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..!

Riga

“The Christmas tree is a symbol of love, not money. There’s a kind of glory to them when they’re all lit up that exceeds anything all the money in the world could buy.” 

Andy Rooney

 

riga view

 

So first up and my travel trip for January was Riga in Latvia. I try to make the most of my days off work, so this was a short trip with just two days in the capital. Unfortunately, I was feeling pretty run down so lacked my usual get up and go and the grey January skies didn’t help.

I stayed at the Wellton Riga Hotel and Spa, which was a short walk from the old town and the spa was great for chilling out in the evening, with Jacuzzis, a sauna and steam room. The buffet breakfast was extensive and you could even help yourself to bubbly!

I started my day with a walk past the Laima clock and Freedom Monument and through Bastion Hill on my way to the Occupation Museum. Like most of the museums in Riga, entrance is free with voluntary donations. I am fascinated by the recent past and this museum was very comprehensive. Next was the Orthodox cathedral with beautiful gold décor on the dome and inside. I was intrigued by the art nouveau district so wandered around keeping my eyes up! The art nouveau museum is small but there are lots of interactive displays.

beer tasting

I made sure I was at the Skyline bar before sunset for beautiful views (from the panaromic lift, glass walled bathrooms and of course the bar). Situated on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Latvija Conference Hotel, it is definitely worth heading there for a glass of wine at dusk in order to get the views in daylight and then all lit up at night. To end my night, I went beer tasting at the Aussie Pub backpackers, where you can get 14 beers for the bargainous price of 10Euro! Well worth it.

The next day was more focused on the old town, with visits to The House of Blackheads (merchants house), St Peter’s church with great but chilly views from the top of the spire, Riga’s dome cathedral (look out for organ concerts!) and the Jewish Museum which is a little further than the massive central market, taking up 5 large buildings.

Things to seek out are:

  • The Three Brothers – adjacent buildings that legend has it were built by three brothers, despite being from different centuries, and are the oldest dwellings in Riga with the most ancient being from the 15th century
  • The statue of the Bremen town musicians – which features animals from the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, standing on top of each other, which is located outside St Peter’s church
  • The black cats – two of which are on the roof of a building opposite the guild. The story goes that when a wealthy man was refused admission to the Guild, he had two cats erected on the roof with their backs to the Guild as a snub (they have now been turned around after he was taken to the courts!)
  • Swedish Gate – a part of the original city walls. Apparently the executioner would display a red rose the night before an execution was scheduled
  • Art nouveau décor – can be spotted in various places all around the city and is one of Riga’s claims to fame. The details and facial expressions really entertained me

 

An unexpected highlight, considering I travelled after twelfth night, was the Christmas trees everywhere. Did you know that the Christmas tree as we know it originated in Latvia, where trees where first decorated in the early 1400’s? They helped keep my festive spirit going a little longer!

riga christmas tree

 

Next travel trip:  Senegal