A few weeks ago I had a great idea for a series of blog entries in which I interview my friends about the places they’ve travelled, things they have seen and experiences they’ve had. I thought it would be fun and enlightening to gather a range of perspectives and share some of their stories, memories and experiences. After all, I can’t go everywhere … yet!
First up is my amazing friend Sarah – when I came up with the idea she was the first person I had in mind. Not only is she one of the most well-travelled people I know with a fiery passion for life and adventure, she’s genuinely had some of the most amazing experiences I think you can have as a traveller. She was kind enough to spend the time writing detailed responses (and she even included some stunning photos!) and I am extremely grateful! Read on for some of her favourite places, stories about people she’s met and future travel plans!
* all credit and thanks to Sarah for stories and photos!
J: You’ve been to lots of stunning places. What has been the most interesting place you’ve visited?
S: This is a tough question, and probably the one I spent most of my time trying to think up an answer for. It’s hard because every place is interesting in it’s own way. There are always hidden gems of information to be found, sometimes it’s just a matter of how hard you look and also whether it actually even interests the individual. I have definitely been to places I thought I would have no interest in and wound up learning some really interesting things.
I also feel that the more you travel the more interesting a place becomes. This is because you begin to learn about all of the different relationships between the country you are in and the countries you have visited in the past and start linking them all together to understand how those countries effected and influenced each other over the course of time. A name that at first meant nothing to you, starts to get used on other walking tours in other countries that you visit and all of a sudden you make connections and realise its significance. All of a sudden it becomes interesting.
One place did stand out though. A place full of stories and legends; a melting pot of cultures and history from around the world – Turkey. Though it had some stiff competitors, I would name this the most interesting place I have ever visited. There was so much to learn about both the ancient and modern world there. Where a modern progressive world meets tradition and culture and then an even older, ancient way of life that sits underneath all of it. It is a place enriched with archaeological, religious and historical significance. You can find tangible historical sites whether you are in the middle of the city or out in the middle of what seems to be nowhere amongst Turkey’s amazing natural wonders. Even if you are not a history buff, it is hard not to find some of the things you get to see and learn inspiring.
Above and below are some pictures of Goreme Valley in Cappadocia. The first is looking down on the rocky landscape from our balloon. The second is on the ground, where you can see up close the natural wonders that were turned into something equally incredible by humans. They call them Fairy Chimneys. They are essentially dug out ‘caves’ to create living quarters. They are called fairy chimneys because the only source of light at night was from candles that they would leave in the window. From a distance the flickering light would look like fairies where living inside. There are entire communities who lived in these ‘caves’ and even had churches inside some.
J: You’re a pretty social traveller. Who is the most interesting person you’ve met during your travels?
S: I am going to bend my answer and describe not just one, but a group of people who my boyfriend and I met in Antwerp, Belgium last year. I had asked a friend who I had actually met on my solo travels through Europe a few years earlier if he knew anyone living in Antwerp that might be able to house us for a little while. He was now living in New York and said he had some friends back at home he could get us in touch with. We got in touch through Facebook and arranged a day and time to meet him at his place.
Over the next few days we were introduced to the most amazing family of friends and lovers. Rob, Sascha, Javier and their dog Bo were the permanent residents. They are all flight attendants who live in this incredible home full of antiques and taxidermies from both their home town and from their travels. They have so many stories and know so many people, many just by opening their hearts and home to people like us. They hold massive parties (check out Csons and Unicorn Festival Belgium on Facebook) and are always up for a good time with a philosophy of simply loving life.
They are all in a beautiful relationship together and the way they love is inspiring. Andrew, Jenny and Stefanie where friends of theirs we got to hang out with during our time there and were equally as interesting and incredible to talk to. Andrew’s hometown is in Cyprus and he studies philosophy in Belgium. Jenny studied journalism and is originally from South Africa; and Stefanie is a home grown Belgian chick. We had never had such open, meaningful and hilarious conversations with anyone like we did with these guys. Our time with them was priceless.
J: Do you prefer to travel alone or in a group? How come?
S: It can depend on what kind of holiday it is, but generally I prefer to travel either with one other person or on my own. When I travel I like meeting new people and learning new things. I do like travelling in groups, it can be really really fun. We recently had an awesome time around India and Sri Lanka travelling with Ryan’s sister and her boyfriend. We called it our family holiday, and it was awesome.
