My friends call me a gypsy. Perhaps I am, but it's just the wanderlust in my soul that makes me feel this deep need to move to somewhere new every two years. To satisfy that (ridiculously expensive and impractical) part of my soul, I travel. A lot. Here is a run down of my favorite spots in the world.
I have to start with the homeland because, well, it's the homeland. Prior to my freshman year in college, I sat down with a guidance counselor at the University of California, Irvine, to figure out the "plan" for my college career. After telling her my name and intended degree (Drama. I know...shocker, huh?), I immediately said, "I want to spend my junior year in England. How do we make that happen?"
Two years later, I was settled into a life in Hull, a port town off the North Sea. I spent a great deal of time in London, and with each visit, it's place in my heart solidified. To this day, it's my favorite city in the world. Why is it so amazing? Pubs. Duh. Well, that and the Underground. I have spent a lot of time on public transit systems throughout the world, but nothing beats London's Underground. Everywhere in the city is just a Tube ride away: Hyde Park, St. Paul's Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus, Wimbledon, Greenwich.
But London isn't the only awesome place in England. If you go, you have to hit Oxford. I swear just being there makes you smarter...or at least feel smarter. In Kent, there's the quintessential labyrinth with an amazing fountain in the middle. Stratford Upon Avon is more than just Shakespeare's birthplace; it's a quaint little town where even Americans are welcomed with pints and smiles.
If you go: take a train...anywhere (and not because you just HAVE to get out of South Detroit). One of the best things about the country is the ease and beauty of taking trains. The countryside is beyond words.
Disclaimer: I was there before it became this huge tourist destination.
There's something about hiking through the rain forest and stumbling upon a National Geographic worthy waterfall with a Hollywood-esque pool at its base that defies belief. And yet, in Costa Rica, it happens. All the time. I spent a month living in a small little fishing village called Dominical, and it remains one of the best months of my life.
Few people in the town spoke English, so by the time I left, I could pretty much debate politics in Spanish. (Unfortunately, the old adage "Use it or Lose it" totally applies here.) The town is on the Pacific Coast, so the surf was beyond belief. It was so intense, in fact, that a local restaurant called Clemente's (the owners were from San Clemente, California, which, I don't mind admitting, got me some free beers since I was an OC girl and all), and hanging in the middle of the place was a surf board broken in half with the following (in English, no less): "You break it, you bring it, we buy you a beer and tacos." In the rafters were boards of all shapes and sizes and colors with one thing in common: they were all broken.
There were two parts about the place I loved the most, though. First, of course, was the rain forest. It was everywhere around you. Walk 50 yards out of town, and you were smack dab in the middle of it. Sloths, macaws, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, spiders the size of monkeys...it was so cliche that it didn't seem real. The second thing I loved was the rain. They don't call it a rain forest for nothing. You could set your watch to it. Every day at 3 pm, a downpour would start like a drag racer. Nothing to full force sheet of rain in less than a minute. The rain was so intense, you couldn't seen more than 5 feet in front of the porch. It lasted an hour. Then it just stopped as if someone turned off the faucet.
If you go: Don't go for less than two weeks. Seriously. Even two weeks won't be enough. Make sure you visit Arenal Volcano. It's an active volcano, and you can relax in hot springs as you watch it erupt. Do a river rafting trip. There's a native tribe there that still lives in huts and uses spears to hunt. You get to float by their main village. Don't let them catch you looking at them, though. They don't take kindly to that. Warning: watch out for the monkeys. They like to steal cameras. No seriously. They do. It was the craziest thing.
I know a lot of people will rave about Athens or Mykonos or flitting between the many islands, but I'm an "off the beaten track" kind of girl. I spent a week in Rhodes and am so glad that's where I ended up. The island isn't big; you can travel the length of it in just a couple of hours. But there is so much to do and see that even a week doesn't seem like enough time.
