Happy new year to all 73 of our readers. Yes, we’ve improved from last year’s dizzy heights of 2. I can’t imagine what 2018 will bring. 74?
This time last year, I did a similar roundup of all our travels in 2016 and dished out the ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’. Precisely no one read it because who cares about where I went all year really. But when did no one listening/reading my stuff ever stop me. So I’m doing it again for 2017.
To be fair, this might give you some ideas about where to go (and where to avoid?) for 2018…
Best new destination
Ljubljana was the ultimate fairytale city break. I adored our trip there in October – pretty riverside cafes, a pink church, good food, orange (yes!) wine, and all the autumn colour.
As a bonus, it was incredibly affordable. I can’t recommend it enough.
If you’re looking for a city break that isn’t one of the big obvious capitals, this is it. The only downside is that you can’t fly there easily, as there are no flights from Manchester or Liverpool. You have to go to London, which is of course a horrifying experience. But it’s worth the effort.
Best revisited destination
Our return to Japan in January was particularly special. Tokyo was the only city we went to that wasn’t new to us during the trip. But with Tokyo, you could return 100 times and it would still all be new. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t live there could ever get their head around it. We listed 20 unique things to do in Tokyo and didn’t even scratch the surface of what you could cover in one visit.
I always describe Tokyo and Japan in general to people as: ‘everything is happening, everywhere, all the time’. Its vastness is nothing compared to its density. Millions of tiny bars and restaurants and shops are layered over 10, 20, 30 floors both sides of you as you walk down a street.
My favourite thing though is getting into the more off-the-beaten-track Tokyo. Our friends’ flat is in a quiet, low-rise area and so we stay near there when we visit. This means that we get a totally different side of Tokyo away from the neon lights and madness. Okay, there’s still a lot of madness. But that’s all part of Japan’s pleasantly baffling charm. I’m already thinking about when we can go back.
Best local (UK) destination
Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland)
My series of blog posts about Dumfries and Galloway saw my blog traffic go through the roof. Needless to say, my hosting provider wasn’t too impressed when I ended up with 11,000 views of my Kirkcudbright post in one day. Luckily, they fixed some panic-inducing crashing (thanks, Siteground, forever in your debt) and the views continued to go up. It’s only right that my favourite area of the UK should be my most popular blog posts too. We had such a good time during our trip in the summer – and amazing weather, especially by Scottish standards.
As well as an overall Dumfries and Galloway collection, I posted about:
- a Kirkcudbright travel guide
- a walk between Rockcliffe and Kippford
- visiting Sweetheart Abbey
- a perfect day in Castle Douglas
- and discovering Gatehouse of Fleet and Mossyard
- the secret beach of Carrick Bay.
I think one of the reasons these posts were so popular is because people love seeing travel bloggers posting about where they live. You often don’t appreciate what’s on your doorstep so seeing Galloway through a visitor’s eyes gave a new insight. Oh and the other reason would be that people love disputing names/boundaries of their local places and what town/village/beach falls into what area. Shoutout to the old man with about 3 teeth who took great pleasure in telling me repeatedly on Facebook that all maps are wrong and that Sweetheart Abbey isn’t in New Abbey. Good times.
Everything in Japan
Yes, Japan again. How can it not win on the food front though? It knocks everything else out of the water, despite some brilliant dishes we had in other places.
I’m currently drafting a post about food in Japan so look out for that in the coming months. Or don’t. Either is fine.
Not staying in hotels
But this year, that’s one of the very few hotels we’ve stayed in because we’ve pretty much entirely converted to hiring flats/apartments.
- It’s almost always cheaper.
- It feels like you live there.
- You don’t have to get up for breakfast.
- You don’t have to scrounge around for something edible in a sea of cooked meat at breakfast.
- Your partner can go out to forage for pastries/breakfast goods while you’re doing your makeup and hair. This saves us hours of time. And we’re not paying for a hotel breakfast that we never used to get up in time for anyway.
- You usually get a kitchen area that might (repeat: might) have a kettle so you can make tea in the room. This is a very British need but any fellow tea-drinkers will know the arduous life of trying to keep up the six-a-day habit in mainland Europe, where kettles are extinct and people live off something called coffee. Nowhere has English breakfast teabags. Milk is unheard of. And asking for hot water to make tea with your own teabags is met with utter bafflement.
- You can come and go as you please. Okay, you get that in a big hotel. But in a small hotel or a B&B, you have the danger of that awkward thing of them locking up in the night when you’ll inevitably be out at some point.
