30 December 2020

Five Travel Stories from 2020

Despite it being a leap year, 2020 hasn't been a year where I've felt like leaping much, what with one thing and another. As such, my annual travel round-up post, where I highlight some of my favourite places for leaping that I've visited that year, has had a bit of a revamp. In January, I had seven international trips booked, but only completes one, to New York and Seattle, before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the others. This year has been the longest I've been in the UK without leaving the country in two or three decades, and it's been hard not to miss the excitement of discovering new cities and countries, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. But I have managed several smaller-scale adventures closer to home this year, and I thought this was a good opportunity to share a few stories.

1. Arriving in NYC in the 'before times'

I spent a few days working in Manhattan before a conference in Seattle in early February, and in typical fashion, took the earliest possible flight on the Saturday morning to maximise my weekend in my favourite city. I didn't know it at the time, but this would be my last international trip for the foreseeable. There had already been cases of the new coronavirus reported when I arrived, but New York was just the same as it always is in February — cold, slightly less busy than usual and particularly quiet in some areas, but with the same frenetic energy that I love so much. Walking through Chinatown amid the Lunar New Year festivities, I couldn't work out if I was pleased to see business as usual, or concerned. Like everyone else, I knew so little then. As I pulled up my scarf over my face against the chill, a charity fundraiser called, "hey, nice mask" — sarcastically, I think. I saw the Snow Moon, ate out a lot, walked the High Line, went to a modern art exhibition featuring fruit and veg, and went to see Parasite at a cosy Brooklyn cinema. I'm glad I got to do lots of my favourite New York things, because I don't know when I will do so again.

2. A whistle-stop tour of Seattle

For my conference, I was staying in downtown Seattle, which meant I got to see a bit of the city while I was working, but I also had two full free days in the city — now, of course, I wish I'd been able to stay longer. It was my first time in the Emerald City, and so the last time I've been able to experience that joy of getting to know a new city, meeting its people and finding out what makes it tick. I did a great walking tour, visited several of the city's fantastic museums and galleries, and delighted in the extensive happy hours that often include food as well as drink. I was charmed by the sea otters and Hugo the giant red octopus at the aquarium and in awe of the picture-postcard sunset from Kerry Park. I couldn't believe the 'rumours' of Seattle's raininess, given that it was mostly cool but dry, with two days of gorgeous sunshine. And then before I knew it, it was time to return back home, and I vowed to return soon. Hopefully, I will one day.

3. Bringing football home

Even in normal times, it's hard to get tickets to see Wolves play these days. Two seasons ago, thanks to a friend, I was able to see them play twice at Wembley — once in the famous comeback victory over Spurs, and once in the devastating seizure of defeat from the jaws of victory against Watford in the FA Cup semi-final. Last season, we managed to get tickets to the FA Cup third round against Manchester United, a 0-0 draw that  was easily the most tedious match of Wolves' campaign to date. But when the Premier League went behind closed doors this year, it actually meant more Wolves matches were on TV than usual, and one balmy summer evening, we converted my parents' 'event tent' into our very own Molineux for the Crystal Palace game in July. And after all that effort, we won 2-0! Sadly, the 'stadium' didn't make it through the summer storms, but we also made a rather smaller model over Christmas.

4. Summit special in southern Snowdonia

It came to my attention this year that despite spending inordinate amounts of my childhood holidays in Barmouth, Dolgellau and the surrounding area, I had never actually been to the top of Cadair Idris, the highest mountain in southern Snowdonia, although we came close a few times. In mid-September, the weather was unseasonably good, except, of course, on the day we set out on the Pony Path. To be fair, it was quite nice at sea level, but we soon ascended into thick mist. Thanks to my dad's Ordnance Survey app, we were able to stay on track, but the final climb to Penygadair was rocky, steep and slippy. We picnicked at the top, where the clouds kept threatening to clear, but unfortunately, we were not rewarded for our efforts with a fine view down to Barmouth and the sea. To taunt us, the summit remained perfectly clear for the next few days. However, this just means I'll have to do it again.

5. A tale of two city breaks

With even local travel not being possible for much of this year, for obvious reasons, I was grateful to go on short trips to two cities famous for their Regency era architecture — yes, apparently I got the memo that Bridgerton would be trending right around now. In Brighton, I paddled in the sea, ate fish and chips on the beach, and day-tripped to Beachy Head, Seven Sisters and Hastings. Oh, and of course, there was speciality coffee

In December, with very limited options to go anywhere during my annual leave, I decided to return to Bath. The temperature was about 30C cooler than in Brighton, which meant lots of brisk strolls around the gorgeous honey-hued buildings, seeking out new-to-me parks and views, warming up at the Thermae Bath Spa, and indulging in a tasting menu at Bath's only Michelin-starred restaurant. After spending the vast majority of my waking hours in one room in my small flat, the change of scene was very welcome.

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