I am late to the party with a travel round up post. A fortnight ago, my feed was filled with 2018 highlight reels, seasonal wreaths, cloves and cinnamon, bubbles at midnight, countdowns and statistics.
An embryonic version of my highlight reel was conceived, scattered images from the last twelve months tediously drawn out of ever-swelling media libraries. Only this week has it taken its first breath, the holiday season, for me instead, filled with longed after catch ups with my long-time girls, festive date days with my one and only, peaking with 48 hours of the laziest, proudest indulgence with my family – and an episode of First Dates at Christmas that brought me to tears (Eric and Norma, 102 and 85 years young.)
Now, just over a week into January, my blog-related feeds are filled with travel wishlists for the year, destination ‘to-do’ lists for 2019 and I breathe a sigh of relief that I won’t be late to that party. I won’t be coming to that party at all in fact. That’s not to say I won’t be travelling this year (I very much hope I will) but I rarely write blurbs like that because when it comes to travel, I almost never have a plan.
I had no set intention to return to France last year. I ended up there on four separate occasions. I never anticipated that my working life and travel worlds would merge for the first time but they did exactly that during my first stint of volunteering abroad. I didn’t predict that I would end up travelling over the New Year’s weekend (something usually impossible with our jobs) but a month before Christmas, my schedule was handed to me, accompanied by a little window of travel opportunity.2018 was the year that saw my best friend and I travel together again after 13 years, the year that I slept in a hotel made of ice and another made of salt, even the year that a transparent hotel was thrown into the mix. In 2018, I bought coffee from a phone box, danced on the streets in the middle of the day (twice) and watched a record breaking tennis semi final at Wimbledon. It was the year that travel strengthened friendships over Sicilian gelato, volcano views and dodgy tummies.
None and I mean NONE of this was planned this time last year and yet the unplanned took us on quite the epic voyage. I say that with immense gratitude and safe in the knowledge that life doesn’t need an Excel spreadsheet or Type A personality to turn out right. The magic of a fairytale is in watching it unfold, not jumping straight to the back page, reading the ending and closing the book and 2018, for me personally, was a shining example.
Very shortly, I am booked to return to my favourite city after my previous Christmas break there. That much I know. As for the rest of 2019, I wait with baited breath to see where it may take us. The surprise is almost as alluring.
12 International Escapes in 2018As for now, a little recap of the last twelve months, documented here as much for myself as for all of you. It was a whirlwind twelve months with a mix of highs and lows but I cherish the chance to look back on our travels of 2018. I flagged at logging them as I went along but I am deeply thankful that I was able to see such places with such people.
Paris, France – February 2018
If you read my recent travel gift guide, you will be aware that I love an experience gift so Pumpkin’s suggestion for my birthday last year was a mini break in the ultimate city of romance with a birthday weekend in Paris. As we looked down, we saw silver with the last traces of melting snow on the ground and when we looked up, we faced gold, as the gleam of the Eiffel Tower at night shone straight at us.
We ate our body weight in French patisserie and walked off the guilt through my favourite neighbourhoods of St-Germain-de-Pres and the Montmartre. It’s not uncommon to take those closest to you for granted and this Londoner has definitely taken her proximity to Paris for granted for far too long. I will not be waiting 14 years again for my next visit.
Romania – February 2018
Determined not to allow the snowy holiday to be the sole property of the skier, our Parisian weekend was soon followed by a wintry retreat in Romania, booked totally last minute and the destination, above all others this year, that surprised me most. This incredibly picturesque, under-the-radar diamond of a country has suffered more than its fair share of adversity in the past but when you walk back to your hotel under cascading snowflakes in century-old town squares, it would be almost impossible to believe that.
Romania had us sipping hot chocolate outside Transylvanian castles, visiting churches of ice and falling off snow mobils. I already have my eye on a couple of Romanian regions to explore in the future and, for me, Romania is a place I half want to shout about (because it is so deserving of your interest) and half want to keep to myself (because it is such a beautiful secret still!)
Paphos, Cyprus – April 2018
After two consecutive holidays of gloves, snoods and gigantic down jackets, it was time to pack away the hand warmers once and for all and after previous Easter Weekends spent in Oslo and Sofia, we ventured further east in search of Mediterranean sunshine (and found it!) I was confident that our luxury Paphos resort and spa would be a winner and with the hotel almost full to capacity with buzzing hustle and bustle, it seemed I wasn’t the only one.
What we had not banked on was the secluded and charming antiquity of the Cypriot mountain villages. In some such villages, there was scarcely another tourist in sight, which gave us a chance to tuck into a slice of authentic Cyprus. Among my never-ending list of not yet existent blog posts is a guide to day trips from Paphos. Stay tuned (if you have the patience.)
A Sicily Road Trip with friends – June 2018
In June, after years of talking about going away with friends, we finally did so and we don’t do things by halves. Our road trip saw us traverse 3 regions of Sicily across 6 days with sublime hilltop views over rustic Italian towns, crystal clear waters and overarching lemon trees.
The trip was not without its downsides with a horrible spell of illness for Pumpkin, which had me Googling Sicilian hospitals at 4am. Thankfully, with the selfless help of our friends, we managed to keep my man off the wards and even managed to continue our trip without too much disruption. We smile every time we look back at our Sicily photos and I had honestly never realised the impact travel could have on a friendship. It will certainly take more than a few viruses to stop us planning round 2.
