Join me on my travelling and nom nomming adventures!
I started this post last year as an ode to turning 40, but haven’t been able to finish it until now because, well, quite frankly, I was busy having the time of my life! From ticking off Tasmania (now I’ve visited every state in my home country of Australia), to finally stepping foot on South America not once, but twice in one year (my 6th and final continent if I decide never to brave the trip to Antarctica – don’t judge, I get very seasick!), I really did go the extra mile to make 2019 an extra special year in terms of striking off some things that have been sitting on my travel bucket list for some time. I feel incredibly blessed to have visited so many amazing places, and not just seeing them but really delving deep by combining many of these destinations with a range of fun and unique experiences. Here are some my of my most memorable travel experiences to date that I hope can inspire you when you’re planning your next trip!
1. Running the Disney Princess Half Marathon
If you’re going to participate in one race in your lifetime, make sure it’s at Walt Disney World Orlando. The atmosphere is incredible, you get to run through Magic Kingdom and Epcot (at least if you do the half marathon – register here), and you’re cheered on by Disney princesses and other popular Disney characters along the way. Enhance the experience by staying at a Disney hotel (I highly recommend Disney’s Beach or Yacht Club) and tagging on at least 4 days so you can stretch those running muscles by walking through each of the Disney theme parks after your run, 1 park per day. The race is in February each year, registrations open in July, and if you want to be placed towards the front, you’ll need to participate in at least one other officially timed half marathon before then as you’ll need to submit proof that you can complete the 21.1km circuit in 2 hours 45 minutes. Start training now for 2021!
2. Visiting Hogwarts
So you’re all Disney’d out. Take yourself over to Universal Studios Florida and be a witch or a wizard for a day or two at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The details in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are so incredible that I’m sure even those who haven’t read Harry Potter (who are you people anyway?) will find themselves lost in the magic. If you really don’t identify with being a Muggle, be sure to pick up an interactive wand at Ollivanders then spend the day practising your wand skills (seriously!). I recommend a 2 night stay at Hard Rock Hotel for easy access and included Express Passes to the theme parks (yes, there are actually two of them, and you’ll find Diagon Alley at Universal Studios while Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are at Islands of Adventure).
3. Hot air ballooning in Turkey
One of the most surreal landscapes I’ve seen so far, made extra special by being in one of about half a dozen groups that took to the skies bright and early one morning. I’ve heard that the number of hot air balloons soaring above Cappadocia each morning has multiplied since I visited, making for a bumpier ride as balloons bounce off each other in the air (eep!). The good thing is you’ll get awesome photos of brightly coloured balloons filling the dawn sky.
4. Doing absolutely nothing in my own over water villa
I have never really been a beach resort kinda gal, but when you’re surrounded by the clearest of waters, the most beautiful shades of blue, perfect weather, unlimited ice-cream and a whole team of people whose sole aim is to make you feel relaxed and happy, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve wound up in Paradise. You’ll find this little slice of Heaven at the Six Senses Laamu in Maldives.
5. Marvelling at the spectacle of the midnight sun
After all the stunning fjords and mountains, the equally gorgeous locals and the unbearably adorable turf-covered timber houses, I really didn’t think my visit to Norway could get any better. And then this happened. Standing at Nordkapp, the northernmost point in Europe that is accessible by car, watching as the sun dipped below the horizon at the stroke of midnight only to immediately rise again. Sheer magic!
6. Walking like an Egyptian
2020 is either a good or a bad year to go see the Pyramids and Sphinx depending on your take. This year, Giza’s Grand Egyptian Museum will open at last. On the one hand, I’m sure it will be a more informative and high tech experience compared to the disorganised bazaar that was the old museum. On the other hand, be prepared to shell out more for admission. But don’t let the cost put you off visiting, and definitely don’t limit yourself to just Cairo. My favourite memories of Egypt were sailing down the Nile, hopping from temple to temple, and getting up at the crack of dawn to visit Abu Simbel during their festival celebration of King Ramses II’s birthday. For two days only every year, on this day and on his coronation day (October 22 and February 22), the sun shines in such a way that his statue is illuminated for just 20 minutes. It’s all very Indiana Jones, it’s crowded, it’s crazy, it’s loud with all the local mucisians…but it’s super cool!
