Twelve months ago travel was pretty much at the bottom of my 2014 agenda. Twelve countries later, this turned out to be the most travel-intensive year of my life. Some of the journeys were for work, some for fun, and some were undertaken on a whim. By the end of the year I have crossed off a few spots on my “must see” list, flew to places that weren’t even on my radar a few weeks earlier and revisited some old faves. Here’s a look back at all the adventure:
Saint Petersburg, Russia
I kicked off the year’s travel roster relatively close to home. It’s been more than two decades since the last time I’ve been to Saint Petersburg and I enjoyed rediscovering “Russia’s northern capital” as an adult. I took in a ballet performance at the Mariinsky Theater, spent hours at the Hermitage and wandered the endless embankments of the half-frozen Neva River.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
I traded in New York for Florida on my annual American pilgrimage. While Moscow was still slowly thawing out, I was enjoying the sun and Bud Lights on the beach — just 30 steps away from my ocean-view room.
I think I was the only Russian who has never been to Crimea when it was still part of the Soviet Union or Ukraine — and when most of the world’s population couldn’t place it on a map. The two and a half weeks I spent on this headline-grabbing peninsula were high on adventure — horseback riding in the mountains! forbidden beaches! magical waterfalls! lion safari! fishing with pirates! — and low on controversy and WiFi. Just what a proper vacation should be.
Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium
Work took me to Brussels, which I was eager to revisit since my study-abroad days, and without the constraints of a student budget. As a bonus I met the amazing Annie, and explored Antwerp with her for the very first time.
The most intense day trip of a lifetime had me running around trying to see all of Amsterdam in just six hours. It still amazes me just how much I got to do (boat tour of the canals!), see (flower market! Van Gogh Museum!), and, most importantly, eat (cheese! Heineken! pancakes! Indonesian! pickled herring!) in such a short time.
Linda lured me to Latvia with promises of bar-hopping adventures and endless supply of Janises. I actually did not meet a single Janis in Riga, but the bar-hopping was indeed legendary, and a nice way to break up architectural tours and “Russia is evil” speeches.
Possibly the biggest travel surprise of the year, Tallinn overwhelmed with its medieval whimsy and amazing food. And meeting a Nice German (and divine weather) gave me a chance to enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in northern Europe on an impromptu mini road-trip.
London, United Kingdom
My first trip to the UK, back in 2011, was somewhat of a mixed bag for personal reasons. Still, I got to see most of the city’s major attractions, from The Victoria & Albert Museum to the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. This time around could spend my free-from-work time thoroughly exploring the city’s different neighborhoods, particularly Hampstead, Camden and Westminster. Also, I tested out my new super-cool DSLR camera with 105 mm zoom, whatever that means.
Drive ten minutes through the center of this city and you’ll see everything from imposing neoclassical palaces to medieval fortress to bomb-torn buildings to shiny night clubs. And everyone loved the Russian!
Where I learned to drive a stick shift on my birthday (kinda) and ate a whole roasted pig (kinda).
Love at first sight! Budapest delighted and impressed me so much, I cannot wait to go back and explore every nook and cranny at a more leisurely pace, especially now that I’ve checked off most of the main sights, from the castle and hills of Buda to the Art Nouveau architecture and breathtaking Hungarian Parliament building on the Pest side of the city. This was my favorite travel spot of the year.
Thanks to the Nice German I got to see parts of Croatia that few tourists ever visit, from the castles nestled in the mountains near Slovenia’s border to the war-ravaged villages in the eastern part of the country. And very randomly, I got to go shopping at a Croatian outlet mall when the temperatures dropped 20C overnight!
Prague, Czech Republic
I don’t know what it is about Prague, but while most people leave the city completely charmed, I left it wanting more — for the second time! Still, I used my non-working time to fill in the blanks left over from the first trip in 2009. I went to Frank Ghery’s Dancing House, improvised an Art Nouveau tour, drank at the famous Hemingway Bar and visited the Sex Toys museum, which left me… confused.
Back to London, United Kingdom
The plan was to go on a walking food tour of the East End; instead I ended up in Hogwarts! Plus I binged on Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Bengali cuisine, experienced my first European Christmas Market and shopped till I dropped — well, till the stores closed!