New ZealandIn one of my favorite books, Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams once wrote of New Zealand: “If you took the whole of Norway, scrunched it up a bit, shook out all the moose and reindeer, hurled it ten thousand miles around the world, and filled it with birds, then you'd be wasting your time, because it looks very much as if someone has already done it.”
Dominican RepublicAllison and I closed off 2016 with a meet-the-parents tour in Pennsylvania over Christmas. Her parents are warm and loving, but the weather was cold and biting, and after meeting so many new faces, I felt a warm getaway was much needed for us to thaw and unwind. The Dominican Republic served that purpose nicely.
KauaiKauai is Hawaii's oldest island geologically and probably the most beautiful. Also known as the Garden Isle, it is a popular honeymoon destination, but for us it was an active getaway filled with running, hiking, swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking.
SpainSpain is roughly the size of California and is in many ways similar, especially in geography and climate. Winters are mild, summers are dry, and the country even has its very own Sierra Nevada. What better way to explore it for the first time than a road trip?
Pisa, ItalyMost Americans would probably consider two trips to Italy barely a month apart overindulgent and extravagant. Yet, I was doing just that and not feeling any sort of guilt over it. Pisa had the honor of hosting SIGIR 2016, and A9 generously sent me there to grow and to learn, for which I feel grateful.
Rome & CroatiaEvery time I've traveled to Italy one thing has remained remarkably constant: consistently delicious food. Italian cuisine is absurdly simple. Spices? None. Unless you count salt, pepper, and maybe a few herbs like oregano or basil. What makes the food so good in its birthplace is the quality of the ingredients. Everything is locally grown and organic, and therefore fresh and flavorful.
SingaporeSingapore, the world's only island city-state, is clean, safe, and mostly democratic, unlike much of Asia. As my friend Brian remarked once, for Westerners, Singapore is a gentle gateway into Asia. It recently celebrated its golden jubilee, so what better time to visit?
BulgariaMention Bulgaria to most non-Europeans and you are likely to catch a glimpse of vague recognition in their eyes, soon followed by the question: “remind me, where is that again?” Or something to that effect. This old nation is one of the youngest members of the European Union and also happens to be my birthplace.
ScotlandA year ago, Scotland made a bold attempt to gain independence from the United Kingdom. Fortunately, the attempt failed (which appears to have been a fiscally favorable outcome for the Scots in light of the recent collapse in oil prices), but it may not be the last, so Brian and I decided to visit before anything changes.
Banff, CanadaThe Canadian Rockies are impressively grander versions of their American counterparts. Running for nearly 1,000 miles along the Alberta – British Columbia border, this part of the American Cordillera features countless peaks jutting high out of the ground, deep valleys, and hundreds of glaciers prominent year-round.
Florence, ItalyFlorence is a marvelous city with over two thousand years of history, widely regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance, and home of the great masters Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Brunelleschi. The maze of narrow stone covered streets and alleys are a delight to explore, and the food is almost guaranteed to be outstanding no matter what restaurant one chooses.
Australia & TasmaniaA return to southeast Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, the Great Ocean Road, and a first time visit to the mysterious island of Tasmania, where real adventures are found.
KilimanjaroMt Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the African continent, towers 19,340 feet above sea level. It is considered the largest free-standing mountain in the world. Apart from its staggering height, Kilimanjaro is quite approachable. It is the rapid drop in oxygen and the extreme climate changes that make the climb a challenge.
Portland, OregonThe dream of the 90s is alive! With so much beer variety and nearby nature, one hardly notices the Fall rain for a weekend.
EnglandCambridge, England is home to one of the most famous and prestigious universities in the world. Founded in 1209 by disgruntled Oxford students, it has graduated eighty some Nobel prize winners and famous scientists, including Sir Isaac Newton, James Maxwell, Charles Darwin, and many, many, others.
Gold Coast & NSWSIGIR 2014 was held on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. This presented a great opportunity to see Gudrun and catch up after nearly five long years.
Tokyo & BaliTwenty four hours is hardly enough time to experience any city for the first time, but that is all Richelle and I had in Tokyo. It was a planned layover en route to Bali and our foray into the Asian continent.
