Join me in welcoming my friend Janet on her inaugural post for Bite-sized Travel – she is both my 50-dirham friend and movie blogger over at Popcorn Dinner. As one of my oldest friends, I’ve heard bits and pieces of her fun adventures over the years, so I’m thrilled she’s willing to share them again.

A: Age you went on your first trip.

I think the first “trip” where I remember having adventures and seeing new places and doing fun things was a family vacation to PEI the summer I was 10. We visited Green Gables, saw Anne of Green Gables the musical in Charlottetown, Woodleigh Replicas (mini British castles), and a water park (I don’t remember which one – there are many). It was a big deal at the time. [Krista: For folks not from Atlantic Canada, this is a classic summer vacation.]

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

I don’t know if it’s an example of the “best” foreign beer, but it’s the most memorable… the year I lived in Reading, England we would go to the our “local”, the Newt & Cucumber, for “snakebites” – a pint with a splash of black current cordial. I didn’t drink beer before living in the UK (when I was 23ish) and have snakebites to thank for my current palate for all things ale. So good!

C: Cuisine (favorite).

Like Krista, I have a fondness for Thai cuisine, but I’ve never actually been anywhere to sample it authentically/locally. Favourite native cuisine I sampled in the place of its origin was definitely Italian. Pasta, pizza, and gelato all just taste better in Italy.

D: Destination (favorite and least favorite).

This is like Sophie’s Choice!! How can I choose just one favourite?!! I think I’ll follow K’s example and err on the side of unexpected favourite, which is Amsterdam hands down. I’m embarrassed to say all I really knew of Amsterdam before going there was that drugs are legal and they have a red light district, but it is still to this day one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been (I’d include a pic, but I don’t have these scanned yet and my visit was long before the days of digital). Tied for favourite would be Florence – but I fully expected to love Florence so no surprise there.

Least favourite… I’m afraid I might offend someone here, but I’d have to say Windsor, Ontario. I have a close friend who lives there and for that reason I enjoy visiting, and parts of the city are quite pretty (it’s on the Canadian side of the Detroit river and the downtown area along the waterfront is nice). But overall, there isn’t much to do (unless you like to gamble – there are loads of casinos) and there isn’t a lot of “character”. Sorry Windsorites.

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

Hogmanay in Edinburgh. Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year and Edinburgh hosts a giant street party where over 80,000 people enjoy outdoor concerts, street performers, a fair, fireworks, and plenty of whiskey, beer, and bagpipes. It’s epic.

Outdoor stage in front of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, 1997
Outdoor stage in front of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, 1997

F: Favorite mode of transportation.

On the water. Ferries and boats of some kind are my favourite way to go. There’s something thrilling about approaching a place you’ve never been before on the water. It gradually grows on the horizon and gets bigger and bigger and then, you’re there! Despite an affinity for water transport, I’ve never been on a cruise and don’t feel a strong desire to go on one (except maybe to Alaska – that looks pretty cool). Air is a close second. I really love flying.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling.

Freedom.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to.

Pompeii and Rome in July. If you don’t like the heat (which I don’t) I would recommend another time of year to explore Southern Italy. It was about 40 degrees every day. I melted.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where.

Scotland. Friendliest people in the world – would give you the clothes off their backs if you asked. I don’t know if this counts as “service”, but a group of us were at the Ferry Boat Inn in Ullapool where a local band was playing traditional folk music. We got to talking to the Inn’s owner about different musicians and records (yes, this was when vinyl was retro, but still a viable collector’s item) and one of the band members says, “Oh, my mate has a used record store just up the road – do you want to check it out?” Now this was about 9:00 or 10:00 at night. The store was long closed. But the owner calls up his guy who goes to the store and opens it up after hours for a bunch of tourists (mostly Aussies and Canadians) to come have a look around. Maybe it’s a rural thing more than a Scottish thing, but I found that Scotland has the most consistently friendly and accommodating people ever.

J: Journey that took the longest.

By air, flying from Halifax to Vancouver is the longest I’ve spent on a plane at about 7 hours. By ground transport, the longest leg I ever did at once was 7 hours on a train (overnight) from Interlaken, Switzerland to Paris. The longest full trip was a high school band trip from Halifax, NS to Boston, Massachusetts. It took about 2 days there and 2 days back. On a bus. Full of teenagers. (Being a teenager at the time, I didn’t mind so much).

K: Keepsake from your travels.

Masks. I collect decorative masks from places I’ve been. It started in Italy with the Venetian Carnivale costumes.

L: Letdown site and where.

