My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

I’m someone that uses a lot of hyperbole. What can I say? My life is a roller coaster of emotions and as an extroverted, chronic over-sharer I just can’t seem to help myself.

Back in December I wrote about my top 6 worst travel moments… because (a) the disaster stories are usually pretty entertaining after the fact, (b) to show people that even the best laid plans sometimes fall short of the mark, and (c) there just has to be a silver lining to my little tragedies.

But, I think it’s finally time to provide the positive yins to the unfortunate yangs in my travel past with my top 6 favourite travel moments! These were all pinch-me, isthisreallyhappening, I’m SO happy right now moments of pure bliss that I wish I could re-live over and over again!

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik

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I’ve waxed poetic about Dubrovnik, Croatia quite a few times on this blog and for good reason. It is a stunningly gorgeous city. I can even pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was in love and it was while strolling around the old city walls at golden hour. The views were incredibly breathtaking. The lighting was magic. The crowds were sparse. And the temperature was finally comfortable. It was the perfect storm of elements combining to show me once again why I am so obsessed with Europe.

Trekking to Machu Picchu

Doing the Lares Trek in the Andes.

Doing the Lares Trek in the Andes.

Where to even begin with Peru. Let’s start with the fact that I was slightly terrified of a three day trek in the Andes Mountains. Factor in my lack of physical fitness, abismal hiking record, lifelong struggle with asthma, and high potential for altitude sickness and this could have easily ended up on my worst travel moments list. Instead it was an unforgettable experience, topped off with the most impressive sight I’ve ever laid eyes on. Machu Picchu absolutely lives up to the hype and then some. I will never ever forget the moment when I got my first glimpse of those misty mountain peaks with llamas dotting the horizon. Spellbound.

Getting Upgraded to Business Class

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Air travel is one of those necessary evils that most people merely tolerate. I am one of the few people that actually kind of enjoys airplanes (say what?!)…probably because I have short legs and love any excuse to watch movies all day. So when I was boarding my flight from London to Seattle and was MIRACULOUSLY upgraded to business class (on British Airways!!) I was beyond giddy. I can’t even describe how exciting it was to have a fully reclining bed (in a pod!) on an airplane! I got to use real dishes and order from a menu and drink champagne and eat/drink pretty much constantly and sleep and watch movies and And AND!!! It was the BEST and I’m forever ruined because no flight will ever compare.

Paragliding in Lima

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I was feeling a bit sad on my last day in Lima, Peru. After a full month of amazing travels in South America, I wasn’t quite ready to return home, find a summer job, and finish off my degree. I needed one last adventure before boarding the plane. Laura and I had been reading flyers about paragliding all over the place and finally called a place that our hostel recommended. But, the company sadly informed us that they weren’t flying that day due to weather concerns. We were disappointed but not deterred so we headed down to the nearby cliffs anyways hoping the winds would change. And as luck would have it, we immediately saw that the skies were full of paragliders so we jumped at the chance to sign our lives away. To this day paragliding is my all-time, favourite extreme sport. It is the perfect mixture of thrilling, exciting, and relaxing. I was able to sit back, take pictures, and enjoy the view while my hot Peruvian guide did all the work. I would do it again in a heart beat.

Skiing in the Swiss Alps

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My most memorable Christmas was spent in Frutigen, Switzerland. I awoke in the home of the incredibly generous Schmid family to learn that they had gifted me and my friend Diana with lift tickets. I had met Diana’s family friends just a few days prior but they welcomed me into their home with open arms and made sure my first trip to Switzerland was unforgettable. We had a delicious breakfast of my home-made Swiss Musli (my fave!!), spent the whole day on the slopes, and capped it off with a 3-course family dinner and more presents! If you can’t spend Christmas with your family, I can’t think of a better place than skiing in the Alps.

The Sound of Music Tour

IMGP1272When I decided to spend 3 months living in a little town in Austria about an hour outside of Salzburg I knew that I had to see the birthplace of my all-time favourite movie, The Sound of Music. I was only a couple months into my 8 month European adventure and knew that my budget was going to be tight. But, I never questioned for a second my decision to break the bank on the official Sound of Music tour. I was able to visit many of the filming locations including the famous gazebo (pictured above), the church from the wedding scene, the Mirabell gardens (Do Re Mi), and the exteriors of the mansion. I even got the Trivia question right when no one else knew the answer. Yup, I’m a nerd! It was a perfect day in a country that will always have a very special place in my heart.

What are your favourite travel moments? Leave a comment below.

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My 7 Wonders of the World

This is a special edition of my Favourites series.

It seems like there are so many variations of the Seven Wonders of the World floating around that I decided I would create my own from places that I’ve actually been.

My 7 Wonders of the World

Machu Picchu, Peru

Without a doubt, Machu Picchu is the most spectacular, awe-inspiring site that my eyes have ever seen. It absolutely lives up to all the hype! I trekked 33 kilometres over three days from Lares to Ollantaytambo before finally taking a train to Aguas Calientes and making the early morning trip to Machu Picchu. From touring the ancient capital of the Incas to hiking Wayna Picchu, the whole experience was incredible from start to finish. These Incan ruins need to be on every person’s bucket list.

Machu Picchu

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

While I was planning my trip to Egypt, people were constantly asking me Why Egypt? This question seriously puzzled me. Don’t people understand that to see the pyramids one would have to go to Egypt? Well this original wonder of the world certainly earned its place. Riding camels around the site didn’t hurt either…

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The most recent wonder on my list is the magical Halong Bay. Even on a mostly cloudy day this place had a mystical hold on me. With nearly 2000 limestone islets and floating fishing villages creating a tropical kaleidiscope above the green waters, this place is more than worthy of a spot on the new 7 wonders of the world list… and mine too!

Fishing Village

The Colosseum, Italy

I’ve visited this famous amphitheatre twice now and both times it transported me back in time. I’ve read so many stories and seen so many films (Gladiator anyone?) from the era of the Roman Empire and it is always haunting and humbling to be standing in a place so rich in history and tragedy. I can only imagine how impressive it would have been back in its glory days.

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The Eiffel Tower, France

Paris je t’aime! Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m not living in a chic apartment in the Cinquième (5e) arrondissement splitting my time between the cafe culture and long walks along the Seine. But, I digress. There is no building on earth that I was more excited to see than the Eiffel Tower. After studying French for 8 years, this was the place that I most wanted to see when I went to France and the place that I would most like to re-visit… and soon!

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Alhambra, Spain

This palace/fortress, originally constructed in 889 and reconstructed in the mid-11th century by the Moors was a major highlight of my 3 months in Spain. It might not be as popular as some of the other wonders on this list but it is every bit as beautiful. My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures… I was too busy experiencing in the present tense.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia, Croatia, Croatia. The country that won my heart in one, all-to-brief week. And the crowning jewel is this absolutely stunning national park filled with turquoise lakes and magnificent waterfalls. This was the perfect day trip from Zagreb and a must-see stop for any trip to the Balkans. I can’t wait to go back!

Plitvice Lakes

 

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

Well… I’m finally back to civilization/Internet and it’s time for an epic blog… so brace yourselves.

After our time in the jungle, Laura and I flew to the former capital of the Incan Empire… Cusco. We had a whole day to wander around and explore the beautiful city. We visited the Temple of the Sun and did some damage at the local markets. As the gateway to Machu Picchu… Cusco is definitely a bit of tourist trap. We were hassled everywhere we went… hey lady… eat in my restaurant… do you need to book a tour?… would you like a manicure or pedicure? I’ll give you the best price… or our personal fav… the massage mafia. Literally every other person seemed to be offering massages. We saw a fellow tourist wearing a shirt that said No gracias and couldn’t have agreed more. Aside from that… I would have loved to spend more time in Cusco but with only a month to travel… we pressed on.

Cusco

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We began our Lares Trek with G Adventures on May 22. With our day packs and a small duffel bag each, Laura and I met our wonderful guide Gladys bright and early at 5am. We then began picking up the rest of our group members who were spread out from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Our group was 15 and we had 2 guides, Gladys and her assistant Pedro. We spent the morning busing to the village of Callca where we picked up some food at the local markets to give to the local children throughout our hike. We then continued on to Lares town. It just so happened to be the town’s anniversary that same day so the streets were all closed off for a big parade. We began our trek there and hiked for about 4 hours to get to our first campsite.

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Most beautiful location for a "toilet" tent ever!

Most beautiful location for a “toilet” tent ever!

