calligraphy suzhou

Calligraphy in Suzhou & Trip Giveaway to Suzhou, China!

Garden of Cultivation Suzhou I only returned from exploring Suzhou, China two weeks ago and still am reeling from such an eye-opening, visually stimulating and immersive trip!

Suzhou is just what you expect traditional China to be.

Though there are high-rises and busy modern center, the old town is basically in a time warp. As you walk the cobbled street or cruise down the canals on a wooden boat helmed by a singing local, you will truly feel that you are 2500 years in the past.

I was exploring Suzhou to shoot a series on the ancient arts and traditions. My cameraman, translator, guide and other team members joined me in what would be a jam-packed 4 days of Suzhou culture. Each episode in our series included working with a local artisan or master craftsman.

These are my favorite types of stories to tell–the real stories of the local people.

Through meeting these masters, learning their skills and understanding their stories, I was able to understand what is Suzhou today by understanding its history.

You will be seeing 4 Master Class videos from this culture series: Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk. These four elements are woven in the fabric of daily life yet have been important in Suzhou’s culture for centuries.

My first episode is released today (!) and it is focused on Calligraphy. We went visited the Garden of Cultivation, an ornate garden with rock formations, caves and a lovely central pond with lily pads. There was also a popular teahouse in this garden and we had a private room inside to conduct our calligraphy lesson. Our master, Fanwu Zheng, didn’t speak any English so he and I used a translator to communicate. But quickly, we were able to understand each other through laughs, gestures and brushstrokes.

Calligraphy in Suzhou

Suzhou was one of the premier places for calligraphy, being home to the Wu School of professional artists and some of the country’s most skilled calligraphers. Calligraphy was considered one of the highest forms of visual art, along with poetry and painting. It is much more than just writing, it is the creation of moving pieces of artwork.

The best way to understand Suzhou, our experience and the significance of calligraphy is through our first episode. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Now the travel giveaway! 

The contest is on Twitter only.

Prize:

  • Roundtrip airfare from the US or Canada to Suzhou, China (You fly into Shanghai then transfer)
  • 4 Nights Accommdations in Suzhou (hotels are nice!)
  • All meals included (YUM!)
  • The 4 Cultural Opportunities that I experienced with Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk!

How to Enter:

  1. Follow @VisitSuzhou on Twitter.
  2. Retweet: All you have to do to enter is to Retweet my video launch tweet here OR Retweet the launch tweet from @VisitSuzhou.
  3. Enter by October 4th!

My tweet:


One lucky winner will be selected from there. I cannot wait to see who wins because this trip was so special to me and I want others to share it! GOOD LUCK!

Sunset Beach, Oahu

Oahu, Hawaii Travel Guide

I was positively giddy as I caught sight of those volcanic islands erupting from the expanse of blue out my airplane window. It was only my second time to Hawaii, my first trip being to Maui a few months earlier, and now I was going to be making Honolulu my home for one week. As I was traveling solo, I did a lot of research and created a pretty packed itinerary. I wanted to see, eat, hike, swim and explore as much as I possibly could.

oahu from the plane

Working with the Oahu Tourism Board definitely gave me a leg up on awesome activities and standout restaurants. But I dove in even deeper, reading blog posts from my travel blogger friends, watching videos from travel vlogger buds (thanks Cailin!) reaching out to those that I know visit Oahu often (looking at you Captain & Clark) and profiling all the Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews that I could find.

 

Ready for a day of exploring!

 

WHAT TO DO: 

Explore the North Shore

For me, renting a car and being able to explore was paramount to my whole trip. I found the driving to be relatively easy, though there is more traffic than expected and by the way, the island is big! It especially came in handy when I set off for a day of exploring the famous North Shore. A good hour drive from Honolulu, I took in some incredible mountain scenery and had the freedom to stop and take photos along the way.

North Shore Drive

North Shore Drive

Definitely head into Haleiwa to check out the cute shopping and great restaurants of this cowboy-meets-hippie surf town. I also stopped at beautiful beaches, saw the famous Banzai pipeline, hiked, swam in waterfalls and basically had one of my favorite days!

