A few of my favorite places… (Part 1)

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. Summer 2013.

I’ve had an extreme case of wanderlust recently which has had me thinking of all the countries I’ve visited and, of those, which I’d love to visit again. While there are plenty of sites in each of these locals – even those I have lived in – that I haven’t seen, there are always those spots that I’ll always want to visit over and over again.

Checking through the travel app I mentioned in an earlier posting, I realized that I’ve visited 13 countries (not including small day trips south), four of which I’ve visited over and over again.

This week I’m thinking back between 2001 and 2013 and four locations that I’ve only visited once but definitely want to visit again.

1. Italy, 2001

I was 10 when I flew here with my little sister, grandparents, four cousins, and an aunt – yes, it was hectic. I was the third youngest and obviously in that awkward preteen stage where I barely knew which way was up let alone what this trip would do for me. This was the first trip I was old enough to remember and really helped me figure out that while I love to travel, sometimes someone else’s dream vacation – and I mean pace – just doesn’t work for a crowd.

We still talk about this trip a lot in my family. Grandpa drove on the sidewalk – and still denies it. We threw coins in the Trevi Fountain. We made friends with the owner of a family run restaurant and they made us a special dinner our last night with them and we ate gnocchi most other nights until we couldn’t move.  Bex accidentally trapped herself in at least 3 different toilets and couldn’t figure out how she was doing it. We stayed in some beautiful hotels with scenic views and others that blacked out a lot due to record breaking heat waves. Every few days, we piled into this white van which was just large enough for all of my and the suitcases and we would drive all over Italy – I’ve seen a lot!

But above all, I have the fondest memories of going to the Blue Grotto in Capri. I remember sitting in the boat and having to lay back against everyone else as we entered the cave – just in case the current carried the boat too high. The Grotto is beautiful  and even if you aren’t allowed to touch the water, it’s an experience. The fact that this trip was 16 years ago is truly scary but makes me want to go back and revisit the Grotto and others close to my heart as well as the many areas I haven’t made it out to.

2. Japan, 2002

We visited Japan when my uncle and his family was stationed there over the middle school’s winter break. I was 11 and since we were on base, we ended up spending a lot of time doing base-life activities – at least for visiting family. Somehow, I remember a whole lot of shopping and getting to make and consume a lot of homemade sushi.

This trip is an interesting one to think back on because while we did explore the city and country, it was really more about visiting family. What sticks out most was walking through some of the temples and my Aunt explaining some on the ceremonies my cousin was going through and the different events  they were looking forward to. I just remember how beautiful everything was and I mostly want to go back to retrace some of those steps.

3. Australia, 2004

I’ve talked a bit about going to Australia but, just to refresh anyone’s memory, I was a student ambassador with the People to People program the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years. I was one of 40 students under the supervision of 3 teachers and 2 Ausies – out guide and our driver (s technically there were two over the over the course of the trip). Because of who I was traveling with, I got a very different view of the country. We had a house stay and school visit to an all girls school; we stayed about 4 days at a cattle farm with termite mounds taller than I will ever be; we toured a government building and nature preserves and a crocodile farm. We toured caves and learned songs and had a few beach days in between.

If I could go back I would do it all again and so much more, but one of the places and experiences I will never forget and can never recreate was our visit to the Sydney Opera house. Our group got a special tour and I remember stumbling upon a modern ballet rehearsal – I wish we could have seen it! But mostly, they talked about the acoustics and one of my really good friends in the group got to get on the stage and belt out a few notes – it was amazing. It also definitely put seeing an actual performance at the Opera House on my bucket list.

4. Ireland, 2013

Yes, this is an eleven year gap, and no, it’s not because it took 11 years for me to venture outside the US again – although it was a close call – but this was the next place I haven’t been able to visit a second time. This 2013 trip was the first trip I had planned by myself and I’ve talked about it here many, many times. This is probably one of the places that is really hard for me to narrow down one site that I must see again or that really stands out.

My sister and I did a large U around the base of this country starting in Galway and making many memories down, around, and up to Dublin – it was a lot of buses. From our 4 days without luggage in Galway, or trudging said luggage across town and back during our day trip through Killarney, or my adventure with the boys in Dublin (another unrepeatable event I’ll always treasure and enjoy retelling), or nights spent in pubs listening to and singing along with good music with great people, there was so much to this trip and the beginning of a much larger adventure, again, making it hard to pick just one thing.

Still, I have: the tour of Trinity college and visiting the Book of Kells. First, the tour was amazing. Given by students (very cute and very funny students, mind you), the tour is entertaining informative and fast. We got information on strange bureaucratic surveys – guess where the three largest maple trees – if I remember correctly – in Ireland (never mind that’s because they are practically the only ones in Ireland). The tour lets off by the entrance of the Book of Kells and the small tour cost goes to that price. This is a must revisit for me since watching the 2009 film about it (the film is also very worth watching!).

So this is all for Part 1 of my revisiting – 12 years of my life and, so far, we’ve got four down, nine to go! Until next time:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

A few of my favorite places… (Part 1)

Tips from Sydney…

As in Australia, actual tips from my friend Landon.

Slightly blurry scan from People to People, can you find me? Sydney, Australia. July 2004.

