On this snowy bleak Monday in Brussels, I thought it would be a bit of fun to dream about travels past. I’m not normally one to participate in all the blog memes circulating, but when it comes to talking travel, I can’t resist.
I was tagged by Destination Europe who has a great list of her own. So, without further ado, here’s my A to Z of travel.
A: Age of first international trip: In utero and/or shortly thereafter. Growing up in Saint John, New Brunswick meant we were very close to the American border. My parents travelled to the US frequently for day-trips and longer vacations all through my childhood. If I look at my first international travel outside of the USA and Canada, I was 19 when I went to the Caribbean, on a cruise, with my Grand-Mother.
B: Best (foreign) beer: I’m not a beer drinker at all, so the first beer I actually enjoyed was in Belgium. I drink the occasional fruit beer and my favourite brand is Lindemans. Their Raspberry, Apple and Peach beers are all delicious.
C: Cuisine (favourite): Seriously? Just one? This is like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. If you’ve spent any time on CheeseWeb, you know how much Andrew and I enjoy trying new foods. I guess if I had to pick just one cuisine it would be Indian, particularly from the South. I love cooking and eating it and I especially love the spices and multiple layers of flavour in Indian foods.
D: Destination (favourite and least favourite): Again, seriously? Just one favourite destination? We had a huge travel year in 2011 and honestly I loved every place we had the good fortune to visit. If I was to choose just one though, I have to answer India again. It was someplace I have wanted to travel to for as long as I can remember. It was the first place that really challenged me. I can’t wait to go back.
As for my least favourite, this is a super short list. Pisa was particularly horrible when we visited. We were in the middle of our first whirlwind bus-tour of Europe in 2001. We stopped at Pisa for an hour or so, to have a look at the Leaning Tower. It was August and blistering hot and we were immediately pounced upon by dozens of guys trying to sell tacky souvenirs and ugly postcards. We snapped the obligatory ‘holding up the tower’ photos and could not wait to leave. I’m sure there are some redeeming features to Pisa, I just wasn’t fortunate enough to see any of them.
E: Event experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: I have wow moments all the time and most often they have to do with the turn our lives have taken. Every now and then I look at Andrew and say, “We’re in Iceland (Ireland, India, Paris, etc) right now. Yesterday we were in Canada. Next week we’ll be in Brussels. We are so blessed.” These are our ‘Wow’ moments. If someone had told the 20-year-old me, this would be my life, I never would have believed it. It’s been a roller-coaster but I wouldn’t change a second of it.
F: Favourite mode of transportation: While I enjoy most forms of transportation (except flying which is a necessary evil), my favourite is definitely a road-trip by car. I grew up on Sunday Mystery Drives with my parents and longer trips by RV over summer holidays. Andrew and I carried on this tradition and we still love to jump in the car and see where the road takes us. We’ve discovered some of our favourite sites by following tiny roads leading who knows where. I love the freedom to yell “Stop the car!” so I can jump out and take photos. I love the ability to simply change direction, pause to check out an interesting town or grab a snack at a village pub.
G: Greatest feeling while travelling: The greatest feeling for me is the feeling of discovery. As much as I love revisiting places we’ve been to previously, I love experiencing new things. One of the reasons I started writing CheeseWeb.eu was so I could share my discoveries, in Belgium and abroad. I love seeing the big, well known sites in person, but I have a particular affinity for small, lesser known sites. I love feeling like I may just be the first person to share a little known site with the world.
H: Hottest place travelled to: Easily India. Even though we were told it was only starting to heat up in Bangalore, it was scorching for us. I love warm weather but this Canadian is not built for 40°C. It really slowed us down and put the brakes on some of the things we wanted to do.
I: Incredible service experienced and where: This is another tough one to choose. We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve had way more incredible service experiences than bad ones. Some of the most memorable have been in restaurants and one that really sticks out is Al Sile near Treviso, Italy.
We were visiting Venice with my parents and decided to stay outside the city. We walked into Al Sile, on the recommendation of the hotel staff, and we almost turned around and walked out when all we could see was a small bar. We walked past the bar and found ourselves in a big restaurant. The only person who spoke English was the owner, Nicola, and he took fantastic care of us. There was no menu, he just told us what was fresh, asked want we wanted and how we wanted it cooked. He just kept bringing dish after fabulous dish. All four of us were so blown away, we went back the following night. As we were leaving on the second evening, we were treated to wine, posters of the area and big hugs from Nicola. I’m still waiting to go back there.
J: Journey that took the longest: All of our flights between Europe and North America seem pretty interminable, particularly when we are flying to Las Vegas or California. The journey that felt the longest however, was when we moved from Halifax to Amsterdam, before coming to Belgium. We were flying with the last of our worldly possessions in 5 suitcases and four crates with extremely unhappy cats. I thought the day would never end but luckily we arrived more-or-less in one piece. It’s a journey I do not look forward to ever repeating.
K: Keepsake from travels: Of course my most important keepsake from my travels is my photos. Lately I’ve been creating books of photos of our travels so we have something we can hold in our hands, rather than just archived on my hard-drives. The other things we started picking up, a while back, are tacky magnets. They are small, cheap and easy to carry, and best of all, if we decided to downsize and move again in the future, we won’t be too broken up about getting rid of them. For now though, they are a fun and silly reminder of the places we’ve been.
