Let’s swiftly skip over lamenting just how quickly this last year has passed. It was April just last week, I swear. Perhaps 2017 can go as evidence that there’s still truth in the old saying; time passes at a ridiculous rate if you’re having fun.
This was the year you might argue my desire to wander tipped over into an obsession; and somehow I managed to travel to 14 countries in just 12 months. I’ve said it before, but living in Europe’s such a fantastic blessing; many of these destinations were experienced in a long weekend, carefully planned around my full-time job, with an average holiday entitlement and a frugal budget. I won’t make this look-back post too soppy, but 2018, I warn you, you’ve got big boots to fill, when you consider this year was just one incredible experience after another… Readers, I give you, my year in travel!
Bucharest, Romania in January
Spontaneous trips can turn out fabulously. Bucharest in Winter didn’t seem like the most sensible choice on the face of it, but in spite of freezing temperatures and a shaky start to the trip (shout-out to the conning cabbie – I see you!), we slowly discovered a surprising city of contrasts, with a growing craft beer scene. It was, however, getting out Bucharest where I really felt myself falling for Romania. I took a coach trip to get a taste of Transylvania; visiting the fairy-tale Peles Castle and the ‘home’ of Dracula, Bran Castle. We then finished off our trip to one of Europe’s largest spa complex’s; so LUSH. Serious bucket list stuff.
Vilnius, Lithuania in February
After quitting my London based job for a move up to Manchester, I was left with a few days before my new contract started, so a game of Skyscanner Roulette threw up Lithuania for my second trip of the year. It was a fleeting visit, barely a weekend, but we stayed in Vilnius, the compact capital and made the most of our time there. We wandered around the snowy streets of the old town, bar hopping in-between searching for street art and gorgeous Baltic architecture.
Edinburgh, Scotland in March
Oh, neglected to mention! January was also when we got our little beast, Pablo the dachshund, so by the time March rocked up, he was old enough to start road-tripping along with us. Edinburgh was his first trip out of England; we found a super-cosy dog-friendly Airbnb around the corner from Arthurs Seat, which we managed to trek up in the drizzle and fog. The rest of the weekend was spent sticking to the well-trodden tourist routes; sightseeing the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and finding pooch friendly cafes and pubs when the Scottish wind bit too hard.
Ghent and Bruges, Belgium in May
Pup got a pet passport! To celebrate we picked a random destination that was within driving distance of the UK and decided to pack and bag and go. With Ghent we lucked out BIG TIME. I was expecting to have a reasonably good time in just-another-Belgian-town, but Ghent was just the most stunningly gorgeous chocolate-box city, and with a unseasonably early heat-wave we could enjoy al-fresco drinking, walking tours around the city and night-time wanders to appreciate the world-class lighting displays. On our drive back to Calais we diverted via Bruges for a quick day trip, and honestly? As nice as Bruges is, I sort of wish I stayed in Ghent for a few more hours…
Stavanger and Pulpit Rock, Norway in June
And now for something completely different. I don’t really…. hike, but our four-day trip was designed purely as a way to complete the famous Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) hike. Thankfully the show-stopping scenery of the misty Norwegian Fjords stole my attention away from much of the thigh burn and the views from the top were just indescribable, and I was so fricking proud of myself. It was just a bonus that the town of Stavanger was adorable… expensive, but adorable.
Snowdon in Wales, Dublin in Ireland and Hamburg, Germany in August
It was all go in August. On one slightly exhausting weekend I visited Snowdonia in Wales for the first time, and was actually pretty shocked at how beautiful it was. Snowdonia was practically on my doorstep, and I had no idea! Our goal was to reach to summit of the highest peak in Wales, which we managed. Just. We then kipped over at a Travelodge in Porthmadog and caught the first ferry across to Dublin the next day, where we treated our aching muscles with pints of Guinness whilst checking off all the tourist spots and dodging the rain.
The past two August’s have taken me to Berlin, but changing it up this year, I booked up to visit somewhere different in Germany; a bank holiday weekend to Hamburg. It wasn’t enough, there was so much to do, see and eat in this city; we took a boat trip around one of Europe’s busiest ports, had a night out in Reeperbahn, had a (really) early morning rock-out in the fish market, rode the Wilde Maus at the Summer DOM and stayed in one of the most stylish hotels in the uber-cool HafenCity district.
Balkan Road Trip: Mostar, Bosnia, Dubrovnik, Croatia and Kotor, Montenegro in October
Treating this as our slightly delayed Honeymoon after our wedding last year in South Iceland, we booked an epic ten day road trip around the Balkans. I didn’t want it to end.
Starting off in Mostar in Bosnia I was bowled over at the beauty of this town and the hospitality of the Bosnian people. Considering most only come to Bosnia on a day trip from Croatia, I was thankful to spend three days in Bosnia, getting to know the city, it’s recent history and heading out with the car to explore Kravice waterfalls and onto Blagaj tekija, the old monastery… and meat, feasting on all the meat; you won’t find anything better than a Bosnian meat platter from Tima-Irma.
Worried that Dubrovnik wasn’t going to live up to the hype, I went in prepared for over-crowded old town squares. Amazingly though, traveling in the off-season, this uber-popular city wasn’t totally saturated in throngs of tourists and we could walk the city walls, be the only people in the ice cream parlour, get the best seat in Lokanda Peskarija for calamari every night, and easily hop on a boat to Lokrum.
Finally, we ended up in Kotor, using it as our base to day-trip around the Montenegrin coastal towns; Perast, Budva and Tivat. Hiking the fortress walls was a real highlight, with insane views across the Bay of Kotor, and eating takeaway pizza on the harbour wall as the sunset behind the mountains, or finding a proper ‘locals’ bar in the old town and spending all our money on cheap beers and local wines.
…and Mechelen, Belgium in October
Back to Belgium! Twice in a year. Heard of Mechelen? No, nor had I, but I haven’t hut up talking about this town since. A short distance from Brussels, this utter gem in the Flanders region was a real find; all canals, bridges and a stunning Grote Markt. I visited the Het Anker Brewery, which was on of the best brewery tours I’d been on, climbed St Rumbold’s Tower to the sound of it’s bells, spent a whole afternoon bar hopping in the Fish Market and entered Foodie Nirvana; the weekend market where I gorged on chocolates, cheeses and frites!
Baltic Weekend: Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia in November
After starting off the year in the Baltics, we bookended it with another trip back, this time to Latvia and Estonia. It was late November, cold as anything but the Christmas Markets had just about started, so the two city’s were decked out in festive lights and you could smell gluhwein and hot black balsam on every corner. We did our own walking tours of the two cities, sightseeing all the fantastic buildings around the old towns and then hibernated in Riga’s Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs with platters of Latvian garlic bread and pork knuckle paired with the honey beer I still have dreams about.
And finally… New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik!
I’M TOO EXCITED. All going well, I’ll be in Europe’s most northerly capital city to welcome the new year. Reykjavik promises an insane celebration of hours and hours of fireworks and a party atmosphere to rival any other city on the planet. Considering I’m usually a TV and PJ’s girl for NYE this is going to be something special!
How was your 2017? Who’s got travel recommendations for me for 2018? Anywhere here that’s still on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments.