Friday, February 19, 2010

High Flying

‘Hello, my name is Bethany and I am a travel junkie.’ I became hooked on travel at the young age of 11, when my parents took my sister and me to Tahiti for vacation…you know the first hit is always free. I was fascinated by being in a foreign place, speaking a foreign language and was entranced by the first stamp in my brand new passport.

My addiction intensified as I got older and travelled to more places. I backpacked Europe the summer of 2001 and managed to create a lifelong travel habit. I visited 16 countries in three months, made countless discoveries about myself and realized that my place in this world is on the road, always looking for that next travel high.

My travel addiction is not nearly as seedy as it may sound. Much like any other addiction, travel costs a lot of money and pretty much controls your life. However, rather than being self-destructive it is productive and positive. I have so many memories, photos and stories to share. I have learned, experienced, tasted, and felt so many wonderful things abroad. I never want to be cured of my travel dependency.

Rather than a cure for us travel junkies, which would be as tragic as not ever being afflicted in the first place, I propose a program to feed the ‘beast’ (the beast being the insatiable curiosity that prompts us to discover this beautiful world we live in). My program grounds itself in the antithesis of any other addiction cure…we shouldn’t rid ourselves of travel fixation. Rather, intensify it by sharing memories while giving others ideas of where to go next. We’re all in this together!

Here are some unforgettable memories from backpacking Europe in 2001:

1) The West Highland Line to Fort William, Scotland. One of the most scenic railway lines in Britain and made famous in the Harry Potter films for being the train to Hogwarts. We met a drunken Scottish man named Dean who kept repeating to us ‘go geet a cop fursum vodka.’ ‘Pardon?’ I said. He slowly enunciated in his drunken Scottish accent,’ GO GET A CUP FOR SOME VODKA!’ We fetched a couple of plastic cups from the refreshment trolley and he shared his illicit libations with us while chatting about random subjects in indecipherable Scottish through the most beautiful countryside in the world.

Sponsor Note: In Fort William check out Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak!

2) Getting engaged in Lagos, Portugal. On the southern coast of Portugal in a region called Algarve my sweetheart proposed to me at sunset on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Wild horses ran free, the sky was the colour of cotton candy, and I could taste the salty air when I drew in a big gasp of air and screamed ‘of course!’

Sponsor Note: Check out Lagos’ many gorgeous and isolated beaches.

3) Our 48 hour S-L-O-W train ride from Lagos, Portugal to Paris, France where we had hoped to catch a train to the French Riviera. Once we arrived in Paris we found out that the last leg of the trip (to Marseille) had not been booked properly and there weren’t any seats available. We had the choice to stay in Paris and wait for another train to Marseille whenever one was available (we would return to Paris for a week at the end of our journey and wanted to see as much of Europe before then as possible) or choose somewhere else to go to. We meandered up to the departure board and randomly chose the next train. We were off to Lausanne, Switzerland!

Sponsor Note: The Eurail Pass allows you the spontaneity to go wherever you want on a moments notice.

Lausanne is a picturesque town situated on the shores on Lake Geneva. Indulge in some fantastic fondue while enjoying views of the lake.

4) Fresh mussels at La Lanterna in Cinque Terre, a string of five small villages on the Italian Riviera that hug the rugged Mediterranean coastline. La Lanterna is a small family run restaurant that over looks the beautiful Riomaggiore Harbour. The owner is a local authority on quality seafood. Make sure to get a table on the terrace. Excellent meal!

Sponsor Note: There are no roads in Cinque Terre so if you’d like to explore more than one village, you can walk between them or take the one rail line available. Embrace the seclusion of these peaceful and charming villages and forget about the hustle and bustle for a while.

5) Buying a cheesy tourist tee shirt to cover my bare arms so that I could enter Vatican City. I was wearing a sundress and little did I know bare arms are not permitted. Rather than trek all the way back to the hotel to change, I purchased a very cheesy and very cheap tee shirt at the kiosk across the street. I was truly a vision in my Raffaello tee shirt!

Sponsor Note: Remember, when visiting most any cathedral in Europe bare arms and legs are not allowed.

