Two things really stand out about our travel adventures in 2011 – the first is that we had so many, and the second is that we didn't really write about them at all.
In total, last year we visited 14 countries. Yup, you read that correctly: 14 countries. For those keeping count, that's more countries than we went to on our 18 month round-the-world trip!
Now, to be honest, three of those 14 countries are technicalities: two layovers in Iceland when we didn't leave the airport, a photo-op while standing in the Netherlands for a split second, and a quick bite of fries (with mayo, of course) in Belgium.
So instead why don't we say we visited 11 countries in 2011? Hey, that's not bad either. But more important than the number of stamps in our passports, last year turned out to be one of our best (and busiest) travel years yet.
And that, in great part, leads to the second point above, which is that we never really shared those adventures with you. Aside from one story, everything we posted last year was about something we'd done the year before (mostly tales of our time in South Africa in late 2010). We were just so busy traveling most of the year (and planning for our next trip, and recovering from the last one), that we never seemed to be able to find the time to write about it.
So with that, let's start off our travel writing for this year with a look back at the last one.
When the New Year rung in on January 1st of 2011, the year found us hanging out in a dodgy little bar on the shores of Cape Cod. Our dear friends Philip and Lauren (they of that ridiculously silly YouTube video we posted back in January) were visiting us from Philadelphia prior to their trans-global move to New Zealand.
We made a plan in that bar, something to the effect of celebrating together a year later on the other side of the world. We'll get to that in a bit, though. You see, the route from January 1st to December 31st would be a more circuitous one than usual in 2011...
In May, we undertook a breakneck tour of Europe with some friends in their convertible. Our route started in Germany, and took us through Belgium and the Netherlands (although as mentioned above, those don't really count). After that, we made our way on to the Czech Republic, where I fulfilled a dream I'd had for decades – visiting the Bone Church of Kutná Hora.
Our route south after that took us through Austria, where we paused along an Alpine road to sit on top of a tank and enjoy fresh strawberries – long story. After stopping in Slovenia for a lovely lunch, we then continued on to Italy, where we proceeded to fall completely head-over-heels in love with the city of Venice.
Next we stayed for a night on the shores of Lake Garda, an absolutely beautiful place which (although completely unbeknown to us at the time) has a very special family connection for me.
After that, it was back up through Austria again and back into Germany, where we started.
Before returning home from Europe, we made our way up to Leeds, England, to visit our beloved friends Paul and Caroline. They were actually the very first travel friends we made: two sweet, lovely, gentle souls we first met on the second night of our 18-month round-the-world trip – a night that soon descended into 37 liters of beer and a head-shaving incident (but that's another story). In the six and a half years since that night, the four of us had been in the same time zone for only a total of perhaps two weeks or so, but little things like an ocean of distance don't matter when it comes to real friendships. Seeing them again, it was as if no time at all had passed. We were overjoyed to finally meet their marvelous daughter Josie, and we can't wait to go back to see them all again someday soon.
Finally, we headed south, to the marvelously-named town of Hemel Hempstead, where we connected with another pair of very dear friends, Becky and Andy. We met them in the Galapagos, where they were on their honeymoon, and later that year we visited them in the UK. Since then they've popped over to visit us a couple of times, so we figured we really should even up the score by stopping by to see them again. (We'd met up with Andy earlier in 2011 when he was in Massachusetts on a business trip, but we're not counting that visit in the tally because Becky wasn't with him, and because this way we're all even at a score of 2-2.) We were incredibly thrilled to meet their new son Finley, and came away with many fond memories of consuming a fair few bottles of wine in their house's "snug" – a room that every home should have.
After that, alas, it was back off home again. But not for long.
We went so under-budget in Europe that we came home with a touch of extra travel-money burning a hole in our pocket, so to speak. Moreover, we were so knackered after the rapid pace of our European adventures – nine countries in twenty days! – that we really found ourselves yearning for a nice, relaxing holiday to recover from our holiday. We did a quick search for cheap airfare and found we could afford to take a spontaneous trip to Panama a week or so later! We didn't know anything about Panama, but beaches on both oceans sounded extremely appealing. We bought our tickets, then bought a travel guide almost as an afterthought. A few days later, we were off!
