By: Jenny Buccos, with intro by Tati Amare
**travel videos not by Jenny Buccos
In between planning trips for her award-winning multimedia projects designed to educate youth on the world’s cultures, histories and people. As the founder of ProjectExplorer.org and director of over 200 short films for students, Jenny Buccos actually finds time to do some leisure traveling.
Jenny has visited more than 30 countries, with plans to visit three more before the end of 2010. In the last two years alone, she logged 50 flights – all to points abroad or within foreign countries. That’s averaging a flight every 15 days! Since she has seen so much of the world, UrbLife.com challenged Jenny to pick out her Top 7 destinations.
Jenny, we’ll start here and get back to you. There are plenty of links in this article to keep everyone informed, and I’m officially inspired to get my travel on!
1. London, England
London was one of my first international travel experiences and remains my favorite destination. It’s a great place for friends or family, and a perfect romantic getaway, but I also enjoy it going solo. I like to be based in Soho, and Hazlitt’s Hotel is perfect, consisting of a small group of historic houses from the early 1700’s. This hotel doesn’t have all of the luxuries of a modern hotel, but it’s my perfect urban escape and a stone’s throw to all I want to see.
London feeds my theatre addiction without running up my credit card. Between the £5 groundling tickets at Shakespeare’s Globe to the £10 seats at the National Theatre, one can take in plenty of theatre on a budget.
Konditor and Cook is just off the main market and is the perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee and something sweet for a walk along the Thames. I dream of Konditor’s raspberry coconut bars.
I could spend all day at the Tate Modern, which has free admission, and the bookstalls near the National Theatre on the Southbank always result in a fantastic find.
2. Johannesburg, South Africa
South Africa is a strong contender for my Number 1 spot. Johannesburg has been a favorite destination since first visiting in 2007, and I try to make annual trips there (five so far!) to visit the friends I made while shooting a documentary there.
While many international visitors land in Johannesburg and head straight to safari, this city for me is the soul of South Africa. When visiting, I typically stay one night at the Melrose Arch hotel, a trendy 5-star hotel with rooms similar to NYC loft spaces. Here, I usually get room service and a massage to recover from the 15+ hour flight and the inevitable jet-lag before meeting up and spending the rest of my vacation with friends.
Johannesburg is all about the energy and vibrancy of its people. I spend most of my time hitting the night clubs to listen to jazz music, attending plays, and many, many hours sharing great meals with great friends. Johannesburg has amazing restaurants across the city. Sophiatown Restaurant in Newtown are favorites and the owners remember me every time I return, even though I’m barely there once a year.
3. Mozambique, Africa
I’d return to Mozambique in a heartbeat. I spent most of my time in the sea-side Portuguese-speaking city of Maputo. Mozambique has more than 1,000 miles of pristine coastline, though it is not terribly popular with American and European tourists. A violent civil war in the 1980′s and early 1990′s led to a sharp decline in tourism.
At Costa do Sol, minutes from the center of Maputo, I had one of the best meals of my life – an entire line-caught fish hooked just hours before, simply grilled with lemon and pepper. The entire fish, including my drink and chips, cost no more than $5 and the setting was a palm-tree spotted beach at sunset.
I day-tripped from Maputo via a sunrise ferry ride to Catembe, which was followed by a four-hour-plus drive where we reached an abandoned beach on the Indian Ocean. There we found a seldom-visited elephant and crocodile game reserve. There was no infrastructure, no mobile reception, just my friends, myself, and the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean. I saw only two other people the entire time.
4. Greece – Athens and Mykonos
Visiting Greece was the first time I’d gotten to visit places that I’d seen in schoolbooks as a kid. Seeing the Parthenon up close was thrilling, and peering over the hill into the Theater of Dionysus recalled every ancient Greek play I’d read in college. What surprised me the most was a small fishing boat ride to the island of Delos, the birthplace of Gods.
