Join me on my travelling and nom nomming adventures!
Having travelled to close to 40 countries around the world, I sometimes get asked which trips I’ve enjoyed the most. In coming up with this list of most memorable holiday destinations (in no particular order), I deliberately abstained from calling it “places to add to your bucket list”, because in all my travels, there are 2 continents still untouched by me – South America and Antarctica, both of which I’m sure will become bucket list destinations.
1. Germany – Christmas markets
I love Christmas. Not the “goodie, we have a public holiday, let’s chuck a shrimp on the barbie and have some beers” kinda Christmas we get in the land down under, but real Christmas. Where there are soft snowflakes landing gently on your face and Christmas carollers in the background as you sip piping hot mugs of mulled wine and eat roasted chestnuts while shopping for handmade wooden decorations. In fact, I had such a great time almost 10 years ago that I’m doing it all again this Christmas! To say that I’m excited is an understatement.
2. Norway, Sweden, Finland (Scandinavia) – Midnight Sun
On this trip, I got to visit Santa and his elves at their village in Rovaniemi, Finland. Santa asked me where I hailed from, and when I told him, “Australia, it’s very far,” he quipped, “I know, I go there every year.” Then, there is Stockholm, Sweden, one of my favourite cities with its picturesque waterways, green spaces and charming Gamla Stan (old town), not to mention the majestic fjords and quaint grass-topped roofs of Norway. To top it all off, if you visit at the height of summer, make sure you head to Honningsvag, the northernmost city on the mainland of Norway, and from there to Nordkapp, where you can watch the sun dip below the horizon at midnight, then immediately after rise again! Next time, I will visit in winter for the Northern Lights and the opportunity to sleep in a glass igloo.
3. Western Europe – Contiki
Travelling for me is about so much more than just the destination. It’s about the entire experience – the people you’re with and those you meet, the things you learn along the way, these are what remain firmly embedded in your memories years later when you’re looking back. And if there’s one experience that every first time traveller should consider, it’s joining a Contiki expedition. Not only will you be able to cover a lot of ground in a short time, you will be surrounded by other like minded travellers. Indeed, I am still friends with several of the people I met on my Contiki tour. Perhaps I got lucky with my group, but I will always remember my Contiki trip as the one that sparked my wanderlust and taught me how to navigate the streets and metro systems of cities like Paris, Rome and Munich, armed with a little fold-out map. I will never forget my first view of the Eiffel Tower and the collective oohs and aahs of the entire bus – our guide had us all craning our necks left, looking into the windows of some building by the Invalides for Napoleon’s teddy bear until we were positioned right by the Champ de Mars when he told us to look right. Or the crazy drive around the Arc de Triomphe (no less than 5 circuits!) to the Mission Impossible theme just moments later. And that time our bus was stuck behind a driver-less car on the precarious and narrow cliffside road of the Italian riviera. What else would you do in that situation other than rounding up the boys to lift the car aside?!
Fact: One of the things I wanted to be growing up was an archaeologist or ancient historian. I guess I must have watched the Indiana Jones movies one too many times. So, going to Egypt was never a doubt during my 18 months living in Europe. I decided to join the Jewels of Egypt tour by Imaginative Traveller, which sadly does not seem to be available anymore. The reasons I picked this tour are because I did not want to travel through Egypt as a solo female, and because of the range of experiences. Aside from your stock standard visit to the Sphinx and Pyramids, this trip also included my first time on a sleeper train (from Alexandria-Luxor), my first time riding a donkey, cruising down the Nile on a felucca, diving the Red Sea, climbing to the peak of Mt Sinai for sunrise, and, quite coincidentally, a visit to Abu Simbel during the biannual Sun Festival (22 February and 22 October) during which, at dawn, the rays of the rising sun pierce through the temple to illuminate the statues of Rameses II, and the sun gods Amun and Ra. The rest of the year, they remain shrouded in darkness, while the god of darkness Ptah remains in the shadows year round. It doesn’t get much more Indiana Jones-esque than that, if you ask me!
