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2015, you have been a very good year to us. It has been a year filled with new adventures, new destinations, meeting up with old friends, creating new ones, and generally AWESOME experiences. So before we say sayonara 2015, we wanted to share all that we have been up to this year and what is in store for 2016!
Has it all been sunshine and roses? Of course not. When you are traveling long term things can and will go wrong. It is expected. There was that entire ten days when we thought we would be camping in Iceland but were besieged by freezing temperatures, rain and snow and hence blew our Iceland budget out of the water. And how can we forget the absolutely miserable weather we had in Paris? Paris should NEVER be that HOT! We thought we were dying the whole time and had such short tempers because we weren’t getting any sleep. And of course there was the UK debacle just a week ago where they wanted to deport us because they thought we were just aimless traveling bums who were just coming to the UK to extend our schengen visa. (I’d like to think that is only half true… We came here to housesit and visit friends after all)
But overall 2015 has been an amazing year. It has been a year that has been completely dictated by our whims, by what we want out of life and that is something we will never regret. Can you say that you have ever had a year where you did only what you wanted? That is one of the best things about traveling and the highlight of the year for us!
This is going to be a long one folks…..
2015 started out with us buying our tickets to Iceland. We had been talking for months about doing it but once the New Year came around we knew that we just had to bite the bullet and book the damn thing. This was the tipping point and everything started coming together in a rush. The road trip across the US came together; we found places to stay with family and friends and we were leaving New York for Iceland on May 21, 2015. The last few months in the US were characterized by brimming optimism and crushing nerves about the reality of what we were setting out to do.
Once we set out on the road for our adventure we were filled with dreams. The whole world was, and still is, open to us if only we have the perseverance and are clever enough to fund our journey. (At the beginning though, man… What I wouldn’t give to go back to the bank accounts at the beginning of our journey!) The road trip gave us our first taste of freedom on the road and we were able to see so much of the United States which we had never seen before. It was OVERWHELMING to see the Grand Canyon in person. How in the hell they can call that thing just grand is beyond me. It is the most ridiculous understatement ever!
I also was able to visit New Orleans for the first time and Alex was finally able to drink in New Orleans for the first time. Man, that city is crazy! In the best way possible, of course. We ate and drank our way to a New Orleans food coma and I don’t think we fully recovered from all the eating and drinking there. We regret nothing though 🙂 After New Orleans we turned our sites north and visited friends in North Carolina where we spent all day hanging out at the lake and then to DC to visit Liz. She showed us DC in style and I don’t think we could have given our capital any finer tribute!
Our final two stops were Philly and New York City. I had not been to New York since I was 12 and I was eager to see as much of the city as possible in just two days. This is pretty much impractical but we did manage to see An American in Paris on Broadway, drink martinis at Bemelmans Bar, walk the High Line and eat a perfect burger at the Burger Joint. I call that a job well done 🙂 And just like that we were off to our first international stop on our trip, Iceland!
Iceland is one of the most beautiful, desolate, challenging and overwhelming places we have ever been. From the streets of Reykjavik with their Nordic design sensibility to the black sand beached of Vik and the cold snowy mountain passes of Akureyri to the waterfalls EVERYWHERE, Iceland stole our hearts. We didn’t expect it to, even though everyone says it will. What can I say, we doubted the pull of this strange and wonderful island and we will never do it again. If you are planning a visit to Iceland make sure you get out and explore more than just Reykjavik. The landscape changes constantly in Iceland and if you drive just thirty minutes from the city you will be greeted with waterfalls, lava fields, volcanoes, wild Icelandic horses and more sheep than you can count! It is well worth renting a car and exploring the island. The road trip around the island was probably our favorite part about this country because we were able to see such a varied landscape, as Alex says Iceland is God’s playground. Also don’t forget to say hello to all the PUFFINS! They are so adorable; I probably took over a thousand photos….
After Iceland, we were heading back to somewhere a little more familiar, the UK. We stopped in London for three days and then headed up to Oxford to see somewhere new. We also got accosted in Oxford by a very angry British girl who was convinced Alex and I should be married and refused to let it go…. I can’t think of Oxford without thinking of her so I shall ever remember Oxford as the city where I was verbally accosted in a bar. Its a good story though, right?
We headed up to Scotland after the verbal abuse and spent a few days exploring Edinburgh. It is such a lovely city and we were blessed with good weather. I really wish we had been able to spend more time there but as usual the pound decided to break our wallet. Every time we’ve come to the UK we cut our trip short because we can’t take the financial beating the pound does on our bank accounts. It is sad really because there is so much I want to explore here but it is just not budget friendly here, and God knows we suck at budgeting anyways! But at least we were able to sneak in a few craft beers and cocktails 😉
The Netherlands, Belgium and Paris
After a short time in the UK we took the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam to meet up with our good friend, Rory. He was kind enough to host us and help us recover a bit financially. (Our main worry this year has been about money but that makes sense when you are spending and not really bringing in an income…) Rory lives in Haarlem which is just fifteen minutes outside of Amsterdam. We were able to explore the Netherlands outside of just Amsterdam which was lovely. We took day trips to The Hague, Alkmaar for the cheese festival (!) and see the old Dutch windmills at Zaanse Schans (it was a little campy for us but they are still beautiful). We also took day trips to Amsterdam and discovered phenomenal beer at Brouwerij de Prael in the eastern part of the city where it is all locals. Oh, and it was herring season so Alex got to eat his share (aka all the herring possible).
We also popped into Belgium while staying with Rory for a night out in Brussels. We absolutely love Brussels and a quick overnight trip was just what we needed to indulge in frites and more importantly, Belgian beer! We had an epic time exploring Brussels and everything was perfect until it was time to catch our bus back to Amsterdam. After waiting for almost three hours in the cold the bus never showed up. Eventually we found another bus from the same company who contacted our bus driver. He claims he picked everyone up but as there were seven of us waiting for the bus he HAD to be lying. I don’t know what else it could be.
Well eventually we decided to rent a car. We dropped two Brazilians who grabbed a ride with us off in Amsterdam and continued to Haarlem. Three days later Alex and I were to return to Belgium to visit Antwerp and drop off the rental car. Cue the CRAZIEST five hours of our life. Did I mention that the car was a stick and Alex and I have a collective two hours of lessons on driving a stick? Needless to say it was a disaster filled with crying, panic attacks, ripped shirts and accidentally driving in downtown Antwerp during commute traffic… Eventually I will be able to capture Alex on video explaining this disaster and share it with you because you can’t understand the anguish until he explains it.
Antwerp manage to win us back though. I had low expectations for the city as I had visited back in 2008 and wasn’t impressed but we decided to visit anyways because of the cheap buses to Paris. On our first day wandering around though we stumbled upon a street festival full of amazing latin cuisine, pisco sours, a drag show and live music. What could be a better introduction to this city?!? In addition we found a stunning Grote Market filled with innovative food trucks and a flea market, stunning architecture and a growing cocktail scene (this is always important to us!). We love when a destination surprises us!
And then we moved on to Paris. Oh Paris, how we love you! But next time could you try not to be 8,000 degrees? Our time in Paris was lovely; we spent most of it discovering Le Marais, our favorite neighborhood. We also had the chance to meet some new friends! Thanks to Snapchat we met up with Expat Edna and her boyfriend, Joe, at Red House. Meeting up for drinks turned into then meeting up in Spain and a new friendship! We couldn’t be happier 🙂
Oh ya and we ate a ton of macarons 🙂
I never thought a city would grab me as quickly as Barcelona did. We arrived, put down our bags, looked out onto El Born and fell in love. Our month in Barcelona was exactly what we needed. We ate waayyy too many tapas (as if that’s a thing), drank cava to our hearts content, spent days at the beach and just lived the Barcelona life. The month in Barcelona allowed us to finally unpack our bags and relax a bit and there is no better city to relax in than Barcelona. While in Barcelona we started to actually focus on what we want to accomplish with our travels (more on that below…) and made a game plan for the remaining six months of year. We also had a whole host of people come stay with us. It was great to be able to show our friends and family around the city we are so enamored with and share why we love it so much, not that it is hard to love Barcelona!
We were in Croatia from August 5th until October 12th which is the longest that we have stayed in one country but we certainly didn’t stay still. We crisscrossed the country from north to south and back again during our almost three months in Croatia. We started out by meeting with some friends in Split and then heading up north to Tisno for the music festival, Soundwave. It was so great to spend those five days with our friends who we hadn’t seen in three years. One of the greatest pleasure about being on the road is being able to meet up with friends who you haven’t seen in years. I just love reconnecting, reminiscing and creating new memories!
After the music festival we headed off with my sister and our friend, Daniel, for an epic road trip that saw us popping up to Plitvice Lakes, Istria, Slovenia including Lake Bled, and having lunch in Austria. It was a bit rushed but I think it only felt that way because we loved everywhere we stopped and wanted to stay longer. Slovenia was like a perfect fairytale country from the famous Lake Bled to the small towns we stayed in and the brief stop in Austria was enough to remind me that I love Austrian cuisine but just think of all the weight we would gain if we stayed any longer!
