I think it’s fair to say that any year when you undergo heart surgery is a rough one. By that standard, 2015 was challenging for me. Not that the year was without its magical moments; seeing Angkor Wat and Mount Rushmore in person were certainly bucket list experiences, and after I recovered from my operation I increased the number of countries on my World Karaoke Tour to 39 by singing in Rome.
On a non-travel-related note, in July I moved to a new apartment — still in Manhattan, but in a much better building, with far superior management to the slumlords who own the apartment that I vacated, and in a nicer neighbourhood. My new residence provides me with more pleasant surroundings — a big plus, since on the vast majority of my days I’m not off globetrotting, but am hanging out in my home base of New York City where I work full-time as a lawyer.
So with my surgery 110 days in the past, 2015 is ending on a high note for me; and as the world prepares to begin using its 2016 calendars, I have heaps of exciting plans for the year ahead. Here are the things that I’m most looking forward to in the upcoming 366 days (remember, ’16 is a leap year!):
1. Charleston, South Carolina for New Year’s
Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Charleston, South Carolina; it’ll be my first-ever visit to this city in the southern U.S. that I’ve long sought to experience. In 2014, readers of Conde Naste Traveler magazine voted Charleston the no. 1 city in the U.S. to visit, and the no. 2 city in the world to visit. I look forward to finding out firsthand why Charleston makes such a spectacular impression on its visitors. While in town, I’ll be taking in historical sights as well as reconnecting with some old friends who reside in the area. And Charleston is where I’ll be ringing in the new year. Because this is a karaoke travel blog, I feel obligated to mention one more aspect of what’s in store for my sojourn in Charleston: either in the last days of 2015 or the very beginning of 2016, South Carolina will become the 21st U.S. state in which I’ve sung karaoke! (Technically, my tally will then stand at 20 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, which lacks statehood status. But I’m trying to keep things simple here. 🙂 )
2. Baltimore, Maryland in January
In mid-January, during the long weekend that includes the Martin Luther King Day holiday, I’ll be paying a visit to Wil, a friend from my university days who lives in the town of Sparks, a suburb of Baltimore. I know Baltimore well, having lived there for four years when I attended Johns Hopkins University; and it’s easy to reach from New York, being less than a three hour train ride away. Among the highlights of my January 2016 excursion to Maryland will be a dinner that will also include several additional friends, at an eatery that’s probably my favourite Greek restaurant outside of Greece. (The restaurant is situated in Baltimore’s Greektown section; the city is home to a large contingent of Greek-Americans.) In addition, Wil has four ultra-cute parrots who are quite gregarious, and it’s always delightful to spend time with those birds when I’m in the Baltimore area. For all the ornithologists out there, Wil’s parrots include two Hahn’s macaws, Tucker and Olive; a mitred conure named Rusty; and a green-cheeked conure named Wilma.
3. Nassau, Bahamas in February
Hanging on the wall of my apartment is a National Geographic map of the world. Pushpins placed on the map indicate the cities where I’ve performed karaoke. As yet, only one pin has been affixed to the portion of the map depicting the island nations in the Caribbean Sea, despite the proximity of that region to the United States; although there are 12 autonomous countries in that region, the only one in which I’ve thus far stepped foot is the Dominican Republic. But in February, during the long weekend that’s celebrated in the U.S. as President’s Day weekend, I’ll double the total number of Caribbean countries I’ve travelled to when I jet off to Nassau, Bahamas. (The hotel in which I’ll be lodging is actually on Paradise Island, which is connected by bridge to New Providence, the island on which Nassau is located.) Heightening my anticipation for my Bahamian jaunt, the Bahamas is scheduled to become the 40th country overall in which I’ve karaoked!