Barcelona, Spain – June 2018When I realised our family big birthday cruise was starting in Barcelona and ending in Rome, I did what any sensible travel blogger would do and figured, “why have one holiday when you can have three?!”For my Mum and Pumpkin, the city was seen through fresh eyes, whilst my Dad and I tried to retrace our steps from the past, seeking out Gaudi architecture and soaking up the buzz of this lively city with my lovely parents (yes, of course I am biased.)
A Western Mediterranean Family Cruise – June 2018
From the minute we set foot upon that ship in Barcelona, it was goodbye diet and hello flabby tummy. Quite how I didn’t pile on the pounds on my first cruise in the Caribbean is something I will never understand (dodgy scales perhaps?!) but considering we were gallivanting around the lands of pasta, pizza and fromage, it was an altogether different story this time round. The cruise took us to Provence and Gibraltar among other European destinations.
There was a fair amount of silliness, failing miserably at the trivia quizzes and origami classes but the ego bruises were interspersed with upbeat Zumba classes, movie nights on deck under the stars, surprisingly fine dining and best of all, a chance for the four of us to spend the week together, exploring new destinations and lapping up all the entertainment available on board on a cruise ship at the end of each day.
Rome, Italy – June 2018
With the cruise drawn to a close, came part 3 of our threefold European family vacay, as we parked ourselves in Rome for a few days, which was somewhere we had all explored at some stage in the past except Pumpkin. Rome is mesmerising, however, and with every corner drenched in stories (and fountains,) the novelty hadn’t worn off, despite the stifling crowds and dry, intense heat. We did ourselves a favour by not battling them for too long, instead taking in the highlights on a walking and driving tour of the city.
With visits to the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps, we stuck to the key tourist trail on this visit with only 3 days at our disposal. Just don’t ask about that line at the Vatican, which meant we spent most of our morning in a queue and had to leg it back to the hotel with zero seconds to spare in order to make our flight.
Peru – September 2018
After a crazy June of Sicily, Rome, Barcelona and the cruise (parental birthdays, our anniversary – oh, and the June staycation I haven’t even mentioned,) July and August were spent on home soil. Whilst the rest of England heads off during these months, we generally stay put, since this is the time of year when England tends to be at its warmest and travel tends to be at its most overpriced. That said, come September, our feet were extremely itchy (metaphorically) and we dusted off our passports ahead of our biggest adventure to date.
September 2018 was the month our age old collective dream came true, when we finally visited Peru, a destination we had spoken about on our first date. Our incredible Peruvian adventure had us watching the sunrise in Lake Titicaca and seeing that view at Macchu Picchu with more adorable alpacas in sight than my heart could handle! It was a journey I will remember for as long as my memory serves me. For years, we had delayed going in the hope that if we took our time, we would eventually be able to go & experience it exactly the way we had always wanted to. I can now honestly say that it was worth the wait and it was everything we dreamed it would be.
Bolivia – September 2018
Perhaps the only place that surpassed even Peru, however, was Bolivia. I am not one to compare oranges with pears and after the rankings-obsessed school I went to, I have a dislike of league tables but I have to be honest when I say that Bolivia was the most spectacular destination I visited this year and my favourite one. We spent circa 5 days in Bolivia but if just scratching the surface was this magnificent, it makes me even more curious to delve deeper into this fascinating country.
Marseilles, France A Girly Glamping weekend – October 2018
When my best friend declared she wanted a girly break away from her little one, we put a weekend in the diary. Our original May plan became an October plan but we could not have been luckier with the balmy, autumnal weather we had, as we sandwiched our city break in Marseilles with a slumber party under the stars in a bubble capsule hotel in the Provence countryside.
When we weren’t picnicking outside our tents or hiding in treehouses, we were admiring street art and bridges in Marseilles, all the while giggling about how much we had both changed since our last holiday away together, whilst slurping on back coconut ice cream by the harbour.
Calais, France – November 2018
Today’s blog post title is perhaps somewhat misleading because my penultimate trip abroad of 2018 was anything but a vacation and in many ways, it made all the other travels seem so frivolous. In November, myself and a colleague took along two junior colleagues on a visit to Calais for a brief volunteering stint with refugees.
We were there to assist with basic level healthcare and I won’t elaborate on it too much today since an experience as powerful as this one is not served justice in a small paragraph among a huge round up post. Suffice to say that this was my first time doing work like this but I learned so much from it and I hope it will be the first of many.
Amsterdam, Netherlands, December 2018 (and January 2019!)
Remember that unexpected New Year’s travel I mentioned at the start of this post (ya’ know, this post that you first started reading back in the days when cavemen inhabited this earth?) Well, our long festive weekend in Amsterdam was it and was a rather whimsical mix of microbe museums, mini pancakes and canal cruises. Given that the holiday season is (rightly or wrongly) a passport towards eating without a pause button, we twisted our own rubber arms into sampling Dutch cheese and stroopwafels at every opportunity, all culminating with a multi-course feast on New Year’s Eve.
Now, the astute among you will have noticed that, based on my blog post title, there are 9 distinct staycations missing from this post and truth be told, when I started penning it, it was fully my intention to include them here. As ever, though, in the battle of verbal diarrhoea versus good intentions, my wordy ways are victorious yet again and I have decided to reserve my staycation round up for the next post.
Stay tuned for cosy nights in shepherd’s huts, ocean views from glass pods in the sky, vintage car runs, historical English cities, music festivals and so much more. And if I still haven’t managed to whet your wanderlust appetite, feel free to check out past end of year travel round ups from:
Until next time…