While philosophers of physics would have us believe the passage of time is merely an illusion, and relatively speaking (at least according to Einstein) time and space are really melded together in some nebulous black hole that defies comprehension, in my very humble and human experience, the year 2013 is now part of my past; and what a (mostly) wonderful past!
The past is certainly the best place for our flooded basement and my eight weeks of physical therapy for several torn muscles in my back. I even rounded out the year with a walking cast; don’t ask. Suffice it to say, Jimmy contends I’m an accident waiting to happen. He was none too happy with my latest accident. I will admit to embracing each new adventure with more zeal than caution.
Very little humdrum to speak of for this middle aged meanderer in 2013! The very Best of 2013 involved some really awesome castles and cupcakes, some rather spooky jungles and jails, a few farms and a smorgasbord of fabulous food, lots of interesting people, and a plethora of stunning natural and man-made wonders. We even imbibed a few of those man-made wonders as part of noteworthy factory tours courtesy of Arthur Guinness and Jack Daniels.
I promise you, my Best of 2013 is no illusion. While science may see my perception of the passage of time over the last twelve months as an irrational fancy, I hope you’ll see it as the adventure Jimmy and I embraced day after day.
Best Natural Wonder: I was blown away by Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. The rugged coastline of western Ireland is truly a thing of beauty.
The Best Memorial: It looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, which was precisely the point on that fateful day when Flight 93 plowed into the empty field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September, 11, 2001. I feel fortunate we happened upon this moving tribute, a Field of Honor, to the 40 brave passengers and crew of that doomed flight.
The Best Parliament Building: This one-hundred plus year old neo-Gothic architectural wonder along the banks of the Danube was breathtakingly illuminated at night, making Budapest the stuff of fairy tales; at the very least, the combined cities of Buda and Pest do indeed represent the Queen of the Danube.
Best Old Train: Romance, nostalgia and the best views of Colorado’s mountains were part of our ride on Leadville’s Colorado Southern Railroad, where the past and the present merged seamlessly and beautifully for an afternoon of memorable fun.
Best Pint of Stout: It was obviously a morning for firsts; never before in my sixty-plus years have I washed down breakfast with a pint of Guinness. Fortunately, it was 5 o’clock somewhere in the world beyond Dublin, Ireland. Our tour of the historic Guinness Warehouse was phenomenal.
Best Glass of Whiskey: Who knew the biggest piece of little Jasper Newton “Jack Daniel’s” success would be an iron-free spring whose source, one hundred-fifty years later, is still undetermined. Jack Daniel’s legend lives on in the dry county of Lynchburg, Tennessee, where Jimmy and I had the chance to tour all things labeled Old No. 7.
Best Palace: I want a do-over when it comes to Habsburg family Empress Maria Theresa’s Schonbrunn Palace. Late spring or early summer would be the perfect time to catch the grandeur of the magnificent gardens surrounding Vienna’s top tourist attraction.
Best Abbey: The fairy tale alone behind Ireland’s Kylemore Abbey was the stuff of dreams. I fell in love with the savage beauty of western Ireland’s number one tourist attraction.
Best Castle: This is no baloney; kissing Ireland’s Blarney Stone was a once in a life-time experience I highly recommend.
Best Boat Ride: Two-thousand year old cypress trees lined the banks of this Florida swamp teeming with life: snakes, alligators, egrets, herons, anhinga, ducks, and turtles. And that’s just the wildlife I could see as Captain Dave escorted us through Mt. Dora’s canal in a pontoon boat.
Best Country Music Venue: Before there was the Grand Ole Opry, there was the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music in Nashville, Tennessee. This “Carnegie Hall of the South” was as legendary for its outstanding acoustics as it was for its gospel roots.
Best Opera House: As the busiest opera house in the world, it doesn’t get much better than Vienna’s Weiner Staatsoper when it comes to presenting all the tragedy, comedy and romance life and art has to offer.
Best Estate: Jimmy and I discovered Mayslake, a product of America’s Gilded Age and wealthy coal magnate, Frances Stuyvescant Peabody, right in our own back yard. We were enthralled with both the history and mystery behind this aging albatross once country estate now cultural icon in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Oakbrook.
Best Irish Farm: Rathbaun Farm is one of those places that whispered of long ago when life was simple and man lived and died on a patch of land passed down from one generation to the next. This sheep farm was everything I ever imagined Ireland might have to offer.
Best Exhibition: I came away from Denver’s Da Vinci Machines Exhibition (one of three traveling exhibits on loan from the Museum of Leonardo Da Vinci in Florence, Italy) with a new appreciation for the prolific genius behind this Renaissance Man.
Best Time Spent in Jail: As one of Europe’s largest unoccupied jails still standing, our tour of Dublin, Ireland’s Kilmainham Gaol was a spooky mixture of pain and past.
Best Sculpture: Chicago’s beautiful lakefront is hands down the best in the Midwest (yes; that is my biased opinion) boosting as much public art as it does sandy shoreline. Magdalena Abakanowicz’s astounding and provocative sculpture Agora left me speechless.
Best Cupcake: There were dozens and dozens of delectable options when it came to this quaint Mt. Dora shop, Cupcake Delights; so many yummy options that owner Judy rotates her line of fifty plus creations throughout the month.
Best Pickin’s: That would be Apples on Oak at Larry Penceniak’s orchard in Lockport, Illinois. Add in the beautiful fall day and this friendly family operation and our experience was as sweet as it was juicy.
Best German Food in Chicago: What do you get when you combine two German immigrants and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair? You get the oldest and bestest German food this side of the Atlantic Ocean at this cultural icon, the Berghoff.
Best Corned Beef in Chicago: Manny’s is Chicago’s quintessential Jewish Deli. Locals have been flocking to this legendary family owned deli for the past seventy years. We didn’t get to rub elbows with Presidents Clinton and Obama the day we were there, but I did get my picture taken with owner Ken Raskin.
Best Peruvian Food in Miami’s Coconut Grove: I can’t speak from experience (yet), but when I make it to Peru, my dining experience will have to match that of the eclectic, tropic, artistic and tasty Jaguar Cevich’s Spoon Bar and Latam Grill.
Best Florida Festival: What’s not to like when it comes to chocolate. Present all things chocolate at the beautiful Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables and the decadence is divine.
Best City Tour: I saw more, learned more, and enjoyed more when it came to Chicago's Grant Park via our City Segway Tour. My only regret: why did I wait so long to try this modern marvel?