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A HALF-DAY TOUR OF MUSCAT

[MUSCAT, OMAN] — When I told people I was going to Oman, they first nod, then shake their head. “Wait, Oman?  Where’s Oman?” I felt that too when I first saw pictures of the incredible hotels in my previous posts. But Muscat, was a great surprise to me, as well. I was just planning to be in/out of the city in a short time, so really didn’t expect to see much. But once there, I realized that I hadn’t planned well — I had booked the trip just ten days prior. _________________________________________________ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Oman ranks right up there with Singapore as the cleanest and safest country on earth. No crime, no graffiti, no trash, no car honking. No discussion of politics or religion. If your

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A HIP HOTEL ON AN OCEAN CLIFF, RIGHT NEXT TO EUPOPE’S TALLEST SAND DUNE.

[PYLA-SUR-MER, FRANCE] — I didn’t even know this beast was here. Never heard a squeak of it before. I actually came here in search of a beautiful hotel which mentioned its prime location next to the Dune du Pilat, about an hour south of Bordeaux. Okay. So can I get room? But when I pulled up, holy cow! My dumb fortunate luck led me to yet another amazing natural phenomenon — the largest sand dune in Europe. Almost 3km long and about 110m (300 ft) high, this giant Gibraltar of sand stands between the shimmering Atlantic and an inland pine forest, with fierce winds that add to its height every year, shoving it inland, swallowing up houses and forests in its path. In the 1700s, maps show

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A LUXURIOUS OASIS IN THE MIDDLE OF MUSCAT

[MUSCAT, OMAN]   — Thursday afternoons in Muscat are busy traffic days. Like in most Muslim countries, where the “weekend” consists of Friday and Saturday, Thursday is everybody’s Friday afternoon and they’re itching to get home to their families. I’d arrived after a long but luxurious 13 hour Emirates flight from JFK to Dubai — that after taking a midnight redeye from Denver to JFK and a five hour layover — then, another five hour layover, then a quick forty minute flight into the sparkling clean, gleaming white city of Muscat. I was beat. I’d only booked this trip two weeks before, so I wasn’t quite as prepared as normal. I was tired, in need of a shower.  The hotel had sent a driver, who

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A STUNNING BEACH RESORT ON OMAN’S MUSANDAM PENINSULA

[MUSANDAM PENINSULA, OMAN] — When you land in crazy Dubai, the Six Senses driver is there to great you. A kind Indian man from Kerala, as seemingly every helpful service person in this region is, dressed in a nice black suit and tie. As you weave your way through Dubai’s twenty lane highways, the skyscrapers disappear, the highway gets successively narrower, the gigantic 200 foot-long real estate billboards become faded and empty. Sand dunes start to appear. Camels start to pop up, randomly, in the dunes on the side of the road. Your blood pressure drops a hundred points as you realize “Ahhhh, this is what I came for.” We’re on the Road to Paradise.     Heading towards Oman’s famed Musandam Peninsula,  the sand dunes soon turn

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AN ADVENTURE HOTEL PERCHED ON THE EDGE OF A CANYON

[AL HAJAR, OMAN] — When I first saw a photo of this hotel a couple of years ago I just stopped and went “Wooh, where the hell is this???” Oman. Oman? Where’s Oman? “I gotta go there. And stay riiiiiiight here.” And that’s how this whole trip came to be.     Months later I saw another picture of a stunning luxury boutique hotel on a barren sandy beach and the article said you could either drive down the zigzag road… or paraglide down to the hotel Reception and check-in.  (You’ll see that in the next post)  And I thought: “Wow, where is that?” Oman. Oman?  Man, I gotta go to this place.  And started a travel file named “OMAN” that included article after article of

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STAY IN A PRIVATE DESERT TENT CAMP IN STUNNING OMAN

[WAHIBA SANDS, OMAN] — We’d been driving all day when we pulled into the scruffy desert town of Bidiyah.  My guide Zubir pulled off to the left side of the road and rolled to a stop in a small gas station, a cloud of dust chasing us to a stop. Two dark Indian men had been waiting for us, squatting against a wall. They knew we were in a hurry, so when he rolled in, they were quick to tackle each tire, twisting off the caps to the air valves and immediately started letting air out of the tires.  SSSSssssssssssss.    “The tires work better in the sand if they are flat” Zubir said. We’d covered a lot of ground that day, Zubir had picked

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EXPLORING NATURAL WONDERS ALONG THE “CIRCLE ROUTE” IN NORTHERN OMAN

[OMAN] — Such a fascinating place, Oman, with the nicest people I’ve run into, across the board. Omanis are known for their gentle souls, peacemaking and equal support of friend and foe. People are so nice that even when I arrived at Passport Control, I walked up to the stern looking passport-checker dude. “From where are you?” “The States” “Really?? We don’t get many Americans here. What is your purpose? Where are you going? And for how long is your visit?” “For tourism. Two weeks, all over. Muscat. Mountains. Beach.” Smiling broadly “Ahhhhh, I hope you will like Oman. You must, simply must, visit Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman. Very beautiful. The car only goes so far, but you must walk to the top.

