To continue my new tradition from last year, I decided to finish the year again by recapping all of the amazing opportunities I’ve had to travel and all of the amazing opportunities I have had to learn from these travels. When looking back at my 2013 Year in Travels post, this year has definitely proven to be different. While 2013 was filled with few extended and deep trips, 2014 has been full of quick exposures to many different places. Of course this has been entrenched within my overarching big adventures of living in Znojmo and then now living in NYC. I brainstormed for this post by first making a list of all of the places and cities I was lucky to visit this year:
Vienna, Aix-en-Provence, Madrid, Toledo, England, Salzburg, Slovenia, Bratislava, Slovakia, Copenhagen, Karlovy Vary, Washington DC, Williamsburg, Portland, Boston, Seoul, Beijing, Hong Kong AND several other Czech cities…
To list them all sounds extreme, however I think traveling simply became a part of life for me this year. Living in another country trained me to take short experiences in a foreign place and make them meaningful by knowing what to look for, what questions to ask, and how to approach each trip. Rather than spend a paragraph on each of place in this way too long list, instead I’ve picked just a handful of my favorites that I visited this year!
February 2014: Aix-en-Provence, France
Whenever I talk about my long weekend in Aix-en-Provence I always finish my sentence with that I could live there. As my mother can tell you I am not the biggest Francophile, but I loved this small and beautiful city! For me it combined the best aspects of quaint, historic architecture and traditional French fresh breads and produce with cosmopolitan and quaint shops and restaurants, and the modern vibe of a university town. It was particularly amazing to have a local as a guide, but my all-time favorite memories of the weekend involve links to the painter, Cezanne. One day Floriane and I spent the whole day unintentionally hiking to the top of the Saint- Victoire Mountain, a common subject of the painter. Then on my final day I spent a sunny February day visiting his studio where I could see how he got so much inspiration from the magical light.
April 2014: Sussex, England
Going to England was a nice breath of Western and English air, after 7 months of living and traveling in countries of foreign languages. Besides hearing English, I think the other most refreshing part was seeing the sea! It felt so nice to look out into the wide and never-ending ocean—something I never felt particularly drawn to before. However, while going to England felt nice and comfortable, it was a truly unique trip because I was able to it through the eyes of people who I had come to feel so close to, yet who felt so uncomfortable there. In this way, while I approached England with relief and open arms, I was able to witness how it felt strange and foreign to those who I had traveled there with. My favorite parts were seeing some smaller British cities along the coast with their cute shops and sea culture, thereby getting to know the true Brits beyond the giant metropolis of London.
April 2014: Slovenia
In a last minute extension of my family’s Central European road trip, we decided to travel south down to Slovenia. Although Croatia has become a huge hotspot, Slovenia is on the up and coming travel destination list for Europeans and soon foreigners will follow suit. First we stopped in Bled, known for its magical lake and vibrant summer atmosphere. Although we only stayed for dinner, the view was so worth it as we watched the sunset. We spent the majority of our time in Ljubljana, which was such a cute small city with gorgeous churches, a great market, lovely parks, and nice shops. We loved the laid-back atmosphere and how a small little city could have so much character and so much to offer.
May 2014: Slovenský Raj, Slovakia
With my newfound love of nature in full swing, I ventured to the national park, Slovensky Raj, of Slovakia with Hana for a weekend in the woods and of hiking. Hana’s family is from Slovakia, so again I had a local guide to navigate the secret trails that are foreign to Americans, but are well trodden by Central and Eastern Europeans. Slovenský Raj is near the Tatra Mountains, a famous mountain range for hiking and skiing in Slovakia. In true Czech style we hiked a route, definitely unsafe by any American standards, all day with no stops and no structure. It was awesome! Most of all, it was a great weekend of relaxation, exploration of the little things, and being immersed in the wild.
May 2014: Copenhagen, Denmark
For my first trip to Scandinavia, Copenhagen was quite impressive. Despite how expensive it is, I loved Copenhagen for its design innovation, cozy shops and cafes, springtime daylight, and of course, the pastries! Rita was a lovely tour guide and my visit with her was only enhanced by the vibrant addition of the Eurovision song contest taking place that same weekend. The atmosphere of the city was super charged with lots of tourist activity and lots of Danes enjoying the beginning of summer weather. Overall, visiting Copenhagen was a nice surprise and the people I met there through Rita reminded me a lot of the ones I’ve met in the Czech Republic. Sometimes it’s hard to justify having a fascination with a very specific place and culture, but some people who feel the same way just get it. I can see why some people feel that fondness for Copenhagen. From just one weekend I could tell that it’s a special place and if I could just get past that winter darkness, it would be a nice place to live.
October 2014: Portland, Maine
Coming from NYC, Portland felt like a perfect balance of city and community, urban and rural. Not to mention, the fall foliage was perfect! I loved the common intention of Portland to stay unique and stay local. There were so many cute shops and restaurants, bakeries, boutiques, breweries and secret side streets galore. From just my few days there, it was easy to see that Maine has a unique identity and it quite proud of it. Not to mention, the seafood was delicious! Beyond the town, I loved the water, lighthouses, and of course, my excursion on Mackworth Island. The walk was magical and every turn and glimmer of light brought a different view of the forest and water. Overall, I loved Portland and would love to go back and visit one day!
November 2014: Seoul, South Korea
Out of the three cities of Asia that we visited, Seoul had to be my favorite. Maybe it was because I got to meet locals and follow the suggestions of my friends who have lived in South Korea, but I think I liked Seoul because of its dynamic differences within such a huge, expansive city. There were so many cool young neighborhoods, and it’s definitely apparent that Korean culture is unique. From my night out in Gangnam to walking the streets of Hongdae, there were so many young people out and about and down for a fun time in Seoul. Not to mention I loved Korean food! Between the markets and restaurants it was so interesting to try Korean food and see the raw ingredients. Korean shopping was my favorite too—lots of comfortable floral patterns for sweaters, long cozy skirts, vests and jackets. Finally, I loved my Korean introduction to Asian respect for nature and imperial architecture.
From writing this out, it’s kind of become clear that the places I’ve loved traveling this year have had a strong mix of uniquely local city centers and beautiful nature. Perhaps, living in a town that had this mix has toned down my enjoyment of strictly urban cities. Now with a full time job I’m not sure how jam-packed 2015 will be with travel, but I’m looking forward to exploring all of the variety in NYC and my 2 major trips already planned for the year to Thailand and back to the Czech Republic!
Happy New Year! Happy Traveling!