Reviews

12 Months in 12 Photos: My 2018 Travel Review

December 31, 2018

 

Discover my favourite destinations of the year in this 2018 travel review, featuring 12 of my favourite photos – one from each trip I took.

After 2017’s long awaited house move, and all the logistical, financial, and emotional stresses and strains that come with packing your whole life up into a collection of cardboard boxes small enough to fit into the back of a transit van and relocating to a new property in need of maintenance and repair, I was looking forward to a more settled 2018.

But settled didn’t mean that I planned to travel any less.  In fact my vague aim for 2018 was to take a trip every month of the year, whether that be exploring my home turf or somewhere further afield.

And I more or less managed that: I took trips in January, February, March, April, May, June, August (x 2), September/October, November and December.  Even though I took no trips in July (unless you count travelling down to Dorset with mum to celebrate my auntie’s 60th birthday), it was a busy old month where – in between donning a posh frock to attend Stu’s step-sister’s wedding up near Knutsford, putting a friend up for the weekend as part of my own belated birthday celebrations, and getting my own PB (25 minutes and 1 second!) for a 5K race in aid of Cancer Research – I didn’t actually have a single weekend available with which to do any travelling.

Of the seven destinations I listed in my 2018 Travel Plans, Goals and Aspirations post as places I wanted to visit that year, there are six that I managed to make it to.  The seventh, Namibia, was (as I admitted in the post) not a country I expected to be ticking off as the year came to a close; it was simply my dream destination at that point in time.  So in that respect I don’t feel too bad for not actually realising that particular goal.

And in all honesty Namibia may be a country best visited when I can afford to upgrade my camera and invest in a decent zoom lens.

But on to the places I did manage to visit….

There was Portugal, Morocco, Spain, England, Lithuania, Georgia, Norway, and Italy.  Eight countries altogether, three of them new to me, bringing my total count up to 44.  It doesn’t sound a lot when you consider that there are (depending on which source you acknowledge) somewhere in the region of 189-196 countries in the world.  But I’ve always said that I’d much rather explore fewer countries in greater depth as opposed to simply scratching the surface of many.

So, without further ado, here’s a look back at my 2018 travels.

January | A road trip around São Miguel, The Azores

It’s Stu’s birthday in January, so whilst we’d always like to take a trip somewhere in order to celebrate this, the practicalities of doing so aren’t quite so simple.  It’s that time of year when we’ve had enough of the cold, wet and miserable British winter and are yearning for some sunshine, yet the only places in which we’re guaranteed to get some are long-haul destinations which we can’t afford to get to because we overspent at Christmas and because our January pay packet arrived part the way through December and we don’t get paid again for another six weeks.

Serendipitously, just a few days after announcing that I wanted to visit the Azores in 2018 (in this post), an email landed in my inbox from Secret Flying, advertising return flights from London to São Miguel in January for just £39. It was meant to be!  We also scored seven nights accommodation in an amazing little hostel for just £110 each. A proper little budget getaway, and one of my favourite new finds of 2018.

For those of you who don’t know, the Azores are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands which lie roughly 1500 kilometres west of Lisbon and are actually the westernmost point of Europe. The largest of these islands, São Miguel, is the only one you can currently fly to directly from the UK.

Stu and I based ourselves in São Miguel’s capital, Ponta Delgada, and hired a car to make day trips to other parts of the island.  São Miguel is an island that was made for road tripping.  Away from the island’s capital city the tarmac roads are largely traffic-free, save for the odd herd or two of cows, and the only obstacle you’ll encounter is deciding which of the island’s countless miradouros (viewpoints) you should stop at.

And, trust me, you will be constantly stopping the car in order to marvel at the incredible landscapes all around you.  From spectacular mountain peaks, vast lakes and rugged coastlines to gushing waterfalls, bubbling geysers and natural thermal pools, São Miguel is a lush, green and beautiful paradise that still remains largely undiscovered by mass tourism.  It’s also really affordable and the weather is (mostly) warm and sunny, even in January.

