2018 : Year of travel

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

Pico Iyer

Plane views

Amongst my New Year Resolutions last year was to travel. My initial objective was to go abroad every month, but that soon became travelling to 12 new countries…

I left the UK for my first trip on 8th January and returned from my last trip on 30th December, which I think is a pretty comprehensive year of travel! I’ve travelled solo, with family, friends and loved ones. I’ve flown, caught buses, trains, boats and gone on a road trip. There’s been city breaks, beach holidays, weekend trips and long haul three week travels. There’s been sun, sea, sand, snow, drinking, diving and dressing up! Google maps sent me an email to say that I travelled 76,782, which is the equivalent of travelling around the world three times!

Sun, sea, sand in Senegal
Snow in Liechtenstein

In total, I had fifteen trips abroad, to twenty one countries, with twelve of them being new – I smashed it!! Admittedly, December was a little crazy, with 3 separate trips covering 5 countries but I like a challenge!

So in 2018, I went to:

  • JANUARY – Riga, Latvia
  • FEBRUARY – Senegal
  • MARCH – Australia; Singapore; Vietnam
  • APRIL – Scotland
  • MAY – Bulgaria
  • JUNE – Cluj Napoca, Romania; Malta
  • JULY – Netherlands; Germany; Luxembourg; France
  • AUGUST – Georgia
  • SEPTEMBER – Larnaca, Cyprus
  • OCTOBER – Ukraine; Albania
  • NOVEMBER – St Lucia
  • DECEMBER – Tallinn, Estonia; Zurich, Switzerland; Liechtenstein
Drinking my way around the world

It’s hard to pick holiday highlights when my trips were so different. But I absolutely loved travelling with my Dad and helping him tick off a bucket list item. Visiting Chernobyl was a sobering experience but one that had been on my travel list for a few years. And I LOVED Liechtenstein- not just because it represented mission complete but because of the variety of things on offer – history, culture, castles, wine tasting and alpine adventures!

Pripyat amusement park, Chernobyl

I’m not going to be quite so crazy on the travel front this year but I’ve not got any trips booked currently and it’s stressing me out..!

Sofia, Bulgaria

“United Bulgarians can lift a mountain”

Bulgarian Proverb

 

sofia ruins

So as part of my plan to visit as many countries as I can this year, whilst working full-time, I’ve been popping across to Europe whenever I have a few days off, so in April, I visited Sofia in Bulgaria.

I didn’t really know what to expect and travelling so soon after a month along trip, I hadn’t really done much research. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised! Bulgaria is cheap, the people are friendly with most speaking English well and it’s beautiful!

sofia mountain over city

The first thing I noticed on arrival in Sofia was a snow covered mountain rising above the town at the end of Vitosha Boulevard, the main shopping street. These are the Vitosha Mountain massif and somewhere immediately high on my priority list to visit!

I’d booked an Urban Adventures ‘Food, Heritage and Culture’ tour for my first afternoon so headed straight off on this. It was a great introduction to the city, as I saw many of the beautiful historic buildings and churches, ancient ruins and tried some delicious food along the way. I also picked up tips on where to head over the rest of my time and restaurant recommendations. The traditional Bulgarian salad was a big favourite and I ordered this a few more times… The dishes mostly feature hearty meat and potatoes. I made sure I sampled a few Bulgarian wines too.

 

bulgarian salad

I enjoyed just strolling around, admiring the architecture, and popping into churches or museums as they took my fancy. I visited the women’s market and the main food market and crossed over a few bridges.

I stayed at a Guest House just off Vitosha Boulevard, with a kitchen so that I could make my own coffee and breakfast in the morning, and had the option of making lunch for the day too. The room was comfortable but basic – just what I needed.

With only 4 days in Bulgaria, I have to confess that I didn’t actually spend all that long in Sofia itself, as I escaped the city by heading to the mountains and booked a day trip to Plovdiv and Koprivshtiza (more anon…). I’d recommend a visit to all of these and think I’ll be back myself to visit Varna, or to easily pop to Serbia or Macedonia!

sofia fountain

 

Hidden London: 55 Broadway

“I don’t know what London’s coming to – the higher the buildings the lower the morals”

Noel Coward, 1931

 

55 broadway

I have long wanted to do a behind the scenes tour in London but am rarely around for the open house weekends. Last year, I noticed TFL’s Hidden London events and so signed up to London Transport Museum newsletter so that I’d be the first to hear when new events were advertised and get priority booking 24 hours before they go on general sale.

We finally went on a tour at the end of February, having chosen 55 Broadway as the dates and price suited us best. This was once the headquarters of London Transport and as London’s first skyscraper, was controversial from the outset. It was completed in 1929 so I thought Noel Coward’s quote above was pretty apt! For much of the 19th century, the area was essentially a slum but the opening of St James’s Park station began to change this.

