Sunday, January 26, 2014

Eli's 10 Favorite Cities

Frequently Strangers email me and ask for travel suggestions. I've been fortunate to be able to hit a decent portion of the world in my 20s. And besides writing, traveling is probably the thing that I enjoy most.

I thought today it would be fun to give you my top ten list of my favorite cities in the world to explore. This list is constantly fluctuating, but this is how I feel today. Full disclosure, I have never been to South America and my travels in Asia, Africa, and far western Europe are sparse. I have explored eastern and central Europe and Central America extensively and I've wandered through the Middle East and a few other places.

Also, I went through my photos to find a picture for each of the ten cities and it hit me once again how TERRIBLE I am at taking pictures. And I used to be worse. Anyone who reads this blog and sees the Pictures from my Phone on Fridays knows this. So, sorry about the photos below. These cities are much better than I've represented.

10. Hong Kong

I hit Hong Kong in September, 2013 and found it to be overwhelming in both good and bad ways. There is a great excitement there and you can't shake the feeling that the world was all thrown into a giant blender and spat out into this congested city. Also, the entire place is one GIANT shopping mall.

Pros: Fun shopping, exciting city life, fascinating blend of cultures.

Cons: VERY congested, chaotic, and I also got ringworm here. So . . .

9. Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is a pretty little town in Guatemala that I visited in 2010. The city is fun to wander and shop and it is surrounded by inactive (?) jungle-covered volcanoes. What's more, Guatemala is one of the most beautiful and interesting countries I've ever visited, covered in mountains, jungle, and gorgeous ruins.

Pros: Beautiful, inexpensive, the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Cons: It's not really an exciting town, if that's what you're looking for.

8. Istanbul, Turkey

I hit Istanbul with Krishelle and Daniel in 2012. This city is gorgeous and overwhelming. The food is fantastic and, similar to Hong Kong but in a more "in your face" kind of way, there is a really fascinating blend of cultures and religions here.

Pros: SO much to see and do. You cannot possibly spend enough time here. And the food is FANTASTIC. Did I mention the food? It's FANTASTIC.

Cons: Chaos. Chaos. Chaos. Also, surprisingly difficult to navigate without some familiarity with the language. Not the most difficult of any place I've been. But more so than I expected.

7. Salzburg, Austria

I hit Salzburg with Matt in 2011. I cannot say enough good things about this wonderful place. The town is beautiful and clean and built into mountains and cliffs. We rode bikes all over it and stayed with some couchsurfing hosts who had a funky little cabin in the woods. One of my favorite travel memories of my life.

Pros: The hills are alive with the sound of music.

Cons: Expensive.

6. Jerusalem, Israel

You guys. Go to Jerusalem if you can. This place is magical. In the interesting/terrifying/confusing/getmeoutofhere/Iwanttostayforever kind of way. I visited Israel in 2008 with Krishelle, Will, and my grandma. I loved every second of it.

Pros: An infinite amount of stuff to see and explore. 

Cons: You might get blown up in a bus.

5. Rome, Italy

Sometimes I tell people that Rome is my favorite city in the world. So I'm a little surprised that's only number 5 on my list. I guess I exaggerated. I'LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN. I visited Rome in 2011 with Matt, Krishelle, Heather, and Jonathan. And I loved EVERY second. Anyone who tells you that Rome isn't a wonderful place just wants to stop you from being happy.

Pros: The food, the churches, the architecture, the Vatican. But mostly the Pieta. And the food.

Cons: Maybe it was just a bad year, but we had an abnormal amount of negative run-ins with people in Rome.

4. Kyiv, Ukraine

I absolutely love this city. I have special feelings for it having lived here almost a decade ago and having traveled back to it half a dozen times since then. From a purely traveler's perspective, you can't find many cities in the world that are as exciting to explore as this one. It has been beautifully preserved and somehow has both a peaceful and exciting sense to it. My heart is breaking over the riots and tragedies occurring in the heart of this city now.

Pros: Gorgeous churches, efficient infrastructure, very inexpensive, the best food you will ever have in your whole freaking life.

