In just twelve months, another year has flown by.
People around the world, from Bratislava to Brooklyn and from Managua to Melbourne, are reflecting on the year that has passed. And so are we, not just because it’s a great personal practice but because it helps new readers get to know us quickly. In our second full year of bloggership, it’s time for the year-in-review, version 2.012 (check out 2011’s here).
Escaping the winter chill
Most of my winter was spent running away from winter. Poor Ben, meanwhile, was mostly home in Germany shoveling snow.
In January we headed to our home in Miami Beach. Though it sounds glam, we were actually repairing ceiling leaks and changing air conditioning filters in preparation for a new renter. Not so glam after all.
However, I did get inspired to write my very first post on my home country: Miami Beach: Glitz, Glam, and Great Parking. Later, while visiting parents on California’s North Coast, I let you all suffer then benefit then suffer then benefit along with me on Dramamine Drive.
After landing in Germany, and somewhere in between the hail and the sleet, I said, “Ummm . . . uh-uh,” and we headed to Spain’s sunny Canary Islands, a place where Ben traces his roots. It’s also the place where forgetting all my electronics eventually led to a 5-star epiphany.
In February it was time for India, reporting for a travel agency and tour provider. The trip inspired not only a series but one of my favorite posts to date. The Hindu gods must have smiled on me, because at the last minute I received a fantastic opportunity to extend my trip and hang out with locals at Holi, the festival of colors, in the white city of Udaipur. Never, ever, pass up the opportunity to hang out with locals in a strange land (unless it involves gypsies and caves in Granada … but that’s a story for another time).
Just one quick note about something that didn’t make it into the blog: In preparation for our big Stateside trip, we spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at home.
Too quiet: by the time midnight rolled around, we were feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Suddenly, our valley alighted in fireworks! It was our first New Year’s Eve in Germany, and we didn’t realize that they celebrate with explosives. Even if we had known, we wouldn’t have expected the reserved folk of our tiny, rural hamlet to participate much. Boy, were we wrong. The show continued for a good half hour, and ours had to be the only house not joining in. It just shows you that the best surprises can come right on your doorstep . . . and that you should never underestimate a German’s propensity to party.
Spanning the European spring
In spring, we managed to make it from Istanbul to London, which is actually quite simple given the central location of our home base and the bargain basement prices on many European flights.
In between, we were hiking the Path of the Gods on Italy’s Amalfi Coast (we’re pretty much addicted to the beautiful Mediterranean and need our occasional fix), getting to know the Mosel River wine region in our own backyard, and enjoying more than one perfect day in Paris.
London is where I go to feel like I’m back home, since it offers friends, yoga, city life, and excellent farm-fresh food. As for Istanbul? It’s everything they say it is and more. East meets West, mysterious and modern, sophisticated yet friendly. I could go on, and I will, in a series of posts later this year.
Avoiding summer tourists
Sometimes, we really get things right. That was the case for my first trip to Switzerland, where we picked a gorgeous town, arrived to beautiful weather, and competed with very few tourists. (The trip also inspired First-Class Trains in Europe: Worth It?)
We weren’t so lucky in Croatia, where we spent ten days bumping elbows with what seemed like the entire population of Eastern Europe. My disappointed post was one of the most commented upon, and definitely saw the most Twitter action this year. (Still, we did find a few towns in Croatia worth writing about.)
(A side note: my most “actioned” post was decidedly negative, and my most visited post is about nudity. Whoever said sex and contentiousness don’t sell … well, nobody says that, do they?)
However, we did time things right in Brussels in August. As diplomats head home and many locals leave for vacation, hotel prices drop, the vibe is laid back and mellow, and the sun actually shines. It’s the perfect environment for sitting at a café like the locals do, eating mussels and drinking rosé. It’s also a time when flower boxes decorate the picturesque villages of nearby Wallonia.
The year winds down as we ramp things up
Come to think of it, we had a really great autumn.
If there’s one country this year that completely surpassed expectations, it would be Norway. We weren’t prepared for its startling landscapes or the special culture we would find there. This is one area you shouldn’t miss.
We earned the prize for best back-to-back trip ever when we turned right around and headed to Girona on Spain’s Costa Brava, another destination worth shouting about. Talk about something for everyone: breathtaking Mediterranean coastline, rugged mountains, charming medieval villages, outdoor adventure, mouthwatering food, rich culture, and fine wines and spirits. More about that in the coming months….
Staying on the food and beverage theme, we next headed to France’s Champagne region to stock up for Ben’s approaching birthday and to spend a nice weekend winding through pretty villages for tastings at mom-and-pop Champagne cellars.
A travel conference brought me back to London for a quick trip before the next highly anticipated venue: Bulgaria. The former Eastern Bloc countries are a goldmine for off-the-beaten-path travelers. It still feels … unmanufactured. Bulgaria is exceedingly un-touristy, filled with history, almost painfully inexpensive, and beautiful. As with most of these countries, two out of the four will probably change within the decade. Get there now for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the region before it changes.
A whirlwind December
Though I complained earlier in this post about German winters, the truth is that December gets a hall pass. There’s something about the beginning of winter – a time filled with Christmas markets, tiny illuminated villages, and fresh snow – that makes it, for me, the optimal month to be here.
This year, however, here we weren’t. Instead, we were in . . . Kansas?? Yes, Ben’s work assignment took us there, and we used the opportunity to visit friends and family in Chicago, Houston, Seattle and San Francisco (we tagged teamed a bit on that part).
The upside was seeing so many loved ones for the holidays. The downside was missing our last Christmas market season in Germany. Luckily, the Bernkastel market opened early, just in the nick of time. And now we’re continuing the festivities for New Year’s Eve in Stockholm. Tune in to Twitter for live updates.
This next year, after three wonderful ones in Europe, we’ll be taking this blog to a new frontier: Asia. As of June, we’ll be residing in Japan and using it as a base to explore the continent just like we’ve been doing here.
As we kick off the new year, we’re hoping for just one thing: that you take two minutes right now to fill out our short survey. Throughout our last months in Europe, what are you most curious to read about? What are the destinations that interest you in Asia? We’d like to fill this blog with content that matters to the people that matter to us.
Thanks, and happy journeys in 2013!