 

 

Under the Wahii waterfall

Swim under the Waterfall in Waimea Valley

For that waterfall I was talking about, head to Waimea Valley. This is not the hidden, off the beaten path waterfall that I was expecting. It actually is very much on the beaten path, but as I arrived early (around 10am) the crowds were pretty light. The valley spans 1800 acres and is a sacred site in Hawaiian culture. There is an admission to get in ($16 USD), but you also get to walk through a beautiful botanical garden and see ancient archaeological sites.

The Waihī Waterfall

The Waihī Waterfall

However, most people go here for the waterfall. An easy walk on a paved path takes you to a 45 foot waterfall, Waihī. With lifeguards and mandatory life jackets, this is not the rugged waterfall in the woods that I had hoped for, but jumping into the cool water and swimming under the falling water made me forget about all the other tourists, at least for a few moments.

 

On top of the pillbox

On top of the pillbox

Hike Lanikai Pillbox Trail

Diamond Head gets all the fame but I much prefer the Lanikai Pillbox trail. The dusty trail starts steep but once get to the top of the ridge, all you have are 365 degree views. The Pacific and postcard worthy Mokulua Islands are on one side, and the lush Oahu interior on the other. And of course, you have to check the colorfully graffitied pillbox. These WWII bunkers have been given a facelift by local street artists, and I personally think that the graffiti added to their charm. You can climb inside of them, climb on top or just snap a photo, but they definitely added to the magic of this hike.

What a view!

What a view!

 

Go to a Luau 

Hawaii is known for luaus and having never done one, I was excited to start at the top. With the Royal Hawaiian being one of Oahu’s most famous, historical hotels, I was so excited to get to experience my first luau here. Oh, and did I mention this luau is oceanfront! The hotel has a special grass lawn that rolls out onto the beach for this Hawaiian feast and performance.

Aha Aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian

Aha Aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian

I suggest paying up for the premier seating so you can have full view of the fantastic dancing and performances. This show is called “Aha Aina” and it actually tells a story of the Helumoa, the ancient playground of Hawaiian royalty on the ground where the show takes place! In addition to the talented performers, there was a lovely live band and an entertaining emcee. Not only that, nature puts on a show as well when the setting sun turns the sky a beautiful shade of pink over the ocean–not unlike the iconic pink of the Royal Hawaiian Resort itself.

Quite the plate

Quite the plate

This certainly is a feast too. The buffet spread was impressive in size and in quality. It included fresh, Hawaiian dishes like locally caught fish, poke and kalua pork. I felt that each offering was just as delicious and well presented as a made to order restaurant and the dessert spread was the cherry on top. All the drinks were great too–I loved the mai tais but was glad to see top shelf wines and spirits available too.

I attended a Monday evening show, but they also now have Thursday night shows. I highly suggest you book early and show up early to guarantee that you’ll get the best spot!

Experience the luau with me in my video below!

 

WHAT BEACHES TO VISIT:

Sunset Beach, Oahu

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach

You know when you look around you and literally gasp at how beautiful some place is? That place is Sunset Beach. It was hot and I had just hiked so I was in desperate need of a dip in the ocean. Using my Google maps, I pulled off on what said Sunset Beach, having no expectations. I was simply blown away by this magical slice of paradise. Crystalline, white sand, turquoise gentle waters and very few people scattered around–I couldn’t believe what I’d found! Needless to say, I stayed on this beach for hours. I didn’t have time to stay for the sunset, but I know I’ll be returning to this beach some day.

