• Sarah D. PANDIA

My Top WOW Destinations From Around The World (Part II)

"A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Did you really think my list was complete after my first article on the subject? Well, you thought wrong! Truth be told, narrowing down my selection of amazing destinations to just a few locations is very difficult for me. That said, here is the follow-up to my previous article listing all the most wonderful places and one of a kind moments that left me utterly speechless.

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

This is by far my dream fantasy landscape and I had the opportunity of experiencing it first-hand while living in Romania. The enchanting Carpathian Mountains are packed with both flora and fauna most of us only ever get to see in books we read growing up. Endless coniferous forests, peaceful lakes, intimidating mountains with very cold winters and very hot summers, leaving room for a whole bunch of sightseeing and exciting adventures. Bears, wolves and all the typical wildlife you'd expect from such an ecosystem are not only present, but can quite easily be spotted while venturing around. Not to mention the delicious traditional meals, the warmth and coziness of cheap guest houses that can be found almost anywhere, and the authentic peasant lifestyle that ties everything perfectly together. The Carpathian Mountains will forever hold my heart (and my breath whenever I have the chance to visit again).

Phuket, Thailand

Venturing through Thailand was enjoyable, despite the huge amount of tourists and thus, the high number of tourist traps. The greatness of Thaï food isn't just a rumor, it's very real and I loved dining out as much as I enjoyed tasting the diverse street food in Bangkok, Phuket as well as the small towns around Phuket. And of course, there’s the well-known Thaï massage. Again, it's not just a myth, guys! If you ever have the chance to experience a real authentic Thai massage... don’t pass it up! For me, it's right at the top of my list - a close second to the hot stone massage. I also very much appreciated the chaos of the cities, in contrast with the zen boutique hotels and poshy restaurants. More so, I enjoyed roaming outside of Bangkok and Phuket with a scooter, where everything is much less touristy, and I was amazed to find elephants and monkeys crossing the roads. But anyway, none of that compares to the moment I hopped on a traditional long-tail boat with a group of travelers that took us off the coast of Phuket, to the Phi Phi Islands and the mythical Maya Bay. Despite all the other boats and tourists, I just couldn't help staring out at the crystal clear turquoise water. I come from the Caribbean, remember? And I’ve been to Tahiti, too. But there was something about the natural landscape of these islands in Thailand. I was impressed and mesmerized by the huge limestone rock island formations popping out of these crystal clear waters. It seemed as though the giant mountain cliffs, caves, and long white sandy beaches were surreal, right out of a postcard. I loved the fact that the boat guide turned the engine off frequently, letting the currents just sway the boat in the bays. He even took the time to take the group to see more quiet and deserted bays. Stepping foot on the sugar-like sandy beaches and bathing in the hot aquamarine water was a real treat too, might I add.

Pic-du-Midi, France

While living not far off from Toulouse, in France a few years ago, my husband and I decided to visit the Pic-du-Midi with a few friends one weekend. It's one of the highest mountains in the French Pyrenees and elevates up to 2,877 meters. We hiked a little at the bottom, then took a cable car and hiked a bit more before finally reaching the astronomical observatory. The view from up there was truly out of this world - I literally felt like an astronaut having landed on another planet. We stood on the observatory's platform for a couple of hours, just looking out at the infinite chain of snowy mountains fading into the bright blue skyline. I remember we couldn't breathe very well because of the altitude, but we eventually got used to it and relaxed. I guess it's safe to say the overall experience took my breath away, genuinely.