The best thing about Greece is the people. Truly. I've never visited a country with nicer locals. A perfect example: my friend and I stopped at a local restaurant in a small town near Epta Piges (186 m/610 ft tunnel to the Seven Springs is a must do although if you are, like me, claustrophobic, you may want to just close your eyes). We were two of a handful of people there and were given this menu of dozens of meals (typical in Greece...they aim to please). After the woman (who didn't speak a word of English) convinced me to go for the chicken and not the goat (hey, when in Rome, people...), we settled in for a nice little meal. Our little meal turned into a five course feast with four of those courses on the house. Did I mention the food was beyond amazing? That kind of thing happened all the time. Free ouzo (even if you hate it, drink it!), free deserts, free beer. Such hospitality.
If you go: Bring your camera. Seriously. Do not forget a good camera. It's so gorgeous and full of character. Old Town Rhodes is an absolute must. It's an ancient city that was walled in by knights during Medieval times. People still live there, and the culture is like none I've seen before. The beaches are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen, but the best is getting one all to yourself. There's this road that leads to a dirt road that leads to this small path that leads to this little beach. It's near Monolithos (which is another must do), and being there is like a movie. My strongest suggestion is to rent a car and just explore the island. Fair warning: stop signs are suggestions.
I'm biased. I will say that up front. My parents bought a timeshare condo there when I was a teenager (my dad was impulsive like that), so I got to spend a great deal of time on Maui as I was growing up. If you're looking for an island that is a solid mix of adventure, night life and beauty, Maui's your place. If you go, be sure to bike down the volcano (it's dormant, so chill), drive up to Hana (if you dare...), have some Mai Tais in Lahina, visit the former leper colony of Lanai (it also has pineapples), and soak up the sun at Little Beach (lol).
As much as I love Maui, I'm a recent turncoat. Kauai is just beyond words. It is like you see in the movies. Every bit of it. In fact, movies such as Indiana Jones, King Kong and Jurassic Park were all filmed there. You can hike (there's a trail that's rated 10 for difficulty and 10 for beauty, for those who hike), kayaking, snorkeling (and you were like woh! and we were like woooah! and you were like woooooaaaah), mud buggies, horseback riding (hi AJ!), and roosters. Seriously. There's a shit ton of roosters. More than that, though, there are beaches like I've never seen over which are sunsets that take your breath away.
If you go: On Maui, there are luaus on the sand. Sit at the low tables where you cross your legs. Yeah, it makes it more obvious you're drunk when you get up to hit the john, but it's so worth it. Oh, and try the poi. Just do it. On Kauai, take a drive through Waimea Canyon and stop at every spot you can. The vistas are totally unexpected.
Austria - If you like the spots with history that don't overflow with tourists, go to Salzburg. It's no wonder Mozart was so inspired.
Ireland - Guinness brewery. Need I say more? Okay, castles. Lush green landscapes. Killer accents.
Germany - It's so much more than beer. Truly. (Dating myself here...) I was there a year after the Berlin Wall came down. The stark difference between East and West was unreal. There was still barbed wire and guard towers. From what I understand, that has all changed, though.
Amsterdam - Yeah, yeah, you can go there for the doobage and the red light district, but honestly, the canals and the Anne Frank museum are worth the trip on their own.
Los Cabos - an area on the tip of Baja California that is comprised of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. The former is the party town, while the latter is much more laid back. If you go to Cabo San Lucas, ask the cabby to take you to The Trailer Park Restaurant (the original one downtown). Huge, succulent lobsters for a teeny bit of pesos in an outdoor restaurant built around a huge, hundred-year-old tree. Just don't go cruising in a convertible Volkswagen through small towns run by drug lords. Trust me.
France - Don't go. Okay, I have to be fair. Lots of people love it in France. I hated it. Southern France, Paris, Calais...it all blew.
Qatar - If you're going to the Middle East, I'd recommend somewhere else. However, if you are at all into architecture, this is a must. The buildings were astounding and so very different. I. M. Pei (the guy who designed such things as the pyramid at the Louvre and the Kennedy Library, among others) designed the Qatar National Museum. The museum itself was just as magnificent (if not more so) than the art it held. Oh, and watch out for camels. No really.
Spain - I could do a ton on Spain, but there's just too much. I will just say this: go to Barcelona. Just do it. Talk about architecture. Gaudi. Just... wow.
Central Coast California - This one's for the wine lovers. Forget Napa. Go Paso Robles. You'll thank me.
That's it for Beachie's travels. My next stop is Scotland. I'll let you know how it is when I get back!