Back at home for the Christmas holidays, I’ve been digging through piles of old photos and albums from my pre-digital-camera travelling days and reliving lots of fantastic memories. So when I got tagged by the lovely Travel with Kat in the bloggers ‘A to Z of travel’ meme that’s been circulating recently, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for some travel tales and photos from the archive to get an airing!
A: Age you went on your first international trip:
I had to check with my mum on this one, but apparently it was a trip to France aged four. Though ten years after that I’d still only been to France, with years of childhood holidays spent building sandcastles and hiding from the rain under a groundsheet on windswept Normandy beaches. My first time on a plane was at 13, flying to Germany to see my aunt and uncle, and first time out of Europe was New York at 18.
B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:
Mmm, difficult one. I’m going to have to go for a three-way tie between Little Creatures Pale Ale (from Fremantle in Western Australia), Costa Rica’s Imperial, and Beer Lao.
C: Cuisine (favorite):
Probably Moroccan, after going out there without very high expectations and being totally blown away by the food. On paper lamb and prune is not a combination I expected to like, but the slow-cooked tagines were delicious, along with aromatic spices, grilled chicken brochettes, couscous which actually tasted of something and gallons of mint tea. I’d love to go back out there and do a cookery course sometime.
D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:
Favourite is so hard to narrow down. I’ll have to go for a tie between New Zealand, for its fantastic scenery and wine, and Thailand as my first introduction to the beaches, buckets and beauty of south-east Asia, and for being one of the places I could go back to time and again.
Least favourite is probably Khota Bharu in Malaysia. My friend and I got stuck there waiting for a boat to the Perhentian Islands. We ended up sleeping in a cockroach-infested room (with its dripping tap and hole in the ground apparently classing as an ‘en suite’), got constantly stared at and hassled, then she got food poisoning from some mystery meat at the night market. It’s not top of the list for a repeat visit!
E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:
During my second year of uni I spend the holidays working in the US, then blew the money I’d earnt on a week in the Bahamas at the end. Unfortunately two days in we got hit by the edge of a hurricane. I’ll always remember sheltering in a restaurant which was the only place nearby with a generator, drinking beer by candlelight and watching broken umbrellas and huge tree branches blow past the window.
F: Favorite mode of transportation:
Definitely trains. I’m not the biggest fan of flying so anywhere I can possibly get somewhere by train I will. It just feels so much more civilised and relaxing, and the scenery’s certainly a lot better.
G: Greatest feeling while traveling:
Getting off the plane. Not only does it mean that I’ve arrived and can’t wait to start exploring a new place, but it also means I’m not up in the air any more!
H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to:
I do like the heat but even for me the 42 degrees temperatures at New Year in Perth in Australia were a bit too much. The whole city was deserted as everyone stayed inside with the air con on. It was a bit of a shock to the system getting off the plane back at Heathrow a few days later to frost and minus 5 temperatures – especially to my sister who was still wearing her flip flops.
I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:
Earlier this year we stayed way out in the rice paddies outside of Ubud in Bali at the Balam Bali Villa. It’s a real peaceful oasis, with rooms with your own terrace around the pool. But the staff are the best bit – they took us on a tour around the local village, organised drivers, trips and spa treatments for us, paired us up with another couple to share the cost of a day trip, served breakfast however late we got up, and let us help ourselves to drinks from the honesty bar and borrow DVDs.
J: Journey that took the longest:
I’ve done some long flights – like 32 hours including stopovers on the way back from Australia – but my longest ever journey was a 48-hour Indian train trip from Goa to Delhi. We were in three-tier bunk beds, sharing our compartment with an Indian couple on their honeymoon, and passed the time playing cards, watching the world go by and drinking endless cups of chai. I can’t say I wasn’t glad to get off and have a shower after the second night, but it was a great window into Indian life.
