My Top 10 Destinations for 2016

St. Mark's Summit

Although 2016 is a year I’d rather forget for the most part, there were still so many good things that happened to be thankful for. I rang in the year in Paris, one of my favorite cities in the world. While traveling through Europe and North America, I was able to reunite with old friends and meet many new ones. I revisited some of my favorite places in the world and also discovered places I hadn’t been before. Upon moving back to the US, I got a new job that allows me to travel and share my passion for travel with others. I moved to Seattle and have, for now, readjusted to a more settled life living in the US again, being closer to friends and family. To finish off the year, I’ve decided to write one last blog post for 2016 highlighting some of my favorite places I went to this year.

London
London Bridge

Despite being horrendously sick my first few days here, I finally made it to the British capital that I had missed during my first trip to Europe in 2014. While England wasn’t my favorite country, I loved London. Aside from catching up with a lot of friends who live here, it was amazing finally making it to this world-class city and seeing it in person. In some ways, London reminded me a lot of New York—the vibe and energy here is astounding. People here walk with purpose and there seems to be a lot of things going on.

Tallinn
Old Town Tallinn

When I heard that some of my good friends from Estonia had temporarily moved back to their hometown of Tallinn from Australia, I couldn’t pass the opportunity to see them again and check out this relatively little-visited corner of Europe. Although there are still some things here remaining from the former Soviet Union days, this little country has come a long way in just the past 30 years or so and is now quite modern and well-established. In fact, Tallinn is one of the most tech savvy capitals in Europe, with a booming market for tech companies and startups. While also very modern, the city also retains its medieval heritage–walking through the city’s snow-laden Old Town at night was absolutely breathtaking.

Copenhagen
Copenhagen

Like London, Copenhagen was a city I had really wanted to visit during my first summer trip to Europe, but just never got around to going so I made it my goal to finally make it this year. Copenhagen is a wonderfully old and charming capital, yet also very modern and beautifully designed. Having some local friends to show me around, I learned quite a bit about Danish culture, fashion, design & architecture, and other quintessential Danish things I hadn’t really known about. Even in the middle of snowy January, I loved wandering the streets and canals here. It’s definitely a place I’d love to come back to again in the summer time.

Salzburg
Salzburg

While in Germany, someone had suggested that I take a trip out to the little city of Salzburg in Austria, just across the border from Munich. So I made a day trip out of it and I wish I had decided to stay longer! Situated alongside a river, crowned by a massive old fortress on top of a hill overlooking the city, Salzburg may as well be something you would hear about in fairy tales. Simply getting lost among the city’s charming narrow streets is enough of a reason to come here.

Lyon
Lyon

While it’s not as glamorous and glitzy as Paris, Lyon is a very overlooked destination in France. Despite being the 2nd largest city in the country, it isn’t overwhelmed with tourists or feel overly crowded like other major European cities. The relaxed vibe here was very appealing. It’s also the foodie capital of France–the gastronomic selection here is enormous. And being within driving distance to the mountains, it’s also a good base to explore some of the stunning mountain scenery that France has to offer.

Portugal
Exploring the Algarve Coast

If you’ve already seen my other blog posts about Portugal, you’d know that it’s one of my favorite countries in the world. Since I loved everything about it, I couldn’t just decide on one place that stuck out to me the most! From sipping on Port wine in Porto, to wandering through the beautiful streets of Lisbon, to exploring hilltop castles in Sintra, to kayaking along the country’s stunning Algarve Coast, visiting Portugal was the biggest surprise I had while traveling in 2016. It’s definitely a place I’ll be back again!

Ireland
Ring of Kerry

Like Portugal, there really wasn’t one place in Ireland that stuck out above the rest, so I’m listing it here as a country. Ireland was rugged, beautiful, populated with some of the friendliest and chattiest people I’ve met on my travels. Some of my favorite memories here were chatting with the locals in the pubs in the evenings, something that I found very easy to do here compared to other places.

Washington, D.C.
The National Mall

I’ve been to DC a few times before on day trips with the family when when I was younger, but had never been as an adult until this year. Staying here for a week gave me a chance to explore and see the city more. I spent the week exploring museums, going for runs around the mall, taking a tour of the Capitol Building, watching the sunset from the top of the Washington Monument, and even checked out some of the embassies that are based here. Even after a week, I still don’t think I saw everything—there’s just too much to see and do.

Oregon
Cannon Beach

Despite having grown up in the Pacific Northwest and having passed through it several times, I’ve never made a proper trip to Portland until this year! Portland has a good reputation for being a nature city and a great foodie scene. In a lot of ways it reminded me of a smaller version of Seattle (just with a lot more bridges). It’s easy to get close to nature here as the Columbia River Gorge is only a 30 minute drive away, home to so many waterfalls. It’s also within easy driving distance of the famous Oregon Coast, making the city an ideal spot for a base to explore other parts of Oregon.

