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A Year of Travel

A year of travel

Yes – you too can do an adventure like this.

Hi folks. We’ve been rather quiet on this site lately. I had it in my head that whenever we posted here (Facebook as well) it seemed like we were just bragging about all the wonderful things we saw and did while travelling. It felt too much like showboating. So we got in a posting funk.

The legendary drummer Neil Peart (of Rush fame) passed away this week and I spent a fair amount of time watching his old clips. In one interview he quoted Bob Dylan, saying that as an artist, all they could really do was inspire people – that this is the highest purpose of art. With this in mind I’ve come to view this site in such a way – to inspire you guys to move, to see new things, meet new people and just get out and about. Traveling has enriched our lives in countless ways. What we can show you here is that anyone can travel, that it’s relatively easy, not overly expensive and not scary. We’re just a regular family, with regular careers and we managed to travel around the world, and then some.

This post is an overview of what a regular family can accomplish when they put their minds towards something. We made a decision (the toughest part) to take a year break from our ‘regular’ lives, then spent the next two years planning and saving.

Admittedly there is one aspect of our lives that helped this dream come true and it will likely have an impact on the duration of your trip. This doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from your regular lives, it just means that doing it for a full year may be tough. I work online, own a web based business. This enabled us to keep some cash coming in while we traveled. If your situation doesn’t allow for some continued cash flow, you either have to shorten the duration, save longer or change your situation. It doesn’t mean you can’t take off for a couple months and explore the world. Just make the decision to go, pick a departure date and the rest will fall into place.

The following is a very quick rundown of how we spent June 2016 to June 2017, in order.

Iceland – June 2016

After more than two years of talking, planning, worrying, saving and getting very excited about the Grand Tour – we brought our car over to my brother’s house, he was keeping it for us for the year, and got a lift to the airport. This day is up there with our marriage and the birth of our son as far as momentous days go! The feeling of freedom embarking on such an adventure is hard to describe.

departure day
Leaving on the big trip, June 2016.

I’m going to do my best to only share one image from each of the 25 countries we visited otherwise this could get very long. It’s really tough to select just one shot (I took a Lot of pics), so for some self-indulgence I’ll drop a video here and there.

It all begins, the excitement we share was incredible.

England – June 2016

Highlights of our time in England: Bringing Baharak to Tiffany’s on her birthday for a new wedding ring – nice of them to serve us a little champagne to help celebrate. Walking the coastal trail in Cornwall was beautiful. We also explored London, Oxford, Chester, York (where we slept above a Pub) and spent some time with the wonderful Clark family.

Photographers in Oxford
Had to include a pic I shot in Oxford, one of my favourites.
The Coastal Path, Cornwall, England

Scotland – July 2016

I grew to love taking the train on this trip. A short ride from Oxford to Par was our first session, followed by rolling through the Scottish Highlands on Virgin Rail. Taking the bullet train, the Frecciarossa, through Italy, the famous Kalka – Shimla railroad in Northern India and the amazing Shinkansen in Japan (over 300km/hr) were some memorable rides. Rail travel has become our favorite mode of transport by far and I encourage you to take as many trains as you can.

Below is a shot I love, reminder of our unsurpassed family time in Forres, Scotland. A beautiful little town where we spent a week wandering around.

Forres, Scotland

Sweden – July 2016

From Scotland we flew into Malmo, Sweden to spend some time with a dear old friend, Rick Smith. We wandered around Malmo with him and his young son, also went over to Denmark to visit Legoland, kids and parents alike loved it. An afternoon boating around the Copenhagen harbour was an excellent way to end this leg of the trip.

Malmo Sweden July 2016
Malmo Sweden July 2016

Hungary – July 2016

Budapest, Hungary was our first time exploring Eastern Europe and boy we were we fortunate. It quickly became one of our most enjoyable places. You’ll likely hear this repeated often. We spent time in so many wonderful locations and to be very honest, in a full year of travel I can likely count on one hand the number of ‘bad’ days we had and only one destination was not to our liking (sorry Bordeaux, you are the weakest link). That being said – it’s all about circumstances. If we returned one day, stayed in a different part of town, we’d probably love it. This was what happened to us in Vienna. Our first visit there was rather miserable. Bad weather, bad tourists bugging us, but when we returned (on this trip) we very much loved it.

