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My 33 Favorite Travel Experiences

This Saturday (June 9 in case you don’t have a calendar in front of you) is my 33rd birthday (god, I feel old just typing that). And I’ll be honest there’s nothing remotely exciting or special about turning the mundane age of 33, because no birthday could ever compare to turning the big 3-0 in Norway.

But for something different because I’ve never done one of these posts before, I thought I would share my 33 favorite travel experiences.   And don’t worry, there aren’t 33 photos you have to scroll through because there’s no way in hell I was going to format 33 photos for just one post. And they’re slightly out of order, namely because I didn’t feel like re-doing the number ordering.

1.) Winning a (child’s) life size Mickey Mouse stuffed animal (1990)

The first time I visited Disneyland I was five and that year the park was celebrating its 35th anniversary. Each day you entered the park, your ticket was scanned to see if you would get the chance to “spin the wheel” (okay, it wasn’t Wheel of Fortune, you  just pulled a lever and that determined your prize). Well, I got the chance to pull the lever and I ended up winning a huge (for a five year old) Mickey Mouse stuffed animal.  I think my Dad was disappointed I didn’t win the car option…

2.) Having tea with Miss Manderly in Colonial Williamsburg(1997)

Growing up I was a huge American Girl fan (okay, I still technically am but just hate how commercial the company went after it was sold to Mattel). Back in the 1990s, the American Girl company was actually affiliated with Colonial Williamsburg since one of the dolls, Felicity Merriman, lives there during colonial times. Girls had the opportunity to have tea with Miss Manderly, the kind teacher who schools Felicity in all of those much needed womanly things. So I had a colonial tea experience, complete with Felicity (because yes, the doll came), and Miss Manderly, who was dressed in colonial garb at the Christiana Campbell Tavern. Coolest experience ever.

3.) (Faux) starring on Broadway (1992)

When  I was seven I saw the Broadway play Fool Moon with my dad and brother.   It starred Bill Irwin and David Shiner. At intermission as I was enjoying the candy my dad always got us when we went with him (as opposed to my mom), a stage assistant came up to us and asked if I wanted to act in a scene with Mr. Irwin (there were no spoken lines). I was nervous but I said sure ( along with my dad’s encouragement since he would never have stage fright). They chose another girl and me  and it was a lot of fun, my biggest claim to fame.

4.) Visiting  Disney World at Christmas (1997)

As a kid, I always loved our trips to Disney World. But when I was 12 we went at Christmastime and let’s just say it was extra magical, especially in my favorite land which,  you guessed it, was Epcot’s World Showcase.

5.) My Mexican host family (2001)

I traveled to Mexico alone and lived there  for nearly a month when I was 16, not something most teenagers could do. But I did and a huge part of my amazing time there was due to my incredible host family comprising  Mos (never understood his nickname), Maria Elena, and their kids, Carlos and Gabi,  and even their maid, also named Maria. They will forever be in my heart.

6.) Watching the ocean in Biarritz, France (2003)

I’ve written before how my first trip to Europe at 18 was an utter disaster. It was a group tour-the  participants stunk and the hotels were even worse. I also contracted a tonsil infection for the second time in less than a month while in Paris. Thankfully the further south we went in France, the better I started feeling. Biarritz I absolutely adored. It’s  a beautiful seaside town in southwestern France and it was just pure bliss with the weather, views, and of course, the glace (ice cream).

7.) Getting a private tour at Bongeunsa Temple in Seoul, South Korea (2004)

Even though I had the hardest time finding it (this was before smart phones and GPS systems,  not to mention many Korean people who speak English will say they don’t because they’re too shy about making a mistake), it was a beautiful Buddhist temple to visit, a peaceful oasis right in the midst of chaotic Seoul. I had the sweetest docent too, who ended up giving me a tour. And she was a cross between shy and I think happy when I asked if I could take her photo.

8.) All of Gyeongju, South Korea (2004)

Okay, well maybe not the modern parts, but for those buildings that were  remnants from the days when it served as the capital of the 1,000-year-long Silla dynasty, it’s amazing. We’ll just leave that as legitimate hyperbole.

9.) Visiting the DMZ (2004)

With everything that’s going on in the Korean Peninsula currently, it’s surreal  that I was there, that I saw the most heavily fortified border in the world. It was a sobering visit but to this day the most surreal part was seeing the North Korean tourists who were gaping at “us” in the South.