Lagoa do Fogo, Sao Miguel, The Azores


Read more:

10 Fun Facts (that you probably didn’t know) About São Miguel, The Azores

A Self-guided Walking Tour Around Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

Top 13 Sights Not to Miss on a Road Trip Around São Miguel, the Azores

10 of the Best Miradouros (Viewpoints) on São Miguel


February | A solo trip to Fes and Chefchaouen, Morocco

I visited Morocco many years ago in 2003, a whole 10 years before I started this blog.  It was my first time travelling kind of on my own.  I booked myself as a solo traveller on to one of Explore’s trips.  We travelled in 4 x 4s through the Atlas Mountains, did some trekking, stayed in a traditional Berber village, and visited the cities of Zagora, Essaouria, and Marrakech.  It was an amazing trip that’s left me wanting to return ever since.

Two of Fes’ draws for me were its famous tanneries (where animal hides and skins are treated and dyed to produce leather) and its medina – which, incidentally, is the world’s largest car-free urban area.

Whilst I found the medina an absolutely fascinating place, exploring it as a young(ish!) solo female traveller was both challenging and incredibly frustrating.  I was constantly hassled and it felt as if everyone I met wanted to extract money from me.  I was so pleased that I had a beautiful and quiet riad to return to at the end of every day.

Chefchaouen, on the other hand, was a completely different story.  This picturesque town nestled at the foot of the Rif Mountains had long been on my travel hit list, for the simple reason that the whole of its old medina is painted blue.  It’s a photographer’s dream.  And in spite of the torrential rain doing its best to thwart my plans, I could wander through Chefchaouen’s confusing blue labyrinth with zero hassle whatsoever.

I absolutely loved photographing all the unique and beautiful doorways.  Whether plain and humble or intricately detailed, arched, rounded or square, every one of Chaefchaouen’s doorways is different to the next.  There was also an abundance of cats, cute little shops and art galleries and cafes serving mint tea on tap.

Chefchaouen – Morocco's Blue Town


Read more:

Chefchaouen: The Blue Town in Morocco that’s a Delight to Photograph, Even in the Rain

Exploring Fes’ Medina: Morocco’s Urban Labyrinth


March | A weekend in Liverpool with mum

Ever since my dad died in 2016, I’ve been doing my best to include my mum in my travel plans as much as possible.  She and my dad loved to travel and have inspired many of the trips I’ve taken myself.  For the Christmas following my dad’s death, I surprised my mum with a holiday to Tuscany.  It’s somewhere she’d always wanted to visit with my dad, but never made it to, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and dip into my savings in order to book a trip for the two of us.

Unfortunately my bank balance dictates that I can’t do that every year – at least not to somewhere as expensive as Tuscany or for as many nights.  Besides which, my mum wouldn’t let me do it again.  She’d insist on giving me money she didn’t have, in order to pay for her share.

However, I did explain to mum that I could afford to pay for a long weekend (3-4 days) away for the two of us, and that I was happy to go wherever she chose.  She chose Liverpool.

Having visited Liverpool several times before (most recently with Stu in 2016), I was rather happy with mum’s choice.  Liverpool is a fantastic city that’s compact, walkable, and home to some stunning pieces of art and architecture, as well as a huge selection of international restaurants and quirky cafes.

We stayed at the same hotel Stu and I had chosen the year before, because it’s central and affordable, and literally around the corner from several of the best restaurants in the city.

Seeing as though the weather wasn’t quite as nice as when Stu and I visited, mum and I concentrated on visiting more indoor attractions than Stu and I had been motivated to (when the sun is shining outside, where do you want to be?).  So we checked off attractions like the Walker Art Gallery (they had a brilliant ‘Slaves of Fashion’ exhibition on when we visited), the Museum of Liverpool, the Bluecoat, the Open Eye Gallery, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), St. George’s Hall (where they were hosting a fantastic antiques fair) and the Central Library – one of the most amazing libraries I’ve ever set foot inside.

We also ate some fantastic food at Moose, Mowgli and Barcaro.

Liverpool


April | A solo hiking adventure in Catalonia, Spain

One of my favourite things about travelling is making new discoveries; something that’s becoming harder and harder to do now that travel is more affordable and accessible than it’s ever been before.

But on this particular trip, where I spent three days hiking in and exploring the Province of Girona, I discovered places that I knew absolutely nothing about before arriving; places that I’d been able to find very little information about online, but places that lifted my spirits, warmed my heart, and renewed my sense of curiosity and wonder.

I started my adventure in Olot where I followed some hiking trails around the Garrotxa Natural Park, and onwards to the medieval towns of Santa Pau and Besalu, and the village of Esponellà.

