by Alice Mariscotti-Wyatt
In case being a Rockskipper didn’t make this clear, I really like travelling. But I also need to not get fired from my job. So for 2017 I set myself an adventurous goal: to go somewhere different on holiday every month. I wanted to stretch my imagination (and my holiday allowance) to prove to myself that working full time doesn’t have to spell the end of exploring the world.
Spoiler: I achieved it, with only some minor cheating…. festivals count, right?
January – Copenhagen
My challenge got off to a great start as I revisited cosmopolitan Copenhagen with my mum and sister. Going in the depths of winter kept this trip cheap, as well as allowing us to embrace Danish hygge with gusto. Well, that’s my explanation for why we visited so many cosy coffee shops over the course of a weekend, and I’m sticking to it.
We also ate our way through Copenhagen’s raw food restaurants. As a final treat, because we’re massive fans of The Bridge, we also snuck in a trip to Malmo in Sweden, just so we could take the train over the waters dividing the two countries. My tip: go early, bring breakfast, settle in and enjoy the view.
February – Porto
I have wanted to visit Porto for such a long time, and this city did not disappoint. There was the shabby chic of the tiled houses, the scenic bridges crossing the Douro and incredible art at The Serralves Foundation. And a side trip to Aveiro, Portugal’s answer to Venice.
I learned that in Porto it’s impossible to stop eating. Whether it was nibbling on Petiscos (the Portuguese answer to tapas), tucking into pizza at a pizzaria we found hiding at the top of a carpark, or getting a sugar rush from the french toast at the institution that is Café Majestic, it was all delicious. And all washed down with a glass or two of port, naturally.
March – Vietnam
My Rockskipper sister and I somehow squeezed the length of Vietnam into two weeks, but that’s nothing compared to fitting that trip into a small summary like this.
In this trip of two halves, we didn’t stop moving for the first four days. Our itinerary ranged from kayaking on Halong Bay to taking a muddy bath inside a pitch black cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Plus exploring an abandoned waterpark in Hue and motorbiking over the Hai Van pass… We calmed down to stay a while with the dazzling lanterns of Hoi An and to enjoy the beaches and colourful diving in Nha Trang.
April – Amsterdam
I knew that fitting a holiday into every month of the year was going to be hard work, but this trip was literally hard work… for my thighs. Myself and a group of friends used the Easter weekend to cycle all the way from our homes in London to the Dutch cultural capital of Amsterdam (well, we let a boat do the bit over the water).
The UK section was undoubtedly the most challenging, but once we arrived on the continent, cycling through the Netherlands was a pleasure. Not least because it involved beautiful beach scenery, fields full of tulips and was mercifully flat. You can read more about that journey here.
May – The Algarve
By May, with the UK summer not quite happening yet, I decided to skip the country in favour of a weekend in the Algarve. I am incredibly lucky as my parents do have a house there, and on this very quick two-night break, they were happy to indulge me with all of my favourite activities.
We went to the Saturday market in Olhao, where my mum practices her Portuguese and I eat freshly fried donuts. We went to the beach at Faro, where you can watch all the planes taking off and landing overhead. And we went out to dinner where the restaurant made us stop everything to watch Portugal win the Eurovision Song Contest (that one doesn’t happen often).
June – Glastonbury
In what will undoubtedly be a highlight of all three of us Rockskippers’ lives, we went to Glastonbury… and for the first time in years, it didn’t rain! Seriously, of the many Glastos I’ve been to, it’s the first time my wellies went home unworn, and cleaner than when they arrived. I’m sure there are other highlights too, let me just see what I can recall through the great, glittery Glasto haze.
There was the time Bianca and I danced ‘till dawn in a London underground carriage, the very first day where I lost my voice screaming and air punching to karaoke classics at Ultimate Power… Oh, and the magic of seeing Craig David (yes, Craig David) perform on the iconic Pyramid stage. Glasto, you were incredible. As always.
