Another year has passed, and I again feel fortunate to have watched a great deal of the world pass below me out an airplane window on journeys east and west of Halifax. After a stretch of years traveling where food wasn’t as much of a focus, for a second year in a row, many of my favourite travel experiences have to do with food and drink or have a meal as a focal point to a memorable moment. The other unifying theme this year was “quiet” with many of my favourite experiences being unexpected, subtle, or reflective in nature. After time spent in British Columbia, Southern California, Mexico, Texas and Spain, here are my favourite travel experiences from 2015.
1. Tapas with my wife in Madrid – Thinking this would be a more difficult trip for my wife to enjoy the food culture of Spain (as she must eat a strict gluten-free diet on account of Celiac disease), we were both blown away by Taberna la Concha in the La Latina neighbourhood near our rented apartment. The dedicated gluten-free menu and the quality of the food gave my wife an authentic Spanish experience. It was so good, we went back another night and had a second amazing experience. To see her face light up on those two nights (like mine was for the other nights of the trip) was a great thing to see.
2. Bucket list meal at the Sooke Harbour House – Very simply put, this was the best meal food-wise I’ve had in a long, long time. I was traveling by myself and it was the last stop on a day-long road trip around Vancouver Island. I had a table with a million dollar view, and enjoyed an array of dishes while getting lost in my own thoughts staring off over the water to snow capped mountains just across the border in Washington State.
3. Getting buzzed by bald eagles in Vancouver – Shaking off jet leg the first morning after arriving in Vancouver, I did a hike around Stanley Park just after the crack of dawn. With the seawall almost all to myself, and standing just under the Lion’s Gate Bridge, two bald eagles, wings fully extended, glided directly over me, not more than 40 feet above my head. I was in complete awe of their grace, their size, and the sound of the wind under their wings.
4. Late night Andalucian football – When I saw the football schedule I thought “22:05 is an awfully late kickoff time.” But after a week of getting adapted to the unique Spanish biorhythms, I felt like a local as Real Betis took to their home field in the south of Seville. I got goosebumps listening to 32,000 others sing to their team before kickoff and in my new team shirt, fell fast in love. Like my other teams, they broke my heart in a wildly entertaining 3-1 loss. If there was a time of childlike awe and giddiness in my travels this year, this game was it.
5. Tacos in Tijuana – Notwithstanding the amazing higher end dining I mentioned earlier, I’m more of a downmarket eater when traveling. The two tacos I had at Tacos el Paisa at Las Ahumaderas were simply the most delicious things I can remember eating this year. The entire day trip to Tijuana was very memorable, but sitting on a bar stool, freshly made tacos placed on the counter in front of me and sipping on an ice cold Tecate while far, far away from the tourist hordes was the highlight of the day for me.
6. Being alone on China Beach – On a road trip around Vancouver Island, I got lucky when the rain stopped just before arriving at China Beach. When I walked out of the woods onto the beach, I was completely alone with the sky and the water. I sat down on a log, and soothed by the sound of the waves crashing into the beach, let my mind wander. Perfect peace and quiet.
7. Flamenco outside my window in Seville – Waking up from a late afternoon nap (one of my favourite Spanish cultural fixtures), I was drawn to the window of our 3rd floor apartment. Three girls were practicing their flamenco steps on the cobblestones just below. I stood, watching from the window, grateful to have seen this slice of everyday life. In that moment, I could feel myself falling ever so more in love with Seville and its people.
8. Missing Chewy – The only downside of traveling is how much I miss my dog, Chewy. There is a lot of truth in “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and this year, living through a near death experience for my furry dude in March, being away from him after that took on new meaning. The motion and displacement of travel has always freed my mind and heart to think and feel more deeply than when I’m home, and this year, my thoughts frequently drifted to Chewy. Whether it was while walking along a beach in San Diego, observing a piece of art in Victoria or sitting among a group of dogs while having a coffee on a patio in Austin, I had moments of really missing my dog. Maybe it’s a touch perverse to mention those as some of my favourite memories this past year, but if there’s one thing that travel reminds me of repeatedly, it’s of the importance of home and those who I love, including my four legged beast.
9a. Fanta and a beer. Friday night in Seville – Over many trips to Europe through the years, my wife and I always seem to find a place in a public square to sit and watch the world walk past. In what has become a tradition, she’ll grab an orange Fanta, me a cheap local beer, and we’ll share a bag of chips (paprika if we can find them, in Spain, it was ham flavoured!). We sauntered a few blocks from our apartment and took up residence for a spell on the steps of the Iglesia del Salvador. The city was out enjoying a beautiful evening and with that as a backdrop we talked about life and the universe. Perhaps it was the glow of the second beer, but in that moment, everything in the world was perfect to me.
9b. Rainy afternoon rooftop cava – In another quiet, relaxed memory from the five days we spent in Seville, we took a bottle of cava up to the rooftop patio of our apartment and whiled away an afternoon talking. By this point in the trip, I was as relaxed as humanly possible and was madly in love with the idea of retiring to Seville on the spot.
10. Visiting Mile Zero in Victoria – I don’t think I can capture in a few words what this meant to me (I hope I expressed it reasonably well here). It was an experience I didn’t see coming and didn’t plan for. The statue of Terry Fox in Victoria set off some childhood memories and got me thinking about the dreams, hopes and goals within us all. What is a travel ritual of mine of dunking my foot in any body of water I get close to comes from Terry Fox dipping his foot in the Atlantic at the start of his journey. He was one of my two childhood heroes (the other being Gary Carter of the Montreal Expos) and when I dipped my foot in the Pacific not more than 200m from his statue, it was done while wondering how much he thought about doing the same thing, and how he might have lamented never being able to finish his journey.