St. Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Traveling to new and exciting places helps us comprehend the true meaning of life and living. It helps us become our better versions. Each time we travel, we see the world clearer and with a new set of eyes.
When we travel, we seek new adventures and new things to do. Traveling to a new destination gives us purpose in our lives and puts focus into our lives. With all these, our lives become evidently richer in so many aspects.
Now that global COVID-19 vaccinations are on the near horizon, we are seeing the light at the end of this shared tunnel we’ve been traversing. Post COVID-19, everyone would be more than thrilled to do the things they want to do: hug and party with their friends, be free to go to different establishments sans fear and wearing masks, and oh yes, indulging in a bit of traveling across the oceans.
Ahh…the places Maria will go (and re-visit) — post COVID — of course! Maria is blessed to have lived in three different continents: Asia (Manila for 25 years and Dubai for three months); Europe (London for nine years from 1983 to 1991, Scotland for one year, and Barcelona for six months); and North America (Manhattan for three months and at present, Vancouver for 16 years and counting). Maria learned the most out of life through living in these different cities. She totally immersed herself in their varying cultures and traditions taking only valuable memories and leaving only footprints behind.
Let us discover new traveling destinations via five different continents — Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. Let us start creating our destination bucket list as we continue to pray and hope for a brighter future without this life-sucking pandemic. When we visualize, reality follows suit and materializes. What are we waiting for, let’s all visualize together!
Israel. It is the only country that stands at the crossroads of three different continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Geographically, it belongs to the Asian continent and is part of the Middle East region. In the west, Israel is bound by the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon and Syria border it to the north, Jordan to the east, Egypt to the southwest and the Red Sea to the south.
For Maria, Israel holds a special place in her heart. Her Significant Other was born and raised in its capital city, Jerusalem. Maria first visited Israel in the latter part of December 2019 to the first two weeks of January 2020. She fell head over heels in love with the country, its culture, and above all, its people. Maria found it a peaceful, modern, and cosmopolitan country. In terms of technology and fashion, it is ahead of its time.
Israel’s official name is Medinat Yisraʾel in Hebrew. Its form of government is a multiparty republic with one legislative house (Knesset). The current Head of State is President Reuven Rivlin with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Head of Government. Its official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. Its currency is the new Israeli shekel (NIS) and 1 USD equals 3.317 Israeli shekel. The estimated population in 2020 was 8,773,000.
Today, Israel, with a population of 9 million, is ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to jabbing half of its population with COVID-19 vaccine. It is also set to introduce the “green pass” — which allows its vaccinated citizens to allow entry to gyms, theatres, concerts, hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, and bars. With its newly released app that monitors and tracks people whether they’ve been inoculated or not, life back to normal appears to be on its way, with shops and restaurants reopening and hotels accepting reservations again.
Things to Do:
Go to Jerusalem. Contrary to what most people think, Jerusalem is actually a safe place to visit. Here you can see the Western Wall, which is an ancient sacred site for Jewish prayers. You can visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a circa-4th-century Christian chapel; the Mount Temple, a hilltop compound of religious sites; Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine housing Foundation Stone; you can walk the holy site believed to be walked by Jesus, the Via Dolorosa; Mount of Olives, a revered peak & Christian pilgrimage site; The Israel Museum, with its national art & archaeology museum; the Church of Nativity, a storied, ancient 4th-century church; then of course, there’s Tower of David and Mount Zion.
Caesarea (pronounced as “Keysaria”). The ruins of the ancient city, on the coast about 2 km south of modern Caesarea, were excavated in the 1950s and 1960s and the site was incorporated into the new Caesarea National Park in 2011. Caesarea Maritima was built in Roman-ruled Judea under the Jewish King Herod the Great during c. 22-10/9 BCE near the ruins of the small naval station of Straton’s Tower. You can visit the famous Roman aqueduct, The Herodian hippodrome, columns, mosaics, and the theatre.
Tel Aviv. What can one say about Tel Aviv? It is modern living meets ancient history in a thriving beach city on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Forbes has ranked it as the 2nd place on the list of 2020’s top destinations in the world. Tel Aviv is world-renowned for its bustling cafe culture and high-quality restaurants, as well as a trendy nightlife scene.
Walk and bike along the Tayalet, a pedestrian-only street that runs along the Mediterranean from the Old Tel Aviv Port to Jaffa, offering bikers and strollers spectacular views of the sea. Visit the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, one of Israel’s premier artistic institutions, housing works from the 16th century to the present. Shop at the buzzing Carmel Market, which is the largest open-air marketplace in the city.
Stroll around the funky Neve Tzedek Quarter — the city’s oldest neighborhood, where lovely old Bauhaus architecture buildings have been well preserved, and many now house arty boutiques, cafés, and some of the city’s hippest restaurants. Shop around Dizengoff Street, which runs southeast to Habima Square, Tel Aviv’s cultural center and home to the Habima Theater, built in 1935.
Haifa. Visit Haifa, a Northern Israeli port known for Mediterranean beaches and the terraced Bahá’í Gardens on Mount Carmel. Go shopping at the Haifa Port, a busy port with duty-free shopping.
Golan Heights. This reminds me of an amazing movie based on a true to life story, The Spy which starred Sacha Baron Cohen — a must see movie! Visit the Golan Beach, a picturesque recreational beach.
Jaffa. Jaffa is an ancient port city in Israel. It is common knowledge that Jaffa is the port from which Jonah left in the story of the Whale! Discover the sites, sounds, and smells of the small alleyways and streets lined with artists’ galleries and studios, as well as, boutiques and craft shops. Take selfies at Tel Aviv’s Old Railway station which is a short stroll up the Mediterranean Coast. Visit the Florentine neighbourhood and marvel at old Tel Aviv architecture.
Eilat. Go and swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Reef Beach. Do a camel safari at the Camel Ranch. Go camping and marvel at a thousand stars at nighttime at the Timna Park and Eilat Mountains. Visit the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve for a bit of wild African safari where you can see ostrich, camels, other exotic animals, and the desert.
Sea of Galilee. Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias, Arabic Buḥayrat Ṭabarīyā, Hebrew Yam Kinneret, lake in Israel through which the Jordan River flows. It is famous for its biblical associations. Go to Mount Arbel and do some hiking and marvel at the elevated water views. Visit the The Beatitude Monastery, a historic 1836 monastery with sea views. Get to see the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, a church largely connected to Jesus and a miracle he performed.
Dead Sea. It is also called Salt Sea, landlocked salt lake between Israel and Jordan in southwestern Asia. Its eastern shore belongs to Jordan, and the southern half of its western shore belongs to Israel. The northern half of the western shore lies within the Palestinian West Bank and has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Jordan River, from which the Dead Sea receives nearly all its water, flows from the north into the lake. Swimming and floating on the Dead Sea is quite an exhilarating experience, it’s like being a part of the biblical history.
OCD Tel Aviv. (Tirtsa St 17, Tel Aviv-Yafo) OCD is an open kitchen concept where one can indulge in a true culinary experience in an artistic way. The meal is served in a series of dishes (up to 16 courses). Seafood dishes are highly recommended. $$$$
Hatraklin Meat and Wine Bistro. (Heihal HaTalmud St 4, Tel-Aviv) Start with the Beef Ceviche, raw beef with pistachios and coriander — totally melts in your mouth! Follow it with possibly the best steak in the world: Porter House 1000 grams, filet, sirloin, T-bone cut grilled with the bone, totally mouth-watering culinary delight! To end your dinner on a sweet note, try their Knafeh, a mixture of apples, pears, and Ricotta cheese pastry. $$$$
West Side. (Hayarkon 19 Tel-Aviv) Serves Mediterranean, Israeli, International cuisine in an elegant setting by the sea. Meats cooked to perfection, one of the best kosher restaurants in the world. $$$
Best Places to Stay In:
Photo courtesy of the Royal Beach Tel Aviv Hotel website.
Royal Beach Tel Aviv. (Hayarkon 19 St., Tel-Aviv-Yafo, Israel) Across the street from the beach, this contemporary high-rise hotel is 2 km from Old Jaffa, the historic old city, and 4 km from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Setai, Tel Aviv. (David Razi’el St 22, Tel Aviv-Yafo, 6802919, Israel) Located at the Old City, a buzzing portside area with eclectic art galleries & a Flea Market, plus a happening dining scene. 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Orchid Tel Aviv. (HaYarkon St 79, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) This is where Maria stayed with her Significant Other during her last visit. Overlooking the beach, this contemporary hotel is 2 km from the Culture Palace, home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and 3 km from the Tel Aviv Port entertainment area. Excellent inclusive breakfast buffet and cocktail hour. 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Botswana. Take a romantic adventure trip to this beautiful African country and fall in love with each other. The point of visiting Botswana is to commune with nature and wildlife. Botswana’s rich variety of wildlife — exotic birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and reptiles make it an exciting destination. It has gained international stature as a peaceful and increasingly prosperous democratic state making it a safe place to go to in the centre of Southern Africa. Its southern and eastern and borders are marked by an old wagon road and beautiful river courses. Up to 70% of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert while approximately two-thirds of the country lies within the Tropics. It is slightly larger than France and smaller than Texas.
Its official language is English so there’s no risk of getting lost in translation in the midst of wilderness! Its form of government is a multiparty republic with one legislative house with President Mokgweetsi Masisi as the Head of State and Government. Its capital city is Gaborone — it’s known for the Gaborone Game Reserve, sheltering native animals like wildebeest and impala, plus resident and migratory birds. It is the economic capital as well as the government capital. Its currency is pula, which is 1 USD equals 10.860 Botswana pula.
Things to Do:
Gaborone Game Reserve. Here’s a wonderful opportunity to view Botswana’s wildlife in a natural and accessible location. While it is only 5 sq km, it is still a magical place to get to see wildebeest, elands, gemsboks, kudus, ostriches, and warthogs. The birdlife, which includes kingfishers and hornbills, is particularly plentiful and easy to spot from observation areas.
Mokolodi Nature Reserve. This reserve is part of a national breeding programme, which contributes to the rebuilding of the national herd in Botswana. It has many species of wildlife such as giraffe, zebra, southern white rhinoceros, mountain reedbuck, red hartebeest, gemsbok, kudu, impala, waterbuck, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, brown hyena, and leopard.
Kgale Hill. Known as “The Sleeping Giant”, Kgale Hill is a popular tourist destination for hiking and climbing. Along the trails, prepare to encounter langurs. It is approximately 45 minutes to the top and about 25 minutes back to the base car park.
Visit Art Galleries. Go to the National Museum and Art Gallery, where you can marvel at cultural artifacts and traditional homes. Take time to stop by at David Arts and Gallery, where you can see plenty of African paintings, drawings, you can have painting lessons, see murals on walls, and many more.
Beef Baron Grill and Rib Room. (Grand Palm Hotel and Casino, Gaborone, Botswana) Fine dining and drinking fine wines at its best! Indulge in the best steak in town. Dedicated to providing and serving fresh and high-quality meals. $$$$
Caravela Portuguese Restaurant. (Plot 421 Mokgosi Close off Independence Avenue in Extension 4, Gaborone, Botswana) Offering delectable Portuguese food in the heart of Africa. They serve a large variety of seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes. Scrumptious desserts, and a large variety of refreshments complete your dining experience. $$$
The Courtyard Restaurant @ Botswanacraft. (Plot 20716, Magochanyama Road, off Western Bypass, Block 3 Gaborone) The Courtyard Restaurant is tucked away behind the retail store, and is the ideal meeting place for a business breakfast or a relaxed lunch. They serve authentic African cuisine with an array of heavenly desserts and cocktails to try! $$
Best Places to Stay In:
The Grand Palm Hotel Casino Convention Resort. (Plot 17989 Bonnington Farm, Molepolole Road, Gaborone,Botswana) Set in a stately building 6 km from the National Museum and Art Gallery, this modern hotel is 8 km from Kgale Hill and 9 km from the National Botanical Garden. 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Avani Gaborone Resort & Casino. (Chuma Drive, Gaborone, Botswana) Find yourself in the heart of Botswana’s capital, with access to all the city action, nearby wildlife and plenty of fun on site. It is a 20-minute drive from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport and a short drive from Gaborone Game Reserve. 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Protea Hotel by Marriott Gaborone Masa Square. (Plot 54353, New CBD, Corner Khama Crescent & Western Avenue, Botswana) This informal hotel in the Central Business District is a 12-minute walk from Three Dikgosi Monument, dedicated to tribal leaders, 3 km from art at the Botswana National Museum, and 14 km from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Amanpulo. Do what Hollywood Royalty do — unwind and relax in the luxury of the epitome of a tropical paradise, Amanpulo. It is a lush and opulent resort located on a private island known as Pamalican (Filipino word meaning ‘a place to return to or keep going back’), set among the Quiniluban group of Cuyo Islands, 360km south-west of Manila. Designed by renowned Filipino architect Bobby Manosa with inspiration from traditional Filipino dwellings and culture, this resort opened its doors in 1993. It offers snow-white beaches, crystal-clear seas, pristine diving and endless watersports. It has 40 Casitas and 11 villas.
Its Casitas (cabins) offer luxury accommodation with direct beach access via sandy footpaths, magnificent views of the turquoise sea from the hillside, or seclusion within the forest canopy. You can choose from the different casitas: Beach Casitas, which are set along the white-sand beach with wooden decks and hammocks; Treetop Pool Casitas, which are situated on a private wooden deck and swimming pool with views of the treetops; Treetop Casitas, with its serene views of lush rainforest canopy from the spacious wooden deck; Hillside Casitas, with its elevated setting with beautiful sea views from a private wooden deck; and the Deluxe Hillside Casitas, which are identical to the Hillside Casitas but with superior views of the sea.
Things to Do: You can fill your days with oceanic adventures such as snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boat trips to nearby islets, or you can do onshore activities such as playing tennis, cycling, hiking, having fun doing jungle obstacle courses or bird watching. At night, you can get up close to the stars with the resorts’ astronomical refracting telescope. Or you can simply indulge in the enjoyable art of doing absolutely NOTHING! Imagine just laying down in a cabana sipping fresh cold coconut juice or if you wish, ice cold Margarita!
Nama Japanese Restaurant. Discover the best Japanese culinary experience by trying their Premium Wagyu beef as well as the finest soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar and Aman’s own Tokyo-distilled sake, which are flown in daily from Japan’s most respected suppliers. The key word for this restaurant is: authenticity. $$$$
Clubhouse Restaurant. It offers Filipino and International cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in an elegant setting overlooking the main swimming pool, the Sulu Sea and Manamoc Island. $$$
The Beachclub. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located on the western side of Pamalican island directly on the sand, it is an idyllic place for colourful cocktails! It specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and fresh, live seafood. $$$
Best Places to Stay In:
A Hillside Casita costs USD$1,600 per night including tax at 10 percent. A minimum three-night stay often applies. Rates usually include breakfast and resort activities (non-motorised boats, tennis, gym and daily group classes).
A Beach Casita costs USD$1,900 per night including tax at 10 percent. It sleeps three people and is set along Amanpulo’s white-sand beach, with wooden sundecks and beach-side hammocks for private lounging. Daily breakfast for two is included.
Editor’s Note: This column is divided into three parts. Read the second part for Australia/Oceania, Europe, and North America [READ: Ahhh, The Places Maria Will Go! – Part 2] and the third part for South America [READ: Ahhh, The Places Maria Will Go! – Part 3]