Travel Highlights of 2017
A lot of effort goes into travelling. More often than not I see something on Instagram or read a blog post and a seed is sown for an idea of a little holiday and the laptop comes out. Or, equally as frequent, Mr MLLH gets an email for some cheap flights and starts saying things like ‘Hey, we could go to Rzeszoz for £20 return – fancy it?’. But, once the flights are booked, that’s when the real work starts. I literally spend hours and hours researching a place to the point where I start thinking ‘Why bother going – you know it already’! But I do reckon that’s half the fun – you can imagine a town in your mind till the cows come home, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. And all that pre-journey swatting just makes me love a place even more because there’s nothing better than standing in a town square or on a rooftop bar and being able to imagine the scenes of stories you’ve read about, moments in history which shaped this particular area. I love it!
And then, there are the worries of travelling with kids and trying to make every minute memorable. Coupling fun kiddie things with an overwhelming need to plant in them the desire to travel and see the world for themselves when they’re older. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for an inflatable flamingo and a pool, or a trip to the beach with surfboards and snorkels, but my type A personality just won’t let me book an all inclusive to Tenerife. I’d go insane if we didn’t hire a car or plan a little trip every day!
So I thought I’d share with you my top 5 travel experiences from 2017, highlights from a self-proclaimed perfectionist. Effectively, what rocks the boat of the girl who strives for the best of everywhere! (You may be surprised just how impromptu and unplanned the best bits were – but then, isn’t that always the case?!)
In Reverse Order…
5. High On Life In Amsterdam
I’m not talking brownies, I’m talking bicycles! Known to some pedestrians as the Schizophrenic Cyclist, I’ve always had this inner struggle with my two-wheeled personality. A few years ago I scratched a long term itch and bought a sit-up-and-beg bike with a basket up front because I fell in love with the image of the healthy, eco-housewife – although I refuse to wear socks with clogs and I do still shave my armpits : standards. However, when I’m in the saddle, my 12 year old self returns – the one who spent pocket money on speedometers and bike-lube – and I just can’t stop the speed demon inside. So, when we got to our Airbnb in Amsterdam and discovered we had bikes to use I all of a sudden felt a kinship with my Dutch friends, mamma’s come home.
The thighs of Amsterdam do enough revolutions an hour to power two small countries – true story. And I could hug the guys at ‘Amsterdam Headquarters’ for tarmacing miles and miles of beautifully smooth cycle lanes, there has been many a city in the past where I would have loved to have tucked my right trouser leg into my sock but the roads are just too mental! Even cycle-friendly cities like Copenhagen. Not in Amsterdam though. Apart from the odd unsuspecting tourist, the majority of Amsterdam-goers are bike-minded and you can peddle with freedom along hundreds of miles of cycle lanes, no hair-wrecking helmets needed.
So long as you’re wearing gloves you can cycle for hours with the wind in your hair, covering far more ground than you ever would on foot. And all those off the beaten track places I read about beforehand now became accessible with our borrowed two wheels. Cycling 25 miles a day goes a long way to offsetting all the pastries and double fried chips with mayo that can be consumed in Amsterdam within a 3 day period and, have you ever experienced a bike ride after a couple of glasses of wine? You should try it my friend!
So, although I wouldn’t put Amsterdam on my top European city list, I did so enjoy our trip immensely and it was all down to the flying freedom that a bicycle brings – I’ll never forget that feeling!
Read more… A Weekend In Amsterdam
4. The Prettiest Harbour In The World
I mean, I’ve not been to them all but if Jack Sparrow ever needed a breathtaking backdrop to walk someone off his plank then he’d have it here in Honfleur! If Paris did ports, they would look like this one in Honfleur. If Walt Disney ever fancied writing a fairytale about bicycle riding men in striped jumpers and strands of garlic around their neck, you’d see him sat in a pavement cafe, seat facing outwards, with a pencil behind his ear as he watched the beret-clad citizens of Honfleur carry on with their daily chores. What I’m trying to say is, it’s idyllic. It’s fanciful Frenchness with boats. And what made it all the more qualifiable for a spot that would make it to my top 5 best travel moments of 2017 was that it was the first day of our epic road trip from England to Portugal this Summer. All my anal planning had paid off and this first day set the standard for what turned out to be the best roadtrip ever.
I did write a blog post about some of the quirkier details of Honfleur which enamoured me in my research, but all you readers really need to know is how beautiful a place this is. You’d be quite content with a town that had such a majestic harbourside – the tall, thin houses must be where Farrow and Ball discover their paint shades; dark and moody greys interspersed with the odd pastel colour for the perfect contrast. However, after we’d spent a good hour lurking around the water, taking far too many beautiful photo’s, our morning was about to get even better when we ventured into the town behind. Patisseries and Fromageries, Charcuteries, Boulangeries, Boucheries, Epiceries and any other business establishment you had to memorise for GCSE French, lined the thin cobbled streets with their hand painted sign-writing and window displays that talk to you. It’s impossible to resist buying at least one box of macaroons or loaf of fresh bread. In fact we did, and finished our perfect morning off with a little trip to the nearby village of Camembert, of smelly cheese fame. There we bought some smelly cheese to go with our French stick. Oh, and this is also the land of cider so of course we obliged and ate a late lunch by a little stream in Camembert whilst Cameron demonstrated his 11 year old’s take on how a person would walk if they’d had too much cider. With happy hearts and ready for the next leg of our road trip we hopped in the car and left with great memories.
Read more… Top 10 Cool Facts About Honfleur, Normandy
3. 48 Hour Pintxos Binge-Eating In Bilbao
Our first ever foreign city break with kids and I was more than a little nervous! After 3 weeks on the road, driving through France, Spain and Portugal I really wanted this trip to end with a bang but Bilbao just hadn’t made any decent promises. 48 hours later though, I had to admit we’d struck gold with this foodie corner of the Basque. Perfect for our nosh-loving offspring we came up with a food-crawl concept that we’d have difficulty executing in any other city.
