2017 was a year of firsts for me; the first time I had the confidence to travel alone; the first time I visited mainland Spain; the first time I got trapped on a metro at night…oh wait, we’re not talking about that one yet! It was a year full of fantastic travel experiences and exciting opportunities as I balanced full time work with various freelance projects. As always, there’s much I feel I didn’t have time for, and my list of places to see and things to do seems to grow by the minute. Here’s a few of my travel highlights from the last 12 months:
Exploring the ruins of Ancient Rome
2017 got off to a flying start with a visit to Rome. I’m not going to lie; it was somewhat of an impulsive decision. I was sick of the Scottish winter, sick of waiting for someone else to be free to come with me, fueled by gin, and just decided “Bugger it, I’ll go myself.” It was perhaps one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, not just because it was a city I’d wanted to visit since childhood, but also because I learned how liberating it can be to travel alone. January was an excellent time to visit; the weather was surprisingly pleasant and the city was quiet enough that you didn’t have to contend with crowds. I was also lucky enough to be invited along on a food tour with Secret Food Tours Rome – an experience I’d recommend to anyone looking for a fun and quirky way to get to know a city. There was so much to love about Rome; the ancient ruins, the architecture, the food, the espressos…the only problem? Three days was not enough. It did, however, give me plenty of writing material:
Surviving a London heatwave
June 2017 will always go down in history as one of the weirdest yet strangely most wonderful birthdays in memory. I was talked into a last-minute jaunt down to London. It just so happened to coincide with one of my besties moving there. Emotions were running high and so was the thermometer. London was experiencing one of its most epic heatwaves in years, and it quickly turned out to make for a rather interesting travel experience. Finding it too sunny to be indoors but too hot to cope outdoors, the afternoon of the 27th was spent lying semi-clothed in my pal’s back garden, taking turns to douse ourselves with hose in a somewhat thwarted effort to stay cool. As much as I love London, an hour spent on broken-down underground train in mid-thirties heat quickly reminded me why I should be more grateful to live in a country as predictably cold as Scotland.
Heading to London soon? Check out my guide to the best markets the city has to offer.
Reliving my childhood days on a remote Scottish island
The island of Hoy, just off the Orcadian mainland, is and always will be one of my favourite spots on earth. It’s got all the rugged beauty you could ever want for a trip in to the wilderness, and despite only being 30 minutes by ferry from Stromness has all the remote charm needed to make you forget about the outside world for a while. Our family were hit by a bit of bad news this summer, and it was touch and go about whether or not our camping trip would go ahead. In some ways, that trip will always be tinged with sadness for us; in others, it was cathartic. I hadn’t spent time on Hoy since I was a child, and being there again for a few days, scavenging around on Rackwich Beach and having a midnight dip in the freezing cold burn, brought back so many fond memories from when I was wee. It’s funny how a place can make you feel, sometimes.
Here’s a couple of pieces inspired by the island:
Exploring the banks of Loch Ard, Scotland
Loch Ard is one of the 22 lochs that make up the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park in Scotland. I was lucky enough to spend a little time here in September as one of my oldest pals tied the knot at the gorgeous Altskeith House. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting, and at just over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, was a sharp reminder to me how you don’t have to travel far in Scotland to be blown away by stunning scenery. One of my resolutions for 2018 is to spend a little more time exploring my home ground, and now that I’ve got a car, I plan to do just that. Next up? Aviemore and Loch Ness!
Acquainting myself with Madrid’s tapas bars
I spent a day in Madrid in late September; while 24 hours was not nearly enough time to see the sights, it was certainly enough time to sample some of its culinary delights. In case you can’t tell, that’s a bit of a priority for me when travelling! I love Spanish food, and I’m a massive fan of tapas dining. The Mercado de San Miguel, a historic food market in the centre of the city, was the perfect place for a mid-afternoon pit-stop (I’m still dreaming about those potato croquettes), while at night, it was all about the tapas bar crawl in the La Latina district.
Check out my feature on how to make the most out 24 hours in Madrid here.
Exploring the Real Alcazar, Seville
There’s so much to love about Seville, and I’d implore anyone travelling in Spain to make the city a priority on their itinerary. Gorgeous weather and tapas bars aside, one of the things that struck me about the city was the architecture. There’s a steady mix of European and Moorish design throughout the ancient streets, but without question, one of the most breathtaking buildings was the Real Alcazar. This royal palace was originally designed by Muslim kings back in the 14th Century, and is still used as an official house of residence by the Spanish royal family today. You could easily spend a day exploring the labyrinth of buildings and gardens, and that’s exactly what I did. Stunning stuff.
You can read more about fun things to in Seville here.
Daytripping in the Lake District
It’s easy to take for granted how lucky I am to live in a country so well connected for travel. Take October, for example, when I was able to join my brother and his family for a whistlestop tour of the Lake District, all in the space of a day. It only takes an hour and a half to get to Penrith from Edinburgh, yet with the misty lakes and rolling hills looming into view as the train drew closer, it felt a whole lot further. I have to admit, other than regular jaunts to London, I don’t venture South of the Border much, but hopefully in 2018 that’ll change (I’ve got a trip to Newcastle penciled in). The Lake District is absolutely stunning, particularly once you venture outside of the tourists honeypots like Windermere. We were lucky enough to have a car for exploring; I’d definitely recommend hiring one if you’re keen to get off the beaten track.
Chilling out in the Szechenyi baths, Budapest
At the end of 2017, I was lucky enough to be invited out by the local tourism board to research why Budapest is the perfect place to escape for a festive getaway. While the hilltop castles, Christmas markets and mulled wine stalls were tempting, I’m not going to lie; what I was most looking forward to was an afternoon spent relaxing in the historic Szechenyi Baths. It did not disappoint. There’s something incredibly surreal yet wonderful about dashing across a courtyard in sub-zero temperatures to plunge into warm, steamy waters. The baths are rumoured to have medicinal properties, and it’s easy to believe; within minutes, every ache and pain seemed to ease away, and even the icy cold plunge pools left you feeling surprisingly refreshed and rejuvenated! Budapest is built upon a network of natural hot springs, and there are countless baths across the city worth exploring. If we’d had more time, I would have loved a trip to the Gellert Baths. There’s something incredibly alluring about the idea of swimming around in a cathedral-like building.
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So where shall my blethers take me next?
A new year means a new diary. A new diary means new plans. New plans means new adventures! While I’m still at a very early stage with planning my travels for 2018 I’ve already got a few things in the pipeline including:
A jaunt down to Newcastle
A trip to Aviemore to review the Macdonald Resort
A road trip around Loch Ness and the surrounding area
Various weekends in London catching up with friends and seeing shows
A week in Italy, exploring Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast
A long weekend home to enjoy the Orkney Folk Festival
Walking the West Highland Way, Scotland
Do you have any exciting plans for the year ahead? Feel free to share your recommendations!
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