Many people get excited about the end of the year because of the holidays, the time off, the food, and seeing family and friends. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is awesome (duh), but another tradition I get excited about around this time is seeing the next year’s “where to travel” lists, the pinnacle, of course, being the NY Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018.” Yes, I was one of the 9,000 people to apply for the job of visiting and writing about each of the 52 places over the upcoming year. I didn’t get it.
How do you measure, measure a year? 2017 was the year I spent time in 13 different countries and 11 different states. I traveled to Europe three times. I set foot on my fifth continent. I revisited London, Indianapolis, Ireland, and Portugal. I reunited with friends from college in Prague and Dublin and old coworkers in London, Chicago, and Dubrovnik. I traveled for 10 days in Cape Town with someone I met in Mandalay and for 12 days in Croatia with someone I met in Dublin. A twelfth of my year was spent dog-sitting, both in Chicago and Jersey City. I added Shenandoah National Park to my list of U.S. National Parks.
I’d always heard there was something special about an African sunset. I wanted to catch as many as possible when I finally set foot on the continent in February. To be fair, I feel that there’s something special about all sunsets, but the ones in Cape Town were top shelf. While you aren’t required to see all five of the below during your own visit, if you don’t make an effort to see at least one, please reevaluate your travel priorities.
A stuffed animal. A beanie baby. A knockoff brand beanie baby. A blanket. A snowglobe. A middle school research paper. A necklace. Matching earrings. Flannel sheets. Slippers. Pajamas. Proof of an obsession, listed out in just thirty seconds. I’m sure there was more. What did all of these precious collectibles in the nineties share in common? They were penguin-themed, of course.
Last February, I became involved with a company called Visit.org, a platform that connects travelers with local experiences that give back to the communities they are visiting. My role with Visit.org is to be an ambassador, which means that when I travel, I make time to participate in these experiences myself. I visit the organizations on the platform to take photos and video, tell their stories, and determine if the experience is still something we want to promote on the website. When I was in South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit two of these organizations, which showed me another side to Cape Town from what I had seen in the center city. Both organizations took me to Kyayelitsha, a township founded in 1985, during the times of apartheid, when black South Africans were forcefully relocated to black neighborhoods.
As I wrote in my January recap, I waited a while for my 2017 to begin. After returning from India right before Thanksgiving and spending all of December and January either in New Jersey or New York, I was ready to take off – and take off I did. In February, I landed on a new (to me) continent, added five more countries to my list, and, for the first time, visited a European city and country I’d been before.
I was pretty excited to travel to South Africa. Not only would it be my first time on the continent of Africa, the farthest south I’d ever been, and an escape from an east-coast winter – I was excited to eat. I’d heard about the food scene in Cape Town, with fellow travelers recommending specific restaurants to make reservations for weeks or months in advance. My friends and I neglected to do this, but we still found many a gem. Like Brooklyn, Cape Town is full of creative, entrepreneurial people doing their own thing – from gourmet mayonnaise to gin ice cream, so you have your pick of unique spots. Below are the best meals that I ate, a list which by no means encompasses the best meals in South Africa, but it’s a good starting point: