2017 was an oh-so-good year. I finally moved out to the sun. I even met camels. They weren’t all that friendly, and I’m not sure why I thought they’d be. Within 8 months, I had been in 8 resplendent countries. This isn’t bragging however. Working as a travel writer may seem glamorous but it is at the end of the day, a job just like any other. Given that last year threw some world-class tribulations my way, I’m fortunate to be able to shake off the strife the way I always do – by picking up my passport and relocating myself to another mindset, another way of living (and usually a warmer climate) – all in the name of “research”. So, 19 flights later, I hereby attempt to answer the question, “what does a travel writer do?”.
A dear friend decided that German beers were in order and invited me to spend a blissful weekend in the German financial capital at the dawn of Spring. With the monstrous fallout of Brexit, dozens of companies are projected to move their offices from London to Frankfurt, so I’m glad I got in on the action before the chaos commences. I had never really given much thought to what Frankfurt looked like, yet somehow it wasn’t what I was expecting. The spring cherry blossoms were in bloom and the city was full of greenery. There was also a huge statue of the Euro. I have long harboured an inexplicable fondness for all things German, so this little trip was a much-welcomed start to the travel year. Thanks Virginie!
After years of hearing friends banging on about Dubai, I finally made it to the UAE in April. Down in the lap of luxury, I ate to my hearts content, binged on the sun, went on a desert safari and shopped at the only mall on earth with an indoor ski slope. I caught a glimpse of the world’s largest synchronised musical fountain display and attended one of those infamous champagne brunches. Dubai is the uber chic playground of the monetarily blessed. Everything is bigger and better. The fortnight I was there, I never once opened my own car door. It would be very easy to lose track of reality there, very easy.
Lifelong dreams were fulfilled in May when I finally met her. “Her” being The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue). I was mentally prepared for her to be a tad smaller than she appears in photos (The Little Mermaid has been voted as the 2nd most disappointing monument in Europe, after Mannekin Pis in Brussels), but not quite this small. While in Copenhagen, I ate my most expensive sandwich to date (95 DKK, about 14.85 USD). That sandwich was the utterly delectable Smørrebrød (I destroy the pronunciation each time I try). These are open-faced sandwiches smothered in butter or duck fat, and topped with everything from meat and fish, to eggs and cream cheese. One must eat their Smørrebrød in the prescribed order from left to right, with a fork and knife. This is a must. I opted for a seafood plate at McJoy’s in Nyhavn. Calling it delicious would be an understatement.
The colourful buildings at Nyhavn (new harbour) draw in herds of tourists faster than a shirtless Ryan Gosling convention. This is the perfect place to people watch, stroll or picnic along the canal (beware, the restaurants here are fairly exorbitant). Copenhagen is a charming city to explore on foot, along its quaint canals and colourful buildings. A walking tour is highly recommended for those insider titbits you won’t find on Google (who knows what dingy dive bar the future king met his wife?) Be sure to stop by Paper Island (Papirøen) to eat the world at this grand food market. I also stopped by lawless Christiania, which has a lot more in common with Amsterdam than you’d think (wink wink). I have no photos of Christiania as photography is completely banned in the area. You can only imagine why.
My friend Kyla had discussed road trippin’ to Scotland for years. She’s half Scottish herself and spoke affectionately about Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, the curry houses and this particular pub in a church (Òran Mór). We finally made the trip north, meeting many a kilted man, armed with their Sgian-dubhs (little decorative knives) carefully lodged in their socks. I bit the bullet and finally tried Haggis, though I was too chicken to have the full sheep’s pluck shebang, and rather opted for the meatball version. Edinburgh was next on the agenda to visit the bagpipers at Edinburgh castle. One remarkable feature of our Scottish getaway was that everyone was so incredibly friendly. Not in a false way – and no, not in a drunk way either. There was however, whiskey involved. This is Scotland after all.
I cannot believe it took me this long to make it to Lisbon. Why didn’t I know it was this beautiful? How had I never heard of the almost month-long Santo Antonio celebrations? Why didn’t I know that there was a hospital dedicated solely to broken dolls? Why didn’t anyone tell me there was an entire pink street? For this year’s annual trip with my best friend Jess, we spent a week in Lisbon and the nearby beaches of Cascais. We rode the famous tram 28 route, took in a Fado show, learnt all about Saudade, met the friendly locals of Alfama, munched on Bacalhau à Brás, traipsed up and down the hilly streets of Bairro Alto, and sampled Gijinha at Gijinha sem Rival. We didn’t quite have enough time to make it to Pasteis de Belem, but that’s the thing about Lisbon. You’ll never have enough time to eat (and see) all the things you’d like to.
