It’s that time again! Yes, 2018 has flown by and so it’s time to sit down, look back and reminisce about the year that was. This past year I visited the least number of countries since I embarked on this full-time travel/blogger/vlogger adventure back in 2013, but that’s a good thing because I was needing a bit of a break.
I started 2018 feeling pretty burned out. So much so that I didn’t want to board a single plane, travel to any new places, or have any new experiences – nothing related to travel. I was exhausted and feeling a lot of anxiety stemming from too many trips the previous year; reading last year’s recap it looks like I ran around 21 countries – that’s crazy! So, in 2018 we slowed down and made it to 9 countries, including plenty of time at home in Canada.
My 2018 may have started a little rocky, but I’m happy to say that I did eventually manage to find some balance. Looking back at this year, I’m glad that the trips I did take included family, like touring Europe with Sam’s parents, celebrating my Grandma’s 90th birthday in Peru, and road tripping to the Rockies with my parents.
It was a year of growth, realizing prioritize, and gaining perspective, so let’s take a look back, shall we?
Our 2018 travels kicked off with our (almost) annual winter escape with Sam’s parents. Over the years we’ve been very fortunate to do Southeast Asia, South America and India together, and this winter we set off on a mini Eurotrip.
First up was Portugal. We landed in Lisbon and since Sam and I had previously visited the city, we had a few favourite spots to share with his parents. We did a lot of the classic activities like riding tram 28 across the city, visiting the Moorish Castelo Sao Jorge, strolling along the Tagus in Belem, and eating lots of pasteis de nata – our favourite were from Manteigaria.
After a few days in Lisbon, we hopped on a bus and travelled a few hours north to Porto. The city charmed us from the start. We did a wine and chocolate tasting at Croft, enjoyed the city views from the upper and lower levels of the Luis I Bridge, ate the famous francesinha at Bufete Fase, and set foot inside Livraria Lello – one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
We then bid Portugal farewell for its neighbour to the east.
Our first stop in Spain was Madrid. Some of the highlights included visiting Chocolateria San Gines for churros and hot chocolate multiple times over the course of our stay, wandering down the halls of the Prado Museum, and just strolling the streets of Centro in search of tapas.
After Madrid, we continued on to Valencia by train, and what a pleasant surprise that was! We found an apartment right across from the Mercado Central and visited pretty much every day in search of a quick lunch or supplies to cook a meal back at our place. We also did plenty of restaurant and cafe-hopping across town eating our fill of paella, fideuá, and horchata with fartons. That was my kind of trip – one focused on food!
Our last stop in Spain was Granada. We were drawn here by the Alhambra, but also enjoyed watching a flamenco show, shopping at the Moroccan Market, and climbing up to the various miradores for city views. Our only mistake was underestimating winters in Granada – the city sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and it was bone-chilling cold!
Then we were off to Italy where we visited three new destinations.
We kicked things off in Rome, the Eternal City, where we were surrounded by living history wherever we turned. We did all the things a first-time visitor to Rome would; we visited the Colosseum and the ruins of Palatine Hill, we climbed the Spanish Steps, and even braved the crowds inside the Vatican Museum…but I didn’t like Rome. I found the streets so congested with traffic and the attractions so crammed with visitors to the point where being there wasn’t enjoyable. And that was in the middle of winter during what’s supposedly the off-season – I’m starting to think there is no off-season…
But I looked for positives and one thing I did enjoy in Rome was the food. In fact, my favourite moment in this city was trying every single slice of pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli. The staff happily obliged and kept calling us over every time a new pizza came out of the oven!
From Rome, we hopped on a train and travelled up to Florence, the city of art and culture. We got an apartment with a balcony that overlooked the Duomo, and used this as our base to explore the city. We spent hours admiring the works housed in Galleria dell’Accademia, the Uffizi Gallery, and the open-air gallery of Loggia dei Lanzi – not to mention the Duomo, which is a work of art in and of itself!
I enjoyed what Florence had to offer, but I also encountered many of the same frustrations I had in Rome…and that would continue in Venice.
Venice was beautiful, especially since our visit coincided with an epic snowstorm that blanketed the entire city. We rode the canals, ate in osterias, and allowed ourselves to get lost in the maze of dead-end streets, but I felt like I was constantly competing for space.
You see, the 3 cities we visited in Italy are strikingly beautiful, but they are also some of the most-visited destinations in all of Europe. This trip through Italy was a reminder that many cities are suffering from over-tourism, and that as a traveller it’s worth veering towards smaller towns and less visited cities.
After Italy, we took an overnight ferry from Ancona to Split. Sam and I had done an overnight crossing with Jadrolinija the previous year, though on the Dubrovnik-Bari route, and since we enjoyed it, we thought it’d be fun to take the ferry again.
Our first stop was Split, where we lucked out with a massive apartment mere footsteps from Peristil Square. That meant we had Jupiter’s Temple, Saint Domnius Cathedral, and the Basement Halls of Diocletian’s Palace right at our doorstep. The Old Town was a pleasure to explore on foot, and we also found some great foodie spots like Konoba Fetivi for seafood and Bokeria Kitchen & Wine Bar for a black truffle mayo burger.
Having spent a few days in Split, we hopped on a bus and travelled down to Dubrovnik. This time around, our apartment was a bit of a walk from the Old Town, which meant we had incredible views of the walled city, but we also had to climb hundreds of steps up the mountain twice a day. Perhaps a good thing after all the meals we had been indulging in! We really enjoyed our time in the city, especially walking along the city walls, visiting Fort Lovrijenac, and exploring the Old Port.