Cons: Not the easiest city to navigate without some familiarity with Ukrainian or Russian.

3. Krakow, Poland 

The best word to describe Krakow is "enchanting." I visited Krakow with Matt in 2011 and then again with Daniel in 2012. And I plan to visit it many more times in my life. The central part of the city is closed off to vehicles. It is a peaceful, clean, and gorgeous place, with a beautiful castle on top of a tall hill overlooking the old part of the city.

Pros: Wonderful food, gorgeous churches to explore, close proximity to Auschwitz.

Cons: Starting to get a little overrun by tourists--enough that it doesn't really feel "off the beaten path" like it probably did twenty years ago.

2. Moscow, Russia

I lived in Moscow in 2009. It was a life-changing experience. I absolutely love this city. The largest city in Europe, Moscow has an unlimited amount of nooks and crannies to explore. There is a sense there that you are at the very center of the universe. But the very center of a universe that is totally unaware that any other place exists. It is a grand and glorious city, with chandeliers in the grocery stores, and breathtaking mosaics covering the ceilings of the underground metro stations. I dream of the day I can move back and stay forever.

Pros: See above.

Cons: It is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in (often comes in number 1). Also, the people aren't exactly what you might call "friendly."

1. L'viv, Ukraine

I have a very special place in my heart for this city. I lived in it in 2004-2005. It is an enchanting place like Krakow, but sort of hard like Kyiv, and off the beaten path. It is full of culture and hospitality, but there is also a strong feeling of mystery and skepticism when you wander the streets. The oldest and most gorgeous churches I've ever seen are in this city. And the best food I've ever had in my life is here. I could never grow tired of wandering the streets. I have brought many friends and family members to L'viv over the years and each time they comment how surprised they are to find that they really don't want to leave.

Pros: Food, people, churches. Also, incredibly inexpensive.

Cons: Sort of difficult to get to. Also, somewhat difficult to navigate without some familiarity with Ukrainian.

Ok, that's it for my list. You go now. What are your favorite cities you've ever visited?

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. I need to go to all of these places. I just did a google image search of Lviv. That place looks AMAZING.

  2. I'm not as extensively traveled as you, but I've yet to go overseas and not find things that were amazing. Here is my list, in order of awesomeness.
    1 - South Korea - I lived for two years in three major cities (Daejeon, Gwangju, and Seoul) and a couple of 'small' towns (small being under half a million people). A beautiful country, a beautiful people, and I'd love to go there again anytime. It's just like being in the U.S., in many ways, except it smells like garlic and ginger (delicious food). And they have better electronics than us.
    2 - Brazil - Belo Horizonte and Para de Minas - I went for business, but I'd love to go again some day for fun. The food was amazing. The roads were terrifying. (Why did they let me rent a car? I spoke almost zero Portuguese!) The people kept saying I had blonde hair. (I have brown hair. Unless I'm in Brazil - then I'm blonde.) It was quite fun.
    3 - Nigeria - Lagos and Port Harcourt. Again, business. In Lagos when I wasn't in a hotel with 12 foot walls with razor wire, I was escorted by a very large man driving a very nice black Mercedes, who didn't believe in things like 'traffic signals' or 'curbs.' Then Port Harcourt, which they call the 'Wild West' of Nigeria. (I'd call Nigeria the 'Wild West' of the world, so that's saying something.) Military escort and lots of black SUV's. I'd love to visit again. The people there are beautiful.
    4 - Germany - Frankfurt. Business trip, again. It was green and beautiful. The people basically all spoke English. The food was a fun mix of really good (the local cuisine) and really bad (the fancy restaurants).
    5 - Estonia - Tallinn - A sadly short business trip. Tallinn is ancient and beautiful, but the feeling is one of change. I also got to drive across the country and see the beautiful country. It's very flat. Downside is that they have a lack of sun all winter.
    6 - France and England - I went to Paris and London when I was 13 on one of those summer trips my school sponsored. I had to save the money myself working for my grandpa in his upholstery shop. In retrospect, I'd have had more fun buying books with the money. Besides Le Mont St. Michel (I think that's the spelling), the trip was wasted on me.
    7 - Nevada - Okay, it's not foreign (to many), but everyone should have to live in the empty deserts of Nevada at least once to appreciate the beauty of emptiness and the joy of moving back home when you are done. (Some people love it, but I appreciate living in a city after living somewhere that barren.)

