Travel in 2013: The good, the bad and the weird
In 2013 I didn’t manage to head off on any long trips as I was stuck in Sheffield finishing my Masters degree until the end of September, and then immediately started a three-month internship in London. Yet I did get to know Europe that bit better by the end of the year, fitting in visits to Poland, Spain, Portugal, Edinburgh, Bath and Ireland, as well as moving to London for three months.
I visited three new countries (Ireland, Poland and Portugal) and ticked off 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites:
- Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
- Auschwitz Birkenau
- Historic Centre of Kraków
- Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra
- Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada
- Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville
- City of Bath
- Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
While 2013 may not have involved as much travel as 2012 (Southeast Asia, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Tarifa, Morocco and Estonia) it was still (mostly) a great year filled with exciting new experiences; below is my countdown of my best and worst moments of 2013:
1) The place that I loved most
Seville was my favourite destination of 2013. For anyone who’s visited this picture-perfect Andalucian city no explanation is needed for this choice, but for those of you who haven’t got around to exploring Spain’s most beautiful city yet I’ll just say that this place is heaven. Seville was just one of those places were everything went right. I stayed in a great hostel, met some wonderful people, baked in the 36 degree Spanish sun, stuffed myself with cheap and delicious tapas, marvelled at the orange-tree lined streets and got up close to some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. I’d wholeheartedly encourage everyone to go to Seville at least once in their life.
Other mentions: Granada came a very close second.
2) The place that I loved least
It probably comes as no surprise that my least favourite moments of 2013 were the three months I spent living in London. I moved to London for an internship, and while there were some things about London that I did like; a great public transport system, free newspapers and magazines, shops open 24/7 and being spoilt for things to do, I never warmed to it. I found it grey, unfriendly, expensive and uninspiring. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy a visit to London, I imagine if I’d had more money, been a tourist rather than a resident and lived there in summer rather than the gloomy British winter I might have come away feeling entirely different about the capital.
Other mentions: While I thought Lisbon was okay, and loved my visit to nearby Sintra, the city itself didn’t awe me, and I don’t think I’ll be going back.
3) The place that hit me hardest
In 2013 I visited a place that I’d wanted to visit for a very long time – Auschwitz. I’ve been a lifelong history fanatic, and studied history for my undergraduate degree. As such I have a pretty good grounding in the history of Nazi Germany, but history books can only teach you so much, so in March I made a long overdue visit to the symbol of Nazism and the sheer horror of WWII and unbridled antisemitism, Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. I’d already visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin back in 2010, but Auschwitz floored me. It’s unsurprisingly an extraordinarily difficult place to go to and I still find it difficult to process that I was able to walk out of those ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gates, when tens of thousands never got to leave that place.
Other mentions: Auschwitz was on a completely different level to anything else I experienced.
4) The place with the friendliest people
This one is easy – Dublin! I’d always heard that Irish people were among the friendliest in the world, and after returning from Dublin I can confirm the stereotype. Standing still for more than a minute was cause enough for a complete stranger to come up and offer to help me find my way. Every person I spoke to was chatty, friendly and happy to go out of their way to make my visit better. If you’ve just started travelling I couldn’t recommend Ireland as a starting point more. Plus, Irish accents make me melt.
Other mentions: Krakow – from the girl who didn’t speak a lick of English who guided me to the front door of my hostel, to the hilarious guide at Wieliczka Salt Mines, Polish people were far friendlier than I imagined them to be.
5) The place that I would move to
While Seville may have been my favourite destination overall, I have to say that Granada was the most liveable city I visited. I stayed in the coolest hostel in the middle of the maze-like Albayzin – there was even a treehouse, ate gorgeous food, visited the overwhelmingly stunning Alhambra and went graffiti-spotting. My only regret was not staying for longer!
Other mentions: While I loved everywhere I visited in 2013 (except London) I think Granada was the only place I’d seriously consider living.
7) The place for backpackers who want to party
Another easy decision – Lagos. While I was slightly dumbfounded by the swarm of Aussie backpackers who descended on this little Portuguese beach town in July, I really loved the place. It was easily the funnest destination I visited in 2013, and the whole town had a real backpacker vibe; cheap, stunning beaches, bar-lined streets and sun.
Other mentions: Krakow
8) The place in the UK that I liked best
In October I visited Edinburgh for the first time and completely fell for Scotland’s beautiful capital city. I’ll be exploring Scotland more thoroughly next week and cannot wait to head back to Edinburgh (despite the inevitable drizzle and freezing temperatures that going north of the border entails)
Other mentions: Bath (coming soon!)
9) The most beautiful thing I saw
The Alhambra in Granada was easily my most breathtaking sight of 2013. I really don’t think pictures can convey the charm of this otherwordly Moorish palace and its luscious gardens, but it was easily the most beautiful thing I saw last year. I’ll be posting about my visit later this month.
Other mentions: Alcázar of Seville, Wieliczka Salt Mines
10) The place with the best food
Spain! Plates of goats cheese, Iberian ham and patatas bravas tapas, churros dipped in thick hot chocolate, jugs of fruity sangria, cheap red wine – Spanish food is one of my absolute favourite cuisines. My favourite place to eat was unsurprisingly in Spain – Bar Poë in Granada. I love the Spanish way of eating late and eating often.
Other mentions: Sorry! Nowhere even came close
While I didn’t roam particularly far in 2013, I discovered several incredible cities, got to know my own country better and visited three new countries – a pretty successful year.
If you want to know what I’ll be getting up to in 2014 take a look at my post on this year’s travel plans here