2018: What the Hell Happened to The Road to Wanderland?

A.k.a. My Year in Review

I started last year with really good intentions when it came to my blog, but things didn’t quite pan out as planned.

2018 was my fourth year on the road, travelling slowly around Europe while running my business. And it was an excellent year, both in terms of travel and my freelance travel writing business. I had a handful of new clients and several fantastic travel copywriting jobs. Add in a fair bit of housesitting, and financially my year was incredible – I completely sorted out my finances and treated myself to a new camera and phone. Finally.

Aside from the odd affiliate I’m not making much money from this blog yet, though it serves as a portfolio for my writing, so I had to concentrate my focus where the money was. My big jobs involved writing lots of content, and when I finished writing I wanted to be out exploring the new places I was travelling and living in. And housesitting isn’t a free ride; there was a lot of dog walking, dog and cat grooming and playing, and gardening and housework to maintain.

All of which meant my blog took a back seat for the year. I was stressed about it for a while, but I had to let go. Sometimes it simply isn’t possible to do everything – a lesson I have difficultly accepting at times – and sometimes that’s OK.

I think there’s also an element of struggling a bit with the blogging side of things. Working out what I want this blog to be, who I’m writing for, what my special sauce is. Plus I’m a massively private person, so finding that balance between writing about what I’m doing while maintaining my privacy can be tricky. So I’m still trying to figure a few things out and find my blogging mojo.

Anyway.

Last year was bloody brilliant in many ways. Here’s my travel review of 2018.

2018 Travel Review

In 2018 I visited nine countries including the UK, all in Europe and three of which were new to me: Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. I also revisited some places that were very special to me (Tilos, I’m looking at you!), and different parts of countries I’ve previously visited and loved.

Along the way, I hopped on 12 flights, 4 train journeys (aside from the airport hops in the UK, which I don’t count) and 2 ferry trips, and slept in 17 different beds.

Highlights included revisiting Tilos, the gorgeous little Greek island that I lived and worked on in 2006, meeting a fellow birder and all-round awesome women in Denmark who took me birding and found me a white-tailed eagle, falling in love with the most ridiculously beautiful dog and his tiny feline companion in Finland, spending a week with my sister in Dubrovnik (and geeking out on Game of Thrones), and discovering lush botanic gardens and whales in Madeira.

This was my 2018…

Rhodes, Greece

2018 Travel Review: Images from Rhodes, Greece – Lindos in the spring, Rhodes Archaeological Museum, Kallithea Springs, and Suleymaniye Mosque
Lindos with spring flowers; Rhodes Archaeological Museum; Kallithea Springs; Suleymaniye Mosque

My travel year usually starts late January or early February, and this year was no different. What was different for me was that I was heading back to the same place I’d finished my travels in 2017: Rhodes.

I’ll be honest, February was a struggle – I renamed it ‘Rainy Rhodes’ – and because Rhodes is a very humid island it was also much colder than I perhaps expected. (Top tip: if you’re heading to Greece in winter, look for accommodation with central heating!) So I got stuck into work, and was delighted when the internet suddenly sped up.

But late March and April were stunning. I spent a glorious sunny day ambling around Lindos without the summer crowds, wandered around Kallithea Springs, climbed the giant cross at Filerimos Hill, and spent a lot of time outside, walking, enjoying the spring flowers and migratory birds, and topping up my sunshine quota.

Tilos, Greece

2018 Travel Review: Images from Tilos, Greece – Livadia Bay, Path to Lethra, View from Ruth's Rock, and Eristos Beach
View of Livadia from Ilidi Rock; Walking the path to Lethra; View from Ruth’s Rock; Eristos Beach

The last time I stayed on Tilos was 2006. I was an island manager for Laskarina but, much as I loved the island, I found it challenging at times. I was on call 24/7 and it’s a tiny island, so everybody knew where I was and what I was doing most of the time (and, as I said in the intro, I’m a private person so this sucked).

Thanks to Daffy at Nissia Holidays and Maria at Ilidi Rock, I got to spend a week back on Tilos in a studio overlooking Livadia. And it was bliss.

I reacquainted myself with the island, walking its rocky paths watched over by goats while inhaling that special scent of herbs that permeates the air. I stood in Eristos Valley while flocks of bee-eaters whirled overhead and Bonelli’s eagles circled above the peaks, and I swam in the refreshing early May waters.

