An Apology to the 14 Countries I’ve Visited More Than Once Without Doing Them Justice

I’d like to start by apologizing to Mexico. I know it is a country with a rich cultural background, amazing natural scenery, and world-class architecture. It’s just that in the five times that I’ve been there, it was never my intended destination. I don’t mean that in a ‘kidnapped-and-left-for-dead-in-the-Sonoran-Desert’ sort of way. It’s just that my visits (3 times to Tijuana as a day trip from California + two stops in Cozumel via cruise ship where I literally spent 80% of my time underwater) were never about Mexico and I kind of feel bad about that. It also got me thinking about the other 13 countries where I’ve “visited” more than once and haven’t always given them the attention they deserve. So Mexico, and you other countries I’ve neglected, this one’s for you.

Germany

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Castles aplenty in the Rhine Valley, Germany

The first time I visited Germany it was for a few days on my whirlwind honeymoon road trip through Europe. Staying near the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, my visit was certainly deliberate. My return however was a matter of chance. My Lufthansa flight on my way to Zimbabwe had a ten hour layover in Frankfurt, giving me just enough time to rent a car, overcome some terrible directions and taste the flavor of the stunning Rhine Valley (for more on this adventure see the post The Rhine Valley Has All You Need, Unless You Need Directions). I know I haven’t truly gotten to explore this beautiful country as much as it deserves but am open to someday doing so.

Japan

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The neon glitter of Ginza, Tokyo

Few cultures are as dominant and distinct in Asia as Japan. My first trip there – a few day layover after a visit to China – got me to Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and of course, Disneyland. I happened to pass through a year to the day later, this time on my way to Thailand, but did little more than explore Narita Airport and try to get comfy on the floor while waiting for my continuing flight. My apologies to you as well, Nippon. I know you deserve better. Maybe next time…

Spain

This one-time seat of empire boasts far more World Heritage Sites than my own U.S.A. but other than a three day layover to explore the museums and plazas of Madrid on my first visit, my second visit was limited to traversing (with much grumbling I might add) the entire breadth of Barajas Airport for my connecting Iberian Airlines flight, which was inconveniently parked somewhere near the border with France. I know Spain deserves further time and exploration to it justice. Next time I just hope they park the plane a little closer.

South Africa

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Members of the infamous Big 5, Timbavati Reserve, South Africa

My first visit to South Africa was a delightful week in 2009 where we explored the northeast’s animal reserves and traveled the awe-inspiring Panorama Route. My second time didn’t take me to any such places. Instead, I was connecting for my flight to Harare in Johannesburg’s massive airport, shopping at the same airport shops as I did 5 years earlier. Amazingly, it was all the same stuff. Next time Cape Town is calling, even if the souvenirs are the same.

Costa Rica

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Tabacon Hot Springs, Costa Rica

While my trip of 2006 was exclusively to this Central American jewel, my return was for just one day when my cruise ship docked at the shady Pacific town of Puntarenas. At least this time I was able to see something else, taking our rental car down to Quepos and the idyllic Manuel Antonio National Park. It wasn’t the two weeks in the jungle I would love to do, but at least it was better than nothing.

Jamaica

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Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica

 
My first trip to Jamaica was on a FAM (familiarization trip) trip through Sandals resorts. For $50 agents were flown down from a snowy NY to Montego Bay, so as to experience firsthand a Sandals Resort before being flown back home later that afternoon. I took the occasion to lose my group, sit at the bar, eat like a pig, drink like a fish and nap on the beach before it was time to go home. I’m proud to say that my second visit- this time via cruise ship – allowed me even more time to visit amazing Dunn’s River Falls and drift the White River before I was again compelled to leave the country after less than 24 hours. One of these days I’ll stay longer Jamaica – I promise.

As for you, Italy, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, Greece & Vatican City, I’ve had my reasons for coming and going and was not disappointed by my experiences there. Keep an eye out for me, as I just may return. And to you Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, get ready for my return in November 2016. I will try to do you justice, but just in case, I apologize to you in advance, as I have for these countries here.


