My Travel Highlights of 2016

2017 is already here and my New Year’s resolutions have been made – along with an even larger bucket list than ever before. Seems like the more I travel, the hungrier I get for more. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I once knew about the great world out there and all the people living in it. While 2016 was the year I traveled only within the borders of my continent, Europe, 2017 will take me to at least two others – and who knows where else destiny decides to take me this year?

2016 was a year filled with great highs as well as some lows. Unstable economy, feeling lonely as an expatriate in a foreign country, death in the family, losing touch with friends, pitching article after article to magazines with little result, getting criticized for putting so much time and effort into my blog when I “should be spending my time doing something more useful” – these events have caused a lot of stress, sadness and feeling of hopelessness for me. Traveling – and the love and support from my partner – gave me the strength I needed to be able to look back on 2016 as a great year instead of feeling like a complete failure.

Because…

I welcomed 2016 by watching the beautiful fireworks display in Warsaw, Poland with my family and my partner. We visited the Christmas market in the Old Town and danced the night away at the New Year’s gala in our hotel.

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I visited London, England for the first time in many years, and had a great time catching up with a friend who moved to London for work. We went salsa dancing, salsa eating (nachos) and visited all the touristic sites together.

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A romantic weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark was the Christmas present from me to my significant other. We stuffed our faces with Danish pastries, laughed our asses off while the fish tickled our toes at a duo fish spa, visited the castles and the little mermaid and enjoyed the snow – although I would have been happier if my partner hadn’t kept throwing snowballs at me.

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I visited Belgium for the first time…and second…and third. My partner and I embarked on plenty of amazing road trips this year and visiting certain destinations in Belgium was part of those trips. Romantic Bruges, charming Antwerp and multicultural Brussels. I’ve fallen in love with Belgium – and Belgian beer!

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And then there was the trip to Luxembourg in May. The surprise birthday present from my partner. We visited Luxembourg city, two castles elsewhere in the country and saw Hans Zimmer live in the amazing concert venue Rockhal. Probably the best birthday I’ve ever had.

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Late June and early July was spent traveling by train with my mother. From Oslo, Norway to Karlstad, Sweden – then back to Norway to visit Sandefjord and Kristiansand, before returning to Stavanger to spend a couple of days relaxing at home before returning to France. Photo below was taken while visiting Tungenes Fyr (lighthouse).

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The weekend of Bastille Day (14th of July) was spent visiting Saint Malo, Mont Saint-Michel, Dinan and Rennes in France. My partner and I watched the fireworks in Saint Malo, drank cider and ate delicious crêpes (the local Bretagne/Brittany specialty). Calories and carbs taste better in France than anywhere else.

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One of my biggest highlights of the year was to volunteer in Moldova. I got to know so many lovely people – volunteers and locals – and my host family was the nicest I could  ever have asked for. I also got to taste some amazing wine from the Purcari Winery while I was there. I’ve been spreading the word about how great Moldovan wine is, ever since.

 

Another great highlight was the writing retreat in Barcelona, Spain with Pink Pangea where I got to know like-minded travel writers – all women – explored the city of Barcelona and did a lot of soul searching as well. We laughed, shed some tears, plenty of hugs and shared our most personal stories – travel related and non-travel related. It was therapeutic and inspired me to not just become a better writer but a better person as well.

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In September my partner and I embarked on yet another road trip to a different part of France. This time to the southwest. We explored some spectacular caverns, enjoyed the local wines and visited idyllic and picturesque little towns. I have never taken as beautiful photos as I did in the southwest of France. No wonder so many people dream about this country, and so many writers find inspiration here.

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We didn’t spend longer than twenty-four hours at home before we were back on the road again. Well, towards the airport this time to catch a flight to Athens, Greece. The week in Athens was filled with food, historical ruins, food, more history and even more food. Greek cuisine is simply just too good!

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Winter Beer Day, Christmas markets and celebrating my parents wedding anniversary and my stepfather’s birthday was how we spent our long weekend in Hamburg, Germany…And taking pictures from the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. What a windy affair that was.

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And then there was December and all those Christmas markets. Paris (France), London (England), Reims (Champagne, France), Cologne (Germany) and Oslo (Norway). I didn’t get a white Christmas this year either, but I got so much more. So much more that mattered a lot more to me than snowflakes. Spending time at these markets with the people I care about, laughing, smiling and cheering while tasting local specialties – now that sure got me into the Christmas spirit! Photo below is from Oslo, Norway.

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Now, excuse me while I pack my bags to go to Marrakech, Morocco tomorrow. 2017 started in Trondheim, Norway and after a few days of rest in France I am now ready for new adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest blogger: Brittany Hayward. Adventures in Perth, Australia

Sitting on a cramped bus, in the middle of the Western Australian desert made me re-think downing over 3L of “daily-recommended” water.
Being miles from anywhere led roommates Jose, Vicky and I to the truest of Aussie landscapes; the big and barren WA. Home to white beaches, optional foot attire and the world’s most isolated city.
After an exhausting 4-hour flight we hit the Sheralee Hostel in Perth. Practically an ancient ruin, the place challenged the boundaries of cleanliness. Our evening stay was accompanied by a dead cockroach, a bloody kitchen brawl of Irishman, and a Chinese man determined to catch the mouse inhabiting our room.
Waking up to our neighbors alarm an hour earlier then needed, we were ready to catch our tour leaving for the far north. Leaving the dust mites and grime behind us we boarded the 20 person bus jammed pack with tourists mostly from Europe.
Led by “Bachelor Bob” (coined due to the lack of wedding ring), Bob both guided and drove
the diverse crew up the coast. Stopping at places like the Pinnacle Desert, white sandy beaches and the Wildlife Park where Jose taught a multicoloured finch how to dance. Apparently Spaniards have a way with the wildlife.
Kilometre after another, we continued on towards Kalgone National Park. When entering I obeyed the instructions by keeping hydrated for the remainder of time hiking. The views of the rocky red terrain were one of a kind and my camera couldn’t get enough. By the end of the day we made it to Monkey Mia, but before our glorious arrival we made a much need “pee-pee” break at the Billabong Roadhouse.
Word of the wise: keep water consumption to a minimum when stopping at 3-hour increments.
We capped the day with a sunset over the Indian Ocean, and a bobbing turtle
wishing us goodnight. Getting an early start to the day we watched bottlenose dolphins swim up to shallow beach, followed by a morning of sailing at Shark Bay.
Growing closer with our fellow travelers we headed to lookouts at Shell Beach, Hamelin pools and Eagles Bluff. Our final overnight stay was a farm reserve, miles from civilization and cell phone reception. Luckily the stench of our barn accommodation didn’t bother us too much.
With only a day ahead of us we concluded the tour with sandboarding, peeing in the outback and bowing down to HRH Prince Leonard of Hutt River Principality. Hutt River is an independent state succeeding Australian rules and laws. It’s hard to imagine, but getting a stamp in our passports was definitely the biggest highlight!
The drive back to Perth was long and tiring, but left lingering views of open paddocks, grazing kangaroos and running emus. After this trip, I can confidently wash my pee down the toilet, tolerate the extent of greasiness, speak beginner Spanish, and answer all of life’s questions with She’s the Man quotes. Western Australia is forgotten and desolate, but full of hidden gems.
The 4-day tour was a blur, but I’ve got a lifetime of knowledge.
Follow Brittany’s blog and let her interesting stories and gorgeous photos take you on a wonderful journey around the world!
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