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

This was my go-to beach–I came here twice during my week on Oahu and found it to be just right both times. I loved that it is mostly populated with locals and travelers “in the know” as it the entrance is somewhat hidden. On the beach, I saw a high school girls outrigger team practicing, which I decided is the coolest high school sport around. The main attraction though was the clean, white sand, the crystal waters and lack of waves. It was very calm and the water is so clear you can see the fish darting by your toes. I also have to mention that the view of the two islands from the beach really adds to that remote tropical paradise feel. Parking on the residential streets near the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance is free and usually pretty easy to find.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Of course you will see Waikiki Beach and you should. The sunset there is simply stunning. However, it is a crowded beach in the water and on the sand. Hotels and restaurants line it so it can be tricky to walk the whole thing without being blocked by a hotel. However, if you need a quick dip and some refreshing sun, it does the trick. I also was told the waves there are a great for beginner surfers.

 

WHERE TO EAT:

Mahina & Suns

Located in the trendy, impeccably decorated Surfjack Hotel, Mahina & Suns is the type of place you want to go to every week. I felt like I was in a living room of a really cool, stylish friend. Located just off the pool, the restaurant was busy, mostly with locals and outside guests. The word about their food is out! I’d love to try their breakfast and lunch next, but I was blown away by their dinner. This is a casual restaurant with serious food. The menu focuses on “elevated home-cooking,” which basically means the type of stuff Hawaiian mamas make, but even better.

Incredible cocktails at Mahina & Suns

Incredible cocktails at Mahina & Suns

Having a hard time choosing between Kauai Shrimp & Grits, the Kuahiwi Ranch burger or the Naked Pig Pizza, I caved and ordered the Mahina family feast. This feast starts with kualoa oysters, then moves on to a whole snapper, either steamed or fried, plus a slew of local sides like delicious roasted roots. I opted for the steamed preparation, which had an Asian flair in it’s soy dressing.This snapper was a beauty to behold and even more delicious to eat. It was more than enough food for two people–I had to take some home in a doggie bag. I didn’t even get to the second best part, the dessert! The macadamia nut pavlova with fruit and cream was like eating a heavenly cloud. The only frustrating part was at this point, I was already quite full.

Mahina & Suns Family Feast

Mahina & Suns Family Feast

Their cocktails were the best I had on the island. Do yourself a favor and order the Unkle’s Rum Punch. If you need any more convincing, they also have live music every night!

 

Pioneer Salon

After my hike up Diamond Head, I was looking for a nearby restaurant that offered the signature Hawaii Plate Lunch. I wanted something fast, fresh and casual. Step in: Pioneer Salon. From the start, I loved this place. Maybe because of the quirky taxidermy and laidback, tongue-in-cheek vibe of the interior or maybe it was because half the menu is scrawled on scraps of paper and slapped on the wall. But I could see that this was a local favorite and for a Tuesday lunch, it was quite busy.

Pioneer Saloon

Pioneer Saloon

You order at the counter and there are an overwhelming number of options. As the menu skews Japanese, I went with a local Miso Black Cod plate, which came with rice and a side. You can pay extra for brown rice, which I’d recommend as it had delicious little beans in them. I found the fish to be fresh and flavorful and the portion was a good size. Note that since it’s all made to order, it is not the quickest lunch around but it is definitely high quality. Though it was expensive, I felt like it was worth the money.

 

Kono's on Kailua Beach

Kono’s on Kailua Beach

Kono’s

I still think about this kalua pork on a regular basis. There are several Kono’s on Oahu but I checked out the one in Kailua. Known for their surfer atmosphere and 12 hour slow roasted kalua pork, I stopped in for a lunch to-go. Though the “Breakfast Bombers” looked tempting, I had the “Pig on Grass,” which was a mesclun salad with a pile of kalua pork on top. I brought this to the beach and enjoyed every last bite on the sand.

 

The Local's natural shave ice

The Local’s natural shave ice

The Local Shave Ice

Nearby in Kailua is The Local shave ice shop. I actually entered a surf shop to find that The Local shared a space next door. Attracted by their cute logo, I walked over and I’m very glad I did. I was told by the friendly staff that The Local uses only fruits grown on the island and all their syrups are homemade and natural. I have to say, I was previously turned off by the brightly colored, artificially flavored shave ices I had tried around Hawaii and this one was a breath of fresh air. Getting to choose three flavors, I tried Kula Strawberry, Pineapple and Ginger. It was extremely refreshing and not too sweet. Thank you for changing my mind about shave ice, The Local!

