Off The Beaten Path

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Travelling 2012:

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Exploring Destinations Here and There

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Where to in 2012? “The Experts” are busy assessing the terrain (literally) — with polls and inputs from a host of colleagues and laymen. The end-result is list after list of impressive must-see places with a little something to peak the interest of each and every avid explorer. While many of the locations reflect travel industry trends and perspectives, personal insight and perspective inevitably make the mix. With this added ingredient, the compilation is not just a list, but a reflection of heart and soul. In a similar mix, here rests mine.

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“See the USA in your Chevrolet…”

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1. New York City – Usually on a list or two for obvious reasons. This includes Manhattan and anyplace else you have time to go. The alternative is to explore every borough other than, to include the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island; each possessing a distinctly different flavor. Been there, done that? You are even more intrepid on a helicopter for a distinctly different view. Who knows, it might just launch a trend for aerial exploration.

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2. San Diego – Head west and go south and you’ll find yourself in one of the 10 most visited cities in the US. The Old Town – Mission Valley area is an historic district boasting the first Spanish settlement in California. This ideal year-round climate supports an a scenic coastline of beaches, home to numerous cruise lines, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and a host of missions and park areas reflecting Spanish and Mexican heritage. It would seem that that there’s always opportunity for celebration through street, film and arts festivals that support a vibrant community with something to satisfy all interests. A Go San Diego card enables free admission and express entry to over 50 attractions, including Universal and Balboa Park Museums. All in all the city center, surrounding communities and suburbs evoke an attainable view of California life. Believe it or not San Diego offers an escape from Los Angeles while bordering on an international perspective. Surfing, sailing and scuba diving would seem to complete the picture; but who knows, you may even get a chance to spy a whale or two.

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3. Washington, DC – It’s the Nation’s capital…Still, despite the persistent political turmoil that permeates the place. With MD and VA in tow the national capital region hosts a living archive of history that dates back to times before there was…A nation, that is. Monuments — numerous, national museums – abundant. Ask the “natives” and they’re usually getting there soon. Smithsonians a-plenty and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts are definitive ‘things to do’ that carve out a niche of memories from an experience unparalled. Eastern Market offers a unique experience, mixing the lure of fresh foods with the best on local artisans for a superb ‘weekender’ atmosphere. Make it a regional tour (include PA) and immerse yourself in the fields of battle — Independence and Civil War, populating the area. Washington.org pinponts ‘What’s Hot’ as well as takes seasonal snapshot of the District and provides all the tools necessary to assist the intrepid traveler in maneuvering this mysterious terrain. Timing is everything if you’re looking to catch Cherry Blossoms at their peak; and the President, as well as a host of celebrities have been known to stop through Ben’s Chilli Bowl for a little handshake with those fries. With so much to do you might want to plan a visit or two to get to know the place.

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4. San Antonio – This “Enchanted City” is the most visited in Texas despite stiff competition from Dallas and Houston. There’s charming atmosphere to be found among the bistros and cafes along the Riverwalk, currently undergoing a massive expansion. An evening stroll along cobblestone paths is almost a guarantee of romance, if so inclined. History itself is an attraction at the Alamo, where a shrine to Texas independence now showcases a city center, as the Market Square, the largest Mexican market in the US spans a three block radius for a unique shopping experience. Pottery and embroidered clothing top the list of finely crafted items. Museums such as the San Antonio, McNay, Museo Alameda, and Witte feature fine art, culture, history and science. With April as the best time to visit, there are five theme parks, numerous dude ranches, and14,000 acres and 68 miles of trails that allow a traveller to experience nature on his or her own terms. visitsanantonio.com

