For those of us who consider ourselves part of the wider European community, 2016 was a strange year. Political goings on made me more grateful than ever for Europe, and the ease of travel within it. In fact for the entire year, I didn’t stray out of the European continent.
It was a year of paying visits to expat friends, taking part in wacky sports events and as ever, exploring new countries that surprised me at every turn. Here are my travel highlights of the bizarre year that was 2016:
January and February were all about saving the pennies. My annual pilgrimage to London’s travel shows and a day trip to Whitstable on England’s south coast were the perfect way to scratch my itchy feet, while not breaking the bank. Whitstable, the self-acclaimed oyster capital of the UK, gave me the brisk sea views and good pub grub that all winter days out should consist of. Of course the seafood was excellent, but what intrigued me most was the town’s rich rail and industrial history. Whitstable was actually home to one of the world’s oldest railways.
I grew up in Wales, so spring is synonymous with daffodils and rugby. In 2016, it also saw me using Airbnb for the first time on a weekend trip to Cardiff. Wales’ capital is a thriving cosmopolitan city, but if I had to pick only two reasons to visit; its castle and an all-singing rugby match at the Principality Stadium would win. Rugby is almost religion in this part of the world, and nowhere is this more immersive than mid-chorus when Wales hold the lead.
In May, I found myself on a very different weekend in France’s Champagne region. Along with thousands of people from all over the world, I ran 18 kilometres through Epernay’s famous vineyards, sampling its produce as I went. While it was definitely one of the weirder things I’ve done, it was also a great opportunity for me to see a part of France I knew little about – learning about its history on the front line of the World Wars and enjoying the architecture of the region’s capital: Lille.
As Brexit loomed, I visited Berlin for the second time. A good friend has lived there for years and I was able to combine the city’s central tourist sites with a few days off the beaten track in the small village of Briesensee. It reminded me that you see a different side of a destination when visiting locals and that it can be easily balanced with tourist hotspots.
As London’s summer drew to a heated and uncertain close with a new Prime Minister in Number 10, I escaped to my first new country of the year: Macedonia. Nestled in between five countries in southeast Europe, this small country was my best find of 2016. Based at Lake Ohrid in the southwest, I was overwhelmed by the rich history, culinary culture and nature that was all so easily accessible. Though the most surprising part of my trip was that return flights and a week’s accommodation with a lake view all cost less than £200!
Before Christmas party season hit, I had one final opportunity to hop on a plane. During a long weekend in Copenhagen I squeezed in a few free walking tours, sipped a beer in the quirky free town of Christiania and took a day trip to the palace that’s said to be Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet. Despite the price tag on this weekend, a very festive evening at the world’s oldest funfair and the gluhwein on offer at the city’s Christmas markets made it well worth the wintery break.
What and where next?
Over the next few months, I’ll post more about my trips from last year, including more stories from beautiful Macedonia, I’ll continue my South America Trilogies where I was last seen crossing the border into Argentina, and I’ll also be writing about experiences in Canada, the Caribbean and Australia.
I’m excited to announce that 2017 is the year I visit Italy for the first time. With its beautiful architecture, copious food and famous histories I can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long. My journey will take me south from Venice to Sicily, with plans to enjoy many cappuccinos, scuba dive and hike volcanoes along the way…watch this space!