Vancouver
Vancouver Sunset

Another one of my favorite cities in the world, Vancouver is always a fun place to visit. Situated right between the mountains and the sea, it’s highly picturesque (when it’s not raining at least). There aren’t many places in the world where you can go skiing 20 minutes from a major city center and then walk on the beach in the same day. With so much nature around, there’s always a reason to be outside and active. Some of my favorite things to do here include strolling through the large public market on Granville Island, riding a bike along the Seawall around Stanley Park (a huge park just north of downtown, like a big Canadian version of Central Park), or going on a hike in the mountains just outside of the city. Within easy reach of Seattle, I’ve already been up 3 times this year!

 

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My Favorite Places In The World

A lot of times I get asked what my favorite place in the world is. And the answer I give is pretty ambiguous, because it’s hard to choose just one! There are several places I can think of that were especially memorable and favorable, all for different reasons. If I had to narrow it down to a top 10, these would be the ones (in no particular order):

1. New Zealand
Emerald Lakes | Tongariro
Might be a bit biased since I lived there for nearly a year, but New Zealand is one of those places that always seems to be on everyone’s top lists! And for a good reason too, there is so much packed into this little country–towering volcanoes, lush rain forests, beautiful beaches, charming rolling hills, fjordlands, gorgeous mountain ranges. It’s a stunningly beautiful country everywhere you look. As an outdoorsy, nature-loving kind of guy this is the perfect country for me and I love that fact that there’s so many things to do here to get your adrenaline rush fix. Besides that, Kiwis are some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met! The Maori culture here is strong and very interesting to learn about.

Highlights: Doing the Tongariro Crossing; heli-hiking on the Franz Josef glacier; black-water rafting Waitomo glowworm caves

2. Australia
Golgum Pool
Even as a kid, I always wanted to go to Australia so having the opportunity to live there for a year was a dream come true! Australia has become my second home and I’m considering moving back here again one day. I’ve fallen in love with the laid-back, easy going lifestyle that defines Aussie culture. The work/life balance here is something I admire. I’m also a lover of the sun, so a sunny warm climate is also pretty ideal for me. Two of my favorite places in the world are here, one being Sydney. I’m not normally a big fan of cities, but Sydney is one I’d live in. The other being the Margaret River region of Western Australia, where I lived and worked for 6 months. Some of the best beaches I’ve seen to date are there and it’s also one of the country’s premiere wine regions. It’s a beautiful place to live. I really hope to make it back to Australia again one day!

Highlights: Living in Dunsborough, WA; road tripping up the East Coast and across the Outback; exploring Kakadu National Park by 4WD

3. France
Birds Eye View of Paris
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in France now, more than any other European country, and I’ve grown quite fond of it! Most of the time I’ve spent there has been in Paris (one of my favorite cities in the world), but in this most recent trip I also got to see a bit more of the countryside in the Alsace Region as well as the city of Lyon. The thing I love about France is despite it’s relatively small size (well compared to the US at least) is how diverse it is. It’s got beautiful farmlands and rolling hills, wine regions, rugged coastlines, high mountains, a warm Mediterranean climate in the south. Plus I have an affinity for French language and culture, making this one of my favorite places!

Highlights: Walking the streets of Paris at night; wandering around the Christmas markets in L’Alsace

4. United States
Daydream
Even though this one is obviously biased as it’s my home country, nothing beats the diversity of the United States. From the polar regions in Alaska, to tropical jungles in Hawaii, to the stunning deserts in Utah and Arizona, there is such a huge range of places to see in the US. As a nation made up of immigrants, there is also such a huge pool of diversity in the people as well and you can find pretty much any kind of food from around the world that you can think of if you look in the right places. Despite living there most of my life, there’s still so much I have to see!

Highlights: Washington State in general, my home state (and the best state!); road tripping around Utah and Arizona; summer days with family on the New Jersey shore

5. Ireland
Stormy Skies Over Connemara
I’m currently backpacking through Ireland at the moment so I might still be caught up with the initial awe and excitement of being here, but I’ve loved every bit of it so far! Ireland is an absolutely beautiful country, especially out west and to the north along the rugged, weathered coast. While the weather might not be so nice all the time (where else is it sunny, then rain sideways, and hails all within a 10 minute time span?), it’s breathtaking when the sun is out. Irish people also have to be the among the most charming and friendly people I’ve met so far. I love Irish accents and find some of the expressions and things they say very amusing! Everyone is so chatty and welcoming that it’s super easy to make friends with the locals here!