    1. You want to become a chemical engineer, go for it. I almost became a patent attorney. But then I spent an internship with a law firm in Korea (my second time there) and the thought was, "RUN! This will kill your joy in life!" So, I stuck to engineering. :)

  3. I was in Rome and Salzburg this past fall. Loved both places so much! Rome was a little too much for me though all at once (and I got pick-pocketed), but still so much incredible history and architecture. And I LOVED Salzburg. Such a beautiful place!! Florence was amazing too! But my most favorite place is London (England in general). It's nice that everyone speaks English and it's such a clean and gorgeous city! There's lots to do and see, I am going to go back so I can see more because the 5 days was not enough.

  4. #1: Vancouver, British Columbia. It is my favorite city. I love the place. I want to become a Canadian citizen just so I can live in or near Vancouver. The city is a lot of fun, but what makes it magic is where the city is: between the the most amazing mountains and the the incredibly beautiful ocean with islands. Take a ferry; you'll die from the pretty. (You'll also pay a fortune. But pretty!) I have a thing for the Pacific Northwest anyway, but there's something about Vancouver that I just fell in love with the first time I visited. Also, there was this restaurant my friend and I went to that was vegetarian Chinese, and it was the best Chinese food I'd ever eaten. So good! Actually, there's lots of great Asian food because it's got a strong Asian population.

    #2: Adelaide, Australia. Actually, you can't go wrong anywhere in Australia. Wonderful country. Cairns is pretty awesome because it is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef (seriously, you must go there and go snorkeling or diving; coolest experience of my life), but it's a bit too hot for my taste. Of the several cities I visited, Adelaide was where I said, "If I ever need to flee the country and run away to Australia, I would pick Adelaide as my settling place." It's a bit cooler and greener, and for some reason I just really liked the city. It's sort of your basic medium-sized modern city, but it's got lots of cute churches, and for some reason it charmed the heck out of me.

    I also second Istanbul. I was there for a day, and I desperately want to go back. It was my favorite stop on a three-week trip around Europe and Egypt. I spent another day near Kusadasi, Turkey, and it was wonderful (lots of great ruins), so I wouldn't mind spending a couple weeks traipsing around Turkey.

    1. Vancouver, British Columbia is my home town. Thanks so much for what you said about my city - all of it is 100% true. You should see it in the spring with all the cherry blossoms, daffodils, and tulips. It is the most perfect city in the world.

  5. I've never been to Asia or South America; I would especially love to go to Thailand, Japan (especially Tokyo), and Argentina! One day!

    I have been pretty lucky to travel a lot of other places. My favorites are, not necessarily in order:

    - Sevilla, Spain. Beautiful city, with so much history! I love the mix of Moorish culture with European/Christian culture. Definitely hot in the summer, but close to the beach. And the people are so friendly! And the festivals so fun! And the food so delicious! Gosh, I love this town.

    - Barcelona, Spain. Ok, I'm a little biased towards Spain since I lived there for a year, but Barcelona is amazing. It's very metropolitan and a great mixing pot of cultures and languages. The architecture is gorgeous and the food is great too! And there is something going on there at all hours of the day. Crazy, fun, beautiful!

    - Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Not a city per se, but a region. I thought Antigua was beautiful and charming, but I fell in love with the little towns surrounding the lake! We backpacked through the area and everyone was very friendly and helpful. And diving into the lake was a blast!

    - London, UK. I love London! It's expensive but I have been several times and always find something new to do and explore. I love the museums, the shopping, the pubs, and the locals. And honestly, I'm just a sucker for the British accents!

