Welcome to the last day of 2017. Picking up where Part 1 left off, here’s part 2 of this year’s travel highlights. What fun to reflect! Enjoy, and I hope you likewise had a fun and productive year. May 2018 bring your family peace, prosperity, and more chance to experience our great world.
Ski in Utah
I flew to Salt Lake City to ski at Alta one weekend in late March. Alta gets one of the most snows of any ski areas in the US, and I experienced heavy snowfall while there, which resulted in freezing temperature but some great powder skiing. I stayed in a Holiday Inn near the ski area for 5,000 IHG points on Point Break.
I never miss a chance to satisfy my stomach. The Persian lamb shank made it very happy. Also had some cheap Brazilian steak. Like $10 cheap, and reminded me of the excellent meat we had in Rio de Janeiro). I was impressed by the food of SLC.
Fall River, MA
Speaking of food heaven, Fall River was one of the biggest hits of the year. Thanks to the category 2 Hilton (Hampton Inn, 10k/night), I’ve used it before as a base for exploring nearby Newport, RI. This time, I discovered another gem. Fall River is a working class city with a large Portuguese population, which means mouthwatering Portuguese food on the cheap, like this gargantuan seafood stew for $23. In most other places, the scallops alone (20% of the dish) would be a stand alone dish of same price. It even came with a lobster tail. Somehow I managed a tiramisu afterwards.
Another winner was a dish called Alcatra a Terceirense – traditional Azorian roasted beef cooked slowly in a clay pot with red wine, onions, bacon and bay leaves.
There are about 10 Portuguese restaurants in Fall River, so take your pick. I also checked out a few Newport mansions. Marble House is my favorite so far.
I experienced Newport’s Ocean Drive and Cliff Walk last year. They’re good, but IMO short of West Coast spectacles like Point Lobos.
Banff and Jasper
This was my 2nd time in Banff & Jasper. We used 4 free nights from 2 Fairmont cards. Previously we stayed in Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, so this time we tried the other 2: Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Lodge. Overall, I like Fairmont Lake Louise the least, because the grounds are the most crowded of the 3, since it’s right in front of Lake Louise. I prefer more peace on this kind of “upscale” nature getaway, which Jasper Lodge fully delivered, but the lack of air conditioner was an unpleasant surprise on a 80F day.
I absolutely adored the parks this time. Previously, we experienced Banff Gondola, Lake Louise (including a long hike), Lake Minnewanka (disappointing), Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls, and Maligne Canyon. This time, we saw mostly new stuff, and I loved them. Due to a cold winter, the higher altitude lakes and trails were still frozen in late May, including Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. I’d say my 5 favorite experiences this time are, in no particular order:
- Two Jack Lake (sunset)
- Lac Beauvert (kayaking)
- Moraine Lake (frozen)
- Grassi Lakes – crystal clear, comparable to Jiuzhaigou!
- Valley of 5 Lakes
Notice a pattern? Yes, I love the lakes of Alberta!
Here’s kayaking at the incomparably serene Lac Beauvert, on the grounds of Fairmont Jasper Lodge.
Here’s Moraine Lake and Valley of the Ten Peaks:
One of the lakes in Valley of Five Lakes:
We also had some incredible animal encounters – mostly (all?) in Jasper, like this mama bear and cub:
and this pack of bighorn sheep:
and these elks:
and this wolf:
Additionally, we were told retrospectively that aurora was in the area on our 1st night (which people did see), and we didn’t know about it!
Truly, the mountains and lakes of Banff and Jasper are a sight to behold. This would have been one of my very favorite trips, except for the crowds at times taking away a bit of the magic, so instead it’s just one of my
very favorite trips.
I went back to Sri Lanka in June. The reason: I got in on the Qatar Airways business class sale from Colombo to Boston round trip for ~$1,150. It’s round trip from Colombo, so my first trip to Sri Lanka was the outbound, and this trip back there was the inbound. I enjoyed Qatar A350 business class very much, from the food to the highly customizable service to the air nozzle, which make up for the seat’s odd lack of privacy.
I was in the Cultural Triangle this time, based in Dambulla. This region has 5 of the 6 UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites in SL (there are also 2 natural sites). I hiked/climbed to the top of Pidurangala Rock for a view of Sigiriya, refusing to pay the ripoff entrance fee for the latter. I saw the amazing Dambulla cave temple. I biked through the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa on one of the hottest days of my life. I went on a jeep safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla, where I saw wild elephants. And of course, I enjoyed the heavenly food of SL – from the impeccable chicken curry to delicious mangosteen for pennies.
Here’s a video of the safari:
Some of the magic I experienced on my first trip to SL (see: part 1) was missing. It was a combination of factors: low season (I was the only guest in the guesthouse for all 4 days), uncomfortable heat, and location. In rural Ella, where I was last time, I walked everywhere, passing (and getting lost in) tea plantations on the way to breathtaking vistas. In the Cultural Triangle, the towns aren’t as charming, and due to the heat it requires tuk tuk or bus to go anywhere. I much prefer Ella where I was free to explore on my own and met many locals and visitors. Still, I’m glad to have seen some of the important cultural sites of Sri Lanka.
The Qatar Airways ticket gave me a few hours in Doha. Previously I enjoyed the opulent Al Mourjan business class lounge. This time it was about seeing the city, culminating in a gulf-front dinner with old and new friends. Other than that, Souq Waqif was the highlight. My entry was a few days after Qatar got cut off from neighbor countries. It wasn’t very noticeable on a short visit.
In a Nutshell
As we say goodbye to 2017, I feel truly blessed these past few years with my travel. I’d like to thank my loved ones for their support (aka not pestering me more to cut back). I only managed to get through the first half of the year so far, so stay tuned for more highlights. Happy New Year!