Although I did experience a few scary moments involving wrong turns, ferocious dogs and charging geese, this was one of the best solo trips I’ve taken in a long time.

I finished my adventure in Girona – a city I first discovered on a solo trip the year before, and one that I can totally recommend as an alternative to Barcelona.

I found it impossible to choose just one photograph to represent the entire trip, so instead I’ve just chosen one of my favourite stand-alone photographs: the medieval town of Besalú, backed by the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees.

Besalú


Read more:

The Wonder of New Discoveries and Intrepid Adventures: A Solo Hiking Trip Through Catalonia

Falling a Little Bit in Love with the Medieval Town of Santa Pau

Uncovering the Medieval and the Miniature in Besalú, Catalonia

Olot and the Extinct Volcanoes of La Garrotxa


May | A long weekend with the girls in Vilnius, Lithuania

I’ve known two of my close friends, Gloria and Kath, since Sixth Form.  Although we all used to live in Shrewsbury (where I’m still based), Gloria has since moved up to Preston and Kath moved to Newcastle but now resides in Norfolk.  Consequently it has become incredibly difficult for the three of us to get together very often anymore, especially since Kath is so far from the civilisation of major roads and decent public transport connections that she may as well live in a different country.

As a result we all decided a few years ago that we would fly overseas for a long weekend city break together each year.  It would help to satisfy our wanderlust, give us a break from our respective partners – and, in the case of Gloria, her kids – and allow us to spend some quality time with each other, putting the world to rights and laughing so hard our sides hurt.

Our stipulation each time is that we find return flights and three nights accommodation for under £100 per person.  We’ve visited Riga (Latvia), Poznan (Poland) and Cluj Napoca (Romania) in previous years.  This year we chose Vilnius, Lithuania.

And let me tell you, I loved Vilnius so much more than I ever expected to.  It’s such an attractive, green city with an abundance of history, a thriving coffee shop scene, some epic viewpoints, incredible street art, and with its very own autonomous republic whose mayor favours flamboyant court jester attire and whose ambassador is an overweight, ginger, camera-shy cat.  I’d happily return in a heartbeat.

Vilnius' skyline viewed from the bell tower of St. John's church


Read more:

How to Spend a Perfect Weekend in Vilnius, Lithuania: A 2-day Itinerary

The Republic of Užupis: Vilnius’ Quirky Bohemian Neighbourhood

30 Things to Do in Vilnius for under €5


June | A 10-day backpacking trip around Georgia

Georgia was one of those countries that had been on my travel wish list for as long as I can remember, but until fairly recently (direct flights from the UK to Georgia were launched in May 2017) it’s been relatively inaccessible to those of us who live in England.

However, as soon as budget airline Wizz Air announced that they were running flights between London Luton and Kutaisi (Georgia’s second city), I immediately started planning my trip.

And although we cancelled our plans for a road trip less than 24 hours after arriving in the country (the reason? Georgian drivers are CRAZY!!!), we quickly realised that it’s actually really easy (and ridiculously cheap) to get around Georgia by public transport.

And, man, I fell so hard for Georgia.  I could happily have spent a whole month there and probably still have wanted to extend my stay.

We started our explorations in the capital city, Tbilisi, which was a wonderful mix of ancient and modern, and reminded me in many ways of Istanbul. We then took a day trip to the monastery complex of Davit Gareja (discovered in the 6th century), located on the border with Azerbaijan, and continued our travels with visits to the pretty town of Sighnaghi (in Georgia’s wine region), Kazbegi, Kutaisi, and Mestia (in the remote Svaneti region).

Georgia is affordable, beautiful and remote, the people are welcoming, and the food is delicious.  If you haven’t already visited, I recommend that you remedy that as soon as possible.

I was torn between two of my favourite photos from this trip, but in the end I decided upon this one from Ushguli – one of the highest permanently inhabited settlements in Europe.  The other was of Mount Kazbek in Kazbegi.

