We seriously can't believe it's the last day of 2018. Where did this year go? 2018 was an interesting year. Definitely full of interesting developments, both personally and professionally. This year we travelled to 16 different countries, refreshed our electronic gear, moved to a new destination, met wonderful people around the world, published a new blogging course, exceeded our financial target, went vegan, celebrated 2 years of marriage, loved life and launched a new niche site. What a crazy rollercoaster. Hey, it wasn't all bells and whistles. As you will learn we had our fair share of hardships along the way. Overall, 2018 was a pretty good year, if nothing else, it was full of new adventures.
So what exactly did we do?
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January was a month of dilemmas. We couldn't really decide where to live so we thought we are going to give Budapest a try. That's when we rented a short-term flat for a couple of months to see if we like it. During winter, the city was quiet but also really nice. Living in Budapest seemed easy and carefree. We were fortunate enough to rent something right by the big market, which is known for fresh fruit and veg. January was also the month we went vegan, so naturally, any proximity to fresh produce was a treat. About 2 minutes down the road we discovered a bio shop with vegan items and a nice and super cheap vegan restaurant which became our go-to place for lunch. Our short-term flat was pretty awesome. Beautiful, modern, with 2 bedrooms and enough space for us to work from home. Overall January went pretty well.
At the beginning of February, we flew to Bristol for a short visit. This trip was work-related for our agency and we won an important contract. It was also the time when we wanted to revisit our home and see if living in Bristol could lure us once more. Sadly, we discovered social-economical issues and we were shocked to see that the city we once loved so much, transformed into quite a grim place. Don't get us wrong tho, we still love our home city, we still miss Bristol and its beautiful green spaces and funky cafes. But overall, we didn't feel like we belong anymore. At least for now. So with sadness, we said goodbye to Bristol, arrived back to our rented flat in Budapest and started working on a business plan for the year.
February was also the time we visited Prague for the first time. It's been on our bucket list for far too long, so we bought some last minute tickets to finally go check it out. On the day, we decided to not fly, but drive. So we jumped in our car and drove 7 hours straight from Budapest to Prague. No regrets though, we got to see other interesting parts of the Czech Republic. We found so many awesome things to do in Prague, we decided to reserve some time to return and explore more of the city.
Once we returned from our trip, we started looking for a long-term rental in Budapest. Prices were mental, the flats small and badly decorated. Overall, it turned out to be a very stressful time. We viewed 3-4 flats a day and couldn't find anything decent. Deceiving photos, terrible conditions, noisy neighbourhoods or dirty quarters. The whole process left us a little bitter. We expected a little more to be perfectly honest. We found it crazy that a small bedroom flat would cost the same as a detached house in Downend Bristol. One day, however, before our deadline we luckily managed to find a flat.
We moved into our new flat at the beginning of March. We were eager to finally settle down and have a base for a while. We knew deep down that we won't want to live in Budapest forever, but we thought let future Cory and future G deal with the problem. For now, we just wanted to unpack, have a wardrobe, a proper kitchen full of herbs and spices and an organised office in our home.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long to discover the issues with our flat. Although in a prime location just by the opera (next to the UNESCO Andrassy Street), the building is packed between two hostels. Despite serious promises and reassurances from the owner that there are no issues, we soon realised the building we moved in was in a continuous lawsuit with the hostel owners. Turns out, the hostel owner allows loud music during the night which disturbs most residents (some of them are over 70 years old). Luckily, our flat was in a good position as our bedroom was far away from the party hostel. During summer the hostel people were pretty loud and annoying but nothing our noise-cancelling headphones couldn't handle. So overall, we didn't "suffer" much. I must add that in our spare room, located on the other side of the flat, we could clearly hear the loud music and loud shouting from the party hostel. We could only imagine how horrible it must have been for the other residents to try and sleep with that. The lawsuit continues...
In terms of travelling, March was pretty awesome. At the beginning of the month, we went to Berlin for our first ITB. It was an interesting experience but not fruitful in terms of contracts. ITB was more tailored for the German market for sure. Either way, we enjoyed seeing Berlin, even though we wouldn't rush back anytime soon.
At the end of March, we went on a week-long trip to Helsinki. We also took a day trip out of Helsinki and we fell in love with the country. Finland was such an incredible place. Helsinki, although expensive, it stole our hearts. Civilised, organised, clean, it was pretty awesome. We also discovered the joys of the Finish sauna. Oh gosh, that kinda' broke us though, as now we can't really imagine booking a hotel without a sauna. A pretty extraordinary place. We also found a lot of vegan restaurants in Helsinki. It was the perfect (working) holiday.
