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50 unforgettable trips from Susan Spano

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It’s a wide-open world, full of wonders, contrasts, heart wrenches and surprises. Travel writer Susan Spano looked back over 10-plus years of writing travel stories for the L.A. Times and chose her top 50 trips, from Sweden’s Arctic Circle to the canyon lands of Utah.

The complete stories appear as they did when they were published. The facts were accurate at the time of publication, but may have changed since then. If you’re planning a trip, be sure to reverify the information.  ()
1. Glacier Bay, Alaska
The Wilderness Explorer, a small cruise ship affectionately called the Wex, crossed the bay overnight. The next morning we awoke staring at the toothpaste-blue tongue of Reid Glacier in Reid Inlet, a mile-long fiord flanked by the Fairweather Mountains.

When explorer George Vancouver saw the area in 1794, there was no bay, and Reid Glacier was part of a continuous sheet of ice, 20 miles wide, that ended near the entrance to Icy Strait. A little more than a century later, when Muir made his first visit, the ice had retreated 48 miles, forming the great two-armed bay. It has since rolled back at least 17 more miles.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
2. Inside Passage, Alaska
If you fail to catch anything at Rocky Point Resort, nine miles from Petersburg, Alaska, it’s probably because you’ve forgotten to put your line in the water. But if that happens, the scenery and wildlife of Mitkof Island, 123 miles south of Juneau, are glorious compensation. The log lodge and the cabin compound are on the most slender and serpentine section of Alaska’s Inside Passage, known as Wrangell Narrows, a 20-mile-long channel between Mitkof Island and Kupreanof Island to the west. Alaska State Ferries can make it through the skinny channel at high tide, but big cruise ships can’t. That has kept Petersburg, settled by Norwegians in 1891, something of a backwater, with a population of 3,500 and a Norman Rockwell air. Sixteen million acres of Tongass National Forest, mostly on the myriad, puzzle piece-shaped islands of the Alexander Archipelago, surround the lodge, where bald eagles nest in hemlock and spruce trees and bears have gotten into cookie jars on the porch.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
3. Grand Canyon North Rim
Around noon, we made camp on the edge of the plateau, where my open-sided tent-tarp looked into the canyon. We lazed around in the sunshine, then walked a few miles to Dutton Point. When we reached the edge of the plateau, my brother, John, went first onto the overhanging ledge. “Come on,” he yelled back. “It’s like a dance floor out here.”

I crawled, hardly daring to look up. But when I did, I forgot I was on a 7,500-foot-high rock ledge. The view was magnificent, at least 180 degrees of prime Grand Canyon panorama wrapped around the southeastern corner of the Powell Plateau.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
4. Navajo Nation, Ariz. and N.M.
The 100-mile stretch of Interstate 40 between Holbrook, Ariz., and Gallup, N.M., is lined with tacky Indian-themed souvenir shops, garish billboards and cement tepees (never mind that the Navajo traditionally lived in round stone-and-log hogans). R.B. Burnham & Co. Trading Post, in flyspeck-sized Sanders, Ariz., about 50 miles east of Holbrook, is more authentic, with a convenience store where owner Bruce Burnham has been selling flour, batteries and other necessities to the Navajo for 30 years.

I found him in the rear rug room, among mounds of exquisite Navajo rugs priced for well-heeled collectors. “We don’t sell copper ashtrays and little bears in blizzards here,” says Burnham, a rangy white-haired man with a devilish sense of humor.

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Pictured: Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Kevin P. Toos)
5. Mary Colter’s Grand Canyon
When you get off the train at Grand Canyon Depot and climb the hill to El Tovar, Hopi House is the first thing you see, with its rough red stone walls gleaming in the noonday sun and two upper stories set back from the first, accessed by exterior ladders. Mary Colter employed Hopi masons to build the shop, where Native American artists, including the renowned potter Nampeyo, gave demonstrations. It still functions as a store, and in the gallery on the second floor, pots made by Nampeyo’s daughter and granddaughter are for sale. Inside, cottonwood branches still line the ceiling between beams, and aromatic kindling smolders in corner fireplaces.