The sun played hide and seek for much of spring in London, but finally reared its head in June. It was once again time for garden parties and park life. Londoners love park life.
Bocas del Toro, Panama, July
What made 2017 special beyond all others, was that I finally made the move out to sunshine, to my heimat, to my paradise: Panama. You’ll often hear of places where travellers tend to ‘get stuck’ (in the good way). Bocas del Toro, the boisterous archipelago in the west of Panama is one such place. My first visit to Bocas was two years ago and this time around, at least fifty percent of the travellers I met back then still reside on these magical islands. They are now truly immovable, trapped. Since they tasted its sweet nectar, they remain unable to enjoy any other earthly destinations. The same could be said for me. All my dreams came true at once as I found myself at Azul Paradise Resort. Days were blissful, bar the occasional nurse shark sighting in our front yard, the ocean.
Oh, Colombia. Where do I begin. I hadn’t been to Bogota before and it was a lot colder than I expected. A LOT. My old friend Medellin however, was even more enjoyable this time around. The land of the eternal spring brought me new friends, a broken Chiva party bus and I finally went to a live football game. I decided to go on the graffiti tour of Communa 13, what used to be one of of Medellin’s most dangerous barrios. The tour ended in a group salsa lesson and some locals inviting us into their quarters to enjoy a sip of Aguardiente. We took the scenic route to the top of the city with the cable cars and savoured a warm sunset from up above. I definitely don’t regret the afternoon spent at the Museum of Antioquia in Park Plaza Botero, which is a museum in itself.
Just in time for the release of season 3 of Narcos, I took a day trip to Guatape and visited Hacienda La Manuela, one of Pablo Escobar’s 500 houses in Colombia. The interesting fact about this particular abode, was its double-layered walls to keep all those pesky weapons and wads of cash out of sight, as well as the fact that it was blown up by Los Pepes in 1993 (Narcos fans will know what I’m talking about). Since then, upkeep has been low to say the least. We got the best view of Guatape from the top of La Piedra del Peñol, optimistically described locally as “the best view in the world”.
Panama City, September
Home sweet home. In September it was back to Panama City with its extensive list of cute cafes and ridiculously photogenic vistas. I took refuge in El Cangrejo (The Crab) with two dear Belgian friends of Panama Bar Crawl fame. Seriously, if you haven’t been on it yet, what are you waiting for?
Whenever I leave “downtown” Panama, I head to the old town of Casco Viejo for brisk strolls through the narrow cobbled streets and to once again come face to face with Cinta Costera, my favoured walkway along the Pacific. Life in Panamá is one picturesque postcard indeed.
New York City, December
Brrrr. New York winters are punishing, and anyone who knows me will attest to my weakness and inability to deal with even a smudge of cold. Yet, the pull of the magic that NYC is sprinkled with at Christmas time was too strong to resist so I hopped over for the “happy holidays”. The second the doors of my flight swung open was a shock to the system to say the least: months in Panama had turned me into a quivering mess. Nevertheless, the twinkling lights at Rockefeller Centre and the all the bustle of New York beckoned. I only realised how sorely I’d missed New York’s quirkiness when an old friend and I waited to get into Please Don’t Tell at Crif Dogs, and we noticed that their christmas tree had a dual role and was in fact, also their beer menu.
New York is great and all, but I can only stand the cold so long. The Sunshine State sounded a little bit closer to being up my alley. It was time for drop top riding and reuniting with old friends on my second visit to Florida. The Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort would be our temporary home where we happily sheltered from the New York chill. Brrrr.
2017 was the year I wholeheartedly embraced nomadic living, and you couldn’t pay me to discard this newly-discovered freedom of mine. I’ve got some pretty ambitious travel plans for next year and feel utterly thankful to have been able to wander through all these wonderful destinations. So, what was your favourite place you visited this year? See ya later 2017.
Rosie Bell is an international travel writer, author of the book “Escape To Self”, and content editor for Club Elsewhere. Follow her on Instagram @TheBeachBell.