It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these posts.
Two whole years, in fact.
My travels were brought to a very abrupt end in March 2020, when the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
I was travelling in Sri Lanka at the time and almost got stranded in the country when the Sri Lankan government began to take a rather rapid succession of strict measures, in an attempt to contain the virus. Fortunately, with the help of one of my friends back home, I managed to book an earlier return flight, and was able to make it back to the UK before Colombo airport halted all flights, both in and out of the country.
For the next few months, with international travel off the cards and domestic travel significantly downscaled, I focussed all my energy on discovering new places much closer to home. I upped my running game, using it as a means to explore my hometown and its outskirts in more depth, and then, for six weeks following the 4th of July (when ‘lockdown’ officially ended here in the UK), my friend Jayne and I walked a total of 93 miles across the beautiful Shropshire countryside.
This helped to prepare us for the big multi-day hike we’d decided to tackle at the end of August. We hopped on a train up to Carlisle and subsequently walked the entire 84-mile length of the Hadrian’s Wall Path over six days — my first proper trip since Covid-19 hit.
A second lockdown at the end of 2020 and into 2021 meant that travel was put on hold until May that year, when hotels and B&Bs were allowed to open up again, and I spent a lovely four days walking along the Wales Coast Path.
2021 was also a tricky year as far as international travel was concerned. Whilst not off the cards completely for large parts of the year, there were only a very limited number of countries us Brits could travel to without having to ‘quarantine’ upon our return. And that list of countries was in a constant state of flux. I simply could not risk of one of those ‘green’ countries turning ‘amber’ or ‘red’ while I was there, and then having to use my annual leave when I returned, to sit at home, alone, until the end of my quarantine period.
The first international trip I took after Sri Lanka, in March 2020, was to Spain, to visit my friend, Trinny, in September 2021. Quarantine requirements had been lifted and, because I was staying with a friend of mine (and not in paid accommodation), I could afford the compulsory Covid tests I had to take before leaving Spain, and again, upon my arrival back into the UK.
Even at the start of 2022, there were still restrictions in place regarding countries we were allowed to travel to and the entry requirements their governments enforced. However, international travel was, once again, possible.
And, I had 16 months of lost time to make up for.
My goal was to take one international trip for every month of 2022. Let’s see how I got on!
2022 Travel Review
January | 10 days exploring the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Oddly enough, this was not the country Jayne and I initially planned to visit this month. We were just about to click ‘buy’ on some flights to Costa Rica when the price of said flights rose by over £100 as soon as we’d made the decision on which dates to book. With just 14 days until our scheduled departure date, they were unlikely to come down again. So, we needed a plan B.
Mexico was that plan B.
Return flights to Cancun were just £350 and no visas or Covid tests were required to enter the country.
Formulating an itinerary for our 10 days in the country was not quite as easy as the decision to book the flights had been, because — aside from those that connect the major cities in the area — buses run neither regularly nor at particularly convenient times. But, all things considered, I’m actually quite pleased about not just the quantity, but also the diversity of the places and experiences we ultimately ended up squeezing into our limited time in this beautiful part of Mexico.
We wandered the streets of old colonial cities, climbed impressive Mayan temples, swam in vast lakes and beautiful blue cenotes, explored mangrove swamps, ate fresh fish on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, photographed flamingos and iguanas, and spotted howler monkeys in the tall trees of the jungle canopy.
The language barrier was rather challenging at times (even considering that I do have a good — albeit very basic —grasp of the Spanish language), as was the mandatory wearing of face masks outside, when the weather was so hot and humid everywhere. But, it felt so good to travel again. Although I’d loved getting to know my home county (Shropshire) and country (the UK) in more depth, I’d really missed the unfamiliar culture, language and food that foreign travel allows.
Deciding upon just one photo to share here was almost impossible when there were so many highlights to choose from. But, in the end, I thought it most fitting to include one that depicts the tropical rainforests, jungles and ancient Mayan temples that the Yucatan Peninsula is best known for.
This shot was taken at Ek Balam — a ruined city dating back to 700-300 B.C. Like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Ek Balam, after reaching its heydey somewhere between 900-1100 A.D, lay abandoned for years, hidden beneath immense swathes of dense jungle, before being ‘rediscovered’ many years later.