    - Venice, Italy. This is the most romantic city I've been to. Winding your way through the narrow little walkways, you never know what you'll come across - flowered courtyards, beautiful artwork, cute cafes. The touristy parts are nice, but it's just the character of the city that captures you! I love the blown glass from Murano, too.

    - Sydney, Australia. It reminds me of a more relaxed version of London! It's a beautiful city with a lot of outdoorsy things to do, and there is always a party to be found! And the locals are SO friendly and funny!

    - Great Barrier Reef, Australia. I think we actually stayed in Port Douglas, but scuba diving was really all I did, so I can't really speak for the town. But the reef was beautiful and it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

    - Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. The most beautiful beaches I have ever seen! Literally breath-taking. Not over-commercialized but you can still buy a drink on the beach. ;-)

    - Maui, Hawaii. How could I forget Maui?? The volcano, the rocky beaches, whales frolicking all around, beautiful rainforests and waterfalls.... just a gorgeous place. Too bad it's so expensive!

    Wow, I could go on, but this is getting long... Really, every place is so different, it's hard to compare them, ya know? I just hope I am lucky enough to keep traveling and keep adding to my list!

  6. I don't know how you narrowed this list down to just 10! But I'm do glad to say I was in 7 of these cities with you! And there are only 2 I haven't been to. I would add Marrakesh, Morrocco, Shaghai, San Pedro, and Tilapita ;).

    Let's plan our next trip!

    Love you! - Krishelle

  7. Havana, Cuba - beautiful people, delicious food, gorgeous architecture/history; Paris, France - baguettes, art, cheese, history (totally lives up to all the hype); Arenal, Costa Rica - this whole country is gorgeous and one of my favourite places of all time (zip-lining through rain forests, rafting, hiking around a volcano); Taipei, Taiwan - food is not my favourite (stinky tofu - blech!), but the whole city is an amazing mix of old and new and worth a visit.

    And now I just want to go on holiday - preferably to Turkey!

  8. 5. Pécs Hungary
    4. Freiburg, Germany
    3. Zurich, Sitzerland
    2. Xochimilko, Mexico
    1. Budapest, Hungary. Duh.

  9. I've never been out of the country. My husband went to Thailand for a mission trip once, and he spent a few hours in Hong Kong, because he had a long layover there. We are hoping that after he finishes his PhD in May 2016 or 2017 but before he starts teaching the following fall, we can take a one or two month trip and visit Italy, Ireland, Germany, and Russia.

  10. I'm the first to mention Edinburgh Scotland? Wow... spent 2 weeks there as a chaperone on a school trip so all meals and lodging taken care of, and we toured the highlands; boat on Loch Ness, etc. Go in the summer - the light is magical - it's coming from another direction then we see here, and every view out a window looks like a painting. Would love to go back. Downside - long dark days in the winter to counter balance the 4 am - 11 pm sunshine in the summer.

  11. I spy Uncle Will's rear end.

  12. I haven't been to any of these cities, but I've gotten to go to some amazing places too. And I plan to travel to many more. Some of my must-see destinations are on your list.

  13. Lets fix that "never been to South America" problem. You and whichever friends you'd like to also invite, are formally invited to join me and my Ecuadorian do-gooders for an amazing 2 weeks in Ecuador this coming November. It's always the first two weeks of November. We spend the first week passing out school supplies, clothes and toys to impoverished children, and then the 2nd week we tour the country. Ecuador is on the Equator and has the coolest national park dedicated to it. The Mountain people are soo sweet and beautiful, you get ALL of your Christmas shopping done for a fraction of the normal cost, and the best part is you have 5 ecuadorian sisters who are old enough to be your mom bossing you around for two weeks, but calling you mi amor while doing it.
    Also to make sure you don't go into animal deprivation, there is an Iguana park down the street from the apartment where we stay and you can pet and pose with the Iguana's all day long.

