Captivating Kotor

If you’ve read any of those lists circulating lately about the Top 10 destinations you MUST get to this year, then you’ve most certainly heard of Kotor – only you may have no real idea as to where it is, because I surely did not prior to the summer. In continuing along my Balkans Bouncing, Kotor came as one of the most beautiful and invigorating suggestions, and I’m so happy that I went.

Kotor is an exquisite and still fairly untouched-by-tourists seaside town on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro; nestled between Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina to the west and Albania to the south. Only a hop and an offered day-trip away from Dubrovnik, Kotor is virtually the opposite in terms of what you get. Where Dubrovnik is crazy expensive and crawling with tourists from all over the globe (mostly Game of Thrones fans), Kotor is still mellow and just beginning to get traction from commercial cruise liners. I’ll say it now though, it’s only a matter of time until that bay is jam-packed with Titanics. Once people hear about it the treasure chest will come flying open. So, get there now!

Initially, Kotor was ‘planned’ as a one night stay, which quickly turned into 4 nights worth. During my time there I found out I wasn’t alone in this scenario – which could be attributed to the adorably pushy front desk boy with the big brown eyes telling you to stay so you can check out an abandoned building together, or the straight up relaxation, views, and slow change of pace that are so very welcome when your back is killing from backpacks and cramped bus seats.

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So, if you’re in the market for a treat to your eyes, a little burn for your thighs, and some relaxing vibes, then Kotor is just for you!

EYES

Every angle of Kotor is unbelievable, so your eyes are bound to be in constant wonder. Whether it’s from admiring the walled city from the outside, wandering amidst the old city walls, or climbing up to the top of the UNESCO protected Kotor Fortress, you will not be disappointed. I spent a lot of my time just wandering around all the little Medieval alleyways reminding myself to keep looking up.

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City guard shark

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I also ventured outside the old town to walk along the Adriatic and try my hardest to tackle at least one abandoned building break-in, which unfortunately to my dismay was an unsuccessful feat. There’s just something about a place left in mysterious disarray that really gets me excited, and well, in Kotor there happens to be the old Hotel Fjord. Sometime in the mid-90s the owner had money problems, forcing the prime property to never see the check-in of one single visitor. When I went to try and jump a fence, I soon noticed that there was absolutely no way in, and later found out that along with the surrounding fence, the authorities had set up cameras to prevent squatters from stealing old mattresses. Why that matters is beyond me, but I was quite displeased.

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The closest I got was to the trash-laden pool at the sea’s edge, where people basked just a stone’s throw away.

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THIGHS

Perhaps the biggest must-do in Kotor is the hike to the top of the fortress. While I am by no means an avid hiker, I do enjoy the view from the top, and the feeling of worked out thighs. Typically the hike is supposed to take a couple hours to ascend, and significantly less to get back down, however, my Kotor friend and I took a leisurely five hours to reach the view point – which was worth every single second!

Instead of entering through the designated entrance within the city walls, Michaela had been tipped off my the cute front desk boy that there’s a quicker (and free) way to start the climb from just outside the walls. So we took his tip and got on our way.

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The hike up was excruciatingly hot and picturesque, causing us to stop and disrobe or pose for photos with our magnificent backdrop around nearly every turn. When we got about half way up there was an abandoned church just nestled into the mountainside. The inside was all eroded with time, with colors from old frescos faintly decorating the walls and ceiling.

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It was around here that we reached a fork in the road. To the right was the entrance to the city wall path, and to the left was a suspicious sign saying cold drinks and fresh goat cheese. Initially we thought ‘nahh’ we don’t want to get killed on the side of a massive mountain, but then turned around because why not. And it was the sweetest detour we could have made!

We arrived at the home tucked high on the mountainside where a family has lived for 40 years making their own cheese, selling refreshments on the fortress path to sweltering hikers, and whose children ‘commute’ down the mountain to school everyday. We relaxed, watched the women care for their goats, ate delicious goat cheese from said goats, and enjoyed some of the most spectacular views my eyes have ever been privy to.

