The past year was quite a crazy one, even for Bronkowski standards. We started the 1st day of the new 2016 with a road trip in Ireland with our London partners in crime, and hailed in the first minutes of 2017 under a blaze of sparks and a sky full of floating lanterns on a Cambodian beach in Sihanoukville. In between we spent our birthdays at the Cliffs of Moher and in Berlin, and celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary (woohoo!) in the nooks of the Alps in Innsbruck. We got to try out scuba diving in four different countries (though we had to brave the icy swells of Cape Town and the lone wrecks in Cyprus without one another), hiked over glaciers and desert mountains, and I even made it home in time in order to vote in South Africa. And through it all, Joel started a new job and I obtained a MA degree (having frantically worked on my thesis in three different continents).
Even with a Masters degree, I am not great at counting, so who even knows how many flights we took or miles we traveled, but I can do my ABCs – so, here is our year of travels from A – Z:
Christmas markets in the Alps
We started celebrating Christmas early in the icy fresh air of the Alps as we roamed around the Christkindl Markt in Innsbruck. Christmas was up there this year, and Innsbruck has a lot to do with it. We sipped on gluhwein pretty much non-stop and saw the sun set over the snow-capped Alps.
Black sand beach
Words don’t describe Iceland and its black beaches. In the wind and under a sprinkle of rain, we watched the white foam roll into the black sand. Real black sand. We couldn’t believe our eyes. (And Joel dressed for the occasion)
I don’t know why the universe chose me, but I have a cat magnet. There’s really nothing I can do about it. But everywhere we go: cats. I used to wish for it – ‘I wanna see a cat today’. But I don’t wish for it anymore, I just wait. Sooner or later, a cat will show itself to me. It’s just how it is. They don’t all like me (Spanish cats are jerks, for example – except one, we’ll get to that later), but they can’t help themselves either. It’s my magnet.
L – R: Cappadocia, Koh Tao, Istanbul, Sharm el Sheik, and TIBS! Our cat at my mom’s house
Diving in the Red Sea
We just started diving, and I have a feeling the Red Sea ruined it for us. The crystal clear water, incredible visibility, the entire spectrum of colours in corals and schools of fish. Giant eels, cruising turtles, flying mantas and white-tip reef sharks. We can’t wait to go back and we CAN NOT recommend it enough.
Or this is at least what the Cliffs of Moher feel like. We got to go on my birthday and with some of our favourite people on earth, and we won’t ever forget this place.
This year we decided to do something both of us always wanted to do – Scuba Diving. We got to get our certification in Koh Tao, an island in the gulf of Thailand, and the only thing we regret is not having done this sooner! It’s like the world has all of a sudden doubled or tripled in size, and the possibilities of exploring and seeing new corners of it has expanded beyond my understanding. The sound of the deep ocean and the life it holds – one of my new favourite things. And it’s made me appreciate the ocean on whole new level. Not only the obvious stuff, but also things like the sound of waves rolling into the beach and the feeling of the water on your skin. And Koh Tao was the perfect place for a beginners certificate too!
Geothermal Pools and Glaciers
One of my favourite ever things I’ve done – locating and dipping into Iceland’s semi-secret geothermal swimming pool, Seljavallalaug. It was so simple, and yet it felt like this incredible adventure, coming upon this oasis of natural heat in the icy cold.
And the next day we took on a spiky-boooted glacier hike, which was also really freaking amazing.
An indescribable feeling in one of the most extraordinary, singular place we’ve ever been to. This is a bucket list thing. There is nothing like watching the sunrise 3000 feet in the air over the fairy chimneys and canyons and cave houses of Cappadocia. Thinking back on this is like remembering this crazy dream you had.
I did my first ever Island vacation! (One of the rare ones this year where I didn’t have to write essays). We spent about two weeks on Koh Phagnan and Koh Tao, and island hopping to other smaller surrounding islands. For example, we took a short boat trip over to hike Koh Nang Yuan, where we made friends at the bottom of the hill, who then got engaged when we reached the top – WHAT HOW AWESOME!?! Hammocks, Thai Food, Palm Trees, Watermelons, new Friends.
Jump the Fence
Travel tip: always jump the fence. We ignored the signs and the fences and the gates and went to explore Galway’s Menlo Castle. Or the overgrown ruins of Menlo Castle, which is a 16th-century riverside mansion. With no one around, we explored the complex as the day wound off and the sky started turning yellow, with only the distant sounds of a rugby game somewhere across the river to remind us of reality.
Kelp forests and Cape Fur Seals
I set a day out for a dive in Cape Town in between applying for visas and writing my thesis, and even though I burst my eardrum (and the water is freezing), it was so worth it. I signed up for the Cow Shark and Seal dive with Pisces Divers, and I can’t wait to go again. Unfortunately there were no sharks in the forest, as there had been some Orca whales terrorising them a few weeks before, but navigating your way through the kelp forests is still so magical. Diving with seals is probably my funnest dive yet, as they twirl and dive around you like curious little puppies. I didn’t take photos, but Google provided me with these representations:
Larmer Tree Festival
One afternoon, Joel asked me if I wanted to go somewhere after work. A few hours later, he picked me up in a rented car in South London, stopped at the gas station where our best London compatriots were hanging around, and drove us three hours somewhere else. After cruel jokes of telling me I will be visiting Stonehenge, getting me crazy excited (it’s on my bucketlist), and then saying ‘just kidding’ as we found parking at some festival, and then later revealing we are going to see Jamie Cullum (which was REALLY FOR REAL on my bucket list), it was an emotional rollercoaster. But probably the funnest day I have had in England so far.
