Travel Review of the Year 2013

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

2013 has been a good year for travel and I have managed to make a total of seven overseas trips (my record is twelve in both 2007 and 2008), starting in March with a return to Spain.

Despite the ambition to visit as much of the country as possible this was the first visit to the peninsular in nearly two years since the previous trip to Extremadura in May 2011.  Our destination this time was Castilla-La Mancha and the medieval town of Sigüenza in the Province of Guadalajara halfway between Madrid and the capital city of the Autonomous Community of Aragon – Zaragoza.

One of the reasons for choosing this small town was the desire to see one of Spain’s most famous religious festivals and by all accounts Sigüenza is a very good place to see it.  The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.

Turkey Postcard

One day in January when the temperature was hovering around zero and icy rain was lashing at the windows my daughter Sally called me with a travel proposal.  She had booked a holiday and the arrangements had fallen through which meant there was a spare place available that needed filling and crucially – paying for and I was being called up as first reserve.

“You will enjoy it dad, you can spend time with the grandchildren and it’s only for a week.”  I gave in quickly and asked the obvious questions of where, when and how much? “May, Torquay, only £900”. Actually I thought £900 for a week in Torquay in May was rather expensive but I agreed to it all the same and the deal was done and I started to research what there might be to do with three very young children in south Devon in early summer.

A couple of weeks or so later Sally phoned me again and said that she was applying for a passport for her new son William and although I appreciate that we are from the north I wasn’t yet aware that there were visa requirements for British citizens who wanted to travel south within the United Kingdom.  I called her back. “Why do we need a passport for William? I asked, “For the holiday, obviously”, she replied, “But we don’t need a passport for Torquay”, I smugly informed her, “Torquay? Torquay?”, she said, “who said anything about Torquay? We are going to TURKEY!”

Burgos Cathedral

In June we returned to Spain to visit the north of the country.  We started in Asturias and its capital city of  Oviedo and then drove south through Castilla y León  and visited the provincial capitals of León, Zamora, Salamanca, Avila, Segovia, Valladolid, Palencia and Burgos and that is all of them except (and I apologise for this) Soria.  It would have been just too much of a detour as we came to the end of our travels but I have promised to go back one day and apologise for this rudeness because Soria has one of the most bizarre festivals in Spain where once a year local men demonstrate their faith and fearlessness (stupidity) by walking over red hot coals!

But I have a plan to put this right because in April 2014 we plan to return to Sigüenza and I think it may be close enough to this missing city to take a day to visit.

Girona Catalonia Post Card

In July we travelled to Catalonia in north-east Spain and fell in love with the city of Girona. It is said that Girona consistently wins a Spain country-wide poll of citizens on preferred places to live and  I had a really good feeling about the city and as we sat and sipped cool beer I thought that it might be a place that I could return to.

I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea.  The reason for this is that I wouldn’t want to end up in a British ex-pat condominium and I imagine that living outside of this would bring its own problems.  I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been created from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.

But, now I have another idea.  It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a different country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Girona on my short list of potential places.  Before we left we walked past a famous statue of a lion climbing a pole and there is a story that if you reach up and kiss its arse then one day you will return but there was too much spit and dribble on its butt cheeks for me to take out this particular insurance policy.

France Côte d'Opale

2013 was a special birthday year for my mum as she gregariously tipped over from her seventy-ninth year to become an octogenarian and as part of the celebrations she invited my brother Richard and me to join her and her partner Alan to visit the north east corner of France and stay at at a hotel that they especially like, the Chateaux de Tourelles in the village of Le Wast, just a short distance away from one of my favourite French towns, Boulogne-Sur-Mer.

Something like ten-million British travellers arrive in Calais each year and then without looking left or right, or stopping for even a moment head for the motorways and the long drive south and in doing so they miss the treat of visiting this Anglo-neglected part of France.