7. Discussing geography with Santa at his home
Did you know that Santa lives in a little city towards the north of Finland? Yup, it’s called Rovaniemi and you can visit him any time of the year. I visited in the summer because I was heading north to see the Midnight Sun, but it was just as fun seeing Santa all relaxed while the elves were hard at work replying his mail. When I got my picture taken with Santa, I told him that I live in Australia and that it’s very far away. Without skipping a beat, he told me, “I know. I visit every year.”
8. Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time
I have fond memories of my first ever Contiki tour which was my overview to Europe as a youth. I was lucky to have a fantastic driver and tour guide who knew exactly how to highlight the main tourist attractions. I will forever remember an entire busload of young adults struggling to view Napoleon’s teddy bear through the windows on our left, completely oblivious to the fact that we had parked right beside the Champ de Mars. “Can’t see it?” said Mike, throwing his hands up in the air, “Oh well, just look to your right then.” And there she was in all her glory as one and all let out a collective “aaahhh” of admiration as the Eiffel Tower glistened against the golden rays of the setting sun. Hint: There WAS no teddy bear…
9. Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the umpteenth time
If there’s one love affair I simply cannot explain, it’s the one I have with this iconic French monument. Before I visited Paris for the first time ever, I thought I’d go and see it once because it’s one of those things you just have to do. Never did I anticipate what an allure this metal A frame would hold. Since that first evening parked by the Ecole Militaire, I have viewed the tower from directly below, the Trocadero garden, the little streets in the surrounding neighbourhoods, the viewing platform of the Arc de Triomphe, with the gargoyles on top of Notre Dame Cathedral, from the viewing terrace of Printemps department store and from the sublime Sacre Coeur, yet still…this is one view that I never seem to tire of!
10. Road tripping with my best friend
I love a good road trip, and one of my favourites so far was when we drove around Denmark. Aside from destroying a tyre not 5 minutes after we’d just pulled out of the rental store in Copenhagen (kinda ironic considering we had no issues driving in much narrower, windier roads around the south of Italy and the Amalfi Coast the previous trip!), road tripping around Denmark is relatively easy due to the fairly wide straight roads, lower volume of traffic, good signage in an alphabet that’s easy to read for English speakers, and ease of parking in most places. It’s also an amazing experience because dotted all over the Danish islands are cute fairytale towns, beautiful castles, awesome museums, colourful houses, picturesque fields and stunning coastlines. The charming island of Aero (where you’ll find colourful beach huts like the one in the photo above) or all of the fun activities and sculptures in Legoland – it’s a tough call as to which day I enjoyed the most over our 2 weeks there.
11. Exploring the magical mystical town of Sintra
From the moment I saw pictures of the candy coloured Pena Palace, the mysterious Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira, and the imposing walls of the Castle of the Moors, I was obsessed with visiting Sintra. I landed in Portugal with high expectations, and left with it firmly within my list of top 10 favourite countries despite the crowds that were present the day we visited Pena Palace (as someone who loves my personal space, that’s saying a lot). You can visit Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but I highly recommend staying at least overnight. Other highlights of Portugal include the walled towns of Monsaraz and Obidos (which also hosts an annual chocolate festival!), Evora and its Chapel of Bones, the Stonehenge-like circle of menhirs at Almendres, the university town of Coimbra, the rainbow coloured beach huts of Aveiro, and of course Porto and the Douro Valley vineyards.
