Our Travel ABCs

January 5, 2012 in Africa, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Europe, France, Germany, Guatemala, Inspiration, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, North America, Travelogue, Tunisia, United States

Paris, 2009

I came upon a post like this on a new blog I’m exploring Mama’s Got Wanderlust. Of course the name resonates with me, you ought to check it out. It’s a fun idea and I thought I’d add our version. For the record, this is Jenn writing, so where the answers are personal, they’re mine.

I’ve added links to the stories, in case you want to read more! 🙂


A: Age you went on your first international trip: I’m not sure of my exact age, but it was still measured in months, not years. My Uncle flew his private plane up to collect my Mom and I. We took off from a grass airstrip in the forest, belly of the plane smacking the treetops as we lifted off (due to all the baby junk my mom was schlepping) and my poor Dad, left standing in the forest really thought we might have crashed. I vomited pureed green beans all over the cabin whilst circling the airport in Buffalo, NY waiting to check in with customs. My Uncle Bill has NEVER, to this day, invited me back into his plane.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: A thirty five cent Czech beer, at the brewery in Cerna Hora, CZ. Our new friends kept the kids and we got the only date of our year long cycle trip (I take that back, we got one more in Africa five months later when my parents visited.)

C: Cuisine (favorite): So hard to pick just one!! We miss foods from everywhere we’ve been. English fried fish, Frikadellen from Germany, Cheese from Belgium  & France, EVERYTHING from Italy, the Berber bread cooked in clay pots in Tunisia, Turkish Doners… but pushed to the wall I think we’d have to say that Guatemalan is our favourite. I can close my eyes and hear the women hand patting the tortillas in the mercado. Sigh.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: Favourite: Guatemala, hands down. It’s home in so many ways now. Why? The people, the food, the landscape, the cost of living, the history, the culture, the quirky expat community, we love it all. The highlands more than the coastal regions. Least favourite? England. Sad, but true. We were cycling and it rained hard on us for an entire month. We encountered more than a handful of cranky people (and to be fair, a double handful of wonderful people). We were cold and wet and they won’t allow more than two bikes on any given train… what’s up with that?

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: The Festival du Sahara at Douz, in Tunisia. It’s this Bedouin Camel Festival that’s been happening every winter for a very, very long time. There are no set dates, so it’s tricky to catch, which means there are almost no tourists. It’s everything you might imagine old Arabian Knight’s tales to be. Far and away the most stunning experience we’ve ever had.

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Bicycling for distance, trains for speed, my own two feet as often as possible. I love being places where I can walk to supply our basic needs, carry our groceries in a backpack and move slowly. There’s a forced interaction that happens when you can’t escape in your car that grounds a person to a place, a time, and a people. It’s the thing I dislike most about being in the USA. People move too fast.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: Wind in my hair.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: The Atlantic coast of Guatemala. I’m sweating and hearing mosquitos buzzing just thinking about it. Ugh.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: At a hole in the wall pizza joint in downtown Brno, Czech. We ordered pizza in our usual combo of illiterate point and sign and a coke to go with it. The waiter ask, in pretty good English, “Would you like ice?” I nearly bowed at his feet in grateful praise.”I lived in South Carolina for eleven years before I came here and opened this place,” he said with a smile, “Americans always want a glass of ice with their coke!” God bless him. Best coke on the entire continent. I resisted the urge to hug him on the spot.

J: Journey that took the longest: The trip home (to Guatemala) from Boston. I’d been gone two weeks, helping a friend with a new baby and all I wanted was to get back to the lago, back to my family. The flight was terrible. My driver didn’t show. I had to catch a collectivo to Antigua, was delayed 24 hours in getting home and had to sleep with a stranger when the hostel over sold my bed.

K: Keepsake from your travels: Tony takes thousands of photos. Literally, thousands. I collect sounds, tactile memories and smells. I’m often to be found with my eyes closed, standing very still, soaking for a minute in a place. I have an odd habit of collecting tiny things that remind me of people and places. On our fifth anniversary Tony started collecting heart shaped rocks for me, the first one picked off of the floor of the Bay of Fundy at low tide. I have quite a collection now. Shell beads we made with Juliette in Belize, an emerald turtle bead purchased in Panajachel, another purchased for a friend at the other end of the continent, a tiny clear quartz rock bead culled from the bottom of a bin in a junk stall in Chichicastenango to remind me of a particularly perfect day, the tab off of a beer can, a snail’s shell. My friend has laughed at me and he says I need to make myself a “medicine pouch” to carry all of my tiny treasures and pieces of days and people with me wherever I go. I think I might!

