My top 10 RTW travel moments of 2013

NZMUSE TOP 10 TRAVEL MOMENTS NZMUSEIt’s been exactly one year since we left on our RTW trip. All I can say about that is HOLY CRAP.

Also, time flies.

Lest I forget, I thought I’d chronicle 10 memorable moments from our RTW trip on this anniversary.

Mexican food at Fat's Burritos in Roswell, new Mexico

Our first brush with Mexican food

Eating Mexican food was one of the things I was most looking forward to in the States. But with so much amazing cuisine on offer on the East Coast, it just didn’t even register, really, until Chicago. Once we’d had hot dogs and pizza and pierogi there (and White Castle, but let’s not speak of that abomination) accompanying our friend to a local Mexican restaurant – a highly recommended one – was a nobrainer.

Everything was a revelation. Free UNLIMITED corn chips? Insanity. The tortilla soup was so complex and rich in flavours. The plates were huge, packed with the rice, refried beans, salad and wraps that you just can’t find an equivalent of in New Zealand.

From then on, we ate Mexican at least every other day until we flew out of LA. (Pictured above is one of our later meals, from Fat’s Burrito’s in Roswell.)  I desperately, desperately miss it.

Serendipitously spotting the Northern Lights in Iceland

If you look north, you might be able to spot the northern lights, our Couchsurfing host texted us. 

We were just leaving Reykjavik in our rental car, so I took a look on Google Maps and directed us to what looked to be a giant piece of parkland away from the mass of houses and residential roads. (It turned out to be a golf course, I think). Driving out there utterly alone was super eerie, but we achieved the main thing: leaving the light pollution of civilisation and getting out into the real dark of night.

After parking up, we sat back and waited. Chowed down on the snacks we’d stopped to grab on the way. Stared intensely into the blackness ahead of us.

Eventually, T pointed out a faint streak of green through the windscreen that seemed to move ever so slightly. It was one of those things that’s so ethereal, so delicate, you almost can’t see it if you’re focusing intently. Rather, by looking a little sideways and relaxing my gaze, the lights seemed clearer to me. They were very faint, very subtle, very undramatic, undulating in and out of visibility – but they were there.

I honestly wasn’t expecting to see the northern lights at all, given the time of year, and it didn’t cost us a thing extra.

Our first deli subs in New York

After a weird but entertaining first meeting with our Airbnb host in Brooklyn, we headed downstairs and out to Broadway in search of sustenance. Fried chicken was tempting, but we decided to go the deli route. I can’t remember what T ordered, but I know I got a cheese steak sub, and one bite in, my eyes were rolling back in my head with pleasure. After wolfing down our sandwiches, we crossed the road to another deli (they were not in short supply around this area…) and bought two more. Sigh.

Having mouthgasms in Rome

Sorry to be crude, but that really is the only way to describe it.

We walked for ages, trying to get away from the touristy restaurants, constantly stopping to peruse menus, then continuing on our way. Eventually we came across a little square, where locals seemed to be congregating around the fountain, and just off this square was a restaurant positively teeming with Italians and not an obvious foreigner in sight.

Eating at that restaurant was one of the best decisions we ever made. An unholy cheese platter with four kinds of cheese, served with honey. Eggplant parm that melted in my mouth. Bechamel lasagne, so rich but yet so perfectly balanced, we would happily have paid double the price for it if we had to. Oh, Italy, come back to me.

Blazing through Vermont on a bike

Our friends in Vermont were super keen to organise a fun itinerary for us. Alas, we couldn’t tee up a Harley, but we did manage to get some enormous, fast and powerful BMWs (they were, of course, an eyesore, but that’s secondary).

We crossed Lake Champlain onto the Grand Isle just as the sun set and rode way past dark, before heading back to Burlington for kebabs and Ben  & Jerry’s. The next day, we rode for hours and hours, through the mountains, to Montpelier, and back, flying past the neverending crimson forests. Serenity is the best way to describe those hours. I was so relaxed, I was almost nodding off on the back (not the best time to doze, I know).

Halong Bay in Vietnam - a RTW highlight

Cruising through Halong Bay

Apparently trying to visit Halong Bay by yourself is more often than not a bad idea, so we went with a tour. It was definitely the right choice. We kayaked around, craning our necks to look up at the amazing rock formations. We saw monkeys, chattering, fighting, playing, cuddling. And perhaps my favourite moment of all – we watched the sun set, a bouquet of reds and pinks and oranges over the horizon.

I can’t imagine how crowded it must get in peak season. We went in the low season and there were still boats all over the show; I imagine they must be practically jostled side by side in the peak tourist months.

Swimming through a pitch black cave

It took me a very long time to muster the guts to even jump off the boat. High on my list of things to avoid at all costs are deep water, darkness, and small spaces.  The Emerald Cave in Thailand ticked all those boxes. But somehow I made it through, and the pristine little beach at the end of it all was so worth it. One of the most out-of-this-world experiences in my life.

