Liebster Award Nomination

Liebster Award Nomination for Gail at Large

While I was in Cabo Verde I was nominated for a Liebster Award Nomination by Vlad from the originally-named travel blog Eff It I’m On Holiday. Thank you very much, Vlad! I will definitely be hitting you up for info when we get around to visiting Romania.

What are the Liebster Awards? Basically, it’s a meme for the blogging community. I have no idea of its origins, and nobody else seems to, either, not even search engines. There are a few basic rules which seem to have evolved over the years, but the general idea is to promote blogs you enjoy, ones that you feel deserve more of a following. How? By answering the questions given by the blogger who nominates you, and in turn making up questions for your nominees. I’ve seen Liebster Awards for blogs across all different topics but this time it’s about travel, although this blog covers quite a few topics apart from travel. I’ve been flying under the radar for many years now, because I spent five years building a photography business and not reading other blogs, just updating my own. I’ve been in a blogging bubble, and only since moving to Portugal have I begun to step outside of it again.

When I saw the questions I thought ‘Oh man, this will take me forever’, but to my surprise I finished it in less than forever! It’s been a long while since I participated in any sort of meme, and will continue my time-honoured tradition of answering memes without nominating. Here goes:

Palau de les Arts

Palau de les Arts (Valencia, Spain)

1. How did you decide to start your blog?

In 2002 I was a frustrated part-time university student and full-time office worker who got sick of writing research reports and long essays. Blogging was a novel way to procrastinate, with the bonus of appearing productive (I’m writing, see!). In those days everyone thought blogging was oversharing and narcissistic, but it was such a relief to rant freely online. Eventually the ranting gave way to other topics. And on a related note, this is why I prefer to write a blog rather than a book.

Moulay Idriss, Morocco

Moulay Idriss, Morocco’s holiest city. Also referred to as ‘the poor man’s Mecca’ because five trips here is the equivalent of one trip to Mecca.

2. Think fast: your top three favorite destinations.

So far: Cuba, Iceland, Morocco, in no particular order.

Vila das Pombas (Santo Antão island, Cabo Verde)

Vila das Pombas (Santo Antão island, Cabo Verde)

3. What country have you always dreamed of visiting and why?

Madagascar. Well, I didn’t always dream about it, only in late 1992 while I was living in Australia. I was in a dance club, and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen was dancing with me on a catwalk above the crowd. I asked her where she was from and she said Madagascar, and I decided I had to visit this place where such people were made existed. I like to go to places for random reasons, places that I never hear people talk about. I’m much more drawn to them than the ones that get a lot of media.

Air Berlin, Vienna to Rome

Air Berlin, Vienna to Rome

4. If you’ve visited it, what was it like? If you haven’t, are you planning on going anytime soon?

I haven’t visited it yet. A friend of mine in Toronto went last year, but he’s even slower posting photos than I am — I’ve barely seen any! Africa is such a huge continent I’m working my way into it slowly, starting with Morocco in 2007. Cabo Verde, our most recent trip, is “Africa Light” so maybe another island like Madagascar is in the cards, we’ll see. I got married last year so my travel planning is not for one but two, which means I don’t make all the decisions anymore. But it also opens up some activities I’ve done previously alone, like camping or hiking by myself, things I did only rarely because I acknowledge the safety issue.

in Iceland it's open season for... elves?

in Iceland it’s open season for… elves? (click for story)

5. How would you describe your travel style?

Deliberately random, leaving as much room as possible for spontaneity and serendipity. I like a lot of freedom, which is why I have avoided business travel. It may sound glamorous but it’s nowhere near the same, not even the time I was hired to shoot a wedding in Mexico and got to stay in a gorgeous suite at the resort. Believe it or not, but the few times I’ve travelled for work I have always pined for the freedom of leisure travel.

I can't believe that bus made it through the rivers

Stakkholtsgjá and Þórsmörk nature reserve, Iceland

6. What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while travelling?

It’s only funny now, years later, but at the time it was more like horrifying: I was on a night bus in Germany after celebrating New Year’s in Hamburg. Before I boarded the bus to Amsterdam, I had some drinks with a friend to ease out of a hangover. What a mistake! It was more beer than I could handle without desperately needing the loo, but there was none on the bus, which was packed, and we were on the Autobahn with nowhere to stop. I tried telling the bus driver I had a “medical condition” (my exact words), but he refused to stop the bus. It was dark but with interior lighting I couldn’t get away with anything, especially since I was sitting next to a French guy who could see I was in pee distress and thought it was hilarious. Instead of trying to help or at least look away, he was mocking me and waiting for me to humiliate myself in front of him. It got to the point where I thought I would pass out, so I did the only thing I could think of — remember, I just marinated my brain in booze for New Year’s, I was short of ideas — which was to grab my newly-purchased scarf, pull down my pants, and hope the scarf could take all the beer.

C’mon, what would YOU do?

The French guy gasped, he was loving this. Miraculously, the last-ditch act of pulling down my pants and sitting on the scarf was like a psychological plug on my bladder and the feeling passed. I pulled up my pants and spent the rest of the time before the first stop counting the painted lines on the road. Every time I had the urge to pee, I repeated this weird pants-down-scarf-sitting and it worked. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I had to run away from the French guy, though.

Cabo Verde Escudo

Cabo Verde Escudo

7. Do you have any regrets when it comes to previous trips?

Not following my own system. The (fortunately only) few times I’ve been robbed over the past couple of decades of travel happened because I didn’t follow my own system of securing money. A traveller has to be really consistent with certain things, because all it takes is that one inconsistency mixed with fatigue to let your guard down. It’s one thing to be robbed at home, you can still manage the day-to-day stuff and replace ID easily, but put yourself alone in a different country (especially in a foreign language you can’t speak) and it can turn into a nightmare.

on our way to fly over Manhattan

on our way to fly over Manhattan

8. What are the best and the worst things that have happened to you while flying?

Commercial flying: I opted for an airline-paid layover in Las Vegas a couple of years ago when my plane had mechanical failure (my other option was Buffalo, NY; no contest). Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to get upgraded to business a few times on a bunch of different airlines, most recently was last year on Air Canada. I always wanted to take those opportunities to gossip about celebrities doing stupid things, but there was only once when I got upgraded when I saw someone remotely famous, but I think he’s only famous in Canada. The most embarrassing moment in recent years was when I ordered a kosher meal on a flight to London, for kicks.

General Aviation flying: while flying over Manhattan in the VFR Corridor (my late husband was the pilot) in 2005, I learned the valuable lesson of not drinking anything just before taking such a flight. Won’t do that again!

couchsurfers giving free hugs

couchsurfers giving free hugs at Kensington Market in Toronto

9. How do you prepare for a trip?

Mostly internet research or talking to people I know who have been there. I try to use independent (read: unsponsored) travel blogs or sites geared to independent travellers, rather than forums where the users are resort/cruise people who enjoy being catered to and rate their experience according to service level or the weather (!–seriously, people do this). I use hospitality exchange sites wherever possible, not just to find hosts but to get local advice and to meet up with locals even if I’m not staying with them. (Couchsurfing converted to a B-Corp a few years ago which riled their user base, including us. We recommend BeWelcome as an alternative.)

sunset over Paris

sunset over Paris

10. What’s the one thing you didn’t foresee when you first started your blog?

Haha, I just get one? OK, one thing I didn’t foresee was how many things this blog has brought to me. I’ve had good fortune from it, like getting invited to stay in central Paris with a local, and having my iPod Touch returned to me in Atlanta when I dropped it in a cafe. The blog has also brought me freelance work. But the best part is that I’ve made close friends and interesting acquaintances through its history on the web, people I’d never have met otherwise. It’s like a 12-year old calling card!

Be Happy, It’s Monday

Be Happy It's Monday

somewhere in Toronto (April 29, 2007)

Sometimes, I just don’t feel like (photo) editing.

Sometimes, it’s more entertaining to revisit the archives to see what I posted five or 10 years ago.

Five years ago, someone did a hit-and-run, busting the driver’s side mirror on my car (one of many such incidents while I lived in Toronto) just before I had to fly to Vancouver. I remember being incensed at the time because it was just one more thing to deal with on short notice, but in the end my Aussie friend and neighbour helped me out.

More interesting is the post I wrote 10 years ago about cheating, asking if there are situations where it may be justified or rationalized. See the post for the responses.

One notable thing I did today was make my first bacalhau com natas (creamed cod) dish. It’s a lot of work to make, but it turned out well and was consumed in no time, that being less than a tenth of the time it took to make it.


My Travel ABC

Franz Josef Glacier, NZ (film scan)

Franz Josef Glacier, NZ (film scan)

I was tagged by Zhu!

A: Age you went on your first international trip: 2 years old, when my family moved to Canada. On my own, 19, overland to L.A. via ridesharing, then Australia and onwards. I returned for a few weeks two years later, then was abroad for another two in a row.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: I used to drink really dark English ale, the darker the better. Newcastle Brown sort of dark. But then I discovered the local versions of the wheat/white beers like Hoegaarden from The Netherlands and Germany’s Hefeweisen. Belgium has witbier. I like the fruity, summer beers — more refreshing.

draught sampler, Beer Bistro (Toronto)

draught sampler, Beer Bistro (Toronto)

C: Cuisine (favorite): It’s probably a tie between Thai and Indian, but I love sushi, too.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: Favourite — I am pretty fond of Switzerland, visually and gastronomically. Say what you will, the whole country is one big postcard. You could say the same for New Zealand, too, although they have more variety of climate. Least favourite — ?