I also caught up with old friends, met new friends, bumped into people who remembered me, and found that, blissfully, I could wander around at leisure without being ‘one of the Laskarina girls’.

Norfolk, UK

2018 Travel Review: Images from Norfolk, UK – Mum & Dad on their Golden Wedding, views on the Norfolk Broads, and Horning
Mum & Dad on their Golden Wedding Anniversary; Windmill on the Norfolk Broads; Horning, Norfolk Broads; Yacht on the Broads

I don’t usually spend much time in the UK during the year, but 2018 was different because May was my parents’ golden wedding anniversary and also my sister’s birthday. So I popped home for some family celebrations.

We hired a boat on the Norfolk Broads for Mum and Dad’s anniversary, and spent the day sipping champagne, tucking into a superb picnic made by my sister, and floating past windmills and reed beds, soaking up the gorgeous Norfolk landscapes.

Silkeborg, Denmark

2018 Travel Review: Silkeborg, Denmark – Bijoux in the garden and in the woods and images from Silkeborg
Bijoux in the garden: Bijoux on his favourite woodland walk; Silkeborg woodland; Silkeborg lake view

Last year I embraced housesitting as a way of travelling (and was delighted to win a five-year membership to my favourite housesitting site, Trusted Housesitters – and yes, this is an affiliate link!).

First up: Denmark. I flew into Aarhus intending to spend some time exploring the city, as it’s supposed to have an incredible art scene. But my Airbnb was out of the centre and work was piling up. So I contented myself with daily walks around my neighbourhood and a morning exploring with my generous hosts. Then I headed for Silkeborg.

I had an amazing time. It’s a little town in the heart of Denmark’s lake district, and it’s full of woodland, lakes (unsurprisingly) and birds. I had a gorgeous canine companion – a little brown poodle named Bijoux – who loved his woodland walks, and I met fellow birder and local, Mette, who took me to her favourite birding sites and even found me a white-tailed eagle (Europe’s largest eagle and a mighty impressive bird!).

Sète, France

2018 Travel Review: Sète, France – The sea at Sète, graffiti, Pointe Longue, Jameszoo at Worldwide Festival
Sea view next to the Théâtre de la Mer; Sète Graffiti; Pointe Longue; Jameszoo at Worldwide Festival

Halfway through the year, I found myself back in one of my favourite places, Sète, for one of my favourite events of the year, the Worldwide Festival (stopping overnight in Spain en route).

I hung around for a couple of weeks, slurping oysters in les Halles, slurping oysters while sipping champagne on the beach, munching mussels with rosé wine at La Ola (sensing the Worldwide vibe?), partying on the beach, swimming while DJs spun tunes, watching incredible live acts and dancing the night away in the best venue in the world, the Théâtre de la Mer, and of course catching up with the Worldwide family.

Each year, I also try to visit a different bit of Sète and hunt down some new graffiti. This year, I explored Pointe Longue, a little fishing quarter bordering the Étang de Thau.

Basel & Muttenz, Switzerland

2018 Travel Review: Images from Basel & Muttenz, Switzerland – Cathedral Square in Basel, Chorri with the dead dragonfly, the final castle at Muttenz, and view from the top
Cathedral Square, Basel; Chorri with his dragonfly; One of Muttenz Castles; View from the middle castle (as I listened to a soundtrack of death metal!)

After dragging myself away from Sète (two weeks are never enough), my housesitting adventures took me to Switzerland and the town of Muttenz outside Basel.

It was a fairly short trip for me, about 2.5 weeks, and I had a lot of work to catch up with after Sète. But I had a few days to stroll around the beautiful old town of Basel, check out some of the city’s amazing art scene, and wander around the ruins of three castles that line the ridge above Muttenz, one of which was being set up for an unauthorised death metal party – fortunately they were very welcoming and a little bemused at me wandering in for a look around!

I looked after two gorgeous cats, one of which almost gave me heart failure when he bought in a dragonfly, let it go, then chased it around the house almost knocking over an incredibly expensive-looking sculpture…

Espoo & Helsinki, Finland

2018 Travel Review: Espoo & Helsinki, Finland – Oscar swimming, me cuddling Lucy, Helsinki Cathedral and my Espoo walk
Oscar when he was allowed to swim; Trying to get Lucy to smile for the camera, Helsinki Cathedral; Part of my Espoo walk

My housesitting escapades continued in Finland, where I spent 6.5 weeks in Espoo just outside Helsinki. Finland was sweltering – it was an unusually hot summer – but my daily walks took me along rugged coastline fringed with woodland. Woodpeckers and red squirrels were my daily companions, with the occasional sighting of a white-tailed deer.

