Travel Blogger Relay: Top Three Travel Moments

It seems silly to write this post only a few weeks after writing about my favorite places in the world, but I felt compelled to take the challenge Low Cost Holidays proposed in choosing your three top travel moments in their travel blogger relay (because only three? Impossible!) So when Lauren of Lateral Movements passed me the baton on the Green team, I joined team captains Erica and Shaun from Over Yonderlust, and picked out three travel moments that stand out pretty vividly.

1. Dancing with artisan rug weavers in the mountains of Midelt, Morocco

About ten American women and I came to Morocco with Nest, a non-profit organization that helps women artists in developing countries. After a six hour bus ride through the mountains of Fez, we are greeted at someone’s home by a group of Muslim women with head coverings, long skirts and some with long grey tattoos down the middle of their faces. I’m told this tattoo is an ancient Berber symbol for marriage. They kiss us twice on each cheek and seat us around three large tables where we are served chicken, bread, cous cous, carrots, and fruit. After dinner, we see the women bring out a few brightly colored handheld drums. The music, dancing and singing begins, and this Jewish white girl finds herself in the home of traditional Muslim women, dancing with her friends and family the way she does with her roommates back in New York. At some point in between a woman teaching me how to do their shrieking technique and playing with another’s little girl, I remembered why I came here, and why I need to continue taking trips like this.

2. Listening to Fado music with locals in Portugal

The concierge at our hotel who we had befriended over our week long stay invited us on our last night in Portugal to see him play guitar with his traditional Fado group. We met Ricardo and his wife Elena at the restaurant where this took place, and Elena sat with us as Ricardo went to set up his guitar with the other musicians. It was a small restaurant, with only about 10 tables inside. Everyone in this restaurant clearly knew each other very well and looked at us quizzically, wondering why these foreign strangers had come to join in their weekly Fado tradition. Elena introduced us to our waitress, Matilda, and then suggested we order the cod. I was so sick of cod by this point in the trip, but it seemed rude to decline her suggestion. Before the music started, Elena prepared us for exactly what was about to happen, which we were so grateful for. The tradition of playing Fado music is very different than anything I’ve seen in America. The closest form of music I can compare it to is opera. After our meal was served, the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, everyone went completely quiet and the four men softly began playing their Fado guitars – these beautiful, round bodied string instruments. A man from the audience stood up and began singing a slow, emotional tune, which I was fascinated by, but Elena whispered to us that he was one of the worst Fado singers in their group. Other singers from the audience took their turns, performing about three songs each. Then, to our surprise, our waitress, Matilda, took her turn. Once this petite woman began singing such an emotional, moving piece, I finally understood why Fado was such an incredible art form. She put her entire soul into this performance, conducting the entire thing with her eyes closed, and bringing the entire restaurant to tears. Elena told me that earlier this year, Matilda had lost her husband to cancer, and this was her way of expressing her grief. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel how much Matilda ached by listening to her song. We eventually finished our meal and said goodbye to the group, and Ricardo and Elena drove us back to the hotel. We hugged them and thanked them profusely for giving us this amazing, truly unique and authentic Portugese experience on our last night in Lisbon.

3. Enjoying steak, wine, olive oil bread and spectacular scenery at O’Fournier Winery in Argentina’s Uco Valley

I never wanted to leave here. As soon as we arrived at this massive Argentinian winery and sat down to our meal and wine tasting, we looked out at the lake, which reflected the vineyards that had turned a gorgeous vibrant red in the fall just below the monumental Andes mountains. The evening before, I had developed an obsession with the olive oil bread that we were served at what was named the best restaurant in Argentina, Nadia O.F. And Nadia’s husband was the owner of the winery we were currently touring. To my extreme delight, we were once again served the delicious olive oil bread, along with a flight of rich, full bodied wines. To top it off, I was then served what I truly believe was the best steak of my life. I don’t know why two of my top three travel moments took place on the last day of my trip – maybe it’s the necessity to cling to those last remaining moments of vacation before departing for home, or maybe I was just really lucky to have these grand finales at the end of each journey. I do know that thinking back to that last day in Argentina, to be sitting in that experience, eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine, staring out at surreal scenery (oh did I mention the clouds were irradescent?) is a memory I will always cherish.

And now for the last step in the relay, I pass the baton to the one and only Condor Kristen! Go girl go! Make us proud!

Advertisements

Does Traveling as a Couple Make or Break Your Relationship?