 

Leonard's malasadas

Leonard’s malasadas

Leonard’s Bakery

Friends told me I had to go to Leonard’s to try their malasadas. What is a malasada? Good question. This doughy, sugar covered dessert is a Portuguese specialty and basically, a really good, large donut. I waited in line at the retro, pink and white striped bakery for a chance to taste these treats. I chose three flavors out of their many–chocolate, coconut and cinnamon. Still warm, I tried each one in my car and got sugar everywhere, but it was worth it. The cinnamon was classic and delicious but the rich chocolate filled one was my favorite. I didn’t like the coconut because it had an artificial taste to it. Overall, these were good but knowing that they weren’t very natural with their flavors definitely made me dock a point.

 

WHERE TO DRINK:

 

Maui Brewing Company

An upper level, huge restaurant right on the strip in Waikiki, the Maui Brewing Company was popping on a Wednesday night. I had been to their Maui location and had enjoyed the calm, dark bar scene and a flight of beers. This restaurant was a whole different animal. Huge, modern and jam-packed, I couldn’t believe this was the same chain. However, busy usually means good and in this case, it definitely did.

The watermelon martini and fish taco

The watermelon martini and fish taco

The only seat I could get was at the bar, but as I was dining solo, this was perfect. As I am not a huge beer fan, I was attracted by the coral colored martinis the bartender was pouring. When I inquired, I found out that they were spicy watermelon martinis called “The Street Fighter.” Yes please! These were so good, I had to order a second one.

The food was also incredible. They have a more robust menu than the previous pub menu I experience on Maui and I was impressed with all the options. Wanting something lighter, I opted for the Fresh Mahi Tacos. I could taste how local the fish was and it was only elevated by being on homemade, soft corn tortillas, with a healthy dollop of guacamole. And they give you 4! Overall, I had a great experience with the food and would come back with friends for a rowdy, tasty night.

 

Duke's Waikiki mai tai

Duke’s Waikiki mai tai

Dukes Waikiki

It’s touristy, it’s crowded but it IS right on the beach and the mai tais are incredible. I’ve been to three Duke’s at this point: Duke’s Malibu, Duke’s Maui and now, Duke’s Waikiki. I was pleasantly surprised with the nice service and the mai tais are the best here. My fish tacos were a little lacking but did the job. The ambiance is fun and happy–people seem ready to party here!

 

Drinks with a view of surfers at The Point

Drinks with a view of surfers at The Point

The Point, Turtle Bay Resort

I made a point (pun intended) to check out this resort around sunset when I was on the North Shore. I have to say, the resort itself was a bit underwhelming, but the location of the outdoor bar, The Point, was spot-on. I had front row views of this perfect surf break and took in an expensive cocktail as the surfers caught wave after wave in front of me. The location alone gets this on the list.

 

WHERE TO STAY:

 

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

I can’t say enough good things about the budget friendly, brand new Holiday Inn Express Waikiki. Just a few blocks back from Waikiki Beach, the location is close enough to the action for easy walking but removed enough for a less hectic feel. The open air lobby is inviting and well designed and the rooms were simple but great. I loved the clean, plush bed and the water views. The coffee maker, mini fridge and modern, all white bathroom were definite standouts.

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki rooms

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki rooms

 

Daily included breakfast was consistently solid, with fried eggs, make your own pancakes, cereals, yogurts, fruit and more. Plus, the dining area featured a lovely, lush patio.

Skydeck at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Skydeck at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Definitely the highlight of this hotel is the 5th floor skydeck. A large swimming pool, whirlpool, deck chairs and cabanas await you and make it easy to lounge here for the day. The kid in me also loved the miniature golf and shuffleboard set up. On this level, there is access to a very well-equipped, spacious fitness center as well.

Mini Golf at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Mini Golf at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Overall, I think you get a lot of bang for your buck by staying here when you visit Honolulu.