55 Broadway was designed by the architect Charles Holden, who’s modernist style set him apart. Frank Pick, Managing Director of the Underground, chose Holden as they shared a liking of matching form with function. The unconventional crucifix shape allowed a maximum amount of natural light into the offices. The other visionary instrumental in making 55 Broadway possible was Lord Ashfield, Chairman of the Board.

55 statue willy

Holden commissioned seven of Britain’s leading artists to create ten sculptures for the buildings exterior. Eight of these represent the four directional winds, two each on the corresponding façade. Jacob Epstein was asked to sculpt Night and Day, which were widely criticised, resulting in Day (pictured above) having his appendage shortened…

Our tour started in the foyer, where I was intrigued by the clocks which showed how often tubes ran through various stations and in which direction. There were numerous old tfl posters, photos of various important people from tfls history and nice touches like the post shoots for internal mail. We were told about the hierarchy extending both to which floor your office was on to which canteen and toilets you were allowed to use!

55 clocks

 

We had booked onto the last tour of the day, starting at 16.45 at the end of February, and lasting for 90 minutes. As luck would have it, this meant that we reached the outside viewing deck for sunset and thus got beautiful views over London in the evening light.

55 dusk

As I’m very behind with my blog posts, we’ve already booked for more Hidden London events this year, with both Euston tunnels and Down Street to come. Hopefully our guides will be just as fantastic next time too!

55 poster edit

 

 

Senegal

“When I’m in Senegal, I can’t just sit in isolation making music. People need my help. And the Senegalese people helped create my music. It comes from the country itself”

Youssou N’Dour

 

Senegal boats

I’m just back from a cheeky little trip to Senegal – a beautiful country. Sadly I did not have very long there with just 4 days in country and 2 travel days, so I only got to see a tiny amount, only visiting Dakar and Saint-Louis.

I’ve travelled quite a lot in Africa – it’s probably my favourite continent – but had never been to west Africa. Since my return, I’ve read that the name Senegal is thought to come from the Wolof Sunuu Gaal meaning ‘our boat’ – pretty fitting as there are pirogues (canoe style boats) everywhere you look! I took so many photos of them as they are often painted beautiful colours.

pirogues

It’s not just the boats that are pretty though – the buses are often multi-coloured and the outfits are amazing too! And of course the African sunsets take some beating.

European colonisation began in the mid 15th century, with the French ruling from the 19th century, with influence easily seen in the amazing and varied architectural styles. The commonest languages spoken are Wolof and French, despite Senegal gaining its independence in 1960. In fact, I was a bit worried about how I’d get by as I am awful at languages and thus booked more tours than I normally would, as someone who normally prides myself as a fairly independent traveller. More people probably speak English than they’ll admit to, so I maybe could have muddled my way through.

baobab

The two tour companies that I used were quite different – one was Senegalese and the other American. Both had advantages and disadvantages so I guess it depends on whether you want more genuine info on Senegal from those who have always lived there or better English… As I was the sole person on all my tours, I could dictate a little when and where I wanted to stop and thus didn’t feel quite as much pressure as usual to make purchases. Be wary that prices vary widely between companies – in one instance, I found a tour that was over double the price but offered exactly the same thing! In the end, I did that trip on my own and thus saved a lot of money!

The weather was beautiful, food was great – lots of fresh fish and I really enjoyed poulet yassa (chicken with onions in lemon), not too many tourists, miles of beaches etc. Would I go back? Yes, but the world is a big place so I’d probably prefer to explore a few more countries first!

senegal beach

(All photos my own and taken on my smartphone!)

Looking forward to 2018

“It’s pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves.

The book is called opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day”

Edith Lovejoy Pierce

 

IMG_6900 (2)

 

The start of a new year is often taken to be a new beginning. In fact, the first month gets its name from Janus, a two-faced God who the Romans believed looked backwards into the old year whilst simultaneously looking ahead to the future.

 

Traditionally, new years resolutions were about improving ones self. In fact, common objectives set now have been proven to be more successful than resolutions made at other times of the year.

 

Personally, I am hoping that 2018 will be my year of travel. I’m hoping to get away every single month this year and am aiming to up my country count too – I am on a rather respectable 50 plus (which is about 22% of the world) but have nearly 50% of Europe yet to visit! So first off is a city break to Riga in Latvia next week. My first holiday and first new country of the year.

 

I’m also aiming to be a better tourist in my own country. The boy and I aim to get away together once a month, often booking last minute. But I also want to explore more of London – I can’t remember the last time I went to a museum here!

 

Along with the rest of the country, I am going to join a gym and aspire to a healthier me.

 

Oh and of course, I want to blog…