Freshly picked, the yellow-skinned papaya oozed as Barbara Hau’ofa, a lean, salt-and-pepper haired Australian book editor, slid half the fruit my way along with a spoon. The ceiling fan softly creaked as Hau’ofa sprinkled garlic, an edible Fijian mosquito repellent, across her half of papaya. The sun was fresh in the early morning sky as she leveled her eyes with mine and firmly stated that if I didn’t keep writing, I would lose track of my life.
For me, traveling, and subsequently travel writing, are not about recording a place or my every action in it as much as understanding myself in that place. The texture of my hair after a shower in the local water; my impulse to turn down one cobblestoned alley but not another; who I am in a specific place at a certain time.
Although I traveled throughout my childhood on family trips and in high school, my baptism into global wandering came after college. Thanks to a grant, I spent exactly a year trekking around the world with two surfboards, three white V-neck T-shirts, and two dozen bikinis, not to mention my MacBook and several Nikon cameras. My itinerary took me from Australia to Japan and Brazil, among other locales, and revealed a fearlessness that had remained camouflaged in my daily life.
Travel has become a lifelong destination — there are always more journeys to be had, more places to encounter. I mostly travel alone, but I am rarely lonely. I pass the moments in between the doing, seeing, and exploring by summoning a wealth of emotions that have pumped through my veins and out through my pencils (yes, I still hand write before I ever type). I’ve collected a series of Moleskine notebooks, tattooed with stickers from my explorations and filled with records of places I've visited and my feelings about things.
Cross-country voyages become writing retreats. I move my hand across the page as a way to soothe my mind. Plus, I love glue sticks. Bus passes, temple tickets, beer labels — they’ve all made it into my notebooks. They’ve given me bite-sized ways to devour (again) the places and people I've encountered.
My experiences have inexorably changed me; I can summon the sweet, doughy aroma of trdelník, a cylindrical, sugar-dusted cake that tastes best paired with Prague’s icy winter air. Or the time Kaleo, a Maui-born navigator, placed an octopus on my stomach after it had freshly released its ink, only to have me pry it off. Flexing my core, I will forever be able to recall, suction cup by suction cup, tentacle by tentacle, how it felt leaving my skin.
But it's taking those moments and transforming them into travel writing, pieces that can inform, inspire, assist, and perhaps even educate a little, that matters.
Throughout this collection of places to travel in 2016, I have attempted to merge instinct and logic with knowledge. I adore asking questions — it is quite literally my profession. Some of the recommendations that I make came about through happenstance; I was simply in the right place at the right time. Others came about through aimless wandering. Every town in every country has something magical — the food, the people, something human hands built, or something Mother Nature created. Sometimes it’s in the mountains; other times it’s under water.
I’ve also been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Deep in the Transkei, South Africa, I saw the fragility of life when a duo of dogs collided with cars on a highway, with deadly results. In the early hours of a sweaty spring morning in Rio De Janeiro, I found myself without lodging and checked into a "love motel," partly because breakfast was free and partly because this particular type of accommodation often offers clean, impeccable rooms. Dueling down the hallway with my surfboards, I stumbled, literally, into an underage flaxen-haired boy shooting up in the hallway, post coitus. The dark circles under his eyes matched his desperation: his eyes met mine and he fled. Collapsing onto the starched white sheets of my violet-colored room, I began uncontrollably sobbing.
The places I’ve included have changed me in one way or another; I spiritually grew at Ghost Ranch, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to fly fish in Colorado, I survived a serious surfing wipeout in Fiji that’s left me with reef scars shaped like a bear's claw. I’ve eaten the soft-boiled egg at Le Candille in Mougins and it redefined what an egg could be for me. And I fell deeply and quickly in love with a Turkish man in Japan, only to find us gravitating to opposite ends of the world a year-and-a-half later.
Some of the places I’ve been fortunate to stay define the word luxury; the ones I have included are worth the cost, even if for one night. Many have cost next to nothing. I’ve couchsurfed. I’ve camped. I’ve slept in my surfboard bag in more airports than I care to recount. I purposefully travel in low season, when tourists are scarce and prices are low. I’ve committed to adventuring outside of what and where I’m comfortable.
Everyone deserves to travel. What you see and how it makes you feel matters. These destinations, and the suggestions contained within them, are meant as stepping stones for your own adventures from someone who wants to say that travel is most often a revelation. The world is ready for you. No, eager for you.
