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Month: December 2017

Travel Superlatives of 2017: To Inspire Your Next Adventure

Travel Superlatives of 2017: To Inspire Your Next Adventure

This year has involved quite a lot of transitions. I started my first full-time job in quite some time (hint: it’s not blogging) and have been slowly figuring out how to balance it with my passion for blogging, travel, and you know – life, the universe, and everything!

This also marks a full year spent back in the US after five years abroad, and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I was shocked at how much my post on moving “home” resonated with readers, and continues to resonate with many others experiencing the same challenging transition. It is the post when I felt the most vulnerable clicking that “Publish” button, but such a lesson to me that it is when you really put your authentic self out there that you connect the most with those around you.

     READ MORE: What It’s Like Moving Back “Home” & Tips on How to Adjust

And that’s really what my travel superlatives come down to. It’s a collection of moments in far-flung places and spots close to home when I connected with those around me. Sometimes through an experience and sometimes a meal, but all were opportunities for wonder with some excellent company to share it all with. And a bit of adventure.

I hope you enjoy my stories from the road and perhaps even find some travel inspiration for the year ahead. Here are the moments resonating with me from the past year:

Best Nature Adventure: Belize’s ATM Cave

I love caving and adventure, plus the tour to Belize’s ATM Cave (you must be on a tour to enter) was touted by every operator as the top day trip to do from San Ignacio, Belize. The tour itself was absolutely incredible, involving plenty of strolling, swimming, and even a bit of rock climbing to navigate the internal passageways of the cave, including ancient Mayan sites. Wow, just wow.

     READ MORE: Exploring Belize’s ATM Cave, a Mayan Archaeological Wonder

     READ MORE: 9 Reasons Belize Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

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Best Tour: Hoover Dam insider “Dam Tour”

The Dam Tour is limited to 20 people every half hour and can only be purchased in person on the day. But it is worth an early start to guarantee a spot on one of the coolest tours I’ve ever been on. Due to security concerns, the insider tour no longer includes a trip to the Power Plant floor, but in its place you get to wander behind the scenes through the inside of the dam itself in areas that were never intended for visitors. There is amazingly cool graffiti and other markings along the way, plus some killer views through vents peering from the inside out!

Hoover Dam Las Vegas Nevada Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure DSC_0677Hoover Dam Las Vegas Nevada Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure 20171114_115937Hoover Dam Las Vegas Nevada Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure DSC_0683

Best Wine Tasting: DelFosse Vineyards in Charlottesville, VA

I spent the weekend before my birthday on a getaway to Charlottesville, Virginia, a pretty easy drive from the Baltimore/Washington, DC area. I had been a few times before and one of my fondest memories from a weekend I spent in 2007 was of a barrel tasting at a winery up a gravel road a bit outside of town. My return visit to DelFosse Vineyards a decade later was just as memorable, with a personable and delicious journey through their wine collection during the tasting. Both their whites and reds are something special. And yes, there’s still a gravel road for those last few minutes.

     READ MORE: Best Wineries in Charlottesville, Virginia: The Monticello Wine Trail

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New Go-To Activity: Hiking

I’ve always liked hiking and mixed it in with my city escapes, but this is the first year that I’ve headed into some weekends with an intense desire to get out in nature – at which point I hunted down a hiking buddy or headed out on my own. Maybe it’s my mentality shifting with age, but nothing helps to reset my mind than exploring nature’s beauty with my own two feet.

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A post shared by Lana Cohen (@travelsavvygal) on

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Most Memorable Bites: Cambridge, MA & Charlottesville, VA

Let me start by saying that I had some pretty epic meals this year. From cooking my first-ever rack at lamb at home to savoring meals at high-end restaurants serving up 20+ course tasting menus, there have been some very delicious bites (yes, I’m a lucky lady!). But the two most memorable dishes of the year for me are the ones that were unique and flavorful and even months later stand out in my mind.

The first is a a crab and kimchi stew that I enjoyed at The Table at Season to Taste in Cambridge (Boston), Massachusetts. It was such an incredible overall (solo dining) experience that I boldly wrote a whole blog post about it as my best of 2017 all the way back in March and it still rings true all these months later.

