Well, my dear friends, it has been one absolutely incredibly full year of intense round-the-world travel.
As you may recall, I jumped into 2012 by venturing to southernmost Mexico and retracing the history of the Mayan calendar in anticipation of the final day in the final year of year of their final baktun. All year long I wandered the globe, seeing as much of Earth’s beauty as possible, just in case the shop was about to close, as it were. Now in December, ever relieved that the world did not give up the ghost, I am finishing the momentous year in stately Scottish Edinburgh, celebrating among the great Scots who granted us so many of our own New Year’s traditions today.
Like so many of us on this, the final day of the year, my thoughts are occupied with fond memories of all that I lived in the last twelve months. I loved all of our journeys together and feel grateful for all of our time together, digital and otherwise.
I forever welcome your opinions about how and where we travel, but today I’d like to share some of my favorite things from the previous year. Picking from such a splendid variety proved difficult, but here is my BEST OF 2012:
Best Flight: Around-the-world by Private Jet with National Geographic Expeditions. I know, it’s kind of over-the-top, but how can any other flight compare with an all business-class private jet that took me around the world? The service, the atmosphere, the food—everything was such high quality, I’m afraid it spoiled me for life. My favorite leg was the jump from Chengdu, China to Agra, India where we flew over the silent forests of Burma, watched the mud-tinged blue swath of the Irawaddy, and I saw Mt. Everest poking through the clouds.
Best Flight Attendants: Jet Blue!
Best Cruise: Cape to Cape with National Geographic Expeditions. Not so much a cruise, but a true expedition, sailing from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope aboard the MV National Geographic Explorer was a grand seafaring adventure. I loved being able to stop off at the remotest corners of the globe, places like Inaccessible Island and Tristan da Cunha.
Best Hike: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Again, it’s hard to top such an epic walk up the tallest mountain in Africa, though I thoroughly enjoyed both Preikestolen in Norway and the amazing Aletsch Glacier of Switzerland.
Best Dive: Tarantula’s Mouth Cenote (Yucatán, Mexico)
Best Tour: Running across Liechtenstein! I had so much fun doing my own half-marathon across one of Europe’s smallest countries that I think I want to do it again. Anyone want to join me?
Best City: Cape Town, South Africa. I sailed into the Mother City and fell in love immediately. Stay tuned for my upcoming travel show on National Geographic Channel!
Best Museum: Munch Museum, (Oslo, Norway). Seeing the remaining 3 versions of The Scream was terrific, but I enjoyed even more discovering the greater works of Norway’s most famous painter.
Nicest Locals: Malawi. I mean—it’s very hard to beat the Hawaiians, but spending time among Malawians in Malawi was true happiness. I loved both their gentleness and kind energy, and that they all know how to dance!
Best Dog: This giant newfie (Washington, DC). I see and love so many dogs around the world, but this year’s winner was found a block away from my home!
Best Meal: Cochinita tacos (Tulum, Mexico). Granted I eat at a lot of fancy restaurants, but as I flutter back through all the delectable eats around the world, this highway taco stands out the most.
Best Restaurant: Espahan (Agra, India). The elaborate spices of their rogan josh still lingers on my tongue.
Best Café: Baklandet Skydsstaion (Trondheim, Norway). An old fisherman’s cafe-turned student hangout, this may be the coziest place in Scandinavia.
Best Brunch: Morning Glory Diner (Philadelphia, PA) Just off Philly’s famous South Street, with muffins as big as your head, this place rocks. Outstanding food that’s true to the city.
Best Cheese: l’Etivaz (Switzerland). Those who follow know how much cheese I can eat in one year. I have tasted so many fantastic cheeses this year, but this high alpine cheese from western Switzerland won my heart (watch the video here).
Best Drinks: Crazy Bear (Covent Garden, London). This private underground club was a great discovery through a friend of a friend. Anyone who loves wild and inventive cocktails should try to wrangle their way into this unmarked speakeasy.
Best Luxury Hotel: Corinthia Hotel London (London, England) Remarkably refined and British, yet calm and laid-back, I was very pleased to stay for nearly a week at one of the newest and nicest hotels in London. Besides the unbeatable location, beautiful interior design and incomparable service, I was enamored by the superb breakfast and the spa right out of Star Trek.
Best Country Lodge: Lej da Staz, (St. Moritz, Switzerland). I can’t stress how much I loved this place when I stayed back in July–swimming in the lake was a highlight.
Best Bed: Greystoke (Mahale, Tanzania) I’ve slept in a lot of different beds this year, from hard mats on the floor to some very fluffy canopies, and yet, this queen-size bed with an open view of the beach was by far the most memorable and comfortable.
Best Massage: St. Regis Princeville (Kauai, Hawaii). This place is heaven where I was pleasantly lost in the spa treatments that used traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi with local botanicals from Kauai.
Best Swimming Pool: Grand Hotel d’Angkor (Siem Reap, Cambodia). After a hot and sticky day touring the temples, I slipped into the cool waters of this vast rectangle pool and swam until sunset. Truly refreshing.