Last year wasn’t a big travelling year for me compared to recent years, but I did have a good excuse – I created (with the help of my wife) a new little traveller. Rosalie left the departure lounge on the 25th January – although she didn’t get her passport until she was 10 weeks old. We still did manage to get in a trip overseas and a few local trips. So, without further ado here are my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2016:
The Little Traveller
Okay, this isn’t a travel highlight, but it was the biggest highlight of 2016. And our little angel has already had a long international flight (where she didn’t sleep at all) and has even been to Wisconsin.
Wedding at a zoo
Racine, Wisconsin, USA
I love a good destination wedding and Wisconsin is up there for many people’s dream wedding destination. Okay, maybe not, but my brother-in-law’s wedding was in a stunning location and it was an absolute hoot. The short ceremony (you gotta love a short ceremony) took place next to a mob of curious meerkats at Racine zoo overlooking Lake Michigan. This was followed by a giraffe eating frenzy then a wedding guest eating frenzy.
First family trip away
Venus Bay, Victoria, Australia
Our first family trip away after the arrival of Rosalie wasn’t to anywhere exotic, but it was to somewhere locally that I hadn’t been to before. We had a lovely off-season long weekend at Venus Bay (two hours from Melbourne) where we hung out with mobs of kangaroos (coincidentally the same collective noun as meerkats!), went for walks in the bush and along near empty beaches (we did see one couple) and dined at the one and only restaurant in town.
Kayaking with ‘gators
Manchac Swamp, Louisiana, USA
Cue banjo music. There were no scary-looking locals on our swamp kayak tour, but there was a scary-looking alligator. Our guide told us to paddle slowly over to look at a ‘gator poking his head out of the water and when I paddled over he said quietly, ‘I think that’s close enough.’ I looked down and his beady little eyes (that’s the alligator, not the guide) were looking at me – and only half a metre away from my kayak. Actually, I was more scared when we got swamped (pun intended) by giant mozzies deep into the swamp later on in the tour.
Ski speed record
Falls Creek, Victoria, Australia
Ever since I got an app for my phone that measured speed when you are skiing I have been trying to crack the ton (100km/h), and this year at Falls Creek I finally did it. It took one of the steepest runs on the mountain (the appropriately named Big Dipper) with no people on it (it was the first run of the day) and going down the entire run in full tuck. If I’d done that speed on the freeway in a car I would have got a speeding fine. You’d think the older I get I’d slow down a bit…
New Orleans, USA
I do try get on a bicycle as much as I can when I travel. It is a great way to get a feel for a city (and often to escape the tourist hordes). I started the day with a two-hour guided bike tour of the French Quarter, but my favourite part of the day was when I rode solo through the surrounding neighbourhood for the afternoon. I ate at a local Po’ Boy restaurant (that the bicycle shop guy had recommended) and just took random turns down streets until I was hopelessly lost – and loved every minute of it as I checked out grand homes, parks and gardens and a cemetery.
Seeing in the New Year
Inverloch, Victoria, Australia
For the past few years we have been spending New Year’s Eve with good friends in Inverloch (just under two hours from Melbourne). Mostly our New Year’s Day is spent relaxing (okay, more like recovering), but we started the new year in 2016 with a very long walk. And what a spectacular walk it was. The George Bass Coastal Walk is a cliff top walk that stretches from the outskirts of San Remo for a (relatively) comfortable seven kilometres. We were treated to rolling hills on one side and the roaring surf crashing into towering cliffs on the other side. And my hangover was gone by the time I reached the end.
Minnesota State Fair
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the United States (by average daily attendance). Attendance in 2016 was a record 1,943,719 people – and the day I went was highest daily attendance in the history of the fair with 260,374 visitors. It makes our Royal Melbourne Show look like a primary school fete. At the State fair there is the usual livestock shows, music, amusement rides, but the two most famous things are the food and the Butter Queen. There is classic fair foods such as cotton candy and hot dogs, but it seems as if most of the food that I saw were deep fried or came on a stick. You could have deep-fried apple pie, deep-fried candy bars, deep-fried alligator-on-a-stick and even deep-fried spaghetti on a stick. The other big attraction (since 1964) is the Butter Queen. Each year, a new Princess Kay of the Milky Way is selected to promote Minnesota’s dairy industry. Part of the job involves posing for several hours in a walk-in, glass-walled refrigerator as a block of butter is carved into a head with her likeness.
Dad & Daughter Ski Weekend
Mt Hotham, Victoria, Australia
For the past seven years I have had a Dad & Daughter ski weekend (with another friend and his daughter) at Mt Hotham. We stay at the same lodge and all share a room. In 2016 we had great snow and weather and it’s even more fun now being able to hoot around the entire mountain with my daughter – even though she is not happy with me sometimes when I lead her down black runs without her knowing it is black!
New Orleans, USA
Food is often a highlight of my travels, so when I headed to New Orleans I was quite excited about indulging in the cuisine, which is entirely its own reflecting the city’s Cajun, Creole, and French roots. There were many food highlights, but my favourites were:
Po’ Boys: This New Orlean’s sandwich staple was invented to feed striking streetcar workers in 1929 (provided to the unpaid, picketing labourers free of charge—hence the name). I had two over different days from Johnny’s Po’ Boys, which has been operating out of the same French Quarter storefront since 1950. There are nearly 50 oversized Po’ Boys on the menu. I had the ‘famous’ Gulf oyster Po’ Boy and Blackened Chicken Po’ Boy.
Beignet: New Orleans’s signature pastry is the beignet, which was first introduced to the city by French immigrants. I had the not-so-healthy fried fritter of yeasted dough at Cafe Du Monde (which has been around since 1862). The cafe is very touristy, but even the locals told me that they serve the finest (not to mention the most iconic) example of the local sweet.
Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Red beans and rice: I had all these three local specialities at the local hangout bar/restaurant Coop’s Place. Gumbo is a Creole classic stew made with okra, chicken, cured pork, seafood and rice. Jambalaya is a relative of paella where the rice, stock, seasonings, vegetables, and meat are cooked together.
Shrimp Creole: I love a bit of ‘shrimp’ and this culinary delight came with fresh peeled shrimp, chopped onion, green pepper, green onion and chopped tomato.