One of my favorite things to do is travel. I guess you could say it’s one of my biggest hobbies, aside from crocheting (yes…I crochet. Yes…I have cats. Yes…I am married). While we lived overseas, we were very fortunate in our ability to travel easily throughout Europe, on a relatively small budget. In addition, our jobs allow for us to travel for work, to some pretty amazing places. So, I thought I’d share with you my top 5 favorite cities outside the US!
1. Barcelona, Spain
There’s something so sensual about Spain. Maybe it’s the food, or the copious amounts of sangria. It could be the fact that it’s an entire country of people who truly understand and embrace the need for a good nap every day (siesta, anyone?). Maybe it’s the music, and the way it swirls and caresses you late at night, as the humid breezes pass over your skin, heated from hours of dancing in the crowds. Or the language, the way the romantic words roll off your tongue. Regardless, there’s something about Barcelona that sucks me in every time we visit it. We always discover some new restaurant, or hit up a new park with amazing artwork. I’ve been inside La Sagrada Familia multiple times, and each time I’m hit with a sense of peace and tranquility unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Plus, the beach is stunning, the tapas are plentiful, and the people are incredibly nice and welcoming. What more could you want?!
2. Normandy, France
Despite its bloody history (D-Day beaches weren’t fun for anyone), Normandy, France has a lot going for it. Obviously, for those who love history, the area is ripe with WWII tours, artifacts, museums, and personal encounters. While we were there, we did a D-Day tour, along with a “Band of Brothers” tour that hit up several of the battle fields that were shown in the television series. Apart from the historical significance, there are other perks to the area as well. The French food and culture is plentiful, without dealing with the crowds (and prices) of Paris. Also, the area is famous for its Calvados, which is an apple brandy made in the region. One of my favorite desserts of the area, aside from the amazing pastries, is the local vanilla ice cream, covered with calvados and carmelized apples. It’s warm and cold, and makes the lips tingle oh so nicely! If you do happen to head to the area, be sure to stop in Bayeux, home of the “Bayeux Tapestry” which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England through the Battle of Hastings. We didn’t happen to catch it while we were there, much to our friends’ dismay, but I’ve heard it’s pretty neat.
3. Kyoto, Japan
Japan is full of amazing sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences. It was hard to pick just once place as a “favorite” from this country, because, on a whole, this country is pretty darn amazing! I was fortunate enough to live here for 5 weeks during summer break after my second year of law school. J was sent on a short-term work assignment, and had been traveling back and forth between the US and Japan, and I got to go with him for one of his longer trips. The last week I was there, we spent the week backpacking through the country, hopping train after train and seeing a lot of different cities. My favorite, though, was Kyoto. It used to be the imperial capital of Japan, and is full of temples and shrines, close to mountains and forests, and preserved from much of the destruction of WWII. While we toured Kyoto, we stopped in many of the shrines and temples (though nowhere near all of them), saw several Maiko (apprentice Geisha), toured Himeji-jo (Himeji castle), and ate more Japanese food than I care to remember (I think I asked J to just roll me to the plane when it was time to send me back to the US). This area, literally, made me fall in love with the country, and I would definitely move there if it were a possibility. I’m hoping to make a trip back along with J, as he still travels over there for work. Maybe then I’ll find a new favorite city!
4. Marrakech, Morocco
Of all the places in Europe we travelled, Morocco was J’s favorite. It was definitely at the top of my list too (as is evidenced by this list), and I found Marrakech to be completely unlike any other place we traveled. I absolutely love to visit countries with Arab influences, and this place was a perfect mix of Arabic culture, French/European influences, and North African tastes. Walking through the winding alleys of the Medina was almost sensory overload. Every way you turned was a spice counter, a fresh chicken stall (and by “fresh” I mean, “still alive”), a craft and metal works shop, or vendors selling rugs. The smells range anywhere from overpower (umm…fresh chickens?) to sweet and delicate (a lot of the stalls sell fresh Moroccan sweets in the morning), and everywhere is an explosion of color. While we were in Marrakech, we stayed at a Riad that was incredibly nice. The Riad Kniza was like an oasis in the middle of chaos…the streets and alleys would be frantic with activity and people, then the minute you walked inside the Riad’s doors, it would be calm and tranquil. While there, in addition to hours spent sightseeing, we did a cooking class at the Riad, and then had a couples massage and a traditional hammam (Turkish Bath), before moving to a Kasbah in the mountains for the second half of the trip. Marrakech is definitely a city I’d return to, as there was so much to see and do, and there was no way to see it all during our trip. Since J loved it as well, it should be too hard to drag him back there!
5. Tromso, Norway
Let me preface by saying Norway is absolutely GORGEOUS! We traveled to Norway twice, once to Tromso and once to Flam, and I can’t even begin to describe the natural beauty that just permeates this country. The views of the fjords and the mountains are breathtaking, and you can’t help but just feel at home with nature while you’re there. We visited Tromso, which is located in the Arctic Circle, in February 2011. We made the trip was in order to see the Northern Lights and weren’t disappointed! We did a lot of sightseeing around Tromso, which isn’t that large, but had a lot to offer! We drank beers at one of the oldest pubs in the city (there was a stuffed bear next to the door, I didn’t ask questions), went dog sledding, had lots of fondue, and walked across the border to Finland at midnight. The Northern Lights were amazing to experience, and while they weren’t “dancing” a ton, it was still beautiful. We also did a half day of cross-country skiing, which is a LOT of work (but a great bit of exercise). I’m not a big fan of skiing, but as long as I’m not going downhill, I can handle it. Cross-country skiing is definitely my kind of skiing. While we were driving back from our Northern Lights excursion, we came across Tromsdalen Kirke, which is the Arctic Church in Tromso. It was all lit up in the dark sky, and really stood out against the black backdrop of the mountains. We were only able to go for a long weekend, but we managed to pack in quite a lot in four short days. While Scandinavia is incredibly expensive, we’d go back in a heartbeat. It’s definitely worth saving your pennies for a trip, if you like the great outdoors and nature!
So, there you have it, my Five Favorites…Cities of the World! I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions about any of these places, I’m happy to answer them!