My other companions were Oscar, one of the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever met with a wonderfully goofy personality, and a petite but sassy ex-street cat named Lucy. They were a delight, though the sit had its challenges. The coast was inundated with blue-green algae, which is highly toxic to dogs, so Oscar couldn’t have his daily swim and instead engaged sit-down protests – moving a sulking 30kg dog was … interesting! And it took every ounce of my strength to hold him when he spotted a deer! But I adored my time with them.

I rounded off my stay with a few days exploring Helsinki and feasting on Finnish food.

Zagreb, Croatia

2018 Travel Review: Zagreb, Croatia – St Mark's Church, view of St Catherine's Church and Zagreb Cathedral; Jarun Lake and the Museum of Broken Relationships
St Mark’s Church in Zagreb; View of St Catherine’s Church and Zagreb Cathedral; Jarun Lake; and the Museum of Broken Relationships

I picked Zagreb on a whim. I’d been engrossed with work and waiting to see if a suitable housesit appeared, then it was suddenly about a week before I was due to leave Finland and I had nowhere to go. Zagreb had the cheapest flights from Helsinki and I’d always wanted to see the city, having previously only visited the coast.

I loved it.

I had a fairly work-intensive month, but I set aside at least one day a week for my ‘travel date’, a concept that I floated in my goals for 2018. And I made the most of it, exploring Zagreb’s historic Old Town, visiting an array of museums including the Museum of Broken Relationships and wonderful Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, and tucking into lots of delicious food.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

2018 Travel Review: Dubrovnik, Croatia – Fort Lovrijenac, Durbovnik Old Town, sunset at Srd Hill, Beach on the Lapad Peninsula
Fort Lovrijenac (The Red Keep); The red roofs of Dubrovnik Old Town from the town walls; Sunset at Srd Hill; Our favourite beach on the Lapad Peninsula

Dubrovnik was my second proper holiday of the year (after Sète). I had an early morning flight from Zagreb, where I crashed my head on the low overhead lockers so hard I had a bruise on my forehead when I arrived (mornings are not my thing!). But I definitely had a smile on my face!

As an avid Game of Thrones fan and lover of historic places, I’d been dying to get to Dubrovnik. Add in that my sister was coming to join me AND it was October, so free from the summer crowds but with gorgeous weather, and I was set for an amazing week.

We lazed on the beach, tucked into an array of seafood, drank in the views from the mighty town walls, spent a day exploring the mystical island of Lokrum, and had a few sunset moments. And I may have sat on an iron throne or two…

Madeira, Portugal

2018 Travel Review: Madeira, Portugal – Funchal town beach, Monte, Botanic Gardens, and produce at the Farmers' Market
Town beach in Funchal; Looking towards Monte from the Botanic Gardens; Maderia Botanic Gardens; Produce in Funchal Farmers’ Market

My final nomad trip of the year took me to the Portuguese island of Madeira, tucked out in the Atlantic. It was the ideal way to round off my nomad adventures for 2018.

It was another work-intensive month, but I had an east-facing flat with a wall of windows looking over a banana plantation and out to sea, with some pretty special sunrises (when I got up in time. Ahem!). So it was a fantastic place to work with excellent wifi.

I made full use of my days off, exploring the island on 4×4 tours, spending hours in beautiful botanic gardens, wandering around the Christmas market and decorations, and enjoying a magical whale-watching trip where we saw two pods of dolphins, a sperm whale diving, and rare Zino’s and Desertas petrels.

I thought my stay was going to end on a horrible note when one of the flats beneath me started renovations that involved heavy drilling all day, but my Airbnb hosts were incredible. They moved me to another of their apartments right on the seafront, so for the last week I could work listening to the sound of the waves – I even saw dolphins from my balcony!

And that’s what I got up to in 2018.

I usually use this space to review last year’s goals, but dammit it’s been so long since I posted that I just want to get this live. So more soon…

How was your 2018? Where was the favourite place you visited? Tell me in the comments below.

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