beauty of this incredible place.

3. Mont St. Michel, France

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Speaking of being shocked with awe inspiring beauty while young and on a tour bus, the image of the beautiful island of Mont St. Michel in the distance will forever be etched in my memory. It was more than a decade ago, on my first trip outside the US (after begging my parents and working weekends at a bagel store to pay for it) and my best friend Allie nudged me awake so I could look out the window. Seeing it from the distance was amazing but once inside this former secluded monastery, it was completely unlike anything I had ever seen. Not that I had seen much at the time because as I said this was my first trip outside the country and actually the first time I had ever been on a plane, but still, we’re going with the wonderfully arbitrary rule of listing my top places based on how I felt when I first saw them, so this one most certainly makes the list.

4. Lagos, Portugal

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Our trip to Lagos was so hilariously clumsy, but after all the little mistakes we made in trying to reach the Point de Piedade, I will never forget Randi looking up at me as I crouched, clinging to the narrow stone staircase I was attempting to walk down, saying “Amy, you’re REALLY going to like this.” This was one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and after making so many errors in judgement that trip, it was a much needed travel victory.

5. O’Fournier Winery, Uco Valley, Argentina

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I never wanted to leave here. As soon as we arrived at this massive Argentinian winery and sat down to our meal and wine tasting, we looked out at the lake, which reflected the vineyards that had turned a gorgeous vibrant red in the fall as well as the monumental Andes mountains just beyond the vineyards. We sat at the winery’s restaurant eating the delicious olive oil bread I had become obsessed with when we ate at the winery owner’s wife’s restaurant the night before (got all that?) which was dubbed the best restaurant in Argentina (post about this coming soon.) The fact that I got to eat this olive oil bread twice was such a delightful treat, and then I was served the best steak of my life. On our last day in Argentina, to be sitting in this experience, eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine, staring out at this surreal scenery (oh did I mention the clouds were irradescent?) was an experience I hope to one day re-live.

Have you been to any of my top 5 places? Do you agree with this list? What are your favorite places in the world?

One Day in Uruguay

On our last full day before departing for wine country, we woke up super early and boarded a ferry called the Buquebus to Uruguay. The fact that we could add another country to our itinerary made it a no brainer decision to make the trip there. Patricia, our favorite concierge, booked the whole thing for us, and we boarded this boat that looked like a casino/cruise ship/night club and was so massive that you sort of had to wonder “how does this thing float?”

On the other side of the Rio de la Plata in Colonia, Uruguay, we wandered around and explored the coastal beauty of this little town before stopping to have a quick bite to eat. At the restaurant, a really adorable and seemingly well cared for stray dog laid himself down in front of our table. I fed him some of my sausage, and he inspected it carefully before eating it. He sat with us for the rest of the meal and when we got up to leave, our new pup friend, who I named Muchacho, stood up as well. We started walking, and he followed suit. Muchacho loved us and walked around with us for awhile longer. We loved him too, and entertained the brief thought of bringing him back to New York before admitting that such a thing would be logistically and financially impossible, and likely illegal.Image

We parted ways with our beloved Muchacho who we had grown so attached to, and rented a vehicle that looked part golf cart/part ATV. I wanted to rent a motorbike because I’ve never been on one and I knew Matt had driven them around during his trip to Asia, but he was afraid of me getting hurt (which I certainly appreciated – I am a bit injury prone.) So we took off in our Uruguayan golf cart, which apparently you’re allowed to drive down major roads and highways in. We followed the map to an old bullfighting ring, which despite being very cool looking, wouldn’t let tourists inside. Then we kept driving, getting lost, meeting more well kept stray dogs (though none as amazing as Muchacho), and eventually came across an old horse racetrack. The entire area seemed somewhat abandoned, aside from a gardener and a few horses rolling around in the mud. We stayed here for quite awhile, it was incredibly peaceful and serene, and we felt like the only two people in this tiny little country.

