I decided that the best way to wrap up this year would be to look back at what has been one of the absolute most positive thing to have come out of it: I have had the chance to do a lot more traveling than in previous years. I have gotten the chance to visit some new places as well as revisit old ones. So here is a summary of what I have been up to this year!
My first trip this year, apart from flying from one home (Fuerteventura) to another (Dublin), was to spend a girls’ weekend in Amsterdam for my birthday. This wasn’t my first time in Amsterdam. I spent a couple of days in this lovely city three years ago when I was interrailing through Europe. However it was the only city we visited in which it rained and the weather was dreary and cold in the middle of summer, which pushed it down the list of my favourite interrailing stops. This time around, I got to visit in the midst of winter and we were lucky enough to wake up to a thin layer of snow and clear blue skies. It definitely changed my opinion on the city, which is one of the reasons why I am a big advocate of revisiting places. Also this time, I was lucky to be accompanied by a local (thanks Mirjam!) and seeing the city through her eyes also helped me appreciate it a bit more. We spent the weekend wandering aimlessly through canals, food markets and bars and it is now one of the first cities that pops into mind when I think of a weekend getaway!
Between March and April I got a chance to spend a week and a half in Boston while I was attending a conference. This was my first time back since leaving at the end of the summer of 2012 after spending 4 months living in Worcester (30 minutes away by train). Boston holds a very special place in my heart and I cannot express in words how delighted I was to be back. I was very busy with work while I was there, so I didn’t have a lot of time for exploring, but I still saved at least an hour every day to walk around and revisit my happy memories. I forgot my camera and I only have one or two crappy pictures taken with my crappy phone and I do not regret it. I think these days we sometimes get too lost in trying to record moments that we forget to actually enjoy them while they are still happening. Also, this was my first solo trip in a while and it was such a wonderful experience being able to revisit this amazing city on my own, without a camera and with absolutely no agenda. That, and being able to spend some quality time with some of my closest American friends, I don’t think I could have wished for a better return to my beloved Boston.
USA – California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah
My longest escape this year was also probably the most amazing: three weeks spent roadtripping around the west of the USA with my parents. This was the first trip this year visiting somewhere I hadn’t been to before so it was bound to be exciting no matter what! We started off in Los Angeles (California), which was the city I was the least looking forward to see and ended up loving, all thanks to our wonderful local guide. From there we left for Arizona which was the biggest surprise of them all! Who knew Arizona was such a beautiful state? I thought Arizona was the Grand Canyon and desert, desert and more desert. However, as it turns out, the landscape is incredibly beautiful and varied: from huge cacti to small towns hidden among red mountains; from green forests to the impressive structures of the Navajo Tribal Park of Monument Valley. And of course to the king of landscapes himself: the Grand Canyon. From Arizona we moved on to Utah which is not far behind! Before this trip I wouldn’t even have been able to put Utah on the map, and I would have considered myself above average at putting states on the map.
We stayed in a cute little town called Kanab, which felt like being part of a West Side story. We also visited Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. Even though I lived in the States for a couple of months I was never aware of the beauty of National Parks in the USA! Now all I can think of is that I need to go back and see them all.
Next we headed for a brief stop in Nevada where we visited crazy Vegas as well as Death Valley, which I would not recommend visiting in the midst of July – that place is as hot as it gets! We finished off in California. Just when we thought we had seen as good as it gets, we got to Yosemite. Seriously, the beauty of the States is just never ending! We couldn’t leave California without also stopping at San Francisco, which I found disappointing to be honest. I think I had created a perfect picture of San Fran in my head and after seeing so much unexpected beauty, by the time we got to San Fran it just didn’t live up to my expectations. After San Fran we took the beautiful coastal route back to LA, passing through Santa Barbara, Monterey and Big Sur. Of course we couldn’t leave California without making a final stop at Walt Disney original master piece – Disneyland, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary.
In August, myself and Airam went on our first weekend getaway of the year to Cologne, Germany. He was attending a conference so I had a chance to wander around and explore this city for the first time. I didn’t even bother reading on what there was to see, or even get a map. It is one of those cities where you can actually just do that. Also, like I said regarding Boston, it is always great to be able to visit a city with no other agenda than just walk around and see what you find. It is also a city with a really young atmosphere, with loads of bars, cafes, green areas… and everything is just so cheap in comparison to Dublin that it was really easy to just hop from bar to bar drinking german beer. I also had a chance to catch up with one of my best friends who is currently living in Germany. That alone made the trip worth it!
In September I spent a couple of days recharging batteries in my beloved home island. There is such a completely different way of living here that it is always great being able to come back and get a break from life in the city. The weather in September is usually the best we get all year, and considering how Ireland doesn’t usually get any summer at all, by the time September comes I’m usually having serious sun and heat withdrawals.Also, this time I had a couple of friends visiting and I really enjoy showing other people around the place where I grew up. To sum up, a visit home can never go wrong!
