A Travellerspoint blog

The best travel experiences of my life: 30-21

This is the continuation of the eight part series that begins here.

30. Eating sea urchins with locals in Versailles
Everyone is familiar with the Palace of Versailles but few of the throngs of tourists that visit the landmark trouble themselves to see the fascinating town that gives the palace its name. We chose to spend the first night of our 2015 arrival in Versailles rather than Paris and were rewarded in the morning with one of the most beautiful and exciting town markets we have encountered in France. In the outdoor part of the market in the central square we found Mei Ling's beloved rotisserie, with fat dripping down from the meat onto a layer of boiled potatoes at the bottom. There were golden brown baguettes and an enormous variety of French cheeses, as well as seemingly perfect fruits arranged in beautiful displays. Surrounding the square on every side were indoor arcades with delicatessens, butchers, and fish markets. It was a quintessential French market, far better than any restaurant we could have found. When we were buying some whole sea urchins, another customer asked us in French-accented English how we were going to eat them. We explained that we were simply going to scoop out the roe and eat it raw. It turned out that he was a college professor who lived close to the market, and he invited us to his house to have coffee. We agreed to meet him in the afternoon after we'd had lunch back at our Airbnb since we were dying to consume our purchases at that point. A short while later we were stuffing ourselves with some of the best food we'd encountered on the entire journey. After lunch we drove to our new acquaintance's apartment where we had coffee with him and his wife and showed them how to open and eat sea urchins. Their children were already grown and had moved to other cities and we had a great discussion about parenting and travel. I was amazed that they were so willing to welcome complete strangers into their home, even with small children who were constantly veering towards their fragile antiques.

29. Ehrenberg castle ruins in Austria
On the road from Neuschwanstein to Innsbruck I saw a ruined castle atop a tall hill from the highway. Something resembling a wire ran from the castle to the top of another tall hill on the other side of the highway. As we drew closer I realized the wire was actually a suspension bridge running hundreds of feet above us. I could see tiny figures moving back and forth across the bridge. I knew this could be an amazing experience if it was possible for us to take the kids up there so I pulled over and did some quick research on my phone. I learned that the bridge was called the Highline 179 and it had only been open for less than two years. We still had some time before the bridge closed for the day so we got our tickets and began the long hike to the top of the hill. Mei Ling vetoed my plan to backpack both the younger kids and Ian did much better than I expected with the hike. We eventually made it to the ruins which were a lot of fun to explore and had great views. Mei Ling couldn't stand to be on the suspension bridge for more than a few seconds so I took the kids halfway across. The sight of the parking lot 350 feet below us didn't seem to bother them one bit. The best part of this adventure was that it was completely spontaneous and would have never happened if we weren't willing to be flexible and challenge ourselves to a task that seemed daunting at first.

28. Gwangjang Market in Seoul
One thing we can always count on in east Asian countries is that we will be able to find a fascinating market in every major city. Seoul had several and on our second full day we set off by foot to find Dongdaemun, one of the most well-known. On the way there we came across Gwangjang Market which amazed us with the variety of raw and prepared food. Like all the best markets it was a food court as well and people were eating amazing-looking food all around us. After much debate we settled on a stall where a very friendly chef chopped up an octopus and a sea cucumber for us. Just to be technical, the video does not show the consumption of live octopus. It shows us eating a freshly killed raw octopus whose tentacles are still moving because the cut nerves are still firing. Cleo was almost three and just old enough to understand that we were seeing and eating things that were very weird and exciting. I'll never forget her squeals when she saw the tentacles wriggling on the plate. Since then she's definitely become one of us, eating everything from raw oysters in France to crickets in Osaka.


27. Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech, Morocco
Somehow in the process of planning our first European road trip I kept getting bolder and bolder. A quick tour of Lisbon and Andalusia grew to incorporate a train journey through Morocco whose farthest point was Marrakech. The historic and colorful city is popular with European travelers so naturally there's a busy industry of vendors, street performers, and other hustlers but the atmosphere is never oppressive. The center of the old town is Jemaa el-Fnaa square, a large open space surrounded by cafes and hotels. In the evenings the square is filled with pop-up restaurants serving grilled lamb and huge buckets of savory boiled snails. We all loved the snails and Cleo helped us demolish a couple of buckets as we moved from table to table. After stuffing ourselves we strolled around the square where musicians were entertaining groups of locals mixed with tourists. Cleo was especially entranced by the friendly Moroccan kids who helped her dance to the lively beat. As usual, our instinct to push the envelope and bring our babies to this faraway place had been rewarded with a delicious meal and memories to last a lifetime.