Finding our American doppelgangers in SoCal

When she heard we were coming to California, S from Tiny Apartment promptly emailed with an invitation to stay with her and a ton of ideas for places to see and eat. And as if that wasn’t enough, when we finally met in person, we quickly found out we were basically living eerily parallel lives on opposite sides of the world. She and her fiance were exact mirrors of me and T in almost every way imaginable – the way we think, behave, our quirks, even the stuff we clash over, the roles we play in our respective relationships. It was like there was no need to ever finish a sentence or a thought because the other would instantly know exactly what you meant.

Wanting to freeze time at Ocean Beach

There are moments toward the end of a long trip when you feel so overwhelmed by all you’ve seen and done, you just want to gather it all up to you and absorb it like a second skin so that those memories will never leave you. When you’re so glad to be alive and feel so lucky to be where you are that you can barely swallow over the lump of gratitude in your throat. When you just don’t want that night to end, and wish you could pause time because the days are falling away like brittle autumn leaves before your eyes. 

I felt this way often, but it was particularly strong that one night in San Diego. We’d spent the day by the beach, but before heading to bed, we hopped in the car and made our way to the nearest body of water, a corner of the coast bordered by dunes, where a fire glowed softly at its base, ringed by a group of teenagers. It was just too picture-perfect – something straight out of a Sarah Dessen book, maybe – the ideal backdrop for a summer romance, the kind of life I’d never had but always wistfully dreamed of as the phlegmatic adolescent I was. But here we were, a mid-20s married couple … scaling the dune, scuffing along through the sand, admiring the waves through sound rather than sight, contemplating all that had been and what was to come, then making our way back to our Dodge and finally to our soulless motel room.

playing with dogs

Rolling around with the farm dogs

There’s something about watching a grown man tenderly interacting with his child, amirite? Well, I felt a similar squeeze around my heart on one of our last days volunteering in Italy.

It was late afternoon, the sun no longer broiling us but languidly heading for the hills. Two of the five dogs kept racing off after each other, fighting over something (a bone, perhaps). T was lying on the grass, playfighting with the others, laughing and rolling around on the ground. It was a scene of pure contentment, simplicity, connection.

The funny thing is, I saw volunteering initially in purely financial terms – a way to extend our trip by saving money. Instead, those experiences yielded some of the most memorable highlights of our whole trip.

From the Black Forest, I’ll never forget our evening plays, our campfire night, dancing to Psy, laughing my head off at students’ jokes, hearing an unfamiliar song and being teased – “Hasn’t this song come out in New Zealand yet?”, being invited to stay with our German students, our sweet little Swiss protege who I cried to farewell, even the annoying old Americans who wore our nerves down at the time.

From Italy, I’ll never forget eating fresh bread every morning, the sweet joy of tomatoes off the vine, the Beatles concert, chasing little kids around trying to supervise their leaf-raking, a night drinking at the local boat club, the countless dinner parties with musicians and artists, the oh-so-awkward topless swim (so much for it being a nude beach; my host and I were the only ones doing it).  

What are some of your favourite travel memories?

25 thoughts on “My top 10 RTW travel moments of 2013

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. May 9, 2014 at 10:29

    I’m so sad you can’t get Mexican food in NZ. It’s one of my favourite cuisines…

    • Reply eemusings May 11, 2014 at 11:32

      Gotta get some Mexican immigration flowing…

  • Reply Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way May 9, 2014 at 13:59

    Wow, I really do salute you about having a gut to swim through a pitch black cave! I couldn’t imagine that I can do that, aside that I’m afraid of the dark plus going to the cave is my least idea to do.

  • Reply Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 9, 2014 at 18:22

    Oh, Mexican food. I think it’s really fitting that it tops your list of memories. It is absolutely that good! So sad to hear that it’s so difficult/impossible to find it in NZ, but I’m not surprised since in nearly 2 years, I think we’ve only eaten “Mexican” 5 times, and those quotes are definitely required.

    Any chance you can remember the area where you had that mouthgasm in Rome? We’ll be heading there in early June and would love to make the most of our 5-day food binge while there!

    Loved reading your thoughts on volunteering while traveling—it dovetails with our own feelings about CouchSurfing. We initially signed up as a way of stretching our pennies and allowing us to travel for longer, but in the end, we got way more out of it in terms of friendships formed and experiences had with locals. I like my privacy and downtime, but whenever the introvert in me can handle it, I’m always so happy to CouchSurf.

    • Reply eemusings May 11, 2014 at 11:31

      Oh, it’s not really in any particular order as such (hence no numbers) but Mexican food was an easy one that came to the top of mind first as we love eating so much. Deli sandwiches were also a revelation.

      Unfortunately not. We stayed at Hotel Alius on Via Nazionale, walked west for a bit, turned left at some point, wandered down that street and then came across that little fountain/square on the left. That’s all I can offer :X Looking at Google Maps it could’ve been Via Mazziano or Via dei Serpenti…

  • Reply Franca May 9, 2014 at 20:41

    Wow, you have a pretty good collection here. Glad you liked the food in Rome, it makes me proud of my home country 🙂 I’d love to see the Northern Lights so badly, it has been on my list of things I want to do for ever. Volunteering with animals in Thailand has been one of my highlight from last year too and as you said a life changing experience for sure.

