We have our plans for the coming year pretty well in place now - and you'll certainly be hearing about them as the year progresses. But however free-ranging and fun they eventually turn out, it's still going to be very difficult to top our '04 adventures, in one of the most active, educational, and exhausting travel years ever for us.
Four foreign forays to seven different countries, plus the walk of a lifetime thrown in for good measure.
We kicked off in February with a week-long trip to Venice to participate in Carnevale, that annual festival that shakes this entrancing city out of its mid-winter stupor for a fun-filled fortnight of costume parties, street theater, masked balls, and fireworks.
For us, however, the real beauty of Carnevale is that it can be enjoyed by literally everyone, resident or visitor, rich or poor. Anyone, in fact, who cares to dress up in mask or hat or frilly regalia and walk the streets and squares in a spirit of community and conviviality.
February may seem like a rather outlandish time of year to visit Venice, but it's a city so rich in culture and history that it can be enjoyed in any month.
Tip: Our favorite Venetian hotel is the Abbazzia, a former monastery now comfortably rehabbed and strategically located down a quiet alley and just 50 yards from the train station.
May found us in the Republic of Ireland, roaming the country from Dublin to Waterford, from Cork to Connemara.
Springtime on Erin's Isle has always been good to us, and this year was no exception - light on tourists and traffic, attractions up and running, and the weather co-operated with but a single day's rain in two weeks of touring. Even the Dingle Peninsula was bathed in sunshine.
Tip: Spend a weekend - or a week - at Hanora's Cottage in Ballymacarbry in the Nire Valley. Mary Wall and her family provide unparalleled hospitality in this romantic and secluded hideaway on the edge of the Knockmealdown Mountains.
The meals, made from fresh local produce by talented family chefs, are brilliant!
June 6 (D-Day) seemed like an appropriate time to launch an attack on the British countryside, with a mighty walk across Northern England with hiking buddy Ed Danziger. We went from west coast to east coast, from St. Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, some 200 miles of the most beautiful country miles that Britain has to offer and incorporating the heart of the Lake District and the Yorkshire moors.
The trail, designed in 1976, is known both as the Wainwright Trail (after its architect, Alfred Wainwright) and the Coast to Coast, or in abbreviated hiking lingo, C2C. Some 5,000 walkers a year attempt the crossing, either in stages or in a single gulp.
Tip: Just do it!
After summering as usual in our "up north" Michigan log cabin, with the black labs, the jumping trout, the deer, and the wild turkeys, we set out in late September for the always-romantic cities of Vienna and Salzburg, and then cooled off in Munich at the Oktoberfest, a free-flowing tipple through beer tents the size of football fields.
The tents are all located on the "Wiese," a grand amusement park accessible by underground trains that pop up right in the middle of all the action.
Tip: Besides the usual potent beers from brewers like Hofbrau, Spatenbrau ,and Lowenbrau, you can also get quite acceptable nonalcoholic beers dispensed in the same liter steins so that a spirited "Prosit" can be shouted by all.
With the dollar plunging throughout Europe in 2004, it was an special pleasure to visit Poland, where 10 bucks will still buy you something - even if it's only a couple of pierogis and a beer!
We spent time in Warsaw and Krakow with Polish friends and were thoroughly caught up in the country's long and colorful history, as well as its valiant attempt to carve a successful future from a particularly tragic past.
With one foot firmly planted in the West and the other still entrapped in the old traditions, it certainly makes for an intriguing destination.
Tip: Base yourself in the beautiful medieval city of Krakow - undamaged in WWII - and use it as a base to explore the nearby Tatra Mountains - and if you have the emotional strength, the concentration camps at Auschwitz.
We had just enough strength left at the end of the year to survive the 17-hour flight in November to Cape Town, South Africa, where we were embedded with some very old friends.
After several days exploring Cape Town itself, sampling the wine lands of Stellenbosch and Franschoek and descending to the very tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, we then drove to Knysna on the famed Garden Route along the Indian Ocean. Incredible.
All in all, a year to remember.
A very happy 2005 to all our readers - wherever you are and wherever you're going.
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