2009 memories: Slovenian mountains, beautiful beaches...and grizzly bears
2009 was a wonderful year for a guy lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world. It's a lot of work, but I get to travel to some remarkable places and meet some incredible people.
I've got a photo spread in the Saturday Star on Jan. 2, thanks to a nice layout by fellow travel department worker John Moore. So have a look at that.
In the meantime, here are a few fave moments from 2009:
TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROAD - I damn near had a heart attack driving in the mountains of Slovenia. I drove north from Lake Bled towards the Austrian border and hung a left turn, going up over the mountain pass south of Kranjska Gora. Not being terribly bright, I had a lovely time scooting up the hill, failing to realize that of course I would have to drive back down.It's a lot easier to drive up a hill than drive down one, especially when you don't know the roads and you're driving a standard/stick shift for the first time in five years. Almost wet my pants hugging the mountainside with cars honking at me to pull over, but I made it down the other side.
I absolutely adored Slovenia; what I like to call the tiny, perfect country. It's got mountains, wineries, caves, seaside resorts that look like Croatia or Italy, great seafood and lovely, lovely people. Plus Ljubljana is a fun town with wonderful architecture, a great river with cafes all along it and simply a really nice feel. Relatively cheap, too.
Mind you, as much as I loved Slovenia, I'd have to say my visit to Tahiti was the highlight of my year. Mountains are wonderful, but there's nothing better than warm sunshine seeping into your bones, aquamarine water, long walks on the beach and a cool rum drink at sunset. I keep telling anyone who'll listen that my goal in life is to spend AN ENTIRE YEAR without wearing anything on my feet but sandals. I'd have to find some of those goofy sandal-like golf shoes to be able to play golf during this 365-day period, but that's okay. There would be no socks. And no real shoes. And, hopefully, never a day when the temperature went below, say, 15 degrees Celsius.
That's why I took trips to Hawaii and Florida in January and then Barbados and St. Lucia in June and Tahiti in November, where I got to see the coolest sporting event ever; the Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe race. Look for a story on it sometime later this winter or in early spring. But they were all great spots.
The beach and spa at Sandy Lane, Barbados were outstanding. But my favourite part of Barbados was meeting with Anthony Hunte; a colourful and committed gardener who welcomes visitors in the hills of Barbados and is likely to invite you into his treehouse-like home for coffee or cake. The views and the water on the eastern side of the island near Bathsheba were surprisingly rugged; and damn near empty. I met some folks from Oakville but forgot to get their names.
The best snorkeling I had for the year was in the marine sanctuary along the beach at Jalousie Plantation in St. Lucia (see photo at left), nestled up against the majestic Pitons. Brilliant hotel, and a lovely beach.
Had great sunsets in St. Lucia and Barbados, as well as Moorea and Bora Bora in Tahiti. But my sunrise at the peak of Diamond Head in Honolulu was even better. The sun was brilliant, but I really enjoyed snapping a photo of some visiting girls who
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my Alberta golf trip, where I spotted a couple grizzly bears at Kananaskis. Awesome. And my trip to Wales was equally spectacular, along with a couple of great rounds in Virginia, New York state, St. Lucia, Lanai, Hawaii (great course at Manele Bay) and the Green Monkey in Barbados. The latter is lovely as can be. Look for more on the Green Monkey and on Alberta and Wales in the Star's 2010 golf magazine, which comes out in early April. And look for other golf features in the pages of the Toronto Star Travel section.
OKAY, BACK TO THE SNOW
Having said all that about going Jimmy Buffett on ya, I was in London early in the year, right after a huge snowfall. And if you've never seen London in the snow, you've really missed something. People took to it with relish and seemed to have a great time and I was lucky enough to get some good snaps, including a great snowball fight by some private school kids (look for a better version of this in Saturday's Star Travel) and another of a poor seagull (below) who looked like he/she was drunk as he/she slipped and slid on a frozen pond in Hyde Park.
Now it's time to hit the LCBO with the rest of the crazy people and celebrate a little.
Have a lovely New Year and see ya in 2010.