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HAMBURG IS HAPPENING

[HAMBURG] — Ha-Ha-Hamburg. Man, what a city. If you asked me a year ago if Hamburg was on my wishlist of cities to visit. “Ummmmm, no.”   But, I didn’t know. I just thought Hamburg was just a big industrial port city in northern Germany. But through the marvels of Instagram, I kept seeing these beautiful shots of this remarkable city, Germany’s second largest and its major business hub, with all of its media, design and shipping headquarters here. Airbus, Unilever, broadcast networks, all here. Like Berlin — which I covered in recent posts — Hamburg has been undergoing a huge Renaissance. Not just updating, but reinventing itself. With massive cool new developments and stunning architecture, sympathetically blending into to its prestigious older parts. Ask a German about

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LÜBECK — THE PERFECT DAY TRIP FROM HAMBURG

[LÜBECK, GERMANY] — It’s the eerie, fairytale looking architecture of Lübeck that hits you. Makes it almost surreal. Huge, squat high-hat towers dwarfing a bright green lawn. Rust colored tiles tipping to the sky. Little people, tiny in front, selfie sticks trying to get the right angle. The buildings almost look like stone gnomes. Frozen Expedia gnomes, as they should be. As you’re adjust your zoom lens, trying to get a level angle, that’s when you realize it’s not you or your lens, the whole building is a little crooked. This was an old guard house, or toll house — the Holstentor (“Holstein Tower”), that used to protect this rich and prosperous city. They entire old city of Lübeck is built on an island, surrounded on

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ONE OF THE COOLEST MINIATURE MUSEUMS I’VE EVER SEEN

[HAMBURG] — Okay, this was my favorite part of going to Hamburg. Miniatur Wunderland. Hamburg is a great city, but it’s worth a trip here just to see this awesome, quirky museum. An entire world done in miniature: trains, cars, airports, stadiums. But this is way, way cooler than just a big model railroad. Dozens of complete themed dioramas spread out over multiple floors of an old warehouse. This is so much fun. Think: a model railroad on steroids. Russian ones. Sure there are lots of “miniature” places around the world, but this one is different and the best I’ve seen. Of course there are hundreds of model trains spread out all through the place, but not just trains; moving cars, people, ships, boats and airplanes. But

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WHAT TO DO OVER A LONG WEEKEND IN BERLIN

[BERLIN] — It’d been a looong time since I was last in Berlin. So long ago, it’s scary. Back when I was in college in Rome, when the Wall was around. When Checkpoint Charlie was a real checkpoint. The city just seemed to be numb then, both sides. Mostly old people on the streets, not many. Can’t remember anyone young. Everything seemed grey and colorless. Eerie. You could roll a 🎳 down the main strassens and not hit a soul. The only shops around seemed to sell Bavarian beer mugs and cuckoo clocks, not sneakers. Stating the obvious, today is so much more different. Alive. So many kids and cute moms with strollers, everywhere, Third Wave coffee shops and colors in faces now. Everyone smiling. Streets bustling.

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FOUR GREAT BOUTIQUE HOTELS IN BARCELONA

[BARCELONA] — I know I’m in the minority in being a steadfast fan of boutique hotels these days, whilst the rest of you are Airbnb’n, but I still am bullish on the whole hotel experience. In fact, I usually book my vacations around the hotel, often traveling far and wide just to visit a special place. Barcelona has been almost overrun by Airbnbs, so much so that whole apartment buildings are being converted by investors into full-on apartment rentals — much to the scorn of local residents, pushed out by reasonable growing rents. But just before the HomeAway trend hit BCN, a flurry of boutique hotels were built, high on style, funky design and cool restaurants, dramatically increasing this great city’s inventory of cool places

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THREE GREAT BOUTIQUE HOTELS TO EXPLORE SPAIN’S RUGGED COSTA BRAVA

[COSTA BRAVA, SPAIN] — This is a big, long, gnarly post of a whole region. But hopefully, a great overview to start planning your trip here. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the Costa Brava, but passed through here two different times over the span of three months on the way to other places, each time just for a few days. Once for a travel blogger conference in Lloret-del-Mar, another time to return a rental car on the way back from France, slowly picking my way along the coast for a week.  So I just got a chance to dip a toe in and explore this beautiful coast. Here’s the best I found for you. Actually, each trip through I didn’t really get a chance