Singing and dancing celebrations at the crack of dawn on the anniversary of Rameses II’s coronation, 22 October, Abu Simbel. The biannual Sun Festival is also held on 22 February, the day Rameses II was born.
5. Vancouver, Victoria and the Canadian Rockies
I’ve visited the Rockies twice, and both times were as memorable though in different ways. The first time, I learned to ski at Whistler, mushed with huskies, and was just mesmerised by the sheer beauty of my surroundings all draped in a soft white carpet. The second time I visited, it was summer and I found the landscapes to be no less stunning. The benefits of a summer visit are that the flowers will be in bloom, you’ll get to see some of the wildlife, and you can go hiking on some of the most scenic trails in the world.
6. Israel – Easter service at the Garden Tomb
I decided to journey to Israel together with UK based Christian tour group Oakhall so that I could visit all the important sites with like minded Christian travellers. This proved to be a great decision on my part as there’s nothing quite like reading the Bible stories we all knew and loved so well together as we traced the footsteps of Jesus from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and finally the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Most poignant of all was the opportunity to celebrate Easter service at the Garden Tomb together with hordes of Christians from around the world. Whilst I’m not usually a fan of big crowds, there was something incredibly stirring and powerful to hear well known hymns being sung in all different languages, knowing that everyone there was united by a common bond in Jesus.
7. Spain – Road trip
Three friends and I rented a car, drove around Spain for about a month and learned a lot of travel truths. No. 1 – invest in an up-to-date GPS system instead of downloading a free one several years old. This will save you circling round and round trying to find a freeway exit/entry and a lot of angst when Tom Tom tries to take you down a road that doesn’t exist! No. 2 – do NOT ingest leftover 1 day old paella. Let’s just say I saw a lot more of the Alhambra restrooms than the palace complex itself. What a shame. No. 3 – after a while, you will start to crave something familiar like MacDonald’s, and you will go to extreme lengths to get it. This may be a direct correlate of point no. 2. Yet at the end of the day, all of the memories, good and bad, shaped this into one of my favourite travel experiences.
Not only is Prague one of my favourite cities, this trip was also memorable for being the first time I travelled solo. I discovered that it’s not so bad eating alone, but going to the theatre was another matter – I like to be able to discuss what I’ve seen at intermission with someone! Best of all, I was on my own schedule, could see what I wanted when I wanted, and could wake up early or sleep in as my little heart desired. Aah freedom! I spent a full week in Prague, taking in not only the sights of this beautiful magical city, but also visiting the delightful World Heritage listed castle town of Cesky Krumlov, the elegant spa town of Karlovy Vary, Hluboka, Karlstejn and Konopiste Castles (yup, I have princess syndrome), and the macabre church adorned entirely with bones at Kutna Hora.
9. California, Las Vegas, Arizona and Utah
So much diversity in this region, from the rugged California coastline to the lush green of Yosemite National Park and the stark landscapes of Nevada, Arizona and Utah. I have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, but little did I know that Antelope Canyon in Arizona and Bryce Canyon in Utah would capture my imagination even more! Not to mention Walt Disney World (it truly is the “Happiest Place on Earth”), the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and the biggest onion rings I’ve ever seen at Mastro in LA.
10. Turkey – ANZAC Day service at Gallipolli
While none of my ancestors fought at Gallipolli, as an Aussie, I could still resonate with the camaraderie that surrounded me during the commemorative Dawn Service. This trip also marked the first time I had to go without a shower for a couple of days as there were no shower facilities at Gallipolli. As it turned out, it wasn’t so bad! Straddling both Europe and Asia, Turkey is another country characterised by diversity in its sights and landscapes, from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, to the turquoise waters of the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, the Greco-Roman ruins at places like Ephesus, the stunning white terraces of Pammukkale, and hot air ballooning over the surreal other worldly plains of Cappadocia. This is a country I have bookmarked for a return visit, hopefully to see the ancient statue heads at Nemrut Dagi in the east.
Hot air balloons at dawn in Cappadocia (source)
What do you think of my list? Have you been to any of these places? What would you add to my list?
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