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After almost getting stampeded by a gaggle of wild goats and a brief photoshoot, we made it inside the walls and successfully mounted the mountain. Feast your eyes on that Pterodactyl call!

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VIBES

When you’re done feeling the burn, it’s time to max, relax, and chillax; and there’s no better place to do just that if you’re bouncing through the Balkans. While the sea is overrun with cruisers on their daily stop-off, the shore also has this gorgeous Mediterranean vibe that just can’t be messed with. Not to mention, if you’re a beach goer used to riding and diving in waves, and dodging from impending shark attacks, you will not get that here, or really anywhere in these parts. The serene waters are perfect for playing, swimming, wading, and always people watching – which this group of 60s-ish men playing a game of dive & catch really brought home for me.

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When you’ve surely worked up an appetite there is no shortage of fresh fish restaurants littering the old town. After my time in Bosnia and Serbia I seriously meated myself out, arriving in Croatia and Montenegro on a purely fish kick which did not disappoint. I treated myself to a couple fresh fish feasts at one of the oldest fish restaurants in Old Town Kotor, Scala Santa, which also happened to be just across from my amazing hostel. I left with a very happy tummy each night.

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When I wasn’t busy eating or basking, I was wandering (of course). A couple times I happily stumbled on some pop up antique collections, one which was so crazy to me. This guy was selling hundreds or thousands of year old coins and weapons that his father had found in the surrounding areas. It was mind-boggling to me since I have only seen such artifacts in museums; but here I was able to hold them and really examine them with an up close eye. Definitely my kind of enjoyment!

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Kotor is on all those lists for a very good reason, as it’s a little gem craving to be visited. It’s got the perfect temperament for romantic getaway or solo jaunt and anything in between.

Have you visited Kotor or anywhere else in Montenegro? What were your thoughts? Have I persuaded you to add this magical place to your travel bucket list? I hope so! 

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A Summer Holiday In That Other Side of Greece

The last time I was in Greece was in October 2007 with my mom and brother. I’ve wanted to return so badly, and finally had the free time and a pretty sexy reason (if that’s even a requirement) to return. This time for a couple months (yikes) holiday in between my trip home and my return to Spain in October. Not too shabby and a lot a bit scary. I’m here this summer with absolutely nothing to do but eat tzatziki and the reddest tomatoes on the planet, walk around getting blacker by the second, jump in mediterranean waters, squeeze in some exam studying, tend to this blog which I’ve handsomely neglected this year, and see some untouched Greece along the way. Nothing to do. Who even has time to say that? Not many, especially the Greek I’ve come to see.

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My heavenly first meal.

So here I am in the northwest region of Epirus, neighboring the island of Corfu and Albania, in the city of Ioannina, which I’ve been told has about the same population as Santa Barbara County (for those interested in population counts and want a point of reference). It ain’t big, but my, is it beautiful and untouched, and a side of Greece that few, if any, think of when the country comes to mind. At its center lies Lake Pamvotis, with the unnamed island perched in the center. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the city of Ioannina was once quite secluded and a journey to get to, until the initiation of a great highway system.

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The view from way up in the mountain village of Ligiades.

On my first day here, Mr. Chops zipped us around town via sparkling red Vespa, and my first thought after “I hope I don’t fall off this thing,” was “this is exactly what I envisioned for my European life!” those eons ago when I first planted the seed of a life in Europe in my 10 year old brain. The city consists of a bustling stream of cafes and shops surrounding the hushed part of town lying within the once-upon-a-time castle walls. There are cobblestone streets aplenty, renovated buildings side-by-side with ones in disarray and graffiti, a stunning lake, and of course since it’s Greece, captain of all things ancient and crumbling, a plethora of remnants from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras.

