Someone asked me the other day how many countries I had been to and after thinking for a few minutes, I realized that it was 22. Considering I recently turned 25, I’d say that’s not too shabby so before heading out to a few more countries this year, I’ve made a list of where I’ve been and included some of my favorite memories.
UK and EUROPE
England: London was my home for a few months in 2008 and has remained one of my favorite global cities. While many of my fellow study abroad peers overlooked the rest of England, I made a point to explore towns near and far. Some of my favorites include Cambridge, Oxford, Brighton Beach, Canterbury, and the Cotswolds. The one perk of rainy weather in England is how beautiful the countryside is when the sun comes out.
Scotland: Although my expectations for Edinburgh were low, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the city. It’s not everyday that you lay eyes on a castle built upon volcanic rock. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan so drinking coffee as I overlooked the castle (the inspiration of Hogwarts and Harry Potter in general), was one of my favorite travel moments. I also went on a tour through the highlands in hopes of seeing the legendary lock ness monster named Nessie. She never showed.
Wales: One of my weekends was spent driving through South Wales. While many of the other students found the country on the boring side, I found the small towns and green green grass charming. Highlights included Cardiff, Swansea, Brecons Beacon National Park, the ruins of Tintern Abbey and taking a tour underground in a real mine.
Ireland: Since I am an official Irish Citizen, it was only a matter of time before making my way back home. I’ve been there twice and hope to make it three by the end of 2012 (fingers crossed). Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick were all memorable cities with extraordinarily friendly people but no trip to Ireland is complete without a kiss of the Blarney Stone. I stone two kisses so I hope that doesn’t count as cheating.
Spain: After canceling a trip to beachy Barcelona due to a family crises, I figured visiting a friend who was studying in Sevilla was one way to see a little bit of Spain. I immediately fell in love with everything about Sevilla, from the Alcazar Palace to the famous Cathedral to the local shops and bars, this city completely reflected my new outlook on life. I felt relaxed, refreshed and ready to conquer my next destination.
Portugal: On my way to Spain I decided to stop through Faro to experience just a taste of Portugal. The small city had huge personalities, two of them you can read about in my Love and Travel Intertwined article. I visited a couple local monuments and spent the rest of the day sampling traditional sweets and talking about life over double espressos. When I make it back to Portugal, Lisbon and Porto are top on my list of new cities to explore.
Italy: Many people visit Italy and I have yet to hear anything but positive reviews. Like everybody else, I had an amazing time in Italy although I need at least another month to see all there is to see and that probably still wouldn’t be enough time. I spent about two weeks traveling through Venice, Florence and Rome and had more wine, pasta, pizza and gelato than I care to remember. Venice was definitely my favorite simply because of it’s design of canals and bridges. I would go back in a heartbeat.
France: I always suggest France to first time travelers because there is so much to do there and it won’t give you a huge dose of culture shock. Many of my ancestors are French, so visiting Paris for the first time was very special for me. I also enjoyed walking through the Palace at Versailles, especially the Hall of Mirrors. While some people think the Eiffel Tower is overrated, I actually felt that it was underrated because the view was absolutely magical. Don’t leave town before trying a Banana & Nutella crepe.
Belgium: As it turns out, Belgium is one of my favorite countries that I’ve been to so far. Traveling through Brussels, Bruges and Ghent were definite highlights and cities I would recommend for anyone heading to Europe. Brussels is designed to look like Paris and it definitely does but the streets are ten times cleaner. My favorite city was definitely Ghent because it was the most traditional. A trip to Belgium is not complete without tasting at least one of their famous Belgium waffels and sampling their chocolates.
Switzerland: Spending a few days in Zurich literally had me feeling like I was living in a Disney fairytale movie. I often call Zurich “Cinderella town” because it is so magical. I traveled here with my mom and could not help noticing that everyone here was madly in love, which made me feel a twinge of jealousy, but that only lasted a few seconds. We took a boat rode along Lake Zurich, wandered through the city streets and ate along the water. My most memorable view was from the top of the Ferris Wheel in the city center. With mountains behind you and the lake in front, it’s hard not to appreciate your surroundings.
Luxembourg: I took a day trip to Luxembourg from Paris and clearly overestimated the size of the city. After arriving to the train terminal and taking a bus to the city center, after a few minutes I realized that I had actually crossed into a neighboring town. After backtracking and discovering that most of the museums were closed that day, I made the most of my time and ate as many crepes as I could before shopping at the Christmas Markets and listening to local carolers.