Ushguli


Read more:

A 10-day Georgia Itinerary by Public Transport

Visiting Davit Gareja: Otherwise Known as That Time I Travelled for Two Hours to See a Monastery I Couldn’t Find

Making the Most of Two Days in Tbilisi, Georgia

Falling in Love with Sighnaghi: The Prettiest Town in Kakheti, Georgia

Rooms Hotel, Kazbegi: A Little Slice of Luxury in the Mountains of Georgia

Kicking Back in Kutaisi: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Georgia’s Second City

Getting Up Close and Personal with Mount Ushba: Paragliding in Mestia with Mestia Paragliding

A Day Trip to Ushguli, Svaneti: One of the Highest Permanently Inhabited Settlements in Europe


Early August | A weekend with mum to Oxford and Henley-on-Thames

Whilst my mum loves the trips that I organise for us (so she tells me!), the truth is she’s not getting any younger and she does find it a bit of a struggle to keep up with my pace (even though I do my best to slow it down for her).  So, in the spirit of compromise (and because she didn’t feel quite ready to take one of these sorts of trips on her own), I agreed to accompany her on an organised overnight coach trip.

Although I was the youngest person on it by about 25 years, it wasn’t an unenjoyable experience.  We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend weather-wise, the hotel was lovely (and came with its own on-site spa), and both Oxford and Henley were beautiful places to explore.  We even took a boat trip down the Thames and enjoyed a good old fashioned 99 flake ice cream at the end of it.

And in the way of it being a small world we live in, a lady I used to work with some five or so years ago was booked on the same trip as us, so it was a nice surprise bumping into her and having a bit of a catch up.

The University City of Oxford, UK


Late August | 6 days in Norway

The primary reason I added Norway to my 2018 travel wish list was because I wanted to complete the famous Trolltunga hike.

Seeing as though the cheapest flights from the UK are to Norway’s capital, it made sense to fly into Oslo, and I figured that if I was going all the way to Trolltunga then I may as well travel a little bit further to Bergen, too.

Although I’d anticipated this being a solo adventure, I ended up going with a friend and colleague from work, so it was nice to have someone to share the experience with – and split the high accommodation costs with!

In spite of having less than 24 hours in Oslo, we managed to get a pretty good feel for the city, and even explored some quiet corners away from the major tourist attractions.  We also got to tick one of Norway’s most famous (and reportedly most scenic) train journeys off our list and spent a very wet couple of days exploring the picturesque city of Bergen and hiking up to the top of one of the seven mountains which surround it.

We almost missed out on the Trolltunga hike due to poor weather conditions on the trail (and subsequently spent an unplanned day exploring Odda), but fortunately we were able to squeeze it in on the only full day we had left in the country.  It did mean getting up at 3:30am in order to start the hike at 4:30am, but it was a small price to pay.

The hike was long and arduous with some rather relentless uphill stretches on the route there (it took us between nine and ten hours there and back), and we were sure our legs wouldn’t work the following day when we finished, but it was an amazing achievement to have completed the 27.5 kilometre trail with its 1000 metre ascent.  The scenery was pretty spectacular, too 😉

Odda, Norway


Read more:

A 6-day Norway Itinerary on a Budget: Oslo, Bergen and Trolltunga

One Day in Bergen: An Itinerary of Things to See, Do and Eat

Beyond Trolltunga: A Short Guide to Odda, Norway

Trolltunga: An Honest Account of (and Practical Guide to) One of Norway’s Most Famous Hikes


September | A few days exploring the cave city of Matera, Italy

Ok, so I’m cheating a little here because the few days Stu and I spent exploring Matera was essentially part of the same trip as the one listed below for October (in that we didn’t fly home in between) but as this is my blog and I decide what to publish on it, I’m making these two separate trips for the purpose of this post.

Matera is an ancient city that was first inhabited approximately 7000 years ago; one where a series of grottoes carved out of limestone sit teetering on the edge of a ravine.  People once lived inside these caves, but in such awful conditions that disease was rife and infant mortality rates were as high as 50%.  The Italian government have since rehoused the majority of cave dwellers in the more modern part of the city.

Matera has been awarded the title of the European City of Culture 2019, so although it’s managed to escape the attention of foreign tourists until now, next year may see it stealing the limelight.

One of the things we loved most of all about visiting Matera was simply wandering aimlessly through its intriguing maze of narrow cobblestone alleyways and uneven stone staircases.  Every corner you turn yields a new and interesting discovery – be it an interesting old door flanked with cacti and succulents, a photogenic archway, a tiny courtyard bursting with floral displays or an incredible viewpoint.

It was another of my favourite new destinations of 2018.