Pintxos are small finger foods served in bars in the Basque region of Spain. They differ from tapas in that they are a lot smaller, just one or two mouthfuls and usually held together with a toothpick (I like any food that comes with a preening instrument, also useful for those John Wayne impressions I like to do too). Usually on a piece of bread, although not always, and the idea is that you snack on them when you meet your friends for pre-lunch or pre-dinner drinks. It’s a lovely custom and one that my kids got to grips with straight away! Bars are competitive and strive to produce elaborate mouthfuls so everywhere you go the choice is amazing, and the best bit – they’re so cheap! Most are €1 a piece and so we developed the game; each person was allowed one pintxo per bar, we’d walk a little, discover more of Bilbao then stop at the next bar for more pintxos half an hour later. Just writing this makes me want to be there right now because this was definitely the best bar-crawl I’ve ever done. Plus, the kids were in tow!
We spent 2 days in a city that may as well be an outdoor art museum, followed everywhere by a euphoric Riojan glow, introducing the kids to culture like pro’s – I felt proud (I’ll admit, a little giddy) and happy that we pulled it off with style. And, when asked, all the kids put Bilbao down as one of the highlights of our 3 week trip. I accrued massive points on the imaginary score sheet inside my head.
Read more… Bilbao With Kids – 2 Days Of Fun!
2. Happy Anniversary In Rome
300 feet in the air, your introduction to Rome is a landing strip that runs parallel to one of the most famous bygone roads there is. Back when Rome was the Don and a usual Friday night was a seat at the arena waiting for your weekly fix of ‘lion eats man’, there was only one road into this crazy town – the road called straight. This ancient Biblical road is there plain as day from your Ryanair seat looking very, well, straight, a reminder of the Empire that was and a cobbled invitation to spend some time in the Eternal City.
But, this trip was going to be different for us as we finally feel like we have Rome under our belts and don’t need to devote a whole weekend to seeing the more touristy sights. To kick it off our hire car was a Fiat 500 – how more apt can 4 wheels be? Then our Wednesday evening rush-hour journey into the centre of Rome was a baptism of fire : therefore when we finally kicked off our shoes and lay horizontal looking at our view of St Peters dome, we felt ‘we’ve got this nailed!’ and smuggly tucked into our first Prosecco of many.
The next few days were spent day-tripping to Roman antiquities and Popes palaces in our little Italian chariot and soaking up the cities nightlife in famous squares and elevated roof bars. 2 days were spent actually in the heart of Rome but rather than join the masses at Trevi or Navona we passionately set out to seek and discover some of Romes hidden gems and secrets. It’s what we love best about city breaks – the opportunity to scour the soul of a capital and discover more stories that make a place really live. We were in our element. We dined on fresh pasta and exquisite local ingredients all from the comfort of our own balcony with amazing views, then set out for dessert in a different Gelateria each time.
It was the Wedding Anniversary weekend of dreams and bidding farewell to the late September sun we vowed to return soon and kickstarted a conversation about a day we may finally retire here. Amore Roma.
Read more… The 10 Best Secret Spots In Rome – Sshh!
1. The Most Perfect Day Ever In The Dordogne
A few years ago some of our favourite friends broke the news to us they were emigrating to France. I’ve danced in the street at midnight with these guys, I’ve eaten some crazy Italian meals in back-street restaurants with them, and how can I forget the time I had to throw them off my hospital ward because their antics were threatening to burst my stitches – these guys are so special to me and I couldn’t quite believe France was stealing them away. So when I got the map out and plotted a route which would get us a short few days with these beautiful people on our way to Portugal, I wasn’t even deterred when I found out their house isn’t finished yet and we’d be sleeping in a tent!
St Sulpice D’Excideuil is the tiniest little village in the middle of the Dordogne and our friends have bought an old farm house plus barns to convert. Spending time with them in their new little patch of the world was cathartic and antidotal to the empty hole that their absence had created over the previous 18 months but one day in particular was definitely gold star standard and will be remembered for a long time – my favourite day of 2017.
It started with a trip to a real life French Chateau, something that had been on my bucket list for a while. I put on my best dress for Chateau de Jumilhac and it was completely worth it. It was as romantic as I’d hoped, down to the finest detail. There was this amazing smell everywhere and a gardener cutting a lawn of herbs – it was like a thousand bouquet-garni’s were tossed into the air with each blade rotation; thyme, chamomile and mint infused every inhalation. The kids played hide and seek amongst the topiary and the adults kicked back and soaked up the summer serenity.
After a drive home through your typical Dordogne postcard of vineyards and sunflower fields we spent the afternoon on sunloungers as the kids swam, summoning up old stories and anecdotes with the help of Bergerac’s finest Cabernet. And, aside from the inevitable laughter, all you could hear were birds singing and the tension of life melting away. An evening barbeque with family and new friends was preceeded by a huge organized water-fight and the burgers were washed down with an acoustic sing-along with this musical bunch of humans.
The breath-taking scenery helped and the French food and wine played its own part, but experiencing a little piece of our friends new French life with them and feeling satisfied that they made the right decision 2 years ago contributed to a very contented moment. When I unzipped our tent that evening and dozed off to the sounds of crickets and barn owls, all was good with the world and my heart rested securely.
So that was me – a fun-filled year of great travel and a basket full of memories to keep for a life time. Do let me know what your highlights were, I’m just as interested to know what makes others tick and where they get their kicks! And, thanks to all my regular readers for sticking with me in 2017 – your lovely comments and compliments have spurred me on for another years worth of travel stories! See you in the new year folks.
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