It’s been a grand year of great adventure, and though the clock is ticking the final seconds ’til 2014, I am glad for the chance to review all that we’ve been through in the past twelve months:
I opened 2013 on the streets of Edinburgh, exploring the land of my forefathers before leaping back across the globe to the frozen white mountains of Montana. Then we ventured south to the wild Galapagos, and then deep in the heart of Texas, where I clocked more than 5,000 miles, all in the state of my birth, then hopping over to Norway for a wee bit and then to Mexico City for a vacation from my travels. Summer saw me travel from Miami Beach to Tanzania to Iceland via Amsterdam, then back to Montana, up to Alberta, and back to Scotland before kicking off an epic 3-week journey through six of our nation’s National Parks. Then, in commemoration of National Geographic’s 125th Anniversary, I embarked on the expedition of a lifetime, jetting off to some of the rarest spots on the globe (Bhutan and the Kalahari were some of my personal favorites). And then, for my final assignment, I explored South Africa, crossing the country overland and falling in love with that beautiful country all over again.
Now, in these last days of the year, I am back home in Washington, DC, immensely thankful for a marvelous year of travels. Above all, I am filled with a huge sense of gratitude to all of you, my readers, and for my amazing team at National Geographic, who make all my journeys possible. None of us ever really travels alone, and I only wish I could personally thank all of the guides, chefs, bellhops, mechanics, gas station attendants, park rangers, hotel owners, servers, and fellow travelers who’ve helped along the way—thank you!
It’s quite challenging to pick out “the best” from so many magnificent moments, but after reviewing a year of notes and reliving each trip, I present you the BEST OF 2013:
Best Flight: Nothing beats our private jet to Kathmandu, but . . . Best commercial flight? SAS, Copenhagen-Washington, DC (Business Class). Best Economy seat? British Airways Washington, DC to London Heathrow.
Best Airport: Schiphol AMS (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Time and time again, Schiphol reminds me what every airport should be like.
Best Cruise: Circumnavigating Iceland with Lindblad Expeditions. Not so much a cruise, but a true expedition, sailing around my favorite island nation in the North Atlantic. It was real honor to travel with National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths.
Best Tour: Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Fort Worth, Texas)
Best City: Glasgow! (I am terribly biased on this one, but even out of all the fabulous places I’ve traveled this year, nothing compares to Scotland’s greatest city).
Most Scenic Drive: From Star Valley, Wyoming to Logan Canyon, Utah. I drove this in mid-October, just as all the colors were changing, painting the mountains in red, yellow, and orange. Descending through the Canyon and into Logan was remarkable (though Glacier’s “Going to the Sun Road” isn’t so bad, either).
Most Peaceful Destination: Luang Prabang, Laos. I was happily surprised by the quiet and relaxing mood in Laos, versus the more chaotic experience of neighboring Thailand and Cambodia.
Reader’s Pick (Best Destination for 2013): Scotland
Best Beach: 12th Street Beach, South Beach (Miami Beach, Florida) I didn’t travel to so many beach destinations this year (although Iceland has some amazing black sand beaches along its southern coast). I did however spend a few weeks working down in Miami Beach, and for all the hoopla of the city, I found great solace on the beach, with soft sand, bath-warm water, beautiful skies and on occasion, swimming manatees. I loved it.
Best Sunsets: Botswana
Best Thunderstorms: Central Montana
Best Boat Trip: Floating Down the Missouri River (Montana)
Best Dive: Palau with National Geographic Explorer Sylvia Earle!
Best Adventure By Air: Flying over the Grand Canyon
Best Winter Adventure: Yellowstone by Snowmobile
Best Summer Adventure: Climbing the Black Cuillin (Isle of Skye)
Best Adventure With Kids: Hunting for Dinosaur Bones (Bynum, Montana)
Can’t Wait To Go Back & Do It Again: Horseback riding at Lucasia Ranch
Best Wildlife Encounter: Leopards in Londolozi (Sabi Sands, South Africa)
Best Dog: Skeeter (San Francisco, California)
Most Extreme Board Game: Scrabble on the Arctic Circle
Coldest Swim: Two Medicine Lake (Glacier National Park, Montana)
Hottest Swim: Fontana (Laugarvatn, Iceland)
Best Meal: Langass Lodge, (North Uist, Scotland). No question—out of all the fancy meals I devoured in 2013, this was by far the most memorable, creative and flawless, from start to finish. Bravo to the chef and staff of this Hebridean hideaway.
