As I started typing my list of top 10 cities for 2018, I found that I had way too many favorites. The solution? Break it into top 10 cities and top 10 sights! Whew! Now I am able to include almost everything that I wanted in my original list!
1. Yehliu Geopark, Taiwan
One of the biggest travel surprises of our year, was our visit to Yehliu Geopark.
After visiting the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, we decided to take a cab to Yangmingshan National Park. After some confusion with taxi drivers (in retrospect, we think the first driver was trying to match us up with another driver that spoke some English), we were on our way.
The taxi driver tried to explain to us that it wasn’t the best time of the year to go to Yangmingshan, so while he pointed at the park’s sights, he told us that he could take us somewhere that we would like much better. Not sure if he was playing us for a bigger fare, we (uncharacteristically) decided to go with it. Are we glad we did!
Gigantic alien mushrooms! A.K.A. cool geology. We spent some time wandering, making sure to check out the “cute princess.” Do you see the body of the hunchback, or the face of the princess?
After some more wandering through the park, we debated taking the very inexpensive, but quite long bus back to the city, or to find another taxi. We saw our old taxi driver, still waiting for a fare, so decided to just go back with him.
2. Giza Pyramids, Egypt
Egypt, was one of my favorite destinations ever, and really deserved a spot on my top 10 cities list, but since I knew it would be here, I decided to skip it. Before traveling, we had some concerns about both safety, and whether we would enjoy it, so we limited our time in Egypt to 4 days. Our reasoning was that if we liked it, 4 days was enough time to see same basics. And, if we felt unsafe, 4 days really wouldn’t be all that long to suck it up until our flight left. Fortunately, we loved it!
On our first full day in Cairo, we took a day trip to the Giza Pyramids, Memphis, and Saqqara, starting with the Great Pyramid of Khufu, and the pyramids of his son, Khafre, and his grandson, Menkaure.
The boys loved scrambling through the low entrances and narrow passageways.
And the camel tour, silly pictures, and a visit to the Sphinx, was a treat for everyone.
The afternoon was spent touring the ancient cities of Memphis and Saqqara.
3. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore
I love gardens. 20 years ago, I went on a college spring break trip to London with a few friends. We spent way too much time simply wandering through gardens. If you are like me, the Singapore Botanic Gardens must be on your list of activities while in Singapore.
Being on the equator, Singapore is hot and humid, which is an excellent combination for amazing foliage.
And when you get tired of the lush paths, there is plenty of open space too.
I could have spent several days exploring, but I think the rest of my family was happy with a few hours.
4. Pompeii, Italy
Before visiting Pompeii, pretty much all I knew about it was that Mount Vesuvius exploded and the city was destroyed. What I missed from this explanation was that it wasn’t lava that destroyed the city. My imagination told me that all that would be left was a big mountain of lava rock and maybe a few pockets of remains that were elevated enough that they missed the worst of the destruction. This was far from the truth!
As it turns out, if it were lava that destroyed the city, the people would have been able to simply get out of bed, take a brisk walk away from the city, and start their lives over elsewhere.
Instead, what happened is that when the volcano erupted, one group of people were killed by flying debris or collapsing houses. Next, a huge amount of extremely hot ash and rock came rushing at the city and the vast majority of the people were instantly killed by the heat. Anyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to be killed by the heat would have been smothered by the ash or knocked out by the flying rocks. Eventually the city was buried in cooler ash.
Over time, the ash compacted around the bodies of the people who perished. As the bodies decomposed, human sized holes remained in the compacted ash. During excavation, archeologists decided to pour plaster of Paris in some of the holes. The result was an exact model of how the people died. Creepy, but illuminating.
Once all the ash was removed, an almost perfectly preserved city was uncovered! It is huge. If you can avoid problems with hunger (food isn’t allowed inside), you could easily spend an entire day exploring.
We based about an hour away, in the wonderful town of Sorrento, and day-tripped in.
5. Milford Sound, New Zealand
Milford Sound in New Zealand was another highlight. It would have been much cooler on a clear day, but even in the fog, we had some amazing views of some waterfalls.
When looking at the various cruise companies, most of them seemed to follow roughly the same path. The smaller ships claimed they could get closer to the wildlife. Other cruises seemed like they may be better for adults only. The “Go Orange” cruise had a Fish ‘n’ Chip lunch option, seemed to have reasonable windows, had a nice top deck, and claimed to be family friendly, so we chose that one. We were really happy with our choice!
An interesting note is that technically, Milford Sound is a fiord, not a sound. While they look the same from a quick glance, a fiord is formed when a glacier melts and is filled in with sea water, where a sound is filled when a river erodes the surrounding land. Apparently the people who named Milford Sound didn’t know or recognize the difference. In any case, the results are beautiful!
One thing to note is that lodgings are both very primitive and limited near Milford Sound. We ended up staying 2 nights in Te Anau, about a 2 hour drive away. There are lots of interesting sights on the way, so make sure you add extra time to allow for this.
While we only stayed for 2 nights, making time to see the Te Anau glow worm caves, it would have been lovely to add a 3rd and spend more time exploring the other sights in Te Anau. It is one of the most beautiful regions in New Zealand!