Just over a year ago, I started feeding this blog with a little more than a post every other month or so. Would it be possible in 2018 to travel and produce anything vaguely interesting with full-time job, freelancing and some research on top?
Here is what my travel year of just using annual leave and a pretty tight budget looked like. Nothing was really expensive, and the trips were shorter. However… I am pleased! I managed to travel to nine countries, all of them visa- and stress-free. Five countries I had never been to before.
Table of Contents
The short version
Countries visited: France, Germany, Georgia, Armenia, Italy, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, UK, Greece, Albania
New countries: Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Albania
Days on the road: 43
Budget: I have no idea, but most trips were pretty cheap and I will try to be better next year.
We visited the Tarn Region of France over New Year. Always the same (great) places, the same cafes.I will still love them in years to come. At some point, I will write a post on that little-known Region of France. We started with two days in a beautiful small hotel in Toulouse, and admired the surprisingly handsome pink city.
It would have been fun enough to just wander the streets and admire the beautifully decorated small shops, but we did at least admire the painted halls of the Capitole.
We have family near Gaillac, and we stayed in Cordes-de-Ciel which is cold, empty and just magical in winter.
I never tire of visiting Albi. Again, it is pretty much under the radar, despite its beautiful old town.
And UNESCO heritage site Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile, a gothic cathedral with amazing trompe d’oeil frescoes.
Did I mention that dining in the whole region is rarely disappointing? Even the tiniest place you go to, chances are they serve you a meal that is classy, tasty and costs very little. Albi has a fair selection of Michelin starred restaurants, but we just found this quirky little one called Au Hibou right next to the market.
A lot about this trip was enjoying great meals. Many of the “fine” restaurants would be closed between Christmas and New Year, which led us to a “compromise” option which turned out pretty much the best lunch of the year at La Verrerie in Gaillac.
Towards the end of March, we flew to Tbilisi for a two-week self guided tour of Armenia and Georgia.
We celebrated Easter twice, first in Armenia, which is Armenian Apostolic (they follow the Julian Calender). Then in Tbilisi (Orthodox Calendar). Spring was a great time to visit both Armenia and Georgia.
Weather could be fickle in Armenia in the higher regions like around Tatev and Lake Sevan (it snowed) but Yerevan was wonderfully sunny.
I just loved Yerevan. The good weather probably helped, but the city is vibrant yet laid-back, and really friendly. I am trying to find a good excuse to return.
If you like Soviet architecture, Yerevan is a good place, too.
In Georgia, blossoms were out in force, but higher regions like Kazbegi were covered in snow. Aside from larger crowds in Tbilisi Old Town and a few in Kazbegi, the Country was pretty much free of tourists. Booking accommodation a couple nights in advance was no problem. We always managed to book our first choice even in small guesthouses.
We hiked up to Gergeti Trinity Church despite being the unfittest people around. No, wait! The masses who just hired 4×4 were probably worse. We took an easier path along the side of the mountain, and walked up with a lot of little chocolate breaks in about 2,5 hours. Route coming soon.
Not only was actually walking in the Caucasus a great way to appreciate the scenery – it was a good reason to refuel and enjoy the excellent and unique Georgian cuisine.
We spent a few days in Tbilisi,where the architecture was marvellous but some in frightening states of decay.
Trespassing was highly encouraged. Sometimes, people let us into their houses so that we could have a look around. Pretty much every building we peeked in was inhabited. And we rented a wonky little apartment with the slopiest floor in Mtatsminda ourselves.
We also spent a few days in the beautiful countryside around Telavi. Although we did not make friends with Georgian wine, though we really tried, visiting this wine region led us to visiting ancient monasteries and cathedrals, all a days trip from Telavi.
We stayed in the most laid-back and friendly little guesthouse for ridiculously little money. It’s one of my favourite accommodations this year. As you can see, it is far from luxury, but it had comfy clean beds, a friendly host and heaps of character.
A quick weekend work trip to the Rhine District near Wiesbaden, drenched in excellent wine. Part of that trip was sponsored by a company related to my non-travel work. I am not sure whether to write about it, because I usually pay for my trips. What I can say is that the Rhine District and its wines amazed and encouraged me to discover more regions in my native Germany. The wines made here at Schloss Reinhardshausen are some of the best German wines I have tasted, and its Riesling is one to always have in the house.
In May, we also adopted our second cat from Spain. Leia the social Siamese from Adagats in Barcelona, wanted company. After a few false starts, we adopted another young female, this time from Estepona-Katzen. It also means we cannot just pack and go away, but no exciting trip can compensate for having these two girls.
As we entered summer, things became pretty heated. The driest summer for decades kept us roasting nicely, we finally managed to buy our house, and I did not dare go away for more than 48 hours. But just when it was hottest, I reunited with some friends in Florence, where it was even hotter… It was mad, it was bloody expensive – and a very short. You can see I spent a lot of time in cool churches, not all of which are totally crowded.
Santa Croce is firmly on the tourist trail and not so wonderful at present as many of its famous painted chapels are closed for renovation.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Novella on a Sunday afternoon – mayhem outside, but inside… cool and calm. All yours for about 7 EURO.
The frescoes in Santa Maria Novella are among the best. Plenty of art all over it, very accessible no queues. I wish I had more time! Here is a detail of a fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuti in the Spanish Chapel.
But even if you don’t fancy paying entry fees in churches, there were plenty of lesser visited ones, like the Ognissanti, which has treasures like paintings by Botticelli, a cross by Giotto and a predecessor of the Last Supper.