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Lambchops has been quite concerned for my boredom here, and how I’ll keep busy for a summer, which is unbearably sweet. To be honest, there isn’t a ton to do in the realm of excitement, so I understand, but I’m also not looking for a crazy time; and gorgeous places are within a mountain’s drive or boat ride away. I also like to wander, so I’ve done enough of that to turn about 5 shades of negro darker and find myself in a new part of town on most days when he comes to fetch me after work around plus or minus 3pm.

Of the ways I’ve spent my weekday afternoons while he’s been busy working his brain off and I’m not trying to add my womanly touch to his quarters (lots of scrubbing required), well, let me break them down for you.

1. Drink Coffee Like the Greeks Do, and People Watch

There are so many cafes in this city that it’s quite hard to choose just the right one. They’re all so cute, and when I look for a cafe to sit in I definitely look for a ‘cute’ ambience. I know, how girly of me. But after coming from Korea, land of the cafe, to Spain thats sucks as far as cafe culture goes, Greece has the cafe on lock. After you’ve chosen your locale, choose your coffee. Nescafé rose to fame some time ago with their Frappé, or simply Nescafé because they own that entire market. They’re quite sweet, and from the looks of the tummies on most men, consumed on the regular. I personally have been ordering an Espresso Freddo, which is essentially espresso over ice with sugar, only I ask for medium sugar because health (and I just can’t do espresso black because of sensitive tummy and bitterness). And when I’m feeling particularly in need of calming, and mind-traveling, a glass of white wine, because I’m in Europe and that’s what people do in the afternoon besides eat a huge lunch and nap.

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The lines of people waiting to retrieve their 50 euro per day is real.

2. Walk Through the Castle Walls

If you’re in the market for some quiet wandering, just walk towards the lake and you will be met with these ancient walls at one point or another. Once you enter it’ll amaze you how you can hear a pin drop. It’s so unbelievably quiet (unless you’re being followed by a hoard of loud and obnoxious out-of-work youths). These homes are from what I have been told some of the most expensive property in the city, and date back 100s of years. This region of the city has seen many changes in power whether under the Byzantine or Ottoman rule of Ali Pasha. Walking through here is one of those reasons why Greece is so fascinating to me as an American. It’s amazing to see structures like Ottoman bathhouses that have been preserved from seriously hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

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3. Visit Its Kale Fortress

As I already mentioned, it’s really amazing to walk through a modern city, and then stumble onto remnants of eras passed. Within the castle walls lies yet another set of walls, and the former home of the Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha. Sitting high on the acropolis overlooking Lake Pamvotis, this fortified area underwent massive amounts of renovation during his rule. While his palace is in ruins, there also lies Fetiyie Mosque overlooking the lake, with his immaculately designed tomb just in front, and the Byzantine Museum in between the two.

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Fetiyie Mosque, The Byzantine Museum, & the residence of Ali Pasha.

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The final resting place of Ali Pasha and one of his wives.

4. Ferry Out To the Nameless Island

A ferry leaves the main port in Ioannina every 30 minutes and makes its 10 minute journey over to the island, which plays home to approximately 100 people. Aside from the restaurants serving up fresh seafood (the specialty I hear is eel, and not my thang), there are a few streets filled with residents begging you to buy souvenirs of silver and baklava from their little shops. Delicious baklava I might add. Once you get past the main entry point, you are free to wander and roam through the white-washed walkways and see the many Ottoman-era monasteries that litter the tiny island. I walked past some, but frankly it was too hot to ascend the hills, plus I get cathedraled or religiositied out and am more into seeing how the people live and the picturesque streets and boats. I basically went to the island and spent a lazy afternoon walking around, swatting mosquitos, itching my bites, visiting the Ali Pasha museum where he was beheaded, drinking white wine by the lake, and talking to two little girls who were in awe of the foreign English speaker at their cousin’s restaurant on this tiny little island.

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The salvaged canon (and balls) used by Ali Pasha to protect from the Turks when Ioannina was seized between  1820 – 1822.