Szechenyi  Baths in Budapest

Slovenia – August 2016

We didn’t know much about Slovenia before going. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around Ljubljana. We were introduced to Radlers there; sitting along cobblestoned streets sipping Radler on a beautiful ancient European street is not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Croatia – August 2016

Like a broken record, here I go. Croatia was amazing. From stunning waters, billionaire yachts, great food, ancient towns – to friendly people, great weather and the most pleasant harbour strolls, we couldn’t have enjoyed our time in Croatia more. Zagreb was nice but the main event was Stari Grad. We got into a routine of walking along the waterfront, picking up some fresh bread and vegetables at the market at the far end of the harbour and heading ‘home’ to eat lunch. Our hosts surprised us with freshly made strudel and although she spoke no English, her kindness and hospitality were clear. We would go back there in a heartbeat.

Stari Grad, Croatia

Italy – August 2016

Highlights of our time in Italy: Visiting the Ferrari museum and a surprise encounter with the marching Contradas. We took an overnight ferry (recommended) from Split, Croatia to Anconna, Italy and guess what the first thing we did was – found a cute coffee shop and had a cappuccino. In an effort to keep this from turning into an encyclopedia (ask your parents), I’ll shorten some of the sections. Wish me luck. We loved Italy, spent most of our time in Sienna and Bologna. Pizza was consumed. We loved Italy so much we returned later on in this same trip and have a third visit planned for summer of 2020.

Panther Contrada getting ready for their March through Siena

France – September 2016

Highlights of our time in France: A very long walk from Bidart to St. Jean-de-Luz (14km), hanging out in Biarritz. We meant to spend some time in Bordeaux. This was the one unhappy segment. Mainly caused by a very poor AirBnB. We decided to skip town and hop on a train to Biarritz. I can think of worse places to escape to. Swimming among the big waves there was a blast. Wandering around St. Jean-de-Luz was also very pleasant.

Spain – August 2016

Highlights of our time in Spain: A crazy cave in the middle of the forest and a wine tour (including cellars deep under the town square) with only the three of us and the owner’s son. We decided to rent a car for two weeks. This enabled us to get to more remote towns and it’s where we found/enjoyed two of our most memorable homestays. Phil’s place in the Rioja was from another time. Thomas’ farmhouse in Asturias was so peaceful. We also visited San Sebastian, drove the Picos de Europa, watched the camino hikers arrive at Santiago de Compostela, went to the Guggenheim museum and enjoyed being given bottles of wine with almost every lunch.

With Phil, Rioja, Spain

Portugal – October 2016

Highlights of our time in Portugal: Visiting Porto and Lisbon. Spending a month in one town.

Tasting a flight of different ports in Porto was another memorable experience.

After a lot of traveling it was nice to settle down in one spot for a bit and really get to know it. The town was Nazare, Portugal, home of the largest surfed waves in history. We loved getting into a routine of walking along the boardwalk, visiting the huge market, going to get groceries and very cheap wine. Just unpacking the bag for a good while and not worrying about the next train or plane. We recommend spending longer stays in a couple places if you plan a very long trip. A month in Portugal helped us to unwind and re-energize.

Lots of shops and restaurants line the ocean-front of Nazare.

India – November 2016

Highlights of our time in India: Being in India! Crazy and like nothing we’ve ever seen. If you think I can limit a month of being in such an eclectic, vibrant, dirty, strange, colorful, wonderful place to sharing only one photo – well that would be very tough indeed. India is a unique place that is admittedly not for everyone. After our first few days we were wondering what planet we were on and how do we leave? The breathing in Delhi was so difficult we had to escape to a mall for some clean air. Then there was the government declaring that almost all of their currency was illegal overnight. Then there was the mass of people, the amazing food, the sights and sounds (the sounds never abated).