     READ MORE: Foodie Scoop – My Best Meal of 2017 So Far: The Table in Boston

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The other most memorable dish is a crispy scallop appetizer that I enjoyed at Brasserie Saison in Charlottesville, Virginia. It doesn’t sound like all that much but it stands out in my mind both for being something I have never seen before (Crispy scallop outside and smooth-as-silk inside? Amazing!) and also because it was so perfectly executed that every bite was a piece of heaven.

     READ MORE: How to Spend a Weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia

Brasserie Saison Charlottesville Virginia Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure 20170609_205012

Best Art Exhibit: Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors

I first saw Yayoi Kusama’s art in Stockholm, Sweden and was so in awe of her unique style that I waited in a crazy line to get access to another exhibit of hers this year in Washington, DC. This latest exhibition included multiple ‘infinity rooms’ that were basically giant cubes you could step into with mirrors on all sides and see incredible lights and designs reflected all around you. Check out my blog post for more on the mesmerizing art, plus details on how to get access and when this exhibit may be headed your way – in 2018 it will be in Los Angeles, Toronto, Cleveland, and Atlanta!

     READ MORE: Yayoi Kusama’s Art: Exhibitions I’ve Seen & Where to Catch Her Next

Best Way to Experience My New Home City: On the Water

Part of my adjustment back living stateside has been to express gratitude and focus on all of the benefits of being back after time abroad. Certainly the convenience of American life and access to ethnic food top my list, but being in the city of Baltimore specifically means that I live quite close to the water. I can walk there in around 5 minutes and there’s even a free commuter water taxi stop nearby that will take me to a few different spots across the harbor. And my running route takes me along the water’s edge by Fort McHenry, where the Star Spangled Banner (the American national anthem) was written. Some of my favorite Baltimore water views from the past year:

Hidden Gem City Escape: Detroit, Michigan

When you think of ‘Motor City’ you’re probably imagining car production or dangerous neighborhoods, but the Detroit of today is so much more. My highlights from a long weekend there included fancy cocktails bars, craft breweries, apple cider mills, some delicious bites, and all sorts of notable art and architecture. Detroit’s revitalization is still a work in progress, but it is already soaring and a spot I’d return to in a heartbeat!

     READ MORE: Finding Zero Mile in Detroit

     READ MORE: Fun Facts: Things to Know About Detroit Before You Visit

Hidden Gem Outdoors: Sanibel Island, Florida

My first flight of the year was in January to visit my dad who now lives in Florida. Of course, the primary goal of the trip was to spend some quality time together, so I specifically refrained from doing too much research. Even the lovely stroll we took through an ecological preserve was something I spotted in a brochure after I arrived, not a bucket list item I had planned in advance.

So when we ended up taking a detour to Sanibel Island, I innocently took a stroll only to encounter loads of people with buckets and walking with their eyes glued to the beach. As it turns out, Sanibel Island is considered by many to be the best shelling beach in all of North America! Even though I’m no expert, it was exciting to see so many beautiful shells and even some of the sea creatures that had washed ashore.

Sanibel Island Florida Shelling Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure 20170125_132112 (2)Sanibel Island Florida Shelling Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure

Favorite Getaway: Staying with Friends by the Beach

I could pretend I had some posh chalet in the mountains somewhere, but let’s be real, I’m not that fancy. The place that I spent the most weekend getaways in 2017? With friends by Bethany Beach in Delaware. It’s been a perfect haven and relaxed getaway on many a weekend, with great food and wonderful company. Thanks for hosting and for all the great experiences this year!

Most Random Visit: Berlin Wall in a NYC Office Building

When I visited Berlin, Germany for a long weekend, I of course made it a point to see several sections of what remains of the Berlin Wall, including the open-air East Side Gallery. Across the ocean in New York City, the Berlin Wall was the last thing I expected to see in a random office building, and yet there are several panels that can be visited in the lobby for free!

Biggest Bucket List Item: Rock Climbing in Red Rock Canyon

Starting with my college years, plenty of friends have talked up Las Vegas as a site for gambling and debauchery. And the ones who really know me well touted the foodie scene there. But the biggest attraction for me has always been the rock climbing I’ve been hearing about for ages in the nearby Red Rock Canyon. My guided trip there was just as wonderful as I had imagined, with incredible scenery and a lot of fun on the rock.

