Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2013 travel round-up

Another year over, and what a year it was! 2013 proved to be another intense year of travel for us, with ten countries visited, eight of them new. When I sat down to write last year's travel round-up post, we already had a few trips already planned or booked, but as the year progressed, unforeseen opportunities arose that we just couldn't ignore, resulting in a few extremely busy months. This, combined with a very heavy year at work, meant that I dropped the ball completely when it came to blogging during the second half of the year, but will be recapping the remaining trips very soon - new year, fresh inspiration!

Here's a summary of where 2013 took us...

After our incredible experience with the Northern Lights in Iceland during February 2012, I hadn't been able to get the dancing streams of colour out of my head. Desperate to see them once more, we travelled to Finnish Lapland in February, where I took a photography class to hone my Aurora photography skills and we were fortunate to see them not once, but three nights running. It truly was an unforgettable week, cementing my belief that the Lights are the most incredible natural phenomenon in the world. Alongside spending hours gazing up at the sky at night, we also took an exhilarating huskie sleigh ride and visited a Sami reindeer farm.

Late March saw us spend a week in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, watching the azure water crash against the old walls and wandering the many steep streets and alleys. The early sun warmed our bones, the food was fresh and delicious, and we found plenty of entertainment to fill our days.

I was able to fulfil a life-long dream in May, when we flew to Copenhagen for a weekend to see the Eurovision Song Contest live in Malmo, a short train ride away from the Danish capital. Being part of a huge crowd of similarly excited fans from around the world was absolutely incredible, and the trip also allowed us time to explore the picturesque city and say hello to its famous mermaid.

May continued to be a busy month as I travelled to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, for a week with a close friend. We were impressed with the city's beauty and atmosphere, throwing away the map and allowing our feet (and the occasional tram) to determine our direction. Over five days, we visited vastly different neighbourhoods, explored castles and ruined convents and even fitted in a day at the beach.

The summer proved to be travel-packed, beginning with a week in Switzerland. We based ourselves in Kandersteg, a chocolate-box small town perfectly situated for exploring the region. I'd visited once before, six years ago, and was excited to show F the areas I most fondly remembered. We spent a few days hiking, twice returning to a stunning glacial lake nestled between snow-capped mountains, hopped on the train to Bern for a day and stuffed ourselves full of creamy fondue.

Our next stop was Norway, where we hired a car and spent almost two weeks discovering the southern and central parts of the country. Our days were packed with hikes, boat and kayaking trips along fjords, gazing up at huge, crashing waterfalls and hours of endless stretches of road. We briefly nipped across the border into Sweden, finally flying to Tromso for a few days before continuing further north to Longyearbyen on Svalbard.

Ever since our incredible journey to Antarctica in 2011, I'd been itching to head to the opposite pole. Finally, after months of saving, we boarded an Arctic cruise in early August, spending ten days circumnavigating Spitsbergen. Luck was most definitely on our side, as we travelled far north into the pack ice, encountering some thirty polar bears on the way, watched a blue whale glide slowly passed the ship and belugas dance on the waves, spent an afternoon on a beach surrounded by walruses and hiked a glacier. To round up the trip, we visited the wonderfully unique Russian settlement of Barentsburg before wishing our boat a fond farewell.

We'd barely touched back down in the UK when we were off once again, this time for a very short visit back to Iceland. Tickets had been released earlier in the year for a chance to descend deep into an old magma chamber inside Thrihnukagigur volcano, and having missed out the year before, we were determined not to pass up the opportunity. The experience was incredible, as was seeing Iceland once again, this time during the summer months.

After a Europe-centred year of travel thus far, in October we set our sights a little further, jetting off to Tanzania on safari. We were blown away by the range of wildlife we encountered, from close encounters with cheetahs and watching lions stripping a fresh kill to its bones, to laughing as inquisitive mongoose popped in and out of holes and young warthogs scuttered on tiny legs to keep up with the adults.

Ending the year on a high note and temporarily escaping the dreary December cold, we spent six days in Marrakech, Morocco, waking each morning to the evocative calls to prayer from a nearby mosque and wandering the souks, senses overloaded at the dazzling colours, sounds and smells. A two-day camel trek into the Western Sahara contrasted completely with our time in the city, sounds falling away to nothing as we gazed upon the crisp full moon.

So many new memories made, people met and dreams realised. It's been our most expensive year to date, but worth every single penny spent. Who knows what new adventures 2014 will bring, but in the meantime, please check back soon for full recaps of our summer trips, autumn safari and time in Marrakech.


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