2016 year in review
I’m not going to lie…I can’t wait to be done with 2016. It was an abysmal year on so many levels-personally, globally, not to mention the damning outcome of a certain tainted election here in the United States; more than a month later and I’m still in semi-disbelief.
At the beginning of the new year I started a brand new job. While it was still in my field, it was a complete 180 from what I had been doing for nearly five years. I like keeping my personal life private so all I’ll say here is that this year has been tough on my blog. I’ve really struggled to write posts at times and even more, hated the time involved with having to reformat photos. (On a side note, I can’t help but laugh when I see all of these full-time travel bloggers sharing intimate details of their personal life only to see them regret it when x months later, they’ve broken up with the person.)
But after six and a half years of blogging, I’ve reached the point where I don’t (mildly) freak out if I don’t publish the requisite number of posts each week. In the past, I was always “off” from blogging if I was traveling, but if I was home, I posted. Well, this year having a lot less free time and being more physically drained from the work day/week changed that. I didn’t always stick to my Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday posting schedule and I know it was fine. So starting in 2017, I’ll be posting twice a week although maybe more if the mood strikes.
But enough reflecting, time for the year in review portion of the post!
2016 by numbers:
Number of new countries visited: 4
Number of new states visited: 2
Number of plane rides: 15 (I unfortunately have to connect almost always)
Number of cruises: 1
Number of food tours I went on: 5 (I’m so proud of this number!)
Number of books read: 26
Number of new foods I prepared from scratch: 13
Number of blog posts I wrote: 126 (not bad for a full-time worker, eh?)
Where I traveled to:
An overnight in Cuyahoga Valley National Park; Charleston, South Carolina; Seattle, Washington; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (twice); Amish Country, Ohio; Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany; Western Caribbean cruise with stops in Mexico, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, and Cleveland, Ohio.
Charleston, South Carolina & Prague, Czech Republic
My two favorite cities that I visited this year ended up being the two most photogenic places I had ever been to. Even with having dismal gray skies the whole time I was there, Charleston was utterly stunning and just as beautiful as I knew it would be. Months after being there, I still look at my photos and can’t believe that the city isn’t some magnificent Hollywood backdrop.
Prague had been on my bucket list since forever, so I was beyond thrilled 2016 was the year I finally made it there. Minus the insane mobs, it truly lived up to all the hype and my own expectations. And unlike in Charleston, the weather was perfect the whole time I was there, albeit a bit hotter than I was expecting. But everything about the city was magical ranging from its medieval architecture to its thousand and one spires to the history that oozed out of every crevice.
Jamaica & Munich, Germany
Neither Jamaica nor Munich was high on my destinations wish-list but they ended up coming together since Jamaica was one of the stops on my Western Caribbean cruise and Munich was the perfect fit to pair with my trip to Prague. Jamaica’s natural beauty truly blew me away and Munich gave me my first taste of all things German. I’d love a return trip to both countries in the future but especially Germany since there’s so much to see and do there.
Mother-daughter trip, Prague food tour, Cozumel food tour
For years I had wanted to take a trip with my mom. Since 2008 I’ve traveled exclusively with D, so a change in travel partners was well…a lovely change. Minus the completely forgettable ending (more on that below), we had a terrific time. Charleston was truly the perfect city for such a trip and as two food and history obsessed individuals, well, it was fantastic.
I’ve now had the pleasure of going on nine food tours (in four American cities and three countries), and the one I went on in Prague this past September was hands down my favorite. The amount of food we were given was borderline absurd (in a good way) and the amount of time it lasted was crazy (over five hours), but it was just so utterly memorable due in part to the delicious array of local foods we were able to sample and our warm and welcoming tour guide.
One of the reasons I loved my food tour in Cozumel as much as I did was that one, I got to speak in Spanish (something I rarely get to do anymore), and two, it was totally off the tourist beaten path and into the real Mexico, the Mexico that so many foreign tourists never see. Mexico still gets such an unfair rap in the media that it’s dangerous; you’re at risk if you stray from your hotel, and yet I’ve never felt that way. I always just see hardworking and kind people like myself.
Most disappointing experiences:
Food poisoning, Seattle weather, Neuschwanstein Castle
All I can say is pray you never contract food poisoning, especially on a day you’re traveling and stuck in airports for hours . On the morning we were to leave Charleston, I woke up with food poisoning and it took over a week before I had some semblance of feeling back to normal. This wasn’t just disappointing, it was truly horrific.
I wasn’t expecting glorious weather in Seattle while I was there. C’mon, I’m not that naïve. However, I was hoping for semi-decent weather which never really happened. Naturally on the day we left, the temperatures were relatively warm and the sun was brightly shining. So as a photographer, I am disappointed that 90% of my Seattle photos feature lackluster gray backgrounds since it really is a striking city topographically.
I had heard the guided tour at Neuschwanstein Castle was fleetingly brief. I just didn’t know or realize that the 20 minute tour would be so bad. This was a combination of a not so good tour guide, way too many people crammed into each tour, and way too many tours taking place back to back. The inside of the castle truly is stunning (you’re not called eccentric without having some daring design styles in mind). However, it’s a shame the tour was so disappointing.
Most worthwhile experiences:
Terezin Ghetto/Concentration Camp, Pinkas Synagogue
I’ve been reading Holocaust literature since I was a child and I’ve always been interested in one of modern time’s darkest eras. So when it came time to planning my trip to Prague, I knew I would want to visit Terezin, a concentration camp only an hour away. It was one of the hardest places I’ve ever visited knowing what men did to each other here less than a century ago, and yet going here and places like it will always be needed. Terezin serves as a vivid reminder of what mankind is capable of and should never be allowed to do again. My visit here will always remain with me.
At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. there’s a small room whose walls are covered with pictures from floor to ceiling of the residents of a shtetl in Eastern Europe who were completely wiped out in the Holocaust. Not one person survived. The same feelings I had after being in that room returned at Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. It serves as the national memorial to the Czech victims of the Holocaust. All 77,297 names have been hand scribed onto the walls of this medieval era synagogue. It’s a staggering feeling when you completely turn and are surrounded by nothing but names of the dead.
Most memorable meals:
Circa 1886 (Charleston), Remy (Disney Fantasy cruise ship)
My mom and I dined at the lovely Circa 1886 our first night in Charleston and what a restaurant to begin our trip. I can still taste the exquisite scallops I had for my entrée. Although Charleston has no shortage of fine dining experiences, I can’t recommend Circa 1886 enough.
I first dined at Remy, Disney Cruise’s adults-only French restaurant, on my first ever Disney cruise way back in 2011 but hadn’t been back until this past October on my Western Caribbean cruise. As I’m more of a foodie now than I was then, my experience at Remy was that much more memorable. It’s a five course meal (you have one or two tasting menus to choose from) although there are plenty of chef-added extras throughout the dining experience. Since it’s named after my culinary hero Remy (from the Pixar film Ratatouille), I love it that much more. Service is also impeccable and not remotely rushed (unlike in the main dining rooms on the ship).
Best things I ate all year:
A tie between my Rollatini Mellanzane that I had at brunch at Palo on the Disney Fantasy and the chlebíčky (Czech-style open face sandwiches) I had on my Prague food tour. A perfect reason as to why I travel for food…
Best books I read:
A tie between two World War II reads, one fiction and one non-fiction. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts tells the story of the last American Ambassador to Germany and his family (especially his grown daughter) before World War II. Set in Berlin, it specifically focuses on the years 1933-1937 when Hitler rose to power and his nefarious policies started to consume the country. Although I didn’t make it to Berlin on my trip to Germany, it was still the perfect read for when I was in the country, especially after going on the Third Reich walking tour in Munich. It was non-fiction but so entirely gripping, you thought what you were reading was make believe, that foreign governments could never have been so blind and naïve when it came to Hitler and the Nazi Party, and that the daughter of an American ambassador could have behaved as recklessly as she did (the daughter was known to have had multiple affairs with high ranking Nazi officials as well as a KGB officer). Of the three Larson books I’ve read, it was far and away my favorite.
Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale literally took my breath away with almost each chapter and is historical fiction writing at its finest (I liked it even more than All the Light We Cannot See). It tells the story of two sisters-one who lives in a Nazi occupied small town and suffers in a way that only civilians do during wartime, the other, young and impetuous, who joins the French Resistance movement and ends up being one of its most valuable workers.
World War II is an era I never tire reading about (nor watching movies on). And these two books are exactly the reasons why. The fact that I saw and learned about a lot of World War II history on my trip to Central Europe didn’t hurt either.
What’s up next?
Although I have just about all of my 2017 travels mentally planned out, there’s only one trip actually booked. It’s to a part of the country I’ve never been to before, it’s traditionally a cold weather state, and it’s going to be more nature/landscape themed which I’m looking forward to.
Any guesses where it is? Do you have any travels planned for 2017 yet?