10.) Trying mandu for the first time (2004)

I’ve said before that when I studied in South Korea, I didn’t do too well with the food. The apex was probably the weekend I spent at a Korean classmate’s home. The mom who everyone said was an amazing cook did prepare what looked to be visually exotic fare. I didn’t partake much (too many tentacles). But my last night there they did takeout which happened to be mandu, which are basically Korea’s version of fried dumplings. They were delicious and I ate my share.

11.) Seeing the ruins of Chichen Itza (2004)

Nothing surpasses that feeling when you see pre-Colombian ruins for the first time, especially when they’re as impressive as those at Chichen Itza. You can no longer climb it, but I also got to climb El Castillo (the castle) twice. Nothing like being on top of the (ancient) Mayan world.

12.) Soaking in the hot springs at Tabacón (2005)

Okay, I was a poor college student and didn’t have the money to stay there but I did get to visit the famous Tabacón Resort in Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano region as a guest of the hot springs (what the resort is known for) and it was amazing.

13.) Having authentic Afro-Caribbean fare in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica (2005)

On my first trip to Costa Rica, I went with some co-workers to  what was then a laid back, undeveloped beach town on the Caribbean coast. One of the nights we ate at a small shack in which the cook/owner/waitress served up  Afro-Caribbean food. It was delicious, and was also  where I was introduced to patacones, twice-fried plantains.

14.) My second Costa Rican family (2005)

Flora and Carlos were amazing and although not all host family experiences are the same, they were incredible and totally turned my semester in Costa Rica around.

15.) Finding the Peter Pan statue in London’s Kensington Gardens (2005)

I absolutely adore the story of Peter Pan and finding this simple yet beautiful statue made me so happy. When I visited, it was also lightly raining so it seemed even more quintessentially English.

16.) Nicaragua (2005)

I didn’t have the greatest  time in Nicaragua namely because it was ghastly hot (you want hot, go to Nicaragua) and all I wanted to do was hang out in my hostel’s a/c room. My favorite experience isn’t necessarily tied to anything in particular I did there, but more the fact I was in a country with so…much…history…especially of the modern kind. It also  piqued my interest in learning more about this country’s culture.

17.) Being truly pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my visit to Munich (2016)

I had never had much interest in visiting Germany but then I spent a couple of days in Munich and truly fell head over heels for it. And of course as a history lover, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

18.) Experiencing Semana Santa in Seville, Spain (2006)

There are no other Holy Week celebrations like the ones you find in Seville, Spain. It was out of this world surreal and over the top. It was even neater that I got to experience Palm Sunday celebrations with my Dad as they coincided with his visiting me in Spain.

19.) Seeing La Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain (2006)

In Spain, I loved learning about the country’s Moorish history. And nothing topped visiting La Mezquita (the mosque) which at one time rivaled those found in the Middle East during that region’s glory days.

20.) Taking in the views at Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence (2006)

Although I had the most disastrous of day trips in Florence, nothing topped seeing the entire city skyline from the best vantage point.

21.) Having the most whirlwind of weekends alone in Paris (2006)

My first trip to Paris was  a bust, but when I went for the weekend alone during my semester abroad in Spain, I more than made up for it. The only thing lacking was on the food front but at 20 that was not at the top of my priorities (unfortunately).

22.) Traveling to Quebec City during the Christmas season (2017)

This was something I had always wanted to do and while it wasn’t as cold as I feared it would be (not to say it still wasn’t frigid), being there amongst the Christmas decorations and more importantly, snow, was truly magical.

23.) Seeing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo march in Buenos Aires (2007)

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, the Argentine people were forced to live under a brutal military sponsored dictatorship. During this time thousands of young me and women went missing.   They became known as “los desaparecidos,” the disappeared. As a result, their mothers started marching every week at the Plaza de Mayo demanding answers. Their weekly marches grew in number and attention. Although their final march of resistance was in 2006, they continue to march weekly  in pursuit of action on other social causes. You want to talk about brave, it’s women like these.

24.) Seeing centuries-old Celtic crosses in Ireland (2009)

I’m not sure why, but I was obsessed with wanting to see the famous  Celtic crosses that Ireland is so famous for. Thankfully when I visited the monastic ruins of Glendalough, I spotted a few. They are truly spectacular.