We finished up our road trip in Zagreb, another huge surprise destination! We were supposed to stay two days but ended up staying three because we loved it so much. This was mostly due to us meeting up with Andrea, of Zagreb Honestly, and her husband Nick. We rented an apartment from them and the first day they showed us around the city and imparted their love of Zagreb to us. I would like to think we would have fallen in love with Zagreb regardless but their love and excitement for the city definitely helped!
After Zagreb it was back down to Split to drop my little sister off for her return to California. We had two days to explore this gorgeous ancient Roman city and I happily got to nerd out about ruins and history. Then we were back up to Istria to get Alex a wine harvest job. We spent a few days in Rovinj to celebrate our 5 (?!?!) year anniversary and finally we settled in Pula, Croatia where Alex worked harvest for Bruno Trapan. While he worked harvest, I worked on the blog and took an impromptu trip to Dubrovnik to help Lisa, from The Wandering Lens, with a photography project. I had SO much fun! Thank you Lisa for that opportunity!
After harvest was finished in Pula, we finished our time in Croatia with a final stop in Dubrovnik. While the weather was nowhere near as nice as it was in September we still had a ridiculously good time. So much so that we missed the morning bus to Montenegro…. We certainly ended our time in Croatia with a bang. There is nothing like drinking mistletoe raki until the sun comes up with locals 🙂
Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia
October had us running all over the place in the Balkans and this is just half of it! We only had a day in the famous town of Kotor in Montenegro and while beautiful I was underwhelmed. It was gorgeous, yes, but it seemed to be lacking something. Maybe it was just because there was a huge cruise ship in port that day or the fact that a lot of things were closed with the off season but we didn’t really connect with Kotor. We did however, love driving through Montenegro and Albania with our new friend Jac! We met him in a wine bar in Kotor and basically weaseled our way into getting a ride to Kosovo. On the way we stopped at a castle in Albania. I mean, why not?
We arrived in Kosovo in the evening and were treated to a night out on the town in Pristina which encompassed LOTS of raki and three different “musica live” destinations. Essentially these clubs are where women sing local songs while men pay money for them to sing at their tables. Apparently this is not prostitution but just a way for men to show off how much money they have to their friends. It was an experience to say the least… (Thanks again Tyler for your hospitality!)
This was pretty much all I saw of Kosovo sadly. The raki put me out of commission for a day and then the next day we headed off to our first workaway in Skopje, Macedonia. Skopje was such an interesting and intriguing city. The government is working hard to establish a cultural heritage and they are doing this by creating HUGE statues in downtown Skopje of famous Macedonians (or supposed Macedonians, do NOT tell the Greeks that Macedonia is claiming Alexander the Great as their own). There are sooooooo many statues; it is utterly ridiculous. We even turned our snapchat into a drinking game for all the statues 😉 The other side of Skopje feels more like Istanbul than anything. It was a really interesting contrast.
Unfortunately we only had a week in Skopje because, as it turns out, you can actually be fired from a volunteer job…. Apparently when someone says you only have to work 3-4 hours a day she actually meant all day. We had a difference of opinion on that as the beds we were getting in exchange for our work were TERRIBLE so we severed ties, said goodbye to Macedonia and ended up in one of our new all-time FAVORITE CITIES….
We had never planned to go to Bulgaria and honestly while we may not have known what we were missing had we not gone it would have been a crime. Sofia is the COOLEST city! The culinary scene is modern, locally sourced, affordable and out of this world. Add on top a growing craft cocktail scene and friendly people and we were sold! We ate and drank our way through Sofia while learning more about its culinary past with a free food tour, Balkan Bites, and learned about the struggles Bulgaria is working through post communism from the locals we hung out with. We could not have asked for a more perfect week there. The only problem is that we only spent a week there. I think Sofia is definitely one of the cities that Alex and I can see coming back to and staying for at least three months. Seriously, if you have never considered going to Sofia just book a ticket now! It will surprise you in so many ways!
Greece and Turkey
We end October by spending two days in our favorite city to relax in, Thessaloniki. We just wrote our “Eat Local in” guide to this city and it has me reminiscing about how much I truly love this city. (And yes, I realize I love a LOT of cities) It was so nice to be back in the city that was our refuge while we lived in Rome. It was the perfect way to end the month of chaotic travel! In October we visited 6! countries! It was a whirlwind for sure and inevitably I got sick. So it was nice to relax in a city that we know and love.
After Thessaloniki we headed off to our second workaway experience which ended up being so amazing that the first one doesn’t even count anymore. We said with Melanie and Visalli in a little village just outside of Sparta. We helped them plant olive trees, Alex chopped a lot of firewood and we also helped with some repairs on their cottage. It was a nice place to decompress and explore nature. Plus being surrounded by all the ancient olive trees felt like stepping back in time to Ancient Greece!