Best Restaurant: Springfontein (Stanford, South Africa) A nice surprise towards the end of the year, Springfontein just opened. I loved every aspect of this simple, but spectacular dining experience, from the modern farm design, down to every little bite of this artistically-crafted food. My favorite dish? “Orange, Seven Ways” which is a culinary masterpiece. Worth the drive to the hinterlands of the Western Cape.
Best Café: Shelley’s Gourmet Café (Cape Town, South Africa)
Best Breakfast: Kinloch Lodge (Skye, Scotland)
Best High Tea: Cape Grace Hotel (Cape Town, South Africa)
Best French Fries: Knife & Fork (Spruce Pine, North Carolina) I’ll go so far as to claim these are the best french fries in the world. Truly knockout.
Best Burger: Marv’s Classic Soda Shop (Black Diamond, Alberta) With peanut butter, who knew?
Best Fish: Room service at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel (Oslo, Norway)
Best Cheese Cart: Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa (Scotland)
Best Tacos: El Rincón de la Lechuza (Mexico City, Mexico)
Best Pie: Log Cabin Cafe (Choteau, Montana) All home-baked, with so many different kinds, but all delicious.
Best Bartender: Hotel Paisano (Marfa, Texas)
Best Sandwich: Crofutt’s (Bayside, Texas)
Best Hotel: Uma (Paro, Bhutan)
Best Boutique Hotel: Blythswood Square (Glasgow, Scotland)
Best Budget Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
Best Camp: Selinda Camp (Botswana)
Best Celebrity Run-in: Reykjavik Marina (Reykjavík, Iceland)
Coolest Hotel Rooms: Hotel Zaza (Houston, Texas)
Best Staff & Customer Service: Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa (Scotland)
Best Bed: Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa (Maldives) I’ve slept in more than 150 beds this year, and this one was outstanding.
Best Bathtub: Mandalay Bay (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Best Shower: Tau Pan (Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana) Out in the open, my shower at Tau Pan was all about the view–the open, arid Kalahari. Nothing beats washing your hair while lions are roaming through the shrubs below.
Best Spa Treatment: Seaweed bath at Blythswood Square (Glasgow, Scotland) 30 minutes soaking in a warm bath, wrapped in a ball of Scottish kelp from the Outer Hebrides. Felt spectacular, both during and after.
Best Massage: Chi Spa, Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa (Maldives).
Best Swimming Pool: Al Bustan Palace, Ritz Carlton (Muscat, Oman)
CULTURE & SHOPPING
Best Museum: Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller, Alberta). Never in all my travels have I encountered a better dinosaur museum than the Royal Tyrrell.
Best Art: Rothko Chapel (Houston, Texas). A personal favorite, I was glad to return under the auspices of “work” only to be surprised again by its subtle beauty.
Best Sculpture: Ekebergparken (Oslo, Norway) Brand new this year, this woodsy sculpture park on a hillside in Norway’s capital is both beautiful and strange–I was happy for the chance to explore it before it opened!
Best Album: Desire Lines, Camera Obscura (Glasgow, Scotland)
Best Musical Discovery: Hector Bizerk (Glasgow, Scotland)
Best Shopping: Copenhagen Airport (CPH) (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Best Antiques: Virgelle Mercantile (Virgelle, Montana)
Best Find: Queen Victoria’s Underwear (Calgary, Alberta)
Personal Favorite Post: Midnight in Greece, which I wrote in flight, on my way to Ethiopia.
Most Commented-on Post: Why I Won’t Go Shark Cage Diving
Best Internet Café:Lochboisdale (South Uist, Scotland)
Best Hotel Wi-Fi: Hilton (Not an endorsement, just a fact–this year, no other hotel has offered more free, fail-proof internet than the Hilton brands. They’re doing something right.)