5. Visit Ioannina of the Mountains

This is of course just what I call it. One of my first days here, we took the vespa way up (about halfway up) the mountain on the other side of Lake Pamvotis to a lookout point, that also happens to bear a monument in memoriam to the people of Ligiades who were massacred by the Germans in October 1943. Fun little fact about Ioannina is that before World War II, it was also home to the biggest Jewish population in all of Greece. Who knows, perhaps the Greek side of Mama Schaeff’s family originated from here before settling in Odessa. I wonder! Though not religious in any sense of the word, I am fascinated by Jewish history, and love that Mr. Chops has enlightened me to that history of his city. And funny I’d end up here, in the land of Greek Orthodox.

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6. Jump In A Pool

When the heat needs to be beat, jump in a huge vat of water at a hotel pool. Ioannina is about an hour from the beaches of Igoumenitsa, Sivota, and Preveza (amongst others) which we have definitely visited, but you can see are a bit out of everyday reach when sans vehicle or public transport. So pool it is! Lambchops told me about Hotel du Lac which has a lovely pool open to the public for 8 euros a pop, which is more than worth it for a dip and a shade change in the dead of summer. They also have other nice spa treatments and massages which I may just treat myself to in the not so distant future.

7. Get Fit

Lambchops and I said we were gonna get active and keep our health regimes in check, which I think we’ve both done a decent time of maintaining despite the lack of cooking utensils and materials in his apartment. That aside, we are big meal sharers, and I found the studio Yoga Union which is excellent, unlike the yoga I signed up for in Korea (me, a sweater who never sweat, imagine that). I signed up for the month, and at the very least it gives me one thing I need to commit to!

8. When All Else Fails…

Take a nap, because the entire city turns into a ghost town between the hours of 3-5pm. The siesta culture here is insane. Even more pronounced than that of Spain, the country that claims the siesta. I was out walking around one afternoon and was literally in awe. It’s one of those things you don’t really fully believe until you see that absolutely nothing is open and any restaurant that is actually open is sans comida. I’m not kidding, there’s even a typed out reminder to keep your trap shut during said hours in the entryway to his apartment building.

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Now that you’ve seen the exhilarating ways I’ve been spending my early afternoons, stay tuned for the late afternoon/early evening excursions to come. They’ve been beautious and open an eye to a historical and lush side of Greece that you will definitely want to see if you haven’t already!

Lovely Liebster Love

The month of August was an utter and complete whirlwind. I’m back in LALA Land, but still whirling from the constant moving that did not stop for a month. There was packing to get out of my apartment, schlepping to Joshy’s apartment, too many emotions, and then the final schlepp to the airport which took even more out of me. Now that I’m back home, I’m suffering from major Korea withdrawals and being that emotional basket case who cries at lunch from this stupid empty feeling. Not to mention, the anxiety is mounting as my impending move date to Madrid grows nearer.  I feel this ridiculous sadness as I mourn the loss of Korea, and an I-don’t-even-know what the feeling is, of moving to yet another continent with one checked bag and less than stellar Spanish in 20 days and counting. Needless to say, I’m a mumbo jumbo of so many feels and it’s stressing me out.

But, in the midst of my swirly twirly typhoon, I got nominated for a lovely Liebster Award by Courtney of Adelante! I stumbled upon Courtney’s blog when I began researching and getting hardcore legit with my move to Spain. She was featured on another blog by a past Koreana turned Spanish lass who did a low down on all of the different teaching programs in Spain. It was a natural progression to follow along with her on her journey, and not to mention, admire her stunning photography. So, thank you mucho for the nomination, I am honored and hope we can meet soon enough in España!

What is a Liebster Award, you ask?

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Well, I actually had to refer to the internet because I’ve heard about it, but wasn’t quite completely in the know myself. The internet is a wealth of knowledge, in case you were curious. Essentially, the Liebster is an award awarded to bloggers by other bloggers, and in German means something along the lines of “dearest”, “beloved” and “sweetest”. It’s a bit like a chain letter, in that once you receive the award you’ve got to pass it on to other bloggers who you enjoy! Or, you can just bask in the honor and carry on with your life relishing in your adoration.

It wouldn’t be a chain letter award without rules, now would it? No one will die though if you don’t pass it on in 8453845 seconds.

  • Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you
  • Answer their 10 questions for you
  • Nominate 5-10 blogs that you think deserve the award
  • Create a set of 10 new questions for them to answer
  • Notify your nominees!

So now, without further adieu:

 
1. If teleportation were suddenly discovered, where would be the first place you’d go?

Back to Korea, just to pop in, and then I think India. I want to go to India so badly and it’s tippy top of my list. I’m so ready to get down and dirty with my feels and frustrations in a pit of filth. The filth part is an exaggeration, as I obviously would prefer cleanliness.

2. Out of all the places you’ve traveled to, which country had the best cuisine? Which had the worst?

I’m extremely biased to Korean food, because let’s face it, I’ve become so Asian since spending the last 3 years there and it’ll always hold a special place on my palate.  I think it goes without saying that Korean food is my favorite foreign cuisine, but I’m going to disqualify it because I spent the most time there. Of everywhere else I’ve traveled I’ll say Vietnam because pho, vermicelli, banh mi, spring rolls, and endless Vietnamese coffee, which is the best cup o’ joe on the planet. The worst was definitely Laos. Maybe Steph and I just consistently frequented the wrong haunts, but while beef jerky is delicious, it does not a dinner make. Nor does slosh that tastes like forest.

See. Devoured.

Demolished that Sriracha red sea.

I believe this hunk of junk was called "Day Smashed Meat"

I believe this hunk of junk was called “Day Smashed Meat”.

3. If you could live in one city anywhere in the world for the rest of your life, where would you live?

Florence, no questions asked. Both times I’ve been there I just wandered and got lost and got lost again. It is my favorite city in the world and I adore it to death, even if Papa Schaeff did get pick-pocketed by a coupla gypsies slangin scarves while we were strolling through Ponte Vecchio.

This was the first time I met a Smart Car. In awe of the stupidity.

2006 was the first time I met a Smart Car. In awe of the ridiculousness.

4. Is there a city or country that some people are crazy about, but you’re not interested in visiting?

Malaysia. It is the one country, particularly in Asia, that I have zero desire to visit. I’ve had a layover in Kuala Lumpur and couldn’t stand the airport. But I can say that about Shanghai’s Pudong Airport too, but I still want to go there. I also don’t like the name. I know that sounds silly, but I don’t like the sound of it and maybe that has some influence on why I don’t want to go there. Kinda like how I don’t like pork because I hate the color of it. I’m weird, I know.

5. Do you have a go-to playlist for long-haul flights? If so, what does it include?

I don’t really have any playlists on my phone, I think I’m weird like that. I usually just shuffle my songs, end up skipping past a bunch I don’t want to listen to and then go into my songs to find the one I want when shuffling proves too annoying. I’m a little ADD in that sense. However, there are a few songs that always get my travel bug bouncing, and that actually really made me pull the trigger to move abroad.

The first is Boston by Augustana. My favorite lyric comes from this song, and it’s the song I always equate with inspiring me to leave America. It’s a bit sad, but also happy in a backwards way, at least to me. The second is Dog Days are Over by Florence & the Machine.  Token cliché because it’s from Eat, Pray, Love, but the words really resonate and the movie came out during the time I was applying to move to Korea, so it’s got lots of sentimental value. And last is Gypsy by Lady Gaga. This song pumps me up, and also makes me nostalgic for everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I want to go and all the people I love near and far.

6. What are three things that you can’t travel without?

A notebook, my phone which doubles as my camera (I know, I need to get a good honker already, I’ve just been a slacker), and medicine. I usually bring a little baggy of American drugs that I know I may need, usually containing some kind of stomach aide and something for feminine issues because shit gets real when you visit moist destinations. Apologies.