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5. Cincinnati, OH – Once known as the “Pretty City on the Ohio River”, in addition to the Queen City, this location recently made a well-appointed list of travel favorites, taking me home, literally. However the city on the Ohio River, situated in the southwestern part of the state is included on this and other lists for the following: Like Rome, built on (at least) seven hills that overlook the a river’s steamboat heritage and picturesque bridge suspension bridge, the place is not hard to look at. A place with a history: Once a center of life for German Immigrants, Abolitionists, runaway slaves and masters in pursuit at this Gateway to the South, still reflects another time and place — as old houses reflect architecture from the stately Italianate houses on “Millionaire’s Row”, Dayton Street Over the Rhine. Yet the contemporary, manifests itself through modern architectural design in Mt Adams and within the famed Museum of Art and Cincinnati Playhouse nestled in scenic Eden Park. The park, one of many boasting spectacular hilltop views of river and skyline, also features the Krohn Conservatory and Hinkle Magnolia Garden. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Union Terminal punctuate a diverse collection of things to do. The Reds, the Bengals and alma mater U of C might just have a good season in progress but you’ll have to check. Between a famous symphony and neighborhoods offering distinctly Midwestern views of a ‘first American City’ this could be just the place for your next weekend trip. They say you can never go home again but perhaps you can if viewed recurrently anew.

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6. Autumn in Vermont -Vermont may hold a particular distinction for Northeast beauty throughout the year but it’s the latter part of the year when nature’s bounty visibly comes alive. The Vermont travel industry — at VermontVacation.com is well-equipped for the occasion. The color change occurs mid-September through the first two-three weeks in October. However like Washington DC Cherry Blossoms, the peak — often occurring in October’s first week, may vary. Fall may be Fall, everywhere it occurs but the variety and depth of colors here are lauded here as spectacular and worthy of seasonal scrutiny. Plan your calendar accordingly (generally prior to viewing the change at your doorstep) and you can take a scenic drive along the Southern Vermont loop while enjoying a multitude of bed and breakfasts along the way.

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7. Savannah, GA – A leisurely tour but there’s something to be said for a slower pace — you know, the “smelling of roses” and “noticing the color purple” thing. Savannah may offer the best view of genteel living and classic Victorian architecture as once existed close to home, perfectly nestled within a beautiful harbor setting. With a feel vastly different from the ATL, Savannah gives props to the best of Southern heritage and its society, attracting millions of visitors each year as a place of history, arts and culture, concurrently serving as an industrial hub and important southern seaport. Savannah’s Landmark History District features many of the city’s oldest mansions. A banner museum — The Roundhouse Railroad, traces history by rail whereas the First African Baptist Church marks the oldest African American congregation in the nation. While perspectives on the Civil War abound, viewing Savannah from a horse-drawn carriage or a scenic sunset cruise via a Savannah Riverboat are among the most peaceful activities in a year of days. The temperate climate makes this the perfect place for a lazy getaway any time of year. Pick a porch and reconnect with yourself.

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8. Four Corner’s Region, Southwest – Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet at their borders to show off miles of ruggedly beautiful landscapes among elevated sandstone(d) cliffs, geological wonders among flat-topped mountains, spectacular sunrises, and a mystique so different and distant from the congested city environs that it might exist as other-worldly terrain. This area, rich in western history is a part of a high Colorado Plateau and is highlighted by the Four Corners Monument and a convergence of Navajo, Dine and Ute artisans and crafts people. The region serves as a center of convergence for current and former Indian civilizations – ancient Pueblo ruins to pre-1300 AD to Anasazi cliff dwellings visible at the Mesa Verde National Park.

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9. Chicago – There’s no place like Chicago. This ‘most American city” not only keeps up with the pace but establishes its own bar from a swank mid America perch. G8 and NATO summits are on the horizon to further complement some of the nation’s best restaurants – with many ethnic restaurant districts, and a calendar full of festivals that accentuate a city and its cultural diversity. Chicago is a community of neighborhoods – more than 200, chronicling a working class making its way to the ‘big time’, highlighted by Hyde and Millennium Park areas. With 552 park areas, Lincoln seems second only to New York’s Central in size and intensity. Beautiful lakefront views with upscale shopping along the Magnificent Mile and State Street are ‘tolerable’ distractions. A “Best Sports City” be sure to check out a Chicago Cubs, Bulls, or Blackhawks game while you’re there.

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10. U.S Virgin Islands – No Chevy to here but lest we forget the U.S has Caribbean beachfront property among its possessions, the U.S. Virgin Islands are known for white sand beaches, and superior vacation value void the need for passport. Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas, and assorted minor islands mark the real estate, with the V.I. collectively boasting about 2 million tourists a year. A time spent offers the best in West Indian foods and rhythms to keep moving throughout one’s stay. From a free and easy perch of ‘vacation paradise’ the many promotions and deals throughout the year help forge a lasting connection to ‘something a little different — while still at home.

