As each year draws to a close, I like to think back on my travels and distill down my favourite memories and experiences. It’s part simple reflection and an exercise in gratefulness for the past year. It also helps to plan future trips as I continue to learn about what makes me happy and what I cherish in experiences. As I was doing so this year, it became pretty evident that many of my favourite travel memories this year ended up revolving around food, wine and drink. In no particular order, here are my ten favourite travel related experiences from 2014:
1. Drinking on the roof of a church – And not just any church… I shared a couple of shots of liquor on top of St. Peter’s Bascilica in Rome with six German women. Better than the liquor were the laughs shared and the feeling of cheating a lightening bolt for such behaviour.
2. Sharing a bottle of wine with my wife on a park bench in Sorrento – Excuse the grainy panoramic photo from my iPhone, but this was our view watching the sun set into the Bay of Naples as we shared a bottle of Campania red wine. With my arm around my wife, life was pretty much perfect.
3. A Roman evening of wine on a rooftop – Are you sensing a theme yet? Our last night in Rome, my wife and I packed a small picnic supper and climbed up to the rooftop deck of our hotel with a view overlooking Monti. It certainly wasn’t the food that made it special (grocery store Prosecco out of plastic cups, paprika chips, some prosciutto, a bland cheese). But the combination of the wine, the dissipating heat of the day and the dancing lights of the city had my head spinning. In the moment, I’d have agreed to live in Rome forever.
4. A night at Fenway – Although it would take the return of my Montreal Expos to reignite my former fanaticism for the sport of baseball (and trust me, I keep my fingers crossed for that), heading out to a ballgame still taps into a spiritual nerve somewhere inside me. I’d always wanted to see a game at Fenway, and it was everything and more that I expected.
5. Toronto weekend with my Dad – A direct flight, a lovely downtown apartment (thanks to my sister’s travels), a fridge of cold beer, a couple of Blue Jays games and some deep fried food… I had a blast with him there in early May, and for a couple of Toronto veterans, we even found a few new things to do including a chilly afternoon over on the Toronto Islands.
6. The food in Italy – It wasn’t a surprise that the food in Italy was going to be outstanding, but I had so many dishes that wowed me. The pizza in Naples, the most amazing pasta one night in Rome, gnocchi alla sorrentina in Positano, spaghetti and clams in Sorrento, flaky sfogliatella in Naples, perfect espresso from every cafe, mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto…. To say I ate well on this trip would be a massive understatement.
7. The Girl and the Goat – There was a time in my life where I’d never venture into a restaurant alone for a meal. I’m glad I got over that and have come to embrace solo traveling and restaurant dining because it opened up experiences like a spectacular meal in Chicago at the Girl and the Goat. On a recommendation from chef Stephanie Izard on Twitter, I ordered her crispy duck tongues dish; a dish that I may not have ordered otherwise and something that stood out as a great highlight of my five days in Chicago.
8. My first tattoo – I commemorated turning 40 this year by getting my first tattoo. In the past decade of my life, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world around me through travel, and I wanted my tattoo to symbolize that. Now on my right shoulder I have a fragment of Sólfar (captured in one of my favourite photographs from my travels), a sculpture in Reykjavik that I visited in 2012. The sculpture itself, and my tattoo, symbolizes journey, exploration and discovery, and for me, is a great reminder of why I love to travel, who I love to travel with, and of a particularly wonderful visit to Iceland that still feels magical to this day.
9. A morning walk along Lake Michigan – Sometimes when I travel by myself, I get far too engrossed in seeing and doing things and forget to take some time to just be quiet. On a Saturday morning in Chicago, I was in need of some quiet time. With the clouds moving out, I spent some time sitting on the seawall just north of downtown watching people out jogging or walking their dogs with the skyline of the city as the backdrop. It was exactly what my soul needed.
10. Day trip to Capri – The area around the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast has a way of bludgeoning your senses with physical beauty. For me, the day we spent on Capri was my favourite travel day of the year. From a cruse around the rugged island to scaling Mount Solero to enjoying a bottle of red wine looking out over the water waiting for our ferry, the day was pretty much perfect. I think the blues, greens and whites were more vivid here than anywhere else I’ve been.