12. Drinking mulled wine and eating roasted chestnuts at Christmas markets
You’ll find Christmas markets in several countries around Europe, but I think the best ones are in Germany, and on top of that, it’s super easy to hop from one to the next thanks to their efficient trains. If you’re visiting from afar, I recommend flying in and out of a major airport (or airports) and travelling in a circuit that goes through a few smaller towns. On my most recent Christmas market trip, I flew in and out of Frankfurt. Some of my favourite Christmas market stops are Heidelberg, Stuttgart which is close to Hohenzellern Castle and Tubingen (another town that hosts an annual chocolate festival, ChocolArt), Baden Baden, Munich which is close to Neuschwanstein Castle and Oberammergau, Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin and Bremen.
13. Watching the sun set in Santorini
The sunset in Santorini is surely one of the most famous in the world, and for good reason! Every evening, crowds make their way up the narrow winding streets of Oia to find a good vantage point and wait. As the sun sets the Aegean Sea ablaze, the blue domed, white washed buildings take on an orange glow that will no doubt take your breath away.
14. Walking through a real life Nativity scene in Matera
I love old small towns where one building seems to be built on top of the next and the best way to explore is just to get rid of your map and wander the cobblestone alleyways. Matera in the Basilicata region towards the south of Italy is the ideal place to lose yourself in this manner for a day or two. I suggest staying at least overnight in a sassi (cave house) with a balcony at the outskirts of the old part of town. When the lights come on at night, the entire town looks like one giant candlelit Nativity scene, making for quite some magical views.
15. Being a smurf in Alberobello
You can easily combine a trip to Matera with a visit to the trulli of Alberobello in the Puglia region of Italy. Trulli are little round cottages with conical roofs typical for this area, and when you see them, you’ll know why I call them “smurf huts”. I recommend renting a car and driving from Bari to Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Locorotondo, Ostuni and Lecce, just to name a few interesting stops along the Adriatic coast. Although Alberobello is pretty small, it can get quite busy with tourists during the day, so for a more peaceful and unique experience, I suggest staying overnight in a trullo. Better yet, time your visit for the Light Festival held annually in July, when star and night sky images reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night are projected onto the trulli’s facades.
16. Seeing the Northern Lights
This takes some planning and good quality outdoor gear to protect you from the cold, but is so worth it. My first attempt at seeing the aurora years ago in Iceland failed, but looking back, I was totally unprepared in terms of research. Take 2 saw me trawling the internet for more information, and this is what I found out: (1) Fairbanks, Alaska is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. (2) Allow yourself at least 4-5 days in order to maximise your chances of seeing the Lights. (3) Be prepared to stay up after midnight. So I booked myself a 5 night stay in Fairbanks, and boy, did it pay off! On top of these suggestions, I would suggest planning something else just as exciting so that if you’re unlucky with the Lights, at least you won’t feel like you’ve made a wasted trip. I timed my visit for the World Ice Art Championships held annually in Fairbanks from mid February to March, as well as the Fur Rendezvous festival, the Running of the Reindeer and the Iditarod sled dog race which starts in Anchorage each year some time towards the end of February to early March.
17. Walking on
thin ice (and snow) in the Canadian Rockies
My trip to the Canadian Rockies is memorable in more ways than one. It was the first long overseas holiday I paid for myself and went on without family, I bought my first digital camera for this trip, and I learned to ski at Whistler. However, all of these paled in comparison to the sheer beauty of the real life snow globe I found myself in. My favourite part hands down was the evening we spent walking along and ON frozen over Lake Louise. I’ve now visited the Canadian Rockies in both the winter and the summer, and without a doubt, the snow makes the scenery that much more magical. Why don’t you take a look and see if you agree with me?
18. Climbing to the top of Mt Sinai just in time for sunrise
I did this back in the day when hiking wasn’t really in my vocabulary, and even then, found it an awe-inspiring experience and a memory to treasure forever. Perhaps it was all the mint tea and apple shisha we indulged in the night before as preparation for our pre-dawn hike! Or maybe it was my eagerness to get away from the incredibly persistent vendors trying to peddle a camel ride up the mountain that gave me the energy to get up there. Tip: Just say “La, shokran,” (“No, thank you”) and keep walking.