K: Keepsake from your travels:
Mainly just photos, plus a slightly swollen ankle to remind me of a night out in Manly in Sydney. A misguided running jump down the steps onto the beach ended up with a landing on the concrete rather than the sand, and a right ankle broken in two places. And yes, cheap wine may have been involved…
L: Let-down sight, why and where:
India was the first stop on my RTW trip in 2003, and although it was fascinating place, it wasn’t the easiest place to travel – as two 20-something, pale, blonde girls we did stand out a bit. So as we arrived at the Taj Mahal three weeks in we were burnt out, and that combined with hassle of epic proportions and a guide whose monotone commentary made even the Taj’s great love story sound like he was reading the phone book, I was a bit underwhelmed with the place (as you can see from my face!). I’d like to go back and see it again under different circumstances though.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:
I went on a university field trip to Thailand aged 19 (the benefits of studying geography…). It was way out of my comfort zone having hardly left Europe before, but I totally loved the place. We travelled to Bangkok then way beyond the tourist areas right out into the countryside, where we met local people and explored remote temples on the Cambodian border. It started off my long love of travel and south-east Asia.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:
One of my favourites is Hopewell in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand. It’s a backpackers rather than a fancy hotel, but with an amazing location, only accessible by water taxi or three-hour drive on a very windy unsealed road. You can borrow kayaks or bikes and explore the Sounds, collect mussels on the shore, or just sit in the outdoor hot tub overlooking the water or laze by the open fire. It’s got an amazing kitchen if you want to self-cater or the owners make a fab BBQ and home-made pizzas when you can hang out with travellers from across the world over a local Sauvignon Blanc.
O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:
Landscapes and buildings are definitely my thing. But my New Year’s travel resolution is to take more people shots and portraits.
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?:
I got a new passport recently so it’s looking a bit sparse at the moment, with stamps only from Malaysia, Indonesia and the US so far. The last one was almost full though so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:
Probably the ‘big things’ of Australia. The big prawn, the big banana, the big Merino, the giant Ned Kelly. You’ve got to hand it to the Aussies for their ability to make tourist attractions out of absolutely nothing!
R: Recommended sight, event or experience:
New Year’s Eve is usually a bit of a letdown but the one I spent in Sydney Harbour was fantastic. It definitely helps to have hot weather and be able to sit outside, drinking champagne (ok cheapo sparkling wine) in front of the Harbour Bridge and watching the fireworks over the city.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:
Definitely experiences. I’d rather stay somewhere cheap and spend money on doing things while I’m out there, so have splashed out on some memorable experiences like a helicopter trip over Mount Cook in New Zealand, zip-lining in Costa Rica, and swimming with stingrays in the Cayman Islands.
T: Touristy thing you’ve done:
I’ve got no problem with being a complete tourist sometimes, and have done all sorts of touristy things – from full moon parties in Ko Pha Ngan and drinking a pint of Guinness in Dublin’s Temple Bar, to doing the bus tour round the stars homes in LA and firing an AK47 in Cambodia. One touristy thing I always like to do though is climb up something tall for a view of a new city.
U: Unforgettable travel memory:
This is so hard to choose, but I’ll go for spending Cambodian New Year in Siem Reap. People were going mad on the streets, partying and throwing water and chalk dust at everyone. We met a really cool group of people and hung out chatting and drinking all night in the Angkor What? bar. Then just before it got light we headed over the the ruins at Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise over the temples.
V: Visas, how many and for where?:
None in the new passport, but the old one had all my Asian visas, as well as my USA and Australian working holiday visas, and the Indian one I spent a whole day in the visa office in London queuing for.
W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?:
I love wine, so have drunk it all over the world, even Thai wine in desperation once (don’t do it). One of the best glasses I’ve ever had was after cycling around the vineyards of Sonoma in California, meeting the winemakers and tasting the wines where they were grown. The wines got better as we went on, though the cycling got worse, and we ended up drinking a glass of red amongst the vines as the sun started to go down, accompanied by a huge lump of cheese which is all we could find for lunch!
X: eXcellent view and from where?:
My first view across the Alps from the top of a mountain over Méribel, once I graduated from the baby slopes to the grown up lifts in my first week of skiing. The stunning snow-capped mountains all around me took away from the fear that I had to get all the way back down there somehow.
Y: Years spent traveling?:
Erm (quick mental arithmetic)… 29 years. Wow. Though my main years of travelling (i.e. to places other than France) have been the last 15 years.
Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:
I’m not exactly a massive sports fan but do like a bit of motor-racing and have been to a few Grand Prix around the world. The maddest crowd had to be in Imola in Italy as the obsessive Ferrari fans, the Tifosi, went crazy as Michael Schumacher scooped a Ferrari win right at the last minute.