One of my favorite things about traveling is getting the occasional perfect intersection of place and time that transforms something normal into something extraordinary. Sometimes I can plan these things, and I will schedule a trip to coincide with prime time for whatever it is I’m interested in. But even with good planning you still need a lot of luck for some of these, and in many of the cases below I really just stumbled into memorable moments that I had no idea were in store for me.
Caribbean during turtle nesting season. In Tobago I paid $20 to a local guide to take me turtle hunting (to see them, not to kill them) on local beaches one night, and in return I got to see a giant female sea turtle dig her nest and lay her eggs (it took a really long time – all she had to work with were her back flippers and she had to dig a pretty deep hole), and I got to see just-hatched baby turtles make their scramble toward the sea. No pictures, but it’s an experience I’ll always remember.
Switzerland after the Swiss pull off a World Cup upset. In my experience, the Swiss live up to their reputation of being quiet and orderly, so I didn’t know what to think when one day back in 2010 the trams were literally stopped in their tracks by crowds of rowdy Swiss people. The Swiss soccer team had just upset Spain in the World Cup, which resulted in a good hour of public celebrating. After that hour, people dispersed, and the litter and all other evidence that anything unusual had happened were quickly cleaned up. This was Switzerland after all….
Public art display turned into living art. This random drawing of a bra in the streets of Prague was already worth a picture, but that picture became infinitely more interesting when this guy walked into the frame.
Overlooking an old city at sunset. I like to climb things and have views from above, so whenever I travel in Europe I find myself at the tops of towers all over the city I happen to be visiting. In Prague I figured out by chance that sunset is a pretty great time to do this.
New Zealand when the lupins are in bloom. New Zealand is such a cool place, I’m pretty sure you could visit any place at any time in any conditions and it would be awesome. But one seasonal thing that particularly impressed me during my visit was the lupins. We have lupines here, but I’ve never seen anything here quite like the displays I saw all over the South Island of New Zealand.
U2 concert in a torrential rainstorm. Insert your favorite live band here – there is nothing quite like seeing them perform outside in a rainstorm. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never enjoyed a concert as much as I enjoyed the one where I left with shoes so soggy it took them three days to dry out.
Equator at the equinox. At the equinox in September and March, the sun is directly over the equator. If you are at the equator at noon on the equinox, you will not cast a shadow – it will be directly below you. I visited the equator around 10 in the morning about a week before the equinox, but I was still within a couple degrees of the equator on the day of the equinox. As promised, shadows were scarce at noon – science works! Since the earth tilts 23 degrees on its axis, you could really observe this at some point in time anywhere within 23 degrees latitude of the equator – but that seems far too difficult to figure out, so I recommend sticking with the equator.
Hawaii during a vog sunset. I’m biased, but I think Seattle has the best sunsets. However, unless we have another catastrophic volcanic eruption, we won’t be having any vog sunsets. Thanks to Kilauea, I was treated to a pretty great one in Maui a couple years ago.
Costco during a Seahawks playoff game. If you ever wanted to shop at Costco with no crowds, this is the time. Set your DVR and you’ll be home and caught up to the live game by the end of the first quarter.
Iceland during a solar storm. Solar storms release magnetic particles that can lead to northern lights. During my visit to Iceland there was a massive solar storm that resulted in an epic northern lights show on a subfreezing St. Patrick’s Day night. Iceland is a great place to visit whether you see the northern lights or not, but seeing them makes a visit unforgettable. You need the right combination of favorable solar conditions, clear skies and minimal light pollution to see them – go in the winter and cross your fingers. Northern lights tours to the middle of nowhere leave Reykjavik every night from around October through April, and if you don’t see the northern lights you get to go again for free.
Mauerpark on a Sunday afternoon. After spending a very busy one-and-a-half days in Berlin seeing the sites, I took the advice of my bike tour guide and headed to Mauerpark to check out the karaoke that happens every Sunday during the summer (and maybe spring and fall as well, if Wikipedia is to be trusted). I figured I’d stay for a few songs; I ended up staying for several hours. Imagine an international parade of performers singing in the middle of an outdoor amphitheater filled with hundreds if not a thousand spectators. From the old German guy singing Frank Sinatra, to the other old German guy singing Taylor Dayne, to the Japanese couple singing Backstreet Boys, to the Italians singing Destiny’s Child, to the Aussies singing Natalie Imbruglia, to the woman who brought the house down with a solo rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I loved seeing all of the history in Berlin, but I’m so glad I took this musical detour.
Eastern Washington mountains when the larches are turning. Larches look like pine trees, but they’re deciduous, so for a few short weeks each year, their needles become ablaze in bright yellow and orange before falling off. There are other places to see them, but Eastern Washington is the closest spot to Seattle. Thanks to the Internet, crazy people like me can monitor reports of where they are turning and when, and then we cross our fingers that the weather will be good enough during the weekend to be able to make it there…along with about a hundred of your larch-crazed friends.
Whitehaven Beach on a sunny day. I first saw a picture of this beach in 2000 and wanted to visit ever since. Thirteen years, eighteen hours of flying and two boat rides later, I finally made it there, and it did not disappoint. While Whitehaven Beach itself is impressive, you don’t get the money shot view from the beach. For that you either need to take a boat trip to Hill Inlet or a helicopter ride over the islands. I feel really lucky that that only sunny day of my visit to the Whitsunday Islands was the day I booked my Whitehaven trip.
Hiking trail blocked by marmot. There are some types of wildlife you don’t want to find blocking your path on a trail. A bear comes to mind. But when you find your trail blocked by a marmot with a mouthful of grass for its den, that’s another story. This one stood like this for at least a couple minutes, probably wondering why all the humans were oohing and aahing and taking pictures of it. The next day I would read a hiking trip report that mentioned this “fat, brave marmot.”
Anywhere with a person holding a sign offering free hugs. Who wouldn’t want to be hugged by a random stranger?!