19. Flying out of town just for a fantastic feast
So I won a lottery with a difference back when Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck relocated temporarily to Melbourne, Australia. Only thing is, I had won a second chance lottery and had only 48 hours in which to find three other friends that would fork out $675 per person PLUS plane tickets to another city 3.5 hours away (Australia is BIG!). On top of that, I had to organise last minute leave from work. This was the first time I’ve ever booked flights and a hotel just to go to dinner, and let me just say, I regret nothing. This remains my most memorable meal to date.
20. Walking around Uluru (Ayer’s Rock)
Just like the Eiffel Tower, Uluru was one of those places I went to without high expectations. I seriously thought it’s just a big rock in the middle of the desert, but hey, I’m Australian so I’d better go and see it some time, and what better time than during the Field of Light art installation? As it turns out, not only is it not just big but IMMENSE, it really IS a pretty special sight in that it looks different but equally beautiful from every angle and in any lighting. If your budget stretches to seeing it from the air (which is where the above photo was taken from), I say treat yourself! Also, the Field of Light installation that was supposed to be there until 31 December 2016 (the year I went) kept going on and on…and on…and is now slated to be here until 31 December 2020. So if you haven’t yet seen the thousands of little spermatazoa-like lights illuminating the field in front of Uluru, be sure to get there soon before they turn the lights off forever…or not…
21. Walking behind a waterfall in Iceland
Iceland surely has to be one of the most other worldly places I’ve been to. I’m still not quite sure if he was putting on an act or whether he actually believes it, but our guide kept talking about their Hidden People and how they build major highways around the Hidden People’s homes in a way that suggested that these supernatural beings really do exist. And when you look around at the lush green landscapes with rugged rocks, dramatic cliffs, turquoise lakes and hundreds of waterfalls, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination that there really ARE Hidden People on the island. I visited Iceland in the winter hoping to see the Northern Lights, and am keen to return one day during the summer months to see if perhaps, just perhaps, the Hidden People might have emerged from hibernation…
22. Sharing elevenses with other hobbits
For an equally other worldly experience, head to New Zealand. In fact, many of my friends from New Zealand who’ve also been to Iceland often comment on the similarities between the two countries. While you’re there, be sure to visit Hobbiton. It’s a stunning place and heaps of fun whether you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or not. If you don’t have your own wheels, I recommend the exclusive access small group tour by Bush and Beach. I was one of a group of just five, and we got to see so much more and spend so much more time at each hobbit hole than all the other big groups of around 30 that were hurried along.
23. Celebrating Easter at the Garden Tomb
Whether you’re a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew, the city of Jerusalem will be of significance to you in one way or another. As a Christian, I decided to visit during Easter one year with the UK-based Christian tour company, Oakhall. This trip was incredibly moving from start to finish as we stopped to read our Bibles together at important sites along the way, but never more so than during the Easter Sunday service we attended. This was when I realised that the same hymns are sung the world over. The way all the different languages merged as we all sang together to the same tune made me feel as though we were in Acts 2:4, “filled with the Holy Spirit and… speak(ing) in other tongues.”
24. Remembering the ANZACs who lost their lives
One of the most poignant places I’ve been to was Gallipoli in Turkey. And I don’t even have a grandfather who served during the war. But staring up at those sheer cliff faces, I couldn’t help but imagine the desperation those troops must have felt when they landed on that beach that Sunday on 25 April 1915. I couldn’t help but feel saddened at the senselessness of the whole campaign. And I couldn’t help but revel in the camaraderie now between Australians, New Zealanders and Turks during our overnight vigil. Lest we forget.
