2018 was the year of micro Europe. I visited five of the ten smallest European countries, including Monaco (#2), Liechtenstein (#4), Luxembourg (#7), Cyprus (#8) and Montenegro (#9). Read on for highlights from these European micro-states as well as the many other destinations I visited in 2018.
My year kicked off with a slight hangover in Porto, Portugal, after spending 31st December 2017 on a boat, ringing in the new year whilst cruising down the Duoro River. Porto was a picturesque and charming place to spend a weekend.
I collected two new passport stamps in February: Luxembourg and Sweden. Luxembourg wasn't a place with an overwhelming amount of things to do, but I managed to keep busy, eat some delicious meals and have a bit of fun.
It was freezing in Stockholm, so I spent a lot of time touring the underground stations, many of which were incredible works of art. I highly recommend seeing as many as you can. Feel free to follow the journey I laid out in this post to save yourself research time and effort.
After my nephew said he missed me on a Sunday FaceTime session, I bought a last-minute flight to Boston (such a sucker). Between the UK's 'Beast from the East' snowstorm and the gale-force winds in Boston, it was a miracle that my plane was able to take off or land. All the travel delays and disruptions didn't leave me much time with green shoes the ground, but the trip was worth it for niece and nephew snuggles.
I took my first proper holiday of the year in April - A road-trip around Montenegro. Highlights (pictured below) included seeing wild white flamingos, Stari Grad, Lipa Caves, Lake Skadar, Kotor's Old Town, Blue Caves, Our Lady of the Rocks and Ostrog Monastery.
I also had the good fortune of securing tickets to the Rolex Masters in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. This was definitely one of the more beautiful global tennis tournaments I've attended, with its clay courts nestled between the Mediterranean and the mountains.
On the 30th, I flew to Amsterdam, Netherlands for the day, to meet up with my sister, who was in town for work.
The first May bank holiday weekend was spent in New York City, appreciating being alive on the one-year anniversary of my accident, catching up with high school/university friends, celebrating a bunch of birthdays and spending time with my parents. It was a jam-packed, amazing weekend!
I then visited Portugal for the second time in 2018. This time visiting Lisbon for a friend's hen/bachelorette (which was not nearly as tame as the picture below suggests).
Early in June, I went to Chianti, Italy for the wedding linked to the hen/bachelorette party in Lisbon. Once the thunder/lightening storm subsided, it was a magical weekend where I was surrounded by amazing landscapes, friends, delicious food/wine and lots of love!
At the tail-end of the month, I jaunted over to Moscow, Russia for a bit of exploration and World Cup action. The city was beautiful, clean and welcoming. The Cup was extremely well run and super exciting. Seeing Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral in person was surreal, but watching Russia beat Spain, in penalties, in the round of sixteen, was the high point!
I took the high-speed, four-hour Sapsan train from Moscow to St. Petersburg for more sightseeing and a second World Cup match. St. Petersburg was much more laid back than Moscow. It was equally as beautiful, but in a less chic, more artsy, sort of way. The Sweden versus Switzerland match that I had tickets to was probably one of the most boring matches in the whole Cup, but the Viking-style beer fest that I randomly stumbled upon, following the Swedish win, was epic.
Five days after returning from the Russian Federation, I headed on a tour around Basque Country. Stop number one was Pamplona, Spain for the annual San Fermín festival, inclusive of the Running of the Bulls. I chose not to run alongside the horned beasts, because I'm broken and not insane, but I did enjoy watching others participate in this age-old tradition.
After Pamplona, it was onwards to San Sebastián (about an hour and half train ride away), a resort town on the Bay of Biscay, known for its beaches and world-class gastronomy. It holds the second highest number of Michelin stars per square meter (behind Kyoto, Japan). Even the non-recognized restaurants were amazing, particularly the pintxo (pronounced pincho) bars, Which paired local wines with regional specialties. My three favorite eateries included Narru (not much for ambiance, but the tuna starter was to die for), brunch at La Madame was filling and delicious and La Cuchara de San Telmo (a no-frills sort of joint, but the quality and prices couldn't be beat. The suckling pig, razor clams, tuna and some sort of beetroot situation were the winning dishes on this menu).
