I see my Traveller’s ABCs as a combined self-examination exercise and travellers’ curriculum vitae. A bit like my credentials for presuming to blog about travel to an unsuspecting public. I’ve very much enjoyed reading other bloggers’ Travel ABCs and found the exercise very revealing. Without further ado, here are my Travel ABCs:
A: Age of first international trip:
I find this hard to believe myself but I didn’t leave New Zealand for the first TWENTY years of my life. A bit embarrassing having read of others childhood exploits. And even then it was ‘only’ to visit Australia. It was a taster though and followed by a non-resort trip to Fiji that was transporting. I then embarked for the United Kingdom to do the typical ‘Overseas Experience’ in 2000 and I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. In fact perhaps the travel desert of my youth is the reason for my ongoing travel obsession! Perhaps ironically my young daughter had visited 13 countries before she was three years old.
B: Best (foreign) beer:
Apparently Kaiser Wilhelm once said “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.” Not sure if his opinion is something to be taken seriously but I do love beer. And the answer to the question is relatively easy. Belgium makes the best beer in the world. Not quite so straightforward to narrow it down to just one brew. But I’ll plump for a tasty Rochefort – drunk in the town near the Trappiste monastery where it’s brewed for preference. And out of the correct glass of course. But then whether to choose the Rochefort 6, 8 or 10 as the premium tipple? Aarrgh!
C: Cuisine (favourite):
Hmm I’ll go for Italian food – it never lets you down, in Italy at least. I have had some odd Italian meals in Asia! I got married in Orvieto, Italy and the wedding meal was truly the best wedding feast you ever experienced – the guests were begging for mercy even before the cake arrived.
D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite and why:
I think my homeland of New Zealand is a wonderful travel destination for natural landscapes, trekking and climbing, even though I only visit once a year these days. For a mix of modern and historic culture cities like London and Berlin are great. Asia is my big addiction for the sheer variety of ‘people culture’ alongside natural beauty. My favourite travel destination needs to have outdoors adventures, history and architecture, and fascinating culture! I absolutely adored Cuba and it has all of those in spades. But it has no mountains and I love mountains. So I’ll plump for Kyrgyzstan in the end. Least favourite? Every country I have visited has had its own charm.
E: Event experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:
Visiting the Khajuraho temple complex in India I managed to coincide with the religious festival of Shivrati. Watching the Hindu festival felt almost visceral, with hundreds of men stripping to their pants, washing and surging up the temple stair like a river of human flesh, carrying their offerings and emerging triumphant from the exit door. Then the wedding procession of Shiva and Parvati with two incredibly cacophonous brass bands.
F: Favourite mode of transportation:
Definitely travelling by train. I love the sense of being transported through a country, seeing a pageant of life out the window. The high-speed trains in Europe are exciting and feel glamorous. At the other end of the spectrum, travelling by train through India is immensely rewarding. Further big votes in favour of train travel are the low carbon footprint and the opportunity to ‘people watch’.
G: Greatest feeling while travelling:
Seeing new places, scenes, cultures is my biggest addiction. The sense of making the pages of the atlas real (to paraphrase Evelyn Waugh) is exhilarating for me. Whether a million other people have seen it or no-one, I love being blown away, again, by our incredible world.
H: Hottest place travelled to:
Definitely Africa. Possibly the Namib desert although I didn’t see a temp gauge. In central Botswana it was regularly in the upper 40s C. I’m not really a hot weather person so I’m quite amazed I managed to do anything at all, let alone go hiking.
I: Incredible service experienced and where:
I once stayed at the new Kempinski hotel, Nileside in Cairo for work and they put me in one of the top floor rooms where you have complimentary butler service. I was a bit sceptical about this but when he turned up with a late evening snack of crème brulee I was completely sold on the idea! He ended up being very useful and the service at the hotel was overall outstanding.
J: Journey that took the longest:
There have been a fair few memorable journeys in terms of length and discomfort. I don’t count the many long haul flights I’ve taken between the northern and southern hemispheres. I think it is journeys that were unexpectedly long that stand out in my memory. Like having to walk half way back to Pokhara from the Annapurna Base Camp trek because the Maoists had called a general strike. Or getting stuck at a road block in Kyrgyzstan with a late night political rally. Or endless Tajikistan marshrutka journeys with breakdowns and flat tyres and roads falling into the river. Uncomfortable as they were, isn’t it funny how these are often the best travel memories and stories?
