Without Vanessa, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up! Last year, I arrived in rainy Dublin for the TBEX conference not knowing a soul. Without an umbrella, I sprinted from the hotel just in time catch Vanessa from Turnipseed Travel talk about making blogging her business – a concept that seemed miles away from where I was at that point in time.
That night, entering a dark room of 600 partying travel bloggers, none of whom I knew, I saw her in the distance holding court. Tugging slightly on her arm, I insinuated myself into her conversation. She introduced me to all the other bloggers around her. Two of those bloggers were from Philadelphia and over the year to come, they would be my cocktail buddies on my frequent trips home.
Here I am, a year on, a fully-fledged travel blogger and I give Vanessa credit for starting me on my way. It is my pleasure to have her as first Guest Bit for 2015!
- Where do you feel you really “savored the authentic” in your travels?
We arrived in Bagan, Myanmar, after a 9 hour boat ride down the Irrawaddy River. We were hot, sweaty, and tired and of course wanted nothing more than to just be magically transported to our hotel room. But nothing in Myanmar is ever straight forward when it comes to transportation so instead we found ourselves crouched in the back of a jeep – and in the middle of some kind of parade! Long lines of teenage girls walked down the side of the road wearing their Sunday best.
Smaller children danced beside them, scrubbed like shinny pennies, their hair smoothed back and their shirts smartly tucked in. A dilapidated truck, with massive speakers haphazardly attached, blared out PSY’s “Gentlemen”. If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was in the middle of some kind of Burmese debutants’ ball. To say we were a conspicuous addition to this parade was an understatement. So naturally we smiled and waved like we were meant to be there.
“What’s the special occasion”, we asked our driver. “Buddha festival” he replied. OF COURSE! Buddha festival! Doesn’t everyone know that solemn religious pilgrimages come with ball gowns and a little “Gangnam Style” on the side? It was a great, great moment.
- Where do you feel you experienced the most luxurious travel bit – depending on your own definition of luxury?
Luxury for me is being somewhere that silences the never ending to-do list in my head. Traveling often feels like I am juggling a dozen balls of critical information and I often wonder how many precious brain cells I have used up memorizing the Istanbul transit system or plucking up my courage to negotiate on a cab in Yangon or pleading with the universe to allow my airport connection to go off without a hitch.
So when I have one of those rare days where everything not only seems to go off without a hitch but actually go easily, it feels like an incredible luxury. The flight lands 10 minutes early – doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in first class. The directions to the hotel worked perfectly and there were even extra signs along the way – doesn’t matter that it’s only 2 stars.
We easily made it to the museum in time for the free guided tour – and we have time to drink a coffee while we wait. For me, luxury is a state of mind, not a star rating. I would give Athens a very high luxury rating. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the city just works and flows in the kind of way that makes you never want to stop walking.
- What keeps you going back to your favorite haunt/city/Best Bit?
I feel like the first answers that popped into my head – London, Paris, Hawaii – are almost too clichéd to be allowed! So instead I’m going to say Death Valley National Park. You can’t go wrong with a place whose unofficial motto is “hottest, lowest, driest”. It has a stark, unforgiving kind of beauty. It is a hotbed (get it J) of eeriness, of emptiness, and of a thousand intimate little moments.
A roadrunner coquettishly hopping around your feet as you eat datebread (made from local dates!), hoping for a crumb. Meanwhile, his arch-enemy the coyote is eager to steal your golf ball from the nearby course (yes, you can golf on the hottest place on earth – and Ryan did!). A prickly pear margarita and homemade onion rings are waiting for you in a saloon.
- If you had to pick one any where in the world, what would be your following:
Best Bed: The MGM Signature in Las Vegas. The air smelled like cinnamon and the bed linens were the softest I’ve ever had.
Best Bite: It’s been over a decade but I still remember the bread pudding (with bits of peaches) at Café Concerto in York, England. My second choice would be my favourite bakery in Paris, on Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Best Brew: The Queen’s Pub (QP) on the campus of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. You never lose affection for the first place to introduce you to coconut cream based beverages.
Best Binge: The shops of lower Princess Street, Kingston, Ontario. I’m sure it’s part sentimentality from my student days but this remains my go-to place for when I want gifts, books, jewelry, kitchen supplies, you name it. I try to go once a year and stock up on pretty things.
- What place did you leave your heart in?
Malawi. It was like a torrid love affair. When it was good, it was so very, very good. And when it was bad, it was horrid. It gets under your skin and you never fully leave.
Bio: Vanessa Chiasson is an ocean loving Maritimer now settled as a travel writer and social media strategist in Ottawa. She has presented at TBEX Dublin, WITS Chicago, and BConnected Ottawa and is a founding organizer of Travel Massive Ottawa. Vanessa was awarded Travel Writer of the Year by Norfolk County, Canada in 2013. Her work can be found at TurnipseedTravel.com.