Since we decided to do the Lares Trek instead of the more famous Inca Trail, we were able to hike through local villages and interact with the locals. This was such an amazing experience. The children were absolutely precious and I couldn’t get enough of their grubby little faces. We all bought bread and packages of porridge to hand out instead of the sweets that rot their teeth. It’s a hard life in the mountains and because of the elevation they can’t grow much of their own food so bread is actually quite a treat.

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Also, the Lares Trek allowed us to hike without the throngs of other hikers that you find on the Inca Trail. We so enjoyed our solitude and the scenery was breathtaking… or maybe that was the altitude… haha! Anyways, our camp the first night was all set up by the time we got there thanks to our amazing porters and horseman. We had llamas and horses to carry our duffel bags and equipment so that was always amusing. The sun goes down early in the mountains (around 530 or 6pm) so we quickly needed to bundle up for the freezing nightly temperatures. Some local village women brought over some of their handicrafts as well as beverages, and just like that we had our very own bar in the middle of the Andes. Our group began to bond over my deck of cards until dinner.

Our Lares Trek Group

The food was always amazing! We usually had warm soup followed by a main dish that usually included rice and chicken… and of course the local delicacy coca tea. For a self-declared city girl… this whole tenting in the middle of nowhere thing certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I almost froze to death the first night even with four layers of clothing, a toque, and a thermal sleeping bag. I think I probably got about 20 minutes of sleep the entire night. Our 6am tent service couldn’t come soon enough. Our waiter, Miguel, brought us coca tea and bowls of hot water to help us defrost which was quite wonderful. After a wonderful breakfast in our meal tent… we started the hardest part of the trek. We hiked uphill for 4 hours and about 600m before finally reaching our highest point on the trek at 4400m (14700 ft) above sea level. Once we had reached the pass we hiked down for another 40 minutes to our lunch stop for the day, which was beside a beautiful lake. At this point I would like to brag about how well we did. Laura and I were the 4th and 5th people at the camp and the three that beat us go trekking through Nepal regaularly and so forth. With my asthma, the extreme altitude, and general lack of cardio, I was quite proud of myself… and I’ve actually learned to enjoy hiking. I feel like I can accomplish anything now

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Can you spot me?

Can you spot me?

The rest of the day was a downhill hike to our second campsite. By now, everyone on the trek had become fast friends. We had a wonderful and ecletic group made up of 6 Canadians, 7 Brits, 1 Norweigan, and 1 German. We were all hoping for another village bar but nobody came. So one of our wonderful horseman went into the next village and picked us up some rum and coke. We then spent the whole evening in the meal tent playing cards and trying to stay warm. At dinner that night I somehow managed to dump my entire plate of uneaten food onto the ground… but I’m blaming that on the altitude.

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Our second night was much better than the first. Our camp was in a more sheltered valley and Laura and I drugged ourselves with gravol so that we would sleep regardless of the cold. It worked like a charm. Our third day was mostly downhill again and we ended our hike (35km in total) at lunch time. The rest of the day was spent busing/training it to Aguas Calientes which is the nearest city to Machu Picchu. There was unfortunatley a mix up at the train station and Peru Rail had double booked us so our group didn’t make it onto our scheduled train. That meant we had to spent a solid four hours at the train station while we waited for the next train. Fortunately, I once again had my trusty cards.

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On day 4 of our trek, the day we had all been waiting for had finally arrived. Most of us decided to wake up at 340am to queue for the first bus to Machu Picchu. We waited at the bus station for over an hour and made it onto the 530am bus. We arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu just before sunrise and once again lined up to be in the first 400 so that we would be permitted to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu (the iconic peak in the famous photos of Machu Picchu) because they limit the number of hikers per day to 400. We then entered Machu Picchu and spent the next 30 minutes taking photos and standing with our jaws open. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular places in my life, but this takes first prize.

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Then, because I hadn’t already hiked enough, we began hiking the extremely steep Huayna Picchu. I powered up the mountain once again and made it about 45 minutes. The view of the ancient city from the top couldn’t possibly get any better. The hike down was actually quite harrowing. It was nearly a sheer rock face at times and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever make it down. But, of course I did and I have the stamp in my passport to prove it. Our guide Gladys then gave us a tour of the Incan ruins and that concluded our Machu Picchu experience. It was totally worth the extruciating pain I am in today. My legs have never been this sore before but at least it is a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have experienced such an amazing place.

