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VISIT A FAIRYTALE CASTLE OUTSIDE LISBON

[SINTRA, PORTUGAL] — Sintra is not just a single town, but an entire wooded (unusually so in these arid parts) nature preserve about an hour and a half outside of Lisbon. It’s the perfect daytrip from Lisbon or the perfect day trip from Cascais. Definitely well worth the drive and easy to find — all the roads and signs in Portugal are outstanding.  Pena Palace is the center attraction. It’s a big riot of color and architecture, surrounded by hundreds of acres of gardens and forests. Plan a half a day, at least, or preferably a whole day, to make the loop through the forest and the half dozen towns and castles and sites within the preserve. It is very busy. Very touristy. But very

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TAKE A TOUR THROUGH THE TERRACED VINEYARDS OF PORTUGAL’S DOURO RIVER VALLEY

[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — I see all these Instagram peeps hitting Porto taking pictures of the big bridge, climbing up its steep hills, drinking some port and then bolting. But really what they’re missing is a day trip (or longer) up the Douro River to visit the incredible, hilly stair-step vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I dunno, I’m over wine tours, once you see a few, they’re all the same to me — “Is that French oak or American? How long in stainless??” — poke me in the eye with a stick…but that’s just me… But the Douro Valley is different. Hilly. Steep. Flinty mounds of luscious green heaven pouring down to a mellow meandering river. Each

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GO BALLOONING HIGH ABOVE PORTUGAL’S ALENTEJO REGION

[ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL] — The ancient town of Monsaraz sits high on a hilltop in Portugal’s Alentejo regio, the tallest point for miles around. Just miles from the Spanish border and surrounded by thick castle walls, it overlooks one of the most beautiful parts of inland Portugal, including the giant Alqueva reservoir — the largest manmade lake in Europe. Some consider Monsaraz one of Portugal’s most picturesque villages and it is one of it’s oldest. People have been living in this region since pre-historic times, with ancient monoliths strewn all over the land. Then the Romans came and took over, then Visigoths, the Jews, then Christians, then Muslims again… everyone wanting a piece of this strategic hilltop. Surrounded by thick protective walls, the castle goes back

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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. 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 what makes

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FOLLOWING THE GREAT MIGRATION OF THE SANDHILL CRANES

[KEARNEY, NEBRASKA] — When you first get to the river, it’s 6am and pitch black. You feel your way down a path, heading toward The Noise. You want to get there before they see you coming. Slowly, the shrieks get louder and louder as the first light slowly begins to open its eyes. Suddenly, you start to make out shapes stepping out of the darkness. Big dark masses grow more detailed the lighter it gets. What you thought was an island or sandbar is actually a throbbing, humming mass of birddom. And they suddenly appear out of the darkness, like the invasion of Normandy on DDay. Hundreds of thousands of them, nearly covering the shallow river from shore to shore. We wait while the first pilot

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FLY IN A GLIDER OVER A HAWAIIAN VOLCANO

[HANA, MAUI] — I was scoping out a project in Hawaii and stayed at Travaasa, a new experiential hotel brand with an amazing location in Austin and a second here, in Hana. I’m not a big fan of all the high-rise hotels in the crowded parts of Maui, but this place is much, much different. Travaasa is an “experiential resort” so they do cool stuff beyond having the best spa in Hawaii. Besides free yoga and a killer workout space overlooking the sea, there are lessons on Hawaiian throw net fishing, outrigger canoeing, culinary classes, horseback riding and a dozen other cool experiences. In addition to geeking out over pools and nice hotels, I’m completely OBSESSED with flying, so what got me was the glider experience, long

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You Should Go Here in Buenos Aires

[BUENOS AIRES] — I recently got to go back to Buenos Aires in late February 0f 2013. You can read all the guidebooks about what to do, (and my previous posts) but here are updates on where I think you should go, do and see. So many great neighborhoods and sights…these are my favorites. THE PALERMOS All the Palermo neighborhoods — Palermo Hollywood, Palermo SoHo, etc. Great low-rise neighborhoods of restaurants, the best shops and tons and tons of restaurants. The perfect part of the city for just walking block by block, meandering with no destination in mind, picking up the cool vibe and taking some nice meals. Some cool small and reasonably-priced hotels here, too.   RETIRO — Quiet upscale, leafy neighborhood with embassies and

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GET AWAY FROM THE CROWDS IN ROME, TAKE A WALK IN THE PARK

  [ROME, ITALY] — When you get sick of all the tour buses and streets clogged with tourist groups, head up to the top of the Via Venato to the Villa Borghese Gardens, one of the most tranquil parts of Rome.  Vast, sprawling acres of grass, trees and cool little features, like a picture perfect rowing lake….with its own temple of course.  And because it’s high up, great views of the city and Piazza del Popolo. Here’s a great little secret way to get there:  save walking a thousand steps as you climb the hill by taking a series of free escalators from the Piazza de Spagna Metro stop.  Go into the entrance, but instead of buying a ticket, look for the escalators opposite the entrance

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Just when you’re having fun, along comes a circus

(Barcelona) — Not much more to report here, just a nice surprise I ran into while walking along the waterfront over Christmas time.  I don’t think Spielberg’s set designers could have come up with a more perfect looking Old School circus.

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