From Kerala to Copenhagen: 2011 in review

Thanks to discounted Ryanair flights and several work trips, this year we completely fulfilled our resolution to take advantage of every possible travel opportunity. From birthday suits in Baden-Baden  to wedding attire in Santorini, our first full year as residents in Germany has flown by due to the right opportunities and some very cheap tickets. In fact, it often seemed that if you wanted to find us, Germany was the one place you shouldn’t look.

Here’s our season-by-season review:

 

Winter: Warsaw to the West Bank

 

After spending Christmas with our respective families, we met in Northern Italy to celebrate the New Year and explored the trifecta of Vicenza, Verona, and Venice. Here we learned about everything from grappa (while overlooking the Alps in Bassano del Grappa) to love graffiti (at Juliet’s House in Verona), and finally solved the mystery of what Italians look like under their clothes.

 

Love graffiti at Juliet's House in Verona, Italy

Love graffiti at Juliet’s House in Verona, Italy

 

On New Year’s Day in Venice, Ben popped the question (officially) on the Grand Canal, because although the wedding was already in the works, we had only just received our self-designed rings. For the next four months our primary focus (after travel) was on ceremony preparations, explaining why our site activity slowed during that time.

Almost immediately, we were in Warsaw, Poland. History always seems more immediate when you’re walking in the footsteps of the people you’re hearing about, and retracing the tragic plight of the Poles in WWII – from the Jewish Ghetto Uprising to the Warsaw Uprising – left me so affected that I still haven’t been able to compose a post on this rapidly changing, highly energized city. (However, as always, there are photos in our gallery.)

 

English: Krasińskich Square in Warsaw with War...

Krasinskich Square with Warsaw Uprising Monument, Warsaw, Poland. Image via Wikipedia

 

With a one-night turnaround to change suitcases, we left wintery Europe for warm, sunny Israel, to include Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the West Bank (Bethlehem and Jericho). Tel Aviv brings instant déjà vu of my last home, South Beach, and we wrote about where to eat here; Jerusalem’s Old City makes it easy to see why Jesus lost his temper with the merchants and money changers; and the West Bank was a mind-blowing journey to a place where past and present converge and Palestinians use the U.S. dollar as primary currency. You can read more about the contrasts of Jerusalem and Bethlehem here, the trip to Jericho here, and view our photos.

 

Tel Aviv beach and promenade

Tel Aviv beach and promenade

 

In February I was able to  fulfill a lifetime dream: travelling to India for three weeks of yoga, ashrams, temples, and wonder. The first stop was Kerala, the kinder, gentler face of India, with its tropical beaches, tigers, tea plantations, houseboats, and almost universally literate beef-eaters. Next we discovered the good life in the ex-French colony of Pondicherry (which could be called the New Orleans of the Subcontinent) and the madness of Chennai (ex-Madras) before visiting the ancient Shore Temples and sacred Arunachala, home of great gurus. Our last stop in Southern India was Sarnath, where Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon (considered the birthplace of Buddhism), and where we just possibly bumped into a living Buddha making lassis and ginger tea. We were tweeting throughout thanks to the ease and affordability of Indian SIM cards, and posted a roundup here.

We flew through Delhi and onto Jaipur to explore Mughul forts and covet Mughul jewelry. One mispronounced word to the rickshaw driver landed us at an Indian wedding in an ornate palace … but that’s a story for another time. Too soon we were back in Delhi (actually, not all that soon – the bus ride seemed endless) for a flight to Varanasi (ex-Benares), the frenetic, hyper-sensory holy city on the great Ganges, where people are purified through both water and fire. In sharp contrast, our final stop – McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala, at the foot of the Himalayas – was pristine and tranquil, a community of Tibetans and international wisdom seekers flocking to the home of the Dalai Lama. You can read more about the trip to Northern India here.

 

Houseboats on the Kerala backwaters

Houseboats on the Kerala backwaters

 

Spring: Santorini to Sicily

 

Spring is a beautiful time in Germany, so we enjoyed staying local in March and April. The lure of the famous wine-growing region around the Mosel River brought us to the river-spanning, stuck-in-a-time-warp town of Bernkastel-Kues, just a couple hours away from home. And a work conference brought us an hour away to Heidelberg, much loved by American tourists for its castle-topped loveliness, and much loved by me because of its big-city amenities like  yoga studios and Japanese ramen shops.

 

Deutsch: Marktplatz in Bernkastel-Kues

Bernkatel-Kues image via Wikipedia

 

And then, before we knew it, we were together with friends and family in Oia, on the Greek island of Santorini, for our wedding. It was our third trip to the startling, cliff-hanging village, and we became so familiar with it as we searched to find the perfect venue that we were able to present our guests with a mini travel guide book in their welcome bags. Afterwards, we couldn’t resist sharing some of the wealth with a post on the very best places to eat in Oia.

 

Wedding photo by Ashley Johnson

 

Our honeymoon destination was a secret … even to me! Ben planned the whole thing, and his destination choice of Taormina, Sicily led to the perfect blend of honeymoon relaxation and travel excitement. How could a girl help but love a place that combines Mediterranean coastal beauty with the gastronomy of Sicily? We received some questions from potential honeymooners once we posted about how much we loved it, and answered with a post on our top tips for Taormina.