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Get Lost in Buenos Aires

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I totally get why people move to Buenos Aires. The city is intoxicating – it is vast, it’s architecture is phenomenal, it’s a melting pot of different cultures from all over the world, but it still maintains its rich history, albeit a fairly modern one. Before I arrived, I had heard that Buenos Aires is like France, like Spain, like New York, and while I understand these comparisons, it’s actually like none of these places; a city wholly unique in every way. And you could easily live here for an extended period of time if not permanently, because as with any of the cities mentioned, there’s just always so much to do – somewhere new to eat or some street to explore that you’ve never walked down.

We spent most of our time exploring this fascinating city, stopping at the must see tourist spots – Recoleta, the Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, the obelisk, Cafe Tortoni to see a Tango show, La Cabrera for steak (more on that in an upcoming post), the San Telmo market on Sunday, Puerto Madera and La Boca. You’ll find all these places in a guidebook, your friends will all recommend them – and I would too, I mean it would be a shame to come all the way to South America and miss these landmarks, but my caveat would be to set aside an entire day or two to just get lost in this crazy city. Just wander and explore, because you will stumble upon the best food, perhaps some interesting people, and the most glorious buildings that are just like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Our many moments of getting lost brought us to Buenos Aires’ oldest bookstore, took us past beautiful churches, let us into a delicious pastry shop, and showed us some of the craziest street art I’ve ever encountered. So my biggest tip for those spending some time in Buenos Aires – get lost.

 

Arriving in Buenos Aires: The Glu Hotel

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After a Xanax induced ten hour nap on the plane to Buenos Aires (guys, I don’t know why I haven’t been taking this shit for YEARS – this was the first time I’ve slept on an international flight, and I was out cold for most of it – such a success!), we landed and went to our hotel. The Glu Hotel came highly recommended by a friend, and we liked it for it’s location, cleanliness, etc. but most of all – the amazing concierge service. We particularly loved this one woman, I think her name was Patricia, who sat us down upon arrival, drank coffee with us and told us all about the neighborhood we were in and the surrounding neighborhoods. She booked everything for us, from our ferry to Uruguay, to our nightly restaurant reservations. She showed us where everything was on the map, told us where to see the best tango show, and didn’t make us feel silly when we asked ridiculously annoying, American tourist questions.

The most amazing anecdote though, came at the end of our trip, when we left Buenos Aires to go to Mendoza. Matt bought this beautiful vintage print of the Boca Junior Soccer Stadium from a crazy looking antique store (read: store full of absoluate junk) in San Telmo, and we were really worried about bringing it on the plane because it wasn’t wrapped very securely. So we decided to carry it on. At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, when loading up the cab to go to the airport and fly to Mendoza, we apparently forgot to grab the poster since it was separate from the luggage, and left it in the hotel lobby. Which we obviously didn’t realize until we were boarding the plane. Total fail. Matt called the Glu to see if they still had found it – luckily they did, and they graciously offered to hold it for us until we returned to Buenos Aires the following Saturday before our trip back home.

That’s not the end of the story though – when we were unpacking at our hotel in Mendoza, Matt suddenly stopped and looked up in disbelief at me as he realized he left all his American cash (hundreds of dollars) in the safe at the Glu hotel, 1,000 miles away.

I offered no help aside from telling him to go downstairs and call them right away. And guys, when he called, our girl Patricia told him not to worry, she put him on hold, checked the safe, and retrieved his cash. She then held that AND the print for us, all of which was returned when we went back to Buenos Aires the following Saturday, and all valuable items made it safely back to the United States.

So, yes, in addition to having clean, big rooms, delicious coffee, and a great location, the Glu Hotel surpassed all of our expectations. On that day we returned to Buenos Aires and went back to the hotel to see our old friend Patricia, it legitimately felt like home.

