I have just renewed my passport. It is shiny, new and full of blank pages waiting to be filled with adventures.
I am feeling a little sentimental about my old passport. It was my first adult passport and it has been with me through all of my travel adventures over the last 10 years, from being obsessed with the idea of travelling, to actually completing a round the world trip, and then making travel an important part of my life. It has taken me to 15 countries on 5 continents, and has a lovely little collection of colourful visa stamps.
In tribute to my old passport, here is a picture from each country I visited over the last 10 years:-
My first trip with my old passport was a holiday to the USA and Canada with my family. It was August 2005, and digital cameras were still in their infancy. I had a film camera with me, but my Dad had one of the early digital cameras which he lost for half of the trip only for it to turn up again in his suitcase at the end.
The above picture is the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls. It was touristy as hell, but so much fun to get up close to the falls and get soaked by the spray.
I visited the USA twice with my old passport. With my family in 2005 I visited New York and the Poconos, and then later travelled throughout the country with Jim to kick off our round the world trip. The Grand Canyon was on the list of absolute must sees for our time in the USA, and it was every bit as spectacular as I had hoped it would be. Pictures just can’t do the Grand Canyon justice – it is so big that it is really hard to comprehend.
New Zealand is a country that I would love to go back to with more time and more money. In hindsight, I don’t think we made the most of our time there and spent too long in Auckland. But at the time, it was the right decision – we were pretty jet lagged and a bit shell shocked to come from summer in the US to winter in New Zealand. We took our time, slept it off and were ready for full on travel again when we hit Australia.
We did get out for a couple of nights away in New Zealand at Rotorua, a hotbed of geothermal activity. The whole town smelled of rotten eggs, but the scenery was gorgeous and I also bought my favourite ever hand cream (made from mud) there.
Australia is a country I once swore I would never set foot in. I cannot stand spiders and the idea of going to a country full of giant spiders that can kill you did not appeal at all. Now Australia is a country that I yearn to go back to above all others. We spent 2.5 months travelling from Melbourne to Cairns, but we could have spent so much longer just on the east coast, never mind the rest of Australia which I long to explore. The picture above is taken from the stunning Magnetic Island, which remains my favourite place out of everywhere I have ever been.
I learnt an important lesson in Singapore. Arriving in the early evening with a short layover of less than 24 hours, I made the decision not to book a room in Singapore as I had read that the airport facilities were second to none, and so I figured we would be able to spend a pretty comfortable night there. Big mistake – the outstanding facilities were all in the departure area, and there was nothing but wooden benches on which to get comfortable to spend the night on the other side. Lesson learned – I will always book accommodation for an overnight layover.
I will never forget that night in the airport, and it does overshadow the few hours that we had in Singapore, wandering around the covered markets in Bugis Street and sipping on fresh mango juice.
Besides an uncomfortable night, the other thing that stands out for me about Singapore was just how friendly and polite everyone was that we met. To this day, I have never come across friendlier immigration officers – unlike UK immigration officers, they actually welcomed us into their country with a big smile.
I might be cheating a bit here by including Hong Kong as a separate country from China, but I had a separate visa stamp in my passport so I’m claiming it!
Hong Kong provided much more of a culture shock than I was expecting. For much of my lifetime, Hong Kong was a British colony, and I remember the ceremonies handing it back to China in 1997. As Hong Kong had been a British colony, I was expecting to see a far greater British influence, and to find English far wider spoken than it was. It was definitely a westernised place (in parts at least) but definitely not to the extent that I had pictured.
There are so many pictures I could have chosen for my time in Beijing, China. There is the spectacular Great Wall, or the Forbidden City with so much colour, and such intricacy in the decoration and design. The above picture sums up the lasting impression that I had of Beijing – a construction site filled with ridiculously enormous roads for a city centre, and few apparent rules. Crossing the road was always a bit of a heart in mouth affair.
I took a trip to Dublin with some girlfriends, which is really worthy of its own blog post as I learnt a great deal on that girly weekend about travelling on an extreme budget and coordinating different travel styles. We made the obligatory trip to the Guiness factory, where I managed to choke back a whole pint of the black stuff in the impressive bar, gazing at the panoramic views of a very rainy Dublin below.
