Although I don’t get much traffic from them, I love writing these travel review posts at the end of each year. I love looking back over all the trips I’ve taken and sharing details of those that I haven’t yet written about on the blog, along with other snippets of my life that I may never blog about.
Travel-wise 2018 was going to be a hard one to beat. 2018 was the year that I finally travelled to, and fell head over heels in love with, Georgia, the year I discovered the incredible Azores archipelago, got well and truly off the tourist trail in Catalonia and got wonderfully lost in the cave city of Matera, Italy.
But 2019 was still a good year for travel. I got to tick an incredible hike off my bucket list, I made my first forays into the ‘real’ Africa, and I also made several very successful attempts to explore more of the UK – something I’ve been meaning to do for many, many years.
So, where did I manage to visit in 2019? Well, there was Uganda, Poland, England, Finland, Estonia, Morocco, Greece, Albania, North Macedonia, Wales and Portugal. 11 countries altogether, five of them new to me, bringing my total count up to 49.
I don’t feel as though I travelled as much as I did in 2018, but I think that’s because I completed the majority of my travels in the first half of the year; the latter half of 2019 was fairly low-key as far as overseas travel was concerned.
So, without further ado, here is a look back at my 2019 travels. 12 months in 12 photos: My 2019 travel review.
2019 Travel Review
January | A weekend in Branscombe, Devon AND a last minute adventure to Uganda
Just a day before the new year began, my friend Jayne and I spontaneously booked flights to Uganda, leaving on the 25th of January. The majority of the month was spent in a whirlwind of itinerary planning, interspersed by a daily run (I made the decision to complete RED January, in order to raise money for MIND) and a weekend down on the Jurassic coast in Devon for Stu’s birthday.
I booked two nights in Branscombe through Travelzoo and I couldn’t have been happier about our choice of destination. Branscombe is described by visitsouthdevon.co.uk as “one of the most relaxing and picturesque villages on the Jurassic Coast” and I would 100% agree with this. It’s somewhere that, as you wander along its quiet streets, you really feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There are quaint little thatched cottages and incredible views, and it’s only a 10-minute walk to the beach. Branscombe is also home to a mill that dates back to the Middle Ages (and has since been restored back to its original working order), and the oldest thatched working forge in the country.
I returned from Branscombe on the 21st of January and flew out to Uganda just four days later.
This was my first time exploring the ‘real’ Africa beyond Morocco and I absolutely loved it! We decided against a ridiculously busy agenda and instead split our time between the laid back town of Entebbe, the crazy capital city of Kampala and Murchison Falls National Park – where we took a three-day safari to see the big six.
It was my first time seeing both giraffes and chimpanzees in their natural habitats and – aside from my trip to Kerala – my first time seeing elephants in the wild, too. We were also lucky enough to witness a lioness hunting, to see hippos basking in the shallow waters of the River Nile, and to gaze upon some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience.
It was really difficult to decide upon exactly which photo (of hundreds) to share from my incredible trip to Uganda, but I finally rooted for the one below. Taken on my first day in Uganda, along the dusty streets of Entebbe (where we spent four nights staying at the absolutely perfect Blue Monkey Guest House), it reminds me of our wonderfully relaxed sojourn there – of the beautiful, lush scenery and the friendly locals.
February | A long weekend in Warsaw, Poland with the girls
Every year, my longstanding close friends, Gloria, Kath and I take a budget long weekend break away together. As we all live in different parts of England, it’s the easiest (and most fun) way for us all to meet up and spend some quality time together.
This year we chose to return to Poland (we previously spent a weekend in Poznan together), to explore its capital city – Warsaw. Although much bigger than any of the other cities we’d visited, we did our best to discover the best of what the city had to offer in the time we had available, as well as enjoying some delicious food and bar hopping around the city by Uber.
If you’re planning a trip to Warsaw, I can thoroughly recommend that you check out the quirky Neon Museum and the educational and intriguing Museum of Life Under Communism (now known as Muzeum Czar PRL), that you enjoy some (actually rather reasonably-priced) cocktails at the Panorama Sky Bar (on the 30th floor of the Palace of Culture and Science) and that you book yourself on a street art walking tour of the alternative Praga neighbourhood.
March | A weekend in Devon with mum
Ever since my dad died in 2016, I’ve been accompanying mum on a few of the coach trips she and dad used to do together.