Brazil Brazil’s beauty is passionate, subversive, mystical, and in plain sight, all at once. Recognize that, mind the pickpockets, and immerse yourself, leaving judgment on the tarmac.
Salvador da Bahia is the country’s Afro-Brazilian capital. Late night festivals with thumping drums begin at the bars in Pelourinho, the hilly old town, and pour out into the streets. Anything is possible, from capoeira circles, to performance art, to parades. Catch a candomblé ritual; it’s a mystical religious experience where participants try to reconnect with African gods, and often includes the slaughter of a chicken.
Galpão Cheio de Assunto is a trendy bar that attracts musicians. Solar do Unhão, a sugar mill turned modern art museum, is a great place to take in the city while overlooking the bay. Mercado Modelo, with art, crafts, and jewelry, is also the launching point to Morro de São Paulo, a pedestrian-only island with unbelievably fresh açai bowls, and beach sports galore. The sole club/after-hours party here requires a hike through the jungle to an amphitheater, but it’s well worth it.
Pastel-streaked skies, kaleidoscopic water, and sunburnt silhouettes signal the day’s end on Rio de Janeiro’s Arpoador beach promenade. Find a table and order a chopp (a light beer) or a caipirinha. Corcovado is stunning — the train ride to the hilltop statue of Christ the Redeemer redefines steep. But Rio's real beauty lies on the beach, where people-watching the traveling circus of cariocas (Rio natives), dogs, birds, prostitutes, and musicians along the black-and-white patterned sidewalks is a surefire delight.
Editor's note: Brazil has been dealing with a Zika virus outbreak since early 2015. If you are currently pregnant, the CDC recommends postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. If you are trying to become pregnant, please consult your doctor before making travel plans. For the most current information about Zika virus, please visit www.cdc.gov/zika.
Ojai, California While most of California’s mountain ranges run north to south, the mountains surrounding the Ojai Valley lie in an east-west configuration, a geological curiosity that affords the mountain town incredible sunshine throughout the day and lingering sunsets at dusk.
Ojai has all the makings of the next great destination: Throw a rock and hit The Day Spa of Ojai, which offers private garden massages; throw another and there’s Hip Vegan Café, a sometimes raw, always delicious organic restaurant that has the freshest spicy almond and seed pate in southern California. Throw one more and meet a fascinating, passionate person chasing her spiritual-foodie business dreams, like Zhena Muzyka.
Krotona Institute of Theosophy has an occult library worth poking around, especially for the chance to read and get contemplative in its garden. Liz Haffner, co-owner of Azu Restaurant and a former Hollywood wardrobe stylist, creates "hippie care packages," gift sets that combine upcycled wine bottle candles with regional specialties like Moon Valley marmalade. The Ojai Retreat, a B & B on a nearby hilltop, presents stunning views from every suite, as well as padded meditation rooms.
South Africa's Southern Coast Lush green hills on the right, sapphire seas to the left. The Garden Route is a roughly three-hour drive from Storms River to Mossel Bay, but the mountain-meets-sea panoramas will provide a constant desire to stop and breathe it in.
Storms River is ground zero for adventure, with hiking, river tubing, and the world's highest commercial bungee bridge. Make sure to book the Tsitsikamma Falls Waterfall zip line tour, which takes you over the river and through the woods, and then grab a quiche at Tsitrus Cafe, an eatery and museum of curiosities. Tube ‘n Axe invites guests sleep in a platform tent nestled in an herb garden, or in one of the tree-ensconced lodges.
Plettenberg Bay, a choice vacation spot for South Africans, is a bustling, charming town. Calpurnia, a clothing company, makes elephant-embroidered, brightly colored clutches of all sizes. Intuition Jewellery, next door, has an impressive collection of both traditional beaded and silver accessories. Nguin Restaurant features South African fare, while the Lookout is the ideal spot for brunch and magic hour alike. Tip: Come really hungry and tackle the Big Brekkie.
Stellenbosch, South Africa’s principal wine region, is a short flight or a three-hour drive away. A standout trio of drink-and-eat wineries begins with the 300-year-old estate, Rust en Vrede, a favorite of Nelson Mandela's. Don’t forgo its namesake restaurant. Vergelegen’s blends rank among the top 100 in the world. The French-influenced wine farm La Motte creates highly touted whites, perfectly paired with an epicurean meal at its eatery, Pierneef á la Motte.
