Challenge: A to Z of Travel

Two posts in as many days? What’s going on! Travel blogger Andrew Petcher inspired me to partake in the same A to Z of Travel challenge he shared on his blog, so here we go!

A: Age at which you went on your first trip abroad

22, when Alex and I spent 3 weeks during the cherry blossom season in Japan visiting Tokyo, Gero, Tsumago, Kyoto, Okinawa and Osaka. I had an amazing time and my only regret is that I didn’t keep a travel journal. I’ve done so on almost every other trip I’ve ever taken, from when my Dad and grandparents drove my brother and I to various parts of Australia to every day since we left Australia in July 2010, I guess I was so overwhelmed by all the sights and activities we encountered in Japan I didn’t have the time or energy to capture them in writing, which is a real shame.

Asakusa, Tokyo

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where

Probably Suntory Malts in Japan, although I also greatly enjoyed Sagres in Portugal.

Photo cheat - if the glass is correct this is Super Bock ;P

C: Cuisine

This is a tricky one because one of my greatest joys is trying different foods in different places. We enjoyed some amazing food in Budapest, but we also found the food excellent in Singapore because of the variety.

Indonesian dinner, Singapore

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite, and why

Favourite is another tricky one! If I had to pick just one I think I’d choose Croatia for the stunning beaches, tasty cheap food and drink, lovely people and beautiful national parks. Following very closely behind would be Portugal, Budapest and Japan.

Least favourite would be Morocco. We saw some amazing things in Morocco but in the end the country wore me down. I didn’t like standing out like a sore thumb – you can’t move or look at anything without someone jumping on you doing their best to part you from your money, and unfortunately I found I can’t really copy with that. I felt like I always had to have my guard up and as a result couldn’t relax, so on the whole I didn’t find that trip particularly enjoyable.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”

The first Christmas market I ever experienced was in Budapest and it was simply magical. I think I wandered around the whole evening with my facial expression alternating between a look of wonder and a beaming great smile.

Budapest Christmas market

F: Favourite mode of transportation

Definitely train! You can arrive at the station shortly before the train does, just hop on when it appears, then sit back and relax and watch the view go by without the stress of navigating maps and traffic, or wasting time getting to and from airports hours before your flight. There’s a great passage by Alain de Botton in The Art of Travel which says:

“Of all modes of transport, the train is perhaps the best to aid thought. … Every time the mind goes blank, having hit on a difficult idea, the flow of…consciousness is assisted by the possibility of looking out of the window, locking on to an object and following it for a few seconds, until a new coil of thought is ready to form and can unravel without pressure.”

19:18 to Harwich

Overnight ferries are great too – two of the best days I enjoyed in 2010 were early arrivals into Rotterdam (ferry from the UK) and Zadar (ferry from Italy) where the early morning start gave us a longer than usual day to enjoy.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

Possibly planning…! I’m an organisational nerd and while it might sound silly, I think I get the greatest thrill from planning an upcoming trip. Apart from that it’s probably the moment you arrive in a foreign place and explore the area near your accommodation, trying out your “hellos” and “thank yous” in the local language, and visit a supermarket to see what kinds of juice, chocolate and beers you can get there.

Map and scroggin

I also find the first time I work out how to use the local bus network is a nice moment of quiet triumph. :)

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to

Since it’s gone past 40°C more than once in my home town of Melbourne, the coldest place I’ve been is probably a more pertinent question. ;) That would be Poland in early December when it reached -14°C.

This is snow

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and why

Alex fell ill during our big Europe trip in 2010 and while we bought medicine in each country as we passed through Spain, Morocco and Italy, by the time we reached Croatia he still had a horrible cough that simply wasn’t going away. So, we called our travel insurance company who advised us to visit a local doctor and retain all receipts for reimbursement. When we asked Mark, the owner of the guesthouse we were staying in Dubrovnik, where to find an English speaking doctor he looked at us for a moment then said, “Come on, I’ll take you.” He locked up the building (it was the low season and we were the only guests) and walked us up to his car. He drove us to a nearby hospital where Alex was able to walk straight in and see a doctor immediately (and this was on a Saturday) who prescribed some antibiotics and cough medicine. As Mark walked us out of the hospital Alex asked where he was supposed to pay and Mark just smiled, shook his head and patted Alex on the back. Mark then drove us to a nearby pharmacist and waited while Alex had his prescriptions filled, then took us back to our accommodation. Absolutely brilliant.

J: Journey that took the longest

The train we took from Krakow to Berlin in December 2010. It was supposed to take 10 hours and ended up taking 13 due to snow.

Sunset on the way to Berlin

K: Keepsake from your travels

My travel journals and photos are the best record of my travels and pretty much the only keepsakes I have from our 5 month trip in 2010. (We were backpacking and didn’t want to accumulate too much stuff along the way.) Pretty much the only things we bought were due to necessity, such as warmer clothes as the weather turned colder. I bought a tunic in Budapest with owls on it which has turned out to be my most complimented article of clothing. I rather like the black zip up jacket, striped arm warmers and purple beanie I bought in Sorrento, Italy, as I wore them almost the whole time we were in Croatia so they’re bound up in fond memories. I also like that the bath towel I currently use is a cheap beach towel Alex bought for me when we wanted to go to the beach in Barcelona. :)

Said towel in use in Portugal

L: Let-down sight, where and why

Before we set off to spend the second half of 2010 in Europe I asked most people I knew what their favourite place in Europe was to help plan our itinerary. Lots of people said Barcelona so I had high expectations when we arrived there. I liked certain things about Barcelona, most of all Gaudi’s architecture, but overall I found the city somewhat disappointing. Probably partly due to the overly high expectation, and partly due to the fact I’m not interested in clubbing. :P

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel

My parents and grandparents used to take my brother and I on trips to various parts of Australia when we were growing up and I think it must have given me a taste for it. I can’t remember ever not enjoying the ideal of travel.