  14. 10. Heidelberg
    9. Brussels
    8. Amsterdam
    7. London
    6. Dublin
    5. Rome
    4. Galway
    3. Nice
    2. Edinburgh
    1. Paris

  15. Prague. Beautiful, beautiful Prague.

  16. I was just waiting for #1 to be Salt Lake City---what a letdown when it didn't even crack the list.
    I served 8 months of my mission in Rome and I am dying to go back. I have never been a traveler, but the temple should be finished early next year (I hear), and I am hoping to make it a reality. My wife doesn't believe that I am serious, so I would love to surprise her, too. Even after spending 8 months there I feel like there was so much more to see (of course, I wasn't a full-time tourist...), so I think that city is at the top of my list. Most of my other top destinations would also be in Italy, since it's the only foreign place I've been: Positano on the Amalfi coast was an awesome day trip, Sorrento was another favorite, and the last city I served in was Livorno (in English this is often called Leghorn... ?!); it was also an awesome place.
    I also grew up in a small town in Eastern Washington, so Seattle is by default one of my favorite cities--it was like this magical place that we got to travel to for temple trips and really cool school trips. I have been a few times as an adult and I still think it is a really neat place.

  17. 1) Valencia, Spain
    2) Sevilla, Spain
    3) Athens, Greece
    4) Island Of Crete, Greece
    5) Madrid, Spain
    6) Avila, Spain
    7) Tripoli, Libya
    8) St. Thomas, USVI
    9) Barcelona, Spain
    10) Berlin, Germany

  18. Barcelona was my favorite. Very inexpensive to fly there from Tucson Arizona (compared to the other cities across the world), very inexpensive to stay, play, and eat - and some of the friendliest people on the planet. After that trip we went on to Paris and Rome - and while both lovely - I would have had higher opinions of them had I not first experienced the glory of Spain.

  19. My favorite city-cities are Edinburgh, London, Vancouver (British Columbia) and Chicago. NYC was amazing, but it was so ridiculously hot and humid that I'd need to experience it either fall or spring to make me be able to add it to the list. (Quit judging me.)

    My trips don't usually take me to city-cities, though; I like the smaller towns and wilderness much better. Or the beaches. Such as: Kailua on O'ahu. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.

    I want to go to Moscow, Russia really badly. And ANYWHERE in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria. And let's not forget New Zealand. And Washington DC. And a hundred other places...

  20. Rotorua, New Zealand! Smells a little funny at first with all of the natural hot springs, but what an amazing town! Fun activities, a lot of cultural and historical sites to visit (Maori villages buried in volcanic mud or living tribes that will dance for you while they cook you a haangi dinner). GREAT food!

    1. ^^Yes! Anywhere, New Zealand. Love the place. Polite folks, neat cultures, awesome landscape, great dairy products... my dad and I had the goal to get 10 lbs underweight so we could go back to New Zealand with an excuse to eat!

  21. Orlando! There's Sea World and Disney and Putt Putt Golfing!

  22. a mission city tops the list! i love it!

    i think i'll make a list like this too... i've never thought beyond my favorite city, (Dublin) but top ten sounds fun. it'll kill at least an hour at work, so that's a bonus.

  23. Loved Jerusalem, love Beijing. But especially loved Xian, China. I went with a friend who spoke Mandarin and got to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian, but the real treat was getting off the beaten path and visiting some farming families living in cave homes in the mountains. Wonderful, nice, hospitable people. Would go again in a heartbeat!

  24. This has NOTHING to do with your post…but what's with the Comic Sans for your page title? Are you in 6th grade computer lab??!?!


  25. Yay! Go Poland! So glad to see Krakow on the list. As a 1st generation Polish-American I always always always tell people to visit Poland. It's a beautiful country, I love it. I'm so glad that you liked it too Eli!

  26. Best kept secret: Croatia

    Really though, went there to study abroad for a school program and it was 1) breathtakingly BEAUTIFUL, as is most of the Adriatic coast 2) cheap (relatively), 3) not very tourist-y 4) near other well known cities that you'd want to visit (Italy anybody?). Cons: if you don't know where you're going, it's a pain & you can get lost/not see the good parts. Thankfully we had a wonderful prof who has a condo in Krk and knows the country like the back of his hand.

