Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. A year to keep options open…

Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019

Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. 

We kind of had a premonition that things would be a bit poopie this year when someone broke our toilet seat at last year’s New Years Eve Party. A few weeks later we lost our Split apartment, which changed the course of this year.

It’s been a year of ups and downs, of bedbugs and bats and women waving their fists at me. But it’s also been a year of new destinations and new favorites.

* For those unfamiliar with our blog: we are slow travellers, travelling and working at the same time. We like to stay somewhere 1-2 months, trying to fit in and getting to know a place. As I write this, in the last week of 2018, we’ve been at it 4 ½ years.

I always say that I do these year end posts as much for ouselves as I do for readers. It allows me to remember and reflect on the past year: the places we visited, the highs and lows, and the unexpected events. And I always like looking at the previous year’s post because oftentimes our year didn’t turn out the way we had planned. Here’s last year post.

 

A quick summary of 2018

 

January and February – Split (Croatia)

Our plan had been to keep our Split apartment as a base, renting it when we weren’t there and living there the rest of the year. When the owner died in January, the inheritor told us he wanted to sell at the end of our lease (ie. end of February). We had already decided (a month before) that permanent residency in Croatia was something that we weren’t ready for. Now, losing the apartment, we decided that Croatia just wasn’t meant to be. We put all our stuff in storage. Our future base will be somewhere else. Still, it was sad because we loved Split.

views in Split, Croatia

 

March, April, May – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore

After all the administrative things we had done in Croatia, it was nice to be back to travelling and living out of a suitcase. We loved our first month in Chiang Mai (Thailand) and one of the reasons was the Muay Thai training we did. In our 2nd month, we travelled from Chiang Mai all the way to Singapore, most of it by train. Lots of stops along the way: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Pattaya, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Hat Yai (the above all in Thailand) and then Georgetown (Penang), Ipoh, and Malacca (in Malaysia). We found the Malaysians very friendly and would like to revisit one day.

We arrived in Singapore in early May, spent a few days, then flew back to Chiang Mai to finish off our time in SEA.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

 

June – Brno (with a stop in Doha)

We had a memorable stop in Doha (Qatar) on our way back to Europe. Many people don’t know this, but if you are flying Qatar Airways and have more than 12 hours in transit you can get a free hotel stay. So we were in Doha for 13 hours and enjoyed one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed in – for free. We also did a bit of exploring and what we saw looked interesting. But it was 44C , very humid, and it was Ramadan. Everything was closed. We were happy to have that room and spent most of our time in it.

I had long been curious about the Moravian part of the Czech Republic. Brno is a nice city and was our base for a month. That’s a long time in Brno. But it was nice being back in Europe and we watched the World Cup in bars (France beat Croatia in the final) and did some sightseeing in Moravia. And drank some great Moravian wines. We visited Mikulov, Lednice, and Olomouc, all nice towns that most people are not familiar with.

views over Brno, Czech Republic

 

July – Krakow

Our 1st visit to Poland. We didn’t enjoy Krakow at all and honestly don’t understand the fuss about it. I wrote about our stay and of course it was one of the most commented upon posts in 2018. I’ve learned as a blogger that you can write 99 positive posts and won’t have anyone reading them. Throw in a negative post and everyone is reading it.

Anyway, we won’t be going back to Poland.

main square, Krakow, Poland

 

August and September – Lviv and Kiev (Ukraine)

The highlights of our year of travel.

We absolutely loved Lviv. Pretty city, nice people. Just tons of charm. We didn’t have a very nice apartment and usually that affects our experience. Not in Lviv. We just really love this city. We wrote a post here questioning if it is the most underrated city in Europe. It was a popular post and coming off the heels of the Krakow post it felt good to be loved. I also wrote a very detailed guide on Lviv here (bit too much detail maybe, it didn’t do so well. But if you’re going it’ll help you out).

We didn’t love Kiev as much. It’s a big city and has a big city atmosphere. But we were absolutely blown away by some of the highlights. The Orthodox churches and Soviet-era monuments are just incredible. It’s also a very green city. A post on its highlights here.

