By Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Media Services
Celebrity Travel by Jae-Ha Kim
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
A bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympics, swimmer Kim Vandenberg is hoping to be part of the United States contingent that will compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer. "You never know what can happen at the Olympic Trials," says the 28-year-old Californian. "I'm more experienced than the last time and I feel well prepared. There's definitely some nervousness when you compete, but since this is my second time trying to make the Olympic team, I know what to expect in terms of emotional requirements at trials. I'm looking forward to it and try to take things one day at a time."
Q. What is your favorite international city?
A. I love Barcelona. I fell in love with the city and tried to talk a coach into letting me live there! There's so much going on and there's a really big international scene. It's easy to get around and I enjoyed walking everywhere to get to restaurants and other fun places. We were swimming outdoors, which I prefer. I remember I was there in the late spring, so it was pretty warm already. Going for runs, playing tennis and staying active made it really easy to stay fit. The energy was really nice.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. My dad was born in Holland and was raised there, so we still have a lot of cousins and relatives there. When I was little, maybe eight years old, we went to Europe to see family. I have memories of going to France when I was little and eating escargot and road-tripping to see the Eiffel Tower. Back then, I didn't appreciate the fact that we were getting exposed to the world. But I was noticing the difference in foods and languages.
Q. Is it still fun for you to pack up a suitcase and head to somewhere new?
A. I love it. I don't love the actual waiting and the airport and flying for 15 hours part. But I love being at a new destination halfway across the world. I love trying the new food and hearing stories from locals about what should be seen.
Q. Are you a fan of street carts?
A. I don't eat off of street carts. But I will try just about anything else. Sometimes it's pretty tame, like eating sausage and pretzels dipped in delicious mustard in Germany. I love that. I do really like being aware of where food's coming from. After a competition, I'll indulge in a nice meal that I wouldn't necessarily eat when I'm training.
Q. Do you have a difficult time finding the right type of food to eat when you're in a foreign country for a competition?
A. Not usually. I eat the basics, like pasta and veggies. I have to make sure I'm getting enough carbs and proteins. Those are pretty basic needs. But I'm pretty low maintenance.
Q. What foreign languages do you speak?
A. I speak conversational French, and I studied Spanish so I can get along with that.
Q. Have you ever dealt with a culture clash?
A. Not a major one. When I was in Russia, I really enjoyed being there and thought they were gracious people. But I felt extremely foreign there. I'm from California where I'm used to being super friendly and smiling all the time, and Russians aren't that way. I feel like I can relate more to Australians in that sense.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. I would love to visit Indonesia. My ancestors are Dutch Indonesian. I want to go to the island of Java where my great-grandparents are from. I'd like to see where my roots are from. I've also heard amazing things about South Africa and would love to visit there.
Q. What would be your dream trip?
A. I really would love to go to Australia and go on a road trip up the Gold Coast. I'd visit Sydney and Melbourne and then fly to New Zealand and explore that country. Then I'd love to go back to Japan and spend more time in Tokyo, which I loved! And then I'd go see Indonesia and Thailand. I might be ready to come back home then.
Q. Do you purchase souvenirs when you travel?
A. I do enjoy shopping, so yes! But you have to think about how you're going to bring it all back, so I like to get small things like scarves and rings, which are lightweight. In Dubai, I got a belly chain at an outdoor mart. But the best buy I got was at a market in Italy that was about 45 minutes outside of Milan. It's a vintage man's watch, and I get lots of compliments when I wear it.
Q. Which U.S. state would you like to revisit?
A. There are still so many places left to see. I went to Anchorage, Alaska, about 13 years ago for a swim meet. I remember going to a glacier and seeing lots of snow. I've been looking forward to going back for a while when it was warmer and meeting all the people and eating their fresh fish! And I got the chance to do so recently.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at http://www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)
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