I know I already gave you a taste of my 2012 in photos (and with copious links) last week. But this week I wanted to sit down and look back at my most memorable moments of the past year (most of them travel-related). It was tough to narrow it down to just 12, but here's what I came up with:
12. Visiting Rila Monastery in Bulgaria
Ever since reading “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova nearly 7 years ago, I've been obsessed with the idea of visiting Eastern Europe. And, when I finally decided that this year would be the year, I put Rila Monastery at the top of my list.
This Orthodox monastery up in Bulgaria's Rila Mountains is not the easiest to get to (in fact, it involved the single worst 3-hour bus ride of my entire life), but as soon as I walked beneath the first painted archway and into the monastery's big courtyard, it was all worth it.
The bright frescoes, bearded monks, and calm atmosphere were 10 times better in person than in any novel.
11. Travel blogging madness in Colorado
I've been to quite a few conferences over the years (blogging and otherwise), but this summer's TBEX travel blogging conference in Keystone, Colorado, really was a step above all the rest. Not only did I share a kick-ass condo with some of my favorite bloggers for the long weekend, but TBEX and BlogWorld really pulled out all the stops.
We had a gourmet soiree at the top of a mountain (chocolate buffet and gondola ride included), a dude ranch-themed party thrown for us by Expedia (mechanical bull and cowboy hats included), and plenty of opportunities to network and hang out at the Keystone conference center.
I don't remember a time I laughed so much with people I have so much in common with than during that weekend.
10. Overlooking Half Dome at Yosemite National Park
In May I spent a week in San Francisco, and somehow convinced my friend and her roommate to go with me to Yosemite for a day. Yes, that means more than 6 hours total of driving to/from SF in order to spend about 8 hours at the park. But you know what? I would do it all over again.
My absolute favorite moment came late in the afternoon, after we had already explored the valley floor and driven another hour to get up to Glacier Point. As we walked to the edge of the viewpoint and the iconic Half Dome came into view, it's safe to say I was rendered speechless.
9. Walking the walls in Dubrovnik
I had a love-hate relationship with the Balkans this summer. I loved the pretty landscapes and the people I saw them with. But I hated the oppressive heat. The sticky temperatures were all but forgotten once we got to Dubrovnik, Croatia, however.
In the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” I had only one mission: to walk the medieval city walls. These walls have protected Dubrovnik for centuries, and walking the length of them affords some of the best views I've seen in Europe. Totally worth sweating my face off for.
8. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial in NYC
I took my third trip to New York City this fall with my mom and sister. Along with seeing a Broadway play, taking a food tour, and going up the Empire State Building, we also visited the 9/11 Memorial.
We took a walking tour of the site with volunteers from the Tribute Center as our guides. The serene site is beautiful no matter how you visit it, but having guides who were in the buildings on September 11, 2001, share their stories with us made the experience extra impactful.
7. Nearly dying on a mountain in Iceland
I didn't title this post my “best” or “favorite” moments from 2012 mostly because travel doesn't always have to be positive to be memorable. And let me tell you that pondering what broken legs would feel like while stuck up on a mountain is far from being a positive experience. It was actually pretty terrifying, especially once our jeep went over a small cliff, nose-diving into a snow bank and messing up the steering.
I will never, ever forget that day, or how glad I was to make it back to Reykjavik in one piece!
6. Exploring Budapest solo
This year was full of solo travel for me — including a 2-month backpacking trip around Europe. My first stop on that trip was Budapest, Hungary, which I spent 2 days exploring on my own. Since Budapest was my first “real” introduction to solo travel in Europe, it really sticks out in my mind.
5. Hiking on a glacier in Alaska
In August, my sister and I flew to Anchorage for a long weekend along with about a dozen other bloggers to take part in some adventurous activities in Alaska. The most epic of these was definitely hiking on the Matanuska Glacier.
We had warm weather, sunny skies, and an awesome guide to help us safely across the ice. I've seen glaciers up close before (and even hiked on one in New Zealand), but this experience was truly amazing — I've never seen ice formations like that up close before!
4. Seeing President Obama speak in Ohio
This one isn't really travel-related, but in September my choice of attending a large state university in Ohio finally paid off — the President stopped at Kent State on his campaign trail, and I managed to score a ticket to see him speak.
I'm not an especially political person, but it's not every day you get to see the President of the United States speak live and in person! His speech was lively and impassioned, and the energy in the room was electric.
3. Exploring Scotland with Haggis Adventures
Towards the end of my time in Europe, I went on a 5-day tour of the Scottish Highlands with Haggis Adventures. I was expecting the gorgeous scenery and friendliness of Scotland, but what I wasn't expecting was how amazing those 5 days would be.
This tour was, hands down, one of the best I have ever been on. We had a great guide, decent weather, and a small-ish group of travelers from all over the world that were up for just about anything, from ceilidh dancing to tartan toga night.
It was during this tour that I realized just how much I love traveling and that I didn't want to stop.
2. Stepping inside Hagia Sofia for the first time
If you haven't been to this basilica-turned-mosque-turned-museum in Istanbul, then you may not understand why it ranks so highly on my list. But believe me when I tell you that walking into this exquisite work of architecture may actually bring you to tears. Literally.
I stayed inside for hours, alternating between wanting to cry because it was so beautiful and smiling like a maniac because I was finally there.
1. Going to the London Summer Olympics
Even though it was tough choosing the 12 moments to highlight on this list, my #1 was never in question. Being in London for the Summer Olympics was simply amazing. And to actually be able to score tickets to see some Olympics gymnastics — my favorite sport! — live on Day 2 of the Games? It was a dream come true.
So there you have it. My top 12 memorable moments from the past year. Stay tuned next week, when I'll share with you some of my travel goals/dreams for 2013!
Do any of my 2012 memories surprise you?
Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she's actually traveled!