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We are now in the city of Puno and tomorrow we are leaving for a homestay on the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca.

Exploring Quito & The Mindo Cloud Forest

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere!

After two days in Ecuador we are starting to get a real sense of the adventures that are before us. We are staying at a wonderful hostel (Travellers Hotel) in the northern part of the city where most of the tourists stay. We have met many great people at our hostel from all walks of life. One older lady is staying by herself in Quito for 5 months!!! That makes our trip seem like a weekend getaway.

On our first full day in the city we decided to be really adventurous and take the trole bus. Up until this point we had been taking cabs but for 25 cents the Menno in me decided to give it a chance. We made it to the Plaza Grande in the old part of Quito just in time for the weekly procession of guards on horseback and parade of music. We weren’t sure at first if we had simply lucked into some special occasion… but apparently this happens every Monday. However, we were also able to wave at the President of Ecuador from our front row perches. We felt pretty fortunate and the hundreds of guards also made us feel extra safe. Unlike at home, we love seeing police in the city.

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Quito

The day was simply beautiful: clear skies, 23 degrees, pretty much paradise. We ended up just wandering around the old town for a while until I spotted some high steeples in the distance. To get there we had to walk up some steep hills that would rival the streets of San Francisco, but we made it. We are definitely wishing we had spent the past semester mountain climbing. Machu Picchu should be very interesting. The basilica was magnificent. It was only “finished” in the 1980s so it is much newer than most of the churches in Quito and was modeled after Notre Dame. We paid the $2 fee to climb up a series of steep ladders until we were standing at the top of the steeple. The views were simply stunning. During our time at the top we chatted with various travellers and eventually made friends with Jenny from New Jersey. She is doing a study abroad in Quito and was travelling solo that day. She asked if she could tag along with us and together we walked back to the main square. We eventually started discussing our future travel plans and we told her that we planned to go to Mindo the following day. We were more than happy when she asked if she could once again tag along.

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Sitting on the Top of the Basilica

After our full morning in the city we headed back to our hostel to relax. Instead I ended up having one of my typical panic attacks. The bus situation for our next trip was causing problems and I was stressing out as per usual. But, fortunately our hostel is the best ever. Diego (who speaks English fluently) was taking us on a night tour of the city and drove us to the bus depot first. There, he did all the talking and got us booked on our bus. We officially love the Travellers Hotel!!! From that point we were perfectly content. Our tour consisted of Diego driving us around in his SUV so that we could see and stop at all the major sights for pictures, and finally learn some of the history. We had a great time and since travelling at night is not advisable for tourists… we knew we had lucked into a great opportunity to see this beautiful UNESCO city.

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Today was one of my favourite days so far. Our new friend Jenny met us outside our hostel at 9am and we walked to the nearby bus station. Together we took a 2ish hour bus to the town of Mindo, which is located in the Cloud Forest. We hopped off the bus on the side of the busy road and were immediately greeted by a staff member from Mindo Ropes & Canopy. We drove deep into the jungle where Jenny, Laura, and I met our four fellow tourists and suited up for the day. We then spent a good two hours ziplining on 10 different lines through the canopy. It was AMAZING! Our guides let us experiment with many different positions such as Superman (face first, no hands, basically just like Superman) and the Butterfly (upside down, no hands, with your feet in the air). Don’t worry… I have photos and videos to prove it. This was such an exciting experience for me since I not only worked on a challenge course in Texas but also because my favourite travel show (Departures) went to this exact same place.

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After our day of flying through the trees at speeds of 65km/hr, we boarded a bus back to Quito. After a second city bus and a short walk… the three amigas decided to break for an actual sit down dinner. We ate at the coolest restuarant called Azuca Latin Bistro. We sat on a rooftop patio with a sand floor and ate fantastic food. It would definitely be a trendy place to go in Vancouver. After dinner we walked back to our hostel and said farewell to our new friend.

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Tomorrow we are leaving Quito behind and boarding at 12 hour bus to Cuenca that departs at 5:30am. We are hoping that the scenery is mind blowing so that we are semi-occupied for the day, but we do have fully charged Ipods and some snacks that should carry us through. Let’s hope Cuenca is worth the trip.