You didn’t think we’d head off into the New Year without a round up of 2015 now, did you? 😉
This year on Hand Luggage Only has been quite special in so many ways – we’ve gotten to travel to so many amazing destinations, made so many new friends, eaten so many delicious meals, had so many brilliant “Wow” moments and despite feeling like people who have learned to be self confident, blogging this year has truly helped us find our voice. It’s been an amazing year thanks to you and so I raise a glass of bubbly and say you to you “Thank you very much for an amazing year!”
I know you’re probably fed up of me saying this but I’m not going to stop just yet because it’s the truth – blogging on here has been truly rewarding because of the personal connections made on here. We read every comment, email, tweet, Facebook message, snapchat, Periscope message and anything else we receive. It means so much that you take the time out of your busy days to say a quick hello or even to ask for a question (you know what they say about a friend in need…). We always reply – always and even when it takes weeks to reply, we read the messages as soon as it ‘dings’ on our phone. Thank you, thank you thank you!
This year, we’ve had millions of visitors come on to Hand Luggage Only… and not in a figurative sense either, in the literal sense of the word. It’s one of those surreal thing that I can’t fully grasp – I certainly can’t create picture millions of people standing in one place. The closest I’ve come get to is trying to imagine millions of cheesecakes but even that seems overwhelming… and I like cheesecake!
The thing is, it’s not to long ago when (in April 2014 to be exact) when we were elated to have 80 people read our blog in one day. I actually remember being overwhelmed back then that 80 people had read what we’d written. A month after we started, I remember logging into the analytics (I remember specifically that we were in Lisbon with friends) and thinking our website had been under a cyber-spam attack because the traffic by mid-day was in the thousands and I panicked. I’d heard of attacks like this but I knew nothing about cyber attacks and it wasn’t until I took a few minutes to calm down (and when the comments started coming in) that I realised that there was no attack. People were actually reading the blog.
I know, this all sounds like a soppy ramble but I do have a point I’m trying (rather terribly) to get to. The point here is to let you know that your positive impact is so much larger than you might realise. As an individual and as a community of travellers, your support and kind words has given us so much and as I know this applies to other people in your lives, I just thought to let you know that your kindness, support and brilliant sense of humour constantly helps the people around you so much more than you realise. People don’t always say it but just in case you didn’t know, even by the very nature of being here right now – your impact and support is felt and I want to say a massive “THANK YOU” (again) from Lloyd and I!
Without further ado (and with no more sentimental waffle from me 😉 ), here are our travel highlights for 2015! Lloyd and I have provided our different points of view on each location – we actually ended up writing them separately thought you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise when you go through some of the destinations. 🙂 😉
1.) Palermo, Italy
Yaya: The architecture here was my favourite part of being in Palermo! It rained all the time we were there – it’s easily the rainiest holiday I’ve been on in a while but this in no way detracted from how beautiful the buildings were here. If anything, the rain made it seem all that bit more dramatic.
Lloyd: This was our first trip to Sicily and I was not disappointed. I’d never heard about the Capuchin Catacombs before arriving – a crypt of sorts, filled with hundreds of mummified bodies from the area. It was such a surreal and slightly eerie experience to see them, one that I will never forget and definitely recommend.
2.) Bratislava, Slovakia
Yaya: The snow! I’d wanted a cold holiday for a while so coming here and finding all the snow was brilliant! Plus, its a very beautiful city! Oh, and we got an upgrade on the amazing hotel too.
Lloyd: The whole city was covered in a thick blanket of snow when we arrived – it was so magical to walk around this picturesque Slovakian city, wrapped up warm and tasty with a gluhwein in hand!
Yaya: Ah, where do I begin! There’s so much I love about Iceland that it’s hard to pick one single thing! If I had to, I guess I would go with the Northern Lights. I’d seen them on a previous trip before but this time, the skies were empty of clouds and we even saw the Northern Lights on the flight back home too.