Disconnecting

As much as I love keeping up with all that’s being said on the Internet and staying connected to my friends and colleagues on social networks (hell, I’ve made a career out of doing so), one of the things I love most about travel is the opportunity to unplug and get away from all that. Even when I rent an international cell phone and check my email while abroad, it’s far less frequent. It makes the long awaited trip truly feel like a vacation.

Lucky for me, “tuning out” has been a much discussed trend for 2012. People who have experienced social media overload are now finding more and more ways to tune out in their everyday life, not just when escaping to a foreign country. I wrote about this on the DeVries blog earlier this month:

http://www.devriespr.com/2012/01/devries-forecasts-2012-trends/

Unfortunately, the trip to Mexico didn’t pan out (I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t), but I’m making every effort to plan my next international adventure – and looking forward to the next opportunity to put my phone on airplane mode for ten days and truly disconnect.

 

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Maine: The Lobster

Even though the weather was horrible and rainy for the bulk of our trip, there was one thing we were able to enjoy = the lobster.  I now totally understand why people travel from all over the world just to try authentic, fresh Maine lobster – it not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded our expectations by far.

Lobster #1 = The Lobster Shack, Portland

This was our first legitimate Maine lobster experience.  It was a bit of a drive from our hotel in Portland, but holy hell was it worth it.  The restaurant is nothing fancy on the inside, and the menu consists of “lobster, crab, scallops and lobster rolls,” which made ordering quite easy.  The cool thing about this place was the view – the restaurant is perched above a gorgeous rock cliff and you can look out at the water while eating.  I climbed around on the rocks before Matt almost killed me because he just wanted to eat his damn lobster already.  But you know how I feel about rock formations next to water. I must climb and play!

When we finally went inside the restaurant and sat down with our whole lobsters on the red, cafeteria style tray, we took our first bites and looked at each other with wide eyes.  It must’ve been the combination of how fresh the meat was, the taste of the saltwater that reminded us just how recently this guy was crawling around in the ocean, and the fact that this first bite lived up to every expectation we ever had. Thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we pretty much blacked out for the rest of the meal.

 

Lobster #2 = The Lobster Pound, Ogunquit (Round One)

Our visit to the highly recommended Lobster Pound in Ogunquit would determine our culinary activities for the remainder of our stay in Maine.  Upon arrival, we were directed to a huge tank of lobsters, where a young boy who could NOT be more excited about lobsters herds them around the tank and allows you to pick which one you’ll be eating for your upcoming meal.  We dubbed him “The Lobster Nerd.”  We were really excited about lobsters too, so he really took a liking to us.  He even let me hold our lobster before throwing it into the steamer where it would later become our dinner.  There was something really upsetting yet strangely satisfying about this.  Matt and I each chose a 1.5 pound lobster, both enormous.  We asked what the biggest lobster the nerd had ever seen was, to which he answered, a little over four pounds.  He suggested that the next night, we split a four pound lobster.  And it was decided.

Lobster #3 = Lobster Rolls at The Lobster Shack, Ogunquit

On our last day in Maine, we didn’t want to spoil our appetite for what we knew was to come later, but we still hadn’t tried the highly recommended lobster rolls at the Lobster Shack in Ogunquit.  Despite my best attempts to convince him otherwise, Matt made us share this very delicious lobster roll for lunch.  He was right in restricting us.  Read on.

 

Lobster #4 = The Grand Finale – The Lobster Pound, Ogunquit

We had been preparing for this moment for the 24 hours leading up to it.  When we arrived back at the pound and walked out to the lobster tank, the “Lobster Nerd” had anticipated our arrival. His face lit up when we walked outside, and he rushed to the back of the tank to give us the ginormous lobster he had pre-chosen for us. The crustacean we were looking at was an absolute beast.  When our monster was placed on the scale, he weighed in at five pounds.  The Lobster Nerd told us this was one of the biggest lobsters he had seen all season, and we knew it was meant to be.   We approved him, and about twenty minutes later, he was served to us, and we devoured what was our last, most grandeoise, Maine lobster.  The size of his claw against my hand says it all.