During our trip to Helsinki, we also travelled from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia and from the ferry, saw massive chunks of ice sheets floating on the sea. Again, pretty dramatic and spectacular. Tallinn was a dreamy city. We didn't expect to love it so much, but its medieval old town was pretty impressive. Quaint and cosy are the two words that come to mind when we need to describe Tallinn.
April was our month of rest. We caught up with work and created content for the blog. We needed some down time to chill and just do our own stuff around the house. It was actually pretty good to have a month with no travelling. The weather became warmer and warmer, but in a very nice, pleasant way. Nothing much happened, apart from the fact that we also caught up with our reading, both took the time to exercise and restart our yoga routine.
May was supposed to be pretty chilled but it very quickly became crazy and packed with travels. The first two weeks of May were quiet and relaxed, again, we were doing our work and routine.
Mid-May, we flew to Amsterdam for the first time. We had some initial issues with the accommodation but we quickly found where to stay in Amsterdam. To be fair, we flew in and out of Schiphol more times than we could count and we never got the chance to actually visit the city. So we were really excited to discover Amsterdam. And oh boy, did we love it! Amsterdam was insanely awesome. We loved it so, so much, we don't even have words to describe it. We instantly connected with the place. Loved everything about it. The space, the canals, the houses, the food. How quiet it was in the evenings. Really loved it.
From Amsterdam, we took the train to Rotterdam to attend Traverse, a travel conference where I delivered an SEO talk. In contrast to Amsterdam, we couldn't connect with Rotterdam at all. In fact, it was one of our least favourite cities in 2018. The conference went well and it enabled us to meet several bloggers and make new friends. The talk was a success and I'm excited about delivering talks in the future as well.
Once the conference was over, we took another train to the beautiful city of Antwerp. We stayed in a boutique hotel in the centre and went on a delicious foodie tour. We were surprised how much we actually loved Antwerp. We had a great guide who taught us a lot about the local history and in general, how the city became a melting pot of cultures. We strongly recommend a visit to Antwerp. From Antwerp, we went to Brussels for a couple of nights. Although we enjoyed our time in Brussels, we didn't love it so to speak. It was fine. An interesting city but nothing that tickled our imagination. We stayed in the centre of Brussels and found several interesting things to do including sampling lots and lots of chocolate.
June was supposed to be a relaxed month, but it transformed into a long Eurotrip. We received an invitation from Kotor to go check the region, and we decided to make it into a road trip experience. We got in the car and drove from Budapest through Bosnia Herzegovina, through Montenegro, to Kotor.
Bosnia Herzegovina turned out to be a superb country which so many dramatic sights. Naturally stunning, Bosnia Herzegovina is home to medieval villages, rivers and lakes, as well as the Dinaric Alps. A truly untouched country which is in desperate need of tourism to boost the local economy. The not so pretty? The roads: with serious speed enforcement of up to 50 km/h, our journey became a long and tedious drive. We knew to respect the speed limits as we learned that there is police stopping foreign cars for a bribe. Some friends even suggested that we prepare envelopes for these situations with a few euros in them. We didn't and decided to instead abide by the law at all cost. In fact, I always allowed a 5 km margin to ensure the police has no reason to stop me. As I was driving 15 km per hour (I kid you not...) in a school zone, the police decided to stop us. We argued that we went very slow, G pointing at the SatNav showing that we were well aware of the speed limited. After checking our papers and some awkward back and forth, they let us go. We laughed at the situation for the rest of the drive.
We did have a good laugh about it, although we found it a little sad that the local economy is in such state that the police is trying to get money out of foreigners. Bribing is a terrible thing which if it gets out of hand can cause serious issues (I'm looking at you, Romania).
Montenegro was a lot more pleasant, however, we decided to follow google maps rather than our sat nav thinking we'll save an hour drive. Guess what? The road hasn't been built yet... so it took us around 3 extra hours to reach our destination. Imagine driving on a terrible dirt road, with lorries and crazy work vehicles pushing you into the chasm... well, almost. Luckily nothing bad happened. Just as we thought we survived the journey, once we hit the Bay of Kotor, we felt like in Italy: crazy drivers beeping at us, pushing us off the road. It reminded me of the time when we drove to Lake Como. Once we arrived in Kotor and parked the car, I was so excited I kissed the ground. Driving in the Balkans was no easy task. Clearly, I have yet to learn how to drive like an Italian. I think British driving doesn't do me any good in Europe. Jokes aside, once we arrived in Kotor, we spent some time discovering the beautiful areas around the city, found an array of amazing things to do in Kotor and fell in love with the place. Kotor has to be one of Europe's best-kept secrets. And this time, cliche aside, I really mean it: it was insanely beautiful.
After a week in Kotor, we embarked on an adventure around Croatia. We spent a few days in Dubrovnik, a few days in Split and a couple of days in Plitvice. Croatia was as stunning as they say, although we didn't really love Dubrovnik. You can tell that Dubrovnik was once an amazing city (still is absolutely gorgeous) but way too busy. For such a small place, the overwhelming number of tourists is definitely transforming this beauty into a crowded horror town. In June, everyone (I mean everyone!) was inside the city walls. The beaches were so packed, it was almost impossible to find a spot to lay down your towel. Even the beaches further away from the centre were pretty busy. We walked for an hour from our hotel to get to a beach called Sveti Jakov, but that too was full at the time. Instead, we decided to spend our time sampling delicious food and wine in local restaurants.
We love Games of Thrones and love that Dubrovnik became this fantastic tourist attraction, but we felt that we didn't receive what we expected for our money.
Split was a lot better for us. A lot more chilled, beautiful and impressive, we truly loved it. We had a tour guide who took around the Diocletian's Palace and explained so many interesting things about the history of the city. We walked up and down the marina which looked stunning during the evening and spent a whole day exploring the Marjan Forest Park. We are considering going back to Split to discover it even more and immerse ourselves in its beauty.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park was the highlight of our trip to Croatia. We enjoyed walking and hiking there. One tip though: arrive first thing in the morning and take the long route around the national park. The short route is as busy as it gets. In fact, it's so busy, you won't even be able to walk as you need to queue to pass people. It can get pretty crazy. We hiked it on two different days. One day we arrived at 8 am and it was bliss, on the other we hiked it in the afternoon and it got pretty mad. A beautiful place, but sadly, really touristy like most popular spots in Croatia.
July started well with a week of catching up with work for the blog. We missed sleeping in our own bed. I also missed cooking with my own pots and pans and herbs and spices. You might have guessed by now, I really enjoy having my own kitchen. July didn't stay calm though, we received a last minute project proposal from a German destination and we decided to take it. As much as we love sleeping in our own bed, we love travelling the world even more. So we packed our suitcases and jumped in the car for another road trip.
Our first stop was in Dresden. We didn't know what to expect from Dresden but once we arrived, we really loved it. Such a gorgeous city, with beautiful views. It's pretty great for outdoorsy people like us. You can take long walks along the river Elbe and find fantastic trails in the forests around the city. We were very pleased with Dresden and loved the quality of life there. We walked for hours and loved every single inch of the place. We especially liked the Loschwitz area. Overall we think we had the perfect romantic weekend in Dresden.
From Dresden, we drove to Hamburg. Hamburg was awesome because we spent two nights in a luxury wellness hotel. We enjoyed the food and the vibe of the city, but not enough to feel connected with the place. It was hip and cool, and pretty great for couples. It's a fantastic place for a weekend away, especially if you like funky neighbourhoods like St Pauli.
From Hamburg, we drove to Utrecht for a couple of nights. Just like Amsterdam, Utrecht was incredible. We loved our visit to the charming De Haar Castle, found an array of interesting things to do in Utrecht centre and ate the most delicious meal in Le Jardin (which we recommend with all our heart). Utrecht reminded us of parts of Britain which we loved so much. A glorious city, with a lot to offer, a vibrant centre and calm countryside. There is a lot to do in Utrecht, we really recommend this city. During our time in Utrecht, we did a cheeky runner to Amsterdam to see one of our friends. Our second time in Amsterdam was just as epic. We really love the Netherlands.
En route back to Budapest, we only stopped once in Nuremberg for a quick night sleep (didn't get the chance to see the city) and one night at Lake Balaton to see G's family.
August was a month of peace and quiet. We didn't travel anywhere, we just caught up with work and deliverables for the blog. We also started looking for living options in other countries. Again, we knew that future Cory and future G have to deal with moving abroad at some point, but we didn't really come to a conclusion. The Netherlands remained our favourite location. Of course, living in Tokyo was the dream (still is) but with no visa options for us. We started looking into Canada as a potential option.
August was nice in general. We took it easy, went out a lot and enjoyed our time outdoors. It was during August we got a visit from my mum so we took some time to just enjoy the city. We also went on a quick day trip to Bratislava with her, which was great.
We started preparing for our big anniversary celebration abroad. We initially wanted to visit Asia, but decided last second to spend a couple of weeks road trippin' around Norway. We put together this insane itinerary in Norway, with a few days in Tromsø on a hunt for the Northern Lights.
Before we left for Norway, we sold our old camera and bought a new one. Invested in new iPhones, gimbals, a drone and several extras to take our photos and videos to the next level.
Our September was glorious. If we need to pick, September was our best month. Norway was extremely beautiful, more so than we could have ever imagined. It was quiet, full of forests and dramatic landscapes. We loved everything about it. We rented a car in Oslo and drove all around the country to see mountains, lakes, fjords and endless forests. The highlight was our time in the Arctic Circle. We rented a car there too to explore the surrounding areas and the Arctic Alps (Lyngen Alps). Norway was pretty cold even in September but we came prepared and packed the right things for the country. Honestly, even with the cold and the snow, Norway was just postcard-perfect. For me, Norway is my new favourite country, although, for G, Japan remains top for now.