When I was 21, someone who I really looked up to told me that traveling with someone is the best way to test a relationship and see if it works.  Steph at Twenty-Something Travel wrote about this recently, right before I left for Argentina, so obviously it got me thinking, and maybe even had me a bit worried that the trip would be a make or break for my relationship.

As we began our trip, I realized it was all just silly buildup and unnecessary worry. I was traveling with someone I knew extremely well, and there weren’t any surprises for either of us in terms of how we reacted to certain situations. Plus I think we passed a few tests that made me realize that there’s a good chance I may have found myself a permanent travel buddy:

Test #1: Determine what you want out of your travels:

Matt and I love the beach, but neither of us want our main vacation for the year to be a relaxing trip to the Caribbean. We both want to see as much culture as possible, spend our time meeting people and exploring interesting places. We want to eat delicious food. We want to experience the entire world and do everything there is to do.  The night we went to Bomba de Tiempo, my back was killing me, we were tired from being up early to go to Uruguay that morning, and we had reached the point of exhaustion. I kept propping my back up against a concrete column to give it support as I listened to the music and watched the show. Matt asked if we needed to go back to the hotel, but despite my backache, I REALLY didn’t want to leave and I could tell he didn’t either. We both wanted to wait it out despite our physical exhaustion, and we’re so glad we did because that was one of the most fun experiences we had on the entire trip.

Test #2: Know and accept your partner’s limits:

The one thing we didn’t see eye to eye on was determining what was “safe.”  I am used to traveling with other girls, and when girls walk down a foreign city street that’s abandoned, we are automatically on super alert because we were raised to watch out for our safety – maybe even a bit too much. Not that boys aren’t raised to be safe, but it’s on a completely different level. Matt is used to traveling with boys, who just want to wander around, explore and purposely get lost.  The two times I felt a bit unsafe, he did a good job of easing my nerves – when we got lost in Mendoza’s San Martin park after being warned not to stray too far from the lake, he pointed out that there were other people around – and as he did so, a group of young schoolchildren walked by, and we both laughed.  Another time, late at night on a street in Buenos Aires with no other people aside from the two of us, I thought back to an email I had received from a friend who said that many travelers are susceptible to pickpocketing and mugging. Naturally, my nerves kicked in as we walked down this abandoned street. Again, Matt offered to go back to the hotel, but I didn’t want to, I just wanted to find other signs of normal people in the vicinity. As if on cue, an elderly man walking a tiny white poodle came strolling around the corner. Again, laughter ensued and nerves were calmed.

Matt also knows I’m not super outdoorsy, and though he might want to do a fun hike up the mountains or an outdoor rafting adventure trip, he knew I’d be miserable and didn’t push me to go with him. I scheduled some time in the hotel spa, which had no interest to Matt at all. (Although after a few glasses of wine that afternoon I was able to convince him to go into the outdoor pool with me.)

Test #3: Compromise.

I’m so Type A it’s ridiculous. I could plan out every minute of every trip and be thrilled to do it because it means we’ll be able to see everything that was recommended and everything we “need” to see.  (Ask any of my friends about our trip to Italy in 2009. I had things down to the minute, including bathroom breaks – no exaggeration) Matt just wants to go and explore and decide on the fly where to go and what we should do. And I’ve learned to appreciate that, as I think he’s learned that it isn’t always a bad idea to plan a few things in advance. We knew about Casa Mun, Bomba de Tiempo, and the day trip to Uruguay because of pre-vacation research and making reservations well in advance (I actually received several emails from these places telling me I was trying to make reservations way too early and to check back when our trip was less than a month away. Yes I realize how completely insane I am.) But I also left a few days open, and we were able to walk around and explore neighborhoods in Buenos Aires that I’m sure many tourists overlook. To be honest, I’m not even sure of the names of half these neighborhoods or what streets we walked around, but it was nice to have this free time to wander, to be flexible, and to stop into random restaurants we saw along the way that certainly aren’t in the Lonely Planet books.

I think the biggest test of all though, was how we felt after the trip. And we both came back with a big appreciation for each other, we weren’t annoyed and we weren’t sick of each other. In fact, over a few glasses of red wine and a huge Argentinian steak, we decided to move in together.

Did the trip define us as a couple and make me see anything differently? Not at all. Maybe it made us a bit closer because we have this new shared experience, but in terms of “testing the relationship,” I’m going to say no. I have a few people I know I can travel with – Randi, Joya, and now I can very happily add Matt to the list.

Do you think traveling as a couple will make or break you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.