3.25.2010

Thursday 13: My Favorite Countries

If you read my About section, you'll know that we've traveled extensively as a family, as well as lived in some pretty interesting places.  Over time, I've deemed some places as "favorites;" others, "I will never visit that stinking hellhole again."  These are my favorites.

1.  USA.  I am an American, and a proud one at that.  Despite whatever political turmoil we may be going through right now, there is no other place that I would rather live.  We have most of our freedoms intact, we have extreme freedom of religion, and we have some of the most beautiful countryside that I've ever seen, from pristine beaches to sparse deserts to pine-covered mountains.  Interestingly enough, there is a lot of the US that I still need to see, and I have about 3 more years before I *should* have visited all 50 states.  Alaska probably won't happen, but I might be able to swing the other ones.

2. Canada.  I've never been to Canada, so it technically shouldn't be on this list.  However, ever since my little brother made me watch a Degrassi marathon with him a year or so ago, I've become obsessed with visiting the Great White North.  Visiting Toronto and/or Montreal was actually a condition of my accepting the move to the East Coast.  Matt promised me that we would be munching on french fries and gravy before 2010 is over ... we're actually thinking about going in August.  Here's hoping.


3. United Kingdom.  I lived in the UK between 2004 and 2006, and I loved it.  There were some really annoying things about living there, mind you, but there were some really amazing things too.  I lived in the Fens, which are flat and kind of boring, but we were a hour's drive away from London, an hour from the beach, and some of the most beautiful rivers, surrounded by grassy banks and stately architecture.  I loved the pub atmosphere, being able to walk into town and grab a pint and a cheap meal while listening to the locals chatter.  I loved being within driving distance of some of the most famous landmarks in the world.  I loved the network of trains crisscrossing the country.  It was just ... well, I don't necessarily want to do it again, but I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.

4. Austria.  I've been in Austria twice in my life, once in 2001/2002 and once in the summer of 2008.  The first time, I visited a friend of mine over the Christmas break, and we had an absolute blast.  We went skiing, took in the sights in Innsbruck, made a day trip to Salzburg, and rung in the New Year with her classmates.  The second time, I met my husband's extended family for the first time.  They live in this tiny town in the Alps, and it was kind of a big deal that their American cousin was bringing his new (pregnant) bride and his daughter just to see them.  We took our time there, having backyard barbeques, hiking, and generally enjoying the outdoors.  As a matter of fact, we ended up staying an extra day because we enjoyed the slower pace of life so much.

5. Germany.  No matter what happens, I will always have some love for Germany because my husband and I were both born in Berlin.  As it turns out, we were both at the same festival in 1982, so the running joke is that he literally robbed the cradle back in the day.  You know, this toddler rolling up on the sleeping four-month-old in her stroller and pulling the whole, "Allo, schatzie, wie geht's*?"  I tend to agree, since we did spend part of our childhoods 20 minutes away from each other.  But things I love about Germany: the food, the wine, the beer, the scenery, the overall culture, the fact that no one actually wears lederhosen.

*A very loose translation of "Hey, shorty, what's up?"

6. Belgium.  I visited Belgium in 2006, about a month before I moved back to the States, and I adored it.  We were staying in a tiny little town a few miles southwest (?) of the Netherlands' border, so that trip actually included a day trip to Maastricht.  Again, I loved the food, the beer, and the slower pace of life.  I really enjoyed the small town, the architecture, and the fact that even though this town had maybe a quarter of a million people--and I think I'm overestimating--there was still a fairly active Red Light District.  That just cracked me up.

7. Greece.  What isn't there to love about island life?  Mediterranean island life, at that?  I feel the same way.  I went to Zakynthos in 2005 as a birthday present to myself with the intention of sitting on the beach for four days.  I did exactly that, stretching myself along flat expanses of white sand, gazing out over the calm, azure Ionian Sea, drinking beer, and eating some of the most fabulous food I've ever had.  I don't think I could ever recreate the trip, but I wouldn't mind trying.

8. Italy.  I've been to Italy three times, once in 2002, once in 2005, and once in 2006.  In 2002, I went to Verona and Venice.  In 2005, we were only passing through Trieste.  In 2006, I took my brother to Rome for a few days.  While each place had its own charm, they all had an amazing use of stone in the architecture (can you tell I like buildings?).  Rome was particularly enjoyable because my bro is somewhat of an expert in ancient Roman history, so he functioned as the font of information while I provided directions.

9. Spain.  I went to the northern coast of Spain in May 2006 because we found extremely cheap tickets and hotel.  Little did we know that this area of Spain had only recently opened to English-speaking tourists and the northern coast is COLD in May ... it still was one of the most fabulous trips I've been on.  We were forced to use some of our limited Spanish, we ate like royalty, and we were basically able to kick back for a few days.  My travel companions didn't enjoy the trip as much--they wanted to do some serious clubbing--but I loved the relaxation.

10. Argentina.  Matt and I went to Buenos Aires for our honeymoon in 2008.  We chose it after a lot of deliberation and second-guessing ourselves, but we're glad that we went.  The city is gorgeous and full of history, and honestly, we enjoyed living the high life for a week.  If we had to do it again, we would probably go to Mar del Plata instead of staying in the city, but we fully enjoyed our trip as it was.

11. Slovenia.  I'm not sure how to describe Slovenia.  It has kind of a rundown air to it, which is off-putting at first.  However, the area we were staying is just ... wonderful.  We stayed on Lake Bled, which is nestled in the Julian Alps, and it's largely unspoiled by commerce.  There's shopping and some touristy stuff, of course, but the main view is just this massive, snow-capped mountain painted against a slate-blue sky.  It's beautiful and serene.  Oh, and did I mention the food?  O.M.G.

12. Czech Republic.  I don't know if I can give a fair assessment of the CR considering that I was only there for about 10 hours and we only went to Prague.  However, those 10 hours were packed full of sight-seeing, drinking, eating, and running around this old, stately city.  I enjoyed it.

13. Russia.  Finally, Russia.  I've lived here twice, both times with local families on study-abroad programs, and I adore it.  Don't get me wrong, there's a definite shadow of the former Soviet Union lingering over the country, but there's no denying the wonder of the history that possess this country.  I loved being able to walk from my host family's house to a THOUSAND-year-old structure in less than 15 minutes.  I loved being so close to the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg.  I enjoyed being able to go to the ballet at the drop of a hat and taking an overnight train to Moscow to visit friends.  I was lonely during these trips, for sure, but I wouldn't take them back for the world.
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