Of course a girl’s got to eat, and Greece was perfect for a pescatarian. The fish was perfectly cooked wherever we went, in simple herbs and lemon, and I had more feta cheese there in a week than I’ve eaten in the 10 years since. I would love to return now that I know a little better how to get the most out of my travels, so that I can see all the things I know I missed the first time around.
5. Penang, Malaysia
I have toured most parts of Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Penang was, by far, my favorite. It has everything – amazingly photographic Buddhist and Hindu temples, a diverse culture, posh hotels, beaches and food! Penang is a food lover’s dream! There’s amazing Indian and Chinese cuisine.
The nighttime hawker stalls on Gurney Drive have some of the best street food I’ve ever encountered. Though I recommend avoiding the rojak, a popular local dish with diced fresh fruit dowsed in shrimp and chili paste.
Penang’s culinary treasure, for me, is the otak-otak at Mama Nyonya’s restaurant. This is not a dish I would have typically been drawn to, but the owner prepared this for me during a film location scouting trip. Otak-otak is a fish mousse, infused with sweet coconut milk and herbs. It is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The taste: nearly indescribable.
In Penang, I recommend the G Hotel and its stylish, comfortable rooms. It’s got a great night scene with a DJ spinning lounge music, and is located right across from Gurney Drive. They even have bicycles to rent if you want to see the city on two wheels.
6. Jordan – Wadi Rum, Petra, Dead Sea
The Middle Eastern country of Jordan is steeped in history and tradition. In fall 2008, during my first travel experience in the Middle East, I spent four weeks exploring Jordan; from the northern border near Lebanon to the capital city of Amman to the rarely-visited regions due to their proximity to the Iraqi border.
For me, there are three “musts” in Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea.
Awe-inspiring Petra left me marveling at the precision and artistic details with which ancient builders carved a massive city entirely from sandstone. It takes two to three days to explore this sprawling city, and Petra by Night is a must.
Several times a week, visitors can walk the long candlelit pathway, in silence, to the Treasury, the most famous building in the ancient city. At the Treasury, I sat under the starry sky, sipped traditional herbal tea, and listened to Bedouin music and storytelling illuminated only by candlelight. It was possibly one of the most breath-taking travel experiences I have ever had. Most of the hotels and restaurants, though, are tourist traps.
Taybet Zaman, however, provides a gorgeous mountain top view in a restored 19th century village setting, and Petra Kitchen invites visitors to participate in Middle Eastern cooking classes with regional, seasonal ingredients.
Wadi Rum is unlike any other place I have seen. While I’m not the camping type, there are very few options for visitors. I spent a night in a bedouin tent – no running water, sand everywhere. However, this was one of the most authentic travel experiences I have ever had. One of the main reasons I travel is to experience how people around the world live their lives – their food, their traditions, their music. I hung out in the tent, drank sweetened mint tea and listened to my hosts play the rababa.
Another “must” in Jordan is the Dead Sea. The sensation of floating in the Dead Sea is nearly impossible to describe; one that just needs to be experienced first-hand to understand. After roughing it in Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea was the perfect relaxing Spa getaway. The Kempinski Hotel has gorgeous waterfront views as the sun sets over Israel, and equally amazing rooms.
7. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is a city at the crossroads of the planet, and being there is like sampling every great city in the world. The food is a mix of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, with Indian and Middle Eastern influences. The culture is urban with jazz clubs and experimental theater, and also reflects the traditional music, dance, and art of before the Ottoman Empire.
My week in Istanbul was marked by fishing off Galata Bridge with local fisherman, strolling the city’s incredible Museum of Contemporary Art, exploring a 6th century cistern, and some very-high end window shopping. Its a city of stark contrasts which makes it a perfect vacation spot.
The very-trendy W Hotel Instanbul complete with a Spice Market restaurant [by Jean-Georges Vongerichten]– yes, the same Spice Market as in New York’s Meatpacking District – was an unexpected find for me. The only downside of the W was the early morning call to prayer that sweeps across the city, and seemed to blast directly into my hotel room.