Fave Five Travel Excursions of 2010, Part Four

Associate Editor Skye Mayring shares her favorite travel memories of the previous year By: Skye Mayring
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Tosca sails the Nile River. // © 2011 Skye Mayring
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Tosca sails the Nile River. // © 2011 Skye Mayring

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Festive costumes on Frenchmen Street during Mardi Gras // © 2011 Skye Mayring
Festive costumes on Frenchmen Street during Mardi Gras // © 2011 Skye Mayring

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan // © 2011 Skye Mayring
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan // © 2011 Skye Mayring

Members of Miike Snow on the main stage of Stubb’s Bar-B-Que // © 2011 Skye Mayring
Members of Mike Snow on the main stage of Stubb’s Bar-B-Que // © 2011 Skye Mayring

Tahiti’s blacktip reef sharks are not considered to be a danger to swimmers. // © 2011 Skye Mayring
Tahiti’s blacktip reef sharks are not considered to be a danger to swimmers. // © 2011 Skye Mayring
Whether camel-riding in Egypt or shark-feeding in Tahiti, 2010 proved to be an adventurous year of travel for me and my travel companions. Without haste, the New Year looks as if it might be equally as thrilling: Tonight, I’m packing my bags for a weekend snowboarding trip with friends and, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be flying to Nicaragua where I’ll try out an emerging sport, sandboarding, down the side of Central America’s youngest volcano, Cerro Negro.

As Good as it Gets
Who doesn’t want to ride a camel in front of the Pyramids of Giza, enter the pharaonic tombs of the Valley of the Kings and watch the sunrise over the Nile River? I was fortunate enough to do all of this and more last year with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s eight-day Classic Egypt & the Nile excursion on the newly upgraded River Tosca. Not only could the spacious staterooms hold their own against accommodations at luxury hotels, the staff welcomed us with unfeigned enthusiasm and the cuisine was top-notch, catering to a variety of palates. And even though I was traveling alone, it was easy to strike up conversations with my fellow cruisers in the common areas, most notably on the sundeck, where guests would gather for a dip in the pool or to sip on a cool drink while taking in the changing scenery of desert landscapes and quaint villages along the Nile.
www.uniworld.com

It’s Carnival Time
February 2010 marked my first visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit, and the city seemed as vibrant as ever. While I didn’t stray much from its world-famous French Quarter, I spoke with locals and tourists alike who claimed that this Mardi Gras celebration was one of the best they had experienced in quite some time. Perhaps it was partly due to the New Orleans Saints’ much deserved NFL Super Bowl win, but the energy among carnival revelers was palpable to say the least. My family reserved a room for us at the Le Richelieu hotel, which had a balcony overlooking passersby on Chartres Street. The location was ideal — it was about as quiet of a spot as can be found in the French Quarter yet was still in walking distance to popular points of interest including the French Market, Cafe Du Monde and the infamous Bourbon Street. We all agreed that the true party took place on Frenchmen Street, where the locals congregated in the middle of the street and inside its tiny smoke-filled bars for live music and dancing. Standing on the sidewalk for just a few minutes proved to be entertaining in itself — we watched a motley marching band roar past and saw a number of locals parading in wacky, bright-colored costumes.
www.lerichelieuhotel.com

A Day in Taipei
One of the first things we did after landing in Taipei, Taiwan, was pay a visit to the gorgeous Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall located in the heart of the city. The nearly 60-acre monument pays tribute to Chiang Kai-shek, the first President of the Republic of China and includes the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. We browsed the exhibition hall, a museum dedicated to the late president, and were impressed by his 1955 bulletproof Cadillac Fleetwood, family photos and a recreation of his office with a clock stopped at 11:50 p.m., the exact time that Chiang Kai-shek passed away. A changing of the guards ceremony happens every hour on the hour and, on the top of the memorial hall, it’s not uncommon to see locals practicing tai chi.

After a lot more walking around the grounds, our group headed to Din Tai Fung dumpling house for a lunch I will not soon forget. The menu featured steamed mashed red bean buns, shrimp and vegetable dumplings, black sesame-seed filled buns and pork shaomai — all served in bamboo steamer baskets. We were thrilled to find out that Din Tai Fung has two locations close to home, one in Arcadia, Calif., and another that recently opened in Seattle.

It Might Get Loud
Austin, Texas, is one of my favorite U.S. cities and (although the locals will likely disagree with me), there is no better time to visit than mid-March, during the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival of film, music and interactive technology. My friend and I attended the music portion of this tastemaker festival hoping to discover new music and see some of the more noteworthy buzz bands of the moment including Surfer Blood, Broken Bells, Zola Jesus, Delorean and Mercury Prize-winners The xx. In addition to taking in the unremitting block party on 6th Street, we rubbed elbows with members from The Veils during Hole’s much anticipated show (the first U.S. performance for Courtney Love’s band in 10 years) on the main stage of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and worked our way to the front row during some of the best performances of the weekend delivered by Phantogram, Miike Snow, Eskmo and Denmark’s emerging indie rock band, Efterklang.
www.southbysouthwest.com

Swimming With Sharks
From jet skiing with friends to enjoying a delectable sunset dinner on the beach, my first visit to Bora Bora, Tahiti, was filled to the brim with memorable moments. Of the many highlights, a half-day stingray- and shark-feeding excursion with Temanava Tours stands out as a must-do activity for anyone visiting Bora Bora. Our guide, Marona, eased us into the crystal-clear water to snorkel alongside friendly blacktip reef sharks — we were assured by locals and our guide that the sharks posed no real danger to humans — and pet a number of stingrays who playfully circled around us. To say it was a exhilarating experience to swim within an arm’s length of a shark would be an understatement. My only regret is that I didn’t have a waterproof camera to capture the spectacular underwater sights. After our swim, Marona brought us to his private motu for a lunch consisting of local delicacies and fresh-caught seafood as well as a demonstration of how to make poisson cru, Tahiti’s signature dish of raw tuna, lime juice, coconut milk and vegetables.

Temanava Tours
To book a shark- and stingray-feeding tour, contact Guilhem Blay at lagoonservice@gmail.com. Half-day excursions are $120 per person on average and include lunch.
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