 

Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

 

This pretty much sums up my favorite things on Oahu. That was quite the week!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to give my personal opinion and more tips. Just writing this has made me start to wonder how soon I can get back to that island…

I love you Oahu!

I love you Oahu!

 

xoxoxo

Kelley

Travel Adventure Show LA Kelley Ferro

Speaking at the LA Travel & Adventure Show: My thoughts…

 

 

LA Travel Show Kelley Ferro Savvy Traveler

In February, I had the honor of speaking at the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure show and I have to say, it blew me away. I’ve spoken at a dozen or so travel conferences around world, including some you may be familiar with like Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), TTG/TTI, Eye for Travel, Social Media Week and Travel Blogger Elevator, but I really enjoyed mixing it up by speaking directly to consumers versus professionals in the travel industry.

 

 

 

Of course, I cherish my travel industry “colleagues,” and love learning, sharing and growing in this tight-knit community, but there was something really refreshing about speaking to the enthusiastic traveler. I mean, every one of us in the industry is started as just someone that loved to travel, so at the the LA Travel & Adventure show, I felt like I was speaking to “my people.” The chairs quickly filled with attentive faces, I saws notes frantically being scribbled down, and then hands shooting up to ask engaging questions like “when is the best time of year to go there?” and “what tour operator do you recommend?” At the end, I stayed around to talk individually with those that had more to ask. It is such a thrill to see how my experiences directly can improve someone else’s travels. In the end, that is why I do all of this!

My focus was on the “Top Ten Bucket List Experiences and How to Do Them”–a daunting top ten list, I have to say. It was particularly hard as I have had probably a HUNDRED experiences that I’d consider “bucket list,” and every time I travel to a new place, I find out that there are hundreds more! However, I wanted to keep this talk personal and meaningful so I only chose adventures that I had PERSONALLY experienced.

Let me preface this the way I prefaced my speech–I clearly haven’t been everywhere and don’t know about about every experience. As much as I try, I will never see and do everything. But at this rate, with 50 countries under my belt and a pretty packed non-stop travel schedule for the past 10 years, I think I’ll have a pretty good handle on it when I’m 100 years old. 

I also am not being paid to recommend any of the destinations or tour operators that I suggest in this article nor in my speech. 

Top Bucket List Experiences

How I chose to organize my top ten was focused more on the type of experience than the actual specific destination. I feel that certain travel experiences transcend the specific destination, though certain places enable you to get that experience (make sense?). For each bucket list experience, I gave specific examples where I went to have those memorable moments.

Below I’ll outline a handful of my bucket list adventures and some related video but you’ll just have to come to my next presentation to hear the rest! I will talk about #1, #2, #3, and #5 in my top ten list.

 

#1. The “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone” Trip: Papua New Guinea

I am not saying that you need to be uncomfortable on every trip, but just once, choose a destination, an adventure or a tour that might push your boundaries. Maybe it’ll involve camping outdoors, trekking or pushing yourself in some physical way. Or maybe it’ll be more about an emotional stretch–for instance volunteering at an orphanage or animal rescue center, or living without the luxuries and amenities of the modern world, as many do.

The one destination that had a profound impact on me in this way, was Papua New Guinea. As soon as I landed, I had that overwhelming sense of “wow, I am in a totally different world.” Few roads meant that we used charter planes to access different villages. I was traveling on a private journey with Swain Destinations, a luxe tour operator that has run a lot of tours in PNG and know how to facilitate incredible experiences.  In each of the location in PNG, welcoming locals brought us into the daily markets, told us stories through dance, and shared their belief system, traditions and everyday life.

Papua New Guinea travel

For one part of the trip, I lived in an open air lodge with electricity only a few hours a day, cold water and one option for every meal. I made bedfellows with some interesting wildlife a few times but in general, I enjoyed the simplicity of it! I was staying along the Karawari River, exploring the Sepik region, the lowlands of Papua New Guinea. Each day we took a river boat to experience life on the river and to stop at small villages and meet the people that called them home. I tried my hand at chopping sago palm, which I later helped form into sago pancakes with a village mom. I was granted access in the male-only spirit houses, an integral part of transition into manhood for the village’s male youths. I even took a GoPro selfie with a group of beaming children and wove baskets with a local teenager–and all this without sharing a common language!

The experience put so much into perspective for me in terms of what we value as humans and what we need to not only survive, but to thrive. I boarded my return plane a changed woman.

#2. The Animal Trip: South Africa & Churchill, Manitoba

For me, this is a very important one as we as a race are continuously depleting the chances for survival for many of our planet’s most amazing creatures. I will try to stay positive and focus on what we can change, but I do believe that understanding the need for conservation efforts is the first step to improving the situation.

Safari Polar Bears & Lions

There are many tours and experiences out there that will give guests up close experiences with wild animals but I strongly encourage you to look deeply into the activity that you book. There are many that aren’t following the conservation guidelines or respecting the wildlife, the land or the local people. I fortunately found Swain Destinations, which took me to Kruger National Park where I was able to see lionesses and cubs, lounging cheetahs, grazing rhino, stoic elephants and lionesses with cubs. But they also made sure that the guides were from the local villages, that they supported local anti-poaching and conservation organizations and the hotel property was involved in environmental sustainability efforts.

Polar Bear Churchill

I also have to mention experiencing the polar bears in their natural element: the tundra. Tauck, a well known luxury tour operator, organizes trips up to the very remote Churchill, Manitoba, only accessible by train or plane. Churchill is the “capital of Polar Bears” as it is in the midst of where polar bear territory. We were able to get a close up view of these majestic, endangered bears emerging from hibernation. I learned so much about their life cycle, how they hunt, raise young and how they are struggling to cope with our warming climate that I hope I can be an ambassador for their plight.

#3 The Road Trip: Switzerland

I think most people have done a road trip or two, whether it is a day jaunt to a neighboring town or a long haul to Grandma’s house. But I’m referring to a longer road trip, where you experience a totally new environment, moving from point A to point B. The reason I like road trips is because there is so much focus on the journey. What you see out the windows is often the true look into the local life of the destination. You’ll see cars going to work, vendors selling roadside food and will pass small town life in between.

Switzerland Road Trip

What I also really enjoy is being able to pull that car off the main road and taking a side route, meandering through in little village, stopping for a bite at mom & pop restaurant–you can do what you want! It’s that flexibility and spontaneity that we don’t often find in our daily lives and this is one of the rare opportunities where the unexpected can be much better than what you had planned.

As I write this, visions of driving across Switzerland in the sunny Autumn weather springs into mind. Turning a corner and gasping at the snow covered mountains, or passing young cows jingling their brass bells or getting lost on a medieval carriage road and realizing it might be the most magical road you’ve ever seen–these images won’t leave my memory! My cameraman Sam and I drove a spectacular route: from Geneva to Lausanne, on to Vevey and Crans-Montana, then Zermatt and ultimately, Basel. We went from a cosmopolitan French influenced metropolis to a bustling university city to historic lakeside village. Of course the alpine village of Zermatt was breathtaking and the culturally rich Basel felt like the epicenter of cool, modern life. Yet it was all those moments in between and the unexpected stops–even the car train that took us through the insides of a giant mountain–that painted a real-life picture of Switzerland.

 

#5. The Travel Back in Time Trip: Egypt

You may think that humanity today is intelligent but take a look at what the Egyptians were doing in 3000 BC. There are many ancient civilizations with artifacts, architecture and visible impact still accessible today. However to me the Pyramids of Giza, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of King Tut and the Temple of Dendara were each so impactful, I have to recommend a trip to Egypt for your bucket list. The fact that you can see all of them on the same trip is truly awe-inspiring.

Sphinx Egypt Cairo Giza

I traveled with the very reputable Abercrombie & Kent, a tour operator that at the time in 2014, employed over 300 locals on the ground in Egypt. This not only made the tours, the guides and the experience feel seamless, it also added to the sense of safety in this often tumultuous country. Your view of humanity will be forever changed.

