2017 Recap & What’s In Store For 2018

Welp, 2018 is officially underway, and it is certain to be one for the books.  I have a lot in store for this year, but I will get to that shortly.  First, a recap of 2017.  2017 was actually a bit of a slower year for European travel, as the hubs went on a TON of work trips and we traveled to the states over the summer.  Here is a peek at what our year looked like…

Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre, Italy

I just love Italy.  A trip to Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre with some family friends was just what the doctor ordered to cure the mid-February winter blues.



Solo Trip to Toulouse and Carcassonne, France  

I will be writing a blog about this trip shortly, but it was a peaceful and relaxing (albeit wet) weekend away on my own in France.  The quaint, cobbled streets of Toulouse and beautiful walled city in Carcassonne provided a perfect for a little getaway over spring break.



Three Weeks In the States: Chicago, Milwaukee, Port Clinton, Columbus

Again, I am in the process of writing this post.  We spent three weeks visiting family and friends in the states, including a night in Chicago, a visit to Brandon’s family in Milwaukee, some time on the lake in Port Clinton, Ohio, and about a week in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a fantastic and exhausting “vacation”; it was wonderful to see so many people!



Jurassic Coast 

While Brandon was back in the states for a work trip, the kids and I spent the weekend with friends at the Jurassic Coast in southern England.  Our day at Durdle’s Door was gorgeous, while our second day was very wet {but what is a trip in the UK without a little rain, right?}



Childless London

B and I had a quick, childless trip planned to Aalborg, Denmark in September, but then Ryanair had a massive pilot problem and had to cancel a ton of flights.  So our trip was cancelled.  Since we already had babysitters lined up, we decided to take advantage and spend a night in London on our own.  I heart London.



Failed Trip To The Lake District

Ugh.  The Lake District has been on my UK bucket list since we have been here.  And alas, it still is.  We had a trip to the Lake District planned for a long weekend in November.  First, Brandon didn’t make it back from TDY to join us, which wasn’t a big deal, but still a bummer.  Then, we set off on a Thursday night, planning to stop about halfway in the Peak District to stay the night.  Well, the kiddos and I were almost to the apartment we were staying in when I hear Benjamin say his belly hurt, then promptly throw up down the front of himself.  I guess the winding, hilly roads of the area didn’t agree with him.  Because I knew much of the rest of the drive was going to be the same, we stayed in the Peak District for the night, then headed back home.  We did get a few great views and some yummy breakfast!



Winter Wonderland/London

Winter Wonderland in London is always a favorite of mine…what could be better than two of my favorite things: London and CHRISTMAS!  Our family friend was in town again in December, so we spent a Saturday and Sunday exploring London and visiting the beautiful Winter Wonderland!



Algarve, Portugal

We rounded out 2017 with a trip to beautiful, sunny Algarve, Portugal.  I will also be posting about this before too long, but it involved lots of beautiful colors, gorgeous beaches, and fantastic coastlines!


Now for some BIG news!  At the end of the year, we also found out that we will be moving to Okinawa, Japan in the summer!  While we were originally really hoping for the base in Italy, we are beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to explore another part of the world.  I’ve heard absolutely brilliant things about Okinawa, and cannot wait for the big move over the summer!  With that in mind, we I have had some serious European travel panic attacks.  There are still so many places to see and things to do!  {I would say that even if I had been everywhere, but it’s so true!}  I have quite a few trips planned before the move, and a hopefully a few more in the works.  As of now, my travel plans for 2018 include:

  • Berlin and Prague (with hubby, sans children!!) in February
  • Moldova in March (girls trip)
  • Croatia over spring break
  • Colmar, France in late April (another girls trip)

We move in August, and we are hoping to have some family visit before we head out.  Hopefully we will get some travel in with them as well– possibilities include Iceland (dreamy!), Scotland, and Germany.  Thinking waaaay ahead, Taipei, Taiwan might be a possibility in the fall/early winter and of course, exploring our new island home of Okinawa!  [If you don’t know anything about Okinawa, just Google it…alllll the heart eyes!]

