In contrast to 2014, in which I spent five months on the road exploring Peru and Bolivia, following redundancy from a long-term job, 2015 saw me begrudgingly return to the routine of working a full-time office job.
What started as a temporary assignment with a local government agency, fortunately (as far as financial security is concerned) turned into a permanent position part the way through the year. Unfortunately this meant that the trips I took in 2015 had to be squeezed into my 23 days of leave allocation.
So, whilst my 2015 travels were a lot less adventurous than the previous year’s, I still managed to co-ordinate a surprise birthday weekend away for Stu to Gothenburg, discover the German city of Cologne with friends, return to my beloved Granada to wander the labyrinthine streets of its enchanting Albayzín, complete a mini road-trip of Andalusia’s Pueblos Blancos (white towns), starting in rugged Ronda, gaze in awe at the incredible clifftop monasteries of Meteora in Greece, celebrate my birthday in Athens, enjoy a relaxing slice of island life on nearby Hydra, wander the colourful, rambling streets of ancient Porto, visit my first cat cafe, and uncover the delights of the historic English city of Canterbury.
I also (finally!) managed to start making a bit of money from my writing. CopyPress took me on as a Copywriter in March, composing hotel reviews and city guides for online travel company, Hipmunk, and then in August I was accepted as a contributing writer on Go, See, Write. At the moment it’s nothing more than a nice – albeit sporadic – bit of extra income to supplement my poorly-paid day job, but I hope it will turn in to something more.
So, without further ado, here are (in no particular order) my top ten travel highlights of 2015, in photos.
Art, Culture, and Food in Gothenburg
I knew very little about Gothenburg before I arrived, apart from the fact that it was the cheapest place to fly to from the UK in January that also happened to be on the coast. The coast was a necessary factor in choosing a destination, because it was a surprise birthday weekend away for my boyfriend Stu, who has a bit of a marine obsession.
It turns out that Sweden’s ‘second city’ boasts a wealth of beautiful neoclassical architecture, chic boutiques, vintage emporiums, cozy cafes, and a cutting-edge art scene.
My favourite bits were our fantastic, centrally-located hostel (with the most amazing complimentary breakfast EVER!), the modern art displays in the Konstmuseum, the cheery blue trams that rattle tirelessly around the city, the ancient neighbourhood of Haga, the vast selection of fresh fish on display at Feskekôrka, dinner at Sjöbaren, fika (coffee break) at Da Matteo, and the huge amounts of snow that arrived on Saturday morning.
Wandering the Labyrinthine Streets of Granada’s Albayzín
I’ve visited Granada on multiple occasions, but my favourite pastime continues to be an aimless wander through the city’s ancient Muslim quarter, the Albayzín. Although parts of it are comfortingly familiar, there are so many different twists and turns in this confusing network of cobblestone lanes and alleyways, that every meander yields a new discovery.
My favourite parts of the Albayzín are the Plaza de San Nicholas (with its picture-postcard view of the Alhambra), Plaza San Miguel (one of the highest points in the neighbourhood), Placeta Albaida and its fascinating artisan workshop, Sacramonte (for a real taste of local life, as well as some of the best views of the Alhambra and the city of Granada), Calle Calderería Nueva (lined with teterías (tea shops), Moroccan restaurants and countless bazaars), and tapas bar Bodegas Castañeda.
Exploring the Rugged Beauty of Ronda
Present-day Ronda comprises of its old Moorish town, La Ciudad, and the largely modern Mercadillo quarter – split in half by the gaping river gorge of El Tajo. A bridge (Puente Nuevo) has been constructed to link the two, and it towers 120 metres above the canyon floor.
Views of the city from this bridge are incredible. Houses are literally perched on the cliff’s edge, balanced so precariously that their mere existence seems to defy all logic and reason.
Road-tripping through Andalusia’s Pueblos Blancos
We totally could not have made this journey, within the timescale that we did, without a car. Even the car struggled to make it through some of the ridiculously narrow, winding cobbled streets.
Andalusia’s pueblos blancos (white towns) are so-called because of their white-washed buildings with terracotta-tiled roofs, and each one we stopped at boasted its own unique characteristics.
Olvera was definitely the most visually stunning (climb up to its castle and you’ll understand why), and Grazalema was our favourite, situated at the foothills of the Sierra del Pinar mountain range, and surrounded by limestone peaks, verdant vegetation and hiking trails stretching out in every direction.
The Fantastic Architecture of Cologne
It was a destination chosen by the friends that I took the holiday with, and one that I probably wouldn’t have thought of choosing if the decision had been left up to me, but Cologne was somewhere I ended up enjoying immensely.