 

*********

I have to stop myself before I write a novel about these Top Ten Bucket List Experiences but I hope this gives those of you that weren’t at the LA Travel and Adventure show, a little taste of what was discussed.

If you want to learn more about my travels, check out my Youtube series and subscribe!

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll answer you!

 

Oh, and check out this fun video that my friend Sarah Dandashy of AskaConcierge made just after my talk. She is a go-getter and glad I got some of the energy of the day on video!

 

Travel Well,

xx Kelley

travel guide to switzerland

My Travel Guide to Switzerland

This is my ultimate guide to an incredible country: Switzerland! I spend two weeks on a road trip, and I take you with me–showing you where to eat, stay, what to drink and see and how to experience the best of the best!
Starting in the posh Geneva where I visited markets, ate amazing Michelin cuisine, took a steamship cruise and river ferry and saw the UN. Next we cruised along the coast of Lake Geneva, stopping at adorable villages like Saint Saphorin, sampling wines of Lavaux, staying over in fun cities of Vevey and Lausanne and heading into the hills on a vintage train to make cheese and roam the alps in Chateaux D’Oex.

Food Guide of the Lake Geneva Region

 

Cheese. Lake fish. Chasselas grapes. Chevreuil. Mushrooms. There’s so much good food in the Lake Geneva region, you need to come with an appetite! I toured through Vevey’s Farmer’s Market, the farms of the Pays D’enhaut, tasting the cheeses of Château-d’Oex, Michelin restaurants L’Auberge de L’Onde & La Brasserie at the Royal Savoy Hotel and sipped wines in Lavaux. Don’t miss the lake fish, the family run wineries and vineyards in Lavaux, like Domaine du Croix Duplex, and the amazing cheeses!

Papua New Guinea: A Country Profile

Explore this remote part of the world with me as I go from Papua New Guinea’s mountainous Highlands to the Karawari River and Sepik in the Lowlands. With few roads, we took a charter plane between locations on the most remote experience of my life!

 

Sponsors: United States Tour Operators Association

Custom tour itinerary provided by Swain Destinations.

Tohoku Japan Ginzan Onsen

The Five Places You Need to See in Tohoku

Before coming to Japan I hadn’t heard of the Tohoku Region and now I’ve been completely charmed by this pastoral, natural part of northern Japan. This is the antithesis of the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and that’s what makes it special. Many retreat up North to enjoy farm fresh foods, breathtaking natural beauty and to take step back into Japan’s traditional roots.

1. Spend a morning at Hirosaki Castle

Though not quite a castle in the “fairytale” sense of the word, the Hirosaki Castle is a lovely Japanese style building, with ornate roof details and impressive silhouette. However, the real reason you visit is for the vast park that surrounds it. We happened to be fortunate enough to be visiting in the spring, when the cherry blossoms were at the height of their bloom. It felt like walking through a sea of pink, every different hue, with delicate petals floating in the breeze. The cherry blossoms created avenues of flowers, and I meandered over bridges that crossed the series of pleasant canals.  Everywhere I turned was worthy of a photo–especially when I got to the viewpoint of the majestic snow capped mountain in the distance.

My Recommendation: Go there early (like 7am) if you want more flowers than people in your photos. Also, next time I go, I am bringing a picnic so I can waste an afternoon under one of the swaying sakura trees.

2. Eat Wanko-Soba

Wanco Soba

Tohoku is famous for its buckwheat noodle, soba. I tasted it in tea, in ice cream and in many variations of the noodle form. However, the best soba experience that I had was Wanko-Soba in Morioka. Here, diners are encouraged not only to eat soba but to eat as much as they can and as fast as they can. An average lunch can turn competitive as the waitresses serve you soba in small “mouthful” sized dishes. The waitresses tower over you, shouting encouragement as you slurp, refilling as fast as you can eat. Of course the other options were delicious as well–I really enjoyed their tuna sashimi and pickled vegetables. But if you plan to nab the record, don’t waste stomach space. You are going to need it since you’ll need to eat over one hundred bowls! Slurp!

