As our Hanoi transfer van pulled up to the port, I was already awestruck by the view of Halong Bay in the distance. It’s a place so beautiful that it truly leaves you speechless. You have to see it in person to fully appreciate its beauty. Shortly after boarding our boat, lunch was served, and though we could see the magical landscape from our table’s window, it took every ounce of my patience not to leave lunch to go take pictures. I convinced myself that it would only get prettier, and it did. Halong Bay was on my bucket list ever since I saw a picture of it a few years back, and after seeing the photos in this post, I know it will be on yours too.
The first five minutes of our cab ride from the airport were a brief introduction into the chaos that defines Hanoi. Cars and motorbikes weaved back and forth, leaving inches of space between them, while our cab driver drove down the breakdown lane of the highway, inches from the concrete center barrier, as if it were meant for traffic. I knew immediately that Hanoi would live up to its reputation for being in a near constant state of pandemonium.
As we drove into the historic Old Quarter, the streets were engulfed with vast numbers of people walking in every which direction with seemingly little regard to the motorized traffic. Every few feet there were fires of what we thought was trash burning in the streets (we later found out the fires were offering to the gods). Stepping out of the cab we felt the thick, hot air and realized that even at 9 PM there was no break in the heat. Hot and tired, I went to bed that night glad we only had one full day in Hanoi, as I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the city.
Luckily, our full day in Hanoi changed my opinion of the city for the better.
While there is plenty to see in Tokyo, the largest city in the world can be overwhelming at times. An escape is essential. Luckily for visitors, thanks to Japan’s extensive rail network, day trips from Tokyo are easy and most are affordable. When my husband and I visited Tokyo this summer, I knew I wanted to spend at least one day outside of the bustling city in order to get a more authentic feel for Japan. I considered going to Kamakura, a seaside town so full of temples that some call it a mini-Kyoto, or Hakone for a close-up view of Mt. Fuji and day in the mountains and onsens. But, ultimately, my love for visiting wine regions all over the world won out and I chose to visit Katsunuma.
The Katsunuma wine region is only a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo but feels worlds away. About halfway into the train ride the buildings suddenly disappear as you enter the gorgeous countryside full of lush green hills and mountains. When you arrive at the train station, you’ll immediately see vineyards ahead and will be in awe of the landscape.
It’s no secret that tourists flock to Switzerland for the country’s majestic scenery. When people picture the country, most conjure up images of rugged snow-capped mountains, crystal blue lakes, and towering waterfalls. The five towns below certainly meet those standards, but the natural beauty captured in these photos is beyond even the dreamiest imagination.
About an hour north of Vienna and two hours south of Prague lies one of the Czech Republic’s best-kept secrets. The Moravian wine region is relatively unknown outside of Austria and the Czech Republic by anyone other than sommeliers. It’s directly on the driving route between the two famous capitals, yet most travelers opt to fly and miss out on this remarkable place full of historic charm, authentic culture, gorgeous vistas, and spectacular wine. It’s the perfect breath of fresh air between the bustling cities.
Christmas in July! It might seem like an odd time of year to be talking about Christmas, but the best-planned trips are done months in advance. If you’re thinking about traveling to Europe in December, it’s best to start planning now.
Why visit Europe when it’s cold and dreary? Because nothing will put you in the holiday spirit more than a Christmas market and historical city aglow! Christmas markets are open air street markets that sell delicious treats, drinks, and seasonal items and often feature musical performances. They originated in Germany and date back to the fourteenth century.
Lisbon has everything you could want in a European city: history, delicious food, vibrant culture, and cobblestone streets to get lost on. What takes it over the top is the friendliness of the people and the city's sheer beauty. I love Paris and Rome, but there's something about Lisbon that pulls you in and makes you never want to leave. It's hard to put a finger on all of the reasons that Lisbon is one of my favorite European cities, but below you will find a few!
Burgundy is a mecca for foodies. It’s tough to describe how rich and flavorful the dishes are. The secret ingredients in most of the famous dishes? Wine and butter. What could be better than that?
The only problem with dining out in Burgundy is that three-course meals (and sometimes four!) are the norm for both lunch and dinner. While you generally have the option of ordering “a la carte,” it’s often only a few more euros to order from the three-course menu. Our meals progressed like this:
First course: Every bite was eaten. Delicious!
Second course: This is so good. But so rich. Must. Finish.
Third course: I almost forgot we had dessert coming. I can make room…
Food coma. How do people eat like this twice a day every day? And sometimes add a cheese course before dessert?!
And that was twice a day. Plus a baguette and cheese plate for breakfast each morning. It’s safe to say we ended each day in Burgundy satiated and full!
While all of the food we ate was delicious, I wanted to highlight a few stellar restaurants with incredibly memorable meals.
These are the best dishes I had in Burgundy.
The Monticello wine region is one of the first wine regions I fell in love with (second to the Mosel Valley in Germany). Located in the Charlottesville area, it’s a gorgeous region of rolling hills and mountains. I first visited at age 21 and it lured me back for a few return trips during my senior year of college in DC. When I moved to North Carolina, I knew I had to go back to see how the region had changed. Seven years and many wine tastings later I returned to find that the wine has only improved and the beauty of the landscape and charm of Charlottesville are still intact.