Highlights: Driving around Slea’s Head; Killarney National Park; hanging out with locals in pubs

6. Portugal
Lonely Beach | Lagos, Portugal
Portugal is another place I’ve visited recently and absolutely fell in love with. I had no expectations coming here and ended up finding a place with picturesque cities, warm and welcoming people, amazing food and wine (port wine is out of this world), a nice warm climate most of the year, and beautiful landscapes. I was very surprised to find that many people here speak very good English, making it a lot easier to talk to people! It’s also a great destination to go to if you’re on a budget, as everything is cheap here compared to the rest of Europe. I’m still getting over the buzz of being in Portugal and really want to go back again sometime!

Highlights: Drinking port wine in Porto; exploring castles in Sintra; kayaking along the Algarve Coast in Lagos

7. Vietnam
Hmong Family
Vietnam is one of those countries visitors either love or hate, and fortunately I fall in the love category. From the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh which are buzzing day and night with the noise of endless waves of motorbikes, to walking with the ethnic Hmong people in the quite rice terraces in the north around Sapa, this is a country rich with history, cultural diversity, and one of the most distinguished cuisines in the world. The food alone is a major reason to love Vietnam. The variety in different dishes they have is astounding. There is quite a defined backpacker/tourist trail that runs the length of the country, but there are so many relatively undiscovered places to explore if you go off the beaten path.

Highlights: Boat trip on the river in Trang An, through stunning karst formations; Hoi An; canyoning in Dalat; trekking and doing a home stay with Hmong people in Sapa

8. Peru
The Locals of Machu Picchu
Peru is a special country to me, because it was the first place where I began traveling solo! I spent a week there in the area around Cusco and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which is still one of my most memorable trips to date. While I would have liked to have stayed longer to see more of the country, what I did see and experience there was inspiring and made me want to travel independently as much as I could from that point on. I remember feeling so nervous and awkward when I arrived at the airport and I had to bargain with some dodgy cab drivers to get to my hostel. I stayed in a hostel by myself for the first time and forced myself to talk to strangers to make new friends. I Wandered around and got lost in the streets of Cusco and tried new foods in the local market. On the day of the trek our group had breakfast with a Peruvian family on their farm. It was exhilarating Walking through the Andes and being surrounded by stunning scenery everywhere, being in awe as I walked through the ruins of Machu Picchu. I would love to go back here again and see more of South America in general!

Highlights: Cuy (guinea pig) breakfast on a farm in the countryside; trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; climbing Huayna Picchu

9. Hong Kong
Hong Kong Lights
I love Hong Kong. It’s the kind of city that’s always buzzing with life and there’s always something interesting happening around the corner. It’s blessed with a beautiful harbor and surrounded by jungle-covered mountains. The contrast between nature and cosmopolitan city life here is amazing. One minute you can be on a bustling street surrounded by enormous sky scrapers, the next you can find yourself on a quite path going up into the mountains. And the food here is to die for! I loved exploring all the exotic fruits in the street markets (rambutans and mangosteens are my Asian favs). Chinese food in general is addicting, and the experience of being the only westerner in a family-owned noodle restaurant is memorable. I’ll never be able to look at Chinese food anywhere else in the world the same way again, the real stuff is so good!

Highlights: Eating amazing Chinese food; seeing Victoria Harbour at night; exploring the markets; cable car ride up to the Giant Buddha statue

10. Nepal
Swayambhunath | Kathmandu
As a lover of hiking and mountains, Nepal was always on my list of places to visit. Now I can say I finally have and it’s just as brilliant as I thought it would be! Despite going in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, the country is very much open for tourism. The country is one of the best places in the world for trekking, the opportunities are endless. I did the Everest trek and although I did have a bout of food poisoning and altitude sickness (not a great combo), it was a very memorable experience. Aside from the stunning beauty of the Himalayas, Nepal is also very rich in culture and diversity. There are over 40 different ethnic groups and tribes living here and the beauty of the Himalaya is stunning.

Highlights: Trekking up the EBC trail and seeing Mount Everest up close.