    Just look at this place!

  27. Drinking fermented mare's milk inside a Gher in Mongolia is by far my best travel experience.

  28. I'll put in a few well known and a few not so well known as well as a few to stay away from.

    I'll start with a few places to stay away from:
    - Genoa, Italy. It stinks here. The end. Seriously though, it stinks. Like pee....everywhere...and it was strong. It's got some cool history and architecture but it was by far the most colorless place. It just felt like, where ever I looked, it was gray. It's where Christopher Columbus lived and we saw his home. Some cool churches, but that's about it. I was just very it stinks...did I mention that?
    - Naples, Italy. One word...crime. As in, organized the mafia. If you're going to get robbed anywhere, this is the place it will probably be. If you're taking a cruise, don't worry about porting there, they'll just go around it and bring you somewhere else. We were told not to leave the port area on our own.

    1. Naples is one of the top three worst cities I've ever visited.

    2. Did you not have the pizza? Because that totally fixed it for me!

  29. And now on to places you need to go:
    - Rome, Italy. This was an awesome city. We stayed with my wife's aunt who lived on the outskirts and just bused/trained the rest of the way in. Loved Piazza Novona the best. Visited all the well known places as well as some not so well known. Take some good walking shoes cause your feet WILL hurt by the end of the day.
    - Sorrento, Italy. Right near the island of Capri (another beautiful but super expensive city) on the Amalfi Coast. Beautiful city. Didn't get to spend much time there but I want to go back.
    - Santorini, Greece. Specifically the cities of Oia and Fira. about beautiful. This place is it. Gorgeous, warm, picturesque...I loved it. Beautiful vineyards and wine tasting. Being there felt like there was no stress in the world.
    - Nice, France. Another beautiful city with lots of culture. Here you will find part of the Cote d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera. This is near Monaco where they do the racing. We also visited an old little town called St. Paul de Vance. Very cool place with lots of places to snap gorgeous pictures (my hobby is photography, can you tell?).
    - Vancouver, BC. As someone else mentioned, this is a very cool city with lots of things to do. My sister lives here so she brought us around. From beautiful parks, to tree top canopy bridges, to Granville is a very cool place. My sister also showed us some neat places that weren't so well known.
    - Banff, Alberta. This is my second home. I love the mountains and I love this little city with all the awesome hiking around it. If you want culture, go there. You could walk down the main street and hear 10 different languages within a 5 minute walk. Everyone from all over the world comes here.
    - San Diego, California. I loved this city. Especially near the water along the walkway. Great city, very friendly people.
    - Florence, Italy. I've never been, but my wife has, and she loves it here too. Tuscany is a beautiful place from what she's told me and what I've seen in pictures. We will be back and I will see this place.

  30. Some not so well knowns:
    Seeing as my wife is of Italian decent, as in her parents are from Italy and own a home there, there are some cool smaller villages I got to visit.
    - Scanno, Italy. There's not a LOT to do here unless you're going in the summer or winter. The skiing in winter is apparently really good, and in the summer in all of Italy they have what's called Ferragosto, which is a mid-August Feast. In Scanno that's when all the families get together and have parties and what not. Otherwise it's a neat little town with a big lake nearby that you can swim in, and mountains all around. So the hiking is good.
    - Near Scanno is a town called Sulmona. This is a cool little town. Neat shopping, big church, cool town.
    - Ladispoli, Italy. Very close to Civitavecchia. This beach town was a place I only stayed one night before our cruise. My wife's cousin took us and this is where you will find black sand from a volcano that exploded a while ago. My wife's aunt owns a flat here and we stayed one night. He then took us to some cool towns nearby and to some tombs and told us all the history.

