Having started this blog only 8 months ago, you can imagine my surprise when I was nominated for the Liebster Award by a stranger on Twitter three months ago while in Australia (Yes, I am very late in my reply.) Thank you Victoria (@EveryAdventure_) for nominating me! Check out Victoria's travel blog at www.everydayadventuresblog.com .
I was unfamiliar with this award so I did a bit of research. (I know, so unlike me.) The way it appears to work is in a "pay it forward" sort of movement. Bloggers helping bloggers and acknowledging new or upcoming blogs that they enjoy by nominating 5 of them (with under 500 twitter followers) after being nominated themselves. Eleven questions are sent out to these 5 bloggers and in turn, they each nominate 5 other blogs with eleven of their own questions. So here goes - my (very long overdue answers) to Victoria's questions ...
Favorite travel destination?
Ugh! This question seems to haunt me wherever I go now. Having spent the past 8 months traveling the globe, everybody always wants to know what my favorite place/country was. And it is simply impossible for me to chose 1 of the 16 countries I've just traveled through. I love the electric energy of Spain, the dreamy romance of France, and the indulgent beauty of Italy. The fanciful island life of Greece, and the majestic soul of South Africa. Thailand is a curious and exotic place, and Indonesia's Bali has the peaceful tranquility of Balinese life. I could probably do without Australia, but New Zealand's beauty knocked the wind out of me. And Fiji, my love ... I'm not sure if it's because you were last, but you have stolen the biggest piece of my heart among them all.
If you could travel with anyone, who would it be?
Personally, I have learned through this ongoing trip that I prefer solo travel. It’s exhilarating and scary and exhausting and lonely at times, but there is just something about being completely alone in a new land and culture that is irreplaceable. That being said, those overnight bus rides and hideously long travel treks are a lot more fun with a friend by your side. I was recently asked which 3 celebrities I would take along traveling if I could, so to avoid any real live hurt feelings, I'll answer this question like that as well.
Specifically Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence, so that I could save money on accommodation and food sleeping in trees and eating squirrels.
So that there would always be a dance party wherever I went, especially in the middle of an African game reserve surrounded by lions and leopards.
Because I can't think of anyone I'd rather sling beers back with while choking on laughter, interjecting into my stories with his Vince Vaughn banter.
Tell me about someone you’ve met travelling that’s stuck in your mind.
Crossing and intercepting paths with strangers you may never have met otherwise is my favorite part of travel. There are at least 7 people who have drastically stuck with me in my mind once I left them behind. But one woman, in particular, has changed my life forever without even realizing and for reasons I have yet to grasp. Sixty-five years old and as fit and lively as any woman in her twenties that I've ever met, it was only a matter of hours before she had me skinny dipping in South African damns and spilling my heart to her. A stranger two days prior, I just happened to have come into her life the day she found out she had cancer. A deep and profound friendship erupted quickly. I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. I only stayed with her one week, but I still think about her every day.
Favorite cuisine whilst traveling?
One of my favorite things about traveling is the food and how different and unique it is from place to place. I will eat just about anything at least once and I get a sort of high from ordering food in places where I don't understand the language or anything written on the menu. I like to be surprised and often ask whoever is serving me to surprise me with their favorite dish. I also always try to opt for whatever is the local favorite when eating at stop and go, hole in the wall joints.
Hands down, best seafood I have ever had in my life was from Galicia, Spain in a little town called Cambados, a few hours north of Portugal. This little fishing village is overpopulated with the sea's most fresh and exquisite creatures. The town is made up of a humble people, a working class of fishermen and family men. They spend their days out at sea and each day before the sun begins to fall, you can find them on the docks with their outpouring of mussels, crabs, octopus, squid, and mollusks.
Next to Galician seafood, I would have to say my other equally favorite cuisine is Thai. Aside from the fresh flavors and spices, I fell in love with the whole idea of it, the feel and nature of these people and how they see food. Street vendors ride bicycles or scooters with little carts attached, pull up on whichever street they fancy and set up shop with bowls of fresh herbs, meats, and a pot of boiling water, ready to cook for ayone who passes by. I love how even breakfast is a spicy curry or herbal rice soup. I love the way they sit on cushions on wooden floors around wooden tables and how every meal is a communal shared experience.
What do you miss most about home?
I am blessed with two amazing parents and three younger siblings that are all my best friends through and through. I definitely miss my family the most. There are little luxuries that I missed during the beginning of my travels - my own bed, a shower, clean clothes, Q-tips! But I can't remember any of them now ... they've all faded away as irrelevant and unnecessary. The only thing I still pine for is my family.
As much as I love being constantly on the move, waking up in the morning and asking myself where I feel like going that day, there is something to be said for having a home base - even the gypsy in me has to admit that. For having a space of your own where you can be alone and rest. It's a funny thing - traveling solo like this - contrary to what I expected, it's pretty hard to find time, let alone space, to debrief with yourself. In a constant stream of hostels, couch surfing, buses, trains, boats, and planes ... solitude is rare.