Whilst they’re the polar opposite of the kind of trips I like to take (being herded from place to place like sheep and then being given a ridiculously limited amount of time to explore the destination you’re visiting is not my idea of fun), mum loves them because she doesn’t need to worry about anything, her baggage is all transported for her and her meals are all included.
Although she really enjoyed the trip to Tuscany that I organised for the two of us, I don’t think she was so keen on having to get from point A to point B independently, and the older the gets the less energy she finds herself having. These kind of trips offer her the perfect balance of activity and relaxation.
And I’ll be honest, they do offer excellent value for money. We paid just £149 each which included three night’s accommodation, all transportation, three breakfasts and three dinners. The breakfasts were so huge we didn’t need lunch.
We were so lucky with the weather on our weekend in Devon at the end of March. We stayed in Babbacombe, in a seafront hotel overlooking the Babbacombe Downs, and took trips to Sidmouth (which I liked), Dawlish (which I didn’t like) and Dartmouth (which I loved).
Seeing as though these trips are all about quality time spent with mum, I’m sharing a photo of her from a coffee shop we stopped at in Dartmouth.
April | A 6-day solo trip to Helsinki and Tallinn
My luck with the weather continued when I flew out to Helsinki to begin a 6-day solo trip over Easter this year. Due to being further north than where I live in England and without having the benefit of the Gulf Stream to bring in the warmer weather, I expected Helsinki to be cooler than the temperatures I’d been experiencing at home. On the contrary: the sun didn’t stop shining the entire time. It made exploring the city on foot so much more enjoyable.
I found a wonderful central hostel to base myself in and literally walked everywhere from there. Helsinki is a fairly compact capital city with some really unique pieces of architecture (I’m thinking about the church built inside a rock and the chapel made entirely of wood) and an abundance of green spaces.
My favourite experiences were walking through the leafy Töölö district to the abstract and intriguing Sibilius Monument, enjoying a coffee and a cinnamon bun while surrounded by Moonin characters in the quirky Moomin café, photographing a countless number of cacti at the Botanical Gardens, browsing the fascinating exhibitions at the Design Museum and wandering around the 18th century sea fortress on Suomenlinna.
After three nights in Helsinki I caught the ferry over to Tallinn – Estonia’s capital city. I loved Tallinn possibly even more than Helsinki, and once again I found an absolutely wonderful place to stay right in the centre of the city’s Old Town.
I found Tallinn to be an ideal destination for photographers, art lovers and food enthusiasts (the food there is some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere!), and I loved that there are so many different and diverse sides to the city.
There’s the quaint and historical Old Town inside the city walls, the creative hubs of Telliskivi and Rotermanni, the old fishing harbour turned residential neighbourhood (with its 19th century wooden houses) of Kalamaja and the vast expanse of greenery dotted with tall trees, ponds and fountains (and the largest and most cutting edge art museum in Estonia) that is Kadriorg Park.
May | Hiking to the summit of Mount Toubkal, Morocco AND taking a day trip to Birmingham, UK
Hiking to the summit of Mount Toubkal is an activity that had been on my wish list for many years, primarily because it can be completed in a long weekend. It’s entirely possible to make the ascent and descent in two days, with an overnight stop in between and I really fancied the challenge of leaving work on a Friday, climbing a mountain on Saturday and Sunday and then returning home on the Monday.
As it turned out, it made much more sense to complete the hike over three days (because it meant that we could hike a circular route instead of ascending and descending along the same route), and the way the flights worked meant that I had almost a full day in Marrakech at the end of the hike instead of rushing home early the next day.
But, it was still every bit the challenge I hoped it would be. The 1400 metre ascent on day two was an absolute killer! But the incredible scenery made all the early starts and the physical and mental struggles 100% worthwhile.
Over the bank holiday at the end of the month I went exploring a little closer to home. I was invited to spend the day in my local city by Hotels.com but what I added to my one-day itinerary and where I stopped for food and drink was entirely my decision.
And, whilst I’d previously overlooked Birmingham as anything more than a shopping destination or somewhere to catch my favourite musicians live in concert, I ended up really enjoying my day there. What I found was a cool, culturally diverse, constantly evolving city, and my post about Birmingham turned out to be one of my most popular in 2019.
June | A 7-day road trip around Albania and two days on the shores of Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Exploring more of the Balkans was a goal that I’d mentioned in my 2019 Travel Plans post at the start of the year, but I wasn’t sure exactly which country I’d end up exploring until I started researching flights when I returned from Morocco in May.
