‘Pinch me’ moments to last a lifetime

Imagine this: you’re sitting on some stairs in the center of Prague’s town square. It’s St. Patrick’s Day 2008 and dusk has just kicked in. You are surrounded by Easter market stalls, brightly lit, filled with scrumptious smells. A stage of Irish music and dancing lies in front of you with one of Prague’s incredible cathedrals towering over the town square behind. This is the ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m experiencing something so magical’ moment.

Cathedral, stage and Easter markets in Prague

St. Patricks Day amongst Easter Markets in Prague’s town square

To kick off my March celebration of Kiwifootprints turning 1 (March 25th), I thought I would join in a ‘pinch me’ moment blog link up. The suggestion was to think about those moments where you are somewhere that you never in your wildest dreams thought you would be, the moments that you hold in your heart, the ones that make you feel alive.

This is a tough one for me this month, because I feel like so much of my travel has been moments like these. So, rather than forcing myself to select one moment, I’ll share an array of moments from when I first left New Zealand on my first journey back in 2008 to the present day.

Experiencing moments like the one in Prague was enough to set my travel bug on fire. This meant leaving Austria back in 2008 was incredibly sad for me. It was one of those ‘pinch me, I can’t believe one of the best times of my life is over’ moments. I had made so many incredible friends, travelled to some amazing places and was not sure if I’d ever see these people or places ever again. My scholarship was coming to an end. After two more weeks in Slovenia I had to return to New Zealand to finish my postgraduate degree.

Students from my time in Austria

Students from my time in Austria

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I vowed to return a year after my studies. That was a rather ambitious goal, given I had a student loan and no savings, but I managed to do it a year and a half later.

Leaving New Zealand for a lengthier journey on my OE (Overseas Experience: right of passage for many Aussies and Kiwis), I felt a mixture of fear and excitement. I was all on my own this time, travelling to the opposite side of the world with no job, no friends, no accommodation and no immediate deadline. Two days into this trip the virus my nephew had the day I left New Zealand kicked in while I was in Bangkok. I was so incredibly ill and so confused of what to do; I’m not even sure how I managed to fly to Koh Samui that day. I had already booked a cute little hut that was near the beach and had been looking forward to experiencing the Thai beach lifestyle. Sure enough, this wasn’t to be. It was one of those ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m all alone and in a Thai hospital for 2-3 days on IV fluids where no-one speaks proper English and I have no idea what is wrong with me’ moments.

huts in Koh Samui

Huts where I ‘should’ have been staying in Koh Samui,Thailand

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Eiffel Tower in Paris

Eiffel Tower in Paris

Standing below one of the most iconic buildings in the entire world has got to be one of the most ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here’ moments. I’ve course I’m talking about the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I honestly couldn’t believe I was standing below this incredible structure and later looking down over all of Paris from the top of the structure, back in 2010.

Click here for more photography from France »

2011 may as well be called the ‘pinch me year’. I visited so many incredible places I never even dreamed I’d ever get to see in my life.

There was the moment I ate an apple amongst the Swiss Alps at First in Switzerland. This was the ‘pinch me, this is beyond beauty’ moment.

View over First and the Swiss Alps in Switzerland.

View over First and the Swiss Alps in Switzerland.

Click here to see more photography from Switzerland »

Then there was waking up to a road filled with baboons as the taxi driver who had broken down was thumping on the window in horror that I’d fallen asleep in a taxi on a back-road in Nairobi. This was the moment of ‘pinch me, I am lucky nothing bad happened and where the heck did those baboons come from?!’

Baboons on road in Nairobi

Baboons on road in Nairobi

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After a decent 3 hour exhausting hike, stepping foot into a leafy clearing where a group of Rwandan Mountain Gorillas were enjoying the sunshine was the ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I am just a few meters away from these incredibly beautiful giant animals that could squash me in a second’ moment.

Silverback Gorilla

An amazing beautiful Silverback Gorilla in the mountains of Rwanda

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Bungy jumping over the Nile freaked me out to say the least. It was a ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m going to plunge off a platform 44 meters over the Nile – I hope I survive’ moment. Following this was the ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m going to die doing white water rafting’ as I lost my helmet in a rapid down the Nile in Uganda… okay I overreacted a little and did live to tell the tale.

Bungy Jumping over the Nile in Jinja, Uganda

Bungy Jumping over the Nile in Jinja, Uganda

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Standing below one of the biggest Pyramids of Giza, something so ancient was another ‘pinch me, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be in Egypt amongst the Pyramids’ moment.

Standing in front of the Pyramids of Giza

Standing in front of the Pyramids of Giza

Pyramids of Giza

Pyramids of Giza

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Having the chance to see the Olympics in 2012 was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. The Olympics will never come to New Zealand because we are far too small a country, not to mention we’d never be able to afford it. So living in London and experiencing the Olympic rowing, athletics, wheelchair basketball as well as the Olympic Prepares series of gymnastics and diving was incredible. You could call it a ‘pinch me, I am amongst the worlds best athletes seeing them compete in an Olympic Games’ moment.

London Olympic Stadium

London Olympic Stadium

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I never thought I would visit so many beautiful countries in my lifetime. Likewise I never imagined seeing some terrible ones would appeal to me either. I’ve visited places relating to the Rwandan genocide and Auschwitz-Birkenau, but in 2012 I decided to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina. This country was a tale of two sides. There were the ‘pinch me, I swear the colour of the trees and water have had their colour saturated, because they can’t be that green’ moments.

Mostar bridge

The pretty town of Mostar

Then there were the ‘pinch me, I can’t believe such terrible things happened in places like Mostar, Sarajevo and especially Srebrenica’ moments. Growing up in New Zealand I heard very little of the terrible events in these places and nothing of Srebrenica. So when I visited that area and heard the stories, they shocked me so much that I was overcome with emotion and cried uncontrollably like a little child. Which is not something most people would expect of me.

Srebrenica Memorial

Srebrenica Memorial

Click here for more photographs of Bosnia and Herzegovina »

Finally last year one of my happier moments could be described as ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m seeing the Aurora Borealis phenomenon, something many people try and fail to see’ moments, as I was travelling in darkness in the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway.

Northern Lights Photography from Ngaire Ackerley on Vimeo.

Click here for more photographs from Norway and the Aurora Borealis »

Nearly every destination I go to has a ‘pinch me’ moment from seeing ancient architecture, sculptures, tombs, to standing in front of some of the most beautiful locations on earth. There are the sad moments that scare or shock me, but those are always offset by the astounding amazement that a solo Kiwi chick that grew up in the tiny town of Katikati on the other side of the world, could be seeing and experiencing such incredible places, wildlife and cultures all around the world.

It’s pretty amazing what you can do with your life and the chances you have. Whether the moments I experience are happy or sad, I wouldn’t trade any of them, because they have given me so much in return. I cannot encourage anyone enough to travel and experience life outside of your country. The world has so much to offer, so much knowledge, culture and beauty to share.

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