From watching white rhinos, leopards and other wild animals on safari in South Africa to golfing on some of the legendary links of Scotland, 2016 was another stellar travel year.
It’s hard to describe the thrill of seeing giraffes lope past the open-air Land Cruiser in which you’re sitting, or of watching — and hearing — a pack of hyenas tear into a zebra carcass just yards from your vehicle. Add in elephants and Cape buffalo milling around a watering hole, a lone cheetah resting by a tree and lions cavorting with their cubs and you’ve got the travel adventure of a lifetime.
A few days later, I was within smelling distance of a colony of endangered African penguins at Boulders Beach, 45 minutes from Cape Town, which ranks among the world’s loveliest cities.
And who could forget dragging my golf clubs up a steep hill on the third hole of the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, panting hard and wondering how I’d ever get through 18 holes? Somehow I managed, but it was a very long round. They don’t believe in riding golf carts in Scotland, the proverbial birthplace of golf.
The closest I got to a “birdie” came a few days later when a well-trained Harris Hawk landed on my leather-gloved arm at the British School of Falconry at Gleneagles Hotel, a luxury golf resort and spa in Perthshire.
September sightseeing in Glasgow and Edinburgh was a real treat. We especially enjoyed Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and various sites associated with architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, as well as Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.
Driving on the “wrong” side of the road was nerve-racking in Scotland. One day, near Kinross, we made a wrong turn while looking for a lunch spot and chanced upon Lockleven, the island castle-fortress where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567-68, miscarried twins and was forced to abdicate the throne. We got there by taking a small motorboat. We didn’t know it at the time but it was a timely preview for Scotland’s 2017 “Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.”
My 2016 travel highlights weren’t limited to exotic international destinations.
One U.S. highlight was a country Mardi Gras celebration in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where parade revelers in the nearby town of Iowa (pronounced I-oh-way) chase down chickens for the giant gumbo pot. Another was a gray, moody day in Yosemite National Park, which was memorable despite the daylong rain.
After Mardi Gras, I spent several days in Covington on Louisiana’s Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, at the beautifully-restored Southern Hotel. It’s a haven of contemporary southern hospitality with bold art and cozy conversation nooks. Not surprisingly, since New Orleans is just across the lake, the local restaurants are terrific, including the hotel’s Oxlot 9 and John Besh’s La Provence in nearby Lacombe, LA.
In June, we played golf, chatted with mountain bikers and fished for trout in the pretty, four-season resort town of Mammoth Lakes, in the Eastern Sierra region of California. The ski season typically runs eight months, from around Nov. 10 to July 4th. We drove from Reno, Nevada, on long, winding and scenic roads to get there, with stops on both ends at lovely Lake Tahoe.
Springtime found us in Chattanooga exploring local Civil War battlefields and learning about their fascinating history at the visitor center at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. We also visited Chattanooga’s charming Bluff View Art District and the nearby Tennessee Aquarium whose resident eel has his own Twitter account (@EelectricMiguel). And we enjoyed the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel complex as well as Lookout Mountain attractions including Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway.
Don’t let football rivalries keep you from Columbus, Ohio. You could fill an entire weekend, as we did, experiencing the city’s culinary scene (breakfast and breweries are big) and public art including the Short North Arts District and an eclectic mix of museums.
Closer to home, I discovered new attractions in Detroit while touring with the Midwest Travel Writers Association, which met here in September. Like many others in the well-traveled group, I was impressed with the city’s ever-expanding restaurant and public art scenes, from the Eastern Market Murals and the redeveloped downtown alley known as “The Belt” to the graffiti-spattered Dequindre Cut greenway. And, it’s fair to say, everyone loved the Detroit Zoo’s new penguinarium.
Which goes to show that you don’t have to travel far for memorable experiences.
Whether near or far, here’s to an exciting year of travel in 2017!
#VisitScotland #Chattanooga @ExpCols @LakeCharlesCVB #VisitMammoth @LANorthshore #VisitDetroit