A Year of Travel 2017: Where We Went, What We Learnt & What’s Next

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A Year of Travel 2017: Where We Went, What We Learnt & What's Next

2017 has been an excellent year for travel. Despite us not accruing many air miles, we’ve been busily packing in a lot of European trips and visits to towns and cities around the UK. We’ve visited some amazing new places, re-discovered familiar favourites, eaten some inventive veggie and vegan food (since becoming pescatarians a little over a year ago) and attended some fun events.

One thing we’ve focused on this year is ensuring we get under the skin of the communities we visit and to get off the beaten track more. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves along the way and really honed what kind of travel we prefer and the kind of travellers we’d like to be.

In this post, we’ll be reviewing our year of travel, highlighting our favourite destinations, going over some stats and looking forward to what’s to come in 2018.

Contents

We travelled a lot in 2017, so this post is quite large. To help you navigate and/or to jump to a particular section of interest, here’s a clickable list of contents.

A Year of Travel 2017: In Numbers

To begin, let’s go over a few stats.

Our Travel Stats

Countries visited: 7

New countries for Matt: 2, for Jade: 4

UK counties visited: 12

National Trust properties/sites visited: 8

Airbnb’s stayed in: 11

Churches/cathedrals/chapels visited: 28

Indoor rainforests visited: 1

Lakes visited: 2

Castles & palaces visited: 5

Number of broken suitcases: 2

Our Travels Abroad in 2017

With so many diverse and exciting places to visit just over the English Channel and so many cheap flight deals, we can’t help but explore what our European friends and neighbours have to offer. Here’s a summary of our overseas travel in 2017.

A helpful reminder of where you are at Berlin's East Side Gallery
A helpful reminder of where you are at Berlin’s East Side Gallery

Berlin

We started 2017 with a long weekend stay in the ultra-hip and freezing cold city of Berlin. Despite Jade being ill throughout the weekend, we both had a great time visiting museums, admiring the beautiful architecture and street art and intermittently popping into cafes, restaurants and bars to get out of the cold. 

We were keen to make good use of Berlin’s fabulous food scene, hunting down some top vegan eats across the city, including vegan kebabs at a super-cool bar called Chaostheorie and vegan doughnuts at Brammibal’s!

We even managed to get some veggie Currywurst at the Deutsche Currywurst Museum, which not only has exhibits showing the history of Berlin’s favourite snack, but also has a small on-site cafe. As well as learning everything there is to know about Currywurst, we pretended to serve sausages out of a van, listened to audio clips out of ketchup bottles and climbed into a box of giant fries. We’re still not sure if you were supposed to do that!

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The DDR Museum provided an insight into what life was like in former East Germany. Real products and paraphernalia from the era and an elaborate set designed to look like an old housing block which we were free to explore helped us get a taster of the former communist state.

The highlight of our weekend was a visit to the remarkable Tropical Islands resort, an enourmous swimming and spa complex set inside a giant disused aircraft hangar, complete with tropical rainforest, restaurants and even accommodation. We would definitely recommend you visit! It’s a far cry from the likes of Bali, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to get the train from Berlin (unless you’re reading this in Indonesia).

Top Tip: If it’s your birthday, you can get into Tropical Islands Resort for FREE, even if you’re an adult!

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Italy & Lugano, Switzerland

Having travelled to Italy several times with his family during his childhood, Matt is very familiar with Italy. Jade on the other hand had never been. In May 2017, we sought to correct this and we therefore headed to Italy.

It's here: Jade helpfully points outs the massive Duomo di Milano
It’s here: Jade helpfully points outs the massive Duomo di Milano

Milan

Milan was our first stop. What we found was a lively, cosmopolitan city obsessed with coffee and socialising over long lunches. The highlight of our visit was Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano), a spectacular building both inside and out. We loved that we could walk about on the roof, which offered fabulous views of the city below and allowed a closer look at a forest of sculpture-topped spires.