K: Keepsake from travels:
I’m not really one to buy souvenirs, partly because I travel light and partly because you often don’t know what to do with them when you get home. Photographs are my main keepsake and I love looking back over my travel albums. Very occasionally I’ll buy a fridge magnet and in Central Asia I gave in to temptation and bought a few items of amazing embroidered textile art. Oh and I’ve got one of those Tibetan singing bowls from Nepal.
L: Let-down sight, why and where:
I can’t think of any. If I have felt disappointed about something it is always because I was not in the right space to appreciate it.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:
I can’t remember not dreaming about travel, but the moment it became a reality was laughing with children at a school in the backblocks of Fiji on my first trip out of the developed world. Perhaps even more so was returning home after that trip and experiencing the shock of tarmac roads with markings and fridges full of food. The wonder of that feeling has stayed with me and always makes me long to get out of my comfort zone and see life as others live it.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:
I stayed in a beautiful hotel in Luzern for work once, elegant, lakeside, with the highest threadcount bedlinen I’ve ever experienced and duvets that just melted around your body, as well as a view to die for. But I’d still rather be sleeping on a bedroll on the floor under a grubby quilt in a homestay in deepest Central Asia.
O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?
Landscapes, candid people shots, architecture, sunsets; whatever captures the essence of a place. Oh and (empty) beer bottles.
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?
I’ve visited 54 countries so far, although only five continents. Because I’ve got a New Zealand passport I get a stamp virtually everywhere – even within Europe – to the chagrin of my husband travelling on a European passport. I don’t think I could even count accurately because the stamps get all mixed up and faded. I love leafing through my passport and remembering trips. So there are some benefits to having a Kiwi passport!
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:
I once stopped off at Glenrowan, a tiny town in the Australian state of Victoria. Here they celebrate the last stand of a notorious 19th century highwayman with statues and museums. Ned Kelly was a criminal-turned-folk-hero and a symbol of anti-establishment and in this town they celebrate his ‘last stand’ with a big statue, museums and tacky souvenirs.
R: Recommended sight, event or experience:
I highly recommend Central Asia as some of the best travelling I’ve ever done. The Islamic architecture of the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva is truly awesome. Plus the knowledge you’re following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Timur … Every traveller should read the James Elroy Flecker Poem ‘Samarkand’ and be inspired to travel.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while travelling:
A drink. Especially a cold one after a hot day.
T: Touristy thing done:
I’m not embarrassed about going to places that see a high level of tourism. There’s usually a very good reason why it is so popular and I’m not going to deny myself the experience just because it’s supposedly not cool to do touristy things. Like the Taj Mahal. The only thing I generally don’t like doing is tours – I’ve given in to temptation a few times and always regretted it. Such as a day trip in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam aargh!
U: Unforgettable travel memory:
Really difficult to narrow this down to just one. Seeing Mount Everest in Nepal, watching the sunrise from the red sand dunes in Namibia, sunset on an Atlantic coast beach in Portugal, climbing mountains in New Zealand… I’ve had a lot of adventures but strangely it’s the faces of people that stick in my mind the most. A jewellery seller inVietnam, shy little girls in Tajikistan, euphoric kids in Fiji, a nomadic yurt-dwelling family in Kyrgyzstan. Their wondrous and wondering smiles are unforgettable.
V: Visas, how many and for where?
Again, loads and loads. OK for this one I am going to make the effort and count them, to satisfy my own curiosity if nothing else. There are visa stamps or stickers for 17 countries in my passports. I didn’t count the two countries I got visas for but didn’t actually end up entering – China and Mozambique. Not that I wasn’t desperate to go to China and Mozambique but, well, travel’s like that sometimes.
W: Wine, best glass of wine while travelling and where?
A rich, warm glass of Primitivo wine (from the Puglia region) in Italy; a good Bordeaux at Uncle Guy’s table in Belgium; an icy drop of Sauvignon Blanc on a hot day in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, or a surprisingly complex Cab Sav in the Yarra Valley of Australia.
X: eXcellent view and from where?
Well it has to be mountains … and Nepal… and I’ll pick the view of the Annapurna Sanctuary from Annapurna Base Camp. In this high valley you are surrounded by the Annapurna mountain range, including the exquisite Macchupucchre – Mount Fishtail. For me that’s paradise.
Y: Years spent travelling:
I became a World Wandering Kiwi back in 2000 and since then it’s been a mix of longterm travel and expat living with a multitude of shorter trips along the way. Always planning the next journey!
Z: Zealous sports fans and where:
Glasgow Celtic football fans at Celtic Park. Period.
By Natasha von Geldern