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Pictured: La Posada, Winslow, Ariz. (Karl Zimmermann)
6. Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium
Frozen in time, paint peeling off the walls, brandishing the banner of the forward march of European civilization, the Africa Museum was -- and, in some ways, still is -- a study in political incorrectness. When I first visited it, I was intrigued and appalled by gilded bronze statues in the foyer depicting valiant Mother Belgium eradicating savagery in Africa. A “Gallery of Remembrance” honored Belgian colonists who gave their lives there, with no mention of the millions of indigenous people who died during the often brutal colonial period.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
7. Ardennes, Belgium
I arrived at the hotel first, checked in and walked up the road to see about exploring the river by kayak. The man in the rental office near the landing said it would take about an hour to float down the Semois from Chiny to Lacuisine, where he’d pick me up in a truck. So I clambered into a bright yellow plastic kayak and set off, hoping I wouldn’t encounter any Class IV rapids.

As it turns out, the Semois is about as savage as the Easter bunny. Once, a vicious-looking Belgian watchdog barked at me from the bank, and raindrops occasionally splattered from an overcast sky. A heron swooped over the river, and two fishermen wished me bon journée. In my kayak, I felt like a yellow leaf drifting along with the current.

>> Read more  (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
8. Harris Ranch, Coalinga, Calif.
About 100 miles north of the Grapevine, near the turnoff for Coalinga, straw-colored hills bubble up and Harris Ranch appears, an oasis at Exit 334, where the sprinklers always seem to be turned on, watering neatly trimmed lime trees and beds of flowers. Often, a man selling bonsai plants out of his truck is stationed across from the entrance.

Like most exits on Interstate 5, 334 has a handful of the kind of chain restaurants and motels that always remind me of a road trip I once took with a friend. When we stopped at a Denny’s, she called the restaurant the symbol of everything wrong with America. I like their tuna melts but must admit I know what she means, which is partly why I love the independently owned Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant. To me it’s the symbol of what’s right with America.

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Pictured: Harris Ranch restaurant (Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)
9. Hotel del Coronado, San Diego
The Hotel del Coronado hovered in my mind as I drove south from L.A. I’d never stayed there but knew about it from the 1959 Billy Wilder movie “Some Like It Hot,” which was filmed partly at the hotel. Storied, elegant, traditional, the Del opened on Coronado Island (actually a 5.3-square-mile peninsula west of downtown San Diego) in 1888 and is one of a handful of grandes dames in the West such as the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, Canada, and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

>> Read more (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
10. U.S. 395 road trip
I had driven California 14 before to Death Valley, loving the way the roads along the way head off forever on straight shots through the desert. Just when you’re about to get bored, 14 plows through Red Rock Canyon about 150 miles northeast of L.A., with its tilted cliff faces striated like Neapolitan ice cream. As the Sierra comes into view to the west, 14 yields to 395 and you enter the Owens Valley, in the hot, dry rain shadow of the mountains.

>> Read more (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
11. Palm Springs
At the entrance to Palm Springs, where California Highway 111 turns into Palm Canyon Drive, the smashingly restored Tramway Gas Station symbolizes the resurgence of the town and the style, re-christened as mid-century modern. The gas station was designed with a soaring “butterfly” roof in 1965 by Albert Frey, a Swiss-born architect who worked with Le Corbusier in Europe before moving here in the 1930s to become one of the town’s defining architects. Boarded up and threatened with demolition three years ago, the gas station was brought back to life by two San Franciscans who have turned it into a gallery specializing in objets d’art for the garden.

>> Read more

Pictured: Tramway Gas Station (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
12. Big Sur
I let the car tell me what to do, and it turned off on Route G18 at Bradley, which leads eventually to the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. I bought corn chips and a packaged tuna sandwich at a gas station along the way and picnicked beside blowzy yellow roses in the still garden at the Mission San Antonio, founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra. Mozart seemed right for the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, which posed no challenge even to a wimpy driver like me. At the road’s crest, intersected by the Cone Peak Trail, I did something I’d long been meaning to do: I took the top down, so that descending the mounded ridge brushed with purple lupine and goldenrod, I could feel the Pacific wind messing up my hair.

