My A to Z of Travel
I first published a version of this post on my personal blog Alethea's Excellent Adventures in March 2012. I'm including it here because I think it's a great way for you to learn a little bit more about me and my travels. I've updated some of my answers where appropriate. Have you been to any of these places or had similar experiences? Let me know in the comments!
I originally got the idea for this post from Johnny Vagabond's website and thought it would be fun to fill in my own answers. Note that when I refer to "we" I'm talking about my husband Greg.
A: Age you went on your first international trip
My first travel outside of North America was as a 15-year-old in 1990. I went on a one-week whirlwind bus tour of France, Italy and Switzerland with a small group of French language students from my high school. I was pickpocketed in the Paris Metro and my passport, cash, travelers checks and my grandfather's credit cards that I was carrying as backup were all stolen!
B. Best foreign beer you had and where
I have plenty of wonderful memories of drinking beer in special places: Angkor beer while watching the sun set at Angkor Wat; Serengeti beer in, you guessed it, the Serengeti! A recent highlight was drinking an unfiltered Pilsner Urquell in the old underground cellars at the brewery in Plzeň, which I wrote about here. I also have to mention that the whole reason Greg and I went to Belgium at the end of our around-the-world trip was for the beer.
I love Indian food. But, surprisingly, some of the best Indian food I've eaten was not in India but in Vietnam! To be fair, it was cooked by an Indian chef. I also love Asian food in general. The complex flavors in Vietnamese and Thai food are fantastic and I took cooking lessons in those countries so I could replicate the dishes at home.
D. Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why
Going on safari in Kenya and Tanzania not only lived up to but exceeded all of my expectations. Greg and I treated ourselves to a two-week safari during our around-the-world trip, visiting Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, Samburu National Reserve, Mount Kenya National Park, Arusha, Lake Manyara, Serengeti National Park, Olduvai Gorge and Ngorongoro. It was expensive but worth every penny. I also particularly enjoyed spending almost a month in Vietnam. Friendly people, wonderful food, beautiful scenery, tough history. I love the natural landscapes in Alaska, Iceland, Ireland and New Zealand. My least favorite place so far is Egypt. Despite working with a local travel agent to hire private guides and chauffeurs, we still couldn't escape the touts at every historic site and always felt like someone was trying to take advantage of us. It probably didn't help that we were in the country only two months prior to the uprising and the tension among the locals was palpable.
E. Event you experienced abroad that made you go WOW
Greg and I were on the South Island of New Zealand when the earthquake hit near Christchurch in September 2010. I felt the tremors while sleeping in our hostel on the opposite side of the island, approximately 400 miles from the epicenter. We already had plans to continue circling the island by car and fly out of Christchurch a few days later. When we overnighted in Akaroa, 30 miles from the epicenter, we were almost shaken out of bed several times during the night by aftershocks measuring up to 5.4 on the Richter scale!
F. Favorite mode of transportation
I love to take trains all over the world. Some of the most interesting rides have been in India and Asia, especially on overnight trains where I always book the standard class so as to experience life as a local not a tourist. In September 2016, I took Amtrak's Empire Builder from Portland, OR to Fargo, ND - a 32-hour journey in a regular coach seat. I have also crossed the Atlantic by boat (on a Holland America Line cruise) and, for the first time, truly appreciated the vastness of the open ocean after not seeing land for an entire week.
G. Greatest feeling while traveling
That no one knows me and I can be whoever I want to be for a day (or longer)! Otherwise, it's being able to blindly throw a dart at a map and go wherever it lands.
H. Hottest place you traveled to
This is probably a tie between Japan in September 2010 during a record-breaking heat wave and southern India in February 2011. The combination of high temps plus high humidity means you're dripping with sweat right after you step out of a cold shower!
I. Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
This is the most ridiculous thing on this entire list but I have to mention it. In remembrance of our high school years in Nashville, Greg, his brother, Doug, and I went to a Krystal drive-through late one night shortly before our wedding in 2011. We ordered eight regular Krystals, had to wait for our order for almost 10 minutes, then, after we had already pulled out of the parking lot, I discovered we only received seven hamburgers. The following day I submitted feedback on their corporate website and was shocked when my doorbell rang a few hours later. The Krystal store manager and one of her employees were standing there with two huge sacks of hamburgers, fries and dessert! She introduced herself, apologized for the mistake, said they wanted to make it right, and handed me all the food. If you want to earn someone's business for life, this is how to do it! Sadly there are no Krystal's on the West Coast!
J. Journey that took the longest
It's not the longest amount of time I've been in transit, but 14+ hours on a plane from Los Angeles, CA to Sydney, Australia sitting next to a puking 4-year-old whose mother already had her hands full with a 16-month-old baby ranks very high as feeling like it would never end!
