Thus, it is time to consider the travels and rank the various experiences (only research travels here, not presentations, excluding London and Konstanz):
- Best trip from a tourist perspective: Australia/New Zealand. Got to go halfway around the world, pet a roo, swim on the other side of the Pacific during the tail end of the Canadian winter, walk around Wellington, and so on. Other cities have been interesting and fun, but Australia was so completely new to me, and Sydney was so beautiful to put it way ahead. Honorable mention: Berlin. Just a fascinating city loaded with heavy history.
- Most interesting military history: Netherlands/Belgium. Well, perhaps a bit of cheating since I had a car that allowed me to explore the road to the Bridge Too Far, Patton's grave, Bastogne, Luxembourg (both with a World War II cemetery and its own history as a fortified city),Vimy, and even Mons (Dave and I were walking around the town in between meetings and stumbled upon plaques marking liberation of the town during WWI by the Canadians). Australia had heaps of interesting history of which I was almost completely ignorant.
- Best interview experience: oops, Australia again. I had heaps of help along the way, but in Australia, I had a super-connected fixer, so I ended up interviewing heaps of very interesting people who served more than one role during the Afghanistan mission. And Australia was the case that surprised me the most.
- Worst travel experience: driving around Brussels. So many twisted roads, GPS almost confused as much as clarified. Driving everywhere else in Benelux was fine.
- Most over-priced food: Australia. The food was good, but way more expensive than even Paris, Berlin or Brussels. Oh, and the breakfast buffet at my current hotel in Brussels.
- Best hotel: Lord Nelson Brewery Pub and Hotel in Sydney. Great location, great beer, fantastic (although expensive) dinner, great hotel room.
- Worst hotel: I went too cheap in Canberra and Paris with small rooms that were pretty sketchy.
- Best non-Steve transportation: Berlin. Just easy to get around, easy to get tickets, straightforward mostly. Of course, Berlin was the one place where I got so turned around I missed an interview. Sydney with its ferries is a close second--more stunning, not quite has handy for getting me to where I needed to be (did get me to where I wanted to be).
- Most open interview subjects: Probably Netherlands, although we had pretty open conversations in Canberra, Wellington, Brunssum, Mons, and many spots in Brussels.
- Best Near Train Wreck to Watch: Dutch process of trying to send police mission to Afghanistan. Berlin approving AWACS while I was there was also interesting, but the uncertainty and the comparisons to the Canadians put the Dutch over the top.
- Best beer: I liked the most recent beer the most.
- Best beer museum: Carlsberg's in Copenhagen.
- Best food: Indonesian food in The Hague, heaps of meals in Paris, dinner at Doug's,
Again, I have been incredibly lucky. This project is just inherently interesting, people seem very eager to talk about their experiences, their experiences are fascinating, the grant money has been generous, the travel has been pretty trouble-free (I am jinxing myself as I face a potential snow problem in two days), and few obstacles along the way. During most of the drives home from Ottawa back to Montreal after interviewing Canadian officers and/or civilian officials, I have had just one thought--I love my job.
I know the next project will be interesting and the one after that (I will not spend much time on stuff that does not interest me), but it is hard to imagine right now a project that involves such high stakes, such currency, so much travel, so many great people, such great food and so many opportunities to keep on learning about various places, their histories, their cultures and perhaps even myself.