Traveler Experiences

Kevin Fritz | Taking a Ride on the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec

“Funicular. Sure it’s a funny word, but it’s also a means of transportation that has been around for the past 150 years and can be found all over the globe. In old Quebec, the historic region of Quebec City, a funicular has been serving residents and tourists since 1879.  The main purpose of this inclined elevator system is for folks to easily maneuver between its two towns—Basse-Ville (Lower Town) and Haute-Ville (Higher Town).

It didn’t take my wife and me long to spy the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec Funicular) on the first day of our visit to the French-speaking city on the St. Lawrence River.  At first glance, the structure appears to be an amusement park ride meets water slide. Intrigued, we bypassed the oddity and opted to climb up and down the wealth of steps—there are 30 steps of stairs—between the two villages. But curiosity won out on day two.

The access point to this particular funicular is inside what looks like a shop, with little signage alerting us to the fact. We walked around for a bit until discovering the not-so-secret entrance inside the Louis Jolliet House, circa 1683. We paid $3.50 apiece (American) for a one-way ride.

The entire trip took less than three minutes, but well worth it. The Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec travels 210 feet and offers a unique view of the 400-year-old city, rich with history and charm.

A true funicular uses a two car system; one cable car goes up while the other comes down, creating a counterbalance. A major mishap in the 1990s caused the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec to be modernized with each passenger car operating independently, but the thrill is still the same.”

Gisèle G. | A Local Exploring Mexico

“I thought I have lived THE international experience in France, that I had experienced traveling alone and being fearless. Indeed being out of my country for the first time by myself, was it, but getting into the hidden but not that hidden corners of the most representative cultural regions of my country, has been one of my most spiritual and fun experiences and trips ever.
I went to Chiapas and Oaxaca in 2017 for my thesis project, an entrepreneurship idea, that was about combining Mayan and Chinantecan embroidery with fashion and customization.
Despite the project trip that was only for research and to prove that embroidery could work in ordinary textiles, it finished teaching me about my “calling” or my purpose.
This was the second time I was in Chiapas, but with a different objective. The last time I went I was discovering Mexico with my ex-boyfriend from France, and I thought coming back to this place that was once a dream accomplished from my bucket list, could cause me depression.
I found a local who was part of UNESCO and was a leader from the communities of Los Altos, the most representative communities of Chiapas for embroidery and agreed to have a tour to these communities to speak about my project.
He took me to the highest mountains in Chiapas, to the jungle and to native huts where I learned how to get thread from wool, and to weave it to tell stories. As I was pleased to discover more about my ancestral roots, and from the magic of Chiapas, it was also a challenge to being accepted and welcomed at the home of these people to make them listen to my thesis project. Even though Tzotzil and Tzeltal communities are part of the wide variety of cultures from my country, I’m almost a foreigner in this region. The native people of this region speak Tzeltal, an ancient Mayan language, which was the first time I heard of it. One of my favorites communities was San Juan Cancuc, this Mayan community, is located 1,427 meters high from the sea, it’s so rich in vegetation, white roses and multiple colored flowers blossom naturally from land as well as cacao and coffee trees. The embroidery of this region looks kind of simple, colored rectangles on fabric, but it is so mystic.
I got so much knowledge from this place that I didn’t want to leave to Oaxaca. Oaxaca was my second part of this trip, and I didn’t know anything, and haven’t been there before.
Arriving to Oaxaca wasn’t a good beginning, I arrived to a hostel, that took me half an hour walking to get to it. In contrast with my hostel in Chiapas there was no nice room, no tasty breakfast and not known places. I had only contacted two persons to talk about my project and therefore I had no tour or no schedule for the rest of the days as I had in Chiapas. While I was thinking all this and complaining inside of me, a funny Argentinean guy and a nice Mexican girl appeared at my room, they asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner with them. I had the best milk chocolate and quesadillas ever, and this was because Oaxaca is the home of the best chocolate in Mexico and also for quesadilla cheese “quesillo”. The next day I met up with Elisema, a woman that shares this passion for her ancestors in textiles and transmit it through her own style for fashion in clothes.
She told me about her family and her story of when she started to make clothes with Chinanteca touches. She inspired me to continue with my trip and thesis project and to discover more about her culture. I went in the afternoon to try Caldo de Piedra, an ancestral recipe that her parents and ancestors prepared, that over time, began to be prepared exclusively for men, as a way to make a gift to the women of the community, and honor them. This is more than a soup, it’s a spiritual dish that some compare it with temazcal, as it uses hot stones to be prepared. After my spiritual culinary experience, and with bags full of souvenirs and clothes that I bought at Elisema’s boutique, I took a taxi back to my hostel with no idea that with a simple hitch my trip could change. Fortunately, I took a taxi with a very nice driver, that was kind of a protector angel for me. When checking all my stuff in the taxi, I realized my wallet wasn’t in my bag, and told this to the taxi driver. He could have asked me to leave out of his car, but instead of that, he accepted to come back to the restaurant to look for my wallet. A man had got into the taxi, because it was a collective taxi, like a bus, and while I was anxious about my wallet, I dared to ask the taxi driver and the man to leave the car to come back to the restaurant to get my wallet back, despite I couldn’t find it back. During the return, I called Elisema that was at the restaurant, and she told me that my wallet had fallen to the floor and some people that were walking down the street took it and gave it to her. I guess this was the best feeling of the trip.
Once I got back, I went for some drinks with Mitzi, the Mexican girl I met at the hostel and Patrick, a guy from Manchester. I had for the first time mezcal at Oaxaca, and I’m sure the taste is different in Oaxaca, where it is from, than drinking it in a different place.
Mezcal and the summer air of Oaxaca has something that brings you joy and freedom, that by the end of the night it found me walking down the streets of Oaxaca with around 20 foreign guys guiding them to a club. This was something also the foreigners I met at the hostel kept mentioning the next days about my leadership.
I could continue with more funny stories about this trip, that more than make me laugh when I think of them is reminding myself how this took the best of me, took out my fears and the lack of confidence I was experimenting before doing the trip and how amazing it is that you can also escape from the ordinary, meet people from around the world and discover unknown places with them in your own country.”