July – Barcelona
It was about July that I realised the slight flaw in my plan. My holiday allowance is a mere 25 days per year. If you split that out over a lot of holidays, it disappears pretty quickly. I wasn’t the only one in that situation. Together with a similarly holiday allowance-deprived friend we hatched a plan to escape to Barcelona on a Friday night, returning late on Sunday, maxing out the weekend, but taking no days off work.
And it was wonderful. Rather than trying to fit in a lot (or indeed, any) sightseeing, we treated it as a weekend at the beach, and returned to the UK relaxed, sunkissed and full of sangria. Slightly impoverished too; those weekend flight times aren’t cheap. But it was worth it.
August – Glamping
August’s holiday came courtesy of a rather lovely birthday present from my boyfriend. Despite threatening me with what he termed “Girlfriend Re-education Camp” for months, where we actually ended up was a secluded geodome tent in the Kent countryside. Who would want to re-educate me anyway?
We made campfires in the English summer evenings (read: it was raining cats and dogs), went on walks through the surrounding ancient woodland and showered in a not very glampy basin, exposed to, well, everything.
September – Scottish Highlands
Who would have thought that one of the most stunning holidays this year would happen on my native land mass?!? Turns out those adverts for Scotland weren’t lying (though they may have neglected to mention the weather). We followed some friends to the Highlands of Scotland to watch them get married at the impossibly picturesque Eilean Donan Castle. And after a night of ceilidh and shirt ripping, we crossed the bridge to Skye.
I have to own up that we got extraordinarily lucky with the weather, with two days out of five being solidly sunny. But regardless, I don’t think much could have dampened the experiences of scrambling up the Old Man of Storr, staying in a camping pod overlooking Uig bay and tasting the whiskies at the Talisker distillery.
October – Madeira
By October, I was in need of some heat again, so I booked my boyfriend and I a trip to subtropical Madeira for a last gasp of sunshine. I’d planned a busy trip exploring mountain trails and sea swimming pools. But once we arrived at our home for the trip – the incredible Faja dos Pedros – we had a hard time leaving again.
That was only in part because leaving the hotel meant a terrifying cable car ride up the 300-metre high cliffs. It was also just so nice to stay put at the hotel, which was really a collection of cottages based on an organic banana farm with its own microclimate.
When we did escape, we discovered that the stereotype of Madeira as a holiday destination for old people is at least a bit true. There are plenty of the things older people love: nice restaurants, chilled drinking spots and plenty of gardens. All the best things in other words.
November – Bath
When it’s cold outside I love a day spent heating up in a sauna. So as a winter treat, my mum, my sister and I headed on a break in the spa town of Bath for one reason: the baths. Thermae Bath Spa is Britain’s only natural thermal spa.
If you want to visit you need to come early – and still expect to queue. Once inside though, you have two hours to relax and enjoy the facilities. The highlight for me was the rooftop pool, where you can float in hot mineral waters and look out over the rooftops of Bath.
Of course that isn’t all we did with our weekend in Bath. The Fashion Museum was another highlight, showcasing a diverse history of fashion in 100 items. As an added bonus, it’s located in the Assembly Rooms, a gorgeous Georgian building where you can easily imagine dancing at the balls from Jane Austen’s novels.
December – Germany
Somehow I finished the year with two whole days of holiday left! So turning the Christmas dial up to maximum seemed the only thing to do. Together with a hardy friend and some very warm winter coats, we flew out to Frankfurt and then on to Cologne to see two sides to Germany’s festive season.
Frankfurt is known as a modern city, but the Christmas market was traditional and compact. Whilst in Cologne, we were overwhelmed with Christmas market choices, from the dazzling pink Gay Christmas market to the entirely magical Markt der Engel. What they had in common was an abundance of mulled wine – plus entirely new forms of mulled drinks, which I used to toast the end of my year of travels.
What did I learn?
I learnt that, with some planning, it was so easy to fit a whole lot of travel into a year.
It made me realise that I am incredibly lucky in Europe to be surrounded with so many varied and wonderful places to visit, all just a short hop away. I also discovered wonderful places in the UK I might not have visited otherwise.
And it made me realise that my love for travel is insatiable, because I would have loved to have fitted in even more.
Find more travel inspiration on Twitter @therockskippers