  • Reply cantaloupe May 10, 2014 at 03:02

    It is so difficult to explain to anyone who’s never been to New York just how amazing deli sandwiches are. And it’s almost every single one. Every time I go back, I insist on getting them roughly every day and the people I stay with are always like “seriously? There’s so much more food options!” and I’m like “I’ll eat that too, but I can’t get these anywhere else!!!”

    Oh man, food is so good. Now I want a deli sandwich. And Mexican.

    • Reply eemusings May 11, 2014 at 11:23

      Yeah, we try explaining our food cravings to friends here who haven’t been to those places and it’s impossible, there aren’t words. Like, it’s just a sandwich, right? Or just a pizza? NOOOOO.

      Before we actually went travelling food was either equal to sightseeing or just below it in regards to our motivations for travel. Now it’s firmly number one. I don’t see us ever moving abroad (unless some amazing job offer fell in our laps, which it won’t) but if it did it would be for the food, let’s face it.

  • Reply Sally May 10, 2014 at 03:51

    We miss our doppelgangers!! I loved this, I’m so glad we got to be a part of your RTW trip. I wish we had the cash to hop over to NZ while we are in the Cook Islands :). I love chicken tortilla soup and a good taco as much as the next Californian, but it’s strange, I really don’t crave Mexican food or go out of my way to eat it. We make a lot of Mexican inspired food at home (fajitas, quesadillas, and rice and beans) and have the occasional taco night, but I often feel like a traitor when I am not in the mood for Mexican and everyone else is. Something I really loved was Costa Rican food. The casado plates are simple but fresh and flavorful. They had a mild sauce they used for rice and beans called Lizano that I have yet to find in the States.

  • Reply Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life May 10, 2014 at 06:55

    Looking back on those moments here and there are the best. It’s hard to think of singular moments when I think of my travels, but food is definitely a recurring theme 🙂

  • Reply femmefrugality May 10, 2014 at 15:27

    What amazing experiences you guys had! I don’t know if I could have done the cave in Thailand…we have similar fears! But I do find that when I combat them I almost never regret it. Also, yay for happening upon those Northern Lights! They sound amazing however faint!

  • Reply Emma May 11, 2014 at 21:46

    Sounds like you have had a packed brilliant year! Love Mexican food too, when you find the real stuff I really think it’s addictive! 😀

  • Reply Addison @ Cashville Skyline May 12, 2014 at 03:13

    Love this list! I’m totally jealous of your RTW trip. I’m going to find a time to do that over the next few years. Food is always a priority in my travels. Great coffee, food, and cocktails. Mmmm.

  • Reply Angela Travels May 12, 2014 at 08:54

    Looks like a very eventful first year of RTW! So glad you enjoyed Mexican food. I tend to have cravings for it often!

  • Reply Mary {The World Is A Book} May 12, 2014 at 17:34

    What a great adventure! I can certainly understand why these stand out from a memorable trip. We live in San Diego so I’m glad you enjoyed Ocean Beach and I hope you had better Mexican food here 🙂 Love your mouthgasm definition of Rome and it’s so true!

  • Reply Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter May 13, 2014 at 01:15

    The Mexican food in the US is great, even compared to Canada (because there are fewer Mexican immigrants here). I love that some of your best travel moments are food-based! It’s unfortunate that I never tried a deli sandwich in NYC – I am a vegetarian and I just couldn’t bring myself to order a veg option.

  • Reply Adelina | PackMeTo May 13, 2014 at 10:51

    I love how many of these items are food related. A girl after my own heart. I wish I had discovered the deli subs in NYC earlier. I ate my first one on my last day in the city as I headed to the airport. So good!

  • Reply Lisa at Wanderlust Women May 14, 2014 at 03:24

    Ahhhh, my dear, White Castle is an acquired taste, acquired from birth, just like being a Yankee fan! 🙂

  • Reply SJ @ Chasing the Donkey May 14, 2014 at 08:15

    Ahhh they all sounds so great, well that is except for the dark swimming. NO THANKS! I am much to scared for that. You go! Big thanks for linking up again with us for #SundayTraveler

  • Reply Sharon May 14, 2014 at 11:56

    It sounds like you have had a fabulous year!

    Halong Bay is also one of my favourite travel memories. It is such a magical spot. We also love the Mexican food in the US. More than we liked it in Mexico which seems kind of wrong.

    • Reply eemusings May 14, 2014 at 13:16

      I’ve heard others say the same thing about Mexican food in Mexico vs the US, actually.

  • Reply Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy May 16, 2014 at 08:13

    These sound like some amazing memories! I didn’t realize we had such good Mexican food here – maybe I should appreciate it more? Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

  • Reply Lauren May 17, 2014 at 09:15

    OMG I love Mexican food – there are so many places here in Canada! You’ll maybe have to make your own once you get home from recipes. Too good! It looks like an amazingly eventful year and you had a blast! Happy travels to come!

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    […] a life without mexican food and the revelation […]

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    […] My top 10 RTW travel moments of 2013 […]

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