I try to share just about everything I see and do from the trips I go on, but sometimes a few places may fall through the digital cracks. Either I don’t write about them at all, or they don’t get the attention on my site that I think they deserve. There are a lot of reasons for this, from personal interest to keeping things fresh and lively here on the site, but the fact remains not every small town, village or even region gets profiled. That’s why today I thought I’d highlight a few I’ve visited in the last year or so that I may not have written a lot about yet, but which I think should be one everyone’s travel bucket list.
So much of the travel love in Croatia seems to go to Dubrovnik, that I thought I should highlight a lesser-known area of the country – Istria. This region found in the northwest portion of the country is as unique an area as you can imagine. It’s actually shared by three countries, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, and has a rich history and culture all of its own. In fact, if you ask residents where they’re from, they’re most likely to say Istria first and Croatia second. There are many great towns and cities to visit here, but two I recommend are Rovinj and Pula. Each city has its own unique appeal and no matter what you do, make sure not leave Istria without sampling some of the famous olive oils and truffles cultivated around the peninsula.
St. Louis, Missouri
The last time I was in St. Louis I was ten, so on a recent visit I had to start all over again as a tourist. The day I spent traipsing around town though was fun, a lot more fun than I expected to be honest and here’s why. St. Louis is one of those lovingly underrated cities that has a lot to offer visitors, but not everyone seems to know that. Starting off my day looking across the city from the top of the Gateway Arch, one of the country’s most recognizable symbols, was the perfect way to survey what lay around me and get excited for a day of exploration. Most of my day though wasn’t spent at famous landmarks, it was enjoying the rich museum culture found all around St. Louis. The quirky City Museum was highly recommended, and even after visiting I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but there’s no doubt it’s unusual. I suspect that it’s geared more towards kids, but adults will also enjoy this artist’s dream come to life. One of the newest museums in town though has quickly become one of the city’s most popular – the National Blues Museum. Sharing the rich culture and history of this very American style of music, even though I’m not a fan of the genre myself, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this very well executed museum conveniently located in the middle of the downtown. My final museum stop was my favorite, the Missouri History Museum, thanks to a special exhibit that is ongoing until the middle of 2017. Route 66 runs through St. Louis and Missouri, so it only makes sense for the museum to share the incredible history of the Mother Road. I’ve long wanted to drive Route 66 and experiencing this amazing exhibit only further fueled my wanderlust. Add in some BBQ, fried ravioli and provel cheese pizza, and this is the perfect way to spend a busy but fun day in St. Louis.
Derry (Londonderry), Northern Ireland
The city that sort of has two names, like many people I first learned of this beautiful city during the dark days of the Troubles when so much happened here. Today the city has emerged from that past and is a tourist destination in its own right with a beautiful downtown core, remarkably preserved city walls and an energy that’s hard to describe, but which made my brief time there so much fun. I joined a walking tour of the city not only to see more of it, but also to learn of its history, from ancient times to the modern era. It was my first introduction to how locals talk about and present the Troubles, a point of view critical in my understanding of Northern Ireland as a whole.
Schloss Hof, Austria
Austria does Imperial legacy well. If you’ve ever been to Vienna, no doubt the palaces and rich history of the Hapsburgs have impressed you as a standout in Europe. But that history isn’t limited to the capital city, as I discovered on a well-timed pit stop en route to the Wachau Valley. Standing in front of the immaculately manicured gardens surrounding the impressive estate known as Schloss Hof, it’s hard to image that not so very long again it was in a state of complete ruin. Once used as an imperial estate and hunting lodge, I could only imagine the incredible history that has walked through the colorful halls of this country manor. While the massive building itself is amazing, so are the many gardens and other outbuildings surrounding it. An entire day could be spent here not only exploring the massive grounds, but also shopping at weekend farmers markets, enjoying meals at the on-site restaurants and living the imperial life, if only for a few hours.
I hadn’t been to Cleveland before my recent visit and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All I had in mind were very outdated visions of the city, which is probably why I was so surprised by the vibrant community I discovered. Cleveland has made great strides in recent years to reimagine the downtown core and to present experiences fun for locals and visitors alike. Staying in the centrally located Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, it was the perfect base from which to visit important sights like the new Public Square and of course the incredible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Days could be spent exploring this comprehensive museum, as well as the other sights located along the Lake Erie waterfront. If you have a car, be sure to also explore Cleveland’s neighborhoods where you’ll discover great food, like at the Polish eatery Sokolowski’s, and even the real house used in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” Cleveland has a lot to offer, you just have to know where to look.
I love Australia and while I’ve never had a bad experience in an Australian city, I’ve also learned that they’re not all made the same. Some enjoy a distinct personality and vibe whereas others are a little more humdrum. Not bad, just a little boring. I honestly expected Brisbane to fall into the boring category, but after visiting for the first time I soon realized how very wrong I was. Aside from the pedestrian zones and the museums, the one over-arching thought I had leaving Brisbane is just how incredibly livable it is. That’s saying a lot for a country like Australia, whose cities routinely rank in the top tier when it comes to judging the happiness of residents. I first noticed it when, after a couple of hours of walking with a guide, we hadn’t actually crossed a street. We ambled from one pedestrian-zone to the next, from park to promenade, enjoying the sights of the city without dealing with the typical city problems like cars and crosswalks. The city’s main pedestrian zone, Queen Street Mall, is a delightful circus of sights and sounds, restaurants, shops, cafes and people. It was the middle of the week and yet it was packed with folks out enjoying the wonderfully warm temperatures of a mild Queensland winter. But it was crossing the Kurilpa Bridge, and seeing the city from the Southbank that truly drove home just how nice Brisbane is to be in. The lengthy promenade was dotted with joggers and families and nearly every bench was occupied with folks enjoying the day. Brisbane is blessed with a lot of great weather, and everything about the city encourages residents and visitors alike to get out and enjoy that natural gift. At the risk of sounding infantile, Brisbane is just a fun city to be in and sometimes that’s enough.
What are some lesser-known spots you’d add to this list?