What we didn’t love so much was the queue. It was ENORMOUS! When we saw it, we couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing. We headed to the front of the queue to find that it was just the queue to buy tickets. Unbelievably, once you had a ticket, there was another queue for entrance to the cathedral itself.

Weirdly, we noticed that despite the long queue for tickets, there was a solid flow of people seemingly skipping the queue and walking into and out of the ticket hall. We followed suit and found that we had accidentally skipped the line entirely. Inside, it was a little chaotic, but we found a self-service ticket machine and successful bought ourselves some tickets.

We were lucky (and a bit naughty) and we don’t recommend following suit. Instead, buy your tickets online in advance with our ticketing partner (see the box below). Once you have your booking confirmation, take it with you and show it to a member of staff in the ticket office. No queuing outside required.

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The heart-breakingly pretty village of Argegno on Lake Como, Italy
The heart-breakingly pretty village of Argegno on Lake Como, Italy

Argegno & Lake Como

Drawn by postcard images of sparkling blue waters surrounded by lush mountain peaks, we took the train from Milan to Lake Como. It took us a while to decide on the village we would be staying in during our visit, but we ended up choosing little-known Argegno as our base. We wanted to avoid crowds of tourists and get a more local, authentic feel during our visit and that’s precisely what we got.

Our decision was aided by the fact Argegno is home to an incredible Airbnb, still the best Airbnb we’ve ever stayed in. It was also handy that Argegno is home to a fabulous cable car which takes visitors up to the beautiful, peaceful and historic village of Pigra.

Whilst in Lake Como we also visited Menaggio, Tremezzo, Varenna and Como but Argegno really captured our hearts the most.

We’ll bring you more on our visit to Argegno in a future post. We have lots to share.

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Monte San Salvatore stands tall across the waters of Lake Lugano
Monte San Salvatore stands tall across the waters of Lake Lugano

Lugano, Switzerland

Lake Como’s proximity to Switzerland was too much for us to resist and one very hot and sunny day, we crossed the border by train. We had planned to explore Lugano and perhaps climb one of the two mountains that flank the city’s suburbs. Instead, beaten by an unwieldy heat, we spent most of our day swimming in the lake at Lugano Lido. We don’t regret anything!

Related post: Our Cross-Border Day Trip from Como to Lugano

Duomo di Bergamo
The almost monochrome gorgeousness of Duomo di Bergamo

Bergamo

Bergamo was a beautiful and unexpected surprise. We managed to squeeze in a visit on our way to the airport and we are so glad we did! We still can’t quite comprehend the awesomeness of the ceiling in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

We loved spending a few hours in Bergamo, so much we wrote a post on why you should visit and how easy it is to do so.

Related post: 6 Reasons Why You Should Visit Bergamo

Four City Tour

One of the major things were discovered about ourselves in 2017 was that we’re not very keen on multi-city trips. We learnt that we much prefer to spend longer in a couple of places at most and not tear about like lunatics, trying to see as much as we possibly can.

This personal discovery occurred during a multi-city trip, starting in Bratislava and ending in Prague with Vienna and Brno in between. While the entire tour was exhausting, we liked each of the cities in isolation, although not all equally.

Bratislava's Old Town as seen from Bratislava Castle
Bratislava’s Old Town as seen from Bratislava Castle

Bratislava, Slovakia

We really liked Bratislava. Our Airbnb was right in the centre of the Old Town, meaning we didn’t have to travel too far to explore the cobbled streets and medieval architecture. One of the first things we did upon arrival was head to the top of the Old Town Hall clock tower to get a good look at the city. What we saw was a city that had been well preserved and looked after and compact enough to explore on foot.

Castles were a highlight during our short visit to the Slovakian capital. Bratislava Castle, a short walk from the city centre, offered plenty of artwork and a particularly lavish staircase which proved great for selfies.

We were impressed by the dramatic ruins of Devín Castle, around 45 minutes outside the city centre by bus. If you’re at all interested in castles, you’ll love wandering about the grounds, walking up stone steps to see where they lead and admiring the views over the Danube.