 

Taormina view from the Villa Ducale hotel

Taormina view from the Villa Ducale hotel

 

It was hard to believe, but later that month we were already getting antsy again. We took advantage of Memorial Day weekend and drove to Luxembourg City, about two hours from home. The little-Paris-on-a-bluff seemed to have it all: charm, culture, history, and some great shopping.

 

Summer: Strasbourg to Sardinia

 

Berlin is one of my favorite cities, but when I toured it with a German and a Russian, I saw it in a whole new light. A week later we were in another top German city, Hamburg. It has a lot to offer, but it didn’t bump Berlin off the (German)  first-place spot in my heart.

 

Art on the Berlin Wall

Art on the Berlin Wall

 

Rome taught us a great lesson about the power of mindful focus. We began to lose ourselves in frenetic sightseeing until we realized we were missing the heart and soul of the city. Just one shift in perspective showed us a completely new way to tour the Eternal City.

 

Wine bottles at Cul de Sac in Piazza Pasquino, Rome, Italy

Wine bottles at Cul de Sac in Piazza Pasquino, Rome, Italy

 

Then we enjoyed some down time at home, hanging out at local festivals, picking flowers, chuckling at quirky rituals, and visiting Strasbourg, France – again, about two hours away. But we couldn’t let summer draw to a close without getting back to the Mediterranean beaches one last time. It was a great decision, because we ended up vacationing like millionaires on a backpacker budget in Italy’s best-kept secret, the breathtaking Golfo di Oroseiroad-tripping across Sardinia, and soaking up sol and alegria in my old home, Spain’s Balearic Islands.

 

Autumn: the Rhine to the Douro

 

In Autumn, Germany erupts with wine and beer festivals. The post on festival highlights by one of our guest bloggers inspired us to try Stuttgart’s wine festival and a micro brew festival in Karlsruhe. To detox, we headed to Baden-Baden, the most famous of Germany’s spa towns.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, we actually prefer slow travel to fast-paced sightseeing. Even though work schedules have required us to take multiple short trips this year, we try to slow down once we get where we’re going. A perfect example is our trip to the castle-studded region of Germany’s Rhine River. Even now, thoughts of languidly floating down the river bring an instant dose of calm.

In October, the passing of my beloved companion, my dog Johnnie, led to a post about our years together travelling throughout Spain. Ben and I traveled to the neighboring country of Portugal in November. The northern city of Porto reminded us of a dignified grande dame and gave us a new appreciation for port. Then we headed deeper into Portugal to Pinhão via the winding Douro River, whose uniformly terraced hills look like a topographic map dripping with grapevines.

 

Us, backed by Porto and the Douro

Us, backed by Porto and the Douro

 

Winter: Copenhagen to Rosslyn

 

Ushering in winter, we stopped at our first Christmas market of the season in Frankfurt on our way up to Copenhagen (where we bumped into another market). The huge sticker shock of Scandinavian prices couldn’t quench our appreciation of this city, which manages to stay jovial in the winter despite such limited daylight. Ben’s first post debuts next week on this very topic, so check back then!

 

The Nyhavn district of Copenhagen

The Nyhavn district of Copenhagen

 

 

Another one-day turnaround and I was off to Scotland (Ben sat this one out), first for a retreat at a castle in Rosslyn (of Davinci Code fame) and then to Edinburgh for some sightseeing with my mother (and a visit to their Christmas market). She accompanied me back to Germany for even more Christmas market revelry, first in Trier, Germany’s oldest city, and later to our very favorite market in the little-known walled city of Bad Wimpfen.

 

Looking forward

 

While we haven’t yet mapped out the year ahead, it’s safe to say we’ll be on the road as much as possible. Subscribe to our feed or sign up for newsletters so you don’t miss any of the action.

First stop? We’re heading back to our old haunts in Miami Beach later this week for a few weeks of sunshine and cafe cubano. This spring I’ll be back in India, blogging and tweeting for the tour company G Adventures and travel agency Flight Centre UK. And we’ll also be launching a brand new site that we’re super excited about! We’re keeping the theme a secret for now, but please stay tuned, because it’s going to be … tasty.

 

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Comments

  1. You had me at the Grappa in Italy but I found that I just couldn’t pull myself away from reading the rest of your 2011 review. A splendid summary with easy access to the complete articles. With all your descriptions it’s a difficult choice but I think I’d like to see Sicily. Love the pictures, too, especially the wedding photo in Oia.

  2. followbwnandjenna.com lovely pictures. Hope the next year turns out to be even more colourful for you.
    Happy New Year

  3. It’s tough to choose just one out of all the places we were lucky enough to visit, but Sicily did seem to have it all. i’d go back in a heartbeat!

  4. I’m insanely jealous of you right now. You visited two of the places that I REALLY want go to soon: Israel and Poland. Y’all have had a spectacular 2011, capped off by your wedding. Congratulations and best wishes. I love the recap and can’t wait to see what’s next.

  5. Thanks! Those are two places I’m dying to go back to really soon! Krakow is supposed to be an unforgettable city, and I’m also hoping to explore the northern part of Israel. The pics I’ve seen look lush – completely unlike what usually comes to mind for the Holy Land – plus they have fantastic wines :).

  6. You make me pine for Europe. I never did get to go to Scandinavia on my last trip, so I will definitely head to Copenhagen, and hopefully not freeze my behind off.

  7. Marcus – We’d love to hear about it, if you do! Thanks for stopping by, and hope to see you again.

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