What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in the places you choose to stay?
An unnerving lack of comfort zone. Cultures and places so vastly different to my own. The more different and uncomfortable for me, the better.
However, with travel dreams and desires that expanded the entire globe, and barely enough money to get me through 6 months, I had to find a way to choose which countries I was going to backpack through. Enter Wine. Having always had a passion for wine and spending the previous 18 months prior to departure working for a winery, I let the wine guide me. Without it, the mountainous task of narrowing down the places I chose to stay would have broken my brain. I wanted to see it all. Every single bit. But folllowing the vines, I chose the countries accordingly. France, Spain, (An impromtu and lengthy stay in Portugal), Italy, Greece, South Africa, Thailand (because I simply couldn't leave it out,) and Bali- because why would you not stop in Indonesia on your way to Australia, New Zealand, and finally, Fiji.
City or country, and why?
This one varies from country to country definitely. Here are a few of my opinions:
It has to be a tie between city and country here. While France has the romantic and unbeatable rolling country vineyard sides that take your breath away, its cities are equally as alluring and dreamy.
This one completely depends on where in Spain you happen to be. While cities like Madrid and Barcelona are must see places, I found Barcelona to be on of my least favorite in all of Spain. After all the hype around it, I'm not sure what I expected, but it was much like any other city anywhere else in the world except most people spoke Spanish. In the south of Spain, however, you have the intriguing city of Sevilla and even further south, quaint and beautiful, little Jerez, caught somewhere in-between a city and a town, but with an identity and personality all it's own. Logrono is also a beautiful, charming city in the north, but those Rioja Spanish vineyards in the country are hard to beat.
City. I feel quite under qualified to determine this one for sure because I spent my entire time in the cities of Oporto and Lisboa and only saw the countrysides by means of trains and busses. However, these cities are overwhelmingly captivating. Aided by the steep sloping landscape of this country, they make for the best views from absolutely any angle and height. They don't, however, make for a fun walk or attempt at navigating home.
What can I say about Italia? We all know it is pure beauty around every corner whether country or city. Cities like Florence and Rome will always make me catch my breath every time I am privileged to step into their art filled world, but what really gets me in this place are the countryside towns, whether they be the small fishing villages of Cinque Terra, the glass blowing islands of Murano and Burano off of Venice, or the god-like juxtaposition of the Amalfi Coast and Capri, there is without a doubt something divine about this place.
Country. Definitely. And by country, I mean island. Athens is a strange place and while it hints of an Olympian-esque era, the whole city seems to be quite forgotten and neglected. Greece, being in the economic catastrophe that we currently find it, seems to have taken habit to starting overzealous construction projects and then completely abandoning them when they realize they can't finish their plate. Just leaving these half attempts at greatness lying there while everyone pretends not to notice, avoiding and refusing to accept them as if these half constructed ideas had never been attempted in the first place.
The Cyclades, however, hold that mythological beauty that we've all grown up fantasizing about. You can feel Aphrodite wailing over a broken heart in an abandoned rock temple on the coast of the island Paros, and the wings of Heremes shoes fluttering in the morning sea breezes as he busies himself delivering messages all day. Poseidon lurks in a protective righteousness under the crystal blue waters that surround Thira (Santorini) and everyone knows why. You'd be constantly on guard too, to keep everyone from stealing this gem of the Agean. The gentle summer breeze rustling over the blue roof tops and white washed buildings, and through the magenta canopies of flowers carries with it echos of the nymph songs so long ago trapped as these very islands.
Country. Country. Country. While Cape Town is a popular city destination for tourists, wine enthusiasts and surfers alike, I did not come to Africa for the city. And this city, much like every other westernized city, turns me off immediately. Oh, but the beautiful landscape of the South African Cape has an enchantment that is all its own.
I cannot stress enough the contrast between the hideous grey and overpopulated cities with the unparalleled beauty of the serene, exotic islands that surround them. You couldn't pay me to live in the unjust filth of Bangkok, the seedy streets of Pattaya, or the sex pumped chaos of Phuket. But take me to the uninhabited island of Koh Chang, or Railay beach off the coast of Ao Nang, and you'd have to drag me out in order to leave.
Oh, Bali, the impossible peace of those country rice paddies high above Ubud and the hidden tranquility of Anom Beach. I fell in love as soon as I stepped off the plane - that airport with its artist touches and hand-crafted intricacies. Places like Kota or Gili T made me cringe, infested with young, drunk, western tourists like termites eroding paradise. But the authentic charm of Ubud's modest town and rolling country hills had my heart instantly.
Without a doubt - country. It seems to me that everyone aside from myself was fully aware of the unparalleled beauty that this country holds. Uncomprehendingly unprepared, I was absolutely knocked off my feet by the vast array of stunning landscapes that these two small islands hold. The country has it all. Snow capped mountains, bright blue sea, wildlife, beach, waterfalls, and that Lord of the Rings majestic quality unlike anywhere else.