Puerto VallartaPuerto Vallarta is roughly at the same latitude as Cancun, so the weather is warm. The five days we spent there in March were brilliantly sunny – a consistent 82 degrees during the day and a calm and pleasant 70-something in the evenings.
ScandinaviaThe winter of 2013-2014 marks a peak in the sun's eleven year sunspot cycle, which translates into a burst of solar storms and aurora activity. Even though the prospect of spending a week in the arctic cold is not exactly palatable, the opportunity to witness one of nature's most beautiful and elusive wonders at its best was too good to pass up.
Cayman IslandsThe Cayman Islands, pronounced cay-mahn by the locals, and never “Caymans,” are an absolute treasure in the Caribbean. Besides the pecuniary meaning of the word (the islands are known to hide trillions of dollars of the world's extremely wealthy) it is also a beautiful place to relax and soak in the sun.
Croatia & ItalyThe young nation of Croatia boasts over 1,100 miles of breathtaking Adriatic coastline, unspoiled mountains and lakes, and a carefree, relaxing atmosphere. It lies on that fuzzy boundary where Eastern Europe meets West and old communist ways meet new capitalist prosperity. Its people are warm, unpretentious, and proud of their land.
MauiMaui offers everything one would expect of tropical paradise: sun, sand (albeit yellow), sapphire blue waters, fresh fruit, fragrance, and even a volcano or two for good measure. The beaches are inviting though not crowded, especially in the afternoon when the winds really pick up.
BelizeBelize is a warm, unpretentious tropical destination for lovers of water sports, those looking to relax, and Americans from the South. The service is outstanding. The locals are friendly, helpful, and rightly proud of their fairly young country, having achieved independence from the UK only a year before I was born.
Costa RicaIf you like jungles, beaches, monkeys, flowers, tropical wonders, and are not easily perturbed when things do not go according to plan, then get yourself to Costa Rica! The pura vida lifestyle will fill you with mucho gusto.
IcelandThe tiny island nation of Iceland made headlines in 2008 when it effectively went bankrupt. You see, the Icelandic economy went from over a thousand years of nothing but fishing to five years of investment banking, and in October of 2008, back to fishing.
FranceMy friend Brian started off 2011 by moving to a different country. Not just any country, but a beloved monarchy, one whose citizens are so smitten with their royal family, they are awarded two public holidays any time a prince goes off and gets married. And since Prince William so propitiously chose to get married the weekend after Easter this year (which itself comes with two public holidays), the fortunate Brits could take three days off work and end up with a ten day vacation. It is during this time that Brian invited me to visit his London flat, and I gladly accepted. Soon after I arrived, we did what any sane local would do to avoid the wedding ceremony crowds: we fled London and left the city to the tourists. Our destination: the Côte d'Azur, a.k.a. the French Riviera.
PatagoniaPatagonia has long been on my list of top travel destinations, and when I saw Bear Grylls land on the Perito Moreno glacier in a Man vs. Wild episode earlier this year, I decided to bump it up to number one. Finding a travel buddy, however, wasn't as easy. When I approached my friend Honza with the idea and a link to a tour I found online, his response was: “umm, I'm not sure about this... look at what the people in the photos are wearing.” He had a valid concern — all the photos from the area showed people clad in heavy winter clothing, bracing themselves for very un-summer-like weather.
MauritiusMauritius is an island of contrast. When Mark Twain set foot here in 1896, he gave it the equivalent of a rave review with his famous words of praise: “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then Heaven; and then Heaven was copied after Mauritius.” Turquoise water, bright white sands, and breathtaking scenery are key ingredients in any tropical paradise, and Mauritius has them all.
South AfricaI have many fond memories of growing up in South Africa: playing on the lawns of the Union Buildings, my year and a half at the prestigious Pretoria Boys High, family trips to the Kruger National Park, and the gorgeous purple canopy with which the jacarandas enveloped Pretoria every spring. So, it was very exciting for me to return this year and see this magnificent land again through the eyes of an adult. My cousin Polina generously invited my family to attend her wedding, and my dad and I gladly accepted the invitation.