The end of the year always centers around the same big meditations: Another year has passed. What happened in the world and what happened in my life. What did I accomplish in the meantime?
Online it seems nearly unanimous: 2016 was rough. The state of the world feels catastrophic, and yet I feel it’s unfair to classify an entire year negatively. As any lover of Rent would know, a year is 525,600 minutes (it’s daylights and sunsets) and we can measure it in a million ways (like in midnights or cups of coffee…)
The year began with me still grieving my father’s death. Marco and I planned new trips; I finished the school year with chicken pox, healed and enjoyed friends’ visits. Later, we mourned when Marco’s dignified and fiery grandmother passed away, a wound soldered by the near simultaneous discovery that I was pregnant.
Professionally I worked to expand. I solidified my relationships at school and my precarious position became less so. I signed up for a writing course, produced new articles and finally made it to a TBEX conference, the celebrated and freaking fun travel blogger’s conference held in Stockholm this year. It’s not easy to dream up new projects and then follow them through, and while I admittedly lost momentum half way (about when I found out I was pregnant, in my defense), I haven’t given up.
Though 2015 was an explosive year with weddings, epic honeymoons and my father’s death, 2016 has definitely been more of a high/low mix – including in my travel life.
We went from scrapping big plans for a long weekend in Turkey after yet another bomb scare to a road trip throughout Friuli Venezia Giulia. My best friend’s visit in late June brought me back to Verona for yet another opera, to Lake Garda, Milan and soaking up the sun in Liguria. In my first trimester I traveled to Stockholm solo for the conference and came back more nauseous than ever. We lazily toured central Italy with friends this summer, living that country life, and followed it by a disillusioning but whirlwind trip to Paris. After, we retreated to the mountains to rest and recuperate.
This year we ultimately decided not to return to Ohio for Christmas for the first time since my move to Italy. Though sad, my growing belly and diminishing energy levels are thankful. Instead, I put down roots and put up a tree – our first Christmas tree together! – and decided it was time to truly build a community.
We can measure a year by our professional and monetary accomplishments, but I prefer to measure it just like this, in travel and love.
My 2016 Travel Review:
Like any decent review, the post is link-heavy. Follow the links to read more about my experiences in each place, and how you can experience it also!
And of course, be sure to leave a comment and tell me all the amazing places you traveled to this year!
March: Friuli Venezia Giulia, 3 hours in Slovenia
For the first time ever, I found myself canceling a trip instead of going on one. Though we had tickets booked for Istanbul – an absolute dream of mine – a fifth explosion in as many months forced us to reconsider. Though I’m not a proponent of canceling trips based on fear, we did ultimately decide to cancel our trip to Turkey. Follow the link for the full explanation of why.
Instead, we hastily planned a road trip through Friuli Venezia Giulia with friends, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Here are some of the highlights of where we went, and what we saw:
Marco and I finally cashed in on our spa gift cards to celebrate one of our many anniversaries (a perk of getting married three separate times!). Bormio is a ski town in northern Lombardy, in a long narrow valley ending in Switzerland called Valtellina. We didn’t go to ski, but we did go to partake in the town’s second biggest draw: its ancient, and famous, natural thermal baths.
We soaked up the sun outside, warmed in hot tubs of natural mountain spring water, while the peaks around us still glistened with snow. Bliss.
June: Milan; Verona; Sirmione; Portofino & San Fruttuoso, Liguria
Then in June the long-awaited event happened: My college roommate came to visit! With just 8 days to spare, I think we really chose the best of the best. Though the itinerary was vast, we still enjoyed long aperitivi, a party at our house and time to tan by the pool and the seaside.
July: Stockholm; Central Italy
July was a travel tornado. The day after my friend left Italy I found out I was pregnant. Four short days after that and I was on a nauseating flight to Stockholm for the 2016 TBEX Conference. I was there for just four days, but with a mix of organized tours, free museum passes, rooms full of travel experts and plenty of free time to explore, I was able to see much of the city.
I found it wholesome and clean, boring and brilliant. It is expensive, it’s true, but little beats the efficient transportation systems, friendly people and 3 am July sun.
After Stockholm we accepted a friend’s invitation to spend a few days at his country home in Carpegna, Le Marche. We reveled in clear blue skies, homemade food and good friends, and after drove in a U across central Italy: south to Urbino, east to Gubbio, then Orvieto, Arezzo and home. It was a great mini-trip with all of Central Italy’s highlights: small, ancient towns; warm weather; fresh pasta and down-to-earth locals.
Immediately after central Italy, we washed and repacked for 8 days in Paris. Now this was my idea. Marco kindly suggested a relaxing beach holiday (remember: in my first trimester) and I clung to the notion that this would be our LAST TRIP EVER! and EVERYTHING WOULD CHANGE! For me it was clear, we had to do this while we still could. So we flew to Paris.
Do you see how beautiful that is? And yet, for us it was the wrong place at the wrong time. We struggled to marry our visions of Paris with the face, and smell, of Paris that actually greeted us. We struggled to accept the high prices, the extremely inadequate four-star hotel (seriously? this counts as four stars?) and the clear social and racial divisions that we perceived even in this short amount of time.
Don’t freak out yet; I never said I hated Paris.
I just said that it wasn’t the right moment for us to go. We were ripped off on the metro system by a pro, ripped off at Versailles by the palace itself and left feeling appreciative that we saw it, but happy to be heading home.
September: Lake Como; Milan; Val d’Orcia, Tuscany
In late August-early September two lovely friends came to Italy on their honeymoon. They stayed with us for about a week, giving us time to show them Monza, Bergamo, the Lake District and explore Milan just a bit.
Then we headed South for a roadtrip in Tuscany. That’s where I got to play tourist again in Siena, the best time yet, and see Montepulciano. We also made a pit stop on the way home to check out the absolutely unknown Rocca di Staggia, an important fortress during the continual fight between Florence and Siena (Monteriggioni was likely built in response to this fort). No one was around and no ticket booth to be found, so we simply walked in to explore and stumbled upon a truly kooky art exhibit. Later an overseer kindly explained to us that we had just accidentally broke in to the 1st-century castle. Oops.
After that Liv and Stephen continued on to Florence and then Cinque Terre for one hell of a honeymoon while Marco and I headed home and back to the real world.
Padova should have been a part of a longer weekend trip with our best long-weekend traveling friends (see: Umbria and Road Trip to Tuscany). Alas, high fevers and a toothache cut the weekend short, and our plans to see Ferrara and Mantova were canceled. Still, we enjoyed our day in Padova. It was more than enough to understand that we’ll absolutely have to go back!
December: “Home” for Christmas
Each year since I’ve moved to Italy we’ve been lucky enough to return home to Ohio for a visit. It’s been wonderful to spend my birthday and Christmas with my American friends, family and loved ones. I couldn’t be more grateful. This year, with an ever-growing belly and diminishing days off work, we decided to pass the holidays at our own home here in Italy.
It’s hard to not see my family at Christmas, especially during my first pregnancy, but I know that no matter where I am, I’m there in love. Time to make our own traditions for our small-yet-growing family.
Happy New Year!