To reward myself for finishing part of my taxes, here’s a spinoff of Jill Sommer’s post on the ABCs of traveling; a great Internet meme for language geeks! I agree with Jill that just assembling this list brought back some fabulous memories, and just for fun, it also prompted me to tally all of the countries I’ve visited (Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, France, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Monaco, Austria, Italy, Greece, Czechoslovakia (when it still existed!), Hungary, Bosnia, Moldova, Romania, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Australia, Denmark, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates).
Age you went on your first international trip: I went to elementary school in western New York and we went to Canada frequently, but I left North America for the first time when I was 13, on a trip to France with my mom.
Best foreign beer you’ve had and where: Pass. I hate the taste of beer!
Cuisine (favorite): Tie. Anything Asian and vegetarian or anything French and pastry.
Destinations-favorite, least favorite and why: Favorite destination is a tie between Nepal and Paris, because in their own ways they are utterly unlike anyplace else in the world. Least favorite: the border crossing town between Nepal and India, which is not only “small, congested, dusty and dirty” but where you can also lie awake all night listening to the various calls to prayer blasted from the various temples and mosques on both sides of the border.
Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: The Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore. My husband and I backpacked across Asia for a year after we got married (an experience that also made me say “wow”!) and this festival was on the first night of our trip; the whole city was lit up with candles, lanterns and incense. It was my first time in Asia and a truly breathtaking experience.
Favorite mode of transportation: If I’m on a road, a bike. If not, my feet. Any place is within walking distance if you have the time! And I love how these modes of transportation bring everything down to a human scale.
Greatest feeling while traveling: Losing track of what day of the week it is. Now that’s vacation!
Hottest place you’ve ever been: Anywhere in Southeast Asia is pretty intensely hot and humid, mitigated by the fact that there’s lots of air conditioning. Honorable mention to the Arun Valley in Nepal, where it was 104 degrees and I was carrying a 60 pound backpack full of winter clothes for the higher elevations.
Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: The Gite du Mont Albert in Quebec, which we could afford only because the US dollar was worth almost 2 Canadian dollars at the time. It was the dead of winter, in the middle of the mountains and although there was only 1 vegetarian item on the menu, the chef cooked a different, totally amazing, vegetarian item for me and my husband every night.
Journey that took the longest: In actual terms, probably flying from Boston to Singapore. In terms of how long it felt, riding in the unheated baggage car of a night train between Grenoble, France and Salzburg, Austria (holiday weekend: all seats were taken and the conductor took pity on us!).
Keepsake from your travels: Sugar cubes and sugar packets. A little weird, I know, but I’m really not a knick-knack collector, so I bring the sugar home and add it to my coffee and think of the place I got it from. I also like interesting plastic shopping bags (ditto on the weird, maybe this is just me!).
Let-down sight-why and where: Not the Taj Mahal itself, but its surroundings. Before we went there, I never realized that it’s smack in the middle of a huge, gritty, industrial city. Somehow I envisioned it in the middle of a wildflower meadow or something!
Moment when you fell in love with travel: On my first trip to France at age 13, my mom and I went to Mont Saint-Michel which is still one of my favorite places on earth. I had read a story about it in my 7th grade French textbook, entitled “Le beau paysage sauvage de Mont Saint-Michel” (The wild and beautiful landscape of Mont Saint-Michel) and I think it was one of my first experiences of seeing a place I had learned about in school coming to life.
Obsession-what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Animals? Mountains? My daughter? I’m not a very fanatical photographer, but I guess those are it.
Passport stamps- how many and from where?: Lots; I don’t really keep track but I do like passport stamps!
Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: The ancient erotic temples in Khajuraho, India (you asked, OK!). The duty-free store in the Dubai airport, which sells Mercedes automobiles. The world’s northernmost Turkish minaret (in Eger, Hungary).
Splurge-something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: A truly unique experience. I’m really not a “stuff” person and I don’t do a lot of shopping on vacation, but give me a really cool boat ride or animal-watching tour or a zipline and I’m there.
Touristy thing you’ve done: I admit it, I love cheesy tourist stuff. I’m going to side with Jill here and say that the Sound of Music bus tour in Austria (where you drive around to the places the movie was filmed, and the movie plays in the tour bus) is high on the list. Dracula’s castle in Romania definitely deserves a mention.
Unforgettable travel memory: Spending my 29th and my husband’s 35th birthday camping in a stone hut at 15,000 feet in Nepal, watching the sunset over Langtang Lirung and the moonrise over Fluted Peak. Seeing wild tapirs grazing on the beach in Costa Rica. Traveling through Eastern Europe in 1991-1992 during the first wave of tourism after the Iron Curtain came down. Partying under the Eiffel tower on New Year’s Eve!
Visas-how many and for where?: French residence visa, tourist visas to India, Brazil and Laos (got the visa but never went there!).
Wine-best glass of wine while traveling and where?: I spent a summer in the Bordeaux region; pretty much anything there would qualify.
eXcellent view and from where?: Man-made: the Paris panorama from the Pont Neuf. Natural: Mt. Everest; kind of cliché but it is really amazing in person!
Years spent traveling: A year living in France, a year trekking across Asia, summers in France and Denmark, probably at least one trip a year outside the US since I was 13 and I’m 40 now!
Zealous sports fans and where: Cricket fans in Australia. Our Australian friends even took us to have drinks at a luxury hotel in Melbourne where (no kidding) the bathrooms have a particularly good view of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.