7. What’s your biggest pet peeve on airplanes?

Mostly just my restless leg syndrome because it takes me forever to get comfortable and I move around a lot, so I think I annoy myself maybe more than others. Oh, and people kicking my seat. Or having a middle seat. Or a more specific travel time when the flight attendant was so rude to me when I told her I didn’t eat pork and they gave away the last chicken dish (when I had specified that I don’t eat that), and she told me that I would have to deal because that was all they had left. I’m sorry. You gave my food away, make it happen. I’m flying 12 hours and hungry and paid an arm and a leg and I want to eat! This of course has only happened on American carriers.

8. What foreign language do you wish you could speak?

Since I’m going to Spain, I wish my Spanish was a million times better, though I’m hoping it’ll rush to the front of my brain ASAP. Other than that, I wish I could speak Hebrew. I used to be able to read it like a wizard, so I’d like to think that muscle memory will return if I study. I’d also like to expand my vocabulary beyond prayers and whore. Israel is on the bucket list of living, so perhaps I’ll have the chance for some progress.

It was a legit struggle, even on my Bat Mitzvah.

I was out of practice and it was hot atop the Masada. It was a struggle, but I succeeded and became a woman.

9. What is your favorite movie about travel?

Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, which I guess is more arty, but has the travel and getting lost in a city element. But definitely Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’ve seen the movie a million times, and every time I watch it I totally relate to Cristina on the getting lost in a city and culture aspect, and the added cherry on top of getting swept away by a local. It’s so whimsical and always makes me want to teleport to Europe right then.

10. What’s one destination that you are dying to get back to?

That’s a toughy because I’ve got a handful of places I’d like to hit up again. Though I’ll give Greece this one since I went in an October when it was the end of the season on the islands. They felt a bit ghost-towny, but still beautiful. I’d definitely like to return during the high season to see what the real fuss is all about. I’ve also got a reason to return since I’ll have a local Grecian tour guide who will double as the best reunion ever!

Because us Schaeffs are normal.

Brotha Schaeff petting my head in front of some ruins because we are normal.

That wasn’t too bad! Now to nominate my nominees. I actually had a couple I’d like to nominate but know they’ve already been awarded. I’m not sure what the rule on that is, aside from maybe the chain breaking or them being annoyed. I don’t know! I’ll just do it because I want to and they can break it if they want to. Afterall, this is about telling other bloggers that you love them!

My Nominees:

1. Tom of Waegook Tom. This guy CRACKS ME UP with every post. I think he’s my favorite blogger on the interwebs. I die every time. I also know you’ve been nominated because I read every post, but I guess I’m just nominating you to tell you that I love you.

2. Meagan of Life Outside of Texas. Meagan’s blog was one of the first that I stumbled upon when I was applying to come to Korea, and even though we’ve never met, we’ve virtual-talked about cool places all over Korea, and she was the inspiration for many places I visited or want to visit in Korea. Not to mention, she totally got me connected to other K-Town bloggers.

3. Nathan of Open Road Before Me. While I don’t enjoy hiking to save my life, and Nathan does tons of that, I always love reading his posts because he’s such a wonderful storyteller and paints the greatest visuals when he writes.

4. Joella of This Beijing Life. I never really had a desire to go to China, but Joella’s blog was one of the things that made China become a blip on my radar.

5. Ryan & Stephanie of Hedger’s Abroad. They always post stunning photos, and a bunch of places that I’ve traveled to in Korea and beyond were inspired by reading their tales. They’re also a super cute couple that enjoys traveling together, and I dig that.

 

My Questions:

1. What’s your most embarrassing travel story?

2. What’s the weirdest food you’ve tried?

3. What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had while traveling?

4. What song without fail will always pump you up?

5. Who was someone you met on your travels that really left a lasting impression on you?

6. How old were you when you got bit by the travel bug? Where did you go?

7. What’s the funniest place you’ve ever visited?

8. What is your preferred method of transport? Air, land or sea?

9. Have you ever gotten super sick while traveling?

10. Do you have a favorite photo from your travels?

 

Good luck guys! Sorry if you’ve already received the honors, but now you’re just doubly special! And once again, thank you Courtney!