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My Amazing Ride - 2021

Pismo Beach pier, California
Pismo Beach Pier, California
Traveling during the pandemic was quite different from my previous last minute trips with no hotel reservations and lots of taken for granted expectations. There are health disclosures to fill, vaccination cards to show immigration, covid tests to take, and in some cases, travel insurance and confirmed paid hotel reservations to show the border police. Thankfully the airports were quiet at the beginning of my European trip in June but by the time I got home in July from Paris, travelers were back in droves that it took me close to three hours to get to my gate. The same was true in December when I returned from Costa Rica. LAX was full of Christmas travelers, it was hard to find any seat at the gates let alone, breathing space. Enough whining! After all, I visited 7 countries in 2021 plus the Arctic Circle, Interior Alaska and Las Vegas and had reunions with my close friends in Michigan, Amsterdam and Vienna. It was an amazing year of travel!

April. After receiving my second Covid19 vaccine shot, I was ready to test the waters. My first trip outside my hometown was to Pismo Beach for the Easter weekend. Pismo Beach is an easy drive from the Bay Area and we stayed overnight in Monterey before driving down to the beach. We even had the opportunity to visit one of the California Missions, Saint Michael Archangel in San Miguel. It was my first time at the beach since September 2020. It felt so good to see the ocean again.

Victorian houses, San Francisco, California
Victorian Houses, San Francisco 
May. We had a special guest from Illinois so we took him around San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Ah, the fog was thick and the wind whipped our jackets shut. But we still had a great time.

Lavender Farm, Turlock, California
Pageo Lavender Farm, Turlock, California
June. I’ve always wanted to go to Provence in July to see the neat rows of lavender across the countryside. Little did I know, a lavender farm is practically in my backyard and I didn’t have to deal with the summer crowds. I was the only person in the field for a good few minutes until a handful of visitors arrived! The scent of lavender was so heavy, I could have bottled it up. Instead, I picked up some dried lavender at their boutique and made sachets for friends and family. Lesson: You don’t need to travel far to discover the many attractions that are as good if not better than those touted by guidebooks, glossies and Instagram influencers.

Late June. When the Netherlands reopened their doors to US travelers, I packed my bag and headed to Amsterdam to see my friends. We last got together in 2018 so it was really a long awaited reunion. The week I visited was also the European soccer match between the home team and an equally talented rival team so the city was especially calm on a Sunday afternoon with everyone glued to their TV sets. 

Dam Square, Amsterdam
It was so unbelievable to see the near empty Dam Square which is normally overwhelmed with visitors in the summer months. But the pandemic kept people at home and I strolled through quiet cobblestone streets. 

State Hall National Library, Vienna 
July. I had planned to travel to several Balkan countries and Vienna is the best gateway city. But as the entry requirements kept changing, I had to cancel my plans. It was disappointing but I have a close friend in Vienna who took me to the places on my travel list plus all the cafés and restaurants only a local would know. It was so good to see my friend again and to be guided by her throughout the city.

On the way to Slovenia, I decided to stay a couple of days in Graz and that was a really good decision. Graz with its compact old town, Baroque architecture and scene stealing modern art museum shouldn’t be a mere stopover but a destination on its own. 

Lake Bled, Slovenia
July. I took the train from Llubljana to Lesce Bled, a town closest to Lake Bled. Once on board, we were told that we would have to get off at Kranj and take a bus from there to Lesce then transfer to another bus to Lake Bled. It seemed so complicated but I got there in early afternoon and easily found the trail around the lake. Lake Bled is so clear, you can see the bottom in some parts. The castle in the mountains surrounding the lake lent the perfect backdrop to this fairy tale setting.

St. Mark’s Cathedral, Zagreb
July. I had Zagreb on my bucket list for quite a while because I had heard about the Museum of Broken Relationships and was curious about its collection. It was difficult to read the stories behind the donated items on display because nothing broken is a happy event. But after a few minutes, I found some humor and stupidity in a few absurd relationships. Love is blind! Zagreb had other surprises as well. Like some of the best eats I had in Europe!

Bourse de Commerce Museum Pinault Collection, Paris
July. Summer is not the ideal time to visit this hugely popular city. But the trade offs are the July 14th festivities and fireworks, parks in full bloom, new off beat places to discover and grand museum openings. The former stock exchange now the Bourse de Commerce Museum was renovated by the celebrated architect, Tadao Ando, and is an attraction on its own. Combined with the dazzling contemporary art collection of François Pinault, it’s a double treat. 

Arctic Circle, Alaska
September. Very few people who go to Alaska bother to include the Arctic Circle in their itinerary. For many obvious reasons. One, the distance by car or public transport is a big turnoff. (The tour to the Arctic Circle is approximately 12 hours long). Secondly, the cost of getting there. The 8 seater Navajo plane we took to Coldfoot costs approximately $500.00 per person but it was well worth it. I would rank this as one of my best travel experiences.

Nenana River Gorge
On the way to Denali National Park, we saw the Nenana River Gorge. It’s one of the highlights of the train trip to Denali. The train passes through some narrow, cliffhanging areas that it has to slow down to a crawl so it doesn’t go over the edge. This stretch of the railroad has been repaired a few times due to soil erosion. 

Post Office, Fairbanks
The old post office in the Athabaskan Village by the Chena River is where villagers gathered when mail was delivered by boats plying the river. It was a much awaited special event. How long ago were zip codes introduced? Read more about what life was like by the banks of the Chena River, zip 99709!

Panama City skyline
December. Panama is a country of contrasts. Modern skyscrapers seem to challenge 16th century ruins of old Spanish settlements. Bustling traffic beside a calm coastline that provides aqua therapy on the most difficult days, like before Mother’s Day when traffic is at a standstill. The people are friendly and always greet you with “Buenas”, the seafood is fresh and served in generous portions, and the highways and streets are clean. How about the music? I feel I could dance to that beat all night long. Si, Señor!

Miraflores Locks
Watching the locks open for a tanker to transit the Panama Canal has been on my travel bucket list since I read, The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough. And I finally checked it off. 

Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, Cartago
December. After trying several times and failing to join a tour of Irazu Volcano and Cartago, I decided to explore other options for visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels. I wanted to go by train but the services were infrequent. My second choice was to take the bus but the bus terminal was too far from my hotel in Escazu. A traveler I met in San Jose told me he had taken Uber from the airport to his hotel in the city and it was far cheaper than the taxi he had previously taken. I decided to take Uber for the short, 25km distance to Cartago. We arrived at the Basilica in 35 minutes, just before the sky gave vent to soaking rain whisked about by moderate winds. This door to door service is especially important during this pandemic when we have to worry about the threat of Covid19. Caveat: Though Uber has been operating in Costa Rica since 2015, it has not yet been recognized by the government due to strong opposition from the taxi drivers’ association.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Thank you 2021 for the amazing ride! Looking forward to more travel adventures in 2022. Happy and safe travels, everyone!


Images by TravelswithCharie


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