Greece was the final country of our whirlwind European family tour. We spent a few days in Athens where we toured the ruins of the Acropolis, browsed the Monastiraki Flea Market, and marvelled at the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, before continuing on to Santorini.
Rather than flying, we decided to take the ferry from Piraeus, which unbeknownst to us made stops at a few other islands along the way. We stopped in Paros, Naxos and Ios, and every time we docked I kept thinking, island hopping around Greece one day would be beautiful!
I enjoyed Santorini, but I will say that we visited in the off-season and only went to Oia for a quick visit. Instead, we opted to do things like take a boat trip to Nea Kameni National Geological Park, hike Mount Profitis Ilias, visit the ruins of Akrotiri, and use the public bus system to explore quieter parts of the island. Our time in Santorini was outdoorsy and active.
From there, we flew back to Canada to rest for a bit and regroup.
It’s become an almost annual tradition to travel to Peru, but this visit was extra special because we were there to celebrate my Grandma’s 90th birthday! What a momentous occasion. She has 3 children, 6 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren and everyone that was able to travel there came to celebrate with her. It was a big reunion with family from Canada, Brazil, Germany and Peru.
Unlike previous trips to Peru, we didn’t do any travel around the country and opted to stay in Lima the whole time. Not a single complaint there! It was good to spend time close to family, plus, Lima is the foodie capital of Latin America, so Sam and I made it our mission to restaurant hop across the city. We even visited several restaurants by Peruvian celebrity chef and national icon Gastón Acurio.
Oh, and after all that feasting across town, I also had my 4 wisdom teeth removed. I looked like a bruised chipmunk for a good week, but after putting that surgery off for over a decade, I’m glad that was finally taken care of.
After returning from Peru, we had some more time at home in Canada, and then we hopped on a flight to Antigua, one half of the two-island nation known as Antigua and Barbuda. We were there to attend a mini-conference run by Traverse and to also explore the island.
It was a fun week with friends and highlights included taking a cooking class where every dish had rum, attending the famous Sunday Party at Shirley Heights, and hanging out on catamarans during Antigua Sailing Week.
After some more time in Canada, we got ready to finally visit Japan! This was one of our dream bucket list destinations that we wanted to visit this year.
I always thought Sam and I would visit Japan when we first finished teaching English in Korea – I mean, it was just a skip and a hop away – but we were ultra-budget travellers back then and we were worried about the cost of travel in Japan.
In hindsight, I’m glad we waited until we were a bit older and financially stable to visit (even if it took us 5 years!) because on this trip we were able to travel slow and indulge in all the experiences we wanted to.
We spent a total of 2 months travelling in Japan and visited cities like Osaka, Nara, Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Kyoto. Not to mention all the day trips from Tokyo to places like Mount Takao, Kamakura, Yokohama and Odaiba.
We did learn a big lesson on this trip: don’t travel to Japan in the summer! The first few weeks of our trip were fine, but by the time July rolled around, we were suffering in the heat and humidity. Not ideal for sightseeing.
While the first half of 2018 was spent travelling internationally, the second half was spent at home in Canada. I said no to all international travel for the rest of the year, though I did go on a few mini-trips in my own country.
My favourite adventure was going on a family road trip to the Canadian Rockies! My parents had been wanting to see the Rockies ever since they moved to Canada, so we finally decided to just drive out there. The trip itself came together quite quickly and just a few weeks after toying with the idea, we were packing the car and setting off westward with the dog in tow.
It was a long four and a half days of driving from Ontario to British Columbia, but getting there was magical! I wrote a little recap with some of the highlights from the Canadian Rockies here.
Shortly after our trip to the Rockies, Sam and I were invited to come and experience the Eastern Townships and we jumped at the opportunity. We had previously travelled to Montreal and Quebec City, but this was our first time seeing a different side of the province. We split our time between Sutton and Mont-Mégantic National Park going on lots of scenic hikes, staying in unique accommodations (we’re talking cosy forest chalets and spacey futuristic cabins!) and eating our weight in poutine and maple pies.
After our trip to Quebec, Sam and I spent some time visiting his parents in Fredericton. We arrived during peak foliage season and it was a beautiful time to be in the city and go for leisurely walks along the riverfront and on the walking bridge. Our time here was very relaxed; we spent lots of quality family time, enjoyed delicious meals prepared by Sam’s mom, watched lots of crime dramas while attempting to snuggle Hobie the Maine Coon, and pretty much just relaxed for a few weeks.
And that brings us to Christmas and New Years. We’re sticking around Canada this year and my family has rented a cottage in the Kawartha Lakes, so it should be a fun week of family meals, board games around the fireplace, and tobogganing until our toes go numb.
I’m also very happy to say that I feel good. Slowing down has done wonders for me. After a rocky start to 2018, I feel healthy, I feel more balanced, and I feel like me.
What’s coming up in 2019?
We only have one plan at the moment: Argentina.
We’re going to be spending quite a bit of time there this coming year, starting off with a 3-month trip travelling all over the country. We’ve spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires in the past so we want to prioritize provinces that neither Sam nor I have been to before and really get to know the country.
For now, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has stopped by this blog over the past year and I wish you all a Happy New Year!