We really enjoyed our time in Ukraine and want to come back.

domes in Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

 

October – Prague

Our usual medical/dental checkups in Prague. We come back every year and it’s the closest thing to home. Happily all went well. No health issues.

Prague, Czech Republic. Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. A year to keep options open…

 

November and December – Lissette in Croatia, me in Budapest/Mexico/Montreal/Morocco

Lissette and I try to build in some solo time every year. This year we were apart 2 months which is the longest we’ve ever been separated.

Lissette went to the place she loves most. Split. It’s still in her heart and she has a hard time letting go.

I was all over the place. The timing was all based on my son’s graduation from University. His commencement ceremony was in mid-November. I sandwiched it between a trip to see my Mom in Mexico in early November and a long 5-week solo trip to Morocco (that started November 26).

I always love visiting my mom in Mexico. She lives in San Miguel de Allende and that’s where we spent most of our time. We also spent a bit of time in Mexico City and Guanajuato (both places I’ve previously visited).  

I was in Montreal mid-November and it was the coldest November in recorded history. One day it was -25 C with the wind shield. For November that’s really cold. But it was all worth it seeing my son get up on the podium and receive his diploma (Bachelor of Commerce with a Major in Finance). Very proud.

I flew back to Europe and spent a day in Budapest (a city we know well). Then it was those 5 weeks in Morocco. I’m still processing it all and have a few more posts coming up. I saw some spectacular geography and had some incredible experiences. Did I love Morocco? Not really. But I’m happy I went.

geography of Morocco

 

I flew back to Budapest on December 31st, spent New Year’s at the Budapest Airport hotel (Ibis Styles – excellent) and on January 1st I took the bus Budapest – Zagreb – Split.

It was REALLY nice seeing Lissette after 2 months apart.

 

So that was our year.

 

 bats in Mexico. Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. A year to keep options open…

 

 

Best of / Worse of /  The Weird & the Memorable

 

The Weird & the Memorable

1) The bat. Waking up in the middle of the night to loud, thrashing noises. Turn on the light and there’s a big bat in the room flying circles about our heads. It bangs into doors and walls but it keeps going, around and around the room. I open the door to the kitchen, get it in there (and close the bedroom door), but it’s a tiny space and he’s flying just a foot or two above my head. He ends up on the top of the fridge, and then after flying around some more, above the cabinets. I open an outside door and with the help of a broom I direct him towards the door. He flies out unharmed. That was in our apartment in Lviv.

2) Angry Woman #1. Same apartment. We had an upstairs neighbour who’s got mental issues. Whenever we see her she yells at me from across the street. One day I run into her in the hallway and she’s waving her fist at me like she’s going to punch me. We find out later from the owner that she was brutally raped as a child and developed a psychotic disorder. On top of my other attributes, I guess it’s true what Lissette says. I’ve got a face everyone wants to punch.

3) Angry Woman #2. Frankfurt Airport. Waiting to have by bag examined by overzealous security when an angry German woman comes right up to me and accuses me of “being a liberal” and letting all the immigrants in. I wrote about that in this post.

4) Vomit. Taking the early morning bus from Chefchaouen to Casablanca. A 6 hour ride. Bus leaves at 7 am and half the bus is comprised of Chinese (the Chinese have discovered Chefchaouen because it is PACKED with Chinese tourists). An hour in, I hear the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up, vomit hitting the ground. All it takes is one sideways look to see that it’s a guy across the aisle, one row back. That was bucketful of vomit #1. Four more would follow in quick succession. Vomit is running down the aisle towards the driver like a river. Luckily enough we were 2 minutes from a scheduled stop. Everyone evacuates the bus and some poor guy with a bucket and a mop spends half an hour cleaning up vomit (which by this point had pooled around the driver’s seat area).

Was I descriptive enough? Since then, every time I hear something splashing I imagine it’s a Chinese guy throwing up behind me. 