Kevin Fritz | Hiking the Nietzsche Path

“One of the most exhilarating and picturesque hikes my wife and I experienced almost didn’t happen.

While visiting Villefranche-sur-Mer, we read about a nearby challenging trail that winds down the side of the mountain from Eze Village to the aqua-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France. We decided to ascend the trail, named the Nietzsche Path, but could not find the trailhead. Instead, we hopped on an air-conditioned bus that took us to the top of the mountain.

The charming and ancient Eze Village was first inhabited around 2,000 BC, strategically perched on a cliff 1,401 feet above sea level. Once you have taken in the ambiance, famous gardens and historical buildings, circa 1300s, there are three ways down. Bus (there are very few cabs), by car or negotiating the Nietzsche Path, named after Eze’s most famous visitor, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.  After our late afternoon self-tour, it became apparent that buses were finished operating for the day—and there were no cars for hire.

As we wandered to find the trailhead, we gathered others who also wished to leave the village. With a new sense of adventure, my wife and I, a college student from Brazil and his parents, and two female Korean students began our descent. Rocky and a bit slippery at times, the path is not as steep and intimidating as it looks.

We all became fast friends during the hour-plus trek down to the seaside taking group pictures and selfies with one another. Our unplanned journey became a once-in-a-lifetime incredible experience.  And when the trees parted as we traversed the side of the mountain toward the sea, the vistas that opened up were not only breathtaking, but offered spectacular views you may never see elsewhere.

If you ever have the chance, hike the Nietzsche Path. It’s a feat you shall never forget.”

Kevin Fritz | Casino de Monte-Carlo

“After being told countless times that I have a keen resemblance to Daniel Craig, I couldn’t wait to visit the Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco that has been featured in two James Bond movies, Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye.  And since my wife and I were already spending a few days on the French Riviera in the small hamlet of Villefranche-sur-Mer exquisitely perched on the aqua-colored Mediterranean Sea, the tiny little country was only a short train ride away.

If you are traveling in May, note that the Monaco Grand Prix is held that month and many of the streets are blocked off. Stay on foot. We followed the crowds, maneuvering through town to find our destination.

Adjacent to the iconic Hotel de Paris, the Casino de Monte-Carlo is indeed luxurious and opulent, living up to both its name and lore. Admission is 17 Euros apiece, you must be at least 18 years old and have your passport scanned. Proper attire is expected. After being permitted to proceed, we were handed printed tickets bearing our names to show another employee before entering the actual casino. We felt safe and important.

Much of the casino consists of private (privé) rooms, which we could not enter, but there were plenty of slot machines to pique our interest and take our Euros. The bright gold and velvety décor is something out a movie set, a feast for eyes. We eventually took solace at the bar, sipping champagne, enjoying a laugh or too, and soaking in the fabled casino and all its drippings.

