2016, you’ve been strange; economically, politically, professionally and personally! Anyone else exhausted?! Although it’s been a slow-motion car crash in some ways, I can’t deny that for me, this year has brought with it it’s fair share of incredible moments.
So as we sped head-first into 2017 with a shaky sign of relief, a whole lot of hope, a phone album chokka with motivational-quotes and determination to ‘make this one count'(!), I take one last peek back last years travel moments…
It wasn’t until March when I made my first trip of 2016, but it was worth the wait! Bizarrely I’d never previously been to Spain; I’m ashamed to admit I was a bit snooty about the country as a holiday destination. Naively, I associated Spain with cookie-cutter package holidays and English pubs, but how close-minded is that? Spain is mega, it’s huge! It’s just as diverse and culturally rich as everywhere else on the continent, and as I was about to discover, has one of the best traditional cuisines I’ve ever tried!
This time I actually visited Barcelona in the Catalonian area of Spain, but after my visit I’m yearning to fly off to Madrid, Seville, Valencia…
But back to Barcelona. My god, it’s beautiful! We had four days of solid Spanish sunshine, we drank sangria, walked along the beach, gazed at Picasso’s, left in awe of Gaudi’s and simply ate and ate and ate… we truly came, dined and siesta’d.
My top three:
- Accidently arriving totally underdressed at the famous 7 Portes restaurant. There were pristine table cloths, dickie-bowed waiters and a pianist three foot away from my seat, and I was hoodied-up and sporting converse. However, the paella was out-of-this-world, the wine flowed wonderfully and the blood-orange sorbet rounded off an amazing evening.
- Discovering Picasso’s little-known works in the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter. On an unassuming street, this art gallery could be easily missed, but if you choose to go, you’ll discover rooms and rooms of priceless masterpieces that document Picasso’s journey from practising artist to creative genius.
- Of course, slightly too obvious but Gaudi undoubtedly makes it into by top three. Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia are outstanding in real-life, just genius! Go and see it for yourself.
Next to no-one could understand my choice to travel to Bratislava, and perhaps neither could I before I visited! But this place is gaining followers, fast, and I feel like I might have jumped on the tip of a trend because by the end of the year, anyone who’s anyone had also embarked on their own Slovakian city-break!
The Slovakian capital still doesn’t have a great international reputation, something that was readily admitted by our local tour guide. Partly blaming blockbusters such as Eurotrip and Hotel, you can half understand the popular opinion that Bratislava is a dark, dingy communist hole without anything going for it(!). I’m thrilled to report that Bratislava is a severely underrated gem; an utterly adorable city with a beautiful old town centre, wonderful food, set in a country with an interesting and complex history, and mainstream tourists have yet to find this place, so go now!
My top three:
- Taking part in my first ever free walking tour with ‘Be Free‘. I now know how valuable these things are! I leanrt loads and had so much fun!
- Tentatively trying Halusky without a whole lot of enthusiasm for this new dish, however, its cheese, its bacon and its bloody wonderful.
- The Blue Church (St Elizabeths), easily the most strange and beautiful building in Bratislava – it looks like a iced cake!
Another new country for me! But it was a quickie, spending a total of four hours in Vienna. Was it enough? Not at all! But it whet my appetite for Austria.
I zipped over to Vienna from Bratislava on the train for a day trip, and yes although my time was short, we got to have a nice wander around the city in the June sunshine, visiting the gardens at Belvedere Palace, seeing St Stephens Cathedral and Burggarten then stopping for Schnitzel.
Vienna was pretty, but I’m glad I chose Bratislava as my base over this city. Not to say I won’t be back though! Salzburg is higher on my bucket list so I might choose to travel back to a different area of Austria.
My top three:
- Burggarten was my favourite area of Vienna. It was such a lovely garden right in the city centre and I spent at least an hour there lolling on the grass and sunbathing with the rest of Vienna!
- Belvedere Palace was so grand, and it was a great contrast to the architecture in Bratislava which was petite and colourful.