Albania’s proximity to Corfu and Tirana’s proximity to Ohrid in Macedonia meant that we could start our adventure in the south of the country, work our way northwards and finish it in a different country entirely, at a location that had also been on my wish list for some time – Lake Ohrid.
Stu and I chose to hire a car in Albania, because we wanted to explore places which weren’t covered on the bus routes or those that buses didn’t run to and from on a regular enough basis for the itinerary we had planned. As it turned out, we would’ve needed a 4×4 to get to everywhere we’d planned to go, due to some of the roads being impassable for normal cars. But that’s another story that you can read about in the first of the posts below.
That issue aside, we loved our time in Albania. It was a beautiful mix of castles, canyons and coastlines, and Albania is one of the most affordable destinations we’ve visited in recent years (along with Georgia). On top of that the people were all absolutely lovely and everyone we met went out of their way to make us feel welcome and to ensure that our time there was as enjoyable as possible.
And Lake Ohrid was every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined it to be. The icing on the cake was the view from our incredible apartment.
July | Attempting water skiing for the first time in 10 years in Abersoch, Wales
I didn’t travel very far in July (I generally hate taking trips during the school holidays), but I did succumb to a weekend in Abersoch, Wales with Stu and a few of his friends. This is usually a yearly event reserved for the boys, but seeing as though the guy who was organising it was bringing his new girlfriend, I got invited along too!
I’d only been water skiing on two previous occasions and the most recent one was over 10 years ago. However, on both of those occasions I managed to get up (and stay up) on the skis first time, so I had a lot to live up to this time, which made me more than a little petrified of it all going horribly wrong.
Thankfully it didn’t.
I don’t have any decent photos of me actually water skiing (the only ones Stu managed to take were either too far away to even identify that it was me on the skis or blurred), so here is one of the colourful beach huts on Abersoch beach.
August | Rediscovering the delights of my old university city in Chester, UK
Inspired by my recent day trip to Birmingham in May, when July’s payday rolled around and I found myself with a flexi-day at my disposal (one of the great benefits of working in the Public Sector), I decided that it was time to re-discover the delights of my old university city.
Once I’d moved away from Chester after I finished my degree, the city just became somewhere I used for the odd shopping trip every now and then. Because I’d lived there for three years, it didn’t feel exotic enough as a place to visit for tourism purposes. But, (many!) years later I was curious – especially considering how much I’d loved my day in Birmingham.
Once again, I was very lucky with the weather so I was able to spend the entire day wandering from place to place with ease. I walked the entire circuit of the city walls (almost!), took a fascinating tower tour at the cathedral, checked out the Roman gardens and amphitheatre, relaxed in Grosvenor Park, and enjoyed some fantastic food at a couple of the city’s new eateries.
September | Exploring Bath and The Cotswolds
Bath had actually been on my travel wish list for some time, but due to it being too far away from my hometown to visit as a day trip and overnight accommodation being ridiculously expensive (like, over £100 for one night expensive), I’d not made it there. However, using another flexi-day at the end of September enabled me to travel down first thing Friday morning and benefit from having more than a whole day to explore (we arrived between 11 a.m – 12 p.m and left around 4 p.m the following day) by staying just one night. Accommodation in Bath on a Friday night is also a lot cheaper than accommodation on a Saturday night. We paid £80 for a room at the super central Z Hotel on a Friday; the same room would’ve cost us £170 on a Saturday!
Bath did not disappoint. I loved the history and the architecture and the abundance of parks and green spaces. I also hadn’t realised that Bath was home to such a long stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal and how picturesque the canal towpaths are there.
Seeing as though the Cotswolds were on our route back from Bath and that we managed to find an absolute bargain of a hotel there in a nye on perfect location, we made the decision to stop overnight on the Saturday and dedicate all of Sunday to exploring a few of the pretty little villages there. Except that it rained. ALL DAY. But we won’t dwell on that, will we? We still loved our time in the Cotwsolds, but we couldn’t believe that – considering how bad the weather was and that we were visiting off-season – parking was an absolute nightmare! Be prepared!
October | An attempted 50-mile hike across the Shropshire hills AND a weekend in Looe, Cornwall with mum
In case you’ve never heard of the Longmynd Hike, it’s a 50-mile (80.5 kilometres) competition hike/endurance race. The hike follows a set figure-of-eight route over the rugged countryside of South Shropshire and the Welsh Marches, with about 2438 metres of climbing covering eight summits.