Holland: Another trip I did with some of my study abroad friends was to Holland. Our main stop was of course Amsterdam but we actually stayed in a nearby town called Monnickendam to save some money. After all, we were all broke college kids. As it turns out, Monnickendam was more memorable in some ways than lively Amsterdam. The town was quiet and very traditional. Our first morning there consisted of visiting a cheese & clog factory which is one experience I’ll never forget.
Austria: Since I am both a Mozart and Sound of Music fan, I thought it was only appropriate that I visit Salzburg. The weather was cold and damp but that didn’t stop me from walking all the way up to the Fortress for a stunning view of mountains. I also enjoyed visiting the city’s quirky graveyard and walking in and out of the local stores. Just like it was hundreds of years ago, each shop has a metal sign hanging outside the door with an image depicting what they sell.
Germany: I’ll be heading back to Germany later this year, but so far I’ve only been to Munich, which is one of my favorite European cities. The architecture, beer, and friendly atmosphere makes Munich an ideal place to visit or live. I also made took a day trip to Dachau, the former location of a concentration camp. Walking through the grounds was not easy but it was instrumental in teaching me more about the Holocaust.
Czech: I spent a few days in Prague with my Mom back in 2008 and we had a fun time of getting lost and then found in each of the four quarters. My favorite part of Prague, besides the castle and walking past an Absinth Factory, was the Astrological clock in the city center. Whether I like to admit it or not, I’m relatively interested in astrology and this clock was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
Turkey: Unfortunately I only spent one night in Turkey so I don’t have too many things to say other than it was time well spent. I had a night layover in Istanbul before heading back to New York and decided to book a hostel and explore as much as I could before hopping back on the plane. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque area absolutely magnificent at night and the dinner I ate in town was delicious.
Egypt: My first trip in 2011 was a two week tour through Egypt. Besides visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza and the famous Sphinx, I was able to go on a hot air balloon ride over Luxor, eat with a local Nubian family outside of Aswan, and sail on a traditional felucca boat for a day and night. Riding both a camel and a donkey were two new modes of transportation which I would willingly do again. Abu Simbel was an added excursion that was well worth the three hour bus ride.
my donkey friend in Luxor
Mexico: The first time I went to Mexico was only for a few hours. As part of a cruise, we had a pit stop in Cozumel before heading back on the boat. My friend and I went on a short Mayan tour and spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling, drinking margaritas and then drinking more free shots at Senor Frogs. This past October, I went to Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas as part of a press trip. We went kayaking, horseback riding and I even swam with a dolphin, thus fulfilling a childhood dream.
Argentina: In the past two years, I’ve traveled to Argentina twice and both times I felt right at home with the locals. Back in 2010 I went to Buenos Aires and a nearby town called Luján, where people often go in hopes of receiving a miracle. This past summer I went back to BA but also traveled to the North of Argentina to Jujuy, where I visited three aboriginal towns very close to the Bolivian Border. I also went to Cordoba and to Tucumán, including the small town of Concepción.
Bolivia: During my first trip to South America we visited my friend’s family in Bolivia in Cochabamba. We also traveled through Santa Cruz and La Paz before continuing on our way. The few days we spent with her family in Cochabamba were some of the most relaxing on our trip. Their house overlooked a lake which was surrounded by hills, houses and green grass. In the distance was the large Cristo de la Concordia (Christ of Peace) statue. The best thing about this park was the wild horses lazily grazing nearby.
Chile: This past August I spent a few weeks in Chile, traveling to Santiago, Santa Cruz, Valparaiso, Reñaca and Viña del Mar. It was winter in South America while I was there, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the great outdoors. Valparaiso was my favorite Chilean city by far mainly due to the amount of high-quality street art covering buildings and walls. We also took a boat ride that put us inches away from a family of massive walruses. Wine tasting in Santa Cruz educated me on Chile’s wine history, which is quite extensive.
Peru: My first trip to South America took me straight to Cuzco, Peru. From there, my friend and I took the Machu Picchu train to Aguas Calientes, where we relaxed in the hot springs before waking up at 4 am to wait in line for tickets to climb Wayna Picchu. Seeing the Inca ruins up close and personal was a dream come true for me and an experience I’ll always remember. Before leaving Peru, I spent a day with friends at Ancon beach, located just outside of Lima. Despite a serious suburn and a jelly fish scare, sailing in the Peruvian waters on a yacht had me feeling pretty special.
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