The video below will help explain why we felt a little shell shocked upon arrival.

Our first experience of India.

To say India grew on us would be an understatement. It took some time but after a few days we fell in love. We will certainly return to this enchanting madhouse of a place.

The foothills of the Himalayas, in Shimla.
Judhpur India vendors
Typical street in Jodhpur, India
Tiger Lake near Udaipur

Thailand – December 2016

Highlights of our time in Thailand: Getting to know the Smith Family, kindred spirits, family travelling halfway around the world to see us, basking in the warm waters of Ko Chang and scarfing down wondrous food in Chiang Mai. Thailand is another place where we really didn’t know what to expect. Our stay was mostly in Chiang Mai, to help with our budget and due to its reputation and a Digital Nomad hub. It didn’t disappoint. Great weather, nice people and very cheap but tasty food. The food court in the Maya mall was a favorite. You could get an amazing pad thai, made to order for about $1.50.

Ko Chang beach restaurant
A restaurant with a view in Ko Chang.

Taiwan – January 2017

Highlights of our time in Taiwan: Getting to know Taipei, honing my photography skills, visiting Taipei 101, having a tremendous birthday exploring the city. Taipei is a great city to explore by foot, you’ll never run out of things to do. From a nice tea house, parks, incredible architecture and very friendly people. It’s a destination that doesn’t get enough attention in the west. Can you believe the next two picks are only a few miles apart?

Downtown Taipei.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial 

Indonesia (Bali) – January 2017

Highlights of our time in Bali: Chilling at the Bali Bohemia beside the Monkey Forest listening to Rodriguez, exploring Ubud, enjoying great food in Ahmed and being attacked by a Titan Triggerfish. Bali was wonderful. I always had dreams of visiting this place, starting from an early Flintstones mention, I always dreamed of it being the ultimate tropical paradise – and it was. Even the very frightening experience of being attacked by a rather large fish with big white teeth made for an interesting story. I have to say that the beaches we visited were not inspiring, there are many better beach destinations, but the inland sights and towns were magical.

Relaxing at the Bali Bohemia.

Australia – February 2017

Highlights of our time in Australia: For myself it was a case of reminiscing a bit. The main reason for returning to Sydney was to see where I lived almost 30 years prior. An afternoon in Coogee brought back a lot of memories. Both of us had changed considerably. It was nice though, to walk the streets of Sydney again, a wonderful city, clean and vibrant. Our little apartment downtown was perfect.

Behind our apartment in Sydney

New Zealand – February 2017

Highlights of our time in New Zealand: Nature, tons of it. We made a great decision to stretch the budget and rent a camper van for two weeks. Neither of us had done this before and it was a blast. Some of the quieter spots we stayed at were spectacular. From Milford Sound to seeing some penguins and walking among seals, we had a big dose of nature. It’s one of the most beautiful places we visited and are anxious for a return someday.

Japan – March 2017

Highlights of our time in Japan: Kasm unexpectedly trying wasabi, visiting the bomb site at Hiroshima, Kyoto geishas, and all the craziness of Tokyo. We were expecting to fly to South America after New Zealand but the fights were very expensive. So we changed plans and began looking at where we could land with a cheap flight. Japan came up in the search and we said, Why Not? We spent time mainly in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. It was wondrous. From bamboo forests to the Ginza Strip, from eating okonomyaki at Juniors, visiting the Mazda factory and wandering the ancient Gion area in Kyoto, we saw quite a bit.

Gion district in Kyoto
Gion district in Kyoto

Italy – March 2017

Highlights of our time in Venice: It was wonderful to explore Venice. The weather was great, the crowds were not bad at all and the city was stunning. A highlight was walking around Piazza San Marco with our son, early in the day and being practically alone in the square. Also visiting the other side of the Grand Canal and being alone yet again, exploring some ancient and quiet streets. We returned to Italy after deciding to head back east from Japan. It was a big change from our original itinerary of exploring the west side of South America. We decided to visit Venice, not a bad choice I must admit. From there it would be on to some of the amazing cities of eastern Europe that we missed the first time around. And Venice didn’t disappoint.