Puerto Rico Long overshadowed by its Caribbean neighbors, this unincorporated United States territory has recently been thrust into the limelight thanks to a devastating debt crisis. But the island, with its wildly varied tropical terrain and swashbuckling past, hardly projects an attitude of impending doom. Its citizens seem to surf along on a contagious wave of positivity.
Throughout San Juan, cafes are open early and close late. Caficultura’s café con leche and pear tartlet create a killer snack to munch on while exploring Olé, a purveyor of bespoke Panama hats. Café Cuarto Sombras bakes a pan de agua with guava butter, roasts its coffee nearby — its white mochas are famous — and offers home-brewing workshops.
The Condado and Santurce neighborhoods are up-and-coming sections of the city bursting with vivid street art and edgy galleries. Outside of the capital city, the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach is the apex of luxury. Beachfront rooms and villas come with their own butlers and personal full-sized swimming pools. The spa, unrivaled in both beauty and bodywork, is worth the splurge.
Vieques, eight miles to the east of the main island, offers up one of Puerto Rico’s most impressive national natural landmarks: Thanks to an overabundance of marine organisms called dinoflagellates, its bioluminescent bay glows neon blue whenever the water is disturbed. While swimming there is illegal, a kayak paddle will light up the water, causing thousands of tiny, brilliantly colored explosions all around.
Australia's Gold Coast Australians drive on the opposite side of the road, but locals and tourists alike warmly embrace #vanlife. If sleeping in a van is plausible, Wicked Campers is a good option. If not, you can always rent a car.
With striking headlands and a valley shaded by kauri pines and eucalyptus trees, Noosa National Park is a good place to get a peek at kookaburras and koalas. Boutiques line Hastings Street in town, where there’s also a multitude of dining options. Try the Sunday spit roast at the Apollonian Hotel, prepared in a pioneer-style rustic bush kitchen.
Most people come here to surf, but if that isn’t of interest, try kayaking through the Noosa Everglades or stand-up paddle yoga. Driving south to Brisbane, stop at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. While the koalas steal the spotlight, hand-feeding kangaroos and wallabies is another unforgettable experience.
Another hour down the coast is Byron Bay. Everyone should take a walk up to the lighthouse at Tallow Beach — the earlier the better. Dawn strolls are often accompanied by dolphins splashing about. And don’t forget to grab a local gig guide at Treehouse on Belongil, as musicians abound in this coastal town.
Louisville Swallow the S in Louisville, like the locals do. This city is known as the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Louisville Slugger baseball bat, and the Kentucky Derby, but there's a lot more to enjoy.
Within the last year, restaurants like Feast BBQ in the NuLu district, Joella’s Hot Chicken, and Butchertown Grocery have helped transform this fast-food town into a foodie one. Two-year-old Meta serves ciders as well as bourbon-centered craft cocktails. The bar upstairs at Butchertown Grocery is a speakeasy with no signage and no mention on the restaurant’s website. If you find your way there, order a Between a Pawn Shop and a Chapel, a delightfully bright spin on an Old Fashioned.
Harvest Restaurant sources 80% of ingredients within 100 miles of Louisville, while Feast BBQ creates a monthly flavored bourbon slushie. Please and Thank You bakes chocolate chip cookies and hand dips pretzels weekly.
Cote D'Azur Olive, cypress, and pine trees envelop the quaint hilltop town of Mougins, where Pablo Picasso spent the last decade of his life. The Musée de la Photographie houses previously unseen photos of his life there.
Soft spring light dances off the stone-walled buildings and plays along the stunning vistas of Le Mas Candille, just down the hill. Be sure to eat at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which offers al fresco dining with stunning views of the French countryside. Taste its out-of-this-world soft-boiled egg marinated in Japanese Marunaka soy sauce with radish petals, which pairs perfectly with the local 2014 Château Minuty Rosé et Or. And be sure to check out the restaurant Le Clos St Basile as well; the sweet courtyard complements its rich but light fare.
Cars are not permitted in Saint Paul de Vence, an artists' enclave perched on a hill overlooking the Cotê d’Azur coastline. Art galleries line the ivy-covered streets while local ice cream shops like Dolce Italia experiment with flavors such as violet and gingerbread. A bocce ball court at the base of the town is legendary for its regional tournaments.
