30 travel memories from my 30s

As the calendar counts down to the final days where I am able to call myself a thirty-something year old, I’ve been thinking back on the last decade of my life.    All in all, my thirties have felt like they provided a lifetime worth of experiences in a short ten year period.    Many of my favourite experiences have come from embracing travel as part of my lifestyle.  These are thirty of my favourite travel memories from a great decade.  I can only hope the next ten years are as much fun.

1.  An evening spent sitting with my then girlfriend, now wife,  in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower while enjoying a nice bottle of Burgundy

Eiffel Tower

2.   Vegas isn’t really my kind of town, but an evening spent in a French restaurant with my beloved watching the fountains across the street at the Bellagio do their mesmerizing dance was special.

On the strip in Las Vegas

3. Maybe the best travel day ever:  First, an early morning hot air balloon ride over the Sonoma Valley was followed by a champagne breakfast.  We then roamed among redwoods before taking a scenic drive through the beautiful Russian River Valley toward Jenner to dip our toes in the Pacific for the first time.  We wrapped up the day with a visit to a winery.  Absolute perfection!

4.  On our first ever day in Europe we were detained by Belgian police at the Brussels airport because one of us accidentally left her passport on the plane.  After hours of being held, the passport was retrieved and our first European adventure was underway.  That evening we had dinner in the Grand Place and this was the view.  We’ve been hooked on traveling ever since:

Grand Place, Brussels

5. They say your first is always memorable – and my first NFL game was definitely that.   A massive smile didn’t leave my face all day, even as the Eagles were in the process of losing 13-6.

6. … and because my wife and I are such football fans, our first Monday Night game in Pittsburgh has a special place in our hearts.  To date, it is the best NFL game we’ve been to with the Steelers winning 23-20 in OT.

7.  Walking through the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, France is cemented away in my mind.  At the same time sad and beautiful, I’ll never find the words to express how this moment made me feel.

Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

8.  Still the best meal of my life: Topolobampo in Chicago.  We both ordered five course tasting menus and shared every dish.  Each bite was a delight.   The meal for the two of us cost more than my plane ticket and it was worth every single penny.

9. Perhaps a bit clichéd, but a Sunday morning out in a rowboat in Central Park to escape the noise and commotion of New York City was romantic, peaceful, and unforgettable.

Central Park, New York City

10.  Another one of those “perfect travel days”, this one was in Switzerland.  We stood on top of Mt. Pilatus (my first time seeing mountains), cruised on Lake Lucerne aboard a steamer followed by exploring the town of the same name, and then back to Zurich in the evening for our first opera.

Mount Pilatus

11, 12, 13, 14.  A few days in and around Banff gave me a series of simple and wonderful memories I hold dear:  standing on a frozen Lake Louise; eating gluten-free chicken wings one evening in a bar (at that time, very much a novelty for my wife); a snowy evening walk back to our hotel through the fluffiest snow I have ever seen; a rainy day where we got soaked walking around a suddenly quiet Banff.   It really was a perfect vacation.

Just outside Banff, Alberta

15.  Being away with my Dad.   The equation is pretty simple: put us in a city we both know very well, consume an unholy amount of Steam Whistle beer, get cheap tickets to watch the Jays, and eat plenty of deep fried food (or, plenty of salad and lean protein if my mom asks).

16. The first moment of walking into the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles I literally felt my jaw start to drop at its sheer size and beauty.  I was unprepared for this moment, and it may have ruined me for life for all future castles and palaces.

Versailles

17. Speaking of jaw dropping… Cruising the fjords of western Norway had me gawking at such raw physical beauty.

Gudvangen

18.  Iceland.   If there is a place that has its tentacles deep into me, it’s this country.  I felt electric for those two special days and I continually dream of a longer return visit.   Next time, I’ll probably take a pass on the hákarl though.

19.  Leaving Vancouver and traveling to Whistler via the Sea to Sky Highway was the best ninety minutes I’ve ever spent behind the wheel of a car.  It felt like I was living in a post card.

Sea to Sky Highway

20. Finally seeing a European soccer match in Prague was the most unabashedly fun thing I’ve ever experienced while traveling.   Sparta Prague will forever have a place in my heart for giving me this experience.

AC Sparta Praha match

21.  The picture capturing it isn’t the best, but…. We popped across the street from our hotel in Amsterdam for a late evening drink at a tiny bar.  The owner of the bar (who was well into the drink) told us he loved seeing two people so in love.  We had a great broken English and French chat as he insisted on taking our picture so we could remember being in love in Amsterdam later in life.

A bar in the Jordaan

22, 23, 24.  That Amsterdam visit holds a lot of special memories – a moving tour of the Anne Frank House, an unexpectedly great Mexican meal when the restaurant owner let us into his ex-pat party after his restaurant had closed and a spectacular afternoon lounging in Vondelpark.

25.  More of a fraction of a second type moment – walking through a corridor in the Louvre and just out of the corner of my eye my brain registers seeing the Mona Lisa.  I took two more steps, stopped, backed up those two steps and just stared at it from the distance in a little bit in shock.  It hit me suddenly – I was in the Louvre in Paris….. looking at the Mona Lisa.

26.  Still in Paris, whenever my wife and I think back to that trip, we both laugh recalling a brunch we had.  We searched out this obscure gluten-free restaurant in Montmartre.  The memory?  My wife experiencing “floppy” bread (if you recall 2009-esque gluten free bread, it was all essentially the consistency of a brick).  I love remembering the sheer joy on her face.

Gluten free eating in Paris

27.  Sitting on a beach outside Montego Bay, Jamaica, with a plate of impossibly spicy jerk chicken, two pieces of white bread, an ice cold Red Stripe and the sensation of sand between my toes.  That’s probably the best non fine dining meal I’ve ever had.

28.  Our honeymoon consisted of five days in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We lounged at our hotel for most of it, reading, drinking wine, eating cheese and continually realizing we were actually, really, officially married to each other as we repeatedly noticed the strange looking rings on our respective hands.

29.  Thanksgiving 2011 was spent in Montreux, Switzerland.  We bought a chicken, some side dishes and a bottle of wine and sat on the patio attached to our hotel room and watched the sun set over Lake Geneva.  The hotel’s drinking glasses were so dirty, we drank straight from the bottle.

30.  Last but not least, from last year’s big trip… In Plzen, Czech Republic, I was thrilled to be sipping the original pilsner, made the way it was in the 1850s – completely unfiltered and aged in oak barrels.  My wife’s celiac came in handy, as she took a sample and we kept exchanging glasses as I got a double taste of the best pilsner I’ve ever had.  This photo of us with “our” beers never fails to make me smile.

Sampling at Pilsner Urquell

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