Paris

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Paris. The city of light. The city of love.  Whatever you want to call it, I was very impressed during my time in the French capital and it now holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite cities in the world. I loved everything about it. The café lined streets, the symmetric gardens, the beautiful architecture, the efficient metro system, the incredible food, the vibes of the different neighborhoods, the picnicking in the parks. There is just so much more to this city than the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. It’s a city that you can visit countless times in your life and never truly see everything. I spent nearly three weeks there and feel that I still barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless I did manage to see some of the main tourist attractions as well as a few other hidden gems a little off the beaten track. Here are some of the highlights of my trip to Paris:

 The Parks & Gardens

parcdesceaux

For such a big city, the parks in Paris are plentiful. Walk a few blocks and you’re bound to find a patch of green somewhere–from the small hidden neighborhood parks to the grander gardens decorated with fountains and symmetrically designed fauna. I really liked taking walks through the Jardin du Luxembourg. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it’s a great place find to people watch. There’s also a really good place to get macarons nearby at Dalloyau. Parc de Sceaux was another favorite park, which is actually located just outside of Paris in the southern suburb of Sceaux. It’s huge and consists of a large symmetric lake, woodland walking trails, grassy fields where people come to play sports and have picnics. There is also a small, but beautiful château on top of a hill. You won’t find many tourists here at all, only locals!

The Picnics

champsdemars

Picnicking is a popular French pastime. In Paris the parks were filled with people enjoying a meal on the grass. It’s very simple to go to the nearest store for bread, meat, cheese, and wine, grab a blanket, and simply find a place to hang out with friends and watch the life go by around you. One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.

The Eiffel Tower

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Of course no trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Iron Lady. If you think it’s amazing by day, it’s absolutely incredible at night when the tower is bathed in golden light and a beacon shines from the top like a lighthouse. And each night at every hour on the hour, it suddenly lights up with a dazzling display of shimmering lights; like moonlight sparkling across a body of water. Absolutely incredible. We never went to the top, but we did enjoy some nice picnics under the tower on the Champ de Mars!

The Museums

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The number of museums and galleries in Paris seem to be endless. The most famous of these of course, is the Louvre. To be honest, I got a little bored at the Louvre. Aside from seeing the Mona Lisa, the Egyptian Hall, and the famous painting depicting the French Revolution, I wasn’t really keen on spending a whole day there. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had gone with a tour group, as it’s a huge museum that can really only be properly done after several visits. Even some of my Parisian friends haven’t seen it all and they grew up there! I did like the Musée d’Orsay however, which is known for its impressionist collections, including some pieces from Van Gogh.  Sometimes the museums have free days during certain times of the month. It’s a good idea to find out when they are and just go to a random museum. You might be surprised at what you discover.

Montmartre

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Paris is divided into 20 districts (arrondissements). I only visited a fraction of these, but my favorite was probably Montmartre, the historic and artsy area in the 18th. We came here twice and really did nothing but getting lost and wandering around the narrow winding streets up the hill to the Sacre Coeur, a huge and beautifully built white marble Catholic basilica (I like to call it the French Taj Mahal). In some ways, being in Montmartre felt like being in a small village in the middle of a metropolis.

Walks Along the River

laseine

Walking along the Seine is great by day and even better at night when the city lights dance across the surface of the river. My favorite place to start was from Notre Dame, through the streets on Île de la Cité, and then walk west from there ending at the Eiffel Tower. There are some famous bridges worth visiting along the way including the Pont des Arts (the famous “love lock” bridge), the elaborate and beautifully decorated Pont Alexandre III, and Pont de Bir-Hakeim, which was featured in the movie Inception and has some really nice views of the Eiffel Tower. The walk also takes you past other famous Parisian landmarks like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Invalides, and Le Grand Palais.

Bastille Day
I was fortunate enough to be in Paris for La Fete nationale, or Bastille Day, which is the national holiday that commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution on July 14 1789. The day starts off with a big parade down the Champs Elysees and ends with a huge firework display right at the Eiffel Tower. The streets and parks within view of the tower all become packed by late afternoon, so it’s best to get a good spot early. Champs de Mars is probably the best place to watch the show, but we ended up finding a nice spot by the river. One of my favorite memories from Europe!

The Catacombs

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Under the streets of Paris lay miles and miles of underground tunnels lined with the bones of 6 million people. The tunnels are actually the remains of an extensive system of limestone quarries, which were filled with the remains dug up from overcrowded and unsanitary graveyards around the city. It’s a grim, yet very interesting attraction well worth visiting.

Canal St. Martin

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Another good place to get away from the tourist crowds is at Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement in northeastern Paris. I only knew about this place after watching the movie Amelíe but apparently it’s a popular place where the locals like to hangout. The canal was built to link the Canal de l’Ourq in the north to the Seine and today you can climb the arched bridges and watch the boats go up and down the series of locks.

Palace of Versailles

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The Palace of Versailles is another must do while in Paris. It’s actually located outside of the city to the southwest. It was really hot the day we went and since we were there in July at the height of the tourist season, it was a long wait to get in. Once inside, you’re free to roam about home of the former monarchs of France. It’s huge and we spent a few hours wandering beautifully decorated corridors and gardens. I also recall having the best baguette I’ve ever had from one of the local bakeries in the town of Versailles.