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Pictured: Bixby Historic Bridge (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
13. China’s luxury hotels
The Hotel of Modern Art near the honeymoon capital of Guilin in the steamy-hot, deep south is a loopy diversion from the sometimes-taxing business of sightseeing in China.

It lies at the threshold of a 1,320-acre art park on the swampy plains around Yuzi Mountain, one of the fantastically shaped limestone peaks of Guilin immortalized in classical Chinese painting and poetry. Now the mountain marks Yuzi Paradise, the brainchild of a Taiwanese cemetery tycoon whose legacy is a garden for modern sculpture that’s too massive to be shown in most museums.

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Pictured: Banyan Tree hotel, Lijiang (Susan Spano)
14. Tibet road trip
Then the pavement gave way to the rubble of road construction. For the next 50 miles, we crunched along on gravel, winding above and below the main route on even more treacherous diversions, crossing a bridgeless river in water that came up to the vehicle’s windows. Road crews -- as many women as men -- were clearing landslides, blasting out cliffs, building retaining walls and living in grim camps alongside. There were no towns, only the occasional mine and a vast reservoir (too new to appear on my map) that impounded the Nyangchu River. When it started to hail, the driver stopped and consulted with a worker, who said the road was closing the next day so construction could be finished by the end of the year.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
Blake Patterson">15. Sanibel Island, Fla.
Shells may be hard to find on other beaches, but they wash ashore in piles on Sanibel and Captiva, two slender barrier islands connected by a bridge off the west coast of Florida. The beaches of these islets, which rank third after the Great Barrier Reef and the Philippines among great shelling places of the world, catch treasures from the Gulf of Mexico like a colander cradles spaghetti.

>> Read more (Blake Patterson)
16. Paris
Knowing I was a foreigner, my neighborhood greengrocer consistently overcharged me at first. Now she throws extra apples and tomatoes in my bag. I will miss these people and my handful of dear French and American expatriate friends. I will miss having my sister come to visit me in my ideal little Left Bank apartment. I will miss my hairdresser, Frank, on the Rue du Pre aux Clercs, and the flower peddler on the Rue du Bac whose breath always smelled of alcohol. I will miss Monoprix, the Arlequin movie theater on the Rue des Rennes -- especially on Sunday mornings -- and the winter and summer sales at shops along the Boulevard St.-Germain.

>> Read more (Ian Langsdon / EPA)
17. The Louvre
The Louvre has been standing alongside the Seine of Paris for more than 800 years, first as a medieval fortress built around 1190 by crusading king Philippe Auguste (Philip II) and then as a rambling royal palace on which a long chain of French artists and architects put their marks. The kings of France were insatiable collectors, so when the palace opened as a museum in 1793, the treasure-trove became the property of the French people.

>> Read more (Remy de la Mauviniere / Associated Press)
Jason Whittaker">18. Europe, on the trail of George Sand and George Eliot
It took the young Sand as long as three days to travel the 180 miles to Paris from Nohant in a horse-drawn carriage. By the time she was middle-aged, she could get to there by train and buggy in 24 hours.

I made the trip from Paris to Nohant by car in an afternoon. There was urban sprawl around Orleans but fields and forests beyond. When I got off the highways, a tracery of country roads led me to Sand’s village, a cluster of warm brown stone cottages, surrounded by farm fields and overlooked by a Romanesque church. It has a tourist office, a souvenir shop and an accommodating inn, L’Auberge de la Petite Fadette, named for one of her novels.

>> Read more

Pictured: George Sand’s home in Nohant, France (Jason Whittaker)
20. Haleakala volcano, Maui
Halfway down, my legs felt like burning logs from keeping the brakes on, and, despite the blazing Hawaiian sun, my brother John looked as pale as a TB victim. If it had rained, which it often does in the windward sections of the crater, the trail would have turned into a muddy, slippery obstacle course. This is what the national park’s “Hiking Kaupo Gap” brochure says: “The steep drop is matched by rugged volcanic scenery and spectacular ocean vistas. For the unprepared hiker, however, Kaupo trail can be an experience in misery: blistered feet, tortured knees, intense sun or torrential rain, and no available drinking water.”

