About a year ago, I wrote a post called “Look where we’ve been in 2016“. It was a little travelogue, covering a year in which I took my readers to the ends of the earth — a year, I wrote, that might never come again. And I was right. But the year that followed, 2017, was just as remarkable, in its own way. So as the year ends, I’m going to take a look back at the places you and I have been since last Jan. 1, and the things we’ve seen.
If there was a theme to this year, you could probably call it time travel. This was the year when I returned to places I hadn’t been for decades — since university days, in one or two cases. And it was a rewarding experience, for me and I hope for you. As well, I managed to fit in a few new destinations, and had some new and memorable experiences.
The first destination of 2017 was Mexico City. It’s one of the world’s great cities, but I hadn’t set foot in it since back in the ’70s; in fact, it was my first solo adventure. But I found it just as fascinating as the first time. With its wide boulevards, pretty neighbourhoods and green parks, it was a stark contrast to the negative pictures you often see. And while I’d visited the city’s hot spots before — the zocalo, with its great cathedral, and the Zona Rosa, a club district that’s now more of a tourist hub — there were new and wonderful things to discover.
I visited a major Aztec temple site, unearthed only a block from the cathedral. And I toured the lovely Casa Azul, or Blue House, where the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived; they even gave me VIP admission because I was a senior. And I attended a concert at the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (above) — a memorable night. Mexico City was later hit with a destructive earthquake: I hope they’ve recovered well.
New Orleans is another of the world’s great cities, and another place I hadn’t been to for a long time: in this case, since the year 2000. Travelling with my nephew, who’d never visited the city, I was able to see the Big Easy’s attractions with new eyes. And they were all there, just as before: Bourbon Street, Jackson Square (photo at top), Preservation Hall, the French Market, the old-time streetcars (above), the famous cities of the dead …
We took a boat tour through the bayous, visited the Oak Alley and Laura plantations, and listened to live music on Frenchmen Street, the hot entertainment district these days. We even did a ghost tour of the old town after dark, to hear the spooky stories that haunt the old mansions of the French Quarter. And on the last day, we had the ultimate NOLA experience: coffee and beignets on the veranda of the legendary Café du Monde.
Once again, the good folks at Viking River Cruises were kind enough to offer me a ride on one of their lovely river ships in 2017. This cruise travelled the mighty Rhine, and it began in Basel, Switzerland. But before I boarded, I took a few days to see Switzerland, a place I’d always wanted to visit. Basel, with its wonderful red stone town hall and classic old quarter, was much more lovely than I expected.
But I wanted to see the real, iconic Switzerland, with its majestic mountains and shining lakes. So I took the train to Lucerne for a couple of days — and found just what I was looking for. The city itself is charming, with its beautiful waterfront and centuries-old covered bridge. But towering over the city is the massive Mount Pilatus. And on my first day there I found myself standing on its peak, looking down on a classic picture of the Swiss Alps. That’s a bucket-list experience.
Cruising the Rhine
Then it was off down the Rhine on the Viking Hlin. My friends Maarten (of the popular Maartech YouTube channel) and his wife Kim were along, as we explored Europe’s greatest river from start to finish. We visited Germany’s Black Forest, walked the atmospheric streets of Strasbourg and Colmar in Alsace, cruised the Middle Rhine to view its famous castles, and visited historic windmills in Kinderdijk, Netherlands. And of course, we did it all in style, with guided walking tours and great food and drinks aboard the Hlin, one of Viking’s signature longships.
The cruise ended in Amsterdam. And after a final morning walk through the city, Maarten and Kim continued on their way, while I stayed on a few days to get reacquainted with the city. I hadn’t seen Amsterdam since my round-the-world trip in 1990 — more time travel. And while it hadn’t changed that much, I spent some time getting to know its most famous residents, visiting Rembrandt’s house and the Van Gogh Museum, in the city’s splendid museum quarter. Somehow, I missed taking a cruise through the canals — next time …
I decided to finish the trip with a hop across the channel to London, another city I hadn’t seen in a long time — since the 1980s, in this case. I only had a few days, but I managed to take in most of the city’s attractions in a self-directed walking tour. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament Buildings, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus — they were all great sights. I also fitted in a visit to the house of the famous Dr. Johnson, one of the fathers of modern English, and lunch at his local pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, dating from 1666.