Maddam Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London was a bit of a letdown. I’d recommend saving the usually overpriced admission fee and go see or do something you can’t do anywhere else. The only part that was kind of cool was where they take you through the “works in progress” (and yes, that’s Brian Mulroney’s head near the left for a little Canadian content).

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel.

Ditto to Krista’s response here. We did a family vacation to Florida when I was 12 and that was my first experience of air travel. That exact moment when you feel the plane leaves the ground is still a total rush.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at.

I’ve never really had the means to stay in a “nice” hotel – I’ve mostly done hostels, B&Bs, and budget hotels. I think the grandest hotel was a Disney resort where we stayed when I was 12. But I can’t for the life of me remember which one it was. I remember we had a suite, but we also didn’t spend a lot of time at the hotel. We (my sister and I) were much more interested in the theme parks.

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

People. Either people I know or random strangers. This pic of a bored ballerina in front of the Paris Opéra Garnier is one of my favourite ever travel shots. [Krista: This picture is amazing. Why is it not framed and hanging in your home?]

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

Seven over three passports. One entering London on a Working Holiday Visa. Two passing through Dover, one for Lichtenstein (which you could specifically request at the visitor’s center), one for the DR, and two travelling to the US (one into Detroit, another into New York). It was sad for me when I discovered I wouldn’t get a passport stamp for each country visited in Europe (I travelled by train and bus and you didn’t get stamped).

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

It’s not very far away from where I live, but Joe’s Scarecrow Village in Cap le Moine on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is still the weirdest, quirkiest and all around odd places I’ve ever been (and I’ve been some places). It is exactly what it sounds like – a collection of “scarecrows” in a huge field, many of whom are made up to look like famous personalities. It’s truly bizarre. And awesome. (Again, wish I had a pic, but those haven’t been scanned yet either).

R: Recommended site, event or experience.

It’s always hard to provide a recommendation because so much depends on what people like to do, but if you (like me) enjoy the somewhat weird and unique, I would recommend the Swarovski Crystal Works Museum in Innsbruck, Austria. It’s like an art gallery made of crystals and totally trippy. Here’s a pic of the entrance:

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

Attractions. I try to adopt a mindset when travelling that I might never get back to a place and therefore anything that I can only do in that one place is high priority. When I’ve forgotten that mentality, for instance, I neglected to ride the London Eye because I thought it was too expensive, I’ve regreted it. I’d rather risk that the experience might not be worth the splurge than regret not doing it at all.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done.

Disney World. Made a wish in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Empire State Building. Eiffel Tower (at night, which was actually really cool). I’m not ashamed to do the “touristy” things!

U: Unforgettable travel memory.

Wandering around Venice by myself, completely and unredeemably lost, and everything was totally quiet except for the sound of someone playing the piano through an open window. It was like something out of a movie. The “streets” in Venice are really the canals, so when you’re on foot, you’re essentially making your way through alleys and narrow corridors in between buildings (and it’s really easy to lose your bearings and feel like you’re the only person in the world). Then they open up suddenly (and at times unexpectedly) into these glorious, bright public spaces and courtyards.

V: Visa. How many and for where.

My one and only travel visa was a “Working Holiday” visa for the UK. The purpose of which was explicitly travel, and you were allowed to work so long as the purpose of doing so was to supplement your travelling. At the time (late 90s) you were only eligible for this visa if you were under 25. Shortly after I did my stint, they raised the maximum age to 30.

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

Honestly I don’t remember – for most of my travels I was not a wine connoisseur (and in fact wouldn’t consider myself one now). I might have a label stashed in my travel memorabilia somewhere for the Italian white I drank through Italy that was cheaper than water. That made it the best.

X: eXcellent view and from where.

View of Central Park in New York from the top of Rockefeller Centre (below). View of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe (I actually liked this better than the view from the Eiffel tower). View of St. Peter’s Square from the top of the Basilica in Rome. View of the Alps anywhere in and around Innsbruck, Austria. View of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton from, well, anywhere along the way.

Y: Years spent traveling.

Not quite a year – my longest concurrent stint travelling was for about 9 months (but during that time I did have a home base in Reading, England).

Z: Zealous sports fans and where.

I was in Paris when France won the World Cup on their home turf in ‘98. ‘Nough said.

Wooooo!
Wooooo!

[It’s Krista again] Thanks for sharing some fun memories of your travels, Janet! I’ve learned some new things about your travels and got some good ideas for my own, both near-term and long-term. If you have questions for our intrepid guest-blogger, fire away in the comments.

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