This was a last minute, cheap package holiday. It was too hot, we were there for 2 weeks which was too long, and someone tried to break into our apartment in the middle of the night. Despite all of that, I have nothing but fond memories of visiting Crete. There was nothing more relaxing than watching the sunset over the sea from a beachside restaurant and discovering just how unbelievably delicious Greek food is.
South Africa in 2010 was a dream come true. I was lucky enough to receive quite a bit of tax back that year. A sensible person might have saved it – I blew the lot on the holiday of a lifetime, indulging in a little bit of luxury for a change. We spent 6 nights at Kruger National Park followed by 6 nights in Cape Town with Virgin Holidays. It was a semi-independent trip, so we had flights, accommodation, transfers and some activities booked as part of the package, with plenty of spare free days in between. It was perfect.
The above picture was taken at sunrise in Kruger National Park. It is totally unedited and it is my favourite ever travel photo. It is without a doubt the most peaceful place that I have ever been. It was totally silent except for the breathing and snorting of the Hippos on the surface of the water. I didn’t even take that many pictures, as I was just enjoying being there so much. I am so very grateful that I could the opportunity to visit such a spectacular place.
Ibiza is a place that I went to with no real expectations. The point of the holiday was to do nothing but laze on the beach for a week and spend as little money as possible. For what it was, it was a nice holiday but not really my kind of thing. We stayed at Santa Eulalia, which is where the only river in the balearic islands meets the sea (pictured above).
Our trip to Holland was very spontaneous. We decided at the last minute to book onto the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam and we just went. It was in October, but the weather was pleasant for most of the stay. As pretty as the canals were, I found that they totally threw of my very limited sense of direction, and so I was reliant on Jim the whole time to figure out where we were.
The grand trip around Italy is something that Jim & I have spoken about time and time again, however realistically it was never going to happen. I don’t have enough annual leave for us to see everything we want to in Italy in one epic trip, at least not without ruining the experience by dashing round and trying to cram a whole country into one or two weeks. When we gave up on the idea of one tour around Italy, it gave us the freedom to actually make the decision to go there. We started with Rome and Sorrento, the rest of Italy will follow eventually. Given how long we have been talking about visiting Italy, we both had sky high expectations. Against all the odds (and with the exception of the food), Italy totally exceeded expectations and is one of the best trips that we have had to date.
Ahh, Belgium. It is up there with Australia as one of those countries I really want to visit again. And again. And again. Jim & I have both separately said that we should just go to Belgium again for the summer holiday, and we have both only been half joking. Friendly people, picture perfect towns, excellent beers and so much chocolate – what more could we want? I had so much fun in Belgium. It is not an obvious summer holiday choice, but it should be. It is a wonderful country, and it is one of the few places that I am sure I will visit again.
As a child, I used to complain that we went on holiday to Scotland every year. So my parents started taking us to France instead, and I started complaining that we always went to France. Until this year, the last time I went to France was in 2002, and it is true what they say about absence making the heart grow fonder. Over the 12 years since my last visit, I began growing a list of all of the places I wanted to visit in France. Paris was obviously on that list, and I finally made it there earlier this year. I was unashamedly a tourist in Paris, ticking off all of the main sights. I didn’t fall for Paris, but I can see why many people do.
So what next?
In the immediate future, the first trip for my new passport will be 2 weeks in Portugal, travelling up the silver coast from Lisbon to Porto. I’m really looking forward to this trip. It is supposed to be a relaxing beach holiday, but true to form I keep finding more and more things that I want to do. I’m a bit worried about the heat, as I am a total pasty skinned northerner (20 degrees is scorching in Newcastle), but I’m not going to let that stand in the way.
My new passport has a lot to live up to, and 10 yers from now, I want to be looking back at an equally exciting and varied list of adventures. I want to keep achieving travel dreams, and maybe get those last 2 continents ticked off. Since 2010, my travel has been all European – the ease and cheapness of travelling to continental Europe has a lot to answer for – but I definitely want to get out of Europe in the future and start filling those blank pages in my new passport.