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Travel: My Top Five Favourite Destinations and Hope for the Future

Perfectly still Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta
Ever since I finished school and started working full time, my jobs have involved at least some degree of travel.  This has afforded me some opportunities and insights, and I wanted to share some of that.

I've looked back on the past ten years and, since 1 January 2009, I've gone on a few dozen trips, for work purposes, for vacations, and in spending free time during work trips (i.e. weekends during multi-week conferences, extra days at personal cost, or days where you land the day before your meeting).  Destinations have included (not counting cities that I simply transited through or spent very little time in):
  • Switzerland
    • Geneva (no less than thirteen times)
    • Bern
    • Montreux (at least five times; a personal favourite)
    • Lausanne (three times)
    • Luzern (also spelled Lucerne)
    • Yverdon-les-Bains
  • France
    • Paris (no less than eight times)
    • Arras
    • Vimy Ridge
  • Netherlands
    • The Hague (twice, with more to come)
    • Amsterdam
  • China
    • Beijing (twice)
    • Wuxi
  • Malaysia
    • Kuala Lumpur
  • Trinidad and Tobago
    • Port of Spain
  • Belgium
    • Brussels
    • Ypres (also spelled Ieper)
  • Germany
    • Berlin
    • Bonn
  • Hungary
    • Budapest
  • Argentina
    • Buenos Aires
  • United States
    • Washington, DC
    • Raleigh, NC
    • Hobe Sound, FL
    • Miami, FL
    • Various cities in upstate NY
  • Mexico
    • Cozumel
    • Tulum
  • Cayman Islands
    • Various towns on Grand Cayman
  • Jamaica
    • Ocho Rio
  • Bahamas
    • Great Stirrup Cay
  • Canada
    • Toronto, ON
    • Montreal, QC
    • Quebec City, QC
    • Charlottetown, PEI
    • Summerside, PEI
    • Halifax, NS
    • Lunenberg, NS
    • Calgary, AB
    • Medicine Hat, AB
    • Banff National Park, AB
    • Drumheller, AB
    • Vancouver, BC
    • Victoria, BC
    • Fredericton, NB
    • Saint John, NB
    • Moncton, NB
    • Regina, SK
    • Moose Jaw, SK
    • Winnipeg, MB

All of the countries I've visited since 2009.

Some experiences:

In my travels, I've managed to see a number of cool things.  I can't describe all of them, but I wanted to mention a few, if only to highlight that visiting new places can enable some amazing experiences.  I'm only disappointed by the fact that my family hasn't been able to experience much of this with me.  My top five destinations so far (in no particular order):

  • Vimy Ridge monument, about two hours North of Paris.  A massive stone structure with the names of over 11,000 Canadians who lost their lives in France in World War I, but whose bodies were never identified.
    • Honourable mention: the war memorial in Arras, France, outside the train station nearest to Vimy.  It was built for the town's residents who died in World War I, and more plaques were added for casualties in subsequent wars.  The main feature is that it was damaged during World War II (bullet holes in the name plaques, and the angelic figure on top no longer has arms).  What's more poignant than a war memorial damaged by war? 
Vimy Ridge monument, views from quite a ways back.
  • The city of Ypres/Ieper in Belgium.  The "In Flanders Fields Museum" was a comprehensive World War I exhibit that included some amazing human elements.  Screens showing actors in costume and speaking English, French, Flemish, or German (as appropriate) telling "their" stories about the war (first use of chemical weapons, refugees fleeing the war, Christmas Truce of 1914, stories of nurses and surgeons trying to save as many lives as possible, etc.)  Much of the city was destroyed in the war, but was rebuilt and certain areas are made to look much older.  The city also features the Menin Gate, another massive stone structure featuring the names of over 54,000 British Empire soldiers (including almost 7,000 Canadians) who lost their lives in Belgium from the start of the war to mid-1917, but whose bodies were never identified.

Various photos of the Menin Gate in Ypres
  • The city of Montreux in Switzerland.  To one side, the Swiss Alps, with funiculaire trains that allow you to ascend a good kilometer.  To the other side, pristine Lake Geneva.  The older part of the city feels like it's on a 45 degree angle sometimes, and walking to its highest point was a bit tiring.  The boardwalk along the lake is beautiful, and in the winter was home to a Christmas market.  A few kilometers away sat the Château de Chillon, a castle that is now home to a museum.  When I first visited in 2011, the castle featured a temporary exhibit on witch trials.  I went back to Montreux multiple times, whenever I was in Geneva and had a Sunday to spare.  
Montreux, from halfway up a mountain. Château de Chillon in the middle.
  • The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  As a kid, I loved watching TV shows about how certain structures were built, and these towers featured prominently.  The skybridge connecting the towers is on the 41st floor.  After asking the tour guide about how the bridge isn't physically bolted to either tower (it rests on platforms, but isn't attached, so each tower can sway in the wind freely), and assuring her that I found that cool and not scary, she showed me a spot I could stick my hand outside the tower from 41 floors up.  Interactive screens on the bridge and the observation deck help identify what buildings you're looking at.  While in Kuala Lumpur I was also able to visit the national aquarium and the region's largest open-air aviary.
I lost the photos I took in Malaysia, but here is one of the Petronas towers at night from Wikipedia.
  • On a cruise with my wife, her parents, and her sisters, my favourite stop was Grand Cayman.  My wife, sisters-in-law, and I took a bus tour that first stopped at a town called Hell, known for its cool hellish rock formations and a post office (so your postcards are stamped as coming from Hell).  Next stop was my favourite: a turtle farm, where you can learn about turtles and their husbandry, and also get to hold little baby turtles!  My only regret is that I never got to taste turtle meat there (80% was for food, 10% for breeding stock, and 10% were released into the sea to keep natural populations up).  Finally, we took a little boat to a place where you could swim with the stingrays.  A wonderful, very busy day.
Hell, Grand Cayman

Turtle Farm! Grand Cayman

And that top five doesn't even include places like Paris or Beijing, which were absolutely fantastic places to visit!

I love museums almost universally.  I could walk through a museum on a subject I have little interest in and enjoy the artifacts, but I'd prefer something where I'm compelled to learn more.  Dinosaur museums in Ottawa, Toronto, Drumheller (Alberta), Geneva, and Beijing.  Art galleries in Paris, Amsterdam, and the Hague.  Generic museums covering a variety of subjects in Victoria, Regina, Toronto, Saint John, and elsewhere.  Strange and unique museums like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, the Police Museum in Vancouver, or the Tunnels of Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan).  All amazing learning opportunities and visiting experiences.

Sauropod dinosaur skull and neck fossils at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, AB. 
Microraptor fossils from the Paleontology museum in Beijing, China.

Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
An impressionist painting by Monet at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.  Not quite as good as Monet's massive Waterlily paintings at the Musée de l'Orangerie, also in Paris.

Madame Tussaud's wax museums are something of a guilty pleasure of mine. Taylor Swift, with my daughter's stuffed bear (more details on it in a future post).

My wife and I also have a goal of visiting legislatures across Canada.  Legislative assembly buildings are often among the oldest buildings in a city and let you learn about the area's history.  They also enable us to visit other museums and tourist destinations in the city.  We have so far toured the provincial legislatures in Victoria, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Québec City, Fredericton, Charlottetown, and Halifax, and the federal House of Commons and Governor-General's residence in Ottawa.  We still need to go to Edmonton, St. John's, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Iqaluit.  Each building offered its own stories (the old and new Maces in Toronto; the exhibit to the first conference in which Canada's founding fathers discussed confederation in Charlottetown; the erroneous stained glass windows in Victoria; the fossils in the stone in Winnipeg; etc.)  I refuse to pick a favourite.

Stained glass window inside the British Columbia provincial legislature in Victoria.  It was made shortly before BC joined Canada, but could not be installed because the provincial seal (top-centre) was not approved by Queen Victoria, one reason being the sunset being on top of the symbol of the British Empire (and the sun does not set over the British Empire!)

Hope for the future:

With my daughter now 15 months old, travel has entered a period where it is a bit more complicated.  She was an angel during our road trip through New Brunswick when she was but about six months old, but long road trip are more difficult now as she doesn't want to stay in the car seat for eight hours, and her sleep routine doesn't lend itself to staying in hotels for a week.  But the memories of her first legislature tour, or of me carrying her on the rocks near the Bay of Fundy are treasured, and I can't wait to continue seeing the world with her at my side.

My wife, daughter, and I on a boardwalk in Florida.  The first of hopefully many international trips with the little one!
Obviously I can't wait to resume touring provincial and territorial capitals.  I suspect the next one we do will be Edmonton, during which we would visit other parts of Alberta too.  I'm hoping to compromise that at least one territory capital could be visited in the late Fall or early Spring, while the rest would be enjoyed when it's warm out (my wife does not like the cold, but Canada's North must be experienced at least once when it's cold!).

At any rate, I hope that I'm able to continue visiting different parts of the world, and experience everything this planet has to offer.


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