New Year, New Trips: Six Destinations to Discover in 2016
Story and Photos by Terri Marshall
The dawn of a new year is a time of reflection and planning. But while most people are considering their New Year’s resolutions, I am working on travel plans for the new year. In 2015, I was fortunate to be introduced to some amazing destinations and I thought I would share those with you this month so that you can get to work on your 2016 travel plans too. You’ll find a mix of culture, history, architecture, nature and a very bizarre border crossing in my picks for 2016. Enjoy.
Germany’s Black Forest
Standing in Germany’s Black Forest surrounded by dense canopies of dark towering evergreens, I fully expected to see Little Red Riding Hood skipping along to Grandma’s house with the big bad wolf undoubtedly lurking somewhere behind a tree. This geographically blessed region in southwest Germany’s state of Baden-Württemberg was the inspiration for many of those beloved childhood fairytales. But it’s not all dark sinister forests, there are vast expanses of valleys, waterfalls, rolling hills, gently rising mountains, and rivers teeming with trout. Quaint towns and villages with half-timbered houses are scattered throughout the region and posh resort spa towns with pools of thermal mineral waters are just a short drive away in the foothills of the Black Forest. The birthplace of the iconic cuckoo clock, red pompom hats, and the Black Forest cake, this region is rich in German traditions and customs. A perfect place to begin an exploration of German traditions and customs is Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurernhof, the Black Forest open air museum, in the village of Gutach. The museum chronicles 400 years of Black Forest history through an extensive collection of cultural assets. www.blackforest-tourism.com
Estonia’s capital city, Tallin, has managed to preserve its medieval and Hanseatic origin earning it UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Cobbled streets date back to the 13th-century. There are houses and warehouses in their original form dating as far back as the 11th-century. The town hall is the last surviving Gothic town hall in northern Europe. For seven centuries the Town Hall Square has been the heart of the city hosting concerts and fairs during summer and transforming into magical Christmas markets during the holidays. Estonia has over 1500 islands, but you won’t find one more charming than Kihnu. It is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga and the seventh largest Estonian island, and it is absolutely enchanting. The minute you set foot on this island of about 500 residents, you will know you are in a special place. This matriarch community cherishes ancient traditions. For centuries, the men of Kihnu have gone to sea while the women run the island and protect its cultural heritage of handicrafts, dances, games and music. www.visitestonia.com
Latvia’s capital city, Riga, is an intriguing blend of architecture, history and culture. Included on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage list, Riga is located in the central part of the country on the south coast of the Gulf of Riga. It is the largest city in the Baltics and has emerged from its troubled history as a thriving multi-cultural city. Riga’s Old Town is the city’s historic center. Remnants of the fortification wall that enclosed the city from the 13th to 18th century still remain. A labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets wind past medieval architectural marvels. The churches of Riga are spectacular from the Riga Dome Cathedral to St. Peter’s Church with the city’s tallest steeple spire. In the Middle Ages, Riga was a member of the trade route known as the Hanseatic League, the ornate House of the Blackheads reflects the prosperity of that period. Riga is also known for its exquisite art nouveau properties having the largest concentration of any city worldwide. You will also want to explore Sigulda. Situated in the Gauja National Park on the banks of the River Gauja, Sigulda is surrounded by thick forests. It is often referred to as the “Switzerland of Latvia” due to its hilly terrain and expansive river valley. Built in the Middle Ages, the Livonian Order Sigulda Castle provides a glimpse into life in Medieval times. Exhibits tell the story of how the Livonian Order was formed, how its members dressed and how they armed themselves. www.latvia.travel
Surrounded by volcanos and straddling the center of the earth, Ecuador’s capital city is a place where the past and present effortlessly coexist. Founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca City, Quito has the best-preserved historic center in Latin America earning it the first UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1978. Narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with colonial churches, monasteries, convents and beautifully restored houses with architecture from the 16th to the 20th century. Spend a day exploring the historic city center where a massive statue of the Virgin Mary keeps a watchful eye over the city and The Company of Jesus church is decorated in pure gold. To explore the surrounding countryside, climb aboard an old steam train for a ride past a string of active volcanos representing some of the tallest on the planet. Of course no trip to the city at the center of the world would be complete without a visit to the equator. Stand with a foot in each hemisphere and experience the scientific wonders of the earth’s movement at 0 latitude.
In 1999, Cuenca was declared Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO for the city’s successful fusion of three different Latin American cultures and the preservation of their customs and traditions. Situated in an Andean valley in the South Ecuadorian mountain region at an altitude over 8,300 feet, Cuenca is crossed by four rivers. The Tomebamba flows through Cuenca forming a natural border between the historic downtown and the new part of the city. Paths alongside the river are ideal for cycling or walking . There are 52 churches in Cuenca – one for every week of the year. The largest and most important monument to the Catholic faith in Cuenca is the Immaculada Concepcion Cathedral. Construction began on the cathedral in 1885 and continued for almost one hundred years. Preservation of the customs and traditions of the arts and culture of Cuenca contributed to its declaration as the Cultural Patrimony of Humanity. Throughout the city you will find artisans and craftsmen using the knowledge transferred through several generations to continue the creation of iconic treasures like the Panama Hat which originated in Cuenca – despite its name. www.ecuador.travel
Big Bend, Texas
Besides being one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, Big Bend, Texas has experiences you simply can’t find anywhere else. This is a land where road runners chase rabbits across the road and you will find yourself searching for Wylie Coyote. And don’t even get me started about the sunsets…wow. Here you can hang out in natural hot springs in the ruins of a former bath house with the Rio Grande flowing beside you. And the towns…well these are the kind of places where a beer drinking goat can be elected mayor – seriously, his name is Clay Henry and he is the mayor of Lajitas. And if you time it right, you can experience the Day of the Dead in the Terlingua Cemetery – trust me, you will never forget it. But perhaps the most unique experience in this land of natural and human wonders, is the border crossing into Boquillas, Mexico. Here you walk down to the banks of the Rio Grande, climb in a row boat and cross the river into Boquillas. From there you climb onto the back of a burro for a ride to the immigration trailer – yes I said trailer. It’s the only border crossing of its kind in the country and makes those airport immigration centers seem awfully dull. www.visitbigbend.com
Wishing you a year filled with discoveries and happy trails wherever you may roam. Happy New Year!
Terri is a New York City based writer who is happiest when she’s globetrotting and loves bringing stories of her adventures to her readers. She is the Globetrotting Grandmom for TravelingMom.com, the National Chocolate Examiner for Examiner.com, Special Projects Editor for TravelSquire.com, and a contributor to several other publications. You can learn more about Terri and her work at www.trippingwithterri.com. Connect with Terri on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TrippingwithTerri or on Twitter @trippingwterri .