K. Keepsake from your travels
I've learned that less is more, especially if you're traveling for months at a time and don't want to pay to ship things home. I've got a small collection of knickknacks like soapstone and sandalwood carvings from India, a lucky raccoon chopstick rest from South Korea, Eiffel Tower earrings from Paris, and silver hors d'oeuvres picks that I bartered for on Portobello Road in London. A few years ago I realized that tattoos are a far more practical if pricier and more painful souvenir. I'm often moving too quickly to allow the proper time for a tattoo to heal so I've only gotten a few while on the road so far: a traditional leaping tiger in Chiang Mai, Thailand; a claddagh in Galway, Ireland; a vegvisir in Reykjavik, Iceland; and a maple leaf-enclosed landscape in Banff, Alberta, Canada.
L. Let down site: when and where
It's always disappointing when you arrive at a remote destination and find it overrun with international tourists or chain restaurants just like at home. Caribbean cruise ports are notorious for this. A couple of places I've encountered it farther afield are Halong Bay, Vietnam and Yangshuo, China. Excessive development and/or commercialism are destroying the authenticity of these otherwise beautiful places.
M. Moment where you fell in love with travel
I don't really remember a specific moment, but it probably had something to do with the food I ate while living with a family in Paris for a few weeks when I was 16. We went to the local market almost every day and drank wine with every meal. But the highlight was eating at Le Ciel de Paris, the restaurant on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower. It was probably the most expensive meal I had ever eaten but it made me want to expand my horizons (and my palate) even more.
N. Nicest hotel you stayed in
The fanciest/most expensive hotel I've ever stayed in was the Four Seasons in New York City when I was dating Sarah McLachlan's bodyguard. One of the most relaxing vacations I've ever taken was at Anse Chastanet on St. Lucia. The outstanding service, food, and accommodations at the beautifully-located resort are hard to beat!
O. Obsession – What photos are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling
I love to take pictures of food! The contrast of colors and textures and the overall presentation (or lack thereof) makes for great compositions. Plus it helps me to recall some of the best meals I've ever had and the weirdest food I've encountered in markets and grocery stores around the world.
P. Passport stamps, how many and from where
Keeping in mind this isn't my first passport, which had around 79 stamps in it, and that many countries stamp when you enter as well as when you leave, my current passport (issued in 2008) has 90 from all over the world.
Q. Quirkiest attraction you have visited and where
The Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe in Corbin, KY. Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). There's not much to see and they serve the same chicken as all their other restaurants, but considering I've spotted KFC's all over the world, it's interesting to see where it all began.
R. Recommended sight, event, or experience
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. If you pick the right day, you'll have the whole complex pretty much to yourself for the first 30 minutes. Very serene and awe-inspiring!
S. Splurge: something you have no problem spending money on while traveling
Food and alcohol! They blow my budget every time!
T. Touristy thing you’ve done
Greg and I rode camels near the Pyramids in Giza. It cost $25 for about 30 minutes for two people. Our camel driver's name was Sharif and he was no more than 12 years old.
U. Unforgettable travel memory
Watching a lioness get up from a nap then stalk, hunt and kill a zebra in the Serengeti. Total time from start to finish was around 45 minutes. Afterward the rest of the pride, including many cubs, appeared out of nowhere to feast on the carcass.
V. Visas: how many and where
Eleven: China, Egypt, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Jordan
W. Wine, best glass while traveling and where
The ones shared with good friends: an Alsatian Fleur de Lotus with my dear ex-coworkers in Helsinki, Finland; a bottle of fermented rice wine with a hotel owner and his staff in Hue, Vietnam; more rice wine with fellow hikers after a long trek in the rain and mud in Sapa, Vietnam.
X. eXcellent views and where
Here are a few favorites: from a Cessna on an air tour of the Grand Canyon; flightseeing in Alaska; skydiving from 14,000 ft over the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii; from the top of Rockefeller Center in New York City; seeing the aurora (northern lights) from the cockpit of a 767 while working a flight from Europe to the U.S. as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines.
Y. Years spent traveling
Seven weeks in Europe in 1998; six years as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines; five weeks in India in 2004-2005; nine month around-the-world trip with Greg in 2010-11; three month honeymoon in 2011; four months in central and eastern Europe in 2017; plus countless one- or two-week vacations = I would say cumulatively at least three full years!
Z. Zealous sports fans
Attending sporting events is a great way to experience and appreciate the local culture while traveling. Some of my favorite memories are going to an Australian rules football match at Melbourne Cricket Ground; a baseball game in Hiroshima; and a sumo wrestling tournament in Tokyo. But my favorite sports fans are the Portland Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters; Portland, Oregon's MLS and NWSL championship-winning soccer team supporters. #RCTID
Z. Zealous sports fans
RCTID - Portland Timbers Army!
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