Travel Journal

I keep a travel journal to record all most of my adventures and keep bits and bobs like ticket stubs, maps, etc.  I try my hardest to update it while I am actually traveling, but every now and then I have to update it later.  Today I am posting pictures of my pages from Porto and Brugge–while all of the writing is done for these pages, I will probably still go back and add drawings, color, or paint some of them.  Most of the writing is similar to what I have written in my blogs (in fact, I often use the journal to jog my memory when blogging).  I apologize in advance for the terrible quality photos, I took them with my camera phone in awful lighting.  My travel journal is definitely one of my prized possessions and I think I would cry if I lost it!



“Babymoon”: Porto, Portugal

I’m back.  Finally.  It’s been a busy year.  Benjamin turned one (!), I finished my master’s degree, I worked two different jobs (and am currently teaching art which makes me incredibly happy), and am now pregnant with Baby Herbie 2.0!  I have also done quite a bit of traveling, which is probably going to be the focus of most of my blogging from now on (don’t worry, I will still post pictures of my incredibly cute baby boy and other adventures in my life, traveling will just be the main focus.)

I was going to progress chronologically through the last year with my travels, but I think I might just kind of hop all over the place instead, starting with our most recent out-of-the-UK travel to Porto, Portugal.

Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, and is located along the Douro river.  Its western area extends to the Atlantic Ocean.  One of the things it is most famous for is its wine- Port wine.  I will get into that later!

While Benjamin has traveled with us quite extensively, we decided to make this a baby-free trip.  This proved to be a great choice, as Porto was not especially child/stroller-friendly.   B and I arrived in Porto mid-morning Saturday, January 16 after an early flight from London.  We decided to check a bag this trip, as we knew we wanted to bring back some wine from the area (being 4 months pregnant prevented me from fully enjoying the fruits of the Douro valley…pun intended 🙂 ).  We hopped on the metro from the airport and enjoyed an easy 40 minute ride into the city centre.  There, we met up with the owner of the AirBnB apartment we were to be staying at for the weekend.  The apartment was not ready yet, as it was still morning, so the owner was kind enough to take our bag and meet back up with us when the apartment was ready.  He also was incredibly helpful in providing us a map of the city and outlining all of the top sights and some delicious restaurants.

B and I wandered off into the city for a bit, armed with our map and a handful of Portuguese words (which, by the way, is nowhere near as similar to Spanish as I expected!).  We stopped at the Mercado do Balhao first, an open market with food, fish, etc.  Compared to many of the markets I have been to throughout Europe, it was very dilapidated and old, but still had an air of charm and beauty.



A lot of Porto’s buildings are quite dilapidated actually, which I think I was surprised by. I was also surprised by how hilly Porto was!  I knew Lisbon was hilly, but I didn’t know quite as much about Porto, and hadn’t really paid much attention to the photos I had seen.  It was a little rough on this pregnant lady’s body, but it was worth every step (all 25 miles we walked that weekend)!!  The beautiful tilework, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings were breathtaking as well.

After the market, we popped into Estacion Sao Bento, a functioning train station filled with the blue tiles the area is famous for.  It was gorgeous!



We stopped for a light lunch at a cute cafe near our AirBnB- Taberna do Largo – then headed to our AirBnB apartment to rest for a few.  The apartment was absolutely amazing!

Despite being pregnant, we booked a wine tasting at the highly recommended Ferreira Wine Cellar for that evening.  Before crossing the impressive Luis Bridge to get to the “wine cellar side” of the Douro, we wandered along the Ribiera, which is lined with gorgeous shops, buildings, and restaurants.



Our wine tour was fantastic- our guide was incredibly knowledgable and funny, and even B, the non-wine-drinker, enjoyed it!  I actually learned quite a bit about wine (especially Port wine, which I am not a huge fan of…).  We had a tasting of two types of Port wine at the end of the tour, neither of which I really liked- much too sweet and strong for my liking.



After the tour we took a “leisurely stroll” (aka a long, steep, arduous hike) up to a building right above the Luis Bridge.  Did I mention Porto was hilly?  It was worth it though for the amazing view of Porto all lit up at night!  We walked back across the top of the bridge to get back to the other side of the Douro to make our way to dinner.