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HIKE THE CATALAN PYRENEES AND THE VAL D’ARAN

[CATALONIA, SPAIN] — So I was sitting in a cool hotel on the edge of the Sahara one day before I was scheduled to fly back to the States. I’d been on the road for a month in Portugal and Morocco, but I wasn’t ready to go back quite yet. So I cancelled my return flight, flew to Barcelona, walked up to the Hertz desk and asked “Can I rent a car for two months?”  “Si! Si, Señor!” I didn’t really have a plan or destination in mind, but I looked at a map and the towering mountains of the Spanish Pyrenees and just headed in that direction. Didn’t really know anything about this area and, with little time for research, I just looked on

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PICTURE PERFECT PORTO

[PORTO, PORTUGAL] — The Bridge. The Bridge is everything in Porto. It looks like the Eiffel Tower on its side crossing the lazy Douro River — which makes sense since it was designed by Gustave’s company. It’s hard to believe that this beast has been carrying traffic since it was built in 1886. At that time, it was the largest bridge span in the world.   Such a stunning setting, which is why, when looking where to stay in Porto, I found a hotel that had the above amazing view  on TabletHotels, my favorite go-to hotel site. This was literally the view out my window of the Pestana Vintage Hotel. Can’t ask for much better. You can see why the city’s core is a UNESCO World Heritage

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IN SEARCH OF THE BIG WAVES IN PORTUGAL

[NAZARÉ, PORTUGAL] — I’m not a surfer, obvs, but I’ve always been captivated by stories of Big Wave surfing, where weather-watching, nicely-tanned people drop everything and fly across the world to try to catch big swells. I’m fascinated by waves. Even have read awesome books like The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (which I highly recommend). And most recently, this awesome new book on waves and water: How to Read Water. (more highly recommended, so enlightening.) One place that is almost always on the list is Nazaré on the west coast of Lisbon, where nearly every year there’s always some small article in the media with amazing pictures of  beastly waves crashing high above the heads of huddled masses on

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LIVE OUT YOUR OWN GAME OF THRONES FANTASY IN THIS COOL CASTLE VILLAGE IN PORTUGAL

[OBIDOS, PORTUGAL] —  About an hour south of Porto is the small castle town of Obidos. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, which I’ve never really seen, you may recognize this place. But if you’re just a normal castle-loving gypsy, you can stay in the nice pousada inside and get an extra use out of your traveling Glastonbury/Burning Man/Coachella flower bonnet and feel like a queen. They charge extra for swords, I hear, but available. Ravens on advance request. A good friend of mine recently stayed in the Pousada Obidos and absolutely loved it. And all the tourists empty out at night and they had the whole town to themselves. Some great restaurants, too. Obidos is known for their chocolate, so there are oodles of chocolate

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A SEXY DESIGN HOTEL ON PORTUGAL’S LISBON COAST

[Outside Santa Cruz, Portugal] — It’s the smells that hit you first… After pulling into a sparse car park, no sign of life. You walk up to the huge, heavy wood doors — all big and Asian-y and intimidating, makes you feel like a bible salesman at Larry Ellison’s house — and they’re locked. Oh no, are they closed? Did I get the date wrong? Then you notice the small buzzer. And buzz. A big clanking noise and the antique rusted door latch opens up for you and the big door swings open. And that’s when the smells hit. Wood fire. Strong rosemary. A waft of lavender. A swirling stiff breeze of scents that coarse through the gap and wallop your nose with calm. And that’s

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IN SEARCH OF THE BEST BEACHES OF PORTUGAL’S WESTERN ALGARVE

[Lagos, Portugal] — The winding two lane highway runs all up and down the western coast, tucked just under a constant high berm of low hills that act like a windbreak from the coast. The car weaves in and out of clumps of wooly cypress trees, their wide trunks like the fuzzy legs of a herd of mammoths, crossing small bridges and dodging farm trucks heaving from the local fields. It’s kind of weird, actually. The sun is bright as can be, yet you’re in shadows most of the time in the early afternoon. You can feel the salty ocean breeze but that long forehead of low hills casts long shadows across the road, it’s hard to even get a view of the beaches you’ve read so

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A STUNNING CLIFFHANGER VILLAGE, HIGH ABOVE THE CÔTE D’AZUR

[TOURRETTES-SUR-LOUP, FRANCE] — I was on my way back from nine blissful days in Greece, heading toward the southwest of France.  Having already done most of the coast, I wanted to find a new place to explore. I opened a new travel website I kept hearing about i-escape.com and started scouring pictures for something that grabbed my eye. And then BOOM. This is what I saw. That was it. This is in France?  Looks more like Italy, or maybe Corsica. An ancient village perched high above the Côte d’Azur in the mountainy Alpes-Maritime region of France. I’ve always heard about this region, but had never been. So that’s where I pointed my car as I hopped off the plane in Nice.   It’s really not

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