2016 was a pretty vintage year for me, travel-wise. It started slowly: apart from a trip to Riga and Vilnius with a friend in February, I stayed at home saving money for the first half of the year. But August saw me embark on a month-long road trip across the USA with two friends; we covered 7,000 miles in our rental car and passed through 17 states.
I was barely home three days before my sister and I enjoyed a quick break in France at my aunt’s, and October saw my parents, sister and I take a family trip to Madrid. And then, at the end of November, I flew to Kochi to start my six-month adventure in South Asia. December saw me explore destinations in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu before I hopped over to Sri Lanka on a visa run / surfing break at the end of the month.
Here, in no order whatsoever, are 10 particularly memorable moments from my 2016 travels.
Driving through the American West
One of the joys of the road trip was the driving itself: from the mist of the Smokies to the spectacular landscapes of New Mexico and Utah, being on the road was half the experience. I also never expected that I would have a passable knowledge of contemporary country; we started off listening to country stations as it was either that or Christian rock, and gradually found ourselves knowing the words to the vast bulk of the country music chart.
I’ll definitely remember cruising down Highway 59 and Route 66 listening to ‘Setting the World on Fire,’ ‘American Country Love Song’ and ‘From the Ground Up’ for a long time to come.
Exploring the ruins of Hampi
Hampi definitely lived up to expectations: a hippie mecca amongst a landscape of rice fields, boulders and abandoned ruins, I found it very difficult to leave! I loved my few days of cycling around the ruins, chilling out in the cafes, lounging in my hammock and taking a moped around Hampi Island.
Wanting to move to Seattle
There are many contenders for my favourite American city: from previous trips, I’ve loved New York, Boston and Chicago, and in 2016 many more contenders were added to the list. From the sultry eccentricity and jazz brunches of New Orleans to the friendly weirdness of Austin and Portland to the upmarket cool of San Francisco, I would happily return to all of the cities that we visited on the road trip.
Yet I think my favourite was Seattle: there was something about its mix of grunge and laid-back casual chic that appealed to me straight away. I was only there for a day and a half, but would love to return and hang out here for longer, sipping great coffee, eating chowder, and looking out over the Puget Sound. It felt so liveable,
So yeah, if anyone knows of any great job opportunities in Seattle, hit me up!
Exploring the galleries of Madrid
I was only in Madrid for a few days, and would like to return to get to know the city better, but my abiding memory is of the fantastic galleries I visited: the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Prado has a fantastic collection of early modern painting, particularly Titian, Rubens, El Greco and Velazquez, whilst the lesser known Thyssen-Bornemisza has an eclectic collection ranging from medieval masterpieces to key modernist works.
Meandering around beautiful Vilnius
Whilst I liked both Riga and Vilnius, I have to say that Vilnius was my favourite of the two: it had a dreamy, romantic feel, particularly with a fresh coating of February snow. I didn’t blog back in February and the pics are languishing on my iMac back in the UK, but I’d definitely revisit Vilnius. Plus, Lithuania offered the bonus of a destination informally known as ‘Stalin World,‘ a park near the border with Belarus that is home to a collection of unloved statues of Soviet leaders.
Surfing in Sri Lanka
I ended the year on a fantastic note; whilst being away for Christmas was hard, I can’t complain too much that I got to spend it on the beaches of Sri Lanka. I particularly enjoyed my week at We Escape ‘poshtel’ in Weligama, where I chilled out with fantastic people, learned to surf, of a fashion, and finally got the hang of the downward facing dog.
Discovering the US National Parks
One of the advantages of having the car was that we were able to visit a number of National Parks: the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier. And they were all absolutely stunning – I was blown away by the sheer grandeur of the American landscape.
I’d love to go back to all of the parks I visited (particularly to do some hiking), and particularly have Utah on my list as a place to return to. Plus I must get to Yosemite, which was missed out due to time constraints.
Walking through history and literature in Alabama
Alabama features heavily in the British GCSE exams: between the history module on the Civil Rights Movement and To Kill a Mockingbird, some British students leave knowing a fair amount about the troubled history of the American South. As a teacher of English and History, I loved visiting Alabama: from the fantastic Monroeville Courthouse to walking across Selma Bridge to visiting the Fitzgerald Museum, it’s a place where you can feel history beneath your feet. Also, the inspirational tour of Martin Luther King’s house in Montgomery with Dr Cherry is probably the best tour I’ve ever been on.
Hiking the dreamy hills of Munnar
Munnar is a must-visit if you’re in Kerala; the dreamy, misty landscapes of the tea plantations and the Western Ghats are simply stunning. If you’re here, definitely go hiking, and try if you can to take the fabulous ‘Nimi’s Lip Smacking Dishes of Kerala’ cooking class.
Wine tasting in Napa
Sometimes it’s worth splashing out, and my day wine tasting in Napa Valley was an instance of this. Yes, it wasn’t cheap, and yes, it was made less cheap by the fact I splashed out on four bottles of expensive booze, but oh, it was totally worth it.