Best of 2017: Travel Highlights

We can almost not believe that it’s that time of year again – when we get to unashamedly look back at all the crazy and incredible things we got up to, and at the same time look forward to dreams of future adventures and resolution-related challenges (are we all mentally prepared for that 1st of January diet…?). And this year has been crazy and incredible! Twelve months flew by at a whirlwind rate – we traveled to 20 countries, and 11 of them were brand new for one or both of us.  We didn’t go to some places we really wanted to go to at the beginning of the year (but we’re coming for you soon, Japan!…fingers crossed), but we did get to check off some major bucket list stuff (keep reading!).

I love writing these posts! My favourite thing about travel blogging is re-living our adventures when I sift through all the memories and photos before each post. So doing that for a whole year’s worth of travel fills me with so much light and excitement – I’m ready to do it all over again! Last year we did the A-Z of our 2016 travels, but this time I will highlight just a couple of our best moments as they shaped our travels throughout 2017.

AN UNSPOILT ISLAND IN CAMBODIA

Travel tip: it’s not a bad idea to start your year on an island.

We woke up on the 1st of January in the little port town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, picked up our backpacks and headed to one of Asia’s most beautiful and unspoilt, underdeveloped islands just 45 minutes from the coast: Koh Rong Samloem. We were graciously invited to join a Cambodian/Vietnam trip by some pretty cool friends of ours, Job and Kim (thanks for having us, guys!), and made a new friend (who we would later see again in Denmark).

There are no roads, no parties, and just one little hotel who managed to get wifi. We spent a week swimming, snorkeling, splashing around in the phosphorescence, and eating seafood and drinking beer. I even got to spend my birthday hiking through this paradise!

Best of 2017: Koh Rong Samloem island

SUNRISE OVER ANGKOR WAT

Bucket list dreams do come true! After a week in tropical paradise, and two nights in the buzzing Cambodian capital, we headed to Siem Reap, which is one of the most beautiful and serene areas we’ve ever seen…which is also blessed with one of the world’s most inspiring religious heritage sites: Angkor Wat. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am, jumped on a tuk tuk to the Angkor complex, and witnessed the most beautiful sunrise of 2017. 

Best of 2017: Angkor Wat

BEST MEAL OF 2017

After almost two weeks in Cambodia, we jumped on our flight to Hanoi where we would spend 2 nights before a flight back to London. Our flight back to London was also the due date for two long essays – one on African philosophy and one on Aesthetic Theory and Philosophy. I was supposed to do the bulk of my work before this flight…. Supposed to. I started writing the introduction to my first paper on the flight from Siem Reap to Hanoi. I wrote in the taxi all the way from the airport to the hotel. We ordered room service and I wrote until 4am. I woke up 2 hours later and continued writing. Finally, at about lunch time I finished my first paper. Joel forced me out of the hotel with something plugged into his Google maps, we walked a couple of blocks, and then abruptly stopped in front of what looked just like an alley way in between to buildings. ‘This is it,’ he said, and we sat down at the tiniest, smallest little aluminium bar. Within 20 seconds, a lady brought us two meals that we didn’t even order (because it’s the only thing they serve), and two cold beers. That Bun Sa in that alleyway in Hanoi was, hands down, the best meal we’ve had this year. And it powered me through to start and finish a whole new paper, handing in both essays with 2 hours to spare.

Best of 2017: Best Meal, Vietnam

This is where the magic happens

WE SURVIVED THE ARCTIC CIRCLE

Not our first visit to the Arctic circle (we adventured around the indescribable Iceland last year), but definitely the most turbulent! We survived a road trip through a full on blizzard, and learnt a whole bunch of valuable lessons. Mostly we were blown away by the icy beauty of the northern parts of our earth, and the beautiful creatures that live there. A terrifying and awe-inspiring long weekend all at once. 

Best of 2017:Snowstorm

Pro travel tip: don’t do what we did. (Also, how is this a highway???)

THE SAHARA DESERT

April has been really good to me this year, because we got to go to Morocco! It has been on my bucket list since forever and I was so bummed that we couldn’t get to it last year when we moved to London – it’s only a couple of hours away! But we went in April, and we ate as much tagine as we could, and we took in as much of Marrakech’s craziness as possible, and we fell in love with Essaouira on the way, and then we were struck silent by the vastness and beauty of the Sahara desert

Best of 2017: Sahara desert

GOING GREEK

Every non-European’s dream: living the Greek island life. We finally got to do a one-week bucket list vacation when we got a sweet Airbnb on the dreamy greek island of Paros, where we explored ancient marble caves, meandered through tiny Cycladic villages, worked on our tan, and stuffed our faces with feta, olive oil, squid and the best gyros in town. AND we got to do it with our friends Chris and Erica, who are pretty much the best travel companions out there.

Then a quick but quite a grand treat for the history and heritage-site lover that I am: 2 nights in Athens and a visit to the ancient Acropolis. It’s been a good year for our bucket lists so far!

Best of 2017: Parthenon

SIPPING SCOTCH ON SUNNY DAYS

How lucky were we that we caught one of Scotland’s only perfectly sunny days in July when we headed to the isle of Arran??? Our trip to the Scottish whiskey island was one of our shortest trips this whole year, but one of our most relaxing. Bleating sheep, waterfall hikes, meeting local travellers, whiskey, whiskey, and more whiskey. Definitely a travel highlight of year. The perfect weekend getaway waiting to happen.

Best of 2017: Isle of Arran

THE FAIRYTALE OF SLOVENIA

After a research trip in a packed and hot Venice in the middle of July, we were quite relieved when we stepped off the train in the Slovenian capital. We were on our way to Bled, a little lakeside town that we only knew about because my mom got engaged there a few years ago. So, we knew it was pretty…but we were not really prepared for the stunning scenery. Our jaws dropped at every corner – bright blue lakes framed by the Julian alps, with gushing waterfalls and springs running into the green valleys below. We fell in love with this magical fairytale place, like, I am sure, everyone does – it was one of those wholly underrated destinations that completely blew us away. We had so much fun swimming in the lakes and walking in the Vintgar gorge during summer, but we can’t wait to go back in winter when Lake Bled freezes over! Oh well, I guess we’ll put that on our revised bucket list!

Best of 2017: Vintgar Gorge

Best of 2017: Lake Bled, Slovenia

BEST END-OF-THESIS SURPRISE EVER

The day before my thesis was due I packed a backpack full of stuff not knowing what I was even packing for. Joel was surprising me and all I could do was hope I would be done with my thesis by the time we leave for the airport, and that we weren’t heading anywhere that I needed a visa for. We got as far as the boarding gate when it was revealed that we were going to Dubrovnik, Croatia! I was pumped. I have wanted to go to Croatia so desperately, and it was happening…AND we had so many awesome recommendations from our Croatian friends. And the Dalmatian coast just straight blew all our expectations out of the crystal-clear, azure-blue Mediterranean water.

Best of 2017: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Best of 2017: Mljet island, Odysseus cave, Croatia

A favourite travel moment of 2017: Getting to and jumping into the dazzling blue waters of the Odysseus cave on Mljet Island, Croatia.

ONE MONTH IN INDIA

Our London lease had come to an end in September, and we had decided that we want to try out Berlin for a little bit. But since we are only moving to Berlin in January, we moved out, put our stuff in storage, and went rent-free for a couple of months.  So after a quick family visit in California, and a stop at Shopify HQ in Ottawa, Canada (which turned out to be pleasant surprise), we headed to India to work and explore for nearly a whole month. We could not possibly express what an incredible and inspiring time this was. Apart from a weekend trip to Goa for Diwali, it was not the regular tourist-circuit India trip. We spent most of our time in the awesome city of Bangalore, exploring it and living it, and making new friends whose generosity and hospitality made this foreign country feel warm and familiar. From celebrating Diwali in Goa with cows on the beach, to an Indian safari in the Bandipur National Park, to a week on Havelock Island, a small piece of tropical heaven part of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, our time in India was full of highlights, all made more special by the people we met and friends we made. Now all I want to do is go back to Bangalore!

Best of 2017: Goa, India

A beach cow in Goa, India

Best of 2017: Bangalore, India

The super cool city of Bangalore, India

Best of 2017: Bandipur National Park, India

Indian safari in Bandipur National Park

Best of 2017: Havelock Island, India

The unspoilt beaches of tropical India somewhere between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

EXPLORING HUNGARY

Yes, Budapest is an incredible city – there’s no doubt about it (still don’t believe me? check this out). But did you know about the perfectly quaint little town of Keszthely on the shore of Lake Balaton – the largest lake in central Europe, aka ‘the Hungarian Sea’ – or the small spa town of Héviz that has the largest biologically active geothermal and medicinal lake in the world? It was a real treat to get away from all the hustle and pull of the big cities that we love and live in, and we felt so perfectly at ease in these tiny little countryside towns over one long weekend, riding our rusty cruiser bikes and dipping into that magic medicine lake with a bunch of old people while it’s freezing outside.

Best of 2017: Budapest, Hungary

Beautiful Budapest

Best of 2017: Keszthely, Hungary

Best of 2017: Heviz, Hungary

Dipping into the world’s largest active geothermal lake in Heviz

AFRICAN SAFARI

I’m gonna go ahead and say we have never looked forward to a trip as much as we looked forward to our two nights in Nambiti Reserve in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. We very rarely book trips way ahead in advance, but ever since we booked it 6 whole months before we couldn’t wait to go! And we were not disappointed – coming face-to-face with an African elephant, watching as the dark shapes of two male lions approach our open vehicle in the darkness, seeing the whole animal kingdom become aware and responsive to their presence while a thunderstorm lights up the sky behind them, and all of those mid-drive sunsets with sundowners and sunrises with coffee and hot chocolate in the bush…what a way to top off our 2017! There is nothing like going on an African safari – it never ever gets old – and on top of that we stayed in a gorgeous luxury safari tent with a lounge, bed, bathtub and outdoor shower all facing the wild outdoors. Happy anniversary to us!

Best of 2017: South Africa

Best of 2017: South Africa

What a phenomenal year it has been! We traveled intentionally, spontaneously, and subjected ourselves to the plans of others; we traveled over weekends, long weekends, used whatever vacation breaks came our way, and maximised those unexplained yet widely loved UK Bank holidays to make the absolute most of this year! We traveled solo, together, with and to friends, and made new friends all over the place! We threw up over broken boats (ok, not ‘we’…maybe just me), nervously outlasted a blizzard in a rental car, and chased deadlines on planes (PTL for gaining 9 hours when you fly East to West on the day of your deadline). Through it all Joel worked full time (and actually visited 2 extra countries on work trips), and I obtained another Masters degree (and took suitcases full of books to more countries than my university’s library would like to know about).

And now we are at the doorstep of 2018, and we can’t wait for the new adventures ahead of us! Besides moving our base from London to Berlin, we don’t have that many things planned – 2018 is a blank canvas, and I’m so eager to see how our travels and experiences fill it in over the next 12 months. Upwards and onwards! What are you planning for the next year?

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