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My ideal travel involves a mix of old and new, solo and escorted, planned and spontaneous; food, wine, art and nature are the basic necessities. I'm happy in 'modest but clean' as long as the bed is comfortable and the service friendly and helpful -- then I can splurge on meals, wine, shopping.
Even if traveling with a few friends, I am likely to go off on my own for hours or a day and skip usual tourist sites, since my great pleasure is to wander through local neighborhoods of all types to see how people live, shop, eat, work. I may set a goal for the day -- some historical site or garden -- and never make it, getting happily lost. In fact, if I don't get really lost at least once, the trip is not a complete success. If I stumble on an interesting store or an unknown museum in the process, or wander through someone's back yard and get to meet some local residents, the day is perfect.
On the other hand, I have found good local guides are invaluable to understand the cultural or social nuances, figure out local transportation, find real local cuisine, meet cool people and see unusual sights, so I always try to hire a private guide for a day or two. In Japan, I met one of the last kimono painters, and saw a lovely, very obscure shrine to Musashi, a favorite literary/historical character, both thanks to a guide. In China, visited the almost forgotten temple where Han Shan the hermit poet famously hung out in the kitchen teaching Ch'an.
I've traveled to China, Hong Kong, Japan several times, Italy, Equador, much of Canada and the USA, Caribbean, and Israel -- which has become destination number one for return trips. Israel is the only place I've fallen in love with, and the second trip was just as wonderful as the first. On the future wish list: Norway, Spain and Portugal, New Zealand/Australia, more USA.
Kyoto is my favorite city in the world, Vancouver used to be second, but has been bumped -- I just love Tel Aviv. Best shopping - Japan, best food - sorry, Italy, Israel wins; best wine - Israel (!), most fascinating - Israel, best people - Israel, most beautiful - USA, most relaxing - Canada.
At home, I'm a neuropsychologist living in the desert north of Scottsdale AZ with my big wonderful dogs; write poetry and working on a novel.