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Trains, and Boats and Planes…

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1. Turkey – Istanbul is neatly positioned at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. With coastal areas bordering the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, the country is a major political power because of its strategic Eurasian positioning and long-term involvement in the events of the region, further accentuated by NATO membership. Turkey is a place of ancient civilizations, experiencing significant growth and development under the reign of the Ottomon Empire. The culture blends Turkic, Anatolian, Ottomon, Greco-Roman, and Islamic cultures. Architecturally, the place has a look and feel of Ottoman with Byzantine elements interspersed. Istanbul formerly Constantinople, is a megacity, representing the cultural, economic and financial centers of Turkey. Tourism is an essential piece to the puzzle with many areas of the city well positioned as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Grand Bazaar (1461) is the largest and oldest covered market in the world with upwards to half a million visitors daily in search of spices, carpets, pottery and jewelry, key among contemporary treasures frequently sought. The Istanbul International Film Festival is an important European event occurring in April. The many museums offer the best in fine and contemporary art with archaeological highlights that attempt to tell the regional story through more than a million historic pieces. Through the years Opera remains an important aspect of music, embraced along with the flavorful traditional music that fills the air. Add Turkish cuisine, baths, seaside resorts and sports and you have completed a well-rounded experience in a place where the unexpected is quite possible.

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2. China – Beijing is definitely the place to go. The city is booming as a reflection of a Chinese economy on the positive end of the negative fluctuation the rest of the world is experiencing. From the Imperial Palace(s) to the Great Wall, even the cultural vestige of the Hutong is worthy of travel consideration. But if you limit your travel to Beijing and it’s surrounds you’re missing the rest of China, and it’s a lot to miss. Visit the world’s most populace city in Shanghai, the emergent metropolis of Shenzhen, and the coastal setting of Zhuhai. A strong must see are the 3rd Century BC Terra Cotta Warriors forever in service to Qin Shi-Huang, the first emperor of China. Located in Lintong District, Xi’an, in Shaanxi province, the form and detail of these artifacts are destined to remain an attraction for many years to come. Hong Kong is China – “one country, two systems”, and though it seemed away for a while, the return was always anticipated and now it’s hard to conceive of one without the other. From a distinctive skyline and commercial center to inlet fishing Hong Kong is home to 7 million people. But wherever traveled throughout the country it is the people as well as the landscapes that lure quietly and scream bustling. Cloaked in antiquity, there’s a pervasive feeling that the test of time has been withstood with nothing further to prove. And you thought China too much of the same? Of all places travel, China may just be a photographer’s dream.

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3. Ghana, West Africa – Ghana is a developing country with a middle income economy in the Gulf of Guinea that may just offer the optimum way to bridge the gap between intense safari and desire for a more palatable African historical and cultural experience. Ghana has wildlife, with many parks to secure their view, and the metropolitan experience of Accra, capital and port city. Accra is the center of commerce, education, culture and tourism, serving as hub to the city’s major attractions and ensuring the continued development beyond the population of 3.9 million that assists a view of one of the largest and fastest growing African cities. Colonial influence still reflects through British, Danish and Dutch architecture reflective in the forts that form the city central. Monuments, museums, night clubs, museums, five-star hotels, and an expansive and well-cultivated beachfront highlight this cultural infusion. Part of the heritage embraced by the people includes a ‘direct connect’ to the Africa in America, not just reflecting in a similarity of food and faces, but through the historical perspective of a close relative revisited, evident in the dark and now eerily quiet dungeons and respites where slaves awaited transport to America.

