Woohoo! I’m home! After six months of almost non-stop travel across four continents, it’s time to stop for a bit, enjoy my time at home and reflect on my travels in the first half of the year. It’s certainly been an amazing six months with innumerable fun (and dorky) moments, many lessons learned and several dreams come true. As I look back – I’m using my digital agenda to help me remember – I’m wondering out loud, “Gosh, did I really do all that?!”. From the tropical heat of Malaysia to the frozen wilderness of Lapland; zipping across Canada from Yukon to Nova Scotia; and being soaked by the Iguassu Falls in Brazil a week later… it’s pretty surreal once I start thinking about the tens of thousands of miles I’ve covered in the past six months so I decided to do a recap to jig my memory (it’s still a bit hazy) and convince myself that it was all very real. I hope you’ll stick around and re-live these memories with me. It’s a lot more fun that way! Here we go!
The start of 2012
2012 started with a quiet New Year’s Day brunch at home in Amsterdam. Not long after, I was on my first trip of 2012… to Malaysia. It was a wonderful trip as I got to spend lots of time with my family and hang out with my favourite Malaysian blogger friends. We even organised a tweet-up at the Trader’s Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, which has arguably the best view of the Petronas Twin Towers. The highlight though was a side-trip to Phuket, Thailand, for a few days on the beach with my two childhood friends, Allan and Eugene. Needless to say, we had a terrific time! Before I left Malaysia, I got to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur… in a massive suite… with butler service. The pillow cases had my initials embroidered on them! The start of 2012 couldn’t have been better!
Adventures in Lapland
Several weeks later, I found myself floating in a frozen lake 150km north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland! That was an incredible experience which I would recommend to everyone. One of my dreams came true on this trip: to see the Aurora Borealis or northern lights. They danced in the sky almost every night I was there. ‘Bewildering’ is probably the best description of that experience! Finnish Lapland simply blew my mind away with its range of unique experiences; aside from ice-floating, I stayed in a design igloo at the Snow Village, rode a husky-sled, went snow-shoeing and sat in a sauna gondola! I wish there was a photo of me trying to climb out of five feet of snow while snow-shoeing – I bet it was a hilarious sight!
“Never say never!”
Not long after that trip to Finland, I stood on a stage at ITB Berlin (the world’s largest travel trade fair) and spoke about travel blogging to almost 500 people. I quivered and the adrenalin pumped through my veins but surprisingly no one noticed. It was a huge kick and a reminder to myself to “never say never” – up till recently, I would’ve called anyone mad if they told me I’d be standing on such a big stage one day and delivering a keynote!
The “Velvet Meltdown”
My next trip after Berlin was to Abruzzo, a lesser-known region in Italy, with my partner. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but the stunning mountain scenery, the picturesque medieval towns and the wonderful food and wines soon convinced me that I have to return one day. It’s truly remarkable that this breathtaking region, only 1.5 hours’ drive away from Rome, still remains largely off-the-beaten-path!
After a week of driving around Abruzzo, I made my way to the Travel Bloggers Unite conference, which was held in Assisi, Umbria. The conference was terrific as it was great to catch up with what everyone’s doing and learn about new initiatives. The conference was also the scene of my now (in)famous “Velvet Meltdown”: walking back from a party to the hotel at 2am, I got lost in the dark and it started to rain very heavily. Soaked, cold and lost in the dark in a muddy field, I didn’t know what else to do but shout for help, scream and yell at myself for being so stupid. I eventually found my way back, spending almost two hours in the pouring rain. It wasn’t a pretty sight!
A week later, I was on a flight with my partner to Valencia! I’d been to Valencia before to see the Formula One races but this trip was the perfect opportunity to explore the city at my own pace. We had a brilliant time strolling around the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences and getting lost in the labyrinth of streets in Valencia’s Old Town, filling our tummies with lots of tapas and paella and washing it down with sangria, and just chilling on the sandy beaches. Seriously, if you’re looking for a city with lots of culture and history, and a few beaches to boot… head for Valencia!
Back to Spain
Another week passed and I was back in Spain again, this time in Costa Brava, the region north of Barcelona. Costa Brava is one of my favourite destinations in the world, with its historic towns, stunning coastline and some of the best cuisine in the world. I’ve had some of my best meals ever in Costa Brava such as at Celler de Can Roca. This time, we experienced a simply magical evening, dining at Quim Hereu’s studio. The Costa Brava Tourism Board was also very kind to indulge me when I suggested changing the itinerary so I could show the other bloggers one of my favourite spots, Sa Tuna, along the coast. It was a gorgeous drive, the views of the sea were stunning and cocktails at the Vintage Lounge were fabulous!