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Pictured: Ka Luu o Ka Oo cinder cone (National Park Service)
21. Chicago
Stand at the pedestrian walkway on the graceful Art Deco double-decker drawbridge that carries Michigan Avenue over the Chicago River, circle the Loop on the El, ride the Navy Pier Ferris wheel, or take a cruise on the river with the Chicago Architecture Foundation and you will see what I mean: a stunning skyline, from the Sears to the Amoco to the John Hancock Center--at 110, 82 and 100 stories, respectively. More important is the fact that almost every building in the lineup is worth thinking about individually. They document the course of late 19th and 20th century urban American architectural history.

>> Read more  (Jeff Haynes / AFP / Getty Images)
22. Holland, by bike
Near the village of Loenen we saw our first thatch-roofed windmill and crossed over a one-lane drawbridge. (The attendant told us he worked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer but had to be summoned by telephone when someone wanted to go over the bridge in winter.)

Between the villages, we traveled through polder land mowed by goats, sheep and cows, which left me craving a cold glass of chocolate milk. Every farmhouse we passed looked like something out of a painting by Pieter de Hooch or Jan Vermeer, with windows kept so scrupulously clean that they gleamed like diamonds, revealing glimpses of thriving potted plants, lace antimacassars and china caddies inside.

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Pictured: Amsterdam (Gail Fisher / Los Angeles Times)
23. Leiden, Netherlands
This year when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, think about tulips, windmills and wooden shoes. Think about a town in Holland where for a brief golden moment in the early 17th century people of disparate faiths could worship as they saw fit--French Huguenots, Roman Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Lutherans, Dutch Mennonites and a small group of religious dissenters from England, later known as the Pilgrims.

Think about Leiden, 25 miles southwest of Amsterdam, because it gave the Pilgrims refuge from 1609 to 1620 before they crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Mayflower, landed on Plymouth Rock, suffered through a brutal winter and then plucked the first Thanksgiving turkey to celebrate their survival.

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Pictured: The Latin School (Susan Spano)
24. Siena, Italy
Just when I was starting to feel depressed about missing the Palio, my sister, Martha, and I visited the museum in the Palazzo Pubblico. It was built around 1300 and decorated by Italy’s best Gothic painters to exalt Siena’s civic and religious spirit. Apart from the sleepy guards, we had the gallery to ourselves, including its prize, Simone Martini’s “Maestà,” a group portrait of the Virgin Mary surrounded by golden-haloed saints. The Madonna is much more than Siena’s ubiquitous patroness. She is its personal protector and divine governor who, according to the picture’s legends, ignores the prayers of those who oppress the weak.

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Pictured: The Church of San Biagio beneath the walls of Montepulciano, a hill town about 50 miles southeast of Siena in the Tuscany region of Italy. (Susan Spano)
25. Gardens of Rome
I found Bomarzo, a privately owned “garden of monsters,” as it’s called, in a narrow, wooded valley about a 20-minute drive from L’Ombricolo. From the parking lot it looked like a cheesy tourist attraction featuring monumental statues of dragons and sphinxes set among the trees, with no flowers to speak of. But once I ventured in, I realized something profoundly strange was going on in the woods at Bomarzo.

Stone colossi wrestle to the death in the dell.

An elephant pinions a Roman legionnaire in its trunk, and a precariously tilted house seems to totter at the edge of a terrace.

>> Read more

Pictured: Villa Lante, created in the 16th century in Bagnaia near Rome, unites flawless geometry and fantastical water features and landscaping to tell the tale of mankind’s taming of nature. (Susan Spano)
Maurizio Laudisa">27. Amalfi Coast, Italy
You walk slowly on the Path of the Gods high above Positano for fear of cutting a switchback short and falling over a cliff. Your imagination starts playing tricks, keeping you on the lookout for brigands and satyrs. You get used to going astray on trails that peter out into nothing or dead-end at farmhouses guarded by furiously barking dogs. Then, of course, you must retrace your steps, all straight up or down.

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Pictured: The town of Ravello (Maurizio Laudisa)
28. Naples
Italians say that Naples is real, edgy and unvarnished in the way that tourist-choked Rome and Florence are not. At almost every turn, Naples made me think of the old courtesan Madame Hortense in “Zorba the Greek,” at once so charming and so pathetic that she constricts the heart.