L: Let-down sight, why and where: See Pisa above. Other than that, we’ve had two fairly bad experiences with Venice. The first was on the aforementioned bus-tour, in the stifling heat of August and the crush of a million tourists all trying to race to the same four sites. The second was early March in the cold dreary rain. Andrew swears he will never go back but I am still holding out hope for Venice. I know there is so much potential there; we just haven’t seen it at its best yet.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: I honestly don’t think there was ever one moment for me; travel was in my blood from the beginning. My parents are avid travellers, although they had never ventured beyond North America, until their only child moved half way around the world. (Sorry Mom and Dad). Right from the beginning, they instilled in me a curiosity about new places and a passion for discovery. It’s one of the greatest gifts they’ve ever given me.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Although the majority of the time we stay in fairly boring hotels, we’ve had the good fortune to stay in a few really fantastic places including: a castle in Ireland, a former church, and luxurious cottages, but my all-time favourite stay was our two nights at Vivanta by Taj, Kumarakom, in Kerala, India. The whole event was a complete fluke involving a 16 hour train delay, a cab ride to the middle of nowhere and a mysterious room upgrade. But it all resulted in a private villa with our own pool. We don’t normally travel like this but we sure could get used to it!
O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?: Everything – Architecture, details, landscapes, flowers, food, the only thing I don’t shoot frequently is people (other than the poor souls I’m travelling with who have to put up with my camera all the time). I do have a bit of an obsession with windows but I’ll shoot anything that catches my eye.
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?: At the moment, my passport is at the Canadian embassy for renewal so I can’t count the exact number of stamps but it was pretty well full. Sadly, travelling around Europe, we don’t get too many interesting passport stamps. My passport is mostly filled with stamps from exiting and entering Belgium, the UK, Canada and the US. My two most interesting ones were both from last year – Iceland and India.
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Well there are certainly some quirky ones back in the Maritimes. For some reason we like giant statues of things – lobsters, blueberries, potatoes, even a mastodon.
One of the quirkiest things we’ve visited in Europe has to be the Dune du Pyla in France. This 107m pile of sand is the largest dune in Europe and a million people visit it each year. While the size is impressive, we just can’t understand why the French seem obsessed by it. We were told by multiple French friends that we MUST visit the Dune du Pyla.
We had to pay a fortune to park our car, walk a gauntlet of souvenir sellers, climb the wobbly stairs to the top of the dune all for a few photos and a few minutes of waking in the sand. Then we all kind of shrugged, trudged back to the car, and moved on.
R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Honestly, just getting out and seeing the world – weather it is an hour from your home or half-way around the world. So many people tell Andrew and me how much they would like to travel like we do. But many of these same people make choices every day not to travel.
Do you really need such a big house, two cars, cable TV, a 4$ coffee every day? There are so many sad stories of people who waited to travel and ended up in situations where it was impossible to do so, later in life. That’s the main reason Andrew and I take advantage of every travel opportunity we can now.
But travel doesn’t have to mean distant, long or expensive trips. Before we moved overseas, we made a point to get out and explore our own corner of the world on day and weekend trips. It piqued our curiosity for exploration and it didn’t cost us much money at all.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while travelling: Good food. This is no contest. We’ll sleep in the cheapest room we can find but have no qualms about forking over our hard earned cash for a great meal. So many of our favourite memories are about fantastic meals we’ve had. They don’t have to be expensive or fancy though; just good quality, local specialties made with care and passion. Food offers you a glimpse of what really makes a culture tick and the experience can stay with you long after the other memories have faded.
T: Touristy thing done: We are definitely not above getting down and touristy. We’ve held up the Leaning Tower, visited the top of the Eifel Tower, had a gondola ride in Venice, and carriage rides around several medieval city centres. Oh and hop-on hop-off buses… we’re all over those bad boys. We’ve been on them everywhere. The touristy stuff is there because despite the clichés, it’s fun. What I think is sad, is only doing the touristy things and not opening yourself up to local experiences. Sure, see the big sites, but then put away the guidebook and map and get lost for a few hours.
U: Unforgettable travel memory: There are just too many for me to choose just one so I’m going to take the cheesy, yet true, route by saying any time I’ve shared an incredible travel moment with my best friend, husband and love of my life, Andrew.
V: Visas, how many and for where: I actually only got my first visa last year when we travelled to India. It was a pretty proud day and I hope there are many more in the future.
W: Wine, best glass of wine while travelling and where?: Yikes, another tough one. We’ve had great times exploring the wine regions of Southwest France. We also had some fantastic wines in Sonoma. One of my favourite memories of drinking wine however, was on our first trip to Avignon. We had been exploring all morning with our St. Bernard, and stopped to have some food and enjoy the shade at a little pizza place in the middle of nowhere. They had a beautiful shady terrace where we split a pizza, enjoyed some rosé and just sat for hours relaxing and enjoying the weather and each other’s company.
X: eXcellent view and from where?: We spent an entire day sitting on one restaurant terrace in Vouliagmeni, Greece, drinking coffee, eating fresh seafood and watching the waves on the beach. We chatted, we sat in silence and we just enjoyed the view.
Y: Years spent travelling?: This equals how old I am… I’ll never tell.
Z: Zealous sports fans and where: I’m not a fan of any sport but have had two great experiences watching some. The first was watching a football (soccer) match in the Amsterdam Ajax stadium, between the Dutch and USA national teams. The Dutch fans were crazy, entirely dressed in bright orange and so enthusiastic it was hard not to get caught up in it all.
The second was watching the cricket world cup final while we were in India. We watched the game live in an outdoor amphitheatre with a few hundred Indians. When India won the World Cup everyone was singing, dancing and cheering. I still don’t understand cricket but it was fun to be a part of history!
I’m not going to put anyone on the spot, but let me know if you do your own ABCs of travel and I’ll link back to you here.
Janice @ Colors of Brussels