- My three course meal at a back street cafe, it wasn’t glamourous and it was pretty cheap but I got to try the Fritattensuppe!
In July we took the Eurostar from London St Pancras over to Brussels. This was a return trip for me and I’d chosen the destination as my pre-wedding holiday or ‘Hag-do’, a joint hen and stag party! It was a weekend rammed full of world-class beer drinking and excellent food, and I also managed to squeeze in a fair amount of the cultural stuff thanks to my Brussels card and sheer amount of museums in the city.
With a new love of free walking tours I attended a two hour wander around the city with Viva Brussels and learnt loads more about Belgian’s capital city, it’s history, it’s quirks, and crucially where to find the best beer and the cheapest waffles!
My top three:
- Having my Brussels Card and knowing that I had free rein of all the city’s cultural offerings. The Rene Magritte museum was a highlight!
- Lining the stomach turns into a hard-core experience at Amadeo with all you can eat ribs!
- …And of course, all the beer house hopping. From Delirium Village to Poechenellekelder; Brussels has the best pubs on the planet. Period.
A spontaneous decision (but the best always are!) was to jet back to Berlin for the annual International Beer Festival weekender. This was a tried and tested destination as we visited on the same week last year, and although it was searing hot at the height of summer, the city looks so damn good with a bit of Vitamin D injected into it!
We took a chilled approach to our holiday, having busted around the tourist spots last time around; this gave us more time to explore the Mitte district where we were staying, sleep a bit more, indulge in leisurely breakfasts, take things a bit slower and practice our basic German skills, which was a nice change.
My top three:
- The beer festival! We put aside a solid two days of our holiday time to mooch up and down Karl Marx Allee, sampling beers from all over the globe. This is one of the best, most diverse beer festivals I’ve ever been to, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I visit!
- Taking a walk around Berlin at night; admiring the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag all lit up! With the days being as hot as anything, walking around in the warm evenings was wonderful.
- Summer in Berlin calls for a dip at Badeschiff. This upturned barge has been transformed into a surreal swimming experience with amazing urban views across the Spree.
…Which brings me to late summer in Iceland. Any time spent in Iceland is pretty special, but my trip was made even more so as the Mister and I had chosen to say our vows in the lush coastal town of Vik in the south of the country.
Before all the serious wedding stuff though, we spent an idyllic week road tripping around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, spotting whales of the coast of Reykjavik, hitting the geothermal pools, drinking hot chocolates in 101 and eating more hotdogs that is naturally allowed. Then, we got married in the middle of an epic day spent exploring the south coast; black beaches, waterfalls, (more hotdogs!) the works!
My top three:
- Getting MARRIED, duh! I was more than I could’ve ever dreamt for, so, yup! Dream come true!
- Snorkelling between the tectonic plates. I was something I wanted to do on my previous trip but the weather was poor. It was actually raining again this time but it didn’t put a dampener on the experience!
- Seeing the northern lights again. It’ll never get old… BEST. MOMENT. EVER.
My final trip of 2016 was spent back in Poland. Though I’d been to the country before, this was just to Krakow and Gdansk and I was really nervous about not liking Warsaw as much! I knew this city wasn’t as touristic as a lot of other Polish cities, and it definitely made for difficult pre-holiday research, however as I soon discovered, I needn’t have worried!
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, well I’m sure it’s just the same for the other 50% of the population without a Y chromosome. Poland absolutely has the best cuisine, and then throw in a wonderfully interesting old town, a place with complex history, beautiful autumnal parks and a smattering of fantastic pubs, you know the destinations’ a hit!
My top three:
- Meeting with Orange Umbrella in the old town for a 2 hour walking tour around the former Jewish Getto; sobering and thoroughly interesting.
- Charlotte Bistro serves up one of the most simplistic yet satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had. This polish café chain does Parisian chic so right and I’d come back to Poland just for this.
- E.Wedel’s hot chocolates, there aren’t any words so, sorry, you’ll just have to get to Poland and try it for yourself!
Where was your favourite destination of 2016?
Any recommendations for me as I shape up what my 2017 will look like?