Doug’s Travel Picks: 8 Places to Visit in 2018

Doug’s Travel Picks: 8 Places to Visit in 2018

MIR co-founder and president Doug Grimes is the man to talk to about both up-and-coming and tried-and-true destinations in MIR’s corner of the globe. He and his hand-picked team of specialists at MIR design and support imaginative small group tours and independent travel to Russia and all its neighbors. 

I’ve explored all of MIR’s destinations – some more than 100 times – and yet there’s always something new to discover in each one. And along with our old favorites, each year we try to offer something fresh and new. It’s not easy to narrow down a list of travel recommendations to a manageable number, but I’m giving it a whirl in honor of a brand new year. Here they are, ranging from the wild Arctic seas to the depths of space, and from remote Russia to the booming capital of Kazakhstan – and many intriguing places in between..

Doug in Signagi, Georgia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

Doug rides through the vineyards in Signagi, Georgia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

1. The Republic of Georgia

A destination that has it all, Georgia should top your list, too.

A Renaissance man or woman is defined as a person who takes on many roles. By that standard, Georgia is definitely a Renaissance place, known for excellent cuisine, big wines selected from some 500 grape varieties, high fashion, cutting edge film, electrifying polyphonic choral singing, sheer granite mountains, inviting Black Sea beaches, living traditions, highland villages harking back to the Middle Ages, and the longest and most bountiful feasts on earth.

(click on photo for larger version) 


Svaneti, Georgia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

Surrounded by the snow-dusted Greater Caucasus Mountains, Doug visits Svaneti, Georgia
Photo: Douglas Grimes

As many times as I’ve been to Georgia over the last 30 years, I keep returning – and being surprised every time. One of my favorite places in Georgia is the  UNESCO-listed highland region of Svaneti. Magnificent mountains surround Ushguli, one of the highest continuously populated villages in Europe, spiked with 14th century stone watchtowers. The cultural museum in the regional capital, Mestia, far surpasses anyone’s expectations for a remote part of a not-yet-so-well-known former Soviet republic.

Svaneti, Georgia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

Ushguli village in late November, Svaneti, Georgia
Photo: Douglas Grimes


You can’t beat the culinary scene in Tbilisi these days, either – this place has been doing farm-to-table as a matter of course since long before the term became popular.


Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Ann Schneider

Narikala Fortress towers over Tbilisi, Georgia
Photo: Ann Schneider

And did you read the news about Georgia? In late 2017, , with wine compounds found in 8,000-year-old qvevri fragments about 30 miles south of Tbilisi. After that announcement, Guinness World Records declared this a world record for oldest wine in the world.  

A winery in Georgia. Photo: Ia Tabagari / George Bukhaidze

A small, independent winery in Georgia
Photo: Ia Tabagari / George Bukhaidze

More photos and articles about Georgia
Videos about Georgia

Travel to GeorgiaMIR has a new-for-2018 tour that explores the remote mountain region of Tusheti, where very few international travelers manage to go. Check out Village Traditions of the South Caucasus or one of MIR’s other small group tours or rail journey by private train:

MIR can put together a custom trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to the Republic of Georgia.

Tusheti, Georgia. Photo: Shota Lagazidze

Enjoying life in Tusheti, Georgia
Photo: Shota Lagazidze

 

Picturesque Franz Josef Land. Photo credit: Poseidon Expeditions

The incredible Arctic: Russia’s Franz Josef Land
Photo credit: Poseidon Expeditions

2. Russia’s Franz Josef Land

There’s nothing quite like a remote polar excursion to a lesser-known locale aboard a very comfortable and recently refurbished ship. Having spent a night onboard the M/V Sea Spirit when it was moored in Rekyavik, I decided this is the trip I’d most like to personally take in 2018. I actually had plans to visit Franz Josef Land years ago in the 1990s, but at that time the window closed, and it’s been a burning desire since.

This archipelago was discovered in 1872, and about 25 years later, it became the stopping-off point for all the major North Pole expeditions. Franz Josef Land hosts a vast array of wildlife, as well as historic locations where acclaimed 19th century polar explorers, such as Fridtjof Nansen, took shelter during attempts to reach the North Pole.