February | A long weekend visiting my friend Trinny in Spain
Trinny and family had talked about moving over to Spain ever since the UK had voted to leave the EU. And, at the end of November 2020, they made that move a reality and left the UK to start a new life over in a little village up in the mountains, around 15 kilometres from Albox, in the province of Almería, Andalucía. They were able to buy a lovely house, with a ton of land, for a fraction of the price we’d pay back here in the UK, and although living in Spain has not been without its challenges, they love the weather and the way of life out there and have no desire to return to the UK — even temporarily!
This has meant that if I want to see Trinny, I have to make the journey across to Spain. Not having children of my own, it’s much easier for me to do the travelling anyway, and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know a part of Spain I’d not previously explored.
Although my first visit out to see Trinny, in September 2021, had been all about reconnecting and catching up, after not seeing each other for a year, we explored a litter further afield this time around.
We enjoyed a bit of a crazy impromptu night out in Mojacar (followed by a very hungover wander around Mojacar Pueblo the morning after), played witness to a motocross event that took place through the streets of the Moorish town of Cantoria, wandered along the picturesque coastline of San Juan de los Terreros, and sipped coffee in the sunshine at one of Albox’s inviting little cafes.
March | Walking the original Fishermen’s Trail in Portugal
I had originally planned to walk this trail in April 2020. But, we all know what happened to thwart those plans. Fortunately, I was able to get refunds on both outward and return flights, as well as being able to cancel all my booked accommodation with no penalties. And, the good thing was that because I’d done my research back in 2020, including decisions on where to stay in each of the towns and villages along the trail, all I had to do was re-book everything.
The Fishermen’s Trail appealed to me because it’s recognised as one of the “most beautiful coastal trails in the world” (Condé Nast Traveler) and can be completed over just four days — therefore, requiring little more than a long weekend off work.
I flew in and out of Lisbon and caught buses to Porto Covo (the start of the trail) and back from Odeceixe (the end of the trail).
Although I didn’t have the greatest luck weather-wise (it was raining so hard when I arrived into Porto Covo that I was concerned it may never stop!), I did enjoy a couple of lovely sunny days on the trail, and the scenery was so spectacular that it would’ve taken a lot to dampen (excuse the pun!) my spirits.
I loved the abundance of secluded coves and long sandy beaches, the interesting rock formations, the colourful flowers and interesting plants, and the frequent sightings of nesting storks not far from the shoreline.
Being low season, I had the trail almost to myself (save for the same few hikers I kept bumping into), along with pretty much all the beaches I passed ( I did spot a not unattractive young man skinny dipping at one of them!).
The Fishermen’s Trail is not a difficult hike, the daily distances are manageable, and the views will have you constantly reaching for your camera. One of my favourite towns along the route was Vila Nova de Milfontes (although I suspect Porto Covo would’ve given it stiff competition, had the weather been better), and I felt that relaxed, artsy, bohemian Odeceixe, with its disorientating maze of narrow cobbled lanes and alleyways, made a fitting end point.
April | Easter weekend in South Wales with mum and another trip out to see Trinny in Spain
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. They’re not the kind of trips I’d choose to take, were the decision mine alone. But, mum loves them and they do represent excellent value for money, when you consider how much it would cost to put a similar trip together independently. This year, mum spotted a trip down to South Wales over the Easter weekend. We left Shrewsbury on Good Friday and returned Easter Monday, which was perfect for me as it didn’t require me to use any of my annual leave entitlement.
Even more perfect was the fact that the sun shone down on us for the majority of the trip.
We were based in Carmarthen (which isn’t the most attractive city but does have a few redeeming qualities), and took day trips to Saundersfoot, Tenby, Oystermouth (The Mumbles) and Aberglasney Gardens.
With the exception of Oystermouth (at which the coach company gave us just two hours — nowhere near enough time to even visit the castle, let alone anything else), I loved the rest of the destinations on the itinerary. The Ninfarium (an indoor garden found within the ruined interior walls of the mansion) at Aberglasney was particularly impressive, and home to a selection of stunning orchids.