Lloyd: There are so many highlights from our trip to Iceland that I don’t know where to start! Bathing in the Blue Lagoon, Watching the Northern lights and learning how to bake bread out of the geo-thermal heat in the soil were experiences that will stay with me forever.
4.) Zell am See, Austria
Yaya: This was my first time skiing and that in itself was absolutely amazing! Zell am See is also so beautiful so once we were done skiing on the mountain tops, we headed back down to the town for some fun… and a whole lotta Jaegermeister!
Lloyd: I was so excited for Zell Am See, mainly because I got to try skiing for the first time! After a few hours of lessons I was let loose and ready to conquer the slopes. Yes, I fell like a hundred times and ended up getting back to London with bruises in places that I thought couldn’t bruise, but it was worth it!
5.) Paderborn, Germany
Yaya: Paderborn is always a delight to visit as I’ve got family there but this time, we decided not to take it for granted and see more of the town. Best. Idea. Ever. (Thanks Jani!)
Lloyd: Yay! Germany – so I’m going to be a little bit biased as my brother and his family live around this area! It was great to go and explore the local town of Paderborn, which is so pretty. I can’t wait to go back again for the Christmas market.
6.) Cinque Terre, Italy
Yaya: I’d spent way too much time on Pinterest and other blogs just oogling over pictures of Cinque Terre and so being here and getting to go to every single one of the 5 towns was absolutely incredible. I’d wanted to visit it so much that I couldn’t believe it when I saw it in person – it lived up to, nay – it surpassed, the hype.
Lloyd: The beauty of Cinque Terre blew me away; honestly, I have to give credit to Yaya in inspiring our trip here. I honestly couldn’t believe how beautiful and charming each of the five towns are.
Yaya: My favourite part of Luxembourg has to be the aptly yet colloquially titled “most beautiful balcony in the world” overlooking the old town.
Lloyd: Luxembourg is literally less than an hour by air from London, so I have no excuse for not visiting sooner! We spent a good few days exploring the UNESCO sites within the city, where I finally got to try Escargot (snails) which were surprisingly delicious.
8.) Copenhagen, Denmark
Yaya: The food here is on the money! And the people too – they’re amazing. We had such a fun time with the locals and even ended up in a house party. We’d only been there for a weekend but I felt like a local by the time I left.
Lloyd: I loved the vibe of Copenhagen; everyone was so chilled and friendly with the city feeling so welcoming to visitors. I loved the café culture in the city, it reminded me so much of East London.
9.) Pisa, Italy
Yaya: This trip to Pisa was the second time I’d visited but I’d never been into the Cathedral before – the Cathedral is my favourite in Italy hands down and one of the most beautiful! Seeing this ornate Cathedral was definitely the highlight of trip to Pisa.
Lloyd: It was a really sunny and hot day when we arrived in Pisa. I fondly remember the first thing I did… taking that famed photo and having the responsibility of holding up the leaning tower! I hope someone took over propping that tower up once I left. 😉
10.) New York, USA
Yaya: New York is an easy favourite of mine but this time, we had those city passes I spoke to you about in previous posts so it felt like someone had just given me “keys to the city” and so I tried to cram in as much as we possibly could which was brilliant. Oh, and for the first time, we went to Brooklyn too. It was definitely lovely seeing this other side of New York.
Lloyd: I think I ate the best brunch of my life in NYC! We decided to go to Bobby’s, where I literally stuffed my face with the crispy bacon, pancakes and grits. Yum. I also loved rowing a boat in Central Park – it was so tranquil and relaxing (but I have to be honest, I preferred it when Yaya rowed so I could chiilout)! 😉
11.) Gocek, Turkey
Yaya: This was the first proper lazy holiday we had. We won the tickets from Thomas Cook Airlines which was a delight in itself and when we arrived to the hotel, I knew I would struggle to leave and I was totally fine with that. 🙂 😉
Lloyd: That secret little beach near Gocek was beautiful… chilling out on our little island deck and jumping into the warm Mediterranean Sea – how I’d love to be back there when it’s all gloomy and rainy in London. 🙂
12.) Florence, Italy
Yaya: I have a deep love for Florence. It’s my favourite Italian city and I would move there without a moment’s hesitation. This time, we got to stay at an amazing hotel and that was definitely the highlight of my trip here! Actually that and the Florentine steak I had on the first night there – it was uh-mazing!
