Meeting Her Majesty the Queen and Other Travel Highlights of 2017

Meeting Her Majesty the Queen and Other Travel Highlights of 2017

It has become a tradition of mine to dedicate a couple of days around the turn of the year for looking back on the travels of the previous 12 months. Many of us travel so often these days that it can almost start feeling mundane, so it’s good to take time to appreciate that traveling is, in fact, a huge privilege – one that our grandparents (at least in my case) really couldn’t enjoy to the same extent, and that many still don’t. (My grandmother was in her 30s the first time she got to travel abroad, but that’s a different story..).

Since I grew up in a multicultural, multinational family and have been living “abroad” for the past seven years, a lot of the traveling I do is between my countries of residence (there are currently two) and countries of origin (of which there are four). To tell the truth, it’s not always easy to tell what counts as traveling and what is simply commuting, and last year was no exception.

In fact, my 2017 travels started with a trip to Amsterdam – and not just any trip, but one made to inspect the flat my boyfriend had chosen for us. While renting “a second home” in the Netherlands was a choice dictated by necessity (thanks, Brexit…), it did provide us with a great chance of exploring one of Central Europe’s most fascinating cities and countries (silver linings and all that).

In Amsterdam, I spent a lot of time just getting to grips with the city. We bought Museumkaarts and visited as many exhibitions as possible, explored the city’s foodie scene and discovered that Jordaan looks MAGICAL on a misty Autumn morning (click!). Just as importantly, I got a new bike and learnt the basics of cycling in Amsterdam (read more about it here).

As cute as Amsterdam is, we made sure to leave some time for exploring the Netherlands beyond the capital. My favourite memories from last year include the summer day spent on a beach in Zandvoort  and the spring weekend dedicated to cycling along the famous flower fields in the Dutch countryside. We also visited Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest spring gardens, and Zaandaam, a quirky little town best-known for its connections to Russian tsar Peter the Great.

Back in Britain, I have to admit we weren’t quite as active as we could have been. I traveled to Cambridge for a conference and discovered that the town was just as charming as I remembered from the last visit. My job often took me to Windsor, where I got to participate in a series of exciting events, including meeting HM the Queen and telling her about my research.

As usual, I spent most of the year home in London. I’ve lived here for over six years, but I still get childishly excited about the city and the seemingly endless possibilities that it provides. Even as the Brexit vote has forced me to reconsider my relationship with Britain, London still remains my favourite city, and I really hope that I won’t be forced to leave it (sadly, many EU migrants already have).

Because I don’t spend nearly as much time in Finland as I do in London or Amsterdam, going home to Helsinki always feels like a “proper trip”. This year, however, I visited Finland more often than usual, a total of six times. I have many happy memories from these trips: celebrating my birthday with family and friends, swimming in a heated outdoor pool in the very heart of Helsinki, spending a day in Finland’s third-largest city Tampere (read more about our day trip here), conducting fieldwork for my PhD research, getting childishly excited about playing in the snow…

You might or might not know that 2017 was a very special year for Finland: in December, the country celebrated 100 years of independence, and of course I had to be there for the occasion. I was pleasantly surprised by the celebrations, which culminated in a beautiful firework display over the capital. Here’s to the next 100 years!

My first “foreign” trip of 2017 only took place in June. My boyfriend and I headed for a well-deserved holiday in my favourite country, Italy, dividing our time between Naples and Ischia. In Naples, we chose to stay in a small boutique hotel in Vomero, the upscale neighbourhood offering spectacular views of the Gulf of Naples. In Ischia, on the other hand, we opted for a small, no-frills Airbnb flat a few steps from the beach.

This turned out to be a pretty perfect combination: first enjoying the bustling big city with its colourful streets, amazing restaurants and great museums, then completely dedicating ourselves to swimming and sunbathing. This is not to say that you can’t enjoy the last two in Naples: one of the highlights of the holiday was snorkeling in the Gaiola underwater park (pictured above), just a short bus ride away from the city.

In August it was time for a combined work/leisure trip to San Francisco. This was my second time in the city by the bay, and this time we stayed right in the centre, next to the wonderful Transamerica Pyramid. You could see the famous skyscraper from our windows (check my Instagram feed for pictures), so we spent a lot of our free time simply gazing out of them, haha! Other than that, we saw a game at the AT&T Park (a first for me – it was fun), tried the amazing Impossible Burgers (these deserve a post of their own) and spent time with our favourite San Fransiscans (the sea lions, of course!).

In addition to San Francisco, we also visited the neighbouring Oakland and spent a day hiking in the Marine Headlands. I had heard many good things about Oakland, but at least on this first visit it didn’t really impress us (maybe we just didn’t go to the right places?). The hike, on the other hand, turned out to be the highlight of the whole ten-day trip: we started from the Point Bonita lighthouse, walked all the way to the Golden Gate, and didn’t stop until we arrived in Presidio. It was stunning!

September was certainly the busiest travel month of the year – in only 30 days, I managed to spend time in London, Windsor, Amsterdam, Prague, Rostov, Paris and Kos. My short stopover in the Czech Republic gained me another point for my 30 before 30 challenge AND made me understand why everyone’s gushing about the beautiful and funny Prague.

Paris, on the other hand, is an old favourite of mine. This time I was in town for work and only for a couple of days, but it was amazing, as always: my colleagues and I enjoyed an evening at a bistro in Montmartre, a dinner cruise on the Seine, long walks on the streets of the second arrondissement  and late-night conversations at a local cafe.

Tanais

The week I spent in my gorgeous city of birth Rostov was probably the warmest I enjoyed all year. On some days, the temperatures reached 35 degrees – cue in short shirts and summer dresses! It was the perfect weather for exploring Russia’s southern capital, which has experienced quite a makeover since my last visit as it’s preparing to host the FIFA World Cup next summer. My grandma and our local friends were, of course, the perfect guides, and I was impressed and touched by the Russian generosity.

In addition to Rostov itself, we visited Tanais, the site of an ancient Greek town. The ruins now form one part of an interesting archeological park throwing light on the versatile and fascinating history of the region.

Speaking of ancient Greece, at the end of September my boyfriend and I headed to the Greek island of Kos to celebrate our 10th anniversary.  This was the most anticipated trip of the year, and I’m happy to report that it was well worth the wait.

Our main goal for the holiday was to relax, and that we definitely did. We spent days at our hotel’s breathtakingly beautiful infinity pool and swam for hours at the pebbly beach. Other than that, we ventured to Kos Town, walked to the hot springs at Therme Beach and climbed a mountain to admire the sun setting into the blue of the Aegean Sea. Romantic? You bet!

Last but not least, in November we enjoyed a weekend break in wonderful Madrid. The Spanish capital seems to have it all: beautiful architecture, great culture, amazing food – even for the vegetarians among us. This is one of the destinations I’d happily return to in 2018.

Where did you travel in 2017? Did we have any of the same destinations?

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