What’s your favourite travel/adventure activity?
Getting lost. New cities or towns, back country roads, doesn't matter; I absolutely love it. My favorite thing to do when I get to a new place after dropping my bags wherever home may be for the time being, is to walk out the door without a direction or destination and just explore. No map. No goals and no idea quite how to get back. I find this especially thrilling in countries that speak a foreign language - Spain, France, Italy, Greece. There is something so exciting about wandering aimlessly through a culture completely foreign to you without being able to understand a single word,. Like free falling through the atmosphere with no parachute. But hey, that's just me.
Have you had any pivotal or life changing moments whilst traveling?
Oh my gosh, yes. Not so much booming epiphanies, but more like a string of awakening clarities all along the way. People, interactions, moments - each adding a pearl to the necklace. I've learned that the world is a far less scary place than everyone makes it out to be, and that the lives that cross your path indefinitely do for a reason. I've seen third world poverty and found the happiest and most beautiful people in these desolute places. I've learned what it truly means to be free and what true bravery actually feels like.
Tell me something you have learnt from a culture you’ve visited, that you have taken with you.
The persistent joy and humble gratitude of the Fijian people. Their lust for life and simple happiness in day to day routines is something I haven't found anywhere else.
A pradise comprised of struggles, hardships, a cannibalistic past, love, and cava, this island has one of the most unique religious cultures I have yet to witness. Primarily Christian, with a large allotment of Hindus, all religions come together here to celebrate and revere each and every holiday, no matter the faith. The Christians join in Diwali, the Festival of Lights, to honor Lakshima, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, and likewise, all celebrate Christmas.
The poverty is staggering but the people are impossibly happy. Singing, guitar playing, flower wearing, sarong wearing natives with dark skin and the brightest smiles you've ever seen. Unlike a majority of places that I have visited that abhor tourists (we're looking at you France) and their annoying flock invading their lives, the Fijian people welcome you. Forever indebted and grateful for what toursim has given them - drinking water, homes, jobs.
"Bula!" they cry as soon as you arrive. A phrase you will hear sang to you no less than 73 times a day. Not a soul passes you by without a Bula greeting and genuine smile.
Where's next in your travel plans?
Part I of A Gypsy Breeze - a solo circumnavigation of the globe - came to completion mid November 2014 when I rounded the earth and landed back home in Baltimore, Maryland. A three week visit with the family and I was off again.
Part II is completely unscripted. I landed in London with a one way ticket on December 11th and after an excrutiating 50 minute interrogation, finally walked across onto British soil.
What's next? Well, I can't tell you that! But I can give you a clue ... it'll start in Berlin.
THE TRAVEL LUSH
This blogger has more than 500 twitter followers but I really connected with her blog, relating to her anxiety and uncertainties after backpacking for 7 months. A great read about an American couple who sold their belongings and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok. She is now living in Indonesia and I am excited to read about her transition from a backpacking life to that of an expat.
AWKWARD AMERICAN TRAVELER
Funny and indeed, awkward, this travel blogger tells it how it is. Through many trials and errors, she has been wandering for the past 3 years. With honesty and quirky inflections in her writing, this blog is anything but boring.
WINGS OF A FEATHER
A Canadian wanderluster who has traveled all over the world. With some great tips, honest realities about traveling, and awesome pictures, her website is a must follow. She has a little more than 500 followers on her twitter account but I love her nomadic lifestyle and had to include her.
WILL SHE GET AWAY
An honest and engaging story of a girl who left a steady journalist career in the UK to follow dreams of travel around the world. Risking certainty, she is now a freelance writer in Southeast Asia and definitely has a way with words!
COLLEEN BRYNN TRAVELS
Although she is determined not to be lumped into the "travel blogger" category, I had to include Colleen Brynn Travels in this nomination (whether she choses to accept it or not). She is a brilliant writer and inspired individual with a true passion for traveling. Her blog is not a site for travel advice or how-tos, and she doesn't seem to care who follows along. Writing for writings sake and traveling for the love of it, her blog is unique and enticing with everything from food to sport, languages to lipstick.
My questions to you ...
1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
2. Do you prefer solo travel, group travel, or traveling with a close friend?
3. What's the most outrageously adventurous thing you've done traveling?
4. The scariest/ sketchiest situation you've been in while abroad.
5. A place you've visited where you were the most uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone.
6. The one item you fear losing above all else while traveling. Have you ever lost it?
7. What was your reason for traveling? The final straw that made you get up and go.
8. What types of travel stories or blog posts are your favorite to read?
9. Do you have a guilty pleasure while traveling? Something you justify spending money on even when you don't have it?
10. The most useless item (in hindsight) that you've taken with you while traveling.
11. What is your number one tip for blogging on the move?
“Thank the blogger who nominated you, and include a link to their blog.
Provide answers to the eleven questions from that person.
Give nominations to other bloggers, who have less than 500 Twitter followers.
Ask them eleven new questions.
Let them know about their nominations, so that they can proceed with the award process.”