This week, I’ve been thinking about Australia and I realized that my trip out was nearly half a lifetime ago. While I still remember plenty from this trip, I figure that my friend, Landon (who may or may not be reading this), who grew up and is currently visiting this city – hence Sydney on the brain – could probably give a more expert list of ‘must see’s.

Now, I won’t lie: I made this a bit harder for him than usual. You see, unlike my other guests, I didn’t tell him what this list was for; so unlike the times where my mom, Libby, or Bex helped me, Landon had no frame of reference to go by. All I asked for was a list of places or things to do and/or see that someone shouldn’t miss when visiting the Sydney area.

Looking at the list below, I’m rather glad he didn’t have said frame of reference – this gives me more room to play and explore between what I remember and his offerings. Plus, I’m a nerd who likes research.

With that out of the way, let get to our list:

1. Sydney city- there’s so much to do and see: The Rocks, Darling Harbor, and the bridge.

I remember being in Sydney – we hit the Opera House for a special tour and did some wandering, but, other than wanting more time because it was the end of our 21 days, it’s all pretty hazy. I would never be able to tell you what districts we were in or where we were saying, but I do remembering thinking it was beautiful (and having my group of friends obsessed with the relationship between our chaperone and the coach driver – oh, the scandal for 13 and 14 year olds! We did a whole group shopping trip – that could have been filmed for a movie montage – to get ready for our farewell party with her and everything. Yep.).

Since I’m less than helpful here, let’s go with the options Landon gave us:

The Rocks is a one of Sydney’s localities near city center which holds a mix of historic and tourist attractions. This area lays claim to all kind of entertainment from shops to pubs to markets to history walks, and, looking through the official website, there is always something going on – I mean, look at the New Year’s Eve shot! Whether you pick a specific event from the site or swing by on the fly, this is definitely an active spot you can spend hours roaming through.

Of course, this locality is also a hop, skip, and a jump – about a thirty minute walk according to online maps – to Darling Harbor (another suggested stop). Every picture has me ready to pack my bags, even if I am broke! With more events, picturesque views, and a heavily advertised nightlife, this is simply one more fabulous reason Sydney should be on all of our bucket lists.

2. That leads me to the next one – the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb. It’s a must if you aren’t afraid of heights.

This was an experience we were not given as student ambassadors, but one I want to do desperately. As Landon cautioned, think twice if you are afraid of heights – I love to push you all to stretch your boundaries, but if you have a height issue and you are mid-climb, you can’t turn back. The only way off is up!

Seriously, look through the tour website if you have questions or concerns; it has instructor bios, pictures, video, pricing, and pretty much whatever else you may need when planning this adventure. However, this can also torture you if you want to go really badly and can’t yet: you have been warned!

3. Eat a meat pie – it’s delicious

So, I had to check back with the boy on this one, because how is a meat pie different in Sydney? Or was he just offering meat pies as an amazing choice generally?

Apparently, Landon recommends Garlo’s Pies, whose tagline reads: We’re thin on pastry, We’re BIG on meat. Looking at the images, they are not lying. These are meaty pies (Landon really emphasized the beef and steak) with gravy and must be  fantastic if they’ve made a locals ‘must do’ list. They seem to be trying to reach a ton of markets (meaning official venues and world-wide locals) at once, so keep a sharp eye out and a pie may be closer than you think.

4. Do the Clovelly Beach walk on a warm afternoon, or, if it’s raining, watch the storms off the coast.

The Clovelly Beach is a small but pristine beach that you could easily spend the day at – again, the pictures online are unbelievable. It has clear water for snorkeling and, by all accounts, is protected and safe so perfect for a family outing.

When you google this walk, you’ll get tons of sites that talk about all the connected beaches and bays you can take a long, lovely walk along. Because Sydney has such a huge beach and bay scene (which means you are also always close to food) you can easily stay out near the water all day long. As a southern California beach lover, I am all over this! However, since it’s a bit of a drive to the beach where I am, I’ve never watched a storm on the beach – I’m not driving the forty-five minutes (at least) in LA traffic for this, but out in Sydney: bring it on.

Again, researching this, it seems like there is no end to entertainment in Australia – seaside street sculptures! – so be prepared for a full day (or longer) walking and/or relaxing. If you are in the former category, think about your shoes – I can’t handle saddles on long walks, but socks and sand are a bad combination, so take all your personal feelings into account before setting out.

5. See the animals- there is nothing in the world like what we have.

We had full lectures on this fact before setting off in 2004. While we covered many of the venomous variety (I mean super aggressive spiders that will chase you down if you stumble into their territory – BAD!), I don’t think this is what Landon is talking about.

There are tons of ways you can see wildlife in Sydney – again, as a quick google search will show you. Whether you go to the zoo (whose standards are legendary – LA only recently got animals back because Australia is very selective), go snorkeling, hit a museum or wildlife sanctuary; basically, you can’t get too far without something animal related crossing your path.

Looking at some of the zoo offerings makes me super jealous as well. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know I’ve loved watching the improvements being made at the LA zoo, but this is nothing compared to what I’ve seen on the Sydney webpages – rope courses!?

The best thing about Sydney is that everything we covered is just scratching the surface. This city is amazing with so much to offer visitors and locals, single travelers and families, and people of all interests and backgrounds. Not to mention, as the winter weather has arrived here in Southern California, it’s fully summer in Australia. Does it get better than that? I doubt it.

This is Leave on the Wind (with a little help from Landon), helping you soar.

Tips from Sydney…