And while nobody mentioned that I looked like James Bond, I still channeled my inner Daniel Craig and crafted a memory that will last a lifetime.”

Maddie Baker | Experiencing Cultures

“The first time I left my home country was to travel to Belize. I still remember just how green everything was there compared to my gray and brown surroundings I’m used to back in Utah. I’m sure my memory has faded the brilliant green at this point, but that feeling never changes every time I visit a new place. The awe that such a place exists, the need to explore, and how much I miss it every time I return home. I love to travel because there is always something new to learn, even when you’ve been somewhere over and over again. We can learn so much from those living in other countries because we all see life through a different perspective, and as much people say that, I don’t think you can really understand that until you’ve been to and really experienced other cultures.”

Benjamin Baker | Spain Gothic Quarter

“My wife and I went to Barcelona for a day trip. One of the best things we did that day was explore the Gothic Quarter. It’s a section of the city that was preserved and remodeled to resemble how it did back in medieval times. Gothic cathedral, historic buildings, cobblestone walkways, the works.

It was very surreal walking into that part of the city and being completely surrounded by gothic architecture. There were no cars, no modern businesses, nothing to indicate it was modern other than other tourists. Standing under the shadow of a historic church that had been built in the mid-1400’s listening to two locals play music on a bowl drum and a lyre really allowed us to step into the past and experience the culture of a bygone age.”

Madeline Baker | Bamboo Farm in Belize

“My first time out of my home country was to Belize. As part of that trip, my husband and I volunteered at a bamboo farm about an hour outside of Belize City. We began by taking a bus to our destination where we were dropped off at the end of a dirt road. As this was my first time in Belize, I obviously didn’t understand what road conditions would be like or what to expect because I packed a 50lb hard shell suitcase, which I was sorely regretting once we stepped off the bus. I looked down the 2-mile road in horror as I began to realize how we were expected to reach the bamboo farm from there… and night was coming. We began walking, and dragging our suitcases behind us over the unpaved, pothole infested road, trying desperately to beat the dark. Thankfully, we had a guide, a young woman who had been volunteering at the bamboo farm for a few days who already knew the way. She rushed ahead of our pour naïve souls and sent someone back with a truck once we had reached about a mile in. I love having experiences like this to look back on. It showed me that while things don’t go as planned, we learn to adapt and grow from our experiences. It was my first time out of the country, and no unfortunate accidents like it have dissuaded me from travel yet.”

Maddie Baker | From the United States, Living in Cozumel, Mexico

“Our first stay in Mexico was a month-long venture in Cozumel, a small island in the south-east end of the country. We had the opportunity to rent an Airbnb while staying there for the full month in a small residential area of the island, not too far from the shops and beach access. While we were there, Ben and I both worked part-time and explored the island in our spare time. Our favorite place to go was a shack on the beach called Skyreef. They had the best food, beach access, and some great snorkeling. One of the times we were there we saw a massive school of fish, all moving in sync with each other around objects, including us, and other swimmers. There were probably hundreds of them, it’s something that’s hard to describe how incredible it was.”

Benjamin Baker | Learning to Quit in Puerto Vallarta

“My wife and I coordinated with my dad and his family to go on a weeklong cruise to Central America out of California. It was an absolute blast and I’ve been jonesing for another cruise ever since.

There was a unique experience I had when we got off in Puerto Vallarta for a day trip that taught me an interesting lesson in the importance of quitting. We took a ferry to a more private part of the beach where they had shops, restaurants and a bunch of activities set up to do there. My wife and I decided it would be fun to give paddleboarding a try as we’d never done it before. My wife hopped up on her board and immediately started paddling around and having a good time.

Yet every time I tried to get on the paddleboard I would immediately be dumped off. I would get on, the board would wobble, and I’d end up in the water. I think the longest I was on the board was about six seconds. I fell off over and over again, getting in other people’s way, getting swept ashore by the waves, and the whole time my wife and people on shore were shouting tips and words of encouragement. I was getting incredibly frustrated, tired, and a little embarrassed, to the point I was getting angry with myself for not being able to figure it out.

But then I realized that I was letting one little activity I was struggling with ruin my entire experience there, so instead of sticking to my stubbornness and ego, I gave up. I went ashore, switched the paddleboard for a kayak and had a lot of fun chasing my wife around in a kayak.

That experience in Puerto Vallarta taught me that while you should never give up on important things in life, sometimes letting the little things go for the bigger picture is one of the best things you can do.”

Ryan Melling | Memorable Experiences

“The most memorable experience is going to be the November 15th [Paris] attacks, because it shaped the rest of our trip. We did all stay and continue going to school, but it did change the atmosphere of the city, the university, the people. So that was the most memorable thing because it was a whole new adjustment to living under the Vigipirate (National Security Alert System) because that was something I never even had to consider living in Cedar City. So that was most memorable, but it was kind of a negative one.

My most memorable positive one was finding myself while traveling, learning to be comfortable traveling by myself alone. So, it’s not really a specific experience, more of just what happened to me while I was there, it’s changed me, and I feel like I’m a completely different person now from when I was just a high schooler. I’m more comfortable being by myself, more comfortable doing things that are outside my comfort box, not necessarily a risk taker, just more spontaneous with things. I just enjoy life a lot more.”

Ryan Melling | Day 1 in a New Country

“So you (Maddie and Ben) were fresh off the plane and I was fresh off a forty-hour nap so we were in very different moods because you guys were tired and I was ready to go. I remember we were a little stressed getting onto the train itself because we thought it would say the Poitiers destination which is where we were going, but it didn’t so we kept asking people when the train was going to show up. They kept saying, ‘oh it’ll show up a couple minutes before and you need to be on the platform’. I think as Americans that was very last minute in our books because we’re used to having flights posted three hours in advance, trains are posted like a day in advance. Eventually, we found out it says Bordeaux destination and we needed to get on that train and then have a layover. We got on the right train with like three minutes to spare so that was good. We asked like fourteen people a lot of times and then we finally hopped on with our luggage, got our seats and that part went really smoothly. Our stopover was the first experience of me needing to roll with the books because we got off in the middle of nowhere and our train was supposed to be there in a half hour and we waited for thirty minutes and no train came. Then one came at like forty minutes, so it was late and I thought it had said it stops in Poitiers so we got on, but come to find out it actually said does not stop in Poitiers. We quickly realized this as we watched the city go by the window and we were on the train for another hour and a half and we ended up in Angouleme which was much further south than we needed to be and we were standing the whole time. That was definitely not a fun experience. We had experiences with rude people, it was hot and uncomfortable, and it was the middle of the summer. I think a lot of people would have taken that as a bad omen, but we got back to our town, took showers, took naps, and the next day we were ready to explore, and the moment was already behind us.”

Camille on the Go | From the United States, Traveling in Europe

“We were in Scotland for 11 days, then we took a train to York, England and we were there for 24 hours. It was just kind of something we wanted to add in, but then we got there, and I was like ‘oh my gosh, I absolutely love this.’ I think I probably even loved York over London. We were then in London for barely three days. The trip was mainly for Scotland, but he wanted to see more of the UK.

When my husband realized Normandy was so close to England he insisted on doing a Normandy tour. So, London got really cut down to three days because we added a day or two to Normandy and it was like a day and a half or two days in Paris.

But you know even if we never go back at least he got his Normandy tour, if we never go back to France I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. I would love to go to Paris again, but if I never do I felt like I got enough out of it.”

Ryan Melling | Cultural Interactions

“[Travel has] definitely given me more of an open world view with an open mind to things. It’s changed my patience level, because it helped me realize all the different paths people could be coming from and what they’re doing could have a million different reasons. It’s also changed my views on politics quite a bit as well, since I’ve traveled more I can see where different people’s political situations have affected their life. So it’s really changed my view on politics and how open I’d like the country to be versus how open it is and other things like that. It’s especially opened my mind to all the different possibilities and backgrounds people have. 

Somewhat, I think when I was a kid I believed a lot more stereotypes than I should have. Just ‘cause I grew up in a really conservative city that doesn’t have a lot of international travelers. Now I know that I should take stereotypes with a grain of salt, because they all have some basic truth but they’re mostly false. 

I don’t know if it’s made me seen my home country in a better light unfortunately. On one hand it gives me a lot of respect for the way that we do some things, because I like the way we do some things better in the US than abroad, but then vice versa I feel like there’s a lot of things that I like a lot better abroad. Like I think a lot of the models in Europe are much more efficient then how we run things here, then again the political climate changed drastically during my study abroad so that also shaped how I viewed my home country and its’ residents, especially how they view outsiders and world travel. It seems like people have polarized on one side of the spectrum or the other now, whereas before it didn’t use to be like that. So it’s given me a different outlook for sure.”