The other day I’m recounting the story to a British guy in Essouira. “What, he must have had food poisoning” the British guy says.

“No, no” says I, “he was eating again an hour later, stuffing his face with chips”.

 

 

Our Canadian Moment

I had just written about our love for Lviv. Our post is retweeted by the Canadian Ambassador to the Ukraine. He then writes me and invites us to a “Canadian Party” that night (we were in Kiev so it was perfect). Really nice guy and he introduces us around to people. Nobody really cares through about a bunch of bloggers. We drink some Canadian beer. We left a bit early and found out the next day that we had won the big door prize – a bottle of Crown Royal Northern Harvest rye whiskey (“the best rye whiskey in the world” according to the guy in charge of the lottery). We went back to the Embassy and picked up our bottle. We felt pretty proud sweeping in and winning that door prize from a bunch of unsuspecting fellow Canadians…

Canadian embassy party in Kyiv

 

Prettiest Towns visited

Olomouc (Czech Republic) and Chefchaouen. I’ve got a post coming up soon on Chefchaouen. Also Guanajuato which I’ve been to previously.

Blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco. Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. A year to keep options open…

Above: The blue town of Chefchaouen


Best Food

I always tell Lissette that if I had to settle for one type of food to live off the rest of my life it would be Thai. I never get tired of Thai food. I love Indian food but that’s a craving I get every 10 days or so, could never eat it all the time. But Thai I could. My other favorite food of the year is Mexican food which I also always love.

 

The Place we visited in 2018 where we could live

Lviv. We really loved it, it’s our kind of town. Having said that, we’ve never visited in winter…

Lviv, Ukraine. Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. A year to keep options open…

 

Place with the most Spectacular Sights

Kiev. As you see in this post.

 

Place with the most Spectacular Geography

Morocco. A lot of natural beauty, so much so that it almost compares to South Africa (which I think is the ultimate as far as spectacular geography goes).

 

Best Party

Songkran in Pattaya. Great fun.

Songkran in Pattaya, Thailand

 

Bedbugs

I got bitten by bedbugs in Chefchaouen. We’ve been lucky over the last 4+ years but 2018 was the year I got introduced to bedbugs. Twice this year I’ve been the victim of bedbugs. 

 

Best Activity we did in 2018

Our month of doing Muay Thai training in Chiang Mai. Got in good shape, met nice people, and had a really fun time. Its something I wish I had done earlier in life.

Muay Thai training in Chiang Mai

 

Best Coffee

Ukraine. We never expected such a coffee culture in Ukraine. But it’s everywhere and it’s good and inexpensive.

best coffee anywhere. Lviv, Ukraine. Looking back at 2018 and forward to 2019. A year to keep options open…

 

Biggest disappointment

Krakow. We were looking forward to Poland and Krakow is supposed to be the highlight in Poland.

 

But…

In Krakow we found 2 places we loved. 1) Taste of India restaurant. Best Indian food either of us have had in our lives. And we’ve eaten a lot of Indian food. 2) Wodka Café Bar for incredible Vodka. We were having a bad day and Lissette was pissed as shit at me. That was the day she told me that I should start planning my solo trip. And not just for one month. We went there and ended up getting drunk on the vodka tasting menu. Who knew vodka could be so good. And then, totally plastered, we went to the Indian restaurant. We never get drunk but that day was an exception. Sometimes you just have to.

 

Numbers

A few numbers from 2018. Countries visited: 12 for me (Croatia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Qatar, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Mexico, Canada, Hungary, Morocco). Flights: 16.  Accommodation: Nights in Airbnb apartments 166, nights in hotels 109 (which is high for us), nights in our Split apartment 90.

Vodka tasting in Krakow

Above: Vodka tasting in Krakow

 

Blogging

I had a total blog overhaul this year. In May I changed the theme of this blog for a totally new look (after 4 years of the old look). The last 3 months have been spent changing/updating all my old posts and Destination Guides. This was done mostly to optimize the look of those old posts within the new theme as well as to make the guides more informative.

One of the things I started doing over the last few months has been to include affiliate links in our posts, links like Booking.com, Getyourguide, or Expedia. For readers, those affiliate links don’t change anything – in fact they add value to those looking to book a hotel, reserve a tour, or book a flight. They’re all companies that we use ourselves.

So if you enjoy this blog please consider using these links (see our Travel Resources page). We get a small commission out of it, it doesn’t cost you a cent, and it keeps Spanky happy knowing that the hours I spend on this blog are actually constructive. When Spanky is happy I’m allowed to write all this free content. When she isn’t happy I have to wash dishes or do laundry.

PS. Thank you to all the people who have already done this. Sometimes as a blogger you wonder if anyone is actually reading your material. The response has been great and that’s heart warming.

 

 

Looking forward to 2019

 

Jan – April

Later this month we’ll take the ferry from Split to Ancona and then the train south to Puglia. It’s a region of Italy we’ve never been and we’ll be there for a month. We’ll then take the ferry back across the Adriatic to the Greek Island of Corfu. After a bit of time there, we’ll cut across northern Greece to Thessaloniki, which I’m told is another interesting city. From here we are on the main train routes and we’ll slowly make our way to Istanbul, with stops along the way in Sofia and Plovdiv (both in Bulgaria). We’re aiming to be in Istanbul in late March or April. We have no idea at this point how long we’ll be in Istanbul or Turkey. I think we’ll see how we feel about it.

 

Apr – Dec ??

We had a lot of plans for this year that included France, Germany and possibly the UK. Georgia and Armenia have also been in our plans. And we hoped to be back in Ukraine in the summer (a good place to “park” during the July/August invasion of tourists all over Europe). But nothing is planned. More than any other year, I’m a bit nervous planning too far out. Part of it is the political situation in parts of Europe, part of it is economics. I think it might be a rocky year on many fronts so we’re keeping all options open for now…

 

Any suggestions? Are there any places you are going in 2019 that you’re really excited about?

 

 

All the Best in 2019. Thank you for continuing to read our blog!

 

18 Comments

  1. Okay, so the bat story… that is exactly why I don’t travel solo. I need Abi to take care of such incidents, and spiders and bugs. Because I can’t handle anything like that. I’d cry and then I’d leave the apartment and check in to a hotel. No way I could sleep if a bat (or a spider) was in the apartment. Especially, those big ass spiders.

    Congratulations on the proud papa moment watching your son with diploma in hand. Those milestones are so incredibly moving. Our son graduated with his degree and then 4 years later graduated from law school. I still tear up just thinking about it. And now we’re watching our son with his baby boy and it pretty much blows my mind… this circle of life thing.

    You wrote, “More than any other year, I’m a bit nervous planning too far out. Part of it is the political situation in parts of Europe, part of it is economics. I think it might be a rocky year on many fronts so we’re keeping all options open for now…”

    Abi and I are looking at 2019 through a similar lens. It’s such a shit show here in the US we feel as if we’re in a holding pattern. We have plenty to keep us busy and some travel plans in the works, but overall we find ourselves thinking, hmmmm… should we? It’s … what’s the word… unsettling at best, to live in such uncertainty in one’s home country. It’s a daily challenge to maintain a sense of balance and it’s difficult to think ahead. Can’t let the bastards keep us down, but at the same time it does give one pause for thought.

    Anyway… continued safe travels and my best to you and Lissette. I look forward to your stories.

    1. I don’t think Lissette could cope either Patti. Probably why she keeps me around (ie. to ward off bats and kill spiders)

      Can’t stand Trump but won’t the news be boring the day he’s out of office (and put in jail)? I think the last 2 years have been great for the media and I know a lot of people that spend their days glued on the TV or watching MSNBC on you tube. They’ll be a bit lost when he’s gone…

      All the best in 2019 Patti!

