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Best of Travel 2011

Thanks to Michaela at Awe Inclusive for including me in Budget Travel Adventure’s Best of Travel 2011 and giving me an opportunity to look back on the best of my 2011 travel adventures.

Last year was another fabulous travel year for me. I visited London for the third time and Paris for the first time, though it was my second trip to France. So here’s my Best of Travel 2011 roundup —

Best Domestic Travel Destination: To me, Washington, DC is the best domestic travel destination because it has so much to offer. The National Mall, the White House, galleries and (free!) museums, theater (not as many as NYC but still good and good bargains), restaurants, festivals like the Folk Life Festival, the National Book Festival, etc. Whether you’re looking for history or entertainment, Washington DC is the best place to be and the best part? It’s compact – you can cover a lot of territory over a few days.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

Best Travel Experience: I’ve been fascinated by Stonehenge since I saw a documentary about it several years ago and added it to my Must See List. As soon as I decided on the dates for my UK trip, I booked a tour. The best part was that the group was small enough so that we weren’t tripping over each other. We could go into the circle and get up close (but not touch) the monument. The tour also took us through the bucolic English countryside and Bath, a very historical and picturesque town.

Inside the circle, Stonehenge

Inside the circle at Stonehenge

Best International Destination: My best international destination for 2011 was, without question, Paris.  I love Paris – it’s all of the things we’ve heard, and more — romantic, picturesque, fashionable, etc., and though I felt a bit intimidated by the stories I’ve heard about Parisians looking down their noses at people dressed in jeans, I never felt out of place or slighted. In fact, I met quite a number of friendly Parisians. One night, I got talking to a waiter and when he found out where I was staying and that I was traveling alone — it was nearly 10 p.m. when I finished dinner — he called one of the waitresses who was taking the same train and told me to wait for her so we could travel together. Although I could have found my way back to the hotel on my own, I was very touched by his kindness.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower at night

Worst Travel Experience: My worst travel experience in 2011 happened before I even left my destination. I turned up at the airport to board my flight on Spirit Airlines and got a huge surprise. I owed $93 in baggage fees! I was so furious at myself for not paying attention to the fine print — I know better (or should) — that I forgot that I wanted to buy a few gifts in the duty free shop. The worst part is that on the return leg, I couldn’t figure out how to pre-pay and ended up paying again. Suddenly, the deal that I thought I had worked out to be one of the most expensive New York/Montego Bay tickets I’ve ever bought.

Most Embarrassing Travel Experience: Last year, my travel was embarrassment-free but 2010 wasn’t. I started to feel sick the day I was scheduled to return to the US from Johannesburg, South Africa. My body felt weak and I began to sweat. I didn’t know what was wrong – I didn’t think it was a cold but by the time I got on the flight, I was sneezing. I was so petrified of coughing that before I finished a cough drop, I’d pop another one. I felt awful. I still think of the people I know I passed my cold on to. Thanks goodness, it was a night flight so (hopefully) my no one remembers my face! The best part was, I was traveling with two friends who were also coming down with colds so I didn’t infect the people on either side of me. The worst part is, our row probably passed our colds on to everyone in coach.

Best Local Destination: Since I relocated from New York City to Jamaica last year, I’m going to take the liberty to name two best local destinations. In New York, the best location destination is Coney Island. It’s a place where you’ll find everyone – toddlers, young adults, couples, singles, grandparents – and there’s a variety of activities for everyone, from the hot dog eating contest over the July 4th weekend to summertime fireworks displays to roller coaster rides.

My best travel location in Jamaica is Treasure Beach. It’s laid back, it’s funky, it’s fun. It’s just a charming location that I’ve written about several times.

Treasure Beach boats

Treasure Beach boats

Best Travel Lesson: When I visited Paris last year, it was the first time that I traveled on my own to a place to a place where I didn’t know a soul and no one was meeting me when I arrived. Thank goodness, I know some French so I didn’t feel completely at sea. Interestingly enough, I was very excited the morning I left for Paris — it’s probably the most excited I’d been in a while about a trip. It turned out to be a very liberating experience and surprisingly, made me feel very grown up.