At the end of April, Stu and I took advantage of the fact we share the early May bank holiday with Spain, and headed back over to visit Trinny. The bank holiday also happened to be her son, Nik’s fourth birthday, for which they’d planned a visit to Oasys Mini Hollywood. Oasys is described as a “Western-styled theme park,” located in Europe’s only desert, near the town of Tabernas. It didn’t sound like somewhere I’d ever usually contemplate visiting, but I ended up absolutely loving our day there. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the adults enjoyed it as much, if not more than, the kids!
Originally known as Yucca City, the set was built for Sergio Leone’s ‘For a Few Dollars More’ in 1965. It was subsequently used as a set for other films, including ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ (1966) before being turned into a tourist attraction. There is a live outdoor show that takes place every day at midday, where you can witness a mock bank raid and a re-enactment of the final moments of Jesse James, as well as other indoor performances from singers, cow girls and can-can dancers. There are also oodles of photo opportunities and shops where you can purchase full cowboy and cowgirl get-up, including hats, rifles, and holsters.
As well as our brilliant day out at Oasys, we visited the amazing castle in Vélez Blanco, checked out the scary faces carved into tree trunks in Chiribello o Chirivello in Chirivel, had a lovely wander around Mojacar Pueblo in the sunshine, and enjoyed a relaxing beach day at Playa de los Carolinas.
May | A city break in Zadar, Croatia, 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. Although we’d shared a weekend in York in July 2021 (where it rained the whole time), the last time we’d been abroad together was our trip to Warsaw in February 2019 (where it was also pretty cold, dull and overcast). So, when we were planning this year’s trip, we decided that we wanted to head somewhere sunny.
I’d spent a very brief amount of time in Zadar following a cycling trip back in 2012, but neither Kath nor Gloria had visited before. We found a lovely little apartment right by the cathedral and some cheap(ish) flights with Ryanair. Despite Gloria and I both swearing we’d never fly with them again some years ago, we’ve since found that sometimes they’re the only airline who fly to the destination we want to go to, on the dates we need to get there.
We were regretting our decision though, when Ryanair cancelled our return flight just two weeks before we were due to fly. There were no other Ryanair flights leaving from anywhere in Croatia on the same date, so we had to book a new flight with Jet2 from Split, a bus ticket from Zadar to Split and one night’s accommodation in Split (because there were no buses leaving Zadar early enough for us to be able to make our flight, had we stayed overnight in Zadar on our last night). We then had to fight for a refund with Ryanair (which we got) and some compensation (which we didn’t get). Fortunately, the owner of our apartment in Zadar agreed to refund our last night’s accommodation, and we were able to find a Split apartment for the same nightly rate as our Zadar one.
And actually, we discovered that Zadar is so small that you can see all of its sights in a couple of days. If you fancy visiting (and I can thoroughly recommend Zadar as a city break destination, as long as you’re happy with a relatively low-key nightlife), do not miss a visit to the Museum of Glass, the cathedral, the Church of St. Donat, 5 Wells Square, the Roman Forum, the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation, the Museum of Illusion, and the Sea Gate and harbour (pictured below).
Yes, we did have to forego a trip over to the nearby island of Ugljan (which we were considering for our last day in Zadar), but I took Kath and Gloria up Marjan Hill in Split instead. It’s one of my favourite things to do in Split, and the views are incredible from its peak.
June | A road trip around western Sicily with Stu
It felt so good being able to plan a proper birthday trip again, after two years of not being able to do so. And Sicily had been firmly on my radar since I followed Along Dusty Roads‘ month-long sojourn on the island in September 2021.
I’d originally planned for us to cycle along Sicily’s western coastline, but, not feeling fit enough for the kind of distances and elevation involved, Stu promptly put a stop to that idea. So, we ended up hiring a car instead. And, once Stu had gotten used to the way the Sicilians drive, I think he actually rather enjoyed our little Sicilian road trip.
We spent a few days in Sicily’s capital, Palermo (which I liked much more than I expected to) before picking up the car and heading west. Our first overnight stop (after a small diversion to the temple of Segesta) was Castellammare del Golfo, a picturesque historic seaside town that’s nestled at the foot of an imposing mountain. We serendipitously arrived on the first night of the town’s annual food festival, where we sampled an unhealthy amount of arancini (which are much bigger in Sicily than the ones we get in Italian restaurants in the UK) and granita (a semi-frozen dessert similar to a sorbet; the pomegranate and basil one was to die for!).
