If there was one theme to my travels in 2016 it would be Asia. I made six trips to Asia, including three new countries (Philippines, China, Israel), and at one point had made three trips to Asia in a 35 day period. I visited several new countries in Europe as well (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland, Russia, and Estonia) while on a Viking Ocean Cruise.
A secondary theme for the year was new projects. I started a podcast, a quest to visit every winery in the state of Washington, infused a neglected site with more enthusiasm, created space for more indepth stories, and have a food site ready to launch in the first quarter of 2017. Whew! The next year will be even busier than this one.
Since some of my trips, both international and domestic, were made on relatively short notice, it reinforced my travel philosophy to always have a bag packed, ready for the next great adventure.
Here’s a month-by-month look at my year in travel:
I welcomed in 2016 with a night in Seattle, enjoying the closing of the holiday season with some standing traditions: New Year’s Eve dinner at El Gaucho and New Year’s Day breakfast at Top Pot Doughnuts. Add in a little shopping, movie, and some time at the Pike Place Market, and it was a great way to say hello to another year.
I had some extended time on Hawaii and finally had time to do a bit of touring of the island, including a trip to Volcanoes National Park. The small group tour was sponsored by Viator (I’m a fan of their tours and have taken several of them) and it was a full day of enjoying the island. While the highlight of the day was a chance to see the red glow of the volcano at night, other stops during the day included time at Kona coffee plantation and a picnic lunch, looking for sea turtles on the black sand of Punaluu Beach, visiting Volcano Winery for dinner and tasting (they also grow and harvest tea there as well), hiking through a lava tube, and a visit to the Jagger Museum.
I had time to check out a couple more hotels in Seattle – Motif Seattle and Hotel Andra (in photo above). In addition to having some places to refer visitors to, I think being a tourist in your hometown gives you a chance to see the city through different eyes. I hope to be doing more things in the Seattle area in 2017.
In early February I head to the Philippines, my first of two visits this year. I spent this trip in Manila, learning a little about the country’s history, tasting the food that it is so well known for, and enjoying the big city vibe. I stayed at the Hyatt City of Dreams.
In March I headed back to Japan, this time to the Osaka Kansai area, visiting Awaji, Nara, Ochiai, and more. Japan is a fascinating, yet frustrating, country and this visit fit that pattern. I love the history, culture, art, and learning about how people live. I feel frustrated when my lack of language skills impacts my ability to get around (more commonly experienced in the more rural areas). The area has such a rich culinary history to draw from, but all too often rely on sushi and sashimi when there is so much more. Highlights of the trip included learning how incense is made, time spent in an onsen, staying in ryokans, and enjoying time in the mountains in the Ochiai area. I’ve only scratched the surface of this country and hope to return again.
In April I added a new state to my list with a quick trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore, but did wander around the state capitol building and nearby sights and had time to sample the local barbecue. As near as I could tell, North Carolina barbecue is a red sauce flavored with ketchup, vinegar, and seasonings. Delicious!
I got to add another new state in May, this time as a result of several days spent in Rhode Island. My time spent in New England has primarily been in Boston, so this was a real treat to get another look at the colonial history and architecture of the area. My time was spent in Providence and Newport, both great areas offering lots of things to do. I loved checking out their diverse culinary scene, with Johnson & Murphy University located there, this is no surprise, and for style, you can’t go wrong with a visit to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). I consider this first trip a sampler plate, a taste of a variety of things, leaving plenty to see and do on a return visit.
In late May I headed to Beijing for what was, essentially, a long weekend. I spoke at a tourism conference in the city and only had one day to explore. I did manage to make it to the Forbidden City, a couple of museums, and some time to wander in a local market. All good, but all too brief.
I was only home from China for about a week when it was time to head back to the Philippines, this time to El Nido Pangulasian in Palawan. This makes my list of top three destinations for the year – WOW! I spent as much time as I could in or on the water, and it was one of the places that wrapped me up in pure relaxation.