Santorini, Greece

Greece is one of those enchanting Mediterranean countries I went back to for vacation on 4 different occasions, and for someone like me, that really says a lot. Summers in Greece are so warm and relaxing. In my opinion, it's somewhat similar to Italy's Dolce Vita, but with more seafood, seafront views and island hopping involved. Of course, we can’t forget all the Greco-Roman archeological sites and legends to visit in Athens, the exquisite and diverse Greek cuisine and wine to indulge in at the charming little tavernas, as well as all the fun and adventurous boat options to navigate the islands. I was stunned at how developed and active the inter-island boat traffic is in Greece. Boats of all sizes and shapes, ferries, cruises, high-speed hydrofoils, sailing charters, taxi boats, fishing boats, luxury yachts and mega yachts I didn't even know existed... the traffic at sea is just crazy in certain areas! There are thousands of islands in Greece spread around huge surfaces and therefore, we usually organize our summers for sailing in one region at a time: the Saronic Gulf, the Argolic Gulf, the Ionian Islands, and the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea. Needless to say, each island is unique in its own way, and food, landscapes, architecture and culture all differ from one region to the next. Throughout them all, it was Santorini that caught my attention the most. The majority of locals will probably tell you that there are so many more beautiful and less touristy islands than Santorini and I can confirm, they’re right. And although I really disliked the other well-known island of Mykonos, Santorini to me, really lived up to its legend. Despite the build up around Santorini's fame, it was the first island that seemed to climb incredibly high, with white villages perched along the entire top of its mountains. I remember arriving by boat and seeing this all come into view from a distance, the island looked like a chain of rocky, dry cookie mountains with vanilla ice cream covering the top, if that can give you a visual. The island isn't that elevated in reality, but it looked simply amazing to me. After reaching the villages at the top, everything was even more delightful and romantic. We stayed in Imerovigli, where we vacationed in sumptuous little boutique hotel rooms, perched on terraced cliffs with little individual swimming pools overlooking the Aegean Sea, filled with luxury mega yachts. Getting lost in the multitude of little pedestrian corridors inside the white villages was magical. Posh beach-wear boutiques, art galleries, fancy tavernas and restaurants, the many blue dome orthodox churches with their fuchsia bougainvillea flowers, watching the windmills in the sunset from Oïa village and hopping around all the crazy nightlife spots... Everything was really, really beautiful and awesome. In contrast with all that fancy vacationing, we also rented quad bikes, took our backpacks, flip flops, bathing suits and went crazy around the island discovering wineries and vineyards, beaches and all-day beach parties, more charming traditional villages and delicious meals at local tavernas. The overall experience was a delight - the mixture of so many possibilities in one place was definitely something I appreciated.

Giant Rock City, Czech Republic

While on a road trip across Europe with my hubby and 2 year old son last summer, somewhere near the border between Czech Republic and Poland, a seemingly fun attraction showed up on our digital map along the way of our itinerary. Being the obviously adventurous people that we are, we decided to stop at the Giant Rock City in Czech Republic. It was a bit difficult to find the park's entrance and we even had to pay a fine for entering through the wrong path, but we finally reached the main parking lot, packed a picnic, changed into some hiking clothes, paid our entrance tickets and ventured into the national reserve. There weren't too many people, but enough to let us know this place was something we had to see. We hadn't read anything about it prior to our visit, and we thus didn't really know what to expect. After a first viewpoint stop surrounding a large and very peaceful pond, we hiked our way during several hours through massive sandstone rocks formations, impressive rocky boulders standing alone, others forming entire walls with narrow walkways, ravines, trails and even small water streams and cascades in between. It felt like a Jurassic decor where humans are tiny in comparison to nature. Our toddler loved every moment of the way and I couldn't tell which part of the trail was more spectacular and jaw-dropping.

Bahía de la Águilas, Dominican Republic and Amani-y Les Bains, Haiti

I chose to put these 2 spots together because in my opinion, they are both really quite similar. Perhaps certain Haitians or Dominicans would disagree with such a statement, but it makes sense to me that these two beaches, although located on different sides of the same island, are quite the same. The island of Quisqueya (its indigenous name) or Hispaniola (its post-Spanish colonial name) was divided into two separate countries at some point, today known as Haiti (to the West) and the Dominican Republic (to the East). The Amani-y Les Bains beach is located on the Haitian side, while Bahía de las Águilas is located on the Dominican side, and although their surroundings are different, they are very much alike. They are both very isolated and hard to reach by road. They are both quite deserted, most of the time. Both are characterized by excessive, white sugary sand, endless translucent aquamarine sea water, very hot, dry and windless weather and both are quiet, peaceful and preserved. One might have a little more abundance of sand, or a more golden-toned sand than the other, but other than that, they are identical to me. Also, both beaches are unshaded and the vegetation is far in the background. I haven't been to either one of them in a long time, so I don't know if things have changed, but to date, I haven’t yet seen any beach as picturesque and intact as these ones were recorded in my memory.

If I wasn’t trying to write out a condensed list of my top wow locations, then I’d love to go on about so many other places that are dear to my heart, such as the Siné Saloum Delta and Sobo Badé Village in Senegal, my intense experience in Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps in Poland, the immensity of the Vatican City, the oriental wonders of Morocco, the power of the Maori culture in New Zealand, the immenseness of Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square, my amazement of Gaudí's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or my drunken escapades inside the world's biggest wine cellar at Milestii Mici in Moldova, but this should do for now and I'll let your imagination wander.

On the other hand, there are still plenty of amazing countries on my bucket list that I haven't seen which leaves room for so much more to experience and eventually tell. And even with all the countries I've visited, it wasn't always possible to see and experience everything because of time, weather or logistical limitations, and I can only help but wonder about the magical moments I’ve missed out on, but hey, I only have one life to live, and I can't have it all, can I? All in all, I’ll continue to make the best of what I've seen, as well as what lies ahead.

Sarah The Digital GypSea

Romania, October 2020


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