And my favourite: The Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinita.
I spend two weeks packing stuff in boxes on my summer holiday while my boyfriend (he with the flexible holiday arrangements) continued to work. Once we had moved, I took myself on a week-long trip to Moldova and Ukraine as I had booked three weeks off ages ago, and I did not just want to spend my entire summer holiday moving house.
I had booked a very cheap flight to Bucharest a few months earlier (lots of things could go potentially wrong with the house move) and ventured further into Eastern Europe: Moldova!
It gets a lot of bad rep for being boring, and for Chisinau being one of the ugliest cities in the world. Honestly. I have seen uglier. I liked its 1950’s Soviet architecture and Eastern European otherworldly charm. Just a few kilometres outside Chisinau, you can taste some world-class wine in some very crazily decorated subterranean tasting rooms, buy a ton of excellent bottles for about 3 EURO a bottle, sit in pretty good French-inspired cafes all day and see world class ballet and opera most nights.
From Chisinau, it is only 180km and a comfy four hour train ride to Odessa. Odessa was one of the highlights of my travel year, and I look forward to visiting the Ukraine again soon.
It has everything in spades: character, architecture, art, good food, good weather – most of the time- and it is safe and very, very cheap at present. The first day, I walked around in amazment at the beautiful architecture.
Another reason I went where I went was to enjoy some top classical performances: after seeing an excellent performance of Aram Khachaturians Ballet “Spartacus” at the stark modernist Moldova National Opera Ballet, I watched “Rigoletto” at the opulent Odessa Opera House – a less inspiring quite old-school performance but still very solid singing.
It doesn’t count as a new country as only a handful recognise Transnistria, but daytripping to Tiraspol from Chisinau proved… interesting and a blast from the past I wasn’t sure I needed. Growing up in the 1980’s in Eastern Germany, it was too far down memory lane and being reminded of the Socialist Regime to really enjoy walking around this very Soviet Capital. Still, it is easy and safe to visit.
A reunion with Bristol, my home for a year. I love visiting but I am not sure whether I want to live in the UK ever again. Okay, maybe in Yorkshire. The Brexit vote was such a kick in the back to us non-British, and even as a skilled migrant you would have to jump a ton of hoops soon in order be permitted to live and work there.
But my love for Englands architecture is as strong as ever, and the Royal Crescent was just as beautiful as when I first set eyes on it 18 years ago. Ten years ago, I lived in an old building in Clifton for a while until work took me to County Durham.
I certainly miss my evening walks to the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Another day, we drove round Avon/Wiltshire/Somerset for a bit, indulging in breakfast at Toby Carvery, car boot sales and visited the engineering marvel of Caen Hill Locks
None yet, just catching up with the year so far. Britain is a sore topic for me but I promise to catch up.
I had another week of leave available, and wanted to go to Japan. I should have known that would be just wishful thinking when you just bought an old-ish house that Needs a Little Attention. So, urgent housey things sorted, we took ourselves on a cheap end-of-season trip to Corfu allegedly to relax, which ended in a two-centre Holiday of Corfu and Saranda.
Anything touristy was pretty much closed in Saranda but Gjirokaster, just an hour and a bit inland, was open for business.
I am not sure if if gets fuller in summer – but the town had a very relaxed feel.
There are a couple of Ottoman mansions that you can visit. Tours are self guided – someone unlocks the door and you can go anywhere you want. was really strange being the only people in here.
Corfu was packing up for winter, too. Lots of hotels and restaurants were closed but the early November weather was certainly better than in Germany and it was nice to experience a more “local” side of Corfu.
The Islands Capital, Corfu Town, appears always in season. It is so atmospheric but, I have been told, a bit overrun with cruise passenger and daytrippers in summer. In November, it was just right – still very busy, but you could easily find a free table on the Liston.
Our Family trip to France has been cancelled due to Ryanair being ridiculous. 350 EURO for a ticket to Toulouse? Don’t think so. I went to Stuttgart in Germany for the weekend for a Training course and managed to squeeze in a Christmas Market visit. Honestly it did not blow me away.
But then, don’t visit on a Saturday night and expect peace and quiet. It was a bit much, in terms of crowding.
There was a moderate amount of local products and handicrafts available and the Stuttgart Christmas Market is very large, and very old. I am sure there are worse but there are many better ones.
As I sit here in my cosy lounge, enjoying the first of three days off in a row, I contemplate how to continue this blog. I love to write and share travel tips, so I will continue as it is, as a passionate hobbyist while working full-time. In past years, I went from a 60+ hours and pressure to publish to just over half that, which still constitutes pretty much a full-time job. I do some research work mainly in my free time (no change, but no pressure now). I do some freelance work which gives me the flexibility to plan and not being tied onto an employers schedule. I hope this will free some time to travel more, but provide the funds to travel where I want, and to continue paying for all my travel.
You may notice that I have included some affiliate links recently, which may or may not work to generate a small income to help with running costs such as hosting and software subscriptions. I am lucky to work in a great profession, and write when I feel like it, not because I have deadlines. Often I find it difficult to write in an entertaining way despite not being financially dependent on it, and I usually get a lot of writers block when in front of a screen, whereas when I am in my car, about to arrive at work, my head seems full of stories!
Writing well remains a challenge for me, one I hope to get better at. I am interested how my fellow travellers write, especially if you work and run a blog as a hobby or side business – so please feel free to get in touch. As 2018 comes to a close, I hope you had a good year, travelled to good places and returned safely. May the new year bring us some more of the same!
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