Participants have to finish the course within 24 hours and the race doesn’t start until 1 p.m, which means that no matter how quick you are (even if you’re one of these super-human ultra runners), you’ll have to complete at least some of it in the dark. There are 17 checkpoints, which you must navigate your way between using an OS map, ensuring that you stick to the public footpaths.
Hiking 50 miles in one go is hard enough anyway, especially since you can’t sleep until you’ve finished the race, but when you have to battle through contsant strong winds and torrential rain on top, it makes the challenge so much more gruelling. Jayne and I donned our waterproof jackets and trousers as soon as the rain arrived around 3 p.m but by midnight we were literally soaked to the bone and by 12:30 a.m Jayne decided it was a good idea to call it quits before we both got hyperthermia! We’d done 28 miles.
We since learned that more people retired on 2019’s Longmynd Hike than ever before. However, my amazing friend Trinny literally ran the whole thing (she’s like a Gazelle over those hills!) and finished in 12 hours and 28 minutes! I will probably never be able to comprehend exactly how she did that.
Much as I love hiking, I was kind of grateful to be taking a more sedate trip at the end of the month – down to Cornwall with mum on another coach trip with GB Tours. We’d be based in Looe but we’d also have time to explore Truro, Padstow and Tintagel. Aside from feeling very rushed in Padstow and Tintagel, I enjoyed this trip more than the one we’d taken in March. The hotel was better (and was right on the harbour front), the food was better and we both absolutely adored Looe.
November | A long weekend in Faro with Stu
Having not travelled abroad since June, by November I was itching to jump on a plane! I almost (somewhat spontaneously) booked a hiking trip to the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia with Explore, watching the return flights on Skyscanner on a daily basis and waiting patiently for them to drop below £400. However, by the time they did, all the places on the hike were fully booked..
Still intending to save the majority of my leave (and funds) for a long-haul trip, Stu and I booked a budget long weekend break to Faro in November instead. Not quite the Simien Mountains, but Faro is actually a lovely little city (that does actually feel surprisingly Portuguese), and we were able to take day trips to Silves and to the ridiculously pretty town of Tavira, too.
December | No travel but I did run a half marathon!
Even when I don’t travel anywhere, December always feels like a busy old month. There are friends and family to catch up with in the run up to Christmas, Christmas-themed events to attend and Christmas shopping to do, and with the shortest days (in terms of the number of daylight hours) arriving in December, it feels like you’ve got much less time to do all these things in.
But, as you’ve just read above, I did run half a marathon! I’ve been consistently running now for just over two and a half years and gradually building up my distance over that time. However, it has been extremely gradual and by September of this year the farthest distance I’d run was 16.2 kilometres. I subsequently turned down a place in the Shrewsbury Half Marathon that October, because I genuinely believed that I wasn’t ready.
But then I went out with a couple of girls from my running group one Sunday mid-December with the aim of running around seven miles (11.27 kilometres), and ended up running 17.78 kilometres altogether. Because they run at a slower pace than me, I’d slowed my pace to run with them and it had inadvertently helped me to increase my distance.
The following Sunday, I went out for a run with no initial intention to make it my big one. But, the weather was dry, it was a nice temperature to run in, the sun came out part the way through, my breathing was good, and my legs felt strong.
So, after about 10K I thought to myself,
“let’s do it, let’s go for the half marathon!”
And I did it!! 🙌 🏃♀️
I’m kind of gutted I don’t have a medal to show for it, but at least I’ve proved to myself that I am capable of running that sort of distance. So, next year I’ll feel confident about signing up for an actual half marathon official race.
And that was 2019!
I would actually have got this post out sooner had my website not gone down, and all the time I would’ve spent typing this I instead spent typing out countless emails to Stablehost – who were not particularly helpful in getting the issue resolved for me. Huge shout out to Solo Pine though (my theme provider) who were (and always have been since I switched themes) incredibly helpful, friendly, responsive and professional. If you’re thinking about switching themes I can 100% recommend them!
Next week I’m hoping to publish a post about my travel plans for 2020. I’ve got a few ideas in the pipeline but as yet nothing booked. Hopefully that will have changed by the time I finish writing the post!
How was your 2019? What was your favourite trip or new favourite destination? Share away in the comments below
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