Happy 2016!

travel, photos, Instagram, Nepal, Chile, Patagonia, Argentina, Lukla, Nepal, Ama Dublam, waterfall, Portland, Tampa, sea, sky, Fitz Roy

Just wanted to do a quick post in the last few hours of the year here to share my top Instagram pictures.  Some are very recent but it was cool to see some of the ones from earlier in the year – it seems so far away, like longer than a year.  Sometimes, that’s how things go, isn’t it?

In any case, here is my top 9 photos from 2015.  A good year in many, many ways; and a tough year in others.

May 2016 bring you many good things wherever you are!

travel, photos, Instagram, Nepal, Chile, Patagonia, Argentina, Lukla, Nepal, Ama Dublam, waterfall, Portland, Tampa, sea, sky, Fitz Roy

Argentina, Chile, Portland, Tampa, and Nepal all represented!

A Year (or the World?) Ends… Either Way, I Travel

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen.  I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet.  BUT, if the end did happen, guess what?  I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story.  Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story.  Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).

So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…

A Texas tweetup in January

January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online.  At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it?  But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with.  So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup!  There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco.  Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?

Normal in February – and other months

Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February.  Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year.  Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen.  I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St.  DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore.  Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.

March Madness:  Mile High Skiing

The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years.  The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010.  Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell.  The bowls of Vail where incredible:  one bowl, then another one behind it, then another.  It seemed to never end!

Statue of skier in Vail, Colorado

How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!

Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April

April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends.  Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary.  It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.

But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored:  Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me.  Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro!  These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro

Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago

May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile.  The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything:  from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob.  It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.

Posing in front of the Bean in Chicago at Millenium Park

Being tourists at The Bean

More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings

In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!).  Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others.  Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!):  @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.

A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR

Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing.  Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me.  A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world.  We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s!  An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!

Sphinx-like rock in the Bucegi Mountains near Omu Peak, Romania

Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??

Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova.  So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship.  I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!

The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe.  Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!

Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August

August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC!  I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!

Rest in September

In September, I took a break from travel.  Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!

Architecture and Wine:  Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say?  No, Virginia in October!

I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way.  I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country.  And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by!  As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines.  And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored!  I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November

So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food!  Someone STOP the madness! 🙂

I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see.  And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC!   The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about.  I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!

Getting Good Cuban Food in Tampa

Tampa, Florida may not be at the top of your destination list but being close to great beaches and other attractions such as Busch Gardens – and close enough to Orlando – it may be a place you will visit some day.  And if you do, do NOT miss out on the great hole-in-the-wall Cuban food places in the city!  I have been going to Tampa regularly for over 20 yrs. and I enjoy eating the real stuff.

Cuban food in Tampa with pictures

Masitas de cerdo! (Photo credit: http://necessaryindulgences.com/2010/12/el-ambia-cubano/)

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La Teresita (http://www.lateresitarestaurant.com/) (in Columbus Ave.) used to be the grand dame of Cuban restaurants in Tampa about 20 yrs ago. Grand dame does NOT mean elegant or fancy. That would be all wrong for a Cuban restaurant. But it was the place with the best food and where everyone went. However, somewhere down the road, it became different. Other places came up. And some of us stopped going.

Florida Bakery (http://local.yahoo.com/info-14447698-florida-bakery-tampa) (also in Columbus Ave.) has been a long standing place to go to for typical Cuban pastries, cakes, and sandwiches such as the famous Cuban sandwiches. Of course, Cuban coffee too; nothing like a cortadito (expreso with leche).

But other alternatives have come up so the typical places are not the ONLY ones around town anymore.  And the other places are, in my opinion, better.

Arco Iris (http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/30/340198/restaurant/Tampa-Bay/West-Tampa/Arco-Iris-Tampa), also in Columbus Ave. and almost next door to Florida Bakery, offers really good food in a very homestyle environment.  It is spacious and I typically haven’t had a problem getting a table.

Las Margaritas (http://www.allmenus.com/fl/tampa/60687-las-margaritas/menu/) in Hillsborough Ave. is a much smaller place and no frills.  But the food is delicious – and cheap!

Pipo’s (http://pipos.com/) which, at last count, has 2 locations offers simple choices that are delicious.  It has been around for a while and always consistent.  Walk to the counter so you see what’s available and they serve you cafeteria style.

Angelito’s Bakery (http://www.cakes.com/bakeries/angelitos-at-la-caridad-bkry-5386/, where the former La Caridad was; the street sign still exists for La Caridad) has phenomenal pastries and seems a lot cleaner than Florida Bakery.  And this one is in Hillsborough as well.

Mr. Empanada (several locations http://www.mrempanada.com/), while not strictly Cuban, deserves a mention.  The fried empanadas are very similar to the ones I would eat for lunch in high school (ground beef, cheese, or pizza fillings).  Except here, besides the ground beef ones, they have fillings I didn’t have as an option in high school such as guava, and cream cheese.

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So if you go to Tampa, be ready to eat GOOD Cuban food and eat well – I do!

Any other favorite Cuban places in Tampa that you like?  I am sure there are plenty I haven’t even discovered yet!

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