Travel by the letters


This travel ABC survey came to me from Kaley of Y Mucho Más and I can never turn down a chance to talk about travel.
At the end you’ll see the next five travel bloggers I’ve tagged to participate. Enjoy!

A: Age you went on your first international trip: On New Year’s Day 2004, I was 20 years old and on a plane bound for the UK and a semester abroad. I had only been on my first flight when I was 17, but it was all downhill after that.

Bongo Room, Chicago

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: Not a beer drinker .. so let’s pick a new B. Best breakfast? I am constantly on a quest for this. Some people demand quality coffee, others look for perfect homefries. Me? I just like breakfast. My top three would be Bongo Room in Chicago, Illinois, USA; Billy’s Diner in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA and the traditional breakfast served in Costa Rica: eggs, black beans, rice, gallo pinto and magic.

C: Cuisine (favorite): Oh look, another food question. Someone pass me the ABC’s of food! A series of firsts and favorites: homemade salmorejo in Spain, fresh gelato in Italy, Nutella / banana crêpe in France, real feta cheese in Greece, hortobagy crêpe in Hungary, kumpir in Turkey, haggis in Scotland, schnitzel in Austria, trdelník in Prague … oh and my dad’s mac & cheese!

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: Granada, Spain had a profound impact on me and remains #1. However I absolutely loved Costa Rica, and Budapest, Hungary. I did not enjoy Vienna, Austria – but to be fair, it was overrun with tourists at the time and I usually don’t enjoy situations like that.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: The first time I heard a live volcano rumble in Arenal, Costa Rica. The Parthenon in Athens is also an awe-inspiring place.

F: Favorite mode of transportation:  Has to be trains. For me it was the short trip from Barcelona to Figueres to see the Salvador Dali museum in 2004. I had my nose glued to the window the whole time, and will readily admit I still have that giddy feeling of discovery when I ride trains today. Kudos to RENFE for being so awesome and showing me so much of beautiful Spain.

keleti station budapest

05:45 departure, Budapest, Hungary

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: As Frances Mayes declared, “My two favorite words are linked: departure, time.”

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: I think it’s a tie between Istanbul, Turkey and Tel Aviv, Israel. Both were at the height of the summer .. I think Turkey might win. I seem to remember a particularly sweaty situation at a busstop with no shade, not to mention the stinky bus ride in which I stuck my head out the window like a dog .. and not just to sightsee.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: Kaley is right, it’s the USA or bust. Working for tips is a game changer! Doesn’t matter if you’re at a chain restaurant or a mom & pop – US wait staff are 100 times more likely to pay attention to you than Spanish staffers who don’t make tips. That being said, mom & pop’s win that one.

J: Journey that took the longest: My most recent journey home from Europe to the US – Prague to London, London to Iceland and Iceland to Newark, almost 24 hours of travel with one delay (Iceland Air) and a significant amount of time spent re-packing my bags to satisfy weight requirements.

K: Keepsake from your travels: photographs. I have been known to go places and come home with nothing (see: Rome). While I’m there I am photographing madly, and eating, and laughing, and talking. These are all keepsakes enough for me. But yes, that pashmina I haggled for at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is pretty sweet 🙂

Mona Lisa

(tiny) Mona Lisa, Louvre, Paris, France

L: Let-down sight, why and where: Mona Lisa, why are you so small? Hidden in the Louvre in Paris, France and heralded by at least 30 signs that say MONA LISA THIS WAY! and yet when I turn the corner, she is no bigger than my senior portrait hanging in my parent’s living room. Not a total let down, but more of a “are you for real?”

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: I wish I could say something profound like “standing in the shadow of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain” but really, travel reinvents itself for me every time I go somewhere new. I have always loved the act of travel so intensely that I don’t think I can pinpoint an epiphany moment.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: I have yet to surpass the service / opulence of the Conrad Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Traveling with a small group of friends, we managed a deal in this five star hotel. The Renaissance Times Square in New York City was also a treat, and a beautiful place.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Doors! I love architecture and particularly, the entrances to places large and small. Blue or broken, with an obnoxious door knocker or a really narrow frame – I really do love them.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where? As Kaley mentioned, the EU stiffs us on stamps. Once you are in the EU bubble, you cross from country to country without ever getting stamped. This is a bummer from the point of view of a stamp lover, but an absolute blessing from the point of view of a hater of customs lines… you get over it pretty quickly. As a result, my stamps are far fewer than my actual countries visited. I have Aruba, UK (twice), Israel (twice), Turkey, Morocco, Iceland (in & out), and good old New York, NY several times.