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4. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – Offering the best in Bedouin hospitality, glittering skyscrapers, luxury hotels, spas, and landscaped parks would seem to form a sharp contrast to a desert interior of dunes, fertile oases and scenic wadis. But this is Abu Dhabi, the second largest city in the UAE. Located on a T-shaped island in the Persian Gulf, cosmopolitan Abu Dhabi forms a major cultural and commercial center seemingly well outside the pulse of major financial capitals of the world. But it’s distanced banking, inspired by the wealth of a people along with exceptional planning expertise. If Abu Dhabi is known for its spectacular modern architecture, a multitude of other attractions such as the Emirates Palace and the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque firm the cultural connection to time and place, to force an evolution of thought and inspiration. There is shopping to the ‘umph’ degree but turn a corner and you will find the unexpected — a traditional market or two or a camel market that punctuates the ‘where you are’ amid the glitter. Abu Dhabi is an experience with the sky as limit…Maybe. It’s a place to ‘keep up with’ and continue to monitor progress as this location strives for continued status among the most distinct places in the world.

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5. Toronto – Proximity to America could be an attraction…for an American; but Canada’s largest city continues to merit top destination status throughout the world. The city rests on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, offering a picturesque cityscape and ‘much to do’ in Downtown and neighborhood views. The city boasts great neighborhoods and parks — Kensington Market, Chinatown, Leslieville, Cabbagetown, and Riverdale, and many local attractions that include the Toronto Zoo and Greektown, touting ‘largess’ in their respective categories of spectator and dining opportunities. It’s a ‘far place’ to visit that won’t take all your time – and money, just getting there.

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6. Greece – Might be a good time to go to Greece — for the first time or a well-anticipated return. With the nation’s current financial crisis the dollar will fare you well in both trip logistics and on-the-ground purchasing power. The mainland offers a journey: There are Ruins, breathtaking views of the Aegean and people who can’t be beat in the categories of warm and hospitality (seen a lot of places; seen a lot of faces). Greek food is among the original of true ‘soul foods and there’s much to peak your interest whether you take a mainland or Greek Isle approach. There are a huge number of Greek islands with 227 inhabited; best known are Santorini, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Mykonos, Paros, Skiathos, los, Noxos, and Signos. And why not have the best of each experience: You can dance the night away in Athens and the very next morning enjoy a late breakfast from a view of deep blue sea on Santorini volcanic cliffs. Amid stories of Atlantis generating a new Mythology. Might just be romantic. At a minimum it’s not bad work—or lack thereof, if you can get it.

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7. Indochina or Southeast Asia – Geographically situated south of China and east of India, the region is comprised of Cambodia, Laos, Burma (Myanmter), Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor, Christmas Island, and Singapore. The area is known for warm, humid tropics that support a vast biodiversity that includes Tigers and the distinctive Komodo Dragon – while not quite mystical it is the largest lizard as well as that of an interesting sight to see. As the descendants of Austronesian, Tai, Mon-Khmer-speaking immigrants from southern China, there are overlays of Arab, Chinese, India, Polynesian and Melanesian people. The ethnic mix and the tremendous role of religion support the differential, reflected in lifestyle, arts, music, and artifacts, so much treasured today. Highlights include: Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is a 12th century temple and complex that holds the distinction of the world’s largest religious building. Impressively carved walls provide glimpses of life at the height of the Khmer Empire and their impact upon the surrounding Southeast Asian Region. As a World Heritage site the structure – once protected from tourism, now receives a lot of attention from local and distant travellers alike. Thailand’s Bangkok is an exciting and interesting city while Singapore states its elegance through a smooth mix of the traditional, colonial and contemporary. Singapore shares its beauty – through culture, culinary, shopping, entertainment and nightlife experiences from first view; and it all starts with a pampered ride on the award-winning airline that bears its name.

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8. Iceland – A compelling reason for Iceland to grace “a list” is its stark landscape and simplicity of design, with an architecture highly influenced by Scandinavia, as is the culture. The economically sound island of Iceland is located in the North Atlantic in close proximity to Greenland where the temperature and terrain is slightly more foreboding. Though an island, let’s not confuse the temperature as Summer seldom experiences a temperature that reaches 60. The imposing nature of environment reflects in plateaus embraced by mountains and glaciers, earthquake and volcanic activity, geysers, and pristine waters that can only generate from this early-time cocktail mix. Islanders are descendants of the Norse (West Norway) and Gaelic settlers. Iceland maintains a close affiliation with Denmark, having attained Republic status in the 1940s. The place to go is Reykjavik, a multicultural city with a predominance of Poles, Filipinos and Danes. A highlight includes The Cultural House where national treasures as well as Norse relics are exhibited. Besides a stay in the city, fall in love with the distinctive Icelandic horses, visually attractive and featuring a fifth-gait that only serves to add to their charm.

