I’m so glad I didn’t heed the advice of a hotel clerk who tried to dissuade us from checking out a local attraction in Hartford where we traveled for my niece’s wedding. Rather than visiting the ice cream parlor he suggested instead, we found the ferry that crosses the Connecticut River between Glastonbury and Rocky Hill. Once aboard, we enjoyed a quick, refreshing — and cheap — cruise to a park on the other side and were impressed to discover that we experienced the nation’s oldest continuously operating ferry, in service for more than 300 years.
That little river trip with my family ranks as one of my top 10 travel memories of 2012.
Here, in no particular order, are the other nine:
* Touring Loch Lomond by boat, then experiencing four seasons of weather in one round of golf on The Carrick, a challenging new course that straddles Scotland’s rolling Lowlands and legendary Highlands. Afterward, relaxing — and thawing out, ahh! — in a beautiful spa, complete with rooftop hot tub overlooking the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. It was all on the grounds of Cameron House, a lovely 18th century baronial lodge.
* Sharing an art session with a pair of paint brush-toting dolphins and an artistic sea lion at Theater of the Sea on Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
* Savoring a seemingly endless Sunday brunch at Ancaster Old Mill Inn in southern Ontario en route to the very fun Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, about an hour from Toronto.
* Walking more than 12 miles in three glorious Indian summer days around Chicago from the Magnificent Mile all the way to the Field and Shedd museums campus, with stops at the Chicago Art Institute and Rick Bayless’ new cafe, Xoco, for flaky empanadas, hot churros and frothy Mexican hot chocolate. (You can watch the beans being ground in the restaurant’s front window).
* Golfing at storied Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Even though I think Donald Ross is a sadist for designing one pesky bunker after another around the greens, it was memorable playing this golfers’ mecca with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit, and seeing Ross’ home near the third green. Even more fun, for me at least, was playing Talamore Golf Resort in nearby Southern Pines, where Dollie and other llamas serve as occasional golf caddies. Don’t miss the llama head covers and other llama-themed souvenirs in the clubhouse.
* Though it wasn’t high on my sightseeing list, the Airborne and Special Ops Museum was a pleasant surprise. It’s a must-see if you’re anywhere near Fort Bragg and Fayetteville, N.C. Interactive exhibits tell the moving story of the birth of the Airborne in World War II through the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Iraq and Afghanistan.
* Getting a glimpse into the lives of the Royal Family aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia docked in Edinburgh. Enjoyed a look inside the Queen’s bedroom and was surprised to find a Rolls-Royce Phantom V aboard.
* Though I attended the University of Michigan and have visited Ann Arbor many times, I recently explored it for several days as a tourist might and came away impressed with all it has to offer. From a fascinating Farmers’ Market and pop-up art galleries to locally-sourced restaurants and cafes, few Midwest towns offer such a diverse culinary and cultural scene. Where else can you see Leo Kottke at The Ark one night and Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” the next, then top off the weekend in the acoustically-perfect Hill Auditorim taking in Handel’s “Messiah”?
* Ogling mansions while strolling a portion of the 21-mile Geneva Lake Shorepath and discovering other fun attractions in Lake Geneva, Wis., less than a six-hour drive from Metro Detroit.