We bid our time among the olive trees as the weather was getting a bit cooler and headed even farther south to Rhodes to help out on a yoga retreat. While we actually did ZERO yoga, I did get to design a website for the yoga retreat center (something I really have never done) and have my photos featured! Alex on the other hand got down and dirty with more physical labor.
Due to visa constraints we ended up being in Rhodes for only a week, although not consecutively because I screwed up. So we dashed off to the southern coast of Turkey to the charming seaside town of Marmaris. This city is definitely built for tourism; the amount of fish and chips places (all closed) was astounding but because we visited in off season we were able to see where all the local Turks eat. It was nice to see that resort towns still have local places where you can drink raki, eat local fresh fish, and of course have numerous cups of tea. I don’t think you can come to Turkey without have at least a dozen cups of tea a day and Turkey and tea will always be linked in my mind!
We finished up November and begin December in Athens. I have always loved Athens for its history but it was not until this trip that I appreciated modern Athens. And I don’t think I would have had that appreciation if we had not taken a “tour” with This is My Athens, a company that offers free tours with locals who live in Athens. The amount of time Alexandros spent with us (waaayyy over the original 2 hours) and the depth and insight he gave us about the city opened up Athens to us. We went to an art gallery in the middle of a street filled with brothels; we explored the local markets and were introduced to a local taverna with no name and is one of the oldest in the city. We saw an Athens that we may never have discovered without a local’s insight and we cannot wait to go back and explore more! (And expect a pretty in depth “Eat Local in Athens” guide soon!)
Rome, Portugal and London
We are finally rounding out the year! We sure did a lot, huh? In the final month of 2015 we revisited our old stomping ground, Rome. In a whirlwind four day trip we connected with old friends and old pubs, along with running all over the city to research for our Eat Local in Rome guide plus a new ebook we are working on! It was great to be back in the city that means so much to us even if it drives us somewhat insane as well! We also were able to take a tour with my good friend, Massimo. He is the creator the Courtesans Tour and it is a fascinating look at the Renaissance women who were able to ensnare a king, pose for artists, and turn the world’s oldest profession into a career. If you are looking to see a different side of Rome this is the tour to check out! There are so many hidden treasures all over Rome and Massimo will definitely help you uncover them!
After Rome we hightailed it to Portugal to meet up with my family for an early Christmas celebration. We started in Lisbon which stunned us with its historic Alfama, its own Golden Gate Bridge, bifanas and stunning tile work. We were enchanted by the city. Lisbon was a fantastic place to reconnect with my family after 8 months on the road. We then headed down to the Algarve for some relaxation.
Unfortunately resort towns are not very authentic so we felt a little cheated. We were no longer in Portugal but some golf resort in Palm Springs. This would have been fine had we only traveled to Palm Springs from San Francisco but as my family had come all the way to Europe they, naturally, wanted to see Europe. So we climbed into our clown car (aka 8 person van) and headed to Sevilla. This was the best decision EVER. Sevilla is a stunning Spanish city and was so full of life! We took in the sites, ate tapas and churros, watched amazing flamenco and indulged in Spanish wine and beer. Plus we stayed in quite possibly the most beautiful hotel I have ever seen. It used to be a palace!
After celebrating Christmas with a dinner back at the resort we headed back to Lisbon and everyone departed, my family back to California and Alex and I off to London to housesit. London at Christmas time is lovely and it has been a perfect place to relax and spend a quite holiday. And tonight we are off to ring in the New Year with 20’s jazz and a Parisian cancan performance!
So that is 2015. We did quite a lot and this is just the highlights! So what is next up for us and In Pursuit of Adventure???
Sayonara 2015 and Hello 2016
2016 sees us returning to Barcelona!! We have talked about why a little bit but the idea is that we are returning to Barcelona to write a comprehensive guide to the city and Catalan cuisine! The guide will be both an ebook and a printed book which we are going to self-publish. We cannot be more excited for this new opportunity and for the chance to expand IPoA beyond the blog!
After 45 days in Barcelona things are still up in the air. We most likely will be returning to America to work and save some more money as we are scrapping the barrel of our bank accounts. Turns out we are real shit at attempting to freelance (key word is attempting… I am sure people who actually work towards it make money freelancing) and we want to be able to focus on writing the Barcelona guide and not have to worry about moving around constantly.
At this moment in time we are still debating where to go. There have been talks of settling (temporarily) in Puerto Rico, Miami or even back in California. Only time will tell!
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
What are your plans for 2016? Have any exciting travels planned? Let us know in the comments and Happy New Years!!
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