Tishomingo, Oklahoma

Photo: The Ladysmith

Photo: The Ladysmith

It’s time for a girls’ weekend. Between Mother’s Day and birthdays coming up, plus spring finally making an appearance, you’re ready to get out of town to spend a few days together. You plan to leave your boyfriends and husbands at home, check out a new hotel, and stay up well past your normal bedtime. You just need to find somewhere different—the quirkier and the more unexpected the better.

Your perfect destination is a little town in Oklahoma. That’s right, Oklahoma. Tishomingo is two hours south of Oklahoma City and just north of the Texas border. It was the first capital of the Chickasaw Nation. Wildlife refuges still protect thousands of acres surrounding the town. Main Street is now lined with brick buildings, rib restaurants, and peculiar shops. But it’s a new bed and breakfast that’s luring people to the Sooner State.

The Ladysmith is right in the center of Tishomingo. It occupies a 1901 building, one of the oldest structures in town. There is nothing old-fashioned about the interior, though. With exposed brick walls and distressed wood, bright colors and bold patterns, flea-market antiques and kitschy props, the bed and breakfast wouldn’t look out-of-place in Brooklyn or Portland. But the cowhides and the mounted animal skulls remind you that you’re far from either coast.

Photo: The Ladysmith

Photo: The Ladysmith

You and the girls are welcomed to the Ladysmith with warm chocolate chip cookies. Before checking in, rush to the 1940s Tilt-a-Whirl chair and the photo confessional in the lobby. Scope out your room on the second floor. The Knaughty Pine Room has pine-tree wallpaper, a wooden chest, and fern-colored chairs. Then meet up at 4:02 Tea Time, the elegant tea room, for an afternoon snack.

During your time in Oklahoma, you’ll eat skillet egg casseroles on mismatched china for breakfast. You plan to shop at the Pink Pistol across the street, hike in the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge, and tour the Chickasaw National Capitol. You could go fishing on the Blue River or gambling at nearby casinos. But it’s the French Quarter you’re looking forward to the most.

The French Quarter is a New Orleans-inspired bar right at the Ladysmith. It has a balcony overlooking Main Street. Vodkas made in Oklahoma and Texas, as well as Red 55 Winery’s wines are served. It’s a comfortable place to relax and catch up. If you’re lucky, a country band will be playing an acoustic set in the Platinum Ballroom. It could even be the bed and breakfast’s famous owner and her equally famous husband. You requested different and unexpected, remember?

Fraser Island, Australia

Photo: Sensenmann (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Sensenmann (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So you think all islands are the same? You picture white-sand beaches, palm trees, and bougainvillea. They’re lined with sprawling resorts, sun loungers, and turquoise water. While sunburned tourists float in infinity pools and zip around on jet skis. Not so fast. First, that doesn’t sound too bad—minus the sunburns, of course. But, second, it’s not true. There’s an Australian island famous for so much more.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and the only place on Earth where a rainforest grows in the sand. The 75-mile-long island lies off the southern coast of Queensland. It’s home to a sand highway, more than 100 freshwater lakes, and wild dogs called dingoes. It’s part of Great Sandy National Park and is included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While four-wheel-drive vehicles are the easiest way to explore the island.

You arrived on the island yesterday afternoon after renting your own vehicle in Hervey Bay and riding the ferry from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay on the western coast. From there, it was a short drive along a sandy road to the Kingfisher Bay Resort. Most visitors camp on the island, but with dingoes, venomous eastern brown snakes, and god knows what else, you wanted to sleep between four walls. You followed the Balarrgan Circuit along Dundonga Creek to the White Cliffs Lookout, sampled Australian specialities (emu spring rolls, smoked kangaroo carpaccio, and a calamari-and-crocodile salad) at Seabelle Restaurant, and watched nocturnal creatures (flying foxes and ringtail possums) emerge from the rainforest after the sun set. Then you retired to your secure room for the rest of the evening.

Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

Despite those sturdy walls, an orchestra of birds and frogs wake you up early this morning. You push open the glass doors, stand on the timber deck, and stare out at the water. The daytrippers have yet to arrive, so it’s still peaceful and quiet. You decide to head to the lakes first. Lake McKenzie looks like the ocean with crystal blue water and pure-white sand. Lake Wabby, a green lake at the edge of Hammerstone Sandblow, is filled with catfish and turtles. While Lake Boomanjin is the largest perched lake in the world.

Drive north along Seventy-Five Mile Beach. That’s right, drive. This sandy highway runs the length of the beach. But it’s also a runway, so keep an eye out for small airplanes with the right of way. Pass the rusty Maheno, a steam ship that wrecked on the east coast during a 1935 cyclone en route to Japan. Stop at the Pinnacles and the Cathedrals, the reddish sand cliffs. Hike Indian Head for gorgeous views over the island and sharks swimming in the water below. Then play in the Champagne Pools, natural jacuzzis named after the bubbles that break over the volcanic rocks.

You’ve seen lakes and pools, cliffs and wrecks, dingoes and sharks during your time on Fraser Island. You’ve gone driving, hiking, and swimming. You ate some interesting, if not entirely mouthwatering, new food. There were no jet skis, and few people spent the day around the pool. Plus, no one seemed to be the least bit sunburned. All islands are certainly not the same.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Photo: Levan Gokadze ([1]) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Levan Gokadze ([1]) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

You’re driving toward one of Europe’s oldest continually inhabited cities. But, surprisingly, you’re not in Greece, where so many of these ancient cities are found. Nor are you in Italy or Spain, the next countries that immediately come to mind. This time, you’re farther east. Much farther east. In fact, you’re practically in Asia.

Mtskheta sits at the confluence of the Aragvi and Kura Rivers in Eastern Europe. It was the Kingdom of Iberia’s capital from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. The monarchy eventually moved the capital to Tbilisi, whose location was easier to defend. But Mtskheta remained the spiritual center of the Kingdom of Iberia and, eventually, Georgia, once the country unified. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is filled with churches and monasteries, ancient ruins and tombs. Plus, vineyards surround the Holy City.

Your tour of Mtskheta begins at the Jvari Monastery just outside of town. Actually, it starts at the bottom of the rocky mountain on which the monastery sits. Hike up the mountain to the holiest site in the city, if not the country. The pink stone church was built in the 4th century when Saint Nino converted King Mirian III of Iberia to Christianity. Most people come to see the Georgian Christian architecture, though it’s the view over the city that captures your attention.

Photo: ChateauMukhrani

Photo: ChateauMukhrani

When you finish exploring the Jvari Monastery, check out the rest of the churches in Mtskheta. The Svetitskhovli Cathedral, which was built in the 11th century on the site of Georgia’s first church, has beautiful stone carvings. Christ’s robe is supposedly buried here. The nearby Samtavro Church, from the 4th century, is now a nunnery. While the ruins of two fortresses and an acropolis are scattered around the city.

After your tour of Mtskheta’s historical sites, it’s time for a completely different type of tour: a winery tour. Château Mukhrani was the estate of Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni. After visiting France in the 19th century, he started growing vines and making wine. The château and the vineyards were abandoned when the Soviets arrived. They were revived about a decade ago. Walk around the castle, the gardens, and the old cellar. See the new machinery that has turned Château Mukhrani into one of the most-modern wineries in the area. Then start tasting the wines. The Rkatsiteli white, the Tavkveri rosé, and the Saperavi red are your favorites. They’re the perfect complements to your history filled day.

Livingston Manor, New York

Photo: The Arnold House

Photo: The Arnold House

It’s Earth Day! Some people are planting gardens today. Others are more focused on recycling. But everyone is just hoping for nice weather so they can be outside. You’re wishing for a warm day, as well. Not so you can spend time in the city parks, though. You’re heading to the Catskills.

The Catskill Mountains are only 100 miles northwest of New York City. In just over two hours, you’re surrounded by nature, the mountains, and fresh air. Hiking trails wind through Catskill Park, a 700,000-acre area protected from development. Water rushes down the mountains into waterfalls and reservoirs. Black bears, bobcats, and coyotes roam freely. While small mountain towns attract second homeowners, fly fishermen, and artists.

After driving north along the Hudson River, follow Route 17 west toward Livingston Manor. Don’t blink, as you could easily miss the little town while driving through it. Less than 2,000 people live in the quaint town. It’s considered the birthplace of fly fishing in the U.S. Fishermen flock to the 27-mile-long Willowemoc Creek. The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, a German bakery, and an art center line Main Street. Plus, a recently renovated bed and breakfast sits on Shandelee Mountain.

Photo: The Arnold House

Photo: The Arnold House

The Arnold House, your home for the next few days, is the perfect country retreat. It first started welcoming guests more than 100 years ago. Last year, it was refitted with everything from leather chairs to comfortable beds. It’s surrounded by budding trees and meadows soon-to-be-filled with wildflowers. Another guest’s dog is running along the tree line. Baby goats and lambs live at a nearby farm. The BBQ Barn and the bonfire are ready for even warmer weather. While your king room has a cork floor, antique furniture, a down duvet, and a view of the pond.

Your first stop, after checking out your room, is definitely the spa. You booked a milk and honey massage to loosen your muscles after the not-too-long drive. Plan to return Saturday morning for an early yoga class. Take a therapeutic walk through the gardens that are just being planted. Hike up the mountain and climb the fire tower for an endless view over the trees. Then return to the Arnold House for dinner at the Tavern.

Unlike other parts of the house, the restaurant doesn’t look like it’s changed much. Deer heads hang on the wall. A jukebox, a pool table, and barrel-aged cocktails invite people to linger. And the food is local and seasonal. Drink a Floodwatch beer—from the nearby Catskill Brewery—on the deck. Then order a few appetizers, like roasted cauliflower and smoked trout dip, to share, as well as a shepherd’s pie for yourself. You might have to plan an Earth Day escape every year.

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Photo: Orchids Safari Club

Photo: Orchids Safari Club

There’s no way you’re not related. Remotely—very remotely—but still related. As you stare into the dark brown eyes of the big guy in front of you, you just know that you share some of the same genetic material. He looks you up and down, blinks, and seems to nod his head. He must think the same thing, since he’s welcoming you into his home.

The big guy is an endangered eastern lowland gorilla. He weighs nearly 400 pounds and stands more than five feet tall. He has long arms, a broad chest, and an enormous head. His silvery fur proves he’s one of the elder gorillas of his band. The rest of them must be watching you from the dense forest. While he doesn’t seem to think you’re a threat to him or the others, since he’s casually started munching on the leaves of a tree branch again.

This magnificent primate lives in Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Central African country, formerly known as Zaire, isn’t considered a tourist destination. Though flush with natural resources, Africa’s second-largest country has been immersed in civil wars for decades. Much of the DRC isn’t considered safe. But the country’s eastern border, along Lake Kivu and Rwanda, is one of the few areas that still receives tourists. The gorillas are undoubtedly a big reason why.

Photo: Photo MONUSCO / Abel Kavanagh (Flickr: Dawn on lake Kivu) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Photo MONUSCO / Abel Kavanagh (Flickr: Dawn on lake Kivu) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Your morning began with a visit to a tea plantation, where you learned about the leaf-to-cup process. You hiked through the slippery jungle trails in the national park. Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biéga, two dormant volcanoes for which the park was named, tower over the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your guide pointed out an African forest elephant, two eastern chimpanzees, and a herd of mountain bongo along the way. Then, deep in the forest, you met the silverback and watched the gorillas as long as you possibly could.

Now you’re driving back toward Lake Kivu. You’re heading to Bukavu, a pretty hillside city on the southwestern edge of the lake. It was the ancient territory of the Bushi Kingdom before the Europeans arrived in the 19th century. Stop at Glacier du Résidence for homemade ice cream. Walk around the Belgian colonial buildings and the peninsula along the waterfront as you lick your cone. Eventually, find your hotel, the welcoming Orchids Safari Club, south of the city. From the bar’s terrace, you have a perfect view of the city and the lake.

As you sip a Primus beer, you talk about the gorillas, reliving each and every moment you spent in the rainforest. This hasn’t been the easiest trip, nor has the DRC been the friendliest country. But it was all worth it just to spend a little bit of time with the gorillas.

St. Mary’s, Antigua

Photo: Carlisle Bay Resort

Photo: Carlisle Bay Resort

Is it time for your spring break yet? Over the last month, your colleagues have taken time off for their children’s school vacations, your intern went away with her roommates after midterms, while your younger sister seems to be living on the islands between all the bachelorette parties she has to attend. It’s your turn for some sunshine.

Luckily, Antigua is just a quick—and nonstop—flight from New York. The early wake-up call is worth it when you land outside of St. John’s before noon. After walking across the tarmac, move swiftly through the immigration line, bypass the luggage carousel since you managed to pack everything in your carry-on bag, get waved through customs, and grab a taxi outside of the arrival area. The car moves through narrow streets and by candy colored houses as it heads south toward St. Mary’s. Catch glimpses of sheltered bays and the azure water out the right-hand window. Then arrive at Carlisle Bay in time for a late lunch.

The resort is stunning. Hammocks hang between palm trees. Wooden tables and chairs sit in the sand. Sun loungers are strategically placed around partly shaded areas. Low gray-and-white buildings with plantation-style shutters hug a white-sand beach. Fuchsia bougainvillea tumbles off their balconies. While everything faces the calm Caribbean Sea, of course.

Photo: Carlisle Bay Resort

Photo: Carlisle Bay Resort

Despite wanting to head directly to the beach, you’re starving, so stop for a quick Italian lunch at Ottimo! by the pool. A shared antipasti platter and a pizza from the wood-burning oven make up for missing breakfast earlier. It gives you time to decompress and get your bearings. You decide to claim a spot near the jetty on the far side of the beach, where it seems quieter, when you finish eating. Not that the resort is noisy or crazy by any means. A few couples are strolling hand-in-hand along the beach. More sit at the Coconut Grove with cocktails in their hands. While a single guy, whose wife is probably getting a pedicure at the Salon, is pulling a paddleboard into the water. This is the perfect place to relax.

After spending the rest of the afternoon swimming, reading, and even napping, you realize you’re the last ones on the beach. You probably would be even if it weren’t your first day, since you want to soak up every moment of sunshine possible. Move to the Jetty Bar for a fruity cocktail, watch a solitary yacht glide across the water, and gaze at a nearly perfect sunset. Return to your ocean suite to soak in your oversized bathtub. Follow the wonderful smells to East, one of the best restaurants on the entire island. The sexy dining room has tall carved doors, dark wood, and magenta chairs. It’s hard to choose between the Japanese, Thai, and Indonesian dishes. Ultimately, you decide on a soft-shell crab maki roll, fish cakes with homemade chili jam, and ikan sambal ulek (a grilled mahi-mahi dish). Then end the evening with one more cocktail at the elegant Pavilion Bar. You are on spring break, after all.

Manafaru Island, Maldives

Photo: JA Resorts & Hotels

Photo: JA Resorts & Hotels

Happy anniversary! The last few years, you and your husband celebrated with a tasting menu at a fancy restaurant, a vineyard tour at your favorite winery, and a weekend at a countryside bed and breakfast. This year, you’re looking for something even more special, though. No, it’s not your fifth anniversary. Nor have you reached your tenth yet. It’s your seventh, which means you’ve just cleared the seven-year itch. So it’s time to celebrate.

No destination screams romantic celebration quite like the Maldives. The island nation sits southwest of India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. It’s made up of 26 atolls and nearly 1,200 little coral islands. They’re filled with palm trees, lined with white-sand beaches, ringed by coral reefs, and surrounded by the bluest water you’ve ever seen. And now is the time go, since monsoon season begins in May.

After landing at the international airport, which is on its own island near the capital of Malé, take a smaller airplane to the Haa Alif Atoll, the northernmost atoll in the country. From there, it’s a short boat ride to Manafaru Island. Pass uninhabited islands and fishing dhows as you cruise over that brilliantly blue water. A jetty and overwater villas start to come into view. Soon you see a stilted restaurant and an infinity pool, as well. While beach bungalows, tucked in between the palms, can barely be seen. Welcome to JA Manafaru.

Photo: JA Resorts & Hotels

Photo: JA Resorts & Hotels

The resort is the perfect place to celebrate—and relax. Slowly walk down the jetty as your eyes dart every which way to take in your beautiful surroundings. Try to pay attention while checking in, but find it much too difficult with the splendid beach within eyesight. Nod your head with approval as you pass restaurants, pools, and the spa en route to your villa. Get excited when you see the thatched roof, the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the floor’s glass panel in your sunrise water villa. Then fall in love for a second time when you step out onto your deck. Two sun loungers, an infinity plunge pool, and the uninterrupted Indian Ocean are in front of you. This truly is paradise.

So what are you going to do first in paradise? Find the bikini you stashed in your carry-on luggage and dive off your deck into the water? Pop open the champagne that’s chilling at the bar? Or slip out of everything and stare at the horizon from your little pool? You opt for both the second and third options. Your husband quickly follows suit.

The rest of the day, enjoy your pool, deck, villa, and each other. You have a whole week to explore the remainder of the island. During the day, you’ll relax during a Maldivian massage with locally produced coconut oil at the appropriately named Calm Spa, claim nearby (and deserted) Medhafushi Island as your own, and float in the bath-like water. At night, you’ll help feed the fish (that attract sea tortoises) off the jetty, sip a sundowner at the stilted Horizon Lounge, and eat dinner among tiki torches on the beach. And, despite rarely waking up before the sun is high in the sky at home, you’ll take advantage of your sunrise-facing villa each morning. You don’t want to waste a moment of your celebration time.