Camille on the Go | From the United States Traveling in Haiti

“I went to Haiti a month and a half or two months before Scotland. I did a humanitarian trip to Haiti and I loved that, if I could afford it I would probably go every year. I still want to go back, but we’re planning other trips so my husband keeps saying, ‘you can’t go there again if we’re going to go here.’ So Haiti is still on my ‘to go back and do again list’. It was because of the people and the humanitarian aid was awesome.”

Ryan Melling | Local vs Tourism

“My favorite is probably the Republic of Ireland because coming this October [2018] it’ll be my fifth trip there. I’m traveling with my mom and it’ll be her third. She’s a good travel buddy to have because we don’t have to compromise on anything, we want to do the same things. So it’s just really easy to travel. 

We try not to do touristy things because we feel the touristy things will just be a face mask of what the actual culture is like it’s just showing you like the most flashy parts of the culture but not the true culture. Of course, if it’s our first time to a city, like Paris, we see all the big sights that the tourists go see which is usually around other tourists and not locals. But we really try to make it a goal of ours to do what the locals do for fun in the cities, like what a local would do as a vacation in their city. Like in Dublin we like to go off the main path and find the local restaurants, do some of the local sightseeing away from the tourists to get a real knowledge of the culture.”

Benjamin Baker | From the United States, Traveling in Rome

“The Colosseum in Rome was one of my favorite places to see while we were in Italy. The structure was much larger then what I thought it would be considering how long ago it was built. It was mind-blowing to think how long it would have taken to construct a monument larger than a modern college football stadium using mostly manpower and whatever technology was available to the ancient Romans.

I found myself alternating between two states of mind as we climbed the steps, wandered through the pillars, and peered into the elaborate construction below the arena. Part of me could imagine the thrill of attending a show, seeing the death-defying performances, hear the roar of the crowd, and feeling the heart-pounding terror of watching a man succumb to the blade of another or meet his end in the jaws of a fierce beast.

It was like the attraction I feel when watching a horror movie, but so much more surreal considering these shows actually happened in antiquity.

Another part of me was ashamed to find myself fantasizing about witnessing such events knowing they often resulted in the deaths of people and some were forced to battle because they were prisoners or slaves.

But to me that was the attraction of the Colosseum, it was an inspiring monument of what mankind can accomplish with great power and vast resources, yet it’s also a sinister reminder of our darkest thrills and guilty pleasures. It’s a unique feeling and I would go again in a heartbeat.”

Benjamin Baker | Night Snorkeling in San Pedro, Belize

“One of the sketchiest things I’ve ever done abroad was night snorkeling in Belize. My wife and I paid these two guys we’ve never met from a local company to take us out at the middle of the night into a distant part of the ocean where no other boats were and way beyond my ability to swim to shore. Needless to say, I was already nervous about hopping in the water with my wife and trusting these two guys to stick around.

Once one of them was in the water and I could potentially take him hostage if his friend tried anything I felt better about our hosts. But then I had to wrap my head around the idea that I was in the middle of the ocean surrounded by black inky water and whatever creatures come out at night to hunt.

The cherry on top, the guide tells us to turn our lights off if the bloodworm swarms get too large, bloodworms are little parasites that bite into your flesh while you’re swimming, like ocean mosquitos.

In spite of the anxiety and nervousness, this ended up being one of my favorite experiences abroad. Seeing the large parrot fish swimming in the dark, the stingray swooping out of the shadows, or the little octopus undulating in front of our flashlight were some of the coolest memories I’ve ever had. Admittedly the bloodworms were a little annoying, but it was kind of cool watching them slowly amass in the beam of the flashlight.”

Madeline Baker | From the United States, Living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

“We were living and working in Puerto Vallarta for a month in 2017. Each weekend we would spend the days on the Playa Los Muertos beach at one of the many restaurants. Every day we were there, we would see people parasailing over the ocean being towed by an old looking motorboat. We had never done that before and decided we were going to try it before we left Puerto Vallarta. We did our research, mostly to make myself feel better about it, and eventually became comfortable with the idea. It helped see dozens other tourists participating week after week. When the day came to finally take our turn, we let them hook us up and drag us behind the boat, well above the ocean, buildings and massive hotels. It’s something we won’t forget. It was incredible to get a completely different perspective of this beautiful place we were living in. It may have been crowded down on the beach and in the water, but up in the sky, I could take in the beautiful green hills, the buildings built into them, and the blue water. My husband swears he saw a turtle in the water on his turn, I wasn’t quite so lucky.”