Here in the US, today is Thanksgiving — a time to stop and reflect on the things in life that mean the most and to say a special thank you for all the blessings. For me, it is a perfect opportunity to share one of the things I’m most thankful about — my travels. This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel across the globe, experiencing things I could only have dreamed of as a young girl. I count my blessings each and every day and it is only special for me when I can share it with you, my readers and friends. Enjoy some of my favorite memories from this year.

Savannah, Georgia is a city unlike any other, a dose of Southern charm tossed with a bit of quirk and mystery. The city is filled with history, but the food scene is cutting-edge and the town has much to offer art lovers as well. Check out Old Savannah Tours for some great get-away ideas.

Savannah

Savannah, GA is an old Southern city filled with mystery and charm. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Lexington, Kentucky is a city that makes me immediately want to pull up stakes and move. I always feel at home in Lexington. It’s one of those places where everything seems to come together to offer an ideal vacation spot — bourbon, great food, beautiful rolling hills, folks with that lovely Southern drawl, the most amazing horse farms in the world and the excitement of horse racing. For this horse lover from the South, it’s always a place that beckons. For more on Lexington, visit their website at http://www.visitlex.com.

BOURBON BARRELS AT WOODFORD RESERVE

Bourbon barrels at Woodford Reserver near Lexington, KY Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Red Giant at 3 Chimneys Farm in Lexington

Red Giant at the famed 3 Chimneys Farm in Lexington, KY Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

The Burgundy region of France is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but not a place for someone looking for an active nightlife. This part of the world is all about good food, even better wine, incredible cheese and bread and quietly enjoying it with friends. Cruising through the region’s famous canals is one of the best ways to experience the quiet medieval settings and some of the best meals anywhere. I recommend European Waterways for an unforgettable Burgundy Canal Cruise experience.

BELLE EPOQUE ANCHORED IN LEZINNE

European Waterways’ La Belle Epoque anchored in Lezinne, France. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Paris, France is the complete opposite of the Burgundy region in many ways. Yes, it has incredible food and wine, but it is busy and no one ever seems to sleep. Traffic is horrible and sounds on the street don’t quiet down until the wee hours. Yet there’s a fascination about Paris that makes it one of the most incredible cities in the world. Walking along the Seine, gazing at the Eiffel Tower, wandering among famous buildings and museums, or simply sitting in a sidewalk cafe sipping a coffee seems magical. I stayed at the Radisson Blu, Ambassador Hotel, Paris Opera while there and I thought it was in an ideal location, offered comfortable rooms and the staff was helpful and friendly.

Eiffel Tower from the Pont de Invalides Bridge over the Seine

Eiffel Tower from the Pont de Invalides Bridge over the Seine. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Greer, Arizona is one of those places that holds some sort of magic for me. I can’t describe it, but I feel something in the air there that makes me simply happy. In 2011, Greer, along with much of Northern Arizona, was threatened by a massive fire. The flames came within feet of the town, yet it survived (thanks, of course, to fearless firefighters who put in days and days of grueling work). This summer, Greer was alive and kicking and the famous Molly Butler Lodge was serving up great food and drinks. I stayed in one of the cabin’s at Molly Butler and escaped from the world for a weekend. The reminder of the fire, however, will remain for years to come. The fire line so close to town brought tears to my eyes — tears of sorrow that the damage is there, but tears of joy that the town survived.

Greer Arizona

Greer Arizona in summer 2012 from Molly Butler’s patio Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Tucson, Arizona is just a couple of hours south of Phoenix and it offers an incredible mix of opportunities. One of the most unique outdoor attractions in the state is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Part botanical garden, part nature preserve, part zoo, this is a beautiful area of the state and you can walk through some of the best examples of the Sonoran desert. Another favorite in Tucson is the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. On the opposite side of Tucson from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tanque Verde provides another look at Tucson life. This working guest ranch offers visitors a chance to get out into the beautiful surrounding mountains on horseback, bikes or on foot. You can enjoy trail rides, sit by the campfire, savor some incredibly good food and drinks and relax in a variety of comfortable rooms and casitas.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Hiking trail at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Tanque Verde Guest Ranch

Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tucson. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, MO is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen anywhere. The fact that Kansas City so embraces its arts and theater is incredible. The people of Kansas City should know they are incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful opportunities. This new building houses the symphony, the opera, the ballet and a variety of other events throughout the year. It is a work of art in itself.

Kauffman Center

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, MO. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Zambia was one of the most amazing places I have ever traveled. It is a country of such extremes. I saw things I had only imagined seeing. I saw four of the “Big 5” and only missed the fifth — rhinos — because they are extinct in Zambia. Watching the elephants lumber along, the zebras running, the lions lazing in the sun, or listening to a leopard through the dark at night were experiences I will never forget. The photo at the top of the article is the sunset over the Zambezi River in Zambia. I stayed at the lodges with Norman Carr Safaris in the Luangwa Valley, at the Stanley Safari Lodge at Victoria Falls in Livingstone and at Chiawa Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park. I recommend all of them.

Male lion

Male lion waiting out the heat in the Lower Zambezi National Park near Chiawa Camp, Zambia. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Baobab tree, Lower Zambezi National Park near Chiawa Camp

Baobab tree, Lower Zambezi National Park near Chiawa Camp, Zambia. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Elephants in Zambia

Elephants in Zambia. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Oxnard, California might not be as exotic as Zambia, at least to someone from Arizona, but it is a great California coastal town that has pretty well slipped under the radar from most tourists. It has a beautiful beach and harbor, some great new restaurants, an up-and-coming wine scene, a quaint little historic downtown and the most beautiful produce anywhere is for sale at its weekly Downtown Oxnard Farmers Market.

Tomatoes in Oxnard

Beautiful tomatoes at the Oxnard Farmers’ Market. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Clearwater Beach, Florida has one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. One of  the places I find most relaxing is the beach. I love to see different beaches around the world and I find each one relaxing in its own way. However, the beach at Clearwater Beach has incredibly white sand, the most amazing sunsets, a beautiful harbor and some fabulous restaurants. I stayed at the Hilton Clearwater Beach and it was an amazing stay. Right on the beach, beautiful views, across from the harbor and within walking distance of everything. I loved that I could call Florida Free Rides and they would be there within minutes to take me anywhere along the beach for free, right from my hotel.

Beach at Hilton Clearwater Beach

Relaxing at the Hilton Clearwater Beach. Credit: Susan Lanier-Graham

Thank you for coming along to share my journey this past year. I’m looking forward to some great new experiences in 2013 and hope you’ll join me. Of course, I still have many great stories to come from my 2012 travels, so be sure to keep reading.

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