Lloyd: It was mid April when we visited Florence and it was already hotter than a British summer! I remember waking up bright and early just to enjoy breakfast on the roof of our hotel. It was magical, sitting there, listening to the bustle of the city, the church bells and the smell of spring.
13.) Wales, UK
Yaya: Wales is my ‘first love’ in the UK – it’s been home for years and this year, I got to see more of this beautiful country that I have done before.
Lloyd: Mae Cymru yn fy mamwlad… Which roughly translates to, ‘Wales is my home country’. Even though I don’t live there now (with London being my second home) I still visit very often. I always love going back to see my family, the dramatic scenery of the West Wales coast and ofcourse some delicious Welsh Cakes.
14.) Bergen, Norway
Yaya: The sunset from Fløyen in Bergen is absolutely amazing! You take the funicular (train) up to Fløyen and with its amazing view right at the top of the city, you watch the sun set over Bergen – absolutely brilliant.
Lloyd: Definitely a highlight for me was heading up Mount Fløyen to watch the sunset over the city below. I remember loving exploring the woods around Mount Fløyen and taking a small hike into the wilderness. As it was spring, the colours of the forest had just started to appear, which made it so pretty to see.
Yaya: I did so many amazing things in Croatia (sooooo sooooo many) and saw so many different parts of the country but the one big thing I took away from Croatia was a newfound love and appreciation of wine. We ate almost every meal with local families and a lot of these families have their own vineyards and so you ‘had to have’ wine with every meal. I, of course, then had to try both red and white wines every time and was constantly merry (i.e. a tad sozzled) for most of my time here. Oh and I tried frogs legs here for the first time too.
Lloyd: My favourite point in Croatia has to be when I finally plucked up the courage to jump from the top of (some very high) rocks/hill into the river below. We’d gone white water rafting and decided to take a little break. Yaya jumped off first, without little hesitation, but it took me a good 10 minutes of shaking and grit before I finally took the leap. It was so scary at the time and I feel so accomplished in pushing myself to do it.
16.) Flam, Norway
Yaya: Oh, that train ride here is absolutely amazing!!! It’s so stunning. And when you arrive, you’ve got the fjords to see here too – Aurlandsfjord, Sognefjord and Nærøyfjord which are beautiful and rather impressive to behold.
Lloyd: This place is beyond words! Honestly, it’s beautiful. I loved our journey on the Flamsbana, one of the prettiest train journeys ever. It felt as if we had entered another world as we climbed the mountains on our train – a beautiful green spring day turned into a magical white, Arctic looking) landscape.
17.) Chantilly, France
Yaya: This was my first solo trip for the year and Chantilly, despite being just over 20 minutes away from the centre of Paris, packs in the grandeur you would expect for an European city with the charm of a tiny little village. The Château de Chantilly is definitely a highlight of my trip here.
18.) Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain
Yaya: Fuerteventura is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited this year. I’d heard the Canary islands were a popular destination to visit but actually getting to see how diverse and dramatic this tiny little island is in person was such a treat! I definitely wanna head back there soon and this time, I’m bringing the troops with me.
Lloyd: Just off the coast of Fuerteventura is Lobos Island, an unhabituated island that we took a catamaran to explore. Once there, we walked the length of the island before heading back on board to enjoy some snorkeling in the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean.
19.) Stavanger, Norway
Yaya: Stavanger is an amazing little city but the highlight of visiting here is definitely getting to go to hike up to Pulpit Rock. We had no idea we would be hiking up there until we started and although I had doubts about whether or not I could physically do it, a couple of hours after starting, there I was a top this ledge overlooking the Lysefjord.
Lloyd: My favourite point has to be climbing Pulpit Rock! Some 600 metres up, it took a few hours to reach the rock itself. With a sheer drop straight to the Fjord below, it was an adrenaline-fuelled adventure that I can’t wait to do again.
20.) Scotland, UK
Yaya: Visiting Scotland is like a home-coming of sorts, I called Edinburgh home for many years (and St Andrews) but this time, in addition to spending time with family – which is always great, I got to go on safari in Scotland. This day was so much fun and such a different experience to have in Scotland.
21.) Gdansk, Poland
Yaya: My first trip to Poland and definitely one that made me want to go and see more Polish cities. Gdansk is so colourful and the food here is absolutely delicious.
Lloyd: Gdansk is such a pretty Polish city, its colourful houses and cobbled streets, along with the delicious restaurants in the centre made me want to stay even longer. I also loved visiting the spa town of Sopot, we spent an amazing afternoon exploring It’s white sandy beaches and promenade.
22.) Johannesburg, South Africa
Yaya: This one’s a strange one as we didn’t spend much time here and we stayed in Sandton which isn’t a full reflection of Johannesburg but that being said, this was our first taste of South Africa and it was a lovely way to settle into our two week trip to South Africa.
Lloyd: Food was a big enjoyment of mine in Johannesburg, though this might have been because we just finished an epic, long-haul flight when I was ravenous! We arrived in the Sandton area of the city and headed straight out to a local restaurant to eat my weight in Peri-Peri chicken!
23.) Bristol, UK
Yaya: I’d been to Bristol before and never paid much attention to anything else except the reason I was visiting for but this year, thanks to Timeout, we got to see the city properly and explore it without a real focus in mind. I quickly realised how amazing the city was and how much I wanted to spend more time exploring part of the UK I’ve never been to before.
Lloyd: I’ve always loved the work of Banksy, so while in the city Yaya and I decided to undertake our own walking tour to find as many of his pieces as possible. It was a great way to explore the city, as we even found an old 1900’s camera in an antique shop that I just had to have! I loved it. It now stands, pride of place on my coffee table.
24.) Valencia, Spain
Yaya: I’m still yet to do a proper post on our time in Valencia but the highlight of our time here was definitely the hot air balloon ride we had. I’ve put some photos on instagram and will have the blog post up on here soon but hot air ballooning was something I’d wanted to do for a while and getting to do it when we visited was burrrrrrrilliant!
Lloyd: Hot-air ballooning. Need I say more? 🙂 I’d wanted to do this for so many years. I hadn’t anticipated how quiet the whole experience would be, it was such a surreal experience, to be so high and everything so motionless and quiet. I’ll never forget it.
25.) Helsinki, FInland
Yaya: The angry birds studio! I’ve been to Helsinki before this time but we got a different perspective of the city and seeing as I’d been an angry birds fan for a while, getting to roam the halls where the games, movies, toys…etc are made was definitely a fantastic experience.
Lloyd: I was so excited to arrive in Finland! We were invited to visit the Angry Birds Studios, Rovio – which I must add was out of this world fun! I got to try a beta virtual reality version of angry birds too! It’s as if those lovely guys at the studios knew all about my love of the game! 😉
26.) Dublin, Ireland
Yaya: The Guinness storehouse without a doubt was my highlight. We had a food pairing and a huge party to celebrate the 15th year old birthday of the storehouse which was so much fun. Blog post to follow very soon!
Lloyd: I remember how amazing our first night in Dublin was. We headed to the Guinness Storehouse for a party like no other – acrobats, oysters, Irish charm and lots of Guinness made the evening a fun-fuelled event that I’ve only now started to remember. 😉
27.) Kruger National Park, South Africa
Yaya: I loved seeing the big 5 here! We got to see all of them and then some! Going on safari has been a childhood dream of mine so this was a very big deal for me! 🙂
Lloyd: I was so happy to see the ‘big five’ in Kruger, but what I really loved seeing where the giraffes! Since a was a little boy I had to have every toy or giraffe based.. I think that’s why my parents disliked my visits to Toys R Us! 🙂
28.) Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Yaya: Our house boat here was definitely a highlight! Filming the video with STA Travel and Airbnb was also a big highlight too! If you’d told me we would be doing this, even back in April this year, I don’t think I would have believed it. 🙂
Lloyd: Staying onboard our very own longboat with AirBnB was a dream come true. We literally had a 47 metre boat to ourselves. I remember waking up in the morning to see the city blanketed in a thick layer of white fog, the whole canal looked magical.
29.) Milan to Amalfi: Italy on a rickshaw
Yaya: This week long trip packed in so many sights and experiences that I honestly struggled to pick one! If I had to though, I guess the part of the trip where we were driving in the rickshaw around Tuscany was definitely something I’d always wanted to do. I had this idea of what driving through the Tuscan countryside would look (and feel) like and it definitely did not disappoint.
Lloyd: The biggest adventure I’ve done yet! Driving a rickshaw almost 1,000km in 5 days at a rate of no more than 60km an hour. I totally loved how we’d be driving and just randomly find the most picturesque and charming Italian villages that seem to dot the whole country. It was amazing.
30.) Isles of Scilly, UK
Yaya: This place is like a place in it’s own different world! It’s so beautiful, the people are so friendly and honest and its one of those places that you probably hadn’t heard about before but once you do (and once you see photos of it), you’ll struggle to get it out of your mind.
Lloyd: These almost tropical British islands are only 20-30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, but they feel like a million miles! I loved exploring Tresco and Bryher, with their idyllic scenery and honesty boxes where you could literally buy all sorts of things.
31.) Cape Town, South Africa
Yaya: Cape Town was just meant to be a way to stretch our holiday in South Africa. I had no clue how much we would fall in love with this place else we would have booked to stay here longer. The food was absolutely incredible and the amazing nature just outside of the city centre is more than enough reason to visit!
Lloyd: This city made me wish my return flight to London was cancelled! I loved Cape Town so much. On one day we rented a car and explored Cape Peninsular. Driving up the coast, cliffs on one side and breaking waves on the other will be an experience I will never forget.
32.) Barcelona, Spain
Yaya: Gaudi!!! So. Much. Gaudi! I was definitely the stereotypical tourist in Barcelona but I’m a big fan of Gaudi’s work so finally getting to see them was amazing! Oh and we had amazing food and cocktails here too! Like seriously sooo good! Haven’t done the blog posts yet but will have these up very soon.
Lloyd: I’d wanted to visit Barcelona ever since learning all about Gaudi in school. Each and everyone of this buildings is so beautifully presented that I actually couldn’t believe I’d finally seen them! One of my highlights had to be going to the Luna Park, Tibidabo where we watched the sun set over the whole city.
33.) Berlin, Germany
Yaya: This was a holiday with a big group of friends and boy was it a fun one. Visiting the flea market was definitely a highlight as well as experiencing Berlin’s infamous nightlife!
Lloyd: We decided to spend an hour or so at Flohmarket in Mauerpark. It ended up that we spent all day here! The searching for vintage gifts, delicious street food and music was an experience that I recommend to anyone visiting this lively city…. Oh and also being refused entry to Berghain (At least I tried) 🙂
34.) Barbados, Caribbean
Lloyd: Hands down, my favourite experience had to be swimming with turtles. Twice! I loved every second.
35.) Antigua, Caribbean
Yaya: Antigua was my first experience of the Caribbean and what a brilliant one it was too! The beaches here are absolutely amazing but my standout experience was definitely swimming with stingrays!
And there you have it! Now it’s your turn – What was your travel highlight of 2015?
Oh, and a Happy New Year to you!