  2. Hi Frank…..greetings from sunny Penang (ok, a 2 week visa run)! I enjoyed reading your 2018 wrap-up…..gave me a good laugh. Most of the year for me was absolutely fantastic!! But my month in Morocco was defintely poopie, getting robbed, infested by bedbugs (apparently Morocco is notorious for it), bad chest cold, etc, etc. But after reading your posts and fantastic photos of parts of Morocco. …I’ll definitely go back one day.
    The bat story sure brought back childhood memories. The whole family was gathered round to watch evening TV, the smell of a fresh balsam fir christmas tree was scenting the living room when all of sudden a bat flew out of the tree and started circling madly around the room. The kids went scurrying away with mom into the kitchen while my dad grabbed a pillow trying to force the bad to fly out of the front door, which it eventually did…..some memories just never fade!
    Following up on some of the above post re your future plans…..definitely agree with Anne to explore more of the forgotton corners of S. Ukraine including Uzghorod (just taking the train into Slovakia was worth the experience), Ivano Frankivisk, Chernivitsi, Kamylnetsky Podilski and lower Dneister are all historicaly interesting (old kingdom of Galicia), also lots of good hiking in the Carpathians and I’m definitely going back to Lviv again!
    Also agree with Paul’s suggestions re Puglia…..i spent a month in the region, including a couple weeks in Lecce studying italian. I explored throughout including ancient Matera in Bascilicata (a must visit, but could be a bit gonzo this year since its 2019 EU Culture City). You must first read Carl Levi’s brilliant book “Christ Stopped at Eboli” before heading to S. Italy. My favourite places…… Ostuni, Brindisi and lovely seaside Trani (about an hour north of Bari), which we went back to a second time just to really take it in. We spent a few days exploring Gargano NP, Vieste, but weren’t too impressed, especially after spending weeks in a place like Montenegro!
    Good luck and Happy Travels!

    1. Hi Don! Always nice hearing from you.
      I always thought that bats, with their radar sense, would never end up in someone’s home. But now after this post I’ve gotten feedback from quite a few people who’ve had bat experiences. Would have never thought. And having a bat fly out of a Christmas tree is a pretty scary experience for a kid. Not something I would ever forget.
      Thanks for all the Puglia and Ukraine tips Don. I think we’ll rent a car and visit all these places. Appreciate the Matera tip, I’ve heard of it but didn’t realize it was so close by. My biggest problem will be prioritizing all the places to see in the region. Look forward to being back in Italy. For Ukraine, we’d be spending 3 months and would want to explore more in depth this time. So great tips again. You’ve seen a lot of places!
      Wish you all the best in 2019 Don. Appreciate the always insightful and helpful comments, if anyone should have their own blog you should. Maybe one day our paths will cross? Would be a pleasure to meet you.
      What are your travel plans for 2019?

  3. Great wrap-up of the year, Frank. Thanks for that! I see you are headed to Puglia (Apulia, in Italy). Great idea! We spent a month in the city of Lecce, in the heel (south of Brindisi). Great area! Absolutely the best tomatoes and mozzarella (of course!). A tomato mozzarella and basil salad has become one of our staples, although it’s never anywhere as good as in Puglia.
    Lecce is worth a couple of days; fantastic Rococo buildings. We rented a car and drove around the heel through Otranto, Leuca, and Gallipoli (NOT the same one as in Turkey — I was confused about that for a while).
    I’d also suggest checking the Gargano National Park at the northern end of Puglia. We spent a couple of days in Vieste; worth while!

    Best of luck in the New Year; we’ll be following your blog closely, as always.

    1. Thanks Paul, your tips exactly what we plan on doing. Looking forward to seeing the area and having some Italian wine 🙂 Sounds like an area where we should rent a car, I’ve heard a few other people mention that.

      We’ll be following you as well and I haven’t forgotten about that expat post. Just been very busy with other things.