Now, I get the pleasure of inviting the following 5 bloggers to write about their Best of Travel 2011.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Last weekend, I decided to go to Washington, DC to see family and friends and also to view the monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was recently unveiled on the Mall.

It was to have been dedicated on August 28th in a ceremony marking the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech but was postponed because of the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

As with most public art pieces, there has been some controversy. One, that the project did not go to an American and two, that Dr. King’s features look Asian.

MLK Memorial

Dr. King Memorial, Washington DC

I had assumed the sculptor would have been African-American, I had no idea that he was Chinese or that the competition had been open to international artists. But we must accept that we live in a global community. Most importantly, Dr. King’s work was about equality and fairness for everyone, not just black people.

I don’t think, like I’ve heard others say, that the rendering of his image makes him look Asian. I wonder though, if the sculptor’s identity had not revealed, if that idea would even have entered our minds.

Out of the monument of despair, a stone of hope

MLK Memorial side view - Out of the monument of despair, a stone of hope

Those issues aside, my observation or maybe my preference would have been for a likeness of Dr. King with a smile on his face. So many times, in photos, he’s smiling. Then again, I’m sure there would have been those who would have objected.

The first thing I saw as I entered the grounds were two large slabs of granite flanking the entrance. I couldn’t interpret what they meant until I noticed that the monument itself looked as if it had been cut from the center. Then it made sense. The granite represented the mountain. And as the quote that’s etched into the side of the monument noted, Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

Inscribed wall at the MLK Memorial

Quote from a speech Dr. King made in California in 1967

Dr. King gazes quietly and reflectively over the Tidal Basin towards the Jefferson Memorial. His hands are folded, his legs are slightly apart. It is a peaceful and powerful pose.

Behind the sculpture is a wall that’s been inscribed with quotations from speeches that Dr. King made in the U.S. and around the world.

As I walked around, taking photos, looking at the sculpture, I couldn’t help thinking of the work that went into creating the memorial and the holiday to honor this remarkable man, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Spring Signs

Signs of Spring

I took these photographs last March in DC with my Blackberry. As I remember, it had warmed up a bit during the week but later turned cold, rainy and windy so most of the Cherry Blossoms I wanted to see had been blown away by the weekend.

The tulips, however, survived the bad weather and were just beautiful. All kinds of colors and color combination.

Purple Tulip

It was almost the same type of weather we had this time last year, warm one day, we had 70+ degrees last Friday, then back into the 30s and 40s the next.

Orange

Hope the spring flowers survive.

Enjoy!

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Regifting Japan’s Cherry Blossoms

I have been unable to look at the images that have been coming out of Japan since the  magnitude 8.9 earthquake and 23-foot tsunami devastated the north eastern portion of that country. They’re too surreal.

That the people I know, former co-workers, who have returned to work at headquarters in Tokyo and their loved ones are okay, have brought little consolation. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like being in Japan at the moment or being a Japanese outside of Japan. My friend, Maiko, misses her family and wishes she could go home. My co-workers are torn.

It’ll be several years before things will be “normal” again. The emotional impact will take even longer to heal.

But I know Japan will recover and rebuild – just like she did after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Instead of looking at the images of destruction, I find myself being drawn instead to photos of the cherry blossoms my cousin took last year when we met in Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossoms were given to D.C. in 1921 by the then mayor of Tokyo. Every year, they turn the area around the Tidal Basin pink, perfume the air with a sweet, clean scent and invite thousands of visitors to stroll, stop and smell the beautiful flowers. It is a sure indicator of spring’s impending arrival.

This year, the festival will be held from March 26th – April 10th. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so. In an interesting twist, the National Park Service announced a few weeks ago that it would be sending cuttings from the original cherry trees back to Tokyo for propagation.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threat, this is a wonderful regifting.

You can do your part to help Japan by sending a donation to the Red Cross, the Japan Society or other relief agencies that are assisting the Japanese people in their time of need.

Tidal Basin Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

Up close

Monument Blossoms

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