Going into 2012, I knew it was going to take a lot to top my travels in 2011. Hawaii, Chicago, New Zealand, Vancouver, and a U.S. road trip had made 2011 one of my most travel-filled years to date.
But move over, 2011, because 2012 just blew you out of the water.
This past year has, without a doubt, been one of the best years of my life. I didn't *quite* meet my goal of traveling somewhere every month, but I made up for it by visiting about a dozen new countries and making so many travel memories that I don't know what to do with them all.
To help me organize my thoughts, here's a look back at all of my amazing adventures from the past year, in photos:
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
I kicked off 2012 by freezing my butt off in Canada's capital. A reader had offered me some frequent flier miles as long as I let him choose my destination, and so I found myself headed to the Great White North just after New Year's. Ottawa, as it turns out, is a pretty awesome city. I visited Parliament Hill in the snow, drank lots of hot drinks, went to a couple of museums, explored the ByWard Market neighborhood, and even stayed in a haunted jail.
Instead of heading somewhere warm for Spring Break, I decided to go in another direction — north again, this time to Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice has been on my radar for quite a few years, and I decided that 2012 would be the year I finally visited. I spent 5 days there exploring the capital city of Reykjavik, seeing natural wonders like geysers and waterfalls in the Golden Circle and on the South Shore, learning about elves and trolls, eating some weird food, riding adorable Icelandic horses, and relaxing at the Blue Lagoon. It wasn't all amazing, though. I also nearly died on a mountain, and was thwarted out of seeing the Northern Lights by uncooperative weather. It was still SO worth the trip, though.
To celebrate surviving my first year of grad school, I headed to the West Coast for a week in May to visit my friend Lisa and explore San Francisco for the first time. I spent days just wandering around the city, getting to know San Francisco's neighborhoods, seeking out awesome street art and great views, visiting Alcatraz, biking the Golden Gate Bridge, and even going on an Urban Adventure. I also tracked down the Full House house, rode a cable car, photographed Chinatown, and much, much more. It was a jam-packed week, to say the least.
Yosemite National Park
As a day trip from San Francisco, my friend Lisa, her roommate and I headed to Yosemite National Park. We took a tour of the valley floor, drove up to Glacier Point to look out over Half Dome, and saw some Giant Sequoias at Mariposa Grove. We had perfect weather to visit what has to be one of the most stunning national parks in the U.S.
New England and the Canadian Maritimes
I spent the beginning of June traveling with my family. We took a weeklong cruise from Boston through New England and the Canadian Maritimes. We went lighthouse-spotting in Portland, Maine, ate seaweed in St. John's, New Brunswick, visited Peggy's Cove near Halifax, and fell in love with Cape Breton Island. Not only was it a great family vacation, but the cruise inspired me to want to explore more of Canada sometime.
A few days after the cruise, I left the ocean behind and headed for the mountains. This year's TBEX travel blogging conference took place in Keystone, Colorado, high up in the Rockies. I spent a few days living it up with my fellow bloggers, partying atop mountains, partying with Expedia, and partying in amazing ski condos. And, you know, attending a conference, too. On my last day in Colorado, I teamed up with Cailin, Dave, and Dustin and roadtripped to Rocky Mountain National Park for a gorgeous day at high altitude.
The end of June marked the beginning of my summer jaunt through Europe. I began in Budapest, Hungary, strolling along the Danube, checking out some ruin bars, and even finding time to hang out at the Szechenyi Baths before meeting up with my Intrepid Travel tour group. From Budapest, we went wine tasting in Eger, and enjoyed the colorful town of Debrecen before crossing the border by train into Romania.
Romania ended up being one of the surprise destinations of the summer for me. We began in the picturesque Maramures region, visiting monasteries and a happy cemetery. Next it was on to colorful Sighisoara, rural Viscri, and the tourist center of Brasov before ending in Bucharest, the country's capital. I was blown away by how relatively easy it was to travel in Romania, along with the wealth of things to see and do there. I'll definitely be back someday.
By July, I was in Bulgaria with Intrepid, visiting the medieval capital of Veliko Tarnovo, the present-day capital of Sofia, and Roman-influenced Plovdiv. Some of my most memorable experiences from the summer took place in Bulgaria, from making a mini-pilgrimage to the stunning Rila Monastery to adopting some Bulgarian babas to visiting a dancing bear sanctuary near Bansko. Bulgaria may not be on the typical tourist trail in Europe, but it surprised me in many ways. It's a beautiful country in all senses of the word.