Our AirBnB apartment owner recommended a restaurant called Cantina 32, so we ended up there.  It did not disappoint- we split beef steak, potatoes, and salad, as well as delicious pumpkin soup.  A detour on our way back to the apartment led to some yummy ice cream to top off the night.

Sunday we ate breakfast at a hotel restuarant near our apartment before hopping on the old Port Tram City Tour.  The tram was super cool and old-school, and gave us great views of the river.  We got off where the tram ended, near the western coast where the Douro meets the ocean.  B and I found a mini golf course and decided to play a round.  The course was crazy, but a lot of fun.  Next to the casual mini golf course was the “Petergolf” course, which was a professional course (yes, professional mini golf, who knew?!).  There was a tournament going on while we were playing, which was both interesting and hilarious to witness.



B destroyed me, as usual (thanks to a 20-shot hole I had, oops!).  We then headed down to the beach area and took a walk along the coast.  It was half rock, half sand, and almost completely littered with trash, which was a bummer.  It started to rain a bit, so we headed back toward the tram to take us back into the city centre.  We ate lunch at a restaurant along the river, sharing the Porto-famous “Francesinha” sandwich.



Since it was mid-afternoon, we decided to head back to the apartment to rest and come up with a game-plan for the evening.  Our plan was to check out the San Francisco church, then get dinner at a nearby restaurant.  The church ended up being closed, so we tried to go directly to the restaurant.  Being silly Americans, we didn’t realize it wouldn’t be open for dinner yet (they opened at 7:30 and it was only 6ish).  Most of Europe certainly runs on a different time schedule than America, and even somewhat different than where we live in the UK.

It ended up being a bit of a blessing in disguise that both the church and restaurant were closed as we ended up wandering around, running right into the Livraria Lello, a famous old bookstore in Porto.  It was high on my list of things to see in Porto but I thought it was closed on Sundays, so we were planning on going the next day before we left the city.  I am so glad we stumbled upon it, even though they were closing in 20 minutes.  It was absolutely beautiful!  It is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, and often makes the list for most beautiful bookstores in the world!  Rumor has it that JK Rowling used to frequent it when she lived and taught English in Porto.



After a bit more wandering, we ended up at another highly recommended restaurant for dinner, Traca, which was right around the corner from our apartment.

Monday was our last day in Porto, but we didn’t leave until afternoon, so we did a bit of exploring in the morning.  Before leaving the apartment in the morning, we headed out for some coffee and also bought some local olive oil to bring back to the UK.  The owner of the shop we went to was beyond kind and helpful- forcing allowing us to try all the different types of olive oils they sold.  We also stopped at a wine shop and stocked up on some (non-Port) Douro Valley wine to bring back for me to enjoy this summer.  We also bought some for our amazing babysitter, since she had to put up with Benjamin all weekend ;).  We carefully packed our goodies into our suitcase and headed to the train station to store our bag until we headed to the airport.  We checked two more things off of our “must see/do” list by the afternoon- the famous and delicious Majestic Cafe, and the Dos Clerigos tower.

The Majestic Cafe was just that, majestic!  It was beautiful and old and served the thickest, richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted in my life!  The french toast was delectable as well- definitely a good choice for brunch.



To work off our breakfast, we headed to the Clerigos tower church exhibition to climb the bell tower.  After many, many stairs, we made it to the top, where we were greeted with stunning views of the city.  It was definitely a nice little time-filler and photo-op before we had to head back home.



Overall, we really enjoyed our “babymoon” getaway!  Porto is a sweet, beautiful, old city filled with charm and character.  I am so thankful for the opportunities that I have to travel living here in Europe!

Porto Travel Journal

Look for more soon, I hope to post about the following adventures:

*Girls day trip to Bruges, Belgium

*London (our many experiences there so far!)

*Exploring the UK (Dover, Canterbury, etc.)

*Dublin, Bruges, and Amsterdam with family

*Dublin (again) and Northern Ireland

*Hiking in Snowdonia

*Thanksgiving in Barcelona