Lagos door

Delighting in doors, Lagos, Portugal

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: In Jerez, Spain where violent pink tourist signs point to “The Palace of Time.” per my March 2011 post: “It lived up to its name as this collection of 302 clocks was indeed housed in a palace, previously owned by some fancy pants royalty and later a wine magnate. We were fortunate enough to be in a roomful of clocks when the proverbial clock chimed 11 – and it was something I won’t soon forget — less cacophony, more movie soundtrack.”

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Plaza de San Nicolas, Granada, Spain at sunset. With the city laid out beneath you and the Alhambra fortress rising in front of you, life will grind to a halt in homage to this awesome sight. Walk down into the city when you’re done, through the Albaicin to Puerta Elvira and a glass of wine at Al Sur de Granada OR walk down into the Sacromonte for a flamenco show in one of the caves (Venta el Gallo).

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Accommodations. I am not a backpacker, and I am not a huge supporter of hostels. I have also been known to blow some extra cash on a spa trip.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: Fed pigeons outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. It was 2004 and it was my first time in France. It was February and freezing cold and I was under-dressed but I was high on Nutella and French conjugations. Now, most people hate pigeons. I get it – they poop everywhere and harass you for crumbs. I happen to have a soft spot for them – my grandfather raced pigeons when I was a little girl. We used to drive out into the New Hampshire countryside, let them out of their crates, and speed down the back roads in an old Toyota truck with our eyes on the sky. So with a handful of birdseed from a tiny old man, I stood in front of this epic cathedral and let the pigeons, sparrows and some memories come to roost for awhile.

notre dame

Feeding birds @ Notre Dame, Paris, France

U: Unforgettable travel memory: March 11, 2004. The bombings in Madrid happened on the same day my grandmother passed away, and one day before my dog was euthanized. It proved to me that bad things can happen while you’re away from home, but it’s part of the package. In a recent post I spoke about how fear of this should NEVER stop you from leaving the comfort of your own home, and I mean it.

V: Visas, how many and for where? Three, all for Spain. 2004, 2010 and 2011 .. although I will in fact not be using this last one!

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? Spain, Spain, Spain. I had the incredible luck of working in one of the biggest wine co-ops in southern Spain this past year: the “where the hell is” Bollullos Par del Condado. My bilingual coordinator is one of the daughters of the Andrade family, founders of Bodegas Andrade that began back in 1832. Ana blessed our Thanksgiving dinner with Andrade wines, and her father gave us a tour of the bodega in the spring. Spanish wines are bar none my favorite, and Israeli wines are a close second.

X: eXcellent view and from where?: I love the view from an airplane, at any elevation. Whether it is up in the clouds that look like mountain ranges, or thousands of feet above tiny fields and towns.

Y: Years spent traveling?: Effectively, seven .. since my first steps abroad January 1, 2004. Some years there are less trips, some years there are more trips. But I promise you – there will always be trips!

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?: It has to be fútbol fans in Spain. Y’all are nuts. I’ve said it before and I will repeat myself here: I don’t like soccer. But I thought Penn State fans were bad … they’ve got nothing on Spanish football fans. It can be an infectious joy on some days, but other days it borders on the insane.

Tag, you’re it! Looking forward to hearing from:

  • Natalie of It’s Raining in Spain
  • Amanda of Dangerous Business
  • Renee of A View to Thrill
  • Daphne of Wanderfolly
  • Paul of My Postcard From

11 thoughts on “Travel by the letters

  1. This is a cool survey; really gives a non international traveler a feel for the love of travel and awe inspiring experiences. Educational too! I hope sometime in years to come I can complete! For now I appreciate being able to share your experiences through your blog.
    Thanks Gail


  2. I’m so glad the ABC’s are taking off! I started the original out of needing a blog post, and happy to see people are enjoying answering/reading the Q’s! I can’t believe you went to the darn clock musuem in jerez too!! Completely forgot to put that for my letter Q answer–I was trying to go on a sherry tour and (this was 2 years ago when my Spanish was laughable at best) got confused and ended up there somehow…not my proudest moment, lol!


    • well to be fair, the signage in Jerez is NOT great! Holly & I wandered around significantly before actually finding it. We did manage to find the Tio Pepe bodega, which was well worth it 🙂


  3. Sorry that I hadn’t commented on this, but yay! Thanks for doing it. I always find it so interesting to read others’ responses.

    I agree about the Mona Lisa. I mean, honestly it was cool to see it, but it is so small and always surrounded by throngs of people!

    Also, I love how everyone agrees about trains. Trains rock! I just wish I had more money so I could use them more frequently.


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