Red Rock Canyon Las Vegas Nevada Travel Superlatives of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure DSC_0005

Best Travel Experience: Hitching a Ride on a Boat in Bermuda

I was excited at having bought the Bermuda-exclusive loquat liqueur at the Goslings store in downtown Hamilton, the Bermudian capital that was half an island away from my cruise ship. The feeling of accomplishment slowly melted into apprehension as I realized that because it was Sunday, the ferry turned out to be on a truncated schedule and the last one had already left back toward the dock where my cruise ship was anchored about 20 minutes before.

I was quite annoyed at this point – Why hadn’t I checked the schedule properly beforehand? Why didn’t I realize it was a sign taking a taxi into Hamilton from the beach was a bad idea when no one else was headed that way? – I probably should have seen the signs ahead of time, given that I’m an experienced traveler. But fortunately we had another day in Bermuda, so I wasn’t exactly in a rush. At least the cruise ship wouldn’t leave without me if I didn’t get back by a certain time.

I started running through possibilities in my head. There seemed to be a local bus station nearby, and many buses had passed through the main street downtown. Surely it would be cheap to take the route to the far side of the island, although the trip might take a while and who knows how long it would be before the next bus. A taxi was an option, but probably a $60 one. So it wouldn’t be a cheap mistake, but at least I’d make it back to the ship for dinner.

One consolation was that I wasn’t alone, there were actually 4 of us from the cruise strip stranded at the now-closed ferry terminal. But as possibly the most assertive one of the bunch, I was tasked with asking around and trying to figure out our best option to get back.

It was at this point that I noticed a boat crew at the far side of the dock that seemed to be cleaning up for the night. There was a decent chance they were locals and could hopefully point us in the right direction, maybe even let us know if buses were still running or if our best bet was to hail a taxi to get back.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said in my first thirty seconds of talking, but the guy who seemed to be the head of the crew approached as I was chatting with one of the deck hands and said, “Actually, we have to get this boat back over to the Dockyard for a tour in the morning, do you want a lift back?”

What?!? By opening myself up and asking strangers for help did I really just score all of us a free ride back to our cruise ship?

As long as you don’t mind loud music and will buy drinks on the way, you can ride back with us.”


The older couple in the group was a bit skeptical if this was some sort of scam, but this was not only super convenient and generous, the crew explained that this was what your typical everyday Bermudian hospitality was all about. Plus, they were headed that way anyway.

Within minutes we had dark-and-stormy’s in hand (the local cocktail) and were cruising through the harbor on a catamaran with music blasting. I would have called it the best private boat tour of my life, but it was just locals helping out some clueless tourists and letting loose at the end of a long work shift.

Along the way, the crew pointed out a few famous Bermudian houses on the water, but mostly we sang and danced together the whole way. We pulled up and docked just a short distance from the cruise ship, as the catamaran was part of an organized tour the next morning. And when we tried to pay for our drinks, they just shrugged and wished us well.

This is how close the catamaran got us to the cruise ship.
This is how close the catamaran got us to the cruise ship.

What were some of your highlights from the past year? Or your most memorable travel experience? Anything from my round-up that you’ll seek out in the year ahead? Let me know in the ‘Comments’!

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Travel Highlights (Superlatives) of 2017 To Inspire Your Next Adventure


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Winter Bucket List: Making the Most of the Season

Winter Bucket List: Making the Most of the Season

Where has the year gone?!? I feel like I say this every December, and this year is no exception.

I started off this year with high hopes and grand plans, and I am happy to say that I have made many of them a reality. Others will have to wait another year, but in the meantime a new season is rapidly approaching.

Let me start off by saying I’m a summer baby, and luxuriate in warm – and even hot – weather. Too stifling? Jump in a pool or go to the beach.

Winter, though. That’s a whole other story.

Coeurmayeur Italy Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20160228_095606

Many of the things that made my ‘Winter Bucket List’ are all about ways to warm up when the frigid temperatures set in, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And for some of this, yes, you’ll have to bundle up and brave the cold weather for some frolicking in the snow.

And it will be worth it.

Read on for my plans for the season, and I’d love to hear yours!

This is what I hope to be up to in the coming months:

Marvel at the holiday decorations

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris France Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20141229_234635 (2)

I bet wherever you are in the world, places around you light up for the holidays. I’ve seen some of the most unexpected places – Israel and Sri Lanka come to mind – decked out with brightly colored “Christmas” lights. I love seeing the designs and creativity that go into the displays, so take advantage of the places around you that light up this time of year and just take it all in.