Matera


Read more:

Matera: The Italian ‘City of Caves’ That You Cannot Fail to Fall in Love With


October | A self-guided cycling adventure around Puglia, Italy

Although I’m not really much of a cyclist at home (I’m a bit scared of cycling on busy roads and my old BMX which has no gears is not really suited to off-road (hilly!) trails in the countryside), I do love cycling holidays.  As well as keeping you fit along the way, cycling is an amazing way to explore a new country.  You can cover a lot more ground compared to hiking alone, yet you still feel 100% connected to your surroundings.

Previously Stu and I have taken cycling holidays in Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy (one trip), and around the Caribbean island of Cuba. This year, having been inspired by my parents to explore this part of Italy, we decided to book a self-guided cycling trip around the Puglia region of Italy.

In spite of not having a huge amount of time to explore our final destinations at the end of each day and the torrential rain and thunderstorms that made our last day of cycling a complete wash out, I absolutely loved our trip.  I think that all the running I’d been doing in the 18 months prior to jumping in the saddle had strengthened my legs and improved my stamina, which meant that I didn’t find the cycling as physically challenging as I had done on the previous trips. That in turn meant that I was able to relax a little more and enjoy the scenery.

Puglia’s roads are largely traffic-free, the pace of life is much slower here than other parts of Italy and dotted along its 860 kilometres of stunning coastline is an abundance of charming ancient towns, beautiful Baroque architecture, extravagant churches, and millions upon millions of olive trees and prickly pears.

We started our trip in Matera and finished in Lecce, including overnight stops in Alberobello, Ostuni, Gallipoli, Santa Maria di Leuca, Otranto and Lecce.

Scenery, Leuca to Otranto coastal road, Puglia


Read more:

Exploring Puglia on Two Wheels: A 7-Day Itinerary


November | A weekend in Norfolk visiting my friend Kath

I didn’t have the leave available (or the money) to travel anywhere this month, but this didn’t stop me jumping on a train (or rather, three trains and a tube!) and heading down to Norfolk to visit a friend of mine for her birthday.  It’s not an easy journey by  rail (it takes between five and a half and seven and a half hours depending on connections and whether there’s a rail replacement service in operation between London and Diss), but as Kath and I don’t get to see each other much, it’s one I don’t mind making once or twice a year (preferably twice!).

In between eating and drinking and wandering around Norwich’s Christmas markets, we managed a trip out to the Norfolk Broads and a short walk around Diss.

As I didn’t really capture any decent photos this time around, I’m sharing one of Diss from my last visit.

Diss


December | A weekend in Bristol with Stu

The primary reason I ended up heading back to Bristol this December was because one of my favourite bands, Sheelanagig (who I’ve seen twice in Bristol before and once at Beautiful Days festival) were playing a gig here on the Saturday night.

So Stu and I booked a night at the YHA (which, incidentally, is a really neat hostel that I can totally recommend if you’re visiting Bristol) and then spent the remainder of our time wandering around the city, attempting to tick a few more sights off our list.

We visited Cabot Tower, Christmas Steps, Bristol Cathedral, Stokes Croft, Bristol Harbour, M-Shed and Underfall Yard, and enjoyed some wonderful food at both Poco (in Stokes Croft) and Bandook (in Cargo, harbourside).

Bristol Harbour


And that was 2018!

Although I’d loved to have squeezed a long haul destination in as well, I’m pretty pleased with the way my travels panned out in 2018.  I took a good mix of trips – some solo, and some with either Stu, my mum, or my friends – to a good mix of destinations, and found several of my new favourite places along the way.

Next week I’m hoping to publish a post about my travel plans for 2019, but considering that I do not have any yet beyond a long weekend in Warsaw, Poland with Gloria and Kath, and a few days in Morocco in order to climb Mount Toubkal with my friend Jayne and her boyfriend, I shall be heading over to the Skyscanner and Secret Flying websites just as soon as I’ve finished this post!

How was your 2018?  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:

2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017


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2 Comments

  • Reply Caroline January 1, 2019 at 7:15 PM

    Happy new year Kiara! I love reading these posts, just done one of my own. It’s a nice way of summing up the year.

    • Reply Kiara Gallop January 2, 2019 at 12:23 PM

      Happy New Year to you too! It’s been a good year for you and the blog, hasn’t it? 🙂 I love writing and reading these review posts too, so I’ll have to head over and give yours a read. I’m planning on writing a 2019 travel plans kinda post as well, as I always like to look back and see how my year panned out compared to how I’d hoped it would travel-wise. Which countries are you planning to visit this year?

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