  4. Loved your best of/worst of/weird and memorable recap, Frank. I remember toad and frog invasions during our time in Costa Rica and many lines of ants in different places along with a couple of moldy AirBnB apartments but, thankfully, we never ran into bedbugs during our full-time travel. (Knock on wood.) Should it happen in the future, you’ll be the person I ask for advice.? Despite a disappointing start to the year, 2018 sounds like it turned out to be a terrific year over all with the finale of a reunion with Lissette. It’s a luxury to keep your options open and zig and zag to follow the opportunities as they present themselves and it will be fun to see where you end up. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, our paths will cross this year. A hug to both of you!

    1. Toads and frogs? I wouldn’t have liked that. In Africa during rainy season we had flying ants which the locals would set up nets for and make stew with.
      I hear the worse place in the world for bedbugs is New York. Eecchh.

      All the best in 2019 Anita, hopefully our paths cross!

  5. Frank, your year might have started with disappointment, but actually it progressed quite nicely with a lot of exciting places visited. I like your blog overhaul and good luck with the affiliate links etc. Will definitely use your links if needed in the future. Your writing is great, so keep it up please 🙂 Your weird and memorable moments are funny…but the vomit bit just a tad too graphic for me 🙁 So Thai food is your favourite? I have to agree 🙂 Your Jan-Apr/19 plans are great will be looking forward to the blog posts 🙂 Have a fabulous New Year!

    1. Thank you for the kind words Gilda! All the best in 2019, I look forward to reading about you and the new minivan!

  6. Sounds like an awesome 2018. Here’s to more glorious travels in 2019. I knew Spanky would be in Croatia :-). Who knows? It might still work out at some point for you. Feliz Ano Nuevo!

  7. Love all your blogs, guides & photos, Frank. Love that someone else is into ‘slow travel’ as I have been the past many decades….9 months in India…4 yrs in Asia..
    I, too fell in love with Lviv and in 1995 wanted to move and live there, but didn’t. Have been there and Kyiv 2X…maybe again this September…like you..watching the politics play out. South of Lviv is also lovely..the Carpathian Mountains…really liked Uzhhogorod..it’s a University – garden city on the Slovakia border and close to Hungarian border. Have wanted to explore it more.

    Chiang Mai has been one of my favourites for long term stays since the early ’80s when 3 friends and I rented a house with a housekeeper/cook for $100/month. Also enjoyed Mai Hong Son, Pai not so much, liked staying in Chiang Rai, seeing the White Temple, Thaton and making my way north to the Chinese village of Mae Salong. So many places to go and so many roads! I could live on Thai food as well…I live in Vancouver and am fortunate to have a small Thai place almost across the street. Love Indian too.

    Have fallen in love with Mexico all over again and leaving for Puerto Vallarta in 2 weeks – much shorter flights than Asia! San Miguel de Allende is on my list… will rent from your Mom when ready to go! Thanks!

    Happy New Year to you and Lissette…may this be a peaceful, wonderful year for all and for us slow travellers. Keep up your wonderful informative blogs…I pass them on to friends and family members who love to travel.

    1. What a great comment. Nice to meet someone who travels, thinks, and eats exactly as we do 🙂

      Lviv, back in 1995? Wow. I didn’t know it existed before last year. We’ve have to go see Uzhhogorod on our next visit.

      India is a place we haven’t been and honestly I think we’ll wait until Lissette doesn’t work anymore. Or, as she jokes, when “we’re older and it doesn’t really matter anymore”.

      Mai Hong Son is a place I visited on my first visit to Thailand back in 2001 and was a favorite of mine as well. I can see you like the same atmospheric places I do.

      Maybe our path will cross one day Anne, if so would be a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to comment and for passing on the blog. All the best in 2019!!

  8. My husband and I (Active 70-year-olds) will be in Istanbul after a tour of Greece and are looking for a private guide for Istanbul for 2 days. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi Victor. I assume you are talking about what’s going on in Ukraine. It really wasn’t evident last summer, the only sign of anything was when we took the train from Lviv to Kiev and it was half filled with soldiers. Apart from that everyone was going on with their lives and there was no evidence of any crisis.
      But we’re fully aware of it and that’s why Ukraine is “pending”.
      Happy New year to you!

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