26. Ios, Greece
Twenty years ago I was still single and just beginning to realize I should travel every time I had the opportunity. The highlight of a two week trip to the Balkans was my stay on the tiny Greek island of Ios. I had never seen anything like the layers of whitewashed cubical buildings with navy and aqua trim that crept up the rocky hillside. Unlike its more renowned and harder-partying neighbors Santorini and Mykonos, gentle Ios provided warmth and intimacy during the day while there was always high energy in the compact town center at night. One of the trips I look forward to the most is bringing my family back with me to the Aegean islands so we can enjoy their culture and marvel at their beauty together.

25. Making iguana soup in Leon, Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the only country where we chose to use a private tour company instead of our own wheels. I was uneasy about road safety and the price couldn't be beat. As it turned out, the tour company operator read us perfectly and devised many experiences for us we never could have come up with on our own. On New Year's Eve in the town of León, our guide helped us to buy iguanas and other ingredients at a local market. We were taken by collectivo taxi to private homes in the suburbs where we helped make tortillas and iguana soup, which was delicious. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of eating meat, or the requisite butchering of animals, click here immediately. It was a rare chance to interact with locals in their own homes and have a unique culinary experience.

24 Camden Market and Regent's Canal in London
We loved Camden Market on our visit in 2013 so we went back when we were in London for Notting Hill Carnival in 2014. On our first visit we had marveled at the chaotic sprawl of vendors and artists and lost ourselves for hours in the network of alleys. This time around the market was a washout thanks to a series of rain showers so we decided to take a walk along Regent's Canal in the direction of Notting Hill. We had no idea we were about to see one of the most beautiful urban landscapes we've ever encountered. The canal winds its way through northern London a level below the city streets, making it an enchanted respite from the furious activity above. The water is carpeted with algae blooms and the sides of the canal are home to eccentrically-decorated houseboats. Set back from the banks are weeping willows and the rear facades of stately mansions and museums. It was probably the best place we could have been on a rainy day in London, with the light drizzle accentuating the verdant and colorful landscape. The best part was that we had never heard of the canal and stumbled upon it completely by accident, making us feel like we had made our own remarkable discovery in this incomparable city.

23. Municipal market of Oaxaca, Mexico
Mexico is by far my favorite country in Latin America, with the most diversity in culture and cuisine. Although I haven't visited the northern provinces I would be surprised if any of them could eclipse the incredible variety of comestibles that we discovered in Oaxaca. Oaxaca is one of those cities I can't imagine every becoming bored with, like Portland or Valencia. It's just a magical place to spend a day, filled with markets and activities that can be enjoyed over and over again. The most pleasurable and exciting thing we did during our visit to Oaxaca in 2012 was spending half a day in the Central de Abastos, the largest community market in the city. It's easy to get lost in the winding passages of the market but there are so many unique sights that it never takes long to get reoriented. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen sheets of beef sliced so thinly they were translucent hung like curtains around a butcher's stall. The huge barrels of colorful juices, the freshly grilled meat, and the surprisingly fresh seafood buzzed all our senses from the moment we entered. Mei Ling bought an entire lamb's head and we paired it with fresh clam ceviche for one of our most memorable market meals in North America.

22. Walking around Porto, Portugal
Not every great city in the world is amenable to being walked through. Sometimes the best areas are too far apart, as in Los Angeles or Tokyo. Sometimes they are squeezed too close together, as in Paris or Prague. But some cities like Copenhagen and Budapest are absolutely ideal for a long day of walking, and those have been some of the best travel days we have experienced. I wasn't expecting the relatively unheralded European city of Porto to join that last group when we set off on our expedition, but by the end of the day I was completely enraptured with the city's colorful buildings and verdant escapes. The day's journey included one of the most scenic bridges in Europe, churches emblazoned with vibrant blue azulejo tiles, immaculate gardens, a river ferry, and a cable car. It was also one of the most backbreaking walks in memory as I gave each of my three kids an hour long nap on my back, but the journey was well worth the temporary pain.

21. Chateaux of the Loire Valley, France
France has no shortage of beautiful castles and estates, but the only place I know of that you can see three or four a day for a week is the Loire Valley. We spent our last few days of an exhausting round-the-world trip in this enchanted and blissful place. The opulence of the castles and rich countryside was a stark contrast from our prior stop in India. I still have vivid memories of exploring the castles with Cleo, who loved the staircases and the balconies. The magnificently landscaped gardens were the perfect places to amble around with the strollers and unwind from the stress of a five week journey before the return flight to Miami.

To be continued with the top travel experiences of my life numbers 20-11

Posted by zzlangerhans 09:25

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