On a clear day in nearby Antibes, it’s possible to see the island of Corsica. Step into la Belle Époque with afternoon tea at Hotel Belles Rives, where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby. The traditional bouillabaisse at Voile d'Or, the restaurant inside the hotel St Jean Cap Ferrat, is bright and flavorful without being overly fishy. Just a short walk from Musée Picasso, a cavernous basement bar called the Absinthe Museum offers a mean version of its namesake drink, served the traditional way, complete with a sugar cube.
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico Ghost Ranch isn’t haunted by evil spirits — that was a rumor started by 19th-century cattle rustlers who used the area to hide stolen goods to keep inquiring minds at bay. Rancho de los Brujos, or Ranch of the Witches, evolved into Ghost Ranch, but you probably know it best as the place American artist Georgia O’Keeffe fell in love with in 1934.
Once a dude ranch, today the 21,000-acre retreat center offers over 200 classes in everything from plein air painting to adobe building. The lodging is rustic: Rooms and campgrounds are basic, albeit overlooking Cerro Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain to the south and O’Keeffe’s frequent subject. Mess Hall is the sole dining option, and the simple, fresh food is served cafeteria style. Wi-Fi is only available in the common areas, and cell-phone service is erratic, but that’s not what attracts guests.
The dry, rich skies are ripe for stargazing; the famous Box Canyon is perfect for hiking at all levels, and the sounds of the soft wind dancing through the cottonwoods encourage visitors to disconnect and immerse. Nine Native American pueblos are within driving distance. That’s a lot of spirit in the sky.
Maui The islands of Hawaii have long been a destination for warm water, pink-sky sunsets, and palm-lined vistas, all with the convenience of leaving the passport at home. Lately, a flurry of small businesses in Pa’ia, a two-street, blink-and-it’s-in-your rearview town have generated buzz, weaving the longstanding Biasa Rose women's boutique with Tobi’s Shave Ice and fashion designer Tamara Catz into perfect, hippy harmony. Originally a sugar town, the community's affordable rent is encouraging a new generation of merchants, like jewelers Wings Hawaii and swimsuit designers San Lorenzo Bikinis, to join the mix.
No trip to Maui is complete without poke, raw fish salad that can be tangy, spicy, or sweet, and the tastiest of which can be found, on the cheap, at Foodland, the Hawaiian grocery chain. Pick up some Maui Vera organic aloe vera gel at any local shop to magically calm an unfortunate sunburn. And for your feet, Michael at Island Sandals will measure you from toe to heel to create a unique pair of leather gladiators. Beware: There’s usually a months-long waiting list for delivery.
The Andaz Maui at Wailea resort provides easy and complimentary access to all things ocean- , beach-, and hula-related, including, but not limited to, outrigger canoeing, Pilates, and stand-up paddle boarding, with free GoPro rental to document it all. (Tip: Ask for Kaleo.) Late September through early December is low season. Consider staying here a few nights and then checking out the north and eastern parts of the island. Read more about the inspiring 10-woman team driving the success of Wings Hawaii .
Istanbul Bearded men holding trays with steaming glasses of black tea and hollering “Çay, çay,” can be heard day and night, and the five-times-daily call to prayer from the tops of the city's countless minarets lines up in perfect harmony: Istanbul is a city of sights and sounds.
And tastes. Āsitāne, as Istanbul was known during the Ottoman reign, is the name of a restaurant that resembles a living history class, with theme menus like, “Meals from the Period of Mehmet the Conqueror.” Mahmure Acoustic Lezzetler serves traditional Turkish food, accompanied by impromptu concerts. The Maiden's Tower is a picture-perfect locale for an afternoon rakı, Turkey’s anise-flavored national drink. Karaköy Güllüoğlu is a chain of sweets shops that’s been baking 30-layers-thick baklava with pistachios since 1820.
Because of its strategic position on the Silk Road, Istanbul overflows with history. Galata Tower, Yerebatan Sarnıcı (underground cisterns that once supplied the city with drinking water), the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, the Hagia Sophia, and Sultan Ahmed Mosque are wondrous. Depending on your desired pacing, allot a day or two.
İpek stocks beautiful traditional silk head and neck scarves, essential for women to enter the Hagia Sophia museum and any mosque. Polo Garage, an upscale clothing boutique just down the street in the neighborhood of Beyoğlu, beats with the pulse of the Istanbul street scene. Make time to stroll through Karaköy, Istanbul’s trendiest neighborhood.
