December 14, 2011 12:00 PM

Approaching the doors of Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired Disneyland’s, in a horse-drawn carriage on March 11, Taylor Swift had a pinch-me moment. A decade earlier, as a kid in Pennsylvania, “I did a school project on it,” she remembers, “so to actually see it was amazing.”

Swift has seen a lot, in fact, over the past nine months. Now into the U.S. leg of her Speak Now World Tour, she and her band have hit 16 countries on three continents, and if she’s a little jet-lagged when she takes a break in December, she’ll have every right to be. Among the year’s most amazing moments: a day of shopping and croissant-sampling in Paris, finding a new favorite treat-“Charbonnel et Walker English rose and violet creams”-in London and feeling the love of thousands of fans at her show in Spain. “People were weeping,” she marvels. “It makes you realize how much music brings people together.”

Swift, 21, isn’t putting away her passport just yet: Early next year she’ll hit Australia and New Zealand. “I’ve seen and experienced places I never dreamed I’d get to go,” she says. “I’m so thankful.”

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