Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

NYE Fireworks in Ottawa

As 2016 draws to a close a lot of bloggers are looking back at everything they have done this year and everywhere they have been. The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge aims to round-up the year and look towards the next by answering ten questions. The questions are designed to be a lot more inspiring than starting a conversation with small talk and intended to involve more than just one person. Each Travel Whispers post can be found by clicking the link through to the next blogger at the bottom of the post, and so on, so take the time to read through a few – you might find some exciting new bloggers to follow and some great travel ideas for the future! You can also find them across Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #TravelWhispers.

Here are our answers:

1. If you had to move to a country that you’ve NEVER been to and live there for ten years, where would you go?

T: This is a tough one for me. There is no shortage of countries on my ‘must visit’ list but I’m not sure that there’s too many that I haven’t already visited that I would want to actually live in. By virtue of my year backpacking around the world back in 2005-06, I have visited most countries in Western Europe and decent chunk of Eastern Europe. The USA and Canada are also out as they have been ticked off multiple times. So I think I’m going to pick Belgium. I have heard many great things about Brussels and would love to visit one day, but more than that, being in Belgium (and pretty much anywhere in Europe really) gives you such easy access to so much of the world. In summer, it’s an easy flight or train ride to the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean and, most importantly, in Winter you can experience all that the Alps have to offer! Also, from what I have heard, most Western European nations have some very generous leave allowances compared to Australia and North America so there should be plenty of opportunities to get away and enjoy life.

C: I suppose Canada would have been that country for me because, before our move to Toronto, I had never travelled here before and it was at the top of my list of places to live. Since I am already here though, I can’t pick Canada, so I will have to say England. Being the original Commonwealth country, there is something about its history and culture that makes it particularly alluring to me. I don’t know if it’s because two of my sisters each lived there for a period of time, but for some reason, I have always seen myself living in England (at least for a little while). Hopefully 2017 will include a trip across the pond so I can at least get a taste of the Old Country.

2. If you had to stay in a hotel for the rest of your life, which hotel would you choose, and why?

T: To be quite honest, the prospect of spending my life living in a hotel, even a luxurious five star one, is not something that I would look forward to. I generally enjoy staying in hotels for short stays but for anything more than a few days I would much prefer to have my own self contained space that can properly feel like home. So for that reason, rather than choose a hotel, I am actually going to choose a VRBO listing that we stayed at in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in January 2015. Aside from the fact that it is located next to one of the premier ski destinations in the world (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort), it is also near the world’s first and arguably one its most impressive national parks (Yellowstone).

The listing itself was a beautiful three bedroom townhouse, perfect for the five of us that were camped out there for a week and I can think of much worse places to be stuck for the rest of my life.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Asleep on the comforts of our Jackson Hole VRBO after a long day carving up the slopes.

C: My choice is not a hotel per se, but a wonderful resort that we stayed at on the island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for our honeymoon in 2015, Etu Moana. My judgement may be clouded by virtue of my doe-eyed, head-over-heels in love newly wed state of mind at the time, but I have no doubt that this place was really as great as I remember.

Every person (or couple) has their own private villa, with bed, kitchenette, and bathroom – inclusive of rain shower – as well as a deck, perfecting for relaxing with a book or a cool drink while you enjoy the view of the tropical gardens and the calm lagoon stretching out to the horizon. Breakfast was served daily by the pool, and every day it was something different. And lunch and dinner were just a short stroll along the beach, or scooter ride down the road, to the next resort, hotel, or restaurant, typically accompanied by the music of the small waves lapping against the shore.

It was a truly relaxing environment to be in, quickly making you forget about the day of the week and the time of day. I could easily see myself happily living out my days there.

Etu Moana in Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Enjoying our welcome drinks on the deck of our villa at Etu Moana on Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

3. If you could only eat the cuisine of one nationality forever more, which would you choose?

T: This is a tough one, although on the other hand, there are so many different cuisines that I like and could quite happily live on. Since I have to choose one though, I am going to go with Chinese cuisine. Chinese food has always been one of my favourites, ever since I was a kid, and this was even further enhanced when I spent two months in China in 2005.

Chinese cuisine has a great range of styles and flavours that vary from region to region with tasty soups, dumplings, noodles and rice dishes to choose from. I don’t think I could ever get bored of it!

C: As food is quite possibly my most favourite aspect of travel, I have mulled over this question for a while and have finally settled on Vietnamese cuisine. Prior to Tristan and my first overseas trip together, which was to Vietnam back in 2012, my understanding of Vietnamese cuisine was essentially limited to rare beef pho and broken rice. While both are delicious and still my go-to dishes when at a Vietnamese restaurant, our trip exposed me to a breadth of flavoursome dishes I had not even heard of before!

