Monday, December 28, 2015

Gwan's Year in Review - 2015

Can it really be time again for me to reflect on the year that's been? I think it's a fact of getting older that the year seems to fly by but simultaneously it must be going super slow since things we did back in spring seem like half a lifetime ago. Last year was another year of change - new job, new apartment, new country, so this year is...

2015: Finally a bit of stability

That's right, a whole year (and more) in the same job, same city, same apartment. That might not seem a huge achievement, but let's see, since the first time I moved to Europe in 2006, I've lived, at least briefly, in Prague, Moscow, London, Northern France, Chamonix, Wellington, Auckland, Nice, Tours, Metz and Brussels, and I think this is the first and only year since 2012 where I haven't moved at least once. Jules moved in here, and we're planning to move when my lease is up next June, but still. This year at least, I stayed put.

It was a busy year. Before Jules moved here, we aimed more or less to take turns, one weekend in Brussels and one in Luxembourg, so adding in quite a few holidays and long weekends meant that I was fairly frequently home only one weekend of the month or so. Which could be exhausting at times, but kept us out of mischief.

Last year I divided my travels into trips abroad, and "domestic" trips, in which category I included Belgium, France and Luxembourg. This year I can't really count France as a domestic trip any more, which leaves less to work with, so I'll divide it by longer trips and weekend breaks, with a little bonus section for the glories of Belgium.

PS I took literally hours writing this, putting the photos in, all the links etc. and then AFTER I published it I went back to tinker with some of the spacing and so on, and I managed to delete the. whole. thing. And there was no "undo/back", it just went blank, AND I managed to unpublish it as well. Thankfully I found online a tip to go into feedly and pull it off the RSS feed, which worked, but that's why the formatting is wonky. But thank Christ I at least got all the text back. This might be the final straw with me and Blogger though!

Onto the award portion of the review - 

Best proper holiday

  • I kicked off the year's travels early, with a trip to Marrakesh, Morroco with my friend Liz in January. My overall impressions of the place were, um, not great. The constant badgering and cat-calling got old pretty fast, and while we saw some nice museumsand palaces and enjoyed some winter sun, there wasn't really any "wow" moment that compensated for the general experience of harassment. It was just after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but I didn't feel unsafe in anything except a gender-based way, but the sad events of the year might make me even less likely to want to visit in future (I know Morocco isn't Tunisia, but honestly there's nothing really coming up in the pro visiting column for me right now). Still, at least I've been there, done that, bought the lamp. 
  • We spent Easter at Lake Constance/Bodensee, Germany, via Freiburg and a three-star lunch at the Auberge de l'IllFreiburg was super charming, I was sorry we didn't have more time there, but the drive through the Black Forest via Titisee toUberlingen was stunning. While in the area, we saw some beautifully frescoed old churches on a very rainy day on the island of Reichenau and finally got a bit of sunshine in the chocolate-box-cute village of Meersburg

    And the winner is...

    Not much room for suspense here. Our French roadtrip was great, but we had an absolutely fabulous time in Albania and Ohrid, I really can't recommend it highly enough. Go before everyone else does! On second thoughts, maybe I should keep it as my little secret... Go to Morocco instead ;)

    Best short break

    • Our next long weekend wasn't until late May/early June, when we took our traditional annual pilgrimage back to Tours, France for the Vitiloire wine festival. On the way, we took our first trip to the stunning château Chambord, well worth a detour. I feel a bit nostalgic looking back on this trip. My sister has come over, often with friends, several times for the wine festival, and I know she won't be there next year as she's moving back to New Zealand (exciting!) With that and the fact that a lot of my good Tours friends have also moved away (Caro will also be gone in NZ), Vitiloire next year just won't be the same...
    • Still, there was some time to catch up with family this year, with not one but two trips to London. I've seen quite a bit of London over the years, but there's always more to explore and revisit - we saw an Escher exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, went to the British MuseumNatural History Museum and the National Gallery, and still had some time for shopping, and most importantly, eating and drinking with family and friends.
    • My Tours friends and I, now being scattered throughout Western Europe, try to find the time to catch up together a couple of times a year. This year, Liz, Mel and I met up in Bordeaux in October (how nice to have the convenience of a large airport on my doorstep). Relaxing was higher on the agenda than sight-seeing, but we highly recommend the Maison des Vins where you can taste great wines at a great price in a very salubrious atmosphere - just make sure you come early!

      And the winner is...