6) Strolling the city and markets of Athens. What a mess Athens is! It’s hot, dirty, and chaotic, but I had a great time there! Walk a bit, take in the history, stop at a café for a beer, walk a bit more through the labyrinth of the markets, stop for an ice cream, dodge a mob of stray cats, walk a bit more and barter for junk you don’t need, stop for a lemonade, rinse and repeat. We laughed and talked all over the sweltering, grimy metropolis.

Sponsor Note: On one of your many rest stops try a Frappé, a foam covered iced coffee drink, very popular in all of Greece.

7) Enjoying outrageous goulash, a Hungarian beef stew made with paprika, and red wine in Budapest. The city is divided into two parts by the Danube River, Buda and Pest. We enjoyed a very romantic meal on the West bank (Buda) while taking in stunning views of the night time lights of Pest.

Sponsor Note: Hungarian paprika is world renowned so if you don’t have the goulash make sure you try something with this heavenly red powder.

8) Imbibing in some beer while enjoying HUGE pretzels at Hofbrauhaus, one of Munich’s oldest breweries. A lively and historic beer hall, Hofbrauhaus is a must see in my book.

Sponsor Note: Get a picture of the massive beer stein next to your head and you too can look like a hobbit.
9) Forgetting to exchange British pounds to Irish pounds (pre-Euro time) before we arrived at the port in Dublin, Ireland. There wasn’t an ATM or 'cash point' as they say. We didn’t really have a choice (so we thought) so we asked how long it would take to walk into city centre. The lady at the information desk started laughing and said she had never heard of anyone walking from the port into Dublin. We told her we didn’t have the correct currency for a taxi (and we were low on money anyway), she said it would take, ‘quite a while’. We decided to go for it and we proceeded to walk through a toxic, hazardous wasteland. We trekked through chemical refineries and past signs with skulls and crossbones warning people not to enter. Um yeah, I tried to hold my breath until I thought I might pass out. Then I embraced the smoggy offshoot of this industrial periphery as we laughed our way into town. We finally arrived in the city after hours of walking and celebrated with a cold pint of Guinness, which we paid for with our newly acquired Irish pounds.

Sponsor Note: Take a taxi and have the driver stop at an ATM once you reach Dublin; this is what sane people would do.

I don't have any photos here...definitely not a photo op in sight!

10) Taking in the view (and sunset) from Senor Zorba’s in Santorini, Greece. This was the most stunning sunset I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. The restaurant is perched atop the cliffs of the caldera overlooking the volcano and the Aegean Sea.

Sponsor Note: Stick with the margaritas…no offense, the Greeks don’t make the best Mexican food, big surprise.

Now that we’ve had some group therapy, type or (my favourite travel fare sites) into the browser bar on your computer, pick the next place you want to go, click purchase ticket and off you go. Don’t worry… I won’t tell anybody.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Travel as a Love Affair

I lay my head down to rest each night on a pillow, next to my husband, who is the love of my life. Sometimes the pillow is in our own bed, in our home town. Sometimes it’s in a hotel bed in a distant land. Sometimes it’s even a jacket stuffed with clothes inside a tent on some remote campground. My husband is the best travel partner in the world and the one who makes all the Faraway Pillows so much fun. Happy Valentine’s Day!

For my travel partner and me, the love of our lives is travel. We fell in love, with travel that is, the summer of 2001 when we backpacked around Europe. It was then that we discovered the excitement of being together in a foreign place. That summer after my high school graduation my high school sweet heart had transformed himself into my travel buddy extraordinaire as we successfully and enjoyably navigated Europe’s many streets often lost, tired, and hungry.

This love story is a tale of hard work and perseverance. Travel pushes one to go beyond comfort zones, to explore despite jet lag, culture shock and a handful of misadventures that are bound to happen on any trip. However, with any worthwhile relationship, a good companion will push you to discover things you never knew possible.

Travel is love. Travel is understanding. As Maya Angelou said, ‘Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try to understand each other, we may even become friends.’ This statement is very powerful to me and should be reason to travel for so many people. Travel to me is learning and appreciating how other people live while having a great time doing it.

