— Jenny Neill

Jenny’s A-to-Z of Travel: Through H

I put this blog on the back burner for a bit. Some travel and a whole lot of wine distracted me. But I’m back now and getting the New Year rolling with a travel blogging meme.

Kat, of Travel with Kat, tagged me for my “A-to-Z of travel” on December 30. This seemed like a fun way to start 2012 so, I’m playing along. However, I’m not giving you all my “letters” at once. Instead, I’ll reveal my answers in four installments.

Without further ado, I give you my A-to-H of travel.

A: Age you went on your first international trip:

I was 13 or 14 years old when I went on a trip to Europe organized by my school. We visited four countries in 10 days: England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. I learned a lot about what I don’t like when traveling: moving every day, lugging bags on and off a large tour bus, and barely having enough time to find that night’s accommodation on a map before heading to the next planned stop. That I disliked those experiences so much is why I now prefer spending, at the very least, two nights in one place. And why I typically choose staying in smaller inns, bed-and-breakfasts, or rented apartments or houses over big hotels.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

That prompt conjured a memory of sitting around a table noshing a Neapolitan-style pizza in Florence and sipping on a La Rossa from Birra Moretti. The beer had caramel tones with a slight bitterness that cut the sweetness of the tomato sauce and was heavy enough to match the creaminess of the warm mozzarella too.

La Rossa Beer courtesy of Bernt Rostad

La Rossa from Birra Moretti, courtesy of Bernt Rostad.

C: Cuisine (favorite):

This is a tough one. It’s a bit of a toss-up, so I’m declaring a tie.

I enjoy exploring what I’d very loosely call Pacific Northwest cuisine. I say “loosely” because really there are many ethnicities and fusions that fall under that umbrella. Some critics argue this is not a culinary category at all. It serves my purposes here though. Just when I think I’ve pinned down a decent definition for our region’s food styling, chefs here find some new way to showcase the products of our farmers, fishers, and foragers.

The Asian and Scandinavian influences, the American classics made from regional ingredients then dressed up as fine dining or down to be bar food, and all the other uniquely northwestern possibilities available in food trucks and restaurants from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia? I’ve still got a lot of eating to do in my own backyard!

My other fave is Italian. We cook it often when we prepare meals at home because my first love in wine is for bottles from “the Boot.” (It doesn’t hurt that my husband loves making pasta from scratch either.) Plus, Italy itself is a country with enough of a diversity of regional cuisines to keep me coming back to try new dishes for the rest of my life.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:

I’m fickle and wishy-washy when it comes to questions like these. I find such categories to be way too broad. So, I’m picking a favorite and a least favorite from my travels in the past five years.

Favorite destination
Maybe it’s because we’ve had snow and ice all week. Maybe it’s because I could have sworn the sea turtle was waving goodbye to us on our last day there. Or maybe it’s because I am already figuring out how to save up for the air fare to return. I’m declaring Hawaii my current favorite destination.

Honu, sea turtle

Sea turtle, also known in Hawaiian as honu.
Photo courtesy of Mike Russell, all rights reserved.

Least favorite destination
Of the places I’ve gone in the past five years, my least favorite was Cleveland, Ohio. A trip back “home” can always be bittersweet, of course. I traveled there to celebrate my father’s birthday in July of 2009 but it wasn’t the company or the cause that made this my least favorite.

What struck me on this trip was the extent of urban decay in eastern sections of Cleveland. Hough and Woodhill never really were what you’d call thriving districts during 1970-80s when I lived there. But whole blocks where every building looked like near ruins? Dozens upon dozens of once stately Victorian era homes with peeling paint and sagging walls? Invasive ivy so obviously causing damage and deterioration? Seeing those depressed neighborhoods in person made real for me just how bad the local economy had become.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

I’ve already blogged about a travel experience that changed the course of my life in many ways. What I have yet to really share here is the “wow” moment that set me on a new path. For now, I must again simply tease you about it. It happened in Italy, on September 16, 2001. I will share it here before September 2012 rolls around. Promise! (Hint: It involved wine.)

F: Favorite mode of transportation:

My own feet. Yes, I know many travel bloggers probably think first of the clichéd “planes, trains, or automobiles” when addressing this category. But the more I reflect on it, the more this rings true for me. What better way to really experience a place than to bipedally propel yourself?

Stroll an ancient city center at dawn or dusk. Hike a rustic trail. Pedal a bicycle through the countryside. Kick those flippers through the surf while snorkeling. Swing and spin on planted toes, dancing at a bar or at a party. Snowshoe near the top of a mountain or through the backcountry. Yes, definitely using my own feet is my top choice.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling:

While traveling? How are we defining “while traveling” for this? That term reminds me of standing in security lines or waiting for the call to board a plane. It makes me think of getting from here to there, which is often my least favorite part of being a traveler. So then, what was the greatest feeling I’ve had while traveling? Connection with others. Those little moments that only seem to happen when in transit.

For example, I whiled away three full hours of a six-hour flight chatting with the guy sitting next to me on the way to Hawaii. Or there was that time a Russian engineer explained to me the differences between the English alphabet and the Cyrillic by sketching them in my travel journal. It didn’t matter I spoke no Russian. We found a way to communicate with hand gestures, sketches, and scribbles on paper.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to:

Without a doubt, the day trip we took driving around northwestern Arizona on our way to Nothing was the hottest weather I’ve experienced. We stopped at the Burro Creek campgrounds to use the rest area, surprised there were no other cars around. It looked beautiful and completely deserted from inside our air-conditioned car. A wall of heat took my breath away when I managed to push open the door.

toilet paper trash at Nothing, Arizona

Photo courtesy of Mike Russell, all rights reserved.

We never were able to confirm the temperature, though based on what we could find for locations within an hour’s drive, it was somewhere between 110-125 degrees Fahrenheit that August day.

My next installment will be my “I-to-N of travel.”