L: Let-down sight, why and where: The Colosseum at Rome. I know, I’m a total snob. It was amazing in many ways. So much history, so much incredible architecture, so many stories etched into the sandstone. I loved it on one hand. And on the other… it’s become the Disney attraction of Italy. It’s over priced. It’s crowded to the max. There was this kid sitting on a rock playing his gameboy instead of being where he was. I hate that kind of thing. It just soured me. A couple of months later when we had the colosseum at El Jem, in Tunisia all to ourselves and the kids explored the catacombs before playing “Gladiators and Lions” for a long afternoon on the sand covered arena I realized just how bad the one in Rome is. I’d never suggest skipping it, it IS a must see. But see another one elsewhere if you can.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: I fall in love with travel over and over again. The first day of every big trip. Every time we have a “WOW!” moment: On the deck of a ferry crossing the North Sea, standing under the Eiffel Tower, at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, in my hammock in the deep dark jungle outside Tikal, watching a monkey swing down out of the jungle and pick through Ezra’s hair in Belize, seeing the kids proudly stand for their SCUBA graduation photo on Tobacco Caye, when Elisha organizes the chicken bus trip for us, by himself, watching Hannah walk across her first international border without us, sitting on top of a camel with my arms around a Bedouin guy who’s laughing and chatting to me in French. I’m a total addict. Slow travel is my drug of choice.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Four Seasons Hualalai, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Hands down. No competition… but we also loved renting a little cabin on the back side of Maui a couple of years later. If we return to the Big Island, Hawaii vacation rentals will be our best bet for staying longer and enjoying more.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Photos are Tony’s obsession… what he takes the most of? Me. Sometimes he drives me crazy, but I love it.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where? We just had more pages sewn into our passports in anticipation of adding quite a few pages worth of stamps in Asia this coming year. So far stamps include: USA, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Tunisia and France. I know, I know, the Schengen countries don’t all stamp you in anymore… but I’m still counting them! 🙂

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: There is debate on this point, but I win because this is MY post, and Tony wasn’t with us for the answer: in northern California, a roadside stop with an ENORMOUS statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. It was on our Mama Bus trip this fall. The boys (all seven of them) stood under the ox’s… dangling parts… looked up and said, “WOW!” The two year old hollered, “I SEE HIS WEENIE,” long after we all stopped laughing.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Semana Santa anywhere in Central America. Pick a town, settle in and watch the show, walk in the processions, and if you’re in Antigua, Guatemala, buy yourself a purple cloak.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:  Memories. We don’t have a lot of stuff. We don’t own a home. We live out of backpacks a lot of the time. Our kids don’t have piles and boxes of toys. We are constantly giving stuff away. What we spend our money on instead of stuff is memories. There’s no price tag that can be put on riding camels on the Sahara for Christmas, ringing in the New Year with grandparents on Lago de Atitlan, standing at the rim of the grand canyon with your best friends, or standing in the middle of the ruins at Copan, Honduras with your cousin. We spend an insane amount of money on the things that matter most to us: people, and memories.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: Every cliche museum we could find. We love museums. We recommend all of them, from the British Museum in London, to the Pergamon in Berlin, to King Wenceslas’ Castle in Prague, to the Bardo in Tunis, to the L’Ouvre in Paris, to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City and the Boston Science Center; since we’re trying to educate a few kids over here, we’re BIG on museums.

U: Unforgettable travel memory: Laying on a pebbled beach in Italy, drinking ourselves silly, watching the kids try to make a surf board out of flotsam. Ezra’s “personal problem” on a chicken bus. Cycling Martha’s Vineyard in a hurricane, our very first unsupported cycling adventure (meaning we couldn’t escape with our car!) Running into the Pacific Ocean at our feet-on-the-beach party on the Mama Bus tour. There are many.

V: Visas, how many and for where? Currently applying for a longer-than-normal tourist visa for Thailand, although we may end up with the ED version (meaning we’re there to study Thai.)

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? It’s a tie… that day on the Adriatic I linked to above, or perhaps the first meal we cooked in our apartment in Marseille upon arriving from Tunisa, a dry (Muslim) country after our 3 month winter there.

X: eXcellent view and from where?: Overlooking Lago de Atitlan. To me, the Lago is a liquid sapphire set into the top of the world and when you’re there, it’s as if the world beyond the volcanos has dissolved and all that’s left is the fathomless blue water. It’s my first choice for family travel in Central America

Y: Years spent traveling?: We’re coming up on the fourth anniversary of our open-ended world tour… we plan to spend a few more years on the road full time before we build a house and create a home base in Canada. But really, I’ve been traveling since that first green bean filled flight between my two countries of origin.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?: The Netherlands. OH. MY. WORD. Their national soccer team was in the running for the world cup and they’d dressed the saints outside every cathedral in orange scarves and wobbly ears. The kids knew the national football fight song before we got from Amsterdam to Delft. There are no words.