Have you traveled to the same country more than once – perhaps just passing through? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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The Rhine Valley Has All You Need, Unless You Need Directions

Castles aplenty in the Rhine Valley, Germany

Let me start off by saying that I have the upmost respect for the German people. I marvel at their architecture and engineering, love their beer and pretzels, and tip my hat at the guts it takes for a grown man to wear Lederhosen. That said, I must have come across two of the most clueless citizens in that great nation during a recent stopover in Frankfurt.

With ten hours at my disposal, my destination was the nearby World Heritage Rhine Valley – by far the most famous landmark in the region. The problem was, nobody seemed to know how to get there. Without a GPS, map or internet connection, I overcame my masculine impulses and actually stopped to ask for directions. The Frau at the hotel where I stopped was very kind and told me to take the nearby highway in the direction of Wurzburg. No problem. I hopped on the 3 and was soon zooming down the Autobahn.

At about the 45 minute mark I was certain I should see some signs or familiar town names, but none were forthcoming. So at a rest stop I asked a friendly young man if I was correctly headed in the right direction. “Yes,” was his reply, and my doubts were assuaged. I drove on for another 45 minutes and made it to Wurzburg. It was at this point that I realized that I was not in the Rhine Valley. In fact, I wasn’t even in any valley. No offense to the fine people of Wurzburg, but this was not what I came to see.

Sneaking a peek at a map for sale in a gas station, I realized that I had been given bad information – to the tune of an hour and a half in the wrong direction. And not just the wrong direction. The complete opposite direction. And they say Americans are bad with their geography! It may be true, but you can ask any Long Islander which way to the Statue of Liberty and even the dumbest among us would still say west (likely with a thick accent and the question: “What’s it to you?”).

Trekking back across the Fatherland, I briefly entertained the idea of abandoning my quest; but with another five hours still at my disposal, I figured why not and raced on to the small hamlet of Bingen. Stepping out of the car to admire the panorama before me, I knew I had made the right decision.

Whatever these gentlemen were talking about, it probably wasn't the Niederwalddenkmal monunument of Germania across the river
Whatever these gentlemen were talking about, it probably wasn’t the Niederwalddenkmal monunument of Germania across the river

After parking the car along the western banks of this ancient waterway, it was a pleasant walk along a shoreline promenade lined with restaurants, shops, and a tranquil garden. Across the way was the imposing Niederwalddenkmal monument of Germania, erected to commemorate the foundation of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War. The slopes of the gorge were a verdant patchwork of vineyards and terraced fields, with some quaint little fairy-tale villages thrown in for good measure. Clearly the people who gave me directions earlier had never been here. This is not a landscape one could easily forget.

As I moved along the banks, I was struck by the number of castles that sat perched on rocky escarpments – and on some occasions – right in the middle of the river (apparently taxing river traffic was a Medieval cash cow – sort of like the Throng’s Neck Bridge without the EZ Pass). Barges and ferries still ply these same waters, with the addition of river cruise boats whose only cargo are passengers looking for a better view of one of Central Europe’s most dramatic natural scenes.

At Rheinstein Castle, I made the trek up the zig-zag ‘driveway’ and past the portcullis only to find out that entrance was cash only. Since I didn’t have any Euros or breath left, I just admired the stunning views and let gravity assist my descent. I’d say that it was a waste of time, but my photo album would say differently.

The view from Burg Rheinstein, Germany
The view from Burg Rheinstein, Germany

I should also mention that the valley isn’t the only thing worth looking at. The towns are rich with ethnic architecture, impressive churches, and that Oktoberfest vibe the rest of the world tries to recreate. If I wasn’t driving (and about to take a ten hour flight that evening), I would have loved to party with the locals – whether they could give directions or not.

Sadly, due to my misadventure, I missed out on exploring the rest of this must-see region. Bingen is pretty much about as far as I got on my original itinerary to see it through to Koblenz. But the valley has been there long enough for me to rest assured that it isn’t going anywhere, and the next time I pass through I just might be able to see it all.

So if you’re looking for an easy day trip from Frankfurt that incorporates rich history, a wealth of castles, and truly dramatic natural scenery, Germany’s Rhine Valley has everything you need. Just be sure to bring your GPS so that you don’t have to ask for directions.

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