While we initially thought October is going to be nice and quiet (do you see the pattern now), we got a contract from a PR agent for an amazing luxury campaign for InterContinental hotels. The campaign involved us travelling from Budapest to Dubai through Abu Dhabi to India to experience the hotels across continents and to introduce their ambassador program. We stayed in several InterContinental hotels before, so we knew what to expect. We accepted the job and away we went. We spent 3 nights in Dubai in pure luxury (seriously guys, we were spoiled to bits), 2 nights in Abu Dhabi and 2 nights in India in Chennai.
We arrived back to Budapest from Chennai with a nasty fever. G thought I was exhausted from the trip but once I got home, I was sick for a few days and could barely eat. We did our vaccines before the trip so we don't think we caught something but who knows. Once I got better, G got hit by the same thing: sickness and nasty fever. We also had crazy vivid dreams full of colours. India has sure left a mark.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi were splendid. Dubai is a massive playground for adults with a lot of cool things to do. If you want luxury, Dubai is the place for it. From luxury hotels to personal driver, personal shopper and tailored service. The InterContinental Festival City also houses amazing restaurants including the Pierre's Bistro & Bar which belong to Pierre Gagnaire who won the Best Chef in the World award in 2015. So you can imagine the food was pretty perfect.
Abu Dhabi was a treat to the senses. Calm, beautiful, relaxing. We had a couple's massage and relaxed in the pool for a few hours. Around the marina, there were several restaurants which belong to the InterContinental Abu Dhabi: a wonderful Lebanese and a perfect market restaurant where you "shop" for fresh ingredients before the chef cooks them for you.
India was a mayhem of colours and emotions. We went from temple to temple and tried to learn as much about the local history as possible. We bought a saree and had dinner on the beach, in the Bay of Bengal. Again, an unforgettable experience.
Once we recovered from the trip, we caught up with pretty much everything work related for the rest of October, especially because we knew the beginning of November is reserved for London, for WTM. This year, WTM was a success! We made a list with all the destinations we wanted to visit and got appointments in advance to ensure the reps make time for us. As a result, we got several contracts. We also got the chance to socialise with a few old friends which was great. Overall, London was a success.
Once we got back to Budapest, I organised a surprise birthday trip for G. I took him to Vienna for a weekend and organised for a surprise lunch at Le Ciel, a French Michelin restaurant and Shiki, a Japanese Michelin restaurant which has a vegan menu. We stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof, a five-star luxury hotel. Every year we organise something really nice for each other's birthdays. We don't give each other presents as we prefer to experience something unique, together.
Once we arrived back from G's birthday, we decided to take an impromptu trip to the Netherlands. We wanted to see Amsterdam during late Autumn and also used it as an opportunity to see our friend. Our itinerary was as follows: Austria, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Cologne and Munich and back to Budapest.
Once we arrived back to Budapest, we spent a couple of days catching up with work, before flying for one night to London for a blogger awards event. It turned out to be really nice and we got the chance to make a few connections.
Our December was super chilled. (Finally!!) It was needed after all the travelling we did. We loved our year but we thought we need to take a step back and really catch up with work and relax a little before the holidays. As we hit mid-December, we started to become a little more agitated about our living situation. We knew we didn't want to stay in Budapest, but we didn't quite figure out where to go. We created a list with pros and cons for several places we liked (or think we would like) but to no avail.
As I'm writing this, things are getting a little stressful and we only have two months to decide. It wouldn't be an issue as two months it's plenty of time, but we have a lot of travels arranged already for January and February. So we need to move pretty fast and make a decision. We are thinking Vancouver, Canada, or parts of Norway which we liked, the Netherlands since we loved it so much (Amsterdam or Utrecht area) or Dresden as that was our favourite part in Germany. There were considerations like living in Tokyo but sadly there is no self-employed visa for us in Japan, at least not without us investing thousands of pounds.
The only break we took from trying to find our next home was during my birthday when G booked a table at the Onyx restaurant here in Budapest. Onyx is a 2 Michelin star restaurant which a brilliant menu and perfect service. We loved our night there. Overall, the whole dinner took more than 4.5 hours to complete. It was an epic treat.
We are pleased to say that overall 2018 was a pretty damn good year. It was a year of adventures and a lot of success. We can't wait to venture into the unknown in just a few hours and welcome 2019. Thank you for being part of our journey in 2018 and we can't wait to share more with you in the coming year.
We can't wait to make 2019 an even more incredible year, full of joy, adventures, travels and lots and lots of love.
Happy New Year from You Could Travel.