>> Read more (Ciro Fusco / EPA)
29. Williamstown, Mass.
In the cold, dark, dead of winter, when my thoughts turn to summer, I think of New England. I think of still nights with plenty of stars and the conversation of cicadas, the Boston Pops at Tanglewood, swimming in a lake, Friendly’s ice cream and sweet corn on the cob.

Much has been made of New England’s colorful falls, but my cup is filled by its deep green summers.

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Pictured: Thompson Memorial Chapel on the campus of Williams College. (Susan Spano)
30. New England’s Shaker villages
When you first see the village, sleeping on the flank of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, you think of impossibly perfect places: Shangri-La, Brigadoon, Moon River. You think of the world the way it ought to be: everything clean, orderly and light, with everyone working together. You think of heaven on Earth, which would sit just right with the people who lived here at Hancock Shaker Village.

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Pictured: Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in Mount Lebanon, N.Y.  (Jennifer S. Altman)
Sebastià Giralt">31. Concord, Mass. in the fall
The sugar maples are the crown jewel of a New England fall. They turn such lurid shades of red, yellow and orange that New England’s strait-laced founding fathers must have had to avert their eyes.

“I do not see what the Puritans did at this season, when the maples blaze out in scarlet,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, a Concord native. He knew better than anyone that when they ripen, they outline nearby Walden Pond; frame the North Bridge, where the American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775; and put on a leafy fireworks display around Monument Square in the center of town.

>> Read more (Sebastià Giralt)
32. Puerto Vallarta
It seems as if all the trashy old paperback novels end up here, abandoned in cafes and hotels by vacationers whose tans have long since faded. Waves pound Los Muertos beach. At bars on the Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s beloved oceanfront promenade, lost souls drink margaritas in the morning. Boys carry iguanas on their arms, telling tourists they taste like chicken. And if you listen -- and imagine -- you may hear Elizabeth Taylor shrieking at Richard Burton in their house on the hill above town.

>> Read more  (Cynthia Mines)
33. Yucatan Peninsula
The bonefish, Albula vulpes, is a creature only a fly fisherman could love--small (3 to 8 pounds in this area) and too bony to eat, which is why they’re generally pursued on a catch-and-release basis. They populate the shallow, mangrove-fringed flats of Sian Ka’an’s 20-square-mile Ascension Bay. The balmy habitat makes an appealing change of scenery for fly fishermen used to braving the elements on North American trout streams, but it gives the fish a critical advantage: They are almost impossible to see without the help of expensive polarized sunglasses and the trained eyes of a local guide. And even if your casting is precise, the tricky devils are strong and fast, as people who hook and then lose them are dismayed to discover.

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Pictured: A fisherman casts for bonefish in Punta Allen, home of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, an ecological preserve. (Dave Stanley)
34. Marrakech, Morocco
The Place Jamaa el-Fna is the heart of the Marrakech medina and the liveliest, most un-reconstituted UNESCO World Heritage Site I’ve ever seen.

It yields to the city’s incomparably seductive souks. Even on my last visit, no amount of self-discipline could keep me away. This time, I bought two Berber carpets and as many pairs of babouche slippers as it would take to shoe a caterpillar.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
35. Katmandu Valley, Nepal
My path led alongside the eerily quiet, heavily guarded new royal palace, which occupies a huge, walled compound in central Katmandu. Once open to tourists, it has been closed since that night in 2001 when, high on drugs and alcohol and distraught after an argument with his parents, Prince Dipendra opened fire on his family and then turned the weapon on himself. He was rushed

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Pictured: The Boudhanath Temple (Bill Wassman / Corbis)
36. On the trail of Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe was born in 1887 and came to prominence long before the feminist revolution, forged an uncommon relationship with her husband founded on their shared dedication to art, and later had the courage to let her work consume her, even though it meant doing without the warmth of human contact. After the death of husband Alfred Stieglitz in 1946, she spent the last four decades of her life at an isolated adobe ranch house in New Mexico‘s Chama River Valley, painting the red-rock mesas of the nearby Jemez Range. She grewcrustier and ever more solitary, hiring a deaf housekeeper so she wouldn’t have to talk. “Sometimes I think I’m half mad with love for this place,” she said. In the end, it’s her love of place that endears her to me most.