Normally I have a preference for travelling by sea and always enjoy the short, weather-unpredictable, ferry crossing but they like the Eurotunnel shuttle so on this occasion we took the thirty-minute subterranean route rather than risk the choppy seas of the English Channel and the mad rush to the car deck upon docking.  It was busy at the terminal and on the following day the service set a new record for numbers of vehicles at almost sixteen-thousand. I had been through the tunnel before on Eurostar but never on the vehicle carrying train so this was a new experience for me and overall I have to say that although it is quick and convenient I think I prefer the boats and the rugby scrum.

Puglia Map

Every September since 2004 our late Summer travelling has been to the Greek Islands and it hadn’t really occurred to me that that we would break that habit and that 2013 would be the tenth year in a row, after all there are roughly one thousand four hundred of them and I have only been to about twenty-five so there are still a lot left to visit.

We were persuaded to make a change to our normal September routine when the Ryanair website offered return flights to Bari in Southern Italy for the bargain price of only £70 each (no hold luggage, no priority boarding, no pre-booked seats obviously) so we snapped them up and started to plot our way around the Italian Region of Puglia one of the least visited by tourists and most traditional areas of the country.  We have travelled to Italy several times but mostly to the north and certainly never to this part of the boot.

Iceland Postcard

For our final travels of 2013 we went north in October in search of the Northern Lights! This was a second visit to Iceland and the first since the financial crash of 2008 so there were some significant changes – mostly financial.  Six years previously I had found the country horrendously expensive but immediately after the crash the krona lost fifty percent of its value against the euro and even taking into account six years of relatively high inflation, which even now remains high at over 5%, I was rather hoping for cheaper prices this time and I was not disappointed because I estimate that the tourist cost of living was only about 65% of the costs of 2007.

We did enjoy Iceland, we had a nice hotel, found an excellent restaurant (Harry’s Bar), drove the Golden Circle and on the final night got to see the Northern Lights just as we had given up all hope of seeing the spectacular light show.  I am tempted now to return to Iceland, maybe in June and experience the midnight sun but this time I would miss Reykjavik because I have been there twice now and seen all that there is to see but I think I would hire a car and circumnavigate the island, that would be about one thousand, five hundred kilometres but I am guessing that this would be a wonderful experience.

So now thoughts turn to 2014 and the current plan  is to visit Poland (Wroclaw) in January, Sigüenza in Spain in April, possibly Ireland in June and then a holiday with my family to celebrate my sixtieth birthday in Corfu in August but obviously I hope to slip a few more holidays in between these main events!

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22 responses to “Travel Review of the Year 2013

  1. Wonderful account of your year! Sigh! One day, I’ll be able to do what you have been doing. 12 times in a year! Wow!

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    • Thank you. 12 times a year was when the low cost airlines were seriously low cost airlines and flights could be found for as little as £10 or even less. I selected destinations by fight cost rather than travel brochures and came across some wonderful surprises.

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  2. Hope you had a happy christmas. Good thing you sorted out the Torquay situation before packing. 🙂

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  3. Busy busy year then and some interesting places too! Thanks for sharing them…

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    • Thanks Spike, I aim to continue in 2014!

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      • Sounds like a plan… looking forward to the educational write-up’s 🙂

        We hope to grab 10 days in August back on an island again, but that’s about it sadly – hey ho. Either that or drive up to the southern tip of Black Sea Bulgaria (equivalent costs to short Greek Island trip). Ever been to that part per chance?

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      • No, never been to Bulgaria and it remains on the ‘to do’ list. Putting plans together for Turkey later in the year and trying to combine time in Istanbul and a visit to Ephesus with the accommodation offer in Altinkum.

