Always leave with a reason to go back, but if only we’d visited these the first time around
1. Blue Smurf Village (Spain) – Recently, I read an archive from a daily newsletter called Now I Know about a real life Smurf Village. A small town in Spain, Júzcar, one of many “pueblos blancos,” was painted blue for a Smurf movie stunt in 2011. It was chosen by Sony because Smurfs have an affinity for mushrooms and the area surrounding Júzcar is brimming with fungi. Once I learned exactly where Júzcar was, I was crushed because we’d driven near it only days before on our road trip through sunny Andalucía. We didn’t know that we should watch for a glimpse of the stunning 175 buildings painted blue, including the cemetery. 4,000 gallons of blue paint and some time later, residents decided to keep the cheery color instead of painting it back to the original white as planned and their tourists numbers have skyrocketed. We’ll be amongst those ranks sometime in the future, so there’s nothing to be blue about.
2. The drive from Melbourne to Sydney (Australia) – After Sean shared our options for getting from Melbourne to Sydney during our trip there in late August and early September, I was sold on taking 3 days to meander along the coastal route while stopping at every possible beach. I’m sure it’s the American in me, possibly even more so the Michigander in me, but I have trouble resisting a good road trip. But the more we discussed it, the more we realized that being in a car for most of our waking hours might be doable and fun for us, it’s less appealing from the viewpoint of our baby who’s favorite activities are 1.) Being mobile and 2.) Seeing things, both of which are difficult from a car seat. Ultimately, we chose the ease and speed of flying from Melbourne to Sydney. Though we put the Great Australian Road Trip™ ideas behind us this time around, one day we will need to plan an epic itinerary exploring the vastness of Australia, including this drive as well as far more of the country.
3. Abel Tasman National Park (New Zealand) – When I first visited New Zealand nearly 15 years ago, I dogeared a page in my travel guide with a photo of what appeared to be a semi-tropical wonderland: Abel Tasman National Park. But besides the ferry port of Picton, I bypassed the top of the South Island, promising myself I’d someday return. We did: Cathlin and I booked a few nights near the city of Nelson, and I was all but certain we’d plan a day trip out to the national park I’d missed all those years ago. Unfortunately, unless you’re up for a multi-day hike covering nearly 40 miles from start to finish, there aren’t many ways in and out for less aggressive daytime visitors. (And as much as I love walking with Eliza in her Baby Bjorn carrier, we weren’t quite equipped for a true trek.) Still, I hoped we’d make it to an entrance and find a shorter unlisted walk with equal beauty. Instead, we ended up stopping shortly past the town of Riwaka, where we took Eliza for a lovely beach walk and ended up stopping in at Hop Federation for a sampling of what’s crafted from local hops. So close to Abel Tasman, yet still so satisfied by our day.
4. The breweries along the Dingle Peninsula (Ireland) – When a friend of mine traveled to Ireland a couple of years ago, he came back raving about an unexpected find: the West Kerry Brewery. I’d never heard of the spot, so I made a mental note to make a pilgrimage of our own when we were next in the area; however, despite two visits to Dingle in recent months, we didn’t plan all too carefully: both times we arrived on a weekday when the brewery and adjacent pub weren’t open to the public. And somehow on both occasions we also attempted to stop by the better-known Dingle Brewing Company, only to find the doors shuttered there as well. At least we were able to appreciate a good coffee and no lack of stunning views along the drive.
5. Traverse City, Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes (United States) – When I first traveled from New York to Grand Rapids to see Cathlin’s hometown, her parents came to meet me at the airport. I was alone, since she had flown in a couple of days earlier, but to Traverse City instead. The route made sense: she was attending her friend’s wedding further north in Petoskey, but thus began my curiosity about a Lake Michigan port nicknamed “the Cherry Capital” after its robust cherry trade. Just over two hours driving from Grand Rapids, the distance hasn’t precluded us from making the trip whenever we’ve been back visiting Cathlin’s family; the challenge is there’s always so much to do in and around Grand Rapids, especially with Eliza loving her grandparent time. Still, I’ve a running list of where to go in Traverse City: Moomers for ice cream, Brilliant for books, Brew and Red Door for coffee, and more than a dozen breweries. But eating, drinking, and reading can be enjoyed anywhere, and what’s truly tantalizing about Traverse City is the natural beauty of the surrounding area, including the spectacular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. With a few longer visits in Michigan this year, we thought we’d finally make this happen, but sometimes what’s still close enough ends up feeling all too far.