Related post: Bratislava: 8 Veggie-Friendly Places to Eat & Drink in the Slovak Capital

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Ornate facades are commonplace along streets in central Vienna
Ornate facades are commonplace along streets in central Vienna

Vienna, Austria

This would be our second visit to Austria together, having previously visited Salzburg.

Having come from the less touristy, much smaller neighbouring city of Bratislava, being in Vienna came as a bit of a shock. We found the busyness of the centre and the size of the city a little overwhelming. We also found prices generally were considerably higher than anticipated. As a result, we didn’t enjoy our time in Vienna as much as we had expected to. We just didn’t feel like we were in tune with the city’s vibe.

That’s certainly not to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves.

We really enjoyed browsing the flea market for hidden treasures and finding interesting things to eat at nearby Naschmarkt. We also enjoyed a nighttime ride on Wiener Riesenrad, a giant ferris wheel in Prater amusement park, and taking photos of the awesome street art on the walls running along the banks of the Danube.

We loved our bright, spacious, airy and out of the way Airbnb as it afforded us some great relaxation time between bouts of sightseeing.

In Vienna, we learnt that in big cities we certainly prefer to get off the main tourist route and take it easy. So in a strange way, we’re grateful to Vienna for helping us to find this out about ourselves and for allowing us to do so.

'What's that!': Matt inspects the underside of a horse statue in Brno, Czech Republic
‘What’s that!’: Matt inspects the underside of a horse statue in Brno, Czech Republic

Brno, Czech Republic

Brno, Czech Republic was a complete revelation and our favourite city of the four we visited. We both think it deserves a great deal more attention than it currently receives.

For starters, the city centre is compact and very pretty. Red tiled roofs sit atop colourful well cared for buildings with brightly coloured flowers bursting from window boxes. While the city is architecturally medieval, the general vibe is much more youthful, thanks to a large student population.

Brno has some very cheeky modern art displayed around the city and in its galleries. Look out for a car with three boobs, a big black phallus (apparently an astronomical clock) and an equestrian statue that affords an “interesting” perspective when viewed from underneath.

Top Tip: The Moravian Gallery has some fabulous modern art inside. Entrance to the permanent exhibitions is free. If you want to pay to enter the temporary exhibitions, have a good look at the multiple discounts on offer. Some (like 50% off for Ikea Family card holders) are rather unexpected.

We were  incredibly moved when visiting the Museum of Romani Culture. The museum has been beautifully put together and tells the story of Romani people across the centuries, with well-crafted exhibits on their origins, insights about their culture and traditions, and accounts of their persecution throughout the ages. The museum is set in the heart of the local Romani community, which provides an unfortunate but eye-opening contrast to the rest of the city owing to the evident levels of poverty endured here.

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Vyšehrad Cemetery and the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul in Prague, Czech Republic
Vyšehrad Cemetery and the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul in Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Our tour came to a finale in Prague, the Czech capital. If we think we felt overwhelmed by tourists in Vienna, we would need to invent a new word to describe how we felt upon arriving in Prague. The city was breathtakingly busy with tourists! We’d go as far as saying it was overrun!

Within hours of our arrival, we found ourselves dodging through crowds in the streets surrounding the cathedral as we headed to the Charles Bridge. The bridge itself was so intensely busy that we didn’t manage to cross it, giving up a third of the way across. From that point on, we decided that rather than join the crowds at the main tourist attractions, we would focus our attention on Prague’s lesser known attractions.

We loved the peace of Petřín Hill, a large and leafy landscaped garden on a tall hill overlooking the city centre. It is home to an observation tower, constructed in the style of the Eiffel Tower, which can be seen from all over Prague and which provides fabulous views. Walking up the steps to the top was exciting since it was blowing a gale and the staircase rather exposed. Weirdly, our ticket included entry to the nearby hall of mirrors which was pretty fun, though not worth making a special trip for.