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      • Sounds like a good mix 🙂

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  4. Good morning, Andrew.
    An engaging read. Much thanks.
    Loved your Torquay/Turkey misunderstanding!
    You are coming to dinner here at Woosnam Towers tonight.
    I want you to arrive with your password to cross our threshold !! And that will be Wroclaw. You have to pronounce it correctly, or you will not be fed !! (Clue. It is not pronounced as the public address announcer called it at East Midlands airport when I flew from there to Wroclaw 7 years ago.)
    I found Wroclaw delightful and almost the equal of the much more visited Krakow, It differs from Krakow in that it is in Silesia and is essentially still very German. (Remember it was called Breslaw when still under the Nazis.) Whereas English was the second language on restaurant menus in Krakow, you will find German is EVERYWHERE in Wroclaw.
    The main square is almost identical to the one at Krakow, in massive size and shape and buildings! It just lacks the trumpeter up a tower!
    It is just behind Krakow as the 2nd largest square in Europe.
    There is lots to do there. A visit to “The Panorama” museum/attraction, is a must…especially for a historian like you.
    No doubt you have booked some posh hotel. Cancel it. And stay where I stayed.
    Get the bus in from the airport and it stops at the railway station. Walk out into the main street opposite. I am not duckduckgoing it, but from memory it is called something like Kollataja Street. About 100 yards down on the right is the youth hostel. When I was there that was £3 a night! But I am not suggesting you stay there, as it has curfews and the like.
    No, the place to stay is virtually opposite: just the 8th building up on the LHS from the station! Just 2 minutes walk!
    There you will find the Stranger Hostel, Amazing place.
    I happily paid nearly three times what the youth hostel wanted. For £8 a night, I found the friendliest place I have ever stayed in. It has a FREE breakfast as well. I bet that even with today’s prices, it will be no more than twelve quid a night!
    Free towels, Free wi-fi. Big screen telly. Fantastic!
    In some ways it should be called the STRANGEST Hostel …as it includes a giant bean bag that everybody lolls about on!
    Highly unprepossessing me thus found himself supine, cheek-by-jowl with REAL PULCHRITUDE.
    Girls young enough to be my granddaughter were sprawled next to me and not recoiling from the experience! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I am still in email contact with 2 people I met there 7 years ago.
    How much is it now to stay there? About £12 would be my guess. The bargain of all time.
    They even have a twin room. Book it now! You will not regret it.
    As I finish this piece I am looking at my slippers. They bear the name Grand Hotel Amsterdam. Courtesy slippers.
    Guess where I got them? Yep, you are right. The Dutch boy in the next bunk gave them me as a memento of our meeting Stranger Hostel.
    Unforgettable.
    Kindest,
    Dai Woosnam
    Grimsby, UK
    daigress@hotmail.com

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  5. A good round up and a happy 2014 to you! Incidentally, how cheap is Iceland now for things like meals, drinks and hotels?

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    • Hi Richard – Happy Christmas. Iceland is way less expensive! I went in 2007 and it was astronomical but this year I calculate that prices were down by about 40%. Gull (Icelandic) beer about £4.00 a pint, a meal in a mid range restaurant about £20 for two courses and hotels about average for Europe. There is also a duty free shop at the airport when you land and a 3 litre box of wine was about £25. I have got a post coming up about it early in the new year. We got return flights for £70 each from Luton.

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  6. What a fabulous year of travel and I hope 2014 is just as enjoyable. I too am approaching a big birthday next year – hmmm where to celebrate?

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  7. Nice review! Glad you enjoyed the northern lights in Iceland, it was one of my travels this year and I can definitely recommend you to rent a 4×4 and drive across the country during the summer 🙂 Happy new year & safe travels

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  8. No matter how you slice it, Andrew, 12 travels a year is envious but would wear me out. *grins*

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  9. Reading through this wonderful article I thought: a build-up to a New Year’s resolution – living in some place for a year! But it seems the travel plan will reveal much more interesting adventures. Variety is the spice of life, they say – I do hope you enjoy and Poland will most likely bring a whole new taste bouncing from the good old wanderlust 😀

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  10. What a great travel year, interesting to read about your Spanish travel especially as I’ve seen hardly any of the country. Here’s to a great 2014 too!

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  11. On the way down here I got lost in Daigressing’s comments on Wroclaw. So funny! You will enjoy 🙂
    Yes, I think I could probably live in Girona too. Funny how some places just grab you. I’ve been meaning to write a guide for Simonseeks for weeks. Bit like updating my blog 🙂
    Whatever it brings, Andrew, I’m sure you’ll enjoy 2014.

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