I didn't quite find the "Paris of the Middle East" as it was once known, but I found plenty to love about Beirut. The people, the food, the architecture - evidence of a cosmopolitan city is there - sometimes in the shadows, more often quite clearly.
When I ended up with a couple of extra days in France with no itinerary, fate and the French rail led me to Lyon. I am lucky to have spent time here, a picture postcard of a place with magical skies, winding rivers, and ancient Roman ruins where modern music fills the air.
Prague looks like something out of a fairy tale, even with clouds hanging overhead. There is magic everywhere: Pražský orloj, the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, dates back to the 1400s. Trdelník spin round and round, waiting to be filled with jam or Nutella or nothing at all. Baroque statues watch over as you cross Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle looks over it all. You'll walk in Mozart's footsteps and do double-takes at the marionettes. My kind of fairy tale.
Amsterdam is a healing place, and I don't just mean things you can smoke. I visited her at the apex of several brands of sadness and loss: of friends, of anchors, and even of my country. She allowed me to float back to earth at my own pace, from the abyss of sadness I'd been living in. Dank je, Amsterdam.
Sydney! Your people are gorgeous and clever and funny. Your city is vibrant and runs all the way to the cliffs of Bondi and down to the sea, never diminishing in beauty along the way. You have the fancy and the gritty and the everything in between.
I even tried Vegemite and didn't mind so much.
Soundtrack: Wye Oak
I landed in Singapore on the first day of Chinese New Year - while many businesses were closed, there was an atmosphere in the streets I really enjoyed taking in. It is such a mashup of cultures: Chinese, Malay, Indian all having a presence, in addition to heavy Western influences.
I had been warned Singapore might strike me as overcommercialized, but since I visited right after Dubai, I didn't feel it.
As always, perspective is everything.
Soundtrack: Sylvan Esso
Dubai is a beautiful, modern city, much more progressive than those unfamiliar will give it credit for. So much of what I saw I was opulent and over-the-top: an indoor ski resort, water slides that go UP, the Dubai Fountain, which sits on a 30-acre manmade lake... much of it is about what money can buy, with the Burj Khalifa towering over it all. My favorite part was visiting Deira, with the older souks, all their colors and spice, wheeling and dealing.
London delivers - everything wonderful you've heard about it is true. It is steeped in tradition and history; walking its streets, you can easily imagine it as it once was. And yet the modern coexists in a very lively way.
soundtrack: The Joy Formidable
Cuba is the land my father's side of the family called home, and visiting La Habana was a primer on bridging the years between when they left (1959) and the present - so much beauty, so much decay, and so much wreckage everywhere you turn. At the same time, I witnessed a people that still knows how to tap into pure joy despite having been stripped to only core necessities. Important lessons to remember.
I'd been eyeing the safari trip since starting my stint with Four Seasons (April 2015), but had been wanting to do one much longer than that. After all - big cats! elephants! hundreds of zebras! - what's not to love?
It is remarkable and breathtaking; all the superlatives used to describe it are accurate. It was worth every penny spent and every minute of travel.
The brightness on some of these colors seems exaggerated, but that's Colombia - vivid and lively. The people always had a ready smile and a helpful hand.