Top 10 Destinations – ‘Year of extraordinary travel’

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Always good to have something to read on the road. Another year of extraordinary travel: dozens of countries on six continents.

The Top 10 Destinations I visited in 2016

It’s a seemingly simple question friends often asked: “What’s your favorite destination?” Some cities stand out instantly, while others emerge after more thought. I began compiling my Top 10 Destinations not just to head off the question but to recognize these incredible locations that have enormously enriched my travels.

This year, several favorite destinations didn’t make the list. Those include London and Madrid, both of which I visited multiple times in 2016. Another that fell off is Marrakech, although I visited twice and had a great time there.

I judged these destinations on the quality of my visit and how I felt after leaving. Would I revisit? Would I recommend it to others? Did the destination live up to or surpass expectations? In some cases, a little-known destination might knock off one that is more popular because I believe the real value of travel is exploration and discovery.

For the first time, the list features a tie and no repeats. All the destinations are first-timers. The 2016 list was the result of an extraordinary year of travel that took me to dozens of countries on six continents. By year’s end, I had flown a record (for me) 210,000 miles. Now, the Top Destinations of 2016:

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Hadn’t planned to visit Limpopo on brief visit to South Africa but very happy I did..  

10. Limpopo, South Africa.  When I travel, I often like to go off the beaten path. But I hadn’t planned to do so on a brief visit to South Africa. visit Limpopo during a quick stop South Africa. A friend, however, invited me to join her for lunch just outside Limpopo, a four-hour drive from Johannesburg. The drive itself was incredible. I stumbled upon dozens and dozens of teenage boys returning to their villages after the traditional circumcision ritual in the mountains. But the real star was the spectacular vista of the Limpopo Valley itself. Well worth a visit if in South Africa.

9. Cali, Colombia There was a time when many people won’t be caught dead in Cali. Its violent past has now given way to a city with lots of soul. Located on the Pacific Coast, Cali has incredibly friendly people amid a truly authentic Latin vibe. Walk the streets, whether to church or the neighborhood grocer, and you’ll find yourself feeling very much at home. Most people think of Cartagena, Medellin or even Bogota when they consider visiting Colombia. But with the peace deal between the government and FARC guerrillas ending a half-century of civil strife, there’s no better time to give Cali a try. You just might end up learning some salsa steps.

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Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai helped to give Dubai a place on my Top Destinations list. 

8. Dubai I’ve been to Dubai before, but about seven years ago. I remember little from that visit. The city has been through tough economic times since then but has rebounded, regaining its position as the place in the Middle East where many around the region go to play. Whether having a drink at the Skyview Bar atop the Burj Al Arab or shopping at one of the many malls, Dubai is a must-visit.

7. Mahabalipuram, India At dinner with friends shortly after arriving in Chennai, they insisted that I visit Mahabalipuram. Once there, it was easy to see why so many people were pumped about the place. If you want to see spectacular stone carvings, you’ve got to visit. It’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason. The carvings date to the 7th and 8th centuries. Two of my favorites were The Great Penance and the Shore Temple, near the shores of the Bay of Bengal.

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Tel Aviv bridges the old and the new. A city on the move.

6. Tel Aviv, Israel This second visit to Tel Aviv was as exhilarating as the first. A friend took me on a tour of the Old City of Jaffa, which is not to be missed. Tel Aviv is a city on the move and it shows in the brisk developments taking place everywhere, including Jaffa. The city is blessed with terrific weather, which made lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the banks of the Mediterranean feel like perfection. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough time to go swimming.

5. Taipei/Tokyo For the first time, a tie. It was my first visit to Taipei. In fact, I had purchased a ticket to visit on Sept.13, 2001. Then 9/11 happened. Planes were grounded. I was as busy as ever reporting on the attack. The airline refunded my money. I’m happy to have finally made it. From strolling through the National Palace Museum to shopping at late-night bookstores to riding the super clean subway (no gum chewing allowed), I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. As for Tokyo, it was my second time there. It probably would not have made this Top Destination List had I not dragged myself out of bed at 3:30 am to sit on the cold floor while waiting for the auctions at the Tsukiji fish market. Attending the auction was an unforgettable experience, made even more so because the market is moving (originally scheduled for November, the move has now been pushed into 2017). It has been at the same location since 1935. I had never seen tuna so large — nor sold so quickly. Tokyo and Taipei, two jewels of Asia.

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Tuna anyone? A visit to the Tsukiji a must on any visit to Tokyo. But hurry. It’s moving soon.

4. San Francisco I haven’t been to San Francisco much, but there’s probably no more incredible experience than to be suddenly “surprised” by the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. The site left me marveling at this wonder of the modern world. On this visit, I had a chance to walk downtown and was amazed at its transformation into a high-tech city. A friend who used to own an apartment in the city told me as we walked past her former building that she sold it for a small fortune. In San Francisco, the American Dream still lives.

3. Seychelles I’ve seldom landed in a country where I felt the deep urge to jump out the plane and into the ocean. Part of the charm of Seychelles is that it mesmerizes you with incredible island vistas for miles before touchdown. Each small island and the amazingly blue waters surrounding them grew more beautiful as we approached touchdown on Mahe Island, the largest of the Seychelles islands. If unable to dive in right away, a drive through Mahe’s mountainous interior gave me a feel for the people and the country’s history. Eventually, I dove into the Indian Ocean every morning during my visit. Best part: it appeared I was the only one up early, allowing me to have the beach all to myself.

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Seychelles, where each approaching island seems more beautiful than the last.

