Expectations are a funny thing, especially when travelling. When you have some idea of what’s in store it’s only natural to develop some idea or assumptions about it. Inevitably, that leads to one of three outcomes: excitement and joy if your expectations are exceeded, disappointment if they aren’t met, or it all looks just as you thought it would and, frankly, that just takes the fun out of it.
But what happens when you have no idea what’s around the corner, therefore no expectations? In my experience, it’s led to some of the best moments of my travels so far. I love simply exploring and seeing where it takes me. I turn left when I feel like it. I turn right when I feel like it. Although I sometimes end up somewhere of no significance at all, every now and then I stumble across something and all I can say is “wow”. Forget the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel or Niagara Falls – these moments are why I travel.
My favourite “wow” moments
Tour de France, Stage 1, 2011
We’re were almost a week into our trip through France and due to see our first bit of Tour de France action the following day. Stage 2, the team time trial, was being held in Les Essarts and with most of the town likely to be blocked off we wanted to suss out the situation so we could get the best vantage point. We set the sat nav to avoid any toll roads and ended up driving through every village between Fontenay-le-Comte and Les Essarts. When we drove into St Hermine there was lots of people in the street. There were flags up and it all looked very festive. In no great hurry to get to Les Essarts, we decided to park and see what was going on. A little while later the roads were closed. We’d driven straight into the route of first stage of le Tour 2012. The crowd wasn’t huge, we had great viewing spots and the car was only a hundred metres or so away if we needed anything. No amount of planning would have resulted in such a perfect setting. It’s one of the best days I’ve had at le Tour and happened simply because we didn’t want to pay a toll.
The world’s most beautiful bookshop, Venice
Anyone who has been to Venice knows what a stroll in the city is like – imagine a rat with no sense of smell trying to find its way through a maze to eat the cheese. You walk and walk without any idea of where you are or where you’re going. Then suddenly you bumped straight into the cheese, or in this case, the world’s most beautiful bookshop. I love bookshops, as does my Dad, so when we saw a sign declaring the shop behind it to be the world’s most beautiful, we went inside. Libreria Acqua Alta isn’t a great secret, although we hadn’t tracked it down upon reading a guide book. We were walking back to our hotel after visiting Murano Island and just found it. The shop is incredible – thousands of books in boats, bathtubs and a gondola stretching down the middle. It was the highlight of my time in Venice.
Monterosso’s Infiorata, Cinque Terre
Mum, Dad and I had just walked the last leg of the Cinque Terre. We were almost ready to leave Monterosso and catch the train back to our hotel in the first village. But we’d heard something about a nice church, so we thought we’d try to find it. We did find the church, but we also came across the town’s infiorata.
A couple of the streets had become the canvas for some amazing works of art – all made with flowers, petals and pebbles. It’s to celebrate a Catholic holiday nine weeks after Easter. Many towns do this – but not all. It was just our lucky day.
An incredible view, Jasper
In winter, the town of Jasper, in the Canadian Rockies, is covered with snow. But come late spring, only a few mountain peaks show any trace of it. I’d spent the day walking through some of the trails behind the town. Most of the time the trees were pretty dense and there wasn’t a view to speak of. I turned off one trail hoping to come to the lake marked on my map. I did. And this was what I saw:
Aside from the two girls I was walking with, I couldn’t see another soul. The water was sparkling, the sun beaming and the snow glistening. I was only a few days into my trip and as I stood on the sandbank looking out at that image, I was lost for words. It was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen and looking at that picture and thinking back to that moment still makes me a little giddy.
Berlin is renowned for its street art and I took a tour that explored this during my time in the city. But I came across one of Berlin’s most recognisable pieces without even trying. After leaving a Turkish Market and with a bit of time spare, I just walked. No destination in mind. Then I looked up and saw this piece. At the time I had no idea what I was looking at, but it was one of the first stops on my street art walking tour a few days later and the guide filled me in.
A Pyrenees panorama, France
Ever climbed a mountain and reached the top, only to realise it’s not the top, you don’t have the view you thought you did and there’s another bloody mountain to climb? It’s called a false summit and it’s what I feared I’d find after an impromptu hike in France. My sister, her partner and I were killing time at the summit on the Tour de France route and since we were surrounded by mountains, we decided to climb up one. But when we got to the top we weren’t disappointed. We had an amazing view and it was another “I can’t believe I’m here” moment. Perhaps the only thing that matched it that day was the crepe from the makeshift, generated-powered cafe on the edge of the course. I swear there was a whole tub of Nutella on that thing.