Go skiing

Ever since I learned to ski at the wee age of 28 (let’s not talk about how long ago that was), I’ve really embraced the fun. I’m not a double black diamond, speed-down-the-slope kind of gal – although good for you if you are – but even at my medium pace, I love feeling the wind rush by and the thrill of speed as I head downhill. Any winter sport can be fun though, whether it’s snowboarding or ice skating.

Skiing in Saas Fee Switzerland Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season IMG_1305

Play in the snow

Why not? Frolicking in the soft, powdery white stuff is not just for children. Whether you’re doing an actual activity like sledding or snow tubing, or just having a snowball fight with friends, take some time and appreciate this crazy substance that literally falls from the sky.

Snow in Bardonecchia Italy Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season

Playing in the Snow Umbria Italy Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season DSC_0146 (2)

Sip a hot beverage

Nothing to help warm you up from the cold like a hot beverage. I love a thick, gooey hot chocolate with marshmallows or whipped cream and especially enjoy some mulled wine for strolling out in the cold. I’ve even been known to heat up egg nog. Whether it’s a cuppa or a hot apple cider or possibly a spiked version of your favorite warm drink, savor it.

Hot Apple Cider Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20141221_182049

Hang out in front of a fireplace

I don’t have a fireplace at home – I know, epic fail! – but I do love sitting in front of a fire. Feeling the warmth and being mesmerized as the flames dance in haphazard directions is one of my beloved ways to pass time in winter. So when I go away for a weekend, it’s something I’ll seek out before choosing where to book my accommodations.

Fireplace Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20170819_225156(0)

Visit a hot tub or sauna

Another thing I’ll look for when I make winter travel plans? Whether a hotel has a hot tub or sauna. Especially if I’ll be doing some activities outdoors, I love being able to relax my muscles and warm up in the heat. Bonus if you can find a hot tub or hot springs to enjoy outside!

Nibble on roasted chestnuts

I may have grown up singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but it wasn’t until my time living in Europe that I really appreciated the flavor of a freshly roasted chestnut picked up from a street vendor on a stroll through a holiday market. I haven’t seen any stateside this season, but I am keeping an eye out.

Roasted Chestnuts in Milan Italy Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20161217_205856

Enjoy a holiday party

This doesn’t need to be a formal work event, as most cities and towns have all sorts of celebrations for the holidays, from parades to bar crawls. So far this season I’ve enjoyed a holiday celebration with small bites and lots of vino at my local Wine Market and an Ugly Sweater Party with friends. Probably have a few more celebrations up my sleeve, and can’t wait for the upcoming festivities.

Curl up with some comfort food

Chilled soup in winter? I think not. I’m all about hearty (hot) soups and stews this time of year, for something that will warm you up as it fills you up. Or, taking a page out of the northern Italian playbook, some stick-to-your-ribs polenta or risotto. Or the Swiss favorites I was thinking of just the other day – fondue and raclette – a.k.a. melted cheese yumminess.

Kippo Ramen Baltimore Maryland Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20170803_200232Fondue Three Ways in Switzerland Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season 20141222_202009 (2)

Take a hike

While I won’t rock climb in weather so cold I can’t feel my fingers, there are ample ways to bundle up to get outdoors for a stroll or hike in winter. Certainly dress appropriately for the weather, and then enjoy the different sights, sounds, and smells that nature provides this season. And since most people save hiking for hotter temperatures, you’re more likely to have the trail all to yourself.

Travel somewhere warm!

Okay, this may sound like cheating (shouldn’t winter be about embracing the cold?) but nothing makes you appreciate a warm destination more than arriving from winter somewhere. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go far the edge of the opposite hemisphere, there are plenty destinations not far from the equator that will be relatively easy to get to wherever you are.

Watch sunrise more

I’m more of a sunset than sunrise kind of gal, as I’m not much of a morning person. The rest of the year, my 7am commute to work is firmly in the hours of sunlight, but in wintertime the sun makes its appearance much later in the morning. No 4am wakeup needed, take advantage of later sunrise in the wintertime and set your alarm to wake up just a wee bit earlier and catch it more often!

What do you have planned for the winter? Anything I should add to my ‘Winter Bucket List’? What’s your favorite winter comfort food? Tell me all about in in the ‘Comments’ below!

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Winter Bucket List How to Make the Most of the Season

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