My love for Vietnamese food essentially stems from two core things experienced during our trip. Firstly, the flavours were always spectacular, using the freshest of herbs to draw all the ingredients together into a truly robust dish. Secondly, I have not seen elsewhere such a comprehensive use of produce and such innovation in the use of fruits and vegetables to minimise wastage. One example which always comes to my mind when I reminisce about our time there is the use of banana flowers, something which I did not even know existed before our trip to Vietnam. Apparently, in Australia, if the banana flower is blown off the tree before it can grow into actual bananas, it is just thrown out. Having now enjoyed it as a delicious addition to a summer salad, it is so disappointing to know that it is being wasted back home.

Anyway, I just can’t imagine ever getting tired of all the different combinations of ingredients and flavours that I enjoyed in Vietnam!

4. Who has given you holiday envy this year, and how?

T: This one is easy – Jing! See Cindy’s explanation below.

C: I think I speak for both of us when I say our friend, Jing, has been the source of most of our holiday envy this year (and probably every year for the last 4 years). I went to high school with Jing back in Melbourne and reconnected with her while she was working in Canberra, where I had moved previously for University.

Despite doing what we are doing – that is, living and working overseas – Jing manages to look like she is living one massive, never ending holiday. Every week presents new posts from a different city in Europe, a tropical island in the middle of the ocean, or making her way down the slopes of some other snow-capped mountain. We can’t help but be envious. Jing – please share your secret!

5. If you had to look at the same sunrise or the same sunset every day, where in the world would you never get bored of seeing? Please don’t say sitting outside Cafe Mambo in Ibiza.

T: I could have chosen any one of several spectacular sunrises / sunsets that I have witnessed throughout my travels, such as the sun setting over the Brindabellas in my home town of Canberra or the view of the sun disappearing over the horizon from the shores of Lake Victoria in Musoma, Tanzania, but in the end there was one clear standout – sunrise at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It’s not just the sheer beauty of seeing the sun poke through the endless blanket of clouds sitting below the highest peak in Africa but also the feeling of elation of having reached the top after a six-hour slog through the night in freezing temperatures and in the thin high altitude air.

This was an experience I hope I remember for the rest of my life and maybe even get to experience again one day with Cindy.

Sunrise on Mount Kilimanjaro

Sunrise at the Mount Kilimanjaro peak in Tanzania, Africa.

C: My most memorable sunrise/sunset would have to be the ones that I experienced everyday with Tristan on our honeymoon in the Cook Islands, in particular during our time on Aitutaki. I could never get sick of the sight of the sun dipping below the horizon, whether from the beach while reading a book or while stand-up paddle boarding on the still lagoon waters… it’s honestly a postcard-perfect view for the ages.

Sunset in Aitutaki

Tristan paddleboarding into the sunset in Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

6. If you were taking a ‘staycation’ in your home town, where would it be and what would you recommend others to do?

Toronto is our current home town, but Canberra still feels like “home”. So, we are going to divvy up this question and give you our staycation recommendations for both cities.

T: I am still getting to know my way around Toronto and am far from a local but I will do my best. I would probably start by booking into a plush hotel, let’s say the Park Hyatt on Avenue Road, and getting your bearings over a drink at their rooftop patio which provides a fantastic view over the downtown area.

Personally, I have found that Toronto is a great city to discover on foot and I would highly recommend a solid day of aimless wandering through the streets of downtown, regardless of the season. Toronto has a lot of hidden gems to discover and if you’re a budding amateur photographer like me there is an endless supply of inspiring views to snap, from old and new architectural styles, bohemian street art, hipster markets and cafes and the endlessly colourful characters that roam the streets. One of my favourite views of the City is on King’s College Road in the University of Toronto St. George Campus, looking down towards the CN Tower.

For some excitement, depending on the time of year, you have to go and see one of the big three local sports teams (Raptors, Blue Jays or Maple Leafs) play. If you’re lucky you could possible even see all three in the same weekend.

Finally, to relax and refuel after the day’s exertion, find your way to one of the endless variety of great eateries and drinkeries on offer. A few personal favourites include:

  • PAI – a fantastic restaurant in the entertainment district with a tasty selection of authentic Northern Thai fare.
  • Mill Street Brew Pub – this local institution in the hipster haven of the Distillery District offers a great selection of local brews to wash down a solid selection of pub grub.
  • Peter Pan Bistro – located at the edge of the Entertainment District, this funkily decor’d bistro offers up a delicious brunch menu and quality (by Canadian standards at least) coffee to get your day going.
A flight of beers at Mill Street Brew Pub

Enjoying a flight of beers at Mill Street Brew Pub in the Distillery District after a decent stroll around Downtown Toronto.

C: Canberra isn’t a big city geographically and can be covered from end to end in about a 40 minute drive, it is the perfect size for exploring over a week, or even just a weekend. One of the perks I have only really started to appreciate since moving away, is that all of the national attractions – the National Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and the Australian War Memorial – are all (mostly) free to enjoy. You can safely eat up a day or two exploring these great facilities and brushing up on your cultural understanding.

Canberra also acts as something of a regional hub insofar as it is central to many satellite towns across the border in New South Wales , which, thanks to their proximity, are typically considered semi-rural. I would definitely recommend exploring as many of these areas as you can, starting with Murrumbateman and the many wineries that dot the main highway. Just make sure that someone else is the designated driver so you can fully appreciate the tasty tipples that the region has to offer!

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Aerial view of Canberra from a hot air balloon, another great experience not to be missed!

7. Describe your perfect travel day of the year?

T: For this question, I am going to choose the final day of our wedding anniversary long weekend in Las Vegas, but not for all the dazzling lights and over the top showmanship of The Strip but for the day we spent exploring some of the stunning natural beauty that surrounds this (literally) shining beacon of commercialism and indulgence. After seeing the standard sights of the city, we rented a car to get out of town to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Not quite the Grand Canyon, this area, located just a short drive from the centre of Las Vegas, offers up some amazingly dramatic desert scenery that provides a refreshingly different perspective to the bright lights and crowded streets of The Strip.

Red Rock Canyon

Self-drive tour of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas, Nevada.

C: Honestly, there have been so many this year. My perfect travel day is one that comes together with as little planning as possible, but manages to uncover something new during our general explorations. As we are living in a new city, we do a lot of walking on foot, trying to venture as far north, south, east and west as possible and to see what each neighbourhood has to offer. If I had to pick one day out of the whole year, the one which stands out the most for me is the day we decided to walk all the way from Yorkville to Liberty Village which included an unexpected detour through Trinity Bellwoods Park, which was bustling with activity as Torontonians were taking advantage of the long summer days. The city was alive, everyone was happy, the weather was beautiful, and it just put us in a great mood despite the 14 km return trip, completed without the most appropriate footwear. This is maybe not the most adventurous answer, but when it comes to travel, I truly just love wandering around and discovering things by accident rather than by design. It may not always work out well, but when it does, it pays off double!

Trinity Bellwoods Park

Young people filling up Trinity Bellwoods Park as far as the eye can see!

8. What have you ticked off your bucket list in 2016?

Starting this blog was the number 1 item on our Bucket List. We have otherwise spent much of 2016 settling into our new lives in Toronto and trying to get away as much as possible. Although we have met some mini milestones on the way to checking off items on our list (e.g. a few trips to the USA against our goal to hit all 50 states), we still have a fair way to go. Rest assured, we are determined to make 2017 count!

9. What is top of your travel bucket list for 2017?

Maybe not top of the list, but we are excited to be ticking off our first item for the year in under a week when we fly west to carve up the powdery slopes of Whistler Blackcomb with a few friends from Australia who are coming across to join us. We have been monitoring the weather forecast religiously, and are starting to get jittery for what promises to be an awesome week of snowy fun.

Other than this, we definitely want to hit up some more of the major cities in the US, such as Chicago, Boston and Washington DC as well as hopefully starting to explore some of the many national parks. Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon would have to be near the top of that sub-list.

Taking advantage of the cheap airfares to Iceland is another item high up on our list, not just because it would be a cool place to visit but, with a bit of luck, we can kill two birds with one stone and see the northern lights while we’re there.

10. Share your favourite Instagram photo of 2016?

T: This photo was taken on an autumn afternoon during a day trip out to Dundas Peak near Hamilton, about an hour from Toronto. This was a perfect afternoon, enjoying the stunning autumn/fall colours on a warm sunny day.

Tristan's Favourite Instagram Photo

C: I took the following photo during the Toronto Santa Parade in November. It’s one of my favourites because I am still learning to use my new DLSR camera and loved how the falling snow came out against the crowd.

Cindy's Favourite Instagram Post of 2016


 

Check out other bloggers that have taken part in the Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge:

And if you want to get involved, join the Facebook group!

 


 

The header image for this post was taken tonight during the 8:17 p.m. fireworks display at the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Ottawa, Canada. Wishing you all a safe and happy start to 2017.

– T & C

 

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