Surprisingly stylish hostel Bunk has two locations, both in Beyoğlu. Hotel Empress Zoe in Sultanahmet is constructed around the remains of a 15th-century bathhouse.
From Istanbul to Cappadocia is a long but easy haul via a night bus — and well worth the ride. The UNESCO world heritage site is a equal parts geological peculiarity and human ingenuity. The region's mushroom-tipped pillars, fairy chimneys, and jagged hills house troglodyte-style homes and places of worship carved out of the soft sandstone. To get the best view of the surreal landscape, splurge on a hot air balloon ride at dawn.
Reykjavík, Iceland Many Icelanders describe the shape of their country as a cat that’s been run over by a car. That’s the Icelandic sense of humor — a little dark. But given any opportunity to share a laugh, a local will take it.
The country’s capital, Reykjavík, is a lovely town bookended by the Harpa, the strikingly modern honeycombed concert hall designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson that wraps around the harbor, and Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church dedicated to the most religious Icelandic poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson. Seemingly every restaurant from Dill to Apotek to Fiskmarkaðurinn (Fish Market) formulates its own butter, all of which are mouth-watering. And try Reyka, the country’s vodka made with water from a volcanic lava field and the favored spirit for artisan cocktails.
For those seeking a bit of excitement, Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel is worth the splurge, even if just for a night. Sleep with an uninterrupted view of the Martian-like blue-green terrain and experience a roadside hot spring followed by a dash across the mossy, damp Icelandic landscape into an Ion thermal spa treatment.
Excavation on the Langjökull ice cave, on the eponymous glacier, was recently completed. Surviving the intense vehicular trek up the side of a glacier is positively worth it to explore several-feet-thick walls of ice.
To sweeten the deal, for up to seven nights, Icelandair allows passengers flying from North America to Europe (and vice versa) a layover in Iceland at no additional cost.
Scotland Scotland is infinitely navigable, but you need a car. St. Andrews, the windy birthplace of golf and the university town where Will and Kate first met, is also a solid out-of-Edinburgh starting point. The B & Bs on Murray Park provide excellent accommodations and breakfast. The Russell Hotel bar daily soup is always exactly what’s needed after a windy afternoon wandering around the Falkland Palace, St. Andrews castle ruins, and the royal couple’s old haunts. The St. Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club, better known as the Himalayas, is a putting course, of course. Play it.
Nearby Crail, a fishing village with stone houses and the smell of salt air, makes for a lovely stopover. East Neuk Glass and Crail Pottery showcase artisanal wares, and the Crail Harbour Gallery and Tearoom serves a stellar pot of tea and toasted Scottish cheddar panini.
At the foot of Cairngorms National Park is Ballater, home to a yearly walking festival. Take a toddle on one of the many trails. Near Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s summer home, several shops retain royal warrants, making them official outfitters of the Windsor family. The Silver Thistle sells made-to-order tartan shoes and bonnets, popular with the Duchess of Cornwall. Celicall Crafts mounts magnificent handmade fishing flies in frames and ships internationally.
Inverness, the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, sits on the River Ness. Take a trip down the river and look for the Loch Ness monster, grab dinner at the Mustard Seed, and shop Primark, a bargain department store with a wicked sense of humor.
Bachelor Gulch, Colorado The town itself is called Avon, but the village on the side of the mountain is Bachelor Gulch, named after the seven single men who arrived hungry for a better life in 1881. Although pricey in ski season, summertime brings more affordable rates — plus wildflower hikes and fly fishing.
The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch encourages guests to bring their four-legged friends to meet the property’s duo of Saint Bernards, Bachelor and Belle. The crisp evenings are perfect for chilling in front of the fireplace in the hotel's Bachelors Lounge, which serves "vaportinis" — experimental cocktails that are inhaled rather than swallowed. Burn off the alcohol at a morning barre class followed by a plunge in the rock-lined grotto. For breakfast, the bison sausage is not to be missed.
Gore Creek Fly Fisherman offers guided fly fishing trips, complete with waders and après river-forging treats. (Tip: Ask for Jesse.) The sleepy town of Avon is worth a trip via a complimentary hotel shuttle. The Beaver Creek market makes its fudge and ice cream in the basement and offers to-go pints.
A 15-minute drive or bus ride down I-70 is Vail Village. Although the town calls itself America’s winter playground, a rainy summer day is the perfect time to order a Nutty Irishman or spicy Bhakti Chai tea latte at Loaded Joe’s. Stores like the Golden Bear jewelers (the name refers to the unofficial symbol of Vail Valley for the last 40 years), J. Cotter Gallery, and Cogswell Gallery stock a robust array of goods year-round.
Catalonia There’s a reason why everyone who visits Barcelona makes a stop at Sagrada Família: Any building that has been under construction for the last 133 years deserves a look. But don’t let the basilica's eight magnificent towers steal all the glory. Beneath the sanctuary is a fascinating space that explains how the structure manages to defy gravity despite the massive weight of its stonework.
Wander around Barcelona’s Barri Gótic (Gothic Quarter), where you'll find TwoThirds, a minimalist surf-inspired clothing store, and Papabubble, an candy store where employees spend their nights hand-stretching beautiful lollipops. (Tip: Ask if they’ve got any “after dark” delights.) Between the two sits La Manual Alpargatera, a workshop that hand-stitches fashionable espadrilles.
Mercer Hotel Bòria BCN, a restored 18th-century palace, has a little-known rooftop deck, the perfect place to unwind after roaming around the city. (Prepay for a discount of up to 15%.)
Beyond Barcelona, it takes under two hours by train to reach Figueres, Salvador Dalí’s birthplace and home to Teatro-Museo Dalí, a stunning castle designed by the Spanish surrealist painter to house his work. Skip the automated tour. Instead, just wander around the world’s largest surrealist object one your own. You'll see an overturned umbrella boat, an oversized lips couch, a mustachioed staircase.
Sitges, an artsy beach town 30 minutes south of Barcelona via commuter rail, goes by the nicknames "Saint-Tropez of Spain" and "Ibiza In Miniature." It has its own film festival, Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya, and takes Carnaval celebrations very seriously.
Sayulita, Mexico Tumbling out of the Sierra Madre Mountains and into the Pacific Ocean is Sayulita, Mexico’s west coast response to Tulum. An hour northwest of Puerto Vallarta, it’s far enough away to avoid the commercialized party scene. Instead, you'll find toes-in-the-sand sunrise yoga, surfing, artisanal ice cream, and traditional Huichol hand-beaded art. It's jungle meets the beach.
This once sleepy beach town encapsulates the new Mexico. Last January, Sayulita hosted the first Mexi Log Fest, an annual surfing competition with a food, film, and music festival all rolled into one. Aurinko Bungalows offer quiet, tree filled respite with a great central location.
Naty’s Cocina is the place to begin the day with an omelet of nopales (cactus) and cheese. Two doors down is Ula, a clothing-jewelry-crafts boutique with a façade made primarily of beer tops. Consider buying one of the store’s handmade pom-poms, Dr. Seuss-like brightly colored balls that have come to epitomize the colorful town.
The thatched roofed Chilly Willys has a rather unpredictable schedule, but its ceviche is the best in town. Up the street is El Fortín, a tiny coffee shop with a namesake coffee blend and açai bowls.
The fruit-infused popsicles of Wakika Heladeria rival the finest Italian gelato and, next door, La Rustica provides Italian respite from the seemingly endless fish taco joints. Multi-story Bar Don Pato offers live music, and more often than not, the late night party spills out into the town square.
Montreal The second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, Montreal is a cultural mecca that has something to delight everyone.
For the creative set, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is continuing to push the innovative envelope with Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s current installation (through March 27) of more than 50 zebra finches in the same room as a dozen amplified electric guitars and basses. The result is a makeshift aviary where the birds land on the instruments, creating music in the process.
Another Montreal institution is Cyrille the Spoonman, a busker who’s been clattering cutlery outside Ogilvy’s department store for the last two decades. Nearby, Le Petit Hôtel, housed in a former leather factory, is also a cafe open 24/7 where concierges moonlight as baristas.
Jean-Talon Market, the largest outdoor market in North America, is a must for foodies. Morning visitors will have more than their pick not only of fresh fruits and vegetables, but spices, meats, and cheeses.
Feeling active? Bixi, a coupling of the words “bicycle” and “taxi,” is the city’s public bike system, pedaled by residents and visitors alike. Take a ride down The Main, as the natives call Boulevard St.-Laurent, the traditional east/west dividing line of the city, or head to Rue Saint-Denis, where, whatever the temperature, Montréalers congregate on outdoor terraces for a cup of hot cocoa or a Molson.