  31. I'm not as well-traveled as you but I would agree with Rome - I did not get to spend NEARLY enough time there when I was there and absolutely want to go back! So - in addition to Rome here are my top spots to visit:

    1. Rhodes - great shopping, lots of history, beautiful weather.
    2. Patmos - wonderful people, neat out-of-the way shops, wonderful history.
    3. Bermuda - besides that you would look awesome in the shorts - so clean, great cuisine, very relaxing destination.
    4. New Orleans - so many people think of just the French Quarter but there is so much to do outside of the French Quarter that people are really limiting themselves if they don't visit (or just visit the FQ).

  32. Who is Matt?? I don't know if you have mentioned him before, I thought that Daniel was the original travel buddy.

    1. This is for the old schoolers, I guess. Matt was my roommate when Snuggie Texts happened. He and I went to law school together and then traveled quite a bit just after we graduated. Then, around Snuggie Texts time, Matt got married and abandoned me. And he will never be forgiven. Never. Unless he brings me cheesecake. In which case, all will be forgiven.

  33. So I've never commented before even though I've read your blog for a while. But after seeing your top city I had to comment. I've been called to serve in the L'viv, Ukraine mission! I'm so excited to go there and everyone I've talked to who has served there said they loved the city and the people.

    Also, I've never travelled extensively outside of the country, but in the U.S. some of my favorite places are Chicago, Seattle, and pretty much anywhere in Maine. It's all beautiful.

  34. I only travel to foreign destinations vicariously. Airplanes. *shudder* But I'm happy to see your love of Ukraine as my best friend will be visiting there soon to adopt 3 boys! I think she flies into Kyiv, but will mostly be in Donetsk and a little bit in Mariupol. The only Ukrainian/Russian she knows she's picked up by translating messages from the boys. I'm hoping their English is better than her Russian! It'll be interesting to see what they make of rural Michigan when they come to live in the U.S.

  35. Iquitos, Peru may be the most beautiful place I have ever been. Close to the Amazon, the only way to enter is by boat or plane (there are no roads in or out). It is extremely inexpensive but almost impossible to navigate without some Spanish. Also, watch out for the British guy with the hurt finger- he's been conning people out of money for 10 years (the papers even did an expose on him). haha

    Also, Auroville, India. They have a GIANT GOLD BALL that you can meditate in. It's literally made out of GOLD. I do not know how more people do not know of this place. Really cheap, great food, and totally navigable with English (though Hindi, Tamil, and French are all pretty common). This is a hippie town in the middle of India. It's also right on the ocean. But if you're a woman you're not allowed in a lot of places outside the city so that was a bit sketchy. haha

  36. How to take better pictures... take many of the same scene... I take about 10-15 and am bound to get a good one from those. Works like a charm!

  37. I know I'm late to this post, but...
    1. Santorini - the most magical place in all of Greece...maybe the world. A small island that is what is left of a volcanic eruption that wiped out the Minoan civilization (and also a rumored cause of the Red Sea parting...), this island is gorgeous. Everything is built into the mountain. The FOOD IS INCREDIBLE and you can stuff your face with bread, feta, tomatoes, and meat but you never gain weight because of all the walking. There is a mountain nearby great for climbing, you can take a boat ride to bathe in the volcanic mud and then wash it off in the Aegean Sea, gorgeous churches and monasteries, the windmills are incredible, and the sunsets will pretty much change your life. The churches, again, were incredible. So many of them and all so unique and quaint. The monastery was humbling, peaceful, yet literally had "guard peacocks". Pretty sure they are direct descendants from the Queen of Colors herself. Nasty birds, though beautiful, and they make the WORST sounds in the world. The people are friendly, English is widely spoken, just get there before late June when the Germans invade. Not in a bad way, though. This place changed my life. I met so many people who went there on vacation and never left. It is enchanting. Planning to return in 2016.

    2. Cinque Terre, Monterosso, Italy. CT is in the northern part of Italy, built into the coast, and made up of 5 small villages. I stayed on Monterosso and you can take a ferry between the other towns. Beautiful beaches, the friendliest people, amazing food. Not really "exciting" night life, but a great escape from that if that's what you're looking for. My heart broke when the villages were damaged by massive flooding and mudslides in 2011, but I've heard they've recovered.