Hello Heathrow!

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Quite a tricky one as we’ve stayed in lots of great places! There’s less choice if I take the question literally because we usually choose hostels or guesthouses over hotels but if I had to pick a hotel I’d probably say Hotel Des Abassadeurs in Toulouse, France. It’s only two stars but it’s such a nice family-run place and the owners were so helpful and fun. To answer the question more broadly:

Nicest hostel: Very difficult to narrow down, but probably Majdas in Mostar, Bosnia.
Nicest B&B: Lorgill B&B on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Nicest traditional inn: Yunoshimakan in Gero, Japan.
Nicest accommodation in general: Maison 1400 in Paris, France. (Courtesy of Alex’s dad!)

Maison 1400

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking photos of when you travel

I do like taking photos of anything that contrasts well against a beautiful blue sky, whenever that kind of sky is available. ;)

Chapel, Santorini

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where

37 in total from (in the order they appear in my passport): Australia, Japan, Singapore, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, France, UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Morocco. (There are stamps from a couple of others but I can’t make them out!)

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

I can’t think of anywhere that was overwhelmingly quirkly, but some places that might fall into that general ballpark are the Turtle Museum in Sinagpore, the Cube houses in Rotterdam, Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro, the Typhlological Museum in Zagreb, Memento Park in Budapest and the Wieliczka Salt Mine outside of Krakow in Poland.

Cube houses

R: Recommended sight, event or experience

Ahhh so many to choose from – that’s half the reason I started this blog, so I might eventually get around to listing them all! But if I had to pick one I’d say Bata’s tour of Mostar and its surrounds: it lives up the rave reviews on Hostel World that claim it as a life-changing experience. A close second would be We Hate Tourism Tours “X-Day Trip” of sites around Lisbon.

We Hate Tourism Tours

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking out money for when travelling

Hmm. I generally have trouble splurging as I’m naturally budget-conscious (that’s the polite way of saying it). I generally find I enjoy something even more if I get it for a bargain price. The only two things I can think of where I did splash out are 1) two nights accommodation at a beautiful onsen in Gero, Japan, and 2) a three day trek from Fes to Marrakech (the best thing we did in Morocco). So I guess if there’s anything I’m willing to splurge on it’s once-in-a-lifetime style experiences.

Camel ride in the Sahara Desert

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in London. It’s awful. Overpriced, dated and tacky. Not recommended!

Giant chair

U: Unforgettable travel memory

I’m going to take my lead from Andrew here and pick a kind of stressful one. I’m going to pull it straight from my journal:

Had a scary moment at the Croatia/Montenegro border though! We stopped and a policeman got on the bus and collected all our passports. He took them away to be processed at a little booth. That was a bit uncomfortable, it being so drilled into me never to let your passport out of your site. But he was in a pretty damn official-looking uniform and there was no doubt it was the border, so, ok.

The scariest part came 10 minutes later, when the bus just drove off, leaving all our passports behind!!

Several people said, “But, our passports,” but there was no explanation from the bus staff. So we spent an agonizing 5 minutes or so driving down the road until we got to another border control point. We stopped there for a while and I wondered whether a new policeman was going to come on board and ask to see our passports – at least we were all going to be in the same boat if that happened!

Aaanyway, finally the bus driver started handing back our passports. I have no idea how they got transferred from the first check point to the second one though. Still – what a relief!

In retrospect I guess it doesn’t seem so scary, but at the time when we didn’t know what was going on I was on the verge of panicking.

Montenegro ticket stubs

V: Visas – how many and for where

Only one at the moment, a Youth Mobility visa which enables me to live and work in the UK.

W: Wine – best glass of wine while travelling and where

The wine I most enjoyed drinking were the carafes of house red we had in Croatia. Cheap, authentic and delicious!

Konoba Stomorica, Zadar

X: eXcellent view and from where

One of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen was from the top of a mountain in Lovćen National Park, Montenegro.

Lovćen National Park, Montenegro

Y: Years spent travelling

The earliest journey I can remember taking was to Tasmania with my Mum (and baby brother?). I’m not sure exactly how old I was then but if my brother was a baby then I would have been about 3 or 4. In a way though I feel like I became a real traveller in 2010 when Alex and I left Australia to explore Europe and base ourselves in the UK with the aim of travelling as much as possibly as long as we stay here.

At Melbourne airport

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

I don’t pay much attention to sport and to be honest the most zealous fans I can remember were back home on Johnston Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne, when Spain won the World Cup in July 2010. There’s a sizeable Spanish community based near Johnston Street and they went crazy when Spain beat Holland.

Your turn!

3 thoughts on “Challenge: A to Z of Travel

  1. I really like these – you have some great memories there. I didn’t include anything from Croatia and perhaps I should have done now that you have given me a memory nudge. My favourite is ‘O’ and your blue sky pictures because although I choose blue doors it could just as easily have been blue skies – I take so many (especially in Greece) that Kim says that as a photographer I am a ‘one trick pony’!

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