One of the benefits of having served in the military and the CIA is that I have been paid to travel to some pretty incredible places. While official government business took me to most of these, I always made time to do some touristy things, as well, because why not? You can only work for so many hours a day, after all, and he who wastes the opportunities afforded him in life has failed to truly live.
With that preamble, here are eight places I have been lucky enough to visit that you might also want to check out if the opportunity presents itself.
The capital of Ecuador sits at 9,300 feet in the Andes mountains, making it the second-highest capital city in the world. To the west is the Pacific Coast and to the east is the Amazon rainforest. I visited both while there for a couple of months back in the late 1990s. Quito is vibrant and fun with clubs, restaurants, and attractions to keep anyone busy for days. One of the coolest of these is its historic city center, which is reputedly one of the best-preserved and largest in the Americas.
Sitting on a promontory poking out into the Gulf of Gaeta in the Lazio region of Italy, Gaeta is a beautiful little seaside town in the southern half of the country. Nestled between Rome and Naples, there is plenty to keep a visitor busy, including Roman fortifications and ruins, a beautiful port and beach area, and some of the world’s best food. Soak up the sun-bleached life and bask in the relaxation and Italian hospitality.
Zell am See, Austria
Set along Lake Zell in the Austrian state of Salzburg and known as a getaway for the jet-setting elite, this Alps town is absolutely gorgeous in both summer and winter. It is located just 20 miles from Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, which reaches 12,461 feet at its highest peak. Plenty of skiing and beautiful mountains abound. What more do you want?
Slovenia calls itself the “green piece of Europe” given its beautiful scenery and tranquil, pastoral landscapes. It sits between the Julian Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, and at only 7,800 square miles (slightly smaller than New Jersey), you can pretty much see the whole country at your leisure. Start in its capital Ljubljana and you won’t be disappointed. Ljubljana is a modern European metropolis surrounded by lakes, and mountains, and is not far from Italy, Austria, and the beaches of the Mediterranean.
While you might hesitate to travel to the Middle East given fears of terrorism and political instability, I assure you Jordan won’t disappoint. Luxury hotels and delicious varieties of regional food are available in the nation’s bustling capital, as well as bars and dance clubs galore. Also, don’t forget that relatively nearby (143 miles away) is the archeological wonder known as the “lost city” of Petra.
Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico, in Jalisco state, “Vallarta” as it is mostly known by the locals (or, Puerto Vallarta by us gringos), is a beach resort city that rests on the shores of the Bay of Banderas. The average year-round temperature is around 85 degrees, but the shopping and food in the town proper offer a nice respite from baking in the sun, should such a need arise. You will also want to sample some of the local tequilas, as Jalisco state is known for excellent varieties of the national tipple.
Located in the Irish county of the same name in the southeastern part of the country, Kilkenny is a quaint and lovely medieval town of about 27,000 on the banks of the River Nore. Kilkenny Castle sits astride the town, which hosts art galleries, festivals, craft workshops, and a traditional Irish folk music festival. All of the latter make the town one of Ireland’s most visited locations. Whatever you do, don’t forget to spend some quality time in a pub sipping a draft stout beer.
This resort town in Alberta, Canada, is nestled in the gorgeous Canadian Rockies and near the pristine and crystalline Lake Louise. Whether you enjoy hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter, you will find Banff and its surrounding National Park to be an ideal locale. The food is also excellent and of course, the Canadians are as friendly and welcoming as you would expect them to be.
Feature Image: The Aircraft Maintenance Crew of tail number 58-0023 from the 157th Air Refueling Wing, New Hampshire Air National Guard, pose for a group photo Jan. 30, 2019. From left, Staff Sgt. Mike McCrady, Master Sgt. Justin Web, Staff Sgt. Dennis Wardell, TSgt. Joe Hewitt. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Curtis J. Lenz)
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