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Pictured: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M. (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)
37. Mohonk Mountain House, N.Y.
When the Mohonk Mountain House opened, idle, empty-headed distractions weren’t allowed. “In place of cards, dancing and tippling,” Albert Smiley said at the 1899 opening of the parlor wing, “We have put before our guests something more desirable, a library of good standard books.”

Down the hall, I found a list of “songbirds heard on the morning walk” and a display about the geology of Mohonk’s Shawangunk Mountains, affectionately known as the Gunks, which are really more a ridge than a range. They crest at about 2,000 feet but are lined by sheer cliffs, attractive to rock climbers whose progress Mountain House guests monitor with binoculars.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
38. New York City gardens
The Conservatory Garden is a six-acre idyll. It’s the quintessential New York City secret garden, founded in 1899 as a complex of glass greenhouses (no longer there), then left to run amok during municipal budget crises in the 1960s and 1970s. It is, after all, a part of Central Park, a public garden open from 8 a.m. to dusk, where people picnic, walk their dogs on leashes and sometimes pick flowers illicitly. As Parks Commissioner Benepe says, “Public gardens are even more precious than private ones and more challenging to maintain.”

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Pictured: Central Park’s Conservatory Garden (Leo Sorel)
39. Danube River Delta, Romania
At the end of its 1,771-mile journey across Europe, the mighty Danube River seems to give up trying to reach the Black Sea. It turns north, away from the coast, crosses the lonely steppe country, then frays into myriad channels, marshes, swamps and lakes edged by waterlogged willow trees. Colonies of birds fly in from Asia, Africa and Siberia. In the stalled, murky water, giant carp and catfish lurk, sought by fishermen who live in villages that can be reached only by boat. This is the Danube River delta, a 1.6-million-acre World Biosphere Reserve, out of time, unknown and remote, a lost puzzle piece at the wild

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Pictured: A horse-drawn hay cart modified with auto tires constitutes traffic in Romania’s Danube River Delta in northern Dobrogea. (Susan Spano)
40. St. Petersburg, Russia
Of the glorious, never-to-be-forgotten St. Petersburg nights, the first was spent at the Great Hall of the Philharmonia on Arts Square. The building, where nobles once gathered to listen to the czar, is noted for its acoustics. It also played an important role during the German siege of St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), when vodka distilleries went into the business of manufacturing Molotov cocktails, circus animals were butchered for meat and the Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great on Decembrists’ Square was covered in sandbags to protect it from military attack. At the Philharmonia in August 1942, the starving city’s spirits were raised by the debut performance of Dmitri Shostakovich‘s Seventh Symphony, also known as the “Leningrad” Symphony.

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Pictured: Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press)
41. In the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary settled into apartments in the northwestern tower at Holyroodhouse, the backdrop for many of the most dramatic events in her life. Shortly after she arrived, she sparred over theology with John Knox in her audience chamber. The Protestant Moses of 16th century Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian faith, he was a virulent misogynist who likened Mary to Nero.

But after their meeting, he gave the young queen a left-handed compliment: “If there be not in her a proud mind, a crafty wit and an indurate heart against God and His truth, my judgment faileth me.”

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Pictured: From Calton Hill, the capital city of Edinburgh spreads out below.  (Susan Spano)
42. South Africa frog safari
About 130 of the roughly 5,000 frog species that have been identified in the world can be found in South Africa, and they come out in biblical plague force after a summer downpour. On a single river bend or puddle, thousands congregate, calling to prospective mates at volumes sometimes approaching 100 decibels--louder than a chain saw.