Meanwhile, there was a quick side trip to the city of Gloucester, to see my old friend Theo. We hadn’t laid eyes on each other since 1994, when we met in the South Pacific and travelled through places like the Cook Islands and Tahiti together. We reminisced about times gone by, toured the local pubs, and even had a side trip to Wales — another first for me. It was a fond reunion.
The East Coast
Back in Canada, it was time to revisit some other old acquaintances. So I teamed up with my friend Dennis for a good old-fashioned road trip. Most years, Dennis and I visit Point Pelee National Park for some spring birding. But since I’d been away in Europe, we went a bit further afield — all the way to Newfoundland, another destination from my university days. We reached the tip of the Northern Peninsula yo visit L’Anse aux Meadows, where Leif Erikson established the only known Norse settlement in the New World, 1,000 years ago. Columbus? A Johnny-come-lately.
Along the way, we saw some of Canada’s most beautiful scenery, driving the iconic Cabot Trail (above). And we visited some of its most amazing attractions — like the Hopewell Rocks of New Brunswick, the place with the biggest tides in the world, and Magnetic hill, where your car seems to roll uphill while it’s in neutral. Not to mention Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, with its wooden houses painted every colour of the rainbow — one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever seen.
Every trip doesn’t have to be a big one, of course. So as fall arrived, I took a little jaunt to New York — a short one, because of the city’s hefty hotel prices. With my friend Roberta, of Destination:Wildlife, as my guide, I saw most of New York’s famous sights, from Rockefeller Center to Little Italy to the High Line and Central Park. I ascended the Empire State Building for spectacular views of the city after dark, and cruised the harbour for close-up views of the Statue of Liberty.
Along the way, I sampled some of the city’s most famous eateries. Roberta and I lunched at Sardi’s, the legendary gathering place of show-biz folk, whose caricatures line the walls. And we ended our morning walk in Central Park with lunch at Tavern on the Green, another legendary restaurant. I even had a burger at Tom’s, the restaurant used as the exterior of the diner in Seinfeld. To cap off the trip, I took the special Adirondack train to Montreal on the way home, for some great scenery — and some Montreal bagels.
Cruising the Caribbean
It’s been quite a while since I took an ocean cruise. But in the wake of this year’s hurricanes, I found a great deal on a cruise to the Caribbean. So off I went, sailing for the first time from New York — which gave me an excuse for another quick visit. The cruise, on the Norwegian Gem, took in five islands in the eastern Caribbean, on an altered itinerary that skipped the islands that had been badly hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
After three days at sea, we visited the five islands in five days, starting with Antigua and ending with Saint Thomas, the only one that had sustained significant storm damage. Highlights of the trip: driving through lush, green mountains on St. Lucia to enter the caldera of a live volcano; and seeing the dramatic coastline of St. Thomas from the heights, with the U.S. and British Virgin Islands scattered across the horizon. The social life aboard the Gem was great, too, including the resident Second City comedy troupe. I even got a peek at how the other half lives, in the ship’s most luxurious suites — I’ll share that in a future post.
So those were The Travelling Boomer’s travels in 2017. It truly was a year of time travel, of renewing old acquaintances — but also of making new ones. It was a year of visiting the world’s great cities: London, New York, Amsterdam and Mexico City. And it was a year of having great experiences, from standing atop the Swiss alps to joining a German pub crawl to watching bald eagles off the coast of Nova Scotia. And somewhere along the way, we passed a milestone: the 500th post on The Travelling Boomer.
That was 2017, another year to remember. Now it’s time to raise a glass and wish you all a very Happy New Year. And time to start planning next year’s adventures.