I’m ready to say “sayonara” to 2K16 – a year that kicked off with a car crash and continued to metaphorically drizzle for its duration. Though coming home to J after a frustrating commute in each direction and a long workday multiplied by management’s pettiness, I was exceptionally thankful for travel this year. These are my top 10 travel highlights of 2016; let the countdown begin.
10. Hong Kong
Though June’s wretched heat and humidity called for a slower pace, I was thrilled to return to Asia. From the old men chatting away loudly on the upper bus deck, clutching beers and taking long swigs between banter, to finding my Chinese wedding dress in an entire bridal complex, Hong Kong life is different from everything I grew up knowing. Despite torrential rain and nasty bug bites, I was quite happy stuffing my face with lychee, rhambutan and mangosteen between jaunts around the village, where nearly everyone is an auntie or uncle by name if not blood.
9. Trujillo, Spain
I hadn’t realized I would feel so comfortable in the old hometown of Francisco Pizarro, infamous conquistador (and “ruin-er”) of the Incan empire. Though I was drawn to the town by a cheese festival, the atmosphere of this small town greatly surpassed their queso. The old town, picturesque to a tee, rises out of rest of the small city and surrounding countryside on a hill. Roaming the streets is delightful as birds soar overhead, singing over the crowing, barking and mooing of their animal friends. This countryside stay was a definite travel highlight of 2016.
8. Bruges, Belgium
An impossible to pass up cheap-o deal brought us on a bus, which drove onto a train through the Channel Tunnel beneath the English Channel, to Bruges for the afternoon. We ambled alongside the canal, shot photos of the iconic stair step facades and tucked in for some good scoff. The frites, mussels and meatballs missed the mark of meals we had in Brussels, but I couldn’t fault the Belgian waffle, smothered in chocolate. Journey included, we spent about the same amount as we would have going around central London, and fortunately, we were not run over by any of the horse drawn carriages. It was a great way to spend our two year engage-iversary.
7. Pakistani “Asian” Wedding in Luton, England
You don’t have to physically travel far to learn about other cultures! Arriving at the venue on time, J and I were among the first to find our seats for the Pakistani wedding celebration, referred to by the family as an “Asian” wedding. During this time, our friend’s mom filled us in on the different stages of the wedding celebration, which takes part over multiple days. By the time the hall was full of well-coifed attendees, swathed in vibrant colors, the groomsmen danced in procession of the bride and groom. Boatloads of food were passed around rapid-fire and photos were taken on the immaculate stage.
6. Lake District Camping
Our friends, with an incredibly packed van of provisions, took us to the Lake District on a bank holiday weekend. Sure, there were animal droppings everywhere in this natural campground, but it was all a part of the communion with nature. We chased sheep around with our cameras, baa-ing at them and completely confusing the poor animals; we made a short trek over the hill to Grasmere (and ate some ridiculously tasty gingerbread, infused with crystallized pieces of ginger) and J wowed us all with a mushroom risotto cooked on the campfire.
5. Cardiff & Brecon Beacons, Wales with Parents
I grew up as a Roberts in Wisconsin, rarely thinking of all the other Roberts families in Wales. A visit from my parents is always great, but taking them to Wales was a special treat. We toured Cardiff Castle, and spent nearly an hour in a souvenir shop across the street as they chose a “love spoon” to decorate their home. My dad successfully braved driving on the opposite side of the road to reach the Brecon Beacons National Park, and we enjoyed a nice Chinese dinner with some of J’s relatives. Family, heritage and more family: check.
During our trip to Gibraltar, the small English territory alongside Spain, the skies opened up and spit out floods of water. The torrential rain caused the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, which houses a majority of the region’s attractions, to close. However, since we made sure to hike the impressive rock on our first day, we were still able to walk past the Moorish Castle and fraternize with Barbary macaques. Unfortunately for J, the females in heat (with blushing red bottoms) were particularly attracted to him.
3. Florida, USA
Although my state residency only switched over a few years ago, I sure do love coming home to Florida. Blue skies, palm trees, beach birds and boat rides make up island life – and there is nothing more relaxing than living on Island Standard Time. Even small errands, such as going grocery shopping and picking up library books, are pleasant when you can saddle up your bike and cruise on bike paths for miles. Plus, family time is hard to beat.
2. Santorini, Greece
Upon landing in Santorini, I wondered, “What god-forsaken hellhole is this?” I thought surely the tourism board had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes with their propaganda. Growing up in the Midwest, my primary idea of beauty is lush green forests – rather than rocky outcrops of varying chalky colors, but the island grew on me. Who can deny the beauty of the contrast of the teal water with the maroon cliffs and black sands? (Except J, who just thought Perissa looked like a “dirty beach.”) But Oia, built up beautifully in terraces on the cliff face, managed to impress us both.
1. Paris, France
Needing an escape from London and a change of pace, a spontaneous solo trip to Paris was just the cure. Sure, not all Parisians are friendly, but hey, Londoners are frigid compared to other countries’ citizens. The cuisine was delightful – from the cheap croissant with the perfect crunch factor to cheese melted on top of potatoes and duck from a Quebecois restaurateur… Though crammed with tourists in shoulder season, glimpsing iconic sites such as the Louvre Museum and Eiffel Tower more than made up for it. Plus, a visit to Palais Garnier, the gorgeous opera house, completely set my heart aflutter.
So, taking the highlights into account, 2016 wasn’t such a horrendous year after all. What were your favorite trips and travel moments? Share in the comments below – and jump ahead a year to see the Top 10 Travel Highlights 2017!