25.) Brussels’ Grand Place (2010)

Brussels gets so much of a bum rap-it’s too government looking, it’s not Bruges or even Ghent with the canals, it just doesn’t have a lot of charm (according to some). But I dare you to visit the Grand Place and not be overwhelmed by its incredible beauty.

26.) Waking up to views of the Pacific Ocean every day while on Maui (2011)

I do see the charm of staying at mega resorts in a destination like Hawaii. And yet, nothing topped the hotel I stayed at on Maui. It was a simple condo but we were “right there,” as close to the surf as you can imagine. Breakfasts on our balcony were pure bliss and those views-  be still my heart.

27.) Eating those world famous Pastel de Nata (egg custard tarts) at Pastéis de Belém in Portugal (2012)

There are some foods I feel that don’t live up to all the immense hype surrounding them. Pastel de nata are not one of them.

28.) Making it to Machu Picchu (2014)

Machu Picchu is not the only wonder of the world found in amazing Peru, but to see one of those iconic sights you had spent your entire life dreaming about, well, there’s nothing else like it.

29.) Sailing through Norway’s Geirangerfjord (2015)

All of Norway was visually spectacular but Geirangerfjord was even more so. When you live in such an overdeveloped world, it’s hard to imagine places like this still existing,  but thankfully they do.

30.) My Prague food tour (2016)

I’ve been on some wonderful food tours but nothing could top my almost five hour one in Prague.  Epic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

31.) My food tour on Cozumel (2016)

On my first visit to Cozumel I got off the tourist/cruise ship passenger path and ended up doing a private food tour with just D and our guide. And it was so authentic and so memorable and a reminder of why I adore both the country of Mexico and its people.

32.) The entirety of sailing through Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier (2017)

I had never been so cold but I had never seen such captivating natural scenery. Nothing prepares you for the first time you see that humongous glacier, nor   when you hear parts of it breaking off (sounds akin to loud thunder).

33.) Visiting Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona (2017)

I’ve become obsessed with the West in my 30s and my ultimate travel dream is to make it to the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. A nice substitute (for now) was seeing Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona. They were truly a marvel to look at.

So there you have it, my favorite 33 travel experiences in 33 years of living. There are countless others I have,  don’t get me wrong, but these are the ones that truly stand out and I think of quite often.

My 33 Favorite Travel Experiences My 33 Favorite Travel Experiences My 33 Favorite Travel Experiences

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Bridget
    June 7, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Happy early birthday! I hope you have a fabulous weekend celebrating. Saturday birthdays are such a treat and come so infrequently! I loved reading through your experiences. I must say having tea in Colonial Williamsburg complete with Felicity Merriman sounds like a highlight for me (I was/am also a huge fan!). That is definitely one of the places I have on my “kids bucket list,” since I’m starting to come to the realization that some of my traveling will be different in the coming years, but nonetheless one I’m very excited about! You have packed a lot into 33 years – I’ll be living vicariously through you for the rest of the year and looking forward to seeing what else you have planned!

    • Reply
      Julie
      June 9, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks so much Bridget! I agree about Saturday birthdays being extra special and ones to savor all the more! You will love Colonial Williamsburg and I think that even if I were to return as an adult, I’d still geek out on the whole Felicity Merriman angle 🙂 Writing this post has definitely made me appreciate all the incredible opportunities I have had so far in my 33 years on this planet 🙂

  • Reply
    Jennifer Boyer-Switala
    June 9, 2018 at 7:15 am

    happy birthday! You are so well traveled for a person of any age, let alone a 33-year-old! I thoroughly enjoyed reading through these (and had to chuckle over Florence – I have been there twice and have had less than wonderful experiences there, the last one seeing me with a severe infection in the ER. Perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm?! I WILL see those Botticelli’s one way or another!) You have definitely further fueled my desire to visit Spain and Biartitz…

    • Reply
      Julie
      June 9, 2018 at 9:30 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! I know, I am quite fortunate for all that I’ve seen and done and will go to my grave touting the immense benefits of study abroad 🙂 Okay, your Florence experience definitely trumps mine in terms of one to forget 🙂 You would absolutely adore Spain and Biarritz I can totally see you loving from a purely Francophile bliss kind of way!

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