A Wandering Widow Post
You know how parents aren’t supposed to have a favorite kid? That’s how I feel everytime someone asks me to rank the places I’ve visited. I’ve loved them all for different reasons, and most of them have ended up on my “come back and visit again” list. They all have their own beauty and magic, and their own places in my heart.
But the question won’t leave me alone. So while I really do love them all, here are my Top 10 favorites in order.
(To the cities and towns that didn’t make this list, Mama still loves you.)
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
10. Vienna, Austria.
Motto: Paris ain’t got nothin’ on us. *struts by in full bling*
My buddy, an expat living in Vienna, described it to me as having the efficiency of the Germans, the beauty and art of Paris (without the snobbery), the warmth and fun of Italy, and the diversity that comes from being a UN city. Vienna is Disney Fairytale beautiful, with more art, architecture, and music than any one place I’ve ever visited (sorry Rome and Paris, even more than you).
I managed to visit twice while I was abroad, and I will always treasure it for giving me more moments that took my breath away than any other place in Europe. Seeing Klimt’s The Kiss in person, my first opera and an orchestra performance so beautiful it brought me to tears are just a few that come to mind.
9. Killarney, Ireland.
Motto: We love Americans almost as much as we love being Irish.
Killarney and I have a special bond due to my experiences there last April. Beyond the beautiful friendships I’ve made there, Killarney National Park is one of my favorite nature places on the planet. No visit to Ireland will EVER be complete without a stop at Murphy’s Whiskey Bar or a hike up to Torc Waterfall or around the lake. It also makes a perfect home base to visit the Cliffs of Mohr, the Dingle Peninsula, and the Skellig Islands. It’s got so much natural beauty and really cool people that every time I visit I start looking at real estate so that I have an excuse to stay.
8. Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Motto: We hope you paint or write poetry because we’re even better than Pinterest and Instagram make us look.
This place is so ruggedly beautiful it’s easy to see why artists from all over the world congregate here. It’s the place I wish I could paint or write poetry about, and home to the most beautiful hiking I’ve ever done. I can’t wait to go back, and just need to time it to avoid midge and peak-tourist season!
Thanks to social media it’s a trendy destination, so be prepared for hordes of rookie campers/hikers in the summer, who are unfortunately pretty messy. (FYI if I catch you littering here I will whip out my mom card and make you clean it up.) If you’re going and need a hiking buddy, call me.
7. Tuscany, Italy.
Motto: We don’t even need the Tuscan sun to look this good. We’ve got hot flirtatious men, wine, and food.
Holy Under the Tuscan Sun Batman, this place is just like the movie. Idyllic and peaceful with life-altering gelato, pasta, and wine that are indescribably delicious. And don’t even get me started on the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Or the olives. Did I mention the gelato? I could die fat and happy here, but won’t because Italy is an incredibly expensive place to live full time.
But Mamma Mia the men live up to their reputations. Ladies, if you need to feel beautiful, Italy is the place to be.
6. Montserrat, Spain.
Motto: The real Montserrat mystique is in Spain.
Stunning. Mesmerizing. Inspiring. I could keep going, but it sounds cliche. Just outside of Barcelona, this old mountaintop monastery town supposedly sits on ley lines and is the seat of ancient Catalan power. Whatever it may be, it is both spiritual and beautiful. I visited twice while I was there, and am working on figuring out the best time to go back to stay at the monastery and hike the surrounding mountains. The first sunrise I saw over the valley below took my breath away, and I can’t stop thinking about going back.
5. Bucharest, Romania.
Motto: We eat meat with a side of meat, and make spirits as strong and fun as we are.
Like many cities in transformation, Bucharest has a great vibe. Everything is affordable (from a visitor’s perspective), and it offers the best of modern and historic all in one, with a few remnants of communism and a dictator thrown in for flavor. From the modern Vegas-style spas, malls, and clubs, to the decrepit old buildings still waiting for restoration, Bucharest is a study in contrasts and will always hold a special place in my heart. Rich in history and culture, you can also find diverse dining and music options everywhere. I even found one of my favorite Grafton Street buskers here!
But, hands down, my favorite thing about Bucharest is my Ikeda-Nicolau family. I’d been on the road so long I’d forgotten what it felt like to be part of a family, and this bunch took me under their wing, sharing their lives, home, country, and friends with me.
4. Edinburgh, Scotland.
Motto: We invented hipster beards and have unicorns. Watchu got?
Land of kilts, cute knees, and beards Edinburgh has it all: the food, the pubs, the music, hiking, beaches, history, and the people. I could live here in a nano-second and never get bored. And super easy transit means I’d never have to drive. And yes, the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. A freaking unicorn!
3. Amstelveen, The Netherlands.
Motto: We don’t need marijuana to be happy, we have flowers and cheese and are really smart.
Flowers for days! Being there during the flower festival was like Christmas for this gardener and flower child. Home to art and history and as much time on the water as you could want, you can’t go wrong. Amstelveen is home to the Amsterdam Forest, one of my favorite happy places on this planet. I sometimes still dream I’m on one of my daily walks and can almost breathe in the sweet smell of the woods and hear the birds singing. I swear that place is magic.
2. Oban, Scotland.
Motto: We make gorgeous single malt whisky, brawny men, and ocean sunsets. ‘Nuff said.
I love it for the ocean, the woods, the people, the seafood and the single malt. This small western Scottish town is the gateway to the Hebrides (I’m in love with the islands!) and home to one of my favorite distilleries. With a few more sweaters and plaid shirts, I could live here full time, happy as a coldwater clam.
1. Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Motto: Once you go Belfast craic you’ll never go back.
I know, you’re all stunned that Belfast is my favorite child. After all, I only managed to visit three times during my time abroad. If it weren’t for my UK visa expiring, I would have stayed even longer, but my next visit is in the books, which helps with my withdrawal symptoms.
It has everything except the sunshine, but a Belfast with perfect weather wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the world. And while I want all of you to visit, I also don’t want you to price me out of the real estate market. It’s got a great location to access the rest of Ireland and the UK and is still reasonably affordable. And although international flights through Belfast are sorely lacking, it’s only two hours (an easy train or bus ride) from Dublin International Airport.
For those who still have old ideas about Belfast, it’s not the place you used to see on the television news. It’s incredibly vibrant and offers everything you could want. Still not sure? I will personally show you around my favorite city in Europe if you’re willing to give it a shot. A shot of my favorite Irish single malt that is. (And if that doesn’t work for you I’ll get you connected with Northern Ireland’s best tour guide, my friend Will, who does this for a living.)
The people, the music, and the craic will bring me back every single time. I still dream about it, sometimes waking up thinking I’m there. I can’t get enough, and it will always be the place my heart jumps to on Friday nights when I should be at McHughs with my Belfast Bestie, any time I hear an Irish song, and every time I think of “going home.”