2. Paris I landed in La Ville-Lumière shortly before winter gave way to spring. The weather was perfect: Cool enough to stroll for miles after dinner without breaking into a sweat. This was among my most memorable visit to this mesmerizing city. Tourist traffic had dipped because Paris was bouncing back from a terror attack, making it fairly easy to get into tourist attractions or fine restaurants. From the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, a resurgent Paris laid out the welcome mat.

1. Sydney I’ve wanted to travel Down Under for years. When the opportunity came, I jumped at it, even making it a family vacation. Perhaps that explains why I found myself at the Sydney Zoo. It was one of the best stops on the trip — beautiful and incredibly educational. And it has some of the best views in Sydney. If interested in views, Sydney is among the best places in the world to be. Whether soaking in the sights from atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a seat at the Opera House, Sydney is unforgettable. Well worth the wait!

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Sydney celebrates on New Year’s Eve – or perhaps after learning it was selected as my Top Destination of 2016.

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FROM MARRAKECH TO TORONTO, BEHIND SCENES OF LATEST TRAVELS

When I travel, I enjoy giving you a behind-the-scenes look at experiences that help make the trip memorable. What follows are snapshots from my current dash from Marrakech to London to Toronto to Washington, D.C. to Miami.

LATE IRON LEAVES ME STEAMED

Giving the prologue at the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech.

Giving the prologue at the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech.

I arrived in Marakech on Thursday to attend the Atlantic Dialogues. I was honored to be asked to do the prologue, the opening speech that sets the stage for the discussions to follow. The night before the opening, I asked the hotel for an iron. None came. Fine, I thought, I would use steam the shower to unwrinkle my shirt. It worked. An hour before the speech, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it to find that housekeeping had finally sent the iron. I didn’t really need it but thought what the heck, I should run it over my shirt to give it a crisp look. I untangled the cord and began ironing, my mind mostly on the speech. I felt a sting on my thigh and quickly pulled the iron away. Yep, I had accidentally burned myself. Sometimes, I thought, best to leave well enough alone, as my mom used to say. As I gave the prologue, I could still feel a slight pain in my thigh. Probably explains why some in the audience said later that I was on fire.

CATCHING UP WITH FRIENDS IN MARRAKECH

Karim, left, and Hassan, right. We enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation in Marrakech.

Karim, left, and Hassan, right. We enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation in Marrakech.

One of the great delights of travel is visiting with friends around the world. In Marrakech, I had the great pleasure of catching up with my friend Karim. We met on my first visit to Morocco more than five years ago. His family is connected to the family of another good friend, Madhu Metha. At Madhu’s request, Karim showed me around Casablanca. He was a great host and guide. The best part of the visit was dining at Rick’s Cafe, which made me feel for a moment that I was part of a different time. Sam was even at the piano.

I emailed Karim when I arrived in Marrakech to see if he planned to be here for the weekend. I was surprise when he said yes; he had a wedding to attend. We met up a day after the wedding and his brother Hassan joined us. It was great catching up over dinner at the Pacha Complex, a massive compound of restaurants and clubs that he co-owns in Marrakech. Over great wine and food (I had the rabbit) we talked about everything, from Middle East politics to the Florida gubernatorial elections. After dinner, we popped into a few of his other restaurants and the Pacha nightclub. His Churrascaria Marius Brazilian restaurant was incredible: people clapping, dancing on tables. It was quite a show. Dining there next time I’m in Marrakech. I returned to my hotel just in time to get an extra hour of sleep because clocks were being turned back an hour. (See next post).

MARRAKECH HOTEL AND TIME MANAGEMENT

I had problems sleeping most nights. My first morning, I got up in the night and wondered the time, having forgotten to set by watch. I dialed the front desk. “7 minutes to 5,” came the voice on the other end. “7 to 5?” I asked, a bit puzzled. The TV was showing a different time, although I didn’t quite trust it. “Are you sure?” I pressed. He responded with 6:55, which matched what I was seeing on the TV. Of course, that’s far different from 4:53 – although I could have used the extra couple hours of sleep.

 CONNECTING SIR ISAAC NEWTON, FAREED ZAKARIA AND BLOOMBERG’S DAN DOCTOROFF

Sir Isaac Newton. Lived across the street from my hotel in London.

Sir Isaac Newton. Lived across the street from my hotel in London.

Sometimes you see something that makes your jaw drop. That happened Monday morning as I sat for breakfast at the Radisson Blu Edwardian at Leicester Square in London. As I bit into one of the most delicious omelets I’ve ever had, I looked across the street at what a new library building. A historic marker was etched into the side: “SIR ISAAC NEWTON LIVED IN A HOUSE ON THIS SITE. 1710-1727” Wow! I thought. That night, I was to interview Fareed Zakaria and Bloomberg CEO Daniel Doctoroff at the Toronto Global Forum as part of the Executive Club dinner. I had just read on the flight to London (where I spend the night en route Toronto from Marrakech) that Fareed was listed among the 100 great thinkers of our time. I thought I should refer to this somehow in the introducing both men – I’m a big fan of both – to help begin and

Historic marker to Sir Isaac Newton on library in Leicester Square, London.

Historic marker to Sir Isaac Newton on library in Leicester Square, London.

frame the discussion that was to follow. I told the story of spotting the sign and referred to Fareed and Dan as great thinkers of our time. Dan demurred. But after our discussion, I don’t think anyone in the room disagreed with my characterization. They were outstanding. We traveled the world, touching on issues from Brazil to Obama to the Middle East to the European economic crisis to the attack in Ottawa to 911 to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Wish we had more time: wanted to get to Russia and quantitative easing. Next time.