Every year, around New Year's, it seems the feeling of declinism is strong. But thankfully my year didn't ring out that way. In honor of all the beautiful places, I saw this year I wanted to countdown the five best travel destinations. From coffee shops and clubs in the Balkans to parks in Amsterdam, I wanted to share how experiencing different cultures, history, and environments made 2015 a year I'll never forget.
5. ZLATNA RIBICA - SARAJEVO, BiH
This little coffee shop off Tito Avenue in Sarajevo says a lot about the current city. First off, it's a coffee shop which is essential to Bosnian culture. It's also a pretty modern set up and crowd, with a lot of trinkets from the past. The only things this cafe/bar doesn't encapsulate are the rolling hills and Ottoman feel of the old town. Bosnia was one of the coolest places I've ever been and didn't know much about outside the war. It's also relatively untouched as far European tourist destinations go. To me, the cafe exemplifies the feelings of Sarajevo, a modernizing city with images of its past punctuating every bit of its surrounding.
4. VONDELPARK - AMSTERDAM, NL
A city that's so much more than hookers and drugs, Amsterdam is a culturally vibrant and beautiful city. Vondelpark is a pretty famous locale that sits on the edge of Leidesplein and the Museum District. It's probably the best place in the city to ride your bike to and relax after seeing Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. There's a lot of beauty with the various ponds and the rose garden. From there you can hit up the bars or cafes that line the outside or play a game of giant chess in Leidesplein.
3. SUNSET POINT - CAPPADOCIA, TR
Cappadocia is probably the most unique place I've been in the world, and the Fairy Chimneys definitely are the major contributor. However, the most magnificent beauty that I experienced was hiking through the Rose and Red Valleys to end up at Sunset Point. It has a little bit of everything, a few fairy chimneys, frescoed churches, kangal dogs. Thanks to Fevzi at Fresco Cave Suites for showing us old Churches and the best vistas. He knows the trails like the back of his hand and is always looking to practice his English. Finishing an afternoon of hiking with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset from the above view is something that I'll never forget and was the perfect way to end my trip. Go in the fall when it's not too hot but still has all the colors.
2. RIVER BOAT CLUBS - BELGRADE, SRB
I'll be the first to admit I'm not a dancer and usually not one to stay at them till closing, but in Belgrade, I didn't leave till the sun was coming up for three straight nights. And sometimes my group was some of the first people back to the hostel (except for the people who couldn't even make it out). The views are beautiful, drinks inexpensive (if you're a tourist), and people are friendly. There was no elitist vibe at any of the places, and everyone was just trying to have a good time. As you can see below some people had too good of a time.
The Blue Cruise is the coolest thing I've ever done, but I did it in 2014. It's all-inclusive, except for booze - which my brother managed to drink more of than anyone else even drank water. The sea is at around bathtub temperature and crystal clear, the food is fresh, and the crew is always laid back and capable. There's not a single spot on this four day - 3-night trip that isn't worth it.
Berlinale - Berlin is an awesome city in its own right. With a vibrant nightlife that
contrasts with a macabre history interwoven with a mighty imperial past. But during the winter, the Berlin Film Festival brings in some of the most significant stars and best films to be received in any given year. From Hollywood fare to independents, it's one of the best film festivals in Europe, if not the world.
Walking around Budapest - One of my favorite cities in the world. Budapest is on either side of the Danube and gives you the best of both worlds. The Pest side is flat with tons of great food (seriously Hungarian food is incredible) and tons of bars. You get some history with St. Stephen's Basilica and Parliament. While Buda is much more hilly, it's home to Buda Castle, a hill that has been a significant point of defense for European empires for centuries, and a more traditional town feel compared to the urbanity of Pest. I wanted to put this in my top 5 but felt like choosing an entire city was cheating. It's a pretty walkable city, though you'll want some kind shoes, and the town really glows at night.
LAKE BLED - SLOVENIA
One of the most beautiful, peaceful, serene, (insert positive adjective here) places I've ever seen. The lake and village surrounding it have a little something for everyone. There are hostels and upscale hotels and villas. On the lake, you can go boating, fishing, and swimming. There's even a warm spring which keeps this alpine lake's turquoise water relatively warm. You can hike and bike through the ridges of the Julian Alps. There's an iconic old church and castle, and a small modern waterpark, restaurants, and bars. The area is starting to get a little touristy, so, if you start to feel cramped, you can head about half an hour away to the pristine Lake Bohinj. Or you can hike up and catch closer views of the mountains and vistas of the lake. Either way, you can't go wrong and to just stroll along the lake and listen to the birds and church bells ring through the valley was almost meditative.
Hopefully, this helps inspire you to see more of the world and maybe go to a place you never thought of before. I think 2016 will satiate my wanderlust a bit more, but sites like these make that a little more impossible every trip.