From traditional pastel-coloured buildings to modern masterpieces, there’s architecture in Cologne to suit everyone’s taste. My favourites were the incredible cathedral (Kölner Dom), Hohenzollern Bridge, the redeveloped harbour district, Rheinauhafen, and the old-town houses lining the riverfront.
The Incredible Clifftop Monasteries of Meteora
Just like the surreal volcanic landscapes of Cappadocia and the bizarre natural terraces of carbonate minerals in Pamukkale, as soon as I saw photographs of the stunning clifftop monasteries of Meteora, I knew I had to go.
Meteora is a geographical region in mainland Greece where you’ll find immense towers of sandstone rock, split by earthquakes and weathered by wind and rain over millions of years. On top of these towers monks have built monasteries, historically only accessible by rickety wooden ladders that still hang from the outside of the buildings.
I know it’s a cliché but it really is a sight that has to be seen in order to be truly believed.
Falling in Love with Athens
I don’t know why but I had fairly low expectations of Athens from an aesthetic point of view. Apart from the notable historic remains scattered throughout the city, I pictured modern, dirty, polluted streets with little atmosphere or character.
However what I actually discovered was that Athens is a beautiful city that seems to have got the art of merging centuries-old historic monuments and ancient byzantine churches with colourful street art and a thriving cafe culture, down to a tee.
My favourite parts were cute little Airbnb apartment that we managed to find for £30 a night in the centre of Psirri (my favourite neighbourhood in the city), the changing of the guards in Syntagma Square, admiring the view from the rooftop of A is for Athens, wandering the historic streets of the Plaka neighbourhood, the quietness of Ancient Agora and Keramikos, and spending that magical golden hour photographing The Acropolis.
A Relaxing Slice of Island Life on Hydra
Just an hour from Athens, the picturesque island of Hydra is most famous for being the only Greek island where motorised transport is forbidden. Travelling around the island is by water taxi, donkey or your own two feet.
I absolutely adored the plentiful numbers of cactus and cats on the island, finding my way to the highest point in Hydra Town through a confusing network of narrow winding streets and stone staircases, walking the coastal path to Plákes Vlyhoú, taking a stroll to Mandraki Beach, catching some spectacular sunsets, and eating lots of fresh seafood.
The Colourful, Rambling Streets of Ancient Porto
Another destination I ended up visiting simply because it was one of the cheapest places to fly to from the UK in October.
In spite of the clouds and the thunderstorms and the 24mph winds we experienced during our four days in the city, we loved the colourful buildings, the azulejos that decorate so many of them, the stunning riverfront location, the history, the port wine, the good food, and the vintage trams.
The Perfect Autumnal Weekend in Historic Canterbury
In a bid to see more of the UK (other than the parts my friends live in!) I spent a lovely couple of days in the attractive, historic city of Canterbury, in England’s southeast, following a recommendation from my mum.
Canterbury cathedral is the oldest in England and probably the largest and most impressive – both architecturally and aesthetically – cathedral that I’ve ever set foot inside. The city is also packed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites and quaint, timber-framed buildings, and is overflowing with independent coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
So What’s in Store for 2016?
Fortunately I’ve got a little extra leave to carry over into my 2016/17 allocation, so I’m hoping to fit a few more (some longer) trips into this year.
Later this month Stu and I will be flying out Spain to visit a couple of our friends who are currently touring around Europe in their campervan. We’ll land in Madrid and then travel down to Cadíz on the south coast to spend a few days sightseeing and sharing tapas, wine, and stories with Nik and Fiona, before heading back to Madrid to fly home.
In February, I’m spending a long weekend in Riga, Latvia, with two of my close female friends. Kath and I have booked the trip as a surprise birthday present for Gloria, who has no idea where she’s going – yet! I’ve heard great things about Riga, so I’m really looking forward to exploring the city. Our apartment actually has its own hammam, which I’m also really looking forward to!
In March Stu and I are heading over to Cuba with Explore to travel around the island by bicycle. We’ll start in Havana, and also visit Soroa, Vinales, Cienfuegos, The Bay of Pigs, Santa Clara, and Trinidad. I’d better start getting in training – for both the cycling and the Spanish-speaking aspects of the tour! I’m not a regular cyclist and apart from our brief stint in Spain, I’ve not spoken Spanish since returning from South America back in September 2014.
The remainder of the year is as yet unwritten as far as travel arrangements are concerned but there’s a few trips on the cards:
- A long weekend away for my birthday in June
- TBEX Stockholm in July
- A self-guided cycling trip through Puglia, Italy in August/September
- Hiking Mount Toubkal in Morocco in September/October
- Three-four weeks exploring Thailand/Myanmar in November/December
There’s just one last thing left to say….
I just want to say a huge thank you to those of you who have taken the time to read, comment on, and share my posts over the past year. Your support is truly appreciated 🙂