After Bulgaria, I spent a few days on my own exploring the amazing city of Istanbul, from Hagia Sofia to the Grand Bazaar. It really is a city where East meets West, and I need to get back there soon to see more of it. I then hopped on a Busabout tour and headed over to the Gallipoli Peninsula to learn more about a part of WWI that I had never known about before.
In Greece, I discovered that Athens isn't really the city for me (at least, not in the oppressive summer months), but that cliff-top monasteries and coastal cities like picture-perfect Parga are more my speed. Next time I'll definitely be hitting up the islands.
Albania and Montenegro
From Greece, we zipped through Albania. My verdict? Albania is just weird, but I'm glad I got to see it during its formative years as a tourist destination. Then it was onto Montenegro (definitely on my “must go back to” list), where we lounged on rocky beaches and partied at tree house clubs.
After spending an afternoon ticking off a bucket list item by walking the walls in Dubrovnik, my Busabout tour ended in the coastal city of Split. I stayed there to recharge for a few days and explore before heading north, making a brief stop in Zagreb to visit the Museum of Broken Relationships.
Slovenia was one of the countries I had been looking forward to the most this summer — and it did not disappoint. I fell in love with the capital city of Ljubljana, relaxed in the resort town of Bled, oogled some caves and castles, and went on a full-day adventure in Triglav National Park that included both hiking and whitewater rafting. If you're looking for a country with stunning scenery, pretty cities, and friendly locals, you needn't look any further than Slovenia. Seriously, I could live there.
I wrapped up July by flying to the UK (my first flight since arriving in Hungary a month earlier, I should add — I did most of my traveling through Europe by train and bus), with my first stop being London for 6 days. There, I went to the Olympics, caught up with some blogging friends, took day trips to places like Bath and Oxford and Stonehenge, and gave in to my geeky tendencies and went hunting for Harry Potter. It was the beginning of a love affair with London that I don't think will subside anytime soon.
From London, I took the train up to Edinburgh in early August to explore Scotland for a couple of weeks. Along with experiencing Edinburgh during festival season, I also signed up for a tour with Haggis Adventures that took me up into the Scottish Highlands for 5 days. It was, hands-down, one of the best tours I have ever been on. We went searching for Nessie, danced at a ceilidh, wore tons of tartan, saw more lochs and castles than you could shake a stick at, and had an all-around amazing time. From there, I headed over to Glasgow for a few days to catch up with some friends from home and attend the World Pipe Band Championships.
England (again) and Wales
My last few days in Europe (for the summer, at least) were spent on the border of England and Wales. I stayed with my friend Dan in Flint and made him take me to Chester and Liverpool (and go on a Beatles tour with me). I also annoyed him with my indecisiveness and made him cook me scrambled eggs, which he thought were weird. It was a nice, relaxed way to end my Euro trip, which was just what I needed.
About a week after I got back from Europe, I was jetting off yet again, this time with my sister. The Hilton Garden Inn in Anchorage invited a handful of bloggers up to Alaska to do things like gorge ourselves on awesome food, hike on a glacier, play with sled dogs, and even make out with mooses. (Moose. Meese?) It was a quick trip (just 3 days), but it was a blast, and I was glad to get to share the adventure with my sister. We need to travel together more.
Once I was back in grad school, I didn't have as much time for long trips abroad. But I managed to squeeze in a couple of long weekends to some great destinations closer to home. I started off with a 4-day weekend in Chicago, where I met up with Jules and Nicole, two Australian girls I had met in Europe over the summer. We rented an amazing Air BnB apartment in the city and spent the weekend going to museums, eating as much American food as possible (hello deep dish!), visiting Chicago landmarks like The Bean and the Willis Tower, and even catching some improv comedy and going salsa dancing.
New York City
A week after Chicago, I headed to the Big Apple with my mom and sister for another 4-day weekend. We went on a delicious food tour, walked around Central Park, saw some movie sites in the city, hung out in Times Square, saw the Lion King on Broadway, visited the 9/11 Memorial, went up the Empire State Building, and even went to Madame Tussaud's when the weather got bad. We packed a lot in to a relatively short trip, but it all helped me fall in love with New York City in a way that I hadn't on previous visits.
My last major trip of the year took my back to my favorite city — London! I didn't do much by way of sightseeing but instead caught up with many of my blogger friends (and made new ones!) and attended World Travel Market. Seeing London as more of a local than a tourist re-affirmed my love of the city. It's a place I fully intend to live in someday!
Wow. Looking back through this post is pretty amazing. I really did ALL THAT in 2012? I am one lucky, lucky girl.
Here's hoping 2013 is just as great!
What sorts of adventures did YOU have in 2012?
Stay tuned next week, when I'll share my top 12 memorable moments from 2012!