      This is a tough one! I do love a weekend break, maybe even more than a longer holiday since they can come around more often and bring a special little bit of sunshine to everyday life. I could really name any one of them, but perhaps because it's fresh in my mind I'm going to give the nod to Edinburgh.

      Belgian delights

      • Remember back when it was cold? I shouldn't jinx things, since the current winter temperatures are about what winter is like back home, and it suits me just fine. But on a very cold and snowy day last December (so, yes, 2014, but after last year's roundup), we visited the Reading Between the Lines church in Borgloon, which I have to mention here because it's such a beautiful spot, it doesn't deserve to fall between the cracks of 2014-15. 
      • Sticking close to home, I have to give another Belgian shout-out to the spring delights of the bluebells in the Bois de Halle/Hallerbos and also the famous Royal Greenhouses at Laeken. At Easter, we also stopped by Luxembourg to check out the traditional Easter fair at Nospelt which revolves around clay bird whistles.
      • In May, we took a daytrip to Bruges, where unfortunately my suggestion to take the train was unheeded and we got stuck in some awful traffic. We saw some pretty/interesting things at the Memling Museum but overall the impression was: Bruges on a holiday weekend, never again.

      • By contrast, somewhere I think is seriously underrated and I'm surprised I haven't been back to yet is Mechelen (Malines). There were so many interesting sights we didn't have time to see in our brief morning visit - the cathedral with its belltower you can climb up, the deportation museum and the De Wit tapestry workshop, to name a few. But the city is also great just to walk around, particularly its floating river walkway and grand place. It's so close to Brussels too - we really have to pick a sunny day sometime soon for a return visit.
      • I should have called this "Benelux Delights", as I'm going to sneak a bit ofLuxembourg in here. (Talking of Benelux, we haven't managed a trip to the Netherlands yet, will have to remedy that next year.) We visited the castle ofBourscheid on a beautiful June weekend and were wowed by the stunning views of the surrounding countryside, traveresed by the river Sauer
      • I'm a very lucky girl, and this year I got to go again to the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. The unpredictable gods of Belgian weather really smiled on us this weekend, and we had the most perfect sunshine to finally see Lewis Hamilton win. Going General Admission was a different experience, one with added stress but also added fun finding different spots to take in all the action.

      What's next?

      I expect next year's travel will mostly consist of short trips, since Jules is in a new job and can't get a lot of time off. Short trips except, of course, our month+-long sojourn in New Zealand next February/March, which is really coming up right around the corner! I really want to go to Georgia and Armenia, but it's looking like it won't be next year, due to the difficulties in getting time off. I need to get them under the belt in case it goes all war-ry again though - I'm so pleased I went to Ukraine back in 2011, although not so happy that I didn't make it to Crimea. I think a compromise for a shorter-haul trip might turn out to be Iceland.

      I got promoted recently, and officially start my new job in January, so that's something to look forward to. And as mentioned, we will probably be apartment-hunting once we get back from New Zealand. My current apartment has been good to me, but it's a wee bit too small for two people, particularly the half-size fridge. Definitely not looking forward to a move, but kind of exciting to start dreaming about our new home.

      Hope 2015 has been good to all of you, and I wish everyone a very Happy New Year 2016!


      1. Great to see all our holidays in review like this, love the year in review posts! It's hard to disagree with anything, I really liked Spa Francorchamps but that's not competing in the "Best short break" category.

        1. Yes, it was a toss-up where to put that or even put the Easter break into short breaks (but that would have left the long holiday category a bit bare).

      2. I'm impressed by how much travelling you did this year! I didn't manage very much at all by comparison. (Admittedly, having 2 weddings to plan and go to as the bride got in the way a bit.) You've inspired me to plan some short breaks for this spring.

        And yay for my hometown winning an award :-)

        1. Yes, I imagine you had enough on your plate! It was a pretty good year for travelling, I must say.

      3. Wow - you are such a travelholic - thank goodness Jules loves it too. I love these roundups, as well. xxx

        1. Thanks, I like to think I have influenced him to get out and about more ;)

      4. I really love the photos of "Belgian delights." They make me want to see them in person. I've been to Brussels and Brugge, but not to those other places.

        1. Thanks! I wasn't going to have that section at first, because I thought I hadn't seen much of Belgium this year, but I realised going through the year's posts that I had seen some interesting places. I think they are not so well-known either, so it's good to showcase them a bit!

      5. Gwan! Hi! We've been so out of touch this year that it was nice to read a flash recap of your 2015, packed, as usual with adventures and good times. I'm so happy to see you are doing so well and are absolutely beaming! I wish you an even more sparkling 2016. xo Lisa


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