4. The Explorers Club Annual Dinner in NYC in March
The Explorers Club (EC) is an organisation of some 3,000 members around the world who share a dedication to the advancement of human knowledge about our planet, and indeed the universe, through hardcore exploration and scientific fieldwork. Its members are far more than mere tourists (not that there’s anything wrong with being a tourist). The townhouse that serves as the EC’s global headquarters is conveniently (for me) situated on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and is well worth a visit just to see the fascinating artifacts that it houses. I was privileged to attend an event there in October 2013; you can read about that here. Perhaps the EC’s signature event is its Annual Dinner (ECAD), which is traditionally held on a Saturday night at the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and is open to non-members (although tickets are expensive; plus, if you’re like me and don’t own a tuxedo, you also need to rent black tie for the occasion). The ECAD is as notable for its cuisine as for the high caliber of its honorees and speakers; creepy critters such as cockroaches and tarantula, as well as such exotic fare as ostrich, are served during its cocktail hour. (These delicacies are prepared under the supervision of a man who holds the official title of the EC’s “Exotics Chairman”; he also oversees the preparation and serving of similar gustatory delights at events held at the EC’s townhouse.) Although I haven’t purchased my ticket yet, I have every intention of attending the 112th ECAD in mid-March! (I previously attended the 110th ECAD in 2014, and wasn’t disappointed.)
5. China, Taiwan, and North Korea in May and June
From the zigzagging expanses of the Great Wall, to the Forbidden City in Beijing, to the terracotta warriors in Xi’an, to the pulsating skyline of Shanghai — not to mention some kickass cuisine — China alone would be sufficient to make this trip epic. But on the same journey, I’ll also be hitting Taiwan — featuring Taipei 101, which was the tallest building in the world from 2004 through 2010 — and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to in the West as North Korea. Multiple friends who’ve visited all 193 United Nations-recognized countries have told me that the DPRK is the most interesting place they’ve encountered; and my tour of Pyongyang and a nearby village promises to be unique and unforgettable.
If all goes well, Taiwan and the DPRK will become the 41st and 42nd countries on my World Karaoke Tour! (Although I’ll also sing in mainland China for the first time, I won’t count China as a new country on the tour, as I’ve already done karaoke in Hong Kong and Macau, which are Chinese territories.)
6. Savannah, Georgia in July
Savannah, like Charleston, is a pleasant city in the southeastern portion of the U.S. that has ranked high on my to-do list for a while. I’m finally going to check it off my list during the long weekend surrounding the American Independence Day. Bonus: Savannah has a reputation as one of the most haunted cities in the world, and you can count on me taking at least one ghost tour during my stay. 🙂 And while we’re on the subject of nighttime activities, you don’t even need to ask whether I’ll make my way to a karaoke venue in Savannah. 🙂 Georgia will thereby become the 22nd U.S. state in which I’ve made a karaoke appearance!
7. A high-level trivia conference in Las Vegas in August
2016 will be the ninth consecutive year to include a visit by me to Las Vegas! And for the sixth year in a row, the purpose of my Vegas vacation will be my attendance at the Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA), a gathering of some of the smartest and most knowledgeable people on this continent. (TCONA usually draws a few attendees from Europe as well.) The level of competition at TCONA is brutal, although going up against the sharp trivia minds that show up inspires me to learn more facts and up my own game. At the same time, I place a high value on pursuing my other interests as well. So although the trivia events at TCONA are intense, you can be assured that, as always, I’ll manage to fit in some blackjack and karaoke while I’m in Sin City. 🙂
8. Seattle in September
My wanderings have taken me to Seattle before; in 2013, the Emerald City was the scene for one of my funnest karaoke nights of all time. The impetus for my return to Seattle, which will happen during the long holiday weekend in September that’s observed in the U.S. as Labour Day weekend: I’m going to take the legendary tour of the Boeing factory. As a big-time aviation geek, I’m uber-excited to watch giant airliners being assembled! (The factory is located in Everett, about 28 miles north of downtown Seattle.) Of course, I’ll also fit in some other attractions in Seattle that I didn’t have a chance to hit in 2013, and hopefully I’ll catch up with some friends who live in that city (although, since those friends are world travellers like me, you never know when they’ll be home 🙂 ).
8. Budapest in November
The website “Most Traveled People” identifies Hungary as one of the three “easiest” places outside of my home country that I haven’t yet made it to (as measured by percentage of the website’s members who have spent time at that destination). After November 2016, they’ll have to change that listing! For five or so days surrounding the American Thanksgiving, I’ll be in Budapest, a gorgeous city that straddles the beautiful blue Danube. I can’t wait to see what I’ve been missing out on! And for Thanksgiving dinner, while most of my friends and family back in the States will be dining on turkey, my repast will feature some goulash. 🙂
Hungary is expected to become the 43rd country on my World Karaoke Tour!
