My top 5 international gems
This article focuses on the 5 most memorable international places I’ve traveled. Since 2002, I have had the opportunity to go on 4 month-long international trips to Asia (Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Bali, Thailand, Turkey), Europe (Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Brussels, Greece, Netherlands), and Africa (Morocco). Though I have been to many of the traditional tourist sites in these countries, the following list features the ones that linger in my memory — maybe because they were unique and otherworldly. Due to Covid, we are all deprived of the luxury of getting out: Allow me to indulge with the past, happier times, remembering how amazing the world (in fact) is. Perhaps 2021 will be better? Someday we will be able to get out to see awesome sites again!
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The ropes for entrance were replaced only “when the Lord let them break.”Wikipedia
Our family visited this UNESCO World Heritage Site midway during a 30-day Mediterranean region vacation. After spending 4 nights in bustling, ancient Athens, I became tired of the grit, motorcycles, cigarettes, etc. We headed out to this sublime northern interior area near Kalambaka. As far back as the 12th-century, ascetic monks inhabited the area, living in caverns, etc. The monasteries were built in the 14th century by Eastern Orthodox monks, who desiring to preserve their monastic orders from invading groups such as the Turks, built their homes atop tall rocks that were only accessible by way of ladders and ropes. At one time there were as many as 24; today only 6 monasteries remain.
The thing I really appreciated — it was a quiet area, not as highly touristed as other areas in Greece such as the islands, Athens, or Olympia. It’s a bit more remote for sure, but well worth the effort to get there!
Turkey’s “Cotton Castle”Wikipedia
We had 3 short hours budgeted to view this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site, located close to the interior city of Denizli (2 1/2 hours from Kusadasi/Ephesus). In Turkish, Pamukkale means “cotton castle.” It was one of the most super places I have ever been. Imagine a well-preserved Greco-Roman ruin — the Hierapolis (Holy-City) — leading to bright white cascading hot spring ponds down the side of a hill. No doubt the Greeks and Romans built their city here because of the healing powers of these thermal ponds, which were inhabited by various groups as far back as 7th century B.C. I would recommend at least 5-6 hours to see the monument and the hot springs.
Bali’s Cultural Capitol and Home of the Ubud Monkey ForestWikipedia
This island was everything I thought a tropical rain forest should be: temple monkeys, endless religious processions with cars and festive banners, gamelan ensembles, a nearby volcano (Mount Agung), amazing handcrafted woodwork and masks. It was the real deal. Based on all the places I have been to in the US, and Hawaii, I’d take Ubud any old day. (Eventually, I will have an American top 5 post.)
Each morning, while staying at the Budy Shady Gully guestouse, we were greeted with breakfast prepared by our host who made fresh “jaffles.” They were delivered with fruits and coconut direct to our front porch. Our room consisted of “island tiki” style woven reed structure walls. My favorite part, the outside toilet and shower in a private secluded courtyard: How is that for being one with nature?
Home of the Largest Roman Province, 314 ADWikipedia
Ever seen the Flintstones? Remember how Fred and hist family lived inside a rock home? This central Turkish region about 30 miles west of Kayseri, like the Flintstones, is full of rock-hewn “fairy chimney” structures — rooms and spaces carved into eroded volcanic deposits. The Goreme Open-Air Museum, originally developed in the 9th-11th century is one of the most famous attractions, with rock-cut churches and frescoes. We even visited an underground city, Kaymakli. Our family stayed in a fairy chimney hotel; it was a unique experience, sleeping in carved rock. (Just like Fred!). Allow at least 2 nights and 1 full day to see the region.
Forbidden City, Beijing
Largest Palace in the WorldWikipedia
I am sure many of you have seen the large painting of Mao on the imposing wall of the entrance to the red Forbidden City, palace and residence of the emperor of China from 1420-1924. It is another thing to walk underneath the larger than life portrait and walk through the amazing city that was off limits until 100 years ago. Located off Tiananman Square, with 980 buildings and 8,886 bays of rooms, the fact that hit me — the immense scale of the place; it was huge! It was the architectural equivalent of a set of Russian nesting dolls, where the smaller dolls (courtyards) were getting closer to the royal center. Each palace led to the next, the innermost courts and temples were the most sacred. What a juxtaposition to have the gigantic portrait of Mao on the front of the centuries-old nexus of imperial China!
In this time period where the idea of foreign travel seems off the table indeflinitely, I find myself remembering back to these five places and so many others. When things clear up and we do not have an infectious disease running amok, check these amazing places out. For epic geology — visit Pamukkale, Meteora, and Cappadocia. For an artistic city, visit Ubud. For a world class monument, visit the Forbidden City in Beijing. All these places remind me that the world is a breathtaking place.
And for California field trip ideas, don’t forget to sign-up for our upcoming webinar on Wednesday, January 20 at 4PM.