We drove hours through the desert at night, started hiking up a mountain at 1.30am, and watched the sunrise come up over the Egyptian desert in the Sinai Peninsula. Nothing else I can say will capture these moments.
New Year’s Eve in Sihanoukville
I hate New Years ( I think like most of us), and the pressure to ‘hail in the new year’ often amounts to disappointment. But this year, in some random Cambodian coastal town, I had the best NYE ever. We roamed the markets and the crowds and the beaches, dodging sparks from NON-STOP fireworks, and watching non-stop floating lanterns, and ended up in a weird beach DJ party where we danced with strangers and had Cambodian people continually wishing us a happy new year. Until fireworks filled the sky above us. 100% fire and explosion hazard, but 100% fun.
‘Ohana means Family’
(thank you, Disney)
Both of us managed to see both our families this year, and those that are like family. Getting to be with family when you live abroad is like a charger for the soul, and we are so grateful for the love and support from those close to us, and for those chances we get to reconnect even though we live so far away.
Here’s a photo of my cousin cooking me some fancy stuffed chicken which is a testament of just how much he loves me! 😛
Our friend Danny got married to the wonderful Karo and we got to celebrate their happiness in Warsaw! We danced the night away to the BEST wedding band ever, and spent the rest of our weekend exploring markets and eating at milk bars.
Best use of lay over hours ever, we explored the city of Doha for a few hours in between Bangkok and London. That iconic skyline, Dondurma in Souq Waqif, and the colours of the city = best layover ever.
Rafa’s hometown (and Rescuing a Kitten)
We have this friend Rafa, who we just love, and we got to spend a couple of days exploring his hometown with him. We wandered through the ancient town of Cordoba, gazing at the incredible mix of Islamic and Spanish architecture, letting him order tapas for us, and exploring countryside castles. And then, as he was showing us his family’s farm, we found a stray kitten in a barn, and – my greatest achievement this year (yes even greater than getting my MA or catching a giraffe soft toy with the claw on Brighton Pier) – I convinced him to take it in and gift it to his mother. This cat makes up for all the other jerky Spanish cats out on the streets. I love this cat.
AKA the most beautiful border crossing in the world. My best friend and her fam took me in their 4×4, drove up and up and up and around the crazy switchbacks, and into Lesotho, and then we cheers-ed to life at the highest pub in Africa.
Trekking the Coast of England
On one beautiful Saturday we took the train to the south coast of England with our favourite neighbours, and walked miles along her white cliffs. We followed the grassy, sloping hills up and and down, and then turned inlands, past a lot of sheep, and found our way to the pub. British perfection.
Dotted all over the Cappadocian landscape are underground cities that date roughly from the 7th/8th centuries. We visited one of the largest ones that extends 8 floors underground, 4 of which are accessible to visitors. We navigated the complex system of tunnels and chambers with the guide that sort of told us we would be (conceptually) lost without him – he was right. It just blew our minds.
How incredibly fortunate we are to be able to see the world from so many different angles. If there is one thing I love (besides Joel, cats, and aubergine), it’s going up high to see the views. It is just always worth it.
From top to bottom: Malaga from the Alcazaba, Cape Town from Lion’s Head, Bangkok from the Octave Rooftop Bar, Sinai Mountain range from Mount Sinai, and Cape Town from the East Fort ruins on the Chapman’s Peak drive.
2016 was the year Gera and I would actually hike to Wally’s Cave! As Lion’s Head addicts, we swapped our normal Lion’s Head summit hike, and went to find that Wally’s Cave that we have been hearing about. It was a little bit more adventurous than we anticipated, but in the end we made our own way and we found it, and it was so worth it! Also, after some winter rains, the mountain was green and gorgeous.
XOXO – Falling in Love with our Hood
Through it all we have also managed to fall in love with our London hood. It has only been a year and a halfish, but we love living in London! What an incredible city to come home to.
In the words of Samuel L Johnson:
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
So much Yum
Brighton fish and chips, Turkish moussaka and rice pudding, Phad Thai, Coconut Ice Cream, All the watermelon, Dondurma, Tapas, Gluhwein and Austrian baked goods, braaivleis and biltong, a hearty guinness stew, Vietnamese streetfood.
Below: Best meal in Thailand – local Floating market in Bangkok
Zipping through the island jungles
We may have a burst a tyre and burnt out some breaks, but this is the way to get around. I’d like to bottle the joys of zipping around an island on a scooter.
An incredible year of adventures, shared with the most beautiful people.
Ireland (x2), Poland, Iceland, South Africa (x2), Lesotho, Thailand, Qatar, Egypt, USA, Germany, Spain, Austria, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cyprus, Netherlands, the English countryside, and our most visited country, Turkey (the apple of my eye).
And then I’d like to meet someone who can keep up with all the places Joel has been to, because who knows.
I am so ready and excited for whatever trails 2017 will lead us on!