“Next week is going to be our 100th blog post!” announced Victor, who likes to keep track of useless statistics such as his billable hours, NFL scores, and how many times each cat throws up a hairball.
I was planning to post about that time Victor, his mother, his aunt, and I got absolutely sloshed at an Albania winery, but it just didn’t seem to have the gravitas of a 100th-anniversary post. Instead, I decided to celebrate this monumental occasion with a little daydreaming mixed with some concrete planning. The question that everyone seems to be asking us nowadays is “Where to next?” It’s a hard question to answer in this How-Is-Covid-Still-Around-the-World where travel is never guaranteed, but it doesn’t hurt to dream/plan a little.
Without worrying about quarantines and closed borders, what three countries would we like to visit next and why?
Julia's Dream Destinations
Africa is still an unexplored continent for us. We’ve been to Egypt, but it’s more of a Middle Eastern country than an African one. South Africa is a great gateway country where everyone speaks English and tourism is well developed. We have been planning to visit for a few years now and already have a complete two-week itinerary that Victor spent days perfecting. Our vacation days for many years have been the two weeks around Christmas and New Year and we ultimately ended up not going because the end of December is not the best time to spot elephants and giraffes and lions in national parks, as the grass tends to get too high. July to November is the best time for animal spotting, to enjoy a drive down the Western Cape coast, and for gorgeous weather to stand on the edge of the craggy cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope. Hopefully, we can schedule two weeks off during this time period sometime soon, as I cannot wait to explore the sun-soaked beaches, coral reefs, lush forests, and lagoons. Visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison before becoming president, is also on the list.
We’ve been to Seoul briefly – more specifically, we’ve been in Seoul’s airport for 4 hours, where I was greeted by a rolling robot who wished me a Merry Christmas and then lost my mind in a small airport shop browsing all the strange snacks. To say that I want to go back is an understatement. I love Asia and everything about it – the food, the culture, the nature, and the people. South Korea has long been on my bucket list, and I cannot wait to explore the hustle and bustle of Seoul, the tranquility of rural villages, and every mountain and valley in between. I am fascinated with the history and heritage of Korea and want to learn all about this country’s imperial past through palaces, temples, fortresses, and museums. Or maybe I’ll catch a BTS show and buy some Korean beauty products. Don’t judge me, I have an eclectic range of interests.
There are not a lot of countries in Europe I haven’t visited yet, but somehow, I skipped over Greece and this mistake must be rectified soon. My sister went years ago and chartered a small yacht with her friends, on which they lived for a week, visiting various islands. I don’t remember if I was invited, but I am going to go ahead and hold a grudge anyway now that I remembered this travesty. Hopefully, in the coming years, it will be my turn to see all the archeological sites, a few beaches, and as many islands as possible in a two-week period. I want to walk the narrow steep streets between charming, whitewashed houses and eat enough taramasalata, moussaka, and dolmades to last a lifetime.
Victor's Dream Destinations
A couple of years ago, as I was visiting Atlanta, I ran into a young married couple from Colombia, with whom I had a brief conversation about their travels through the US. When they found out that I was a fellow globetrotter, they urged me to visit their home country. As they explained, Colombia was no longer the country of Pablo Escobar and drug cartels but rather an exciting destination offering a lot of fascinating travel experiences. I’ve been wanting to go to Colombia ever since. In early 2020, after hours of research and planning at a local coffee shop that also involved drinking inordinate amounts of Colombian coffee, I prepared a two-week Colombia itinerary with our travel slated for December 2020. Shortly thereafter, Covid happened, and our plans came to a screeching halt. Once the world is fully reopened, we are ready to go there. Our plan is to get lost in Bogota’s quirky museums, traverse Cocora Valley with its soaring wax palm trees, visit traditional colorful pueblos, and dance salsa in steamy Medellin’s nightclubs. We plan on eating as many arepas as possible and staying a couple of days at a finca (coffee farm) in the Zona Cafetera, a premier coffee-growing region.
When I was a kid, every Sunday morning I watched a program on the Belarusian TV channel, where teams of schoolchildren from different Soviet Republics competed in P.E. gym games. The purpose of the program was to bridge the gap between children of different nationalities living in one big country. As a kid, I loved the program, dreaming of starring in it one day and representing my school and Belarus. The TV show always began with an introductory video about the Soviet Republic that hosted the competition. And I remember that I was always mesmerized by the videos from Uzbekistan. The grainy footage of the sun-soaked republic with colorful mosques, blooming cotton fields, and people wearing tubeteikas, a Central Asian traditional square skullcap, immediately captured my imagination. I fell in love with Uzbekistan. When I made an unusual request to my parents to buy me a tubeteika, they somehow managed to get it for me, and one day, I surprised everyone at my school by showing up to classes wearing a traditional Uzbekistani hat. To this day, Uzbekistan remains the mysterious and exotic faraway land that captures my imagination. When we finally go there (hopefully soon), we will travel the ancient Silk Route, explore traditional bazaars, admire the turquoise-domed palaces and mausoleums of Samarkand’s Registan, and feast on the national dish of plov (rice pilaf). Can we buy our tickets to Tashkent already?
We considered going to Iran during the Obama presidency when the relationship between the U.S. and Iran was somewhat stabilized. Backpacking through Iran was not an option, and as all U.S. citizens, we would have to buy a state-approved tour with a state-appointed tour guide following our every step. But we entertained the idea and even started to explore the logistics of obtaining an Iranian visa. Unfortunately, the Muslim travel ban that the U.S. instituted in early 2017 deteriorated the fragile diplomatic relationships between the two countries even further, and the Covid pandemic three years later made our visit to Iran unrealistic. Yet, I hope to visit someday. Iran has the potential to top the chart of our favorite destinations in the world that is currently occupied by Egypt. Being the home of the Persian Empire with its treasure trove of history and culture, Iran simply cannot disappoint. Whether discovering the exquisite mosques and palaces of Tehran and Shiraz, the UNESCO sights of Isfahan, or simply exploring its deserts, salt flats, and mountains, Iran has it all. I look forward to drinking a lot of tea and listening to the melodic sounds of Farsi.