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Pictured: A painted reed frog seen on a frog safari at AmakHosi Lodge in Pongola, South Africa. (Mike Currie / Amalfi Travel Promotions)
43. Icehotel, Sweden
There was nothing to do but seek warmth and courage at the ice bar. It has ice tables that look like giant thumbtacks, a reindeer skin-covered banquette and a beautiful long curved ice bar with colored liqueurs gleaming from icy shelves. The drinks are elaborate vodka concoctions served in glasses made of beveled-out ice blocks. (A few nonalcoholic beverages are available as well, but they have to be stored in the fridge to keep them from freezing.) As elegantly seductive as it looked, there was a decided frisson of fear among those headed to ice beds.

>> Read more ()
44. Vals spa, Switzerland
Hidden around the corner from the main pool was the small, 91-degree Fahrenheit flower bath, illuminated from below and scattered with marigold petals. Nearby, I stepped down into another pool, this one 95 degrees, connected by a tunnel to the high-ceilinged sound bath where you have only to hum to produce music as resonant as that of a church organ.

>> Read more (Susan Spano)
45. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Generally, in the evening, I dined up-market, though even at Baan Suan, a stunning northern Thai compound, the most expensive dish on the menu was $7. Baan Suan, about 10 miles north of town, specializes in northern Thai cuisine, including frog legs cooked in basil. Noisy croaking on the riverbanks suggested that the meat was quite local.

Darkness fell as I tucked into a plate of soft-shell crab and another of curried chicken in coconut sauce. A man rowed a boat across the river, then lighted a chain of lanterns, visual poetry to go with dinner.

>> Read more (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Caucas">46. Trebizond, Turkey
In 1461, Trebizond’s rulers, the Comnenus dynasty -- late of Constantinople -- were put to the sword by Sultan Mehmed II, and it became part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. For a brief halcyon time between the 13th and 15th centuries, it was independent -- a great seat of culture, philosophy and trade with the Far East, pursued by businessmen from Venice and Genoa.

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Pictured: Hagia Sophia monastery (Caucas)
Adrian Clark">47. Bloomsbury, London
Virginia Woolf especially loved Bloomsbury, which she summoned in “A Room of One’s Own,” her splendid essay on the plight of women. “I must ask you to imagine a room, like many thousands, with a window looking across people’s hats and vans and motorcars to other windows,” she wrote. From this room, perhaps inspired by chambers in her family’s first Bloomsbury home at 46 Gordon Square (now a part of London University, bearing a plaque that identifies it as the former home of economist John Maynard Keynes), she tells us that she walked to the British Museum.

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Pictured: Tavistock Square (Adrian Clark)
48. On the trail of Butch Cassidy in Utah
I drove east through the red-and-white slick-rock country along Utah 9, then turned north on U.S. 89, another showstopper of a road that runs through the hamlet of Orderville, where shops sell porcelain dolls and custom-made coffins. In the late afternoon, the lowering sun highlights the edges of the nearby Markagunt and Paunsaugunt plateaus with colors you would never find in a paintbox and searches into side canyons for bad guys on the lam.

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Pictured: Waterpocket Fold, described by the National Park Service as a “100-mile wrinkle in the Earth’s crust,” is in Utah‘s Capitol Reef National Park. (Susan Spano)
49. Lake Powell, Utah
I went on to Lake Powell’s confluence with the Escalante. Along the way, we passed Hole-in-the-Rock Arch, where Mormon pioneers cut a treacherously steep wagon trail from the plateau above to the river in 1880.

We went astray a few times, but finally found the Escalante and turned into it. Between periods of drizzle, the sun came out, revealing bright blue skies and scudding clouds. But the river’s meeting at Davis Gulch was an ugly scene, choked with flood-strangled cottonwood trees.

Then I saw what I assume to be a hallucination: a man in a blue shirt, picking his way across the quicksand.

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Pictured: Castle Rock Cut (Aramark / Lake Powell Resorts)
50. Hanoi, Vietnam
It is still possible to wander through Hanoi’s Old Quarter on the northern and western sides of Hoan Kiem Lake, watching the Vietnamese cook, eat--indeed, live their lives--on the uneven sidewalks. The tradition of alfresco dining presumably made them receptive to French-style sidewalk cafes because everywhere people sit at tables under umbrellas that advertise La Vie bottled water. As in Montmartre and St.-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, the people chain smoke, argue and drink coffee, though here it’s the Vietnamese brew, so thick that it looks black even after milk is added.

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