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9. India – The absolute place to go. India is huge in geography and opportunity, though one is immediately impressed that it is a place requiring time to know and ‘rushed’ is not a concept that will do it justice. Within the country’s terrain there is a little bit of everything and a climate that challenges one to ‘keep up’. The country is enormous in approach: Bustling cities, traditional villages, mountain views to beach environments. But it’s the people that make it tick…And click — more than a billion, traversing a given landscape to achieve a particular objective. The trains exist as a place where everything comes together; but only for a moment before speeding off in divergent directions. The people compel the colors that also mark the journey. The colors of spices, temples, sari(s), and the lights of Diwali and other festivals….A wedding. These are the exceptional views of everyday life. ‘Tourist-y’ things to do include a witness to eternal love and devotion — the Taj Mahal, Ruins at Hampi, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Darjeeling (West Bengai – Eastern Himalaya), Madurai Temple complex, India Gate, Red Fort, Ajanta Caves, the frozen lake at Gangtok at the China border, and a wildlife safari sufficient to pose a naturalist view — just to name a few. The only limits here are time and money; whatever you choose to do the experience is guaranteed stellar.

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10. Morocco – Situated on the Atlantic coast of North Africa, Morocco would seem a short distance from Spain — accessible by ferry as well as plane, however it couldn’t be more distant in mindset and totality of experience. These Moroccan people had a quest for autonomy and independence that inspires them to this very time. The influences of those who passed through their history would seem to be everywhere: Romans, Spanish, British, French and German. Each left their mark through conquest and dominance, with the results of persistent resistance and a 1942 ‘liberation’ by American troops assisting the development of the parliamentary constitutional monarchy that exists today. Tangier, Casablanca, Marrakech, and Fez are places familiar in cinema and song but Morocco is also a place of high mountains and desert with Berber villages scattered in between. Along with markets, food, and nature superimposed, the architecture is a primary attraction. Seductive and beautiful, evoking a blend of African and Islamic design, traditional buildings seem cloaked in secrecy, with lavish interiors behind plain protective walls non-apparent from the outside. Medieval towns, walled citadels and fortresses, well-appointed gardens, rock formations, and extraordinary sand dunes offer a complex terrain that invites further exploration at each juncture. morocco.com

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And a list addendum (‘cause we’re trying to keep it to ‘Top 10′) plants a seed of possibility: What about Cuba? Regardless of a 50 year old trade embargo Cuba has become a hot destination with interest in both old and new history, as well as a people proficient at overcoming adversity, regardless of politico. Like most restricted travel there are categories and guidelines. ehow.com offers a primer to make it happen.

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Transformational or life changing trips abound and often involve a close proximity to nature, its spiritualism, or a rebirth through discovery of Faith. These trips offer an opportunity to customize an excursion to one’s heart desires, leaving impressions to last a lifetime. If there is something missing in your life, use your travel to help fill the void or compel you towards a new appreciation of the life you have. From a pragmatic perspective, it can also delay some inevitable that looms within your life.

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Speaking of lifetime and the infinite knowledge of the Universe, let’s not forget what year it is — 2012, with December 21 as a ‘date of note’. No worries, however you believe there may be a destination just for you. The Mexican Government is gearing up for increased tourism as people seek answers ‘from the source’ of all this calendar concern. Belize is the center of a five state region in southern Mexico known as the Mayan homeland. Everything from countdown clocks to impending enlightenment — party like it’s 19-ninety….uh 2012, to solitary and sober reflection. Whether or not anything results from all the hoopla (Uh, circa 2000) this year will prove an excellent time to learn about Mayan culture as well as contemplate the wonders of the Universe. Destinations Magazine offers some options for upscale lodging while there. Ha! You just might not have to pay that bill come January…

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So it looks like we have the ‘where to’ down pat…The next step is ‘how’, but being the dreamers that we are, we won’t worry that thought. We’ll leave that tucked in our imagination for the next time we meet.

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Travelling 2012 © Pamela Kelly Phillips, 2012
All photographic images (non-video) are © Pamela Kelly Phillips,
PK Phillips Photography, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010

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