Best of Episode – Highlights From our Year Abroad
It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since we've gotten back from our honeymoon. By far, the question we get asked most is "what was your favorite place?". It sounds like the easy question, but after seeing so many fantastic places that are all so different, it is really hard to narrow down. In my attempt to answer this question, I decided to create three different top 10 lists. 1) top 10 countries; 2) top 10 cities; and 3) top 10 experiences. Of course, these are just my opinion and your criteria and preferences may differ than mine but I don't think you go wrong with any of the following. I based my decisions mainly on the food, the culture, the people, and the things to do in each country.
Top 10 countries
A bit of a shock here for most people but Turkey is highly underrated as a destination. There have recently been some advisory warnings against visiting Turkey especially in Istanbul and along the South eastern border with Syria. While we encourage everyone to do their research before visiting, I don't think you should be scared away from this beautiful country. The capital of Istanbul is strikingly beautiful with highlights that include the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and Basilica Cistern, not to mention the historic Hadrian's Wall along the outskirts. Turkey has more to offer than the capital city, a few hours east towards the middle of the country takes you to the UNESCO world heritage site of Cappadocia in Turkey's Göreme valley. While the small towns and rock formations of the area are nice enough to explore on foot, the real treat is viewing the surrounding region in a morning hot air balloon ride surrounded by hundreds of other balloons and spectators. The hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia was easily one of the most memorable experiences during our entire trip. Additionally, I was impressed on how flavorful and cheap the cuisine was throughout Turkey.
while in my post I said that Cambodia makes my "top five" countries, upon further review, I had to put it at number nine. Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat region are definitely the highlights, but Cambodia has many nice little surprises tucked away in this country. For example the bats outside the caves in Battambang, the fact that Cambodia mostly accepts US dollars, and the people of Cambodia are extremely courteous and friendly. Cambodia also has a nice little beach spot called Sihanoukville where we took a snorkeling tour and Diem lost her phone. Additionally, Cambodia is extremely inexpensive which was nice since it made our budget stretch a little further.
Indonesia is a sprawling country and while we only saw a small portion of the country, it was a large enough sample size for for me to put this is number eight on my list. The beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples throughout the country make for some amazing sunrises, not to mention the fantastic landscape of mountains and oceans. The turtle sanctuary in Sukamade was one of our favorite experiences and our time in Ubud, Bali was of beautiful and relaxing area with some fantastic coffee and organic food.
Japan was the second major country we visited and it was a country that lived up to the hype. The entire country is clean and you feel safe walking the streets and taking the trains. There is everything you could ever want in the major cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka but there is also lots of natural beauty outside the major cities including the three scenic views of Japan, the bamboo forests, the temples, and the ocean. Probably our favorite part Japan, though, is the delicious food. While Diem had visited three times before, it was my first time to Japan. It’s definitely a place were looking forward to revisiting.
Australia is a gigantic country/continent but our camper Van experience exploring the East Coast was one of the highlights of our trip. Beautiful beaches, fresh, organic food, the great barrier reef, and plenty of pit stops along the way, made for a fantastic road trip. We still would love to see the outback but there’s so much to see along the coast that we didn’t feel deprived at all.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Italy. Fantastic food, charming cities, and animated locals deliver an experience you cannot find many places. Rome is an all-time place to visit and the beautiful coastlines make for some fantastic sunsets and backdrops for enjoying some delicious Italian wine. Tuscany and the Renaissance art around the area also makes for some unforgettable experiences.
Vietnam is not really talked about for a top tourist destination, but Vietnam as a lot more diversity and charm than first meets the eye. Saigon is a food lovers dream and a fantastic place for those trying to stretch a budget. The beaches along the East Coast also offer a place to relax and cool off from the heat. The mountains and rice farms around Hanoi offer beautiful walks to enjoy the scenery and escape the busyness of the big cities. Ha long bay is a wonderful romantic getaway among the beautiful islands and beaches off the coast. It also helps that Diem is Vietnamese and can speak the language.
Norway took me by surprise. I was actually worried to spend too much time in Norway because it is one of the most expensive countries and we were on a budget. However, our time there was worth every penny and the walks along the fjords of Norway provided some of the most memorable moments of our trip. Scandinavian seafood is wonderfully fresh and somewhat affordable as long as you buy it in the grocery store. Pictures say more than words though so please take a look at the fantastic scenery that Norway has to offer.
2.) South Africa
Our time in South Africa with limited to Cape Town and Kruger National Park, but we loved each of them so much that South Africa gets the number two spot on my list. Cape Town is a great makes of a small town feel but with modern amenities. The beaches and the spectacular Table Mountain provide an amazing backdrop for the city. We decided to brave the cold water and do a great white shark diving trip and our Safari trips around Kruger National Park brought us up close and personal with some of Africa’s most beautiful animals. Not to mention, the wine region around Cape Town is second to none.
I may be a bit biased for the number one spot because I did study abroad in Seville Spain. Even though I visited the country three times before, I always leave wanting more. It helps that I speak Spanish but regardless, the food, the history, and the beauty of Spain keeps me coming back and makes it my number one country. During our trip, we visited the North in San Sebastian, the South in Seville, the East in Barcelona, and central Spain in Madrid. Each region has its own flair and charm. Probably my top country for food, especially the tapas in San Sebastian and Seville, Spain ranks at the top of all my criteria. Be sure to check out our travels in Spain here
Let me know if there any countries that I snubbed this for this list. It was very hard to narrow it down to 10.