25. Pondering the mystery of the moai
Our four days driving round and round Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui) from one ahu (ceremonial platform) to the next is easily one of my favourite memories of 2019. We were blessed with perfect weather, perhaps too good. Tip: Don’t forget your sunscreen, the sun burns very hot here! If you don’t have much time to spare, my top picks are to head to Ahu Tongariki for sunrise, then drive over to the nearby moai quarry Rano Raraku, visit Ranu Kao crater and the Orongo archaeological site in the afternoon, and round off your day by walking along Policarpo Toro esplanade towards Ahu Tahai for sunset. For a cheap but delicious snack or meal, you can’t go past the tuna empanada from Club Sandwich. Actually, everything there is yum!
26. Earning my hiking strips in Patagonia
My proudest travel achievement thus far without a doubt is the roughly 8 hour hike to Fitz Roy and back to the Argentinian town of El Chalten. While I loved staying at a luxury yurt in Patagonia Camp on the Chilean side of Patagonia, we didn’t have full control over what hikes we could do while we were there, which meant that I never did the famous Torres del Paine hike. While I can’t give you an accurate comparison between the two most famous hikes on the Chilean and Argentinean sides, I can tell you that you mustn’t skip El Chalten and the hike to Fitz Roy. If I can do it, most of you can too! Though I must admit I made things easier for myself by travelling extra light that day – I didn’t even take my camera with me (just my phone), hence the photo above was actually taken by L.
27. Walking on the moon in the Atacama Desert
It’s easy to see why two of the more famous sights in the Atacama Desert have been designated Mars Valley and Moon Valley. These were easily my two favourite stops there, followed closely by seeing the flamingoes at Laguna Chaxa. I’m just not quite sure it was worth the early wake up call and slightly hairy drive to get to El Tatio geysers, and the overpriced Laguna Cejar was definitely a waste of our time and money. If I were to redo our itinerary, I think I would have tried a lot harder to fit in the Altiplanic Lagoons and Rainbow Valley.
28. Hanami in and around Tokyo
Hanami means to look at flowers, and certainly there can be no more famous floral experience in Tokyo and Japan than cherry blossom viewing. However, the spring time brings with it many other varieties of flowers that are at least as beautiful if not more so than the famous sakura. My personal favourite are the majestic wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park. Another fun day trip from Tokyo is to visit Hitachi Seaside Park when their gently rolling hills are coloured a startling shade of baby blue by the nemophila blooms. Finally, surely no trip to Tokyo these days is complete without a visit to TeamLab Borderless at Odaiba, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by a different (digital) but equally breathtaking array of flowers.
29. Momiji around Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka
Another great (but equally busy!) time to visit Japan is in the autumn, when the leaves change colour, which the Japanese call momiji. The temples in Kyoto are stunning at this time of year, especially with the special lighting festivals that highlight the flame coloured foliage, but I found the place too crowded to truly enjoy myself. My top picks are to visit Korankei Gorge and Nabana no Sato flower garden near Nagoya, and to spend a day out at Minoo Falls near Osaka.
30. Cruising the Caribbean
I saw out 2019 with my parents on my first ever cruise and was completely blown away by the service on our Viking ship, as well as the colourful buildings and beautiful scenery throughout the various islands we visited. Out of the ten or so ports we stopped at, my top three were Puerto Rico for its forts and colourful streets (pictured above), St Kitts for its fort and stunning views, and St Lucia for the majestic Pitons.
31. Playing the Game of Thrones
On the one hand, I probably would have enjoyed Dubrovnik a lot more before it became famous for being the real life King’s Landing. On the other hand, it really was quite fun to reconcile the various filming locations to what I’d seen on screen. And to sit on that throne, of course. If you’re willing and able to get up at the crack of dawn and have a clear plan, it is possible to steer clear of the majority of the crowds that descend on this city from cruise ships.