It would be so easy to stay home and perceive the world as small and comfortable. It would be so easy to save the money that travel requires and spend it on other things. However, to think of all that wouldn’t be learned, experienced, tasted, and felt is too difficult to comprehend. The good, the bad, the pleasant, the unpleasant, the trials, and the triumphs… it’s all for the love of travel.

We saved up for our European adventure for six months, both working in the same restaurant as servers. We worked gruelling 14 hour shifts to save the money required for three months abroad. We bought the airline tickets, the Eurorail passes, and had enough money left to budget $89.00 per day for hotel, food and activities. This was more difficult in some places than others.

We began our journey in London, England on May 15, 2001. We had looked forward to the trip for so long and were exhilarated to begin. We were somehow surprised that our money seemed to evaporate in London as the poor exchange rate and sky-high prices took a toll on our budget. The first night we stayed in a cute little bed and breakfast in the outskirts of the city. It was there that we experienced our first case of jet lag. We awoke at 4am wondering what time English people eat breakfast as it was just about time for our dinner back home!

That day, after a rough morning adjusting to the time change, we set out to explore the city. We had coffee in a chic café in Soho while watching a girl eat chicken cordon bleu and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my life’. Turns out, I wanted to save the money and ensure that we would be able to stay abroad for the full three months even more. As a side note, I’m glad we were able to stay in Europe for the whole summer but I REALLY wanted that chicken cordon bleu! I still have dreams about the bubbling cheese running out the side…ok I’m moving on.

We had a hard time in London as our budget didn’t allow for deluxe accommodation or gourmet meals. After the first night we moved from the expensive bed and breakfast to the Leinster Inn, a large and very expensive hostel (still cheaper than the bed and breakfast) in Central London. I thought hostels were supposed to be cheap or something?!? I mean you sleep in bunk beds in a smelly room with like 8 dudes but normally you pay around $10 a night which takes the sting out of it… sort of.

Despite our subpar accommodation, we were able to enjoy the city. We visited sights like the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and Harrods’s (look for the most amazing Parisian macaroons at Ladurée…now inside Harrod’s!) We saw the ‘tourist sights’ but the most enjoyable thing we did was our own bus tour. We bought an all day pass for about £16 on the city buses and went from one bus to another without a plan in the world. Ok, ok, ok, hold up…when I say city bus I don’t mean one of those ‘expensive, cheesy red tourist buses with a lady holding an umbrella and a microphone on the top deck pointing out sights’ buses. I mean the real deal public transportation. The London city buses are all double decker and have great views from up top. We didn’t care where we ended up, we just wanted to see the city and sit amongst the people. We rode different buses for hours, hopping on and off whenever we felt like it. We saw London in an unusual way and were able to candidly talk to Londoners. One conversation we had was with an older English man who believed that all people from Colorado ride horses like in the ‘Old West’. We were gracious ambassadors and set him straight. When we finally decided to end the tour we took the ‘Tube’ (London subway system which is easily accessible all around the city and included in the price of the £16 day pass) back to our hostel.

Our short time in London was just a prelude to the lifelong love affair we started with travel. The more we travel, the more we learn, and the more we enjoy our trips. We have returned to London several times since our first encounter and have had a better, more rewarding experience each time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a just a few of my favourite places in London:

Moro Restaurant- Award winning Moorish cuisine at the heart of the lively pedestrianised street, Exmouth Market
Tate Modern Museum- A National Gallery of International Modern Art
Macaroons at Ladurée in Harrod’s- Small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle. A new flavor is created for each season.
Absolut Ice Bar- A bar made entirely of ice in London’s West End. Everything in the bar is made from ice that has been harvested from the frozen Torne River in Northern Sweden. When I say everything I mean everything but the floor is ice (glasses, bar top, chairs, walls, EVERYTHING!) Very cool bar…ha ha ha

For singles and couples alike, on this Valentine’s Day deepen your love with travel and plan a trip somewhere, even if it’s just down the road to the next town. A love affair with travel will surely be an exhilarating and fulfilling lifelong relationship that will teach you about yourself and about the world. In the words of the greatest travel writer of all time, Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘the great affair is to move’.

Stay tuned for more European adventures…XOXO!