It has sort of become a tradition for me to review and summarize the year that’s ending, from a travel point of view. If you’d rather see where I’m going next, jump to the end!
This year I visited three new countries, re-visited three others, and even discovered a new spot in my own country for a total of 18 weeks away from home. I undertook four house-sitting assignments (providing me with 9 weeks of free accommodation), attended two blog-related events abroad, and celebrated 40 years of friendship with my high-school pal. It was a more expensive year than usual travel-wise, which is not surprising since I only travelled to developed (first world) countries, a rather unusual occurrence.
The beginning of 2016 saw me in Wellington, New Zealand, wrapping up one house-sitting assignment and starting another. Wellington is a beautiful city when the sun is shining, which it did for most of my time there.
I spent the following two weeks travelling around the South Island, starting with Christchurch, where I was surprised to discover that re-construction efforts are still ongoing, five years after a devastating earthquake. I spent a week in the holiday town of Wanaka where I kayaked on a blue lake ringed by snowy mountains, hiked a few trails (including hitchhiking to reach Mount Aspiring National Park), and toured a couple of wineries in a funny French car. Next I travelled up the rainy West Coast where I was hoping to see the face of the Fox Glacier (rather disappointing this year) and the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki (quite cool).
After seven weeks in New Zealand I flew to Melbourne, Australia, for a week. It was my first time in this city and I really enjoyed its multicultural outlook, coffee culture, and laneways full of street art and cafés.
I then flew to Brisbane for a few days where the hot and humid weather took some getting used to. Brisbane surprised me with its skyscrapers, bridges, and urban beach. I expected something much more… provincial. I spent the next seven weeks in hot Queensland.
Fortunately, Tamborine Mountain where I house-sat next, was a little cooler. I had two separate assignments for the same homeowner totalling about two weeks, so I got to stay at their house for an entire month! It was very sedate up there, but fortunately the house and cats were wonderful and there were lots of Netflix movies to watch. I did manage a few trips into town though (three kilometres on foot) and the owner and her sister both took me around in their car (to the beaches of the Gold Coast and hiking on the mountain respectively).
At the very end of February, I was back in Brisbane for a few nights and then on to North Stradbroke Island for some sun and sand before yet another house-sitting assignment. I spent two weeks in the suburban town of Victoria Point, taking care of a very spoiled but beautiful Russian Blue cat.
On March 21 I returned home to Toronto, after one of my most insane series of flights ever: three flights and two layovers, one of which was 10 hours long. This is what happens when you try to piece together a one-way flight halfway around the world in the cheapest way possible!
Philadelphia had been on my radar for a couple of years, thanks to the Philly Tourist Office who are aggressively promoting the destination. When I received notice that Blog House was going to be held there in June 2016, I just had to apply! Blog House is a 4-day workshop where a small group of bloggers are mentored by successful professional bloggers (that is, bloggers who are actually running their blog as a business and making money). To my great delight, I was accepted and joined 13 other participants and 5 mentors in Philadelphia!
This was not a free trip though. In fact it was way beyond my normal travel budget (Blog House fee, hotel, etc). Fortunately they organized a lot of free events in the evenings, and I didn’t have to buy any food for four days. I met great people on this trip, even if Blog House itself was a little different from what I expected.
I travelled to Iceland, Denmark and Sweden for the first time this summer. There are two reasons why I didn’t make it to Scandinavia sooner: high costs, and the fact that summer, the best season to visit, is also the time when I normally stay home since it’s also the best time of year in Canada. But this year, TBEX Europe (Travel Bloggers’ Conference) was in Stockholm, so I took this as my cue to pop over there. I enjoyed my trip but I had to watch my pennies like crazy, choosing to stay in many AirBnB rooms with shared bathrooms.
After a quick stop in Montreal to visit family and friends, I boarded an Icelandair flight to Reykjavic, Iceland, for a 4-day stopover. Leaving 29C sunny Montreal to land in 9C rainy Rekjavic five hours later was a shock to say the least.
Twenty-four hours of light but highs of barely 13C gave a new meaning to the word “summer”. The country grew on me after a few days though, especially after my trip to Iceland’s South Coast where I got to see some of the natural features the country is famous for: black sand beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, and glaciers. I also learned a lot of interesting facts about this unusual nation.
Next, I hopped over to Denmark for 6 days, just enough time to visit the main sights of Copenhagen while trying not to starve (food is so expensive here) and then a couple of days in Helsingör where Hamlet castle stands. Hamlet was even in residence when I visited!
I spent the following two weeks in Sweden visiting Göteborg, Örebro (I have a friend there) and of course beautiful Stockholm.
The Stockholm and Swedish Tourism Offices really spoiled TBEX participants with two pre-conference tours, and for many, a post-conference FAM trip to a lesser known region of the country. I visited art museums with a guide, ate the Nobel 2015 dinner, and toured the region of Småland with a small group of bloggers for three days. And then of course, there were the parties, including one where I dressed up as a flapper from the 1920s!
Montreal and Eastern Townships (Canada)
In early September I was back in Montreal for a very special event. My best friend from high school and I decided to spend a long week-end together in the Eastern Townships of Quebec to celebrate 40 years of friendship. She not only picked the destination but pretty much organized the whole trip since she was very familiar with the towns of Compton and Coaticook, making it a very easy trip for me.
It was a fun but busy week-end of agro-tourism, hiking and chatting. I was even able to get us comped tickets to Foresta Lumina, a sound-and-light show in the local forest that really put Coaticook on the map.
Los Angeles, USA
My last trip of the year was to Los Angeles to visit another friend for American Thanksgiving in late November. There was a lot of eating involved, and not so much touring, but I still managed to see a few new neighbourhoods, including a hike to the Griffith Observatory at the top of Griffith Park, with amazing views over downtown LA and all the way to the ocean.
Starting 2017 on the right foot
I hope you enjoyed my retrospective 2016. What’s next?
I’m leaving for Spain in two weeks, where I’ll spend most of my time in the Canary Islands, a Zika-free destination that claims to have the perfect weather. I’d be happy with sun and temperatures above 16C right now. Toronto is so bleak in winter, it makes me feel depressed and low-energy.
Before I go though, I want to wish a Happy New Year to all the travel nuts out there. Keep reading and keep travelling!