The Crystal Serenity in Mykonos, Greece // (c) 2012 Skye Mayring
A guestroom at the seven-room Heywood Hotel // (c) 2012 Heywood Hotel
Bayon Temple in Cambodia's Angkor Archaeological Park // (c) 2012 Skye Mayring
An Oahu sunset // (c) 2012 Skye Mayring
The Tel Aviv Municipality Building's multi-colored escalator by graffiti and street artist, Dover D // (c) 2012 Skye Mayring
As Paulo Coelho once wrote, we should "accept what life offers ... and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped but, with others, drink the whole bottle." In 2012, I tried to apply this philosophy to my journeys around the globe by keeping an open mind and letting the destination guide me whenever possible.
Keeping it Weird in Austin
Before this year, my Austin experience was limited to the frenzy known as South by Southwest (SXSW), a massive music festival that takes place each March in and around downtown Austin. While I discovered several new bands, including Clock Opera, Grimes and Polica, at SXSW 2012, my return visit in the fall proved that Austin is more than just the Live Music Capital of the World.
Playing tourist, I stumbled into the Museum of the Weird on Sixth Street where I browsed its collection of curios and, to my surprise, watched a sideshow performer hang fish hooks (attached to dead fish) from his eyelids after hammering a five-inch nail into his nasal cavity. Cringe. Rather appropriately, the city's unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird," which encourages visitors to support local businesses and entrepreneurs - and I helped to do just that by overnighting at the seven-room Heywood Hotel in East Austin, borrowing a bike to explore the area and visiting mom-and-pop establishments such as Cheer up Charlies, the Yellow Jacket Social Club and the Tex-Mex restaurant, Takoba. One of my favorite discoveries was the Hope Farmers' Market with a self-serve kombucha bar, free yoga classes, contemporary art, fresh fruit and vegetables, $3 organic tamales and loud, gritty rock music performed by a local band (this was Austin, after all).
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a chronic list-maker. But, when it comes to travel, I bet you're guilty too. So what's on your bucket list? Vietnam and Cambodia have been on my list for years, and I finally ventured to Southeast Asia this fall on Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's 15-day Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong itinerary. I cruised the Mekong River in the 30-room, colonial-style River Saigon with a group of adventurous travelers, many of whom had very personal reasons for taking this trip. Everyone in the group seemed to be blown away by the ancient temples and overgrown forests of Angkor Archaeological Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. My favorite temples were Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple and Angkor Thom, which is commonly referred to as the Tomb Raider Temple, having served as a set in the 2001 film, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."
The adventures continued throughout the rest of our trip. I interacted with monks who were under the age of 10, helped extinguish an engine fire on our sampan boat, danced to Korean pop music with Khmer people, took a bumpy ride on the rump of an elephant, paid $2 for a "fish pedicure" (free local beer included), studied sandstone carvings on 10th-century temples and nearly ordered a steaming bowl of Vietnamese stew before learning that its main ingredient was rat.
High Class On the High Seas
Maybe it was the caviar or perhaps the free-flowing champagne. Whatever the case, onboard the Crystal Serenity for Crystal Cruises 22nd annual Sales Achievement Awards Gala, I most definitely got a taste of the good life - and I'll take seconds, please. Since the cruise line has gone all-inclusive, guests don't have to worry about dealing with individual bills and can focus on the important stuff - dining at Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's Silk Road, sipping handcrafted cocktails in the Crystal Saloon or playing an afternoon game of paddle tennis on the Sun Deck.
Crystal Serenity is a destination in itself, but the time I spent in port was filled with exciting, unexpected experiences, which is exactly what Crystal Cruises aims to facilitate. In 2013, the cruise line plans on offering 25 percent more port days than the previous year, including cruises without any sea days. My Mediterranean Masterpiece itinerary visited four countries in a relatively short period of time, allowing me to tour the ancient city of Istanbul by foot, hike Sicily's Mount Etna, drive a moped around Mykonos, Greece, and zip around Capri, Italy, in a sports boat.
Oahu, I Do
Growing up on Oahu, it's easy to take the island's many beaches, near perfect weather and Hawaiian culture for granted. Once I moved to the mainland, however, I realized how good I had it as a kid. Since then, every trip back home has been memorable - and this past visit was, quite literally, life-changing. After a day of biking around my old neighborhood in Kahala, walking along my family's favorite beach and hiking Dimond Head crater, I was in for the surprise of a lifetime. On the summit, overlooking the city of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean, my boyfriend of three years got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Overjoyed and taken aback, I managed to blurt out a "yes" (I think), and we celebrated with friends by watching the sunset and enjoying a bottle of bubbly at the Outrigger Canoe Club.
When we find a good thing, we tend to stick with it. Therefore, we spent most of our days "hanging loose" at the Outrigger Canoe Club's beach and most of our evenings tasting island-inspired "grinds" at Joey Cabell's Chart House Waikiki, located adjacent to our hotel, the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki and Golf Club. I still find myself craving the Chart House's kimchi fried rice, Kimmi's firecracker unroll (a deconstructed sushi roll with Hawaiian poke flair), chocolate lava cake and the restaurant's signature cocktail, the Guy Tai, created by one of Oahu's best-known bartenders, Guy Maynard.
Don't "Tel" Mom
My mother practically had a heart attack when I called from the airport to inform her about my departure to Tel Aviv, Israel, that afternoon. This was days after Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement agreed to a ceasefire (during the November conflict, approximately 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel within a week). Although I was admittedly a bit nervous about traveling to this corner of the world, once I had the opportunity to explore Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa at a leisurely pace, I found little reason to worry.
Tel Aviv was far more cosmopolitan that I expected. In the trendy Florentine area, I scoured the streets for urban art and found several works by Tel Aviv street artists Dede, Sened, Maya and Klone. Among my favorite pieces were Dede's series of Band-Aid wheatpastes, which were ubiquitous around the city, and the Tel Aviv Municipality Building's multi-colored escalator, each moving step revealing another part of a story told by graffiti and street artist, Dover D. More traditional artwork awaited at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, featuring a world-class permanent collection of work by Renoir, Dali, Rodin, Picasso, Miro and Lichtenstein as well as edgy contemporary art exhibits, some of which were interactive.
Another highlight for me was the region's cuisine: creamy sesame ice cream topped with halvah shavings, piping-hot falafel balls and unusual incarnations of hummus featuring everything from lentils and raw onions to hard-boiled eggs. At the bustling Carmel Market - where locals frantically purchased challah bread, produce and meat in time for Shabbat - I discovered one of my best meals of the year. I walked by two elderly Druze women preparing fresh flatbread on a hot iron taboon and couldn't pass up the opportunity to try one of their made-to-order goat cheese and tabouleh wraps, with all the fixings (olives, preserved lemon slices, hot peppers) and wash it down with a farm-fresh date, strawberry and banana smoothie, the sidewalk as my chair. Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the most rewarding.