9. The Middle East at the end of the year, and into 2017
I intend to be somewhere in the Middle East when 2016 gives way to 2017. My tentative goal for the itinerary that I’ve been cobbling together in my mind is to combine excursions to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (home to, among other things, the current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which soars to the astonishing height of 2,717 feet); Petra, Jordan, a stunning archaeological site renowned for its temples carved into pink cliffs; and Israel, a country teeming with historical treasures and a destination of special interest to me in light of my Jewish heritage. Note: While I’d heard that the UAE doesn’t admit travellers whose passports contain Israeli stamps, that widely-held belief has been debunked as a myth, and in any event, any concern about that issue is obsolete since Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel no longer even stamps travellers’ passports. Thus, it probably won’t matter in which order I hit the UAE, Jordan, and Israel. Anyway, it’s too soon for me to have begun thinking through the logistics and making travel arrangements for this voyage. 🙂 But I envision departing from New York around Christmas, and returning during the second week of January, 2017.
In some sequence, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Israel should become the 44th, 45th, and 46th countries in which I’ve sung!
Other possible adventures
In addition to the above plans, most of which (with the exception of the end-of-2016 Middle Eastern trip) are firmly in place, I’m also hoping to visit Niagara Falls — a bucket list location that’s not even very far from my home base of New York City — if the timing can be worked out. That would probably happen in early autumn.
Los Angeles, where I hope I’ll be tapped to appear on a certain game show
There’s another thing that I would very much like to do in 2016, but whether it comes to pass is out of my control. In March 2015, in Washington, DC, I auditioned for the television quiz show “Jeopardy!” Several months thereafter, I was forced to temporarily remove myself from the pool of potential contestants, due to my then-impending heart surgery; but when I felt sufficiently recovered from that little medical procedure, I arranged to resume my place in what the producers call the “active file” of people who are under consideration to be chosen as a contestant. I’m pretty sure that “Jeopardy!” has never had a contestant who was a worldwide karaoke singer before; so if they select me to appear on the show, I’ll fill an underrepresented niche. 🙂 If I’m lucky enough to receive what “Jeopardy!” fans refer to as “The Call,” I would fly out to Los Angeles, as the show is taped at a studio in nearby Culver City; and I always enjoy venturing to the L.A. area, where I have many good friends and where I never run out of interesting and offbeat attractions to check out. I believe that I would enjoy immensely the experience of competing on “Jeopardy!”, while having fun doing it; and it would also be great to get to know the group of brilliant and interesting folks who would constitute the other contestants during my taping week. But like I said, it’s not up to me whether this coveted opportunity that I seek will be offered to me. I do hope that at this time next year, I’ll be able to say that my travels during the preceding 12 months included Los Angeles. 🙂 (In case you’re wondering, I’ve been told that I’ll remain in the “Jeopardy!” producers’ active file until sometime around late November, 2016. If I haven’t been selected as a contestant by then, I’ll be eligible to take the next online test, which will probably be administered in January 2017, in an attempt to qualify for another audition; and the process will then start anew.)
And on the home front . . .
When I’m not on the road, I hope to get around to some of those “sites in or near New York City that I’ve always been meaning to visit but haven’t yet found the time to make it to, despite having lived in this city for over 20 years.” 🙂 As well, I’ll be attending two annual travel shows in New York City: the New York Times Travel Show in January, and the New York Travel Festival in April. To me, the next-best thing to travelling is thinking about travelling; and at these events, I’ll learn more about possible future destinations for my World Karaoke Tour, as well as acquiring new travel skills; being introduced to products and apps that will make my journeys easier; and interacting with people who share my passion for travel.
Of course, I also look forward to continuing to blog about my worldwide karaoke experiences, and about the above-mentioned adventures that I’ve lined up for the next 52 weeks. I hope you’ll be along for the ride.
I can’t wait for 2016! Have a very happy New Year!