Tokyo Every neighborhood in Tokyo’s vast metropolis retains a distinct personality. At the massive Roppongi Hills complex, a $15 ticket will grant access to the 52nd-floor observation deck and admission to the Mori Art Museum, a fascinatingly modern space. Don't miss Louise Bourgeois' sculpture, "Maman," in the form of a giant spider, at the building’s exit.
At Shibuya Crossing, as many as 2,500 people surge into the street at the same time when the traffic lights change. Witness the rush from above in the Tsutaya building, then duck back into Shibuya station for the Tokyu Food Show, a multi-aisle market of grilled eel, seaweed wraps, and mochi cakes.
Asakusa’s Senso-ji Buddhist temple welcomes visitors with a huge bowl of smoking incense to purify hands. Arrive at dawn to avoid the crowds, and make sure your shoes face heel-first into the temple, otherwise it’s bad luck. Just outside, purchase a pair of chopsticks and a carrying case on Nakamise Dori, a street packed with stalls and shops. Across town is the Meiji Shrine, with a 40-foot torii gate and an offering box. Toss in some yen and bow twice, clap twice, and bow again to complete the offering.
Tsukiji Fish Market’s daily tuna auction begins at 5 a.m. but requires at least an hour wait. The buses and metros don’t run that early, so you'll probably have to spring for a pricey taxi. Once there, sushi for breakfast is the call; any counter inside the main gate is guaranteed to be mind-blowing and relatively cheap.
Fiji Two separate cultural markers dictate much of what happens throughout Fiji. One is “Fiji time,” or the pleasingly relaxed pace at which the island nation seems to move. The other is the availability of Fiji Gold or Fiji Bitter, the two beers found throughout the archipelago of more than 300 islands, and pretty much the only affordable alcohol around. Accept those two factors, and your stay in Fiji will be brilliant.
Viti Levu, Fiji’s major island, is home to both Nadi (nan-dee), the international airport, and Suva, the country’s capital city. The Nadi Bay Resort Hotel is a fun, funky hotel-hostel and a good home base, especially to explore the Sri Siva Subrahmanya Swami Temple and the Nadi Handicraft Market. Be sure to purchase a sulu, a Fijian sarong, as it’s a required accessory in many places. Suva’s Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture features traditional tattooing and wood carving and is a must-see. Professor Epeli Hau’ofa, Fiji’s most prolific poet, served as its first director until his death in 2009.
On the powdery white-sand beaches of Robinson Crusoe Island, you’ll find technicolor coral and jaw-dropping fire and knife dancers. It's an easy escape from Viti Levu. Likewise, Mana Island is a quick boat ride away and presents a choice of destinations: One one end of the island is the Mana Island Resort and Spa and on the other is the Ratu Kini Backpackers and Dive Resort. One is opulent luxury; the other, a backpackers’ paradise. Both serve a killer fish lolo, prepared with coconut cream sauce.
Prague Prague’s maze of alleys and subterranean haunts are even more intriguing when the weather outside is frosty, allowing visitors to comprehend firsthand the dark mystique that inspired Franz Kafka’s tales.
The holiday season in the Czech Republic’s capital city is brimming with cheer and fine Christmas markets, including the one in Starmĕstské Námĕstí, Old Town Square, where residents can be found pouring 50 cent cups of svařák mulled wine out of a thermos and baking trdelník, a round sugar-coated cake, in street carts.
Take a nighttime spooky stroll across the Charles Bridge and dine at Lokál, a gastropub that features house-made talián sausage and plentiful vegetarian options. Manufaktura stocks traditional handicrafts; keep an eye out for hand-cut candles, which look like brightly colored candy ribbons.
Connect with artists at MeetFactory, an abandoned warehouse turned avant-garde exhibition and performance space before heading to Frank Gehry’s architecturally arresting Dancing House, also called Fred and Ginger. Then dance the night away at Bunkr Parukářka, a 1950s nuclear bunker turned nightclub. Café Sladkovsky’s interpretation of goulash, a traditional Czech dish, is worth a try, as is exploring the city solely by bus, tram, and metro. The subway stations are stories-deep underground and feature some of the most eye-popping designs; check out the Náměstí Míru and Muzeum stops.