But there can be times when group trips can be undesirable. They can be hard to organise – sometimes even before you have left the country! It can be difficult to keep together in a group as people always want to do different things, which is cool too- sometimes you do things you didn’t even know existed. But sometimes it can also mean that you miss out on something you really wanted to do or spend a lot of time waiting for people when you compromise in a group situation.
J: Travelling can be sometimes unpredictable and chaotic. Have you ever been in a difficult situation while travelling? How did it turn out?
S: Yes, I feel like any good trip has to involve some kind of difficult situation!
The biggest blunder of a situation I think I have been in was when travelling with my boyfriend around Europe. We had planned a nine month trip and somewhere along the line we missed out on the part about the existence and rules of the Shengen zone (The Shengen zone is a group of countries within Europe- practically all of Western and much of Eastern Europe as well as Scandinavia that on an Australian passport you can’t travel within it for more than 90 days within a 180 day period). We found out about it about 80 odd Shengen days into our travels. We had a lot more of Europe to still cover plus our return flights were from Oslo via Zurich and New York.
We spent days and days calling and emailing consulates and travel agents to find a way to be exempt from this rule so we didn’t have to cut our trip short. We went around in circles, passed on from one person to another with no one taking responsibility to provide us with the correct information. Dealing with consulates was extremely difficult and frustrating.
We considered sticking to the original route and chancing not getting caught. But the consequences include a ban from the zone, a fine and a red stamp on your passport with a ticket strait home.
We decided that we didn’t want to risk it and planned to cut the Europe part of the trip short. We decided to wait out the rest of the would be trip in the UK (as it is not part of the Shengen zone). We left the Shengen zone with just enough Shengen days up our sleeve to be allowed back into Oslo for our return flights. We were still able to stop over in New York on the way home.
We stayed in the UK for just over 8 weeks and ended up finding some cool stuff to do over there that we would have missed out on without the extra time. We made the most of it hiring a car and exploring the western corner and it ended up being a really good part of the trip – best clotted cream and scones ever.
J: Hard question – what’s one of your most favourite memories from your travels?
S: There are so many to choose from, like the time I saw my favourite animal in the wild- the African Hunting Dog; or the time we went dog sledging in Norway and saw the Aurora Borealis. But the one memory that keeps coming back into mind, is one that I don’t imagine is of any particular interest to anyone. It’s one of those had to be there moments – but I will share it anyway as it is what it is! It seems to put a big stupid grin on my face every time I think about it.
It was in Belgium at Rob, Sascha and Javier’s house- with everyone else there of course. It was a night after we found out that all my money had been stollen off my travel card – over 17K (yeh this one was a contender for the question about difficult situations). After Rob brought me back from the local police station there was nothing more I could do that night. So we had decided to ‘fuck it all’ for that night and have a bit of a party- good food, plenty of drinks- magic fairy strawberry daiquiris if I remember correctly. Ryan and I had our guitar with us and were playing some music, when Sascha asked us if we knew how to play Smelly Cat. We had to look it up on youtube to figure it out. While it was playing on the computer and we were playing and singing along, I looked up and there Sascha was, sitting at the top of the stairs. Legs crossed with a busted guitar from the 1920’s sat on his lap, doing his rendition of Smelly Cat in his Belgian accent. “Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you? Smelly cat, smelly cat, it’s not your fault… ” I also recall him turning it up and playing it like a violin. Amazing skills. And that is my favourite memory. Also just a side note, we were able to get all the money back thank goodness.
J: Finally, what’s in the future? Where are you planning to travel to next?
S: There is a study that was taken about this question, and the trending results are that most people have between three and four holidays planned or at least in their mind at the one time. From short term to long term, set in stone or dreams. This rings true for me. I have nothing tangible planned at the moment, but I have a few trips in mind. One is definitely finishing the rest of the Europe trip with Ryan that I mentioned in question four. Another is a self drive trip in Namibia with my old man. Hopefully next year in April/May. Eventually there is also A trip around our own beautiful back yard. They are probably the first few trips I will realistically look at turning into a reality. But there are so many more places on the list and you never know what holiday will pop up!
Hope this was an enjoyable and interesting post – it’s always great to read hear people’s stories and different perspectives of where they’ve travelled! I think the best thing about travelling and blogging is sharing stories, even if they aren’t yours, because sometimes it is fun to live vicariously through others!
A huge thank you to Sarah for her time and for giving some really great and interesting answers! Feel free to ask questions in the comments below and I’m sure I can get you some answers! Happy travels!