Alhambra, Aruba, Barbary, Barcelona, Caribbean, Chicago, Costa del Sol, Fado, Fatima, flamenco, Gaudi, Gaudix, Gibraltar, Granada, Houston, international, Lisbon, Madrid, monkeys, Peniscola, Portugal, Salamanca, Seville, Spain, Texas, travel, Valencia
A little over a year ago, the last page of 2014 quietly flipped and 2015 came in just as peacefully. As I reviewed my 2014 travel year, I wondered where would I go in 2015.
Would my destinations in 2015 be as fun as the February week spent in Vegas on an all-girls trip? Or as hilarious as the time spent on a cruise to the Bahamas during a high school reunion in July ? Would my 2015 destinations turn out to be as idyllic and blissfully beautiful as the time I spent nearly three September weeks taking a tour of Italy, with a glorious side-trip to Switzerland? Would I have the time of my life in as I did when I spent time with friends in the Dominican Republic in November?
In typical Me fashion, I found a way to not only repeat the fun and hilarious times I had had in 2014, but to add to them. Along the way, I met so many people who enriched my travel life for the better.
I started the year traveling to Houston, Texas for a business retreat. A working vacation is not sexy, I know. However, a working vacation to Texas in January when your northern state is neck-deep in snow is a sexy idea. One of the highlights of the long-weekend trip was sampling the food at Peli Peli, a South African restaurant. I am by no means a foodie, but sometimes food just tastes exquisite; even to my dulled palate. My meal, paired with a chilled glass of Chenin Blanc, made me smile.
I also managed to spend some time in Galveston, Texas — a quaint community on the Gulf of Mexico. While there I went to one of my favorite restaurants, Black-owned Clary’s Seafood, which has an amazing view of the Gulf. All in all, hitting Texas in January was a great start to the year.
A working vacation is not sexy, I know. However, a working vacation to Texas in January when your northern state is neck-deep in snow is a sexy idea.
My next vacation was an impromptu, and domestic, trip right after Memorial Day. A friend in Chicago was getting married in Italy in September sans guests, and her friends in Chicago invited me to her bridal shower. Instead of spending a hazy/crazy weekend in Chicago, we drove to Michigan and toured the wineries there. I know. Michigan? Wineries? Those two don’t match. However, there is a vibrant wine-producing scene along the Great Lakes.
Once in Michigan, we hired a private driver and visited no less than six wineries over a twenty-four hour period. I’ve visited plenty of wineries and had tastings domestically and abroad, but I’ve never had such hilarious times at wine tastings as I had last May. Although one of the girls in our group promised to “do something strange for a little bit of change” for one of the winery staff (a man who could not prevent the tears from flowing he was laughing so hard), we were mostly harmless.
Tastings of note? Lemon Creek Winery blew my mind with a Cabernet Sauvignon ice wine, and I fell in love with the Nutty Russian cocktail (a Black Walnut Creme smoothed out by the on-site distilled DiVine vodka) at the Round Barn Winery.
After blitzing the wineries, we headed to the local casino for fun. Who would have known that the Hard Rock Cafe at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan was jumpin’ on a Saturday night? The band, Your Villan My Hero (now named Goodbye Hero), was GREAT. In between sets, the DJ had the crowd crunk and disorderly. Let’s just say I Wobble’d wit it, and I did the Pee Wee Herman ’til my feet got sore.
That Crip Walk we did as we were leaving the casino? All in good fun. It must have been authentic because a random gambler, a Caucasian gentleman, both knew what it was and gave us props for it. He was so magnanimous that he also congratulated me on my favorite college football team being the first National College Football Champion, despite him being a fan of the rival team.
The DJ had the crowd crunk and disorderly.
In March of last year, Spain began to call my name. What’s a girl to do when a country sends for her? She goes, of course.
I spent three weeks in September exploring the artistic elegance that is the entire country of Spain. My trip started with five days in Barcelona before my organized tour began, where I fell under the spell of Antonin Gaudi’s works and his Seussian-like touch all around the city. I sampled tapas, used my high school Spanish to navigate a metropolis where very few are fluent in English, and took a side trip from Barcelona to the countries of Andorra and France.
Once on the tour, we viewed the majestic fort and the endless beach at Peniscola, before stopping overnight on my birthday in Valencia — home to the unbelievably designed City of Arts and Sciences. While on tour we viewed the cave houses of Guadix, explored the halcyon grounds of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, reveled in the sun in the Costa del Sol before viewing the Barbary Apes in Gibraltar. We were mesmerized by authentic flamenco dancing in Seville, before spending several days in Portugal’s Lisbon on the Tagus River. The Portuguese food was beyond compare, and was matched only by the amazing Fado singing we witnessed. We visited the town of Fatima, where a hundred years ago three children claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, before spending the night in Spain’s Salamanca, a university town. Too soon we found ourselves in Madrid, and I was bidding adios to my companions and the kingdom that stole my heart.
My last trip of the year was a week before Thanksgiving, when I make my annual trip to the Caribbean for pure rest and relaxation. My small travel group of five women made Aruba our playground for a week. We stayed at the Renaissance Marriott hotel in the heart of downtown Aruba, and made frequent use of the hotel’s boat that jetted us to the hotel’s private island — Iguana Beach. The beautiful pink flamingos that dotted the adult side of the beach made the island that much more enchanting.
One of the highlights from the Aruba trip? Our group was waiting to board the Kukoo Kunuku party bus, with its music blaring, and were standing alongside the bus waiting to pay to get aboard. A police car, containing three police officers, pulled up to us with their lights flashing and began to dance in their seats. What’s a girl to do when the police want to get crunk and disorderly? Get crunk and disorderly with them. The five of us began pumping our fists and jamming with the police, lights and all, before they pulled away. I have the best times in the Caribbean.
2015 holds promises of more adventures and fun times. I will be visiting the Caribbean twice this year on two separate cruises. The jury is still out on whether I “love” cruises, but they are fun and inexpensive vacations that get me outside of the United States. I’m also planning a trip that will take me to Finland, Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. I believe that Russia might become the Cuba of our lifetime for Americans, and I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t get to stand in Red Square in Moscow, or visit the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg while I had the chance.
What travel plans have you made for 2016, and how did your travel plans shape up for 2015? I would love to hear your stories.