It’s that time again when we find ourselves rapidly approaching the last few hours of the year and wondering when on earth we blinked and missed it? It is only when I think back to the epic adventures I have enjoyed around the world I realise just how busy a year 2015 has been! This year I’ve clocked up visits to nine countries, more than 35,000 air miles and almost seven days of flying, 13 hotels and more changes to the time on my watch than I can really remember.
South Africa – Norway – Svalbard – Singapore – Thailand – Germany – France – Portugal – Jersey – South Africa
The year started with a real bang when I was able to travel to South Africa on safari as part of my job in January. Located in the north of the country, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve is set in the 65,000 Sabi Sands Reserve. I passed four glorious days eating fantastic food, being spoilt rotten by the incredibly warm and welcoming staff and getting up close with some of the world’s most incredible wildlife – far closer than I ever imagined. I always had a sneaky feeling a safari would be pretty good, but this far surpassed any and all of my expectations. The director at Sabi Sabi summed this up for me when he said: “People always imagine a safari to be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Then they come on safari and kick themselves for having waited so long.”
I barely had time to unpack my case – nor to adjust to the rapid change in temperatures – when I jetted off almost as far north as you can go in the world back in February. Nothing prepares you for how starkly beautiful the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is, nor for the chest-crushing cold of -36 degrees Celsius. It is a world of white, polar bears, snowmobiles and not much else, but it has an amazing appeal. I have never felt so far from everyday life as when I spent time snowmobiling across Spitsbergen feeling like a modern day polar explorer. I was also able to spend a few stolen hours in Oslo. In the bright winter sunlight it seemed to be a beautiful city which I hope to have the opportunity to return to.
As Easter approached, it was time for the big family trip to Southeast Asia. With a father who had never before left Europe, it has taken me five years to persuade them to go. My perseverance paid off however as in March we flew half way across the world to spend 10 days in Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand. It was a shock to the system with the new sights, smells and sounds but one that (thankfully!) they fell head over heels for. From the ultra-modern Marina Bay to the rich history of Wat Pho, the trip was a real eye-opener and it was wonderful to share my love for travel and for this particular region with my family. After they flew home, I spent another few days hopping from Phang Nga to Chiang Mai for work: both places I plan to return to and explore properly.
In June, having not been away with my partner for what felt like quite some time, we booked a last minute trip to Frankfurt. While it was an interesting city, it lacked the history and charm that I always picture German towns to have, largely to it being razed to the ground by Allied bombing during WW2. We took a train trip however to the gorgeous river-side city of Heidelberg with its baroque old town and romantic castle set high on the hill. It was a pleasure to wander through the small side streets and I must admit I developed a slight addiction to schnitzel during the trip! Don’t miss the apfelwein served in the traditional blue and white jugs.
A girls’ trip was next on the cards, heading to a city I had long wanted to visit later that same month: Lisbon in Portugal. With my best friend being half Portuguese, it was a fantastic chance to visit and immerse ourselves in a culture I had seen glimpses of growing up and spending time at her house. We rented an apartment in the heart of the city, and spent four blissful days enjoying the sunshine, climbing the steep hills, eating way too much tapas and pastel de nata (seriously, if you haven’t had one, you must immediately) and drinking all colours of wine. Lisbon for me was the perfect city break, contrasting the beautiful city, with stunning beaches in Caiscais and the hillside history of Sintra just a short train ride away.
In November I was able to return to the Channel Island of Jersey, a beautiful spot so often overlooked. This time it was for the launch of the Eat Jersey Food Festival, the chance to gorge on the incredible seafood and produce of the island in dishes created by some of Britain’s most talented chefs. Talk about a gourmet feast! I am already looking forward to the 2016 event. If you haven’t yet been to Jersey, stick it on your list.
To round off the year, I finished as I began: heading back to the sunny climes of South Africa at the end of November. If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if I would visit Africa once, let alone twice, in 2015 I would have been surprised. Instead, I have fallen head over heels in love with this unique and beautiful country. The dramatic scenery, incredible wildlife, fantastic food and drink, plus very friendly locals make it a country I can’t wait to return to. We managed to hop from three nights in Camps Bay, Cape Town, across to enjoy the winelands of Franschhoek and attempting to spot the whales of Hermanus, before moving our wildlife search to the bush at Sabi Sabi once more. My partner proudly declared it his favourite trip ever: who would I be to argue with his love for a truly amazing destination.
So far, my travel plans for 2016 look surprisingly blank. For my fellow itchy-footed globetrotters out there, I am sure you can understand the mixture of apprehension and anticipation this gives me. A brief trip to Ireland in just a week’s time will be my starting point and after that…who knows. Here is to what the New Year may have in store for me! As the clock counts down towards 2016, it just leaves me to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has read, glanced at or even just accidentally visited my blog in 2015. It is because of you that I keep this travel ‘report’ running, so here is to you as well! I hope you all have a fantastic New Year’s celebrations, and have a brilliant year ahead.