Whether you’re traveling with a significant other or group of friends, the Monticello Wine Region makes for a perfect weekend escape. Here’s why:
The breathtaking village of Reine, Norway is located on the island of Moskenesøya, part of northern Norway’s Lofoten archipelago. When visiting Norway to see the famous arctic fjords, many people opt to do a fjord cruise out of the city of Bergen (which is also insanely gorgeous and deserves a separate post), but venturing to Reine in the northern fjords will reward you with an authentic taste of traditional Nordic fishing culture coupled with unparalleled natural beauty.
My husband and I checking off three bucket list destinations this summer: Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. We will spend two glorious weeks in Asia paying only $95 per person for all flights and hotel stays. Granted, once we get there we will still have to pay for food and activities, but our final bill will be drastically lower than the out of pocket dollar cost we would have paid without points. I know that the points game can be confusing, especially when you factor in credit card bonuses, so I wanted to share a few tips on how we made this trip happen so that you can do the same!
South Africa has long been at the top of my bucket list. Whether you dream of seeing the “big five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, & leopard), basking on the beach with penguins gazing at the mountains surrounding the water, sipping wine at one of the many vineyards within an hour of Cape Town, or simply exploring the rich culture of the city – South Africa has something to lure in every traveler.
The scenery, wildlife, vineyards, and beautiful city of Cape Town are a feast for the eyes. Below are ten photographs that will ignite your wanderlust for this majestic country.
It’s impossible to have a bad trip to the magical island of Santorini.
Even if all you do is sit cliffside and soak in the views, you’ll have an amazing trip. Just being there, Santorini is breathtaking and will most certainly capture your heart. (You can find out why it’s my favorite place in the world here).
That said, there is plenty to do in Santorini. Here are some ways to make any trip to Santorini unforgettable.
Located in southwest Guatemala, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. It’s surrounded by mountainous volcanoes, which give the lakeside towns breathtaking views of the countryside. Many compare Lake Atitlán to Lake Como in northern Italy. Looking at side by side pictures of the two, you can see why.
I’ve mentioned before that visiting a wine region is the best way to see Europe. Not only will you experience amazing wine and food, but staying in a countryside wine town will also give you a true taste of the country’s culture and history.
While there are hundreds of European wine regions to visit and even more beautiful towns, below I’ve picked four towns in the top four wine-producing countries in Europe that are sure to capture any wine lover’s heart.
One of the most striking characteristics of the wine villages in Burgundy is that practically every other building in town is a domaine or a vigneron -- a winery in U.S. terms. In Meursault, where I stayed, there are over 50 wine producers in the tiny village alone. When you add to that all of the wineries from the neighboring villages, the choice of where to visit can be overwhelming.
My family and I visited in early March, which is considered the “off season” in Burgundy. Some wineries were not open when we visited. However, the silver lining to traveling then was that most of our winery visits ended up being private tours. Having the winemaker give you a tour and tasting of his or her domaine is an incredible experience.
The wineries that I am highlighting below are all smaller, mostly family domaines in the Côte de Beaune, one of the five wine growing areas in Burgundy. While we did drop by a few of the larger wineries, I highly recommend the small wineries as they give a more personal and rewarding tour and tasting experience.
Below are my personal favorite winery visits from my time in Burgundy.
Imagine five days of crystal clear blue waters, dinners on the beach with a drink in hand, nightly entertainment, fitness classes, water sports, room service – the list goes on and on. Now, imagine all of this without paying a dime.
Staying at a top-rated all-inclusive beach resort for free may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t.
Cappadocia is a fairytale region in central Turkey that dates back to the sixth century BC. It is so unique that people liken the topography of the region to that of another planet.
Many people have never heard of Cappadocia and even I had almost forgotten this magical place existed. My husband and I almost added on a few days in Cappadocia to our honeymoon itinerary, but regrettably missed out.
The extraordinary landscape was formed through volcanic eruptions and erosion. The cavern architecture dates back to the fourth century AD. Not only are there ancient houses, businesses, and now hotels carved into the sides of the rock, but there are also entire cities underground. The ancient city of Derinkuyu, the largest excavated underground city in Turkey, is eleven stories deep and connects to other underground cities through a network of tunnels. The city could accommodate up to 50,000 people – talk about a good place to hide!
Imagine biking smack in the middle of fields upon fields of vineyards. In the distance lies a picture-perfect fairytale town with a church steeple perched high above the houses. The path behind you leads to an equally charming town taken from the pages of a storybook. The hillside on your right is filled with the grand cru vines, which bear some of the most expensive grapes in the world. To your left are the village grapes that create surprisingly different wines as you move from one village's plot to the next.
Asheville, North Carolina is the perfect place for a relaxing weekend getaway. Some people call this unique city the Austin of the east coast. Like Austin, Asheville is full of great food, drinks, music, and art. However, though I’m a proud Texan, I’d give Asheville an edge over Austin due to its gorgeous scenery.
It’s difficult not to have a delightful visit to Asheville, but here are my top tips for making the most out of your visit: