Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Exactly one year ago I started this blog with the intention of becoming a world famous travel essayist, specialising in spa resorts and solo travel. My attention swiftly swerved after discovering my hidden adrenaline junkie with a go at paragliding and shark cage diving.
The Spa part of my year was neatly bookended yesterday with a trip to The One and Only Spa. But for the dangerous living, well that plan faded quicker than last year's tan. In fact, other than debating directions with my sisters on a long distance drive to Vermont, I didn't do another adrenaline-filled activity for the remainder of the year. I didn't become a world famous travel essayist either, but I did go to a lot of spas!!!
SHARK CAGE DIVING IN GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA
There are many scary aspects of shark cage diving, including sea sickness, being chummed in the face, the actual sharks, and wiggling into a recently-worn-by-stranger wet wetsuit while maintaining balance on a heaving boat. But the most frightening aspect of shark cage diving is how actually F*****G freezing the water is.
PARAGLIDING OFF OF SIGNAL HILL, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
I was the first of us to launch myself off of Signal Hill. While explaining how to take off, Dillan's guide said 'Just pick up your feet and don't do whatever that person just did.', while pointing at me as I flailed myself away from the Earth. Once off the ground, refusing pictures and no longer fearing what my bum looked like in the harness, I settled into the rhythm of the wind and relaxed. I have seen the beaches and cit bowl of Cape Town from many different vantage points, but directly above, while swaying peacefully in the light breeze, was truly magical.
my photography has slightly improved this year as well!
FORCED ZIP LINING IN THE MOUNTAINS OF VERMONT
We had the best visit to the Stowe Mountain Lodge, Stowe Vermont, until I forced my sisters into zip lining. Though they refused to admit they enjoyed themselves, I know that they loved it and would definitely do it again!
The hotel was perfect, our room not really a room but a three bed condo (thank you Maddie's Dad!), and my Stowe Cider Scrub at the hotel spa was perfection, and that was before I drank my complimentary cider and got a bit tipsy!
Thanks to global warming, yes it really is a 'thing', the leaves of Vermont didn't change until the day we were leaving, but the six or seven red ones I did get to see took my breath away!
WALES, ROMES, CHURCHES AND CARRAVAGGIOS
I found myself in Wales, in churches, and in churches in Wales far more often than ever before in my life.
In Wales, Phyl and I discovered all of the absurdly strange wonderfulness of Portmierion, while Beth, Steve and I took a more cerebral approach and visited the ruins of Tinturn Abbey in Monmouthshire.
Bruna and I walked all over and into every single church in Rome. Fact: there are about one billion churches in Rome (there are actually just over 900, just feels like a billion) and all of them are spectacular and a number of them house Carravaggio masterpieces.
GIANT CAUSES AND GIANT JELLYFISH
In July, I found myself in a very cold Belfast with no luggage but with buckets of rain. I floated in and out of the Titanic Belfast Museum, sloshed all over Victoria Square, the Cathedral Quarter and then visited Crumlin Road Gaol, where we learned the prison patterns of people incarcerated at that time in Irish history of which we do not speak it's name (Troubles). I spent the final day, somewhat dry and on the trail of locations from Game of Thrones finally ending up at the breathtaking Giant's Causeway.
August found me in the reverse universe of a very hot and very dry Malta. Riding a sightseeing bus because it is too hot to walk is never a good idea when you don't have a plan, don't know where you are going, or even where you are. You might end up in the wrong end of town with an even longer walk back to the centre. Opera in the ruins of an open-air theatre is also not a good idea in August in Malta. It was very hot and I did get several disapproving looks for using my personal fan.
Relief from the heat was not found in the un-airconditioned St. John's Co-Cathedral, where there are, yep, more Carravaggio paintings.
There was some relief in the waters of the Med, until I was mercilessly attacked by a very giant jellyfish. I am not sure how big the jellyfish was because I never really saw it, but the marks it made on my back were very big!
Note: scrape a jellyfish bite with a credit card or room card, then douse it with alcohol. It really works!
I have always wanted to try volunteer tourism, so this year I took a trip to Nepal with Projects Abroad. The complete opposite of solo travel, this time I went a part of a group. This was a great way to meet like-minded people, experience a new place and culture on a community level, and possibly to support a good cause.
MUSEUMS, GALLERIES AND ATLAS OBSCURA
2018 started for me with the discovery of the Zietz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa located at the Silo District of The V & A waterfront in Cape Town. The art is amazing, the views spectacular but the architecture of the building is the thing that steals the show.
Speaking of outstanding buildings; I finally made it to Washington DC to visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. EVERYONE should visit this museum. The designers have done a wonderful job of creating the claustrophobic feeling of a slave ship in the bowels of the building, and then the path of history the visitor takes right up through the top of the building, where the sun shines on Oprah Winfrey.
The aforementioned Titanic Museum in Belfast is interesting because they spend a lot of space telling the story of Belfast and what life was like working the docks in the place that the Titanic was built.
I've closed out 2018 with a trip to the new Norval Foundation Art Museum in Steenberg, Cape Town. They were showing Wim Botha, one of my favourite South African artists, and have a great permanent collection in the sculpture garden.
This year I discovered my most favourite website: Atlas Obscura. This site lists interesting things to see and do that most tourists would overlook. Whenever I find myself in a place where I have never been, I always consult Atlas Obscura, and find something strange to learn about.
My favourite finds were in Boston this year, with the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum; an Italian villa in the heart of Boston and the Scarlett O'Hara House, which is a model of Tara painted onto the side of a building. I also really enjoyed the home of Edith Wharton, The Mount, in Lennox, Ma.
Phyl joined in the blogging fun by doing what she does best; cooking (though, seriously, she is good at pretty much everything)! She followed my travels and chose a regional recipe to experiment with and write about. Phyl posted some fabulous recipes and photos to go along with them. Just don't look too close to the momo photo...
From luxurious treatments at The One and Only and the Spa at the Silo, Cape Town, South Africa to visiting the Villalara Longevity Thallassa & Medical Spa in The Algarve, Portugal with someone who really doesn't like massages, drunk-booking (don't recommend) and missing out on both horse whispering and medicine man treatments at the Miraval Spa, New Mexico to regrettable Rumba classes and surf board yoga with a 17 year old unicyclist at the splendid Canyon Ranch, Lenox, Massachusetts, to clammy handed massages in Nepal and all of the wonderful treatments I had just down the hill at my local Thai Massage, this has been a wonderful Year of Spa.
I thank everyone who has treated me, who I have had the pleasure to meet and get to know, and I especially thank Neil for supporting my travels and allowing me to have such wonderful experiences.
Here's to 2019 and The Year of Spa/ Year of Living Not So Dangerously Deuxieme Partie!!!