Our Reflections on 2019

Our danderings this year took us 11,507 road-miles across 12 European countries- UK, France, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal in that order.

On one negative side we have witnessed first hand the effects of global warming in our travels – extended droughts, other extreme weather events causing damage & floods, the late arrival of spring and unusual summer weather, the retreat of glaciers, and from local people everywhere, “it never used to be like this” We have shared the bewilderment and sadness of our European neighbours as the UK slowly and painfully tore itself apart over Brexit – there are times when not getting British TV can be a blessing! And of course there were our ‘van problems – the fridge, the batteries, the blocked plumbing and resultant flooding, and of course our painful encounter with a ‘Stop’ sign in Greece leaving scars that need attention.

We have also missed our family and friends and are still adjusting to the loss of Kate’s mum.

But on the positive side we have loved continuing to exploring new places. Looking back through our photos which Kate is finally getting round to sorting, our highlights included

  • Brittany, which even in March is quite lovely. We loved the St Patricks “Day celebrations, and the standing stones at Carnac are an amazing sight whatever the weather.
  • Getting to spend some quality time at the Normandy invasion sites and finally visit the Bayeux Tapestry.  
  • Spring in Greece. We loved the wildflowers, the walking and exploring the fantastic archaeological sites, particularly Delphi, Mycenae, Mystras & Acrocorinth, and wandering round some excellent museums, but the highlight in Greece has to be the scenery and stopovers as we hugged our way round the coast of the Peleponnese, all senses heightened by the ‘interesting’ road quality and sheer drops. 
  • When we fled the heat of Greece in July we travelled up Italy and met up with friends and family which was absolutely lovely. And our detour to Florence gave us the wonders of the Galileo Galilei Museum and Uffizi gallery as well as some excellent food.
  • We discovered Switzerland. Okay, it’s too expensive for us to rush back, but the scenery lived up to every expectation and, after Greece, the roads were a delight. And we had possibly the best experience of the year, which was walking on the Jungfrau in the snow – once we got away from the crowds. 
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On the Jungfrau
  • In Germany we finally got to visit Hitler’s Eagles Nest, then moved on to discover the Black Forest by foot, bike and ‘van’ before taking a steam-train trip & Rhine cruise. We also learned that there are places in the world with weather as temperamental as in the UK.
  • Three months in Portugal where we had a great 2-weeks with friends, enjoyed the wildness and birdwatching at Sagres with a brilliant bird/dolphin-watching boat trip, celebrated Kate’s birthday in Lisbon, and found that our favourite part of Portugal so far is Alantejo with its white towns and villages and traditional agriculture. 
  • And in Spain we finally got to Ronda and Cordoba and found Ronda to be a little gem.

It’s been a year for good year for eating too. We saved up enough to do some fine dining in Belfast, Brittany, Athens and Freiburg in the Black Forest and although the seafood at Patrick Jeffroy in Brittany was superb it has to be said the winter’s night offering at Ox in Belfast was probably the tastiest menu we sampled.

But really some the stand-out meals were more simple fare prepared with love in small places, like the tapas in the tiny bar in Evora that closes its doors once all 12 seats are filled. There was the ham, cheese and egg galettes in Brittany and the perfect Greek salad in Drepano, the frogs legs in Bayeaux and the pork & clams in Faro. Kate took to Flammenküche in Germany and Danny developed a real taste for Portuguese custard tarts.

With Brittany, Spain, Portugal & Greece in the mix it was an excellent year for sampling seafood with Danny finally getting to sample the hideous looking goose barnacles popular in Spain & Portugal which of course he took to straight away. And in our experience to date no-one grills like the Greeks, and my word they know how to stuff a squid! And of course the tortillas de camerones at Romerijo’s amazing seafood place in El Puerto Santa Maria which is now a “must” for us if we are in the vicinity.

We haven’t cycled as much as we would have liked, a side-effect of carrying the bikes partially dismantled in the garage, and we have pined for a good British hill-walk at times with a cosy pub and real ale at the end. We still miss hot-baths and roaring fires, the company of old friends and Christmases the way we used to spend them. But are we ready to trade it in? Not likely! Sitting in the sunshine on New Year’s Day in 22°C while we chat about where to go next is a good persuader of the joys of travelling. Ideally we’d like a base at home, but letting out the house lets us do this, and for now at least we’re going to keep on rolling. We don’t know what effect Brexit will have so we intend to make the most of next year. 

New Years Resolutions? The usual ones – drink less, lose weight and do more exercise. But also to wild-camp more (once the batteries are replaced) and, of course, explore more. Happy New Year!

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