Vyšehrad is an ancient fort and home to a park, church and a beautiful cemetery where a number of notable Czechs have been laid to rest. It didn’t matter that we didn’t recognise any of the names in the cemetery. The graves were all impressive and unique, some depicting busts of the individuals laid to rest underneath. We particularly liked the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul whose interior was covered from top to bottom with gold-coloured illustrations.

On our last morning in the Prague, we headed to the Public Transport Museum, a large shed full to the brim with a selection of Prague’s decommissioned buses and trams. The exhibits had been lovingly maintained and even the oldest horse-drawn trams were in fabulous condition. Despite it being a Saturday, the museum was quiet which meant we could wander about and climb aboard the ageing vehicles without feeling rushed.

Hikers test the edges of the magnificent White Cliffs of Dover in Kent, UK
Hikers test the edges of the magnificent White Cliffs of Dover in Kent, UK

Adventures Closer To Home

One of our aims in 2017 (and in 2018) was to have lots of adventures closer to home, as well as abroad. Travel doesn’t necessarily need to involve planes and trains, so we endeavoured to make the most of our weekends and explore our home country.

Our London-based explorations saw us gawp at the Winter Lights at Canary Wharf, cheer world-class gymnastics in Greenwich, enjoy World Athletics and Para Athletics in Stratford and discover the History of Magic at the British Library’s Harry Potter exhibition.

Closer to home, we got to know the town’s of Hitchin and Bedford, went on an all-too-brief indoor skydiving session, watched steam engines circulate a show ground in Knebworth, wander about Ely Cathedral during its Eel Festival (and ate some interesting eel and eel-themed food) and toured Hertford Castle.

Even further afield, we walked Dover’s white cliffs and tried vegan “ribs” in Canterbury during a short trip around Kent. We visited Hull during it’s tenure as UK Capital of Culture and stayed in a Yurt in Lincolnshire. We walked Chester’s roman walls and viewed modern artwork in its Cathedral.  We also made friends with our Airbnb housemate cat Binky and visited two animal sanctuaries whilst in Lincolnshire and Warwickshire.

Our final trip of the year was our annual festive visit to Liverpool where we finally wandered around the city’s super-cool Baltic Triangle district. Here, we had a unique crazy golf experience at Ghetto Golf and at sampled some tasty street food at Baltic Market. We also finally visited Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (it’s free to visit and awesome inside) and explored the beautiful Georgian Quarter.

Matt & Jade on a pier in Varenna on Lake Como, Italy
Matt & Jade on a pier in Varenna on Lake Como, Italy

What have we learnt and where do we go from here?

2017 has been a good year for travel. We’ve learnt to spend time getting to know the places we visit on a more local level, rather than simply passing through and collecting photographs. We’ve learnt to travel in a way that feels consistent with our values and that has resulted in us having more authentic experiences.

This year we have strived to become more mindful and present in our day to day life and during our travels (even though striving is so not mindful!) and to be more considerate of the impact our travels have on the world. How can we continue to explore new places in a mindful way whilst ensuring our presence doesn’t negatively affect the environment and the local communities we visit?

In terms of the blog, 2017 was a time for laying foundations. We have been consciously making the switch from viewing Here To Travel as a hobby to growing it as a business. Matt has therefore been very busy at the end of 2017 redesigning and re-building the website from scratch to make it more future proof.

In terms of our travel plans for 2018, we have plenty of ideas. We have already been on our first trip of 2018 to Malta which was AMAZING (Related Post: 9 Reasons Why Malta is a Fabulous Winter Destination). We are in the process of planning a trip to Scotland and the Isle of Skye in May and have some vague plans to perhaps visit Portugal in September, and Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore at the end of the year. There’ll also be plenty of UK trips in between. Let’s see what happens!

So, that was our year of travel 2017. Here’s to more adventures in 2018!!!

What are your travel plans for 2018? Share them in the comments box below.

A Year of Travel 2017: Where We Went, What We Learnt & What's Next

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