Gandria on Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Gandria on Lake Lugano, Switzerland

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Everyone knows about Oktoberfest, but “Silvester” (New Year) in Germany is pretty crazy! Especially along the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, the city’s red light district. But if you’re at all spooked by large-scale fireworks, I highly recommend you do not go.

F: Favorite mode of transportation: I love to mix my modes of transportation — too long on anything makes me restless. I never get motion sickness, which helps, so bus, train, boat, motorcycle, taxi, camel, anything goes. I’ve gone horseback riding a bunch of times, but I’m a little scared of horses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: when people make an assumption about where I’m from and by how I look, and I completely shock them when I open my mouth and speak. Canada is an immigrant country, and many people either forget that or simply aren’t aware. I believe I’m a good ambassador for Canada, however, and am always looking for opportunities to up-end stereotypes and racial biases.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: for both dry heat and humid heat, Australia. I prefer dry heat, though, six months in the tropical north of Queensland sapped my energy.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: I don’t actually like service, I am a self-serve sort of person. I’ve had good service everywhere, maybe it’s because people who look like me are usually the ones serving.

South Simcoe Railway (Ontario)

middle of… (South Simcoe Railway, Ontario)

J: Journey that took the longest: it probably was not the longest single trip, but fourth-class rail in Thailand from the Malaysian border to Bangkok was overnight and took FOREVER. There is no guaranteed seating, and the toilet is literally a hole in the train floor. There was lots of mekong whiskey-fuelled drunken singing, chickens, and taking turns sleeping and standing because there were more people than seats most of the time. I don’t think fourth-class rail even exists anymore on Thai trains?

K: Keepsake from your travels: I steal airline blankets, ssshhhhh… (I use them for picnics and outdoor shoots!) Pictures are my only keepsake, and even then I have big gaping holes of time with no photos at all because I didn’t own a camera. I try and find local music to bring home, too, CDs with covers I can’t read. Music is universal.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: I remember seeing the Sydney Opera House for the first time. It was smaller than I’d expected (see how postcards can be so distorted?), and the sails didn’t look white to me. It’s the most photographed thing in the harbour, but I lost interest right away.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: I can’t remember a time when I chose to stay at home when I had the means (and even times when I didn’t), so I would say always.

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: hard to say, but the best hotel BED I’ve ever experienced was a weekend at the Grand Hyatt New York, at Grand Central Station. It was like sleeping on a cloud. I wanted to take that bed home with me!

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Food, street scenes (when I’m feeling brave), children and the elderly.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?: I’m nearly at the end of my fourth passport (since 18), and I don’t know if I can count them all. Some countries I’ve been to five times (Germany), four times (Netherlands), lots of transit-type trips, and one trip in 2003 involved 8 different airports around Europe.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: I was travelling with this English bloke north through Australia, and he managed to convince me to detour with him to find The Pub With No Beer. It was literally in the middle of nowhere (like many things in Australia are), and it took ages to get there. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but The Pub With No Beer is a lie: they have beer.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: the most amount of money I’ve spent at any one time on goods was in 2007 when I had two leather jackets custom made in Fez, Morocco.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: dress up in traditional clothing and pose for a cheesy photo, in Volendam:

a German, a Canadian, a Dutchie, and an Englishwoman walk into a bar... (Volendam, NL)

with friends in Volendam, NL (click on the pic for notes in Flickr)

U: Unforgettable travel memory: some near-death experiences involving the ocean (before I taught myself how to tread water), river surfing on the Kawarau River in Queenstown, NZ, on a ferry boat racing to Mersing (Malaysia) because there was a man on board bleeding to death who needed to get to the hospital, the shared taxi racing to Malaka for Chinese New Year (we all thought we would perish), and other adrenaline-fuelled events like bungy jumping over the rainforest in Australia. I have a pretty good memory for moments where I felt like I was in danger!

[video link]

V: Visas, how many and for where?: with a Canadian passport there aren’t many places that require visas, but my old passports have visas from Thailand, Australia, and other places. The most colourful one is from Thailand.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?: I don’t drink wine anymore, but I still love sangria, especially homemade with Santa Rita merlot (from Chile).

X: eXcellent view and from where?: the views from my former office on the Sunshine Coast are pretty spectacular. Actually, much of British Columbia is pretty amazing.

Lower Joffre Lake

Lower Joffre Lake, BC (film scan)

Y: Years spent traveling?: After moving to Canada, I travelled with my parents to the Philippines once but mostly regular trips to the USA. I’ve been travelling solo since I was 18. I’ve only travelled with a companion internationally on three occasions in 21+ years (Stuart, Cetin, and Tyrone).

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?: If you’re at all familiar with the sectarianism in Glasgow (Celtics vs. Rangers football clubs), it’s only a little less intense in Edinburgh, where I sat in the Protestant section wearing the “wrong” colour, i.e., something that had a bit of green on it. (Protestant colours are mostly blue and also orange.) They asked me to take off my shirt but I turned it inside-out instead.