Between September and October I suddenly became aware that I was indeed moving to England and that meant leaving my beloved Ireland behind. There was so much I still wanted to see! So we tried to make the best of the good weather while it lasted and spent every weekend visiting places we hadn’t seen before, even around Dublin. That’s when I finally discovered Howth. We also decided to walk the Wicklow Way, which had us walking across county Wicklow for 4 days. This is definitely one of my most favorite things I have done this year! It allowed me to reignite my love for this beautiful little emerald island, which had gotten lost in translation during the last couple of years. We also spent a weekend on the west coast exploring Galway and the Aran Islands. We had to cut our trip short due to bad weather, but we still somehow managed to make the best of it.
UK – Edinburgh and London
In November I started with a weekend getaway to visit a friend in Edinburgh. I know I keep saying this but it really was just great again! I think it is always exciting to revisit a place you haven’t been to in a long time (10 years in this case, to be exact) and be able to share it with a friend who you also haven’t seen in a long time and who has now become a local. We visited places I hadn’t even heard of, like Rosslyn Chapel and I became even more aware that I have finally made peace with visiting places in bad weather. It only took me 6 years of living in Ireland! After Edinburgh, I also paid another friend a visit in London, where I kicked off the Christmas celebrations. We had yet another wonderful weekend which I will always remember as the weekend I discovered mulled wine. I had heard of it before, but since I am not a big fan of wine I always disregarded it. However, it was so freakishly cold in London that it was just too hard to resist when passing stands with big pots of warm spiced heaven. Also, despite having been to London a couple of times before, I had actually never been to Camden town (shame on me!). I am not a big shopper but that place is just begging to be explored, which I intend on doing as soon as I have settled in England.
Ever since I was kid I have wanted to visit Disneyland during Christmas. This year, we took Airam’s birthday as an excuse to finally make this wish come true! And believe it or not, turns out it was even better than what I expected. There was just so much going on at all times: a christmas parade on top of the normal one, christmas carols every evening to accompany the lighting of the christmas tree, a specific version of the night show dedicated to the holidays… And the list goes on! I was in Disneyland Paris in September last year, and I was also in the one in California during the summer. Thus people are always asking me if it doesn’t get boring going so often in such a short space of time. I always laugh to myself… Every visit is completely different to the other! Particularly this time, we felt like we were visiting the park for the first time since there was so much holiday-related stuff going on. And I would return next year for the holidays again if I could. In fact, it is so much better during the Christmas holidays, that I am not sure I would like to go back any time that is not Christmas in the future.
Finally, I decided that since this year I got a long Christmas break, I would use it to go on one final trip, this time closer to home. Since Airam had never been to La Palma, one of the seven Canary Islands, and I hadn’t been since I was a kid, we decided to spend the last couple of days of the year on a family roadtrip. Initially the trip started off rather badly, after our tiny plane tried to land in extremely windy conditions and failed giving us all an awful fright before diverting to another airport. We wasted a whole day of lying around in an airport, and I started regretting having come up with the idea for the trip. However once we actually made it to La Palma, I was willing to endure another awful flight as long as I could come back. I mean, wow, I can’t believe how this island is still relatively untouched by tourism. It is referred among the Canaries as ‘the beautiful one’ and it is not without reason. The landscape is absolutely mind blowing. We spent three wonderful days driving through winding roads – and by winding I mean, I genuinely don’t think you can drive for more than 200 metres without finding a turn. We also drove up and down tiny cobble streets (in which we could barely fit the car) through mountain villages as well as through kilometres of banana tree plantations. We had prickly pears taken right out of the cacti for breakfast. I really don’t think I could have wished for a better trip to end the year!
And with that, 2015 has come to an end. As I am writing this I have realised that I actually haven’t visited a single new country this year. And yet, it feels like I have visited loads of new places, which is also true. Arizona couldn’t be any more different to Massachusetts. The sparse memories of my 12-year old self of places like Edinburgh and La Palma are very different to the memories I have now regenerated. And visiting somewhere with a local is an experience that cannot be beaten, although wandering solo with no agenda comes close. All in all, I really couldn’t have wished for a better year!
What about 2016? I haven’t made any holiday plans yet, but one thing is for sure: big changes are coming. I will be leaving what has been my home for the last 6 years and discovering what is like to live and work in England for a year. I might go back to Ireland afterwards or not, who knows! I am also planning to spend a couple of weeks exploring Norway, as well as a couple of weekend getaways in Sweden, and potentially Germany and Poland. Nothing for certain yet, but I am looking forward to see what 2016 throws my way!
Happy New Year to you all!