It’s time for my 2016 travel in review post…and although it has been another amazing period of exploration I’ve found this year to be a bit of a roller coaster…
2016 has been weird. A year that has tested my patience (and won), made me question much of what I thought I understood and left me with many questions but also helped me to continue to redefine who I am through constant learning.
We started 2016 crossing from Aqaba, in southern Jordan, to Israel, where our travel plans were rearranged. Our rental car company unexpectedly closed for the day and we were left to take a bus through the country, during a pouring rain storm. We arrived in Tel Aviv late at night while an active shooter was running through the city. By the evening, we could only laugh. After a tiring day, we found shelter under a canopy (which had a floor shattered with broken glass from a window) which served as the perfect dry spot to pirate some wifi so we could book a hotel room. As our taxi driver got lost enroute to our overpriced hotel, I thought ‘whelp our 2016 days can only look up from here…’
But with each political decision we’ve witnessed, I’ve felt shocked and fearful of what is going on in this world..and I’m often reminded of my January 1st with a similar feeling of standing in the pouring rain far from where I wanted to be…
I lost my grandmother this year, someone that was a huge support system and staple in my life. She lived a long beautiful life but her quick passing made me realize how special each and every day is. I miss her home cooked meals and listening ear everyday.
Her death brought me back home for one of the 3 trips I made this year to the East Coast of America, a place that we had greatly missed during our over 2 years away living in Asia. It also reminded me of the importance of family and pushed me to make those weekly phone calls to those I love. Having my big families’ support through shared meals, game nights and visits throughout her funeral really helped us to celebrate a beautiful life. My grandmother loved to dance. I loved her stories of buying fresh flowers for her hair, she always set in curls before a night out dancing. As we dance through life I hope I can take her patience and forgiveness with me and be a better woman from her example.
BUT with bad comes good and we have spent our year with many brighter days, a big umbrella to cover us from that Tel Aviv storm…
In January, my sister was married during a beautiful destination wedding on a cruise ship that docked in Roatan, Honduras for the ceremony. We explored the Caribbean with my extended family and marveled at her beauty as she walked down the tropical aisle.
Thaddeus continues to study in Barcelona and is constantly learning and I have become the President of IESE’s family and partners club. I love watching the support system of so many incredible family members, from many different nationalities, growing and learning together as we support our students. It is such a beautiful example of what can be accomplished when we use our unique world perspectives to come together and create.
I am continuing to work for Mercy Ships and love being a part of an organization I can constantly witness doing good for this world! This year our ship left Madagascar and sailed to Benin where we are currently spending a year providing free surgeries for those in need. I love spreading the word about many of the thousands of surgeries performed. We are also really excited to start working with Barcelona’s cruise industry so more of the world can learn about the world’s biggest civilian hospital ship and what this organization is doing.
The Easter holiday brought us more time to vacation and the chance for another Spanish roadtrip. We were able to experience Valencia’s Las Falles and the many Easter processions of Semana Santa through the beautiful towns that make up Southern Spain. Shortly after, we spent a weekend in Amsterdam exploring art galleries as Thaddeus prepared for a summer internship.
In the spring, my parents and I traveled to the Azores in Portugal, the homeland of my grandfather’s family . It has always been a dream to make it to these isolated little islands that make up a part of my heritage. The lush volcanic islands were magical and better than I could have imagined. The small fishing villages seemed lost in time.
My parents and I followed our Azorian travels with an overland trip from Marrakesh to Fez, Morocco that brought us through the Sahara by camel. We got lost in the maze that makes up Marrakesh, ate way to many tagines (a North African Berber dish cooked in a earthenware pot) and had some great home stays with local families.
Thaddeus and I ended the school year in May with a trip to Andorra. Here we took some beautiful hikes and enjoyed lots of relaxation on Spain’s magnificent Costa Brava, where the sea became warm enough for swimming!
After our travels we said goodbye to our very Catalan apartment and packed our bags for a Summer in London where Thaddeus accepted a consulting internship. London was a city I swore I’d never live in. I pouted my way to the airport kissing my sunny Barcelona goodbye…thinking ‘the things we do for love’.
Our 2 bedroom Spanish flat was traded for a charming Kensington studio and London immediately proved my bias wrong. My days were filled with art galleries and incredible museums. We feasted on the incredible international cuisine and picnicked in the countless parks.
I easily fell in love with beautiful London and all its incredible opportunities!
After 10 weeks of sleeping in a loft above our kitchen and experiencing limited sunshine, but non-the-less, an amazing summer that was filled with musicals and culture, we kissed London goodbye (what I secretly hoped was a ‘see ya later’.)
We made our way to NYC for a chaotic week soaking up the last of the East Coast summer while Thaddeus studied at one of IESE’s satellite campuses in the heart of Manhattan.
September we returned to our home town in New England for the last tastes of sweet corn, lobster boils and some camping near the ocean! We enjoyed catching up with family and friends. We ended our trip with my cousin’s seaside Rhode Island wedding and then headed home to a new flat in Barcelona’s Gracia district.
As we settled back into work and studies, fall eased its way into Barcelona and we were very happy to enjoy the city we currently call home.
We spent a chilly weekend in the Baltic, admiring Stockholm Archipelago’s foliage and feasting on as many Swedish meatballs as we could get our hands on.
Thad’s final year of Grad School brought him a busy period of job interviews and he found himself crossing the pond several times for interviews in America.
In October, we spent Thaddeus’s birthday weekend on another road trip through Spain to the Basque country in search of Gastro-glutony in San Sebastian. (this trip also included some beautiful seaside towns in the southwestern French department of the Pyrenees Atlantiques, like St. Jean de Luz) I chowed down on pinchos, enroute but tragically found myself sick with food poisoning in what may very well be the food capital of the world (so I can’t vouch for that). After a quick recovery we continued our journey to the La Rioja wine region where we tasted amazing Spanish wines and soaked in the early November sunshine.
Thaddeus made his way back to America to celebrate Thanksgiving, New England style, after heading to his friend’s southern wedding outside Atlanta.
While enroute, he crossed paths with my parents who returned to Barcelona to celebrate Thanksgiving with me! As their plane stopped for a layover in Dublin, the pilot announced America’s new president..Donald Trump. ‘Oh please, let this just be the jet lag talking’…
Elections aside, my parents and I had fun exploring Barcelona together. We had a great night in our flat introducing my international friends to typical New England dishes and Thanksgiving traditions!
The following morning my parents and I set off on a 10 day road trip through Southeastern France and Switzerland. The magical landscapes entertained us as we sped through the countryside. Highlights included Lake Geneva and the Doedogne River valleys.
Once back to Barcelona we traded our car for a cruise ship and headed for a week long sail stopping in Southern Spain, Cassablanca and two of the Cananary Islands on the Pullmantur Horizon.
December brought us chilly weather and the finishing of work and the school year. Thad and I busied ourselves with end of the year housekeeping while getting organized for our Christmas break adventure to Africa.
Vaccines pricked and safari gear packed, we set out for the airport destined for Kenya! We spent an overnight back in Casablanca, where I had spent a very gloomy day earlier in the month. In the warm sunshine the city was much more appealing and we enjoyed our short stay.
Next we were off to subsaharan Africa! A place I had dreamed of visiting my whole life. We were about to finally make this dream a reality. In college I had begged my advisor to let me study abroad in West Africa only to get a tough rejection. The volunteer AIDS organization I worked for would not allow a female to join them on a land assignment in the Sudan (good call on their part). Over and over again my Africa dreams were shattered..but this year it happened!
Nairobi is a zoo, flooded with people moving every which way and animals literally living right in the Nature Parks inside the city.
Our first day there, we hopped on a safari truck and spent two glorious weeks camping throughout Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
The adventure was like nothing I had ever experienced and I fell in love with the Pearl of Africa…Uganda. It’s friendly people, tropical countryside and beautiful animals had me soaking up every little piece of whatever sites and sounds made up the present situation.
We witnessed a chimpanzee pack hunting Colobus monkeys, found lions lounging in trees, and hiked deep into the jungle to find the endangered Mountain Gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
We wondered if we would survive while rafting on the Nile class 5 rapids, where our first set included going over a 12 foot waterfall. After three complete wipe out flips (and a lot of bloody toes and bruised bodies) and subsequent paddle slapping, to keep away the Nile crocodiles, we celebrated our survival a little more, by taking a much tamer sunset cruise.
In Kenya, we biked through the nature park that inspired the Lion King and went canyoning in Hell’s Gate inside the Great Rift Valley. Warthogs, zebras and giraffes ran alongside us throughout the day!
Following our safari, we spent a few days in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa before we continued on to the second half of our Christmas break adventure in South Africa. In Ethiopia the year is 2009 and they celebrate New Years in September and Christmas in January.
As we write this, we are on the garden route in South Africa. We are loving this beautiful country and so far we have had a wonderful time exploring wine country and Capetown.
And finally this year, my business student (Thaddeus) was offered a job! After completing interviews and a comprehensive assessment day in Philadelphia, Thaddeus was chosen for a rotational program with GlaxoSmithKline. This job will have us returning to the East Coast of the United States, this summer, for a year of work. We will be moving the next four years to four different global assignments while Thaddeus takes different jobs within the companies’ vaccine division. I am very proud of Thad’s hard work throughout his studies and this amazing opportunity that our family will soon embark on!
I am looking forward to 2017 with hope for another exciting year. While Thad begins a new profession we will flip rolls and I will, hopefully, become a student again. We wish everyone great health, happiness and sunny days filled with adventure in 2017.
Happy New Year!