We then headed up to the Zingaro Nature Reserve, where we completed a sweltering 14-kilometre hike along the stunning coastal path that runs through the Reserve. From there we took the car up some very winding roads to the ridiculously pretty hilltop town of Erice before arriving in Trapani. A boat trip over to the island of Favignana was followed by visits to a few of western Sicily’s salt pans, before arriving in Marsala — the home of Marsala wine.
Our road trip continued with visits to two more temple complexes (Selinunte and Agrigento’s Valle dei Templi), an overnight stop in Agrigento, a couple of hours at the Scala dei Turchi (Turkish Steps) and a spontaneous trip to the hilltop town of Caltabellotta, before heading back up to Palmermo to drop our car off before flying home.
Although I’d enjoyed our time in Sicily, I did find it much busier than I’d expected it to be at the start of June and also much more expensive than the kind of places I’ve spent my birthday in previous years (Albania, Georgia, Montenegro, Hungary, Romania and Greece). Consequently, we primarily lived on cheap eats and street food, which, unfortunately, meant that we didn’t benefit from the full Sicilian culinary experience I’d hoped to be waxing lyrical about.
July | A long weekend in Weymouth with mum
Sicily had, unfortunately, wiped out my holiday funds, and I needed to save for my big September adventure. So, the only trip I was able to take this month was a pre-booked coach trip with mum.
As a result of mum’s brother and his wife being super careful throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and continuing to isolate from everyone who wasn’t part of their household long after government rules and regulations dictated that they did so, mum hadn’t seen her brother for almost three years. And whilst my uncle and auntie were still not comfortable hosting extended family in their home, they had started to visit cafes and coffee shops where they could sit outside. This trip gave mum and I the opportunity to travel down to Dorset to meet up with them, without actually needing to stay with them.
The itinerary included a day trip to Wimborne — just 10 miles from where my uncle and auntie live.
Once again, mum and I were really lucky with the weather. In fact, the weekend we spent in Weymouth was a weekend right in the middle of the tropical heatwave we were experiencing in the UK. With temperatures hitting the mid-thirties back home, it was quite nice to be able to escape to the coast, where the sea breeze had cooled temperatures to a much more manageable 25 degrees.
Along with time in Weymouth and Wimborne, we also made trips to Portland Castle and Portland Bill.
August | Bank holiday weekend in Spain and a trip to Lake Vyrnwy, Wales
The original plan — formulated over several bottles of wine on our previous visit — had been to join Trinny and family for a week of their six-week long summer adventure through Spain in their newly-converted campervan.
However, with Stu and I not having a car or any of our own camping equipment, actually turning that plan into reality would’ve been a bit of a logistical nightmare.
Instead, we arranged to join them on the final week of their trip, at a campsite in Los Escullos.
We met Trinny’s mum at the airport, picked up Trinny’s car (which her mum had filled with camping gear and equipment), and then headed to the campsite to meet up with Trinny, Craig and their two kids. I think we were the only English group at the campsite, so it was nice to have the opportunity to practice a bit of my Spanish with the restaurant/bar staff and pool hands. We also enjoyed joining in with Bingo, Aqua Aerobics and Mini Disco — all of which were conducted entirely in Spanish.
As we didn’t really ‘do’ a lot this time around (and for this reason, I have hardly any photos of our weekend), I am sharing a photo from mine and Stu’s trip out to Lake Vrynwy that same month. Stu had read about a ‘submerged village’ that was now visible as a result of a drastic drop in the lake’s water level, following an extended period of very hot and dry weather here in the UK. You can see in the photo below a very distinct line where the water usually sits. Yet, when this photo was taken, the lake was at less than 60% capacity.
September | A 10-day trip to Jordan with Jayne
Jordan had been on my travel wish list for as long as I can remember. But, it’s not somewhere I fancied travelling solo and it held no appeal for Stu. Fortunately, I discovered that my friend Jayne also had Jordan on her list of countries she’d like to visit. And the fact that the newly-opened Jordan Trail meant that we could incorporate a multi-day hike into our trip kinda swung it for us.