More photos and info
A view of Franz Josef Land from the deck. Photo credit: Jonathan Zaccaria

A view of Franz Josef Land from the deck
Photo credit: Jonathan Zaccaria

Travel to Franz Josef LandThere are only a few cabins left on this one-time MIR group departure, A Special Journey to Franz Josef Land, hosted by New Zealand travel journalist Jill Worral.

Contact us today to talk about travel to Franz Josef Land.

Special Journey to Franz Josef Land with Jill Worrall. Photo credit: Ossian Sarsfjellet

Arctic calm
Photo credit: Ossian Sarsfjellet

 

MIR's Douglas Grimes and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy enjoy a one-on-one conversation before the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft in Baikonur, Kazakhstan Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

MIR’s Douglas Grimes and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy enjoy a one-on-one conversation before the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft in Baikonur, Kazakhstan
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

3. Baikonur, Kazakhstan and the Russian Space Program

Steeped in the history of the Soviet and Russian space programs, Baikonur is a leased territory in Kazakhstan operated by the Russians, sort of the Cape Canaveral of Russia. This is where cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was launched.

And four times a year the world space programs cooperate on jointly operated manned launches to the International Space Station. Any given launch will have an American astronaut, a Russian cosmonaut and a third trained person from a third country in Europe, Japan, Korea, or elsewhere.

It’s hard to describe experiencing a Soyuz launch from a distance where you can feel the vibrations in your bones!

Rollout of the Soyuz, Inside the Russian Space Program. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Rollout of the Soyuz, Inside the Russian Space Program
Photo: Douglas Grimes

Your chance to experience this is by joining MIR’s award-winning tour, Inside the Russian Space Program.

Contact us today to talk about travel to Baikonur and going Inside the Russian Space Program.


Mission Control Center. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Doug at Mission Control Center
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

More photos, videos, and articles about the Russian Space Program
A fantastic night launch of the Soyuz. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

A fantastic night launch of the Soyuz
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

 

Even after a rainstorm, Red Square is beautiful – especially St. Basil's Cathedral Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Even after a rainstorm, Red Square is beautiful – especially St. Basil’s Cathedral
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

4. Moscow for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thought it was impossible to get tickets or hotel space in Moscow for World Cup 2018? Think again! MIR has special access to tickets and hotel space for some limited dates, mainly during the finals timeframe of June 29th thru July 16th 2018. Match tickets are going fast and hotel space is very limited, so contact us now to inquire about details.


More photos, videos, and articles about things to do in Moscow, Russia

Contact us today to talk about travel to Moscow.

 
MIR President Douglas Grimes in Uzbekistan with the adventurous Canadian couple, along with their extended family and friends Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

MIR President Douglas Grimes in Uzbekistan with an adventurous Canadian couple, along with their extended family and friends
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

5. Uzbekistan, Central Asia

Uzbekistan is the heart and soul of the Silk Road. The Old Towns of its four UNESCO-listed oasis cities – Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Shahrisabz – are incredible mazes of exotic blue-tiled architecture and gorgeous decorative art. Beyond these lies the rural Fergana Valley, its towns famous for masterful ceramics and shimmering silks.

The Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

The Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes


And now this historic land is barreling into the future with high-speed rail lines from Tashkent to Samarkand, from Samarkand to Bukhara, and an international line from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Tashkent.

2017 also saw the country’s first currency reform since independence in 1991, virtually wiping out a flourishing black market in currency, as well as encouraging foreign investment.

The time to visit is now, before too many more changes occur!


Khiva, Uzbekistan Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Khiva’s Old Town in Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

More photos and articles about Uzbekistan
A local offers a camel ride in Old Town Khiva, UzbekistanPhoto credit: Peter Guttman

A local offers a camel ride in Old Town Khiva, Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Videos about Uzbekistan
Panorama of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Konstantin Kalishko

An aerial view of breathtaking Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Konstantin Kalishko

Travel to UzbekistanMIR has more than 10 different ways to get to Uzbekistan – with a small group tour, on a rail journey by private train, or on a pre-planned Flexible Essential private journey. You can also plan your own private, independent trip.

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to the Republic of Georgia.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Michel Behar

Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Photo credit: Michel Behar

 

Yakutia, Russia. Photo: Andrey Pelekh

Kingdom og Permafrost in Yakutsk, Russia
Photo: Andrey Pelekh

6. Yakutsk, Siberia

The largest city in the world built on permafrost highlights diamonds, mammoths, ice caves, and more. That “blank spot” on the map that you just have to fill in.


Yakutia, Russia. Photo: Andrey Pelekh

Wild horses drink at the Lena River crossing, Yakutia, Russia. Photo: Andrey Pelekh

Here, you can admire dazzling ice sculptures in the middle of summer, as you explore a cave dug into a permanently frozen hill; see and touch a real wooly mammoth tusk in a Museum of Mammoths; watch as craftspeople cut and polish precious local diamonds, forced up from the depths of the earth by ancient volcanic explosions; and visit a 500-million-year old geological landscape featuring 650-foot-tall pillars gouged out by the action of shattering ice.


Travel to YakutiaMIR’s new small group tour to Yakutsk, Remote Russia: Yakutia & Kamchatka, has only one spot left for 2018. 2019 dates will be available soon.

MIR can put together a custom trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Yakutia.

Yakutia, Russia. Photo: Lisa Peterson

Visiting with local villagers in Yakutia, Russia
Photo: Lisa Peterson

 

Old Town Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: Jered Gorman

Old Town Baku, Azerbaijan
Photo: Jered Gorman

7. Baku, Capital of Azerbaijan

Why Baku you ask? Well, it is an up and coming destination, and has been heavily developed for the last 5+ years. Now the construction is finished, and the city has been transformed.

Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: Jered Gorman

Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan
Photo: Jered Gorman

Check out the newly completed Carpet Museum – the building itself is shaped like a rolled up carpet. Admire the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, the swooping architectural work that has become a landmark of modern Baku. Opened in 2012, it was designed by famed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, one of the most influential female architects of the 20th and 21st century.

Carpet Museum in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: Kevin Testa

Carpet Museum in Baku, Azerbaijan
Photo: Kevin Testa


At night, you can’t miss the Flame Towers, illuminated with more than 10,000 high-powered LED lights displaying an illusion of fire that can be seen even from the farthest points in the city.

More photos, videos, and info:

Travel to BakuVisit Baku on any of these MIR itineraries:

MIR can put together a custom trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Martyr's Lane in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: Jered Gorman

Martyr’s Lane in Baku, Azerbaijan
Photo: Jered Gorman

 

Baiterek Tower flanked by Astana’s “Beer Cans”. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Baiterek Tower flanked by Astana’s “Beer Cans” in Kazakhstan
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

8. Astana, Capital City Of Kazakhstan

A stop here can make for a great pre-tour or post-tour visit from any one of our many Central Asian small group journeys. Astana was all spiffed up for the , which was held this last summer. Supporting this event, new hotels, new meeting facilities and the Expo grounds themselves were constructed.

Astana has a vibrant and youthful population full of hope, pushing their young nation into the future.

Astana, Kazakhstan. Photo: Douglas Grimes

Doug, crowned with the “World’s Tallest Tent,” the Khan-Shatyr Shopping and Entertainment Center in Astana, Kazakhstan
Photo: Douglas Grimes

More photos, videos, and info
Travel to Astana

You can visit the Kazakh capital, Astana, on a custom, private tour, hand-crafted to your travel interests and style. Or, opt for our ready-made independent travel itinerary, Essential Kazakhstan.

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Astana, Kazakhstan.

 
Kazakhstan's Modern Capital, Astana. Photo credit: Igor Strebkov

Khazret Sultan Mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan 
Photo: Igor Strebkov

Travel with MIR in 2018

MIR has more than 30 years experience connecting travelers to fascinating destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

Over 30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations.

Wondering which destination or itinerary is right for you? In addition to browsing the pages of our free catalog, you can narrow down your choices online using our Trip Finder and the Destination Map. Or chat with our Private Journeys department to have a trip handcrafted to your interests, pace and budget.

Contact MIR today at [email protected] or 1-111-111-1111

Top photo: Doug at the Baikonur launch pad, on the Inside the Russian Space Program small group tour. Photo: Douglas Grimes

PUBLISHED: January 9, 2018

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