Last week, Cat Gaa shared the background behind her deeply personal goal of visiting 25 countries by the time she turned twenty-five. It’s a goal she recently met. You can imagine that traveling to 25 countries would bring about some excellent stories – both of personal growth and exploration. This series documents Cat’s 25 most memorable experiences as she set out to tick countries off her list.
Below is Part Two in a series called, Reaching 25 Countries by the Age of 25: Experiences Along the Way.
20) Gawking at the larger-than-life snow sculptures in Harbin
“Isn’t it weird we’re a couple of Americans applying for a Chinese visa in Madrid?” said the man standing in line behind me at the Chinese consulate. I’d never thought of it, but my sister’s athletic ability got her an invitation to a figure skating competition and me a great excuse to discover Asia.
While seeing where my relative died during the Boxer Rebellion and zooming through the hutongs was delightfully strange, the memory most vivid in my mind was seeing the world-famous Ice Sculpture Exhibition in Harbin with my sister. Steparian wolves circled the grounds and vendors sold candied apples on a stick. Living away from my sister is hard, we transformed into kids building snowforts in our front yard and skipped hand-in-hand through the complex made of ice from the Songhua River. It almost made me like snow again.
19) Getting robbed while on a trip
Our Spring Break trip to Acapulco was supposed to be a last fling before graduating college. Instead, I tried out my Spanish skills on the men serving the drinks and quickly became the darling of the pool. More and more Mexicans began talking to me, and being in my element, I didn’t notice that someone had taken our keys right out of our bags. One digital camera, two dozen meal tickets and the small change we’d left to the maid were gone quicker than we could run up twenty flights of stairs.
Lesson learned – always be wary of who you’re traveling with, who is around you and where your belongings are.
18) Climbing Moorish ruins in Sintra
As an American, I seem to forget how old everything outside my country is. I got one of those feelings climbing Castelo dos Mouros in Sintra, Portugal with my grandmother, climbing higher above the town and more into the understanding of how the cosmos have worked over hundreds of millions of years.
The ninth century castle stills dominates the landscape of the lush, hilly town, standing testament to the longevity of people throughout history. In my home base of Sevilla, construction on the first subway is held up by the discovery of Roman ruins, obligated to be preserved under law. And to think that to us Americans, the Chicago Cubs’s last pennant seems like a millennia ago.
17) Living off of Guinness and curry chips for a weekend
Two of my dear college friends, (Backpacking) Matt and Brian, moved to Ireland fresh out of college and settled in Galway, working as chuggers and waiters. Since eating local food ranks high on my list of travel pleasures, I had my first Guinness upon arrival and shared curry chips with a fellow traveler shortly after. I was hooked, and consumed nothing but for the entire trip.
From Brussels to Granada to Prague, Europe has some of the world’s top cuisine and damn good street food. Eating is a simple indulgence known the world-over. No sense in getting a reservation at El Bulli a year in advance – stopping at a stand is double the delight at a fraction of the cost.
16) Skiing Zell-am-See
I snowboard and painfully left mine behind to move to a place where snow comes around every 60 years ago or so (this being one of them). Even Solynieve, Southern Spain’s only ski resort, is far, so I’ve been relinquished to taking up walking as a sport. When my boyfriend suggested we go to Austria after Christmas, I jumped at the chance to snowboard. Goggles, gloves and snowpants were bought on my dime, and I told him I would buy him lessons and a ski lift pass once in the Alps.
The Snow Express took us from Salzburg to Zell-am-See, a world-famous resort sitting above a placid lake. Boyfriend likes being good at everything he tries, so he immediately hated snowboarding and complained all the way down the hill. I chided him, but applauded him for trying something new for me. That’s the best part of travel – we suddenly feel empowered to step outside our zones and seek a new challenge.
Read about Cat’s travels and her life teaching English in Spain on her blog, Sunshine and Siestas. Check back next week for Part 3 in this series.