Jet-lag in Canada
Several days after Costa Brava, I flew across the North Atlantic to Vancouver. It’s always a joy to visit one of my favourite cities in the world – and spend time with my best friend who lives there. The downside is: I always get the worst jet-lag when I fly to the West Coast! My best friend had what he thought was the perfect remedy: keep me up on my feet for as long as possible, walking, meeting friends, more walking…. and lots of food and vino along the way. I can’t say the remedy worked but we had an awesome time! Barely two days after arriving in Vancouver, I was boarding a flight to Whitehorse, Yukon, to attend the GoMedia conference organised by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC). I felt pretty out of sync with myself and when the lady at the gate asked me for my ID, I showed her my iPhone. She looked at me with a puzzled expression – maybe he had a new form of ID? She asked me again for my ID and I looked at what was in my hand… yup, my iPhone, and we burst out laughing. “It’s jet-lag…”, I mumbled apologetically. I could see a blog post emerging in my mind titled “Signs You’ve Been Travelling Too Much”.
the midnight sun and jet-lag do not go well together!
Flying into Whitehorse was a treat. I looked out the window and there was nothing but mile after mile of forests and curly rivers, interspersed with turquoise and aquamarine lakes, and in the distance, I could see imposing snow-capped mountains and glaciers. We were close to touchdown and I hadn’t yet spotted a single soul! I turned to Nim, from the CTC, and asked, “Where are we landing? There’s no one out there!” and we had a good laugh.
The conference was a great success – it was a huge honour for me to be on a panel and speak about travel blogging to the Canadian tourism industry – and I was thrilled to be in Yukon. It has such a terribly exotic ring to it, don’t you think? I also got to experience the midnight sun for the first time. I was very surprised by the strong impact the midnight sun had on me. Even at midnight, there was still a bright glow in the horizon and by 3am, the sun was up… and me along with it. One conclusion I drew: the midnight sun and jet-lag do not go well together!
it pays to be a luxury travel blogger!
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of Yukon, aside from Whitehorse, as I was on yet another plane a few days later from Whitehorse to Halifax, Nova Scotia, via Vancouver and Toronto – a trip that literally took me from Canada’s northwestern corner bordering Alaska to it’s far southeastern Atlantic flank. I had a feeling that the trip wouldn’t go smoothly and it didn’t. The flight from Whitehorse arrived too late in Vancouver and I missed my connection. The consequence was a re-route via Calgary to Halifax and an eight-hour layover in Vancouver! It turned out to be the best delay I’ve ever had! Westjet kindly gave us a day-room at the five-star Fairmont Airport Hotel, the hotel gave us an upgrade to a luxurious suite and they took great care of me by hosting me at their restaurant and bar. Ahhhh…. it pays to be a luxury travel blogger!
I arrived in Halifax the next morning after a ‘red-eye’ overnight flight from Calgary – now I know why those overnighters are called ‘red-eyes’! Nova Scotia simply blew me away with its rolling hills, rugged coastline and charming towns. One of the reasons I chose to visit Nova Scotia was the seafood and that’s what I got! The lobsters and scallops were simply the best I’ve ever had… and I even learned how to eat a fresh lobster correctly!
Fun in Brazil
A week after flying home from Nova Scotia, I was in the air again, this time to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, to attend EIBTUR, the first Brazilian travel bloggers conference. It was a gruelling 27-hour journey from Amsterdam via Frankfurt and Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguaçu. First, I bumped my head very hard against the overhead storage compartment (it was a small plane!) on the flight to Frankfurt, then the plane got struck by lightning (a scary yet awesome experience) and the eight-hour layover in Sao Paulo airport was excruciating. Luckily, I had Melvin from Traveldudes with me and we somehow made the best of it. We arrived in Foz exhausted, jet-lagged but very excited. I was really happy and honoured to attend and speak at the EIBTUR conference, which was in many aspects, historic. The enthusiasm of the Brazilian travel bloggers and the generous hospitality of our hosts Hotel Bella Italia and Loumar Turismo made me think of the samba: inviting, fun, uplifting and infectious! It was a joy to be back in Brasil and to visit the Iguassu Falls again. We certainly had a whale of a time in Foz!
A long weekend in Vienna
My trip to Brazil was quickly followed by a long weekend in Vienna, one of the grandest cities in Europe. A trip organised by the Vienna Tourism Board, we were wined and dined, and shown some of Vienna’s hot spots. Despite the heatwave, we had a great time in Vienna. When I arrived back in Amsterdam, I thought about my six-month ‘marathon’ and I felt excited about the fact that I would now have several weeks at home.
The past six months have been amazing but it’s great to be home, enjoying my garden and the company of my loved ones. I would like to thank them for putting up with my frequent absence, for their patience, understanding and love. I’m living the life I’ve always wanted but without their love and support, it would never be complete.
What’s up next?
The next half of the year promises to be slightly less hectic. In late-July/early-August, Cape Town beckons for a blog trip and the Getaway South African travel bloggers conference (there will be side trips to Mozambique and Zambia), then Porto (Portugal) and Girona (Costa Brava) for respectively, the TBU and TBEX conferences. Somewhere in between, I’ll be celebrating my 40th birthday… yep, yep, the BIG 4-0! After that, Malaysia and China are possibilities. Anyhow, I look forward to the second half of the year and sharing more of my adventures with you.