32. Visiting the Wild Wild West
I was most looking forward to seeing the Grand Canyon when I visited the southwest corner of the USA, but it was actually Bryce Canyon with its surreal looking hoodoos as shown above, Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley in Utah and Arizona respectively that took it in turns to take my breath away. This is another part of the world I’d love to return to one day on a road trip with my bestie.
33. Watching Riverdance in its home town
Although Riverdance specifically is my most memorable show from any trip I’ve been on, this is a more general suggestion for you to consider attending musicals, theatre, ballet, opera or whatever other arts production takes your fancy on your next holiday. Dublin was the first stop on our Ireland road trip, and the Guiness Storehouse and Riverdance were two of the first things we did there. The enthusiasm, energy and music at both places really set the tone of fun and cheer for the rest of our trip!
34. Road tripping solo around Townsville
This is another more generic suggestion based off of a more specific personal experience. When I was sent to Townsville for work, I was lucky enough to be provided with a car that I was told I could use to explore my surroundings during my down time. Well, I think you’ll agree it would have been rude of me not to oblige. My time in Townsville taught me to make use of any and all opportunities to travel, even if only for a day or a weekend, and also showed me that solo road trips can be a ton of fun. If you’ve never explored a new place on your own with a set of wheels before, I strongly suggest you give it a go today! It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just a local day trip somewhere will do nicely as a start.
35. Seeing one of the MOST(ar) famous bridges in the world
See what I did there? Jokes aside, I absolutely adored Bosnia, especially the little town of Mostar. Stopping over briefly from Croatia as we made our way from Split to Dubrovnik, it was such a relief to step away from the masses of tourists, if only for a couple of days. Be warned though, Mostar itself can also get pretty busy during the day due to daytrippers popping over from Dubrovnik. For this reason, we chose to stay two nights, allowing us to visit the capital city of Sarajevo and a few smaller towns in the surrounding countryside during the busiest parts of the day, while we were able to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of Mostar during the early hours of the morning and later in the evening.
36. CZECHing out the small towns and castles around Prague
Oops, here I go again! Prague is a beautiful city, that’s for sure, but one of my favourite things about the capital city of the Czech Republic is that it’s also a great base for day trips to several nearby castles and towns that are at least as scenic if not more so. Most famous of these is without a doubt Cesky Krumlov, but please don’t forget nearby Hluboka Castle, the elegant spa town of Karlovy Vary (shown above), and Kutna Hora with its Bone Church, just to name a few.
37. Admiring the views from both sides of the Buda River
Budapest is another beautiful city with several good options for nearby day trips. Be sure to take in the sights of and from both sides of the river, indulge in some cake, go for a soak at Szechenyi and/or Gellert Baths, then make plans to visit nearby Esztergom, Szentendre and Visegrad.
38. Being amazed by Gaudi’s masterpieces
Another favourite city of mine surely would have to be Barcelona with the colourful and often quirky masterpieces by Anton Gaudi scattered about the city. These include Casa Batillo, La Pedrera, Park Guell, and of course, the still incomplete La Sagrada Familia.
39. Exploring the Austrian countryside
Vienna isn’t one of my favourite cities, so it took me a while to give Austria a second chance, but I’m sure glad I did. From my day trip from Vienna to the Wachau Valley, to tasting pumpkin seed oil in Graz and Styria, staying at the fairytale lakeside town of Hallstatt and doing my best to channel my inner Maria von Trapp in Salzburg, my journey westwards across the country was an absolute delight.
40. Living in the UK
If you get the opportunity to live and work overseas at some point, I would say go for it! In my case, the UK was the easiest place for me to stay for a couple of years, so this is where I went. And I’m forever grateful for the opportunity not least because of all the things I was able to see in the UK itself, but because I was able to use it as a base to visit so many other European and north African countries while I was there, and for the confidence and independence that developed out of often solo travels. This truly was where my insatiable wanderlust began!
Want to know more about any of the places above? Any suggestions of where I should head to over the next decade? Let me know in the comments!
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Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels
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