Reflecting on 30 Countries- An Interview

Picture this: we’re in France- inexplicably the thirtieth country I’ve visited in my lifetime. I’m accompanied by my friend Melanie, a Chicago based screen and stage writer.

To celebrate my accomplishment, Melanie and I have decided to head to the very top of the Eiffel Tower and take in the city from above. There’s a champagne bar at the top where glasses of the bubbly can be purchased for a whopping 25€, and you know what- we’re celebrating.

The view is excellent, but the weather is frigid. The very top of the tower is enclosed only by a chain link fence that does little to protect us from the winter breeze. We take a few photos before retreating to the heated floor below- this one with glass windows.

Clutching our tiny plastic novelty glasses of champagne and tucked directly up against a heater, Melanie gave me the following impromptu interview, which I have done my best to recreate below.

What has been your favorite country to visit?

My favorite country hands down was New Zealand. I was lucky enough to spend almost a month in the country and the scenery is simply spectacular- especially on the South Island. From skydiving in Queenstown and mountain biking in Wakana, to kayaking in Doubtful Sound and exploring geysers in Rotorua- not to mention Hobbiton, I got to experience so many new adventures that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

The people are super friendly and I was lucky enough to be traveling with a great group of travelers, many of whom I’m still friends with today. Sometimes, we’d make friends in one town, only to run into them in another and it would be like we’d never been separated.

(You may notice that I don’t have a lot of posts about New Zealand on this blog and that is because I miss it very much and sometimes get sad when I try to write about it!)

What has been your favorite city to visit?

This is a tough one! I think I’m going to say Prague- I’m a big fan of its narrow, winding roads and red roof tops. The food was good, the drinks were cheap, and I had an amazing time exploring all of the baroque architecture.This choice may seem out of left field since I was there only once, briefly, and haven’t yet been back, but when I think of Europe, I picture Prague. It is really popular amongst tourists, so it’s best to try to go on on the shoulder season.

Special shout outs to Berlin, Germany, Queenstown, New Zealand and Corfu, Greece who were all top contenders!

What was your favorite meal?

I honestly think that any food that is cooked in a hole in the ground is the best food I’ve ever eaten. I’ve had the opportunity to do this in both Chile and New Zealand, but the meal in Chile was more special to me since it was just our group of about ten people in a local family’s homestay. They’d cooked the meal all day, and by the time we got there, we just had to help them remove the leaves and grass from the pit and take out the food. The meal was spread out along a huge table and the wine was free flowing

I’m not a huge seafood fan, but I’ll try anything once. I have to say I was not a fan of the sea squirt but on the other hand this meal remains the one and only time I’ve enjoyed mussels- I had at least half a dozen! There was beef and chicken as well, both of which were incredible.

What was your favorite drink?

To this day my favorite drink was some sort of pineapple and gin cocktail that someone let me try in a speakeasy in Sydney, Australia, but I don’t know if it counts if I don’t know the name!

My second favorite drink was a strawberry mojito at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos. They muddled their own mint and fruit and had a variety of mojito flavors- including dragonfruit! The strawberry option remained my favorite and is difficult to find at bars since everything was so fresh- and honestly what bartender really wants to muddle a drink when they’ve got a crowd?

What is the best place to swim?

I have to go with the Bahamas! I took a quick trip over to Exuma and I’ve never seen water so clear in my life, and there was so much sea life! I had the opportunity to swim in a cenote, swim with sharks, and we saw turtles and iguanas.

What’s the best museum?

Okay my favorite museum is the Wallace Collection, but objectively I’m not sure I can say it’s the best- unless you’re as into armor as I am.

There’s the Louvre in Paris, obviously, and the Uffizi Gallery in Italy had a ridiculous volume of famous Renaissance works, but I think for me, it’s going to be a tie between the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I’ve had the opportunity to live near both of these and they’ve kind of become my “go-to” museums. I’ve gotten a bit less awed by the collections as I’ve visited them more frequently, and as a result I almost feel a sense of homecoming when I visit and can make my way directly to my favorite artwork.

The Art Institute of Chicago had a similar feel for me, especially with it’s enormous Monet collection, but I haven’t explored it quite thoroughly enough to add it to the high pedestal where I keep the Met and the National Portrait Gallery.