Grand Canal through the mist Venice, Italy

Austria – March 2017

We first visited Vienna during our honeymoon 15 years prior but did not have a great time. From annoying tourists to bad weather, we just didn’t have great luck. But we kept hearing wonderful things about Vienna and wanted to give it a second chance. This time around it was wonderful. We had a beautiful apartment in a great spot. We walked throughout the city and simply loved it. It’s such a classic city with grand buildings, great beer and tons to see while exploring. You just never know what’s around the next corner.

Traveling = expect the unexpected

Poland – March 2017

A return to Eastern Europe was always in the cards after our terrific visit to Budapest. We just didn’t know it would be on this same trip. Krakow is another city we fell right at home in. A nice little apartment right across the street from a very cheap grocery store (great local beers for about 75 cents) and just a couple blocks from our favorite place to stroll – along the majestic Vistula river. We experienced a local soccer match and the 250 well armed police presence, as well as seeing a classic DaVinci painting (Lady with Ermine) up in the Wawel Castle. Unlike the Mona Lisa, we were with one other couple in a small room to view it at arm’s length. We’ve now seen two of his four female portraits. Lots of reminders of the second world war are scattered throughout the city as well.

Kasm Sitting by the Vistula Krakow, Poland

Czech Republic – April 2017

Eastern Europe really felt like home to us. Wonderful experiences in Budapest and Krakow, we can now add Prague to the list. Another city we loved. A typical day would be hoping on the tram to the city center, exploring all the nooks and crannies. Trying a local beer or two with a visit to the castle. We met another family here that were quite nice, spent an afternoon with them visiting the old sewers (was nicer than it sounds).

From Prague Castle
View from From Prague Castle

Germany – April 2017

After spending some time in bigger cities we switched things up a bit and found a small town that frankly, we had never heard of before. Heidelberg, Germany was our next stop. We lucked out yet again with another fantastic AirBnB apartment right on the main road going through the old city center. And if you’re looking for an old medieval town that oozes charm, you can’t get much better. Days were spent just strolling around town, along the river and exploring the castle, which was just above our apartment.

Heidelberg Germany April 2017
Heidelberg Germany April 2017

France – May 2017

What better way to wind down an adventure of a lifetime than by spending three weeks in Paris? Our second time to Paris, staying in the St. Germain des Pres area. Perfectly situated, great little apartment, a ton to explore. I took so many photos that two years later, I’ve still not gone through them all. Paris is of course one of the premier cities on the planet, one we were very happy to re-visit. A great place for walking about, a great place for photographers as well as writers.

Jardin Luxembourg - Spring of 2017
Jardin Luxembourg – Spring of 2017

Belgium – May 2017

Ghent was another pleasant surprise. Not knowing much about the town, we really enjoyed walking about town. A bit of sadness kicks in about this point. Knowing the trip of a lifetime is winding down and that the past year would be near impossible to match. Still, we were looking forward to seeing our friends and family back home (our cat Zeeba as well). Ghent was a perfect place to relax, reflect and look ahead.

Ghent May 2017
Ghent May 2017

Netherlands – May 2017

And we’re done! 50 weeks gone by – we finish up in the lovely town of Utrecht, Netherlands. We spent our finals days doing what we did for the majority of the past year. Walking around beautiful, charming towns, eating local food, wandering around parks and monuments, exploring new streets, neighbourhoods and villages. Getting to know our planet – our neighbours, our son. Spending so much time with him at an impressionable age meant the world to us. Not many families are so fortunate.

I’d like to finish off with one last pic of the three of us, the travellers, the explorers. It was a hell of a trip!

South Island, New Zealand

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  • Linda Wang January 23, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    It seems like yesterday that I followed you along on this grand adventure from afar, looking forward to your updates every day. Keep it up! 🙂

  • Joanne O'Reilly January 24, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Great post – I still love seeing the pictures. Kasm was so little! Time flies!