We spent a day in the under-appreciated gem that is Panama City, and then made our way straight to the beach. We settled in the sleepy town of Santa Clara in a marvelous seaside cottage, with a hammock on our front porch and a breakfast table that overlooked the Atlantic. We'd swim in the sea until lunchtime, then wander over to a thatched-roof beachside restaurant for a bit of a nibble. They served the world's tastiest ceviche, made from seafood brought in fresh by the village's fishermen just a few hours earlier. For dinner, we'd usually cook together back in our cottage, enjoying it out on the veranda with a bottle of wine or two.
Panama was a big hit. We're definitely going back there, soon. And often.
In August we headed north, to what is probably my favorite place in the world – a rustic little cottage out absolutely in the middle of nowhere in rural Quebec. It's owned by my great-uncle Maurice and my great-aunt Margot, two amazing people who have always been as grandparents to me. When I was a child, our annual family vacations at "the cottage" were the highlight of every summer for me. And today the same is still very much the case for Jessica and I – wherever we might travel in the world each year, there's just nothing like the cottage.
Usually we try to coordinate our visit there with my parents, so that we can see them there, too. This year, though, we weren't able to make our schedules work with everyone else's – there were a number of factors beyond travel keeping our plates full in 2011! But instead of missing out on our cottage-trip altogether, we just rescheduled and went up a few weeks later. As a result, we had Maurice and Margot all to ourselves, and couldn't have been happier.
(A hurricane wandered by to keep us on our toes while we were there, but that's a story for another time.)
Not long after returning from Canada, we wandered down to America's other neighbor for a week and a half or so. Like Panama, it was a rather spontaneous journey, and so we were completely surprised – and thrilled – when we realized that we'd be there during the Day of the Dead celebration.
Our adventures in Mexico will be the subject of numerous future posts, but for now suffice to say that (shh! don't tell anyone!) it's quietly making a play to become our favorite destination in the world.
Virtually every single day of our trip was one of our happiest days ever, and it seemed that each place we visited somehow managed to be even better than the last. The Day of the Dead itself was one of the most moving things I've ever experienced. When we came back home afterward, we immediately started thinking about returning there again next year.
The day after Christmas, we set off on an epic 52-hour travel day. We were departing from Jessica's parents' home outside of Columbus, Ohio, which is not as it turns out actually known as a hub for international air travel. So first we flew from there to Las Vegas, and then on to Los Angeles. After a lengthy layover there, we flew on to Sydney, Australia. Our layover there was a whopping 12 hours long, so we quickly left the airport to take in the sights!
After that, we flew from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, spent the night underneath a stairwell in the Auckland airport, and then finally flew from there to Christchurch.
And waiting for us there, a year later and 15,000km away, was Philip.
He spent the next week and a half showing us around his native land, something we'd been looking forward to for more than a decade. We fell deeply in love with the land of the long white cloud, with all of its amazing scenery, its wonderful people, and most of all, its fantastic savory pies. (Why the heck does America not see the perfection that is a good steak and mushroom pie?!)
And when the clock chimed twelve on New Year's Eve, we raised our glasses of champagne to each other, just as we had the year before. We were a long way from the scruffy Cape Cod bar where we'd all made that promise to each other one year earlier, and a lot had happened in that year. But as I said before, with real friendships an ocean or two of distance doesn't matter. We'd have traveled to the moon and back to spend another New Year's Eve with Philip.
Our time there was a dream that we didn't want to wake up from, and the end came upon us far too swiftly. But – and stop me if you've heard this before – we knew we'd be back soon.
In fact, we'll actually be back there again within the year. But that's a tale for another post as well. (As is the incident when we accidentally evacuated an entire hotel.)
All in all, not a bad year of travel. The only problem is that we came away with so many stories that we want to share! Maybe we should take this year off, stay home, and get all caught up...
Um, no. Not on your life.
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