I think 2018 is going to involve a lot more of this.
Best travel experience
Staying on Naoshima, an art island in Japan
Naoshima was so completely different to anywhere we’ve been before and by far the most memorable experience of 2017.
It was our second trip to Japan together, so we’d already done the big cities that everyone packs in on their first go and wanted to explore something else… Namely an immersive art island that no one, even in Japan, had heard of.
We stayed in a little apartment for a weekend with one of our friends, being very hygge. Time was spent eating okonomiyaki, drinking, watching sumo (albeit on TV and not in real life like we did in Tokyo!) and of course taking in all the incredible art that’s strewn around the island in both galleries and open air. All this took place in a weird mixture of blazing sunshine and snow. The whole thing was surreal but exquisite.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan, Naoshima is amazing. Go. I’d say it’s more for a return trip, after you’ve already got your head around the big sights and want to see what the smaller, hidden gems are. But it is unforgettable.
Worst travel experience
Neither of us got on with Malta, despite its many good points: excellent food, pretty sandy beaches, craft beer on its neighbouring isle of Gozo, and historical cities. I don’t think the terrible weather we had helped, but there was more to it.
Everyone I’ve spoken to loves or hates Malta. It isn’t just us who didn’t gel with it. Those who love it tend to ask if we hired a car there. We barely drive in the UK and never drive abroad, so maybe it’s more of a place for car lovers. This would make sense because one of the other places we’ve not enjoyed – Reykjavik in Iceland – is also better for drivers. Having said that, we stayed in Sliema, which we found a bit too tacky/touristy but was well connected for transport links
Malta absorbed or mirrored lots of bits from other places: the Moorish-style buildings of Morocco, the language and red phoneboxes of Britain, the parched landscape of the Canaries, the rude bus drivers and crazy traffic of… okay, they nicked those from many countries. Most of all, I thought that Malta had many similarities with Italy, but it lacked something. Everywhere we turned, it was heaving with tourists. I kept thinking of Rome: one of the most touristy cities that we still adore because there’s always somewhere you can get away. We didn’t find that in Valletta. Then in contrast to the crowds in the day, it emptied at night to be almost deserted.
It was all a bit soulless – the unfortunate traces of British rule and mass tourism weren’t our cup of tea. It’s rare we don’t like somewhere, but in Malta it was difficult to get a sense of the real place behind it.
Our 2017 travels: in total
2017 was a rubbish year in life in general but pretty good travel-wise. Here’s everywhere we went and when.
- January: Two weeks in our favourite: Japan. We visited: Naoshima the art island, Kobe the flower city, Nara the city of tame deer who love selfies, Himeji with its fairytale castle, Takamatsu for the best noodles in the world, and of course Tokyo where our friends live – including some off-the-beaten-track areas of Tokyo.
- February: A month spent recovering from the amount we ate and spent in Japan. Gulp.
- March: Yeah, still recovering.
- April: A week in Malta that we didn’t enjoy much. Stayed in Sliema, over the water from Valletta and the three cities.
- May: I went on my friend Matthew’s stag do in Milan, Italy, but didn’t blog it.
- June: Another non-blogged trip: Brighton (UK) for my friend Sian’s hen do.
- July: Following my friend Adam’s wedding in Clitheroe, we drove up to spend 4 days in my childhood favourite of south-west Scotland. We went with my mum and dad and stayed in Kirkcudbright, with days out across the Galloway region.
- August: Yet more weddings this month but no proper travel. Instead, we stayed local and visited the Treacle Market in Macclesfield, Cheshire.
- September: Off to bonny Scotland again. After my friend Sian’s wedding in Perthshire, we headed over for a short break in North Berwick, with a day trip to the Dean Village and Stockbridge area of Edinburgh.
- October: For the third time, we used another wedding to kick off a trip. We flew following my friend Matthew’s wedding to Ljubljana in Slovenia and then got a train to Zagreb in Croatia.
- November: A trip to my home city of Liverpool for a weekend with my parents (again, tied in with travel for a wedding there). We did loads of touristy stuff and I am determined to re-visit and post about Liverpool.
- December: Every year, we go to Shrewsbury for a Christmas weekend. Because we’ve blogged about our winter weekends in Shrewsbury before, I didn’t blog it this year.
What’s next for 2018?
The next trip is a return to our favourite winter sun destination, Madeira. Other than that, we don’t have much planned yet – and only two weddings and one hen do so far. So we should have more annual leave to use for travel this year.
Any suggestions on where we should go next? Answers on a postcard or, you know, in the comments.