After only a couple days at home, I was off to Israel and some time in Jerusalem. This city gets 3-4 million visitors a year, and while many of those are religious tours and pilgrimages, the city offers so much more. I visited several of the religious sites, walked the walls of the old city, saw the Dead Sea scrolls, and ate some great food. Really great food! The experience that had the most profound impact on me was attending the opera one night. Sitting in the outdoor amphitheater, with the lights of the old city a stone’s throw away and history surrounding me, I was moved to tears. I had (and still have) so many questions about the city and country. As my friend, Mordecai, says, “it’s complicated.” Yes, it is. I hope to return to explore more of the city and start peeling off some of the many layers that captured all of those emotions. No surprise, Jerusalem makes the top three list.
There were a couple weeks at home before it was time to head off to Stockholm for a conference. While much of the time I was busy with conference events and activities, I did enjoy a couple of city tours as well as exploring the city on my own. I have some Swedish lineage from my father’s side of the family, and several of the dishes I hate harkened back to some distant memories, especially the Swedish meatballs (or as they call them there, simply meatballs) and lingonberries and pancakes.
Right after the conference ended, I boarded the Viking Sea for a 15-day Viking Homeland cruise. Tony and I had really been looking forward to the cruise (you can read his take on it here), both for the getaway together (we aren’t always able to travel together) and to experience the Viking Ocean product while visiting some great destinations. We started in Stockholm, then had stops in Finland, Russia, Estonia, Denmark, Poland, Germany, and Norway. I celebrated my birthday the last day on the ship, and also had time to spend with my friend Chris (from Amateur Traveler) and finally meet his wife, Joan. This was the top trip of the year!
As we crept toward the end of summer, I headed off to Los Angeles for a trip with a special teen family member. Our primary purpose was visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and we hit the ground running. We were able to see everything – and some things several times – in one day by being organized and committing an entire day and most of an evening. We also spent a day in Santa Monica, including a lot of time at the Pier and playing Pokemon Go.
I spent Labor day weekend at home giving lots of thoughts about a variety of business matters and out of that came the idea of a quest to visit all the wineries in the state of Washington. I mused about it on Facebook, got tons of helpful and encouraging comments and suggestions, and before I had a chance to catch my breath, I was visiting wineries (there are over 900 of them) and had started a new website, Seattle Bits & Bites which will cover not only the quest but also various other components of wine travel and tourism (wine shops, bars, restaurants, cafes, tours, etc.). I’ve launched, and am busy doing research, and content will be underway during the first quarter of 2017.
I started another project in September, serving as an ambassador for Universal Orlando Resort as part of their Blog Squad. We spent five great days exploring the resort, including going to Halloween Horror Nights and making plans for a return visit (mine will be in February 2017 so keep an eye out for that).
After a whirlwind summer of travel, I spent October at home (after canceling some previously scheduled travel). It was a welcome respite from four hectic months, and a chance to focus on a few new projects. I co-sponsored a wine tasting evening with friends from Discover the Pacific Northwest, and I also write a monthly column for them about Washington wine and wine tourism.
I spent a long weekend on Whidbey Island, divided between the Langley area and the Oak Harbor area, my first time back there since childhood. While this was part of my winery quest, it was also a chance to discover what the island has to offer visitors. There’s been such an evolution of food, wine, beer, and spirits, and it was a pleasure to discover so many great spots. I’ve written about a great place that we stayed already, and you’ll see more stories from Whidbey Island coming soon.
Typically I don’t travel in December, preferring to stay clear of what is often a frenzied travel time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. However, a list minute offer from China Southern Airlines changed my mind and it was back to China for a week. I thoroughly enjoyed the upper deck business class service on the A380 from Los Angeles to Guangzhou (and the 777 on the return), as well as short visits to Macau and Hong Kong. Look for more on that trip in the coming months.