Finalising an itinerary was, by no means, an easy feat (especially when the company we’d booked our driver through insisted on changing the parameters on a regular basis!), and travelling in Jordan is not without its challenges, but we definitely enjoyed our first forays into travel into the Middle East.
Whilst we ended up wishing we’d completed the Dana to Little Petra hike over four days rather than three, and that we’d had two days to explore the lost city of Petra rather than just one, on the whole we don’t think we could’ve built a better 10-day Jordan itinerary, with the time we had available to us.
Highlights were the Dana to Little Petra hike, Petra itself, and our Wadi Rum adventure. I’ve got several posts about Jordan in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled over the next few months!
October | No travel but I did run my third official half marathon!
Like Sicily, Jordan had cost us a lot more than we had anticipated. With no money left in the bank and a cost of living crisis to navigate, I simply didn’t have any spare money to spend on trips this month. And, unless some kind of miracle happened, I couldn’t foresee being able to afford any trips for the rest of the year either.
But, I did play host to my friends Gloria and Kath, and Gloria’s husband Darren, when they came down to Shrewsbury for our second (or is it our third?) Undercover Hippy gig. The day after they all departed, I ran my third official half marathon. I didn’t manage to shave any time off my personal best of 1 hour 57 minutes. But, considering that I’d been pretty ill with some kind of food poisoning or stomach bug when I returned from Jordan, and I’d been unable to train, I was pretty pleased with the result.
I’d love to be able to tick a full marathon off the list next year, if I could actually force myself to be disciplined enough to stick to a proper training plan.
November | A weekend in Preston, with a stop-off in Stockport
In order to secure the cheapest train fare up to Preston (to visit my friend, Gloria), I ended up with a few hours to kill in Stockport.
What I saved on my train ticket, I spent on coffee and cake in Hillgate Cakery and a plant pot in Still Life Story, but we won’t dwell on that… 😉
I actually really enjoyed my brief visit to Stockport, an activity that was inspired by this blog post. Although, I didn’t make it to the Hat Museum or Staircase House, I did have a lovely wander around the town’s historic centre, ducking in and out of its maze of cobbled streets and hidden passageways and browsing its very decent selection of independent shops and vintage emporiums.
Up in Preston, we spent rainy evenings inside cosy bars (I can recommend Vinyl Tap and the newly refurbished Plau) and sunny days walking along the river Ribble and through Mitton and Clitheroe.
December | A day trip to Sheffield
One of the benefits of working for local government is that I get a flexi day every four weeks, providing I’ve worked the additional hours to earn it. When I don’t use these flexi days as part of my annual leave, I’ve always loved simply jumping on a train to explore somewhere new.
In 2019, I headed to Birmingham for the day in collaboration with Hotels.com, and, shortly after, I returned to my old university city of Chester. In 2021, I acquainted myself with the Welsh city of Cardiff. This time around, I decided to head to Sheffield — for no reason other than the fact that it’s somewhere I’d not been before that I could get to on the train in just over two hours.
I’d chosen one of the coldest days this winter to do so, but it also turned out to be one of the most beautiful — with perfectly blue skies and a thin dusting of ice upon the ground. Ice is not conducive to getting around a city quickly (I lost count of the number of times I slipped and nearly landed on my arse!), so I didn’t see as much as I’d hoped to in one day, but I still got a good feel for Sheffield, and I’d love to return one day to spend a full weekend there.
Although there’s still a very tangible sense of the city’s industrial past running through its streets (and this is something that’s both acknowledged and celebrated in modern-day Sheffield), you’ll also find an abundance of green spaces, a bustling culinary scene, colourful street art, some fascinating art exhibitions, and a vast array of independent shops and eateries.
And that was 2022!
I visited six different countries, two of them new to me (Mexico and Jordan), bringing my total count up to 52.
My only regret this year is that I have neglected this blog somewhat. Not intentionally, of course; I just think that after a couple of years of not being able to travel much, and therefore not having the material to write about, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing as frequently as I used to. I intend to change that next year! Along with ensuring that I post regular updates on social media, too.
How was your 2022? What was your favourite trip or new favourite destination? Share away in the comments below
If you’d like to read any of my other review posts, you can do so here: