Everyone says the same thing once the final days of December start to roll around, but I truly cannot believe that this year is already over. It seems like yesterday I was writing up my 2015 travel highlights post and now here I am again with a whole new 365 days to look back and reflect on. This past year has had some amazing moments, incredible memories that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It also has had some incredibly painful moments, which have taught me important lessons but nevertheless left me heartbroken.
Losing my friend Chase, while being the worst thing I’ve ever experience in my life, has opened my eyes to how much of a gift every single day is, and has made me find appreciation in things that I previously overlooked. I try to take nothing for granted, and to take great pleasure in the small things in life. I’ve also learned how precious life is; losing three important people; Chase, my uncle Lou, and my friend Molly’s mom, all too soon, were reminders that we need to live each day to the fullest.
I am so grateful for the experiences that I’ve had and the places I’ve been able to see this past year. I look forward to more adventures in 2017. Here are the highlights from all the spots I was fortunate enough to pass through in 2016.
Nothing like ringing in the New Year with a pint of Guinness in Temple Bar! I spent New Years in Dublin with my friend Katie, and despite the torrential rain we experience in our three days there, we had a ton of fun at the Guinness storehouse and walking around Temple Bar area.
After regrouping in Madrid with our other friend (also named Katie) we popped down to the south of Spain to visit Seville. It was an absolutely beautiful city. We enjoyed tapas, flamenco and the architecture of the Alcazar.
After Seville we flew to the east to land in Barcelona, and experience all the wonders of Gaudí and the beauty of the Catalonian city. We walked a ton; up to the highest viewing point of Parc Güell, all throughout the city via Las Ramblas, and even to the harbor to admire the oceans.
I took the month of February off from traveling, so once Semana Santa (Spanish spring break) rolled around, I was itching to get out of the dreary, drizzly Madrid. We started our 10 day journey by first flying down to Malaga. We walked all around the city, ate seafood on the beach and enjoyed the sunshine.
After Malaga we made our way to the port of Algeciras on the tip of Spain near Gibraltar, to catch a ferry to Tangier. My first footsteps on the continent of Africa. This was the view from the roof of our hostel, and although we were only there for a short time, the glimpse of the city has made me curious to go back and explore it further.
Jumping on a CTM bus, we made our way into the mountains. It’s about a two hour journey from Tangier. Chefchaouen is a magical city, where all the walls are bathed in blue and you can enjoy all the wonderful aspects of Morocco without being overwhelmed by the intensity of the bigger cities.
If there is one must-see city in Morocco, most would probably say its Marrakech, but my vote would be for Fez. This city is alive; it breathes, it has a mind of its own. It’s said that there are over 9,000 streets within the medina, all twisting and turning into a labyrinth of spices, beautiful rugs, leather goods, sweets, fruits and vegetables and every other good and knick knack you can possibly imagine.
By the time I reached Marrakech, my draw to the bustling of the souks and stalls selling jewelry and other products had worn thin. I wasn’t interested in shopping anymore. Instead, we got out of the city and had a cab driver take us to the Atlas Mountains for a day trip. We enjoyed a tagine on an outdoor patio that had a river rushing right past it. On the other bank of the river, wild monkeys were jumping up and down as diners threw pieces of bread to them. It was a beautiful escape from the intensity of the city.
Right after getting back from Morocco, I was on a plane again, headed back in the same direction to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. They are located just off the western coast of Morocco, but owned by Spain. I flew down there to check out a foundation that I was looking into doing a summer internship at, the Atlantic Whale Foundation.
I feel lucky to have gotten to experience the beauty and culture of Istanbul when I did, as things have taken a turn for Turkey due to all of the awful things happening in Syria at the moment. A lot of travel is restricted or not recommended to the beautiful city. Here is me on a bench in front of the Hagia Sofia.
After Istanbul and after the kids had their final rounds of examinations, I took a few days off and flew home for a long weekend, which sounds insane but it was worth it. Seeing friends, reconnecting with my city and enjoying the first round of outdoor beer festivals as summer begins to ramp up in Minneapolis is truly a special time.
After getting back to Spain after my short stint at home, I finally got to indulge in a Valencian paella, the beautiful beaches, and sunshine for a weekend with my friend Adele. We rented bikes and biked from our hostel in the city center to the beach and enjoyed the nice weather for a few days.
Back to Tenerife
After Valencia and the end of the school year, the kids headed home for summer and I headed back to Tenerife where I started my internship with the Atlantic Whale Foundation. I have so many incredible memories from this past summer, and it really was an experience I will never forget. I have a lot more photos from the summer which are far more beautiful, but I chose this one because it is an accomplishment I am rather proud of, climbing to the peak of Mt. Teide, the 3rd tallest volcano in the world.
After living it up in Tenerife for the summer, I returned to Madrid for two weeks of work before it was time to head back to an island. This time it was Malta, a place I had dreamed about visiting for a long time. I am lucky to have Josh in my life, a real-life Maltese person and beautiful human being, who showed me around his little island country and took me to Comino, a tiny island with the most incredible blue lagoons.
A long weekend in Copenhagen was awesome! It gave me the crisp taste of autumn that was lacking in Madrid. I rented a bike, explored the city, saw the sights and ate amazing food. So much food. It was a really nice weekend and I would love to return someday.
The only trip I took in November was up to the north for a weekend. We started out in Asturias, I was visiting a friend who lived in Avilés, and then we made our way to Santander for a concert. I finished out the weekend with a night in Bilbao. Despite the consistent rain, I was able to walk around and enjoy some pinxtos – the tapas of the north of Spain/Basque country.
At the beginning of December I met my Mom, Aunt and friend Nayda in London for a whirlwind of a weekend seeing the sights, eating one incredible meal after the next and getting in the Christmas spirit by walking through the winter wonderland and the decorative lights that illuminated the shopping districts. We were so lucky to have incredible weather the whole time too – nothing was soggy about England for us!
Spain was generous in giving out long weekends in December – almost immediately after returning from London, I was back on a flight to Germany! First stop – Hamburg. The city itself was a bit underwhelming, but I enjoyed walking around the Christmas market in the main plaza and eating too much and drinking too much glühwein. It was a great way shut down my inner scrooge and start getting festive.
After one day in Hamburg I jumped on a 3 hour bus ride to Berlin. Berlin was really great – so much history, so many museums and so many things to just walk around, see and do. The Christmas markets were also incredible, I made some new friends from the hostel and we spent several evenings walking stall to stall, drinking glühwein and eating different German foods. It’s a real tragedy what happened at the Christmas markets, only a week after I left. I hope that the world will rediscover peace in 2017 and these sort of incidents will be less common.
I feel so fortunate to have had the incredible experiences that I have had during my past year and a half as an English teacher in Madrid. Although it scares me a bit to know that this May it is coming to a end, I look forward to moving back to the US for new adventures in life. I feel really lucky to also have a supportive community of family and friends who read my blog, watch my YouTube videos and follow along on my adventures. Thank you so much to all of you who read this far down, your support and interest in this hobby that has taken me so many places really means everything to me. I hope to expand and do so much more in the upcoming years.
The adventure continues…