2016 – A Year in Review

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, independence monument, plaza, travel, explore, Asia, photo, Samsung Galaxy

To say 2016 was a strange year is understating it.  It started right off the bat with a scary family health issue (which, mercifully, is much much better by now) that took us all quite by surprise.  The year also had other small ‘hiccups,’ which is just life on any given year.  Nevertheless, and as is often the case, God certainly brings good out of the bad, and provides other great things to keep us balanced (or, sane!).

I want to share some of those great things, at least the ones that related to travel, exploring, hiking, relaxing, or enjoying food/wine to wrap up this year.  While I did not get to write as much this year as I normally do, I certainly never stopped dreaming of travel or of sharing the experiences.  Here is to a great 2017 for all!

Elton, Sir Elton

A work trip in early January resulted in getting invited to a private concert with Sir Elton John.  I got to stand close to the stage and enjoyed his music and showmanship (and the complimentary drinks with two great co-workers)!  While the year started with Elton John’s music, I can say that the song of the year (in my head, anyway) is “One Night in Bangkok,” if nothing else because I heard it too many times in anticipation of a trip that happened much later in the year.

Elton John, concert, CES, music, icon, travel, Las Vegas, photo, red piano

Brunswick in coastal Georgia

A brief work trip in February took me to coastal Georgia, to the sleepy-ish town of Brunswick.  I took some time to drive around the old part of town and caught a great sunset as I hunted for a place to sit down and eat.  Not bad!Brunswick, Georgia, sunset, sun, cloud, silhouette, golden, sky, photo

Oldest church in Atlanta

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta is the oldest church in Atlanta.  I got to work at the homeless shelter in the basement overnight a night in winter.  I loved the reflection of the church on the modern building across from it…

Shrine, Immaculate Conception, downtown, Atlanta, reflection, glass, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – or its reflection

Hiking in north Georgia

Spring brought many opportunities to go hiking around and north of Atlanta.  Whether with my regular hiking buddy, Phil; or with my friend Troy and his two oldest children, Rehm and Caitlyn; or with a group from church that included my friends Chris and Wendy, springtime was full of hiking.  Here are photos from my hikes around Vickery Creek, up Pine Mountain, up to the top of Stone Mountain, or to and back from the awesome Hike Inn in north Georgia!

Vickery Creek, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around the Vickery Creek trails

Vickery Creek, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around the Vickery Creek trails – the dam

Pine Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Trails around Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Trails around Pine Mountain

Hike Inn, sunrise, mountains, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View of sunrise from the Hike Inn

Hike Inn, Georgia, mountains, hiking, trekking, Atlanta, photo

The group at the starting point to get to the Hike Inn

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

No kids were harmed in this photo on the rail line in Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Again, no kids were harmed… really…

Colorado spring!

In June, I got to visit my friends Annette, Kent and Austin to celebrate two great events in their lives.  It also gave me the opportunity to tour the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King, and to finally hike around the table mountain right west of Arvada.  Oh, and I got to see a few other friends that I had not seen in a few years!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park,  flower, Stephen King, Colorado, table mountain, explore, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Stanley Hotel

hiking, Colorado, table mountain, outdoors, nature, photo, Samsung Galaxy hiking, Colorado, table mountain, outdoors, nature, photo, Samsung Galaxy, flower

Celebrating with my Mom and sister

In July, my Mom, sister and I made a long weekend getaway to the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.  We got to relax, laugh, and -of course- eat a lot of delicious food!

family, Ritz, Sarasota

With my Mom and sister!

Sarasota, sunset, purple, orange, palm tree, travel, rest

Great colors as the sun sets west of Sarasota

chocolate mousse, food, foodie, travel, photo

Mmm!!!!

creme brulee, dessert, food, foodie, photo, tasty

Creme brulee

Wine in California

I was fortunate to be able to go to California for work which allowed me to visit ex-Atlanta residents Jenny, Jason, Phoebe and Zoe.  While the kids were in school, my hostess and I escaped for a wine tasting at Testarossa – great locale and great wine!  Among the best things to do in Cali – wine tasting!

Testarossa, California, winery, wine tasting, fun

Entrance to the tasting room

Testarossa, California, winery, wine tasting, fun

Awesome setting for a winery!

Cheap fare to Stockholm

John, a college friend who knows how to find a good airfare, suggested a long weekend ‘jump’ to Stockholm.  A little bit mad, perhaps, but I could not say no to have another opportunity to explore this great city.  And then we drove away from the city to see what we’d run into.  Good stuff for another post!

Stamla Gan, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore, tourism, Samsung Galaxy

Great view of the heart of Stockholm

Sweden, countryside, cottage, yellow, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy

Sweden’s countryside

food, mussels, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore

A great dinner on the first night in Stockholm

red ivy, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore, tourism, Samsung Galaxy

Beautiful Stockholm!

My travel capstone in 2016 – Asia

Great stuff up to this point but my trip to Southeast Asia certainly took the cake – not just for the long distance to get there (37 hours!).  I got to explore and sample Bali, Singapore, Bangkok and the countryside near it, and amazing Cambodia.  Wish I had had two more weeks to include Laos and Vietnam – and/or just for more time in these places.  Leaving something unseen for a future trip hopefully and grateful for the opportunity to see what I saw!

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

The view from my room included a great view of the pool area

Our Lady Help, Mae Klong, church, Catholic ,Bangkok, Thailand

Cycling around the countryside outside of Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand, tuk tuk, ilivetotravel, travel, adventure, explore

Tuk tuk adventures…

Bangkok, Thailand, temple, reclining Buddha, ilivetotravel, travel, adventure, explore

Standing Buddha with the reclining Buddha

Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, lake, travel, explore, adventure, Samsung Galaxy

Sunset in Cambodia

Angkor Wat, temple, ilivetotravel, sunrise, ruins, explore, travel, Asia, Cambodia, Cambodge

Looking haggard after an early early wake-up to see Angkor Wat at sunrise

Ta Phrom, Cambodia, Cambodge, Angkor Wat, temple, ruins, banyan tree, travel, explore, adventure

Ta Phrom and its banyan trees!

Singapore, ilivetotravel, Marina Bay Sands, infinity pool, up high, travel, explore

Atop the Marina Bay Sands! (Thanks Phil I. for the photo!)

 Have a happy and blessed 2017, everyone!!!

Bali – Getting There Is (or Isn’t) Half the Fun

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

I arrived in Bali after a long journey that started in the U.S. (about 37 hours, to be more precise).  The airfare to Asia was a steal at $750 from Chicago to Singapore round-trip with Delta, my main airline (so all the points counted towards status!), so after getting to Chicago and spending a couple of nights there with great friends, the journey began.

Chicago->Atlanta->Tokyo->Singapore was the outbound part of the trip.  Yes, Atlanta was my first connection airport – for those of you who do not know, that is where I live!  Oh, the irony:   Had I started the itinerary from Atlanta, skipping the Chicago bit, my airfare would have been DOUBLE at $1,500!  So it made good sense to save all that money and spend it DURING the trip :)  At least Delta upgraded me from Chicago to Atlanta…

The flight to Tokyo was just plain long and it seemed daunting as I looked at my itinerary.  At 14 hrs., I think it is (and will likely remain) the longest flight I have taken.  But between wine and, later, an Ambien, the flight did not feel as long.  I did not sleep fitfully or for a long time but perhaps 5-6 hrs. of sleep was enough to break up the flight.  That and a couple of movies and it really was not as bad as I expected.

The flight to Singapore was another eight hours.  Mercifully, the connection time in Tokyo was short and with access to a Delta lounge (where, of course, we had to sample and cheer with sake!), it was no biggie.

travel, Asia, Tokyo, Narita, Delta Sky Club, sake, celebration, photo, drink

Sake time!

I don’t remember much about the flight to Singapore.  I believe I slept an hour here or there.  It is a bit of a blur.  I may have watched a movie.  Or two.  Or none.  <blur…>.  We landed in Singapore at midnight local time (12 hrs. difference or so from my body’s time).  We had to retrieve our luggage as the final leg to Bali was not part of the ticket to and from North America so the baggage was not checked through.

Gladly, at that time of the night, the airport is pretty empty and the counters of our next airline (JetStar, a low cost regional airline) were open through the night.  So, we were able to quickly go through customs and turn in our luggage.  We had 5.5 hours total in transit in Singapore but we were coming back at the end of the trip so no pressure to hire a cab to drive us around and show us the city (I was so tired that I likely would not have done that anyway…).  So, we went off to find a lounge where we could shower and, hopefully, feel a little less worn from the journey.  We also discovered the free leg/foot massage machines that dot the Singapore airport.  I imagine that the massage was helpful in getting the blood circulating after so much time in the air!

Changi, Singapore, airport, travel, journey, Samsung Galaxy S7

Singapore’s Changi was empty in the middle of the night

We were scheduled to land in Bali around 7:30AM.   Hotel rooms are normally not available that early in the day for check-in.  But my friend and I are ‘smurt’ (sic) so we were prepared for that.  We had our pool gear (trunks, sunglasses, etc.) in our carry-on so we could leave our luggage with the bellhop upon arrival at the hotel (the W Resort in Seminyak) and head to the pool after grabbing breakfast!

airplane, window seat, view, mountain, Indonesia, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

Approaching Denpasar (Bali)

airplane, window seat, view, mountain, Indonesia, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, island, final approach, sea, landing

Final approach to Bali’s airport

Well, the hotel did deliver a super early check-in but the plan of record remained.  We grabbed breakfast at the plentiful buffet and then proceeded to go enjoy the pool and several Bintang beers for the next few hours (mind you, as we watched U.S. election results stream in into our smartphones!).  It was a great way to decompress from the journey, from work, etc. and connect with vacation mode!

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

The view from my room included a great view of the pool area

Bintang, beer, Indonesia, Bali, beach, pool, refreshing

Refreshing!!

While the journey to Bali was long and tiring, thank God, there were zero hiccups (delays, lost luggage, etc.), and few or no bumps during the flights.  But the best part was the arrival and how it could not have been better set up for entering the R&R zone!  And had I known how great the two weeks would be, I most certainly would NOT have regretted a single hour of the 37 it took to get there!

A Trip around Southeast Asia Is Born

travel, Bali, resort, beach, relax, W hotel, Seminyak, photo, sunset, clouds, sky, Samsung Galaxy S7, makestic

This month I was able to spend two weeks on vacation traveling to Southeast Asia.  Clearly, two weeks far from enough time in an area as diverse and rich in experiences as Southeast Asia but if I waited until I had ALL the time it merits, I may never get started.  An opportunity arose a few months ago to travel there in November with a good friend, anchored on a wedding that was to take place in Bali.  I had not taken a real vacation this year yet so I had the needed time off from work to go do it.  It also happened to be a good moment at work to take the time off.  As I discussed the possibility with my friend, it became clear we had similar interests whether it be in the things to explore, the way to travel (hotels, flights, etc.), and what we were hoping to get out of a vacation like this (R and R!).

travel, Bali, resort, beach, relax, W hotel, Seminyak, photo, sunset, clouds, sky, Samsung Galaxy S7, makestic

This is the picture of R&R!!

As usual, I opened a map to envision all the possible destinations outside of Bali.  We opted to spend the bulk of the vacation in Bali since there were going to be pre- and post- wedding events but then the balance of the vacation had to be solved.  I figured that if I never got to go back, there were two places I had to see:  the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, and Bangkok (made famous by Murray Head with his one hit wonder in the 1980s!).  We ended up doing those and adding Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) and Singapore (our Asian entry/exit point in our travels) to the trip.  We were flying around a bit so Phnom Penh we chose because we could just take a car and avoid a plane; but then also seeing the infamous killing fields of Pol Pot and the Genocide Museum were a strong draw as we felt they were memorials that we had to see to grasp better Cambodia’s past.

Thanks to websites like TripAdvisor and Kayak, doing research and planning was not too hard (this is not a sponsored post, lol!).  The information in TripAdvisor was key in choosing hotels that fit what we were looking for (for example, a great property in Bali by the beach with a cool pool area).  Kayak I find easiest to use to compare and contrast not just airfares but routes – I had to solve the sequence of our destinations by ensuring I could find direct flights at the time of the day we wanted to leave or arrive at a given destination.  It all seems to have worked out well though at least one morning the departure was earlier than I really would have wanted – hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?

The itinerary:

  • Bali:  5 days
  • Bangkok:  2 nights, 1 day (a FULL day!)
  • Cambodia: 3 nights, 3 days
  • Singapore:  2 nights, 1 day, and a few hours overnight at the airport
  • Delta airplane seat:  tons of hours!

So, in the next few weeks, I will be writing about each of these destinations and my favorite things.  A lot may have been on-the-beaten-path but there was some off-the-beaten-path that was spectacular and I can’t wait to write about it!

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