My Recommendation: Bring a competitive friend and have a soba eating contest!

3. Stroll through a Samurai Village

Kakunodate

Kakunodate

Tohoku is known for it’s storied Samurai culture and to get as close as you can to it today, visit Kakunodate, a well preserved Samurai town. There is one completely original house dating back 200 years and it’s still in the ownership of its original Samurai family line. There’s another home that also has a museum, just a few steps down. The museum has an impressive display of Samurai gear, with intimidating swords and helmets. Even just wandering down the streets, stopping for an ice cream  and to admire this organized village, makes for a picturesque visit.

My Recommendation: Earlier is better to avoid the crowds!

4. Commune with Nature

Sanriku Fukkuo

The rugged coastline of Tohoku blew me away. It looked like the Mediterranean coast or even New Zealand–but it certainly did not look like Japan. The Sanriku Fukko National Park stretches along a pristine part of the coast, with three steep trails that allow you to walk through old forests and view the majestic cliffs. There are three lookouts with views, number 2 being the best.
My Recommendation: If you want a good workout, hike all the way down to the beach to get up close with the bright blue waters.

5. Visit Teapot Workshop Iwachu Nambu Tekki

IMG_1333

I hadn’t paid much attention to teapots until now. Tea is an extremely important part of Japanese culture and here at the factory, you can witness how some of the finest traditional teapots are made by hand. You can step inside the workshop, watching the craftsman painstaking create the signature dots that cover these iron pots. Each teapot takes about 2 weeks to create so it’s no wonder that they aren’t cheap. I toured the museum but was most taken by the gallery where their finest work is on display. Neon colors and even Hello Kitty tastefully grace some of the newer models of this old brand.

My Recommendation: Visit the workshop first to understand the intense labor and dedication needed to create each teapot. Then go to the shop and buy one for yourself!

BONUS TIP: GINZAN ONSEN

Ginzan

Ginzan-Onsen is a hot spring town, built lining a central spring. Stay at one of the handful of traditional style hotels, from boutique to more contemporary, each with their own onsen experience. The postcard worthy town has charming pedestrian bridges, boutique shops and several eateries. But the real reason to come here is to soak in the geo-thermal waters. I didn’t realize how therapeutic it could be until I tried it for myself. After a few minutes in the healing waters, I felt renewed from the inside out.

My Recommendation: Check out Ginzanso if you want large tatami style rooms with your own private onsen on your deck.  

For more recommendations, leave me a comment! Be sure to tune in to CNN on May 18th to watch the full video of my Tohoku experience!

Millennials Talk about Modern China today

Just as China is so ancient, it is very futuristic and advanced. In Shanghai, Xi’an & Beijing, the three cities that I visited on my experience with Wendy Wu Tours, I met up with many young locals and learned a lot about what it was like to live in modern China. From head sprouts, children laws to street dancing–I was able to get a real look at the country today through these honest, Chinese millennials.

Show: Live like a Local in China with Kelley Ferro: USTOA Travel Together Series featuring Wendy Wu Tours & Visit China Now

Exploring the Ancient Side of China

I recently explored China and I was blown away by how China’s rich history is still very much alive and in full focus today. Beijing & Xi’an both had neighborhoods where I felt like I was stepping back in time. Take a trip through history with me in this episode where we see the terra-cotta warriors, the Hutongs of Beijing and the Great Wall!

Show: Live like a Local in China with Kelley Ferro: USTOA Travel Together Series featuring Wendy Wu Tours & Visit China Now

Kelley Goes Local in Brazil

I get local all over this country, from Salvador to Lencois to Rio de Janeiro. Whether I am spelunking caves, snorkeling in grottos, learning capoeira, drinking caipirinhas or climbing Corcovado, I experience only what the locals love in their country.

Shows: Live Like a Local in Brazil with Kelley Ferro USTOA Travel Together Series