My travels from A to Z

I first read this post over on SoloFriendly and thought a lot about the topic since including it in a Sunday Reading post. It’s a nice reflective activity for travelers and my friends and I had a great time discussing it while going through our travel memory banks.

A: Age you went on your first trip.

My family went on vacation every summer, so I was in the low single digits and it involved a road trip, probably in our old station wagon. My first foreign trip was to Maine in the early 1980s.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where.

First: The can of Alhambra beer I bought at a corner store in Córdoba. That and a bag of jamón-flavoured chips were my late-night snack while sitting on top of my hostal and surveying the city below me. Second: the large, cold Cruzcampos in Seville after a long, hot day of wandering in the Barrio Santa Cruz. My favourite foreign beverage is Fanta Lemon, but we’ve covered this already.

C: Cuisine (favorite).

Far too many. Thai and Vietnamese are my favourite restaurant foods, but I could eat endless tapas and slices of jamon.

D: Destination (favorite and least favorite).

Favourite: Seville, Spain and Essaouira, Morocco. I’d go back to either, right now, and stay indefinitely.

Seville waterfront Torre del Oro
Sweet, sunny Seville

Essaouira Morocco blue boats
Unexpected Essaouira

Least favourite: the only disappointing places I’ve visited have been on work-related trips, where the destination wasn’t by choice. The most disappointing was Calgary, Alberta back in the late-1990s, it was completely dead after 5pm and boring as all get-out. I understand it’s a lot better now.

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

The opening parade for La Mercé in Barcelona, kicking off five days of celebrating Catalonian culture – proudly and defiantly – after so many years of cultural oppression under Franco’s regime. The parade was only 10 minutes long, but it was stunning and joyous to me.

Barcelona la merce parade Barcelona la merce parade

F: Favorite mode of transportation.

Metros and trains. The former are a great way to move around a city quickly and cheaply. The latter are the the best way to see a country.

It's a bird, it's a train... it's a train called AVE, which means bird in Spanish.
It’s a bird, it’s a train… it’s a train called AVE, which means bird in Spanish.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling.

Feeling local – staying in a place long enough to navigate without a map. Generally, I have a pretty good sense of direction and a lock-box of a memory, so it only takes a couple of days for a place to start to feel familiar.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to.

Seville, Spain at the end of September. I hate to say Eastern Canadians don’t do well in heat, but it was pushing 40C some days and it was just well beyond what we have here on the East Coast. Luckily, Seville is built for this kind of weather and it’s really easy to stay in the shade.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where.

A random Marriott in West Orange, NJ. They were so authentically friendly and helpful, I thought they were going to give me a piggy-back ride to my room.

J: Journey that took the longest.

I have a feeling I haven’t taken it yet. Flying from Halifax to Vancouver was probably the hardest, because Canada is a big bloody country – the flight took most of a day, but when I arrived, it was lunchtime. Before that, I had only traveled in the other direction.

K: Keepsake from your travels.

My travel journals are sacred to me. Nerd alert! I keep constant notes on what I do, where I ate, how much I spent, and the observations that pop into my head. I also save hotel cards, ticket stubs, receipts, metro cards, any interesting thing I acquire during the day. For my last long trip to Spain in 2011, I carried small notebooks around and jotted things down during the day, or sketched things that I couldn’t capture with my camera, using meals and coffee breaks to write it up properly. I also travel with a glue tape thingy that I use to paste the tickets and other minutiae into my journal. Unsurprisingly, these journals turned out to be excellent source material for the blog.

My favourite morning café in Seville. Hams, mounted bull's head, mountains of wine
My favourite morning café in Seville. Hams, mounted bull’s head, mountains of wine

L: Letdown site and where.

The Louvre in Paris. It’s simply too much. It was covered under the Paris Museum Pass, so I went in the evening of what was already a long day of travel. The people and sheer volume of options put in shutdown mode. I checked out the Greatest Hits and hightailed it to a café to recover.

Running past the Mona Lisa
Running past the Mona Lisa

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel.

My first time on an airplane, going to Florida at age 12. When the plane lifted off, I was hooked.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at.

The most expensive was in Boston for a work trip more than 10 years ago, and I can only recall it was boring. I stay a lot of places that are more “interesting” than nice. A recent favourite is Hotel 17 in New York, which used to be a residence hotel (and former home to Madonna when she first moved to NYC). Now, it’s a budget hotel that is located right off Union Square. Fun, clean, great location.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

Food markets, interesting architectural features, and cats.


P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

I renewed in 2011, so my current passport is pretty fresh: just entry (Spain) and exit (Germany) visas for the EU and a quick trip to the USA.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, where the tourism industry is based on the Salem Witch Trials, Puritans, and all things witchy. October 31st is utter bedlam, parking is a nightmare, and everyone is in costume, or appropriate celebratory cloak. It’s wild beyond belief.

R: Recommended site, event or experience.

I usually leave a destination with one thing that I’ll recommend forever. My favourite I’m hoping to repeat in the near future is the Sunday morning bird market at Place Louis Lépine in Paris. It is exactly what it sounds like.

Bird market, Place Louis Lépine
Bird market, Place Louis Lépine

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling.

I usually buy jewelry. When I’m home and back at work, wearing it reminds me of my best adventures.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done.

I hiked up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. I was reminded of my vertigo after about a hundred steps or do, so that was fun, but the view of the city and watching the sunset made the dizziness totally worth it.

Inside the grillwork of the Eiffel Tower. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Inside the grillwork of the Eiffel Tower. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

U: Unforgettable travel memory.

Emerging from the Gare du Nord after flying all night to get to Paris. It was a beautiful autumn morning and the reality of being in Paris was overwhelming.

My first breath of Paris
My first breath of Paris

V: Visa. How many and for where.

Credit cards: 1, all of my tourist visas are expired. I also have this dandy bank account which lets me withdraw at international banks in their Alliance without the $5 international ATM withdrawal fees. So, that’s pretty great.

W: Wine. Best glass of wine while traveling and where?

Far too many. A lovely, surprising glass of red in Meknes, Morocco. Even if you do have to enter the liquor store through a mostly-hidden kind-of secret side entrance.

The Moroccan reds are a revelation.
The Moroccan reds are a revelation.

X: eXcellent view and from where.

Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe; Granada, Spain from the top of Alhambra; New York from the top of Rockefeller Centre or the Staten Island Ferry; and, Sydney, Cape Breton from the top/exercise room at the Cambridge Suites.

Some of the 270-degree view from the top of the Alhambra
Some of the 270-degree view from the top of the Alhambra

Y: Years spent traveling.

Three years since I got super-serious about it. I waited so long to see the world and got tired of waiting for a boyfriend/husband or a friend to go with me. My only regret is that I didn’t do years ago after I paid off my student loans!

Z: Zealous sports fans and where.

Barcelona – on one of the days I was in Barcelona, there was a match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Every single bar and restaurant was ready for the game and people hung flags out on their balconies. The city was plastered in them.

I assume their mailroom conversations are ... awkward.
I assume their mailroom conversations are … awkward

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