The final stop on my Basque Country tour landed me in the elegant seaside town of Biarritz, France. I didn't spend much time there, but managed to fit in lunch/wine on Les Baigneuses de Biarritz's rooftop, window-shopping on the high street and a saunter alongside the beach before I headed to airport. I was there on Sunday 15th July, which also happened to be the World Cup final (where France defeated Croatia). Had I planned better, I would have stayed in Biarritz that night and enjoyed the celebrations with the French World Cup champions. Ah well, there's always 2022.
Taking advantage of an unused flight that would have otherwise been lost, I went to Seville, Spain for a three-day weekend. I had never been before and had heard wonderful things, so I was keen to check it out. It was boiling hot, which didn't inspire sightseeing. Instead, I ate and drank my way around town, only opting to sit under patio misters and/or in air conditioning. Andalusia, an autonomous community of Spain, of which Seville is the capital, is known for its tapas and sherry. Sherry comes from the province of Jerez, near Seville, and is a local specialty. If ever I was going to try the fortified wine that is my namesake, I felt it should be in Seville. So I did...And it was gross!
On the 8th of September, I decided to have lunch in Liechtenstein. With a bit of advanced planning, it was quite an easy place to visit for the day. Despite its long name, Liechtenstein is a pocket-sized principality (sixth smallest country in the world). Fun facts about Liechtenstein include:
Switzerland accidentally invaded Liechtenstein, unintentionally, in March 2007
All residents are invited to a party in the castle once a year
Crime rates are very low and fewer than 10 people are in jail
Snoop Dogg once tried to rent the whole country - He was only denied because he didn't allow enough time for the preparations to be made
It’s the richest country in the world (by GDP) with a 1.5% unemployment rate
Later on in September, I visited Northern Ireland for an legendary road trip. I did not find a pot of gold at the end of any of the many rainbows I spotted, but I did see many geological wonders and majestic landscapes.
For the second time in a decade, I attended Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. The first time I went, nine years ago, was great fun, but we were unprepared. This time around, I got myself a dirndl and went with a group of people who had secured reservations at the best tent. Prost!
Just a short few days after nearly recovering from my Oktoberfestivities, I headed to Norway for my annual trip with the parentals. This year, we went on a Norwegian cruise through the beautiful fjords and then ended with a weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark. Best of all, I finally got to see those Northern Lights that I was convinced didn't exist!
The final weekend of October was spent in Bath, UK. I hadn't anticipated Bath being as big of a city as it was. Although unexpected, it was still lovely.
On the 17th day of the 11th month of 2018, I headed to the USA for my annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage back to the homeland. I flew into Philadelphia for the weekend before taking the train up to Connecticut, where I spent the week stuffing my face with food, playing with my nephew, doing a tiny(er) green shoe photo shoot with my niece and catching up with friends/family. At the end of the 10-day trip, I drove up to Boston and took the red-eye back to London, only to land and go straight to work on the Monday.
Last minute, I decided a birthday getaway was in order. I found cheap flights to Cyprus and convinced a friend to join me. We were greeted in Paphos, the birthplace of Aphrodite (Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty), with 73°F/23°C weather. Only too quickly, it started raining, but it was hard to be mad as we witnessed one heck of a lightning storm. The subsequent days rained on and off, but it was a pleasant escape from London never-the-less.
On Boxing Day, I flew six hours to Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Since the international airport was completed in 2007, tourism here has been on the rise, but there is still a lot of room for further development - tourism and infrastructure wise. The highlight of Boa Vista was playing in the Viana Desert (the rolling white sand dunes blown over from the Sahara).
Below are some statistics from my 2018 travels:
Air Miles Flown: 50,428 (*it's 24,900 miles around the world)
Airline Segments Flown: 46
Airlines Flown: 13
Amount of Time Spent in the Air: 117.5 hours
Total Countries Visited: 20
New Countries Visited: 9 (blue bubbles below)
Continents Visited: 3 (North America, Europe & Africa)
Nights Spent in Hotels: 48
I'VE NOW BEEN TO:
30 out of ~44 European countries (dependent upon the list you’re using)
66 out of 193 countries (per the United Nations country list)
6 of 7 continents (only Antarctica remains)
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