Valley of Fire State Park

Elephant Rock Valley of FireElephant Rock Valley of Fire

Only a few miles from Las Vegas lies Nevada’s oldest and, according to this author, one of its prettiest State Parks. Valley of Fire offers fantastic scenery for photographers, pleasant hikes outside the scorching summer months, and petroglyphs for the historian in you.

The close proximity to Las Vegas makes this one of the most visited parks in Nevada, which still does not mean much by California standards. A few large coach busses shuttle people here every day and a couple of intimate tours from Las Vegas arrive as well, but you can easily avoid them if you come with your own car. Hike just a mile from the beaten path and you will find yourself alone amidst one of the strangest landscapes in the west.

Venice

Venice Sunset ItalyVenice Sunset ItalyA city for meanderers, Venice rewards every minute devoted to penetrating its maze of intertwined lanes, narrow waterways and storybook bridges. While millions stream into this tiny city and succumb to its magic, it is easy enough to find peace and discover the extraordinary. After all, there is hardly a building that isn’t a unique monument or a palace.  Lose yourself in the labyrinth, that is part of the fun! Even the most imaginative theme park creator could never have come up with the extraordinary city that is Venice. It is a romantic, hedonistic, mysterious place, the setting for many novels and for even more films.

Northern Italy

Riva del Garda Lake Garda ItalyRiva del Garda Lake Garda ItalyTo my mind, there is no place more magical on earth than Italy. Within the confines of its boot, there is something for everyone. For the gourmet, there is some of the finest food in the world. For the archeologist, there are some of the world’s most ancient and best-preserved ruins to explore. The outdoors type can climb beautiful mountains and ski. Art lovers cannot find enough time to see all the museums and churches filled with works by some of the world’s best artists-- Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, to name just a few. There is the Italian Riviera for those who like the beach and lakes for those who seek tranquility and beauty. Italy is truly a perfect place to explore.

Here is one of my favorite driving itineraries for northern Italy that combines beautiful towns, glorious mountains and stunning lakes.

Vienna Highlights

Vienna AustriaVienna AustriaIn a former incarnation my husband must have been a courtier in the palace of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph. How else can I explain his never-ending passion for visiting Vienna? Whenever I propose a trip to Italy, he counters with Vienna. If I suggest travel to China, he brings up; yes you guessed it, Vienna. Needless to say, over the years I have gotten to know Vienna and Austria very well.

That being said, I must admit that over those years I have begun to understand the powerful attraction. Vienna is beautiful, elegant, aristocratic and cultured. It has palaces, gardens, music, museums, elegant cafes and wonderful food.  Austria with its endless stunning views of mountains, valleys and lakes can inspire even the tone deaf to sing like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.”

Florence

Florence Sunset ItalyFlorence Sunset ItalyI took my first trip to Florence right after college. I remember walking near the train station when two fellow American students stopped me and asked if they could “do the highlights” of Florence in three days.

I knew even then that the two-week period I had allotted for my first stay in Florence was not going to be nearly enough. Since then I have been lucky enough to return again and again.

Florence is best appreciated by wandering the historic ancient streets, stopping in churches that abound with masterpieces, poking your head into trendy boutiques, sitting and enjoying a cappuccino or gelato in one of the sidewalk cafes, strolling through the piazzas, and ending the day in a perfect small restaurant for delicious pasta, or for the famously huge, delicious, juicy steak known as Bistek Fiorentina.  But for the sake of answering the question those students asked me so many years ago, here is a plan of “doing the highlights” in about three days.

Italy

Positani, Amalfi CoastPositani, Amalfi CoastItaly’s endless charms have always drawn travelers in search of culture and la dolce vita.  Few countries can compete with Italy’s classical origins, its art, architecture and wealth of historical remains left by an empire, which ruled the known world from Britain to Africa.

From the northern snow-capped peaks of the Alps to the sun-kissed coasts of Sicily lies a beautiful country with a plethora of distinctive regions and people. Throw in the great food, wonderful wines, warm, friendly people and a beautiful language that sounds sung rather than spoken and you have the makings of an enchanting experience.

India

IndiaIndia

India was the last place on earth I wanted to visit the very first time I went there. I was on a one-year trip around the world and India was cheap so I went reluctantly. It didn't help that in the very first afternoon of my arrival a large, grey ugly rat greeted me in the shower in the $10-a-night "hotel" in Bombay where I was staying. After three months, I was glad to leave, tired of the poverty, the beggars, the noise and the tongue-burning spicy food.

In a letter home I wrote: "India is a country with too many people, too many cows, too many customs and too many Gods."

About a year after I left, India began to draw me back. Perhaps nostalgia had settled in and blunted the sharp edges of my memories. I wanted to look out a train window again to see flooded rice fields, men dressed in white loincloths guiding bullocks by their tails, women in brilliant-colored saris whipping clothes against rocks in the river. I may have been miserable in India, but I was never bored.

Rome

Beautiful View Of RomeBeautiful View Of RomeDuring a day in Rome you can encounter more amazing art and architecture than in a year-long art history class. One interesting way to see the Eternal City is by spicing it up with intrigue and mystery. I am talking about the "Angels and Demons" tour where you visit sites featured in the Dan Brown novel, later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. 

The story unravels in some of the most magnificent spots in Rome, including the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo, the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo. Hanks plays the role of Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of art history and religious symbols, who, along with the beautiful Vittoria, tries to stop a secret society called the Illuminati from destroying the Vatican by unleashing a doomsday weapon.