Pack The Suitcases’ (pathetic) 2020 travel roundup

Travel roundup 2020 | PACK THE SUITCASES

Happy new year! Despite what 2020 has thrown at us all, I’m sticking with my yearly tradition of doing a travel roundup of everywhere I went in the last year. Yes, I appreciate the irony in trying to write anything about travel in 2020, a year when we hardly left our homes. But I’m going to give it a go anyway.

In these yearly roundups, I try to sum up the ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ for all my previous year’s travel. They serve as a kind of personal reminder and are more for me than anything else. But I’ve got myself into doing them as a tradition now. Maybe they’re mildly useful for anyone wanting to know where I recommend. Or don’t recommend. As you’ve probably deduced, there’s very little in this 2020-based one. But I’ve shared some of my thoughts on the little travel I managed this year and also some musings on the state of travel blogging and how it’s been affected by the pandemic.

So, pour the dregs of your New Year’s Eve bubbly and have a read about my pathetic ‘travels’ in 2020: the least travelly year of my adult life. Let me know in the comments how you’ve survived 2020 and what travel plans you’re hoping to do in 2021.

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How to do a day trip to Camara de Lobos, Madeira

How to do a day trip to Camara de Lobos, Madeira | PACK THE SUITCASES

Camara de Lobos, Madeira, is a pretty little fishing village set in a peaceful cove just 9km outside the centre of Funchal. With its white-washed buildings with red-tiled roofs and idyllic sea views, it’s the stuff postcards are made of (or should that be Instagram photos now?). It’s so close to the city centre and easily reachable by bus, so it’s a popular day trip from Funchal for visitors to Madeira. 

Camara de Lobos translates literally as ‘chamber of wolves’. Quite a dramatic name for a quaint fishing village. Alas, there are no wolves there. The name comes from the gaggles of sea lions that used to hang out on the rocks in its cove. Madeira’s discoverer, João Gonçalves Zarco, spotted these lads on his second voyage to Madeira in 1420 and mistook them for wolves. Perhaps he was on his way to Specsavers. But the name stuck. Camara de Lobos even has some wolves sea lions on its municipal coat of arms. Keep a look out for that around and about as you explore the town.

Anyway, I thought I’d put together this short guide on visiting Camara de Lobos as I know it pretty well and have a good few tips for you. Hope it’s useful. Let me know if you’ve visited or used any of the tips down in the comments…

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23 things to do in Lucca, Italy: discovering Tuscany’s walled city

Things to do in Lucca, Italy | PACK THE SUITCASES

If you’re planning a trip to this famous walled Tuscan city, here are 23 of the best things to do in Lucca, Italy, which should give you a good flavour of the place. I spent two nights in Lucca as part of a wider Tuscany trip, and this wee selection of sights, eats and activities is more than enough to pack into a short stay.

Lucca is known as the ‘city of a hundred churches’. I’m not sure whether that’s factually accurate, but there are a lot of them. You’ll enjoy visiting if that’s your thing. But if you’re doing a longer Italian trip and the thought of traipsing round yet another church makes your heart sink (we’ve all been there), fear not. There’s plenty of other things to do in Lucca, not least getting your 10,000 steps a day in walking the extensive medieval walls that encircle the city. There’s also a tower with trees growing on top, with stunning views. Oh and a beautiful yellow piazza in a Roman amphitheatre, where you can sit with a glass of wine and watch the world go by. 

If that sounds up your street, read on for more detail on 23 things to do in Lucca that I personally recommend…

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A guide to things to do on the magical Miyajima island, Japan

Things to do in Miyajima island, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Here’s some of the best things to do on Miyajima island, Japan. Miyajima is one of the most popular places for first-time Japan visitors to head to. The island looks like a floating mountain range and has drawn in travellers with its unusual beauty and serenity for centuries. It’s famous for its picturesque orange shrine gate (Great Torii), which is out in the sea and 100% one of the most Instagrammable spots in Japan! The island is also well loved for its cutest residents: the tame Miyajima deer.

Visiting Miyajima is like arriving in another dimension, where time has slowed down. There are no cities, only small towns with simple houses and rows of tiny shops set against the backdrop of mountains. What’s brilliant about it is that you get the features of rural Japan in a 12-square-mile microcosm: shrines, deer, food, scenery and traditions. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, it’s likely Miyajima is already on your list as a day trip from Hiroshima. You could also treat yourself to staying overnight. But either way, you don’t need masses of time on the island to enjoy it. It’s just important to make the most of a short time there and get the most out of it. As a self-confessed Japan geek, I want you to fall in love with it too.

I hope this list of my personal recommendations of the best things to do on Miyajima will help you plan your time…

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2 days in Florence, Italy: a perfect itinerary

2 days in Florence, Italy | PACK THE SUITCASES

Here’s a quick itinerary for spending 2 days in Florence as a first-time visitor. I’d recommend a longer trip if you want to explore more of the wider Tuscany region, because there’s a wealth of other beautiful places to see like Siena and Lucca. But if you’re focusing just on the city itself, 2 days in Florence is about right to see the main sights and get a feel for the place.

So settle down with a glass of vino (a chianti from Tuscany, preferably) and enjoy picking what you like the look of from this itinerary for getting the most out of 2 days in Florence…

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38 things to do in St Petersburg, Russia

Things to do in St Petersburg, Russia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Here are 38 of my favourite things to do in St Petersburg, Russia. I fell in love with the city and spent a decent amount of time there exploring and getting underneath the surface. It’s a good place to start if it’s your first time in Russia as it’s much more tourist-friendly than the other major cities, and therefore less overwhelming for your first stop before heading on to Moscow or Kazan.

I’ve avoided including anything I didn’t fancy myself and I’ve only focused on the city of St Petersburg itself and a couple of day trips… If I go any further afield, this would turn into a million things to do and no one will have the patience to read it. I’ll be impressed if anyone actually reads all 38 things. But I hope it’s helpful, even if you just pick a few out for a shorter trip. Also note that I went to Moscow just before I came to St Petersburg, if you also want to find out about that (and I slightly preferred it, too – although I loved both).

Anyway, crack open the vodka and read on if you want some tips on things to do in this fairytale Russian city…

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