Where is the best cafe life?

Corfu! To be fair, I wasn’t a huge coffee drinker before this trip, but I’ve since been converted. As it is, the amount of cafes we would stumble across on our walks was pretty significant. They all seemed to have their own unique personalities, which I really appreciated- we’ve definitely been to some chains on this trip and it’s just not the same.

What is the best cafe?

Kavana Procaffe in Split! Our taxi driver had recommended it to us, but I didn’t want to go since it was out of the way. I’m so glad you dragged us over there because that was the best cappuccino I had on the entire trip- and it was made with soy milk which I don’t even like! I can’t imagine how tasty it would have been with oat milk instead. I also really enjoyed sipping our drinks on their sunny patio overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

Special shout outs to the tiered garden cafe we visited in Corfu and the spectacular view we had with our coffee in Santorini, but I don’t remember either name!

What was your favorite treat? (sorry that’s so hard)

On my first visit to Munich, my German friends immediately talked me into ordering kaiserschmarren at the Ratskeller. The fluffy sweet pancakes with berries and applesauce quickly became a favorite. In fact, I talk up kaiserschmarren so much that every time I introduce someone new to it, I have a sudden fear that I’ve overhyped the treat. This has never once been the case- something about carbs and sugar, how can that go wrong? I will say that I’ve now had kaiserschmarren multiple times since my first introduction and the Ratskeller recipe remains superior. Let’s put it this way- its not NOT the reason we ended up in Munich on this trip through Europe!

The diples from from Corfu and the thick hot chocolate in Paris also deserve a special mention.

What was your favorite experience?

Traveling has blessed me with some of my favorite experiences in my life

In New Zealand, my friends and I spent hours laid out on a night time beach, stargazing and counting shooting stars as they passed us by.

In England, we went ice skating in the shadow of a centuries-old castle.

In the US, I volunteered to work on trail maintenance in the Great Smoky Mountains and to this day I feel that I have the right to judge the quality of any given hiking path.

Do you prefer hostels or hotels?

That’s tough! There’s a time and place for both options. At this point of my life, I’m not a huge fan of the shared sleeping arrangements of hostels- and a shared bathroom is an absolute no go for me, but I really do love the community aspect of them! It’s so much easier to make friends when you’re staying in a hostel, especially when you share a room; it’s like having a built in friend. On the other hand, the privacy and amenities of hotels are hard to give up

I’m definitely staying in hotels more often than not these days, but I haven’t completely ruled out hostels yet!

Do you prefer city or nature?

I’m a nature girl for sure! I love a good hike and one of my favorite trips was hiking out in Smokey Mountain National Park for a week. I enjoy visiting cities for food and activities and ease of transportation, but there’s a reason I usually book excursions out of the city!

Do you prefer to get your meals from restaurants or markets/grocery stores?

Definitely restaurants. I’m not the most talented chef, so it’s nice to have a professional do the work, and you can get a real sense of the local cuisine while eating out. Cooking meals is fun in its own right, but it’s a bit more of a money saving strategy for me.

What is your favorite place to relax?

Beach vacations are my go-to when it comes to relaxation. Sometimes when I get back from my more adventurous city or nature trips, I almost feel like I need another vacation! I love a good All-Inclusive (which was a surprise to me, trust me!) and I find Mexico to have some of the best prices and service in their hotels.

What is one of your favorite travel memories?

One of the stories that I love to tell is actually when we were in Berlin together! We had signed up for our hostel’s pub crawl but when it came time to get ready, neither of us wanted to go. We were tired and wanted to stay in where it was warm. We even went as far as googling how long a pub crawl typically lasts- could we leave halfway through, we wondered? We decided to be brave and ended up meeting two guys from our hostel who were similarly old souls who also wanted to go to bed. Fast forward a few hours, we’re several drinks in, now best friends, and Melanie has somehow made 10€. We ended the night using Melanie’s mysterious windfall to buy street food outside of our hostel at 6am while a guitarist played closing time at the train platform next to us.

2 thoughts on “Reflecting on 30 Countries- An Interview

  1. Great conversation. Keep on traveling, love to hear your stories. I’m adding Corfu to my list. Cheers.

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