Back in September, we wrote about some of our top journey destinations. In this follow-up story, Darren features more favorite destinations from places we visited during the second half of our trip.
The focus of this story is on some of our top destinations. More specifically, we chose places that we liked so much that we would consider returning to them for a longer period of time. Our criteria for selecting these locations are places that were relatively inexpensive, had nice accommodations, a good selection of restaurants, a variety of activities and were safe. These locations are covered in the order that we visited them during the second part of our journey.
- Cultural capital set in a beautiful valley
- Extensive public transportation
- Excellent choice of restaurants
Dresden is located near the Czech Republic border, along a valley on the Elbe River. It was an important city in the former East Germany and is currently the capital of the German state of Saxony. Dresden has a long history of royal residency for the former Kings of Saxony and today contains a castle and palace in its historic area. The city celebrated its 800 year anniversary in 2006, a year after its iconic church (the Frauenkirche) was rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II. In fact, over 90% of the city center was destroyed during the war and reconstruction continues to this day.
When we visited Dresden in August 2012, it coincided with their yearly Stadtfest, a cultural and artistic festival located in the old town area. Various musicians, from rock bands to classical guitar players, performed during certain times of the day. We enjoyed walking around the festival while listening to several of the musicians. We also had a wonderful time eating at several of the great restaurants in the city center. The prices were very reasonable for an European city.
Dresden has a large tramway network totaling about 120 miles (200 kilometers). One day we rode the tram a short distance out of town, into the Elbe Valley, and took a 100 year old cable car to the top of a hill to admire the views. We were the only ones on the viewing platform and seeing the peaceful river and valley was a nice contrast to the city of over 700,000.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
- Charming mountain and lake setting
- Central European location
- Good local food
Slovenia is a small country located between Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. Just over the border from Austria is Lake Bled. It is a glacial lake located in the Julian Alps and adjacent to the town of the same name. In August 2012 we spent two days before our Julian Alps trek and one day after its conclusion in Bled. We were impressed by the lake, with a castle overlooking it on one side and an island in the middle of it. We spent several hours walking around the entire lake and marveling at the beautiful scenery.
In the town of Bled itself, there were many restaurants and grocery stores with reasonable prices. We stayed in an apartment and enjoyed cooking with local foods and fresh vegetables.
- Superb mix of cultural and natural experiences
- Unmatched wildlife in parks and reserves
- Great interactions with people
We are mentioning the overall country of Kenya because we were so surprised and impressed with it while were there. During our three weeks in Kenya in October 2012, we visited several national parks and wildlife reserves, including the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park. While on safari we not only saw the entire “Big Five” (the black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, African elephant, leopard and lion) within 24 hours, but also witnessed the Great Migration of over one million animals back to Tanzania. Kenya was definitely one of the highlights of our entire journey!
These natural experiences were rivaled by the cultural interactions that we had while in Kenya. Prior to our national park visits we spent four days trekking with the Maasai during a walking safari. It was fascinating to learn all about their culture and to visit villages and schools along the way. Our time in the northern Samburu region provided us with another perspective on the people of this country. We especially enjoyed our time there because it was in a non-touristy area. The capital city, Nairobi, has a reputation for being a dangerous place, but we took precautions and walked around with no issues.
Punta del Este, Uruguay
- Resort city with great restaurants
- Beautiful beaches for swimming or walking
- Mild climate
In January we spent a weekend visiting Punta del Este. It is a resort city, sitting at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and Río de la Plata (River Plate), and located about 87 miles (140 kilometers) east of the capital of Montevideo. The climate is mild, with the temperature in the summer month of January averaging about 71 °F (21.7 °C). We found the temperatures to be quite refreshing after coming from the hot and steamy weather of the Amazon region.
Punta del Este was a joy to visit. We enjoyed walking along the two scenic beaches (Brava and Mansa), as well as eating at several diverse restaurants. In fact, we ate at a Mexican Restaurant that had excellent food!
- Amazing capital city with a variety of things to do
- Lovely green areas and parks
- Quiet residential areas
Having already been to several of South America’s capital cities during our prior travels, Santiago is now our new favorite. Founded in 1541, Santiago’s architecture ranges from 19th century neoclassical, to art deco and neo-gothic. While spending four days in Santiago in March, we had ample time to explore this city of over six million people by both foot and subway. Imposing buildings, such as the main cathedral and Palacio de La Moneda (Presidential Palace), were interesting to visit and photograph. We enjoyed walking along the Mapocho River, which flows through the city, viewing the Andes Mountains and strolling through the shady parks.
For a big city, Santiago felt livable with its quaint neighborhoods and parks. It is another place that has a reputation for crime and pick pocketing so we kept a low profile and maintained a state of high awareness while moving around the city. Overall, we would love to visit Santiago again in the future.
Do you have a favorite destination that you would like to share with others? If so, reply in the comment box below!